Edward Johnson, a follower of the collaborative philosophy of W. Edwards Deming, has been an outspoken critic of the top-down, authoritarian methods that ruled the schools of Atlanta under former Superintendent Beverly Hall, whose demands for higher scores produced a massive cheating scandal.


Now he is equally critical of the school board’s decision to transition to a charter-like system. Johnson said:


“This is Beverly Hall 2.0,” long-time education advocate Ed Johnson told APN, referring to the former Superintendent associated with the APS CRCT cheating scandal.”


Johnson was especially critical of the new superintendent, Meria Carstarphen, for promoting charter schools; she was superintendent in Austin before she came to Atlanta. And he expressed regret for encouraging his followers to vote for Cynthia Briscoe Brown, who supported the charter proposal.


“My voting and encouraging others to vote to put Cynthia Briscoe Brown on the Atlanta school board has turned out to be a great mistake. So I offer my apology to all I had encouraged to vote for her,” Johnson wrote in an email sent to APS Board Members and stakeholders.
“I had hoped, actually believed, Cynthia would bring a greater measure of intellectual, moral, and ethical maturity to the board than would especially the four Teach for America youngsters on the board. Never was there the thought that Cynthia would go along with the stupidity of turning APS into a Charter System or go along with any effort to undermine APS as a public institution, as a public good,” Johnson wrote.
“APS as a Charter System will do nothing but keep the district stuck in a Beverly Hall kind of status quo, but with a difference. Beverly Hall obviously held scant empathy for the adults in APS. Now, even at this early stage, we see a new superintendent who is pushing that lack of empathy down upon the children, and implicitly blaming the children for the superintendency’s failure to learn to improve the district,” Johnson wrote.
“Now it has become inarguably clear that all the rigmarole APS put into deciding to turn APS into a Charter System amounts to nothing more than Cynthia Briscoe Brown and fellow board members (save perhaps Steven Lee) and the superintendent showing they bring nothing beyond the capacity to maintain the status quo, the real status quo, under a different name. The rigmarole has been a colossal waste of time and money that could have gone into engaging all stakeholders in learning how to improve the current state of APS. But that would have required leadership,” Johnson said in his email.


Probably the board is not aware that the New Orleans district is rated #65 of 68 districts in Louisiana.

Alan Singer says it is time to protest the inequitable conditions in East Ramapo, NewYork, where Orthodox Jews control the school board. The school board starves the public schools of resources, but is very generous to the private religious schools their own children attend.

He writes:

“Nine thousand Black and Latino children attending East Ramapo, New York public schools are warehoused in over-crowded, under-funded failing schools because a school board controlled by a White religious group is using public school dollars to subsidize their own children who attend religious schools. District school budgets have been defeated four of the last five years and eight of the last eleven, the highest rate of budget rejection in New York State. Meanwhile Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York State, Merryl Tisch, the Chancellor of the State Board of Regents, the governing body for education in New York, and John King, the Education Commissioner, have all remained silent. That is why it is time to march against racism in East Ramapo…..

“The district is now bankrupt because of all the money channeled to private religious schools despite major cuts in public education spending…..”

The state-appointed monitor, Hank Greenberg, “Prior to delivering his report to State Education, Greenberg told reporters he did not believe the East Ramapo school board acted “out of base or venal motives.” Rather, their concern about the children from their own religious group had “blinded them to the needs of the entire community.” This is surprising language from a lawyer given that Greenberg’s job was to investigate legal and financial impropriety, not determine whether the school board was moral but blinded by good intentions. However, I am not a lawyer. Greenberg found the district’s funding pattern to be “unique” in New York State and charged the faction in control of the East Ramapo school board of “abysmal” fiscal management and noted the district was teetering “on the precipice of fiscal disaster.” This is an example of institutional racism, whether school board members think they are acting in good faith to meet the needs of children from their own religious community. That is why it is time to march against racism in East Ramapo.

“Since 2009, the non-venal majority in control of the East Ramapo school board has eliminated 245 public school positions, including special education teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, and elementary school assistant principals. It replaced full-day kindergarten with half-day, eliminated instrumental music for younger children, ended transportation for field trips, reduced athletic and extra-curricular activities by fifty percent, closed the summer school, and depleted the district’s emergency reserves, money it is legally required to maintain for insurance, liability and unanticipated costs. That is why it is time to march against racism in East Ramapo.

“Meanwhile, district spending on programs benefiting private religious school students have increased substantially. From 2006-7 to 2013-14, district spending on transporting private school students specifically increased nearly 77 percent. From 2010-11 to 2013-14, the cost of providing special education for students enrolled in private religious schools increased by 33 percent. More than 23,500 students are transported daily to private religious schools in East Ramapo, 18,000 by private companies that are essentially subsidized by the school district. Special education students receive services in forty different religious schools, which are also essentially subsidized by the school district. These subsidies to families that send their children to private religious schools make up over one-third of the district budget.”

The state may be reluctant to intervene because it has poor record of taking over entire districts (e.g., Roosevelt in Long Island), but the state should take over to protect the children from a school board that doesn’t care about them.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Alan Singer when he wrote about the district, the East Ramapo board sold a closed school for use as a religious school at what appears to be less than its fair market value. The state did not object.

You don’t have to look far into the future to see the technology sector circling the schools, giving generously to elected officials, hyping the wonders of computers instead of teachers (so much cheaper, and computers never need a pension), and gently persuading legislatures to add online courses as graduation requirements. Consider the federally-funded tests for Common Core: all online, all requiring a massive investment in equipment, bandwidth and support services. The Golden Fleece: replacing teachers with computers.


Laura Chapman writes:




Latest Bamboozlers are the “on-line only” promoters of “learning,” no need for teachers.


In a press release dated February, 3, 2014 KnowledgeWorks and The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) announced their shared agenda for federal policies that would change “our entire K-12 education system” to fit a student-centered learning environment with demonstrations of competency, free of traditional notions of schools, teachers, and student learning.


The policy report addressed to federal officials calls for the status quo on requiring students to meet college-and career-ready standards, but these standards would be aligned with specific competencies mapped into the idea of optimum trajectories for learning that will lead to graduation. Individual students would be tracked on the “pace” of their mastery through the use of on-line and “real-time” data. The data for each student is supposed to inform the instruction, supports, and interventions needed by each student in order to graduate.


This vision requires competency-based interpretations of the college-and career-ready standards and measures of those competencies. It requires a recommendation system (data-driven guide) for prioritizing required learning and ensuring continuous improvement in learning until graduation.


The vision calls for federal funding to states and districts for developing “personalized learning pathways” (PLPs) for students along with the infrastructure needed to produce real-time data for just-in-time recommendations for the interventions and supports needed to move students to college and career readiness.


The system in intended to build reports on the progress of individual students relative to mastery, or a high level of competency, for the college and career readiness standards.


In addition to keeping individuals “on-pace” in demonstrating standards-aligned competencies, this entire system is envisioned as offering “useful information for accountability, better teaching and learning, and measures of quality in education.”


In effect, programmed instruction is the solution for securing student compliance with the Common Core State Standards, assuring their entry into college and a career, with “instructional designers and programmers” the surrogates for teachers. Teachers are not needed because the out-of-sight designers and programmers build the recommendation systems for needed “interventions,” also known as “playlists.”


This is a souped-up version of vintage 1950s programmed instruction amplified in scope and detail by technology–on-line playlists and monitors of PLPs–personal learning plans–available anytime.


In fact, students get one-size-fits education, at the rate they can manage. The rate learning is optimized by computers programmed to lead students to and from the needed playlists of activities (e.g., subroutines that function as reviews, simple re-teaching, new warm-ups for the main learning event or subsets of methods for presenting the same concept). The student does what the computer says and the computer decides if and when mastery or some other criterion for competence has been achieved.


The selling framework is for “personalized, competency-based student-centered learning in a de-institutionalized environment.


Out of view are scenarios where all education is offered by “learning agents” who broker educational services offered by a mix of for-profit and non-profit providers. Token public schools remain in the mix, but are radically reduced in number and the loss becomes a self-fulling prophesy justifying radical cuts in state support. Profit seekers, together with volunteers and “20-year commitments from foundations” provide for “students in need. This is one of several scenarios from KnowledgWorks.



The quest for federal funds is found here at http://knowledgeworks.org/building-capacity-systems-change-federal-policy-framework-competency-education#sthash.Nr0OpfWq.dpuf


See more at the CompetencyWorks website http://bit.ly/cwk12fedpolicy

Joanne Yatvin has been a teacher, a principal, and a superintendent in Oregon. She is a reading specialist. Here she defends the small school idea. My own view is that there is a trade-off. A large school offers a large and diverse curriculum. A small school offers intimacy and close relationships. Some students prefer small schools, others do not. I am agnostic.




An editorial published earlier this month in the New York Times heralded the success of three small, specialized high schools created by former mayor Michael Bloomberg. A multiyear study showed that disadvantaged students at those schools did better academically than those in large, traditional high schools and were more likely to enroll in college. Within a few days Diane Ravitch posted a piece on her blog written by an unnamed researcher at the NYC Department of Education who questioned the verity of those results. He claimed that the study was financed by the same organization that funded the schools and was not peer reviewed. He also thought much of the data looked suspicious.

Based on these two articles alone, a reader can’t be certain which type of school is better for students and teachers. But I am biased by my own experience teaching in both large and small schools early in my career and ending up as the principal of two small elementary schools and one small middle school. What I saw in small schools were the positive effects of what sociologists call “social capital” which means, simply, the benefits derived from being connected to other people.


But, let me be specific. In the middle school we connected students by adopting a road alongside the school and having a whole-school cleanup day four times a year. Kids were also asked to pick up any trash they saw while walking to or from school.

We also developed an in-school “jobs” program that students could apply for. A job consisted of 20 minutes per day assisting a teacher or other school employee. Workers earned points that could be used to bid on desirable items in an end of the year auction.


Finally, all students, including special-needs kids were welcome to join any school sports team, or participate in drama or musical events.

As a result of these programs, school attendance and behavior improved markedly and bullying disappeared. What we also saw in students was a strong expression of pride and connectedness, as if they were proclaiming, “This is our school, and we don’t want anyone to mess with it.”

At one elementary school where I was principal we brought kids together through a school store that sold only student-made items and a noon hour of “Gifted” activities that anyone could participate in instead of going out to the playground. At another school we created a playground committee with representatives from all grades that developed a set of playground rules and made a video on how to use equipment safely.

Teachers benefitted in those small schools by having common planning time with others who taught the same grade. They shared their best ideas, showed newcomers the ropes, and set up consistent plans for struggling or zooming students who needed special attention.

Because there were only 12-15 classrooms in those small elementary schools I could visit them all frequently, not only to do formal observations but also to get a feel for how things were going and see the work and behavior of students I was concerned about.

I wish I could say that the small high school where I taught offered similar opportunities to students. But with 1200 students and a traditional classroom structure, it could not. Yet, the school did arrange for all teachers to teach at only one grade level and have no more than 100 students each. We got to know our students well in small classes and had time for individual conferences with each one over the school year. As an English teacher, I chose not to give any final exams because I knew enough about students’ learning from the many papers they had written and their classroom participation.

In a large city like New York I can see why it is difficult to have small schools. But with a certain amount of creativity, it is possible. How about housing two schools in one building, as has been done already with some public schools and charter schools?


In a small high school offering a specialized curriculum, such as science or the arts, all bases can be covered with fewer teachers and auxiliary personnel than in a larger all-purpose high school. At the same time, students have more in common with their schoolmates, teachers are more connected, and the principal is more involved with both groups.

Traditionally, cities, towns, and even rural areas have chosen to have large and elaborate schools rather than small, simple ones. Although, big schools may be cheaper to build and operate and easier to manage from the top down, policy makers and school officials should consider the greater ability of small schools to provide better working conditions for teachers and, more important, better learning opportunities for students.

Andrea Gabor, who is the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College, is an expert on the life and philosophy of W. Edwards Deming. Deming has been widely credited with reviving the Japanese economy, as well as major American corporations who listened to him.


In this fascinating post, she draws lessons from the work of Deming and shows how they apply to education reform. The “reformers” want the schools to learn from business, but they are pushing the wrong lessons, she says. “Top-down, punitive solutions” don’t work. They demoralize employees. Deming believed in a work environment of collaboration and trust, not fear and blame. When things were not going well, he believed it was wrong to blame the front-line workers. While today’s “reformers” want to find and fire “bad teachers,” Deming insisted: “The responsibility for quality rests with senior management.” He was a dedicated foe of performance pay, as he concluded that it sowed dissension and unhealthy competition among workers who should be working as a team.


She writes:


Deming’s approach to organizational improvement transformed entire industries in post-war Japan and, later, in the U.S. In the years leading up to his death, in 1993, he began turning his interest to education. He believed that the same principles he advocated for companies—systems thinking, collaborative improvement, understanding statistical variation, creating organizational cultures free of fear and conducive to creative problem-solving—could also transform schools.


Simply put, Deming would be appalled by much of what passes for education reform today…..


Deming’s work has important implications for education: First, it is based on management (everyone from principals to education bureaucrats) recognizing its responsibility for creating a climate conducive to meaningful improvement, including building trust and collaboration, and providing the necessary training; this involves hard work, Deming admonished, not quick-fix gimmicks, incentives or threats.


Second, for many teacher advocates, it means dropping the defensive—education-is-good-enough—posture and embracing a mindset of continuous improvement; it also may mean adopting union contracts that mirror the professional practices of many teachers and are based on more flexible work rules. (Though not the unsustainable sweat-shop hours that are common at many charters.)


Third, by ending the finger-pointing and building a more collaborative approach to improvement, schools and districts could create cultures that are far more rewarding and productive for both children and educators….


Deming invoked the power of statistical theory: If management is doing its job correctly in terms of hiring, developing employees and keeping the system stable, most people will do their best. Of course, there will always be fluctuations—human beings, after all, aren’t automatons. Deming understood that an employee with a sick child, a toothache or some other “special cause” problem may not function at peak performance all the time. However, in a well-designed system, most employees will perform around a mean.


There will also be outliers who perform above or below the mean—though well-run organizations will have the fewest outliers because they’re hiring and training practices will guarantee a consistent level of performance. The work of high performers, Deming believed, should be studied; their work can serve as a model for improving the system.


Low performers, Deming believed, represent a failure of management to perform one of its key functions. Deming believed that hiring represents a moral and contractual obligation. Once hired, it is management’s responsibility to help every employee succeed whether via training or relocation. While it might occasionally be necessary to fire a poor performer, Deming believed this option should be a last resort…..


The lessons for education are clear: Quality improvement must begin with senior management (principals and education bureaucrats) establishing the conditions for collaboration and iterative problem-solving. It requires flexibility and professionalism from both teachers and education leaders. Finally, a climate of fear and finger-pointing will do nothing to improve schools; indeed, it is likely to set back the effort for years to come.


There is much we can learn from Deming. This important post is a must-read.





Jeannie Kaplan was a member of the Denver school board for many years. She is a knowledgeable critic of the steady drumbeat of “reform.” Despite a decade of corporate-style reform, she says, Denver has little to show for it.


But what Denver does have is an elaborate system of metrics. Kaplan explains here how the district has contorted itself to come up with the right balance between “proficiency” and “growth.” The formula gets tweaked from time to time, but the public still doesn’t understand what the metrics mean. Does anyone? Is there any other nation in the world that spends so much time and money trying to develop the right measure of a good school instead of investing in the policies and practices that have been proven by research, like reduced class sizes for struggling students, a full and rich curriculum for all students, strong programs in the arts, wraparound services (including medical care, school nurses, and social workers), and after-school and summer programs.

The Fulton County school board in Georgia voted to end its connection with the last two Gulen charter schools in the state.


The Gulen schools, one of the largest chains in the country, are associated with a reclusive Turkish imam who lives in Poconos but leads a major political movement in Turkey. Most or all of its board members are Turkish men.


The school board based its decision to not renew “on the serious and recurring concerns regarding governance and transparency that have been documented through various audits and reviews,” the school system said in a press release.


The school board’s decision was consistent with the State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia’s decision in August 2014 to deny authorization of both schools’ continued operation.


“Non-renewal of a charter school is one of the most difficult decisions a school district must make and it’s one that we take seriously and with much care,” said Superintendent Robert Avossa. “After years of opportunities to improve, it has become clear that the governance boards of these schools are either unable or unwilling to be sufficiently transparent in their governance practices to justify their continued funding by taxpayers.”


As part of the charter review process, district staff conducts a rigorous cross-functional review of all proposed charter petitions.


The published report cited poor governance in both schools that has resulted in the default on a $19 million bond, a self-perpetuating board membership structure that has been dominated by individuals who did not represent the community, a general lack of transparency and associations with individual and organizations now under Federal investigation.

This is the executive summary of the statement of the American Statistical Association on the use of value-added assessment to evaluate teachers. Please share it with other teachers, with principals, and school board members. Please share it with your legislators and other elected officials. Send it to your local news outlets. The words are clear: Teachers account for between 1 and 14% of the variation in test scores. And this is very important to remember: “Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.”



ASA Statement on Using Value-Added Models for Educational Assessment


April 8, 2014


Executive Summary


Many states and school districts have adopted Value-Added Models (VAMs) as part of educational accountability systems. The goal of these models, which are also referred to as Value-Added Assessment (VAA) Models, is to estimate effects of individual teachers or schools on student achievement while accounting for differences in student background. VAMs are increasingly promoted or mandated as a component in high-stakes decisions such as determining compensation, evaluating and ranking teachers, hiring or dismissing teachers, awarding tenure, and closing schools.


The American Statistical Association (ASA) makes the following recommendations regarding the use of VAMs:

  • The ASA endorses wise use of data, statistical models, and designed experiments for improving the quality of education.
  • VAMs are complex statistical models, and high-level statistical expertise is needed to develop the models and interpret their results.
  • Estimates from VAMs should always be accompanied by measures of precision and a discussion of the assumptions and possible limitations of the model. These limitations are particularly relevant if VAMs are used for high-stakes purposes.


o VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores, and do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.


o VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.


o Under some conditions, VAM scores and rankings can change substantially when a different model or test is used, and a thorough analysis should be undertaken to evaluate the sensitivity of estimates to different models.


• VAMs should be viewed within the context of quality improvement, which distinguishes aspects of quality that can be attributed to the system from those that can be attributed to individual teachers, teacher preparation programs, or schools. Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.

John Oliver has some of the smartest political commentary on television. In this Youtube video, he explains ALEC, the corporate-funded organization that writes model legislation for states to benefit corporations and defund the public sector. One of every four state legislators, Oliver says, belongs to this secretive group that promotes privatization. ALEC supports charters and vouchers and test-based teacher evaluation. It opposes teacher tenure and unions. For some inexplicable reason, ALEC is tax-exempt.

Valerie Strauss has a fascinating column about the scoring of the Smarter Balanced assessment. It appears that the achievement levels mirror the levels on NAEP. Understanding the scoring process is not easy. Apparently only the students in the top two levels will be considered “college-ready,” as befits a very rigorous curriculum. This means that less than half of the 11th grade students will be on track to go to college. In terms of mathematics, only one-third will be college-ready. The scoring ends with the rather ominous statement that Smarter Balance has not yet figured out a scoring guide for “career readiness.” Since there is so little in the Common Core that is related to career readiness, this is understandable. Very likely, the students who are involved in career and technical education will be in the lower bands and won’t be eligible to go to college.


I served on the NAEP governing board for seven years. NAEP Proficient is not grade level. It represents a very high level of achievement; in my view, NAEP proficient is an A or A-. To expect almost all students to reach NAEP Proficient is totally unrealistic. The only state in the nation where as much as 50% of students have reached NAEP Proficient is Massachusetts. The achievement levels were set in 1992 and are periodically revised. They are set by panels of judges who make estimates about what students should know and be able to do; they are arbitrary. Many scholars have contested their validity, as well as the validity of the standard-setting method, over the years.


If NAEP Proficient is used by PARCC and Smarter Balanced as a standard for graduation, most of our students will not graduate high school.


At some point, someone will have to admit that the Common Core and the tests are so “rigorous” that the students who succeed are being prepared for elite universities, not for state universities, and not for career readiness.


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