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 teachef 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.

Gary Rubinstein posted a review of Joel Klein’s book by someone who worked in Klein’s Department of Education central offices for many years.


I have not read Joel Klein’s book. I have had calls from two reporters asking if what he said about me was true. I asked, what did he say? They said: He claimed that I had turned against “education reform” (e.g., charters, merit pay, school closings, and high-stakes testing) because he refused to give a job to my partner or promote her or fund her program. I answered that I never asked Joel Klein to give a job to my partner; I never asked him to promote her or to fund her program.


When Klein arrived in 2002, she was executive director in charge of principal training at the New York City Board of Education. Just about the time Klein started as Chancellor, her program won a competitive federal grant of $3 million as one of the best principal training programs in the nation. My partner had been a teacher for many years, the chairman of social studies at Edward R. Murrow High School, one of the best in the city, and the founder and principal of a small public high school in Manhattan, affiliated with Ted Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools and Deborah Meier’s network of small schools.. Chancellor Harold Levy asked her to create a program to help hundreds of new principals. Her program was built around the concepts of collaboration, mutual respect, and mentorship; she recruited some of the city’s best, most experienced principals to exchange regular visits with new principals, and she started a summer institute where the mentor principals taught the new principals whatever they wanted and needed to know. The members of her corps of principal-leaders were called the Distinguished Faculty, and principals were honored to be invited to join the Distinguished Faculty.


When Klein arrived, he had a deputy tell Mary he was disbanding her program, appropriating the $3 million federal grant her program had just won, and turning it over to his new Leadership Academy. He selected a businessman from Colorado with no experience in education to direct the Leadership Academy. My partner stayed on at the Leadership Academy for a year; she retired in 2003. It seemed that Klein wanted very few experienced educators in decision-making roles. He preferred young MBAs, businessmen, and management consultants to guide him. He did not respect teachers, principals, or others who had made a career in the school system.


Was his treatment of Mary responsible for my change of mind about “education reform”? He flatters himself. I remained on the boards of two conservative think tanks until 2009 (the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution). But at the same time, what I observed in New York City affected my views: the heavy emphasis on testing as the measure of all things; the favoritism showed to charter operators; the explosion of no-bid contracts; the contempt expressed towards parents who wanted to save their schools or wanted class size reduction; the gaming of the system by opening small high schools that were allowed to exclude students with disabilities and English language learners, then boasting about their success; the closing of large high schools that Klein turned into dumping grounds for the students excluded from the small schools; the school report cards based mainly on test scores; the endless reorganizations of the entire system; the exodus of highly-respected principals.


Yes, Joel Klein did influence my views, but not because of what he did or did not do to my partner. That is his pettiness and vaingloriousness speaking. He made me realize over a period of years that the business model was wrong for education; that experienced educators had more wisdom than his cadre of management consultants, Sir Michael Barber, McKinsey, and 20-something graduates of business schools; that data-driven decision-making can drive the heart and spirit out of education; and that testing is not a tool for equity but a guarantor of inequity when used to rate schools and students and teachers.


I had very little contact with Klein while he was chancellor for eight years. I think we met twice. Our meetings were cordial. I never wrote anything personal or petty about him. He did not reciprocate. I don’t recall the precise year, but about 2005, an emissary from the DOE came to my home to warn me that if I did not stop writing critical articles, I would be “outed.” In 2007, I noticed on several occasions a young man from the DOE press office sitting in the audience and taping my lectures. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was gathering material for a dossier called “Diane Ravitch, Then and Now,” which showed that my views had changed on issues like merit pay. According to a story by Elizabeth Green in the Néw York Sun, the DOE was unable to find a newspaper interested in writing about this revelation. Eventually, a piece appeared in the Néw York Post under the byline of the head of the Néw York City Business Partnership (our version of the Chamber of Commerce), accusing me of being an untrustworthy hypocrite. I promptly responded that I had indeed changed my views after seeing how poorly they worked in reality. By the fall of 2007, I no longer believed that NCLB would achieve its goals; that fall, I wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times called “Get Congress Out of the Classroom.”A month later, I attended a scholarly conference about NCLB in D.C. at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. It was my assignment to summarize a dozen reports from across the nation, all of which said that neither choice nor testing was making a difference. It was already evident to me that NCLB was a failure, and their reports confirmed my awakening. From conversations within those conservative think tanks, I knew that charters were no panacea, and many were failing schools. My change of mind was gradual, not sudden; it was evidence-based, not a fit of pique. Klein’s dictatorial and insensitive style had something to do with it, but not for the reasons he cites.

Jonathan Pelto wrote an astonishing piece about the re-election of Governor Paul LePage of Maine. He won last time in a three-way race and had the same good fortune this year. Maine has no run-off.

LePage has made a series of insulting remarks about others, but corporate America supported him.

A few examples:

“After taking office in 2010, LePage refused to attend Maine’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast. When the Maine NAACP complained, he told them, on camera, to “kiss my butt.”

“During his first term, LePage vetoed legislation raising Maine’s minimum wage to $9 per hour and pronounced that he wanted to lower the legal working age from 16 to 12.

“LePage also vetoed a bill that would have expanded access to health care for the people of Maine and another that would have expanded Medicaid coverage to 70,000 of the state’s low-income residents.

“As an outspoken supporter of the corporate education reform industry and the expansion of privately managed, but publicly funded charter schools, LePage told Maine students, “If you want a good education, go to private schools. If you can’t afford it, tough luck. You can go to the public school.”

“LePage publicly opined that President Obama “hates white people.”

“And LePage compared the Internal Revenue Service to the Nazi Gestapo.”

Why do people vote against their self-interest?

The Daily Tarheel published an editorial advising students at the University of North Carolina to think twice before joining Teach for America.

The writers noted that the state pays $3,000 per year for each of 500 TFA, most of whom will leave after two years in the classroom. At the same time the legislature set aside money for TFA temps, it eliminated the successful North Carolina Teaching Fellows program, whose graduates pledge to stay as teachers in the NC public schools for at least four years.

“More often, TFA’s shortcomings are symptomatic of broader failings in American education rather than of its own malfeasance. As of 2013, less than 1 percent of N.C. teachers were TFA employees. If the state wants better teachers, it should pay them more and restore the N.C. Teaching Fellows program, which required a four-year commitment to teach in the state’s public schools. And policymakers should recommit to tackling the crippling poverty that inhibits the educational advancement of all children nationally.

“Meanwhile, students and current TFA employees should continue pushing the program to reform itself. At the very least, TFA ought to consider increasing the length of its required commitment.

“This board holds a litany of other concerns with TFA, including the often insufficient emotional support it provides its young teachers and the particular effect it has on unions and teachers of color. Students, teachers, TFA alumni and current employees, we want to hear from you.”

Who wrote the Common Core standards? Advocates say that teachers did it but that is not accurate. .

Here are two useful descriptions of the process that created the Common Core standards.

This one is by Mercedes Schneider, who completed a book about the Common Core last summer; it will be published by Teachers College Press.

This one appeared on Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog, “Cloaking Inequity.”

Both agree that the dominant voices in the writing of the standards were Student Achievement Partners (David Coleman, Jason Zimba, and Susan Pimentel) and testing companies. Classroom teachers were scarce.

Nancy Bailey reports that special education is in jeopardy in Seattle.


She writes:


You can’t put your guard down. Rest assured the wheels of ugly education reform continue to churn. Here is a recent Seattle Times headline, “Special Education is Ineffective and too Expensive, Report Says.”


Why? Well, students with special needs, 54 percent to be exact, aren’t managing to get their diplomas on time. They also aren’t going on to college as much as their non-disabled peers. They fail to always reach their NCLB goals on their IEPs. Students with emotional disabilities, I’m guessing with no real SPED services, are getting suspended 2 to 3 times more often than the students without disabilities. Second language students aren’t being served well, and parents have become concerned that their students won’t be employable.


I would argue that the reforms that have taken place since the reauthorizations that formed IDEA, along with NCLB and RTTT, have not been in the best interest of students with special needs across the country. The harsh budget cuts haven’t helped either.


But instead of fixing the problems in Seattle, and without reassessing the terrible reforms that have been foisted on schools and students with disabilities for the last 20 years or more, this is what the rubber stamped Blue Ribbon Commission Report from the Governor’s office, came up with:


The evidence is clear that disabilities do not cause disparate outcomes, but that the system itself perpetuates limitations in expectations and false belief systems about who children with disabilities can be and how much they can achieve in their lifetime.


“System,” of course, implies teachers. Hey, you teachers quit sitting around painting your nails and raise those expectations! And while you are at it—embrace Common Core! Why doesn’t the news say what they all really mean?


And this is how the Seattle Times puts it:


But the vast majority of children in special education do not have disabilities that prevent them from tackling the same rigorous academic subjects as general education students if they get the proper support, so those low numbers reflect shortcomings in the system, not the students.


And where does this all come from? What revolutionary research study have we missed? Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education!


You see, with higher expectations and plenty of rigor, most if not all of the students with disabilities can achieve excellent results. And that is where the Common Core comes in: Rigor for all. No exceptions, no excuses.

Roman Shtrakhman, a teacher of Advanced Placement history and International Baccalaureate classes in Florida, sent the following letter to members of the Broward County school board, the superintendent, and journalists across the state. Can a high school teacher be as effective teaching six classes as five. This teacher says no.



Dear colleagues, it has come to my attention that the School Board of Broward County and Superintendent Runcie are developing a Task Force to address High School teacher scheduling issues, with an emphasis on the 6th class they have all been made to teach. Please allow me to share my observations.


We all understand that this decision is essentially is a funding issue. When the voters of Florida overwhelmingly passed a Constitutional Amendment in 2002 to keep class sizes low they did not anticipate that the Legislature would refuse to fund it, thereby negating its very purpose. And they certainly didn’t expect that the State would then have the gall to fine Districts for not having the money to follow it.


I fear, however, that what was initially conceived as a temporary budgetary measure might very well become permanent. Laws have a habit of doing just that. This would be very problematic. For those of us who approach our classes with academic enthusiasm, demanding intellectual and philosophical interaction, asking us to do this 6 times a day is, I’m afraid, unworkable. You see, lowering class time from 55 minutes to 50 while adding an additional class is not an equal distribution of responsibility. The 5 minutes are essentially negligible. After all, each incoming class deserves a new introduction, a new explanation, and all the energy the teacher can muster. It is, as we all know, what the students deserve. But throwing on a 6th class adds a very serious weight to the situation, and turns the school day into an assembly line of sorts. Please believe me that there is a huge difference between 5 and 6 classes per day. It is, in fact, the difference between quality and quantity in an academic sense.


I teach several Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes every year. That means that I have between 75-100 students that are taking college level classes. They are preparing to take very difficult tests that will give them college credit and save them money in college costs. I take my AP and IB classes very seriously.


These students have a right to the very best I have to give them. They deserve efficient lectures, lively in-class discussions, and a meticulous approach to the subject matter. Yet asking me to do this for now a 6th time every day dilutes the situation. I am not a machine, after all. What will wind up happening is that mediocre teachers will simply start handing out worksheets, and very good teachers will work themselves to death because they don’t know any other way of teaching but to give it their all.


This situation should certainly be addressed and if at all possible, reversed. Again, please believe me when I tell you that there is a huge difference between teaching 5 and 6 classes per day. It is, in point of emphasis, the difference between a comprehensive and holistic approach to academia, and simply putting a body in front of the kids. Some schools are even asking teachers to teach a 7th. This cannot happen. Although funding issues are of great concern, we must do everything in our power to maintain scholastic legitimacy. This country cannot afford to have an uneducated population. We have seen that this too has consequences.



Roman Shtrakhman
National Board Certified
Advanced Placement
and International Baccalaureate
History Teacher
Plantation High School


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