Archive | June, 2018

iReady Magnificent Marketing Terrible Teaching

27 Jun

iReady is an economically successful software product used in public schools, by homeschoolers and in private schools. It utilizes the blended learning practices endorsed by the recently updated federal education law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). iReady employs competency-based education (CBE) theory which is also advocated by ESSA. The outcome is iReady drains money from classrooms, applies federally supported failed learning theories and undermines good teaching. Children hate it.

Public education in America contends with four dissimilar but not separate attacks. The school choice movement is motivated by people who want government supported religious schools, others who want segregated schools and still others who want to profit from school management and the related real estate deals. The forth big threat is from the technology industry which uses their wealth and lobbying power to not only force their products into the classroom, but to mandate “best practices” for teaching. These four streams of attack are synergistic.

Profiting from Education Law

A group of billionaires with varying motives are using their vast wealth to shape America’s education agenda to their own liking. The last rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 called ESSA was larded up with provisions like the big money for technology which is listed in Title’s I and IV. It also specifies generous grants to promote both “blended learning” and “personalized learning.” (See page 1969 of the official law.) Charter schools, vouchers and social impact bonds are promoted in ESSA. All these initiatives drain money from the classroom and none have been credibly shown to improve education outcomes.

Billionaires Fixing Education

Some of the Unelected and Untrained Billionaires Driving America’s Education Policy

iReady is marketed by Curriculum Associates (CA) of Billerica, Massachusetts. It was originally formed in 1969 to publish workbooks. In 2008, their octogenarian CEO, Frank Ferguson decided it was time to hang up his spurs. Ron Waldron an equities manager at Berkshire Partners was Ferguson’s unlikely choice to take the reins. Unlikely, because he came to CA from the equities industry famous for selling company assets while sticking the debt with the original company. (The results are profits for the equities firm and bankruptcy for the managed company. An obviously criminal enterprise made legal through lobbying.)

Previous to working at Berkshire Partners, Waldron had a history of developing companies that profited off education law. From his biography at LinkedIn:

  • Northwestern: 1983-1987 BA American Studies
  • Harvard Business School: 1990-1992 MBA
  • Kaplan VP: 1992-1996
  • Score! Education Centers CEO: 1996-2001
  • Jumpstart CEO: 2002-2006
  • Berkshire Partners Operating Executive: 2006-2008
  • Curriculum Associates CEO: 2008 – Present

In 1946 at Brookline, NY, Stanley H. Kaplan started a test preparation business for Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) takers. By 1984, when he sold the business to the Washington Post, Kaplan had more the 100 SAT prep centers nationwide. When Waldron became Vice President of Kaplan, Stanley H. Kaplan still worked there. This was Waldron’s introduction to the testing industry.

In 1992 Score! tutoring centers started in Palo Alto, California. Four years latter, Kaplan bought Score! and Waldron moved over to become the CEO. Glen Tripp worked at Score!, the company his brother co-founded. He says of its demise:

“Over the next few years, we gained more resources and responsibilities than we ever could have dreamed of. We grew from 14 centers to 130 centers. But we lost our culture along the way. We brought in talent faster than we were able to absorb it. We invested less in our culture-building traditions. Our program got stale, and our performance faltered. Eventually, SCORE! was shut down. We had built something amazing and then watched it crumble.”

Kaplan and Score! profited off a provision in George Bush’s and Edward Kennedy’s 2001 rewrite of the Education Law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The United States Department of Education published this notice:

“This federal law allows parents to choose other public schools or take advantage of free tutoring if their child attends a school that needs improvement. … The law also supports the growth of more independent charter schools, funds some services for children in private schools, and provides certain protections for homeschooling parents.” (emphasis added)

I worked at a school in a poor and minority community and our school was designated as “needs improvement” by the federal government based on standardized testing. The school was forced to offer free tutoring services at places like Score! and write a letter to all parents indicating we were a “failing school.” I do not remember any positive results coming from the tutoring, but my workload increased. I had to provide the tutoring service regular updates about what my classes were doing.

Kaplan and Score! were shuttered in 2009.

Jumpstart was founded in 1994 as a non-profit aimed at providing children in poor often minority communities with pre-kindergarten programs. Waldron left the Washington Post family of companies to become CEO of Jumpstart in 2002. It is from Jumpstart, America got the infamous concept, “kindergarten readiness.” This relatively small “non-profit” still has more than eight people “earning” over $125,000 annually.

Waldron timed his 2008 move to Curriculum Associates (CA) well. Jeb Bush launched Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) in 2008. In close cooperation with the Koch funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and his major contributor, Bill Gates, FEE launched Digital Learning Now. That same year, as reported in Mercedes Schneider’s book Common Core Dilemma, Bill and Melinda Gates agreed with Gene Wilhoit, President of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and David Coleman founder of Student Achievement Partners (SAP) to provide millions of dollars for the creation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (Schneider 140).

Two years ago (2016), a self-described soccer-mom from Florida, Deb Herbage, wrote a well-documented article about the CA flagship product iReady. She gave it the title “i-Ready?…………More Like i-SCAM and Other Deceptions.” Herbage wrote:

i-Ready Diagnostic exploded onto the scene like … other “competency based education” (CBE) curriculums since the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  It is now believed by many that the implementation of the CCSS and the focus on the standardized tests that went along with the CCSS was yet another extremely, well-crafted and timed implementation to distract parents, teachers, students and some school officials while district and state officials put in place the many ed-tech companies, corporations, investors, foundations, and non-profit companies … who all quickly and methodically jumped on the CCSS bandwagon …. While we were distracted with the CCSS and end of year standardized testing – in school districts all across the state of Florida and across the country, i-Ready Diagnostic, owned by Curriculum Associates, implemented and deployed their much touted “progress monitoring” curriculum – i-Ready Diagnostic.”

iReady Utilizes Discredited Education Theory

A report from the University of Utah Reading Clinic describes iReady as “a technology-based diagnostic (i-Ready Diagnostic) and instruction program for reading.” It continues,

“The Diagnostic Assessment is adaptive in that it adjusts the difficulty level of the questions presented depending on student response to previous questions. Upon completion of the assessment, the program links the student to lessons to complete online.” 

“i-Ready is a blended learning program. … with downloadable, teacher-led lessons that correlate with the online lessons.”

iReady mathematics uses the same approach as the reading program. The lessons are CCSS aligned and delivered with competency-based-education (CBE) principles.

The United States Department of Education promotes CBE claiming:

“Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others.”

CBE is the updated name for outcome-based education which was the 1990’s name for Benjamin Bloom’s mastery learning. Dr. Bill Spady, sociologist and director of the International Center on Outcome-Based Restructuring, defined the connection between OBE and Mastery Learning in an article entitled “On Outcome Based Education: A Conversation with Bill Spady” (Educational Leadership, Dec. 1992-Jan. 1993):

“In January of 1980 we convened a meeting of 42 people to form the Network for Outcome-Based Schools. Most of the people who were there — Jim Block, John Champlin — had a strong background in Mastery Learning, since it was what OBE was called at the time. But I pleaded with the group not to use the name ‘mastery learning’ in the network’s new name because the word ‘mastery’ had already been destroyed through poor implementation.”

A 2015 Journal article by Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway is called “A Brief Critique of Mastery/Competency Learning.” In it they make this important point:

“Our objection to mastery/competency/personalized learning is about how a learner comes to develop that mastery/competency. Reading a website, listening to a podcast that may or may not be complemented with a PowerPoint presentation and viewing a video-recorded lecture are various direct instruction strategies. And, it is well known that children can be drilled, drilled, drilled to successfully pass standardized tests: ‘… [there is] conclusive evidence that an appropriately instituted mastery approach to instruction yields improvement in student achievement…’ But there is no evidence that the type of ‘knowledge’ gained through direct instruction enables students to solve ‘uncharted problems,’ the sorts of problems that arise in living in our globally connected world. Just the opposite. “Knowledge” gained through direct instruction is memorized, so that information remains inert and unconnected to all the other knowledge in a learner’s head. And as Dewey points out, the core of learning is the ‘…intentional noting of connections…”’

The CBE theory of education has a long history of failure dating back to the 1920’s, however, it is one of the few methods available that can be easily delivered economically by digital means.

Instead of a structured course with a teacher, students will log into a computer and demonstrate competencies in an online environment. “Personalized learning” is a euphemism for a computer-based course delivered in isolation.

It is a terrible idea! The last thing a 21st Century student needs is to be shoved in front of another lifeless digital device. Students need to interact with “highly qualified” certificated teachers.

Computers are good at drilling information and conducting fact checks. However, educators have known for more than a century that this kind of teaching is destructive. To create understanding, all the modes of learning must be actively engaged. Drill and skill destroys the desire to learn and undermines development of creativity.

The educator known for his wonderful blog, Curmudgucation, Peter Greene, wrote:

“Personalized learning, whether we’re talking about a tailored-for-you learning program on your computer screen or a choose the school you’d like to go to with your voucher, is not about actual personalization. It’s about another path for marketing, a way of personalizing the marketing of the product, the edu-commodity that someone is already trying to make money from.”

Kassia Omohundro Wedekind, a teacher from Virginia, recently published her article, “Why iReady is Dangerous.” Teachers like Kassia exist in almost every school and district. It is professional educators like her that children need and not corporate software packages. Wedekind shares,

“When I started working for Fairfax County Public Schools twelve years ago I knew very little about math or how children learn math. But I was lucky to end up in a district that invests in teachers. I had amazing math coaches (who inspired me to become a math coach!) and support from the Title I office, I took courses in Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) and Developing Mathematical Ideas (DMI), learned how to use the Investigations curriculum well, and wrote a book about nurturing young mathematicians through small group instruction. I say this to point out that tremendous resources were poured into me (and many others!) as a classroom teacher and a coach to help me learn to listen to students and teach and assess responsively.

“The best ‘screener’ is a knowledgeable teacher and our first question of any potential assessment should be, ‘Does it provide a window into student thinking or is student thinking hidden behind scale scores and graphs?”’

Children Hate iReady

Top three iReady definitions from the Urban Dictionary:

  • A stupid online computer program that supposedly brings your grades up but, instead, brings your grades down when you forget to do them. But worst of all, it’s built for common core.
  • A website for students that teachers think will help their grade, but in reality it makes them want to kill themselves.
  • A website that causes suicidal thoughts, depression, ptsd, anxiety, and adhd.

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reports on 7-year-old Saige Price’s having gone at the New Jersey Board of Education.  Saige is in second grade at Briarwood Elementary School in the Florham Park School District, New Jersey.  Sage’s final comment was,

“When I got a low score [on the iReady] I would have to go back to the computer lab until I got a higher score.  I hated it.  It should be against the law.”

Deb Herbage shared several parent responses in her article:

“My son hates it because if he gets a question wrong, it throws him back a couple of levels ….. it “reads” to the kids, therefore taking away any reading practice they may get ….. and it is a huge data mining program. The license with the county states that although the data belongs to the county, Curriculum Associates have a perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free license to use that data!”

“It’s a new program so there is little to no data collected yet on reliability. Our kids are guinea pigs.”

“All I know is that my daughter, in the 4th grade, read on a 4th grade level in 2nd grade never got past the 3rd grade work on IReady.  Everytime she made one mistake it threw her back to kindergarten. All it did was make her hate reading, hate the computer worse than she did and slowly destroyed all of the hard work we’d done building her confidence.”

iReady is Popular in Schools Led by Privatizer Friendly Administrators

On December 14, 2015, the Atlanta school board authorized superintendent Meria Joel Carstarphen (who I have chronicled) to execute a $350,000 contract to purchase iReady Diagnostic.

In 2016, a local Baltimore blog tracking the implementation of STAT an ed-tech initiative advanced by the criminally indicted superintendent, Dallas Dance, carried a guest blog called “Advice to BCPS Parents from “Wrench in the Gears” and Why iNACOL Loves ESSA.” It began,

“Recent days have seen an uptick in conversations about online Competency-based Education or CBE, the scary wave of educational transformation rapidly sweeping over the country.  BCPS students, teachers, and parents are at the front edge of this wave with STAT.”

If your school system is using iReady, someone in leadership is drinking the Kool-Aid or is corrupt. These programs are an absolute waste of education dollars and they harm students.

History of Institutional Racism in U.S. Public Schools

20 Jun

Susan DuFresne a pre-school and special education specialist from Seattle, Washington just published the book History of Institutional Racism in U.S. Public Schools. Dufresne is also a self-taught artist with a heart that screams for justice. She began her project with three fifteen feet long four feet high pieces of canvas and painted images of racial injustice and its effect on schools from the 16th century until today. These illustrations are supported by the notes Susan developed about each issue depicted and hand wrote in the margins.

I met Susan in 2014 at Seattle’s iconic Westgate Park, home of political expression and protest for five decades. For me, it brought back childhood memories of a 1962 trip with my parents and a sister to the Seattle World’s Fair. At Westgate Park, my family boarded the mono-rail for the fairgrounds now called the Seattle Center, still home of the Space Needle and today, home to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That 2014 teacher’s march was the first public event organized by the Washington State Bats. We were protesting the Gates Foundation. Two motorcycle police went ahead of us closing streets to cross traffic and we happily marched toward the Seattle Center to enthusiastic cheers from locals along the route.

Marching in Seattle 2014

  1. a) Making Signs in Westgate Park Before the March b) Anthony Cody and Susan DuFresne Lead 250 Bats Toward the Gates Foundation – Photo by Ultican

Last year, I met Susan again at the National Public Education (NPE) annual conference in Oakland, California. She displayed her amazing art work in the main conference room. The room was large enough to accommodate more than 1,000 people seated at round tables. Her illustrations covered most of the north wall.

I would be very surprised if Susan could pick me out of a lineup, but she certainly made a positive impression on me.

School teachers in general abhor injustice and activists like Susan are particularly sensitive to the least protected among us. Garn Press, who is publishing Susan’s book says of her,

“Susan DuFresne is an artist and educator who advocates across all intersectional groups, organizing for social justice. She works alongside colleagues and friends who are leaders in the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Badass Teachers Association. She is a vocal supporter of Indigenous peoples, the Women’s Movement, and LGBTQIA activists, and cares deeply about environmental issues.”

“One of the important battles she fights is for democratically run schools, as well as a child’s right to play. She pushes against the use of high stakes testing, agreeing with many students, parents, and educators who denounce these tests as racially biased, advocating for their right to opt out.”

Both Susan and her publisher have pledged to donate a part of net profits to Black Lives Matter and to the Lakota People’s Law Project.

Yohuru R. Williams is Professor of History, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota. In a foreword to Susan’s book he wrote,

“As a historian of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements I am keenly aware of the power of art, in all of its forms, to rouse interest, stir the conscience, and encourage resistance to inequality. Inspired by the need to communicate a deeper truth, the poet’s words, the dancer’s feet, and the artist’s palette explode with an unharnessed creativity driven by a desire to educate, instigate and re-imagine.”

“United States Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis is fond of sharing that one of the primary inspirations for him to write to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and join the Civil Rights Movement was a 1958 comic book Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, which in vivid illustration told the story of Dr. King, Rosa Parks and the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Beyond a mere recounting of those events the comic was also an education tool, identifying various ways that young people could get involved with the movement following what it termed the “Montgomery Method,” Nonviolent Direct-Action protest strategies derived for, and aimed at toppling segregation without losing sight of the shared humanity of the oppressor and the oppressed.”

The Dark History of Ignorance and Bigotry

Panel 1

NPE Oakland 2017 Photo of Susan’s Original Panels (1) – Photo by Ultican

The foundations of America have some very unsavory aspects. Susan illustrates these realities of racism dehumanizing people with different features and languages. She makes the point that this history is not being appropriately studied. This opportunity to remove the talons of evil that led to injustice is not being exercised. Those dark tendencies are still plaguing modern society and children are growing up ignorant of this hidden heritage.

In two of the panels DuFresne addresses the atrocities foisted upon the indigenous peoples of America.

In 1830, President Andrew Jackson, just a year after taking office, narrowly pushed through a new piece of legislation called the “Indian Removal Act”. In an infamous 1838 episode depicted on one of Susan’s panels, the US government sent in 7,000 troops to remove the Cherokee nation from the Carolinas. They forced the Cherokees into stockades at bayonet point. They were not allowed time to gather their belongings, and as they left, whites looted their homes. Then began the march known as the Trail of Tears, in which 4,000 Cherokee people died of cold, hunger, and disease on their way to the western lands.

By 1837, the Jackson administration had removed 46,000 Native American people from their land east of the Mississippi and had secured treaties which led to the removal of a slightly larger number. Most members of the five southeastern nations had been relocated west, opening 25 million acres of land to white settlement and to slavery.

Supreme Court Rules Segregation Legal

The Plessy versus Ferguson court case of 1896 ended in a 7 to 1 decision by the US supreme court ratifying segregation. In this case, a shoemaker named Homer Plessy who happened to have one black great-grand-parent purposely broke Louisiana’s Jim Crow law that require black people to use separate facilities from whites. In the key passage of the opinion, the Court stated that segregation was legal and constitutional as long as “facilities were equal.” Thus the “separate but equal doctrine” that would keep America divided along racial lines for over half a century longer came into being.

DuFresne put Plessy on the same panel of art as the “science” of eugenics that “proved” white people superior. The 1905 IQ tests developed by Alfred Binet were also used to justify forced sterilization. One of Susan’s notes says that the last forced sterilization in America occurred in Oregon (1981). Clinical psychologist Natalie Frank states,

“The eugenics movement began with the advent of testing for individual characteristics in children. Although intelligence testing was created to determine school readiness, it became one of the unintended foundations of eugenics. This occurred when three of the influential psychometricians, Lewis Terman, Henry Goddard and Robert Yerkes, began advocating testing as a method of differentiating who should be permitted to reproduce based on intelligence. These scientists built momentum for the idea of selective breeding and the call for using the process to strengthen the gene pool was taken up by some of the upper echelon of American and European society.”

Panel 14

NPE Oakland 2017 Photo of Susan’s Original Panels (2) – photo by Ultican

Dictionary Dot Com defines eugenics: “the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics).”

Binet died in 1911 after having warned against the test’s potential for misuse, calling the notion that intelligence could not be improved a “brutal pessimism.” By 1916, Stanford’s Lewis Terman had come to quite a different conclusion. He wrote,

“The fact that one meets this type [feebleminded individuals] with such extraordinary frequency among Indians, Mexicans, and negroes suggests quite forcibly that the whole question of racial differences in mental traits will have to be taken up anew and by experimental methods. 

“Children of this group should be segregated in special classes and be given instruction which is concrete and practical. They cannot master abstractions, but they can often be made efficient workers, able to look out for themselves. There is no possibility at present of convincing society that they should not be allowed to reproduce, although from a eugenic point of view they constitute a grave problem because of their unusually prolific breeding.”

Terman’s reasoning has been updated and today it is used to justify privatizing public schools. The drill and skill pedagogy and discipline practices of the no excuses charter school movement flourishes in politically weak minority communities. It is child abuse justified by bigotry.

It is the same irrational ideology that has led to today’s high profit standardized testing industry. In fact, Carl C. Brigham, the father of the SAT, became interested in mental testing while a student a Princeton. He later became a psychology professor at the university, where he was an enthusiastic member of the eugenics movement. During the 1920s he developed his own objective admissions test for students applying to Princeton.

A Frontline story on PBS reported,

“Brigham later worked on the Army Alpha Test, an intelligence test given to millions of recruits during World War I. In 1923, he wrote A Study of American Intelligence, which analyzed the findings of the Alpha Test by race. Its conclusion, which Brigham insisted was without prejudice, was that American education was declining and ‘will proceed with an accelerating rate as the racial mixture becomes more and more extensive.’”

The Authors Motivation

About creating this massive work of art and latter turning it into a book, Susan shares,

“I thought too of the African men, women and children who were brought to America and enslaved. The Southern Poverty Law Center has raised the concern that even today public school students still do not study slavery or consider how racism and discrimination impact the lives of children and their families. With a marker I wrote the following notes in the margins of the first panel.

  • Enslavement of Indigenous people, Native Americans, murder and disease enabled the colonizers to seize land.
  • Enslavement of Africans enabled profit as well.
  • Oppressive schooling became possible via acts of terror.”

“Notes for panel 5:

  • 1899 – Supreme Court allows a state to levy taxes on Black and white citizens alike while providing a public school for white children only. (Cumming v. Richmond, (GA) County Board of Education).
  • 1893 – Mandatory education for Indian children in Boarding Schools – Native language forbidden. If parents refused, annuities or rations could be withheld or send them to jail. Educators had quotas to fill. Many died at school.
  • 1913 – U.S. v. Sandoval, Supreme Court, American Indians ‘simple, uninformed & inferior people’ – incapable of citizenship.”

Destroy Public Education Movement

Dufresne concludes her history by addressing the modern forces that are destroying public schools in poor non-white neighborhoods.

Panel 11

NPE Oakland 2017 Photo of Susan’s Original Panels (3) – Photo by Ultican

The 2002 No Child Left Behind Act used the tools developed by the eugenicists to label the schools of black and brown children failures. The standardized testing used to destroy their schools had “roots deeply embedded in racism.”

Susan highlights Secretary of Education in the Obama administration, Arne Duncan’s infamous statement, “I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was hurricane Katrina.” This statement is disgusting and makes it clear that the attack on schools in minority communities is bipartisan. It is not conservatives or liberals attacking public education. It is wealthy elites who lead both the conservative and liberal movements in America destroying the foundations of democracy because they fear it.

Conclusion

I have touched briefly on a small portion of the historical abuse of “those people’s children” that Susan is teaching about. As I was writing this, I looked closely at each panel of art and their associated notes. The more I looked the more I saw. This work exemplifies the creative use of art to teach. It shines a light on injustice motivated by racism and the damage reeked.

Every school library at every level should contain this book and have it prominently displayed. Every parent should get this book and study it with their children. This book is a masterpiece of art and history.

Philadelphia Story: Another School Choice Failure

12 Jun

For the last two decades, Pennsylvania’s political leaders have attempted to improve schools in Philadelphia without spending money. In 2001, Governor Thomas Ridge turned to Chris Whittle and his Edison Project to study the school system and create a reform plan. That December, the state of Pennsylvania disbanded the local school board and assumed total control of the district. Since then, citizens of Philadelphia have endured – with minimal input – a relentless school choice agenda and the loss of public schools in their neighborhoods.

Politicians – not wanting to spend on education – often claim the problem is public schools have become bloated and inefficient. This assertion is normally paired with an attack on teachers’ unions as being the enemy of good pedagogy and progress. The medicine offered to solve these ills is competition and market forces. It is theorized that competition will improve management and force teachers to do their job better. After two decades of implementing this theory in Philadelphia; test scores are still low, communities are still plagued by poverty and fraud is rampant. Worst of all, the public-school system has been significantly harmed.

Samuel E. Abrams wrote the book Education and the Commercial Mindset which begins with an examination of the Edison Project in Philadelphia. Abrams reports,

“In urban Philadelphia, property values are low and poverty is high. In 2000-2001, Philadelphia spent $7,944 per student on schools. The five school districts along the Main Line of the region’s commuter rail system, which services suburbanites living northwest of Philadelphia spent $11,421 per student.”

In the summer of 2001 just before leaving to become the first head of the Homeland Security, Governor Ridge commissioned Chris Whittle’s Edison Project to produce for $2.7 million a report on how to boost test scores and contain costs in Philadelphia. Ridge famously said, “Nearly a quarter million children are educated in it – or, truth be told, not educated.” (Abrams 110) Ridge’s successor, Lieutenant Governor Mark Schweiker was just as brutal saying, “After all, only 13 percent of the district’s high school juniors are able to read the newspapers with basic comprehension. And that’s not counting those who drop out.” (Abrams 110)

Edison’s report was not impartial. Both the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News called it a charade. (Abrams 116) The report was overly critical of the school district and recommended that the Edison Project be put in charge of running it. Edison also called for reforming “failing” schools by turning them into charter schools or other private management.

Helen Gym (now on the Philadelphia city council) speaking for Asian Americans United, asked, “If this [privatization] is so innovative why aren’t they doing it in Lower Merion?” (Abrams 114) This turns out to have been a perceptive question. Lower Merion is 85% white and rich. Still today, there appear to be no charter schools in Lower Merion Township. Charter schools mostly exist in poor communities without the political capital to protect their schools.

Philadelphia PA Charter School Map

Created Using Fordham Institute’s Charter School Mapping Facility

On December 21, 2001, Philadelphia became the largest school district ever taken over by a state government. The district was to be led by a five-member School Reform Commission (SRC). Three of the members would be named by the governor and two by Philadelphia’s mayor. Edison was named the lead consultant to the district and given management of 20 of the 42 schools identified as most in need of improvement.

That summer, the SRC hired Paul Vallas to lead the school district. Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report wrote an article, “Serial School Privatizer “Chainsaw Paul” Vallas Gets Ready For His Next Job,” about Vallas’s political aims. In it he recalled Vallas’s record,

“Vallas next landed in Philadelphia, where, he surrounded himself with the usual dubious cloud of yes-men and consultants, engineered the privatization of a significant chunk of that city’s public schools, selling off public buildings to charter operators and well-connected developers and firing hundreds more mostly black teachers. … Vallas’s “blame the teachers, blame the deficits, blame the parents” rhetoric and practice exactly matched those of … Michelle Rhee. He left Philly schools in shambles, just in time to make New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.”

This may be a little unfair, but Vallas certainly has promoted the privatization of public schools wherever he served. He also opened the door for billionaire Eli Broad to infest Philadelphia with administrators trained at his unaccredited Broad Academy.

Broad believes that leaders of school district need financial and business management skills but require little or no experience in education. He also says that the best way to reform education is through competition and market forces.

Vallas is an example of the kind of school leader Broad sought to foster. He was someone who had little to no experience in education but understood finance. When Mayor Daily gained control of Chicago’s public schools, he made his budget director, Paul Vallas, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

Here Come the Broadies

Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch titled a 2013 opinion piece Broad Street Bully. In describing Broad trained administrators, he wrote,

“Paul Vallas, a former Illinois state budget director who arrived from Chicago in 2002 to take over Philadelphia’s schools, was an early archetype – and he won a $4.3 million grant from the Broad Foundation three years later to train new principals in an Academy for Leadership in Philadelphia Schools. His short-term successor here – a retired Army colonel named Tom Brady – was a graduate of a Broad academy.”

This was not the Tom Brady the Philadelphia Eagles defeated on the gridiron this past February. This Tom Brady was a 25-year Army veteran with no public school experience who attended the Broad Academy class of 2004.

Vallas left Philadelphia for New Orleans in the fall of 2007 and Brady led Philadelphia’s schools on an interim basis while the SRC searched for a permanent replacement.

In February, 2008, the SRC hired the late Arlene Ackerman, who had an Ed.D in Administration, Planning and Social Policy from Harvard. She came to Philadelphia from the Broad Center in Los Angeles where she was the first Superintendent in Residence at the Broad Superintendents Academy. Previous to that she had served as Superintendent of Schools in Washington DC (1998-2000) and San Francisco (2000-2005). In her obituary, the New York Times reported,

“In San Francisco, ‘she was unwilling to listen to different points of view and not able to work with the entire Board of Education,’ Mark Sanchez, its president, said in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2008.”

By 2009, Ackerman was not only Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, she was the newest member of the Broad Center Board of Directors. The following is the list of the board of directors from the Broad Center news release:

  • Joel I. Klein, board chair, chancellor, New York City Department of Education
  • Barry Munitz, board vice chair, trustee professor, California State University, Los Angeles
  • Dan Katzir, board secretary/treasurer, managing director, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
  • Dr. Arlene Ackerman, superintendent, The School District of Philadelphia
  • Richard Barth, chief executive officer, KIPP Foundation
  • Louis Gerstner, Jr., senior advisor, The Carlyle Group
  • Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson, superintendent, Seattle Public Schools
  • Wendy Kopp, chief executive officer and founder, Teach For America
  • Mark A. Murray, president, Meijer Retail and Grocery Supercenters
  • Michelle Rhee, chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools
  • Margaret Spellings, former U.S. secretary of education

Along with Ackerman on this list of well-known school privatization advocates is the power couple, Wendy Kopp and Richard Barth. Wendy founded Teach for America which now has a large presence in Philadelphia. Before Richard became CEO of the KIPP charter chain he was the Vice President in charge of operations in Philadelphia for the Edison Project. He went to KIPP in 2006. (Abrams 138)

Ackerman’s most lasting Philadelphia reform which is still in play today was called Imagine 2014. Ken Derstine an education blogger from Philadelphia noted, “While state funding to the district increased during the later part of the 2000’s under Governor Ed Rendell, much of this increased funding, and temporary funding from federal stimulus money, was devoted to School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s Imagine 2014 initiative which poured money into charters, Promise Academies, and Renaissance Schools.”

The Imagine 2014 initiative is still the official board policy promulgated by the SRC. It is a policy driving public school closures, undermining district control and encouraging privatized schools. The policy introduction states:

“The Renaissance Schools initiative is articulated in the School District of Philadelphia’s “Imagine 2014” strategic plan and is predicated on the belief that the School District has chronically underperforming schools that are not serving the needs of students and families and have not made adequate yearly progress as defined by state and federal laws, and that these schools need fundamental change to facilitate a transformation of the learning environment. With an urgency to dramatically improve the learning environment in these underperforming schools, the School District is seeking innovative ways to transform low-performing schools through new school models that include: in-district restructuring (Innovation Schools) and external partnerships (Contract Schools and Charter Schools).”

Innovation schools are promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a politically conservative organization that publishes model legislation which is often introduced verbatim by Republican state law makers across America. ALEC receives major funding from the Charles Koch Foundation. The Philadelphia innovation school design meets the specifications of ALEC’s innovation school model legislation.

Phi Delta Kappan is a professional journal for education, published by Phi Delta Kappa International, since 1915. EdWeek carried an article by Julie Underwood and Julie Mead of Phi Delta Kappan discussing the effect and purpose of ALEC generated model education legislation. Their list of purposes includes, “Reduce the influence of or eliminate local school districts and school boards (Ladner, LeFevre, & Lips, 2010, p. 96) to be carried out through model legislation such as Charter Schools Act, Innovation Schools Act ….”

Ackerman was given a $900,000 severance in 2011 after she and Mayor Michael Nutter had a disagreement over which charter management company would be given control of Martin Luther King High School.

Joel Mathis reporting for Philadelphia Magazine wrote, “The Boston Consulting Group was brought into the District shortly after Ackerman left to continue Imagine 2014 ….” The interim superintendent chosen to replace Ackerman was Leroy Nunery who had “an extensive background in the private sector, including a two-year stint overseeing the charter school division of the former Edison Schools, a controversial for-profit educational management company.” Nunery was not a Broadie but Eli Broad (rhymes with toad) would have approved.

The School Reform Commission picked William Hite to continue Ackerman’s imagine 2014 which is now called the Renaissance Schools Initiative. A Broad Center posts says, “William Hite served as area assistant superintendent for Cobb County School District before joining The Broad Academy class of 2005.” In 2013, Hite led the effort that resulted in closing 23 public schools. His original list called for closing 37 schools. He has also enthusiastically promoted both innovation schools and charter schools.

Hellen Gym

Public-School Champion and Council Women, Hellen Gym, Speaks Against School Closings

The destroy public education (DPE) playbook calls for a combination of outside money, local money and a local political leadership group. The national school privatizing umbrella organization Education Cities identifies Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) as the their cohort in Philadelphia.

PSP is a 501 C3 (non-profit) organization officially listed with the IRS as The Philadelphia Schools Project. PSP has an associated 501 C4 (independent political expenditures) organization called Philadelphia Schools Advocates. PSP lists among its $5 million donors: The J. Mahlon Buck, Jr. Family, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hamilton Family Foundation, Dorrance H. Hamilton, Patricia Kind, Jeannie and Mike O’Neill, Charlie Ryan.

The Results

A 2014 article in the Pennsylvania Gazette sums it up succinctly,

“Maybe you heard about the sixth-grader who died several hours after suffering an asthma attack at a school lacking the budget for a nurse last fall. Maybe you read about the firing this spring of three principals embroiled in a standardized-test cheating scandal that implicated 140 educators in 33 city schools. If you’ve caught any news about public education in Philadelphia recently, chances are it hasn’t been good. Headlines about the city’s school system have been so alarming, and so frequent, that it’s hard to know where to begin.”

Standardized testing is useless for evaluating schools, districts or teachers. These testing results do correlate very well with wealth or lack of same in a child’s home. Since the 1990’s they have been used to label schools in poor communities as “failing.” It is a fraud.

However, since the gauge being used to privatize Philadelphia’s schools is standardized testing shouldn’t the privatizers be hoisted on their own petard. Based on testing data, the last two decades of DPE reforms have FAILED miserably.

In 2009, Philadelphia joined Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). The National Assessment of Education Progress tests the TUDA districts every two years. For a simple comparison, I have graphed the 8th grade mathematics and reading scores in Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Washington DC and the national average.

Math and Reading

Graphs of NAEP TUDA Composite Scores Data

After two decades of closing and privatizing schools in Philadelphia to “improve tests scores,” these scores provide testimony to how fraudulent school reform has been.

Parents have also been learning by tough experience that charter schools are not public schools. In December 2014, two low-performing charter schools – Walter Palmer Leadership Learning Partners and Wakisha – ran out of money and closed suddenly just before the winter break.

This displaced more than 1,500 students and left parents and guardians in a nightmarish scramble to find another option. Since charter schools are private businesses and cannot be forced to take students, the public schools had to find a place for them.

The SRC recently shared,

“The SRC will remain as the governing body for the School District of Philadelphia until June 30, 2018. Mayor Kenney appointed nine members to the Philadelphia Board of Education (BOE) in April 2018. Beginning in July 2018, the Board will oversee the School District of Philadelphia.”

Still the citizens of Philadelphia will not be able to elect a representative to the school board that they can hold accountable for decisions about schools. Mayor control of schools is against American tradition and undemocratic.

It is time to end this billionaire driven fiscal! It is time to boycott all charter schools because they are like wood rot destroying the main pillar of democracy, public-education.

 

Are Public Schools in Inglewood, California a Warning?

3 Jun

In 2006, the relatively small Inglewood Unified School District (IUSD) had over 18,000 students and was a fiscally sound competent system. Today, IUSD has 8,400 students, is 30% privatized and drowning in debt. In 2012, the state of California took over the district, usurped the authority of the elected school board and installed a “State Trustee” to run it. IUSD is on its sixth state appointed trustee in six years.

This crisis was created by politicians and wealthy elites. It did not just happen. Understanding the privatization of Inglewood’s schools through the choice agenda is instructive of the path that could lead to the end of public schools in California.

Kicking Off the Choice Agenda

Inglewood is east of the 405 freeway in Los Angeles county between Watts and the Los Angeles International Airport. Today, it is part of a giant urban megalopolis but 50 years ago it was a distinctly separate community that was predominantly middle class and mostly white. Now it is populated mainly by working class poor African Americans and Hispanics. 84.8% of the students in Inglewood qualify as socioeconomically disadvantaged.

IUSD was originally incorporated in 1888. I asked Professor Larry Lawrence to help me understand Inglewood’s schools. He replied, “Of course, if you want a long view of Inglewood schools I would be glad to go through the history. My mother began attending them in 1914, graduated from Inglewood High School in 1926, came back to teach in 1929, and stayed for 41 years. I also went all the way through and came back to teach, leaving in 1966 to go to UCLA (just after the Watts Riots of the summer of 1965 – no connection to me leaving).”

Larry taught mathematics at Morningside High School. The enrollment records at Morningside mirrors what has happened to enrollment in IUSD. In the 2005-2006 school year the high school enrolled 1,535 students. This year (2017-2018) the enrollment dropped to 751. What happened?

Moringside Higg

California Department of Education Enrollment Data for Morningside High School

To understand the causes for the harm to Inglewood’s public schools and how profoundly unjust those causes are, one must first know about standardized testing and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The most important metric for judging schools and teaching utilized by NCLB were the “objective” results of standardized testing. Unfortunately, the big standardized test is completely useless for evaluating schools, teachers or learning.

In 1998, an Australian, Noel Wilson, wrote a definitive paper, “Education Standards and the Problem of Error,” showing why standardized testing should not be used to evaluate schools or teaching. His work has been verified repeatedly. The education writer, Alfie Kohen wrote in his 1999 book The Schools Our Children Deserve “… eliminate standardized tests, since we could get the same results by asking a single question: ‘How much money does your mom make?’” The only correlated result from standardized testing is the economic condition of the students to their test scores.

In 2001, President George Bush (R) and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy (D) teamed up to pass NCLB. This law required every state to adopt standards and institute standardized testing. The federal government then used the state testing data to decide if schools were making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) toward 100% of their students being proficient in math and English by 2014. The law also “disaggregated” results by subgroups such as English language learners, special education, white, African American, Hispanic and others. If any one of those subgroups failed AYP, then the school failed.

A first year AYP failure was not a serious problem but the second consecutive year of failure to meet AYP goals meant being designated a “School in Need of Improvement” (SINI). This designation came with several requirements including sending a letter to parents telling them that the school was failing to meet AYP. It gave parents a list of options such as free tutoring and transfer to a non-failing school. The federal government designated Morningside High School a SINI in 2005 so before the 2006-2007 school year every parent got a letter saying the school was failing according to the United States Department of Education.

Because, nearly 85% of students in Inglewood met the definition of socioeconomic disadvantaged and standardized testing accurately reflected economic condition, all the schools in the IUSD were soon labeled failing by the federal government. Concurrent with these completely illegitimate conclusions the district started its precipitous decline.

Alfie Kohn published a 2004 article he called, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow; Using Accountability to ‘Reform’ Public Schools to Death.” In it, he discussed the idea that the NCLB accountability measures were purposely designed to open a path for privatizing schools. He wrote,

“As Lily Tomlin once remarked, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.’”

“We now have corroboration that these fears were entirely justified. Susan Neuman, an assistant secretary of education during the roll-out of NCLB, admitted that others in Bush’s Department of Education ‘saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda – a way to expose the failure of public education and ‘“blow it up a bit’’’ (Claudia Wallis, ‘No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?’, Time, June 8, 2008).”

It is a widely held conclusion that NCLB was a failed education initiative. If privatizing schools was its true intent, then NCLB was a success.

Invasion of the Charter

Reed Hastings CEO of Netflix was such a heartfelt liberal that he even joined the Peace Corps and taught mathematics in Africa. That is his only teaching experience. In 2000, he used his vast wealth to get the cap on charter schools in California lifted. He also told a gathering of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) that elected school boards are anachronisms and should be replaced by non-profits running charter schools.

In 2000, Proposition 39 was also supported by Reed Hastings and other pro-school-privatization billionaires. Due to the no-new-tax mantra of conservatives, schools were having a difficult time raising money to build needed facilities. Proposition 39 lowered the vote threshold required to pass a bond. Unfortunately, hidden within the laws language was a requirement for underutilized public schools to share their facilities with charter schools. With no debate the public unknowingly voted for co-location of charter schools with public schools.

When proposition 39 is coupled with the pro-charter authorizing system in California, citizens lose all democratic control over their local schools. As former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch shared:

“District officials in California have confided in me that it is virtually impossible to stop a charter proposal, no matter how bad it is or how little it is needed. If the district turns down the proposal, the charter advocates appeal to the Los Angeles County School Board, where they are often approved. In the off-chance that both the district and the county turn down their proposal, the advocates appeal to the state, where they are almost certain to win approval.”

At the start of the millennium, Inglewood had 18 schools. Now, it has at least 31 schools.

Inglewood Charter Schools

Charter Schools Operating in Inglewood, California

With the federal government proclaiming that IUSD schools are failing, a fertile area for charter school establishment was cultivated. Most people do not know much about schools and education policy so of course many concerned parents wanted to move their children out of the “failing district schools.”

The IUSD schools were never failing nor are charter schools their equivalent. Certainly, there are some good classrooms in charter schools but they come with the charter industries’ record of fraud, abuse and instability.  When one of these private businesses closes their doors as has happened too frequently, district schools must take in all their students. Unlike charter schools, public schools cannot reject a student.

Professor Gordon Lafer recently published the paper Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts which shows that a significant amount of the costs for a student stays with the district when a student transfers to a charter school. In addition, Lafer noted that charter schools avoid special education students and most especially higher cost more severely handicapped special education students.

Enrollment Data Chart by Tom

Inglewood Compiled Data; Charters Avoiding Disabled Students

The above chart is based on enrollment data for the 2017-2018 school year. It shows that Inglewood charter schools are avoiding more than half their share of special education students. Also, the total number of students enrolled in Inglewood charter and public schools combined is almost 5,000 less than the 2006 public school enrollment of 18,000. It appears that there are less students in the district and some resident students are attending schools outside of the district boundaries.

The State of California has Failed Inglewood

On April 6, 2018 the sixth Inglewood state trustee, Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, wrote parents about the districts budget,

“When I began in August, I learned that the district faced an $8 million shortfall.”

“The result of rising costs and Inglewood Unified’s inadequate planning, even after the cost savings measures implemented to date, as of March 15th is now a $7 million budget shortfall.”

San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) has 130,000 students. It is 15.5 times larger than IUSD. A $7 million deficit for IUSD is equivalent to a $108 million deficit for SDUSD.

In 2012, the Daily Breeze reported on Kent Taylor the first “State Trustee” assigned to Inglewood,

“… Taylor was thrust into a high-profile, high-pressure situation when California state schools chief Tom Torlakson recruited him from the top job at the Southern Kern Unified School District in hopes Taylor could rescue Inglewood Unified from the financial quicksand.”

“Two months later, he was pressured to resign for making financial commitments with the teachers union without approval from the California Department of Education.”

What happened with Taylor was never fully explained. He got a job in the neighboring Lennox school district and within the year became their superintendent. He is still the superintendent in Lennox.

The state replaced Taylor with the school finances leader serving directly under him, La Tanya Kirk-Carter. She had been recruited from Beverly Hills Union High School District by the state to head up the business division and “help lead the recovery.” She was supposed to be a temporary replacement until a new permanent trustee was hired, but served out the rest of the 2012-2013 school year.

The third Trustee assigned by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson was veteran administrator Don Brann. He was still serving as Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Da Vinci Schools, college-preparatory charter schools in Hawthorne. For 15 years, Brann was Superintendent of the Wiseburn School District in Hawthorne, which is a close neighbor to Inglewood.

In a somewhat ironic twist, Brann’s success in turning around Wiseburn School District (WSD) was partially due to his inter-district enrollment plan, a plan that drew students from IUSD. WSD increased enrollment by touting the district’s small class sizes and availability of space for after school programs to attract students from surrounding areas.

Brann resigned after one year and Torlakson recruited Vincent Mathews the leader of the San Jose schools to be the Trustee. Mathews is a 2006 alumnus of the unaccredited Broad Academy for school administrators. He also served as Educator in Residence at the NewSchools Venture Fund. In 2001, Mathews was principle of the for-profit Edison Charter Academy.

Mathews stayed 18 months in Inglewood before accepting the Superintendents position in San Francisco. He is the longest serving state trustee so far.

About Mathew’s tenure, the LA Times noted,

“A recent report by the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team found that, under Matthews, Inglewood had left day-to-day tasks to consultants, hadn’t monitored its budget and had underestimated its salary costs by about $1 million. The district had also overestimated its revenue, in part by incorrectly counting the number of students.”

Jason Spencer became Torlakson’s fifth appointment when he was selected Interim State Administrator to succeed Matthews.

Now, Inglewood has another Broad Academy graduate from the class of 2006, Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana. Her bio at the Broad Center says,

“Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana began her career as a bilingual first-grade teacher and brought her first-hand teaching experience to leadership roles in several urban school districts throughout Southern California — including Pomona, Santa Ana and Los Angeles — as well as the U.S. Department of Education, where she served as assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. In that role, she helped draft the Blueprint for Reform, an Obama administration plan for continuing improvements begun in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”

Is this the Future?

NCLB set the table. Students in poor communities were guaranteed to produce bad test results. Billionaires were pouring huge money into developing the charter school industry. State leaders were putting privatization friendly leaders in charge of school districts. The state trustees were never in place long enough to provide stable leadership.

Eli Broad attended public school and went on to become the only person ever to develop two Fortune 500 companies, Sun America and KB Homes. Broad, who is worth $6 billion, decided that public schools should be privatized and established a school for administrators to promote his ideology.

In Oakland, the first state trustee was a Broad Academy graduate named Randy Ward and three more of the next 6 superintendents who followed Ward were also Broad trained. Oakland suffered nine superintendents in 13 years.

In Inglewood, one trustee was a charter school founder who was concurrently serving as a board member of the charter school and the last two superintendents were Broad trained. Inglewood received six state appointed trustees in six years.

How much longer before large school districts like San Diego and Los Angeles – with 25% or more of their students in privatized schools – are forced into bankruptcy and taken over by the state? Both districts are currently running massive deficits caused primarily by charter school privatization and unfair special education costs.