Tag Archives: Public education

One to One Initiative Threatens Public Education

27 Mar

One to one classroom agendas have a dark side that includes the destruction of public schools as we know them; where teachers and students interact. It’s a dystopian ideology that posits students earning education badges while working in isolation at a digital screen.

This month, the entire staff at my high school received an email from a colleague who recently volunteered to be on our district’s technology committee. The message said in Part:

“In doing research for next year’s Technology Plan I came across some interesting data collected by the Speak Up 2015 Research Project.

“Although this particular data is from 2015 it still makes a lot of great points! Click on the links below, I promise it is a quick read.  Enjoy!”

The email message included three links to infographics provided by tomorrow.org.

What do Parents Really Think about Digital Learning

Looking Inside Today’s Digital Classroom

10 Things Everyone Should Know About K12 Students’ Digital Learning

These infographics claim that to be the result of authentic unfiltered data from respectively; 38,613 K-12 parents nationwide, 38,157 K-12 educators nationwide and 505,676 K-12 students, parents and educators nationwide. Ever since my Viet Nam war experience, I have been less trusting. I seek verification for all claims. I want to know the research methodology and who is paying.

Project tomorrow’s research is based on volunteers who engage with their web site answering survey questions. The web site is mostly an advertisement for implementing digital learning and a guide for how to lobby local schools to implement it. It has an agenda and a profound bias.

There are more than 90 corporations and non-profits listed as supporters of tomorrow.org, which is the cyber-space marketing location for this group. There are many such groups like this which are lavishly financed by corporations to promote competency based education CBE. Another one is Future Ready. In addition to the eighteen largest contributors pictured below, both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association are contributors to tomorrow.org.

Corporations Sponsoring Project Tommorrow

This time, the Sweetwater Union High School District’s technology committee is being influenced by the corporate sponsors of tomorrow.org. Last time the district technology plan was updated, in 2014, the technology committee was influenced by Project Red. Project Red is supported by many of the same corporations as Project Tomorrow and Future Ready. All three organizations promote one-to-one education at a computer screen. I agree with a fellow teacher who said, “The last thing 21st century students need is to be put in front of another screen.”

Last year when writing about this same issue, I wrote:

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

Competency Based Education (CBE) Updates a Failed Strategy from the 1990’s

Obama’s Education Department was an unabashed supporter of CBE and the new federal education law ESSA provides money to encourage CBE. On the Department of Education web-site, it defines CBE:

“Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others.”

“By enabling students to master skills at their own pace, competency-based learning systems help to save both time and money. Depending on the strategy pursued, competency-based systems also create multiple pathways to graduation, make better use of technology, support new staffing patterns that utilize teacher skills and interests differently, take advantage of learning opportunities outside of school hours and walls, and help identify opportunities to target interventions to meet the specific learning needs of students.”

CBE is basically outcome based education moved to digital space. Outcome based education was the new 1990’s name given to a previously failed strategy known as mastery education (AKA “seats and sheets”). Outcome based education failed miserably around the world. The big advantage for CBE is that giant profits are possible for corporate providers, especially technology companies.

I never expected to quote Phyllis Schlafly but she wrote a prescient report in 1993, “What’s Wrong With Outcome-Based Education?” She said:

“Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the famous Russian author and former political prisoner in Soviet Gulags, said in a speech in the mid-1970s:

‘Coexistence on this tightly knit earth should be viewed as an existence not only without wars . . . but also without [government] telling us how to live, what to say, what to think, what to know, and what not to know.’

“Unfortunately, that’s what Outcome-Based Education is — a process for government telling our children how to live, what to say, what to think, what to know, and what not to know. What the children say, think and know must conform to the liberal Politically Correct ideology, attitudes and behaviour. What they do not know will be everything else. And because they won’t know the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, they won’t be able to find out. OBE is converting the three R’s to the three D’s: Deliberately Dumbed Down.”

Maybe you dismiss Phyllis Schlafly as a paranoid right wing cook, but this video about how the Chinese are gamifying good citizenship should give you the creeps.

Emily Talmage teaches public school in Maine, where CBE is being piloted. She describes what she’s learned:

‘“By collecting skill-based badges, the record of achievement begun in secondary school becomes the foundation upon which workers build their capabilities and tell their stories to employers,’ explains the infamous testing-behemoth, Pearson Education.

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

“With major investments from Wall Street, leaders in the online learning, ed-tech, and student loan industries, and even celebrity billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reed Hastings of Netflix, the transformation has recently been picking up speed. Meanwhile, political groups on both the left and right are moving the system forward by lobbying for ‘personalized,’ competency-based policies and ‘innovative’ assessment systems.” [Note: Reed Hastings of Netflix is also owner of Dreambox Learning, Founder of Rocketship charter schools and a board member of California Charter Schools Association.]

The educator known by his wonderful blog, Curmudgucation, Peter Greene, recently wrote:

“Personalized learning, whether we’re talking about a tailored-for-you learning program on your computer screen or a choose the school you’d like to go to with your voucher, is not about actual personalization. It’s about another path for marketing, a way of personalizing the marketing of the product, the edu-commodity that someone is already trying to make money from.”

There is presently a Tennessee court case asking the provocative question, “does a student have a right to a teacher or is a computer enough?”

What is the Proper Place for Digital Education?

The one-to-one initiative being marketed as personalized learning makes little sense. Having tax payers provide a tablet or laptop computer to every student is crazy. It is obviously not personalized learning any more than correspondence school was personalized learning in the middle 20th century. Some student with unique situations may succeed with cheap on-line learning but as a strategy for most students, there is no reason to think it will work.

Our spending for public education needs to be submitted to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. As much fun as it may be to give every child a digital learning device, the quality of learning would likely be more improved if the school district used that money to reduce class sizes by one or two students. The one to one digital initiative is an unproven theory for improved education but class size reduction is a proven theory.

However, having sufficient computer resources available for students to use makes sense. It might be a good idea to make classes like keyboarding (typing) available and highly encouraged. My students are amazed when they see me typing without looking at the keyboard. That is a skill that has served me well and I think our students should have that opportunity.

Even cyber-course work could be valuable, if it is not mainly about maximizing profits. In his book, Teaching Minds, the cognitive scientist and pioneer in online learning, Roger Schank, makes the point that good online education costs as much as good classroom education. Class size still matters and the learning project designs must be well thought-out and relative to the particular class of students. However, today’s K-12 cyber-schools are really cyber-frauds.

The bottom line with technology spending and use in the classroom is that very aggressive well financed corporate sales teams see schools as a huge market. In addition, federal dollars are getting earmarked by corporate friendly politicians for technology spending. Therefore, it is prudent to look at how valuable this technology really is and not be swayed by the hype.

It is unlikely that good use of technology in education is going to come from the Bill Gates funded Kahn Academy or Tom Vander Ark. It is much more likely that most of the excellent thinking on use of technology in education will come from America’s classroom teachers. Let’s not be bamboozled or intimidated. It is classroom teachers that know what is valuable for learning.

Billionaires Push School Privatization

14 Mar

President Donald Trump visited a private religious school in Florida on March 2, 2017, signaling once again that his education agenda will focus on school choice.

Trump DeVos Rubio in Florida

Photo by Alex Brandon of the AP taken from report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The argument for privatization schemes like charter schools and vouchers is that public schools in many low-income neighborhoods are abhorrent failures. Worse yet, the poor families living there have no affordable education options and are trapped. The question is asked, “why don’t poor people have some of the same choices as wealthier people?”

A possible solution is proposed, “Instead of sending public dollars to ‘failing schools,’ vouchers could be given to parents so their children can attend private schools.” Another popular option is to use tax policy and monetary incentives to encourage privately operated charter schools. The claim is made that – because of market forces and reduction in both operating rules and oversight – charter schools will innovate and provide improved pedagogy. The traditional public schools which are encumbered by state regulations and teachers’ unions will learn from these charter school innovations and market forces will cause them to also improve.

Unfortunately, there are three base assumptions here that are wrong. While it is true that some schools have been so poorly resourced and politically damaged by both racism and corruption that they are an abomination, in general America’s public school system is amazingly great – not failing, great!

Secondly, voucher-fed private schools are not that good. Private schools that compare favorably with public schools are much more expensive than any proposed vouchers.

As for the charter school claims; they have not innovated, they have increase education costs and the lack of oversight has resulted in an endless stream of scandal. In addition, the improved pedagogy which has been touted in advertising is refuted by refereed studies.

President Trump proposed spending $20 billion supposedly by repurposing title I funds to promote “school choice.” That is a stunning number. It is equal to more than two-thirds of the spending on the Manhattan Project. The US spent about $1.9 billion on the atomic bomb development. That was estimated to be equivalent to $30 billion in 2013. Another estimate says $2 billion in 1945 dollars was equivalent to $26 billion in 2016. Mr. Trump is calling for a nearly Manhattan Project sized effort to privatize America’s public schools. Does he believe public schools in America are in that kind of crisis or is this just another feckless politician demagoging education for his own selfish purposes?

Mercedes Schneider’s book School Choice makes a powerful arguments for why “school choice” is not only an idea that is unsupported by evidence but will cause extensive damage to our world’s greatest democratic institution. She shared this quote from the longtime teachers’ union leader and one of the original supporters of charter schools, Albert Shankar.

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

Vouchers.

Russ Walsh teaches college reading at Rider University and publishes the blog, “Russ on Reading.” This March he wrote “School Vouchers: Welfare for the Rich, the Racist, and the Religious Right.” That’s certainly a novel take on the “3-Rs” of education. In this piece, Mr. Walsh explains vouchers:

“What are vouchers exactly? School vouchers come in many forms and since the general public is typically opposed to voucher schemes, politicians who favor them have come up with a variety of Orwellian doublespeak names for them like Opportunity Scholarships, Education Choice Scholarships, or the Education Savings Accounts. Another way states have found to get around calling vouchers vouchers is the scholarship tax credit. These schemes allow individuals and corporations to direct their tax monies to private institutions who then use the money for scholarships for students.”

Trump and DeVos went to a Catholic School in Orlando to praise and encourage Florida’s use of scholarship tax credits which appear to run afoul of the first amendment to the United States constitution’s establishment clause. It redirects public dollars to religious schools which does entangle church and state. The Americans United for Separation of Church and State say voucher programs undermine religious liberty.

In Florida, the tax credit voucher is called Florida corporate tax credits. A Florida League of Women Voters report states, “In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that vouchers paid by the treasury were unconstitutional. Florida corporate tax credits (FTC) became the vehicle to fund what initially were private school scholarships for children from disadvantaged families.”

This month a Texas Superintendent of Schools, John Kuhn, informed the Association of Texas Professional Educators about vouchers:

“Three different research studies published recently have found that voucher programs harm student learning—including one study sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation and the Fordham Institute, both proponents of vouchers. Students who use vouchers underperform their matched peers who stay in public schools.

“You heard me right. I’m not just saying that vouchers don’t help very much. I’m saying voucher programs result in students learning less than if the voucher programs didn’t exist. Giving a student a voucher to improve his education is like giving a struggling swimmer a boulder to help him swim. The Walton Foundation study said: ‘Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.’ A study of the voucher program in Louisiana found very negative results in both reading and math. Kids who started the voucher program at the 50th percentile in math dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Vouchers are so harmful to children that a Harvard professor called their negative effect ‘as large as any I’ve seen in the literature.’”

Evidence from Sweden, New Zealand, Chile and several American metropolitan areas has consistently shown that privatizing schools with vouchers not only does not improve education outcomes, it harms them. When the monies for voucher programs are removed from public education budgets, the opportunities for the 85% of our students attending public schools are reduced.

Privately Run Charter Schools

At the behest of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s teacher’s union MGT of America studied the costs associated with charter schools in LA. MGT reported, “these data indicate that LAUSD has a nearly $600 million impact from independent charter schools.” Running dual school systems increases costs. Therefore, the evidence for benefit from charter schools needs to be clear and convincing.

The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado recently published a compilation of refereed studies under the title Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms. A paper by Miron and Urschel says of charter school studies, “For example, all of the California studies either found mixed or positive results, while four out of the five Michigan studies and three out of the four Ohio studies produced negative results.”

In Learning, Miron and Urschel also noted:

“A third factor that overshadows the body of evidence on school choice is the predominance of partisan researchers and activist organizations that carry out the research. Especially in the areas of home schooling, vouchers, and charter schools, the bulk of studies that find positive impacts in favor of school choice have been conducted by advocacy groups.”

Two consistent features of modern education governance are that politicians and business men who have power enforce their own particular biases even though lacking both educational experience and knowledge. The second feature is education policy is not based on refereed peer reviewed research by professionals.

For decades, John Walton and the Walton Family Foundation promoted vouchers as the ideal fix for what Walton saw as needing fixed. In a Washington Post article Jeff Bryant wrote:

“Fully inculcated with Friedman’s philosophies, and motivated by the myth of school failure spread by the Reagan administration, the Waltons were ready for their education revolution to begin.”

After a series of defeats trying to promote vouchers, the foundation transitioned the privatization agenda to advancing charter schools. Bryant continued:

“According to a pro-union website, another member of the Walton family, Carrie Walton Penner, sits on the board of the foundation connected to the prominent KIPP charter school chain—on which the Walton Family Foundation has lavished many millions in donations—and is also a member of the California Charter Schools Association. Carrie’s husband, Greg Penner, is a director of the Charter Growth Fund, a ‘non-profit venture capital fund’ investing in charter schools.”

Search “charter school investment” and at least two pages of paid ads for charter school investment funds will appear. In March 2015, the Walton Family Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation co-sponsored an event in Manhattan called “Bonds and Blackboards: Investing in Charter Schools.” In the Business Insider report on this event, reporter Abby Jackson wrote:

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

An article by the Education Law Center’s Wendy Lecker states,

“As noted in a 1996 Detroit Metro Times article, while the DeVos’ ultimate aim was to abolish public education and steer public funds to parochial schools, they knew not to be blatant about that goal. Thus, they chose a vehicle that blurred the lines between public and private schools- a “gateway drug” to privatizing public education: charter schools.”

Here in California we have a plethora of billionaires and other wealthy people working to expand charter school penetration including; Bill Gates, Reed Hastings, Eli Broad, Doris Fischer, Carrie Walton Penner and the list continues.

America’s Public Schools Rock

As I wrote in a 2014 post, the declaration that America’s public education system is failing has a long history. Diane Ravitch reported the following quote from Jim Arnold & Peter Smagorinsky on her blog.

“Admiral Rickover published “American Education, a National Failure” in 1963, and in 1959 LIFE magazine published “Crisis in Education” that noted the Russians beat us into space with Sputnik because “the standards of education are shockingly low.” In 1955 Why Johnny Can’t Read became a best seller, and in 1942 the NY Times noted only 6% of college freshmen could name the 13 original colonies and 75% did not know who was President during the Civil War. The US Navy in 1940 tested new pilots on their mastery of 4th grade math and found that 60% of the HS graduates failed. In 1889 the top 3% of US high school students went to college, and 84% of all American colleges reported remedial courses in core subjects were required for incoming freshmen.”

By the middle of the 20th century, cities and villages throughout the USA had developed an impressive educational infrastructure. With the intent of giving every child in America the opportunity for 12 years of free education, this country was the world’s only country not using high stakes testing to deny the academic path to more than a third of its students. The physical infrastructure of our public schools was of high quality and schools were staffed with well-trained experienced educators.

This system that is the foundation – to the greatest economy in the world, the most Nobel Prize winners and democratic government – has passed the exam of life. It is clearly the best education system in the world. To diminish and undermine it is foolhardy. Arrogant greed-blinded people are trying to steal our legacy.

Education Reform Musing

14 Feb

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

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

Democracy and Local Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“An aim must, then, be flexible; it must be capable of alteration to meet circumstances. An end established externally to the process of action is always rigid. Being inserted or imposed from without, it is not supposed to have a working relationship to the concrete conditions of the situation.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democratize Schools

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

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

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

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

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

Curriculum

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

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

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

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

Reality Versus Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking Up for Diane Ravitch

17 Jan

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

Attacking Public Educations Best Ally

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

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

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

Corporate Reformers and Fellow Travelers Take Aim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane Ravitch is Giving Voice to Educators

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

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

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

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

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

“Say it Ain’t So” NEA and AFT

6 Jan

In 1919, the biggest baseball star in Chicago and possibly all of America was “Shoeless Joe” Jackson. After “Shoeless Joe” and seven other members of the Chicago White Sox were convicted of fixing the 1919 World Series, the Chicago Daily News headline – “Say it ain’t so, Joe” – was the anguished plea from fans and especially hero-worshipping boys. Today, when I look at America’s teachers’ unions, I feel similar emotions to the ones those disappointed boys must have felt.

The leadership of both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) are not protecting educators and public schools. They campaigned for and support the new education law ESSA. They lend their name to advance Competency Based Education (CBE). They promote Social Emotional Learning (SEL). In the last election, both unions immediately endorsed a candidate with a greater than two-decade record of promoting policies undermining professional educators and privatizing public schools.

The California Teachers Association (affiliate of NEA) publishes, California Educator. There are two main thrusts in the December 2016 issue; implementation of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and promotion of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) education.

NGSS like its sibling CCSS codifies terrible education theory that arose at the behest of a corporate leader, Louis Gerstner (RJR-Nabisco CEO). (To be fair Gerstner did not just sell cigarettes; he also worked at IBM.)

Selling Social Emotional Learning

I have positive opinions of Buddhist philosophy, however, western fads like mindfulness, where the psychological underpinnings of the Buddhist principles are not well understood, annoy me. Here is a quote from the December California Educator:

“The gentle sound of chimes is followed by the teacher’s voice asking students to focus on being in the here and now at Pioneer Elementary School in Union City.

“Neena Barreto is helping transitional kindergartners regulate their own nervous systems through practicing the art of mindfulness.”

In another short piece about Michelle Cauley, we are told:

“Cauley, one of six SEL facilitators with Los Angeles Unified School District, teaches children how to deal with their emotions by using calming techniques such as deep breathing and counting to 10. She provides professional development to educators in the Second Step SEL program, which offers K-8 lesson plans training.”

The Second Step SEL program is a product of the Committee for Children. They describe themselves:

“Committee for Children is a global nonprofit dedicated to fostering the safety and well-being of children through social-emotional learning and development. We are the world’s largest provider of research-based education programs that have helped over 9 million children in 26,000 schools develop vital social-emotional skills to avoid violence, bullying, and sexual abuse. From Iowa to Iraq, Chile to Chicago, we are helping children around the globe stay safe, respect themselves and others, succeed in school today, and build a better world tomorrow.”

Califronia Educator quotes Cauley,

“Kids should be getting these skills at home, but they’re not. Now students are teaching these skills to their families.”

All of this may seem positive, warm and fuzzy, but this last quote is problematic. Is there a darker side of SEL which includes inappropriate intrusion of government into family life and child rearing? A wise old saying alerts us that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Joy Pullman, managing editor of The Federalist, comments on SEL Boosters:

“The federal government has pushed states to create initiatives like this by demanding in the new federal law that replaces No Child Left Behind, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, that states include “non-academic measures” in school ratings. Despite this, all the leading researchers in this nascent field say the sorts of quasi-psychological measures are not at all reliable enough to be used to rate schools, states, or individual children. That’s not stopping boosters, however (it rarely does).”

One of those boosters is the California Office to Reform Education or CORE. I have written about this faux government agency. It is financed by – the usual we know better than any professional educators “non-profits.” CORE districts has made social emotional learning 40% of school evaluation. The following graphic is taken from their pilot SEL document sent to participants.

core-districts-sel

Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project in Washington, DC.  Writing in Townhall She states:

“According to the monolithic progressive-education establishment in this country, SEL is the next big thing to fix the problems with public education. The same was true of outcome-based education, and Common Core, and fads infinitum. But this fad isn’t just ineffective, it’s dangerous. Parents should demand a halt to pseudo-psychology – and a restoration of their autonomy in raising their children.”

The big Kahuna in the SEL movement is CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning). In 2010 CASEL asked Joseph Durlak, PhD, Professor emeritus of Psychology, Loyola University Chicago, to conduct of study of SEL. His investigation was the first large scale study of SEL and it showed impressive results. The main funding for the study came from William T. Grant Foundation and the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health. The summary of claims:

“This article presents findings from a meta-analysis of 213 school-based, universal social and emotional learning (SEL) programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students. Compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement.”

This study was a meta-analysis of data collected between 1955 and 2007. There are three main bias problems with meta-analysis studies. Number one is the obvious problem of a researcher shading the data, the second common problem is a good meta-analysis of badly designed studies will still result in bad statistics. The third – and I suspect most relevant here – is the file drawer problem characterized by negative or non-significant results being tucked away in a cabinet.

In September 2011, Berkley’s Julie Suttie reported about Durlak’s paper in the journal Greater Good. Professor Suttie wrote:

“While these results are encouraging to SEL researchers and practitioners, not all large-scale studies have provided such hearty endorsements of SEL lately. Last fall, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, released a report that evaluated seven different SEL programs, including Positive Action, and the results were underwhelming.

“In the study, for each SEL program, a research team compared a group of five to seven schools running that program with other schools in the same district not employing the program. When the researchers looked at their results, they saw no significant differences in social and emotional literacy between the schools that received SEL training and those that didn’t, and no increases in academic achievement or decreases in problematic behavior. In other words, the SEL programs appeared to be duds.”

The December California Educator makes the NEA commitment to SEL obvious and the AFT provides free lesson plans for teaching SEL. The teachers’ unions are backing another Bill Gates promoted set of top down standards to be forced on public schools. To quote the Turko Files, “It’s just not right!”

STEM is and Always was a Fraud

In the 1990’s, I was working in Silicon Valley. The papers were full of reports about the shortage of American trained engineers. Our Democratic congresswomen, Zoe Lofgren promised to work with Democratic President, Bill Clinton to open the doors to foreign talent – to expand the H1B visa program.

In 1993, just the year before Zoe began her congressional campaign to save Silicon Valley, every company interviewing engineering graduates at San Diego State University cancelled the interviews. By 1995, in the San Jose area, engineers were rapidly changing jobs as companies tried to steal each other’s secrets and talent. One of the main motives for promoting the fraudulent H1B visa program was not as much driving salaries down as it was the fact that engineers working on those visas could not change companies.

The biggest justification for the H1B visa program was that we were not training enough math, science and engineering professionals. The reality I saw was people who could have easily applied their skill set in a different area that had a need – were laid off. New hires from India or China were given those open positions.

California Educator does not question the assumptions about needing to inspire more students into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) it just asserts “STEM education is taking off.” The union organ then regales us with real-life examples of STEM teaching heroes and heroines.

We read, “For Camie Walker’s elementary students, engineering makes math and science relevant.” Camie is quoted as saying “To me, engineering is the path-way between math and science and language arts, so students can make connections to what they are learning in ways they never could before.”

We are also assured that “Her STEM program incorporates Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core.”

Another piece in California Educator starts, “This year, Jason Diodati’s upper-level engineering students are building battling drones.” The article continues, ‘“They’ll have to rebuild the ones that get destroyed,’ says Diodati, who teaches physics and engineering at Templeton High School in Templeton, near San Luis Obispo.”

Neither Walker or Diodati are teaching engineering. They are teaching project based science. Engineering is a branch of applied physics that people cannot study until they develop advanced mathematics and science skills. Generally, people do not study engineering until their second year at a university and not in real depth until their third year.

I like the concept of teaching project based math and science, but mislabeling it engineering to placate businessmen in engineering companies has doomed the NGSS science standards. These standards have kindergarten engineering standards that are somehow supposed to be unique from kindergarten science standards. Standards based mechanized education is horrible education theory and horrible unnecessarily and confusing science standards are a disaster.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers magazine, Spectrum proclaimed “The STEM Crisis Is a Myth.” They counselled “Forget the dire predictions of a looming shortfall of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.

Writing for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, Jay Schalin observed,

“Everybody knows that the best way to get ahead today is to get a college degree.  Even better is to major in one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects, where the bulk of the jobs of the present and future lie. Politicians, business leaders, and academics all herald the high demand for scientists and engineers.

“But they are, for the most part, wrong. The real facts suggest that, in many STEM specialties, there is a labor glut, not a shortage.”

“The apparent misinformation continues to this day. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been particularly vocal about supposed shortages of skilled labor in the computer industry.”

Walter Hickey writing at the Business Insider reputed,

“We clearly don’t have a STEM shortage. If we did, rudimentary economics would kick in and show either low unemployment for new majors or a rising price of computer science labor. People wouldn’t say they’re out of the industry because of no jobs.”

Michael S. Teitelbaum wrote a powerful piece on this issue for Atlantic magazine titled “The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage.” He reported:

“A compelling body of research is now available, from many leading academic researchers and from respected research organizations such as the National Bureau of Economic Research, the RAND Corporation, and the Urban Institute. No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher, although some are forecasting high growth in occupations that require post-high school training but not a bachelors degree. All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more.”

If the NEA and the AFT are going to be our public voice, they have got to stop promoting corporate education reform. Stop promoting SEL standards, Common Core State Standards, NGSS science standards, STEM education fraud, Competency Based Education and the federal education law ESSA that benefits everyone but students, teachers and taxpayers. Teachers unions must fight these corporate inspired raids on education funding and their effort to de-professionalize teaching.

Education Discernments for 2017

28 Dec

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

California Adopts Reckless Corporate Education Standards

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

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

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

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

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

‘Profitization’ Movement is Destroying Good Public Education

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

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

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

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

 “Personalized Learning” Leads to Big Bucks

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

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

In a recent post, I noted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There Are Failing Schools and They Need Repair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017

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

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

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

About ‘The Prize’

21 Dec

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

Russakoff wrote this in her conclusion:

“For four years, the reformers never really tried to have a conversation with the people of Newark. Their target audience was always somewhere else, beyond the people whose children and grandchildren desperately needed to learn and compete for a future. Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg set out to create a national “proof point” in Newark. There was less focus on Newark as its own complex ecosystem that reformers needed to understand before trying to save it. Two hundred million dollars and almost five years later, there was at least as much rancor as reform.” (page 209)

Clearly standardized test scores are a poor measure of school quality. Stuart S. Yeh presented this paper on value added measures (VAM) of teacher and school quality based on testing and concluded “VAM is not reliable.” There are several more peer reviewed papers like this and a warning from the American Statistical Association against the use of VAM to evaluate schools and teachers. Nevertheless, the basic meterstick for top-down reform is the standardized test which inevitably leads to GIGO (garbage in; garbage out).

Not surprisingly reform based on standardized testing and reformer arrogance meant the $200 million brought regression not improvement. Dale reported, “…, throughout the district, proficiency had declined in both literacy and math in every tested grade on the state standardized test since 2011, the year before Anderson arrived.” Anderson is Cami Anderson the former Joel Klein deputy from New York City brought in to lead Newark’s reform. This evaluation is of course somewhat unfair because it is based on the misguided but favored tool of “corporate education reformers”.

Corporate Education Reform

Stan Karp writing in the Washington Post defines “corporate education reform” and  lists a set of policy agendas associated:

“Corporate education reform” refers to a specific set of policy proposals currently driving education policy at the state and federal level.  These proposals include:

*increased test-based evaluation of students, teachers, and schools of education

*elimination or weakening of tenure and seniority rights

*an end to pay for experience or advanced degrees

*closing schools deemed low performing and their replacement by publicly funded, but privately run charters

*replacing governance by local school boards with various forms of mayoral and state takeover or private management

*vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition

*increases in class size, sometimes tied to the firing of 5-10% of the teaching staff

*implementation of Common Core standards and something called “college and career readiness” as a standard for high school graduation:”

The reform that Zuckerberg, Booker and Christie were bringing to Newark included this entire list except for vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition which were on the horizon. In addition, they instituted another piece of long favored but widely discredit reform – merit pay. On this point Russakoff states:

 “… teachers consistently tell researchers that, given the choice, they would opt for a good principal and supportive working conditions over merit pay. Indeed, research had found no correlation between merit pay and student achievement, although reformers and venture philanthropists were fighting hard to make it a staple of new teacher contracts.” (page 193)

 Feckless Politicians

Newark was one of America’s premier cities prior to World War II, however, a culture of political corruption featuring patronage jobs became dominate in the city. The biggest slice of patronage became the Newark Public School system. Control of the schools became known as “the prize.” By the start of the 1960’s this corrupt political system was firmly and culturally established. Russakoff depicted the history:

“Although black residents were approaching a majority in the city, they were politically powerless to force local officials to address evidence of police brutality, substandard housing, or collapsing public education. An Italian American political machine, which became dominant in the early 1960s, displacing Irish bosses, tightly controlled city hall and the schools, along with patronage jobs, contracts, and – it was well known – lucrative kickbacks from organized crime. Former U.S. representative Hugh Addonizio, the mayor at the time, famously explained his motivation for leaving the prestige of Congress to run such an impoverished city: “There’s no money in Washington, but you can make a million bucks as mayor of Newark.” (page 17)

Finally, on July 12, 1967, Newark exploded into six days of rioting. In the following election Kenneth Gibson became the first black mayor of a northeastern city. He defeated Addonizio who was on trial for extortion and later convicted. Gibson and his successor Sharpe James became convicted felons as well. Cory Booker was the first Newark mayor in forty-four years not be indicted.

April 13, 1995, the Newark Public schools were taken over by the state of New Jersey. Curiously, according to the New York Times article, judge Stephen G. Weiss “said today that his main reason for ordering a takeover was that too many Newark schoolchildren failed statewide tests.”

A belief in democratic processes leads one to look askance at moves by states and cities to usurp the powers of local elected school boards. And baseless standardized tests should never be accepted as the excuse to close schools. However, in the face of extreme malfeasance, common sense dictates action to protect citizens. Russakoff tells of just such documented corruption leading to dangerous conditions for children:

“In 1994, state Department of Education investigators cited gross mismanagement, corruption, and instructional failure throughout the Newark district, even as school board members treated themselves to public cars, tropical junkets, and expensive meals. The investigators found rat infestation, asbestos, and high levels of lead paint in a rented building being used as an elementary school. The school board was negotiating to buy the building, worth about $120,000, for $2.7 million. It turned out to be owned, through a sham company, by two school principals prominent in Italian American politics. They were indicted on multiple charges and later acquitted.” (page 19)

Unfortunately over the next 20-years, the state had made no real progress in changing the school system from being employer of last resort to an educational system first and foremost. The central office was still bloated and contracts were still based on patronage.

In rode Cory Booker, a high school football star who went on to play tight-end for Stanford University. He was the scion of black professionals and grew-up in suburbia. Booker was a Rhodes scholar and attended Yale Law. He had a magnetic personality and his Yale classmates like Secretary of Education, John King and Connecticut Governor, Danial Malloy knew he was destined for big things.

Cory went to Newark to build his resume. He was a master of self-promotion and a gifted salesman. Best of all, he was just the kind of leader investors and philanthropists were hoping for. He was an articulate black man who was as at home in board rooms. Booker was someone with whom they could deal. Russakoff says that “Booker was a valuable asset for the almost universally white, rich, Republican voucher movement, which along with the charter movement introduced him to some of his major political donors.” (page 11)

The Prize begins with the story of the clandestine meeting between Booker and the former US attorney from the Newark area, Chris Christie. It was during their drive through Christie’s childhood neighborhood that Christie and Booker made a secret agreement to reform Newark’s schools.

They realized their plan would not be well received in Newark but their hubris was so great that they were completely convinced of their own righteousness; eschewing democratic principal for authoritarian control. Russakoff makes the decision vivid:

“Early in the summer of 2010, months after their nighttime ride, Booker presented Christie with a proposal, stamped ‘Confidential Draft,’ titled ‘Newark Public Schools – A Reform Plan.’ It called for imposing reform from the top down, warning that a more open political process could be taken captive by unions and machine politicians. ‘Real change has casualties and those who prospered under the pre-existing order will fight loudly and viciously,’ the proposal said. Seeking consensus would undercut real reform. One of the goals was to ‘make Newark the charter school capital of the nation.’ The plan called for an ‘infusion of philanthropic support’ to recruit teachers and principals through national school-reform organizations, build sophisticated data accountability systems, and weaken tenure and seniority protections. Philanthropy, unlike government funding, required no public review of priorities or spending. Christie approved the plan, and Booker began pitching it to major donors.” (page 20)

My grandfather ran sheep at a place called Warm-Springs, just up the canyon from the Hemingway compound near the Sun Valley Resort in Idaho. When I was a child, my grandfather and I ran into Earnest Hemingway in a local Ketchum, Idaho barber shop. It was here that Cory Booker’s growing national fame got him a ticket to the “invitation-only extravaganza of deal-making and schmoozing for media moguls and investors.” (page 22) It was here that Booker convinced Zuckerberg to make the $100 million-dollar donation. Russakoff describes the scene:

“Booker and Zuckerberg met at a buffet dinner one night on the deck of Herbert Allen’s Sun Valley townhouse, overlooking a golf course and stream. They shared a table with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and media executive Michael Eisner, among others. Afterward, Zuckerberg invited Booker on a walk and explained that he was looking for a city poised to upend the forces impeding urban education, where his money could make the difference and create a national model. Booker responded with a pitch that showcased what made him such a dazzling fundraiser.” (page 24)

Within a few years, the two central political figures who instigated the reform of Newark’s schools had moved on leaving behind a mess. Chris Christie was intent on running for president and Cory Booker decided on the US Senate. Their ambition far out overshadowed any commitment to Newark and its schools.

Some Lessons and Observations

Charter schools are not necessarily bad. The descriptions of efforts made at both charter schools and Cami Anderson’s Renew Schools (which were reconstituted district schools) are impressive. However, if the decision has been taken to blow up the district and start over a partially privatized system is an error. The cost of education per child increases significantly when financing two public systems. The outcome will be that the district will lose more money than their fixed costs will be reduced. At the same time, they will become the dumping ground for problem children and expensive students that the privatized system shuns. This is exactly what has led to the demise of Detroit’s schools and Newark appears to be on the same path.

Democratically constituted systems will never be successfully reformed by authoritarian means.

In Newark, the teachers were never the problem and neither was tenure or the union. It was always corrupt politicians and grinding poverty creating traumatized children. Yes, schools need to be improved, but they are not social agencies equipped to solve the profound social problems leading to poor academic performance. At close observation, it is obvious that the public-school teachers in Newark were heroes who should have been the touchstone for school improvement.

Closing public schools and privatizing education is a mistake. Fix our schools; don’t undermine them.

Consultants are like vultures. If they are being relied upon, then your financial bones are being picked. Let me end with one more quote from The Prize:

“The going rate for consultants in Newark and elsewhere on the East Coast was $1,000 a day, and their pay comprised more than $20 million of the $200 million in philanthropy spent or committed in Newark. ‘Everyone’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read,’ observed Vivian Cox Fraser, president of the Urban League of Essex County, where Newark is located.” (page 71)

Two thumbs up for The Prize.