Tag Archives: Bill Gate

A Recommendation for Beyond Measure

1 May

Vicki Abeles, the director of the documentary film “Race to Nowhere”, writes about the damage modern education reform is doing to our children and our culture. Her book, Beyond Measure, subtitled “Rescuing an Overscheduled, Over Tested, Underestimated Generation” jumps into the readers face starting with the amazing poem in the forward and continues gaining powerful momentum through chapter five. Abeles is trained in law and not education and that fact leads to my one criticism; her suggested solution, starting in chapter six, reflects the tendency of those without deep educational experience to discover silver bullets that will fix everything.

Abeles writes, “Without even realizing it, our driving goal has become all about preparing for the college application, not preparing for the college experience or life beyond. Performing, not learning. Amassing credentials, not growing. Not even really living.” (page 7)

She writes of observing her own daughters’ growing stress and of her staying up until midnight or later to do homework. But the event that got her attention was the suicide of 13-year-old Devon Marvin. Devon was viewed as one of the success stories in the community. When her mother Jane investigated Devon’s emails and text messages, the only cause for the suicide appeared to be a math test. “’She was torn up about this math.’ Jane told me. ‘Here’s a child who had always been so successful on so many fronts – and a stupid math grade.’” (page 9)

Abeles explains how eighteen-year-old Emily recounted slipping into deep depression her junior year and contemplating suicide. Here is Emily’s powerful quote that Abeles shares:

 “Junior year is supposedly the most important in high school and my effort just wasn’t going to cut it, not if I wanted to go to a decent college, and without a degree from a top university I was not going to be successful…. I had failed. All those years of late nights studying for AP classes followed by 5 AM water polo or swim practices, what would they come to? Nothing, just like me. In a world where we must excel in not one but many areas, I had not done so in any. I would rather be dead than face the years to come, sure to be filled with constant reminders of my failure. In my mind, there was only one way out.” (page 10)

 After sharing powerful anecdotal evidence, Adele opens chapter one, “Sicker, Not Smarter”, with a quote from Saint Louis University School of Medicine professor and pediatrician Stuart Slavin:

 “My personal feeling is that we are conducting an enormous and unprecedented social experiment on an entire generation of American children, and the evidence of a negative impact on adolescent mental health is overwhelming. This is particularly disturbing given the fact that having mental health problems in the teen years predisposes to mental health problems in adulthood. It is even more profoundly disturbing when one considers that there is absolutely no evidence that this educational approach actually leads to better educational outcomes.” (page 15)

 Abeles developed personal contact with multiple mental health and brain development experts in the writing of this book. She writes:

 “We think of the years from zero to three as the critical period for brain development, but Temple University neuroscientist Laurence Steinberg underscores that adolescence is another one. ‘[T]he brain’s malleability makes adolescence a period of tremendous opportunity – and great risk,’ writes Steinberg. ‘If we expose our young people to positive, supportive environments, they flourish. But if the environments are toxic, they will suffer in powerful and enduring ways.’” (page 31)

 The book takes on many of the bad ideas in education “reform”. She spends chapter three debunking the idea that rigorous daily homework assignments and longer hours are desirable. Among the many pieces of evidence she cites that homework is out of control, harming family life and not valuable is the comparison with Finland. “One of the consistent superstars on this test [PISA], Finland, logs the least homework time – an average of less than 3-hours per week for 15-year-olds (and Finish students spend fewer days and hours each day in school than their American counterparts).” (page 76)

Chapter four is titled “Testing: Learning Beyond the Bubble.” Abeles writes: “The outcome is not, as the tests intended, a good education for all. In fact, it is nearly the opposite. Standardized tests have driven American education into a vise grip of regimentation.” (page 99)

And she makes the cogent point:

 “Policy makers made matters even worse when they attached powerful consequences to standardized test scores – teachers’ job evaluations, schools’ funding, and students’ high school diplomas and college admissions – thereby plunging the entire American education system into a stultifying culture of fear.” (page 100)

 Abeles not only debunks the value of standardized testing but provides evidence of the mental health harm high stakes testing is engendering. She cites the work of Brent Fulton, Richard Scheffler, and Stephen Hinshaw at UC Berkeley who looked into 2015 ADHD rates. They found evidence that rates shot up dramatically with the introduction of high stakes testing. (page 106)

Abeles turned to solutions in chapter 6 and here I have a small criticism. In her research for this book and other projects she became enamored with High Tech High in San Diego. The High Tech High (HTH) program and curriculum evolved from the work of Larry Rosenstock and colleagues in the New Urban High School Project, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

Gary Irwin son of Qualcomm founder Jacob Irwin and Bill Gates were the main financiers of the startup of HTH. Gary Irwin is still involved with HTH as the Chair of its board of directors.

HTH uses a constructivist approach to education called problem based learning. At HTH students work with teaching teams that guide 50 students. My friend, Professor Larry Lawrence, toured HTH this March and related observing some of the same attributes Abeles notes. Students were relaxed, happy and seemingly engaged in their projects. However, Professor Lawrence soon noted that the high school only had one math class for all students. This concerned him. A student guide confessed that she did not feel challenged in her math class.

Also, public schools do not have the financial wherewithal to have only 50 students assigned to a team of teachers. This is California where we equitably provide financing for students to attend schools that have teachers serving 180 students each day in classes often exceeding 40 students.

In 2001, I was enrolled in a master’s of education program at UCSD. At the time, I was enamored with Dewey’s constructivist ideas and the problem based approach to teaching. Unfortunately, California state standards and NCLB rules made it impossible for public schools to implement or continue with these ideas.

Today, as I study problem based learning, I perceive that it is not a magic elixir for improving education. It is simply a promising idea that can be implemented along with other teaching strategies.

Not everyone is happy with the preparation of students from HTH because of their somewhat narrow approach to learning. I do not want to denigrate HTH, but some educators have complained that students from HTH are not well prepared for the college classroom. Whatever the reality is, the HTH approach is not the sole “silver bullet.”

The bottom line is that Vicki Abeles’ book is an important work that brings to light many aspects of the terrible damage being done by the test, punish and privatize era of education reform.

Charter School Movement Out of Control

3 Apr

In response to the polemic “A Nation at Risk”, charter schools were proposed as a means to improve education while finessing state education laws. They were essentially viewed as lab schools that would innovate and then transfer those innovations to the public school system. They have failed. Their academic performance which is often misrepresented as sensational is – at best – no better than public schools. Today, they are clearly driving increased segregation, harming community schools and increasing costs. Currently, the most powerful charter school promotions do not tout them as a way to improve education; rather they are now seen as a way to make money. It is time to stop school privatization which is actually leading to “A Nation at Risk.”

Investment Opportunity

Just search “charter school investment” and a list of articles from the New York Times, Forbes, Business Insider, the Washington Post and many more will appear. In March 2015, the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation co-sponsored an event in Manhattan called “Bonds and Blackboards: Investing in Charter Schools.” In the Business Insider report on this event, reporter Abby Jackson wrote:

 “Hedge funds and other private businesses are particularly interested in the growth and success of charter schools. The growth of charter networks around the US offer new revenue streams for investing, and the sector is quickly growing. Funding for charter schools is further incentivized by generous tax credits for investments to charter schools in underserved areas.”

Andre Agassi and Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs are fronting charter school development. What are an uneducated tennis player and a misogynistic rapper doing running schools? The LA times reports, “Add Sean “Diddy” Combs to the list of millionaires trying to fix American education. At the charter school the music mogul is opening in Harlem, teachers will be called ‘Illuminators’ and social justice will be key.” I am not sure how much social justice and illumination students will get from the words of their founder posted by Mercedes Schneider on her blog:

 “Nigga hungry like Cujo

Smoking that Pluto

No ticking time like hand on the rope

Nigga feel beautiful

No park brake but a nigga in neutral”

 The Mythic Charter School Success

There often appears in the media stories about the amazing success of charter schools. Almost all of these success stories are based on standardized testing results. Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter chain in New York City is often held up as one of these amazing charter school successes. The New York Times reported in an article titled “At a Success Academy Charter School, Singling Out Pupils Who Have ‘Got to Go’”:

 “Success Academy, the high-performing charter school network in New York City, has long been dogged by accusations that its remarkable accomplishments are due, in part, to a practice of weeding out weak or difficult students. The network has always denied it. But documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with 10 current and former Success employees at five schools suggest that some administrators in the network have singled out children they would like to see leave.”

 Recently, Rutgers University researcher Mark Weber published a report about the amazing results in Newark, New Jersey at the North Star Academy charter school a member of the Uncommon Schools charter chain (that’s the no-excuses charter chain Secretary of Education John King came from) Here is the data proving North Star’s myth inspiring results.

 “Take the most recent PARCC exams in New Jersey. About 41% of the state’s 11th graders met or exceeded expectations on the test.

 In Essex County, high-income Millburn High School (2.2% economically disadvantaged) saw 57% of students scoring proficient or advanced on the assessment. The juniors at Livingston High School (1.5 % economically disadvantaged) earned 56.5%.

 A few miles away, the juniors at Newark-based North Star Academy (83.7% economically disadvantaged) earned an 80.6% pass rate.”

What Weber shows in his report is the attrition rate at North Star is huge. Every year classes get smaller and testing results improve. North Star has a comparatively small special education enrollment, few language learners and a high expulsion rate. Also Chris Christie’s old high school, Livingston and Millburn High School have high opt out rates. So on the tests that don’t affect the students (PARCC), North Star actually outperformed the two famous public high schools, but on SAT testing that matters to the students the results reverse. North Star with its extra assets from philanthropy is doing good work but it is hardly a miracle.

Worrisome – School to Prison Pipeline

On March 16, the University of California Los Angeles’s Civil Rights Project released the results of a first-ever analysis of school discipline records for the nation’s more than 5,250 charter schools. A disturbing number are suspending big percentages of their black students and students with disabilities at highly disproportionate rates compared to white and non-disabled students.

The press release outlines these key findings:

“Study finds many charter schools feeding ‘school to prison pipeline.’”

“The comprehensive analysis by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the UCLA Civil Rights Project identified 374 charter schools across the country that had suspended 25% or more of their entire student body during the course of the 2011-12 academic year. The comprehensive review also revealed:

  • “Nearly half of all black secondary charter school students attended one of the 270 charter schools that was hyper-segregated (80% black) and where the aggregate black suspension rate was 25%.
  • More than 500 charter schools suspended black charter students at a rate that was at least 10 percentage points higher than that of white charter students.
  • Even more disconcerting, 1,093 charter schools suspended students with disabilities at a rate that was 10 or more percentage points higher than that of students without disabilities.
  • Perhaps most alarming, 235 charter schools suspended more than 50% of their enrolled students with disabilities.”

 Who Runs Charter Schools

Fetullah Gulen is a Turkish Imam living in exile in western Pennsylvania. Gülen is a powerful and determined opponent of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the leader of the Gulen charter school movement which has grown to over 160 schools in the United States.

A lawyer named Robert R. Amsterdam penned a piece about Gulen for The Hill. He stated:

 “Our law firm has been engaged by the Republic of Turkey – a key NATO ally in a hotbed region – to conduct a wide-ranging investigation into the operations and geopolitical influence of the Gülen organization, which is behind the Coral Academy of Science [serving on military bases in Nevada] and over 140 other public charter schools scattered across 26 American states.  Our investigation, still in its early stages, reveals that the Gülen organization uses charter schools and affiliated businesses in the U.S. to misappropriate and launder state and federal education dollars, which the organization then uses for its own benefit to develop political power in this country and globally.”

 Mr. Amsterdam also claims:

 “Aside from defrauding American taxpayers, the Gülen organization has an even more ominous objective in the United States.  The organization is one of the country’s largest recipients of H1-B “specialty occupation” visas, which it uses to import Turkish teachers into its charter schools, supposedly because local U.S. talent is not available to fill math and science teaching positions in its charter schools.  The Gülen organization illegally threatens to revoke these visas unless the Turkish teachers agree to kick back part of their salary to the organization.”

 Charter Power Politics Trumps Democracy

California’s Gulen charter schools are called Magnolia Public Schools. In Anaheim, California the local school district rejected the Magnolia Public Schools submission for a charter. Magnolia appealed to the Orange county Board of Education and was again rebuffed. However the state authorizer granted the charter. In a law suit filed by Anaheim school leaders, teachers, parents and others these allegations are made:

 “Magnolia illegally grants large contracts to affiliated vendors that have numerous overlapping connections with their own employees and board of directors. This nepotistic awarding of contracts to affiliated vendors poses illegal conflicts of interest, both individual and organizational, and is evidence of rampant self-dealing at the California taxpayer’s expense.

The audit found that over 69% of the transactions reviewed at the audited Magnolia schools were unaccounted for, evidencing weak internal controls and provoking larger concerns about how Magnolia’s funds are actually being used.

Magnolia has spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to secure H-1B visas for foreign teachers, the large majority of which hail from Turkey, which is not an approved employee expense under federal law.”

 The founder of the California Charter Schools Association, Caprice Young, is now leading the Magnolia Public Schools. The LA Times reported on the problems at Magnolia and Young’s ascension to leadership saying, “Critics have asserted that the Magnolia campuses are among more than 100 charter schools that have ties to a U.S.-based Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen. In an interview, Young said that she is not aware of any direct links with Gulen.” I wonder how many other charter school chains she is aware of that are dominated by Turkish teachers and administrators?

It is obvious that today’s charter school promoters are not concerned primarily (if at all) with the good of the community or children. It seems they only care about their business goals like achieving 1,000,000 California students in their privatized education system.

Fraud is rampant in charter school organizations and reports of student abuse are on the rise. Public schools in America never were failing and charter schools have caused a lot more harm than good. There are some wonderful charter schools and they should be saved, but do we really want useless cyber schools or suspect education at the local mall?

Do we really want to abandon democratic principles in favor portfolio districts (The operational theory behind portfolio districts is based on a stock market metaphor—the stock portfolio under the control of a portfolio manager. If a stock is low-performing, the manager sells it. As a practical matter, this means either closing the school or turning it over to a charter school or other management organization.)? Remember; stability is important for the development of healthy children and that is one thing charter schools and portfolio style churn do not provide.

Breakfast with Professor Lawrence

25 Mar

Tuesday was another spectacular day in southern California and I was cruising up old Highway 101 to meet Larry Lawrence for a late breakfast. We met at the Ki café just south of Swami’s and the Kook. Swami’s is a famous surfing spot in Encinitas, California and the Kook is an often redecorated statue near the San Elijo State Beach. The Ki specializes in smoothies, juices and healthy meals prepared from organic products including the coffee I had with breakfast. Larry is a regular there. He directed me to a seat at his favorite table with an awe inspiring view of the Pacific Ocean. A scintillating three hour conversation about saving public schools ensued.

Professor Lawrence has reservations about standardized education. He illustrated them with a personal experience.

In 1962, he attended a class during the summer put on by the University of Illinois Committee on the School of Mathematics. In December 1951, the Colleges of Education, Engineering and Liberal Arts and Sciences established the University of Illinois Committee on School Mathematics (UICSM) to investigate a new pedagogy for high school mathematics. When he returned to Morningside High School in Inglewood, California, Larry convinced a colleague from the middle school to go take the course with him the following summer.

Two years later, Larry was teaching geometry and one of his classes was composed of the students out of his middle school friend’s honors algebra class. Larry soon discovered that this teacher had gotten so bogged down with teaching new ideas like set theory and algebra properties that he had not completed most of the fundamentals of algebra. His students were lost. Therefore, Larry changed the class he was teaching from geometry and made it algebra I. The administration supported his decision with almost no reservations. In today’s standardized environment, Larry is quite certain no professional educator would be allowed to make that kind of call.

The weekend of February 28th Professor Lawrence was at the United Opt Out conference in Philadelphia. He sees opt out as one of the most effective means of fighting today’s mean spirited greed driven education reform. He says the destruction to Philadelphia’s public school system by test driven reform and privatization is pervasive and profound. He called it truly sad.

On March 3, he was in Los Angeles at a meeting of TEAch (Transparency, Equity and Accountability in CHarter schools). He estimates an attendance of 80 people including Joan Kramer (retired teacher, activist, author of the Turtle Learning blog), Jackie Goldberg (former California State Assemblywoman, founding member of the progressive caucus and former student of Professor Lawrence at Morningside High), Steve Zimmer (President of the Los Angeles Unified School District), Scott Schmerelson (LAUSD board member) and the Red Queen of LA (The well known blogger). The moderator was Susan Phillips. These activists gathered to form strategies for saving public schools from the destruction caused by the billionaire financed charter school movement.

On March 8th, Larry was in Anaheim where Superintendent of Schools, Michael Matsuda was hosting a viewing of “Killing Ed.” He says, “This is an excellent documentary about the Gulen Charter Empire that needs to be shown to everyone.” On this occasion he also got to speak with Tina Andres (Southern California BAT leader).

On March 9th, he represented the Occidental Alumni in Education and toured the original High Tech High in San Diego.   After a brief meeting with the schools CEO and philosophical guide, Larry G. Rosenstock, Larry and one other Occidental alumnus were lead through the High Tech schools by two student “ambassadors” for almost two and a half hours.

High Tech schools were started with the support of Qualcomm founder, Irwin Jacobs and Bill Gates in 2000. Larry saw a very casual environment with small classes. Curriculum at High Tech is all presented using problem based learning, also known as the constructivist approach which derives from the thinking of John Dewey. High Tech has a robust professional development program for teachers which supports the constructivist ideal. It also confers a  masters in education, through the profession development program.

During the tour, Larry noticed that everyone was taking the same math class. When he asked the “ambassadors” about it, one of them said “yeah, that’s frustrating. I am good at math and I am not being challenged.” Overall, he rated the school as first rate but did see a few warts.

I have had a few students come into my classes from High Tech High who really hated it and a teacher friend of mine at Southwestern Community College says the students from High Tech struggle with a non-problem based learning environment.

Professor Lawrence shared some personal experience and knowledge that leads him to believe that High Tech system will eventually fail because it has no robust structure in place like public schools.

UCLA started a lab school in 1882. In 1925, Corinne A. Seeds was hired to lead the school. She like Larry Rosenstock was a Dewian and was a dynamic forceful personality. Seeds became a key figure in developing and promoting progressive education during the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. When Seeds was in charge, the school flourished. Seeds retired in 1957 and for three years the school floundered.

Then fortune shined on the school again with the arrival of another dynamic personality in 1960, John Goodlad. In his New York Times obituary it said, “Professor Goodlad proposed a radically new model of schools, in which elementary school students would not be divided into specific grades and their work would not be graded.” Larry worked with Goodlad at what was then called the Seeds school and he still promotes this idea. I see a lot of merit in it as well.

In 1987, Goodlad left UCLA and the Seeds school. After that the school, suffered tremendous financial duress without its charismatic leader. In the 1990’s, Seeds tried to solve its problems by becoming a charter school and today it is a private school that calls itself a lab school.

Professor Lawrence thinks that when the charismatic founding leader of High Tech is gone it will face a bleak future as well. Not being part of the democratically supported and supervised system will eventually catch up with High Tech and undermine the good work being done there.

On March 19th, Larry got an email from Karen Wolfe (education activist and parent) inviting him to Sunday morning breakfast in LA with Diane Ravitch. At 6 AM Sunday morning he was headed north on Highway 5 for breakfast with Karen, Diane, Tina Andres, Ellen Lubic and Josh Leibner. His commitment to public education and energy to fight for it has inspired me.

We left lunch challenging each other to think of some way to bring together the disparate activists in San Diego who support public education. We are hoping that we might be able to join with other southern California activist at the National Public Education conference this April in Raleigh, North Carolina and advance our struggle for the salvation of public education in our part of the country.

DuFour; Just Another “Reformy” Consultant

28 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Message to California Senators – Save us from the New ESEA

6 Dec

Dear Senators, Boxer and Feinstein

As senior members of the US Senate, please use your influence to stop the disingenuous rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

There is an effort to ram this bill through congress sight unseen. It only became available to the public and our representatives including you on November 30th. As educators from around the country see the details of this bill, they are deeply concerned for the future of public education in America. Is it the intent of the US congress to privatize public schools like Chile or Sweden did?

I left a job doing research in magnetic recording in 1999 to become a teacher. As a person immersed in the Silicon Valley culture, I was a big believer in technology. After more than a decade in the classroom, I am convinced education technology has been mostly a waste of money. It has not improved either engagement or understanding.

Yet, this federal law spends large amounts of money promoting dubious technology initiatives such as “personalized learning” and “blended learning.” If these are truly good ideas they will be adopted without federal coercion. My personal experience with these ideas says they encourage bad pedagogy. Multiple choices testing to assess drill and skill teaching is the basic strength of these methodologies and that is not good teaching.

This is little more than money being earmarked for the benefit of particular corporations. Most technology spending creates a net harm to our students who are forced into larger classes so districts can pay for the required hardware and software.

The social improvement bonds that appear on page 797 under the name “Pay for Success Initiative” look like a way for Wall Street bankers to get a cut of those education tax dollars. It is a legal opening for investment bankers to pocket taxpayer money. Is this kind of policy the new normal under the citizens’ united ruling?

Today, the biggest threat to quality public schools is the charter school movement. It is a huge problem in California. Charter school theory postulates that charters with less restrictive state regulations are going to experiment with pedagogy and then transfer their successful innovations to the “failing” public school system. This theory was based on a fallacy. Public schools were never failing especially here in California and we have not seen one successful innovative idea come from the charter sector. In fact, those seven-thousand “no excuses” charter schools in the United States are practicing methods harkening back to the 19th century; very regressive education brought by untrained inexperienced people.

Worst of all is the record of charter schools is one of fraud, instability and segregation. It would make sense for the federal government to closely scrutinize this out of control segment of education that is being used by hedge fund investors as an investment vehicle. Instead, this law spends significant money promoting charter schools and coercing states for the benefit of the charter industry. Section 4302 calls for:

 “(1) supporting the startup of new charter schools, the replication of high-quality charter schools, and the expansion of high-quality charter schools;”

This facet of the law will harm public schools and expose more students to the unsupervised education market. It is not about improving schools for children; it is about pocketing those education tax dollars.

In his massive study of the rise and fall of numerous 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 must protect our precious public education system from the sharks; unfortunately, this law is a shark feeder.

In the December 5th Washington Post, Kenneth Zeichner, a professor of teacher education at the University of Washington at Seattle noted that “Provisions in the legislation for the establishment of teacher preparation academies are written to primarily support non-traditional, non-university programs such as those funded by venture philanthropists.” He believes this law will do significant harm to teacher education in America.

One facet of the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB) that I liked was the requirement for a “highly qualified” teacher in every classroom. As the prominent author and educator, Mercedes Schneider posted to her blog on December 5th:

 “What is interesting is that ESSA foregoes the NCLB language prohibiting emergency or provisional certification. In fact, ESSA does allow for provisional certification and the waiving of licensing criteria for states and schools receiving Title I funding (see page 143). Furthermore, it seems that provisional or emergency certification could be subsumed in ‘certification obtained through alternative routes.’”

 On December 10th, the writer and educator from South Carolina, Professor Paul Tomas, wrote on his blog a conclusion I have reached:

 “At best, ESSA is a very slight shuffling of the test-mania element of the accountability era; however, this reverting to state-based accountability will guarantee another round of new standards and new tests—all of which will drain state and federal funding for processes that have never and will never achieve what they claim to achieve (Mathis, 2012).

 “ESSA will be another boondoggle for education-related corporations, but once again, that profit will be on the backs of children and underserved communities.”

This law does mandate that every child in grades 3 to 8 and 11 is tested every year. The NCLB era has taught me unambiguously that standards based testing harms teaching and learning for many profound reasons. Feedback from this corporate testing is not timely and there is no learning component related to what is going on in the classroom associated with the big test. And worst of all this kind of testing seriously harms the love of learning and thinking. Massive testing is not just expensive, it is harming children.

I know there are many people like the leaders of the AFT, NEA and PTA supporting this law. They believe it is a lesser evil, however, I think they listened to their big donors before they read the legislation. When a group is getting millions of dollars from Bill Gates, it is easy to rationalize supporting his position. Please look closely at this legislation and stand up for parents, children and public schools in America.

Fix it or kill it.

New ESEA is a Stinker – Kill It

2 Dec

Our corrupted political system is poised to advance the theft of public education from local communities and surrender it to corporate greed. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) was agreed to in conference committee around November 17, but withheld from public or congressional scrutiny until November 30th. This thousand page plus law is scheduled for a vote (with no time for comment or study); this week in the house and next week in the senate.

Here are some of the discoveries I have made.

On pages 450 and 469, the federal government commits to giving large grants to promote “blended learning” and “personalized learning.” These are euphemisms that mean replace teachers with computer delivered lessons. There is a complete lack of evidence supporting this education approach, but if you own a large technology company it is a way to capture taxpayer provided education dollars.

So what if it harm public schools?

The doors are also opened for Wall Street actors like Goldman-Sachs and JP Morgan Chase to get their hands on school funds through social impact bounds. These are bonds that do not pay a fixed rate of return. They are paid by the local governments to the bond holder when a particular social need has been successfully solved by the investment. On page 797, this financial scam is called the “Pay for Success Initiative.”

As Mercedes Schneider observed, “Of course, the problem here is that the funder of the pay-for-success initiative could somehow exploit children or influence such exploitation in an effort to shape the desired, ‘successful’ outcome. Only successful outcomes result in profits.”

Testing of every child in grades 3 – 8 and 11 every year is mandated. Every state is required to test 95% of its students and language learners are subject to multiple statewide interim assessments. States are allowed the “opt out” option for parents, but it is not clear what happens if more than 5% opt out of yearly testing. That appears to be illegal. Only 1% of the special needs population is allowed an alternative assessment.

No other country in the world forces their children into this much testing. It truly is folly. Every year since the acceleration of the federal takeover of schools in 2001, student growth has slowed and the learning gaps have increased. These policies are not good for students, they are not good for communities, but they are profitable for testing corporations.

They are also the means by which control over education can be wielded by federal overlords.

I am reminded of something presented by Francis W. Parker of Chicago at the 1891 National Education Association gathering. He wrote:

 “The common school furnishes the essential principles in the development and perpetuation of a democracy, and its growth and progress has been purely democratic; it has been and is, ‘of the people, for the people, and by the people.’ The common school had its birth in the New England school district; and the New England school district with the town is the root from which sprung all the democratic forms of government which have developed in our country. In a word, the spirit and nourishment of the common-school system has always depended, and depends to-day, entirely upon the will of the majority. State and national officials are given little more than advisory influences.

 “… That which has its birth-in-the-desires-and-intelligences-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.”

Today’s legislators have forgotten the hard won lessons of our ancestors. Instead of protecting the common school concept and the rights of local communities who built and paid for our public education system, they are busy selling it for thirty pieces of silver or worse foolishly giving away what they have no right to govern.

The section titled “21st Century Schools” could also be called the “Public School Privatization” section. It states:

 ‘‘SEC. 4302.”

“(a) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary may carry out a charter school program that supports charter schools that serve early childhood, elementary school, or secondary school students by—

‘‘(1) supporting the startup of new charter schools, the replication of high-quality charter schools, and the expansion of high-quality charter schools;

“(2) assisting charter schools in accessing credit to acquire and renovate facilities for school use; and

‘‘(3) carrying out national activities to support—“

 Charter schools are not public schools. Citizens have no voting control over their governance and have no right to see what wages are paid or how money is being spent. Public schools are prohibited from pulling students out of schools, dressing them in colorful tee-shirts and making them participate in political demonstrations. That is becoming more and more frequent at charter schools.

The money to support charter schools comes from public school budgets; taxpayers.

Charter schools are plagued with fraud and instability. They have been a powerful agent exacerbating segregation. Across the nation public schools have consistently outperformed charter schools and I do not know of any pedagogical innovations originating in a charter school. In fact, the “no excuses” charter schools are quite regressive.

But billionaires like Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Walton family love charter schools, so we the taxpayers of this country are going to support the diminution of our local public schools and doom children to attending corporate for profit schools.

Even the “non-profit” charter schools are really for profit schools. Just look at the salaries founders and top administrators are giving themselves.

In the bill, congress promotes the expansion of temporary teachers with no training like those provided by Teach for America. Today, these idealistic young people are cynically utilized to undermine professional teachers and their unions. Many of the “no excuses” charters schools are predominantly staffed with these untrained – inexperienced youths.

None of this is good for students but there is a lot of money to be made in the burgeoning charter industry.

This bill will be in force at least until 2020 if it is passed. It is clearly both anti-public school and anti-teacher, still, labor leaders Garcia of the NEA and Weingarten of the AFT support it and so does the PTA.

However, unlike them, I am not getting money from Bill Gates and I don’t support Hillary Clinton. So, I say kill this stinker of a bill and start over. I know NCLB is terrible, but replacing it with nearly as bad does not make sense to me.

NGSS is Science Education Plague

12 Nov

By T. Ultican 11/12/2015

Three bad ideas have taken root in California; common core, charter schools and NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards and Framework). There is growing awareness of the draw backs associated with common core’s top down control of schools and the often fraudulent and unstable charter school movement. On the other hand, most people have not heard of the NGSS. Monday, I was required to attend a “professional development” day focused on NGSS.

I teach math and physics at Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach, California. It is a magical place. The school sits about 6 blocks from the beach. Once, I actually walked down that beach and made an unconventional crossing into our neighbor suburb, Las Playas de Tijuana. Mexico is that close. Naturally, a lot of Spanish is spoken by our amazingly peaceful and kind students.

My district has set up cohorts made up of teachers from four high schools, tasking selected teachers in the various subject areas with leading professional development activities. Since I teach in two core areas, math and science, I am required to go for both NGSS and CCSS indoctrination (buying into these regimes is required for teacher leaders and administrators if they want to keep their jobs). Unfortunately, the creation of both NGSS and CCSS was led by testing company executives and CEO’s like Louis Gerstner from IBM and not experts in pedagogy.

These business executives have recklessly foisted their misguided education policies on America; not even pilot testing the transmogrification they propose. Political pressure driven by a few billionaires causes these changes to be abruptly instituted. Instead of a reasoned and thoughtful roll out of radical curricular changes, schools are forced to transition to them immediately, creating extreme discontinuities in the learning sequence.

For our NGSS training, we started with a November article in Science Scope magazine by Joe Krajcik called “Three-Dimensional Instruction – Using a New Type of Teaching in the Science Classroom.” He tells us that “Classrooms incorporating three-dimensional learning will have students build models, design investigations, share ideas, develop explanations, and argue using evidence, all of which allow students to develop important 21st century skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and self management.” Honestly, the only thing that appears new here is developing 21st century skills instead of 20th century skills.

These are all known principles of cognitive development that have been around for more than a century. They reflect the work of Dewey, Vygotsky and Piaget. It is the constructivist approach. I endorse that kind of pedagogy, however, the poorly written NGSS standards (close to undecipherable) are being forced onto students without matching cognitive readiness, violating Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” theory.

For example, approximately 30 core ideas are to be investigated by students and assessed in kindergarten through 2nd grade. Six science standards are to be introduced in kindergarten including earth’s systems, motion and stability, forces and interactions, and engineering design. At the same time, CCSS require that these babies learn to read, write and do math. Not even the Chinese expect babies to forgo childhood to be scholars destined to advance the economic engine. It is a huge mismatch in cognitive development that portends permanent damage.

The disturbing part of my training was the sight of three bright young teachers caught up in this “corporate education reform” sausage grinder. The week before our cohort met they were pulled out of classes for a day to work with district curricular leaders on planning the event. They gathered materials, planned a lab activity and tried very hard to take us through a demonstration lesson that illuminated the three dimensions of learning. We all had a nice day off from teaching and tried not to be negative Nancy’s, but none of the real issues with NGSS were discussed.

At the high school level, NGSS standards require integrated science just like common core requires integrated math. My school tried integrated math in the 1990’s and abandoned it as a bad idea. Now, I am teaching integrated math III. However, science is different than math. Most math teachers have enough background in algebra, geometry and statistics to teach any level of integrated math. It is the rare science teacher who has expertise in all science domains: earth science, biology, chemistry and physics.

NGSS writers posited that chemistry and physics principles like Newton’s laws, the gas laws, and atomic structure would be so thoroughly apprehended by 8th grade, that it would not be necessary to teach them in high school. In high school, student are to create reports and videos that explain the energy transformations behind global warming and how Darwin’s laws of evolution correctly explain the development of life. There are almost no high school chemistry or physics standards in NGSS.

I personally believe that the existence of global warming caused by human activity (burning fossil fuels) is settled science. I also think Darwin was a gifted scientific observer whose theory of evolution is well founded. On the other hand, why overweight the standards with these two controversial topics? I am not saying ignore them, but they are central to these new science standards and they do not need to be.

NGSS was never pilot tested and was rushed into existence before people had a chance to vet it. Therefore, NGSS is full of errors and horribly misaligned.

NGSS is another of those dreams held by a rich powerful man that has been ramrodded into existence. Luis Gerstner the former CEO of both IBM and RJR Nabisco started campaigning for these standards in 1995. In 1996, he talked the National Governors Association into making him chairman of a new non-profit named Achieve Incorporated. Achieve was charged with making his standards dream a reality. He remained the chairman of Achieve until the standards were completed in 2013 and copyrighted by Achieve Inc.

Unlike Bill Gates, Gerstner did not drop out of school. And not only did he complete school himself, he hired many people who had been to school. These are his only qualifications for leading education policy in America. Like Gates’s common core, Gerstner’s NGSS is terrible education policy that came about because America’s democratic process and the principal of local control of education were sundered by billionaires.