Tag Archives: Corporate Education Reform

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.

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.

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.

The California Charter School Fiasco

13 Mar

In 1992, California became the second US state to pass a charter school law. Today, twelve percent of all schools in California are charter schools with 9% of all state supported students attending charter schools. In these more than two decades; charter schools have enriched some people – have harmed public schools – have not improved publicly financed education – have increased segregation – have increased the cost of publicly financed education – have paid foreign based entities to operate schools in California – have generated massive fraud.

The California charter school experiment should be ended and these undemocratic publicly financed institutions should be carefully transitioned into the public schools system.

Peter Greene is a prescient commentator and observer of education policies and trends. Every day he posts at least one editorial about some education related claim or movement on his blog, Curmudgucation. Last week he wrote this comment about charter schools:

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

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

 I live within the boundaries of the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). It is the second largest school district in California and eighth largest in the nation with 140,000 students. Former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, wrote in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, “San Diego was a surprising place to launch a major reform effort, because the district was widely perceived in the 1990’s as one of the nation’s most successful urban school systems.”

Today SDUSD is 20% charter. So, in San Diego we have a dual school system and that is one of the reasons many classes in both the privatized system and the public system must run such large classes. The money to pay for an extra layer of administration and in some cases to pay profits for investors must come from somewhere. It is coming out of the classrooms of what was once the envy of other urban school systems.

Steven Singer is a leader in the Bad Ass Teachers (BATs) movement. He writes a blog focused on education called Gadflyonthewallblog. A few weeks ago he published an article called “Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice.” Reason four resonated with me:

 “4) Voucher and charter schools actually give parents less choice than traditional public schools

 “Public schools are governed by different rules than charter and voucher schools. Most public schools are run by a school board made up of duly-elected members from the community. The school board is accountable to that community. Residents have the right to be present at votes and debates, have a right to access public documents about how tax money is being spent, etc. None of this is true at most charter or voucher schools. They are run by executive boards or committees that are not accountable to parents. If you don’t like what your public school is doing, you can organize, vote for new leadership or even take a leadership role, yourself. If you don’t like what your charter or voucher school is doing, your only choice is to withdraw your child. See ya.”

Today, the charter school movement is nearly unregulated. Charter schools claim to be public schools but if you ask to see how they are spending public money, they claim in court that they are private businesses and we the public have no right to that information. In other words, charter schools are given tax money without any oversight. Of course that is a recipe for fraud and abuse.

Old Town Academy (OTA) made the news in January when it was able to have its charter renewed by SDUSD despite the restraining order against Tom Donahue its founding principal or the fact that OTA had not informed SDUSD that it was now being run by an out of town charter management organization called Tri-Valley.

In the Voice of San Diego’s report we read:

 “Chris Celentino, OTA’s current board chair and one of the school’s founding members, said when the school opened with a class of 180 students, half came from families that would otherwise send their kids to private schools. He attributes OTA’s ability to attract college-educated parents to its challenging and innovative curriculum.”

 And,

 “Whether it’s a product of innovative instruction, or has more to do with the fact that unlike at many traditional district schools, few OTA students live in poverty, test scores have remained consistently above the district average.”

 In addition to being unstable, Old Town Academy is really a publicly financed private school. Many parents do not want their children in school with “those people” so the poorly written charter school law made it possible to set up what is essentially a private school but charge its operating expenses to taxpayers.

In February the San Diego Union reported on the final stage of the Steve Van Zant charter school corruption trial:

 “Steve Van Zant, a key figure in the expansion of charter schools in San Diego County and elsewhere in California, pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony violation of the Political Reform Act. Van Zant’s financial interests in growing independent charters, and his efforts getting them into school districts without notification, have raised questions about widely perceived shortcomings in state law that now even advocates say allow for exploitation. While superintendent of the rural Mountain Empire Unified School District, Van Zant received a stipend through his contract for each charter school the district authorized. The arrangement was in violation of conflict-of-interest laws, said Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr, who heads the public integrity unit.”

There was no effort here to improve education in California. It was simply greed driven corruption that used a poorly written charter law to purloin tax dollars.

College Preparatory Middle School was one of those out of district schools granted a charter by Steve Van Zant’s Mountain Empire School District. It opened with 83 uniformed students in a church in La Mesa. They now appear to be trying to execute the infamous charter school real estate scam.

The San Diego Union reported on January 31, 2016 that College Preparatory Middle School wants to build a major new facility in Spring Valley. The Union describes the financial proposal:

 “Under the financial arrangement, a Utah charter school developer and a Delaware subsidiary of a real estate trust headquartered in Missouri would finance the project with millions of California education dollars. College Prep would lease the new campus from the financiers for more than $620,000 a year, or 9.5 percent of the project cost. The charter could buy the campus after five years for 125 percent of the projected $6.8 million cost of the project.”

This is not about improving education or providing choice. This is solely about profits.

This year I wrote about the schools controlled by the Turkish cleric Fetullah Gulen withdrawing its request for a charter in Oceanside. In California, his schools are called Magnolia Public Schools. There are eleven of them including one at 6365 Lake Atlin Avenue in San Diego, the site of the old Cleveland Elementary School.

Foreign nationals are literally running our schools and it is hard to find a mall that does not have some form of charter learning center trying to lure children into sitting at computers in the mall school. Most of the new charter schools in San Diego are mall cyber schools with some tutoring. They are notoriously poor schools but they are sprouting everywhere because they are profitable.

The charter school movement (aka privatization of public schools) is dangerous for children and for society. It is time to pull the plug on profiteers and fools raiding public coffers.

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.

Tom Goodman’s “Reformster” Thinking

21 Feb

Columnist Fred Dickey from the San Diego Union recently wrote about former Superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, Tom Goodman. Goodman’s tenure (1971 to 1982) is widely considered the most controversial period in the district’s history.

Here are some quotes from Dickey’s column:

“He decries ‘the power of the unions and their representatives that control school board members, the Legislature and the executive branch.’”

 “Goodman is a strong proponent of charter schools, which he says can be tailored to the needs of individual students, their interests and levels of achievement. All made possible, he adds, by freedom from bureaucratic foot-dragging and teachers’ union control.”

 “’To get almost any teaching job in California under current law, you must pay into the labor union and be bound by its actions,’ he said. ‘To me, that takes away the focus on being a professional. Why do they need a union if they have civil service protection?’”

 “He decries that more teachers today don’t share the dedication that was common when he started.”

 Goodman’s last job, “and perhaps his proudest” was with Education Management Systems in the Los Angeles area where he supervised many store front independent-learning charter schools called Opportunities to Learn. Under his leadership (2003 to 2009), the schools expanded from serving 7,000 students to 33,000 students.

Three decades earlier, when he was forced out in San Diego, two issues stood out as causes; harsh battles with the teachers union and plans to shutter 27 schools to save money. The San Diego Union reported that it was around the closing schools issue that the infamous Bob Filner started his political career when he felt disrespected by Goodman and the school board.

 “A San Diego State University history professor and parent-teacher association president, Filner couldn’t understand why Hardy [Elementary] was on a list of 27 schools being considered for consolidation and closure to save money. Parents loved the school and it was jam-packed with students.”

 Filner eventually became President of the Board of Education and spearheaded the replacement of Goodman with the soon to be very popular Tom Payzant.

The San Diego Union reported recently:

 “In 2014, San Diego County had 124 charter schools, compared to 73 in 2009. About 20 percent of students in the San Diego Unified School District have turned to charters, with the district projecting that figure to climb to 30 percent in 10 years— largely due to the popularity and growth of independent- study charters.”

 Isn’t it time to ask if unfettered independent-study charters like the ones Goodman ran in Los Angeles are a good idea? In my school district (Sweetwater), all of the high schools have a learning center. If students are not on track to graduate they are assigned to these independent-study centers to make up credits often while still attending classes in the regular high school.

Independent-study charters take on any student who walks into the strip mall and signs up. Many of us believe the social aspect of schooling is an important part of American democracy and student growth. These kinds of schools likely have some negative impacts on society that should be studied. Are these the kind of schools taxpayers want established with little understanding, oversight, or planning?

The education writer Peter Green recently wrote: “One of the great lies of the charter-choice movement is that you can run multiple school districts for the price of one.” The fact is that fixed costs for school districts don’t go down much when they lose students and taxpayers are being forced to pay for redundant school administrations.

In the same piece Green also noted:

“The other common response of a school district to the loss of revenue to charters is to raise local taxes. If charters want to look at where some of their bad press is coming from, they might consider school boards like mine that regularly explain to the public, ‘Your local elementary is closing and your taxes are going up because we have to give money to the cyber charters.’”

Last year (2014), The Voice of San Diego ran an article called “The Charter Tipping Point” that provided evidence that San Diego is becoming a duel school system with too many schools of the same type in some areas.

When Goodman came back to San Diego in 2011, he became an education expert consultant to San Diegans 4 Great Schools. This group financed in large part by Irwin Jacobs, the founder of QUALCOMM, and philanthropist Rod Dammeyer proposed expanding the San Diego Unified School Board by adding four appointed trustees. The proposal was rejected by San Diegans.

Goodman was an early proponent of closing schools to improve education and he supported limiting democracy. At heart, he probably really cares about education but I don’t like his thinking. He was a “reformster” before there was big money backing his ideology.

My observation is quite different than Mr. Goodman’s when it comes to young teachers. I see nothing but exemplary commitment and dedication by our newest educators.

All “reformsters” are anti-union, but there is an inconvenient truth; throughout the world the top performing schools have teachers unions and the worst performing schools do not.