Tag Archives: testing

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.

About ‘The Prize’

21 Dec

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

Russakoff wrote this in her conclusion:

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

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

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

Corporate Education Reform

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

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

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

*elimination or weakening of tenure and seniority rights

*an end to pay for experience or advanced degrees

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

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

*vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition

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

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

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

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

 Feckless Politicians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Lessons and Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two thumbs up for The Prize.

A Teacher’s Tale – Illuminates

12 Dec

John Thompson is an historian and a legislative analyst who found his calling – educator. His A Teacher’s Tale is provocative, interesting and a story only someone who had lived with and loved the oppressed black children of Oklahoma City could tell. It is a peek into a side of public education that is ugly and it illuminates the causes of that ugliness. It changed my perspective.

I grew up in a small town in rural Idaho (Glenn’s Ferry, population 1200). Actually, I lived until age 13 on a ranch outside of King Hill, Idaho, an unincorporated village of 99 people. Glenn’s Ferry Unified School District had schools in Glenn’s Ferry, King Hill and Hammett (another unincorporated town). Even with the three communities and the regions farms and ranches combined the four-year Glenn’s Ferry High School had less than 200 students. The truth is that our teachers were not great educators but they were great people who had our respect.

The Viet Nam war and the US Navy brought me to San Diego in 1968. My experience here with schools was not really that different in that people complained about the public schools, but like my little rural schools they were competently run at least in terms of safety and general decorum. Violence and unreasonable defiance were never a big issue even at schools in struggling neighborhoods. A student could go to these public schools and succeed splendidly. Great success stories growing out of poorly thought of San Diego neighborhoods have been common place for decades.

I share my background to illustrate an issue with getting education reform right. We are all like the proverbial blind men who are describing an elephant. Some of us feel the ears, some of us feel the trunk, etcetera. Almost all of us have experience in public school however because public education is such a vast and varied enterprise our vision is limited. My experience said that public schools were safe institutions run by professionals and that they had state bureaucracies insuring competent ethical operations. A Teacher’s Tale counters this view powerfully.

Thompson entered the classroom in 1993. At the time, there was a determined movement to improve Oklahoma City schools. John’s experience working in politics and his ethic of community engagement pushed him into the center of local reform efforts. This book tells the story how his work and that of many others was significantly undermined and even reversed by forces outside of the city.

In 1999, John committed to “a bipartisan district-wide school reform effort known as MAPS for Kids.” He helped draft a student achievement plan for the school system and helped sell the plan during an election to raise taxes and to fund system-wide instructional reforms. (page 202)

He describes how NCLB undermined MAPS:

“MAPS for Kids called for a balanced approach that emphasized improved classroom instruction and a holistic community-wide effort to offer the same high-quality education to low income students that affluent parents expect for their own children. NCLB, however, promoted the theory that the answers to the legacies of generational poverty could simply be found in the classroom. For that reason, efforts to address out-of-school factors were placed on the back burner as the OKCPS complied with the federal law.

“In the early years of MAPS and NCLB, efforts to improve instruction were undermined somewhat as the district tried to negotiate between the data-informed policies promised by local reformers and the data-driven approach favored by proponents of the federal law. For several years, the district was torn between the mixed messages of MAPS, which supported the use of diagnostic assessments as interpreted by educators, and the site-based management for empowering of teachers and principals, and of NCLB high-stakes testing and top-down governance, which overrode the judgments of professionals.”

John relates some absolutely horrific stories of student violence and fear. He describes how in 2006, in the aftermath of the school choice movement, John Marshall and Centennial high schools spiraled out of control. John had experienced large classes including students with reputations for being disruptive but this was different. He says, “I had never had such ‘toxic concentrations of poverty,’ where so many children simply could not control their behavior.” (Page 30)

John relates several stories of absolutely special children who were struggling to grow up in neighborhoods infested with Crips and Bloods. He tells of helping a student overcome a lack of reading skills and become motivated to educate himself only to be murdered. It was a frightful and repeated experience for the educators at John Marshall and Centennial High.

In the book, John presents convincing evidence that taking disciplinary control policies away from local administrators and teachers 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 positive and safe learning environments. The evidence presented supporting this observation is powerful.

In addition to the evidence from his Oklahoma experience, John sited evidence from Chicago:

“Marshall would soon learn the hard way why the Consortium on Chicago School Research, in Organizing Schools for Improvement, Identified the intertwined factors of discipline and attendance as prime reasons why troubled schools fail to improve. When the consortium looked deeply into stalled reforms, its “most powerful single finding” was the relationship between attendance problems and the failure to manage disciplinary issues. Moreover, the consortium “found virtually no chance of improving attendance in schools that lacked safety and order” and “where instruction alignment was weak or predominantly basic skills oriented.” In other words, discipline, attendance, and effort to provide more effective instruction were interrelated in Chicago schools as in our Marshall.” (Page 356)

My impression is that Thompson is liberal minded and likely a Democrat. However, I like his open-minded approach and willingness to work with conservatives. His work with the group that created the MAPS for Kids school reform agenda was clearly a bipartisan effort by liberals and conservatives coming to consensus for the benefit of students. John’s book demonstrates that most conservatives care for their schools and want to fix problems rather than destroy schools or privatize them. It shows that conservatives and liberals can develop unity and consensus about how to run their schools. However, big moneyed interests and outsiders tend to wreak havoc.

One of the many examples of this was the famous historian David McCullough criticizing NCLB mandates for “narrowing the scope of the curriculum and promulgating a growing suspicion of teachers.” John continued:

“Before NCLB-type testing, few educators would have disagreed with him. Pedagogies that previously would be considered essential for teaching students to flourish in the modern world would struggle to survive the contemporary school reform movement.” (Page 164)

Referring to data-driven accountability and the need for disruptive change to shake up the “status-quo”, John writes:

“The charge was to produce rapid ‘transformational change’ in outcomes at challenging schools like Marshall in Oklahoma City. This accountability-driven reform was imposed, unfortunately, by advocates of disruptive change who typically had little knowledge of high-poverty K-12 schools. Inner city schools need more disruption like we need another gang war.” (Page 83)

Seeing community schools as an essential building block of a healthy society, John criticizes the no-excuses mentality that refuses to look at community health when designing approaches to improve schools. He observes:

“Community schools, however, are the tough-minded solution. Teacher-driven reforms like Rhee’s policies have yet to demonstrate much success, and now that billions of dollars have been invested in computer systems to keep track of teacher quality, they are no longer inexpensive. If nothing else, NCLB has prompted a golden age of educational research that has shown why test-driven accountability has failed. The time has come for a new generation of holistic reforms building on social science and the power of our diverse communities.”

The last five or six election cycles and school reform have spotlighted a nation divided. This division is the great obstacle facing America. We must find a way to respect each other’s opinions and discuss them with an open mind. John demonstrates by his activities in Oklahoma City that conservatives and liberals can reach common cause and make good policy, but we must stop demonizing each other. Everyone loves their children and we all want good education for them. That is a good starting point for dialog.

In the conclusion section of this book John makes this salient point:

“Due process is no more political than any other legal issue, which means that politics is pervasive in it. Government by fiat is no less political than grassroots organizing. The effort to impose technocratic solutions in order to avoid the messy politics of instruction is just as political as any other autocratic regime.”

A Teacher’s Tale is a valuable book from which anyone interested in public education or education in general will learn something.

Education and the Commercial Mindset

21 Oct

Samuel E. Abrams has created a masterpiece of research and reason illuminating the successes and failures of the forces favoring privatization of public education. His new book published by Harvard University Press is Education and the Commercial Mindset.

Starting with Chris Whittle and his infamous Channel One on TV and the ill-fated Edison Education, Abrams documents the triumphs and failures of profit based education. He shares the thinking and biographies of key characters working to privatize education and includes voices warning about the unsavory consequences of this agenda; not only in America, but worldwide.

Evidence of Valuable Education Reform Policies

My big take-away from this book was solidified in the last two chapters that discussed privatization efforts in Europe and South America. It explains why both Chile and Sweden have begun undoing their privatized systems. Abrams wrote:

“Much as many Chileans at the same time were protesting their nation’s long-standing system of for-profit school management, initiated in 1981, Swedish critics started to raise their voices in opposition. The Chilean adversaries would soon prevail, with President Michele Bachelet declaring in January 2015 that her government would phase out for-profit school management.

“Basic to the UR [the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company] series was a crisis of faith in Swedish education known as ‘PISA shock.’ Of all OECD nations, only Sweden had seen scores on the triennial Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) successively drop with each administration of the exam since its introduction in 2000.” (Page 275)

The one country in Scandinavia that plotted its own course, Finland, has a very similar population distribution as its neighbors yet on PISA its scores are significantly better. Finland also achieved about the same result differential when compared to the United States. Here is a chart I reproduced from the book (Page 287):

pisa-results-graphic

To address a chronic teacher shortage – especially in science classes – Norway, Denmark and Sweden have all introduced Teach for America type programs. Now there is a Teach for Norway, a Teach for Denmark and a Teach for Sweden. On the contrary, Finland sets itself ”apart from not only Sweden but also Denmark and Norway as the only Nordic nation requiring all teachers to have a master’s degree before taking over a classroom.” (Page 280) The Finn’s significantly boosted teacher pay to equality with other professions and reduced class sizes. There is no teacher shortage in Finland.

Where Norway, Sweden and Denmark have embraced standardized testing of certain critical classes like language and mathematics, Finland has chosen to monitor its schools using sampling techniques similar to the NEAP testing in the United States. In addition, Finland samples all classes including music and art.

The Finns also have a different attitude toward who should be leading education than their Nordic neighbors or the United States. Abrams reports, “Of the many officials I interviewed at the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, the FNBE, FINEEC, and the Helsinki Department of Education, all had been teachers for at least four years and several had taught more than ten.” (Page 289)

If the intention is great education and not merely profiting from tax payers or creating education on the cheap, then the Finish results indicate three important policy principles to consider:

1) Put highly trained well paid teachers in every classroom.

2) Respect the professional judgment of educators and have them lead education.

3) Significantly reduce class sizes.

For Profit Education and Modern Reform Efforts

In the spring of 1991, George Bush announced his America 2000 education agenda and the New America Schools Development Corporation (NASDC). NASDC was defined as “a private-sector research and development fund of at least $150 million to generate innovation in education.” (Page 20) Alcoa CEO Paul O’Neill was named as its first chairman. The Regan administration published “A Nation at Risk”, which was written by leaders in the business community and NASDC was clearly a business community driven entity charged with fixing America’s “failing” public schools. Abrams described the committee:

“O’Neill was soon after replaced by Thomas Kean, president of Drew University and former Republican governor of New Jersey. Kean’s fifteen fellow board members comprised some of most powerful people in American business, including Louis Gerstner, chairman of RJR Nabisco; Frank Shrontz, chairman of Boeing; Lee Raymond, president of Exxon; James R. Jones, chairman and CEO of the American Stock Exchange; John Ong, chairman of BF Goodrich; and Paul Tagliabue, commissioner of the National Football League. Their mission was to lead the way in breaking the mold of conventional schooling.” (page 21)

America had turned its back on professional educators and put its faith in these powerful CEO’s to remediate all that was believed plaguing public schools. A few years latter Diane Ravitch would derisively label this CEO led reform effort “corporate education reform.”

Concurrent with Bush’s America 2000, Chris Whittle had sold his Channel One and was putting together a for profit education organization called the Edison Project. Whittle was the consummate salesman. “In a coup that made the front page of the New York Times on May 26, 1992, Whittle lured Benno Schmidt from the presidency of Yale University and thereby brought the Edison Project national attention and clout overnight.” (Page 27) As Abrams documents, Whittle and Schmidt made grandiose claims regarding the future of the Edison Project:

“Despite this lack of experience in K-12 education, Schmidt, along Whittle, spoke with conviction about what ailed it and what should be done. They contended that no cause in the United States was as pressing as K-12 education and no remedy as promising as for-profit management. In the front-page article in the New York Times announcing Schmidt’s decision to leave Yale to lead Edison, Schmidt and Whittle forecasted that Edison could have a revolutionary impact. Whittle placed the company’s mission in the context of the Cold War and employed the language of historical inevitability: ‘You have to have a West Berlin for East Berlin to fall, and what we’re really doing here is building West Berlin.’ Schmidt added: ‘The reason this hasn’t been done before is that this thing is a matter of D-Day dimensions. Only someone with a high tolerance for risk would even be willing to contemplate it.’ Schmidt predicted, ‘If this venture succeeds, there’s nothing that could be done, aside from changing human nature that could be more constructive for our society.’” (Page 28)

Toward Edison’s Failure

Abrams obviously spent a lot of time not only researching but visiting various facilities and interviewing key actors in the story of privatized education in America. It is fascinating to learn how many of the leaders in the Edison Project have continued the quest to privatize America’s schools. I think two episodes involving Edison are particularly illustrative of privatized failure; one in Baltimore and the other in Philadelphia.

Citizens in middle and working class neighborhoods were not interested in replacing their public schools with for profit schools. However, blighted neighborhoods like those in Baltimore which became the locations for HBO’s The Wire, were fertile markets for Edison. In March of 2000, the Maryland School Board identified seven Baltimore primary schools that were not performing well and they selected Edison to run four of those elementary schools. The other three schools continued under the supervision of the local school district.

The bottom line was Edison came in with some really good people and made many facilities upgrades, but the three schools that stayed in the public system outperformed the Edison schools on language arts and math testing. When the only metric for good education is testing data, it signaled the eventual end for Edison in Baltimore.

In 2000, Tom Ridge paid Edison $2.7 million dollars to study Philadelphia’s schools and make recommendations. Abrams writes about the reaction to this contract:

“Even Brandon Dobell, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston who was bullish on Edison, expressed disapproval of the arrangement. Along with Howard M. Block, an analyst at Bank of America Securities, Dobell took the consulting contract to mean that Edison would end up running a cluster of the city’s schools and, on that account, forecasted greater earning potential for the company. A report Dobell coauthored termed the contract ‘a strong endorsement for the Edison value proposition – perhaps the strongest we have seen thus far in Edison’s lifetime.’ Indeed, Edison’s stock spiked 6 percent on the day of the announcement of the contract. Yet Dobell saw the conflict of interest inherent in commissioning a study from a company that stood likely to recommend its own services. ‘This contract is a bit strange,’ Dobell said to a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. ‘It is kind of like putting a fox in charge of the henhouse.’” (Page 104)

Eventually, after much political upheaval, Edison was awarded 23 Philadelphia schools. While Abrams details many issues faced by Edison, it was the intractable problems plaguing public schools; poverty, lack of funding and bad education policy dictated from above that were beyond Edison’s ability to conquer.

I am reminded of a story I heard from a New Orleans resident about why parents there initially embraced the charter movement. As a young woman, going to underfunded schools in the black community, she had been in middle school classes with 55 students. Furthermore, the administration would only allow teachers to run the classroom fan for 10 minutes every hour. It was oppressively hot and students would watch the clock like a hawk so they got the fan on immediately when it was time. After Katrina, political leaders said they were going to put money into schools in her neighborhood. That was new and sounded good.

Pennsylvania finances its schools almost exclusively with property taxes. In urban Philadelphia, property values are low and poverty is high. In 2000-2001, Philadelphia spent $7,944 per student on schools. The five school districts along the Main Line of the region’s commuter rail system, which services suburbanites living northwest of Philadelphia spent $11,421 per student. Even though Edison got some extra funding they could not overcome this double whammy that has also vexed the public schools system. Education on the cheap, does not work; especially in blighted neighborhoods.

In 2013, Edison ceased to exist. The bulk of EdisonLearning was sold to a supplementary educational services company in Camden, New Jersey, called Catapult Learning.

Abrams also does a thorough job of documenting the rise of the charter school industry, especially the no-excuses charters. It is fascinating to see how many young executives at Edison became key leaders in the charter school industry or went to work for foundations like the Fisher Foundation which support charter schools.

Both the for profit education initiative and charter school development were led by people with no deep education experience or theoretical knowledge. For example the famous KIPP charter school chain was started by two “Teach for a Minute Boys” with no education background and only two years elementary school teaching experience.

Abrams presents convincing arguments that KIPP and other no-excuses charter systems cannot possibly be scaled up to educate all American children. These systems have a history of burning out teachers and they rely on public schools to take in the children they expel or council out.

For people interested in public education, Education and the Commercial Mindset is an important asset. The privatization movement has been fueled by a misunderstanding of effect and cause. Public schools were struggling, not due to misguided pedagogy or “bad teachers”, but from bad policy and an unwillingness to adequately fund education in poor communities. The top down and misguided federally driven remedies and for profit cannibalism have only made the problem worse.

 

School Choice Barbecued Cajun Style

5 Sep

Mercedes Schneider’s newest book continues her legacy of scholarship and philosophical prescience.  In School Choice; The End of Public Education? she documents and explains many facets of the issue. Three glaring problems with “school choice” as an education policy caught my eye: (1) Friedman’s choice ideology ends the concept of mandatory education for all, (2) “choice” has abandoned its original purpose and become a profiteering racket, and (3) “choice” is historically a method used to promote segregation.

School Choice Foundations

Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek who believed in classical liberalism especially the concept that it is in the common interest that all individuals must be able to secure their own economic self-interest, without government direction. In September 1944, the University of Chicago Press published Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom. It was squarely against government programs like social security and Roosevelt’s new deal.

In 1950, Hayek left the London School of Economics for the University of Chicago. It was there that Milton Friedman and a host of young scholars met their sole mate Hayek. They saw government social programs as seeds for tyranny and public education was no exception. Friedman became known as the father of school choice when he wrote, “The Role of Government in Education” advocating school vouchers for universal private education in 1955.

I knew all of this but Schneider unearthed an amazing quote from the paper I did not know. Friedman was not only opposed to schools run by democratically elected boards; he also believed mandates for compulsory education were an obstacle to freedom:

“Perhaps a somewhat greater degree of freedom to choose schools could be made available also in a governmentally administered system, but it is hard to see how it could be carried very far in view of the obligation to provide every child with a place.” (School Choice Page 32)

Schneider commented, “Here we have the idea that for the market to be at its best, it needs to be free from any obligation to educate all children.” And she continued in some depth clearly illuminating this anti-humanistic and fatally flawed theory that is the foundation of “school choice” theory.

A Legacy of Segregation

Mercedes Schneider is a product of segregated schools in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. She says the Orleans Parish schools she attended have a history that “does not inspire pride.” Not only were the schools segregated, but more tragically, the parish refused to construct new schools for the growing back student population. Not just separate schools for whites and blacks but not of equal quality by design.

After “Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka” required the end of the farcical separate but equal policies, southern politicians turned to school choice and vouchers as a way to avoid integration. Milton Friedman’s timely paper was well received in the segregated south.

To this point Schneider states:

“Thus, what is clear about tuition grants, scholarships, or grants-in-aid, and the history of American public education is that these were tools used to preserve segregation. There it is: The usage of choice for separating school children into those who are ‘desirable’ and those who are not. Though it seems that most Southern states were ready participants in resisting the federal requirement to integrate their public education systems, Senator Byrd’s sentiment of ‘massive resistance’ was even formally declared in a U.S. legislative document commonly known as the ‘Southern Manifesto.’” (School Choice Page 22)

Today, it is not much different with the possible exception of more emphasis on class separation than in the past. Recently a blogger known as “educationrealist” posted this discerning observation:

“I offer this up as opinion/assertion, without a lot of evidence to back me: most parents know intuitively that bad teachers aren’t a huge problem. What they care about, from top to bottom of the income scale, is environment. Suburban white parents don’t want poor black and Hispanic kids around. Poor black and Hispanic parents don’t want bad kids around. (Yes, this means suburban parents see poor kids as mostly bad kids.) Asian parents don’t want white kids around to corrupt their little tigers, much less black or Hispanic. (White parents don’t really want too many Asians around, either, but that’s the opposite of the “bad kids” problem.)

“Parents don’t care much about teacher quality. They care a lot about peer group quality.”

Around 2003, a friend tried to convince my wife and I to send our daughter to High Tech High. This mother did not want her daughter to be exposed to all those bad influences at Mira Mesa High School. Mira Mesa High School is a quality school that graduates amazingly gifted students every year and sets them on to a course of academic and social success. But the new charter school that Bill Gates and Irwin Jacobs had put so much money into surely would not have all those feared “bad kids.”

“Begs to be Gamed”

“By 2015, according to the Education Commission of the States website, 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico all had charter school laws. Of these, 33 states had charter authorizing bodies, yet only 15 states and Washington, D.C., had standards for charter authorizers and the requirement that charter authorizers annually produce formal reports regarding the charter schools they oversee. Furthermore, only 11 states and the District of Columbia specify performance criteria to determine whether a charter should be continued or revoked.” (School Choice Page 59)

Charter schools have become the vogue privatization vehicle of the 21st century. Schneider presents a detailed background of charter school formation starting with Ray Budde’s 1974 conference paper that proposed a new structure for school management that he called “charter schools” and AFT President Albert Shanker’s 1988 fascination with Budde’s idea. Shanker extended Budde’s ideas with his own “school with-in a school” concept in which teachers would be authorized to experiment.

Shanker quickly became disenchanted by the direction the charter school movement took. It became clear to him that the new charter school laws made corruption and profiteering inevitable. In various articles, he highlighted the cases demonstrating how dangerous and poorly regulated charter schools were. He wrote of the Noah Webster schools gaming the system in Michigan for $4 million and of Washington D.C. giving a charter to a man charged with assault with a deadly weapon whose head of school security was a convicted felon. 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.” (School Choice Page 57)

I was fascinated by the quotes from Addison Wiggins Forbes magazine article about why hedge fund operators are so pro-charter school industry. One quote reads:

“About the only thing charters do well is limit the influence of teachers’ unions. And fatten their investors’ portfolios.

“In part, it’s the tax code that makes charter schools so lucrative: … firms that invest in charters and other projects located in ‘underserved’ areas can collect a generous tax credit – up to 39% – to offset their costs.” (School Choice Page 101)

One of the most lucrative aspects of the charter industry seems to be facilities. Open a charter school and start a real estate company that specializes in leasing school facilities. Then you can charge yourself twice the going rates and the taxpayer picks up the bill. Schneider asks, “Why does the federal government not see through the potential real estate exploitation…?” Probably corruptions and cowardice have a lot to do with it.

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.

Instead of recognizing the amazing public education system we have in the United States our Congressional leaders are promoting charter schools both monetarily and with praise. Mercedes Quotes the Sense of Congress from their version of the new federal education law that is little more than a charter industry add. Paragraph 2 stated:

 “It is the sense of the Congress that charter schools are a critical part of our education system in this Nation and the Congress believes we must support opening more quality charter schools to help students succeed in their future.” (School Choice Page 151)

 Schneider concludes the charter school portion of the book with;

“Adequate monitoring of charter schools is not happening, by and large, and those individual using taxpayer money to serve their own interests by operating charter schools only contribute to damaging American public education” (School Choice Page 155)

 I have endeavored to give a taste of this wonderful effort by Mercedes Schneider and encourage everyone to not only read it but share it with others. If we educators can educate the public about how our legacy passed down from previous generations is being robbed, the public will stop these villains immediately. Remember, they are greedy cowards who will quail before public sanction.

Better Together Corporate Teacher’s Summit

2 Aug

My wonderful friend, Dr. Larry Lawrence, sent me a message last March alerting me to a free teacher’s conference that he was going to attend. He had attended the first Better Together conference in 2015 and was sure I would love to see the common core love fest in action.

On Friday, July 29, National University hosted the San Diego “Better Together California Teacher’s Summit.” I like National University and have nothing but praise for the wonderful job Dr. Judy Mantel and her excellent staff did. However, the conference underwriter was the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. That gave the proceedings a darker hue.

During the 2016 NPE conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, Diane Ravitch mentioned how much easier it would be if we got a deep pocket sponsor for our movement, but she jokingly lamented that Anthony Cody would not stand for it. When I arrived at the Town and Country Convention Center in San Diego’s hotel circle, I saw what she meant. They had breakfast prepared for all 700 of us. The ballroom was plushly appointed and there appeared to be hotel staff everywhere. Twenty event staff were already on duty when I arrived.

Unfortunately, I had not read the agenda closely enough and had already eaten. I was only hoping for free coffee.

The following graphic was periodically displayed while we were awaiting the proceedings.

Better TogetherVideo link connected us with a simultaneous event being held at California State University, Fullerton. Three massive screens projected keynote speaker, Ernie Hudson who was in Fullerton. Besides being a popular actor, Hudson is a wonderful speaker. His speech was moving and entertaining.

However, I wondered if an accomplished professional educator speaking would have been more appropriate. For example, I will never forget the address Professor Yong Zhao gave at NPE Chicago but then he didn’t blame teachers for his son’s problems and he doesn’t support standards based testing. Hard to imagine Gates’ money being spent on a speaker that does not support Gates’ ideology.

The Sponsors

The money came mainly from the Gates Foundation, however, the official sponsors were AICCU, the California State University and the New Teacher Center. The sponsors page of the Better Together California web presence lists many corporate supports including: TFA, The S.D. Bechtel Foundation, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, the California Charter Schools Association, Chevron….

The New Teachers Center seemed to be the key organization overall in charge. Their funders page lists the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation as $10,000,000 plus patrons. Thirty listed entities are credited with donating between $1,000,000 and $9,999,999 including: Carnegie Corporation of New York; The Joyce Foundation; The David and Lucile Packard Foundation; SeaChange Capital Partners; The Goldman Sachs Foundation; Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust; National Education Association; and NewSchools Venture Fund.

In addition to New Teacher’s Foundation, Edcamp was another major force present at the summit. Started by the George Lucas Foundation Edcamp has a small presence in communities across the country. There are two Edcamp groups in San Diego County according to the Edcamp representative from Baltimore.

On his Edutopia internet page Lucas is quoted, “When I was in high school, I felt like I was in a vacuum, biding time. I was curious, but bored. It was not an atmosphere conducive to learning. Once I had the means to effect change in this arena, it became my passion to do so.” Sounds like another rich guy education “expert” with no training or experience, but he has a boat load of money so his opinion is important.

On the good side, Edutopia and George Lucas do not appear to have a pecuniary interests in privatizing public education.

I realize many people may wonder why I am not pleased that all of these rich people love kids so much. There is an insidious side. For example, instead of questioning the idea of adding engineering standards to basic science education, the conversation is shaped so all we discuss is how to best implement engineering principles into science education.

Before students reach approximately their junior year in college, they are not ready to study engineering. I am for shop class, cooking and pottery projects, but these are not engineering. There is no useful purpose in confusing teachers and students by larding a bunch of inappropriate engineering standers onto seventh graders. Unfortunately, there appears to be no room for dialog that does not support the philosophy of the wealthy CEO that demanded engineering standards.

We know that the Common Core was written hastily – in secret – by a group of 21 people, 19 of whom worked in the testing industry. As Peter Greene writes, “The Core were rushed together by a bunch of educational amateurs, who were sure we couldn’t wait another second to implement them because they would improve education immediately. They didn’t, and there’s no reason to believe that there will ever be actual improvement to come from the standards– only the illusion of improvement if teachers continue to come up with newer, better techniques and give the Core credit for them.” I think that is exactly the purpose of this corporate supported conference. It is for teachers to create the illusion.

I am annoyed every time I hear the phrase “common core math”. There is no such thing and mostly what people are calling “common core math” are the cooperative learning and constructivist ideas that John Dewey proposed in the early twentieth century.

Two Presentations of Note

Shortly after I arrived, the head of the science department in my district introduced me to a fairly new teacher from the middle school that feeds my high school. The conference used the Ted talk format calling them Edtalks. I was quite surprised that the first Edtalk was by this teacher, Alicia Johal.

Alicia is obviously bright and poised. Her talk featuring the underwater robotics team she is coaching was well presented and her PowerPoint slides made things look as amazing as possible.

Unfortunately, while Alicia was speaking Ciedie Aech’s book Why Is You Always Got To Be Trippin’ possessed my mind. Ciedie is from Denver, Colorado home some of our nation’s most pernicious and destructive education reform. In her book, she reported on a conversation she overheard about the kind of teachers we need. Ciedie tends to sarcasm.

 “’Wouldn’t you,’ he stated, leering suggestively at the five other males seated around his educational table. ‘Well, wouldn’t you rather have had young teachers; teachers who were young, perky and vivacious?’

“My.

“Not just young, but perky.

“And vivacious.

“Golly.”

The main afternoon presentation was by Kelly Galiagher from Magnolia High School in the Anaheim School District. He spoke about the importance of writing. He is a gifted speaker and even though the subject area is not new – he gave it life. However, one of his five points supporting the importance of writing was discordant.  His point four was that writing prepared students for common core testing. This obviously well considered individual cannot believe that test preparation is a worthy justification for his main point.

If this had not been a Gates funded event would Kelly have actually mentioned common core and testing as reasons for writing? I don’t think so.

Charter Schools

Charter school teachers were among the conference goers. They seemed like any other teachers; some impressive and some not. All of the charter school teachers I met were from schools that were locally formed and led. There were no teachers from KIPP, Magnolia (Gulen) or Aspire. I also did not meet a charter school teacher from a school run by a charter management organization.

The story I heard repeated was “I used to teach in public schools but when NCLB came along I was no longer able to do the right thing in the classroom. I have taken a pay cut but I love my school because I can teach the way I know it should be done.” From my personal experience, I found that to be a powerful argument.

I hope that a way is found to bring some of these schools under an umbrella of democratic control. The charter industry has developed into a demonic tool used to purloin public education dollars and destroy the public education system. As this trend continues to worsen, quality charter schools like Einstein Academy will be crushed right along with public schools. It is becoming clear that the market competition that would make schools improve is not a competition to better educate; it’s a competition to better market. Mom and pop charter schools will never survive that battle.

Personalized Learning

On every table in the conference ballroom was an invitation to a CUE Tech Fair. CUE’s web presence says, “CUE inspires innovative learners by fostering community, personalizing learning, infusing technology, developing leadership, and advocating educational opportunities for all.”

CUE, originally a sincere organization, has been corrupted. The personalized learnSDCCU Tech Fair Partnersing they call for is competency based education (CBE) delivered by computers and scored by a corporations. Instead of credits, students will earn badges from testing giants like Pearson Corporation. This graphic is from their web page.

Emily Talmage’s warnings about the CBE threat to the teaching profession, America’s culture and good education is well founded. From her latest post on this subject:

“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.

 “(The American Legislative Exchange Council and the major teacher’s unions and their associated networks are encouraging states join the innovative assessment pilot program designed by the International Association of K-12 Online Learning and the Gates-funded Knowledgeworks Foundation and now allowed by the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.)”

 This is a real and present danger to the teaching profession, quality public education and democracy in America. As enjoyable as lunch paid for by Bill Gates and conversations with fellow educators was, I feel the hidden purpose behind the Better Together California Teacher’s Summit was the end of the teaching profession and public education as we know it. That is not a good thing!