Tag Archives: Public Schools

Editorial Peddles School Privatization Agenda

16 Jul

The San Diego Union editor deserves the bunkum efficiency award for packing so much baloney in a scant four paragraphs. The first sentence of the editorial headlined “Still more bad faith from state ED board” says:

“The State Board of Education’s defining characteristic is its ardent defense of an education establishment more worried about the interests of teachers than students.”

It is true that the education establishment in California does listen to input from teachers and their unions, however, today the establishment is dominated by billionaires like Reed Hasting and Carrie Walton Penner. There are many other establishment powerhouses like the California Charter School Association (CCSA), representatives of the education testing industry and education technology profiteers.

As your newspaper reported, by May, 2016, the CCSA was spending heavily to win seats on the San Diego County Board of Education:

“The political arm of the California Charter Schools Association has spent $220,000 so far on the San Diego County Board of Education election this year, following a difficult period for the independently operated campuses in the region — one that’s been marked by unsuccessful appeals and a string of legal challenges.”

After the recent LA school board election, the LA Times wrote in an article titled “How L.A.’s school board election became the most expensive in U.S. history,”

“It’s an oversimplification to say the outcome was all about money, but charters spent more ($9.7 million compared with $5.2 million), and their candidates finished first in both races on Tuesday’s ballot.”

Clearly these forces for privatizing public schools in California are a significant part of the education establishment. They are anti-teachers’ unions, pro testing and have huge political clout. Governor Jerry Brown, who started two charter schools himself, has vetoed every piece of legislation that proposed any increased accountability on charter schools.

To say the establishment is “more worried about the interests of teachers than students,” is wrong. Or is it just a purposeful lie?

The interests of teachers and students are very similar and neither is getting a fair deal. Teachers and students are in the same overcrowded rooms, using the same facilities and have the same half-hour lunches. No one cares more for the welfare of students and understands more about good teaching than California’s professional educators.

The first paragraph concludes:

“This is once again on display with the state board’s response to the Every Student Succeeds Act, the 2015 federal law that replaced the 2002 No Child Left Behind measure and governs how school systems that receive federal funds must operate. While the new law is much less strict than the old one, it still mandates that schools must be taken over by state governments if they are at the bottom 5 percent of statewide assessments, graduate less than two-thirds of students or have ethnic groups with consistently weak test results.” (bolding added)

Here, I am ready to join with my conservative friends and call for the abolition of the United States Department of Education. Schools should be in the control of parents, teachers and students in the local community. The federal government has no business dictating school policy and especially dictating policy that is a known failure.

In 2009, the Obama administration announced plans to rapidly turn around 5,000 of the nation’s lowest performing schools. It was called the Scholastic School Improvement Grant program (SIG). Today, there is consensus among researchers that SIG was a complete failure. A study by Tina Trujillo, University of California, Berkeley and Michelle Renée, Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University stated one its conclusions:

“Conceptually, one of the most frequent critiques of these studies was that they relied on a single measure of effectiveness standardized test scores. While relying on standardized test scores was methodologically problematic because it falsely assumed that the assessments were valid and reliable, doing so as the sole measure of effectiveness also led to narrow conceptions of student success and the purposes of education ignoring the social, civic, and broader academic aspects of schooling. … Student scores on standardized tests are far too narrow to be the sole indicators of school success in the democratic model of schooling.”

For three-decades, states have been taking over local schools. Unfortunately, we have a three-decade record of failure. Dale Russakoff’s book The Prize tells the story of Newark New Jersey’s thirty-years with state run schools including how they squandered a $100,000,000 gift from Mark Zuckerberg. 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. The state only made it worse when it disenfranchised local citizens.

Detroit is another horrifying example of the complete failure of a state led turn around. A Michigan state officials, Barbra Byrd Bennett, is now serving time for taking kick-backs  and the schools are worse off. After two decades of state control we read in the New York Times,

“Michigan leapt at the promise of charter schools 23 years ago, betting big that choice and competition would improve public schools. It got competition, and chaos.

“Detroit schools have long been in decline academically and financially. But over the past five years, divisive politics and educational ideology and a scramble for money have combined to produce a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States.”

The editor at the Union should be praising not denigrating the State Board of Education for trying to do the right thing in a tough spot. You should be pointing out how the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is terrible legislation that is more about selling technology, mandating testing and privatizing schools than it is about improving education.

As I wrote to Diane Feinstein, ESSA continues the testing mandate and spends large amounts of money promoting dubious technology initiatives such as “personalized learning” and “blended learning.” If these are truly good ideas they will be adopted without federal coercion. Every student in America is required to take a big standardized test in grades 3 – 8 and grade 11.

The big standardized test is useless. It tells us nothing about the quality of teachers or schools. Peter Greene known for his wonderful education blog, “Curmudgucation”, responded to an essay by Morgan Polikoff (USC Rossier), a long-time Big Standardized Test supporter:

“Polikoff’s problem remains– the BS Tests are junk that provide junk data and damage schools in the process. Accountability is a good idea, but the standards-based high-stakes tests that we’ve been subjected to for the past more-than-ten years are junk, and they do not provide a useful, reliable, or valid measure of school quality– not even sort of. Nor have they helped– not even incrementally.”

Like the way that ESSA supports social impact bonds which profit bankers and 1:1 initiatives which profit the technology industry; mandated testing is fueling the testing industry. These bad ideas are being used to transform tax money meant to benefit students into revenue streams for corporations.

These are the kind of corrupt purposes you should denounce instead of school leaders who are trying to finesse this horrible federal law and our thoroughly unqualified Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

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Instead, you tacitly support high stakes testing as a way of evaluating schools. You legitimize the federal government and the state of California taking over San Diego’s schools. How big government of you.

Your editorial continues:

“But the State Board of Education is instead on track to approve vague, mushy Every Student Succeeds standards by the U.S. Education Department’s September deadline that appear designed to impede accountability, not guarantee it.”

In May, your paper editorialized with the headline, “Board of Education is missing mark on college readiness.” The lead paragraph said:

“An unsatisfactory process is expected to come to a disappointing conclusion Wednesday when the State Board of Education grudgingly adopts measures to gauge student progress — forced to do so to ensure California receives federal education aid.”

That editorial also emphasized:

But it still requires that schools be taken over by state governments if they graduate less than two-thirds of their students, are at the bottom 5 percent of statewide assessments or have ethnic groups that have consistently weak test results. Under the proposal before the State Board of Education, beginning in fall 2017, schools will be evaluated on high school graduation rates; student results in English and math Common Core tests; gains made by English-language learners; and student suspension rates. Test scores in third-grade reading and eighth-grade math would be given additional emphasis.” (bolding added)

When coercing states to accept Common Core, Arne Duncan said state standards had to prepare students for “college and career readiness.” It was completely up to the states, but the department of education told them that Bill Gates’ Common Core satisfied “college and career ready.” It was a statement based on nothing; no research or historical evidence. In fact, California’s previous standards are widely viewed as better standards than common core.

A core problem is that standards based education is bad education. Along with the common core, the NGSS science standards are bad standards. Most states are moving away from them. So, I am ready to join you in beating up California’s education leaders for adopting bad education policies like NGSS and Common Core. They richly deserve the flogging.

However, it looks like you advocate these education standards and are for standardized testing as the only criteria for measuring schools and holding them accountable. That is just ignorance.

We have a wonderful method for holding schools accountable and giving them a constant path of improvement. In California, it is the Wester Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accrediting process. I have been through several WASC reviews and they are thorough and rigorous. A team of professional educators comes to the school and spends a week looking at everything and interviews as many stake holders as possible. Their report comes back with expectations to be met. This is real accountability performed by professionals that know education and can help. Testing is expensive and  worse than useless; it is misleading and destructive.

Your third paragraph says,

“Now The New York Times reports Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has rejected such attempts to game the federal law by other states, upending expectations that she would defer to local control.”

In an interview by EdWeek, the Senator who led the writing of ESSA and is also a former US Secretary of Education, Lamar Alexander, was not impressed. The interviewer writes,

‘”I think we have a case of an assistant secretary who hasn’t read the law carefully,’ Alexander, chairman of the Senate education committee, said in an interview. ‘The heart of the entire law … was that it’s the state’s decision to set goals, to decide what ‘ambitious’ means, to make decisions to help schools that aren’t performing well.’

“The technical, but important back story: Alexander was referring to a feedback letter Botel sent to Delaware on its ESSA plan, telling the state that it hadn’t been ‘ambitious’ enough in setting long-term goals for student achievement, sparking wonky outrage inside the Beltway and beyond.

“The education chairman noted in an interview that ESSA includes language specifically prohibiting the U.S. secretary of education from telling states what their goals can or can’t be—and that 85 senators voted to approve the new law.”

You end with;

“Will this lead to the board to do the right thing and adopt meaningful standards? There is no reason for optimism — because the board has a very different definition of what is the right thing to do than Californians who care about public schools.”

Common Core and NGSS standards and standardized testing are about monetizing schools and privatizing them. It appears that promoting that path is what you mean by “Californians who care about public schools.” Please realize that you and your fellow travelers are working to destroy a great public trust and a main pillar of democratic freedoms for “a few pieces of silver.”

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.

Rizga’s Mission High Informs

26 Jan

What is authentic quality education? Reading books by teachers like John Thompson and Ciedie Aechs provides significant insight as they take us inside their schools. Kristina Rizga, a journalist who was imbedded within San Francisco’s Mission High, makes another wonderful contribution to this understanding. For four years, she sat in classes, interviewed students, teachers and administrators. At the same time she studied the pedagogical process with the guidance of friends like Larry Cuban. Her book, Mission High, significantly contributes to the comprehension of sound education.

Solutions for Fixing Schools Are Wrong

In the book’s preface, she declares, “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.” For multiple decades, classroom teachers have been awakening to that same realization. This time it was an outsider who spent enough time to see how misguided test and punish education policies are; to see how misguided standardized approaches to education are.

Echoing Rizga’s point, The National Education Policy Center recently published a tome entitled, Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms. This following statement is in the introduction.

“Despite this legislative commitment to public schools, our lawmakers have largely eroded ESEA’s [Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965] original intent. Moving from assistance to ever increasing regulation, states gravitated toward test-based reforms in the minimum basic skills movement in the 1970s. A watershed event occurred in 1983 with the report, A Nation at Risk, which was predicated on international economic competitiveness and rankings on test scores. The report was succeeded by Goals 2000, the first federal Act to require states to develop standards-based test goals and measure progress toward them. The stringent and reductionist No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 then followed on its heels. At each step, our educational policies became more test-based, top-down, prescriptive, narrow and punitive, and federal support to build the most struggling schools’ capacity for improvement faded.”

In the author’s notes, Kristina reveals what being imbedded meant, how she worked and the kind of relationships she developed.

“In 2010 I started sitting in on the classrooms of Robert Roth, the first teacher I picked, observing him and his interactions with students. I spent about two years coming regularly to Roth’s classes, sometimes going to every class for weeks. Then I spent one year, on and off, in Hsu’s class and about six months, on and off, in McKamey’s and Anders’s classes. The classes were so intellectually engaging – more than most of the courses I took as an undergrad at UC Berkeley – that I often had to remind myself that I’m not a student. I also spent a great deal of time in at least thirty other classrooms at Mission and other schools, observing various teachers and different pedagogical approaches.”

Conquest by “Administrative Progressives”

Rizga’s book tells the story of four students, three teachers and the principal, Eric Guthertz. Interspersed within these individual stories are pedagogical analysis, observed outcomes and research citations.

Alfie Kohn quoted the education historian, Ellen Lagemann, in his book The Schools Our Children Deserve, “One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes the Edward K. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.”

Rizga makes a similar point. She defines two groups of progressive reformers,

“Most historians identify two major strands in the Progressive education movement: ‘Administrative Progressives,’ who focused on the top-down organizational reforms to create ‘efficient’ schools to produce productive workers, and ‘Child-centered Progressives,’ who prioritized transforming learning and teaching at the classroom level to make schools more intellectually and emotionally engaging for students.”

In 1904, the famous “Child-centered Progressive,” John Dewey, left the Chicago Laboratory School. He was replaced by “Administrative Progressive,” Charles Judd. It was symbolic; Dewey was out and “Administrative Progressives” were in.

Today, we might say that educators are out and the Democrats for Education Reform are in. Billionaires’ opinions about how to do school swamp professional research. Community schools are no longer the purview of elected school board. Today’s school boards are being reduced to nothing more than vessels required to carry out federal and state mandates.

Misguided and Racist Reform

Rizga posits that in order to “scientifically” sort students into tracked systems, a reform that is still with us today, was instituted: IQ testing and standardized achievement tests. She shares the dark history of their inception:

“As author Anya Kamenetz eloquently documents, some of the creators of these early tests were racists, driven by ideology about the roots of inequality more than science, and were using these tests as ‘scientific’ tools to argue that intelligence and merit were fixed, genetically inherited qualities. One of the creators of the IQ tests, Lewis Terman, the chair of psychology at Stanford University, argued that the low test scores of ‘negroes,’ ‘Spanish-Indians,’ and Mexicans were racial characteristics, and he was a proponent of forced sterilization.”

Rizga cites the work of, Yong Zhao, now at the University of Kansas and an expert in education of testing, “He observes that despite America’s mediocre performance on international tests since the 1960’s, it still files more patents and wins more Nobel Prizes than any other country in the world.” “Zhao who went to school in China and worked there as a teacher, notes that the problem of ‘high test scores but low ability’ (gaofen dineng) is a widely recognized issue in Chinese society, …” A study, Zhao cites, discovered that the highest scoring students in their province on China’s National Higher Education Entrance Examination do not appear on any other lists of distinction such as prominent scientists, entrepreneurs, scholars, or engineers.

Through her account of students, teachers and administer, Rizga shows the debilitating effect of the top-down approach to education reform based on standardized testing. She describes how teachers and administrators struggled valiantly to mitigate the negative effects of modern “test and punish” school reform and its negative impact on students already burdened by poverty, language issues and other detriments.

Mission High Exists in Every Community

Mission High like all schools is unique. For various reasons many Mission students arrive at the school behind most students at their grade level. Mission has been threatened with closure, but the administration and teachers refuse to narrow the pedagogy. They continue to expose students to rigorous intellectually challenging material. Their students thrive. In fact, Mission teachers will tell you that the rigor and challenge is why students are engaged and growing. Rizga concurs, “Many schools respond by pushing low-income students into remedial classes and away from the intellectually challenging ones that most students I interviewed told me motivate them to come to school more than any other variable.”

While reading Mission High, I couldn’t help but reflect on the Mission Highs in which I have worked. Rizga’s description of Mission paints a picture of talented dedicated educators successfully slaying dragons for the sake of the children they have come to love.

I have worked in two high schools (Mar Vista High School and Southwest High School) that remind me of Mission High. And just like Mission both of these schools have immensely talented people dedicated to education who continue to walk into their buildings and fight every day to be able to give the students they have come to love great education.

Both Mar Vista and Southwest were forced to send letters home informing parents that the federal government had determined that these schools were “failing schools.” Parents were given the option to send their children to a not failing school in a better zip code. Very few parents transferred their children, because they saw what was happening in their community schools and knew these were good schools. However, many parents who had never had an experience with the schools did bus their children to that “good school” in a “good” zip code.

I have also worked in two middle schools in poorer neighborhoods and experienced the same mix of talent and dedication. One of those schools (Mar Vista Middle School) actually had half of the staff fired and the school reconstituted as Mar Vista Academy. A disruption that brought no positive change, but harmed both teachers and students. Disruption as an education policy is an “Alice through the looking glass” reform. It is crazy.

America has never had such a highly trained and effective teaching staff as today. If the “Administrative Progressives” would get out of the rode and the billionaire reformers would give educators the respect they deserve, schools in America would flourish as never before and once again be the bedrocks of American democracy.

Rizga’s Description of the Teachers

In the Epilogue, Rizga describes what she observed about the teachers, a description that completely accords with my own experience and observation of teaching.

“Mission High teachers never complained to me about being overworked, but that toll is obvious to any visitor who spends significant time with them in and out of school. Every teacher I met frequently worked more hours than anyone I have met in the white-collar world – journalism, tech, law, corporate, and nonprofit. For more than a decade, McKamey woke up at 5:00 a.m., got to school by 6:30 a.m., left school at 4:30 p.m. for a dance class, then worked almost every evening and every Sunday. Every teacher I knew often met with his or her colleagues to plan lessons on Saturdays or Sundays, unpaid, because they didn’t always have enough time to do it during the workweek, when they teach five classes, need to read and grade hundreds of assignments each week, and must plan the next lesson. Many teachers met with students after school and on the weekends, unpaid. The most effective educators, like Roth and McKamey, had twenty-five years of teaching under their belts, but how can we expect a new generation of teachers to work such hours and stay in the profession for decades? No wonder close to half of teachers leave the profession before they acquire five years of experience.”

Kristina Rizga’s Mission High makes a positive contribution to understanding what good teaching is and why top-down standardized management is a fatal error.

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.