Tag Archives: common core

I Am Done – I Hope Public Education is Not

24 May

June 2nd will be my last day as a classroom teacher. For the past 15 years, I have been teaching mathematics and physics. It has been exhilarating, it has been heart breaking. It reminds me of the way Charles Dicken’s opened A Tale of Two Cities,

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, ….”

During my tenure in education, costly efforts were made to improve schools. However, the welfare of country and children were too often ignored in pursuit of new markets. Vast fortunes were spent by philanthropists mostly on foolish and destructive agendas which often appeared self-serving.

In 2010, Rupert Murdock stated, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone ….” From one point of view, our commitment to children is laudable, but this huge amount of money has engendered darkness. Integrity and community too often succumbed to greed. Corporate and political leaders regularly bowed to dark human tendencies.

Difficult Time for a New Teacher

In 1998, Prince rereleased “Party like its 1999.” In 1999, I didn’t feel it. I was driving around Silicon Valley ready to move on. The party seemed over. Hearing co-workers drone on about stock options or being regaled by stories of new startups creating instant millionaires got stale. I enjoyed my work but hated the traffic. It was time to go home to San Diego and become a teacher.

By 2001, I was in graduate school at the University of California San Diego. At the same time, Ted Kennedy was teaming up with George W. Bush to federalize public education with the “No Child Left Behind” rewrite of the education law. When, I earned a master’s degree in education, NCLB was the law of the land.

The new federal law mandated standards based multiple choice exams. These exams were completely useless for measuring school or teacher quality or for guiding instruction. The only outcome from these tests with statistical significance is that they accurately identified the economic health of the school’s community.

Standards based testing has been both cynically and foolishly used to claim that public schools are failing thus opening the door to a national tragedy. The world’s greatest public education system and our bulwark for democracy is being privatized. Wonderful and venerable institutions in tough neighborhoods like Crenshaw High are being destroyed. The generational legacy that spawned the likes of Ice-T, Darryl Strawberry and Marques Johnson has been stolen from its community.

My second year of teaching was one of my favorite years. I was given a one year temporary contract to teach at Mar Vista Middle School. I really enjoyed the kids (me and middle schoolers think alike), but it was my interactions with the staff that always engenders fond joyful memories. I was incredulous a few years later, when the middle school was reconstituted because of failing test scores. At the time I wrote about the “Unwarranted Demise of Mar Vista Middle School.”

It seems there was an effort to charterize Mar Vista Middle School, however, the community quickly rejected that. The school was reconstituted by firing half of the staff and reopened as Mar Vista Academy. The only result of the reconstitution was disruption in the lives of teachers, parents and students. The school still serves the same neighborhood. At the high school where I now work, we have seen no substantive change in the readiness of students coming from this feeder school.

I Was Victimized by the First Honored DFER

In the master’s program, we did some student teaching during the first year and then in the second year we were given paid intern positions to teach three classes a day. When that school year ended most of my classmates were offered a position. I wasn’t. It could be that I was not a very good teacher or it might have been that I was 52 years-old and schools wanted younger new teachers.

I finally got a position at Bell Junior High School teaching four sections of physics and one section of honors physics to 9th graders. Each class had 36 students. My classes scored amazingly well on the district end of course exams. They scored especially well at the end of semester 2. San Diego Unified School District has more than 130,000 students. My honors physics class at Bell was the second highest scoring honors class in the district and my 4 regular classes were the top scoring out of the 13 sections of physics at Bell.

Bell junior high school consisted of mostly minority students including many language learners and free lunch recipients. Several or my students were afraid to walk home after school. The neighborhood was that tough. It was at Bell that I started to realize that the experienced teachers were amazing and not the worthless slugs that I had heard so much about.

In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch wrote about Alan Bersin a lawyer with no education experience being tapped to run what was arguably the top performing urban schools system in America. I have written about the Democrats for Education Reform (DEFR) and Bersin. The following citation honoring Bersin is from the DEFR web presence (it has since been removed):

“Appointed in 1998 as Superintendent of Public Education of the San Diego Unified School District, Bersin led the eighth largest urban school district in the country. In 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger appointed him as California’s Education Secretary. Bersin led the way as one of the nation’s first ‘non-traditional’ big city school leaders, promoting ambitious reform to raise the quality of education and bolster student achievement. …. Bersin was a founding board member of DFER.”

One feature of the “non-traditional” superintendent’s leadership was fear. At Bell, I witnessed three tenured teachers lose their jobs. Yes, a determined administrator can get rid of a tenured teacher. It appears there were targets for the number of teachers to be fired each year. It also seems that a certain percentage of new hires were required to be given unacceptable evaluations. I suspect being a new hire in my 50’s made me a target.

My final evaluation said that I was not able to control my classes and was not moving them towards achieving standards. The not moving them towards achieving standards comment meant that I could not even apply to be a substitute teacher. Ironically, my evaluation the next year by the principal at Mar Vista Middle School referenced classroom management as a particular strength.

Conclusions and Concerns

Standards based education is bad education theory. In the 1960’s Benjamin Bloom proposed mastery education in which instruction would be individualized and students would master certain skills before they moved ahead. By the 1970’s this idea had been married with B.F. Skinner’s behaviorist philosophy and teachers were given lists of discrete items for their students to master. The “reform” became derisively known as “seats and sheets.”

By the 1980’s corporate leaders and many politicians were turning these mastery skills into standards. In the 1990’s the IBM and former RJR Nabisco CEO, Louis Gerstner, made instituting education standards and standards based testing his mission in life. The result of his almost two decade effort are the Next Generation Science Standards and they are awful. I wrote about them here, here and here.

The other corporate leader that loves the concept of education standards is Bill Gates. Without him, there would be no Common Core State Standards. Bill Gates and Louis Gerstner share two traits, neither of them have any real experience or training in education and the education standards they have forced on America are horrible. I wrote about the Common Core standards here and here.

Vouchers have not led to better education outcomes. Allowing the privatization of public schools is foolhardy. Public schools are wonderful crucibles of democracy where parents have input. Vouchers undermine this democratic principle and they can be misused. Vouchers have been employed to force all taxpayers to fund religious schools and to promote segregation.

This March (2017) a Texas Superintendent of Schools, John Kuhn, informed the Association of Texas Professional Educators about vouchers. “Three different research studies published recently have found that voucher programs harm student learning—including one study sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation and the Fordham Institute, both proponents of vouchers. Students who use vouchers underperform their matched peers who stay in public schools.”

It is in all of our interest to adequately fund public education. Even if you do not want your children to attend a public school. On the other hand, tax money should not be spent on private or religious schools. If parents want that option, that is their right, but it is not the responsibility of society to fund their decision.

Charter schools are bad policy. There are some absolutely wonderful charters schools but the money they remove from the public system is causing significant damage to the schools that serve the vast majority of students.

If taxpayers want to fund charter schools they need to understand that it will cost more than just funding public schools. It costs more money to run multiple systems. Not providing adequate funding degrades the public system – bigger classes and less offerings. In extreme cases like Detroit, we see a complete collapse of both the public and charter systems.

Albert Shanker thought that charters could be used to unleash the creativity of teachers, but once he saw the early direction of the charter movement, he became a charter opponent. In her book School Choice, Mercedes Schneider shares this quote from Shanker:

“A pluralistic society cannot sustain a scheme in which the citizenry pays for a school but has no influence over how the school is run. … Public money is shared money, and it is to be used for the furtherance of shared values, in the interest of e pluribus unum. Charter schools and their like are definitely antithetical to this promise.” (Page 57)

When writing about Schneider’s School Choice I paraphrased her:

“Charter schools have never honestly out performed elected board directed public schools. In some cases, charter schools have gotten relatively good testing results, but on closer inspection these good testing results are not the result of good pedagogy. There are three common practices that help charters look good on testing; (1) instead of a balanced curriculum they focus on preparation for testing, (2) through various techniques, they only accept easier to educate students and (3) they do not back fill when students leave the school.”

Another bad idea is CBE. This big school privatization effort could be called the make Silicon Valley “great again” effort. It is known by various names: one-to-one, personalized education, blended learning, competency based education, etc. Its supporters, like Billionaires Reed Hastings and Bill Gates, are spending huge amounts of money promoting computer delivered education.

In 2010, the President-CEO of the Charter School Growth Fund (a Walton family effort), Kevin Hall, decided to purchase the struggling Dreambox Inc. of Bellevue, Washington for $15,000,000. He subsequently invested another $10,138,500 into Dreambox. [data from 2014 form 990]

A recent National Public Radio report on the Rocketship schools reported:

“Rocketship students often use adaptive math software from a company called Dreambox Learning. The company was struggling when Reed Hastings, the Netflix founder turned education philanthropist and investor, observed it in action at a Rocketship school several years ago. His investment allowed Dreambox to become one of the leading providers of math software in North America, currently used by about 2 million students.”

Reed Hastings is the founder of the Rocketship schools, a board member of the Charter Schools Association of California and the owner of Dreambox Learning. What he is not is a highly trained experienced educator.

An Organization for Economic-Cooperation and Development study concludes, “Investing heavily in school computers and classroom technology does not improve pupils’ performance.” The last thing 21st century children need is more screen time.

San Jose State’s education Professor Roxana Marachi provides access to information about the possible health risks involved with screen time and juvenile cell phone use. I recommend her Educational Psychology & Technology page. The CBS news magazine 60 Minutes, recently presented information about tech addiction being purposefully designed into digital devices.

Of course there is a place for technology in education, but that place should be driven by professionally experienced educators and not technology companies looking to enhance profitability.

My biggest take-away is that professional educators should be running education. The Regan era idea that business people, lawyers and Nobel Prize winning scientists were more equipped to lead America’s schools than experienced professional educators was a foolish error. Today, we have an amateur politician rich guy trying to run the country. His lack of experience is showing.

In the same way, insurance salesmen (Eli Broad), retailers (Doris Fisher) and technologists (Bill Gates) are harming America’s schools, because they do not know what they are doing. Experience and training matter in all fields of human endeavor and education is no different.

School Choice Barbecued Cajun Style

5 Sep

Mercedes Schneider’s newest book continues her legacy of scholarship and philosophical prescience.  In School Choice; The End of Public Education? she documents and explains many facets of the issue. Three glaring problems with “school choice” as an education policy caught my eye: (1) Friedman’s choice ideology ends the concept of mandatory education for all, (2) “choice” has abandoned its original purpose and become a profiteering racket, and (3) “choice” is historically a method used to promote segregation.

School Choice Foundations

Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek who believed in classical liberalism especially the concept that it is in the common interest that all individuals must be able to secure their own economic self-interest, without government direction. In September 1944, the University of Chicago Press published Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom. It was squarely against government programs like social security and Roosevelt’s new deal.

In 1950, Hayek left the London School of Economics for the University of Chicago. It was there that Milton Friedman and a host of young scholars met their sole mate Hayek. They saw government social programs as seeds for tyranny and public education was no exception. Friedman became known as the father of school choice when he wrote, “The Role of Government in Education” advocating school vouchers for universal private education in 1955.

I knew all of this but Schneider unearthed an amazing quote from the paper I did not know. Friedman was not only opposed to schools run by democratically elected boards; he also believed mandates for compulsory education were an obstacle to freedom:

“Perhaps a somewhat greater degree of freedom to choose schools could be made available also in a governmentally administered system, but it is hard to see how it could be carried very far in view of the obligation to provide every child with a place.” (School Choice Page 32)

Schneider commented, “Here we have the idea that for the market to be at its best, it needs to be free from any obligation to educate all children.” And she continued in some depth clearly illuminating this anti-humanistic and fatally flawed theory that is the foundation of “school choice” theory.

A Legacy of Segregation

Mercedes Schneider is a product of segregated schools in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. She says the Orleans Parish schools she attended have a history that “does not inspire pride.” Not only were the schools segregated, but more tragically, the parish refused to construct new schools for the growing back student population. Not just separate schools for whites and blacks but not of equal quality by design.

After “Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka” required the end of the farcical separate but equal policies, southern politicians turned to school choice and vouchers as a way to avoid integration. Milton Friedman’s timely paper was well received in the segregated south.

To this point Schneider states:

“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. Though it seems that most Southern states were ready participants in resisting the federal requirement to integrate their public education systems, Senator Byrd’s sentiment of ‘massive resistance’ was even formally declared in a U.S. legislative document commonly known as the ‘Southern Manifesto.’” (School Choice Page 22)

Today, it is not much different with the possible exception of more emphasis on class separation than in the past. Recently a blogger known as “educationrealist” posted this discerning 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.) Asian parents don’t want white kids around to corrupt their little tigers, much less black or Hispanic. (White parents don’t really want too many Asians around, either, but that’s the opposite of the “bad kids” problem.)

“Parents don’t care much about teacher quality. They care a lot about peer group quality.”

Around 2003, a friend tried to convince my wife and I to send our daughter to High Tech High. This mother did not want her daughter to be exposed to all those bad influences at Mira Mesa High School. Mira Mesa High School is a quality school that graduates amazingly gifted students every year and sets them on to a course of academic and social success. But the new charter school that Bill Gates and Irwin Jacobs had put so much money into surely would not have all those feared “bad kids.”

“Begs to be Gamed”

“By 2015, according to the Education Commission of the States website, 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico all had charter school laws. Of these, 33 states had charter authorizing bodies, yet only 15 states and Washington, D.C., had standards for charter authorizers and the requirement that charter authorizers annually produce formal reports regarding the charter schools they oversee. Furthermore, only 11 states and the District of Columbia specify performance criteria to determine whether a charter should be continued or revoked.” (School Choice Page 59)

Charter schools have become the vogue privatization vehicle of the 21st century. Schneider presents a detailed background of charter school formation starting with Ray Budde’s 1974 conference paper that proposed a new structure for school management that he called “charter schools” and AFT President Albert Shanker’s 1988 fascination with Budde’s idea. Shanker extended Budde’s ideas with his own “school with-in a school” concept in which teachers would be authorized to experiment.

Shanker quickly became disenchanted by the direction the charter school movement took. It became clear to him that the new charter school laws made corruption and profiteering inevitable. In various articles, he highlighted the cases demonstrating how dangerous and poorly regulated charter schools were. He wrote of the Noah Webster schools gaming the system in Michigan for $4 million and of Washington D.C. giving a charter to a man charged with assault with a deadly weapon whose head of school security was a convicted felon. Schneider shares this quote from Shanker:

“A pluralistic society cannot sustain a scheme in which the citizenry pays for a school but has no influence over how the school is run. … Public money is shared money, and it is to be used for the furtherance of shared values, in the interest of e pluribus unum. Charter schools and their like are definitely antithetical to this promise.” (School Choice Page 57)

I was fascinated by the quotes from Addison Wiggins Forbes magazine article about why hedge fund operators are so pro-charter school industry. One quote reads:

“About the only thing charters do well is limit the influence of teachers’ unions. And fatten their investors’ portfolios.

“In part, it’s the tax code that makes charter schools so lucrative: … firms that invest in charters and other projects located in ‘underserved’ areas can collect a generous tax credit – up to 39% – to offset their costs.” (School Choice Page 101)

One of the most lucrative aspects of the charter industry seems to be facilities. Open a charter school and start a real estate company that specializes in leasing school facilities. Then you can charge yourself twice the going rates and the taxpayer picks up the bill. Schneider asks, “Why does the federal government not see through the potential real estate exploitation…?” Probably corruptions and cowardice have a lot to do with it.

Charter schools have never honestly out performed elected board directed public schools. In some cases, charter schools have gotten relatively good testing results, but on closer inspection these good testing results are not the result of good pedagogy. There are three common practices that help charters look good on testing; (1) instead of a balanced curriculum they focus on preparation for testing, (2) through various techniques, they only accept easier to educate students and (3) they do not back fill when students leave the school.

Instead of recognizing the amazing public education system we have in the United States our Congressional leaders are promoting charter schools both monetarily and with praise. Mercedes Quotes the Sense of Congress from their version of the new federal education law that is little more than a charter industry add. Paragraph 2 stated:

 “It is the sense of the Congress that charter schools are a critical part of our education system in this Nation and the Congress believes we must support opening more quality charter schools to help students succeed in their future.” (School Choice Page 151)

 Schneider concludes the charter school portion of the book with;

“Adequate monitoring of charter schools is not happening, by and large, and those individual using taxpayer money to serve their own interests by operating charter schools only contribute to damaging American public education” (School Choice Page 155)

 I have endeavored to give a taste of this wonderful effort by Mercedes Schneider and encourage everyone to not only read it but share it with others. If we educators can educate the public about how our legacy passed down from previous generations is being robbed, the public will stop these villains immediately. Remember, they are greedy cowards who will quail before public sanction.

Charter Schools Strip Public System

27 May

United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) contracted with MGT of America Consulting, LLC for a report on costs to Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) caused by charter schools. MGT reported, “these data indicate that LAUSD has a nearly $600 million impact from independent charter schools. By far, the most significant financial impact to LAUSD is in the area of declining enrollment lost to charter schools” which they estimated as a “total net revenue loss in 2014-15 $508,280,866.” Within a few days the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) began attacking the report in an open letter to the LAUSD Board of Education.

CCSA said of the report: “This report is riddled with inaccuracies;” “It draws sweeping and often irresponsible conclusions based on limited information and obsolete data;” “It paints a distorted picture of charter schools’ role in L.A. Unified’s financial portfolio;” “Charters are essential to the district’s success.”

A fair reading of the report reveals that MGT’s representative was conservative, clear, careful and reasoned. MGT is a private research firm that has expertise in analyzing school and other governmental systems. They accepted a contract with the UTLA to research a set of specific questions and they do not appear to have a dog in this fight. Conversely, the $15 million budget that California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) has to promote charter schools gives them an undeniable agenda.

CCSA Disputes and Reality

There are 24 findings stated in the MGT report. Each of the findings is explained in some detail and the source of the data is given. The CCSA disputes four of these findings in their open letter. The refutations bring to mind arguments about how many angles can dance on the head of a pin.

CCSA disputed the special education findings. MGT found, “the district has both a higher proportion of special education students than the charter schools (13.4% vs. 8.1%, as of December 2013) and of that proportion, has double the percentage of higher cost ‘Moderate to Severe’ special education students than its charters (30% vs 15%), as reported in the data compiled for the Independent Financial Review Panel report published November 10, 2015.”

CCSA says, “The report uses a number of outdated and erroneous statistics that paint a misleading picture of both the proportion of students with disabilities in charters schools and the fiscal impact on the District.” They claim a “recent analysis” shows the LAUSD over identifies special education students. They also point to data from the Office of the Independent Monitor that shows that LA charter school only served 3% less special education students in 2013-2014 not the 5% difference shown in the report. Why there is a discrepancy between the data provided by the Independent Monitor and LAUSD is not clear. The following chart based on data provided by LAUSD and the state of California indicates for some reason the percentage of charter school students in LAUSD is increasing.

SPED Percent LA

It may be that the CCSA is more worried about possible changes to California law than they are about this report. They stated, “The UTLA/MGT ‘Finding 5’ regarding Proposition 39 oversight fees is false. If a school district, such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, charges a pro rata share, the facilities are not substantially rent free and the school district cannot charge the 3% oversight fee.” On this subject the MGT report explains, “LAUSD has fifty-six (56) charter schools currently co-located in LAUSD facilities and has elected to use the “pro rata share” approach for facilities charges. By doing so, the district may have determined it may not also charge the 3% oversight fee. However, the majority of the costs included in the pro rata calculation are direct costs that charters should already be paying that are associated with occupancy of the facilities (e.g. utilities, custodial, trash, grounds, etc.).” It does not look like a false claim at all but just a suggestion for the district to save a few dollars from going into the pockets of CCSA clients.

Poor Law Harming Local Schools

The MGT study illustrates how charter school law in California is fashioned to favor privately operated charter schools over public schools. If a local community passed a bond measure in the 1980’s to build a new public school, it is the law in California that the members of that local community – who still might be paying for that public school – will have no choice but to allow a private operator move into the facility. In addition, the charter school law requires the local school district to incur many direct and indirect costs to support charter schools.

In California, since its statehood, a super-majority (67%) was required to pass a school bond measure. In 2000, after losing an effort that March to mitigate the super-majority rules and the infamous proposition 13 limitations, supporters brought forward proposition 39 that would reduce school-bond super-majorities to 55% and did not seriously threaten proposition 13 protections enacted in 1978. It passed 53% to 47% in November.

In the official ballot summary for proposition 39 in the November 7, 2000 election the support message was signed by Lavonne Mcbroom, President California State PTA; Jacqueline N. Antee, AARP State President; and Allan Zaremerg, President California Chamber of Commerce. The statement against the proposition was signed by Jon Coupal, Chairman Save Our Homes Committee, Vote No on Proposition 39, a Project of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association; Dean Andal, Chairman Board of Equalization, State of California; and Felicia Elkinson, Past President Council of Sacramento Senior Organizations.

This proposition was a battle royal with every media source and elected official bloviating endlessly about the righteousness of their side. However, like in the official ballot measure statements, there was no discussion of the charter school co-location funding requirement in article six of the proposition.

When proposition 39 is coupled with the undemocratic charter authorizing system in California, citizens lose all democratic control of their local schools. With the three levels of government having the power to authorize charter schools it is almost impossible to turn down an charter request no matter how bad the schools previous history is or how inundated a community might be with certain types of schools. As former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch writes:

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

CCSA Influencing Elections

Here in San Diego, it appears the CCSA is trying to pack the San Diego County Board of Education with charter school proponents. Four of the five seats on the Board are up for election on June 7. The Voice of San Diego reported, “Nine candidates will vie for the openings, including four incumbents: Gregg Robinson, Mark Anderson, Guadalupe Gonzalez and Rick Shea. All except Shea are community college educators.” And they continue, “CCSA is backing four challengers in the election: [Mark] Powell, Jerry Rindone, Paulette Donnellon and former state Sen. Mark Wyland.”

Evidently the fact that “The County Board denied six of the seven charters it has reviewed since 2011 is a cause for corporate spending. In all of those cases, County Board members went along with the recommendations of staff members who reviewed the document.” The County Board only reviews cases that have already been turned down by local school districts.

Stop Authorizing Charter at Least until Law Fixed

Public education run by democratic processes is a major good. The past two decades of school reform have produced nothing but negative results and profits. The more enthusiastically the corporate and billionaire driven reforms have been embraced the worse the results (see Denver, New Orleans and Washington DC). It is time to stop all new charter school authorizations in California. It is time to reject the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. It is time to embrace professional educators working democratically within local communities to restore public education in America. It is time to protect our great inherited legacy – public education – which is definitely not a privatized market driven education.

To Diane Feinstein Re. John King

26 Apr

To: Senator Diane Feinstein

United States Senate

331 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510

 

From: Thomas Ultican

 

 

Dear Senator Feinstein,

 

Thank you for your courteous response to my entreaty to oppose the appointment of John King as the United States Secretary of Education.

 

The central point of what you wrote was:

 

“On March 14, 2016, I joined 48 of my colleagues to confirm King’s nomination.  While we may disagree on his nomination, please know that I respect your opinion and appreciate hearing your feedback.  I look forward to working with him as Congress continues to work towards providing a high-quality education to every student and ensure a successful future.”

 

I am writing back to share my belief that a shockingly large percentage of public education teachers feel abandoned by the Democratic Party. John Kings appointment was one more slap in the face. I personally am aware of several teachers who have reluctantly registered with the Green Party.

 

In 2008, teachers across America embraced the candidacy of Barack Obama. His spokesperson on education was Stanford University’s, Linda Darling-Hammond. Her embrace of standardized education gave me pause, but she was a professional educator with deep experience. I and others felt a great sense of betrayal, when Darling-Hammond was pushed aside for a political operative from Chicago with almost no professional experience as an educator, Arne Duncan.

 

Since then, the Obama administration has championed one horrible education policy after another. Duncan worked to de-professionalize teaching, privatize public education and make school a corporate profit center.

 

The “No Child Left Behind” legislation that was championed by the “liberal lion”, Ted Kennedy seriously damaged public education, undermined democratic control of schools and legitimized labeling schools and teachers as failures. And the testing schemes used to make those demoralizing judgments were not capable of such a determination.

 

Saddest of all is that minority teachers, because they often work in the poorest communities, have suffered the most from NCLB’s misguided accountability scheme based on unsound science.

 

The federal control of education has arrived with testing hell for students and enormous stress. All levels of education are dealing with dramatically increased mental illness manifested as student depression and self-mutilation. Despite the emotional and financial costs, testing score improvements have slowed and the scoring gap between minority students and white students has increased.

 

Standardized testing which has its American roots in the eugenics movement of the 1920’s and 1930’s is not a capable measure of good teaching or good schools. It is a fraud. As the education activist Steven Singer observed, “Practitioners like Carl Brigham used IQ tests to PROVE white people were just the best … He went on to refine his work into an even better indicator of intelligence that he called the Scholastic Aptitude Test or S.A.T.”

 

My personal opinion is that standardized testing is a scam, a waste of both taxpayer and student money. SAT, ACT and Pearson should not receive one more penny from taxpayers for their harmful misleading products and public universities should be encouraged to drop these bogus tests as part of the application requirements. High school grades are still the most reliable indicator of success in college.

 

There were bad schools before NCLB and Race to the Top, before charter schools; however they were the result of terrible state policies and not teachers or schools. Privatizing public schools just makes stealing taxpayer money easier.

 

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.

 

When charter schools came to New Orleans the minority communities embraced them because they hoped that finally some money would be put into their schools. Unfortunately, this story is turning uglier every day. Because the charter schools are independent, thousands of students have fallen through the cracks; there are more than 10,000 New Orleans’ youths between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school and are not working.

 

And the heroic black educators of New Orleans have been replaced by TFA teachers with no experience and almost no training.

 

These are the result of amateurs believing that professionalism in education is not important.

Obama’s “Race to the Top” has done more damage than NCLB for that same reason.

 

Yes, Dr. John King, Jr. has and appealing story and impressive credentials from well thought of Ivy League schools. He does not have deep experience as an educator and his ham-handed tenure as the New York Commissioner of Education accelerated the hatred for Common Core and standardized testing in New York. He was a failure. John King made the opt-out of testing movement so robust.

 

I think your colleague from Utah, Senator Mike Lee, made cogent points when he said:

 

“I have studied Dr. King’s professional record, most notably his time in New York’s Department of Education, and I’ve reviewed the transcript of his confirmation hearing. Based on the policies that he’s supported, the bipartisan opposition he has invited throughout his career and his uncompromising commitment to the designs of bureaucrats and central planners over the lived experiences of parents and teachers, I believe it would be grave error for the Senate to confirm Dr. King’s nomination at this time. Indeed, I believe it would be difficult for anyone to support Dr. King’s nomination on the basis of his record.

“The problem is not that Dr. King lacks experience; on paper, you might think that Secretary of Education is the logical next step in his career. After three years as a teacher and a brief stint managing charter schools, Dr. King has risen through the ranks of education bureaucracy, climbing from one political appointment to the next. But do we really think that someone who has spent more time in a government agency than in a classroom is better suited to oversee federal education policy. And, more to the point, what matters isn’t the jobs that someone has held but the policies that person has advanced.”

 

Dr. King has promoted the privatization of the American public school system and the demise of local democratic control of public schools. Charter schools are not public schools. No parent has the right to attend their board meetings, look at their records or vote for their leadership. They are private businesses – often fraudulent – draining education dollars away from students.

 

At this point, all I can say is please watch him vigilantly. It is totally predictable that he will attempt to arrogate power to himself in ways totally in opposition to the spirit of the recent education law, ESSA. It is totally predictable that he will ignore the counsel of professional educators in favor schemes put forward by testing and technology companies.

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.

NGSS is Science Education Plague

12 Nov

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 IBM 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.

Lily’s Betrayal Letter

5 Oct

Yesterday was the worst of days and best of days. In the morning as usual I checked email and social media and there was Steven Singer’s post, “Teachers Told They’re Endorsing Hillary Clinton by NEA Leadership. Membership Opinions Unnecessary.” When I finished his post I saw my friend Paula Meyers had posted the Seattle area justice fighter, Susan Dufresne’s graphic #NEADoesntSpeak4Me; that caught my emotion exactly. With this in mind, I went to the Kearny Mesa Buddhist Center for World Peace Prayer. In the afternoon, things seemed improved; the San Diego Chargers won an exciting game over the Cleveland Browns.

NEADoesntSpeak4Me

Then I got an email message from Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, president of the NEA. Lily has been a great disappointment to me. It is not her fault. It’s mine. I believed she was a breath of fresh air who rose to the leadership of the NEA by merit and was willing to speak truth to power. Fooled again! Then this April in Chicago she stood on stage and lied to us. She pledged to no longer take money from Bill Gates but her fingers were crossed. Now, she employed power politics to get Hilary Clinton the NEA endorsement; personal power and influence have trumped democracy, public education and the teaching profession. I will attempt to analyze her message.

“My fellow educators,
I wanted to be the first to let you know that your elected representatives to the NEA PAC Council and the NEA Board of Directors took action to recommend Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary for President of the United States. I am so proud of the thoughtful, thorough and incredibly rich discussion that your elected leaders held. It was truly what democracy looks like.”

Balderdash! I live in California, my elected representatives didn’t even vote. We have the largest delegation in the United States.
I heard that you argued against those who said there is no reason to give our endorsement this early, saying we would lose political clout if we don’t. It is also said that you felt that Bernie Sanders would never be able to mount a credible winning general election effort.

“I am also extremely proud of this decision because I know that Hillary is a strong leader who will do what’s best for the future of all of America’s students and public schools.”

Anthony Cody is correct, clear and succinct on this point: “The current field of candidates in the Democratic party is limited to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Clinton has a close association with the Gates Foundation, which has been a major donor to the Clinton Foundation. Clinton has made it clear that she is a solid supporter of the Common Core and believes that such a testing system ‘helps you organize your whole education system.’ So if we want a change from the nation’s current trajectory in education, we need to look elsewhere.”

It is beyond my most optimistic reach to see Hilary Clinton as being more than marginally different than Barack Obama when it comes to education policy. There is a reason that Marc Tucker wrote the infamous ‘Hilary Letter’ to her. He saw a like-minded individual that would support the tenets for education reform that Diane Ravitch later labeled “corporate education reform.” This is education reform that views students as economic assets to be cultivated for the benefit of the state.

“After an extensive review of the candidates and an in-depth discussion, your leaders saw what I know – Hillary Clinton will be a champion for students and educator in the White House. She has a 30 year history of standing up for students and strong public schools and has actively engaged in conversations with educators in this campaign. Secretary Clinton told your leaders today that she won’t make a single decision about developing education policy without educators being in the room.”

This is complete prevarication. She has a close supportive relationship with both Bill Gates and Eli Broad. She was billed as co-President by her husband when he signed legislation taking power from Washington DC’s school board and authorizing charter schools. It was from that administration that we got “Goals 2000” and its call for national standards and testing. She voted for “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB). That is not a 30-year history of standing up for students and strong public schools. And her friends from her days as a member of the Board of Directors at Walmart have to be counted among the nations biggest enemies of public schools.

“As a U.S. Senator, Hillary Clinton was a champion for our cause, earning an “A” grade from the NEA for her support on the issues most important to our students, but even before serving in the Senate, Clinton was a champion of the students we educate. While every first lady has an admirable cause, Hillary chose to stand up to the for-profit healthcare industry to advocate for children’s healthcare. Her campaign ultimately led to the largest expansion of public health care in decades, when millions of American children received health coverage under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).”

Clinton voted for the punitive anti-teacher NCLB in 2001. This March, Edweek reported: “And earlier this year, the American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed Clinton in her 2008 race, and the Center for American Progress, a think tank closely aligned with the Obama administration that also includes some former Clinton aides among its top ranks, came out with a proposal to test students every year, but only use the results for school accountability in certain grade spans.” So, did she get that NEA “A” grade for supporting testing or was it her work on health care?

“Even before running for president, Hillary championed early education and affordable college, and she sponsored efforts to ensure equal pay for equal work and to make it easier for workers to join a union.”

This sounds like pretty much what all Democrats say they stand for and it is hard to see how this makes her so much better than other Democrats vying for the nomination. Why didn’t the NEA keep its powder dry and see who was willing to save public education form greed driven reform? Get some real and substantial commitments? It appears that this endorsement is more about currying favor for national union leaders with the Clinton’s than it is about fighting for teachers and public education.

“And in 2016, the stakes for strong public schools will be too high to sit on the sidelines! Right now, there are presidential hopefuls who have made a career of attacking educators and public education to the detriment of students. They have allies like the Koch brothers, who have committed to spend $1 billion to defeat a pro-public education candidate like Hillary Clinton and taking control of the White House.

“With so much at stake, you cannot sit on the sidelines – America’s students need you today! And that is why I am asking you to join our campaign stand up for our students and make sure that we give all students the opportunity to a quality education.”

Yes, it is true that a lot of money is being spent to destroy public education in America. Unfortunately, a lot of that money is from people like the hedge fund fake democrats at the Democrats for Education Reform who support Hilary. There is nothing here that says she is clearly the champion for public education that we must support. She looks a lot more like a corporate education reformer who will continue the disastrous Obama agenda.

“Together, we can help elect Hillary Clinton as our next president and ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed.
Gracias,
– Lily
Lily Eskelsen Garcia
National Education Association President”

Lily, you need to rethink your course. You are a smart beautiful spokesperson for the NEA. You are dumping that great opportunity to make a real difference and playing value degrading power politics that has eliminated the democratic process in our union to get this endorsement. Two other major unions – the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – have indicated that they will take more time to consult their members about an endorsement in the primary.