Tag Archives: Standardized Testing

I Am Done – I Hope Public Education is Not

24 May

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

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

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

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

Difficult Time for a New Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Was Victimized by the First Honored DFER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions and Concerns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education Reform Musing

14 Feb

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

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

Democracy and Local Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democratize Schools

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

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

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

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

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

Curriculum

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

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

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

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

Reality Versus Marketing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rizga’s Mission High Informs

26 Jan

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

Solutions for Fixing Schools Are Wrong

In the book’s preface, she declares, “The more time I spent in classrooms, the more I began to realize that most remedies that politicians and education reform experts were promoting as solutions for fixing schools were wrong.” For multiple decades, classroom teachers have been awakening to that same realization. This time it was an outsider who spent enough time to see how misguided test and punish education policies are; to see how misguided standardized approaches to education are.

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

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

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

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

Conquest by “Administrative Progressives”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misguided and Racist Reform

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

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

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

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

Mission High Exists in Every Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rizga’s Description of the Teachers

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

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

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

Speaking Up for Diane Ravitch

17 Jan

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

Attacking Public Educations Best Ally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corporate Reformers and Fellow Travelers Take Aim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane Ravitch is Giving Voice to Educators

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

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

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

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

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

Education Discernments for 2017

28 Dec

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

California Adopts Reckless Corporate Education Standards

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

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

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

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

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

‘Profitization’ Movement is Destroying Good Public Education

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

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

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

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

 “Personalized Learning” Leads to Big Bucks

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

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

In a recent post, I noted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There Are Failing Schools and They Need Repair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017

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

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

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

A Nation at Risk

29 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

The Risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indicators of the Risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dale Russakoff reported in the New Yorker, that Corey Booker, Chris Christy and Mark Zuckerberg decided to take over the Newark Public Schools, “Early in the summer of 2010, Booker presented Christie with a proposal, stamped ‘Confidential Draft,’ titled ‘Newark Public Schools—A Reform Plan.’ It called for imposing reform from the top down; a more open political process could be taken captive by unions and machine politicians. ‘Real change has casualties and those who prospered under the pre-existing order will fight loudly and viciously,’ the proposal said. Seeking consensus would undercut real reform. One of the goals was to ‘make Newark the charter school capital of the nation.”’

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Ciedie Aech’s Wonderful Book

20 Aug

There are few public school systems in America that have been more harmed by what Diane Ravich aptly dubbed “corporate education reform” than those in Denver, Colorado. Ciedie Aech tells the story of a professional educator working in the horrific and unstable environment that developed with the extra-legal federal take-over of public schools. In reality, this is a heart wrenching story, but Aech’s sarcastic humor turns it into a delight. Any teacher in America’s public k-12 system who reads “Why is you always got to be trippin” will immediately recognize many scenes Ciedie delightfully paints while telling this dreadful story.

About the Title

 “One day when noise from unsupervised students caught my attention, I stepped into the hallway to find a group of boys throwing friendly punches outside a neighboring classroom.

 “‘Gentlemen!’ I stated reactively, clearing my throat. Happy to ignore extraneous interference, the boys continued their game. ‘Gentlemen!’ I said again, this time a little more loudly. Straightening, the boys stopped to look my way. ‘Okay, let’s go,’ I directed. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be in class?’ ‘Aw, Miss,’ two or three grumbled as the small group broke up and began to move away. Pulling at chronically sagging pants while smoothing intricately braided hair, a tall, thin young man hung back.

 “As a student who had attended one of my afternoon classes for more than six months, he knew me well. Watching his friends now amble unhurriedly down the hall, he turned to look at me in plaintive wonder. ‘Aw, Miss,’ he protested. ‘Why is you always got to be trippin’?’

 ‘“Why is I always got to be trippin’? …

 “If you don’t take pains to hold them together? If you don’t step in, over and over (and then over again) to pull them circuitously inward towards success – sometimes with no other help than the full power of your will? They struggle, they flounder; they deflate and fall apart. Desperately they count upon the people in their lives who make the effort to ‘trip.’”

 Background for the Story

If you are a fan of privatizing public schools and corporate education reform, Denver is your cup of tea. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute (one of those “think-tanks” that like the New York Times reports is more like a tax free lobbying firm than an honest evaluator of education policy) rated Denver Public Schools (DPS) the third best school choice system in the United States behind only New Orleans and Washington DC.

In the summer of 2005, Michael Bennet, who had spent the previous 2 years with his fellow Wesleyan alum, John Hickenlooper as chief of the mayor’s staff was appointed Superintendent of DPS. He previously earned a law degree at Yale and was editor of the Yale Law Journal. Prior to working for the mayor and future governor of Colorado, Bennet spent six years as the managing director of the Anschutz Investment Company. However, he had no training or experience as an educator or in education administration.

Two years before Bennet departed to become Colorado’s junior United States Senator, he hired another lawyer with no education background (other than tutoring English in Hong Kong) to be chief operating officer of DPS, Tom Boasberg. Before coming to Denver, Boasberg did a stint at the FCC, then went into the corporate world. When Bennet departed Boasberg who is now a member of Jeb Bush’s Chief for Change was elevated to Superintendent of DPS. Boasberg did obtain an administration credential from the unaccredited Broad Academy in 2009.

Then there is State Senator Michael Johnston another instant education expert from TFA. He is credited with writing the law that requires Colorado teachers to be evaluated by the discredited value added method based on standardized testing. He seems to be yet another elitist from Yale out to destroy public schools (Bennet, Booker, Malloy, King, etc.). The following from Mercedes Schneider paints a clear picture of the modern education privatizing tool:

“In his NCTQ bio, Johnston presents himself as, ‘the founder and former principal of MESA (Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts), a 7-12 Gates funded small high school in north Denver.’  It is increasingly common practice for former TFAers to become instant leaders and entrepreneurs, opening and leading schools without a solid educational foundation but with funding (in the case of Johnston’s school, Gates money). Johnston is a TFAer from Yale, and TFA really likes Yale. His Yale bachelors degree is in a generic major (philosophy); so, like many former TFAers ‘on the climb,’ Johnston made a quick stop to the Broad-financed Harvard Graduate School of Education for one of those educational policy masters degrees TFAers are increasingly fond of brandishing.  And make no mistake: Harvard educational policy is all about data driven assessment of supposed “teacher effectiveness.”  The Harvard Center for Educational Policy Research is funded by a cadre of now-all-too-familiar reformer foundations, including Broad, Gates, Joyce, and Rodel.”

 Just a few miles up highway 36 from Denver is Broomfield, Colorado home of the Walton family established and supervised, Charter School Growth Fund.  Carrie Walton Penner, sits on the board of the foundation and Carrie’s husband, Greg Penner, is a director of this non-profit venture capital fund that invests in charter schools. Annie Walton Proietti, niece of Carrie, works for a KIPP school in Denver. KIPP is a system to which the Walton family has donated millions of dollars.

How Ciedie Viewed the Beginning of the Harm

 “Proffered up by an unmistakably concerned and oft-professed-liberal activist, this emphatic assertion was accorded an immediate defense through an even yet more logical rationale: ‘I wouldn’t send my children there.’

“Progressive declarations like this one, coming as they did from privileged-class and generally non-minority but avowed open-minded citizens, oh, they just made so much sense – to other privileged-class and generally non-minority but compassionately troubled advocates. Holding test scores high, progressive thinkers waved what they argued to be incontrovertible truth. What had to be done? What was undoubtedly required? Was the immediate “non-negotiable” reformation of our nation’s lowest-income, lowest-scoring schools.”

 Ciedie points out:

 “When, in the name of a ‘benevolent’ intervention, you assertively malign, label, invade and destabilize those schools where, due to the wide array of issues attached to poverty and cultural disconnect, only around 40 percent of students graduate and move on to find success at a college – ultimately what you are doing in the name of your unprecedented ‘compassion?’ Is making sure that even this small but steady percent of minority students cannot progress and successfully integrate into society.”

 Soon after the reform invasion, she noticed:

 “With great determination, good educators closed their eyes. Industriously, good teachers taught themselves in an imitation of financially motivated “fixer” administrators; with great tenacity, good teachers refused a direct look at the deregulated chaos now dancing with impunity around an ever realigning array of testing and penalty practices. Hearing, and subsequently spouting, only a cautious reflection of the shallow district, state and federal dogma, good teachers offered up only a passively guarded support for the belligerent doctrine of accountability – a progressively more retaliatory doctrine which, year after year, continued to hold to the incontrovertible fact that: All of those unacceptable test scores?

“Were forevermore, always and only, the product of bad teachers.”

 About all the money for reform, Ciedie perceived:

 “So. When big money gets thrown around under the socially responsible guise of helping less powerful and politically disenfranchised citizens – benevolently offering that helpful leg up, so to speak; well, it’s a funny but historical trend that quite often this particular kind of money?

“Somehow, sort of, gets redirected.”

In one vignette Ciedie is chatting with a fellow educator. It really hit home with me, because I too teach in a “failing school” with 70% free and reduced lunch and 20% language learners. It was like my personal experience:

“One year, a few days into my Thanksgiving Break, I met up with a friend – a teaching peer who, for the past twenty years, had been employed inside a high-scoring, long-term-stably-administrated secondary school located in the suburbs of a neighboring district. When our conversation predictably turned to issues of education, it immediately became clear that, in the modern age of a low-income school accountability, what we, as public school educators, had each experienced? Diverged dramatically.

“It felt, in fact, a little like discussing educational practices as they existed here on Earth… and somewhere way out in the far reaches of the universe. On Jupiter, maybe. At one point, we paused to count up the non-teaching/nonstudent-contact days we had each had so far that fall.

“She counted two.

“I counted seventeen.”

 I loved the following observation because I have been living it for fifteen years:

“Well, now: here’s a little secret. I suppose this could be confidential. I apologize if I’m letting the cat out of the bag.

“But: More inner-city, low-income-school teachers actually, with a full intention, chose to walk into those complicated buildings; chose to work, day after day, inside those low-income, culturally-complex schools; chose to spend year upon year standing right there in front of those so many assertively labeled “difficult” children because they wanted to – than you might think.

“Oh, man. Crazy, huh?”

 Ciedie asked the obvious question:

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

 Bell the Cat

A wonderful allegory, that illustrates the folly of corporate education reform:

“Opening our scene, we move in upon a small group of administratively enterprising mice; a group of mice who have had it up to here with the never-ending litany of mouse citizen complaints about a Big Bad Cat: an omnipresent feline willing to wreak ongoing havoc upon poor, defenseless mice. Mouse-world constituents have made it more than clear: They will no longer tolerate such an unremitting harassment. Hence, the intentional meeting of mousey governmental minds.

‘“If only we knew when the cat was coming,’ sighs one contemplative legislator.

“‘A bell,’ offers another: ‘What if a bell was placed around the neck of the cat?’

‘“Yes, yes, a bell!’ A multitude of voices now loudly and animatedly agrees. Ah, the cheers; oh the excitement; and then, my, oh my, the adamantly mandated and heavily earmarked rodent legislation. A bell it shall be. An imperatively necessary warning bell to be placed preemptively around the neck of the cat. What a small, helpless rodent’s dream come true!

 “Oh – but then.

“Even with so many well-meaning and supportively exuberant legislators behind this exceptional plan; despite the brashly exacting orders which have been written into massively inflexible laws – well, gosh, as it turns out? Once these proudly enthusiastic little mice have calmed down; once each mouse has taken the time to get a direct look at reality – well, each legislator realizes that not one politician has thought of, nor painstakingly offered up, a true-life proposal for getting that excitingly legislated bell onto the neck of the cat.”

 Then Ciedie goes on to make many statements like this:

“However, in modern days; in magically modern days dedicated to the pursuit and procurement of suddenly available and minimally regulated bell-the-cat funding disbursals? Complicatedly diverse school boards comprised of multiple, non-political, equity-minded citizens – citizens who found it necessary to not only listen to, but act upon, the concerns voiced by frustrated educators, students, parents and old-school administrators:

“Well, school boards like these? Really got in the way.”

 Which leads to another observation:

“In truly compassionate days bent to the no-waiting miracles of a test-based accountability, it was not simply the mayor, now, but the mayor’s self-proclaimed Superhero Superintendent (two imperial monarchs willing to work side-by-side as an incontrovertible royalty) who both said so. Laboring hand-in-hand; uttering statements as a team – mutually these two powerful leaders could make it unambiguously clear: Both, they now claimed? Were unquestionably on board; both were ready to do whatever was necessary; both were willing, even, to spend an unparalleled amount of that governmental and/or philanthropic funding in their effort to prove just how bad the so many low-income schools placed under their royal jurisdiction: Really were.”

“In days of a statistical liability, it has become increasingly possible to find “public” school districts where the children of not only the superintendent but every member of the school board attend private schools.”

 Ciedie enlightens us to what good teacher are;

“Good teachers; well, good teachers, and oh surely this was obvious – even glaringly self-apparent in the fast pace of magical days devoted to a truer national compassion: Good teachers?

“Were young. Oh, very, very young.”

 About the TFA influx:

“Despite their designated unreliability; despite, even, their surely ungrateful lack of loyalty for stoically sticking around and “taking” the abuses created by an ever-shifting, funding-lucrative reform – huge numbers of these oft-labeled undependable Teach-For-A-Minute girls (and oh, yes, a lesser number of surely just as undependable Teach-For-A-Minute boys) were now being ever more massively produced.”

 A Very Sad Ending for Ciedie and Denver

“I was very assertively and unceremoniously sent home.

“Having no useful case against me save my age, my too often and too liberally expressed opinions, and, most annoyingly, my unhelpful ability to see directly through our district’s more than-a-decade-long loyalty to the implementation of community confusing smoke screens – taking advantage of a union-allowed option for a preemptive and, in days of a faster-and-faster-no-due-process-necessary modern-day evaluation, no concrete evidence required perp-walking/keys-confiscated/no-school-contact-allowed administrative leave – the district commandeered an abruptly unanticipated and overwhelmingly painful mid-year separation from my students, offering neither them nor any of my teaching peers an explanation as, strategically, they installed a brand-new never-taught-before replacement.”

A recent report by The Progressive Policy Institute (another of those tax-free lobbying firms masquerading as a “think-tank”) extols these reforms and brushes over the fact that their own data shows that the racial gaps in Denver’s schools have widened over the last decade.

In a rebuttal, Terrenda White of the University of Colorado, Boulder stated that the report utilized unreliable methods to establish cause and effect relationships. White also pointed out “widening gaps in achievement should have (but did not) temper the report’s call for aggressively expanding school choice as the best strategy for equalizing opportunity.”