Tag Archives: reform

Standards Based Education Reform is Toxic

14 Feb

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

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

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

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

Less than five years latter Kohn would write:

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

Standards Based Education Reform is Based on Bad Theory

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

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

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

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

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

Loveless also noted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geometry Standards Posted

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

Harming Students, Teachers, Schools and Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standards Based Education Reform Destroyed Schools in Poor and Minority Neighborhoods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Last Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mind Trust Attack of Public Education is Led by Democrats

4 Jan

The Mind Trust is the proto-type urban school privatizing design. Working locally, it uses a combination of national money and local money to control teacher professional development, create political hegemony and accelerate charter school growth. The destroy public education (DPE) movement has identified The Mind Trust as a model for the nation.

A Little History

In 1999, Bart Peterson became the first Democrat to win the Indianapolis mayor’s race since 1967. Peterson campaigned on the promise to bring charter schools to Indianapolis. He claimed, “We are simply in an age where cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all, 1950s style education just doesn’t work for a lot of kids. The evidence is the dropout rate. The evidence is the number of at-risk kids who are failing at school.”

The new mayor joined with Republican state senator Teresa Lubbers to finally achieve her almost decade long effort of passing a charter school law in Indiana. In the new charter school law, Lubbers provided for the mayor of Indianapolis to be a charter school authorizer. Then Democratic governor, Frank O’Bannon, signed the legislation into law.

During his first run for office, Peterson invited David Harris a 27-year old lawyer with no education background to be his education guy. Harris became the director of the mayor’s new charter school office. By the 2006-2007 school year, the Peterson administration had authorized 16 charter schools.

In the summer of 2007 David Skinner reported for Education Next,

“Peterson himself says, “I’m not interested in striking ideological notes,” but he has certainly struck a chord with education thinkers like Andy Rotherham, former education adviser to President Clinton and co-founder of Education Sector in Washington, D.C. Rotherham says Peterson’s example proves that school choice is perfectly compatible with the philosophy of the left.”

And:

“Andy Rotherham says when he heard the mayor’s office had been granted chartering authority, he wanted in. Then a policy analyst at the Progressive Policy Institute, he believed Indianapolis could be a “proof point,” demonstrating that the sky wouldn’t fall if mayors began authorizing charter schools.”

A brief description of the Progressive Policy Institute from Source Watch says,

“The Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) was established in 1989 “and after the 1992 election gained notoriety as ‘Bill Clinton‘s idea mill.'” and a proponent of the Third Way. PPI is the think tank of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), founded in 1985 by PPI’s President, Will Marshall, and counts among its past chairs former President Bill Clinton, Congressman Richard Gephardt, and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman.”

These are the political theorists that gave us the “end of welfare as you know it,” the end of the Glass-Steagall banking regulations and the privatization of public schools.

By 2006, Peterson and Harris decided to start a non-profit organization to accelerate their charter school plans. David Harris left the Peterson administration and became a co-founder with Mayor Peterson of The Mind Trust.

The Money Came Flowing

Lately, The Mind Trust does not mention its funders, but in 2010 they almost gleefully shared the information. The Wayback Machine allows a peek at the December 2010 message about contributors:

“The Mind Trust is very grateful to The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, which provided critical start-up funding for the organization and a subsequent grant to pay for core operational expenses through 2010. The Mind Trust would also like to recognize the following funders for their generous support of our programs and operations. Through 2010, they have contributed mightily to the $10,967,356 raised since our inception, and most importantly, their contributions to children are incalculable and stand as testament to the importance of the mission we are all undertaking together.”

They also listed their contributors from 2006 to 2010.

  • The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation
  • Lilly Endowment
  • The Cummins Foundation
  • The Challenge Foundation
  • Lumina Foundation for Education
  • The Annie E. Casey Foundation
  • The Joyce Foundation
  • Ann M. and Chris Stack
  • Ruth Lilly Philanthropic Foundation
  • The Indianapolis Foundation, an affiliate of the Central Indiana Community Foundation
  • The Lacy Foundation/LDI, Ltd.
  • Bowen Engineering Corporation
  • Carnegie Corporation of New York
  • The David and Anne Knall Family
  • Efroymson Family Fund, a CICF Fund
  • Rollin Dick
  • The Two Oaks Fund of the Indianapolis Foundation
  • The W. C. Griffith Foundation
  • The Ackerman Foundation
  • Eli Lilly and Company Foundation
  • Michael L. Smith and Susan L. Smith Family Fund
  • The Ayres Foundation
  • Blackwell Williams Fund, a fund of the Indianapolis Foundation
  • Education Reform Now
  • John and Sarah Lechleiter
  • Myrta J. Pulliam Charitable Trust
  • Arthur Jordan Foundation
  • Moore Foundation
  • Indianapolis Monumental Marathon
  • City of Indianapolis, Community Crime Prevention Program

Their impressive board of directors in 2010 was a virtual who’s who of Indianapolis elites.

The Mind Trust Board of Directors in 2010

Bart Peterson Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Communications, Eli Lilly and Company, and Former Mayor, City of Indianapolis (Chair)
Jean Blackwell Executive Vice President of Corporate Responsibility, Cummins Inc. and CEO of the Cummins Foundation
Alecia DeCoudreaux Vice President and General Counsel, Lilly USA
Mark Miles President and CEO, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership
Ann Murtlow President and CEO, Indianapolis Power and Light
Jane Pauley Former Anchor, NBC’s TODAY and Founding Co-Host, Dateline NBC
Beverley Pitts President, University of Indianapolis
Joyce Rogers Vice President for Development, Ivy Tech Community College
Andrew Rotherham Co-Founder and Co-Director, Education Sector
Ariela Rozman CEO, The New Teacher Project
David Shane President and CEO, LDI, Ltd., LLC
Bill Shrewsberry President and CEO, Shrewsberry and Associates
Don Stinson Superintendent, MSD of Decatur Township
Eugene White Superintendent, Indianapolis Public Schools

It is noteworthy that no school teachers or parent organization leaders are on this board which is dominated by corporate leaders and politicians. It is possible that one of the four school organization chief administrators taught at one time during their career but no one with recent classroom experience is represented.

By 2007, David Harris was being recognized as a rising star in the DPE movement. The Wayback Machine made available this 2007 news release by the NewSchools Venture Fund:

“The Aspen Institute and NewSchools Venture Fund today launched the Entrepreneurial Leaders for Public Education Fellowship Program with the announcement of its inaugural class of Fellows from across the country. The program is designed to recognize and support a new generation of entrepreneurial leaders prepared to address the crucial challenge of transforming public education.”

David Harris was included in that list of education entrepreneurial leaders along with:

  • Russlynn Ali, Vice President, The Education Trust, Executive Director, The Education Trust – West
  • Chris Barbic, Founder & Head of Schools, YES Prep Public Schools
  • Richard Barth, CEO, Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP)
  • Michael Bennet, Superintendent, Denver Public Schools
  • Larry Berger, CEO, Wireless Generation
  • Phoebe Boyer, Executive Director, Tiger Foundation
  • Susan Colby, Partner & Head of San Francisco Office, The Bridgespan Group
  • Gretchen Crosby-Sims, Education Program Manager, Joyce Foundation
  • John Deasy, CEO, Prince George’s County Public Schools
  • Lauren Dutton, Formerly of City Year, Edison Schools and NewSchools Venture Fund
  • James Forman, Jr., Associate Professor of Law, Georgetown University, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board, Maya Angelou Public Charter School
  • David Harris, President & CEO, The Mind Trust
  • Kaya Henderson, Vice President for Strategic Partnerships, The New Teacher Project
  • Hosanna Mahaley Johnson, President, Atlanta Local Education Fund, Former Executive Officer for the Office of New Schools, Chicago Public Schools
  • Kristen Kane, COO, New York City Department of Education
  • Dan Katzir, Managing Director, The Broad Foundation
  • Janet Murguía, President & CEO, National Council of La Raza
  • Jeremy Nowak, President, The Reinvestment Fund
  • Tony Recasner, CEO, Middle School Advocates, Head of School, New Orleans Charter Middle School, Head of School, Samuel J. Green Charter School
  • Ref Rodriguez, Founder & Co-CEO, Partnerships to Uplift Communities
  • Jon Schnur, CEO & Co-Founder, New Leaders for New Schools
  • Jim Shelton, Program Director, Education Division, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Elisa Villaneuva Beard, COO, Teach For America
  • Joanne Weiss, Partner & COO, NewSchools Venture Fund

Now that is a motley crew of education “deformers.”

Lately the money has really been flowing. Five principals at The Mind Trust are “earning” more than $150,000 per year and David Harris is making double that. It might not be Eva Moskowitz money but in Indianapolis or anywhere else it is pretty good.

The big foundations are continuing to send big money:

Lilly Endowment

2014 Mind Trust $4,929,000

2015 Mind Trust $18,000

2016 Mind Trust $7,170,000

Total $12, 117,000

{Big Pharma Money}

Gates Foundation

The Mind Trust

Oct. 2012 – $1,420,000

Aug. 2011 $539,334

Total $1,959,334

{Microsoft Money}

 

Walton Family Foundation

2013 Mind Trust $23,000

2014 Mind Trust $650,000

2015 Mind Trust $1,200,000

Total $1,873,000

{Walmart Money}

 

Arnold Fund

The Mind Trust $11,075,000

{Enron Money}

The large contributions have allowed The Mind Trust to accelerate spending. The chart below details income and spending reported on the 2014, 2015 and 2016 tax forms, the last years for which data is available.

Mind Trust SpendingData taken for tax form 990 years 2014, 2015, and 2016

The Work of Privatizing Public Education

December 2016 the not so Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) published a lengthy piece lauding privatization and choice in public schools. They held Indianapolis up as being a leader in developing 21st century schools and The Mind Trust as the catalyst. The paper stated:

“A key reason is The Mind Trust, founded in 2006 by Mayor Peterson and David Harris as a kind of venture capital outfit for the charter sector, to raise money and recruit talent. The Mind Trust convinced Teach For America (TFA), The New Teacher Project (now TNTP), and Stand for Children to come to Indianapolis, in part by raising money for them. Since then TFA has brought in more than 500 teachers and 39 school leaders (the latter through its Indianapolis Principal Fellowship); TNTP’s Indianapolis Teaching Fellows Program has trained 498 teachers; and Stand for Children has worked to engage the community, to educate parents about school reform, and to spearhead fundraising for school board candidates. The Mind Trust has also raised millions of dollars and offered start-up space, grants, and other help to eight nonprofit organizations and 17 new schools, with more to come.”

The PPI claims that bringing in 500 teachers who commit for just two years and have only five weeks of teacher training improves education. This is supposedly better than bringing in experienced teachers or newly minted teachers who are committed to a career in education and have between one and two years of teacher training at a university.

They are also saying that having Stand for Children invade Indianapolis with their dark money and undermine local democratic processes is desirable.

Instead of raising millions of dollars to improve public schools, The Mind Trust is using that money in a way that undermines the education of two-thirds of the students in Indianapolis who attend those public schools.

PPI does admit that not everyone in Indianapolis likes what The Mind Trust is doing. I recently wrote about three scholars who are raising awareness of the resulting damage to Indianapolis schools. PPI tries to minimize their effect stating,

“There are a few headwinds, however. The local branch of the NAACP has long been anti-charter. Though it doesn’t have much of a following, its leaders, plus one outgoing school board member who opposes the innovation network and two local professors, staged a series of forums this fall, called ‘Rise Up Indy Against The Mind Trust.’

In an opinion piece for Campbell Browns 74-million, David Harris stated,

“Consider Ohio, which has had a charter school law on the books for nearly two decades. For years, communities there lacked long-term strategies to build strong charter schools and also lacked local agents pushing for change. As a result, charters in the Buckeye State have been mostly a disappointment, with gains among charter students lagging peers in traditional public schools.”

Doug Martin is an expert on the corporate and theocratic assault against public education. He is also the author of Hoosier School Heist, the book which exposes the corruption, scandals, and campaign financing behind so-called school reform in Indiana and elsewhere. In a post carried on Professor Jim Horn’s Schools Matters Blog, Martin suggests the motivation for Harris’s opinion piece. He notes,

“Besides having the Mind Trust’s David Harris and Earl Martin Phalen and corporate school grandfather Howard Fuller (a BAEO/Edison connected operative who played a role in school privatization in Indiana and Philly) as board members, the Mind Trust spin-off Education Cities is being funded by well-known school privatization billionaire organizations like the Walton Foundation, the Dell Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Kauffman Foundation, and the foundation started by Eli Broad, the Broad Foundation.”

In other words, Harris is ready to expand his empire and he is explaining why Cincinnati and other cities need what he is selling.

Conclusions

Lubienski and Lubienski conducted a large scale research of education data and came to the surprising conclusion that public schools outperform privatized schools. They also saw that most of the “studies” that claimed otherwise were paid for by advocates and not peer reviewed. The claims of success by The Mind Trust seem to fit this description like print to wood block.

 

A Horror Story by Steven Singer the Gadfly

23 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

My Singer Collage

Steven Singer Collage by T. Ultican

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bam.

“No more future for either of them.

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

School Choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven goes on to say of school choice,

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

Testing

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

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

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

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

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

Singer asserts,

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

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

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

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

“Yes, That SAT.”

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

Racism and Prejudice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He concluded the article on refugees:

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

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

Roll Up the Failed Charter School Experiment

24 Nov

This month the, NPE (Network for Public Education) released a stunning report called “Charters and Consequences.” NPE Executive Director Carol Burris stated, “… nearly every day brings a story, often reported only in local newspapers, about charter mismanagement, failure, nepotism or outright theft and fraud.” About the report she writes, “This report … is the result of a year-long exploration of the effects of charter schools and the issues that surround them.”

This 50-page report’s conclusion is shared on the last page:

For all of the reasons above and more, the Network for Public Education regards charter schools as a failed experiment that our organization cannot support. If the strength of charter schools is the freedom to innovate, then that same freedom can be offered to public schools by the district or the state.

“At the same time, we recognize that many families have come to depend on charter schools and that many charter school teachers are dedicated professionals who serve their students well. It is also true that some charter schools are successful. We do not, therefore, call for the immediate closure of all charter schools, but rather we advocate for their eventual absorption into the public school system. We look forward to the day when charter schools are governed not by private boards, but by those elected by the community, at the district, city or county level.”

The Charter School System is Not Sustainable

The report begins with a relatively deep dive into the wild west of charter schools, California. It summarizes:

“Everyone I spoke with accepted that charters have a place in the state, and in many instances, they acknowledged that charters serve children well.  However, all had deep concerns about the lack of charter transparency, accountability, and their fiscal impact on public schools.”

NPE held a conference in Oakland this past October. One breakout session was titled, “Holding the Line, Fighting Charter Growth in Oakland, CA.” The presenters explained why they view charter expansion as an existential threat to public education.

Shelly Weintraub introduced the four members of the expert panel starting with herself:

“I taught in Oakland for 15 years and then coordinated the history social science program for the next 20.

“Jan [Malvin] was a researcher from the University of California and a parent activist who helped gather a lot of data for our presentation.

“Alison [McDonald] taught with me at Fremont High. She became a principal of a small school called Life Academy, and then went on to become the assistant superintendent in charge of all the high schools in our district.

“Renee [Swayne] was an elementary teacher, focusing on 3rd grade. She also helped to run the History-Social Science program and then taught middle school in Oakland Unified Schools.”

Chater schools by city

Weintraub used the graphic above to introduce the subject of the session:

“Why is Oakland important? We feel this graphic helps answer that question. Oakland has a larger proportion of students in charter schools than any other large urban district in California. …. That’s why we fear that we’re reaching a tipping point, beyond which our district will no longer be able to exist as a viable school district.”

She explained:

“Many costs associated with the student stay with the district – for example, the cost of the school itself or the maintenance of the facility. The cost that remains is sometimes referred to as a “stranded cost.” Researchers in other areas have estimated that the stranded cost to a district of a student’s departure can be almost 50%. Thus, Oakland’s huge proportion of charters is leaving us with immense debt that likely means school closures, staff reductions, and more.”

The bottom line is that adding a privately-operated charter school system to public education drives up costs and introduces inefficiencies into the system. As a result, the vast majority of children who attend public schools in cities like Oakland, San Diego and Los Angeles have their resources reduced (mainly by larger class sizes and reduced facilities maintenance) to cover the unreimbursed costs engendered by charter school expansion.

Big Profits, Big Salaries and Marketing

“Charters and Consequences” documents the rise of the mall schools:

“In addition, running independent learning centers can be very lucrative. One of San Diego County’s largest networks of independent learning centers is the Altus Institute. It advertises on billboards and runs ads in movie theaters and on television.  Altus operates Audeo Charter, Audeo Charter II, the Charter School of San Diego and Laurel Academy. It has a total K-12 enrollment of about 3,000 students and takes in tens of millions of dollars in state and federal revenue.”

Charter administration pay is amazing. From the report:

“In 2014 compensation for Altus Institute president Mary Bixby was $371,160—exceeding the total pay plus benefits of the Superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District that serves nearly 130,000 students. Bixby, a board member of the charters and a full-time employee of one of the schools, also receives compensation for being “on-loan” to two other Altus schools. Such obvious conflicts of interest would be illegal in a public school.”

These mall schools have terrible graduation rates and students that do graduate may have cheated their way to a diploma. One of the big money-making schemes of the last decade is “credit recovery” at learning centers. America’s high school graduation rates peaked at about 77% in 1970 and then drifted down for almost four decades to 69% in 2007. Astoundingly, even with increased graduation requirements rates have shot up.

In 2016, over 83% of California’s freshman cohort graduated on time. In 2012, 81% of the freshman cohort in America graduated on time. These record setting numbers are the result of cheating and credit recovery.

Because of political connections, these absurd practices are not being checked. For example, in 2015, billionaire Penny Pritzker, then Secretary of Commerce, presented Mary Bixby the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award which recognizes U.S. organizations in the business, health care, education, and nonprofit sectors for performance excellence. Naturally, the award is a marketing tool for Bixby’s schools.

Mary Bixby’s salary looks inflated next to a public-school administrator, but others in the charter school industry are making much more as documented in the report:

“In 2014, KIPP co-founder, David Levin received a compensation package of nearly $475,000 from the Foundation. Co-founder Mike Feinberg received $219,596 from KIPP Inc., which manages the Houston charters, and still another $221,461 from the KIPP Foundation. According to the organization’s 990s, Feinberg works 50 hours a week for the Houston Schools, plus 40 hours a week for the Foundation—clearly an impossibility.”

In New York city, Eva Moskowitz runs the Success Academy system of charter schools. Based on test scores, her schools have pundits praising them as miracle schools. No accolade seems too grandiose for the schools run by this former New York City Councilman and Democrat. Moskowitz has cashed in. From the report,

“Levin’s and Feinberg’s salaries are dwarfed, however, when compared with the compensation package of Success Academy’s Eva Moscowitz, who received $600,000 in 2014 as the CEO of 41 charter schools.”

The profits at cyber charters are enormous as this antidote illustrates:

“Profits can become so lucrative, that Pennsylvania Cyber Charter founder, Nick Trombetta was able to siphon off $8 million dollars of taxpayer dollars for extravagant homes and an airplane. When Trombetta was finally arrested, it was not for the exorbitant profits, which were legal, but for tax fraud.”

Newsweek and the Washington Post regularly list Arizona’s Basis schools as the best schools in America. With this kind of publicity, the Basis owners get away with paying their management company, which they own, outsized fees. From the paper:

“BASIS General Administrative costs alone amounted to nearly $12 million for less than 9,000 students, while the six largest public school districts serve a quarter million students for less than $10 million in General Administrative costs.”

The Key to Success in Charters is Not Great Pedagogy – It’s Creaming

Both Basis Schools and Success Academy use the same tactics. Set up methods to selectively enroll more desired students, drive out students that do not meet expectations and do not accept new students into a cohort. See the following tabular evidence prepared from data in the NPE report.

Basis and Success Academy

On Wednesday (November 22), the New Orleans Tribune ran a scathing editorial about the complete failure and the fraudulent imposition of the post Katrina Recovery School District (RSD). The editorial cites the same tactics Basis and Success Academy use as tools employed to venerate some RSD schools. The editor writes:

“We know the truth. Schools like Benjamin Franklin, Lusher, Warren Easton and a few others have always been top performers. They were the schools OPSB were left with after the reformers pillaged and plundered. Decades before Katrina, long before the RSD and even before high-stakes testing became the order of the day, these schools benefited from selective admission processes and extraordinary resources that were not available at many other public schools in the city.”

“So that Lusher and Ben Franklin are two of the top 10 schools in the state does little to impress us. When these campuses get to cherry-pick who they want to educate and weed out others, it becomes a lot easier to get results.”

The Charter School Experiment Failed and It is Time for Change

The New Orleans Times editorial summarizes the after Katrina reality:

“To be sure, some of the same media outlets finally reporting the near truth about the failure of these schools as if it is some eye-opener have been some of the same outlets responsible for driving the false narrative of the reform’s success by either suppressing the truth or pushing falsehoods.”

And continues:

“It’s been 12 years since our schools were hijacked. And 12 years later, many of them are performing just as poorly as they were before they were stolen. To learn that charter operators set up goals they knew were unattainable just to get their charters approved and their hands on public money and facilities is indefensible.”

Public education in America is one of the world’s great success stories. A combination of foolishness, arrogance and greed led to a continuous drumbeat of slander for America’s pillar of democracy, equity and freedom. This nonsense has opened the door to harm for our country and its values. We must again embrace democracy when governing education paid for by public dollars and reject totalitarian schemes. After all, democracy is one of the great American values, if we lose that we lose America.

The NPE paper “Charters and Consequences” is an honest, unbiased study that should be read and shared widely. We should all embrace the papers concluding call for legislative action to institute the following:

  • An immediate moratorium on the creation of new charter schools, including no replication or expansion of existing charter schools.
  • The transformation of for-profit charters to non-profit charters.
  • The transformation of for-profit management organizations to non-profit management organizations.
  • All due process rights for charter students that are afforded public school students, in all matters of discipline.
  • Required certification of all school teaching and administrative staff.
  • Complete transparency in all expenditures and income.
  • Requirements that student bodies reflect the demographics of the served community.
  • Open meetings of the board of directors, posted at least 2 weeks prior on the charter’s website.
  • Annual audits available to the public.
  • Requirements to follow bidding laws and regulations.
  • Requirements that all properties owned by the charter school become the property of the local public school if the charter closes.
  • Requirements that all charter facilities meet building codes.
  • Requirements that charters offer free or reduced-price lunch programs for students.
  • Full compensation from the state for all expenditures incurred when a student leaves the public school to attend a charter.
  • Authorization, oversight and renewal of charters transferred to the local district in which they are located.
  • A rejection of all ALEC legislation regarding charter schools that advocates for less transparency, less accountability, and the removal of requirements for teacher certification.

“Until charter schools become true public schools, the Network for Public Education will continue to consider them to be private schools that take public funding.”

White Man Fights Slavery; Calls for Ending Public Education

17 Nov

Lee W. Olson feels enslaved by having to pay taxes especially those that go to pay for public education. Taking action to end slavery, he filed three citizen initiatives with the Attorney General of the State of California. His “California Freedom from Slavery Act” initiative would end state and local taxes after 55-years of age. The “California Parental Rights Act of 2018” puts parents in charge of education standards. And the “California Education Tax Relief Act” exempts people with no children in public schools from paying taxes to support public schools.

Perhaps Olson would be better served to find another metaphor than slavery. People from a legacy of slavery, might be a little offended by the whining of a well-off white man. However, he is persistent.  In 2009, he filed three similar ballot initiatives addressing the same principles, if you can call them that.

Slave Home

Home of a Self-Identified California Tax Slave

Olson must be sincere in his motives; each of these initiative filings includes a $2000 fee. The Attorney General must “request the preparation of a fiscal impact analysis from the Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst’s Office” before issuing a circulating title and summary. The state has less than 65 days for this process. The fee helps defray the cost of the approximately 200 of these proposals the state receives every election cycle. The proponents will get the fee back if they gather enough signatures to put the initiative on the ballot. Lee’s initiatives have yet to make a ballot.

Curmudgucation Inspired this Story

I read education blogs and one of my daily reads is a blog by Peter Greene of Pennsylvania called Curmudgucation. I met Peter at a National Public Education conference in Chicago. He is one of those guys that knows everything. Not in a know-it-all kind of way but in a he really has a great breadth of knowledge way. His blog is witty, creative and somehow, he is often one of the first people on the blogosphere to spy a new development.

November 10th, Peter wrote a piece he called “CA: A Silly Proposal.” His lead sentence, “It should be said right up front that this measure has little chance of making it all the way to becoming an actual law, and the only big mystery here is why a local news station would bother to cover it at all.” It seems that Peter somehow noticed the story of Lee’s no kids – no taxes for school initiative on a local Sacramento, California CBS affiliates morning news show.

I became intrigued and soon found that there was a trio of initiatives filed including the one Peter Greene referenced all submitted by:

Signature

Now that we have evangelical Christians setting up church in public schools and also running after school programs, plus corporations are legally identified as people with first amendment rights – I take kooky ideas seriously. Who is Lee Olson? How strong is the Committee to End Slavery? Do they have the ability to gather the required 585,407 signatures for each petition in the next six months?

Bolsa Chica

Google Maps Satellite View – 16458 Bolsa Chica Street, #165 Huntington Beach, CA 92649

The address appears to be an office for Olson Leland and Edwards, LLC, a real estate investment company. There promotion at connected investors reads, “Olson Leland & Edwards, LLC is a real estate company with 1 employee(s). This company has been part of Connected Investors since 07/24/2009 – Olson Leland & Edwards, LLC is a real estate company in HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA.” WPnumbers lists Lee Olson as chief executive.

A public records search finds that Lee W. Olson is 72 years old and lives in Westminster, California. A search of a real estate data, shows the Olson is 75 years old and retired. It also says a 2014 property assessment valued his home a little more than $500,000 which is modest by California standards.

To sum up, Lee Olson is a retired real estate dealer over 70 years-old and lives in Westminster, California. He still has some relationship to Olson Leland and Edwards, LLC and maintains a business address in Huntington Beach, California about 3 miles from his home. Except for the six state initiatives he has filed there are few other mentions of him in the media. He does own a web domain, http://www.lovetrumpseverything.com/, but there is nothing on it.

The Committee to End Slavery does not seem to be a functioning body. It has no web presence and there is not a mention of the group in the media that is not tied to Lee Olson’s state ballot initiatives.

Gathering over 700,000 signatures to ensure that 585,407 of them are validly registered voter signatures looks to be out of the realm of possibility. Peter Greene’s observation that why a media outlet would run this story is well founded.

Yet, A Dark Motivation Appears Here

It is the same motivation that is pushing Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos’s drive to privatize public education. It is motivated by a fundamentlist religious belief.

Lee Olson calls one of his proposed initiatives “California Parental Rights Act of 2018.” California’s Attorney Generals official summary says in part:

“PROHIBITS GOVERNMENT FROM ENFORCING EDUCATIONAL STANDARDS AND MAKES PARENTS AND GUARDIANS SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR CHILDREN’S EDUCATION. …

“Changes Constitution to prohibit state and local government from requiring parents and guardians to meet educational standards.  Gives parents and legal guardians the sole authority and responsibility to educate their children, including the right to determine the venue, curriculum, and methods of education.”

Olson’s web domain name seems related to the Christian oriented love trumps everything key to life or a similar evangelical groups. The findings he wrote for this initiative would at one time have been deemed the hateful discourse of a kook. Now they are a serious and dangerous attack on constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state.

In the findings for this initiative Olson writes:

“(1) The responsibility for the raising of children lies solely with parents, or legal guardians, in accordance with our Creators command given to parents, not the government, to “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

“(2) The government has immorally usurped, at gun point, the Creator endowed inviolable right of parents to control the education of their children.

“(3) The government has used its powers of coercion not only to usurp the Creator endowed inviolable parent’s rights but also to promote immoral teachings contrary to the way the Creator has said the child should go.

“(4) The government schools reject abstinence from sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage and teach that fornication is not only okay but it’s expected.

“(5) The government schools teach that homosexual behaviors are morally acceptable and should be praised, contrary to the Creator’s instructions for healthy living, by idolizing and establishing Harvey Milk Day honoring a man known primarily for his homosexual exploits rather than any good done for the public. …

“(6) Government schools have a full court press on to eradicate Judeo-Christian moral principles from any discourse in the lives of California residents.

“(7) Government school promotion of immoral sexual behaviors, especially fornication and homosexuality, …”

How did Christianity become so infused with hate and bigotry? Are these really the views of Jesus of Nazareth? I certainly don’t believe he taught discrimination against gays and lying about sex education.

I heard the points Olson made about sex education at the July 24 San Diego Unified School District board meeting. A new sex education program was being adopted. A relatively large group of people apparently from the same Christian sect started denouncing the sex education curriculum as pornographic and against God’s Law. People in the audience were holding up Bibles and cheering on their speakers. One speaker who identified himself as Mr. Brookes said that this sex education program was against God’s Law and that it promoted deviance and rebellion. He also said that Planned Parenthood is evil and that they support this curriculum.

Olson is not just one crackpot looking for attention. He seems to be part of an American religious movement working to end public education and establish a Christian theocracy.

In Olson’s initiative that could be called “No Tax Money for Government Schools”, he also has a long list of frothy findings. Here are three:

“Parents pursuing alternative education are penalized unfairly by having to not only pay for their children’s education but also by being forced to pay for the education of other children (and university/college students) enrolled in government schools via various government taxes, or other schemes, which extract their financial resources at gun point.”

“The Committee to End Slavery fully supports the inviolable right of parents to control the education of their children, including in whatever setting they choose, even the uninformed choice of enrolling in government schools. Our Creator never assigned the right and responsibility of a child’s education to a government entity; the government has usurped that inviolable right and responsibility at gun point.”

“The Committee to End Slavery condemns the theft of property (money) from Californian’s, euphemistically called taxation, to pay for government schools. Especially when their primary purpose is to create a dumbed down populace easy to control and prepared only to service the (slave) labor needs of the oligarchy that rules over us.”

It appears there is very little reason involved here and disdain for our government at all levels. This kind of thinking seems like a natural development from Ronald Regan’s nine most terrifying words in the English language; “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” I find this kind of hatred of America and its institutions worrisome.

It is About Ending Public Education

Olson’s three initiatives are aimed at the November 2018 ballot and were certified for signature gathering on November 9, 2017. Each initiative was given an ID and a cost estimate.

17-0028, “California Education Tax Relief Act” aka “No Tax Money for Government Schools”, cost $30 billion-dollar reduction in revenue.

17-0029, “California Freedom from Slavery Act” aka “Geezers Don’t Pay”, cost $60 billion-dollar reduction in revenue.

17-0030, “California Parental Rights Act of 2018” aka “Government Schools Are Evil”, cost cannot be calculated but possibly a lot.

Lee W. Olson’s initiatives are the work of a crackpot with too much money. However, he is not that far from our present mainstream school reform. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos has an agenda that is not all that different from Olson’s. There is a dangerous sectarian attack being waged against both public schools and the constitutional guarantee in the second amendment of a separation of church and state.

Rethink and Rollback the Expansion of AP and IB

19 Oct

What if the education reform ideology is wrong? What if the ideology of reform was based on an incorrect understanding of developmentally appropriate pedagogy? In a 2006 hearing before the senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, Assistant Secretary of Education, Henry Johnson testified, “We believe that the Advanced Placement program offers a proven, scalable approach to raising expectations and increasing rigor in America’s high schools, particularly those with high concentrations of low-income students that typically do not offer such curricula.” What if that belief is ill-founded?

I taught AP physics and what a treat that was for me. I always had the highest performing students in the high school. This year both the salutatorian and the valedictorian were in my class. It was way more interesting than teaching a concepts oriented class in physics designed for the general student. Of course, I enjoyed teaching AP Physics to the school’s elite students, however, I perceived a dark side. The more I pondered it, the more I concluded that the AP and IB programs were developmentally inappropriate.

Physics Lab 2

Mar Vista High School – Picture by Thomas Ultican

IB stands for international baccalaureate. People who worked in embassies or other out of country assignments put their children in international schools. When they move from one country to the next, the school curriculum tended to be significantly different. IB developed to standardize curriculum from one country to the next. The IB program is unnecessary in America. Local communities who pay for schools deserve input into the curriculum and locally developed curriculum vetted by education leaders at local universities is more meaningful to the community.

AP stands for advance placement. It is a product of College Board, the testing giant that produces the SAT tests. College Board is organized as a “non-profit” but it has hundreds of employees making six and seven figure incomes. AP is being heavily promoted by technology companies, politicians and other corporations. There is a push to make AP the leader in curricular development and teacher training. AP employs the teach to the test strategy of pedagogy.

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) is now putting pressure towards the expansion of AP courses in high schools across the nation. A teacher in the Sweetwater Union High School District wrote me this week saying teachers are under heavy pressure to participate in NMSI/AP sponsored training and AP class promotion.

Both AP and IB, allow students to earn college credits that are accepted by most universities. But is it developmentally appropriate? Are we harming students?

“Sicker Not Smarter”

Paraphrasing an observation about American public education students between world war II and the publishing of “A Nation at Risk” in 1983:

“They were not serious about learning. They went to dances, participated in sports and performed in plays. They hung out with friends and listened to rock music. They seldom studied and were consistently average performers when compared with foreign students. They graduated from high school and three months latter a miracle occurred; they became the top college students in the world.”

Throughout the history of American education there has been a constant healthy debate about pedagogy. It would be difficult to find any professional educator that does not believe education in public schools can be improved. However, education reform that is not developmentally appropriate is many times worse than the derided status quo.

The 1983 polemic “A Nation at Risk” marks a transition from education guided by professional educators to education guided by powerful business leaders, politicians and famous scientists. Convinced that education in America was failing, their solution was education standards, testing and competition. The famous education writer from Harvard University, Alfie Kohn characterized modern education reform in his 2001 book, The Schools Our Children Deserve: “The dominant philosophy of fixing schools consists of saying, in effect, that ‘what we’re doing is OK, we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger, louder, meaner, and we’ll have a better country.’” (page 16)

Two years ago, Vicki Abeles published her book Beyond Measure, Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation. She opened chapter 1, “Sicker, Not Smarter” by quoting Stuart Slavin, a Saint Louis University School of Medicine professor and pediatrician. He shared,

“My personal feeling is that we are conducting an enormous and unprecedented social experiment on an entire generation of American children, and the evidence of a negative impact on adolescent mental health is overwhelming. … It is even more profoundly disturbing when one considers that there is absolutely no evidence that this educational approach actually leads to better educational outcomes.” (page 15)

Abeles quoted Donna Jackson Nakazawa, “There’s a perception that constant high demands will make kids stronger says Nakazawa, ‘“but biologically that is not the case; it’s actually breaking down the brain rather than creating resilience.”’ (page 31) Abeles continued:

“We think of the years from zero to three as the critical period for brain development, but Temple University neuroscientist Laurence Steinberg underscores that adolescence is another one. ‘[T]he brain’s malleability makes adolescence a period of tremendous opportunity – and great risk,’ writes Steinberg. ‘If we expose our young people to positive, supportive environments, they flourish. But if the environments are toxic, they will suffer in powerful and enduring ways.’” (page 36)

Writing for the New York Times Magazine this month Benoit Denizet-Lewis addressed the deteriorating mental health manifesting among America’s teens. She reported,

“… Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University who has studied distress and resilience in both well-off and disadvantaged teenagers, has found that privileged youths are among the most emotionally distressed young people in America. ‘These kids are incredibly anxious and perfectionistic,’ she says, but there’s ‘contempt and scorn for the idea that kids who have it all might be hurting.’

“For many of these young people, the biggest single stressor is that they “never get to the point where they can say, ‘I’ve done enough, and now I can stop,’ Luthar says. ‘There’s always one more activity, one more A.P. class, one more thing to do in order to get into a top college. Kids have a sense that they’re not measuring up. The pressure is relentless and getting worse.”’

AP Like Common Core is not Age Appropriate

 I taught my first AP physics class in 2004, my first year at Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach, California. All my AP students were taking multiple AP classes and four of them were taking five. I was shocked! They were high school kids not college kids but were allowed – no encouraged – to take a heavier academic load than most college students take.

Jay Mathews of the Washington Post creates an annual ranking of America’s high schools. He explained the ranking criteria with this year’s rankings:

“America’s Most Challenging High Schools ranks schools through an index formula that’s a simple ratio: the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school each year, divided by the number of seniors who graduated that year. A ratio of 1.000 means the school had as many tests as graduates.”

Today, we actually have AP classes for ninth graders and non-profit organizations pressuring public and charter schools to accelerate moving college education into high school. Like the inappropriate efforts to make kindergarten the new first grade, and move advanced mathematics into 7th grade, college classes in high school are not developmentally appropriate.

History Teaches that Breaking the AP Hold in America Will Not be Easy

 By the 1980’s, an education philosophy popular among the titans of industry started dominating. This ideology posits that standards, high expectation, increased rigor and accountability are the keys to improving k-12 education. In 1994, the CEO of IBM, Louis Gerstner wrote in his book Reinventing Education:

“Schools must meet the test any high-performance organization must meet: results. And results are not achieved by bureaucratic regulation. They are achieved by meeting customer requirements by rewards for success and penalties for failure. Market discipline is the key, the ultimate form of accountability.”

Gerstner started and led a non-profit called Achieve Inc. Achieve wrote and holds the copyright for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These standards have wide financial and political support; however, they are so poorly written, that California re-wrote their version of the NGSS.

In 2010, Bill Gates, who also became an advocate of standards and testing, instigated the writing of the Common Core State Standards. Twenty-one people working in secret wrote the standards. Nineteen of the twenty-one writers came from the testing industry including fifteen from College Board and ACT.

I am not saying there is an evil conspiracy here. I believe that people like Peter O’Donnell the wealthy businessman and political activist from Dallas, Texas, who poured personal wealth into promoting AP are totally sincere in their desire to improve the plight of education in America. I have the same view of Bill Gates and Louis Gerstner. The problem is they have great financial and political power, unfortunately, they do not know what they don’t know about human development and good pedagogy.

Today, colleges throughout the nation are giving college credit to incoming students for successfully completing AP courses. In addition, they are giving extra weight towards admissions to applicants with multiple AP courses on their transcripts. This system is well established and ubiquitous. Chinese history teaches how difficult it is to mitigate this kind of culture.

Two years in a row, representatives from the Chinese ministry of education came to observe classes at Mar Vista High School. They even contracted with one of our math teachers, Mark James, to go to China and teach a model class. In China, there is general agreement that their high-pressure test centric education needs reforming. It is harming the youth.

In Young Zhao’s book Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon there is a chapter titled “The Witch That Cannot Be Killed.” In it he wrote:

‘“Thus, more than a decade’s history of prohibition orders from educational departments has been a history of ineffective orders,’ notes a report in China Weekly after reviewing numerous attempts to curtail the power of testing in Chinese Education. How is it possible that in such a tightly controlled, authoritarian society, the omnipotent government has been unable to kill the witch of testing?” (page 151)

Professor Zhao’s answer to his own question is a warning for us. If we ever recognize the wrong educational path we have taken, changing course will be difficult. Zhao explained:

“In the effort to lessen academic burden and reduce testing, Chinese parents, students, teachers, and schools are all playing the prisoner’s dilemma game. Knowing or assuming that others will continue to do more homework, seek private tutoring, and prepare for tests, very few parents, children, and schools would choose to voluntarily reduce the work load for fear of losing the game. Most schools, knowing that others will continue to use exams to select better students and gain an advantage, will choose to continue to use exams to admit students because the school’s reputation is on the line and will be judged by how well its students score in the future. Essentially the dilemma dictates that everyone must continue to behave in the same way. No one can afford to cut back first, for fear that the others won’t follow suit. Consequently, although new policies might bring a better education for all, no player in the education game is willing to take the risky first step.” (page 155/6)

There are many factors that would improve education and they are well know; smaller class sizes, integrated schools, well maintained modern facilities and teachers certificated in the subjects they teach are four such positive reforms. Surprisingly, increasing rigor and driving expectations down to younger students are counter-productive.

Kindergarteners should receive lessons such as don’t eat the clay and it’s not nice to pull hair. Academics are developmentally inappropriate and likely unhealthy for them. Teaching Newton’s laws of motion and principles of algebra in fourth grade will surely cause more harm than good. The nine-year-old brain is not ready for symbolic reasoning. And, teenagers are dealing with natural biological stress; they need a safe low stress environment for healthy development. Rigor and high stakes testing is the wrong recipe.

It is time to rethink AP and roll it back.

NMSI Pushes Bad Education Policies Based on Junk Science

12 Oct

Last Week, I got this message from a colleague in the Sweetwater Union High School District: “you doing ok, brother Ultican? I have a question for you.  In your tireless research and writing on education schemes and scams, what have you learned about NMSI?  They’re in our district now and I’ve got a bad feeling about the direction it’s taking.” In the words of Dr. Johnny Fever, “Sometimes paranoia is just good thinking.”

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) was founded by a group of Dallas area lawyers and businessmen. Tom Luce is identified as the founder and Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil and present US Secretary of State, provided the financing.

An ExxonMobil web-page announces:

“ExxonMobil became a founding sponsor of the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) in 2007 with a $125 million commitment to the non-profit organization, which provides scalable and rigorous program solutions that empower school communities to prepare all students to succeed in college and the workforce.”

Some Background on the Founder

NMSI founder Tom Luce’s bio at the George W. Bush Presidential Center states:

Tom Luce

From the George W. Bush Presidential Center

“Tom Luce, Chief Executive Officer, was a founding partner of Hughes & Luce, LLP, a prominent Texas law firm. … He served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development during the George W. Bush administration ….”

“From 2007 to 2011, he was founding CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative, Inc. Additionally, Tom served on Dell, Inc.’s Board of Directors from 1991 until 2012. … He presently serves as the Chairman of the Board for the National Math and Science Initiative.”

Tom Luce is a lawyer not an educator but his fingerprints are all over some of the worst education policies in the history of our country. His bio at the George W. Bush Whitehouse archives says, “… Luce is perhaps best known for his role in 1984 as the chief of staff of the Texas Select Committee of Public Education, which produced one of the first major reform efforts among public schools.” The chairman of that committee was Ross Perot.

A former Texas Lieutenant Governor, Bill Hobby, wrote in 2010 about that 1984 education reform law:

 “Remarkably, most of the reforms initiated in House Bill 72 persist to this day. The teacher test was never repeated, but the statewide student tests are a hallmark of Texas education. They also served as the model for President George W. Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ federal legislation.”

Mark Twain said, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” For Ross Perot, the founder of Electronic Data Systems the problems in education looked like data problems. He and his Chief of Staff, Tom Luce, decided standardized testing and data analysis were the prescription for failing public schools. Unfortunately, standardized testing is totally useless for analyzing learning and public schools were not actually failing.

Tom Luce was also directly involved in implementing NCLB (a spectacular education reform failure) while serving at the US Department of Education.

A Fraudulent Paper from the National Academies Motivated the Formation of NMSI

RISING ABOVE THE GATHERING STORM” was published by the National Academies in 2005. The title of this paper echoes Winston Churchill’s The Gathering Storm which chronicled the lead up to World War II. The name like its predecessor “A Nation at Risk” indicates that the United States is in imminent danger of losing its superior economic and scientific lead in the world and education is the fundamental problem. Like “A Nation at Risk,” “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” is also a polemic that cannot stand up to scrutiny.

The late Gerald W. Bracey from Stanford University illuminated several false claims that were foundational to the papers arguments. He recited the Academies declaration, “’Last year more than 600,000 engineers graduated from institutions of higher education in China, … In India the figure was 350,000. In America, it was about 70,000.’”

Bracey continued,

“Naturally, given this lofty pedigree, the statistics then materialized in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and on many Web sites. While Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman did not use these specific numbers in his 2005 bestseller, “The World Is Flat,” he did write that Asian universities currently produce eight times as many bachelor’s degrees in engineering as U.S. universities do.”

Bracey discussed the growing doubt about these numbers and cited credible peer reviewed research:

“After an exhaustive study, researchers at Duke University also pummeled the numbers. In a December 2005 analysis, ‘Framing the Engineering Outsourcing Debate,’ they reported that the United States annually produces 137,437 engineers with at least a bachelor’s degree while India produces 112,000 and China 351,537. That’s more U.S. degrees per million residents than in either other nation.”

This is an example of the kind of subterfuge that is being used to promote the unsupportable claim that education in America is not producing enough science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workers.

The impetus and money for writing “RISING ABOVE THE GATHERING STORM” came from the United States Senate:

“Senator Alexander indicated that the Energy Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs, had been given the authority by the full committee’s chair, Senator Pete Domenici, to hold a series of hearings to identify specific steps that the federal government should take to ensure the preeminence of America’s science and technology enterprise. Senator Alexander asked the National Academies to provide assistance in this effort by selecting a committee of experts from the scientific and technical community to assess the current situation and, where appropriate, make recommendations.”

By 2006 that series of hearings seemingly led to President Bush proposing legislation to solve the “crisis” in STEM education. Senate Bill 2198, “Protecting America’s Competitive Edge” came before the senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee on March 6, 2006. Although, the PACE bill never became law, the record of this senate hearing chaired by Lamar Alexander is instructive. It is also where the birth of NMSI came to light.

Arden L. Bement, Jr., Director, National Science Foundation, (one of the academies) said during his testimony:

“As you are well aware, the National Science Foundation has been selected to play a major role in the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative. One of the cornerstones of our involvement is preparing the Nation’s scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematics workforce for the 21st century while improving the quality of math and science education in America’s schools.”

“When three quarters of American colleges find it necessary to offer courses in remedial mathematics and 22 percent of entering freshman take these courses, it is clear that our high schools are not doing the job they should be doing.”

Here a spokesman for the National Academies is revealing that they have a big government contract to fix education. They are not likely to say, “public schools don’t need fixing” and the comment about remedial courses for freshman is meritless. There has always been a substantial number of students needing remedial courses – see the 1892 committee of 10 report.

James B. Hunt, the former Governor of North Carolina testified,

“A recent report on 30 countries and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that of those 30 countries–you have probably heard these figures–the United States is 15th in reading, 18th in science, 24th in math. Of the G-8 countries, the eight countries, we are 7th in 10th grade mathematics.

“Now, those are the facts, folks.”

Governor, that was lame. Researchers around the world have been questioning the methodology employed by PISA and especially the value of their international rankings. For a good discussion of the useless nature of PISA comparisons see Yong Zhao’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? starting on page 167. Or take a peek at Noel Wilson’s paper Education Standards and the Problem of Error for a discussion of the absolute folly of standardized testing.

James B. Hunt Jr. also testified. He said, “It is a well-documented fact that the single most important element in a student’s academic success is that student’s teacher.”

That is just ignorance. Parents and their economic conditions are far more important.

Senator Edward Kennedy remarked,

“By 2009, 6 million jobs will go unfilled because our youth will not be qualified to hold them. To keep America competitive, we need more students with degrees in math, science, and critical-need foreign languages.”

That is at a minimum uninformed. Kennedy repeats the lack of STEM educated graduates misinformation. He is selling the big lie.

Lamar Alexander announced one of the day’s star witnesses,

“Peter O’Donnell is here, who is a member of the National Academy’s Committee that produced ‘The Gathering Storm,’ and his work in Dallas is one reason for the inclusion in ‘The Gathering Storm’ report of the advanced placement recommendations.”

Peter O’Donnell is a wealthy businessman from Dallas, Texas and a huge contributor to the University of Texas at Austin. He is described by the American Statesman:

“O’Donnell is something of a godfather in the state Republican Party, having chaired it for several years in the 1960s. He was a top adviser to Bill Clements during his successful 1978 campaign to become the state’s first GOP governor in more than 100 years, and he has contributed to many Republican candidates in Texas and across the nation.

Like most modern edu-philanthropists, he has no education experience or training. He testified about his foundation’s Advanced Placement Initiative which became NMSI:

“The Advanced Placement Incentive Program succeeds because of three fundamental concepts: the high standards of Advanced Placement, which is built on a strong curriculum, rigorous national exams, and measurable results; emphasis on excellent teacher training; and financial incentives for teachers and students. Incentives are key to the success of our program. They provide extra pay for extra work and are paid by private donors.”

He went on to describe the principles which were adopted by NMSI:

“These recommendations will provide public schools in the U.S. with outstanding math and science teachers on a scale equal to the size of the problem. The recommendations are based on six concepts:

  1. High standards;
  2. Measurable results;
  3. Integrated curriculum for math and science for grades 6-12;
  4. Quality teacher training that is based on content;
  5. Incentives to teachers and students based on academic results;
  6. Implementation vehicle in each State to manage the programs to ensure quality control and accountability.

There is general agreement that these six concepts will strengthen education, especially in math and science.”

In other words, NMSI calls for teacher merit pay, a hundred-year-old idea with a hundred years of failure to back it up. It employs top down control by using College Board to design curriculum and train educators. It calls for bribing students to study hard which most education theorists would agree is a way to undermine a student’s need to know and harms self-motivation.

NMSI has been moving into San Diego for a while. It is not just in the Sweetwater School District, in 2015 Serra High School of the San Diego Unified School District held an NMSI AP Incentive Awards Night. The announcement says, “Over $32,000 will be given out to 178 current students and graduates. Three students will be given $500 checks!”

Wealthy Texas conservatives say we should turn away from education professionals at Stanford or those at the California State University and the University of California systems. We should embrace the teach to the test education philosophy of College Board and bribe students to get them engaged. We should do this even though there is no independent evidence supporting NMSI’s claims of success.

I Will Let the Curmudgucator Conclude my Article

Three years ago, Peter Greene wrote about NMSI:

“While there may be similar-ish programs in districts across the country, the big dog in the AP bribery biz is the National Math and Science Initiative. NMSI is an organization that was launched “to address one of this nation’s greatest economic and intellectual threats – the declining number of students who are prepared to take rigorous college courses in math and science and are equipped for careers in those fields.” You may recognize that as a classic reformster talking point– low test scores are a threat to our national security– and in fact, the big launching funders of NMSI include Exxon, the Michael and Susan Dell foundation, and the Gates Foundation. Partners also include the US Department of Education and the College Board, because why not fund an advocacy group that is telling everyone that your product is really important. This isn’t philanthropy– it’s marketing.”