I did not realize that my review of Yong Zhao’s book (“Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best [and the Worst] Schools in the World) was behind a paywall on the website of the New York Review of Books. I have no control over that decision. In time, soon hopefully, it will be available in full, and I will post it. I really enjoyed the Bok, and I wish that President Obama, Secretary Dunca, members of Congress, and all our governors and legislators would read it. As Secretary Duncan would say, “It’s a game-changer.”

I hope you will read the book.

Jon Stewart has a very funny spoof of the corporate good-will television ad run by Koch Industries. You deserve a laugh today. Enjoy!

Jonathan Pelto, Connecticut’s Watchdog, reports on an excellent column by Sarah Darrerr Littman. She explains the corrupting influence of big money on politics.

Corruption, she says, is bipartisan. The Republican governor of Connecticut went to jail a decade ago. They pass laws to restrict pay-to-play, but engage in dubious behavior when the take office.

She writes:

“Doris Kearns Goodwin, a historian and writer whom I admire greatly, was a recent guest of the Connecticut Forum for a discussion called, “Debating Our Broken Political System.” She observed: “If I had to name one reason why it’s broken, it is power of money in the system today. It is the poison in the system . . . it is the amount of time that it takes our politicians to raise the funds, it’s the special interests that they are then beholden to, it’s the fact that they’re not doing the business of the country, and I blame everybody for it.”

“If we want to restore faith in government, we need a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United and McCutcheon decisions.”

This is my review of Yong Zhao’s wonderful new book, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China has the Best (and the Worst) Schools in the World.

Zhao describes how test-driven the schools of China are and how this focus produces high scores but crushes creativity and individualism. Chinese educators want to free children of this oppressive system, he says, but their “success” on tests like PISA keeps them trapped.

There is an important warning here for us. We are trying to be like China. Yong Zhao says: Don’t.

Peter Greene writes that there seems to be a contest among the states to see which one can be most hostile and punitive towards public school teachers. Is it North Carolina? Is it Tennessee? No, writes Greene, the state that is in the lead in this category is Massachusetts.

 

Massachusetts, which leads the nation by far on federal tests of mathematics and reading, intends to adopt regulations that will take away a teacher’s license if his or her students get low test scores.

 

Can you believe that? The teacher won’t  just be fired; she will lose her license to teach!

 

He writes:

 

There are three proposed versions (A, B & C) of the new system, and they all share one piece of twisted DNA– they link teacher evaluations to teacher licenses. Not pay level or continued employment in that particular school district– but licensure. A couple of below-average evaluations, and you will lose your MA license to teach.

 

There is no profession anywhere in the country that has such astonishing rules. Good lord– even if your manager at McDonalds decides you’re not up to snuff, he doesn’t blackball you from ever working in any fast food joint ever again! Yes, every profession has means of defrocking people who commit egregious and unpardonable offenses. But– and I’m going to repeat this because I’m afraid your This Can’t Be Real filter is keeping you from seeing the words that I’m typing– Massachusetts proposes to take your license to teach away if you have a couple of low evaluations.

 

It will not surprise you to learn that those evaluations would include all the usual groundless baloney. Student Impact Ratings– did your real student get better test scores than his imaginary counterpart being taught by an imaginary average teacher in a parallel universe? Did you successfully climb the paperwork mountain generated by a teacher improvement plan (duly filed with the state department that doesn’t have time to do the work it has now, so good luck with the new influx of improvement plan filings)? One version of the plan even allows for factoring in student evaluations of teachers; yes, teachers, your entire career can be hanging by a thread that dangles in front of an eight-year-old with scissors.

 

Which groups are advising the state in this draconian effort to drive teachers away? Some group called “the Keystone Center” and TNTP, the organization founded by Michelle Rhee.

 

Greene writes about these organizations:

 

“The Keystone Center was established to independently facilitate the resolution of national policy conflicts.” Those conflicts seem to most often have to do with oil and gas stuff, as well as Colorado higher education and monarch butterflies. How they ended up helping Massachusetts blow up teaching careers is not clear to me. But it’s easy to see how their “project partners” ended up here, because they’re teamed up with TNTP, a group that never met a set of teacher job protections that they didn’t want throw in a woodchipper and burn with fire.

If TNTP ever has a legitimate mission, it has long since been replaced with one single-minded focus– to make it easier to fire all teachers everywhere all the time.

 

The Massachusetts Teachers Association is fighting this irrational plan. They see that it is a looming disaster for teachers and public schools.

 

Greene writes:

 

I would point out to the people pushing this that it’s a great way to chase people away from teaching in Massachusetts ever. I would point out that young people interested in starting a teaching career might favor a state where that career can’t be snuffed out because of random fake data that’s beyond their control. I would point out that this is one more policy that will almost certainly make it even harder than it already is to recruit teachers for high-poverty low-achievement schools. I mean, most states are settling for evaluation systems that punish inner-city teachers with just losing that particular job; it takes big brass ones for Massachusetts to say, “Come teach in a poor struggling under-funded low-resource school. Take a chance on the job that could end your entire teaching career before you’re even thirty.” Who on God’s green earth thinks this is a way to put a great teacher in every classroom?

Well, the answer is nobody. I would say all those things to the people pushing this program if I thought they cared about any of that. But it seems increasingly obvious that creating a massive teacher shortage is not a bug, but a feature. It’s not an unintended consequence, but the chosen objective.

 

Good luck, MTA. The people of Massachusetts should celebrate the successes of their schools and send these interlopers who want to ruin teachers’ careers packing. How is it possible to improve education by ruining the lives of teachers? How is it possible to improve education by making test scores the measure of everything? Good business for Pearson, not so good for the children.

 

Carol Burris, high school principal in Long Island, New York, writes here about the sudden shift in tone of the high-stakes testing cheerleaders.

 

Arne Duncan throws his support to the Beltway groups that say that there is too much testing and there should be less. Don’t believe it, writes Burris.

 

Of course, they hope to pacify and quiet the growing movement against high-stakes testing.

 

She writes:

 

Education Secretary Arne Duncan must believe that those “suburban moms” he talked about back in 2013 are an awfully gullible bunch. In response to continued pushback on testing, Duncan and the Council of Chief State School Officers are now saying that they, by golly, are against excessive standardized testing, too.

Duncan recently wrote an op-ed published in The Washington Post in which he expressed support for a statement issued by the Council of Chief State School Officers along with the Council of Great City Schools saying that it was time to rethink standardized testing.

Readers may recall how Duncan characterized pushback on the Common Core as coming from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were” when he addressed the State Chiefs last year. His disdainful dismissal of the genuine concern of parents fueled the already growing anti-testing movement.

 

 

And more:

 

So now Mr. Duncan and the Chief State School Officers need to convince parents that they are listening, too. Their strategy is to say that “we are only for good tests, not the bad tests, and we will make all the bad tests go away.” It is disturbing that they believe that parents would not see through the ruse.

Parents are not protesting weekly spelling quizzes. The tests they do not like are the very tests that Duncan and the Chiefs want to save. In his recent op-ed, Duncan refers to “high-quality tests” as ones for which, “the Education Department has provided $360 million dollars.” The money went to two multi-state consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, designing new tests to align to the Common Core State Standards. All the while, both Duncan and the Chiefs were careful not to mention the Common Core in their statements. The Common Core is now their Voldermort–“he who cannot be named.” Instead they declare themselves the warriors of the bubble test, as though answering multiple-choice questions with a mouse is a game changer.

Perhaps the most bizarre declaration in favor of annual testing came from Louisiana’s Chief John White who said that it is “an absolutely essential element of assuring the civil rights of children in America.” Meanwhile, 40 of the 70 districts in White’s state are still under desegregation orders, having not achieved unitary status after more than 40 years. When the U.S. Justice Department sued Louisiana to block 2014-15 vouchers for students in schools under federal desegregation orders, John White characterized the order as “a little ridiculous.”. The heck with Brown v Board of Education—as long as kids have the civil right to be tested each year, social justice is served.

 

Imagine that! Kids don’t need desegregation, but testing is a “civil right”? Yes, he really said that.

 

Burris concludes that Duncan and the cheerleading Chiefs don’t believe in democratic control of schools. That’s why they love standardized testing. Teachers and principals can’t be trusted to do what is right for children.

 

And that really sums up the thinking of Duncan and his cheerleading Chiefs. Their distrust of public schools and the democratic control of schooling run deep. It colors every solution that they propose. They have no idea how to effect school improvement other than by making tests harder and making sticks bigger. When punishing the school did not work, it morphed into punish the teacher through evaluations based on test scores. The reality that no country has ever improved student learning using test and punish strategies is lost on those who refuse to address the greater social issues that we who do the work confront every day.
When one argues that testing 8-year-olds for nine hours is the way to give a child his civil rights, then moral authority is surely gone. The public knows it. Moms, of all colors and neighborhoods, are a heck of a lot smarter than Mr. Duncan and his reform supporters believe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nevada is soon to vote on whether to tax big business to raise more money for public schools. The state’s public schools are among the worst funded systems in the nation. Big business is pulling out all the stops to kill the Initiative. They warn that it will kill the economy and jobs.

Columnist Steve Sebelius here explores why the state’s business community is so frightened by the Initiative, why they are trying so hard to block it.

He writes:

“There may be a good reason the elites of the Nevada business community are so vehemently campaigning against The Education Initiative.

“But it’s not what you think.

“There’s certainly a reason you’re seeing billboards, TV ads, mail pieces and spokespeople endlessly parroting the line that The Education Initiative is a “deeply flawed,” “job-killing” tax that will cost the state business.

“But what if it’s not the shortcomings of the tax that’s behind the anti-tax campaign?

“What if there’s another reason the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, the Nevada Resort Association, the Nevada Mining Association and their allies of convenience in organized labor fear and hate this tax?

“What if they hate it not because of its flaws (and there are a few) but because of its successes?

“The Nevada State Education Association actually succeeded in writing a tax that the corporate elite of Nevada tried and failed to stop in court.

“The teachers union had the unmitigated gall to succeed in gathering more than the required number of signatures in the various congressional districts of Nevada. And they went on to boldly champion the measure in the Legislature as lawmakers (especially Democrats) uncomfortably squirmed in their seats.

“And now, having survived court challenges, legislative indifference and a campaign of more than $2 million spent against it, the voters are about to have their say on Question 3.

“Could that be what Nevada’s corporate elite despises about The Education Initiative most of all?

“The Nevada Legislature was long ago captured by the commercial interests that run the state — first mining, then railroads, then gambling, land development and general business. The cumbersome, Balkanized legislative process makes it easy to kill bills, especially with a majority of friendly lawmakers from both parties on your side.

“The courts are a less certain prospect (after all, judges failed to stop the petition from going forward). But Nevada’s courts are generally quite friendly to business.

“The executive branch? Gov. Brian Sandoval — who now pledges an earnest effort to reform the state’s tax system in 2015, predicting success where his predecessors have failed — is not exactly an independent. He’s come out squarely against The Education Initiative from the start.

“But direct democracy? The people themselves? Well, that’s a frightening prospect for Nevada’s corporate elite, because the people are, at the very least, unpredictable.”

Imagine that! Business elites bought every elected official, but they haven’t figured out yet how to buy the public. Let’s see if all that advertising and TV manages to persuade the public to vote against the interests of their own children.

Sarah Lahm has written an important article about an infusion of corporate reform campaign money for a school board seat in Minneapolis.

Do corporate reformers see Minneapolis as the next Néw Orleans, the next city where they can privatize the public schools?

She writes:

“In the aftermath of a failed 2013 bid for mayor, former Minneapolis city council member Don Samuels is running for a spot on the school board. If he wins, he will undoubtedly be able to thank the extensive financing and canvassing support he’s received from several well-heeled national organizations, such as the Washington, D.C.-based 50CAN, an offshoot of Education Reform Now called Students for Education Reform (SFER), and various people associated with Teach for America, which has been called a “political powerhouse” for its growing influence in policy and politics beyond the classroom.

“These groups often project an image of grassroots advocacy but are in fact very well-funded, often through the support of extremely wealthy hedge fund managers and large philanthropic foundations. Together, they and like-minded “education reform” proponents have dramatically, but not necessarily democratically, altered how public education works throughout the United States.

“While August campaign finance reports show Samuels out-raising his main competitor, incumbent Rebecca Gagnon, by almost 4 to 1 through local donations, they also show that Samuels is getting tremendous support from outside of Minnesota. The D.C.-based 50CAN Action Fund filed a campaign finance report in Minnesota showing that it was devoting $14,350 in financial resources to the Minneapolis school board race, as well as in-kind donations valued in the thousands of dollars. Since 50CAN Action Fund is a 501(c)(4), its reports do not have to disclose which candidates it is supporting, but 50CAN Action Fund’s Minnesota chair Daniel Sellers told a reporter in July that the group had spent money on Samuels.”

Jeff Bryant writes that TIME has lost prestige and readers and now recycles rightwing cliches.

On Salon, Bryant says that TIME has become an “embarrassing Internet troll,” with its cover story slamming teachers as the latest example of supermarket sensationalism.

TIME put Michelle Rhee on its cover un 2008 and implied that she knew how to transform America’s schools. She fired hundreds of teachers and principals without transforming DC schools.

And now we have another sensational anti-teacher cover, this one privileging tech millionaires as knowing how to fix teaching. Bryant writes:

“Astonishingly, since 2008, Time has learned nothing about the problems besieging teachers and their schools and the much-ballyhooed promises of “education reform.””

“The article (behind a pay wall) is written by a journalist who seems brand-new to the scene, reporting about a Silicon Valley tech tycoon, David Welch, who is behind a lawsuit, Vergara v. California, that seeks to rewrite teachers’ job protections. Nothing new here.”

“The article quotes all the usual suspects: Beltway operatives from right-wing think tanks – Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Michael McShane at the American Enterprise Institute. Why no teachers?”

Wouldn’t it be appropriate to interview teachers for an article about teachers?

According to the Bluff City blogger, Memphis parents and teachers have reached the boiling point. They are angry about the annual ritual of takeovers of their public schools. Things are not going well for the Achievement School District (ASD). It absorbed the state’s lowest performing schools and promised they would become high-performing schools within five years. The clock is ticking. Now parents, teachers, school officials and communities say they don’t want to lose their public schools. They are tired of empty promises. Even some charter operators have backed off, aware of public outrage. The blogger says it is a true revolt. Outsiders rearranging their lives and their schools, without listening to the community. Enough is enough. People don’t like pointless disruption of their communities.

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