Archives for the month of: April, 2013

Indifferent to John Merrow’s investigative reports on the cheating scandal during Michelle Rhee’s tenure as DC Chancellor, the Walton Family Foundation gave her organization $8 million to continue pushing its radical agenda of attacking teachers and promoting privatization of the nation’s public schools.

StudentsFirst advocates that test scores should count for 50% of teacher evaluation, although most researchers agree that these measures are inaccurate and unstable. It also advocates charters and vouchers, including for-profit charters.

The Providence Student Union delivered the First Annual State of the Student Address today, right before State Commissioner Denorah Gist gave her annual State of Education Address.

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Hello. Attached please find the materials from the Providence Student Union’s First Annual State of the Student Address, including a press release, a list of PSU’s policy recommendations, and a one-page document detailing PSU’s idea for assessment reform.

PRESS RELEASE

CONTACT: Hector Perea | Contact@ProvidenceStudentUnion.org | 401-545-1973

STUDENTS COUNTER ED. COMMISSIONER’S “STATE OF EDUCATION” SPEECH –

OFFER THEIR OWN VISION FOR RI EDUCATION IN “STATE OF THE STUDENT” ADDRESS

Providence, Rhode Island – April 30, 2013 – A crowd of students, parents and teachers gathered in front of the State House today before the Commissioner of Education’s yearly State of Education address for what members of the Providence Student Union (PSU) called their First Annual State of the Student Address.

“Commissioner Gist’s education addresses have been one-sided,” said PSU member and Hope High School junior Kelvis Hernandez. “They have not told the full story about Rhode Island education because they have never been given from the student’s perspective. Rhode Island students know what is actually happening in our schools, and we know what needs to change. Today we will offer an alternative vision for how our schools should be improved so that students can meet the high standards we all aspire to achieve.”

During the address, five students from five different high schools in Providence laid out a series of policy recommendations for the Commissioner to focus to improve education in Rhode Island. Leexammarie, a sophomore at Central High School, explained PSU’s suggestions on teaching and curriculum. “We’re told to sit and listen, to do our test prep so we can pass our NECAP and move on. But that’s not how we learn. That’s certainly not how I learn. We need an education that is as creative as we are. We need projects, hands-on learning, debates, and conversations. We need opportunities to do arts and technology and to work in groups. And we need small enough classes where teachers have the flexibility to teach us like individuals.”

Speaking about the need for more funding for school repairs and transportation, Danise Nichols of Mount Pleasant High School said, “If Providence schools get the funding they need to make our buildings safe, healthy, and comfortable for students, and to provide transportation to students, then we will be in a much better position to learn. We don’t think this is too much to ask. Do you?”

PSU members also described the need for a better assessment system than the current high-stakes testing regime. “We need an assessment system that challenges us to really learn – not to just fill in bubbles,” said Cauldierre McKay, a junior at Classical High School. “We should look for inspiration at successful systems like the New York Performance Standards Consortium. These schools require a student to complete four performance-based assessments that show oral and written skill, including an analytic literary essay, a social studies research paper with valid arguments and evidence, a science experiment that shows understanding of the scientific method and an applied math problem. These schools outperform New York schools using high-stakes testing – and we can see why.”

Members of the Providence Student Union said they hoped their event would help re-center the education conversation in Rhode Island back to its proper focus, the needs of students. After describing all their policy recommendations, Cauldierre McKay summed up PSU’s future plans, saying, “Now it’s up to all of us to work, together, to turn these ideas from words into real changes – to convince the Commissioner to give us an education instead of a test.”
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Teachers at Crenshaw High School are trying to stop the executioners’ axe from falling on their school, as it has fallen on so many others. Is it too late?

They write:

“The last few days have been hard to bear—especially for those of us who want UTLA to become an organizing union, which puts forth our vision for how we can best educate our kids. Last night, teachers at Crenshaw High School—who, despite the most valiant and strategic fight we’ve seen yet against a reconstitution, had been forced to reapply for their jobs under the district’s “magnet conversion”—began receiving news about whether they’d been rehired for year. The news has been very bad.

“More than 30 teachers at Crenshaw — half the faculty — have been “rejected” by the hiring committee so far, including UTLA Chair Cathy Garcia, West Area UTLA Board member Alex Caputo-Pearl, and multiple veteran African-American teachers, who not only teach at Crenshaw, but make the area their home, and who, now, will not be allowed back to teach the kids at their own “home school.”

“In addition to being a part of militant actions against the reconstitution, once the re-application process started, the faculty organized the majority of teachers to re-apply, believing that “that this is our school, we are part of this community, and we won’t be pushed out without going through every piece of this struggle we can, even a re-application process.” Everyone was clear-eyed about the process – that it would be a kangaroo court, with decisions essentially a forgone conclusion. But teachers agreed to go through it anyway, and push it into the light of day, because stability was important for the students. They’re why we’re all here in the first place.

“This news about Crenshaw is devastating, not only because it further destabilizes another inner-city school that serves students of color. It’s worse because Crenshaw, despite ongoing district neglect, had worked, through years of organizing and investment in instructional innovation, to become a model for bottom-up, genuine reform. The teachers at Crenshaw, working in partnership with students, parents, community members, and university scholars, had created a nationally-recognized model for educating students of color: The Extended Learning Cultural Model (ELCM).

“The ELCM is the single most groundbreaking, all-encompassing model for genuine education transformation attempted at an urban high school. The ELCM combines cutting edge instructional pedagogy with community-based internships, leadership opportunities, and activities that connect to the students’ classroom learning. This “extends learning” out into the community. The model also included parent workshops to further support student learning and development. The ELCM was a model to educate the whole child in each and every one of his/her ecosystems: classroom, home, and community.

“And the model was working! The work of the students, teachers, parents, and community members at Crenshaw had garnered the attention of the Ford Foundation, who awarded Crenshaw a $250,000.00 grant to pilot their work, with the promise of more money to come. In addition, WASC, the accrediting board, who threatened to remove Crenshaw’s accreditation just a few years before, praised the work of the faculty and staff, and the newly created stability and “espirit d’corps” of the entire Crenshaw community under this new model. Test scores rose significantly in 2011-12. All of this success occurred in spite of years of district neglect, and a virtual revolving door of administrators (more than 30 in the seven years since Crenshaw’s accreditation was threatened). The ELCM was turning Crenshaw around. All that was needed was stability, and perhaps (dare we say it) even some district support.

“What did LAUSD do instead? They destroyed it. Superintendent Deasy went after Crenshaw this past year, ignoring all of the gains recognized by the Ford Foundation, WASC, and the actual data (which spoke for itself). Deasy HAD to destroy the Extended Learning Cultural Model. And, he made Crenshaw High School a huge political priority. The ELCM was a direct threat to him, his top-down philosophy of education, and his authority as superintendent. The ELCM was not created by him or the District. It operated largely independently of him and the District (though the school invited him to be involved in a positive manner, several times over the last two years). Teachers and parents raised their own money for it, which must have been upsetting for our superintendent—to know that peon teachers and parents had direct lines to international foundations over him. The ELCM is based on education as a tool for critical thinking and contribution to social justice, not education to create more workers for a market and business model, as Deasy promotes. It had the support of prominent academics of color, with whom Deasy could not stand toe-to-toe. It was led by progressive unionists, not District hacks. The ELCM was, pure and simple, a direct threat to Deasy, and he knew he had to destroy it. So he did.

“Deasy blamed the years of inadequate progress not on district ineptitude (as WASC clearly noted), but on the teachers. He called the school a failure, and decided to institute more of the same: reconstitution. This time – cleverly, because it brings in more resources and connotes positive change — under the guise of a “magnet conversion.” He very specifically obliterated the Social Justice and Law Academy, by rejecting ALL of its architect teachers – this was the Academy that had planted the seeds for the ELCM more than any.

“The results so far have been the same as at Fremont, Jordan, Manual Arts, and Muir: teachers were forced to reapply for their jobs, and almost all of the veteran/activist teachers have not been rehired. And just like all the other reconstitutions that came before it, big UTLA did not have the power or strategy to stop it. While some officers have provided valuable but limited support in communicating with District officials, the two big things that the Crenshaw community needed UTLA’s help with were not able to be put together – help to organize the other 6 schools that are being magnetized so that the relatively strong 7th school, Crenshaw, won’t be left out on a limb; and investment in public relations, community ads, etc., to frame the whole “magnet conversion” city-wide as a destabilizer. Just like with Public School Choice, teacher evaluations, etc. – when UTLA goes issue by issue, one by one, school by school, we lost.

“The ELC Model at Crenshaw is what the Schools LA Students Deserve Campaign is really about. This is the kind of work community partners and UTLA can be showcasing. But as dark as this time has been, the fight is not yet over. We may have lost a key part of this battle at Crenshaw, but the fight to preserve the ELCM is just beginning. And, students and parents, again, are finding their footing after this blow. Again, this is an incredibly innovative, student-centered educational model. It was attempted by teachers, working in partnership with students, parents, and community members. And it worked. Remember that. Remember what WE can do to counter the fake reform proposed by the district, the billionaire Boys Club, and the neoliberals who want to impose a corporate model on public education.”

More to come on the ELCM soon.

In Unity,

Cathy Garcia
UTLA Chapter Chair, Crenshaw High School

Joseph Zeccola
UTLA Year-Round Director
Design Team Leader, The Social Justice Schools at Maya Angelou Community High School

Fourth-grader Joey Furlong was in the hospital in New York, hooked up to intravenous tubes and preparing for brain surgery, when a stranger arrived in his room. It was a teacher with a test. She said it was time for him to take the test. It turns out that the hospital has five full-time teachers on staff to make sure that any child who is in the hospital for more than three days receives instruction and testing.

No child escapes testing. Even while they are waiting for brain surgery.

This morning I went to hear Randi Weingarten speak to a major group of business and civic leaders in New York City. Present also were the state’s education leaders, including Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch as well as College Board President (and Common Core architect) David Coleman.

Randi praised the Common Core as the most important innovation in education in our generation, but warned that it would fail unless there is time and support for proper implementation: professional development, curriculum, materials, collaboration, field testing, etc.

New York State and City plunged right into testing without adequate preparation. Randi predicted that Common Core was doomed unless there was enough time to do it right. She urged the importance of a field test. She suggested to the business leaders that none of them would roll out a new product without field testing.

The leaders with the power to make Randi’s proposal into reality were in the room. Let’s see what they do now.

Here is her announcement:

Dear Supporter,

This morning I addressed a group called the Association for a Better New York and spoke about the Common Core State Standards for math and English language arts that have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. I predicted these standards will result in one of two outcomes: They will lead to a revolution in teaching and learning, or end up in the dustbin of abandoned reforms. Educators want these standards to succeed—we know; we’ve asked them. But, in order for that to happen, we must have a chance to implement them before someone starts assessing how they’re working.

So today I called for a moratorium on the consequences of high-stakes testing associated with the Common Core standards until states and districts have worked with educators to properly implement them. Stand with me.

We are committed to the success of getting the transition to Common Core right. To do that, we must help teachers and students master this new approach and not waste time punishing people for not doing something they haven’t yet been equipped to do. Can you imagine doctors being expected to perform a new medical procedure without being trained or provided the necessary instruments? That’s what is happening right now with the Common Core.

We have the ability to transform the very DNA of teaching and learning, to move away from rote memorization and endless test taking, and toward problem solving, critical thinking and teamwork—things I know we have been advocating for years. It’s kind of amazing that we have to call on states and districts to implement the Common Core State Standards before making the new assessments count. But that’s what we’re doing.

Send a message to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:

When states and districts get the alignment right—which will require moving from standards to curriculum to field testing to revising—success will follow. But, until then, a moratorium on the stakes is the only sensible course.

Making changes without anything close to adequate preparation is a failure of leadership, a sign of a broken accountability system and, worse, an abdication of our moral responsibility to the kids we serve. The Common Core standards have the potential to be a once-in-a-generation revolution in education, but there must be a tangible commitment from leadership that says very clearly, “We support you, and the Common Core, and these are the concrete steps we are going to take to help you and them succeed.”



Stand with me, because if we are able to put our foot on the accelerator of high-quality implementation, and put the brakes on the stakes, we can take advantage of this opportunity and guarantee that stronger standards lead to higher achievement for all children.

Help me send that message.



In unity,

Randi Weingarten

AFT President

Florida parents–especially the Determined Moms–beat the Parent Trigger again. The Senate voted 19-19. The tie vote was a repeat of last year’s vote.

Enough Florida Republicans voted Nay to block the bill.

Parent power beat corporate power!

Florida parent groups–the PTAs, Testing Is not Teaching, Fund Education Now, 50th No More, and others–stood firm against the charter lobby.

Florida has more than 600 charter schools, but not enough to satisfy the charter industry. It has for-profit charters and cyber charters, but not enough to satisfy the profiteers.

Who won? Public schools.

Who lost? Jeb Bush. Michelle Rhee. The charter industry.

This is a long and fact-filled story about the rise and possible fall of the testing industry in Texas.

I am quoted near the end, and there is one statement that I need to correct.

I explained to the journalist that schools had changed a lot since I was a student in Houston public schools.

Back in what people think were the “good old days,” the schools were racially segregated (for some reason, he interpreted that to mean that black and Hispanic students were not allowed to go to school, and puts those words in my mouth. Of course, they were allowed to go to school– to underfunded, segregated schools.)

That exchange aside, it is a good account of the accountability battle.

It is funny that Sandy Kress continues to believe that any relaxation of high-stakes testing will be terrible for poor and minority kids. Remember the promise that “no child would be left behind?” Can anyone today say with a straight face that no child has been left behind thanks to testing and accountability?

Michael McGill is superintendent of schools in Scarsdale, Ne York, one of the nation’s most affluent districts. It has an excellent school system. Its students go to fine colleges. Yet even Scarsdale must submit to the half-brained testing and evaluation strategies dreamed up by non-educators and educators with minimal experience.

McGill is an articulate and wise leader. Here are his thoughts on the current situation, where he sees signs of hope as more people resist the testing mania:

He writes:

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My niece Amy is teaching middle school math in Queens, and for the last few weeks, her classes have been spending their time answering practice questions for the upcoming state test. It’ll be new this year, based on the national standards. The higher-ups say there’ll be a lot more failures. Amy worries about how that’ll help her kids, who struggle to start with.

She was pretty positive about the Common Core at the start. It was supposed to involve less content and more depth, and as she says, “Nobody will ever need to know a lot of the stuff we’ve always taught them.” As it’s turned out, though, she’s still expected to cover everything she did before and also prep her students for the exam.

And so it goes.

Standardized testing isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. A lean curriculum core is better than one that’s overflowing. But twelve years after parents in my own community had their children boycott New York’s eighth grade exams, the scene is depressingly familiar. The more test-driven the classroom and the higher the stakes of the test, the more:

• teachers cover everything that might be tested and neglect material that won’t be.
• They’re reluctant to take the time to explain in depth, explore or pursue student interests.
• They focus on test-taking strategies, memorization, drill and practice questions.
• Scores, not real learning, become the main objective of instruction.
• The test evaluates what can be crammed into students’ heads, not deep understanding.

These problems aren’t limited to places where the results are bad. Children in my own community do well on standardized tests, for example. Our school board says we should offer a deep, rich education and let the results take care of themselves. For close to two decades, I’ve criticized the misuses of standardized testing. But teachers and administrators are still wary.

If scores decline – when scores decline – as a result of the changes in the tests this year, what will the community do? What will happen when one elementary school’s results aren’t as good as another’s? Now that scores are going to be fed into a teacher rating formula, can anyone completely trust the school board or the superintendent’s assurances? Who thinks parents won’t compare one teacher against others?

So even when students succeed and leaders downplay standardized testing, teachers feel pressure to approach the exams strategically and to spend excessive time prepping for them. Principals don’t direct them to spend hours that way, but “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is tempting. Kids should have some familiarity with the tests; who’s going to stop the teacher who does a little – or a lot – more than familiarize them?

Still, as a New York commissioner of education once asked me – what’s the big problem? Why not get the highest scores in the galaxy and then take pride in them?

One reason is that the testing and accountability strategy doesn’t pay off in its own terms. Scores are better in a number of states – typical of what happens when teachers teach to the test in a high-stakes environment. But gains on the nation’s only independent measure of student learning – the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) – were greater in the years before the high-stakes testing movement than they have been since.

More important, the strategy reflects such a narrow vision of what education is. And also, time is blood. We have 180-some days to try to prepare kids for a future that’s being transformed daily by globalization and technology. Today’s distorted emphasis on testing is part of an education for the 1950’s. It just makes the job harder.

Teachers should be giving their pupils a personalized education, nurturing their creativity and desire to learn. Students need more opportunities to pursue their interests, initiate more of their own learning, work in collaboratively in teams, create and invent. They should be able to wrestle with complex questions that have meaning in the real world. This kind of teaching and learning take time.

Instead – even in schools that try to realize this vision of education – kids lose multiple days to test prep, administration and grading. The cost might be more acceptable if the benefit were worth it.

But the exams are imperfect and imprecise measures of limited knowledge, and their results are marginally useful. Disembodied numbers come back from the state weeks after the tests are given. Nobody can know precisely what questions a student missed because of test security concerns. Sometimes, the scores seem to fall into meaningful patterns, but often they don’t.
For an approach that’s supposed to be highly rational, this one isn’t.

Why, then, after all these years, are we still heading down this arid road? It’s not that the state education officials or the politicians and corporate leaders who support the approach haven’t heard about the problems. Many of us working educators can tell stories about the long, frustrating and ultimately pointless discussions we’ve had with elected and appointed officials and representatives of the business community.

One reason, to be sure, is financial. Testing is big business: There’s plenty of money to be made, supplying the schools with the tools of the trade – to paraphrase the now-obscure Country Joe McDonald and the Fish.

But the equally powerful reason is that many of these people are sincere. They honestly believe they’re saving children. The officials and the business folk know they’re right, and they have a profound disdain for the educators who, presumably, are responsible for the mess the schools are supposed to be in.

They’ve adapted a corporate strategy of metrics and accountability, certain it must work in schools just as well as it (again, presumably) does in business. For unclear reasons, they apply this model selectively. Unlike highly effective businesses, for example, they believe in treating all situations the same, regardless of objective differences: They don’t want to free effective, innovative or otherwise promising divisions from regulation. Still, they can’t be faulted for a lack of single-minded determination.

All things considered, in other words, it’s no wonder that the discredited school people are politically marginal. Or that a New York education chancellor has said the only way the ship will start to turn is if large numbers of parents begin to protest the direction it’s taking.

And in fact, we may be seeing the birth of a grass roots effort to restore balance to the school reform movement. After almost three decades in which states and, subsequently, the federal government have promoted the over-use and the misuse of standardized tests, Texas school boards are pushing back. Teacher protests and parent boycotts have begun to appear across the nation.

Whether these particular shoots will grow and flourish isn’t yet clear. But it’s spring, when signs of life are always hopeful. Sooner or later, the policy makers must come to understand that today’s grim, reductive emphasis on test scores won’t develop the thinking people our nation needs to compete and to lead in the new century. Our birthright is an education that realizes each individual’s human potential; only by honoring that legacy, can we fulfill America’s promise.

This comment was posted by a teacher in Boston who couldn’t tolerate what was happening to her school, her students, her profession.

She writes:

“Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I am a newly-resigned, 15-year veteran in the Boston Public Schools.

I had to get out; I spent years obsessing over the internet trying to make sense of what was happening & why I was continuing to let it. All my research did was leave me feeling more confused, & thinking I could spend forever trying to make sense of nonsense.

On 4/1 I resigned.

On 4/5 I was testifying before the Joint Committee on Education in support of some MCAS bills. I hope my testimony was powerful.

On 5/7 I plan to do the same; this time it’ll be on charter schools.

I plan to testify at as many hearings as possible until it makes a difference.

I’ve reached out to the directors at Citizens for Public Schools (Massachusetts’s advocacy group) & am very much looking forward to working with them in any capacity that they need.

I’ve already grown impatient with how time-consuming the whole legislative process is; what’s happening within our schools is a CRISIS, & each passing day brings new evidence supporting that claim. There’s NO QUESTION high-stakes tests are BAD; teaching to the test is BAD; businessmen making decisions about non-business related matters, especially when children are involved, are BAD. & we hope someday legislation makes things GOOD again, but the legislative process isn’t exactly efficient, so in the meantime…what? We just continue along as expected, regardless of the damage?

I resigned from the BPS because I couldn’t justify doing what I was doing each day by complying with malevolent mandates and stupid sanctions while knowing the harm it would cause. This was NOT what I was put on this earth to be doing; this was HARMING children, including my OWN!

I could never explain to myself WHY I was continuing to do it; all I knew was that as long as i was in the BPS, I’d be doing it. Refusing to comply all by myself wouldn’t be effective, & I longed to sleep at night again, so I left. I am the single mother to a 6, 7, & 8 year old boy, & I left my only source of income behind when I did. THAT’S how bad things are.

Today my priority is doing whatever i can to help undo this corporate takeover and get the schools back on track. But again, the legislative process is a slow one, & the harm’s been already overwhelming & substantial enough. I believe drastic measures are in order, at this point. & I believe it has to come from within the schools…the teachers are the only real ones who have any say in what is going on in the classrooms, so why aren’t they uniting to do something about it? In MA, at least, it’s starting to already feel too late…

There is not a teacher in America who SUPPORTS this corporate reform. Individually, we all vehemently oppose it; our blood boils because of it; we know it’s toxic. Collectively, however, we DO support it. We support it each & every day, no matter how it contradicts our entire pedagogy. No matter how much it sucks to live life like that…going against the core of who we are, we obey the rules. WHY? WHY ARE WE CONTINUING TO BE EVER-SO-OBEDIENT?

I spent over 2 years desperately seeking that answer to that very question; only to become more & more unable to – & that’s why i resigned.

& one of the many intense emotions that came with making that decision was Anger. Anger towards the teachers for making this happen. Anger towards myself as a teacher for making it happen.
I believe if the teachers come together & have some conversation, change will happen. The faster we do that, & the more teachers we reach out to include, the faster the change will come.

Someone just needs to gather up all the teachers now. I would; I feel like I’ve been only thinking about doing so all month. I just don’t know how. So I decided to reach out here, thinking you could help.

I may live in fantasyland to some degree, & I’ve realized this past month how shamefully little I knew of the policy & procedure & logistics of “this” side of Ed Reform – the external side. & I don’t know realistically what the teachers could even do or how it’d work, but I feel like a conversation needs to happen. & I also think the best way to start the conversation would be to ask every teacher to answer the following question:

“Why do you continue to comply with malevolent mandates & stupid sanctions that you KNOW only serve to HARM your students, your schools, your VOCATIONS?”

& for those who, like me on 4/1, respond with, “I don’t know”, the follow-up question is, then,
“Why do you continue to do it, then?”

It was asking that of myself that made me realize, I can’t.
& the only way I knew how to stop was to walk away.

But what happens when each teacher refuses to comply anymore IN SOLIDARITY with one another?

The answer, it seems, is obvious.

So why haven’t we done that yet?

How bad does it really have to get before we do???

At the beginning of March, I came across this quote from Rethinking Schools,

“At the most basic level, national corporate school reform
agenda REQUIRES teacher’s compliance. Regardless of
individual motives, when a group of teachers COLLECTIVELY
& publicly says NO, that represents a fundamental challenge
to those pursuing that elite agenda.”

The logic behind that assertion is indisputable. That statement is obvious.

So what are we waiting for??”

Since Bobby Jindal and his loyal henchman John White started their war against Louisiana’s public schools and their teachers, the judicial system has proved to be the best line of defense for defenders of the public interest.

Jindal’s two major pieces of legislation were declared unconstitutional by the courts. One ruled that it was illegal to take money away from public school funding to pay for vouchers or private vendors (called “course choice”). Another declared the omnibus anti-teacher law unconstitutional on procedural grounds.

Thus far, the legislature appears less willing to bow to Jindal’s demands to renew his vendetta, maybe because his poll ratings have dropped into the 30s.

Here, Mercedes Schneider describes the multiple lawsuits filed against John White and the Louisiana Department of Education.

White simply won’t release the data that researchers use to analyze school performance (without student names) yet is more than willing to share confidential student data with inBloom, the Gates-Murdoch collaboration.

As usual, Schneider nails the key issues.

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