A comment on the blog today:

“Common Core was imposed on teachers by non-educators. We were fed a lot of mistruths along the way, as well. However, there would be no backlash if the CC founders gave us an educationally sound reform package. We are rejecting CC primarily because the standards in ELA are un-teachable and un-testable, abstract and subjective thinking skills – essentially content free, the math standards are the SOS shifted around in developmentally inappropriate ways using unnecessarily confusing pedagogy, and the tests tied to teacher evaluations have become the epitome of educational malpractice. Furthermore, the notion of producing educational excellence with standards that cannot be changed, altered, deleted, or improved, is insult to our profession. And until the ESEA is dealt with by Congress, we are stuck inside a very deep hole, whether we support the CC or not.”

Highland Park, New Jersey, bought out its controversial superintendent Timothy Capone for $112,766 (less than a year’s salary), although he had another three years to go on his contract.

Jersey Jazzman had previously written about Capone and identified him as a “reformer” connected to Chris Cerf who was anti-union and focused solely on test scores. Among his first actions was to fire nine employees, who happened to include the president and vice-president of the local teachers’ union.

He managed to alienate parent groups as well, and school board meetings tended to be standing-room-only, raucous affairs.

The lesson here, it would seem, is that controversial “reforms” can succeed where there is mayoral control or districts controlled by the state. But in a typical district with an elected school board, superintendents must practice the arts of persuasion and collaboration with parents, teachers, and the community. Not easy, but that’s leadership.

Sara Stevenson, school librarian in Austin and a member of the blog honor roll, is intrepid. she reads the Wall Street Journal every day and responds promptly to every attack on public schools and teachers, one of WSJ’s major preoccupations.

She wrote the letter below. She forgot to ask Peterson and Hanushek to give up their tenure at Harvard and Stanford to prove they don’t believe in tenure:

From: Sara Stevenson
Date: Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Subject: Response to Paul E. Peterson on Teacher Tenure (8-18-14)
To: “ltrs, wsj”

Paul E. Peterson cites surveys of parents, communities, and teachers to determine the percentage of current teachers whose performance deserves a D or F rating. He underscores that even teachers rate 13% of their colleagues as failures. Stated inversely, teachers approve of the performance of 87% of their cohorts. Peterson and Eric Hanushek use this data to fuel their mission to exterminate “bad teachers” from the profession. At the same time, our current Congress has an 8% approval (92% disapproval) rating. I’m interested in the percentage of “bad” actors in other professions.

Rather than focusing on drumming out “bad teachers,” why don’t we focus on improving teacher conditions and training and on attracting more talented young people to the profession? With 40% of all teachers leaving the profession within five years, it’s certainly not a sinecure, in spite of certain states with teacher tenure. Finally, Peterson cites other nations, including Finland, as role models in education in spite of the fact that 100% of Finnish teachers are unionized with tenure protections. We need to shift our focus in this tired education debate.

Sara Stevenson
Austin, Texas

In this post, Jim Arnold and Peter Smagorinsky dissect the myths and baloney of the reformers. The “reformers” love to talk about the good old days and about how schools were so much better back then. As the authors demonstrate, those “good old days” weren’t good for everyone–especially when there were grown men running around in white gowns and pointy hats. And they demonstrate with solid facts that by every objective measure, the public schools of Georgia are doing a better job now than they were over the past six or seven decades. The “reformers” aren’t solving any real problems by their constant carping about the public schools.

 

It’s Time to Reform the Reformers

Jim Arnold & Peter Smagorinsky

 

Jim Arnold recently retired from the superintendent’s position of the Pelham City, GA Schools and blogs at http://www.drjamesarnold.com/. Peter Smagorinsky is Distinguished Research Professor of English Education at The University of Georgia whose public essays are archived at http://smago.coe.uga.edu/vita/vitaweb.htm#OpEd

 

“The failure of public education” has become a de rigueur assumption in the public forum on public education, particularly among those who claim to possess the silver bullet for “reform.” The definition of reform signals the need to improve something for the better by removing faults, abuses, and evil ways. For there to be a need for reformers, then, those they wish to reform must be found to be as defective as possible. When the target of reform lacks sufficient dereliction, and a reformer still needs to advance his or her agenda, ideally with consulting fees, then the flaws must be manufactured and propagated as if they are real.

 

Arne Duncan, for instance, often cites such statistics as the need for 40% of college students to require remedial coursework. Carol Burris has shown, however, this canard has no basis in fact, but is a manufactured statistic coming from a think tank, repeated by other think tanks until it became accepted in public opinion. As part of this process of fabricating a crisis, our Secretary of Education has repeatedly promulgated this bogus claim to advance his reforms, even if the evil of shoddy education in public schools requiring remediation by colleges at the taxpayers’ expense does not exist.

 

As part of this perceived need for reform, many people hearken back to the good old days, back before schools began circling the drain. For instance, a Rasmussen poll found that 69% of respondents doubted whether today’s public schools provide our kids with the world class education that the rest of the world is getting. At the same time that market-based reforms are offered as our only means of salvation, the schools of socialistic Finland are provided as a model of excellence.

 

Perhaps this irony is not the only one at work in the public debate about our purportedly failing schools.

 

We went to Southern schools back in those halcyon days. Nostalgia buffs might recall scenes such as this one from those misty times of yore on the occasion of efforts to integrate The Varsity restaurant in Athens, Georgia:

kkk

Given that opposition to school integration often was more violent and virulent than were such responses to allowing Black people to each a hot dog at The Varsity, perhaps those great old schools from those good old days might benefit from a closer look. Let’s consider the public perception of US public education over time.

 

In 1996 E. D. Hirsch called for a return to a traditional approach to public education in “The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them.” In 1983 “A Nation at Risk” told us of the apparent failure of our system of public education. The Educational Testing Service discovered in 1976 that college freshmen could correctly answer only half of forty or so multiple choice questions. In 1969 the Chancellor of NY schools, Harvey Scribner, said that for every student schools educated there was another that was “scarred as a result of his school experience.”

 

Admiral Rickover published “American Education, a National Failure” in 1963, and in 1959 LIFE magazine published “Crisis in Education” that noted the Russians beat us into space with Sputnik because “the standards of education are shockingly low.” In 1955 Why Johnny Can’t Read became a best seller, and in 1942 the NY Times noted only 6% of college freshmen could name the 13 original colonies and 75% did not know who was President during the Civil War. The US Navy in 1940 tested new pilots on their mastery of 4th grade math and found that 60% of the HS graduates failed. In 1889 the top 3% of US high school students went to college, and 84% of all American colleges reported remedial courses in core subjects were required for incoming freshmen.

 

And in the years before the American Revolution, “Undereducated, overworked, short-tempered male schoolmasters often presided over the schools. Corporal punishment was a euphemism for outright brutality against children.” Women were not allowed an education until the Industrial Revolution took hold, a century before they could vote.

 

So much for the good old days.

 

And so much for the perception that education is perpetually in decline, if actual statistics inform the conversation. The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that educational attainment is continually on the rise. Here’s their table providing decade-by-decade figures for high school graduate rates.

 

HS Graduates (total %) Whites Blacks

1940 38.1 41.2 12.3

1950 52.8 56.3 23.6

1960 60.7 63.7 38.6

1970 75.4 77.8 58.4

1980 85.4 89.2 76.7

1990 85.7 90.1 81.7

2000 88.1 94 86.8

2010 88.8 94.5 89.6

2013 89.9 94.1 90.3

 

Georgia lags behind these national averages, as the following table shows, yet still continually graduates increasing numbers of people at the high school and college levels:

 

HS grad Bachelor’s Advanced degree

or more or more or more

1990 70.9 19.3 6.4

2000 78.6 24.3 8.3

2006 82.2 26.6 9.2

2009 83.9 27.5 9.9

 

Going back a bit farther in time, in 1940 17% of adults in Georgia had completed high school; in 1946 5% of Georgians attended college. We’re doing quite a bit better these days, even as public rhetoric and perception suggest the opposite.

 

But you can’t frame our current situation as a crisis in need of reform if all trends are positive. So, the Georgia Department of Education claims that state graduation rates are below 70%, in spite of statistical evidence to the contrary. We cannot ascertain their motives, but they do seem to feel that charter schools and Teach for American are the answers, even if the question remains opaque. Like Arne Duncan, they appear to require a manufactured crisis of the sort revealed by David Berliner, Gene Glass and colleagues in order to come to our rescue.

 

Long ago Darrell Huff exposed how people lie with statistics, helping to explain the sort of smoke-and-mirrors statistical manipulation at work in much of the educational policy world. For example, in determining graduation rates, states are allowed to count only those HS graduates each year who are awarded a diploma within a 4-year course of study. GED’s don’t count, but special education students do, and count against graduation rates, as do students who graduate by persisting through difficulties such that they take more than four years to complete their degrees.

 

Schools, like any complex social institutions, require continual maintenance and rethinking; we hope that in our careers as teachers and school administrators we contributed to that challenging project. But the current “reform” movement, we believe, is not solving actual problems, and in contrast is manufacturing new ones with each dedication of funds to corporations instead of schools. Reforming the ways of the reformers would make better sense to us.

 

 

As Stephanie Simon of politico.com put it, it’s been a bad week for the Common Core. Yesterday, The conservative journal Education Next showed a precipitous drop in support by teachers in only one year–from 76% to 46%. It seems that the more they learn about the standards, the less they like them.

Then today the annual poll by the Gallup organization and Phi Delta Kappa revealed growing public opposition to the Common Core. Last year, most people were not sure what they were; now, as they know more, support is diminishing. The most important reason for opposition: people say the Common Core standards limit the flexibility of teachers to do what they think is best. While 60% of the public oppose the Common Core, 62% of public school parents oppose them.

Some other important findings in the Gallup/PDK poll:

Local public schools get high marks from public school parents at the same time that American public education gets low marks. This seeming paradox shows the success of the privatizers’ relentless attacks on public education over the past decade. For years, the public has heard Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush, and other supporters of privatization decry American public education as “broken,” “obsolete,” “failing.” Their message has gotten through. Only 17% of the public gives American education an A or a B.

At the same time, however, 67% of public school parents give an A or B to the public school their oldest child attends.

Public school parents do not like standardized tests. 68% say they are not helpful. 54% of the public agrees.

Approval of President Obama’s “performance in support of public schools” has plummeted since 2011, when it was 41%. In 2014, approval of the President was down to 27%.

The public is confused about what charter schools are, but 70% favor them. About half think they are public schools and that they are free to teach religion. 57% think they charge tuition, and 68% think they select students based on their ability. My guess: as the public learns more about the misuse of public funds by some charter schools, about frauds, nepotism, and conflicts of interest, these numbers will decline.

Only 37% of the public and public school parents support vouchers.

Here is the Washington Post summary of the poll.

Here is coverage of the Gallup poll from Edsource in California.

This may be the most important article you read this week, this month, or this year. It was published last year, and I missed it. But, wow, Bruce Baker nails what is wrong with “education reform.”

Basically, the public has been sold a bill of goods. We have been told that charters, vouchers, tuition tax credits, and other means of removing governance from the public sector to the private sector will produce schools that are more transparent and more accountable. We are also told–though Baker doesn’t explore it here–that these choices will produce education miracles for poor and minority students (that’s not true either).

What Baker demonstrates in detail is that charter schools and voucher schools are less transparent and less accountable than public schools. Furthermore, in these alternative settings, students forego their constitutional rights. In truly private schools, like voucher schools, we can’t expect accountability or transparency. The charters, however, constantly call themselves “public” schools, yet refuse to be audited, refuse to disclose their finances, and shun the accountability and transparency they promise.

As we have seen again and again, whether in Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Indiana, or other states, charter management organizations claim that their charters are public, but organization running them is private and has no obligation to open its books to anyone. In some states–although Baker doesn’t go into this– the legislature makes sure that charters are not held accountable because of adroit lobbying by the charter industry or generous campaign contributions to key legislators.

Baker writes: “Whatever problems do exist with the design of our public bureaucracies, I would argue that we should exercise extreme caution in accepting uncritically the belief that we could not possibly do worse, and that large scale privatization and contracting of private entities to provide the public good is necessarily a better and more responsive, more efficient, transparent and accountable option.”

Baker avers that the issue of students’ rights is not trivial. He writes:

“Rather, day after day, week after week, we are subjected to more and more vacuous punditry by self-proclaimed “expert” pundits displaying an astounding ignorance of education law and callous disregard for our system of government and the U.S. Constitution.

“For example, it would appear that charter schools that are not “state actors” (which may include most that are governed by boards of private citizens and especially those managed by private companies/EMOs or CMOs) may require students to abide by disciplinary/conduct codes which involve compelling those students to recite belief statements about the school (mottos, pledges, loyalty oaths), obligatory participation in indoctrination activities and imposition of financial penalties for disciplinary infractions, none of which would be permissible in traditional public schools. Government entities – state actors – may not compel speech and especially may not compel statements of belief.

“So then, what is a family to do when no traditional public schools are available to them (as is practically the case in many areas of New Orleans and increasingly the case in other higher charter market share cities)? Should parents have to choose which rights to forgo? [picking the school with the financial penalties over the one requiring daily recitation of a loyalty oath?]

“Can (as some belligerent civic illiterate, pundits believe) entire urban school systems be replaced with charter schools – or the traditional public schools adopt the lessons of “chartering” which involve infringement of constitutional rights? Is it reasonable to assume that the entire student population of a city would be placed in a position of necessarily forgoing their rights to free expression, free exercise?

“I hear those reformy pundits cry… “but who cares about a little constitutional protection here and there if we can squeeze out an extra point or two on state assessments [via selective attrition of low performing peers]? They’ll be better for it in the long run!”

“Yeah… sure… that’s all well and good for someone else’s kids. I for one believe the constitution continues to have a purpose and that constitutional rights should be equally available to all people’s children. I believe that constitutional protections are a key element of an accountable education system available to all – not just some.

“This is a big freakin’ deal. An important policy trade-off to consider, if you will. This is a critically important tradeoff to consider when adopting policies that expand non-state-actor charter schooling, even if some marginal academic gain can be achieved….Poor and minority children should not be disproportionately required to forgo constitutional protections (and a variety of statutory protections) to gain access to those few additional test score points. Further, no-one is telling them that they even have rights to begin with – especially those pitching the charter expansion policies (constantly spewing the rhetoric of the “publicness” of charter schooling).”

Baker is appalled that some state education agencies now play an advocacy role for charters, forgetting tat their first obligation is to the public. He writes:

“Taken to the extremes, State Education Agency and public media flaunting of chartery miracles has created a distorted market for those charters that are least proven on the market (perhaps in some cases, lemons), with those charters that are most proven already over-subscribed and not needing to compete openly. So, those most available on the market are those whose actual performance/quality is far lower than that which is capturing the headlines and receiving accolades from state officials. [not quite a true market for lemons since the price - education "credit" is fixed ... though perhaps I can expand on this at a later point].”

Baker was once an advocate for charters. What turned him off? Boasting, miracle claims, disregard for evidence by the charter industry and its enthusiastic flacks in the media:

“It is the absurd punditry, intentional obfuscation and complete disregard for legitimate data/analysis on charter schooling that have perhaps soured my taste for the movement more than anything else (bearing in mind that I was a founding member of the AERA special interest group on Charter School research and, at the time, was largely an advocate myself).”

In 2011, soon after his election, Florida’s new Governor Rick Scott took Michelle Rhee on a tour to show off what Florida was doing in education. He took her to visit a charter school in Miami/Dade County, a middle school called Florida International Academy.

“We have to make sure our system does exactly what you are doing here at Florida International Academy,” Scott said.

Sad news. The elementary school attached to Florida International Academy was just starting. It shared the same campus and administration. There, things went from bad to worse.

“The elementary school earned an F in its first year. It improved to a D in 2012, but earned failing grades in 2013 and 2014.

“State law requires the closure of any charter school that receives consecutive Fs.”

The state is closing the elementary school. The middle school that Scott considers a model for the state earned a C.

The conservative journal “Education Next” reported a poll showing that support for Common Core plummeted among teachers from 76% to 46%. Conservative supporters of Common Core think that teachers are afraid of accountability but that doesn’t explain why 76% thought it was a good idea last year.

Peter Greene explains the teachers’ change of mind, which he is well-qualified to do since he is a teacher.

Here are a few of the reasons:

First, writes Greene, was the lying.

“Remember how supporters of the Core used to tell us all the time that these standards were written by teachers? All. The. Time. Do you know why they’ve stopped saying that? Because it’s a lie, and at this point, most everybody knows it’s a lie. The “significant” teacher input, the basis in solid research– all lies. When someone is trying to sell you medicine and they tell you that it was developed by top doctors and researchers and you find out it wasn’t and they have to switch to, “Well, it was developed by some guys who are really interested in mediciney stuff who once were in a doctor’s office”– it just reduces your faith in the product.”

Second was when we discovered that we were not allowed to change anything to make it better suited to the needs of our students.

Third was when they started training us and kept telling us to shut up and do what they wanted. Our experience counted for nothing.

Fourth was when they slandered opponents as extremists. Either do what they said or find that Arne Duncan labeled you as misguided and misinformed.

Fifth was when we learned how much the Common Core would cost, how many consultants would be hired, how it would suck up all the new money in the budget.

Then there was the child abuse: “Many of us just finished our first year of Core-aligned curriculum, and in many cases it was awful. We were required to force students to operate at or beyond frustration level day after day. We watched school stamp out the spirit of the smallest students, whose defining characteristic is that they love everything, including school. While CCSS boosters were off sipping lattes in nice offices, we were there at ground zero watching 180 days of exactly how this reform affected real, live students.”

And there is more. Those who believe in Common Core should read what Peter Greene experienced. It explains why teacher support fell like a heavy stone.

Last night, the Network for Public Education issued this statement on the death of Michael Brown:

The killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, is a national tragedy. The Network for Public Education sends our condolences to his family and community. We also decry the inequitable treatment that Michael and millions of other young people of color receive in the form of racial profiling and disparate justice. School segregation and systemic oppression culminated in the August day when Michael was killed, and if unchecked, will continue to hurt many more young people.

We hope that those joining us in decrying this injustice will not only condemn this direct act of violence but the violent systems that perpetuate inequality. Join us to fight for educational and social justice for all young people. We desperately need equitable law enforcement that is responsive, respectful and protective of the entire community it serves; we also need equitable, fully funded public schooling. We need a criminal justice system that is restorative and non-oppressive; we also need to support educators to implement restorative practices within our schools. We need to devote resources to providing a strong neighborhood school in every community; we also need to ensure that community members have access to job opportunities to support their families.

Michael Brown was a fellow human being whose life was ended violently and prematurely. We urge people not merely to say, “Never again,” but to join us in the struggle to ensure that all of us receive due process and fair treatment. We encourage and support educators across our society to continue to teach and model justice in our classrooms in solidarity with the young people of our country to help build the future that Michael Brown deserved.

Two Champs charter schools were supposed to open in Delray Beach and Riviera Beach, Florida, but they failed to enroll enough students. They told Palm Beach County school district officials they will never open. Each was supposed to enroll 112 students but enrolled only 2 or 3 students.

Is the public wising up? Or is the market saturated?

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