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The Delta Variant Meets Open Schools Now

13 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/13/2021

It is not possible for schools in most states to open safely. Well respected Dr Jorge A Caballero wrote in the Guardian, “school reopening plans that hinge on universal mask mandates and frequent testing are doomed to fail.” At this perilous time, there is also a political movement demanding that schools be fully opened. Because the delta variant is so much more transmissible, only mandated vaccination and masking will make it possible for schools to safely operate.

This weekend the President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Randi Weingarten, accepted reality and in a Meet the Press interview called for mandatory vaccination of teachers. The leadership at the National Education Association (NEA) also reversed their opposition on Thursday (8/12/2021) and joined with AFT’s call for vaccine mandates.

The Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, mandated (8/11/2021) that all public school employees in California be vaccinated. Schools have until October 15 to come into compliance. However, this is not enough. Students also must be vaccinated as soon as they are of eligible and until this pandemic is conquered, masking is required of everyone.

As Dr Caballero further explained,

“It is biologically impossible to test our children to safety. A new study showed that persons infected with the Delta variant had produced around 1,000 times more copies of the virus by the time they tested positive, as compared to persons infected with the original (novel coronavirus-2019) strain. The study traced 167 infections to a single index case. A separate study traced a total of 47 cases (including 21 secondary cases) to a single person. Simply put: the Delta variant makes each of its hosts into a walking super-spreader event before the person even realizes they’ve been infected.”

“On a population-adjusted basis, the weekly average of US children admitted to hospitals with Covid-19 is rising faster than any other age group.”

 Open Schools Now

It seems the campaign to ignore safety issues associated with the novel corona virus originated in May 2020. The former president and his secretary of education began calling for schools to be open for full time face to face instruction.

A recent analysis of a San Diego County school board election revealed that the leaders of two county open schools groups were very active Republican operatives. However, OpenSchoolsCA which bills itself as an umbrella organization for the California open school movements seems less connected to the Republican Party but very connected to the public school privatization agenda.

Founder of OpenSchoolsCA Megan Bacigalupi earned a JD from the University Of California Hastings School Of Law in 2007.  She soon after went to work for Michael Bloomberg’s New York City administration where she served in various positions including a year in the Department of Education. The Bloomberg administration ended in 2014 and so did her work for the city.

A New York Times article announced Megan’s 2010 marriage to John Bacigalupi who worked in the financial industry selling real estate investment trusts. In 2016, John accepted a position as Senior Vice President at Cantor Capital in the bay area and the two west coast transplants came home.

In the graphic above, the LittleSis map shows that The Oakland Public Education Fund is little more than a pass-through channel financing organizations dedicated to privatizing public schools. Megan serves on the Advisory Board for the fund.

Evidently, OpenSchoolsCA is receiving big funding from unknown sources. They were first organized in December 2020 when they hired well-known public relations expert Pat Reilly. Her PR resume’ goes back to the National Governors Association in 1989 and includes being San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown’s press secretary in 1995. This March, Megan Bacigalupi resigned from her position as a program manager at the Canadian technology non-profit C100 to be the full time Executive Director of OpenSchoolsCA.

The OpenSchoolsCA about page list of advisors includes David Castillo who at one time was the California Charter Schools Association’s Alameda County director and has spent more than 20-years working to advance charter schools.

The former Oakland Unified School District Trustee, Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, is also listed as an advisor. The billionaire founded and funded organization dedicated to privatizing Oakland Schools, GO Public Schools, spent more than $167,000 over 2012 and 2016 for her elections. She also received max contributions from Michael Bloomberg, Laurene Jobs Powell, Stacy Schusterman, Greg Penner and Arthur Rock among other extremely wealthy enemies of public education.

Megan Bacigalupi insisted to LA Times reporter, Howard Blume, that privatization was not what it is about, but OpenSchoolsCA recent Oakland rally made it look otherwise. Ken Epstein reported,

“Witnessing the Lake Merritt rally and the mayor’s participation in it were Davey D Cook, hip-hop activist and KPFA radio host; and local artist, activist and educator Kev Choice.

“Kev Choice, speaking on the radio show, said, “I was taken aback by the demographics of the rally” and particularly upset by two prominent placards he saw at the rally: ‘End Oakland Teacher Supremacy’ and ‘Teacher Union Delay Kills Kids.’

“Joining the mayor in calling for the district to reopen were former school board member Jumoke Hinton-Hodge and current school board member Cliff Thompson.”

In November, Cliff Thompson won Oakland’s District-7 seat with 30.4% of the vote (4,735 total votes). He was supported by CCSA PAC, GO PAC, Power2Families and Committee for California. There were four seats up in that election. He was the only billionaire supported candidate elected when the teachers union and a local community group split on whom to support.

OpenSchoolsCA is Not Right for this Crisis

A new Business insider piece says, “Average daily hospitalizations of children with COVID have reached an all-time high of 239.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on August 9, “Ten metro Atlanta school districts reported 1,015 cases of the coronavirus in the first days of the new year.”

Lamar County Mississippi put two of its high schools back in virtual mode. On August 9, Superintendent Steven Hampton revealed, “Last week we had 114 positive students with 26 positive faculty members, our employees. We had to quarantine 608 students due to close contact, also 41 employees quarantined. We had 16 outbreaks across our district.”

The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss described how 200 doctors in Kansas had to fight a superintendent to get a mask mandate imposed. She also explained how state law is stopping Kansas from re-employing virtual learning.

This is a nationwide crisis that is just starting. We need to take off our rose colored glasses and deal with reality. Making students and teachers safety a priority should not be controversial. Today’s circumstances make forcing large numbers of students into small rooms dangerous.

Until we can vaccinate all students and school staff, prudence says conduct on-line school. Even with the delta variant younger children appear not to be quite as susceptible, it might be safe to bring them into schools if everyone is masked and ventilation is up to par. Until we get all students over 12 and all staff vaccinated, we must use common sense which means stop face to face school.

Dyslexia Industry Scores California Court Victory

4 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/4/2021

In a court settlement, Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) agreed to implement inappropriate dyslexia remedies. The Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) claimed the district failed to identify students with reading disorders, including dyslexia, and did not provide them adequate services. To end the litigation begun in 2016, district leaders agreed to implement a universal screening program for reading disorders and adopt new reading intervention programs. BUSD also agreed to hire a nationally recognized outside consultants. District representatives disagreed with the charges but said the legal fight was becoming too expensive.

DREDF lawyers paint BUSD as a failing school system that makes no effort to identify students with learning disorders. They point out that only 70% of BUSD students are rated as proficient in reading by third grade. The lawyers cite the California School Dashboard’s 2017 data as evidence. However, the Dashboard which is a color coded evaluation of school performance shows BUSD performing at a high level.

From the 2017 California School Dashboard

Four students labeled A, B, C and D along with their parents or guardians are listed as plaintiffs. The DREDF filing states,

“When Student A started first grade, she was immediately placed in a Leveled Literacy Intervention (‘LLI’), a general reading intervention, since her reading abilities were significantly below her peers.  Student A’s teachers reported that she made some progress in LLI, but she continued to show emotional distress and displayed reading avoidant behaviors at home.”

The following year at age-7, student-A received average composite scores on several standardized tests and was put back in regular reading. Based on these results, the district turned down a special education declaration for the student.  DREDF lawyers claim that the “scores were too discrepant to calculate Student A’s processing speed and working memory …” In other words, they disagreed with the testing used.

Student-B came to BUSD in kindergarten. Within a few weeks, teachers recommended that his parents have a medical evaluation done. Later, his parents tried to home-school him and when that did not work out; they put him in a charter school. He was soon kicked out of the charter school and at age-6 he was back in BUSD. The school gave him a special education designation for ADHD. He was given a one-on-one tutor under the supervision of a special education teacher. DREDF found this inadequate because the tutor was not a trained special education teacher.

Student-B’s behavior deteriorated to the point of being suspended. BUSD placed him in a private school, Catalyst, which specialized in behavioral problems.  Catalyst gave up on student-B. In 2016 student-B was given a new medication for ADHD and his improved behavior allowed him to function in a regular classroom setting. DREDF claimed the district did not do enough.

Student-C was a ninth grader in 2015 when he transferred into BUSD from a private school. An independent evaluator had diagnosed him with dyslexia. BUSD concurred with the diagnosis and made a special education declaration. Student-C was given a 55-minute support class once a day, adaptive technology lessons 5-times a year and a weekly 15-minute meeting with his case manager. The student’s parents felt that he needed more and paid for some sort of private support services.

Student-D also came into ninth grade from a private school. During 3rd grade, the private school evaluated her as having reading difficulties. She was given several accommodations including extra time on tests. Student-D transferred in with all A’s and B’s on her report cards. Because she had such good grades BUSD determined that she did not qualify for special education services. Her grades remained high but she did poorly on the PSAT for which she was given no accommodations. Student-D was eventually given a 504 designation in time for her to take the SAT with accommodations. Her parents also paid for private support services.

Selling the Science of Reading

While it is true that experts estimate between 5 and 20 percent of all students have difficulties learning to read, this lawsuit is just another skirmish in the “science of reading” war. The dyslexia industry has adopted the position that phonics instruction is the only way to address reading difficulties. Further, they dismiss the expertise of school districts and teachers and strongly suggest only private companies have the elite expertise required to provide products that are capable of identifying and solving reading issues.

Professor Jim Horn has written extensively about the “science of reading” conflict and the bias of the National Reading Panel toward Alphabetics (phonemic awareness and phonics). In his 2003 review of Gerald Coles’ book Reading the Naked Truth: Literacy, Legislation, and Lies Horn shared,

“Coles concludes that the Panel’s ‘antipathy of anything that veers away from direct instruction model’ (p. 110) led them to the bizarre conclusion that there is not sustainable evidence, i.e, causal findings, to support the notion that children become better readers by reading and discussing books or by having encouragement and time provided to read books.”

In 2020, scholars at the National Education Policy Center addressed the still raging reading debate. They warned against, “Misrepresenting the ‘science of reading’ as settled science that purportedly prescribes systematic intensive phonics for all students.” And they stated that policy makers, “Should support the professionalism of K-12 teachers and teacher educators, and should acknowledge the teacher as the reading expert in the care of unique populations of students.” They also assert that David Pearson’s statement in a 2004 paper still rings true:

“For example, several scholars, in documenting the practices of highly effective, highly regarded teachers, found that these exemplary teachers employed a wide array of practices, some of which appear decidedly whole language in character (e.g., process writing, literature groups, and contextualized skills practice) and some of which appear remarkably skills oriented (explicit phonics lessons, sight word practice, and comprehension strategy instruction). Exemplary teachers appear to find an easier path to balance than either scholars or policy pundits.”

Inappropriate Solutions

The International Dyslexia Association and Decoding Dyslexia have been very successful at tapping into the emotions of parents over the issue of dyslexia. They routinely turn out hundreds of passionate people to legislative hearings trumpeting the dyslexia industry’s message which is to turn the problem over to private companies. In this linked video, Professor Rachael Gabriel discusses her research into how this consistent message has been created and delivered. It is a relatively new phenomenon with a large spate of dyslexia bills appearing in almost every state. 

To end the lawsuit, BUSD has agreed to test all students in kindergarten through 2nd grade with a DIBELS standardized assessment twice a year. The Berkeleyside reports, “For students in need of interventions, the district will implement Wilson Reading Systems or Slingerland, both of which are in line with standards set by the International Dyslexia Association.”

DIBELS, or Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, is a set of procedures and measures developed at the University of Oregon for assessing literacy development in students from kindergarten through sixth grade. Many educators and scholars loudly detest DIBELS. David Pearson wrote,

“I have decided to join that group of scholars and teachers and parents who are convinced that DIBELS is the worst thing to happen to the teaching of reading since the development of flash cards.

“I take this extreme position for a single reason—DIBELS shapes instruction in ways that are bad for students (they end up engaging in curricular activities that do not promote their progress as readers) and bad for teachers (it requires them to judge student progress and shape instruction based on criteria that are not consistent with our best knowledge about the nature of reading development).”

There are many more claims like this.

Both Slingerland and Wilson Reading Systems are based on the Orton-Gillingham approach. It was developmed in the 1930s and focused on phonics and sound decoding schemes. The International Literacy Association stated in 2016,

“As  yet,  there  is  no  certifiably  best  method  for  teaching  children  who  experience  reading  difficulty  (Mathes  et  al.,  2005).  For  instance,  research  does  not  support  the  common  belief that Orton-Gillingham–based approaches are necessary for students classified as dyslexic (Ritchey & Goeke, 2007; Turner, 2008;  Vaughn  &  Linan-Thompson,  2003).  Reviews  of  research  focusing  solely  on  decoding  interventions  have  shown  either  small  to  moderate  or  variable  effects  that  rarely  persist  over  time,  and  little  to  no  effects  on  more  global  reading  skills.” 

The US Department of Education established the What Works Clearing House which tried to establish a fair conclusion about education issues based on existing peer reviewed research. The three programs being replaced at BUSD, Read 180, LLI and Reading Recovery were evaluated as having positive results. Even though the Orton-Gillingham method has been around since the 1930’s there was not enough evidence to show a positive effect.

DREDF is not only the law firm that brought this case but they also are one of the organizations who officially supported SB237. This proposed state law mandates changes like those that DREDF was able to achieve in the law suit. Maybe DIBELS is not so bad and maybe the Orton-Gillingham approach is helpful for some students, but making these approaches a legal requirement is not rational. Trust education professionals and public schools over lawyers and private enterprise.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California will hold a hearing for the case Nov. 4 to finalize the settlement.

Embarrassing Paper from the University of Arkansas

27 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/27/2021

Masquerading as a serious education research paper, Making it Count: The Productivity of Public Charter Schools in Seven U.S. Citiesis little more than a flawed propaganda screed. The authors from the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions claim the superiority of “public charter” schools over traditional public schools (TPS) by employing thoroughly discredited methods. They repeat the same data manipulation malfeasance that has been debunked multiple times over the past decade.

The paper was produced by the School Choice Demonstration Project which resides within the Department of Education Reform. That department was established by the University Arkansas’s College of Education and Health Professions in 2005. Arizona State Professor Eugene Glass commented that the department is, “one of the strangest I have ever seen.” Glass reports that the Department of Education Reform was made possible by a $10 million dollar gift from the Walton Family Foundation plus another $10 million from the University of Arkansas’s matching gift program.

Subsequent to the big 2005 grant, Walton Family Foundation tax records (EIN: 13-3441466) reveal more than $30 million in grants to the University of Arkansas Foundation and school administration.

Inappropriate Numerators and Specious Denominators

The people at the School Choice Demonstration Project insist on using “public charter school” and “traditional public schools” to differentiate between charter schools and public schools. Charter schools are private companies that have a government license to provide schooling. Public schools are controlled by elected public representatives and must accept all students. Charter schools are not required to meet all public school rules of operation. Referring to charter schools as “public charter schools” and public schools as “traditional public schools” reveals a strong bias.

The authors attempt to compare testing results per $1,000 dollar funding between charter and public schools. They use manipulated National Assessment of Education Performance (NAEP) data. Another Walton Family creation, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, used a “virtual twin” scheme to create the comparison data employed.

Business writer Andrea Gabor states that CREDO studies which compare charter schools with public schools start with two key assumptions “A) That standardized-test scores are an adequate measure of school quality and B) that creaming in charter schools does not exist.” Many studies dating back to the eugenics movement debunk standardized-testing for mistaking correlation versus causation and for not being able to compensate for the problem of error. A glance at state enrollment records confirms that charter schools practice creaming.

The CREDO method does not compare charter school test performance to actual public schools; rather it creates mathematical simulations. They use arithmetic magic to create the “virtual twin” schema that stands in for a public school students. This method introduces several biases that advantage charter schools.

The “Making it Count” paper gets its “inappropriate numerators” from CREDO. It is also where they get the theory for their wild claim that “public charter schools in our sample would produce $487,177 more in lifetime earnings than the TPS.”

The denominators in the paper’s calculations are based on school spending per student. The data used comes from a 2020 paper also produced by mostly the same authors; Charter School Funding:  Inequity Surges in the Cities. In this update of a previous report on the 2013-14 school year, they state, “Our most recent report updated that analysis by drawing upon data from the 15 metropolitan areas for the 2015-16 school year.” In other words, no methodology changes just an update.

One of America’s leading authorities on education finance, Rutgers University’s Bruce Baker, reviewed the 2013-14 report for the National Education Policy Center. In the introduction, Professor Baker wrote,

“A district’s expenditure can be a charter’s revenue, since charter funding is in most states and districts received by pass-through from district funding, and districts often retain responsibility for direct provision of services to charter  school students—a reality that the report entirely ignores when applying its resource-comparison framework. In addition, the report suffers from alarmingly vague documentation regarding data sources and methodologies, and it constructs entirely inappropriate comparisons of student population characteristics. Simply put, the findings and conclusions of the study are not valid or useful.” (Emphasis added)

Professor Baker noted that the report’s authors knew about their errors because “these issues have been extensively explored for decades and are fundamental and long-accepted components of virtually every state’s finance system.” He also pointed out that he and other critics have previously highlighted these flaws in papers produced by the same authors. This was the genesis of the “specious denominators.”

Baker addressed using the paper’s data for return on Investment claims,

“In only a handful of states are the majority of charter schools ostensibly fully fiscally independent of local public districts. This core problem invalidates all findings and conclusions of the study, and if left unaddressed would invalidate any subsequent ‘return on investment’ comparisons.

The Authors

Corey A. DeAngelis is the national director of research at the American Federation for Children (DeVos), the executive director at the Educational Freedom Institute (Friedman), an adjunct scholar at Cato Institute (Koch), and a senior fellow at Reason Foundation. He was named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for his work on education policy and received the Buckley Award from America’s Future in 2020.

Patrick J. Wolf is principal investigator of the School Choice Demonstration Project where he has led or is leading major studies of school choice initiatives including longitudinal evaluations of school voucher programs in Washington, DC; Milwaukee, WI; and the state of Louisiana.

Cassidy Syftestad is a Doctoral Academy Fellow, Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. Her previous experience includes working at the Koch Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Heartland Institute and Hillsdale College.

Larry D. Maloney is president of Aspire Consulting.

Jay F. May is founder of and senior consultant for EduAnalytics.

OUSD, the Digital Divide and Edtech – Be careful what you wish for

24 Jul

By  Steven Miller, July 22, 2021 (Guest Post by former Oakland Educator)

In 2018, Thomas Ultican wrote about the dangers of Edtech:

“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 fourth 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.”

Edtech is now far more predominant everywhere today, after 2 COVID school years, which has resulted in the massive imposition of distance-learning.

Back in 2018, Education Week Research Center reported that a strong majority of the country’s principals  – 85% of those interviewed –  felt that too much screen time was not good for students – 77% felt students worked alone too often and 67% felt the tech industry had too much influence over public education.  And now Edtech is being established as the savior of our children.

That was then; this is now.

We all know, teachers, students, parents, communities – all the primary stake-holders – we all know that the new school year presents us with some of the greatest challenges we have ever faced in public education. Re-opening is a crisis and an emergency. So what is Edtech bringing to OUSD? Is it helping?

The education reporter for The Oaklandside, Ashley McBride, wrote on July 20, 2021:

“More than a year ago, the city of Oakland together with Oakland Unified School District and a group of nonprofit partners launched the Oakland Undivided campaign with an ambitious goal: to close the digital divide by raising enough money to purchase laptops and internet hotspots for every student in Oakland who needed them during the pandemic. At the time, public school students were required to learn from home virtually, but roughly 25,000 of them in Oakland lacked a computer, reliable internet, or both….”

“Today, as students prepare to head back to their classrooms full-time in the fall, nearly 97% of students in Oakland Unified School District have a computer and working internet at home, including 98% of students who are low-income, according to district data.”

Sounds like a good thing, a really good thing. The problem with Edtech, however, is not the digital technology. Technology is a tool that can be used well or turned against us. Technology can actually be employed to make schools better, not cheaper. The issue is how it is configured. As always, we must follow the money trail to really discover who benefits.

While OUSD is currently planning on fully re-opening, distance learning is an option. It will certainly be more pervasive in the classroom. Edtech makes its money off harvesting student data. Who will own the data this coming year, 2021-22?  Who can use the data? Do students or their parents control their own data?

The School Board must play a leading role in guaranteeing public policy here.

Chrome books store every single key stroke (and possibly every eye movement) on the cloud, which they own. Google Chromebooks also have a pre-installed program called “Gaggle”, which, we are told, scans student homework to look for depression, suicide ideation and likely various threats to shoot up the school. Google Classroom material is configured to surveille the students. Data and ever more data is the mother’s milk of Edtech. 

One problem is the people who control the data harvested from Edtech algorithms have increasing influence in creating the curriculum. This new private power in public schools is routinely used to undercut the role of experienced teachers and call the shots.

Whether corporations or big-shot administrators, the people who control this power love to spout about “healing the digital divide”. This is the corporate happy-speak that the OUSD school board, as well as their “private partners” and NGOs, traditionally have used to dress up policies that are demonstrated to work against student learning. But “healing the digital divide” with chrome books turns our children’s information into fodder for corporate profits.

Another favorite is “personalized learning”, supposedly something that Edtech will make available to every student and bring public education into the 21st Century. This myth is based on the same type of algorithms that Netflix and Amazon use to “personalize” their services to your interests. The biggest backers of personalized learning are Bill Gates, Google and the Chan- Zuckerberg Initiative.  As noted by blogger Peter Greene:

“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.

“We’re being sold (and in many cases are arguing against) an AI that spits out just the digitized worksheet that Student 12-5452 needs to continue studies, but that’s not where we’re headed. Look, for instance, at the new, improved PSAT
that returns both a score and some recommendations. ‘Looks like you need to log in to Khan Academy’s lesson series for calculus.’ Or ‘You would really benefit from the AP Calculus course– talk to your guidance counselor today.”’

On March 21, 2021, OUSD signed an agreement to replace diagnostic testing from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium with the notorious I-Ready. One of the funders of i-Ready is the Kenneth Rainnin Foundation, which also funds local Oakland privatizers like GO Public Schools, the Oakland Public Education Fund, the New Schools Venture Fund, Aspire charter schools, Educate 78 Oakland Public Schools, the East Bay Community Foundation, and Education for Change.

I-Ready is based in the techniques of behavioral modification that was fundamental to the highly discredited system of Competency Based Education that holds that children should learn alone and in isolation, taking constant tests to prove their “mastery”.

This reactionary and unproductive philosophy is also disguised as “performance-based education”, “standards-based education”, “outcome-based education”, and “programmed instruction” among others. I-Ready is Competency Based Education on a screen.

Funny thing, i-Ready regularly identifies Black, Indigenous, and students of color as failing. If the goal is to prove that Oakland children are “failing”, then i-Ready is the tool to use. But maybe it is not best to welcome students back and then give them standardized tests to measure how far behind they have fallen.

 Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor wrote:

“The dystopian imagery of a ‘lost generation’ of Black youth is redolent of earlier moral panics: the discoveries of ‘crack babies’ in the nineteen-eighties and ‘super predators’ in the nineties were also rooted in anecdote-driven, pseudo-scientific evidence. Today’s evidence for the spiral of Black children is the tactically vague measurement of ‘learning loss.’ But no one needs to invent a new metric to discover that, during the worst crisis in modern American history, students might be falling behind.”

Ashley McBride describes another facet of Edtech coming to Oakland:

“The Oakland Reach, a parent advocacy group involved with the Oakland Undivided campaign, has been working with Sydewayz Cafe, an information technology business in Oakland, to provide tech support for the organization’s virtual family hub during the pandemic. In the fall, The Oakland Reach plans to launch a fellowship to give students and their families more intensive training in technology and digital platforms, said executive director Lakisha Young. They’ve also been helping families get a federal discount on broadband service.”

Here we have another private power with powerful influence in OUSD. Oakland Reach and the OUSD, in partnership, received a $900,000 grant from the notorious privatizers, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and The New Teacher Project, which supposedly trains teachers, but which pushes privatization. These organizations are part of a complex of billionaire-financed privatization networks like Teach For America, too many to name.

CRPE advocates that school boards should look at schools like a stock portfolio, get rid of the poor performers and invest in the successful stocks. When New Orleans privatized every single school as charters, CRPE came up with “the Blueprint Process”. OUSD used the Blueprint Process to justify closing 23 schools in 2018.

The OUSD School Board, in its grace and wisdom, still intends to close schools as the 2021-2022 school year begins. How many? The Board will announce its plan for school closures on August 16, one week after school begins. “Nothing says ‘Welcome back to school for a restorative restart’ than to tell schools filled with Black and brown students that we’re going to close your school or change your school because you’re not doing well,” said parent Kim Davis during a public comment portion of the meeting.

CRPE has developed a national network called “Education Cities” with the purpose of disrupting public schools. This corporate mob operates in 32 different cities across the country including Oakland, Cincinnati and Atlanta.

From Atlanta to Cincinnati to Oakland, a loosely connected network of nonprofit groups is working to reshape the way their school districts function. Their national scope has gone mostly unexamined, even as their influence is arguably far more likely to affect schools in the average American city than a Betsy DeVos-inspired voucher program.

CRPE also advocates to abolish the political control of public schools by elected school boards. They would be replaced by “Community Education Councils (CECs)”, which would exert “light local governance”. In addition, CRPE advocates for vouchers, what they call “backpack funding”:

A local CEC would have three essential functions: (1) assembling and disbursing funds for each student’s personal education fund; (2) monitoring the quality, innovativeness, and responsiveness to economic change of the learning options available to students; and (3) protecting students by ensuring valid information for choices among diverse learning experiences, monitoring equity of student placements, and identifying fraudulent or ineffective schools or learning providers.

Their essay on funding also discusses students’ personalized education funds, including so-called “back pack funding” that follows students through different learning experiences, and how they can be assembled and managed. The remainder of this essay focuses on the promotive and protective functions of light local governance.

The complex of “OUSD partners” that have banded together to enforce a corporate dictatorship for privatized and semi-privatized education is out in the open. It runs the gamut from chrome books to Oakland Reach to Oakland Undivided to the Center for Reinventing Public Education to the Gates Foundation to Michael Bloomberg, who has bought and paid for several school board members, and beyond.

Certainly, better and more equitable education technology is essential and a public priority. But the way this will be implemented threatens children in Oakland and across the country.

Key question that unravel the whole mess are:

“What are these corporate education reformers going to do with all the data your child will produce next year? Who owns it?”

Every click, every search, the amount of time a child spends on a project or on multiplication, whatever, becomes the property of the corporations that own the apps and the algorithms. They can store it, sell it, search it and configure it with AI, and even… create a profile of your kid that the corporation owns. In May, Dr Velislava Hillman a visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics shared,

“Naviance, owned by Hobson, is a multi-layered data-collecting platform, which until February 2021 formed part of the Daily Mail and General Trust in the UK. The platform has access to a wide range of personal and sensitive information of students. It tracks students as they move through elementary school, college and beyond.”

Hobson serves roughly 12 million students globally across 2000 institutions of post-secondary  education and some 8500 schools and school districts in 100 different countries. It focuses on student “life-cycle management.”

What will happen to Oakland students then when they graduate? Can they retrieve their “profile” from the corporations? What if a student has asthma, causing her to miss school at a rate 7.8% more than her cohort, perhaps taken as “race”, “class,” or measured against the easily developed “Obstruction Index”, which reports on non-cooperation as a behavior trait? 

Perhaps OUSD School Board members will tell us soon whether or not our children’s data will be exploited by corporations. That definitely is the national and international trend. Perhaps School Board members can explain how OUSD intends to protect the information of children – their legacy as living beings – and guarantee their rights to control their digital profile.

We can only hope… or maybe we should force the issue?

PTA: Reform Obstacle or Trusted Parent Advocate?

12 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/13/2021

Founded in 1897, the ubiquitous PTA has been a long time powerful voice in legislative halls. With their many victories, they have developed enemies especially among school privatization advocates. However, the reports of their imminent demise have proven inaccurate. PTA’s robust 2019 tax form (EIN: 36-2169155) and a reported membership of more than 4 million indicates they will be viable for some time to come.

Radical Right Opposes another American Institution

One of the first big hit pieces on the PTA came from the Brookings Institute in 2001. Thomas Toch claimed that the PTA was floundering because they were “out of step with many parents’ demands for change in public education.”

Toch also claimed that the PTA was working with teachers to slow the pace of reform, “The organization rejects the belief of many would-be school reformers today that public schools would work harder to improve if they had to compete for students and financing.”

Toch concluded,

“There is a big role for PTA’s to play in rallying parents to the cause of school improvement. But critics say that unless the National PTA relinquishes its defense of the educational status quo, and unless local chapters define parent involvement far more ambitiously, the century-old cultural icon is likely to continue its decline, a consequence, they say, that would make little difference in the schools.”

Tom DeWeese writes for the ultra-right American Policy Center. They advertise themselves as having “30 years leading the fight for property rights and sovereignty” and “speaking out on the threat of UN Agenda 21/Sustainable Development Policy.” In a post, Deweese says,

“Over the past two or more decades the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have been actively pursuing control of the PTA. They saw its potential to be just what it has become – a tool in the arsenal to push union agendas.”

For their Summer 2021 Journal, Harvard University’s Education Next decided to rerun a 2011 article by Bruno Manno called NOT Your Mother’s PTA.” Manno is senior advisor for K–12 education reform at the Walton Family Foundation. He wrote,

“The PTA has worked to advance social changes that improved the lives of young people, including championing the creation of child labor laws, reorganizing the juvenile justice system, and improving a variety of children’s services. But today, its orientation to K–12 issues is most aptly described by education analyst Charlene Haar as an ‘echo…of the teachers unions.”’

Manno says, “Truth be told, few in today’s K–12 education reform movement look to the PTA to fight for dramatic change or engage in direct conflict with the public education establishment.” He recommends three organizations he says will enlist parents in education reform; Parent Revolution, Education Reform Now, and Stand for Children. The fine print at the end of the article informs the reader that all three organizations are funded by America’s wealthiest family through their Walton Family Foundation.

This March, the Daily Wire ran the post, How The PTA Sold Out Parents For Politics During Schools’ Biggest Crisis.” Daily Wire is owned by the billionaire Wilks Brothers, who made their money through fracking. The Wilks are part of the extreme Christian right.

The article attacks the PTA for being “essentially absent from the public debate on reopening schools.”  It also says they engage in an “embrace of divisive racial rhetoric that has alienated parents…” The Wire is aghast that at the PTA March Legislative Conference “the agenda focused not on getting kids back into school, but on a series of liberal political priorities.”

Great History but Some Questionable Positions

In the era before women successfully demanded the right to vote, Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst founded the Congress of Mothers to support public schools. Hearst’s wealth gained during the California gold rush provided the organization with funding.  The name was officially changed to the National Congress of Parents and Teachers in 1924 when they started referring to themselves as the PTA.

In 1926, the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teacher was founded by Selena Sloan Butler. In 1970, the two organizations united with leaders from both groups taking key leadership roles.

Through its advocacy, the PTA has successfully lobbied for legislation to:

  • Create kindergarten classes
  • Establish child labor laws
  • Implement public health service
  • Supply hot and healthy lunches
  • Devise a juvenile justice system
  • Institute mandatory immunization
  • Include arts in education
  • Initiate enhanced school safety

PTA’s century and a quarter of activism supporting children’s education has seen it battling the enemies of public school:

In 1978, the PTA helped to form a national coalition to Save Public Education; to fight tuition tax credit legislation. The coalition succeeded in the 95th Congress.

In 2002, a PTA news release opposing school vouchers was picked up by Good Morning America, ABC World News Tonight, and 20/20.

In 2003, PTA collaborated with the National Education Association to develop guides on parent involvement, supplemental services for children, and help children in math, science, and reading.

Unfortunately, PTA has bowed to the billionaire financed education reform agenda. In 2009, it became an endorsing partner for the Common Core State Standards.

The PTA has two glaringly errant education policy positions. It endorsedpublic charter” schools and embraced standards and testing. There is no real difference between for profit and non-profit charter schools. They are both about profits. Generally by being a non-profit, a charter school is labeled a “public charter,” but they are often run by for profit charter management companies and these non-profits tend to pay high administrative salaries. When it comes to testing, there is a mountain of evidence against it.

The radical UN-American ultra-right disparages public education, teachers, democratically elected school boards, reasonable public health policies, vaccinations against a pandemic and the PTA. They are a menace.

Questioning Mastery Learning and Growth Mindset

6 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/6/2021

This summer the Los Angeles Unified School District is offering professional development and a salary point credit to teachers for taking the “Mastery Learning” training. The district’s statement of introduction says, “Mastery Learning and Grading is a growth-mindset approach to K-12 teaching and learning…” They further state that by, “… implementing research-based systems honoring individual variation in learning styles, Mastery Learning and Grading allows more students to succeed …”

Unfortunately, these are known failed teaching strategies. Mastery learning failed spectacularly in the 1970s and growth-mindset implementation in classrooms has been a disaster. “Research-based systems honoring individual variation in learning styles”, is a totally debunked theory. In the abstract to his 2016 paper, Paul Kirschner pleads,

“Finally, nearly all studies that report evidence for learning styles fail to satisfy just about all of the key criteria for scientific validity. This article delivers an evidence-informed plea to teachers, administrators and researchers to stop propagating the learning styles myth.”

Mastery Learning

The roots of mastery learning theory reach back to the beginning of the 20th century. In his 1916 book, Democracy and Education (page 122) John Dewey stated,

“An aim must, then, be flexible; it must be capable of alteration to meet circumstances. An end established externally to the process of action is always rigid.”

Another professor at Columbia University contemporary to John Dewey was Edward Thorndike. He became famous in psychology circles for his work on learning theory. That work led to the development of operant conditioning practices within Behaviorism. In 1910, he created the first widely accepted standardized achievement test; it measured handwriting skills. In the 1920s, he focused on intelligence testing.

Ellen Lagemann, an education historian, wrote (Kohn page 7), “One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes the Edward K. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.”

In the 1930s, Benjamin Bloom appeared at Pennsylvania State University where he earned a Bachelors and Masters in psychology. Not long after completing his doctorate in education at the University of Chicago, he became University Examiner; a position he held until 1959. In 1948, Bloom convened a meeting of college and university examiners from throughout the country to discuss the possibility of designing a common framework for classifying the wide variety of intended learning outcomes that the examiners routinely encountered. Based on this work, Bloom published The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, The Classification of Educational Goals. By 1960, it was simply known as Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Vanderbilt University Published this Bloom’s Taxonomy Graphic

In 1968, Bloom published a small paper titled “Learning for Mastery.”His central thesis was that most students (perhaps more than 90%) could master what they were expected to learn in school if they were given enough time. Bloom, unlike Thorndike, believed that intelligence was not fixed and that it could grow. The paper, the taxonomy and work by John Carroll were combined to become “Mastery Learning.”  

The theory proposed that learning goals must be clearly stated for the student. Students were to be provided with some sort of lesson (mostly direct instruction) and upon completing the lesson the student was to be assessed. If they passed the assessment, they moved on to the next lesson. If they did not pass, they were assigned another lesson on the same goal. This process was to be repeated until mastery was achieved.

The “mastery learning” theory violated Dewey’s admonition that goals (aim) must be flexible but it fit perfectly with Thorndike’s behaviorist ideology.

In 1977, the Chicago and Washington DC public school systems adopted master learning. By 1980, they had abandoned the scheme as a failure. The failure was so glaring and so public that the founder of Outcome Based Education (OBE), William Spady, is quoted as saying,

“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 … 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.”

Spady blamed poor implementation but a 2018 research study said of “Mastery Learning”,

“Our objection to mastery/competency/personalized learning is about how a learner comes to develop that mastery/competency … Passing an MCQ test isn’t the objective of education; being able to “learn … how to learn…” and being able to solve uncharted problems are the objectives of education.”

Growth Mindset

Graphic from Page 11 of the 2017 National Education Technology Plan

The Technology Plan states without evidence,

“A key part of non-cognitive development is fostering a growth mindset about learning. Growth mindset is the understanding that abilities can be developed through effort and practice and leads to increased motivation and achievement.”

The US Department of Education made many claims like this one with no evidentiary support. To her credit, the creator of Growth Mindset, Carol Dweck, has acknowledged issues with implementation of the theory. She says,

“Growth mindset is even more complex than we imagined. In the beginning, as I have freely admitted, we did not recognize the complexity of the implementation.”

A large-scale study of 36 schools in the UK, in which either pupils or teachers were given training, found that the impact on pupils directly receiving the intervention did not have statistical significance, and that the pupils whose teachers were trained made no gains at all.

Scholar Carl Hendrick notes that Dweck’s growth mindset research has not been replicated robustly and “like its educational-psychology cousin ‘grit’ – can have the unintended consequence of making students feel responsible for things that are not under their control: that their lack of success is a failure of moral character.”

Incentivizing teachers to study unproven and debunked education theories is like feeding them pedagogical poison.

Neoliberal Forces Dominate Public Education in Sacramento

29 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/29/2021

Two pieces of legislation are racing through California’s state legislature both advancing the school privatization agenda. A third piece designed to protect taxpayers from the ravenous charter industry has been squashed. Public schools and sound pedagogy are being harmed by a radical market based ideology. Democrats continue their complicity in this conservative agenda.

Governor Newsom’s Charter School Give Away

A few weeks ago, Oakland school board Trustee Mike Hutchinson raised alarm bells about Governor Newsom’s education budget trailer bill. Hutchinson wrote on Facebook, “Buried on page 95 is a clause that would extend the length of every charter school’s charter, so that every charter school in California will get two extra years before they would be required to go through a renewal process.” California’s Department of Finance definition states, “The Trailer Bill Language is the implementing language of the California State Budget Bill.” It is where California governors execute their agenda.

Oakland School Board Trustee Mike Hutchinson

For his first chief of staff, Gavin Newsom selected Ann O’Leary. That was a very clear signal that he would not be a reliable friend for public schools. O’Leary was on Hillary Clinton’s senate staff in 2001 where she was deeply involved in writing the No Child Left Behind education bill. She was latter a senior policy advisor on Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and is a well known neoliberal who has been a long time cheerleader for the charter industry. Although O’Leary resigned as Chief of Staff this past December, her neoliberal ideology seems to permeate Newsom’s education policy.

From Page 7 of 22 – 2021-22 Governor’s Budget / May Revision Trailer Bills

The picture above was clipped from page 7 of the list of trailer bills promulgated by the governor’s office. The “K-12 Omnibus Trailer Bill (MR)” with tracking number RN 21 12772 states on page 95,

“Section 47607.4 is added to the Education Code, to read: 47607.4. Notwithstanding the renewal process and criteria established in Sections 47605.9, 47607, and 47607.2 or any other law, effective July 1, 2021, all charter schools whose term expires on or between January 1, 2022, and June 30, 2025, inclusive, shall have their term extended by two years.  (Emphasis added)

Monetizing Dyslexia

Early this year, California Democratic State Senator Anthony Portantino proposed SB237 mandating dyslexia testing and intervention. It appears to be speeding through the state legislature with little opposition. On June 1st it passed on the senate floor with 39 yeses, zero no’s and one did not vote. The legislation awaits a final vote on the assembly floor.

The bill stipulates a specific set of dyslexia testing for all students kindergarten through third grade and requires the “State Board of Education to establish an approved list of culturally, linguistically, and developmentally appropriate screening instruments” to meet the mandate. The legislation also calls on local school districts to use “structured literacy instruction.”

Jan Malvin is a retired University of California researcher with a PhD in Educational Psychology from Northwestern University. She states,

“Formal diagnostic assessment is the only way to identify dyslexia or decoding challenges. The drive for universal screening and other dyslexia-specific policy is ‘a privatization agenda in which public schools become mandated consumers for a growing dyslexia industry, and in which the nature of instruction for students with reading difficulties is narrowly prescribed.”’

While the idea of dyslexia is not a new concept, many current papers make the point that “across more than a century, researchers have failed to consistently identify characteristics or patterns that distinguish dyslexia from other decoding challenges.” In a December 2020 report for the Literacy Research Association, Peter Johnston and Donna Scanlon of the University at Albany stated, “Current efforts at dyslexia screening are misleading about 50 percent of the time.”

While many children do have trouble learning to read and there is reason to believe dyslexia is real, a simple industry provided screening test for K-3 students is likely to misidentify significant numbers of students; labeling some as dyslexic who are not and missing an equal number who are.

Many researchers like Rachael E. Gabriel of the University of Connecticut point out that while the called for “structured literacy” approach has not been disproven even the US Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse states it is “not supported by evidence.”

The list of supporters for SB237 is long and the only California organization that was formally opposed to SB237 in time to be listed in the state’s bill analysis is Californians Together. They were a group formed in 1988 to fight against that year’s proposition 227 which prohibited bilingual education. Tax records show that they are a modest in size non-profit headquartered in Long Beach, California.

Other organizations that have since announced their opposition to SB237 include the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE), California School Boards Association (CSBA), Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), and California Teachers Association (CTA).

No Charter School Reform or Taxpayer Protection

When San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan brought down the $50 million A-3 charter scam, she noted, “People v. McManus revealed many weaknesses in the State’s education system in the areas of fraud enforcement, student data tracking, auditing, school finance, and oversight of charter schools.”

To address these weaknesses Assembly Members Daniel O’Donnell, Cristina Garcia, and Kevin McCarty introduced AB1316. The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) expressed strong opposition to the bill.  As education writer Carl Peterson observed, “Unfortunately, AB1316 was placed in the inactive file by a political system unwilling to risk the wrath of the California Charter School Association.”

This year is turning into a very bad year for public education in California. Neoliberal Democrats and the CCSA are having their way.

Edtech is Business First – Part 2

24 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/24/2021

The pandemic brought a bonanza for online content providers and classroom organizing software. Programs like Google Classroom and Class Dojo which previously seemed superfluous performed a needed service during the crisis. Unfortunately, some of the edtech companies whose businesses spiked were taking advantage of the situation to sell profitable but harmful products based on bad education theory.

Content Providers

Neeru Kosala Presenting for her Non-Profit (Photo Credit CK-12)

Neeru Khosla is the founder and CEO of CK-12, a nonprofit that she started in 2007 to deliver free digital books, particularly on math and science topics. She has the same qualification to reform education as many of our lead education “disrupters”; she’s a billionaire. Her company claims to be providing high-quality, free resources and by free they also mean no pro-accounts or data collection.

Khosla is a mother who trained as a molecular biologist and later earned a masters from the Stanford Graduate School of Education but does not seem to have any classroom experience. Her husband, Vinod Khosla, is a venture capitalist whose massive wealth appears tied to early investments in Google (now Alphabet).

To finance CK-12, the couple uses two private philanthropies, Amar Foundation and CK-12 Foundation. For the past several tax cycles Amar Foundation (EIN 94-3055731) has liquidated about $9 million in Alphabet stock and forwarded the cash to CK-12 Foundation (EIN 20-8007128) which uses it to pay salaries and finance digital content development.

When the pandemic started this barely noticed service saw their registrations expand by 460 percent. Unfortunately, yet another billionaire amateur educator has gotten a larger megaphone to push the “personalized learning” agenda.

The Khan Academy is another content provider that saw their traffic soar in 2020. Originally, the academy generated an image of this selfless Silicon Valley guy, Sal Khan, making math education videos and distributing them for free. In 2007, he formed his non-profit but it was not until 2010 that Bill Gates (EIN 56-2618866) and other billionaires began sending him money.

It turns out that Sal Khan is not so selfless. His non-profit is making him wealthy. Khan Academy tax records (EIN 26-1544963) reveal that between 2010 and 2019 his salary totaled $6,009,694 and since 2015 his yearly salary has been more than $800,000. Between 2012-2017, the Gate Foundation gifted the Khan Academy $12,951,598 and the Overdeck Foundation (EIN 26-4377643) has kicked in $2,154,300.

In 2019, Khan Academy took in $92,559,725 of which only $27,629,684 was from contributions. The Academy has turned into a big-revenue generating non-profit.

In October 2020, Khan Academy announced a new joint effort with NWEA called Khan Academy Districts. There sales pitch says “Khan Academy has partnered with NWEA, creators of MAP® Growth™, to empower teachers to differentiate their instruction based on assessment results and meet the needs of all students.”

NWEA is the company that generated a lot of buzz with their covid-learning loss “research.” NWEA sells standardized math and English testing. They take in noisy data (All standardized testing data is noisy and fraught with error) 3-times a school year, do some fancy arithmetic and report out student growth determinations.

Last year, App Annie reported, “April 8, 2020 The top 3 Education apps in the US by downloads during the week of Mar 22 were Google Classroom, Remind: Safe Classroom Communication and ClassDojo, which saw 580%, 290% and 565% growth, respectively, versus the weekly average in Jan 2020.” This is the ongoing pandemic phenomena that prompted CNBC’s April 23, 2021 article Ed tech’ is booming: Wall Street analysts reveal how to trade the $5 trillion education market.”

Selling Education Snake Oil

The 2016 rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 named ESSA, specified big money for edtech in Title’s I and IV including grants promoting “personalized learning” (ESSA Page 1969). About the only workable training method using a computer is competency based education (CBE). It is a method of drilling small chunks of knowledge and then assessing the learning.

Unfortunately, CBE is just an update of previous failed teaching strategies. In the 1970’s it was called Mastery Learning and in the 1990’s it was called Outcome Based Education. CBE is simply putting Mastery Leaning on a computer instead of using worksheets and paper assessments. It is still bad pedagogy with a sixty-year history of not living up to its protagonist’s claims.

Not only is “personalized learning” bad pedagogy it is also unhealthy. Dr. Nicholas Kardaras wrote in “Time” magazine about health risks associated with student screen time. He noted that “over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.” Also, the vast majority of school principals believe that students are experiencing too much screen time and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes.

Curriculum Associates (CA) distributes i-Ready and its related testing services. The company which was founded in 1969 to provide worksheets for Mastery Learning curriculum is selling CBE based digital curriculum today. Children isolated at digital screens running their algorithms is called “personalized learning.” Student comments on the article “iReady Magnificent Marketing Terrible Teaching make it clear how much they despise this product.

Amplify is another company selling “personalized learning.” After Rupert Murdoch and Joel Klein failed miserably to profit in the edtech arena when Murdoch purchased Generation Wireless and rebranded it Amplify, they took a $371 million write off and exited the business. The billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs’s “Emerson Collective” assumed control of Amplify.

A third company selling CBE based lessons delivered to a screen is Education Elements. They are the classic technology startup company being financed by five venture capital funds including New Schools Venture Fund.

Technology holds great promise for enhancing education, but when profit motives trump ethics it is like feeding poison to America’s children.

Stinking Thinking Monetizes Dyslexia!

2 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/2/2021

This January, California Democratic State Senator Anthony Portantino introduced SB237 mandating dyslexia testing and intervention. It is similar to a spate of bills across the US requiring a privatized approach to intervening with reading difficulties. Unfortunately, contrary to their claims, these initiatives are not based on well founded research. The perpetrators base themselves on the widely disparaged “science of reading” and are part of a well financed effort taking advantage of emotionally compromised parents and students.

The bill stipulates a specific set of dyslexia testing for all students kindergarten through third grade and requires the “State Board of Education to establish an approved list of culturally, linguistically, and developmentally appropriate screening instruments” to meet the mandate. The legislation also calls on local school districts to use “structured literacy instruction.” 

When SB237 was introduced, Decoding Dyslexia CA, EdVoice and the Oakland NAACP were listed as co-sponsors. Decoding Dyslexia is one of the two international organizations promoting this type of legislation. EdVoice is a publishing organization with strong ties to the movement to privatize public education. Its 2003 founding board included Reed Hastings, Laurene Powell Jobs, Eli Broad and Don Fisher. Kareem Weaver is a leader of the Oakland NAACP literacy campaign and was a witness for the plaintiffs in the Vergara case to end teacher employment rights.

“Structured literacy” is a 2016 term pitched by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA). Fundamentally it is a method based on the work of Anna Gillingham and Samuel Orton in the 1930s. Rhode Island’s Department of Education describes it as an “explicit, systematic, diagnostic, cumulative instruction in phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics, syllable types, morphology, semantics, and syntax.” In other words, employ phonics and word decoding to remedy reading issues. IDA claims, “Popular reading approaches (eg., Guided Reading and Balanced literacy) are not effective for students with dyslexia because these approaches do not focus on decoding skills struggling readers need to succeed.”

Legislation not Supported by Research

IDA is an international organizations pushing for specific dyslexia legislation. Their remedies include utilizing private companies to solve student reading problems that public school will not or cannot. They also provide their own dyslexia teaching specialty certification. The obvious implication is that University based teachers’ education programs are incapable of addressing dyslexia.

IDA defines dyslexia,

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.”

This definition is not supported by the community of education scholars. In fact, there is general agreement that there is no satisfactory definition for dyslexia nor is there a known way to screen for it.

A critical analysis of dyslexia legislation by a team of researcher from Ball State University and the University of Texas noted,

“After a multitude of studies across more than a century, researchers have failed to consistently identify characteristics or patterns that distinguish dyslexia from other decoding challenges. Many researchers and educators argue the construct is too vague and contradictory to be useful for educators.”

They continue, “There are no universally employed measures or procedures for identifying dyslexia.”

A paper by Peter Johnston and Donna Scanlon from The University at Albany asserts,

“The bottom line is that there are many definitions of, and theories about, dyslexia and simply no agreed-upon definition that allows schools, clinicians, researchers, or anyone else, to decide who is dyslexic in any valid or reliable way.

“From an instructional standpoint, there is no practical distinction between those classified as dyslexic and others at the low end of the normal distribution of word reading ability in the early elementary grades.”

Not only are there a plethora of scholarly studies that make the same points about the definition for dyslexia, there also are an equal number of research papers that thoroughly discredit the idea that “structured literacy” is a proven success.

In 2017 Rachael E. Gabriel of the University of Connecticut published “Converting to Privatization: A Discourse Analysis of Dyslexia Policy Narratives.” Her paper analyses how the agenda for privatizing dyslexia intervention is sold to legislators and school boards. She also shares results of studies on the “structured literacy” approach. Gabriel cites the US Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse reading research stating “structured literacy” is not supported by evidence.

Money is Driving this New Education Privatization Effort

Senate bill 237 was just moved out of committee to the Assembly. In the 2020 general election, an analysis of major donor California state spending revealed over $14 million dollars spent by a neoliberal cabal of billionaires and the political action committees they fund. Of that spending $1.5 million went to California state legislators. The table above shows the money that went to legislative members who are either on the Assembly and Senate education committees or are listed as co-sponsors for the dyslexia legislation.

Handing off teacher certifications to private organizations and using private companies to screen students is a huge mistake. Legislators should resist the temptation to micromanage public education. The best approach is to trust education professionals and university based scholars more than private actors with an agenda.

The Boston Consulting Group makes the fantastic assertion that, “Investing in early  screening  and  teacher  training  would  provide  an astonishing 800% to 2000% return.” A policy brief from the Institute of Child Success indicates that special education pay for success has great return on investment potential.

Clearly the sharks are circling. Parents, legislators and schools need to be on high alert. Well funded organizations want our public school resources. For them, dyslexia is just another potential profit center.

i-Ready, Johns Hopkins and Oakland Public Schools

26 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/26/2021

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) signed an agreement on March 10 to substitute i-Ready diagnostic testing for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). The no cost agreement calls for the data to be given to Johns Hopkins University for comparative analysis with SBAC. Oakland teachers administering the program claim that the project is being financed by the Kenneth Rainin Foundation.

An Oakland fourth grade math teacher who administered the test stated that the it appeared to be designed to insure that students missed at least 50% of the problems. She observed,

“1) Multi-step unit conversions in the context of a word problem”

“2) Definitions/examples of independent and dependent variables”

“3) Simplification of algebraic equations with two variables”

These skills all appear to be well beyond what should be expected of 9- and 10-years-old students.

i-Ready is a product of Curriculum Associates (CA) out of Billerica, Massachusetts. It was originally formed in 1969 to publish workbooks. Ron Waldron an equities manager at Berkshire Partners took the reins in 2008 and immediately converted it to an ed-tech company.

That was the same year that former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, launched Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) and in close cooperation with the American Legislative Exchange Council and his major contributor, Bill Gates, FEE launched Digital Learning Now. (FEE has been renamed ExcelinEd)

 i-Ready is a technology-based diagnostic testing program that also provides screen based instructional programs for math and reading.

Evidently many junior-high students who use i-Ready in the classroom are making internet searches for information about it. Possibly that explains why my i-Ready article written three years ago is still getting traffic. This May, it has received more than 1600 clicks. The latest two comments out of hundreds to the article are typical:

“i agree iready has caused a ton of stress for me as a 7th grade student.”

“I-ready needs to Die!”

Sales spiels normally tout the research evidence supporting i-Ready. However, there is no independent peer reviewed research backing CA’s claims. A 2019 study from WestEd is typical. The study was paid for by two billionaire non-profits reputed to favor privatizing and monetizing public education – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. In paragraph one the study says,

“Our quantitative analysis showed that students, regardless of their math proficiency, who spent a minimum of 45 minutes a week or more on the i-Ready lessons had a significant improvement in their scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Math Summative Assessment (SBAC) over students who did not.”

However, the next paragraph admits,

“During the observations, it was noted that the product was challenging for less proficient students to use, which was later confirmed by our quantitative analysis — many students who used i-Ready consistently enough to see its benefits were already meeting or exceeding standards in mathematics on the SBAC.”

This shows that better students willing to put in the time got better scores than weaker students who did not. Not too surprising; that would have been the case without i-Ready.

The Evaluator Appears Biased

Chiefs for Change and Johns Hopkins Wrote Joint 2020 Paper – The Return

The Institute for Education policy at Johns Hopkins joined Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change in calling for more testing. Their claim,

“As leaders prepare their school communities for the challenge of re-starting face-to-face as well as hybrid models, a coherent pathway for learning recovery and acceleration needs to include greater reliance on high-quality materials and instruction, and completing the circle with curriculum-based assessments.”

“We recommend formative and summative assessments tied to specific curricula that can be implemented under various circumstances.”

Johns Hopkins was also integral to the attack on the public schools in Providence, Rhode Island. In May 2019, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy led a review of the Providence Public School District (PPSD). They did so at the invitation of the Rhode Island Department of Education Commissioner, Ms. Angélica Infante-Green, with the support of Governor Gina Raimondo and Mayor Jorge Elorza. The Partnership for Rhode Island funded the review.

The Johns Hopkins study was commissioned in May and presented in June and based on the report  Mayor Elorza officially petitioned the state to takeover Providence Public Schools on July  19.

Kenneth Rainin Foundation Lost Their White Hats

The foundation being cited as funding the i-Ready and Johns Hopkins study has assets of more than $600 million. Founder Kenneth Rainin was an entrepreneur from Toledo, Ohio who became wealthy manufacturing and selling laboratory pipettes. When he died in 2007, the foundation became the beneficiary of the majority of his estate.

The Rainan Foundation has spent significant sums on advancing its “Seeds of Learning” reading program and the corporate control of public education. As the LittleSis map depicted above shows, the foundation sends large grants both directly and indirectly to billionaire funded “school choice” promoting organizations.

The “Seeds of Learning” program is supposed to improve reading education results through its preschool efforts. The lead story on the foundation’s web page is “Research Show Seeds of Learning Produces Quick Gains.” The research is not peer reviewed or independent. The Kenneth Rainin Foundation has spent more than $3 million for a Chicago company to produce the results. Report briefs are made available but not the study itself.

The dark side of the study is that they are testing 4- and 5-year olds in alliteration, letter naming, letter sounds, rhyming and vocabulary. That is child abuse. This appears to be an amateur created program that ignores the much greater need for babies to engage in self-directed play in safe and stimulative environments. “Seeds of Learning”  is likely more personality damaging than it is helpful for reading.

Amateurs need to stop using their financial power to control education policy.