Archive | October, 2015

(Condensed) D.C. Schools: A Portrait of “Corporate Education Reform” Failure

23 Oct

This summer the National Academy of Sciences produced a lengthy report for the city of Washington D.C. documenting the effects of their 2007 Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA).[1] The report is a powerful set of data and observations that damn “Corporate Education Reform.”

What is “Corporate Education Reform”?

In 1996, Louis Gerstner, CEO of IBM, hosted the National Governor’s Association conference at the IBM conference facility in Palisades, New York. This conference with the exception of one Asian man was an all white, all male conference made up of 49 CEO’s and 40 governors. There were no educators involved.

At the conference, the Governors established their own non-profit and non-governmental corporation called Achieve Inc. Gerstner was named Achieve’s chairman. Achieve Inc. subsequently supervised the writing of both the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. While Bill Gates’ Council of Chief State School Officers owns the copyright for Common Core, Gerstner’s Achieve Inc. owns the copyright for the Next Generation Science Standards.

Former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, is the first person I noticed calling this education reform movement led by super-wealthy business men with no education experience or training “corporate education reform.”

Eliminate Local Control and Privatize

In 1968 D.C. finally got democratic control over their schools only to experience complete loss of parental control with the passage of Public Education Reform Amendment Act in 2007. Mayor, Fenty became czar of education.

In 1995 and 1996 New Gingrich and Bill Clinton teamed up to start the privatization of education process in D.C. by weakening the elected school board and establishing charter schools.

“… by 2014, the percentage [of charter schools] was 44 percent. PCSB [Public Charter School Board] reports that there are approximately 100 individual charter schools, governed by 61 chartering organizations, which function as school districts, …” Pg 31

With almost 50% of the D.C. students in charter schools governance in certain aspect of education is not possible. As the report says:

“There are no standardized formats or definitions in charter schools’ budgets or audits … In addition, the charter management organizations’ accounts are not open to the public ….” (Page 72)

Charter schools are making matters worse; public money is spent with no oversight.

“The U.S. Department of Education has recently reported that that D.C. is among the worst school systems in the nation in providing appropriate educational opportunities for students with disabilities, and it has the worst record of any state in the country for meeting federal special education goals.” (Page 131)

The report notes the D.C. schools have a “crisis in absenteeism” and:

“D.C.’s public schools have had among the worst on-time graduation rates in the country.” (Page 154)

The report also says that charter school gains in test performance over time do not match public schools.

“The EDCORE analyses by sector also showed that, although both DCPS [D.C. Public Schools] and charter students showed improvement, the magnitude of the gains were higher for DCPS students in every year.” (Page 177)

Mayoral Control and VAM Evaluation

In 2007, the city of Washington D.C. completed its embrace of “corporate education reform” when Mayor Fenty assumed total control of all public schools and named Michelle Rhee, a Teach for America alumni with limited experience, chancellor. She made standardized testing and value added measures (VAM) the dominant factor in evaluating schools and teachers.

Education reporter, John Merrow, summed up Rhee’s tenure of just over three years running D.C.’s schools:

“To date, nearly 600 teachers have been fired, most because of poor performance ratings.

“After just two years of Rhee’s reforms, 33% of all teachers on the payroll departed; after 4 years, 52% left.”

“Some of the bloom came off the rose in March 2011 when USA Today reported on a rash of ‘wrong-to-right’ erasures on standardized tests and the Chancellor’s reluctance to investigate.”

Outcomes for the D.C. schools are some of the worst in the nation. Their scores on NAEP [National Assessment of Education Progress] testing still lag the nation. The problem has never been schools or even “corporate education reform.” The problem is rampant poverty.

The problem is rampant and unaddressed poverty.

D.C. Schools: A Portrait of “Corporate Education Reform” Failure

21 Oct

This summer the National Academy of Sciences produced a lengthy report for the city of Washington D.C. documenting the effects of their 2007 Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA).[1] It describes a system that has adopted the “corporate education reform” approach to improving public education. The report is a powerful set of data and observations that damn this genre of reform.

What is “Corporate Education Reform”?

In 1995, Louis Gerstner, CEO of IBM, attended the National Governor’s Association meeting and made an impassioned speech about the crisis in education and the critical and immediate need for national standards in education. As Mercedes Schneider explained in her book Common Core Dilemma, this was not a well timed call to arms. Liz Chaney had just finished destroying Bill Clinton’s national history standards, which made the subject of national education standards radioactive.

Gerstner wasn’t deterred. He hosted the 1996 National Governor’s Association conference at the IBM conference facility in Palisades, New York. This conference with the exception of 1 Asian man was an all white, all male conference made up of 49 CEO’s and 40 governors.[2] There were no educators involved.

The main outcome of this conference was the Governors established their own non-profit and non-governmental corporation called Achieve Inc. Achieve was tasked with promoting and writing national education standards. Gerstner was named Achieve’s chairman. Achieve Inc. subsequently supervised the writing of both the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. While Bill Gates’ Council of Chief State School Officers owns the copyright for Common Core, Louis Gerstner’s Achieve Inc. owns the copyright for the Next Generation Science Standards. In Dilemma, Mercedes Schneider summed it up, “No need to meaningfully involve teachers in changes that Achieve, Inc. had already decided needed to be instituted.”[3]

Former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, is the first person I noticed calling this education reform movement led by super-wealthy business men with no education experience or training “corporate education reform.” It seems an appropriate appellation and as the D.C. schools report shows it is also misguided and damaging.

Key tenants of “corporate education” reform are: (1) Eliminate direct democracy (no elected school boards) (2) Evaluate teachers based on value added measures derived from standardized testing (3) privatize public education by promoting the charter school movement (4) make teaching a non-professional endeavor (5) use testing data to label public schools in poor and minority neighborhoods failures (6) use draconian turn-around models which require firing all the administration and at least 50% of a school’s staff (7) replace “failed” public schools with charter schools (8) destroy teachers unions and blame teachers and their unions for “failing” schools (9) promote standards based education and testing (10) apply merit pay schemes. This list could easily be extended.

Eliminate Local Control and Privatize

In 1995 and 1996, Bill Clinton in concert with Newt Gingrich and the Republican controlled house established charter schools in Washington D. C. and undermined the power of the elected school board. Of course the excuse was “failing” schools but that was not true. The schools might have needed some improved professional leadership, but it was the communities that were failing not the schools.

It is like the educator and commentator from Pennsylvania, Steven Singer, writes:

“Poverty is skyrocketing. It’s been on the rise for at least three decades, but since the economy collapsed in 2008, the ranks of the poor have swollen like an untreated wound left to fester and rot. …Claiming that education alone can resolve this problem is like saying all a starving person really needs is a fork and spoon. But that won’t help if he has nothing to eat!”

It is true poverty damaged students are not performing well on standards based tests, however, the Science Academy report shows that white students in the more affluent neighborhoods of D.C. are scoring above the national average. Schools in failing neighborhoods are being blamed for the fact that 73 percent of the students in D.C. live in unsafe impoverished neighborhoods.

Democracy time line

This chart from the report shows the attack on democratic processes in D.C. from finally getting democratic control over their schools in 1968 to complete loss of parental control with the passage of Public Education Reform Amendment Act. D.C. joined the other “corporate reform” cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York in establishing the mayor as czar of education significantly diminishing the effect parents and teachers have on education policy.

By 1995, D.C. schools were charging down the path of “corporate education reform” when Bill Clinton signed the D.C. school reform act introducing charter schools and establishing the charter school board. The growth of charter school privatization movement is startling with charter schools enrolling nearly 50% of D.C. students in 2015. From the report:

“… by 2014, the percentage was 44 percent. PCSB [Public Charter School Board] reports that there are approximately 100 individual charter schools, governed by 61 chartering organizations, which function as school districts, or local education agencies (LEAs). D.C. has one of the largest percentages of a city’s students enrolled in charters nationwide, and D.C. is viewed as a leader by proponents of charter schools.” Pg 31

With almost 50% of the D.C. students in charter schools governance in certain aspect of education is not possible. Originally, charter schools were supposed to be laboratories that were freed from the more stringent rules for public schools so they could try new ideas. However, when 50% of the students are in charter schools, parents, educators and administrators have no way of monitoring education practices or spending. D.C. functionally has 62 school districts. One for all the public schools and one for each of the 61 charter school management organizations that operate in private. As the report says:

“There are no standardized formats or definitions in charter schools’ budgets or audits, though the PCSB [Public Charter School Board] is making progress in this area. The adequacy study also commented on the difficulty of ascertaining charter facility costs. In addition, the charter management organizations’ accounts are not open to the public, and there have been cases of mismanagement.” (Page 72)

“Because each charter school is an independent local education agency, the charter sector did not (and does not) have any overarching strategy to improve teacher quality (or any other factor in education).” (Page 79)

This lack of accountability is costing the public schools money and at the same time there is no way to know how the charter schools are spending money especially when it comes to special education and second language learners. The structure of education in D.C. is failing special education students. From the report:

“In another DCPS [D.C. Public Schools] official’s view, the problem is that a charter school will receive all the required supplementary special education funds for a student while DCPS is still expected to provide supplements that a student requires, such as dedicated aides or home or hospital services. This official also noted that DCPS has no authority to address problems in charter schools: it can only report noncompliance to PCSB [Public Charter Schools Board] and to OSSE [Office of the State Superintendant of Education].” (Page 129)

“The U.S. Department of Education has recently reported that that D.C. is among the worst school systems in the nation in providing appropriate educational opportunities for students with disabilities, and it has the worst record of any state in the country for meeting federal special education goals.” (Page 131)

“Another city official we interviewed commented that “there is no monitoring arm for how LEAs [Local Education Agencies] serve the ELL [English Language Learners] population.” For example, this person noted, the city provides $4,200 in funds in addition to the $11,000 allocated under the uniform per student funding formula (an additional $6,000 is provided for each special education student), but there is no structure for monitoring what LEAs [Local Education Agency] do with these funds or determining whether they are addressing students’ basic needs. At the same time, charter schools have no consistent source of technical assistance or other resources, such as professional development, to help ensure that they are providing what English-language learners need. As a city official noted, “there is no way for people to know if they are doing it right.”’ (Page 133)

One of the largest problems created by the lack of cohesiveness between the charter schools and the public schools system is that students are being lost. These lost students become what Dr. Mark Naison has labeled “the Disposables.” Dr. Naison writes:

“They are the more than 90 million Americans of working age who are not in the labor force and do not have regular jobs.

“They are the millions of teenagers who dropped out or were pushed out of school in cities like Detroit and Memphis and New Orleans and Los Angeles and Chicago and have disappeared from view because the divisions between charter schools and public schools have made it impossible to develop a coherent strategy to make sure no child is lost.”

The report notes the D.C. schools have a “crisis in absenteeism” and a terrible graduation rate.

“D.C.’s public schools have had among the worst on-time graduation rates in the country. For the class of 2014, the overall rate was 61 percent, compared with the national average of 81 percent (Chandler, 2014d). For DCPS schools, the graduation rate was 58 percent—up 2 percentage points from the previous year; for the charter schools, it was 69 percent—down almost 7 points.” (Page 154)

“Nationally, for 2012-2013, the overall rate increased from 78 to 81 percent; for blacks it increased from 66 to 68 percent, and for Hispanic students it increased from 71 to 76 percent.” (Page 189)

The report also contained this nugget suggesting that charter school gains in test performance over time do not match public schools.

“The EDCORE analyses by sector also showed that, although both DCPS [D.C. Public Schools] and charter students showed improvement, the magnitude of the gains were higher for DCPS students in every year.” (Page 177)

Mayoral Control and VAM Evaluation

A central tenant of “corporate education reform” is to limit democratic processes by ending elected local school boards. Democracy is always more difficult to administer than authoritarian control from a centralized power like a mayor. Of course this means that parents and teachers will not have much of a voice (if any) in how their local school; is run, what it teaches or what its policies are. In 2007, the city of Washington D.C. completed its embrace of “corporate education reform” when the Mayor Renty assumed total control of all public schools. The report observes:

“The specific strategies that Fenty and the chancellor he appointed, Michelle Rhee, chose were prominent on the national reform agenda: an emphasis on improving human capital using recruitment, evaluation, and compensation of educators; data-driven decision making; more uniform standards across schools; and greater school-level accountability through the use of student testing and other indicators.” (Page 40)

Fenty chose a person with five weeks of Teach for America training and three years’ experience teaching first grade to be chancellor. It was an odd choice, but she was connected to the lawyer, Joel Klein, who Michael Bloomberg had selected to run New York’s schools. Mayoral control seems to always value political considerations over professional competence when selecting public school leaders. For example, in Chicago, Daly chose Duncan and in Los Angeles, Villaraigosa chose Deasy; neither man had significant professional credentials or experience in education.

The agenda chosen was straight out of the “corporate education reform” playbook. They blamed teachers and principals for poor testing and graduation results, they instituted teacher evaluations base in large part on growth models known as value added measures and they introduced merit pay for teachers and principals. Survival in the Rhee-Fenty schools would depend foremost on high stakes testing.

Education reporter, John Merrow, summed up Rhee’s tenure of just over three years running D.C.’s schools:

“Ms. Rhee made her school principals sign written guarantees of test score increases. It was “Produce or Else” for teachers too. In her new system, up to 50% of a teacher’s rating was based on test scores, allowing her to fire teachers who didn’t measure up, regardless of tenure. To date, nearly 600 teachers have been fired, most because of poor performance ratings. She also cut freely elsewhere–closing more than two-dozen schools and firing 15% of her central office staff and 90 principals.”

“For teachers, DCPS has become a revolving door. Half of all newly hired teachers (both rookies and experienced teachers) leave within two years; by contrast, the national average is understood to be between three and five years. Veterans haven’t stuck around either. After just two years of Rhee’s reforms, 33% of all teachers on the payroll departed; after 4 years, 52% left.”

For more than 100 years, political leaders have every few years proposed merit pay as a way to motivate good performance. This idea does not have a great track record in most industries, because it undermines unity of purpose. In education, it has been a total failure laced with fraud, but this does not stop “corporate education reformers” from insisting on merit pay. Rhee’s merit pay scheme, which pays bonuses of up to $25,000, led to a cheating scandal. Merrow’s report continued:

“Some of the bloom came off the rose in March 2011 when USA Today reported on a rash of ‘wrong-to-right’ erasures on standardized tests and the Chancellor’s reluctance to investigate. With subsequent tightened test security, Rhee’s dramatic test scores gains have all but disappeared. Consider Aiton Elementary: The year before Ms. Rhee arrived, 18% of Aiton students scored proficient in math and 31% in reading. Scores soared to nearly 60% on her watch, but by 2012 both reading and math scores had plunged more than 40 percentile points.”

After two decades of adopting the “corporate education reform” agenda, the D.C. schools are damaged. Curriculum has been narrowed by hyper-focus on high stakes testing, which only accurately identifies economic conditions in the neighborhood. With just 25% of students attending their local community school and many community schools closed these once pillars of community support have been toppled. Parents have no effective place to bring grievances and experienced professional educators have been pushed out in favor of new hires, many of whom are unqualified Teach for America replacements on temporary contracts.

All this disruption and still the outcomes from the D.C. schools are some of the worst in the nation. They still have an attendance crisis and a graduation crisis. Their scores on NAEP [National Assessment of Education Progress] testing is still at the bottom of the nation. The problem is not the schools or even the misguided “corporate education reform.” The problem is rampant and unaddressed poverty in the neighborhoods of our nation’s capital. The problem has never been our public schools; it has always been poverty.

  • “National Research Council. (2015). An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Committee for the Five-Year (2009-2013) Summative Evaluation of the District of Columbia’s Public Schools. Board on Testing and Assessment, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.”
  • Schneider, Mercedes. Common Core Dilemma “Who Owns Our Schools?” Teacher’s College Press, New York and London, ©2015 by Teacher’s College, Columbia University.
  • Ibid.

Lily’s Betrayal Letter

5 Oct

Yesterday was the worst of days and best of days. In the morning as usual I checked email and social media and there was Steven Singer’s post, “Teachers Told They’re Endorsing Hillary Clinton by NEA Leadership. Membership Opinions Unnecessary.” When I finished his post I saw my friend Paula Meyers had posted the Seattle area justice fighter, Susan Dufresne’s graphic #NEADoesntSpeak4Me; that caught my emotion exactly. With this in mind, I went to the Kearny Mesa Buddhist Center for World Peace Prayer. In the afternoon, things seemed improved; the San Diego Chargers won an exciting game over the Cleveland Browns.

NEADoesntSpeak4Me

Then I got an email message from Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, president of the NEA. Lily has been a great disappointment to me. It is not her fault. It’s mine. I believed she was a breath of fresh air who rose to the leadership of the NEA by merit and was willing to speak truth to power. Fooled again! Then this April in Chicago she stood on stage and lied to us. She pledged to no longer take money from Bill Gates but her fingers were crossed. Now, she employed power politics to get Hilary Clinton the NEA endorsement; personal power and influence have trumped democracy, public education and the teaching profession. I will attempt to analyze her message.

“My fellow educators,
I wanted to be the first to let you know that your elected representatives to the NEA PAC Council and the NEA Board of Directors took action to recommend Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary for President of the United States. I am so proud of the thoughtful, thorough and incredibly rich discussion that your elected leaders held. It was truly what democracy looks like.”

Balderdash! I live in California, my elected representatives didn’t even vote. We have the largest delegation in the United States.
I heard that you argued against those who said there is no reason to give our endorsement this early, saying we would lose political clout if we don’t. It is also said that you felt that Bernie Sanders would never be able to mount a credible winning general election effort.

“I am also extremely proud of this decision because I know that Hillary is a strong leader who will do what’s best for the future of all of America’s students and public schools.”

Anthony Cody is correct, clear and succinct on this point: “The current field of candidates in the Democratic party is limited to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Clinton has a close association with the Gates Foundation, which has been a major donor to the Clinton Foundation. Clinton has made it clear that she is a solid supporter of the Common Core and believes that such a testing system ‘helps you organize your whole education system.’ So if we want a change from the nation’s current trajectory in education, we need to look elsewhere.”

It is beyond my most optimistic reach to see Hilary Clinton as being more than marginally different than Barack Obama when it comes to education policy. There is a reason that Marc Tucker wrote the infamous ‘Hilary Letter’ to her. He saw a like-minded individual that would support the tenets for education reform that Diane Ravitch later labeled “corporate education reform.” This is education reform that views students as economic assets to be cultivated for the benefit of the state.

“After an extensive review of the candidates and an in-depth discussion, your leaders saw what I know – Hillary Clinton will be a champion for students and educator in the White House. She has a 30 year history of standing up for students and strong public schools and has actively engaged in conversations with educators in this campaign. Secretary Clinton told your leaders today that she won’t make a single decision about developing education policy without educators being in the room.”

This is complete prevarication. She has a close supportive relationship with both Bill Gates and Eli Broad. She was billed as co-President by her husband when he signed legislation taking power from Washington DC’s school board and authorizing charter schools. It was from that administration that we got “Goals 2000” and its call for national standards and testing. She voted for “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB). That is not a 30-year history of standing up for students and strong public schools. And her friends from her days as a member of the Board of Directors at Walmart have to be counted among the nations biggest enemies of public schools.

“As a U.S. Senator, Hillary Clinton was a champion for our cause, earning an “A” grade from the NEA for her support on the issues most important to our students, but even before serving in the Senate, Clinton was a champion of the students we educate. While every first lady has an admirable cause, Hillary chose to stand up to the for-profit healthcare industry to advocate for children’s healthcare. Her campaign ultimately led to the largest expansion of public health care in decades, when millions of American children received health coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).”

Clinton voted for the punitive anti-teacher NCLB in 2001. This March, Edweek reported: “And earlier this year, the American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed Clinton in her 2008 race, and the Center for American Progress, a think tank closely aligned with the Obama administration that also includes some former Clinton aides among its top ranks, came out with a proposal to test students every year, but only use the results for school accountability in certain grade spans.” So, did she get that NEA “A” grade for supporting testing or was it her work on health care?

“Even before running for president, Hillary championed early education and affordable college, and she sponsored efforts to ensure equal pay for equal work and to make it easier for workers to join a union.”

This sounds like pretty much what all Democrats say they stand for and it is hard to see how this makes her so much better than other Democrats vying for the nomination. Why didn’t the NEA keep its powder dry and see who was willing to save public education form greed driven reform? Get some real and substantial commitments? It appears that this endorsement is more about currying favor for national union leaders with the Clinton’s than it is about fighting for teachers and public education.

“And in 2016, the stakes for strong public schools will be too high to sit on the sidelines! Right now, there are presidential hopefuls who have made a career of attacking educators and public education to the detriment of students. They have allies like the Koch brothers, who have committed to spend $1 billion to defeat a pro-public education candidate like Hillary Clinton and taking control of the White House.

“With so much at stake, you cannot sit on the sidelines – America’s students need you today! And that is why I am asking you to join our campaign stand up for our students and make sure that we give all students the opportunity to a quality education.”

Yes, it is true that a lot of money is being spent to destroy public education in America. Unfortunately, a lot of that money is from people like the hedge fund fake democrats at the Democrats for Education Reform who support Hilary. There is nothing here that says she is clearly the champion for public education that we must support. She looks a lot more like a corporate education reformer who will continue the disastrous Obama agenda.

“Together, we can help elect Hillary Clinton as our next president and ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed.
Gracias,
– Lily
Lily Eskelsen Garcia
National Education Association President”

Lily, you need to rethink your course. You are a smart beautiful spokesperson for the NEA. You are dumping that great opportunity to make a real difference and playing value degrading power politics that has eliminated the democratic process in our union to get this endorsement. Two other major unions – the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – have indicated that they will take more time to consult their members about an endorsement in the primary.