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The Education Method and Organization

24 Feb

It was wonderful that day I met Larry Lawrence at a Chicago Hotel frequented by Al Capone (The Drake Hotel). We were in Chicago for the National Public Education conference. I soon discovered two things: Larry only lives thirty miles up the beach from me in San Diego, County and he knows a lot about education. Larry participated in some of the key developments in the history of education methodology. Saturday, we met for lunch and I am still over-stimulated.

This is the third time we have met at the Ki Restaurant in Cardiff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. All three times, Larry has come prepared with notes including an informal agenda. This time, I was pleased that he wanted to begin by talking about a proposed fundamental reorganization of school which decentralizes power and democratizes operations. I had made such a proposal in my latest article which Larry had read. This fit well with his thinking that was influenced among other things by his time at UCLA’s lab school working with John Goodlad and Madelyn Hunter.

The Math Wars

Dr. Lawrence’s professional experience began with “new math.” 1956 was Larry’s third year at Occidental. He had finished the advance Calculus course and decided to register for a class called “Modern Algebra.” After his first day in class, he started studying the class materials and came across a concept he had never seen before, “one to one correspondence”. That concept is now considered an essential understanding for preschool aged children but in 1956 he searched fruitlessly throughout his dorm for anyone who knew what it meant.

Larry spoke about the experience,

“This illustrates the absolute mechanical nature of my math education to that point. This is something I have carried with me throughout my teaching career. How even the concepts that we might consider simple, may have no meaning for our students when they have no context for understanding.”

In 1958, Larry moved on to Teacher College, Columbia University to study math education under the tutelage of Professor Howard Fehr. An obituary in the New York Times said of Professor Fehr:

“Dr. Howard F. Fehr, professor emeritus of mathematics education at Columbia University Teachers College and a founder of new math in the 1960’s, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan after a long illness. He was 80 years old.

“Dr. Fehr, who retired from teaching in 1967 but continued in educational work, was a prolific author and an internationally known educator whose textbooks were used around the world. As the principal author in 1961 of a 246-page report titled ‘New Thinking in School Mathematics,’ Dr. Fehr helped introduce into American classrooms a concept of study and teaching that departed radically from traditional methods.”

Larry recalls Dr. Fehr’s class, “His ‘basic’ course laid out the fundamentals of the ‘new math’ – number systems, characteristics of a field, relations, functions, etc.”

After Teachers College (1959), Larry returned to his old high school, Morningside High in Inglewood, where he created one of the first high school calculus courses in California. In the summers of 1962 and 63, he attended a six weeks training course at the University of Illinois which was a program on how to use the math materials developed by Max Beberman and Herbert Vaugh.

Ralph A. Raimi states that “Max Beberman is generally regarded as the father of the New Math, his teaching and his curriculum project having achieved nationwide fame long before the 1957 Sputnik raised mathematics education to the level of a national priority.” Raimi also reports, “His thesis director at Columbia was Howard Fehr, famous then and later as an authority on the teaching of school mathematics, and a man who directed the PhD theses of many future professors of mathematics education.”

One of the problems for “new math” was it was often rushed into schools before materials were properly vetted or teachers were properly trained. The Stanford Mathematical Study Group (SMSG) under the direction of Edward G. Begle started producing curricular materials in 1958. Unfortunately this SMSG material became derided as “some math some garbage.”

“New math” also gets conflated with the progressive pedagogy. According to E. D. Hirsch, William Heard Kilpatrick was “the most influential introducer of progressive ideas into American schools of education.” (The Schools We Need: Why We Don’t Have Them, Double Day, 1996)

David R. Klein wrote A Brief History of American K-12 Mathematics Education in the 20th Century for Math Cognition. In it he wrote of Kilpatrick’s contribution to the math wars,

“Reflecting mainstream views of progressive education, Kilpatrick rejected the notion that the study of mathematics contributed to mental discipline. His view was that subjects should be taught to students based on their direct practical value, or if students independently wanted to learn those subjects. This point of view toward education comported well with the pedagogical methods endorsed by progressive education. Limiting education primarily to utilitarian skills sharply limited academic content, and this helped to justify the slow pace of student centered, discovery learning; the centerpiece of progressivism. Kilpatrick proposed that the study of algebra and geometry in high school be discontinued ‘except as an intellectual luxury.’”

Klein added,

“Meanwhile in 1920, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) was founded, largely at the instigation of the MAA [Math Association of America]. The first NCTM president, C. M. Austin, made it clear that the organization would “keep the values and interests of mathematics before the educational world” and he urged that ‘curriculum studies and reforms and adjustments come from the teachers of mathematics rather than from the educational reformers.’”

The math wars were thus engaged in the early twentieth century. By the dawn of the 21st century it appeared that the NCTM ideology had won the battle. Teaching math became based on teaching a set of discrete skills. However, today, much of the Common Core math teaching philosophy appears aligned with the progressive ideas of Dewey and Kilpatrick. Common Core also embraces the principles espoused by the proponents of “new math.” The “new math” was not really aligned with either side in the math wars but was more about teaching a cognitive understanding or foundation for learning mathematics and developing teaching methods.

Concerning the “new math,” Larry notes, “While it was a struggle for most teachers in the early years, the concepts have become part of the math curriculum of today.”

The influences on Professor Lawrence (Goodlad, Hunter, Fehr, Beberman, etc.) were experienced classroom teachers, developers of pedagogy and leaders in university teachers’ education departments. They were all exactly the kind of people that founders of the no-excuses charter school chains like John King, Doug Lemov, Mike Feinberg, Dave Levin and others disregarded. Instead, they turned to the economist Erik Hanushek for their guidance on good pedagogy.

Organizing Schools

In my article “Education Reform Musing” I proposed a democratized approach to school organization. Instead of a centralizing power in a principle, I advocated elevating the position of department head to lead circular development and establishing committees comprised of administrators, teachers, parents and students to set policies and resolve disputes. Larry was intrigued by this idea and wanted to discuss how it might fit into the structure that John Goodlad had introduced.

In 1959, the year before he became director of the lab school at UCLA, Goodlad wrote The Non-graded Elementary School. Amy Diniz of the University of Toronto comments:

“In the Non Graded Elementary School, Goodlad argued that the rigid graded education system is not designed to accommodate the realities of child development, including children’s abilities to develop skills at different rates to different levels. (Goodlad, 1963) Goodlad suggests that one limiting assumption embedded in the graded school structure is that children’s achievement patterns in different areas of study are going to be the same. However, in reality, most children progress quickly in certain subject areas while struggling in others. As Goodlad’s research demonstrates, it is very common to have a child in grade two have literacy skills of a grade three but math skills of a grade two. With a graded structure that assumes that a child will progress through each area of study at the same pace, a child is given no freedom to develop at the pace that is optimal for his/her needs.

“A second assumption in a graded system is that all students will learn the necessary skills within a year and then be ready to progress to the next predetermined level. In graded systems, students are all placed on an identical learning cycle with no room for diversity of learning patterns. (Kidd, 1973) Goodlad recognizes that under the graded system, the only options teachers have to adjust for students’ different learning capacities and rates are to either promote or hold back a student. However, there is ample evidence to suggest that both early promotion and non-promotion of a student are not strategies conducive for learning and development (Goodlad, 1963).”

I have taught remedial algebra at the high school level and have personally observed students learning math skills and concepts. Unfortunately, they were not learning fast enough to meet the state imposed standards, so, I was forced to give them failing grades. Worse than the graded system is the standardized system. Instead of meeting students where they are, we harm them because the standards do not match their cognitive development. School in America has long been a sorting system that separates the winners from the losers based on a meritocracy with elements of classism and racism coloring the decisions. Even if it were not flawed, the false perception that students achieve the same mental development at the same age convinces many students that they are not as valuable as others.

At lunch Professor Lawrence sketched out a possible alternative. Instead of age 5 kindergarten, age 6 first grade, age 7 second grade and so on, he postulated the possibility of leaning cohorts.

Cohort 1 for ages 5 to 8

Cohort 2 for ages 7 to 10

Cohort 3 for ages 9 to 12

Cohort 4 for ages 11 to 14

Cohort 5 for ages 13 to 16

Cohort 6 for ages 15 to 18

The overlapping age grouping is on purpose to allow teachers flexibility in moving students to new cohorts. The Diniz article describes Goodlad’s vision for this new structure:

“Two elements of Goodlad’s non-graded system include a longitudinal concept of curriculum and planned flexibility in grouping. Firstly, curriculum is centered on continual and sequential learning, with behavior and content running vertically through the curriculum (Goodlad, 1963). Longitudinal learning emphasizes that all skills learned are in fact base components of more complex skills to be learned in the future (Goodlad, 1963). Secondly, grouping is organized around achievement groups, interest groups, work-study groups or a combination of the three with some groupings being heterogeneous in skills (social sciences) and other groups being homogeneous in skill levels (reading).”

Developing a practical method for implementing Goodlab’s ideas was professor Lawrence’s job when in 1966 he joined the UCLA lab school which came under the purview of the UCLA Graduate School of Education. Lawrence says, “My task was to work within my team of teachers to develop a math program that would address the needs of our multiage, team-teaching organization. For the next few years, I explored a wide variety of programs that included SMSG materials and several others that began to be published in the late 60’s and early 70’s.”

John Goodlab was at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1960-1983, where he served as director of the Laboratory School and as dean of the Graduate School of Education (ranked first in America the last seven years of his tenure).

It is unfortunate that education reform became the domain of unqualified billionaires with no pedagogical understanding. It is time to take back our public school system. It is time to reengage with professionals. Privatizing public education is related to greed and foolishness. No excuse charters are related to abuse, segregation and arrogance. People who reject professionals for their own uninformed views are a menace to society. Let us build on the work of professionals like John Goodlab, Madilyn Hunter, Howard Fehr, Max Beberman and Larry Lawrence.

Education Reform Musing

14 Feb

I have done a lot of whining about “corporate education reform” and the “test and punish” theory of education reform and “standards based” top down education. I am in full agreement with the conclusion Kristina Rizga reached after her four years’ study of Mission High in San Francisco, “The more time I spent in classrooms, the more I began to realize that most remedies that politicians and education reform experts were promoting as solutions for fixing schools were wrong.”

However, I am tired of being Debbie Downer. So, I will share my thoughts on a positive path of improvement for education in America.

Democracy and Local Control

Never let foreigners decide how and what should be taught in your kid’s school. By foreigners, I mean anyone that has never been in the school and lives more than 50 miles away.

Reed Hastings of Netflix was such a heartfelt liberal that he even joined the Peace Corps. He taught mathematics in Africa. Yet, in 2000, this once liberal crusader used his vast wealth to lift the cap on charter schools in California. Today he may be even more infamous for telling the California Charter Schools Association that elected school boards are anachronisms and should be replaced by non-profits running charter schools.

This is the problem with the uber-wealthy and their political assets controlling education. As statistics expert Gene Glass wrote “success in business has proven to them that their circle of competence knows no bounds.” It is my firm belief that the wisdom of the masses expressed through democratic processes is far superior to the dictates of any one of us including political titans and the billionaires.

In 1891, at the NEA gathering in Toronto Canada, Francis W. Parker of Chicago representing the Cook County Normal School declared:

“The soul seeking peace and comfort under the dominance and permanence of fixed ideals shrinks with dismay from the inevitable blunders, stupidity, ignorance and calamities that invariably accompany all democratic growth. The short road of centralization seems to reach in a day that which takes years to accomplish under the patient waiting for that slow dawning of intelligence which leads to right action on the part of democratic communities.

“Our foreign critics mistake variety and honest individual striving for chaos. That which has its birth in the desires and intelligence of the people, and is applied by the will of the people, becomes an organic, permanent factor in the progress of civilization of that people. It is rooted and grounded upon the people-“Vox POTTI. Vox dei.” But that which is imposed upon a people by any authority below heaven breaks into atoms when the intelligence and power of a people can reach and control it.

Centralized power may be a necessity for infancy, but manhood sheds it off for the strong wings of freedom.

In 1916, John Dewey wrote in his book Education and Democracy,

“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. Being inserted or imposed from without, it is not supposed to have a working relationship to the concrete conditions of the situation.”

It is not just writers from Mother Jones or 19th and early 20th century American educators who warn of the deleterious effects associated with centralized power and ridged standards. The famed Japanese Buddhist philosopher and educator, Daisaku Ikeda writes in his book Soka Education:

“I have in the past called for the principle of the separation of powers to be expanded to give education a status and independence equal to that accorded the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Because education is a profound endeavor that shapes the individuals of future generations, it should be completely independent of political interference.”

Throughout his long illustrious career Mr. Ikeda has developed friendships and established what Peter Greene calls “thinky tanks.” In the book mentioned above, Ikeda quotes Columbia University’s Professor Robert Thurman’s answer to a question he received at the Ikeda founded Boston Research Center for the 21st Century. He was asked how he views the role of education in society. Thurman replied, “I think the question should rather be; what is the role of society in education? Because in my view education is the purpose of human life?”

The former Rector of the National University of Cordoba, Argentina, Francisco J. Delich is a friend who Ikeda wrote about in his book, Unforgettable Friends. Ikeda imparted:

“Having been driven from the lectern by the government in the past [1976-1983], Dr. Delich is very deeply and personally aware of the evil of allowing government to control education. He wants to build a society in which political leaders respect educators. Education, he believes, is the very foundation of the nation.”

Rizga, Parker, Dewey, Ikeda, Thurman and Delich contravene the thinking of the billionaire class who believe schools should be centrally commanded like the monopolistic enterprises by which they were enriched. People of great moral purpose believe in democratic processes. They understand it is impossible for capitals of power to satisfactorily meet the educational needs of any community by imposition. Democratic processes based locally is the true foundation for developing education. In America, the heart of that development is the board managed public school.

Democratize Schools

 At the school, the power of principals should be reduced and the power teacher department leaders increased. Instead of running schools like a factory with a central figure in charge, schools should be run by committees made up of educators, students, community members and administrators. Many schools in California already have a faculty advisory committees made up of teachers and administrators. They also have school site councils consisting of students, parents and teachers. These groups should run the school.

Today, the only path for advancement available to educators is to leave the classroom and become an administrator. Instead of losing our best teachers to management, pay department heads more and utilize their expertise to improve teaching.

It is unrealistic to expect any one individual (the principal) to be an expert in all disciplines. Make the department chairs the curriculum experts. Add requirements to their position like a master’s degree and ten years of experience. The selection of the department head should remain the purview of the department staff.

Administrators should run school functions like facilities, registration, discipline enforcement, etc. The policies that they administer would be developed by the faculty advisory committee and the school site council.

In other words, let’s democratize our schools and respect all voices including students. District managers should be just that. They should be there to take care of budgets and personnel matters. Schools should not be subservient to districts. Quite the opposite; the district is there to serve the school. We need to get rid of the American ideology that posits a fabled superstar leader. Rather we need to embrace democratic action.

Curriculum

The concept of standards based education was motivated by the undeniable fact that good curriculum is a requirement for outstanding education. Unfortunately, this is the path to authoritarian top down control with its associated negative outcomes. I have written about some of these negative outcomes here.

Today, many states have adopted two sets of terrible education standards which I wrote about here, here, here and here. In a nutshell, standards do not really fit the needs of any schools and they are enforced by authoritarian means based on pseudo-science.

Standards based testing is totally useless for measuring anything other than the economic health of the community being tested. Standards based test cannot evaluate schools, teaching or student learning. As soon as high stakes are tied to them, they become a complete fraud.

We have the best trained teaching force in the history of America. Our teachers are fully capable of designing the curriculum for their schools. Strong department teacher leaders working collaboratively will produce much better curriculum tailored to that community for less money. Because the teachers who developed the curriculum believe in it and are personally invested in its success, they will do a better job of delivering it.

Reality Versus Marketing

Betsy DeVos who is completely unqualified by experience or training has just been confirmed as Secretary of Education. However, this is nothing new. Arne Duncan was also confirmed as Secretary of Education and he was completely unqualified by experience or training. Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Walmart heirs wield great influence over our present increasingly autocratic education system and none of them have the kind of experience or training that their level of influence requires. This is our present reality.

Bill Gates has made silly claims like experience, advanced degrees and class size are not that important to teaching and learning. Just yesterday, I read this post, “The Rise of Crony Appointees and the Inexpert Ruling Class” by Professor Paul Thomas of Furman University, Greenville SC. He observed that “Education and education policy have been a playground for Innovators! who have no historical context or real experience in day-to-day teaching and learning.”

Public education is not a business. It’s an environment in which human beings grow intellectually, physically and socially. There is no product and it’s not really a service. Education is unique and trying to fit it into a business box may have seemed like a reasonable idea, but it didn’t work. Business leaders make poor education leaders because they do not have education expertise.

The truth is that expertise based on training and experience are crucial for any endeavor. A deep problem in some charter school chains is they were founded by people who rejected education expertise, scholarship and training. I give details about these schools in this post. There are many possible motives for our current odd propensity as a society to reject professionalism in education and pursue fool’s gold, but whatever the excuse we are harming America.

Yes there are failing schools in America. The cause for that failure are racial segregation, poverty, misguided political policies, racism and graft especially by politicians. The schools in Oklahoma City that John Thompson described fell into their miserable state because of top down mandates and lack of funding. Schools in Newark were the victim of decades of graft.

The failure of all of these schools would have been avoided if professional educators and parents were the dominant voices in the operation of schools.

The cost of testing and technology has drained enormous (unknowable?) amounts of money out of America’s classrooms. In his massive study of the rise and fall of civilizations, the great historian Arnold Toynbee observed in his A Study of History, “The bread of universal education is no sooner cast upon the waters than a shoal of sharks arises from the depths and devours the children’s bread under the educator’s very eyes.”

We are spending enough money to have splendid houses of learning from coast to coast but education monies are being squandered by politicians and business elites. Squandered on impractical or even harmful ideas like “personalized learning” (a kid at a screen running a program provided by Reed Hastings) or “blended learning” (fraudulent schools in the strip mall giving graduation credits for spending time at a computer) and endless testing. The last thing kids in the 21st century need is more screen time.

To create truly great schools, democratize them, limit technology and use teacher generated assessments.  Stop the money drain and use those resources and good sense to:

  1. Reduce class sizes
  2. Increase teacher pay and teacher education requirements
  3. Value experience
  4. Respect and unleash the vast amount of talent on the staff of every school in America.
  5. Believe in democracy.

Rizga’s Mission High Informs

26 Jan

What is authentic quality education? Reading books by teachers like John Thompson and Ciedie Aechs provides significant insight as they take us inside their schools. Kristina Rizga, a journalist who was imbedded within San Francisco’s Mission High, makes another wonderful contribution to this understanding. For four years, she sat in classes, interviewed students, teachers and administrators. At the same time she studied the pedagogical process with the guidance of friends like Larry Cuban. Her book, Mission High, significantly contributes to the comprehension of sound education.

Solutions for Fixing Schools Are Wrong

In the book’s preface, she declares, “The more time I spent in classrooms, the more I began to realize that most remedies that politicians and education reform experts were promoting as solutions for fixing schools were wrong.” For multiple decades, classroom teachers have been awakening to that same realization. This time it was an outsider who spent enough time to see how misguided test and punish education policies are; to see how misguided standardized approaches to education are.

Echoing Rizga’s point, The National Education Policy Center recently published a tome entitled, Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms. This following statement is in the introduction.

“Despite this legislative commitment to public schools, our lawmakers have largely eroded ESEA’s [Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965] original intent. Moving from assistance to ever increasing regulation, states gravitated toward test-based reforms in the minimum basic skills movement in the 1970s. A watershed event occurred in 1983 with the report, A Nation at Risk, which was predicated on international economic competitiveness and rankings on test scores. The report was succeeded by Goals 2000, the first federal Act to require states to develop standards-based test goals and measure progress toward them. The stringent and reductionist No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 then followed on its heels. At each step, our educational policies became more test-based, top-down, prescriptive, narrow and punitive, and federal support to build the most struggling schools’ capacity for improvement faded.”

In the author’s notes, Kristina reveals what being imbedded meant, how she worked and the kind of relationships she developed.

“In 2010 I started sitting in on the classrooms of Robert Roth, the first teacher I picked, observing him and his interactions with students. I spent about two years coming regularly to Roth’s classes, sometimes going to every class for weeks. Then I spent one year, on and off, in Hsu’s class and about six months, on and off, in McKamey’s and Anders’s classes. The classes were so intellectually engaging – more than most of the courses I took as an undergrad at UC Berkeley – that I often had to remind myself that I’m not a student. I also spent a great deal of time in at least thirty other classrooms at Mission and other schools, observing various teachers and different pedagogical approaches.”

Conquest by “Administrative Progressives”

Rizga’s book tells the story of four students, three teachers and the principal, Eric Guthertz. Interspersed within these individual stories are pedagogical analysis, observed outcomes and research citations.

Alfie Kohn quoted the education historian, Ellen Lagemann, in his book The Schools Our Children Deserve, “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.”

Rizga makes a similar point. She defines two groups of progressive reformers,

“Most historians identify two major strands in the Progressive education movement: ‘Administrative Progressives,’ who focused on the top-down organizational reforms to create ‘efficient’ schools to produce productive workers, and ‘Child-centered Progressives,’ who prioritized transforming learning and teaching at the classroom level to make schools more intellectually and emotionally engaging for students.”

In 1904, the famous “Child-centered Progressive,” John Dewey, left the Chicago Laboratory School. He was replaced by “Administrative Progressive,” Charles Judd. It was symbolic; Dewey was out and “Administrative Progressives” were in.

Today, we might say that educators are out and the Democrats for Education Reform are in. Billionaires’ opinions about how to do school swamp professional research. Community schools are no longer the purview of elected school board. Today’s school boards are being reduced to nothing more than vessels required to carry out federal and state mandates.

Misguided and Racist Reform

Rizga posits that in order to “scientifically” sort students into tracked systems, a reform that is still with us today, was instituted: IQ testing and standardized achievement tests. She shares the dark history of their inception:

“As author Anya Kamenetz eloquently documents, some of the creators of these early tests were racists, driven by ideology about the roots of inequality more than science, and were using these tests as ‘scientific’ tools to argue that intelligence and merit were fixed, genetically inherited qualities. One of the creators of the IQ tests, Lewis Terman, the chair of psychology at Stanford University, argued that the low test scores of ‘negroes,’ ‘Spanish-Indians,’ and Mexicans were racial characteristics, and he was a proponent of forced sterilization.”

Rizga cites the work of, Yong Zhao, now at the University of Kansas and an expert in education of testing, “He observes that despite America’s mediocre performance on international tests since the 1960’s, it still files more patents and wins more Nobel Prizes than any other country in the world.” “Zhao who went to school in China and worked there as a teacher, notes that the problem of ‘high test scores but low ability’ (gaofen dineng) is a widely recognized issue in Chinese society, …” A study, Zhao cites, discovered that the highest scoring students in their province on China’s National Higher Education Entrance Examination do not appear on any other lists of distinction such as prominent scientists, entrepreneurs, scholars, or engineers.

Through her account of students, teachers and administer, Rizga shows the debilitating effect of the top-down approach to education reform based on standardized testing. She describes how teachers and administrators struggled valiantly to mitigate the negative effects of modern “test and punish” school reform and its negative impact on students already burdened by poverty, language issues and other detriments.

Mission High Exists in Every Community

Mission High like all schools is unique. For various reasons many Mission students arrive at the school behind most students at their grade level. Mission has been threatened with closure, but the administration and teachers refuse to narrow the pedagogy. They continue to expose students to rigorous intellectually challenging material. Their students thrive. In fact, Mission teachers will tell you that the rigor and challenge is why students are engaged and growing. Rizga concurs, “Many schools respond by pushing low-income students into remedial classes and away from the intellectually challenging ones that most students I interviewed told me motivate them to come to school more than any other variable.”

While reading Mission High, I couldn’t help but reflect on the Mission Highs in which I have worked. Rizga’s description of Mission paints a picture of talented dedicated educators successfully slaying dragons for the sake of the children they have come to love.

I have worked in two high schools (Mar Vista High School and Southwest High School) that remind me of Mission High. And just like Mission both of these schools have immensely talented people dedicated to education who continue to walk into their buildings and fight every day to be able to give the students they have come to love great education.

Both Mar Vista and Southwest were forced to send letters home informing parents that the federal government had determined that these schools were “failing schools.” Parents were given the option to send their children to a not failing school in a better zip code. Very few parents transferred their children, because they saw what was happening in their community schools and knew these were good schools. However, many parents who had never had an experience with the schools did bus their children to that “good school” in a “good” zip code.

I have also worked in two middle schools in poorer neighborhoods and experienced the same mix of talent and dedication. One of those schools (Mar Vista Middle School) actually had half of the staff fired and the school reconstituted as Mar Vista Academy. A disruption that brought no positive change, but harmed both teachers and students. Disruption as an education policy is an “Alice through the looking glass” reform. It is crazy.

America has never had such a highly trained and effective teaching staff as today. If the “Administrative Progressives” would get out of the rode and the billionaire reformers would give educators the respect they deserve, schools in America would flourish as never before and once again be the bedrocks of American democracy.

Rizga’s Description of the Teachers

In the Epilogue, Rizga describes what she observed about the teachers, a description that completely accords with my own experience and observation of teaching.

“Mission High teachers never complained to me about being overworked, but that toll is obvious to any visitor who spends significant time with them in and out of school. Every teacher I met frequently worked more hours than anyone I have met in the white-collar world – journalism, tech, law, corporate, and nonprofit. For more than a decade, McKamey woke up at 5:00 a.m., got to school by 6:30 a.m., left school at 4:30 p.m. for a dance class, then worked almost every evening and every Sunday. Every teacher I knew often met with his or her colleagues to plan lessons on Saturdays or Sundays, unpaid, because they didn’t always have enough time to do it during the workweek, when they teach five classes, need to read and grade hundreds of assignments each week, and must plan the next lesson. Many teachers met with students after school and on the weekends, unpaid. The most effective educators, like Roth and McKamey, had twenty-five years of teaching under their belts, but how can we expect a new generation of teachers to work such hours and stay in the profession for decades? No wonder close to half of teachers leave the profession before they acquire five years of experience.”

Kristina Rizga’s Mission High makes a positive contribution to understanding what good teaching is and why top-down standardized management is a fatal error.

Speaking Up for Diane Ravitch

17 Jan

January 7th this year, Diane Ravitch posted “STOP: Our Government Wants to Create a National Database about Everyone, Including YOUR Children.” As with many of Diane’s posts, she was amplifying the work of someone else. This time it was a post by Cheri Kiesecker at the “Missouri Education Watchdog.” It provided evidence about the dangerous loss of privacy facing American society – especially students. It highlighted the big money in datamining. I forwarded Diane’s post through Facebook and Twitter. Soon, that post was shared again on Facebook where it drew more than fifty mostly derogatory comments. Not about datamining or profiteering but about Diane Ravitch.

Attacking Public Educations Best Ally

The person who shared from my Facebook page wrote, “I stopped sharing any of Diane Ravitch’s posts but I had to share this one from Gretchen Logue ‘s blog from October 2016.” One comment read, “I stopped reading her blathering a while ago. To think she didn’t understanding what was being done until the latter part of 2016 is simply horrifying, her being a ‘leader’ in the education advocacy arena.” Another commenter impugned her integrity writing, “Diane has also promoted groups on her website that her sons company has major investments in… salesforce being one – and what do you think it’s mission is? Expansion of Digital learning.”

It seems that Diane’s mostly youthful and idealistic detractors charge her with not understanding that competency based education (CBE) is an existential threat to public schools and the teaching profession. I find this disquieting because I absolutely love what I see from some of these detractors. I see their passion for good, their skilled intelligence and their selfless dedication. I wonder why can’t they see that Diane Ravitch is their best and most important ally?

Outcome based education was one of those great education fads of the 1990’s and it was a total dud. Digital badging and students “learning” from software packages developed by Reed Hastings’ company are repugnant ideas. It is an attempt at profiting from education on the cheap. Is it possible that even wealthy corporate sponsors cannot continuously sell bad ideas? Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

Possibly Diane Ravitch judges the privatization movement supported by standardized testing, charters and vouchers as a more imminent threat to universal public education? Diane and I are not close friends but I have met her a couple times and enjoyed enough one on one dialog to know that she does not miss much. It is unlikely that she is not aware of the CBE threat. It is likely she has not developed the same sense of urgency for the issue as some of her detractors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The trombone playing educator and philosopher from rural Pennsylvania, Peter Greene, gave voice to my feelings about attacks like this on Diane Ravitch:

“This is (one of) my problems with Movements– too often things descend into an argument about which people are pure enough, right enough, aligned enough, to deserve our loyalty or fealty. The Reformsters have had their ongoing sturm and drang about maintaining the coalition between left and right. On the public-school side, there are frequent arguments about whether or not certain figures deserve the respect they have, or should be cast out into the darkness because they haven’t taken the right position on A or X.

“I have never understood these arguments, these quests for purity. First of all, you know who sees the world exactly the same way I do? Nobody. Second, you know who in this world I give my unquestioning fealty and allegiance, whose word I will absolutely accept and follow, no questions asked? Nobody. You know who I expect to follow me without question and agree with whatever I have to say without debate? Also nobody. You see the pattern.”

Corporate Reformers and Fellow Travelers Take Aim

In December 2011, Kevin Carey who works for Education Sector, a think tank in Washington, wrote a lengthy biography and critique of Ravitch for the New Republic. The article paints a somewhat negative picture of Diane but it makes some interesting points. In discussing her becoming the face of the anti-corporate reform movement Carey theorizes:

“Ravitch was the perfect person to lead the resistance. Her identity as an academic gave her an implied expertise and impartiality; her government service gave her credibility. Added to this was the assumed integrity of the convert. In November 2010, she penned an influential critique of Waiting for Superman in The New York Review of Books, providing an intellectual blueprint for left-leaning critics of education reform. Jon Stewart invited her on “The Daily Show.” From there, it was a direct path to the “Save Our Schools” rally outside the White House. The die-hard reform opponents needed Diane Ravitch, and, in her own way, Diane Ravitch needed them, too.”

Diane routinely appears as a guest opinion writer in the most important newspapers and magazines in the country: The New Yorker, the New York Times, the LA Times, the Washington Post, etc. No other supporter of public education has near that access, but reformers like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown and many more have unfettered media access for their message.

Carey made two more points in his refutation of Ravitch that I found resonant with my own experience. Carey noted:

“MANY OF Ravitch’s former conservative allies declined to be interviewed for this article. She is, by all accounts, a warm friend who inspires strong loyalty and affection. She maintains a wry, level tone when speaking in public. And, although I had published a critical review of Death and Life, she graciously agreed to meet with me, and we had an amiable conversation over a two-hour lunch at an outdoor café.”

Carey’s article also reports on Diane’s important role in the conservative education reform community:

“In 1983, the Reagan administration published an iconic report titled A Nation at Risk, denouncing U.S. schools for lax academic standards. Ravitch was deeply skeptical of what she saw as the unstructured, relativistic ideas of progressives. She and Checker Finn, a conservative thinker (and, later, a Reagan official), formed the Educational Excellence Network to promote standards-based reform.

“Ravitch’s role in conservative education reform was not as a generator of ideas; others developed the framework of standards and market competition. Rather, she served as a kind of scribe who could communicate the movement’s agenda with clarity. Her arguments were mostly unconcerned with evidence—there was little at the time, since reforms like vouchers were largely untried.”

Carey concludes with his best attempt to demean and put Ravitch in her place:

“The most consistent thing about Ravitch has been her desire to be heard. In many ways, she has never left the cramped, argumentative office of The New Leader in the 1960s. Her genius was in the construction of a public identity of partial affiliation—a university-based historian who never wrote an academic dissertation, a former government official whose career in public service lasted less than two years, an overseer of the national testing program with no particular expertise in testing, and a champion of public school teachers who has never taught in a public school. She enjoys the credibility of the sober analyst while employing all the tools of the polemicist.”

Carey’s efforts to undermine Ravitch’s credibility are mild when compared with the tough piece written by Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute in City Journal. Stern’s attack is a throwback to McCarthyism:

“Another tenet of the far Left is that progressives should have “no enemies on the left,” and Ravitch apparently agrees. Thus, she has praised the former Weather Underground terrorist and radical educator William Ayers for his contributions to the anticorporate insurgency. (She concedes that Ayers made some political “mistakes” in the sixties.) Ravitch has also had kind words for leftist education activist and onetime Ayers ally Mike Klonsky. On her blog, she recounted visiting two universities in Chicago in 2010, with Klonsky as her host. “For me, the fallen-away conservative, it was a trip getting to know Mike, because he had long ago been a leader of the SDS, which was a radical group in the 1960s that I did not admire. So meeting him and discovering that he and his wife Susan were thoughtful, caring, and kind people was an experience in itself.” Ravitch apparently didn’t know, or preferred not to disclose, that Klonsky broke with Ayers’s Weather Underground faction to create a Maoist-oriented party in the U.S. and then spent several years in China during the horrific Cultural Revolution, attending state dinners with the Great Helmsman.”

One of the strangest attacks on Ravitch comes from Jim Horn, Professor of Educational Leadership at Cambridge College, Cambridge, MA., who has a blog, “School Matters.” Horn implies that Ravitch does not attack CBE and personalized learning as hard as he thinks she should because she is corrupt. This past August, Horn wrote:

“One has to wonder if she is aware that her son’s company could profit handsomely from some of those millions in federal seed money for turning children into alienated computer-compliant drones.

“What is clear is that the Ravitch team is always alert for any comment at her blog that could indicate Ravitch’s lack of understanding of an issue or any comment that would question her real commitment to the public education system that she claims to support.”

It is true that Ravitch’s son Joseph appears to be a successful banker. He left Goldman-Saks to form the Raine Group a few years ago and they appear to be doing well per this NY Times article. They are not focused on school profiteering but it would be difficult for an investment banking group not to have investments in a company that doesn’t have some connection to education technology, consulting, or publishing.

It is hard to fathom Horn’s dislike of Ravitch. Mercedes Schneider wrote about Horn taking a strange post charging Ravitch with being complicit in union busting to attack.

“When Horn read Carroll’s post and realized it provided an opening for him to attack Diane Ravitch, I wonder if he wet himself from glee. He launches right into Ravitch and her being paid by Pearson to speak at the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) convention in 2012 and of her receiving “her hefty speaking fee” as though Ravitch had been bought by Pearson. Horn assumes as much since he was unable to locate Ravitch’s speech online (his only link in his post other than a quote from The Hunger Games).

“Horn really did not want Ravitch to be paid by Pearson to speak. But she was, and she admitted it and added that she was “thrilled to be paid by Pearson to tell thousands of psychologists how lousy the standardized tests are.”

“Sounds fine to me. You see, I read Ravitch’s speech.

“The tone of Horn’s writing is such that one knows he wants Ravitch to be guilty of something. Surely her accepting “a fat payout” from Pearson to speak at NASP is evidence of the corruption he just knows is at her core, right?”

Diane Ravitch is Giving Voice to Educators

It was through Diane Ravitch’s blog that I learned of Jennifer Berkshire, Mercedes Schneider, Peter Greene, Jonathan Pelto, Carol Buris and a host of others. Any blogger who has had Diane link to their article knows about the “Ravitch bump.” With her large audience, Diane is amplifying wonderful voices who are fighting to save mandatory universal free public education.

Diane joined with Anthony Cody, Julian Vasquez Helieg and others to form the Network for Public Education (NPE). It was at the Chicago 2015 NPE convention that Mercedes Schneider told me how Diane reached out to her, convinced her to write a book and helped her find a publisher. Since then, Mercedes has written three important scholarly works detailing the big money interests with political power harming public education (Chronicle of Echoes, Common Core Dilemma, School Choice).

Diane has credited Debra Meier with convincing her that she was wrong about everything. Also, Ravitch notes John Maynard Keynes’s apocryphal quote: ‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?’ When Ravitch first supported education reform ideas like standards and vouchers, there was no data. In her seminal book The Death and Life of the Great American School System Diane explained, “The more uneasy I grew with the agenda of choice and accountability, the more I realized that I am too ‘conservative’ to embrace an agenda whose end result is entirely speculative and uncertain.”

I am convinced that Diane is a lot more right than wrong. I did not agree with her about the Every Student Succeeds Act and I saw no reason to believe that Hillary Clinton would be anything but a misguided enemy of good public schools.

Yet, I still see Diane Ravitch as the greatest asset supporters of public education have.

Education Discernments for 2017

28 Dec

The education journalist Kristina Rizga spent four years embedded at Mission High School in San Francisco and apprehended this key insight concerning modern education reform: “The more time I spent in classrooms, the more I began to realize that most remedies that politicians and education reform experts were promoting as solutions for fixing schools were wrong.” (Mission High page ix)

California Adopts Reckless Corporate Education Standards

Standards based education is bad education theory. Bad standards are a disaster. I wrote a 2015 post about the NGSS science standards concluding:

 “Like the CCSS the NGSS is an untested new theory of education being foisted on communities throughout America by un-American means. These were not great ideas that attained ‘an agreement through conviction.’ There is nothing about this heavy handed corporate intrusion into the life of American communities that promises greater good. It is harmful, disruptive and expensive.”

 Louis Gerstner (RJR Nabisco and IBM – CEO) instigated the NGSS standards. They are so poorly written that California adopted them and then started a rewrite.

A group of billionaires influence California’s education policy; Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Reed (school boards suck) Hastings, Carrie Walton Penner, Doris Fisher and others. At their insistence, the state adopted both the nationally-flailing common core state standards (CCSS), and the unworkable next generation science standards (NGSS).

These two sets of standards are examples of bad top down education policies imposed on schools by the super-rich and associated politicos.

‘Profitization’ Movement is Destroying Good Public Education

In a brilliant article, psychometrics expert, Gene V Glass stated, “A democratically run public education system in America is under siege. It is being attacked by greedy, union-hating corporations and billionaire boys whose success in business has proven to them that their circle of competence knows no bounds.”

Up until recently, there has been a relentless effort to evaluate schools and teachers based upon standardized test scores. George Bush’s No Child Left Behind act made the testing of math and English almost the sole evaluative measure for schools. This misguided ideology was used to demonize and destroy many wonderful schools in poor communities.

I wrote about Ciedie Aech’s wonderfully sarcastic book, Why You Always Got to be Trippin? The following quote from Ciedie illuminates the unjust treatment schools in the wrong zip-code faced when judged by testing incapable of measuring school quality or student growth.

“Why was it, the question kept rising up over the years. Well, why was it that those schools most quickly and aggressively labeled as ‘drop-out factories’ – schools slated for closure or an endless chain of reforms, schools forced through the fatal destabilization of restructure and redesign, schools branded publicly as being underused failures, schools negatively marked with the highly publicized letter grade of an F – well, why was it that such a large percent of these schools (shoot, pretty much all of them) had traditionally served as a home to non-dominant-culture, non-privileged-class, minority students?”

 “Personalized Learning” Leads to Big Bucks

This year it became clear that the big profits in education were no longer in standardized testing. The real money ‘reformsters’ were lusting after was in charter schools especially cyber charters; charter school real-estate deals; and competency based education (CBE). Fortunately for profiteering entrepreneurs, the United States Congress passed a rewrite of the federal education law calling it Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

I wrote to my congressman saying, ESSA is worse than NCLB. It provides money to accelerate privatizing public education, incentivizes CBE and even continues the baseless standardized testing mandates. And it has provisions for financial companies to get into taxpayer pockets via social impact bonds. ESSA takes care of everyone but students and taxpayers.

In a recent post, I noted:

“When congress passed the new education law (ESSA), the United States Department of Education was transformed into the nation’s leading education technology sales force. The Secretary of Education became a shill for a group of corporations and their ‘non-profit’ foundations working to sell ‘blended learning’; ‘competency based education’; ‘personalized learning’; ‘linked learning’; etc. These initiatives have at least four things in common; they all profit technology companies; they all are unproven; they all promote unhealthy education practices; and they overturn a student’s right to privacy.”

Competency based education is actually a failed idea from the 1990’s but this time it supposed to work because it is delivered by a computer. One of America’s leading experts on CBE and the destruction it promises for America’s public schools is Emily Talmage. She writes:

“Knowledgeworks recently described the new learning system as an ‘ecosystem,’ in which the role of the traditional teacher will soon be obsolete.

“With major investments from Wall Street, leaders in the online learning, ed-tech, and student loan industries, and even celebrity billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reed Hastings of Netflix, the transformation has recently been picking up speed. Meanwhile, political groups on both the left and right are moving the system forward by lobbying for ‘personalized,’ competency-based policies and ‘innovative’ assessment systems.”

It is an education policy that only a toxic mix of hubris and greed could spawn.

Real education requires a life to life communion between teacher and student. Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of Soka Schools, touches on this subject in his book Soka Education, “Recognizing each student as a unique personality and transmitting something through contacts between that personality and the personality of the instructor is more than a way of implanting knowledge: it is the essence of education.” Socrates likened this to being “kindled by a leaping spark” between teacher and student. Low cost on-line learning is spiritless, amoral and dead.

The author and practicing educator, Mercedes Schneider shares, “The current technological challenge for classroom teachers is not teaching students how to use technology. It’s weening kids from phones and other such personalized technology long enough for them to learn to interact with a world that is not accessed by swiping a touch screen or typing with their thumbs.”

Schools are spending huge amounts of money on electronic tablets and laptop computers to institute profit incentivized “personalized” education theories. Conversely, I recommend eliminating all student screen time until high school. In high school, I would only have students use technology for writing reports, science experiments and essays. The last thing 21st century students need is more screen time and they deserve to have their privacy protected and not hoovered up by data mining corporations.

Jack Schneider writing in the Atlantic magazine asked some provocative questions:

“Thus, despite the fact that there is often little evidence in support of utopian schemes like ‘personalized online learning,’ which would use software to create a custom curriculum for each student, or ‘value-added measures’ of teachers, which would determine educator effectiveness by running student test scores through an algorithm, many people are willing to suspend disbelief. Why? Because they have been convinced that the alternative—a status quo in precipitous decline—is worse. But what if the schools aren’t in a downward spiral? What if, instead, things are slowly but steadily improving? In that light, disruption—a buzzword if ever there was one—doesn’t sound like such a great idea.”

He went on in the article to show that public schools have indeed continued to progress.

There Are Failing Schools and They Need Repair

Why did so many parents in poor urban communities embrace charter schools? The fact is some of their schools were horrid and had been that way for as long as they could remember. When someone said, they would spend some money on the schools, parents jumped at the chance to improve their child’s school.

I heard this story at the National Public Education conference in Raleigh North Carolina. A mother from New Orleans gave her personal school experience. She said that before Katrina, the schools in the poorer sections of New Orleans were an abomination. It was normal for middle schools to have 55 children in classes, with no fans or air conditioning.

In her book School Choice, Mercedes Schneider, a product of New Orleans’ education, confirmed “Not only were the schools segregated, but more tragically, the parish refused to construct new schools for the growing black student population. Not just separate schools for whites and blacks but not of equal quality by design.”

John Thompson’s A Teacher’s Tale presents convincing evidence that taking disciplinary control policies away from local administrators and teachers in his Oklahoma high school directly contributed to violence, terrible attendance and safety issues. He describes packs of out of control gang affiliated students roaming hallways instead of attending classes, while site administrators were not allowed by state bureaucracies to take the kind of effective action needed to create a positive and safe learning environment.

On the ridiculous theory that public education needs disruption to improve, John writes, “Inner city schools need more disruption like we need another gang war.”

Failing schools are not failing because of teachers’ unions, tenure laws or bad teachers. They are failing because of bad education policy dictated by politicians and businessmen. They are failing because of racism and prejudice which are the main motivators for school choice. And they are failing because of corruption.

Dale Russakoff’s book The Prize details the epic fail of Mark Zuckerberg’s $100,000,000 gift which was matched by another $100,000,000 from several other philanthropic organizations and individuals. Intended to fix the poorly performing schools of Newark, New Jersey, it failed by every conceivable benchmark. It’s a story of feckless politicians, arrogant reformers and amazing teachers. It tells of the unmitigated degradation of the urban center of a once great American city and the difficulties facing Newark’s educators charged with the impossible task of righting that urban decline in their classrooms.

The real prize in Newark was the public education budget which corrupt politicians used to feather their own nest.

As Detroit so glaringly demonstrates, charter schools although not intrinsically bad schools, are a danger to public education. Peter Greene the educator and commentator explains:

“One of the great lies of the charter-choice movement is that you can run multiple school districts for the price of one.

“A school district of, say, 2,000 students can lose 75 students and with them about $750,000 dollars of revenue, and somehow that district of 1,925 students can operate for three quarter of a million dollars less. And how does the district deal with that loss of revenue? By closing a building – because the more school buildings you operate, the more it costs.”

A study this year in Los Angeles reported that charter schools are draining $600 million a year from the Los Angeles Unified School District. Because of fixed costs, schools must reduce services and increase class sizes to remain fiscally viable. If the privatized system becomes too large too fast, the public system will collapse. And the privatized system needs the board run school system to take the students they don’t want.

We have overwhelming evidence that charter schools are generally not as good as board run schools on almost all measures including the misleading standardized testing results. We know charters increase segregation; we know charter fraud is rampant; we know charters close when business goes bad and we know they drive education costs up. It is time for common sense to prevail.

2017

With the coming of Trump and Betsy Devos, everything I read leads me to believe that the federal government will continue and accelerate the failed Bush/Obama education policies. However, it will be out in the open because there are no fake progressives in this group to hide behind. Americans of all stripes do not want their public education system parceled out and sold. Most conservative like most liberals believe in public education. They do not want their schools taken over by faceless corporations and distant bureaucracies.

A national consensus on the need to protect America’s truly great public education system is probable.

Education profiteers will over-reach in 2017 and we will make significant strides toward winning back local control of our schools.

A Teacher’s Tale – Illuminates

12 Dec

John Thompson is an historian and a legislative analyst who found his calling – educator. His A Teacher’s Tale is provocative, interesting and a story only someone who had lived with and loved the oppressed black children of Oklahoma City could tell. It is a peek into a side of public education that is ugly and it illuminates the causes of that ugliness. It changed my perspective.

I grew up in a small town in rural Idaho (Glenn’s Ferry, population 1200). Actually, I lived until age 13 on a ranch outside of King Hill, Idaho, an unincorporated village of 99 people. Glenn’s Ferry Unified School District had schools in Glenn’s Ferry, King Hill and Hammett (another unincorporated town). Even with the three communities and the regions farms and ranches combined the four-year Glenn’s Ferry High School had less than 200 students. The truth is that our teachers were not great educators but they were great people who had our respect.

The Viet Nam war and the US Navy brought me to San Diego in 1968. My experience here with schools was not really that different in that people complained about the public schools, but like my little rural schools they were competently run at least in terms of safety and general decorum. Violence and unreasonable defiance were never a big issue even at schools in struggling neighborhoods. A student could go to these public schools and succeed splendidly. Great success stories growing out of poorly thought of San Diego neighborhoods have been common place for decades.

I share my background to illustrate an issue with getting education reform right. We are all like the proverbial blind men who are describing an elephant. Some of us feel the ears, some of us feel the trunk, etcetera. Almost all of us have experience in public school however because public education is such a vast and varied enterprise our vision is limited. My experience said that public schools were safe institutions run by professionals and that they had state bureaucracies insuring competent ethical operations. A Teacher’s Tale counters this view powerfully.

Thompson entered the classroom in 1993. At the time, there was a determined movement to improve Oklahoma City schools. John’s experience working in politics and his ethic of community engagement pushed him into the center of local reform efforts. This book tells the story how his work and that of many others was significantly undermined and even reversed by forces outside of the city.

In 1999, John committed to “a bipartisan district-wide school reform effort known as MAPS for Kids.” He helped draft a student achievement plan for the school system and helped sell the plan during an election to raise taxes and to fund system-wide instructional reforms. (page 202)

He describes how NCLB undermined MAPS:

“MAPS for Kids called for a balanced approach that emphasized improved classroom instruction and a holistic community-wide effort to offer the same high-quality education to low income students that affluent parents expect for their own children. NCLB, however, promoted the theory that the answers to the legacies of generational poverty could simply be found in the classroom. For that reason, efforts to address out-of-school factors were placed on the back burner as the OKCPS complied with the federal law.

“In the early years of MAPS and NCLB, efforts to improve instruction were undermined somewhat as the district tried to negotiate between the data-informed policies promised by local reformers and the data-driven approach favored by proponents of the federal law. For several years, the district was torn between the mixed messages of MAPS, which supported the use of diagnostic assessments as interpreted by educators, and the site-based management for empowering of teachers and principals, and of NCLB high-stakes testing and top-down governance, which overrode the judgments of professionals.”

John relates some absolutely horrific stories of student violence and fear. He describes how in 2006, in the aftermath of the school choice movement, John Marshall and Centennial high schools spiraled out of control. John had experienced large classes including students with reputations for being disruptive but this was different. He says, “I had never had such ‘toxic concentrations of poverty,’ where so many children simply could not control their behavior.” (Page 30)

John relates several stories of absolutely special children who were struggling to grow up in neighborhoods infested with Crips and Bloods. He tells of helping a student overcome a lack of reading skills and become motivated to educate himself only to be murdered. It was a frightful and repeated experience for the educators at John Marshall and Centennial High.

In the book, John presents convincing evidence that taking disciplinary control policies away from local administrators and teachers directly contributed to violence, terrible attendance and safety issues. He describes packs of out of control gang affiliated students roaming hallways instead of attending classes, while site administrators were not allowed by state bureaucracies to take the kind of effective action needed to create positive and safe learning environments. The evidence presented supporting this observation is powerful.

In addition to the evidence from his Oklahoma experience, John sited evidence from Chicago:

“Marshall would soon learn the hard way why the Consortium on Chicago School Research, in Organizing Schools for Improvement, Identified the intertwined factors of discipline and attendance as prime reasons why troubled schools fail to improve. When the consortium looked deeply into stalled reforms, its “most powerful single finding” was the relationship between attendance problems and the failure to manage disciplinary issues. Moreover, the consortium “found virtually no chance of improving attendance in schools that lacked safety and order” and “where instruction alignment was weak or predominantly basic skills oriented.” In other words, discipline, attendance, and effort to provide more effective instruction were interrelated in Chicago schools as in our Marshall.” (Page 356)

My impression is that Thompson is liberal minded and likely a Democrat. However, I like his open-minded approach and willingness to work with conservatives. His work with the group that created the MAPS for Kids school reform agenda was clearly a bipartisan effort by liberals and conservatives coming to consensus for the benefit of students. John’s book demonstrates that most conservatives care for their schools and want to fix problems rather than destroy schools or privatize them. It shows that conservatives and liberals can develop unity and consensus about how to run their schools. However, big moneyed interests and outsiders tend to wreak havoc.

One of the many examples of this was the famous historian David McCullough criticizing NCLB mandates for “narrowing the scope of the curriculum and promulgating a growing suspicion of teachers.” John continued:

“Before NCLB-type testing, few educators would have disagreed with him. Pedagogies that previously would be considered essential for teaching students to flourish in the modern world would struggle to survive the contemporary school reform movement.” (Page 164)

Referring to data-driven accountability and the need for disruptive change to shake up the “status-quo”, John writes:

“The charge was to produce rapid ‘transformational change’ in outcomes at challenging schools like Marshall in Oklahoma City. This accountability-driven reform was imposed, unfortunately, by advocates of disruptive change who typically had little knowledge of high-poverty K-12 schools. Inner city schools need more disruption like we need another gang war.” (Page 83)

Seeing community schools as an essential building block of a healthy society, John criticizes the no-excuses mentality that refuses to look at community health when designing approaches to improve schools. He observes:

“Community schools, however, are the tough-minded solution. Teacher-driven reforms like Rhee’s policies have yet to demonstrate much success, and now that billions of dollars have been invested in computer systems to keep track of teacher quality, they are no longer inexpensive. If nothing else, NCLB has prompted a golden age of educational research that has shown why test-driven accountability has failed. The time has come for a new generation of holistic reforms building on social science and the power of our diverse communities.”

The last five or six election cycles and school reform have spotlighted a nation divided. This division is the great obstacle facing America. We must find a way to respect each other’s opinions and discuss them with an open mind. John demonstrates by his activities in Oklahoma City that conservatives and liberals can reach common cause and make good policy, but we must stop demonizing each other. Everyone loves their children and we all want good education for them. That is a good starting point for dialog.

In the conclusion section of this book John makes this salient point:

“Due process is no more political than any other legal issue, which means that politics is pervasive in it. Government by fiat is no less political than grassroots organizing. The effort to impose technocratic solutions in order to avoid the messy politics of instruction is just as political as any other autocratic regime.”

A Teacher’s Tale is a valuable book from which anyone interested in public education or education in general will learn something.

Charter School Scourge Invading Sweetwater

1 Oct

Chula Vista, California

On Monday evening (9/26/2016), the board of the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) had petitions from three charter schools; two requesting charter renewals and one for a new school. The two renewals are co-located charters that were started by SUHSD’s previous board (four of the five resigned as part of plea deals) and the new petition is for an independent study charter.

My first teaching job was in SUHSD as a paid certificated intern, teaching 3 out of a possible 5 classes a day while completing a master’s in education at UCSD. At my new job, I was soon regaled with stories of corruption in Sweetwater instigated by superintendent, Ed Brand. I never witnessed direct evidence of this widely and firmly held belief. Brand’s first stint as SUHSD Superintendent was from 1995 to 2005.

It was surprising in 2011, when the SUHSD Board brought Brand back. He had resigned as Superintendent of San Marcos Unified in 2006, less than a year after leaving Sweetwater to assume that position.

An article in the San Diego Union speculated that Brand was pushed out in San Marcos for unethical hiring and political practices. It says in part:

“… accounts have emerged of other things not in keeping with San Marcos Unified’s image. They include Brand’s ordering the hiring of a teacher, whose husband is a state education official, even though a panel of elementary school principals in charge of hiring voted not to offer her a job; a staff party for management aboard a 112-foot historic yacht; and two outsiders infusing cash into a school board candidate’s campaign.”

The state education official was Scott Himelstein then Deputy Secretary of Education/Chief of Staff and later Acting Secretary of Education for the State of California. In that capacity he served as chief policy advisor to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on K-12 and higher education.

William D. Lynch was a source of outside money and according to the Union article cited above, “The High Spirits yacht, where Himelstein hosted the party, is owned by multimillionaire businessman William D. Lynch….” Lynch is an ally of Brand’s and of state Secretary of Education Alan Bersin, former superintendent of San Diego city schools. Lynch is also a philanthropist who runs the William D. Lynch Foundation for Children, which promotes literacy. Scott Himelstein is the foundation’s former president.

Given who he associates with it was not surprising to learn that Ed Brand promotes privatizing public schools. Upon returning to Sweetwater, he started working on a new charter school idea. His dream was to develop a k-16 charter system and with support from several long time cronies, he had a charter proposal written. Susan Mitchell who has an almost forty-year working relationship with Brand was the lead petitioner for the school originally named Ivy League Prep Academy but soon renamed Stephen H. Hawking Math and Science Charter School.

Like Mitchell, most of the stated charter school founders also had similar long term associations with Brand. Before the courts and voters replaced the SUHSD school board, Brand was able to open a second charter school named Stephen W. Hawking II Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math Charter. The schools were started as K-6 schools not through 16.

Co-Location

After the passage of proposition 13 in 1978, it became almost impossible to pass a bond issue for the construction of new school facilities in California. Amendments that gutted proposition 13’s 2/3 requirements for passing bond measures always looked popular initially but were soundly defeated come election day. In 2000, proposition 39 was narrowly written so it only reduced the requirement to pass school bonds and it required a 55% majority. A big loud political battle ensued but proposition 39 prevailed.

The charter school industry was able to slip a clause into proposition 39 that required school districts to make any excess capacity available to charter schools. This crucial point was barely noticed and not debated publically at all.

Co-location is a very disruptive unsound education policy. As Gary Cohn reported in Huffington post:

 ‘“One of the difficult things about having a charter school co-located on a district public school campus is that . . . the two schools end up competing for those things that are necessary to provide a quality education for the students,’ says Robin Potash, an elementary school teacher and chair of the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) Proposition 39 Committee. ‘That includes competing for the same students.”’

 In a July 10, 2015 article for La Prensa, Susan Lazzaro wrote:

“Community advocate Maty Adato asked the Sweetwater Union High School board a provocative charter school question at the June 22 board meeting. Trustees were deliberating on the renewal of facility contracts for Stephen Hawking charters I & II. The charters are for grades K-6 and Adato wanted to know if Sweetwater, a 7 -12 district, must give up unused classroom space to a K-6 charter.”

This is a question that seems bound for the courts because besides being bad policy, in order for this co-location mandate to be hidden in proposition 39, the law had to be poorly written. Lazzaro also noted a question from one of the five new board members, Paula Hall, “What happens, she asked, if the charter schools want more of our classroom space?” Another question without an answer.

Hawking I is co-located with Castle Park Middle School and Hawking II is co-located with Southwest Middle School. This is a clear illustration of the irrationality of the charter school movement from the standpoint of the taxpayer. In these two campuses there are four administrations doing the job that two administrations did 5 years earlier. The charter school movement is driving up the education cost per student which means either class sizes must increase or school taxes must increase; probably both.

In addition, taxpayers within the school district’s boundaries obligated themselves with bonds and other taxes to pay for these schools. Now, the buildings have been partially taken out of public control and their elected representatives no longer have legal authority to represent constituent interests.

The charter school movement puts tax dollars outside of democratic control with little accountability. Even with strict public accountability, malfeasance and criminality occur. It should come as no surprise that fraud and abuse are escalating in this low accountability charter school era.

A fundamental charter school theory postulates that elected representatives developed emasculating education code depriving public schools of the opportunity for innovation and improvement. Charter schools freed from accountability promised to untie this Gordian knot and market forces were expected to drive improvement. After 20 years, we see that charter schools are better at marketing than public schools but only rarely match the public school teaching prowess. For the first time nationally, education progress appears to have slowed with the rise of charter schools.

pisa-2000-to-2012

Independent Study Charter

 Carol Burris, the Executive Director of National Public Education is currently publishing a series of articles about the charter school movement. In the second installment carried by the Washington Post she writes about independent study charters.

“Although the original intent of the independent charters may well have been to scoop up at-risk kids and give them a second chance, the lack of criteria for student placement, along with inadequate regulations have led to obvious abuses. There are now far too many independent learning charter schools whose operators, some with no background or expertise in education, make substantial salaries, ….”

The third charter school petition at Monday’s school board meeting was for a proposed new independent study charter, ACATL Leadership Academy. Their Facebook page describes ACATL’s vision:

“ACATL Leadership Academy’s (ALA) mission is to create an educational system that ensures social justice by acknowledging, understanding and healing institutionalized racism, poverty, and marginalization.

“ALA will be a non-classroom based 9-12 grade charter high school within the Sweetwater Union High School District, and will be a reed in our community known for its innovation, flexibility and strength.

“ALA will serve students 14 thru 22 years of age and will set a goal of recapturing students who have left the traditional school system. ALA will partner with students, parents and family (relatives), and community organizations to address social justice issues our youth encounter in San Ysidro, California – the San Diego International Border region of the United States.”

 This sounds great, however, taxpayers have already established Learning Centers at every high school in the SUHSD.

The public school system also provides an Adult School in San Ysidro  which is an opportunity local taxpayers are providing for “recapturing students who have left the traditional school system.” Now taxpayers are being asked to compete with themselves and support yet another facility with no real needs assessment.

In other words, publically financed schools are already performing the same function ACATL proposes with the advantage of having highly trained experienced psychologists, councilors and certificated teachers working with students. This request for taxpayer money to be taken from Sweetwater schools to finance someone’s heartfelt dream makes little sense, but California’s charter school law pretty much guarantees ACATL will get a charter.

Carrol Burris in the article I cited above also spoke to the profit motive of these kind of schools:

“In addition, running independent learning centers can be very lucrative. One of San Diego County’s largest networks of independent learning centers is the Altus Institute. It advertises on billboards and runs ads in movie theaters and on television.  Altus operates Audeo Charter, Audeo Charter II, the Charter School of San Diego and Laurel Academy. It has a total K-12 enrollment of about 3,000 students and takes in tens of millions of dollars in state and federal revenue. Like Learn4Life, its learning centers are located in malls and office buildings. Its younger students are home-schooled.

“In 2014 compensation for Altus Institute President Mary Bixby was $371,160 — exceeding the total pay plus benefits of the superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District that serves nearly 130,000 students. Bixby is a board member of the charters, a full-time employee of one of the schools and also receives compensation for being “on-loan” to two other Altus schools. Such obvious conflicts of interest would be illegal in a public school.”

 Segregation by Choice

Last year a new charter school, Imperial Beach Charter, opened up next door to my high school. A local resident remarked to me, “the people west of 13th street don’t want their kids going to school with those kids at Mar Vista Academy.”

A blogger going by the moniker educationrealist posted this observation:

“I offer this up as opinion/assertion, without a lot of evidence to back me: most parents know intuitively that bad teachers aren’t a huge problem. What they care about, from top to bottom of the income scale, is environment. Suburban white parents don’t want poor black and Hispanic kids around. Poor black and Hispanic parents don’t want bad kids around. (Yes, this means suburban parents see poor kids as mostly bad kids.)”

 I recently reviewed Mercedes Schneider’s new book, School Choice. On page 22 she writes:

“Thus, what is clear about tuition grants, scholarships, or grants-in-aid, and the history of American public education is that these were tools used to preserve segregation. There it is: The usage of choice for separating school children into those who are ‘desirable’ and those who are not.”

This following table shows the demographic difference between the Mar Vista Academy (the public school) and Imperial beach charter.

School Hispanic or Latino White not Hispanic English Learners Free & Reduced Price Meals
Imperial Beach Charter 514 (59%) 250 (29%) 160 (18 %) 544 (62%)
Mar Vista Academy 714 (82%) 45 (5%) 277 (32 %) 679 (78%)

Conclusions:

Too often, charter schools are just rouges to make taxpayers finance private schools.

Charter schools have not shown significant educational improvements and they come with significant risks. Last year the Center for Media and Democracy reported:

“Nearly 200 charters have closed in California, nearly one of every five that have opened. Their failures have included stunning tales of financial fraud, skimming of retirement funds, and financial mismanagement, material violations of the law, massive debt, unsafe school conditions, lack of teacher credentials, failure to conduct background checks, terrible academic performance and test results, and insufficient enrollment.”

In other words, many charter schools are unstable and they have shut down with no notice even mid-way through a school year.

Charter schools increase the cost of education because of the required redundant administration for the same number of students and private sector administrative incomes are normally much higher than public employment rates.

All of the charter requests to SUHSD should be denied, but under present law if that happens either the county or the state will grant the charter. Past time for an immediate moratorium on new charter schools in California. Unwinding this unstable costly charter school system will benefit students and taxpayers.

The charter school industry wasn’t an organic development. Politicians and their wealthy masters created it with massive incentives. The federal government is spending billions on promoting charters plus foundations such as the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Edith and Eli Broad Foundation and the Fisher Foundation provide unimaginably large sums of money toward these privatization efforts yearly. If the elites succeed in destroying and monetizing our public education system, the opportunities for middle and working class people will significantly diminish. Just look at Detroit to see what the future holds for the poor.

The charter school movement is undemocratic and irrational. It needs to end.