Tag Archives: Privitization

Are Public Schools in Inglewood, California a Warning?

3 Jun

In 2006, the relatively small Inglewood Unified School District (IUSD) had over 18,000 students and was a fiscally sound competent system. Today, IUSD has 8,400 students, is 30% privatized and drowning in debt. In 2012, the state of California took over the district, usurped the authority of the elected school board and installed a “State Trustee” to run it. IUSD is on its sixth state appointed trustee in six years.

This crisis was created by politicians and wealthy elites. It did not just happen. Understanding the privatization of Inglewood’s schools through the choice agenda is instructive of the path that could lead to the end of public schools in California.

Kicking Off the Choice Agenda

Inglewood is east of the 405 freeway in Los Angeles county between Watts and the Los Angeles International Airport. Today, it is part of a giant urban megalopolis but 50 years ago it was a distinctly separate community that was predominantly middle class and mostly white. Now it is populated mainly by working class poor African Americans and Hispanics. 84.8% of the students in Inglewood qualify as socioeconomically disadvantaged.

IUSD was originally incorporated in 1888. I asked Professor Larry Lawrence to help me understand Inglewood’s schools. He replied, “Of course, if you want a long view of Inglewood schools I would be glad to go through the history. My mother began attending them in 1914, graduated from Inglewood High School in 1926, came back to teach in 1929, and stayed for 41 years. I also went all the way through and came back to teach, leaving in 1966 to go to UCLA (just after the Watts Riots of the summer of 1965 – no connection to me leaving).”

Larry taught mathematics at Morningside High School. The enrollment records at Morningside mirrors what has happened to enrollment in IUSD. In the 2005-2006 school year the high school enrolled 1,535 students. This year (2017-2018) the enrollment dropped to 751. What happened?

Moringside Higg

California Department of Education Enrollment Data for Morningside High School

To understand the causes for the harm to Inglewood’s public schools and how profoundly unjust those causes are, one must first know about standardized testing and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The most important metric for judging schools and teaching utilized by NCLB were the “objective” results of standardized testing. Unfortunately, the big standardized test is completely useless for evaluating schools, teachers or learning.

In 1998, an Australian, Noel Wilson, wrote a definitive paper, “Education Standards and the Problem of Error,” showing why standardized testing should not be used to evaluate schools or teaching. His work has been verified repeatedly. The education writer, Alfie Kohen wrote in his 1999 book The Schools Our Children Deserve “… eliminate standardized tests, since we could get the same results by asking a single question: ‘How much money does your mom make?’” The only correlated result from standardized testing is the economic condition of the students to their test scores.

In 2001, President George Bush (R) and Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy (D) teamed up to pass NCLB. This law required every state to adopt standards and institute standardized testing. The federal government then used the state testing data to decide if schools were making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) toward 100% of their students being proficient in math and English by 2014. The law also “disaggregated” results by subgroups such as English language learners, special education, white, African American, Hispanic and others. If any one of those subgroups failed AYP, then the school failed.

A first year AYP failure was not a serious problem but the second consecutive year of failure to meet AYP goals meant being designated a “School in Need of Improvement” (SINI). This designation came with several requirements including sending a letter to parents telling them that the school was failing to meet AYP. It gave parents a list of options such as free tutoring and transfer to a non-failing school. The federal government designated Morningside High School a SINI in 2005 so before the 2006-2007 school year every parent got a letter saying the school was failing according to the United States Department of Education.

Because, nearly 85% of students in Inglewood met the definition of socioeconomic disadvantaged and standardized testing accurately reflected economic condition, all the schools in the IUSD were soon labeled failing by the federal government. Concurrent with these completely illegitimate conclusions the district started its precipitous decline.

Alfie Kohn published a 2004 article he called, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow; Using Accountability to ‘Reform’ Public Schools to Death.” In it, he discussed the idea that the NCLB accountability measures were purposely designed to open a path for privatizing schools. He wrote,

“As Lily Tomlin once remarked, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.’”

“We now have corroboration that these fears were entirely justified. Susan Neuman, an assistant secretary of education during the roll-out of NCLB, admitted that others in Bush’s Department of Education ‘saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda – a way to expose the failure of public education and ‘“blow it up a bit’’’ (Claudia Wallis, ‘No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?’, Time, June 8, 2008).”

It is a widely held conclusion that NCLB was a failed education initiative. If privatizing schools was its true intent, then NCLB was a success.

Invasion of the Charter

Reed Hastings CEO of Netflix was such a heartfelt liberal that he even joined the Peace Corps and taught mathematics in Africa. That is his only teaching experience. In 2000, he used his vast wealth to get the cap on charter schools in California lifted. He also told a gathering of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) that elected school boards are anachronisms and should be replaced by non-profits running charter schools.

In 2000, Proposition 39 was also supported by Reed Hastings and other pro-school-privatization billionaires. Due to the no-new-tax mantra of conservatives, schools were having a difficult time raising money to build needed facilities. Proposition 39 lowered the vote threshold required to pass a bond. Unfortunately, hidden within the laws language was a requirement for underutilized public schools to share their facilities with charter schools. With no debate the public unknowingly voted for co-location of charter schools with public schools.

When proposition 39 is coupled with the pro-charter authorizing system in California, citizens lose all democratic control over their local schools. As former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch shared:

“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.”

At the start of the millennium, Inglewood had 18 schools. Now, it has at least 31 schools.

Inglewood Charter Schools

Charter Schools Operating in Inglewood, California

With the federal government proclaiming that IUSD schools are failing, a fertile area for charter school establishment was cultivated. Most people do not know much about schools and education policy so of course many concerned parents wanted to move their children out of the “failing district schools.”

The IUSD schools were never failing nor are charter schools their equivalent. Certainly, there are some good classrooms in charter schools but they come with the charter industries’ record of fraud, abuse and instability.  When one of these private businesses closes their doors as has happened too frequently, district schools must take in all their students. Unlike charter schools, public schools cannot reject a student.

Professor Gordon Lafer recently published the paper Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts which shows that a significant amount of the costs for a student stays with the district when a student transfers to a charter school. In addition, Lafer noted that charter schools avoid special education students and most especially higher cost more severely handicapped special education students.

Enrollment Data Chart by Tom

Inglewood Compiled Data; Charters Avoiding Disabled Students

The above chart is based on enrollment data for the 2017-2018 school year. It shows that Inglewood charter schools are avoiding more than half their share of special education students. Also, the total number of students enrolled in Inglewood charter and public schools combined is almost 5,000 less than the 2006 public school enrollment of 18,000. It appears that there are less students in the district and some resident students are attending schools outside of the district boundaries.

The State of California has Failed Inglewood

On April 6, 2018 the sixth Inglewood state trustee, Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, wrote parents about the districts budget,

“When I began in August, I learned that the district faced an $8 million shortfall.”

“The result of rising costs and Inglewood Unified’s inadequate planning, even after the cost savings measures implemented to date, as of March 15th is now a $7 million budget shortfall.”

San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) has 130,000 students. It is 15.5 times larger than IUSD. A $7 million deficit for IUSD is equivalent to a $108 million deficit for SDUSD.

In 2012, the Daily Breeze reported on Kent Taylor the first “State Trustee” assigned to Inglewood,

“… Taylor was thrust into a high-profile, high-pressure situation when California state schools chief Tom Torlakson recruited him from the top job at the Southern Kern Unified School District in hopes Taylor could rescue Inglewood Unified from the financial quicksand.”

“Two months later, he was pressured to resign for making financial commitments with the teachers union without approval from the California Department of Education.”

What happened with Taylor was never fully explained. He got a job in the neighboring Lennox school district and within the year became their superintendent. He is still the superintendent in Lennox.

The state replaced Taylor with the school finances leader serving directly under him, La Tanya Kirk-Carter. She had been recruited from Beverly Hills Union High School District by the state to head up the business division and “help lead the recovery.” She was supposed to be a temporary replacement until a new permanent trustee was hired, but served out the rest of the 2012-2013 school year.

The third Trustee assigned by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson was veteran administrator Don Brann. He was still serving as Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Da Vinci Schools, college-preparatory charter schools in Hawthorne. For 15 years, Brann was Superintendent of the Wiseburn School District in Hawthorne, which is a close neighbor to Inglewood.

In a somewhat ironic twist, Brann’s success in turning around Wiseburn School District (WSD) was partially due to his inter-district enrollment plan, a plan that drew students from IUSD. WSD increased enrollment by touting the district’s small class sizes and availability of space for after school programs to attract students from surrounding areas.

Brann resigned after one year and Torlakson recruited Vincent Mathews the leader of the San Jose schools to be the Trustee. Mathews is a 2006 alumnus of the unaccredited Broad Academy for school administrators. He also served as Educator in Residence at the NewSchools Venture Fund. In 2001, Mathews was principle of the for-profit Edison Charter Academy.

Mathews stayed 18 months in Inglewood before accepting the Superintendents position in San Francisco. He is the longest serving state trustee so far.

About Mathew’s tenure, the LA Times noted,

“A recent report by the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team found that, under Matthews, Inglewood had left day-to-day tasks to consultants, hadn’t monitored its budget and had underestimated its salary costs by about $1 million. The district had also overestimated its revenue, in part by incorrectly counting the number of students.”

Jason Spencer became Torlakson’s fifth appointment when he was selected Interim State Administrator to succeed Matthews.

Now, Inglewood has another Broad Academy graduate from the class of 2006, Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana. Her bio at the Broad Center says,

“Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana began her career as a bilingual first-grade teacher and brought her first-hand teaching experience to leadership roles in several urban school districts throughout Southern California — including Pomona, Santa Ana and Los Angeles — as well as the U.S. Department of Education, where she served as assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. In that role, she helped draft the Blueprint for Reform, an Obama administration plan for continuing improvements begun in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”

Is this the Future?

NCLB set the table. Students in poor communities were guaranteed to produce bad test results. Billionaires were pouring huge money into developing the charter school industry. State leaders were putting privatization friendly leaders in charge of school districts. The state trustees were never in place long enough to provide stable leadership.

Eli Broad attended public school and went on to become the only person ever to develop two Fortune 500 companies, Sun America and KB Homes. Broad, who is worth $6 billion, decided that public schools should be privatized and established a school for administrators to promote his ideology.

In Oakland, the first state trustee was a Broad Academy graduate named Randy Ward and three more of the next 6 superintendents who followed Ward were also Broad trained. Oakland suffered nine superintendents in 13 years.

In Inglewood, one trustee was a charter school founder who was concurrently serving as a board member of the charter school and the last two superintendents were Broad trained. Inglewood received six state appointed trustees in six years.

How much longer before large school districts like San Diego and Los Angeles – with 25% or more of their students in privatized schools – are forced into bankruptcy and taken over by the state? Both districts are currently running massive deficits caused primarily by charter school privatization and unfair special education costs.

Newest Existential Threat to Oakland’s Public Schools

10 May

A “Systems of Schools” plan has been introduced by the destroy public education (DPE) forces in Oakland, California. The plan basically posits that with 30 percent of students in charter schools, the system has become inefficient. Therefore, the school board needs to review resources and close schools in areas with too many seats and overlapping programs.

However, since Oakland’s school board has no authority over charter schools it is only public schools that can be closed or downsized unless charter school voluntarily cooperate.

Continuing the Big Lie

A memorable line from “A Nation at Risk” reads, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.”

Yesterday (May 7, 2018) Steve Hinnefeld writing about this report for the blog School Matters noted,

“As Anya Kamenetz of NPR reported recently, its authors were sure the education system needed change and set out to create a report that justified what they thought. Remarkably, they cited falling SAT scores as evidence of decline – at a time when many more college-bound students were taking the test, leading to lower average scores.

 “The authors ‘were hell-bent on proving that schools were bad,’ Lynn University professor James Guthrie told Kamenetz. ‘They cooked the books to get what they wanted.’

“A 1990 report produced by the Energy Department’s Sandia National Laboratories broke down the flaws in the ‘A Nation at Risk’ analysis but got little attention.

 ‘“It was great stuff,’ Golarz [former Indiana school administrator] said. ‘I remember, when it came out, thinking, ‘Finally, somebody’s unraveled this damn thing and showed all the flaws.’ But nobody read it.”’

“Nation at Risk” set the model for the DPE movement. Public education was so popular that to privatize it required denigrating it. Over the last 35 years, a model for the DPE movement required local money to unite with national money to promote charter schools, denigrate public schools and campaign for privatization friendly policies including unified enrollment. The local money in Oakland is the Rogers Family Foundation.

The article “Oakland is California’s Destroy Public Education Petri Dish” describes the Rogers Family Foundation and it relationship to GO Public Schools Oakland, Educate78 (previously New Schools Venture Fund) and the Oakland Public Education Fund. The late T. Gary Rogers foundation is like the queen bee of DPE Oakland with the other organizations carrying out various political and financial activities including spawning AstroTurf organizations.

The well-financed and robustly staffed DPE oriented GO is leading on the ground in Oakland. 1Oakland is a GO led AstroTurf organizations bashing public schools. The 1Oakland web-page states, “In September of 2017, GO Public Schools Oakland brought together community, family, and student leaders to launch 1Oakland, a campaign that is working for an exceptional, equitable, and sustainable education system that reflects our commitment to all Oakland students.” 1Oakland has two visible purposes; (1) promote the “Systems of Schools” plan and (2) bash Oakland public schools.

A statement from Boris Aguilar, a 1Oakland Leader, is accompanied by a misleading denigration of Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). It claims,

“In the 1990s and early 2000s, families organized and established charter schools and small schools as alternatives to OUSD’s overcrowded, low-performing schools. These schools often times provided creative and culturally responsive curricula in contrast to OUSD’s one-size-fits-all, “teacher-proof” scripted curriculum.”  

The organizing for charter schools in Oakland did not come from local families. It came from billionaires including Bill Gates, Reed Hastings, Eli Broad, Carrie Walton-Penner and several others. The small-schools initiative was Bill Gates’s first big failed education reform idea. Small-schools generated many headlines like this one from the Washington Post, “How Much Bill Gates’s Disappointing Small-Schools Effort Really Cost.” The one-size-fits-all philosophy and scripted curriculum promoted by “education reformers” from the Bush and Obama administrations are far more prevalent in charter schools than public schools. When properly adjusted for poverty, OUSD testing outcomes reflect a high-quality improving organization.

Another AstroTurf organizations with GO fingerprints on it is Oakland Reach. The Oakland citizens involved with this organization appear sincere and to have well-founded grievances. Unfortunately, they are being used to steal high-quality public schools from their own neighborhoods.

This new initiative has an executive director, Lakisha Young, who is also paid staff at GO. Sources say that some Oakland Reach leaders traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to be trained by Memphis Lift. Memphis Lift is an AstroTurf parent organization that has enough money to pay $15 an hour for parents to knock on doors. Teach for America promotes Memphis list on their web site.

The new message from these organizations is “we only want quality education and don’t care whether it comes from charter schools or public schools. People in our neighborhoods deserve to choose what is right for their children and grandchildren. ‘System of Schools’ will enable managing our portfolio of schools more efficiently.” A public school advocate, Jane Nylund commented, “Essentially, the campaign is designed to embrace what I would call a Kumbaya moment; a way to deal with what CRPE calls ‘toxic local politics.”’

CRPE is the Bill Gates financed Center for Reinventing Public Education on the campus at the University of Washington. CRPE is leading the charge for portfolio districts which means managing a portfolio of schools like a stock portfolio; close the losers and open new schools. This theory ignores the well-known damage that instability causes students; especially those living in poverty.

The article “Education Cities is the National Organizer for the Destroy Public Education (DPE) Movement” relates how this national umbrella organization is providing leadership for privatizing public education across America. A recent Education Cities update says,

“Educate78 has started an #OUSDBudget blog series to delve into the Oakland Unified School District budget crisis. Most recently, the series has been tackling the question of whether Oakland has too many schools.  Educate78 is also excited to celebrate the launch of two initiatives from one of its major grantees, GO Public Schools. The new  Oakland REACH , a parent-led advocacy group and  1Oakland  –  a community-driven campaign  working with educators and elected officials to advocate for  policies that promote partnership and creatively re-design the school system in service of all students.”

The Citizens United Decision Effect on Oakland’s Schools

John Dunbar writing for Public Integrity explained,

“The Citizens United ruling, released in January 2010, tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.

 “In a nutshell, the high court’s 5-4 decision said that it is OK for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate.”

The first year that the Citizens United ruling effected Oakland’s school board election was 2012. It is now apparent that corporations and the billionaires who control them have a lot more money than labor unions or anyone else. James Harris, who proposed the “Systems of Schools” Legislation, was the only 2012 challenger to unseated an incumbent. Reporting on the 2012 election, the East Bay Times said,

“This year’s school board elections have involved vigorous campaigning and far more money than usual — and, unlike recent election years, all four races were contested.

 “GO Public Schools, a group of parents, teachers and community members that formed in 2008, is more charter school-friendly than the union’s leaders, and it has promoted changes to traditional union staffing rules, which the union has opposed. The GO Public Schools PAC has received three large donations of $49,000 or more, including — most recently — the California Charter Schools Association, bringing its fundraising total to nearly $185,000.

 “The group threw its weight behind Hinton Hodge, Torres and Harris, mostly through independent expenditures and the organizing of volunteers. By contrast, the Oakland teachers union PAC, which is backing Pecot, Fuentes and Hutchinson, expected to raise about $20,000.”

The big money from billionaires was mostly funneled through Great Oakland Public Schools which is GO’s independent expenditure committee registered under tax code 501 C4. The following tables are based on data from the City of Oakland Public Ethics Commission.

Candidate Year Donor
Count
Total

Raised

GO
Ind.
Money
Go
Supported
Losers
Donor
Count
Total

Raised

GO
Ind.
Money
Harris 2012 101 $35,750 $41,155        
Hodge 2012 92 $30,325 $62,827        
London 2012 116 $18,018 $0        
Torres 2012 145 $36,635 $37,847        
Eng 2014 102 $26,824 $550        
Gonzales 2014 266 $58,051 $0 Almanzor 60 $9,200 $65,294
Senn 2014 66 $18,525 $35,518 Shakir-Gilmore 75 $16,170 $35,466
Harris 2016 63 $27,536 $144,734        
Hodge 2016 54 $18,200 $104,761        
London 2016 91 $18,085 $4,439        
Torres 2016 78 $17,725 $0 Trenado 57 $19,550 $121,521
Candidate Raised Money $350,595 Go Raised Money $654,118

In 2012, the support of GO helped Harris defeat incumbent board member Spearman in a close race. In addition, several well-known wealthy people gave maximum contributions to Harris, Hodge and Torres.

 

2012 Harris, Hodge and Torres
Received Max $700 Contributions from
Bloomberg Michael New York NY
Bradley Katherine Washington DC
Penner Greg Atherton CA
Rock Arthur San Francisco CA
GO-PAC Sponsored   Oakland CA
Tepper David Short Hills NJ
Fournier Alan Far Hills NJ
Fournier Jennifer Far Hills NJ

Michael Bloomberg is the well know billionaire and former mayor of New York city. Katherine Bradley was the publisher of the Washington Post. Laurene Jobs Powell was Apple founder, Steve Jobs, wife. Stacy Schusterman inherited the Schusterman fortune and runs the $2 billion Schusterman Family Foundation. Greg Penner married into Walmart money. His wife Carrie is one of the richest women in the world. Arthur Rock is Silicon Valley royalty. He had a hand in founding several famous companies including Intel. David Tepper is a billionaire hedge fund manager from New Jersey as is Alan Fournier.

Go Expenditure Committee Table

In 2016 Go spent a quarter of a million dollars to insure Harris and Hodge stayed on the board. In 2012 they had freely spent to elect Roseann Torres to the board, but in 2016 they spent $121,000 trying to have her unseated. Go has verbally supported London and Eng but provided them with little actual support. Go spent $65,000 to oppose Shanthi Gonzales.

The Board Discussed “Systems of Schools”

Board member James Harris proposed the “Systems of Schools” legislation. At the April 25th Board meeting, he said that Oakland had too many district and charter school programs. Because Oakland is the first California city to reach 30% charter penetration, he claimed Oakland had a unique need for “systems of schools.” He rebutted the idea that the plan cannot work because the state law does not give the Board any power over charter schools. He compared that to accepting segregation and not taking any action just because it goes against unjust laws.

Board Vice President Jamoke Hinton-Hodge said she likes the “Systems of Schools” concept and that she was for charter schools because “traditional schools haven’t served black people well.” She also called for unity saying that GO, Oakland Education Association and “Diane Ravitch’s funded organization” need to find a way to work together.

I am guessing that Diane Ravitch is surprised to learn that she is funding an organization.

Director Roseann Torres said she did not see how “Systems of Schools” could work. She asked, “How do we enforce something if charters don’t come to the table?” She also noted that she was getting “100’s of emails” opposing the plan.

Board members Eng, London and Senn were non-committal but they all called for dialog and encouraged VP Hodge, Director Harris and Director Shanthi Gonzalez to sit down together and try to find some points of agreement.

I attended a presentation given by Shanthi Gonzales in the fall and was favorably impressed. I wrote asking for her opinion. She was forthcoming and unambiguous. Her email response said,

“Director Harris is not wrong that there are areas in which we need to work together more, and special ed is the major one. As a result of the consistent dumping of high-needs students, we have a seriously unsustainable situation in OUSD, which is one of the drivers of our current budget crisis.

 “But there is nothing stopping charter schools from ceasing their discriminating against SPED and high-needs students; they do not need a policy to do what they are legally required to do. The real goal is access to one of our parcel taxes, Measure G, and for us to kick OUSD students out of their own buildings to make more space for their students (they don’t like the split-site offers that we are legally forced to provide because we don’t have any more vacant sites).

“A recent report from GO, the main supporters of this policy, found that OUSD spends $1400 on average more per student than charter schools in Oakland do, and they see that as unfair. Given that the same report also found that we have more SPED students, with more severe learning differences, and the students with the most severe academic challenges, it seems entirely appropriate to me that we would have more funding per student – serving higher needs students is expensive.

“Until there is evidence to demonstrate what charters are saying, that they want to serve students more equitably, I do not see a need for this policy. Charter schools can simply do what they are legally required to do until they have evidence to demonstrate that they are serving students equitably. Then we can talk about a system of schools.

 “That is how I see it.”

Gordon Lafer, Ph.D., University of Oregon Labor and Education Research has written a startling new paper for In the Public Interest called Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts. One of the tables in the paper demonstrates the special education issue Director Gonzales mentioned.

Oakland Special Education funding

This graphic shows how Oakland’s charter schools not only take less special education students but avoid high cost students leaving them to district schools.

Professor Lafer documents the debilitating costs for public schools caused by charter school expansion. He reports,

“In a first-of-its-kind analysis, this report reveals that neighborhood public school students in three California school districts are bearing the cost of the unchecked expansion of privately managed charter schools. In 2016-17, charter schools led to a net fiscal shortfall of $57.3 million for the Oakland Unified School District, $65.9 million for the San Diego Unified School District, and $19.3 million for Santa Clara County’s East Side Union High School District.”

Oakland may be close to losing their public schools but cities like San Diego and Los Angeles are not far behind. We desperately need a charter school moratorium and for all publicly financed schools to be put under elected board control.

Destroy Public Education Proponent Advocates Vouchers

4 Apr

Late in March (2018), the Center for American Progress (CAP) released a report on vouchers. CAP, a neoliberal leaning think tank, sums up Their report with this quote, “How bad are school vouchers for students? Far worse than most people imagine.”

After reading the report, I distributed it through my twitter feed. I am not a big fan of CAP, but felt the report was valuable except for their continued support for the charter school choice agenda. I guess they are only half as bad as DeVos.

The next day Corey A. DeAngelis, a policy analyst at the Cato Center for Educational Freedom, replied to my tweet with a link to his post refuting the CAP study.

CATO CAP Voucher bogus tweet

DeAnelis’s Tweet Which Promotes his Own Post at cato.org

DeAnelis’s bio on the Cato web site says,

“Corey A. DeAngelis is a Policy Analyst at the Cato Center for Educational Freedom. He is also a Distinguished Doctoral Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and a Policy Advisor and Contributing Editor for the Heartland Institute.”

Before we get into Corey’s post, let us review some background material.

Is It a Conservative Theory or a Religious Conversion?

In 2012 Jane Mayer published “The Kochs vs. Cato” in the New Yorker. It was a story about a law suit the Koch brothers had filed reasserting control over the Cato institute. It is a fascinating story in which Mayer shares this:

“Cato was co-founded by Edward Crane and Charles Koch, in the nineteen-seventies, with Koch’s money; the lawsuit notes that the original corporate name was the Charles Koch Foundation, Inc. Crane once recounted to me, ‘Charles said what would it take to keep me in the libertarian movement. He was very impressed. I said, My bank account is empty. He said, How much do you need? I’d been impressed with Brookings and A.E.I., and told him it would be good to have a libertarian think tank. Charles said, I’ll give it to you.’ Koch steered millions to the think tank.”

The web site Conservative Transparency adds,

“Cato is well known for advocating limited government and deregulation, especially the privatization of Social Security. Cato has for the most part stuck to libertarian principles, advocating for the elimination of many federal agencies while also supporting the decriminalization of marijuana and opposing bans on gay marriage.”

For many years, one of the stars supported by the Cato institute was Milton Friedman, the 1976 Nobel Prize winner for economics and the father of vouchers. How he won the Nobel Prize is difficult to comprehend. In 1995, Friedman wrote a policy brief for Cato on the fortieth anniversary of his famous 1955 essay proposing vouchers, “The Role of Government in Education.

In the 1995 policy brief, Friedman claims:

“Our elementary and secondary educational system needs to be radically restructured. Such a reconstruction can be achieved only by privatizing a major segment of the educational system–i.e., by enabling a private, for-profit industry to develop that will provide a wide variety of learning opportunities and offer effective competition to public schools.”

When calling for radical change to a successful public-education system, good reason is required. The often repeated lie, “public-education is failing.” is an illusion. It was never failing and is the foundation of American democracy and liberty. Destroying public-education is an act of treason.

Friedman:

The most feasible way to bring about a gradual yet substantial transfer from government to private enterprise is to enact in each state a voucher system that enables parents to choose freely the schools their children attend.”

This ideology is a religiously held belief positing that private enterprise is always more efficient and cost effective than a government enterprise. However, privatized police forces, privatized prisons, privatized armies and privatized fire departments are clearly problematic.

Friedman:

“With minor exceptions, no one has succeeded in getting a voucher system adopted, thanks primarily to the political power of the school establishment, more recently reinforced by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, together the strongest political lobbying body in the United States.”

This is pure propaganda. The military industrial complex, big pharma, banking and trial lawyers all dwarfed the power of teachers’ unions in 1995. Teachers were highly respected and this was a way to attack teachers’ indirectly. Furthermore, libertarian ideology loathes unionism.

Friedman:

“The quality of schooling is far worse today than it was in 1955.”

This is a bizarre lie. To sell vouchers, a used-ideology salesman will say anything.

Friedman:

 “About 90 percent of our kids now go to so-called public schools, which are really not public at all but simply private fiefs primarily of the administrators and the union officials.”

He must have known this is not true. Democratically elected school boards running schools give parents real voice and power over schools; a voice and power that is completely lost in a privatized system.

Friedman:

 “Hardly any activity in the United States is technically more backward. We essentially teach children in the same way that we did 200 years ago: one teacher in front of a bunch of kids in a closed room.”

To get this straight, the father of vouchers believes teaching methods in America have not changed since 1795. Why did anyone ever listen to this blathering fool?

Friedman:

“I believe that the only way to make a major improvement in our educational system is through privatization to the point at which a substantial fraction of all educational services is rendered to individuals by private enterprises.”

This economist from the University of Chicago thinks we should ignore Mann, Dewey, and history. His religious belief in free markets dictates destroying public-education in America and privatizing it.

My thesis is that the theoretical foundation for privatizing school and all aspects of American society is based on a fanatical faith in unfettered market economies. A peek at Friedman’s acolyte Corey A. DeAngelis’s twitter page reinforces this thesis.

Corey DeAngelis Twitter Page

Screenshot of Corey DeAngelis’s Twitter Page April 2, 2018

Ignoring Outcomes to Promote an Ideology

Corey comes from upside-down world. He opens his CAP refutation with “It looks like we have another terrible case of cherry-picking the evidence.” Maybe someone from the University of Arkansas and the Cato Institute naturally assumes everyone is “cherry-picking.”

The CAP study reports:

“This analysis builds on a large body of voucher program evaluations in Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., all of which show that students attending participating private schools perform significantly worse than their peers in public schools! especially in math. A recent, rigorous evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program from the U.S. Department of Education reaffirms these findings, reporting that D.C. students attending voucher schools performed significantly worse than they would have in their original public school.”

Because Corey is from the Walton family supported University of Arkansas graduate school, his attack on the Ohio voucher study took some research jujitsu. The Ohio study was conducted under the auspicious of the Fordham Institute and paid for by the Walton Family Foundation. Corey wrote:

“The Ohio program used a cutoff variable – the performance of the child’s public school – to determine program eligibility. However, the researchers used student observations that were not right around the cut point and even removed the observations that were closest to the discontinuity.”

Sounds like this study used unjustifiable techniques to purposely obtain bad results with vouchers. It is doubtful that Fordham was trying to discredit vouchers.

He says, “The Indiana study was also non-experimental, as it compared voucher students to those remaining in traditional public schools.”

It is almost impossible to put together an experimental design when studying vouchers. The last Washington DC study by the Department of Education seems to be the only fully experimental voucher study ever done and it is not likely to be repeated.

An odd statement by DeAngelis,

“The CAP review heavily relies on the most recent experimental evaluation of the D.C. voucher program. It just so happens to be one of the only two voucher experiments in the world to find negative effects on student test scores.”

The D.C. study is very powerful evidence that students attending voucher schools lagged the performance of their peers on testing. Louisiana, Indiana and Ohio saw similar results. The results carry extra significance because these new research results are the first truly large scaled studies of vouchers ever.

Some Voucher History and “Cherry-Picking”

Milwaukee’s first voucher program in America was established in 1990. Alex Molnar, Research Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder shared this history:

“The pro-voucher coalition has always had a diverse cast of characters representing a volatile combination of interests. The author of the 1990 voucher bill, Annette “Polly” Williams, an African-American Democratic member of the Wisconsin Assembly, saw her voucher plan as a way of supporting African-American community schools and weakening the hold that white-dominated institutions had over the education of black children. To Michael Joyce, the president of Milwaukee’s right-wing Bradley Foundation, the voucher program represented a step toward the sort of unrestricted, free market plan first envisioned by economist Milton Friedman. Polly Williams gave the program legitimacy as an effort to empower poor (primarily African-American) parents, and Michael Joyce provided millions of dollars to help keep the program visible and the public-policy pot boiling. Wisconsin’s conservative Republican governor, Tommy Thompson, and Milwaukee’s “New Democrat” mayor, John Norquist, provided a bipartisan cheerleading squad. For Gov. Thompson, vouchers fit nicely in the general privatization and deregulatory trajectory he has charted for Wisconsin’s public institutions. For Mayor Norquist, the voucher program offers a chance to stem white flight–if students attending Milwaukee’s overwhelmingly white Roman Catholic school system become eligible for taxpayer-financed vouchers. And for the Catholic Church, vouchers are a potentially vital fiscal lifeline.”

The legislation authorizing vouchers mandated a yearly study of their effects. Between 1991 and 1995 studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by political science professor John Witte, failed to find achievement advantage for students attending voucher schools. The voucher program was losing support and in 1996 the Wall Street Journal published an editorial, “School Choice Data Rescued From Bad Science,” By Jay P. Greene and Paul E. Peterson. They claimed:

“The unions tout a study by John Witte of the University of Wisconsin that purports to find no educational benefits from vouchers. But Mr. Witte’s study is so methodologically flawed as to be worthless.”

“We have just completed a new, carefully designed analysis that finds that vouchers make a big difference.”

Jay P. Greene is now at the University of Arkansas. Paul E. Peterson is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and Senior Editor of Education Next, a conservative pro-voucher journal. These two “researchers” and their organizations have a reputation for supporting vouchers.

A second reanalysis of the Witte data conducted by Cecilia Rouse of Princeton University purported to show an academic advantage for Milwaukee voucher students in math but not reading. A follow-up study by Rouse found that low-income students attending Milwaukee public schools served by a state class-size reduction and enrichment program significantly outperformed voucher students in reading and scored as well in math.

In 2009, Greg Forster, a senior fellow with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, published a paper called “A Win-Win Solution” in Education Next where Paul E. Peterson is Senior Editor. The premise of the paper is not only do voucher students outperform public school students on standardized testing but public schools improve because of the competition.

It is a bit hard to believe the spur of competition would overcome the negative effects of removing students and money from a public school. In his review of the “Win-Win Solution” Professor Christopher Lubienski of the  University of Illinois stated, “In truth, existing research provides little reliable information about the competitive effects of vouchers, and this report does little to help answer the question.”

Lubienski notes that the report is based on seventeen previous studies and outlines many objections regarding assumptions and conclusions by the author. He also points out some misrepresentations of work done by other researchers who were not part of the pro-voucher group at the Friedman Foundation. His analysis concluded with:

“Further, all but three of the 17 reports were from this group or by authors who are affiliated with other pro-voucher organizations such as the Hoover Institute or Harvards Program on Educational Policy and Governance. The three remaining studies, authored by scholars at Stanford, Princeton, and Wisconsin-Madison, are the most rigorous (that is, more likely to use student-level data) and find the most modest effects for choice.”

 “It is worth noting that this finding comes from an organization that bills itself as “the nations leading voucher advocates … Because of its announced agenda on this issue, publications such as this would benefit greatly from undergoing a blinded peer review prior to publication, which would likely identify problems with data, methods and interpretations. Such peer review is typical in university-based research in order to instill some objective measure of quality. The arcane (but key) details in these types of research reports can often require a fair degree of trust from readers who lack technical methodological expertise.”

Libertarianism is a Mistake

An Austrian named Friedrich Hayek wrote a libertarian manifesto called “The Road to Serfdom.” This book was a bit of a sensation and in 1950 brought him to the University of Chicago. Ronald Regan and Margret Thatcher both praised Hayek. He was opposed to centralized government, programs like Social Security and became a large influence on the young scholars at the University of Chicago, including Milton Friedman. It is the bad philosophy of this economic theorist that is guiding billionaires, like the Koch brothers, and leading to the destruction of public-education in America and throughout the world.

Basically, libertarianism says, “I got mine. You get yours.”; a philosophy that barely acknowledges the concepts of social good or humanism. To save public education, we must defeat this self-centered and fanatical ideology whose adherents not so long ago were considered extremists on the fringes of American society.

DeVos Damages Detroit Schools

9 Mar

By T. Ultican 3/9/2018

The destroy public education (DPE) movement’s most egregious outcome may be in Detroit and it is being driven by a virulent Christian ideology.

In 2001, Dick and Betsy DeVos answered questions for the Gathering. Dick DeVos opined that church has retreated from its central role in communities and has been replaced by the public school. He said it is our hope “churches will get more and more active and engaged in education.” Betsy noted “half of our giving is towards education.”

Jay Michaelson writing for the Daily Beast described the Gathering:

“The Gathering is a hub of Christian Right organizing, and the people in attendance have led the campaigns to privatize public schools, redefine “religious liberty” (as in the Hobby Lobby case), fight same-sex marriage, fight evolution, and, well, you know the rest.”

“The Gathering is an annual event at which many of the wealthiest conservative to hard-right evangelical philanthropists in America—representatives of the families DeVos, Coors, Prince, Green, Maclellan, Ahmanson, Friess, plus top leaders of the National Christian Foundation—meet with evangelical innovators with fresh ideas on how to evangelize the globe. The Gathering promotes “family values” agenda: opposition to gay rights and reproductive rights, for example, and also a global vision that involves the eventual eradication of all competing belief systems that might compete with The Gathering’s hard-right version of Christianity.”

In the Gathering interview, Betsy talks about how she and Dick both come from business oriented families. From their experience, they understand how competition and choice are key drivers to improve any enterprise. She says public education needs choice and competition instead of forcing people into government run schools.

She was also asked how she felt about home schooling? She replied, “we like home schools a lot,” and humorously shared, “not sure our daughters do, they were homeschooled for three years.” Then Dick added how impressed he was with Bill Bennet’s new project, K-12. He said it wasn’t a Christian oriented on-line curriculum but it was a complete education program that could help homeschoolers.

By the 1990’s Dick and Betsy DeVos were successfully influencing Michigan education policies and using private giving to drive their agenda. Christina Rizga wrote about the DeVos’s philanthropy for Mother Jones.

“… [T]here’s the DeVoses’ long support of vouchers for private, religious schools; conservative Christian groups like the Foundation for Traditional Values, which has pushed to soften the separation of church and state; and organizations like Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has championed the privatization of the education system.”

As the new century opened, the DeVos agenda was being ever more adopted in Lancing. If improving the education of children in Michigan was the goal, then the DeVos education agenda has proved to be a clear failure. On the other hand, if destroying public education to accommodate privatized Christian schools was the goal, they are still on track.

DeVos Effect on NAEP Progress Graph

Going from 14th to 43rd is Anti-Progress – Graph Based on NAEP Data

This result from Michigan is consistent with education testing correlations throughout the world. Julie Halpert a writer from Ann Arbor, Michigan just published a new article in Atlantic Magazine called “What if America Didn’t have Public Schools.” In it she reports,

On a regional assessment conducted by the United Nations between 2004 and 2008, students in the all-public Cuba outperformed the largely private Chile in sixth-grade reading and sixth-grade math. In fact, Cuba is the only Latin American country with scores significantly higher than the regional average in both math and reading. Even the best students in Chile, Darling-Hammond of the Learning Policy Institute says, ‘couldn’t come close to touching’ Cuba’s results.

In his book Education and the Commercial Mindset, Samuel E. Abrams tells the story of the Swedes opting to privatize their schools. He wrote:

“Basic to the UR [the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company] series was a crisis of faith in Swedish education known as ‘PISA shock.’ Of all OECD nations, only Sweden had seen scores on the triennial Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) successively drop with each administration of the exam since its introduction in 2000.”

Sarah and Christopher Lubienski conducted probably the largest and most comprehensive study of its kind, examining achievement in public and private or independent schools. Their study was published in 2014 by The University of Chicago Press under the title “The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools.” Some key findings:

“Further analyses indicate that academic growth is greater for students in public schools than for those in private schools.”

“While a simplistic look at the evidence suggests that private school students indeed score higher, closer scrutiny of the evidence rather conclusively demonstrates that this in not because public schools are failing but because they serve less advantaged students. In fact, public schools in this study actually add more value to their students’ learning.”

For the DPE movement, evidence about quality or outcomes in education are not relevant. For the billionaires driving education reform, it is about ideology and business.

DeVos Led Privatization Agenda Wreaked Havoc in Detroit

In 1999, under then Governor John Engler’s lead, Michigan did away with the elected school board in Detroit. They followed Chicago’s example and gave school control to the mayor. President Clinton had proclaimed mayoral control a success there.

The Associated Press’s Corey Williams explained:

“In the late 1990s, then-Gov. John Engler, a Republican, wanted to intervene in districts where more than 80 percent of students failed the state proficiency test or the dropout rate was higher than 25 percent. The state said the graduation rate of the 180,000-student Detroit district was about 30 percent; district officials said it was closer to 52 percent.”

 “The state returned control to an elected board in 2005, even though Detroit students still ranked among Michigan’s worst on standardized tests, the district was $48 million in debt and had a $150 million budget shortfall.”

 “There was never anything pointing to this financial crisis” before the takeover, said Martinez, who with other school board members were forced from office in 1999. “When we left office, … we had a $90 million surplus.”

The reinstated 2005 school board did not fare well. It had a huge debt to deal with and by 2007 an FBI corruption investigation. Williams reported that a long-time vendor, Norman Shy, pleaded guilty in federal court to receiving $2.7 million as part of a kickback scheme in which some principals and an administrator issued bogus orders for supplies.

One of the big drivers causing student enrollment to drop in Detroit public schools were the privatization efforts led by Betsy DeVos and her family. In 2001, the family started the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), whose political action committee aggressively lobbies for charter schools.

According to Politico’s Zack Stanton, “In 2002, the first election of GLEP’s existence, its PAC had more money than the Michigan Education Association, United Auto Workers, or any Democratic-affiliated PAC in the state.”

Stanton continues:

“…, 16 years after the DeVoses’ failed constitutional amendment, this constant push has totally remade Michigan education. The cap on the number of charter schools eliminated and attempts to provide public oversight have been defeated, making Michigan’s charters among the most-plentiful and least-regulated in the nation. About 80 percent of Michigan’s 300 publicly funded charters are operated by for-profit companies, more than any other state.”

Steven Henderson reporting for the Detroit Free Press adds:

“The results of this free-for-all have been tragic for Michigan children, and especially for those in Detroit, where 79% of the state’s charters are located.”

Table of a Developing Financial Crisis in Detroit Public Schools

School Year Budget Balance Student Population Governance
1998-1999 $90,000,000 180,000 Elected School Board
1999-2005 $150,000 ,000 150,000 Mayor
2005-2009 $200,000,000 95,000 Elected School Board
2009-2011 $284,000,000 67,000 1st Emergency Manager – Bobb
2016 Total Debt $2,100,000,000 48,000 Emergency Manager – 4
Total Decrease in State Money 1999 to 2016 $788,000,000

The main cause of the red ink at Detroit Public Schools (DPS) is stranded costs associated with a dramatic drop in enrollment. The extra-costs associated with privatizing DPS were all born by the public schools.

Enrollment Graph

Copied from the 2015-2016 DPS State Financial Report.

Not acknowledging their own role in creating the financial crisis in Detroit, the state government again pushed the elected school board aside in 2009. Education policy was theoretically left under the purview of the school board but financial management would be the responsibility of a governor appointed emergency manager. This time it was a Democratic Governor, Jenifer Granholm who selected a graduate of the unaccredited Broad superintendents’ academy class of 2005, Robert Bobb, to be the manager.

Not only did Granholm select a Broad academy graduate, but Eli Broad paid part of his $280,000 salary. Sharon Higgins, who studies the Broad academy, reports that a civil rights group and a coalition of teachers who oppose charter schools questioned “whether Bobb was in conflict of interest for accepting $89,000 of his salary from a foundation that supports private and charter schools.”

Bobb made significant cuts to DPS. He closed many schools and eliminated 25% of the districts employees. He also sold several school buildings. The Detroit News reported in March 2010, “Instead of a $17 million surplus Bobb projected for this fiscal year, spending has increased so much Bobb is projecting a $98 million deficit for the budget year that ends June 30.”

Bobb blamed unforeseeable costs related to declining enrollment. Curt Guyette at the Metro-Times relates that many people blamed spending on high priced consultants and contracts. Guyette provided this example:

“Of particular note was Barbara Byrd-Bennett, hired by Bobb on a nine-month contract to be the district’s chief academic and accountability auditor. She received a salary of nearly $18,000 a month plus an armed personal driver. In addition, Byrd, a former chief executive officer of Cleveland’s public schools system, ‘brought with her at least six consultants who are collectively being paid more than $700,000 for about nine months of work,’ according to a 2009 Detroit Free Press article.”

In 2011, Republican Governor Rich Snyder ushered through two laws that had a negative effect on DPS. The first law, Public Act 4, gave the emergency manager total control and removed all powers from the elected school board. The second law, Public Act 436, created a state school district called the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) which took effect in 2013.

The EAA’s first task was to take over 15 of Detroit’s lowest performing schools. This immediately removed another 11,000 students from DPS and further stressed its finances.

Counting Robert Bobb there were five emergency managers at DPS between 2009 and 2016. Mercedes Schneider reports that “The most recent Detroit Public Schools emergency manager, Darnell Earley, is chiefly responsible for water contamination in Flint, Michigan.

By 2016, the schools of DPS were in such a disgraceful condition that the New York Times called them “crumbling” and “destitute.” The Times’ article included this quote: ‘“We have rodents out in the middle of the day,’ said Ms. Aaron, a teacher of 18 years. ‘Like they’re coming to class.”’

July 1, 2017 the EAA returned the fifteen schools to DPS and the Michigan legislature finally acted to mitigate the debt crisis created in Holland and Lancing not Detroit. Also on July 1, 2017 Nikolai Vitti the new superintendent of DPS took on the challenge or rehabilitating the public schools of Detroit.

The Destroy Public Education (DPE) Model Still Running

The researchers from Indiana who defined the DPE model are Gail Cosby, Nate Williams and Jim Scheurich. I paraphrased their model this winter in a December post:

  1. Business is the best model for schools.
  2. A local-national collaboration between wealthy conservatives. (Sometimes far right)
  3. Huge infusion of new dollars into school board elections. (Dark Money)
  4. Unified enrollment.
  5. Teach for America (or any instant-teacher-certification program) and groups like Teach Plus controlling professional development of teachers.
  6. Innovations Schools. An ALEC sponsored charter conversion model.
  7. A funding conduit for national-local wealthy individuals and organizations to support local DPE initiatives.
  8. Integration of charter schools into traditional public schools with rules favoring charter schools.
  9. Developing networks of local organizations or affiliates that collaborate on the agenda.
  10. Support for gentrification.

Education Cities bills itself as a national leader in the DPE movement. On their web-page, they list Detroit Children’s Fund and The Skillman Foundation as their partners in Detroit.

The Skillman Foundation has a little more than $400 million and they seem to be the main local financiers of the DPE movement in Detroit. Detroit Children’s Fund (DCF) appears to be the political organizers. DCF says of itself:

“Detroit Children’s Fund (DCF) has partnered with School Empowerment Network (SEN) to offer an intensive development opportunity for school leadership teams.”

“DCF is powered by a deep partnership with the Skillman Foundation. The Foundation has been working in Detroit since 1960 and is recognized as lead advocate for children in the city. Detroit Children’s Fund and the Skillman Foundation share staff, allowing DCF to leverage the Foundation’s deep relationships and knowledge.”

Instead of partnering with the venerable education departments at Michigan State and University of Michigan, Skillman partners with lightly credentialed and inexperienced non-profits to provide teacher professional development. Only a privatization agenda explains this strange behavior.

In the last few years, Skillman has made grants to; TFA $850,000, Education Cities $85,000,  and Relay Graduate School $40,000.

The DPE movement is harming America. What the Amway clan has done to Detroit should be labeled a hate crime. It is treason. We must protect our right to freedom of conscious. Our public schools are a cornerstone of America’s great democratic experiment and the source of protection for liberty. Do not bow down to the lords of Mammon, fight their greed and dangerous religious agenda.

Standards Based Education Reform is Toxic

14 Feb

By T. Ultican 2/14/2018

In 1983, lawyers, business titans and famous scientists ushered in the era of standards based reform with the infamous “A Nation at Risk.” This political polemic masquerading as a scholarly paper proclaimed a crisis in American education. It propelled us careening down a path of harm. Harm for children; harm for educators; harm for communities; harm for schools and harm for democracy.

During my first quarter at UCSD’s teacher education program, I was assigned many readings including Alfie Kohn’s The Schools Our Children Deserve. By 1999, the time of the books writing, Clinton’s Goals 2000 was in force and many states were already adopting high school exit exams and other standardized testing practices. Although not impressed by this theory of education improvement, Alfie was more focused on improving education practices in public schools.

He asked, “Is it possible that we are not really as well educated as we’d like to think? Might we have spent a good chunk of our childhoods doing stuff that was exactly as pointless as we suspected it was at the time?”

Kohn believes in progressive education and opposes behaviorism. He embraces the ideas of Dewey and Piaget; he is a constructivist. He railed against traditional classroom management, teacher centered instruction, homework and grading policies. One of his criticisms of education reform in 1999 was “The dominant philosophy of fixing schools consists of saying, in effect, that ‘what we’re doing is OK, we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger, louder, meaner, and we’ll have a better country.

Less than five years latter Kohn would write:

“I just about fell off my desk chair the other day when I came across my own name in an essay by a conservative economist who specializes in educational issues. The reason for my astonishment is that I was described as being ‘dead set against any fundamental changes in the nation’s schools.’ Now having been accused with some regularity of arguing for too damn many fundamental changes in the nation’s schools, I found this new criticism more than a bit puzzling. But then I remembered that, during a TV interview a couple of years ago, another author from a different right-wing think tank had labeled me a ‘defender of the educational status quo.’”

Standards Based Education Reform is Based on Bad Theory

Professor Ellen Brantlinger of Indiana University was an early critic of standards based education reform (SBR). Unlike the promoters of SBR, Brantlinger was a scholar whose work was peer reviewed. In a 1997 paper published in Review of Education Research, she observed that ideology preserves “existing social structures and power relations” and that SBR was based on uncritical ideology that venerated the dominant culture and subjugated minority cultures.

In another article, “An Application of Gramsci’s ‘Who Benefits?’ to High-Stakes Testing”, Brantlinger wrote:

“It seems reasonable to conclude that a number of parties reap rewards from high-stakes testing. Turning to Gramsci’s idea of hegemony (that powerful groups in society strive to maintain and strengthen their dominance by offering new evidence to justify it), it is plausible to assume that high-stakes tests facilitate the win/lose situations that justify hierarchical social relations and dominant groups’ material and status advantages.”

After the Common Core State Standards were released, Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institute conducted a study to ascertain the expected benefit from the new standards. He concluded, “Despite all the money and effort devoted to developing the Common Core State Standards—not to mention the simmering controversy over their adoption in several states—the study foresees little to no impact on student learning.

He came to this conclusion in part by looking at the effect on testing results due to varying quality in state standards on the National Education Performance Assessments (NEAP).

Loveless also noted:

“Education leaders often talk about standards as if they are a system of weights and measures—the word “benchmarks” is used promiscuously as a synonym for standards. But the term is misleading by inferring that there is a real, known standard of measurement. Standards in education are best understood as aspirational, and like a strict diet or prudent plan to save money for the future, they represent good intentions that are not often realized.”

Loveless countered one of the more loudly proclaimed reasons for national curriculum guided by national standards:

“In the U.S., advocates of a national curriculum have for years pointed to nations at the top of TIMSS and PISA rankings and argued that because those countries have national curriculums, a national curriculum must be good. The argument is without merit. What the advocates neglect to observe is that countries at the bottom of the international rankings also have a national curriculum.”

Mathew DiCarlo writing for the Shanker Blog cited the work of Eric Hanushek, Jonah Rockoff and others to note that family background constitutes more than half the cause for scholastic achievement. He reported:

“But in the big picture, roughly 60 percent of achievement outcomes is explained by student and family background characteristics (most are unobserved, but likely pertain to income/poverty). Observable and unobservable schooling factors explain roughly 20 percent, most of this (10-15 percent) being teacher effects. The rest of the variation (about 20 percent) is unexplained (error).”

Professor Paul Thomas from Furman University shared his conclusion in an article published by Alternet “Corporations Are Behind the Common Core State Standards — And That’s Why They’ll Never Work.” He wrote,

“Noted earlier, the evidence from standards-based education has revealed that standards, testing, and accountability do not succeed in raising test scores. Related, the evidence on teaching shows that focusing on direct instruction and content acquisition is also ineffective. …. Additionally, we have ample evidence that standards and high-stakes tests do not create the democratic outcomes we seek in schools such as critical thinking, creativity, and equity of opportunity.”

Geometry Standards Posted

Teachers Are Forced to Post Standards and Teach to the Test – Photo by Ultican

Harming Students, Teachers, Schools and Communities

The real standards in a standards-based education system are the standards that get tested or as Center for Education Policy President and CEO Jack Jennings put it, “What gets tested gets taught.” A natural narrowing of curriculum occurs.

Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig of California State University Sacramento recently shared some corroboration of Jennings point on his blog “Cloaking Inequality.” In a piece he called “From Segregated, to Integrated, to Narrowed.” there is a documented account of a first-year chemistry teacher so focused on Texas testing that “The entire chemistry course was solely designed to drill students for science exit testing by utilizing multiple-choice worksheets.” The article included this outcome from Julian’s research:

“Vasquez Heilig (2011) studied majority-minority urban and rural schools in Texas and found that teachers (11 of 33) and principals (6 of 7) in his study detailed aspects of “teaching to the test” and the impact of exit testing on the narrowing of the curriculum. A high school administrator in the study acknowledged that schools are paying attention to constraints created by the current educational policy system: There’s no way around it, I mean you’d be a fool if you did not play that game, I guess you can call it … . You can easily end up being labeled unacceptable if you did not prepare the students to take the test … . Two weeks before the TAKS [Texas standardized tests] date we pull out the kids … . We let the teachers know you’re not going to see these kids for 4 days. For 4 days we do what we call the TAKS blitz.”

The National Research Council (NRC) is a part of the National Academies. It was founded in 1916 to study issues related to coordinating science and technology research for America’s possible involvement in World War I. The NRC conducted a nine-year study of the standards based education reforms mandated by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Here are a few of its findings:

“Incentives will often lead people to find ways to increase measured performance that do not also improve the desired outcomes.”

“The evidence we have reviewed suggests that high school exit exam programs, as currently implemented in the United States, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement.”

“To help explain why test-based incentives sometimes produce negative effects on achievement, researchers should collect data on changes in educational practice by the people who are affected by the incentives.”

Standards Based Education Reform Destroyed Schools in Poor and Minority Neighborhoods

In an article he called “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow – Using Accountability to “Reform” Public Schools to Death” Alfie Kohn shared,

“As Lily Tomlin once remarked, ‘No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.’

“I try to imagine myself as a privatizer. How would I proceed? If my objective were to dismantle public schools, I would begin by trying to discredit them. I would probably refer to them as “government” schools, hoping to tap into a vein of libertarian resentment. I would never miss an opportunity to sneer at researchers and teacher educators as out-of-touch “educationists.” Recognizing that it’s politically unwise to attack teachers, I would do so obliquely, bashing the unions to which most of them belong. Most important, if I had the power, I would ratchet up the number and difficulty of standardized tests that students had to take, in order that I could then point to the predictably pitiful results. I would then defy my opponents to defend the schools that had produced students who did so poorly.”

Jessica Bacon an Education Professor from City University, New York and Professor Beth A. Ferri from the school of education Syracuse University studied the demise of Westvale, a K-5 urban elementary school in New York state. Their paper is called “The impact of standards-based reform: applying Brantlinger’s critique of ‘hierarchical ideologies’.”

It is a story that has repeated itself too often. Westvale served a population that does not test well. The demographics of the school: 95% free and reduced lunch, 40% limited English proficiency, and 20% students with disabilities. The racial makeup of the school was: 50% Hispanic, 35% African-American, and 10% white.

Because Westvale elementary could not meet the testing targets set by the NCLB law, the state of New York categorized them as “Persistently Lowest Achieving” which meant the district had to select one of four remediation methods. The district chose the transformation model.

The paper reports, “Unfortunately, during this process, Westvale also ‘transformed’ from a school that had been moving towards a fully inclusive model, to one that reverted to a variety of segregated, tracked, and pullout classes.”

Today, many schools in communities that test poorly are being privatized as either charter schools, innovation schools or voucher schools.

In an Education Week article, “‘Defies Measurement’ Illustrates Failures of Test-Focused Policy,” David B. Cohen writes,

“In ‘Defies Measurement,’ teacher-turned-filmmaker Shannon Puckett gathers the recollections and reflections of twenty-three former students, parents, and teachers from Chipman Middle School in Alameda, California, and illustrates how a nurturing school community was gradually dismantled by the test-and-punish dynamics of education reform under No Child Left Behind. Puckett, who taught at Chipman and quit because of the changes following from NCLB, also contextualizes the eventual closure of the school, and the devaluation of what it stood for, in the broader context of education reform and accountability efforts nationwide.”

A school in which I had worked was closed because of the NCLB law. I wrote of about the “Unwarranted Demise of Mar Vista Middle School.” The piece began:

“In February, while attending a science teacher’s professional development at Mar Vista High School, I first heard the rumor that Mar Vista Middle School (MVM) was going to be closed, all of its staff dismissed and the school reopened as a charter school. Since 1961, this venerable institution has been a treasure in the poverty-stricken neighborhood situated one mile north of the world’s busiest border crossing (San Diego-Tijuana). At the March 11, 2013 board meeting (Sweetwater Union High School District) the rumor was confirmed, a restructuring plan for MVM was approved. Or as one person observed, ‘they legally stole an asset belonging to a poor community for their own purposes.’”

It turned out that the community successfully fought off the charter school conversion. The remedy became close the school and reopen it as a focus or theme school with a transformed staff. Fifty percent of the original staff was sent packing. The school is not much changed today because it is still serving the same community, but it is now called Mar Vista Academy and many lives were disrupted.

Some Last Words

Last September, the Labour Party in New Zealand captured control of the government. The news service Stuff reported, “Labour campaigned hard on scrapping National Standards in the lead-up to the September election on the basis they were neither ‘national or standard’.” Labour has rid the country of standards based education reform.

Last week brought a new initiative from the Labour government to rid the country of charter schools. Stuff quotes Education Minister Chris Hipkins,

“Both National Standards and charter schools were driven by ideology rather than evidence. Both were rejected by the vast majority of the education sector. The Government’s strong view is that there is no place for them in the New Zealand education system.”

There are twin lies supporting standards based education reform and the destruction of public education in the United States. The first lie promotes the illusion that public education in this country is failing. It never was failing nor is it failing now. The second lie is driven by market based ideology. It posits that privately-run charter schools are superior to “government schools.” A group of researchers in Massachusetts studied the results after 20 years of the 1993 state education law enactment. They reported:

“While some charter high schools with a large percentage of low-income students score high on MCAS [Massachusetts standardized tests], these schools rank much lower on the SATs. What’s more, research indicates many students from high-scoring charter schools do not fare well in college, as measured by six-year college completion rates.”

Hopefully, a political party in the United States will also realize that protecting public education is good politics. I don’t care what letter they use after their name – D, G, I or R – they will have my vote.

The Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) Back-Stabs Public Education

26 Jan

ACSA endorsed a candidate for California State Superintendent of Public Instruction who actively works to privatize public schools. As a participant in the Destroy Public Education (DPE) movement, he supports initiatives undermining the teaching profession and good pedagogy.

Established in 1971 to advance the cause of public education, the ACSA has joined ranks with groups working to end taxpayer supported universal public education. The endorsement of Marshall Tuck over Tony Thurmond for Superintendent makes this clear.

Tuck and Thurmond are both Democrats. Thurmond is a progressive and Tuck is a neoliberal. The California Teachers Association (CTA) endorses Thurmond as do a long list of elected officials and organizations including Senator Kamala Harris.

Jenifer Berkshire’s article “How Education Reform Ate the Democratic Party,” describes neoliberals:

“‘The solutions of the thirties will not solve the problems of the eighties,’ wrote Randall Rothenberg in his breathless 1984 paean to this new breed [of Democrats], whom he called simply ‘The Neoliberals.’ His list of luminaries included the likes of Paul Tsongas, Bill Bradley, Gary Hart and Al Gore …. …, the ascendancy of the neoliberals represented an economic repositioning of the Democratic Party…. The era of big, affirmative government demanding action—desegregate those schools, clean up those polluted rivers, enforce those civil rights and labor laws—was over.”

Candidates Photo Fixed

Pictures snipped from campaign cyber sites and reformatted by Ultican.

Tony Thurmond spoke at the CTA delegates meeting in October 2017. He won their endorsement. The CTA news release said:

“We won’t stand for vouchers and we will not allow the privatization of public schools in the great state of California,” Thurmond told cheering delegates. He declared that resolving the teacher shortage is key to closing student achievement gaps. “I don’t know how we close the achievement gaps without closing the teacher shortage in the state.”

When Marshall Tuck answered the ACSA’s questions about “school choice,” he wrote:

“I believe it is important to preserve and strategically expand high-quality public school options for parents, …. These public options can take many forms: some are magnet programs that focus on a particular academic discipline, some are charter schools that have flexibility to innovate with new practices, and some are specialty programs, like those that focus on the arts or sciences.”

Billionaires Support Marshall Tuck

Besides the ACSA, many mega-wealthy people support Marshall Tuck. During his close loss for the same office in 2014, Tuck raised unprecedented amounts of money. Near the conclusion of that race, Tim Murphy of Mother Jones reported:

“The most expensive race in California this year isn’t the governor’s race, … it’s the race for state education superintendent, where incumbent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck have combined to spend nearly $30 million. Tuck, who has received big bucks from Walmart heir Alice Walton and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, is pledging to rein in the powerful California Teachers Association, ….”

Under California campaign rules, a candidate seeking state office can accept no more than $7300 a year from a single entity. Because we’ve entered a new year, it is possible for individuals to have given as much as $14,600. The following table is from data reported to California Secretary of State as of 1/22/2018. Billionaires love Tuck!

Contributor Names Amount
Michael Bloomberg $14,600
Carrie (Walton) & Gregory Penner $14,600
Alice Walton $7,300
Jim Walton $7,300
Edith and Eli Broad $29,200
Richard Riordan $7,300
Laurene Powell Jobs $7,300
Reed Hastings $7,300
Doris Fisher $14,600
John Fisher $14,600
Laura Fisher $14,600
Elizabeth Stroud Fisher $7,300
Robert Fisher $7,300
William Fisher $7,300
John and Regina Scully $29,200
Brad Gerstner $7,300
Jonathan Sackler $7,300
Andrew Horowitz $7,300
David Horowitz $7,300

A Biographical Sketch of Marshall Tuck

Tuck was raised on the peninsula just south of San Francisco in the upper-middle class community of Burlingame, California. It is a mixed race community with about a 68% white, 20% Asian, 13% Hispanic and 1% black population. The median home price is more than $1,000,000.

There is no data on siblings or his parents. Tuck’s campaign cyber presence does say he is “The son of a teacher … and [he] attended parochial elementary school and public middle and high schools.”

After high school he attended UCLA, where he was a 1995 graduate with a BA in political science. In 2000, he gained an MBA from Harvard Business.

During Tuck’s 2014 race the Sacramento Bee reported, “After graduating from UCLA, he worked for two years in mergers and acquisitions at Salomon Brothers in Los Angeles.”

Tuck’s 2005 bio for the Green Dot charter schools says, “He also spent time as a consultant at Bain & Co., an investment analyst at the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone….” The bio also stated:

“Marshall Tuck joined Green Dot Public Schools in July 2002 as Chief Operating Officer in charge of both operations and finance. Prior to joining Green Dot, Marshall was the General Manager of the Strategic Accounts group at Model N (an enterprise software company), where he led a division focused on opening new markets for the company.”

Steve Barr a politically connected operative from the neoliberal wing of the Democratic party founded Green Dot Public Schools in 1999. He called the schools, public schools, but that is marketing. Green Dot is a private company which has a charter to run a school.

Barr has been active in politics throughout his professional career serving on the national campaigns of President Clinton, Senator Gary Hart and Governor Michael Dukakis and as a finance chair for the Democratic Party.

In 2007, a frustrated Antonio Villaraigosa, LA’s lusty mayor, had just failed to gain control over the Los Angeles Unified School District. He joined with some wealthy supporters to form a non-profit in collaboration with the district, targeting struggling schools in low-income communities for intervention. If school staff voted to opt in, the Partnership offered an alternative approach to improving student achievement, promising a collaborative role in shaping curriculum and running their schools.

The Sacramento Bee reported, “Tuck’s four years at Green Dot caught the attention of Villaraigosa, who selected him to lead the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.”

There is not much detail available about why Tuck and the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools separated. In 2014 the blog School Matters stated, “Many of us hoped that when right-wing business banker Marshall Tuck was ignominiously forced to step down as the ‘CEO’ of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS), that we might have heard the last of Tuck altogether.”

Most recently, Tuck worked as an Educator-in-Residence at the New Teacher Center (NTC), a nonprofit organization working with school districts. It is notable that the Gates foundation has granted this Santa Cruz based organization a total of $18,305,252 since 2009.

Tuck’s Claims of Proven Leadership Success Are Baseless

At Green Dot he worked in finance and operations. It is unlikely that he had much impact on pedagogy. It is unreasonable to either credit or blame him for testing results. In addition, it is a well-known fact that standardized testing results do not measure teaching or school quality.

However, if one uses testing outcomes at Green Dot to bolster claims of proven leadership, then that data becomes relevant. When an LA Times report about charter schools says, “The lowest-performing, based on test scores, is the large Green Dot chain …,” bragging seems more like lying.

The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools suffered many failures during Tuck’s leadership. Teachers and parents revolted against what they called a top-down autocratic leadership after originally voting to join the Partnership.

The Sacramento Bee reported,

“… the Partnership also was marked at times by conflict with the local teachers’ union over recession-driven layoffs and tensions with teachers at the schools who felt their input was not being considered. Teachers passed a vote of no confidence at nine of the schools at the end of the first year, leading to independent mediation.”

The Bee gave voice to several teachers in the report.

‘“As teachers and parents and students, we just wanted to have an agency for what we thought would benefit our school community and benefit learning,’ Baranwal said. ‘And time and time again, they would come in and make the decision.’

‘“It all just came back down to test scores,’ Baranwal said. ‘It’s not allowing space for people to be looked at holistically. Teachers are not just a test score, students are not just a test score.’

“Gillian Russom, a high school history and geography teacher whose campus ultimately spun off from the Partnership, echoed those concerns: ‘Again and again, we felt that he decided what he wanted to do and pushed it through in a very managerial style,’ she said.”

The Bee article also noted that test scores were not so good:

“While Partnership campuses have improved by an average of almost 72 points on the state’s 1,000-point Academic Performance Index, …, the district as a whole rose almost as much during the same period.”

“That same year, the majority of Partnership campuses performed below average compared with California schools with a similar student demographic.”

Why – with all the extra resources the Partnership was given and their focus on testing – did schools test so poorly? The Partnership’s tax records reveal more than $9,000,000 a year in philanthropic donations to less than 20 schools. Additionally, the Wasserman foundation was providing many free services.

Tucks embrace of Teach for America (TFA) harmed the academic program. TFA teachers are youthful college graduates with no education training or experience outside of a five-week summer institute. A 2015 announcement from TFA shows that they were supplying more than 150 teachers to the Partnership.

The Partnership has less than 15,000 of LA Unified School District’s 700,000 students. Assuming that teachers average 20 students each, the Partnership would have about 750 teachers. That means that more than 20% of the teachers in the Partnership were untrained TFA candidates.

Tuck Opposes Workplace Protection for Teachers

John Fensterwald reporting on a Torlakson versus Tuck debate for Ed Source wrote:

“As he has done throughout his campaign, Tuck condemned Torlakson’s appeal of a Superior Court judge’s ruling in Vergara v. the State of California, overturning laws creating tenure in two years, governing dismissals and requiring layoffs by seniority.”

Tenure is defined as “status granted to an employee, usually after a probationary period, indicating that the position or employment is permanent.” Tenure insures K-12 teachers certain rights such as seniority protection and due process. It protects teachers from unjust attacks by powerful community members. It does not preclude firing for cause. I have witnesses several tenured teachers being fired for relatively benign reasons.

Since Socrates time, teachers have always been vulnerable to unjust social attacks.

When Tuck says he had to lay off more effective teachers than ones with seniority, I wonder how he measured that? Teaching is very difficult to evaluate. The seniority system works well; it is not perfect but it stops the firing of more expensive older teachers and diminishes favoritism. Which are both common problems at educational institutions.

Talk to any experienced teacher and they will tell you how much better at teaching they were after ten years than they were after five. Experience combined with training is the only certain path forward.

Assembly Women Shirly Weber of San Diego authored a bill (AB 1220) that would extend the teacher probationary period to three years and end seniority rights. Tuck told the ACSA, “It was disappointing that last-minute politicking was able to stall those efforts; that my opponent in this race was a primary obstacle to AB 1220’s passage, ….” (emphasis added)

Assemblyman Tony Thurmond offered a counter bill (AB 1164) that also extended the probationary period to three years but did not end seniority rights.

Thurmond’s bill also reinvigorates the peer review and evaluation or PAR process. The legislative analyst noted research showing, “PAR is a rigorous alternative to traditional forms of teacher evaluation and development, with research showing that peer review is far superior to principals’ evaluations in terms of rigor and comprehensiveness.”

Both Thurmond and Tuck agree that we have a teacher shortage in California. It does not make much sense – at least at present – to make the profession less attractive by removing legal protections.

Some Background on Tony Thurmond

Unlike his opponent, Thurmond could never be accused of “being born on third-base and thinking he hit a triple.” His mother was an immigrant from Panama. He was born at Fort Ord in Monterey, California, where his father, a native of Detroit, was training for Viet Nam service. Tony’s father abandoned the family of four children and it was not until Tony was 39 years-old that he saw his father again.

The family moved with their mother to San Jose, California where she was employed as a teacher. Tragedy soon struck when the six years-old Tony’s mother succumbed to cancer. He and a brother moved to Philadelphia where they were raised by a cousin.

Tony went to Temple University where he earned a BA in psychology and became the student body president.

He did his graduate work at Bryn Maw College (Bryn Mawr, PA) receiving a dual Masters Degrees in Law and Social Policy and Social Work.

Tony returned to the Bay Area with his wife Kristen in 1998. He soon had two daughters, Maya and Jayden.

For the 20 years preceding his election to the California State Assembly, Thurmond served in various positions at non-profit social service agencies.

His elective offices held are:

  • 2005-2008 Served on the Richmond City Council.
  • 2008-2012 Member of West Contra County School Board.
  • 2014-present Member of the California State Assembly

Conclusion

This is not the first time the ACSA has embraced billionaire education “reform.” In 2014, they refused to endorse Tom Torlakson over Marshall Tuck for Superintendent. On the ACSA webpage, teacher-basher, Katie Haycock’s Edtrust is championed as a partner. Now, this endorsement shows the ACSA to be a willing pawn in the DPE movement.

It is time for school administrators who believe in public education to act with good conscious and resign from the ACSA.

A Horror Story by Steven Singer the Gadfly

23 Dec

Steven shares a hoary story that has become a national crisis. Unlike a Steven King novel, this book, Gadfly on the Wall, is not a fantasy. It is impossible to overstate the damage being done to America and its children by the greedy, the self-centered and the stupid. They are set on destroying free universal public education in America.

Billionaires be wary, Steven says he is ready to kick your sorry asses.

Many people were disheartened when Donald Trump became president and installed an evangelical who despises public schools as Secretary of Education. Her agenda seems to be ending public education and creating a system of government financed Christian schools. Here, I really love Steven’s attitude. He says,

“We lived through administrations that wanted to destroy us and actually knew how to do it! We can take Tiny Hands, the Bankruptcy King any day! This is a guy who couldn’t make a profit running casinos – a business where the house always wins! You expect us to cower in fear that he’s going to take away our schools. Son, we’ve fought better than you!”

I first met the author of The Gadfly on the Wall at Chicago’s Drake Hotel almost three years ago. Educators, parents and others were arriving for the National Public Education (NPE) conference. The Drake’s lobby waiting area is at the top of a short flight of stairs next to the room where hi-tea has been served since the 19th century. It was here that I met Karen Wolfe from LA, Larry Profit from Tennessee, Steven Singer from Pennsylvania and many others.

My Singer Collage

Steven Singer Collage by T. Ultican

That evening the tall Anthony Cody was at the top of the stairs greeting new arrivals; many of whom gathered in the elegantly appointed waiting area. It was a conducive atmosphere for my first conversation with a humble bespectacled somewhat chubby Steven. I had been reading Steven’s new blog and really liked it. Later, I made some notes about the evening’s encounters intending of write about it when time permitted. Steven beat me to it. In the morning our arrival scene was covered by a wonderful post in his “Gadfly on the Wall Blog.”

I have learned that Steven is disciplined, efficient and a very hard worker. He is emblematic of the teacher blogger. His opinions are sometimes hyperbolic but when he states a fact it is well sourced and the source is readily available. I have often used sources Steven provided when doing my own writing.

Unlike education journalism in commercial and non-profit media, teacher bloggers show more integrity because their peers in the profession demand it. Also, billionaires are not underwriting their blogs. Teachers are providing unvarnished truths about the attack on public education. The Gadfly on the Wall is a compilation of three years of blogs calling out the perpetrators of the attacks on public schools for their false narratives about failing public schools, their often-racist agendas, and their manipulation of data used to justify charter schools, testing and vouchers.

I met Steven again at NPE2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was the same humble likable guy but much busier. I had limited opportunity to talk with him, because he had become a central figure in the Badass Teachers (BATs) Association and he was in demand.

Teachers and their relationships with students are critical. Phony “personalized learning” sold by technology companies and “no excuses” charter schools run by amateur educators are not good enough. Heart and commitment are required. In the article called “Killer in My Classroom,” Steven tells the story of an 8th grader, Tyrell:

“Almost always calm and in control. He was well above the others academically. When one of the others lost his cool, Tyrell would help talk them down.”

Tyrell was moved out of Singer’s remedial classroom and back to regular classes. In his last conversation with Tyrell, Steven tried to convince him that he had better options than “making a stack on the street.”

Steven still wonders if he could have made a difference for Tyrell if given more time, but he will never know. He also has no way of knowing how many children he may have saved. The Tyrell saga still haunts Singer. He shares,

“And Tyrell? About a year later, I read about him in the newspaper.

“Police think it was a drug related hit. Tyrell was in the backseat. He put his gun to the driver’s head and pulled the trigger.

“Bam.

“No more future for either of them.

“Except on restless nights when Tyrell’s face keeps coming back to me.”

School Choice

The Gadfly on the Wall is organized into five sections: Introduction; Racism and Prejudice; School Choice; Testing; and Teaching. I particularly recommend the article from School Choice, “Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice.” Reason number 10 identifies the root problem. Singer does not mince his words:

“10) School choice is not supported by grass roots movement. It is supported by billionaires.

“The proponents of school choice will tell you that they are only doing the will of the people. This is what parents want, they say. Baloney. … They want to steal the public system and replace it with a private one. They don’t care about your child. They just want to steal the hundreds of billions of tax dollars we pay to educate our children. This is not philanthropy. It is a business transaction meant to screw you and your child out of your rights.”

The Brown versus the Board of education decision spurred “choice.” Singer describes the uncanny resemblance charter schools have to the mid-1950’s scheme hatched by Georgia’s then Governor, Herman Talmage. He said, “We can maintain separate schools regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court by reverting to a private system, subsidizing the child rather than the political subdivision.”

The Madrasa schools of the middle east are often cited as fomenting terrorism by indoctrinating students. In his book, Frames of Mind, Howard Gardner also criticized these schools for employing – almost exclusively – rote memorization, which he said circumscribed creativity.

The modern voucher school movement is making tax money available to Christian oriented school systems that are using a similar pedagogical approach to the Madrasa schools.

This December, Rebecca Klein wrote an article in the Huffington Post, “Voucher Schools Championed By Betsy DeVos Can Teach Whatever They Want. Turns Out They Teach Lies.” She reported, “In Indiana, about 4,240 students received over $16 million in scholarships to attend schools that use the Abeka or Bob Jones curriculum, according to 2016-2017 figures from the Indiana Department of Education.”

Singer writing about the same issue, “These books include the following gobsmackers:” He lists seven gobsmakers. Here is number seven:

“7. Brown v. Board of Education is described as social activism by the Supreme Court: ‘While the end was a noble one – ending discrimination in schools – the means were troublesome … liberals were not willing to wait for a political solution.’

“Teacher’s Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, 1998-1999 (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1998), p. 34”

Steven goes on to say of school choice,

“The bottom line is this – voters don’t want school choice. It does nothing to better children’s educations. It is a product of segregation and racism, and even in its modern guise it continues to foster segregation and racism.”

Testing

Singer makes the argument that when comparing test scores from the US to other countries we are “comparing apples to pears.” The December 12 Washington Post reported on the latest dismal international testing results in reading by US fourth graders. A few days later, Diane Ravitch posted an analysis of these scores by David Berliner. Score on the paper and pencil version of PIRLS 2016:

  • USA 549
  • Singapore 576
  • Hong Kong 569
  • Finland 566

Berliner looks at some demographic information and says “First, we can note that Asian Americans scored 591. That is, our Asians beat the hell out of Asian Asians!” Some more US data shared by Berliner:

  • White Kids (50% of our students) – 571
  • Upper Middle-Class Schools with 10% to 24 % Free and Reduced lunch – 592
  • Schools with 25% to 50% Free and Reduced Lunch – 566

Berliner draws the conclusion, “It’s our social and economic systems, not our schools, that cause lower scores than is desired by our nation.”

Singer asserts,

“By any fair measure, America’s public education system is simply stunning. But the media perpetuates the myth that we’re failing.”

The post called “Standardized Tests Have Always Been About Keeping People in Their Place” was an eye opener for me when I first read it. I have often referred to Singer’s sources showing eugenics is the genesis of standardized testing.

Carl Brigham was one of the original pseudo-scientists claiming that their intelligence tests proved that white people possessed superior intelligence to non-whites. Singer shared this gobsmaking information:

“Brigham created a civilian test of intelligence that could be used to sort and rank students …. He called it the Scholastic Aptitude Test or S.A.T.

“Yes, That SAT.”

Page after page, Steven’s book takes on the forces working to control curriculum, and teacher professional development. His points are powerful.

Racism and Prejudice

This section begins with the article “I Am Racist and (If You’re White) You Probably Are, Too.” Other than a short introductory piece, this is how the book begins. I think that is unfortunate.

I am a white guy who grew up in Idaho, one of the whitest places on the planet. I remember my Asian stepdaughter looking for another Asian face in a busy mall in Boise and it was some time before she saw one. I was seventeen before I talked to a black person, because I had never met one. However, my teenage heart was thrilled by Martin Luther King and his fight for justice.

Racist is a word and it has a dictionary definition. Miriam Webster says, racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race” and Dictionary.com says a racist is “a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that one’s own racial group is superior or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.”

I have heard the claim that minority peoples in America cannot be racist because they lack the financial and political power to oppress the oppressors. However, the word racist does not mean oppressor and to use the term for that meaning invites miscommunication. Racism is a sensitive subject and if miscommunication alienates people, they will not apprehend your message.

I am convinced that Steven’s central point is correct, but the implication of the opening article is if you are white; you are a racist. That cannot be true. Racism is a human problem akin to tribalism and is a worldwide plague for which white people hold no dominion.

The rhetoric about failed public schools normally refers to schools in minority communities. Based on years of ingrained racial prejudice and at best benign neglect, schools for “those people’s children” were not properly funded.

For example, a parent from New Orleans told me about sitting in middle school classrooms with 55 students and no air conditioning. Plus, the fan could only be run 10-minutes each hour. She said that students would watch the clock like a hawk for their 10-minutes. So, when charter schools came to New Orleans, many black parents were enthusiastic about someone finally promising to spend money on schools in their neighborhoods.

In this section, Steven makes many important points. He writes, “If you are not careful, being a public school teacher can be an act of colonization.” For the past more than a decade, I taught in a high school dominated by Mexicans. I was often the only white guy in class. As my experience grew, I became more and more cognizant of how important it was that instead of implementing my culture, I assimilated and venerated their culture.

I was particularly moved by Singer’s treatment of educating refugees. He noted,

“Some may shudder or sneer at the prospect of giving shelter to people in need, that is the reality in our public schools. In the lives of many, many children we provide the only stability, the only safety, the only love they get all day.”

He concluded the article on refugees:

“So if we’re considering letting in more refugees, don’t worry about me. Send them all my way. I’ll take all you’ve got. That’s what public schools do.”

I have tried to give a flavor of this wonderful book along with some of my own views. The bottom line is that Gadfly on the Wall is entertaining, informative and provocative. Thank you, Steven.