Tag Archives: Reed Hastings

San Diego Union Editor Continues Spurious Attack on Teachers and Public Education

30 Aug

The editorial says in the Trump era Democrats see themselves as protecting the disadvantaged but that is not true when it comes to schools. The editor claims, “When it comes to public education, however, there’s fresh evidence that state Democratic leaders are the ones siding with the powerful forces over the disadvantaged.”

Those powerful forces – in an era when billionaires like Carrie Walton Penner, Reed Hastings and Eli Broad flex their financial muscle to privatize schools –  are teachers and their unions. The evidence presented is bogus and the conclusions reached are based on willful ignorance.

The Issue – California’s ESSA Evaluation Plan

The new Federal Education Law dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is an abomination. Diane Ravitch (education historian and former US Assistant Secretary of Education under Lamar Alexander) described (August 30th) a speech given by Professor Nicolas Tampio at Fordham University. She noted:

“‘ESSA requires states to remain within the standards, testing, and accountability paradigm . . . if they want Title I funds.’ That means that if a state wants to follow a more original model of educating, such as the John Dewey model, they forfeit federal funding. ‘“John Dewey said standardized tests can only be useful to help us figure out how to help a particular child, but they shouldn’t be used to rank children, because children have all sorts of special gifts, talents, and interests.’”

However, ESSA is the federal education law. It is touted as allowing states more flexibility in how to assess schools but requires each state to deliver a plan to the US Department of Education by this September. Testing and standards are still mandated. EdWeek detailed some of the federal requirements for school assessments:

“Specifically, the new law requires states to use at least one ‘indicator of school quality or student success’ that ‘allows for meaningful differentiation in school performance’ and ‘is valid, reliable, comparable, and statewide,’ alongside academic data in their accountability systems. Schools must also be able to disaggregate data related to that indicator to show how it affects students in different subpopulations: those from all racial and ethnic groups, students with disabilities, children from low-income families, and English-language learners.”

It is California’s plan for meeting this requirement that is being bashed and particularly the California School Dashboard. The dashboard creates reports on demand built from mandated data reporting. It uses six state-indicators [(1) High School Graduation Rate; (2) Academic Performance; (3) Suspension Rate; (4) English Learner Progress; (5) Preparation for College/Career; (6) Chronic Absenteeism] and four local-indicators [(1) Basic Conditions (Teacher qualifications, Safe and clean buildings, Textbooks for all students); (2) Implementation of Academic Standards; (3) School Climate Surveys; (4) Parent Involvement and Engagement] to create reports.

The dashboard is easy to use and the information is easy to understand. I used the dashboard to access a report on San Diego Unified School district for spring 2017.

SDUSD Dashboard March 2017

It seems like the SD Union editor would like to return to the destructive ‘test and punish’ No Child Left Behind methods of assessing schools. That law was based on the false premise that standardized testing provides reliable information about quality of both schools and educators. It doesn’t.

In fact, many excellent institutions were destroyed by this misguided education policy. The one reliable inference that can be made from standardized testing is relative family wealth from one school to the next. That explains why no schools were closed in wealthy communities and many schools were closed in poor communities. Unfortunately, that is the benighted policy the editor of the San Diego Union is advocating.

In 1998 a scholar in New Zealand, Noel Wilson, wrote a thesis called Education Standards and the Problem of Error. The paper has never been refuted but it has been ignored. Basically, Wilson tells us that standards and standardized testing are so fraught with error that they are only useful as a mechanism of control. He ended his paper saying,

“We live in a world of complexity and uncertainty, a fuzzy multi-dimensional world of immense variety and diverse interpretations. What is challenged in this work is the myth that this complexity can be reduced to simple linear dimension by some sort of examination, as a preliminary to comparing with some standard of adequacy somewhere defined.”

The “Fresh Evidence”

We are told that there is “fresh evidence” supporting the claim that the ESSA plan developed by the Democrat led State Department of Education harms the disadvantaged. The editor presented this evidence:

“Thursday, Bellwether Education Partners — a national nonprofit think tank — released its evaluation of California’s proposal. While praising the plan’s vision of a first-rate education of all, the analysis is sharply critical of the plan’s most crucial components. The biggest complaints:

“The plan wouldn’t even manage to ‘capture individual students’ improvement over time.’”

This “fresh evidence” is provided by Bellwether Education Partners, a non-profit consulting group from Boston Massachusetts. It’s Co-founder Andrew J. Rotherham, worked in the Clinton administration and has enthusiastically associated himself with efforts to privatize public education since. A profile in the Progressive gives details:

“He serves on advisory boards and committees for a variety of organizations including Education Pioneers, The Broad Foundation, and the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. (CALDER). Rotherham is on the board of directors for the Indianapolis Mind Trust, is Vice Chair of the Curry School of Education Foundation at the University of Virginia, and serves on the Visiting Committee for the Harvard Graduate School of Education. [He is a] Board member for Democrats for Education Reform.”

Bellwether is a typical “non-profit” in the school reform business. Their 2015 form 990 tax filing shows that in 2014 the 10 listed Bellwether principals took in more than $2,000,000 in salaries. None of them made less than $150,000. Since their founding in 2012 they have received more than $1,000,000 per year from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a total of $7,400,000. The tax form also showed that in 2014 they took in almost $11,000,000 of which half came from foundation grants and half came from different government agencies for services rendered.

On the Bellwether web-page is a listing of the entities with whom they claim to work. The list below is showing a few of the hundreds of groups cited:

Achieve.org, ACT, Inc, The American Center for School Choice, American Enterprise Institute, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Charter School Growth Fund, Chiefs for Change, The College Board, Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, Education Reform Now, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Harmony Public Schools [aka Gülen schools], J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, K12 Inc., KIPP Foundation, The Mind Trust, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, National Association of Charter School Authorizers, Nellie Mae Education Foundation, NewSchools Venture Fund, Rocketship Education, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Teach for America,  Thomas B. Fordham Institute, The Walton Family Foundation, WestEd, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

This is basically a who’s who list of advocates for the privatization of public schools and the selling of computer delivered education, euphemistically called “personalized education.”

Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, sits on the board of the California Charter Schools Association. He also founded Rocketship schools, which are charter schools that put their students in cubicles learning from computers. A few years ago, he purchased a small software company in Bremerton, Washington called DreamBox Learning and is well on his way to making DreamBox the top provider of software for computer based learning. One of the six board of director members for Bellwether is Jessie Woolley-Wilson, President, and CEO of DreamBox Learning.

The editor did not get his “fresh evidence” from the graduate school of education at San Diego State University or the University of California San Diego. Nor was the evidence obtained from education researchers at UCLA, Berkeley or Stanford. It came from a “think tank” that is often referred to as a propaganda arm for “corporate education reform.” That’s weak!

Teachers and Unions; Perennial Targets of Abuse

The editorial says, “the State Board of Education has come up with an anti-accountability – accountability plan.”

The editor then emulated Chicken Little:

“This is scandalous. It is the latest confirmation that the interests of the powerful California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers — which oppose meaningful attempts to evaluate the performance of teachers, schools and districts — are paramount in Sacramento.”

This is a lie!

Teachers’ unions and their members are resources for getting school improvement right. No group cares more about good education than California’s teachers. Sure, they oppose bad education policy, but they do not oppose accountability as do the editor’s friends in the charter school industry.

The California plan is required because of federal law. It is not a good approach to assessing schools. Taxpayers are already supporting a superior approach provided by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), one of the six regional accrediting agencies in the United States. They send in teams of trained educators to spend a week or more observing and evaluating. Their final report is both an evaluation and a set of recommendations that must be addressed before a subsequent review.

Teachers have been through WASC reviews and know what authentic school evaluation looks like. Teachers also know how much damage the “test and punish” philosophy of school reform has caused.

This is Ignorance

The editorial alleges,

“The state board’s junk standards feel like the culmination of a plan that began in 2011, when Gov. Jerry Brown trashed the “siren song” of data-based education reform — even as schools in Massachusetts continue to lead the nation thanks to such reform and schools in Florida make dramatic improvements with this approach. In 2013, the state moved to scrap its STAR school accountability testing program, drawing a sharp rebuke from the Obama administration. In 2016, Brown vetoed a bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, to make it easy to determine school progress.”

Yes, Governor Brown trashed the “siren song” of data-based education reform. When vetoing a bill that reduced testing data percentages for school evaluation, he said, “It does allude to student excitement and creativity, but does not take these qualities seriously because they can’t be placed in a data stream. Lost in the bill’s turgid mandates is any recognition that quality is fundamentally different from quantity.”

It is true that Massachusetts went to a standards based education model and testing regime in 1993. It also doubled its spending on education between 1993 and 2001. Their average test scores are excellent, however, they also are third in the nation for largest achievement gaps.

The 2012 Florida data cited above as evidence of dramatic improvement is probably the last positive evidence from Florida. Today, Florida is an abject example of how bad test based education and privatization policies can be. The National Education Association reported about the spring 2017 testing fiasco in Florida:

“The already diminished reputation of high-stakes testing took another hit this week with the startling news out of Florida that only 27 percent of fourth graders passed the state’s comprehensive assessment test (FCAT) for writing. That’s a drop from 81 percent the previous year. The scores for eight and tenth graders yielded similarly abysmal results.”

It is true that the CTA opposed Shirley Webber’s education bill that Brown vetoed. A CTA web-site report says, “CTA urged lawmakers to defeat Assembly Member Weber’s AB 2548 because it would impose new accountability restrictions on local schools before the State Board of Education and local districts have had a chance to implement fully the accountability provisions of the new Local Control Funding Formula.” CTA was not promoting anti-accountability. It was promoting workable accountability.

The editorial ends with, “So please come to the rescue, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Stick up for school accountability by standing up to a state which rejects it. Stick up for needy kids. Stick up for, yes, social justice.”

That is sick. Betsy DeVos is completely unqualified for her position although extremely wealthy. She is anything but a social justice advocate. Is she really a champion to the San Diego Union? Sadly, it seems the answer is yes.

I Am Done – I Hope Public Education is Not

24 May

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

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

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

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

Difficult Time for a New Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Was Victimized by the First Honored DFER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions and Concerns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

San Diego Schools Awash in Technology Malpractice

5 Nov

Every year, school districts in San Diego County are wasting $10’s of millions on technology. This spending binge harms education and is difficult for school boards to oppose. Worst of all children and good pedagogy are being harmed.

ESSA Promotes Technology over Good Pedagogy

When congress passed the new education law (ESSA), the United States Department of Education (USED) was transformed into 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.

The former governor of West Virginia, Bob Wise, has been leading the Alliance for Excellence in Education since 2005. On their web presence the Alliance lists this group of supporters: Anonymous, AT&T Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, GE Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, Kern Family Foundation, National Public Education Support Fund, Nellie Mae Education Foundation, State Farm, Stuart Foundation, and William & Flora Hewlett Foundation. For unknown reasons, the biggest dollars appear to come from anonymous. This foundation is just one example, there are hundreds of non-profits like this supported by many of these same groups. They sound well-intentioned but their main motive is monetizing and controlling education in a way that supports corporate desires.

Bob Wise’s organization sponsors Future Ready which says, “The Alliance for Excellent Education leads Future Ready in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education and a vast coalition of both national and regional organizations.” Pictured below are 3 of the 12 rows of sponsors advertised on their web site. It is disturbing that the two major teachers’ unions, American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association are there along with the national PTA.

future-ready

Future Ready asks every superintendent of schools in the United States to take its pledge in exchange for some sort of support. Here is the opening statement for the Future Ready pledge:

future-ready-pledge

Signing up for this pledge is a bit arduous, however, almost every school superintendent in San Diego County has signed it; including Sweetwater’s Karen Janney and San Diego Unified’s Cindy Marten.

Practically speaking, the pledge means giving every child a device capable of providing both their lessons and their assessments. The Future Ready vision is for lessons delivered by software packages from various vendors including Microsoft, Pearson and Google. Students will then be awarded digital badges recorded in their profile in the cloud. The vision is to eliminate school as we know it (except for high end private schools).

Another of the ubiquitous non-profits working to monetize schools, ACT Foundation, teamed with the Institute for the Future to produce a video called “Learning is Earning”. It imagines a dystopian future for all Americans provided by technology companies.

A recent Texas study found that “there was no evidence linking technology immersion with student self-directed learning or their general satisfaction with schoolwork.” And the New York Times reported recently on classroom use of technology in Arizona, where “The digital push aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom.” As the Times reported, “schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.”

A blogger who goes by the name Wrenchinthegears has created a series of posts about the digital education being promulgated by Silicon Valley billionaires, politicians and federal bureaucrats: From Neighborhood Schools to Learning Eco-Systems, A Dangerous Trade and Questions We Should be asking about “Future Ready” Schools plus Wrenchinthegears has provide an amazing slide show analyzing the threat we face. He/she concludes in Trade You a Backpack of Badges for a Caring Teacher & Well-resourced School:

“In this brave new world, education will no longer be defined as an organic, interdisciplinary process where children and educators collaborate in real-time, face-to-face, as a community of learners. Instead, 21st century education is about unbundling and tagging discrete skill sets that will be accumulated NOT with the goal of becoming a thoughtful, curious member of society, but rather for attaining a productive economic niche with as little time “wasted” on “extraneous” knowledge as possible. The problem, of course, is that we know our children’s futures will depend on flexibility, a broad base of knowledge, the ability to work with others, and creative, interdisciplinary thinking, none of which are rewarded in this new ‘personalized pathway/badging’ approach to education.”

A school teacher in Maine named Emily Talmage was one of the first educators to realize the seriousness of this current attack on public education. While the rest of us were focused on limiting the damage from standardized testing, she saw that the monetizing groups had moved on to “Ed Reform 2.0” and were actually leveraging opposition to testing to advance their agenda. In her most recent post, she writes:

“Lately, the MacArthur Foundation has been everywhere that Ed Reform 2.0 (personalized, competency-based, digital learning) has been – sponsoring conferences at the U.S. Department of Education on the merits of Social Impact Bonds, awarding grants to promote digital learning efforts, and even gaining recognition for their work with Mozilla and HASTAC in advancing the competency-based “digital badging” agenda from the Clinton Global Initiative. (Yeah – the Clinton’s are involved in this too, in a big way.)”

In this same post Ms. Talmage reports on the use of digital education in China:

“Under the auspices of corporate giants Tencent and Alibaba, Chinese citizens will be required by 2020 to earn a character credit score based on their actions on social media. If you post government-approved articles, for example, you’ll earn points that you can then show off to your friends.  [It gets even creepier than that, watch this video she linked into her post.]

“And if you’re now thinking: but that’s China! That could never happen here! Consider the fact that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg – now a major investor in personalized learning initiatives across the country – is quite fond of Sesame Credit’s sponsor, Jack Ma of Alibaba.

“According to the Wall Street Journal, ‘Mr. Zuckerberg said he was optimistic about China’s future development because the country focused on science and technology education.’”

 San Diego Schools Buy In

 The Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) is a 7th through 12th grade school system serving 40,000 students in south San Diego, Chula Vista, National City and Imperial Beach. SUHSD’s 2014 technology plan says;

“According to Project RED, ‘The daily use of technology in core classes correlates highly to desirable Education Success Measures [and] was one of the top five indicators of better discipline, better attendance, and increased college attendance.’ And yet, many 1:1 schools reported using the technology only weekly or less frequently for many classes. In fact, the researchers concluded that 80 percent of schools under-utilize technologies they have already purchased.”

 The official SUHSD technology plan is highly influenced by the research of Project Red. So, what is Project Red? Is this a well-known education research center led by the most well respected education professionals in America? It is not! It’s a non-profit financed by Intel, HP, Pearson and Smart. In other words, it is a group of ‘vulture philanthropists’ tilling the soil for sales. To paraphrase Peter Greene, it is like Ford’s PR firm reporting that their new Focus is the most advanced car in the world.

SUHSD embraced 1:1 digital learning first by rolling out I-pads for all students beginning with 7th graders in 2012. This year, they have changed course; are retrieving the I-pads and replacing them with Chinese laptops from Lenov running on the Microsoft Windows operating system 10.1. It is widely believed this operating system is harvesting vast amounts of data from users, which means student’s privacy is sundered.

San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) is a k-12 district serving more the 100,000 students. It too has succumbed to the under researched but very profitable 21st century digital learning agenda. In their July 2014 i21 report, the committee charged with mapping SDUSD’s technology future recommended:

  • “Provide equity of access to all students with individual devices and 24/7 connectivity”
  • “Evaluate a blended model of district-supplied and student-owned devices “
  • “Implement competency-based learning and problem-solving-based assessments, aligned with Common Core standards”

On October, 5 2016, a San Diego Union Tribune article announced that SDUSD has agreed to purchase and distribute to students 16,000 Google Chromebooks. It stated, “Google announced a collaboration with the San Diego Unified School District this week, and sent its ‘chief education evangelist’ to tour campuses and meet with teachers and students to see first-hand how the company’s equipment, apps and search engines are used.”

In January 2016, Senator Al Franken wrote a letter to Google expressing his concerns about student privacy. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported:

“After we filed our complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about Google’s unauthorized collection of personal information from school children using Chromebooks and the company’s educational apps, we heard from hundreds of parents around the country concerned about K-12 student privacy. This week, an important voice in Washington joined their growing chorus.

“On Wednesday, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) wrote a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking for information about the privacy practices of Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Several of his questions reflect concern over the issues we raised with the FTC. Sen. Franken is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.”

SUHSD and SDUSD are purchasing more than 30,000 laptops this year, which means they must also have the infrastructure to support these devices. In addition, all of the education applications require the school districts to purchase licenses that must be periodically renewed. That is a lot of money to spend on technology.

Both SUHSD and SDUSD have embraced blended learning. To start the school year, the teaching staff at Sweetwater was solicited to apply for the new blended learning specialist position; now there is a blended learning specialist at every school. Blended learning means children working independently at screens with some teacher instruction. It is the preferred method of the infamous mall charter schools which have been revealed as not just producing substandard education but too often are obvious frauds.

The August 31, 2016 issue of Time Magazine carried an article by Dr. Nicholas Kardaras called “Screens In Schools Are a $60 Billion Hoax.” In this article, he argues that putting children in front of digital devices is bad learning strategy which has known deleterious health effects. The paragraph quoted below outlines some of these health problems and provides a powerful and diverse set of linked references supporting his arguments.

“Tech in the classroom not only leads to worse educational outcomes for kids, which I will explain shortly, it can also clinically hurt them. I’ve worked with over a thousand teens in the past 15 years and have observed that students who have been raised on a high-tech diet not only appear to struggle more with attention and focus, but also seem to suffer from an adolescent malaise that appears to be a direct byproduct of their digital immersion. Indeed, over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.”

 What is a Better Alternative for Good Education?

I just finished reading Samuel Abrams book Education and the Commercial Mindset (see review here). In his reporting on the ill-fated Edison Project, Abrams discussed their troubled high end private school in New York City, Avenues. For financial reasons, Avenues had to raise class sizes to an average of 18 students, while their competitors in the high-end education market like Dalton maintained class sizes of 14 to 15 (page 145). The wealthy are not putting their children in front of screens and they do value smaller class sizes.

If we truly want 21st century education in America, there are three simple strategies that have been proven to work. They are the strategies implemented by the unambiguously most successful education system in the Western Hemisphere, the public-school system in Finland.

1) Require a master’s degree, thorough pedagogical training, and licensing before allowing a teacher into a classroom. This requires educators to be paid commensurate with other professionals, however, if we truly want the best, we must pay for the best.

2) Reduce average class sizes to less than 20 students. Bill Gates has said class size is not so important, but he sent his children to a high-end private school with class sizes of less than 20.

3) Make trained experienced educators the leading voices in education policy. Bill Gates, Reed Hastings, Louis Gerstner and their ilk are arrogant uninformed amateurs whose vast power due to wealth makes them dangerous.

A Nation at Risk

29 Aug

All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. This promise means that all children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to become happy creative people who can manage their own lives freely and not be coerced into an unwarranted servitude. Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by profiteers from throughout the world lusting after our public education expenditures. This report is concerned with the unwise education policies that are being proffered by the enemies of prosperity, cultural advancement and the democratic spirit of America’s citizens. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of greed fueled by antidemocratic hubris that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur—the world’s greatest school system is being destroyed by a worm in the lion’s bowels.

If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the sundering of democratic school governance and the purloining of taxpayer dollars that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have allowed wealthy amateurs to drown out the voice of experienced educators and let them impose their disruptive uninformed ideology on America’s children. Moreover, we have dismantled essential support systems which helped make America’s education system the bedrock of democracy and enlightened citizenry throughout the world. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral self-destruction.

Our society and its governing institutions seem to have lost sight of the basic purposes of schooling, and of the high expectations and disciplined efforts needed to attain them. This report, the result of 200 years of experience, seeks to end the misguided reform of our educational system and save this fundamental foundation of America; our public education system. We seek to renew the Nation’s commitment to schools and colleges of high quality governed democratically throughout the length and breadth of our land.

That we have compromised this commitment is, upon reflection, hardly surprising, given the unprecedented amounts of money being spent by profiteers for control at the cost our children’s future. Schools are routinely called on to provide solutions to personal, social, and political problems that the home and other institutions either will not or cannot resolve. We must understand that these demands on our schools are being met in heroic ways. Unfortunately, many political elites call our best ever prepared schools and educators failures; even forcing them to write letters to parents confirming that failure.

President Reagan noted the central importance of education in American life when he said: “Certainly there are few areas of American life as important to our society, to our people, and to our families as our schools and colleges.” This report, therefore, is as much an open letter to the American people as it is a report to the Secretary of Education. We are confident that the American people, properly informed, will do what is right for their children and for the generations to come.

The Risk

 History is not kind to those who idly ignore evil. When America’s democratic ideals are under attack by titans of industry and wealth managers both at home and abroad, the time has come to stand and be counted. The world is indeed one global village. We live among determined, wealthy, and arrogant individuals and corporations with no concern other than profits. They have become the enemies of common people, their communities and democratically governed education. We must compete with them to save free, non-usurious universal education. America’s democratic processes may once have been reasonably secure with honest dialog and sincere ideals. It is no longer.

The genius of America’s diverse decentralized education with few high stakes exams has shown through in the amazing production of its creative citizens. When standardized education and high stakes testing was embraced in Asia and the Indian sub-continent, America offered free universal education to all with multiple opportunities to re-enter a path to higher education. Our goal is creative students who can innovate and lead happy lives. Towards that end our system is clearly a humanistic approach, leading the way internationally.

One measuring stick demonstrating the success of our system might be Nobel Prize winners since 1949: America had 313 laureates; India 7; and China 8. Of the 8 Chinese, the Dalai Lama and Liu Xiaobo who won peace prizes both are considered criminals – Xiaobo is still in a Chinese prison; four are scientists who earned their degrees in the United States or Great Britain; and the two literature recipients were educated in China at international schools. It brings to mind Professor Yong Zhao’s statement at the 2015 NPE conference, “If you want results like the Chinese, follow their example.” The US has never won at standardized testing but leads the world in creative thinkers.

Our concern, however, goes well beyond matters of educational theory and social justice. It also includes the intellectual, moral, and spiritual strengths of our people which knit together the very fabric of our society. The people of the United States need to know that greedy people are trying to create a new era that will effectively disenfranchise them, not simply from having their voice heard in the education of their children, but also from the chance to participate fully in our national life. A high level of shared education is essential to a free, democratic society and to the fostering of a common culture, especially in a country that prides itself on pluralism and individual freedom.

For our country to function, citizens must be able to reach some common understandings on complex issues, often on short notice and on the basis of conflicting or incomplete evidence. Education helps form these common understandings, a point Thomas Jefferson made long ago in his justly famous dictum:

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion.”

Part of what is at risk is the promise first made on this continent: All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. This promise means that all children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to attain the mature and informed judgment needed to chart their own path, and through no manipulation by the state or industrial powers manifest their own interests fruitfully which will naturally enhance society itself.

Indicators of the Risk

Three key players in the assault on California’s public schools are Walmart heiress, Carrie Walton Penner, Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings and nativist republican politician, Steve Poizner. In 2001, they started EdVoice an organization that claims California schools are broken and must be reformed. In 2003 Poizner founded the CCSA, which funds school privatization. Walton Penner and Hastings remain as board members of both EdVoice and CCSA.

Valerie Strauss reports, “Hastings’ slap at elected boards, while offensive, wasn’t unique. Gates said the same thing when he extolled “mayoral control” of urban schools. “Instead of having a committee of people, you have that one person,” Gates said, “where we’ve seen the willingness to take on some of the older practices and try new things.” The problem, as Strauss noted, is that many of these “pet projects” have yet to deliver on their hype as a pathway out of poverty for poor kids. The darker reality is that these schools are in fact doubling as product development centers for the fabulously rich and their well-connected associates.”

From noted historian and education authority, Diane Ravitch, “For the past three decades, critics of public education in the United States have assailed it and used its flaws to promote publicly funded privatization. Corporate and political interests have attacked the very concept of public education, claiming that the private sector is invariably superior to the public sector.”

From Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig, “The hundreds of millions of dollars spent to promote privately managed schools is coming from the non-democratic foundations of billionaires such as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. Smaller organizations including the Black Alliance for Education Options and the Libre initiative and the Democrats for Education Reform have accepted tens of millions of dollars over the years from billionaires and their foundations to press for market-based school choice.”

Jonathan Palto, Connecticut’s leading education writer, “The colossal and disastrous effort to privatize public education in the United States is alive and well thanks to a plethora of billionaires who, although they’d never send their own children to a public school, have decided that individually and collectively, they know what is best for the nation’s students, parents, teachers and public schools.”

Peter Greene, education writer and teacher, “At this point, from its rejection by assessment and education professionals, to its defeat in court, VAM [Value Added Measures – based on standardized testing] has shed any possible pretense of being a legitimate means of evaluating teachers and stands revealed for what it always was– a way to destabilize the profession and get rid of public school teachers. It remains one of the big threats to public education.”

Carol Burris, Director of NPE and former New York Principal of the Year, “Charters, regardless of their original intent, have become a threat to democratically governed, neighborhood public schools, and questions about their practices, opacity and lack of accountability are increasing as their numbers grow.”

Dale Russakoff reported in the New Yorker, that Corey Booker, Chris Christy and Mark Zuckerberg decided to take over the Newark Public Schools, “Early in the summer of 2010, 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; 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.”’

For Secretary of Education, Obama passed over former teacher and education expert Linda Darling-Hammond in favor of Arne Duncan, his basketball buddy, who’d aligned himself with the corporate reform movement as CEO of Chicago Public Schools. As Secretary, Duncan “continued and carried the torch for pushing educational policies that don’t have basis in research, such as value-added measurements, using high-stakes testing to evaluate teachers, or continuing to promote charters schools as a silver bullet to solve inequality,” said Wayne Au, who teaches in the education program at the University of Washington.

Emily Talmage, an educator in Maine, warns about the threat of Competency Base Education (CBE), “according to the U.S. Department of Education, students will ‘no longer [be] tethered to school buildings or schedules.’ Instead, the system will require students to earn ‘digital badges’  that they will display in individual competency-profiles accessible to potential employers and investors.”

Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio recently wrote to Secretary of Education, John King about the waste, fraud and abuse in Ohio that has grown with the charter school movement: “Ohio’s current lack of oversight wastes taxpayer’s money and undermines the ostensible goal of charters: providing more high-quality educational opportunities for children. There exists a pattern of waste, fraud, and abuse that is far too common and requires extra scrutiny.” This is a scandal occurring nationwide.

Conclusion

Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents in education, in literacy, and in economic attainment. The educational attainment of the last few decades far surpass that of their parents, however for the first time their opportunities are diminished.

What lies behind this emerging national belief that our schools are failing? It is the amateuristic or maybe cynical belief that standardized testing was a valid measure of educational quality which supported greed exacerbated by lust.

On a broader scale, we sense that this push for billionaire supported education reform has significant political implications, for it pits the interests of common community members against corporate interest and the super wealthy. These reforms have already destroyed many schools and harmed many communities by eliminating community schools and promoting segregation. These outcomes are readily apparent in places like Detroit, Los Angeles and Oakland.

As Jefferson said, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, …” The power of any society ultimately resides with the people. If we and our neighbors demand our democratic rights, then our wonderful community schools will continue their legacy of victory for the people.

California’s Charter School Led CBE Invasion

29 Jun

This January (2016), Fortune Magazine announced that Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, has launched a new $100-million-dollar fund to support education initiatives and other groups. The notice goes on to state:

“Hastings is the fund’s sole trustee while Neerav Kingsland, the former CEO of charter school supporter New Schools for New Orleans, is serving as CEO. The fund’s website explains its philanthropic mission: “Currently, too many children do not have access to amazing schools. Our aim is to partner with communities to significantly increase the number of students who have access to rich and holistic educational experiences.”

The “rich and holistic educational experience” is to be delivered by charter schools employing competency based education (CBE).

Competency Based Education

The United States Department of Education promotes and describes CBE:

 “Transitioning away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, regardless of time, place, or pace of learning. 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.”

 Instead of a structured course with a teacher, students will log into a computer and earn badges for demonstrating competencies in an online environment. “Personalized learning opportunities” is a euphemism for a computer based course delivered in isolation.

It is a terrible idea! The last thing a 21st Century student needs is to be shoved in front of another inert digital device. Students need to interact with “highly qualified” certificated teachers, adults who they can trust. Students need to; measure, calculate, weight, work in small groups, discuss ideas, write, and get professional feedback. Students need structure, stability and direction. None of this is provided online.

Technology in education is more of an expensive mirage than a useful tool and competency based education (CBE) is fool’s gold.

In 2003, I took the state of California’s 52-hour life insurance course. That meant 52 hours of seat time with an insurance industry veteran who made the subject come alive. Today that insurance course is online with an online exam. No real industry context is imparted and cheating on the exam is rampant.

This is the kind of education Hastings and his ilk are vigorously promoting. CBE means lower quality education delivered at great profit to corporate providers and testing companies.

CBE learning is embraced by President Obama, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, Education Secretary John King, The Walton family, the new federal education law, Pearson Corporation and many business executives. Few experienced education professionals not profiting from one of these entities support it.

Computers are good at drilling information and conducting fact checks. However, educators have known for more than a century that this kind of teaching is destructive. To create understanding, all of the modes of learning must be actively engaged. Drill and skill destroys the desire to learn and undermines development of creativity.

Big Money Being Poured into CBE

 In 2004, the Don and Doris Fisher Foundation along with the Schools Future Research Foundation each provided $100,000 to start the Charter Schools Growth Fund in Broomfield, Colorado. The Fisher Foundation is based on profits from GAP Inc. and the School Future Research Foundation was a Walton Family Foundation supported fund that seems to have disappeared. The original elected board of directors for the Charter School Growth Fund was comprised of John Walton, Don Fisher, and John Lock.

In 2010, the President-CEO of the Charter School Growth Fund, Kevin Hall, decided to purchase the struggling Dreambox Inc. of Bellevue, Washington for $15,000,000. By then the fund was so large and he could do it. He subsequently invested another $10,138,500 into Dreambox. [data from 2014 form 990]

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

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

 Kevin Hall left his $465,000 a year position at the Charter School Growth Fund to join Hastings on the board of Dreambox Inc. This company is now positioned to be the dominant supplier of software products into the CBE market. Pearson corporation has positioning itself to be the company that tests students and issues completion badges. If the big standardized test goes away, Pearson will do just fine supporting CBE.

In March, Emily Talmadge wrote a very interesting piece about CBE from a more national prospective. She reported:

“Since at least 2009, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation has poured millions of dollars into the latest ed reform craze that has made headlines recently due to investments of billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reed Hastings of Netflix.  When stripped of the misleading rhetoric that often surrounds it, “personalized learning” is the digital, data-driven system of schooling designed to trigger giant corporate profits along with tightly controlled, work-forced aligned learning outcomes.”

The foundations working to privatize public schools are almost all organized under IRS tax code 501(c)(3), which means they cannot engage in direct or even indirect support of political candidates and they must file an IRS form 990 every year. These forms detail who they gave money to and how much they pay top fund administrators. For following these and other rules, they become a tax free entity. The latest complete set of form 990’s is from tax year 2014 which details spending in 2013. The chart below is based on an analysis of selected 2014 form 990’s

Fund Totals

Fund Spending on Organizations Implementing CBE

 The 2013 spending of the following list of seven funds was analyzed: California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), The Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation (Broad), New Schools Venture Fund, Charter School Growth Fund, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Gates), The Silicon Valley Fund, The Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Other than the data for the Gates fund, the information all comes from 2014 form 990’s. The Gates data came from his foundation web site.

The spending on these five schools was extraordinary in that the amounts given are far greater than the amounts these organizations typically give to other charter schools. Most grants to charter schools from these funds are significantly less than $50,000 unless it is for startup purposes. So what made these five schools worthy of $33,000,000 in 2013? They are all testing CBE principles on their students.

A look at some of the key board members of these funds reveals a small community of wealthy true believers.

 KIPP Foundation: Doris Fisher, John Fisher, Reed Hastings, Carrie Walton Penner

Silicon Valley Fund: John Fisher, Ted Mitchell

New Schools Venture Fund: Lauren Powell Jobs, Ted Mitchell

Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation: Eli Broad, Gregory Mcginity

Charter School Growth Fund: Kevin Hall, John Fisher, Carrie Walton Penner

California Charter Schools Assoc.: Reed Hastings, Carrie Walton Penner, Gregory Mcginity

 The Silicon Valley Community Foundation is a little different than the other six organizations. It is not significantly about privatizing schools. There are many large community funds in California like this one and they support things ranging from community art to homeless shelters. However, funds like the San Diego Foundation and the Los Angeles Community Foundation have huge assets and they support charter schools at a much higher rate than they support public schools. A little light shined on these community foundations might make it less likely that they continue spending patterns that many of their board members probably do not understand.

All of this spending to undermine the present public education system is predicated on an article of faith held by wealthy (amateur education policy experts) reformers – “public schools are failing.”

In a June Atlantic Magazine article, Jack Schneider put it this way:

 “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.”

 The evidence says America’s public schools are indeed continuously improving. But, misguided “do-gooders” are threatening to destroy the system and charter schools are the vehicle implementing their schemes. It is time for an OPT OUT of charter schools movement and a halt to CBE.