Archive | February, 2016

DuFour; Just Another “Reformy” Consultant

28 Feb

DuFour’s new book, In Praise of American Educators and How They Can Become Even Better, is dismal. He has taken his once promising idea, (the PLC) and turned it into a vehicle for implementing Common Cores State Standards and teacher control. He is just another education consultant in search of “thirty pieces of silver.”

To be fair, the opening two chapters do address the relentless attack on educators and chapter 2 is called “The Phony Crisis.” Unfortunately those two chapters of faint praise for teachers and documentation of the false propaganda endured by public schools segue straight to “reformyville.”

In 2005 or 2006, I was teaching Algebra II when a young colleague suggested that we Algebra II teachers form a professional learning community (PLC). She had just read DuFour’s book and three tenets of his idea were appealing. PLC’s were to be (1) voluntary, (2) self-selected and (3) governed by consensus. Our Algebra II PLC agreed to meet every Wednesday for lunch. In high schools lunch is only 30 minutes but we did create value.

In fact, we were very productive. We created innovative lessons like solve around the room and solve around the table. We developed many assessments; we refined curricular pacing and shared our student challenges. Unfortunately, this was the sole time that I experienced a PLC in which I did not feel my time was mostly wasted.

Early in the book, Dufour cites Diane Ravitch’s book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, twice and he also quotes Mercedes Schneider’s A Chronicle of Echoes once. But after the first two chapters he cites nothing but reformist literature, Bill Gates sponsored think tanks and corporate reform entities.

He claims that the United States lags major economic powers; Canada, Germany, Switzerland and Australia in career and technical education. He makes the argument that schools should be developing skilled workers for American corporations by citing the Gates supported Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW); “The second part of the CEW strategy calls on the federal government to establish a Learning and Earnings Exchange that links high school and post-secondary transcript information with employer wage records.” (Page 78)

He praises Delaware’s top down approach for responding to a call by the international banking group Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to provide educators with more collaboration time. He writes, “In its Race to the Top application, it stipulated that all core subject teachers would be provided with at least ninety minutes each week to work as members of collaborative teams.” I am all for teachers having time to collaborate, but this does violate the principles of being voluntary and self selected which means it will be another onerous demand on teacher time with limited reward.

DuFour uses McKinsey and Company as the source that validates his PLC strategy:

 “The McKinsey & Company investigation of the world’s highest-performing educational systems has the following three conclusions.

… 3) The best process for providing this professional development is the professional learning community process …” (Page 81)

 Diane Ravitch calls McKinsey and Company “the global powerhouse behind ‘reform.’” She continues

“Where did David Coleman, architect of the Common Core standards, get his start: McKinsey. Which firm pushes the narrative of a ‘crisis in education’: McKinsey. Which firm believes that Big Data will solve all problems: McKinsey.”

 DuFour attacks unions and repeats the false talking point coming from the Vergara anti-tenure lawsuit in California. Of course he cites the anti-teacher Gates and Walton funded group National Council on Teacher Quality’s call to end “last in first out” policies.

For DuFour, like all “reformsters”, the metric to judge schools by is the big standardized test. He says schools need to establish a set of smart goals for improvement. One of his suggested goals is “We will increase the school’s mean score on the ACT exam from 21.9 to 26.0.”

Speaking of the Big Standardized Test (BS Test) one of my favorite education writers, Peter Greene wrote:

“The BS Tests suck, and they suck in large, toxic, destructive ways. But if you’re a Common Core advocate, you need to see that the so-called Common Core tests are not aligned with the Core, that, in fact, no standardized test will ever be aligned with the Core.”

 Now we have arrived at the wonderful new purpose of the PLC. PLC’s no longer belong to teachers they are a vehicles for instituting Common Core State Standards (CCSS). So DuFour tells us, “High-yield districts put processes in place to ensure that teams are focused on the right work.” (Page 134) That “right work” is the implementation of the greatest advancement in American education ever, CCSS.

He cites the National Governors Association Center for best practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers call for these awesome standards to be benchmarked against the highest-performing nations in the world. He reports:

 “By September 2009, fifty-one states and territories had initially agreed to endorse the CCSS. Soon, however, the initiative became caught up in a political debate about the overreach of the federal government into a states’ rights issue (even though it had been launched by the states).” (Page 141)

 It does not seem to bother DuFour in the least that in 2009 the CCSS had not been written and no one outside of Bill Gates’ small circle new who was writing the CCSS. This might have been a good time to cite Mercedes Schneider’s book Common Core Dilemma. I called her book “the bomb” because it thoroughly debunked the kind CCSS propaganda that DuFour continues to propagate.

DuFour’s book is an attempt to sell his PLC consulting business to billionaire education deformers. It has no value for current educators because it abandons those principles that were valuable when he first proposed PLC’s.

Tom Goodman’s “Reformster” Thinking

21 Feb

Columnist Fred Dickey from the San Diego Union recently wrote about former Superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, Tom Goodman. Goodman’s tenure (1971 to 1982) is widely considered the most controversial period in the district’s history.

Here are some quotes from Dickey’s column:

“He decries ‘the power of the unions and their representatives that control school board members, the Legislature and the executive branch.’”

 “Goodman is a strong proponent of charter schools, which he says can be tailored to the needs of individual students, their interests and levels of achievement. All made possible, he adds, by freedom from bureaucratic foot-dragging and teachers’ union control.”

 “’To get almost any teaching job in California under current law, you must pay into the labor union and be bound by its actions,’ he said. ‘To me, that takes away the focus on being a professional. Why do they need a union if they have civil service protection?’”

 “He decries that more teachers today don’t share the dedication that was common when he started.”

 Goodman’s last job, “and perhaps his proudest” was with Education Management Systems in the Los Angeles area where he supervised many store front independent-learning charter schools called Opportunities to Learn. Under his leadership (2003 to 2009), the schools expanded from serving 7,000 students to 33,000 students.

Three decades earlier, when he was forced out in San Diego, two issues stood out as causes; harsh battles with the teachers union and plans to shutter 27 schools to save money. The San Diego Union reported that it was around the closing schools issue that the infamous Bob Filner started his political career when he felt disrespected by Goodman and the school board.

 “A San Diego State University history professor and parent-teacher association president, Filner couldn’t understand why Hardy [Elementary] was on a list of 27 schools being considered for consolidation and closure to save money. Parents loved the school and it was jam-packed with students.”

 Filner eventually became President of the Board of Education and spearheaded the replacement of Goodman with the soon to be very popular Tom Payzant.

The San Diego Union reported recently:

 “In 2014, San Diego County had 124 charter schools, compared to 73 in 2009. About 20 percent of students in the San Diego Unified School District have turned to charters, with the district projecting that figure to climb to 30 percent in 10 years— largely due to the popularity and growth of independent- study charters.”

 Isn’t it time to ask if unfettered independent-study charters like the ones Goodman ran in Los Angeles are a good idea? In my school district (Sweetwater), all of the high schools have a learning center. If students are not on track to graduate they are assigned to these independent-study centers to make up credits often while still attending classes in the regular high school.

Independent-study charters take on any student who walks into the strip mall and signs up. Many of us believe the social aspect of schooling is an important part of American democracy and student growth. These kinds of schools likely have some negative impacts on society that should be studied. Are these the kind of schools taxpayers want established with little understanding, oversight, or planning?

The education writer Peter Green recently wrote: “One of the great lies of the charter-choice movement is that you can run multiple school districts for the price of one.” The fact is that fixed costs for school districts don’t go down much when they lose students and taxpayers are being forced to pay for redundant school administrations.

In the same piece Green also noted:

“The other common response of a school district to the loss of revenue to charters is to raise local taxes. If charters want to look at where some of their bad press is coming from, they might consider school boards like mine that regularly explain to the public, ‘Your local elementary is closing and your taxes are going up because we have to give money to the cyber charters.’”

Last year (2014), The Voice of San Diego ran an article called “The Charter Tipping Point” that provided evidence that San Diego is becoming a duel school system with too many schools of the same type in some areas.

When Goodman came back to San Diego in 2011, he became an education expert consultant to San Diegans 4 Great Schools. This group financed in large part by Irwin Jacobs, the founder of QUALCOMM, and philanthropist Rod Dammeyer proposed expanding the San Diego Unified School Board by adding four appointed trustees. The proposal was rejected by San Diegans.

Goodman was an early proponent of closing schools to improve education and he supported limiting democracy. At heart, he probably really cares about education but I don’t like his thinking. He was a “reformster” before there was big money backing his ideology.

My observation is quite different than Mr. Goodman’s when it comes to young teachers. I see nothing but exemplary commitment and dedication by our newest educators.

All “reformsters” are anti-union, but there is an inconvenient truth; throughout the world the top performing schools have teachers unions and the worst performing schools do not.

Past Time for a Charter School Moratorium in California

8 Feb

In December 2015, elected officials and education professionals in Orange County, California joined a growing number of voices across our state calling for a charter school expansion moratorium:

“So today, we are asking Orange County residents to stand with our children and call for an immediate temporary moratorium on charter schools at all levels until there is transparency and accountability on par with public schools.”

 Michael Matsuda, Superintendent, Anaheim Union High School District

Al Jabbar, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

Annemarie Randle-Trejo, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

Brian O’ Neal, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

Anna Piercy, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

Kathy Smith, Board member, Anaheim Union High School District

 

In their joint declaration, they pointed to concerns about lack of transparency in the use of money by publicly supported charter schools. They also worried that charter schools laws do not sufficiently protect students; stating this example, “The USA though, because of lax charter laws that favor privatization, is the only country in the world that allows public taxpayer money to fund schools operated by foreign nationals.”

 

To this last point, in January, a notice in the San Diego Union about Magnolia Public Schools piqued my interest enough to investigate. To my surprise, I found that Magnolia Public Schools were part of the Gulen charter school empire, the schools governed by the Turkish Imam, Fethullah Gulen. I found that California already has eleven of these schools including one here in my hometown, San Diego.

 

A Little Charter School History

 

In 1974 Ray Budde, who taught educational administration at the University of Massachusetts, presented the Society for General Systems Research some ideas for the reorganization of school districts in a paper he titled “Education by Charter”.

 

Ted Kolderie, one of the original designers of the nation’s first charter school law in Minnesota tells us:

 

“Ray Budde’s proposal was actually for a restructuring of the district: for moving from ‘a four-level line and staff organization’ to ‘a two-level form in which groups of teachers would receive educational charters directly from the school board’ and would carry the responsibility for instruction.”

 

Budde’s idea did not go anywhere for almost a decade and then came “Nation at Risk.”

 

President Regan’s Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell, formed a “blue ribbon” committee of businessmen and other luminaries to produce a report on education in America. The committee included Nobel Prize winning chemist, Glenn Seaborg who had been the chairman of the atomic energy commission under three presidents. Seaborg was certainly a brilliant man but you would probably not hire him to be your dentist. It was the same with the rest of the commission, they were not experienced or trained educators.

 

Their report, “Nation at Risk”, asserted that America’s schools were so profoundly failing that the future of the nation was literally at risk. Normally a report of this scope and importance would be peer reviewed and its claims investigated before a government agency would make it an official product. It was, in fact, factually erroneous but its unsupported claims have plagued public schools and educators ever since the US Department of Education published it.

 

It was in this environment, that Albert Shankar, President of the American Federation of Teachers started promoting Budde’s charter school idea. A speech he gave in Minnesota in 1988 started the wheels into motion for the first in the nation charter school law that was enacted in 1991. A year later, 1992, California enacted its version of a charter school law.

 

In a 2012 article about the 20th anniversary of the California charter school law Bonnie Eslinger of the San Jose Mercury News wrote:

 

“One year after California became the second state in the nation in 1992 to pave the way for taxpayer-funded charter schools, a contingent of education officials and parents from San Carlos stepped forward to join the public school reform movement.

“In its application to state officials, the group said it viewed the proposed San Carlos Charter Learning Center “as one aspect of education, the entire community serves as the campus, and the school acts as a headquarters.”

“Today, the San Carlos Charter Learning Center is the longest-running charter school in the state, according to the California Charter Schools Association, which organized a media event Tuesday at the campus to herald the 20-year anniversary of the experiment.”

 

 

California Charter Schools Expand Explosively

Since those early idealistic days of charter school innovation, the charter school movement has enjoyed rapid growth. The California Charter School Association reports this staggering set of statistics:

 

 

  • 1,230: Charter schools in California
  • 80: New charter schools opened in 2015-16 school year
  • California: State with the most charter schools and charter school students in the country
  • 581,100: Estimated number of students attending charter schools in CA as of 2015-16
  • 7%: Estimated percentage by which charter school student enrollment grew in 2015-16
  • 36,100: Estimated number of new charter school students in 2015-16
  • Los Angeles: Region with highest growth in new charter schools
  • 27: New charter schools opened in Los Angeles region
  • North Coast & Bay Area: Region with second highest growth
  • 21: New charter schools opened in North Coast and Bay Area
  • 158,000: Estimated number of students on charter school waiting lists in 2014-15
  • 32: Schools closed in 2014-15”

 

Charter School Negatives

However, everything is not totally positive with charter schools. They were originally sold as an avenue for both education innovation and a way for parents to have choice in their children’s education. Today, the best innovations in education all comes from the public school system and choice is a mirage like those 158,000 students on charter school waiting lists. A recent study by the Texas State Education committee found that in Texas while there is indeed a waiting list most of those on it are applying for a few specific charter schools and that more than one-third of all the states available charter seats go unfilled.

 

As far as school choice is concerned, the education writer Steven Singer recently wrote an article titled “Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice” in which he argues that charter schools actually limit parental choice. He noted:

 

“Most public schools are run by a school board made up of duly-elected members from the community. The school board is accountable to that community. Residents have the right to be present at votes and debates, have a right to access public documents about how tax money is being spent, etc. None of this is true at most charter or voucher schools.”

 

The Huffington Post reported in the 2012-13 school year while 109 new charter schools opened in California 28 closed that same year. Stability is well known as a key factor in healthy childhood development and charter schools have a troubled history of instability.

 

The most disturbing aspect of the charter school movement is the amount of fraud and profiteering associated. In December 2015, Bruce Baker, Rutgers University and Gary Miron, Western Michigan University studied some of the prominent ways that individuals, companies, and organizations secure financial gain and generate profit by controlling and running charter schools. They identified these four policy concerns:

 

  1. “A substantial share of public expenditure intended for the delivery of direct educational services to children is being extracted inadvertently or intentionally for personal or business financial gain, creating substantial inefficiencies;
  2. “Public assets are being unnecessarily transferred to private hands, at public expense, risking the future provision of “public” education;
  3. “Charter school operators are growing highly endogenous, self-serving private entities built on funds derived from lucrative management fees and rent extraction which further compromise the future provision of “public” education; and
  4. “Current disclosure requirements make it unlikely that any related legal violations, ethical concerns, or merely bad policies and practices are not realized until clever investigative reporting, whistle blowers or litigation brings them to light.”

 

Conclusion

We are privatizing the public education system built by our forefathers. It was the foundation of the great American social, economic and democratic experiment. We are doing this based on a crisis in education that never was.

 

In a brilliant article by psychometrics expert, Gene V Glass, it says, “A democratically run public education system in America is under siege. It is being attacked by greedy, union-hating corporations and billionaire boys whose success in business has proven to them that their circle of competence knows no bounds.” Let’s heed the words of real experts. It is time to put a halt to the privatization of public education long enough to see what we have wrought before we do further damage.