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Mike Klonsky reports the latest talk in Chicago.


Talk of the town: #ResignRahm

New York policy makers saw a problem: too many students were failing the Algebra exam required for graduation. Result: more kids failed. What happens next? The tests will be made harder. What do you think will happen now? Will the policymakers blame teachers? Will the public figure out that making tests harder increases the failure rate? Why do legislators and policy makers think that kids work harder and learn more if the tests are more rigorous? Tests are not instruction. They are measures.


Some students take the Algebra exam four, five, six times. At one school that raised its passing rate on the Algebra test, the school dropped art, music, and health.


I have been reading Andrew Hacker’s “The Math Myth.” He does a good job of demolishing the claims that everyone needs Algebra.


Common sense, anyone?

Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post hates the teachers’ union. It hates the union so much that it blames the union for whatever it doesn’t like. Today, the Post says the massive opt out in New York was controlled by the union. Imagine that: the parents of 220,000 children take orders from the union. Wow, who knew that parents were so easily manipulated?


As the Post sees it, the union doesn’t want teachers to be evaluated at all, so they pulled the puppet strings and the parents did as the union bosses told them. The stronghold of the union is New York City, where the number of opt outs was minuscule. Why didn’t the opt out movement succeed where the union was strongest?


Note to the editorial board of the New York Post: Please meet with the leaders of New York State Allies for Public Education. Let them explain to you why they led the opt outs.

Rupert Murdoch tweeted that Eli Broad would be buying the Los Angeles Times. The billionaire media moguls keep watch on one another.


Among the organizations that seek Broad funding, it is widely understood that he exercises near total control over how his money is spent. Is that OCD?


He already funds the education coverage of the L.A. Times. Now he apparently wants it all. Maybe they printed a story or an editorial he disagreed with. People with billions have a hard time believing that they are ever wrong.


This is bad news for Los Angeles and for the free press. It is not healthy when a journalist cannot write freely, without regard for the views of the publisher.


The ownership of so much of the media–print and television, networks and cable stations–by a handful of moguls is not good for our democracy.


All that remains free is social media, and all too often social media is unsourced, gossip, rumor, and innuendo.


We need a free press. I don’t know how we will get one back once it has been bought up by a few billionaires.



Amanda Koonlaba, a teacher in Mississippi, reminds us of the origins and purpose of school choice: racial segregation.

How soon we forget.

Only two countries have adopted school choice: Chile and Sweden. Main effect: increased segregation by social class, economics, and religion.

State Senator Chris Larson regularly reports to his constituents. This newsletter describes the latest assaults on Wisconsin’s public institutions and traditions by Governor Scott Walker and his allies.

“Many of you have contacted me regarding your support for investing in education in Wisconsin. Wisconsinites take great pride in supporting their local neighborhood schools. Underinvesting in education causes our schools, teachers, and — most importantly — our students to struggle. This is worrisome and will likely have costly consequences for generations to come. Like many of you, I believe we need to get Wisconsin back on track by ensuring our future leaders have equal access to quality education.

“For-Profit Voucher Schools Continue to Be Unaccountable, Take Away Resources from Traditional Neighborhood Schools

“Communities across Wisconsin are starting to see the negative consequences of intentionally disinvesting in our traditional neighborhood schools and expanding unaccountable, for-profit voucher schools. Further, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) recently published new figures on enrollment, which showed that the number of students receiving public money to attend private schools doubled from the previous school year and is now over 2,500. Further, 75% of students receiving public money for private school have already been attending a private school prior to being publicly subsidized. This expansion has resulted in an overall increase of state expenditures on vouchers to $18.3 million during the 2015-2016 school year. In the 7th Senate District alone (excluding the city of Milwaukee), we have seen $171,860 diverted away from our public schools and funneled into private institutions. This weakens our school districts and limits the resources they have to educate our children. I have been, and will continue to be, a vocal opponent of the voucher program because of the direct harm they do to our local public schools.

“Restricting Communities from Investing in Students

“Over the past few years, Republicans in control of the Legislature have been relentless in their attacks on local control. This session, legislative Republicans introduced a bill that strips away the ability of local communities to invest in education at the local level. Assembly Bill 481 would, in certain instances, take away the right for a school district to bring funding proposals to a referendum. With fewer state resources going to school districts, the referendum process is more crucial than ever. In fact, last April, 76% of all school referendums appearing on the ballot statewide passed because our communities recognize that we cannot continue to underfund our children’s future. Taking this tool away from neighborhoods is not only an infringement of local control but could have severe impacts on cash-strapped schools.

“Community Schools: A New Vision for Education

Access to quality public education is a right that every child deserves and is enshrined in our state constitution. However, the Republican majority in our state continues to rollback local control and intentionally underinvest in our public schools, putting our children at risk. The community school legislation that I introduced with Representative Barnes addresses the complex range of factors that lead to underachievement, while strengthening local communities in the process. This forward-thinking legislation will help guarantee that our children, as well as future generations, have the necessary support to succeed year-round.

“We need to make our schools a haven, not only for educational achievement, but for all aspects of our children’s lives. A multitude of studies have shown that if a child comes to school sick, hungry, homeless, or afraid for their safety they cannot learn. We can address these problems by restructuring the way we look at education in our state.

“Higher Education

“Since the passage of the last Walker budget, our university system is having to try to find ways to deal with the $250 million cut they have been faced with. This requires flexibility and innovation on the part of administrators, as well as student leaders, and I have been proud to see the cooperation throughout the UW System. I am continuing to meet with administrators from UW-Milwaukee, as well as various technical colleges, in an effort to work together to address their funding and resource concerns.

“In a recent visit to the UW-Milwaukee, I had the opportunity to see the amazing work they are doing, despite the decrease in state investment. The new Innovation Campus in Wauwatosa is up and running, creating a unique opportunity for graduate students to work with industry professionals. The new campus houses a variety of facilities that are researching topics from early, portable Ebola detection to mobility options for neighbors with disabilities. With nationally renowned professors and industry leaders working in the lab with students it is promising to see the real-life work experience students are getting. Projects like the Innovation Campus are a direct result of the dedication of university staff and students to higher education; let us all work together to ensure their continued success.”

Paula Poundstone, comedian, has advice for parents: break your children’s addiction to electronic devices.  Is she right or wrong? Who made the decision that all the tests had to be taken online? This leads to a need to teach keyboarding schools in kindergarten or earlier. Shouldn’t children spend time making things, not just consuming what someone else has made? Shouldn’t they have time to use their own imagination, not just imbibe the products of someone else’s imagination?


She writes:


Screen devices wreak havoc with the brain’s frontal lobe. Diagnosis of ADHD in our children has taken a steep rise since the proliferation of screen devices.


Yet, even when presented with that information, parents often won’t hear of protecting their kids from the harmful effects of screen devices. “Kids love them!” they say. Yes, they do, and kids would love heroin if we gave it to them. I’m told that after the initial vomiting stage it can be a hoot!


We didn’t know this when we first brought these shiny new toys into homes. But, now, we do know. Still, adults aren’t doing anything about it. Why? Because we’re addicted. Addiction hampers judgment.


You see it. Everywhere you look people are staring at their flat things. We’re terrified of being bored. No one drifts or wonders. If Robert Frost had lived today he would have written, “Whose woods are these? I think I’ll Google it.”


Screens are tearing away our real connections. Ads for “family cars” show every family member on a different device. Applebees, Chili’s, Olive Garden and some IHOPs are putting tablets on their tables. These restaurants claim they are providing tablets just to make ordering easier. Well, gee, if saying, “May I please have chicken fingers?” is too difficult for our young ones, wouldn’t we want to work on that?


The tech industry has profited from the “Every child must have a laptop in the classroom” push, but education hasn’t. Research shows that the brain retains information better read from paper than from a screen, and students who take notes by hand are more successful on tests than those who type their notes on a computer.


Yet, art, music, sports, play, healthy meals and green space — things we know help the developing brain — are on the chopping block of school districts’ budgets annually.


Even knowing this, at the suggestion that we get screen devices out of our classrooms and away from our children, people gasp, “But they’ll need them for the world of the future!”


Our children will need fully-functioning brains for the world of the future. Let’s put that first.

The New America Foundation has published a report on “early learning” from birth to third grade. The New America Foundation used to be an organization whose purpose was to nurture young journalists (I was on that board several years ago). But as Washington, D.C., think tanks operate, they go where the money is.


The report upset me at the outset by confusing “proficiency” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (a very high bar, equivalent to an A or A-) with “grade level.” NAEP proficiency is NOT grade level. There is only one state where as many as 50% of students reached NAEP proficient, and that is Massachusetts.


The report, which you can read, has some sensible but not new proposals, like expanding access to preschool. Much in the report is good, but the bad part is the emphasis on assessment and data collection for pre-K and earlier.


It recommends licensing early childhood educators, both teachers and principals, and requiring that they have appropriate education for teaching young children. That leaves out TFA.


It recommends equitable funding. That’s good too.


It recommends a maximum class size for early childhood education of not more than 10. That’s good.


It recommends standards, assessments, and data for the little ones, which turns out to mean that the standards and assessments for the tykes should be aligned with “college-and-career-ready standards,” that is, the Common Core. I wonder what it means for a two-year-old to be college or career-ready? The report includes a long list of data indicators that should inform policy for 0-5.


The report says that assessment for pre-K is often overlooked, which the authors consider a mistake. Ugh! They recommend screenings, diagnostic assessments, milestones, and kindergarten entry tests for children below the age of 5.


The one recommendation that is missing is play. Play is children’s work. Please don’t assess it, other than to record that there was plenty of time for play.







Peter Greene wrote a post about the continuing deterioration and abandonment of public education in St. Louis. It is a sad story.


Teachers’ salaries are frozen. Teachers are fleeing the district. The school district is losing enrollment. The district has a school board but it is powerless.


Peter writes (open the story for the links):
But the school system’s population problems are part of the city’s problems, and the city’s problems include white flight. St. Louis is discredited with “the highest thirty-year rate of building and neighborhood abandonment in North American history.” The 2010 census revealed a loss of 29,000 residents since the previous head count.

Schools have been standing empty, and the public system has been in trouble going back to at least 2007, when the state stripped it of its accreditation and took it over, stripping local control from the elected school board. The school district is run by a three-person Special Administrative Board; they hire the superintendent and are themselves political appointees.

This big bunch of troubles has made St. Louis a prime target for charters, a confluence of sincerely concerned parents who wanted to get their children out of a struggling public system and charteristas who smelled a market ripe for profit overseen by a charter-friendly mayor. The newspapers and city leaders don’t seem to like to mention it much, but on top of everything else, the St. Louis schools suffer from the charter effect– students leave for charters, but there is no proportionate lessening of expenses in the schools they leave, and so they leave many students behind in an already troubled public school that now has that much less money with which to work.

And so last spring, charters were predicting a banner year with great enrollment. This even though the charter schools of St. Louis have not been anything to write home about, either; at one point the city shut down the chain of six Imagine Charters (containing a third of the city’s charter students) for academic failure and financial shadiness.

Meanwhile, Missouri is one of those magical states where the government has a funding formula in place– which it simply ignores. At the beginning of 2015, Missouri schools were being underfunded by nearly a whopping half billion-with-a-b dollars.


But you need to learn about how all this started, and the place to begin is with this essay by Peter Downs, who was then the president of the elected school board (which no longer exists). Downs, a journalist, warned in 2009 that there was a “plot to kill public education” and he supplies the details. Plenty of money for consultants, not so much for the students and teachers. You will not be surprised to learn that the leading actors in the destruction of public education were the Broad Foundation and a bankruptcy firm called Alvarez & Marsal, who confused bankruptcy with “turnaround.”


I may put up a separate post for Peter Downs’ essay. It is eerily predictive of what is happening in city after city, as corporate reformers move in to kill off public education.

As we wait impatiently to learn what the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Act will mean for classrooms across the nation, as we hold our breath while elected officials decide how public schools should function (as if they knew how), the New York Times has a wonderful parody of legislation to guarantee that our elected officials are smart enough to do their jobs.


It is called The Smartness Act of 2015, and it consists of tests for elected officials. If we were serious, we would require all state and federal officials to take the eighth grade mathematics test (PARCC or SBAC) and publish their scores.


The parody starts like this:




An Act

To ensure that elected and appointed officials of State and Municipal governments are sufficiently prepared (i.e., “get it”) to enforce the Basic Skills provision of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the United States Federal government has enacted the Common Core Standards Reform Act for Government Officials.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as “The Smartness Act of 2015.”


The purpose of this Act is to improve the implementation (i.e., “doing it”) of Basic Skills by establishing minimum academic standards for State and Municipal government officials that must be achieved within sixty (60) days of their taking office. It is believed that core knowledge provides a foundation for being “smart” and that smartness is in the best interests of the United States of America, now more than ever what with computers and all.


(a) Common Core Standard 1 English Language Arts (ELA)

(1) Read one (1) book in its entirety.

(A) Pop-up books, picture books, other nice books with cardboard pages, joke books, motor vehicle manuals, foldout maps and really thick magazines will not be considered in compliance with CCS1 except in the following States that have been granted waivers: Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, Wyoming and any other State with legalized casino gambling.


(B) Cliff’s Notes, Spark Notes or other study guides will not be permitted as substitutes for reading a book except for “Beowulf,” “Middlemarch,” “Ulysses,” “The Godfather” and anything by Gabriel García Márquez. In the case of “The Godfather,” viewing the filmed versions (“The Godfather” Part 1 and Part II, but not Part III, so disappointing) will satisfy the requirement in the following States that have been granted waivers: New York, New Jersey, Florida, California and Nevada. Alternatively, line recitations as spoken by the films’ main characters (e.g., “Don’t ask me about my business, Kay”) will also satisfy the requirement in those States.

(C) The approved book must be written in English except for any book written in Latin. If you can understand Latin, go for it, Sophocles. Books whose original language is French and were translated into English will be prohibited except for “The Charterhouse of Parma,” which many government officials liked for some bizarre reason a while back, but no other French book like “Madame Bovary,” “In Search of Lost Time,” “The Stranger” or those paperbacks that look rained on and never move from the outdoor tables in Montmartre. It’s all so pretentious. Speaking of pretentious, any book by Gertrude Stein will not be in compliance with CCS1 even though, technically, she was an American and wrote in a language that sounds like it could be English. Can anyone explain “Tender Buttons”? “Stick stick call then, stick stick sticking, sticking with a chicken. Sticking in a extra succession, sticking in.” Really?



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