Archives for category: Accountability

Kim Irvine, English teacher in Ogden, Utah, knows the new state superintendent quite well. Brad Smith, a lawyer with no education experience, was superintendent in Ogden, where he implemented a series of failed “reform” policies. So, it being Utah, he was elevated to state superintendent.

Kim Smith here describes the havoc and disruption he imposed on Ogden. Watch out, Utah parents and teachers! Know what to expect and push back hard. As hard as you can.

This is the canary in the coalmine…

Few people in this state realize that many Utah teachers are holding their collective breath waiting for the state superintendant to unveil his educational plan. There are concerns because his previously unsuccessful reforms as a district superintendent are often pointed to as an exemplar. Not many people across the state know what these reforms could look like, but the teachers, parents, and students from Ogden, do.

Based on that perspective, there are a few points that should be considered, especially for the parents whose students will be educated under this new plan. Recently, an article addressed ten signs of a failing district. [i] Please refer back to the article because the descriptions of these ten sign are both illuminating and powerful. Here are the ten signs:

  1. The large majority of teachers have fewer than 5 years experience.
  2. Teachers are overwhelmed with requests for data.
  3. Teachers receive no support from administrators on discipline issues.
  4. Professional development is limited to indoctrination and data.
  5. The message is tightly controlled, eliminating constructive criticism.
  6. School Board members serve as rubber stamps.
  7. The community is not involved in its schools.
  8. The district is top heavy with administrators.
  9. An overemphasis has been placed on technology.
  10. Not enough emphasis is being place on civics and citizenship.

Watch how closely this mirrors the events that happened in Ogden as Mr. Smith implemented his reforms.

Librarians

One of the first actions as newly appointed superintendent that really caught the ire of the community was to fire all of the librarians in the district including many reading specialists, citing potential increases in the cost of benefits under the Affordable Care Act. [ii] Smith also went on to explain that Ogden School District is the only remaining district on the Wasatch Front to employ licensed teachers as media specialists in their libraries. [iii]This turned out to be false, but deaf to the public outcry by parents, teachers, and students, the librarians did, indeed, lose their jobs. Many had been in the district for decades. After all was said and done, a handful of librarians remained. [iv]

Scripted Teaching

The next concern arose because of mandated training and implementation of scripted curriculum. Although many requests were made to the district about the expense of this program, the district would never release exact numbers. It has been reported the cost of this scripted program is upwards of $800,000 a year for the English instruction alone. This is horrifying to anyone, but especially someone who understands that these supplies are “consumables”. They are basically a bunch of worksheets bound together that the students write in and are thrown away each year and replaced. This is a very expensive and not a very effective way to teach as many research studies show. “One program cannot meet the needs of all children. Teachers need to be trained and empowered to make decisions about how best to teach their students.”[v]

Teacher Attrition

Many teachers began to leave Ogden District for several reasons including heavy-handed discipline, scripted programs, and a huge increase in data gathering and analysis paperwork. Other teachers were simply non-renewed. The local paper reported, “District teacher turnover 57% from 2006 to 2013.” Actual numbers appear that the trend is not only not slowing, but also increasing. According to the district’s records just about the same number of teachers left again the next year which would bring the cumulative to 72% turn over in teachers. Smith said. “Reforms were implemented, and they are choosing to go elsewhere to work.”[vi]

Teacher, Jennifer Claesgens, whose resume includes a Ph.D. in science and mathematics education, experience teaching high school, and four years as an assistant professor at Northern Arizona University’s Center for Science Teaching and Learning, responded to having her teaching contract not renewed by speaking out. According to the Standard Examiner, “She wonders if the real reason she was let go was that she questioned some school policies. ‘I didn’t understand why we didn’t have finals at a high school, if we want students to be prepared for college. I didn’t understand why kids were allowed to play sports if they weren’t even in school that day, or were flunking classes…I questioned those things because I really feel that you need to have expectations of students.”’[vii]

Confiscation of Teachers’ salaries

Another large reason that teachers are fleeing the Ogden District are the ways, under the reforms, teacher discipline is handled. Currently, when a teacher is placed on what the district calls, “Tier Two Remediation,” they lose the state money. This represents several thousand dollars that is “confiscated” by the district. This practice has become rather commonplace in the Ogden School District, yet I haven’t heard of this happening to other teachers across the state. A concern here is that this seems to be a conflict of interest. The district is fiscally motivated to place teachers on discipline. Personally, I know several teachers who have had this happen to them. It is a stressful, demeaning, and hurtful punishment that pushes the boundaries of appropriateness, especially when Utah teachers struggle with low wages and shrinking benefits as it is.

Mr. Smith’s Superintendent Bonuses and OSD Board’s “Rubber Stamp of Approval for Renewed Contract

In the midst of all of this, the Ogden School District Board unanimously renewed Brad Smith’s contract for another two years. What surprised the community was to hear of Mr. Smith’s incentive pay and bonus plan, which seemed highly inappropriate due to the financial woes claimed by the district. The Standard Examiner covered the story, “…but his potential performance pay goes up. Before, Smith was assessed three times a year and got a $10,000 bonus each time he met the criteria. Now, Smith will be assessed four times yearly, and get $9,000 each time he meets criteria…” Board President Shane Story.[viii]

Even though many were present at this board meeting in protest of the many controversial policies, The Ogden School Board voted unanimously to renew Superintendent Brad Smith’s contract for two more years.[ix] This was particularly disturbing considering there was no formal offering of the job to other job applicants despite the public outcry. Here is a video of some of these concerns voiced at that meeting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GscEIJ5lgdk

 

Data Shenanigans

But most importantly, it is vital to examine the data proffered by Mr. Smith as proof that his non-traditional methods actually work. Initially, the data showed that there were increases in student scoring at a few schools at the elementary levels, but those successes were short lived. There was minimal, consistent improvement at the secondary level. In 2014, as the state testing data came in, it became apparent that the reforms left a lot to be desired. The Deseret News reported shocking figures of proficiency rates in both the junior highs and high schools in Ogden District. Some of the most dismal were the math scores:

Ogden High= 4% proficient in math

Ben Lomond High= 5.9% proficient in math

Mound Fort Jr= 6.9% proficient in math

Highland Jr= 12.0% proficient in math

Mount Ogden Jr= 26.3% proficient in math

In 2014, two years after Mr. Smith started his sweeping reforms, the Deseret News reported the following:

“…Ogden, where English language arts scores fell by almost 77 percent — about 30 percent beyond the average drop experienced by Utah’s elementary schools. In the last four years, Dee and other Ogden schools have been hailed as having turned the tide in academic performance, fighting their way out of the bottom ranks through administrative overhauls and data-driven teaching initiatives. Between 2010 and 2013, Dee had gone from being among the worst-performing schools in the state to more than doubling its proficiency scores in language arts.”[x]

The paper even created a graph to illustrate how quickly the scores fell after being used as proof that Mr. Smith’s reform efforts were a smashing success. [xi]

Something else that is troubling about these numbers is that the math simply doesn’t add up to reflect authentic student growth and success. For instance, the graduation rates reported from Ogden District that same year were 71%. [xii]

Doesn’t that graduation figure become suspect when one considers that almost 90 percent of secondary students in Ogden District were not proficient in math? This means that almost 90% of the junior high and high school students in the district were not at grade level.

More and more testing…and now kindergarteners?

Lastly, many experienced educators are alarmed to hear the superintendent recommend standardized testing for our kindergarteners even though this flies in the face of a large body of educational research. [xiii] The Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) has found that, “standardized testing in the early years causes stress, does not provide useful information, leads to harmful tracking and labeling of children, causes teaching to the test, and fails to set conditions for cooperative learning and problem-solving.” [xiv]

 

The Business Model in Education

So now that we await the new educational plan that the state superintendent plans to roll out in August, it is important to keep in mind that the business model does not work in education. Diane Ravitch, a national expert on education, historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University, and a former Assistant Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, describes Mr. Smith as follows: “Clearly, Ogden has decided to utilize a business plan. The superintendent has no education background. Class size doesn’t matter. Librarians don’t matter. The voices of concerned parents are ignored. As long as those test scores go up, the school board will declare success. After all, trained seals can perform no matter how many are in the pool.”[xv]

Concerns about Smith’s Reforms from the Community and Media

Alliance for a Better Utah describes Mr. Smith, “Between his credentials and behavior, educators in the state have plenty with which to be alarmed. Utah’s legislators historically have butted heads with educators, so a superintendent playing for the other team could have toxic consequences. The situation ought to be watched closely as Utah’s children will ultimately pay the price.”[xvi]

Recently, Paul Rolley, of the Salt Lake Tribune, pointed out some startling concerns in an article dated May 15th 2015 where he pointed out that Smith is a creation of the right wing:

“But Stephenson (Utah Senator) now has the education leader he always wanted. Smith, who immediately confronted the teachers union when he became superintendent of the Ogden School District and infamously slashed programs and people, seems to share Stephenson’s distrust of public school teachers and malevolence toward administrators bound philosophically to traditional education policies.”

Rolly went on further to express some concern over actions of state school board members as Smith’s reforms are adopted and the naysayers are eliminated:

“The few board members who met on their own and championed Smith have driven out other top professionals of the State Office of Education through their micro-managing and constant meddling, according to past and present education employees who have observed the recent carnage.”[xvii]

Conclusion

We, the Utah State Democratic Education Caucus is made up of parents, community leaders, students, teachers, administrators, and community members who are extremely concerned about the superintendent’s new 5 year educational plan especially since no one seems to be looking closely to the devastation he left behind in Ogden. Please, please heed our pleas. Be careful of glossy promises and slick brochures. Demand research backed programs that are authentic and peer reviewed, not just propaganda from vendors. We are your constituency and we are worried. At the beginning of this document we explained that this is the canary in the coalmine. The metaphoric canary is the remains of the Ogden School District. If you would like to speak to teachers, parents, or counselors who have seen this tragedy, we can arrange it. Please contact me and we will put you together.

Sincerely,

Kim Irvine

Chair: Utah Democratic Education Caucus

[i] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-turner/ten-signs-your-child-is-i_b_7698514.html

[ii] http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/56222830-78/district-ogden-employees-positions.html.csp

[iii] Coverage from the local paper regarding firing the librarians and reading specialists: http://www.standard.net/Local/2013/04/27/Ogden-School-District-notifies-librarians-of-job-terminations.html

~A few of the many letters to the editor from outraged parents fighting to keep the librarians

  1. http://www.standard.net/Opinion/2013/04/30/Ogden-district-s-agendas-lack-info-on-firing-librarians.html
  2. http://www.standard.net/Opinion/2013/04/30/librarians-teach-students-to-evaluate-web-sources.html
  3. http://www.standard.net/Opinion/2013/04/29/Passionate-librarians-integral-part-of-education.html

[iv] http://dianeravitch.net/2013/10/05/ogden-utah-decides-to-let-non-educators-try-their-hand/

[v] Elaine Garan’s In Defense of Our Children: When Politics, Profit and Education Collide is a little book packed with insight and research.

http://www.tcrecord.org/library/abstract.asp?contentid=11835

[vi] Great information from local paper including stats and graphs on teacher attrition http://www.standard.net/Local/2013/11/02/Ogden-School-District-teacher-departures-at-7-year-high

[vii] Poignant story and video from the perspective of a talented, non-renewed teacher as Ogden fires 17 teachers http://www.standard.net/Education/2014/05/12/10-Non-renewed-teachers

[viii] Great video interviews and coverage of Mr. Smith’s bonuses and other compelling issues: http://www.standard.net/Lifestyle/2013/09/20/Ogden-School-Board-renews-superintendent-s-contract-for-two-years.html

[ix] Regardless of the public outcry, OSD Board unanimously renews Smith contract for two years. http://e.standard.net/stories/2013/09/19/ogden-school-board-renews-superintendents-contract-two-years

[x] After reporting sweeping successes, the Deseret News points out several flaws http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865614569/What-Ogden-reveals-about-the-SAGE-test-teaching-and-how-students-learn.html

[xi] Deseret News graphic illustrating problems with previously successes in Ogden School District http://img.deseretnews.com/images/article/graphicSidebar/1433848/1433848.jpg

[xii] Graduation data: http://www.schools.utah.gov/data/Superintendents-Annual-Report/2014/GraduationReport.aspx

[xiii] Please go to 1:46:38 to hear Mr. Smith’s ideas on standardized testing for Utah kindergarteners. http://utahlegislature.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=19036&meta_id=559117

[xiv] http://www.education.com/magazine/article/testing-kindergarten-realities-dangers/

[xv] National Education blog describes Smith: http://dianeravitch.net/2013/10/05/ogden-utah-decides-to-let-non-educators-try-their-hand/

[xvi] Alliance for a Better Utah describes Smith: http://betterutah.org/2015/03/27/superintendent-smith-not-quite-ready-for-primetime/

[xvii] Rolly article in Trib: http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/2513070-155/rolly-schools-superintendent-is-a-careful

Steven Singer was shocked to learn that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wants to punch teachers who belong to a union in the face. He takes this personally since he is a teacher and belongs to a union, which Christie has called “the most destructive force in American education.”

He writes:

One day historians may look back on Christie’s statement as a new low in electioneering. And this campaign season, that’s really saying something!

A candidate from one of the major political parties actually thinks threatening teachers with physical violence will gain him votes.

Why?

Look at it from his point of view. Christie is one of 17 Republicans running against each other for the party’s nomination. The first GOP debate is coming up and they’re only going to let the top 10 Republican candidates participate. And Christie’s popularity is low enough that he might get left out in the cold.

What’s a guy to do? Well the frontrunner, Donald Trump, earned his lead by saying the most outrageous things he could think of – namely that Mexican immigrants are rapists and thieves. And – WOOSH! – up went his poll numbers! Mike Huckabee compared the Iran deal to the Holocaust and watched his poll numbers rise, too.

Heck! If it worked for them, might as well try the same thing, Christie style! Let’s punch teachers!

This is strange for two reasons: (1) the governor of a populous state is actually resorting to the schoolyard rhetoric of an 8-year-old to characterize his presidential policy, and (2) who he’s targeting.

Can you imagine a U.S. President – not a candidate but a duly elected Commander-in-Chief – speaking to the nation this way?

“Today the state of our union is strong because my administration has punched the teachers in the face. We’ve also thrown welfare moms off the top ropes, put illegal immigrants in a sleeper hold and kicked planned parenthood in the groin!”

He wouldn’t talk this way about other public sector workers. Why so much rancor towards teachers?

Singer writes:

Can you imagine him speaking like this about any other public employee? Would he challenge postal workers to a knife fight? Would he threaten to pistol whip firefighters? Would he dare promise to drop kick police officers?

No way! For some reason educators really bug him – always have. He has a reputation for shouting down and bullying teachers in his state.

A psychologist might easily look at Christie and say he’s overcompensating.

A 52-year-old who probably couldn’t beat up an egg with an egg beater continues to talk as if he’s a street tough. A grown man who is still apparently intimidated by people with any kind of learning or book smarts continues to attack education and educators.

Arthur Goldstein teaches English as a Second Language students at Frances Lewis High School in Queens, New York. He blogs as NYC Educator. In his letter, Goldstein refers to a meeting that Chancellor Farina had with a local superintendent, where she recognized that highly rated teachers were likely to get lower ratings in high-poverty schools. The blogger Perdido Street School wrote: “The dirty secret of education reform is that the problems in schools and districts with high poverty/high homelessness demographics are NOT caused by “bad teachers” – they’re caused by all the effects that poverty has on the psychological, emotional, physical and social development of the children in those schools and districts.”

Arthur Goldstein writes:

Dear Chancellor Fariña:

First of all, I applaud you for acknowledging that a highly-effective rated teacher entering a troubled school may suffer a reduced rating as a result of changing schools. I very much appreciate that you’ve taken a personal interest in this teacher and plan to attach an asterisk and follow her ratings. It’s inspirational not only to me, but also to teachers nationwide, that the leader of the largest school district in the country would acknowledge that a school’s population is a major factor in teacher ratings.

This, in fact, has been a major objection many of us, including experts like Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris, have had toward value-added evaluation programs. In fact, the American Statistical Association has determined that teachers impact test scores by a factor of 1-14%. They have also determined that rating teachers by such scores may have detrimental effects on education.

I am struck by the implications of your statement. If it’s possible that a highly-rated teacher may suffer from moving to a school with low test scores, isn’t it just as likely that a poorly-rated teacher would benefit from being moved from a low-rated school to a more highly-rated one? And if, as you say, the teachers are using the same assessments in either locale, doesn’t that indicate that the test scores are determined more by students themselves as opposed to teachers?

For example, I teach beginning ESL students. Teaching these kids is one of the very best things I’ve ever done, but I now consider it a very risky business. Kids who don’t speak English tend not to achieve high scores on standardized tests. I’m sure you also know that acquiring English takes a few years, varies wildly by individual, and that it can take 5-7 years to acquire academic English. The new NYSESLAT test seems to focus on academic English rather than language acquisition. Still, it would be irresponsible of me to neglect offering basic conversation and survival skills. (In fact, NY state now requires that we offer less standalone ESL., which is neither helpful to my students nor supported by research.)

Special education children also have specific needs and disabilities that can inhibit their ability to do well on tests. It doesn’t take an expert to determine that teachers in schools with high concentrations of students with disabilities already are more likely to incur adverse ratings. Who is going to want to teach in these schools? Who will want to teach special education or ESL?

Attaching high stakes to test scores places undue pressure on high-needs kids to pass tests for which they are unsuited. For years I’ve been hearing about differentiation in instruction. I fail to see how this approach can be effectively utilized when there is no differentiation whatsoever in assessment. It’s as though we’re determined to punish both the highest needs children and their teachers.

Since the advent of high-stakes evaluations, the morale of teachers I know and represent has taken a nose dive. Teachers, regardless of ratings, are constantly asking me about their ratings, and live in fear of them, as though the Sword of Damocles were balanced over their heads. Though the Danielson rubric is heralded as objective, in practice it’s very much in the eye of the beholder. As if that were not enough, ratings are frequently altered by test score ratings. Diane Ravitch characterizes them as junk science. (I concur, and having music teachers rated by the English Regents scores of their students pushes it into the realm of the ridiculous.)

Personally, I found the older evaluation reports to be much more thorough and helpful. Supervisors used to be able to give detailed reports of what they saw, and specific suggestions on what could be improved. ThoughI can’t speak for everyone in this, I found them easier to read than the checklists we currently receive. Just like our kids, we are not widgets. We are all different, and are good or not so good on our own merits.

Of course no one wants bad teachers in front of children. The current system, though, seems to focus on student test scores rather than teacher quality. It seems to minimize teacher voice in favor of some idealized classroom that may or may not exist.

It’s a fact that test scores are directly correlated with family income and level of special needs. There is no reliable evidence that test scores are indicative of teacher quality or lack thereof. Teachers are the second-best role models for children. It’s quite difficult for us to show children that life is a thing to be treasured when we have virtual guns placed to our heads demanding higher test scores or else. Just like our kids, we are more than test scores.

On behalf of children and teachers all over New York State, I ask that you join us in demanding a research and practice-based system of evaluating not only teachers, but our students as well.

Sincerely,

Arthur Goldstein, ESL teacher, UFT chapter leader
Francis Lewis High School

“The Age that will Bury Us”
— by SomeDAM Poet (after The Age of Aquarius (5th Dimension) )

 

When the VAM is in the Random House
And stupid is as stupid does
Then tests will guide the teaching
And Gates will steer because
This is the dawning of the Age
of Economists, the Age of Economists
Economists, Economists
Ed and stats misunderstanding
Ignorance is just astounding
Tons more falsehoods and derisions
Chetty having dreams and visions
Cattle model mathturbation
And the mind’s tergiversation
Will Bury Us, Will Bury Us
When the VAM is in the Random House
And stupid is as stupid does
Then tests will guide the teaching
And Gates will steer because
This is the dawning of the Age
That will bury us, Age that will bury us
Will bury us

 

Let the sun shine, let the sun shine in
The sun shine in, na na na na na….

Gary Rubinstein has been following the results of the Tennessee “Achievement School District” since its inception. At the time, its founder Chris Barbic pledged that–in five years time– he would lift up the schools in the bottom 5% of the state to the top 25% in the state. His strategy: turn them into charters and let the charter magic do its work.

Barbic recently resigned, although the experiment has not reached the five year mark.

Gary Rubinstein here reports on the ASD’s failure to get anywhere near the goal of “top 25%.”

Although there are regular claims of dramatic progress, Gary has the results of three years of the experiment for the original six schools in the cohort.

Of the six, four are still in the bottom 5%; the other two are in the bottom 6%. Some scores went up, some went down. The strategy of converting schools to charter with TFA teachers has not produced miracles or dramatic progress. And yet, many states are rushing to create their own “achievement school districts.” Gary’s warning: Tennessee has an “underachievement district.”

Gary Rubinstein writes:

Throughout the country, there are states that are considering creating their own ASD based on the supposed success of this one and the Recovery School District in Louisiana, on which this one is based. Senate Democrats actually tried, and failed, to get an amendment into the reauthorization of the ESEA that would mandate that the bottom 5% of schools in each state become an ASD, essentially. I hope that my very simple calculations are compelling evidence that the ASD does not live up to the hype. Getting 2 out of 6 schools from the bottom 5% to the bottom 6% has not earned them the right to replicate around the country.

Mitchell Robinson, Associate Professor of Music Education at Michigan State University, has compiled a handy guide to the bold idea of “achievement school districts.”

 

There is the Recovery School District in New Orleans; the Education Achievement Authority in Michigan; the Achievement School District in Tennessee; and more on the way in other states.

 

The main thing you need to know about these experimental districts is that they promise rapid improvement in the state’s lowest performing schools, and all of them have failed.

 

Here are the key traits of Achievement School Districts:

 

School Funding

 

Individual ASD schools are often required to pay a “kickback” or “tax” to the state ASD authority for the “privilege” of being identified as a “low performing school”. In Nevada, “ASD schools receive the same state and local per-pupil resources that they would have received as part of their original home district. This includes local, state, and federal funding. As with other charter school sponsors, the ASD will receive a small administrative fee from each school it authorizes.” (bold added)
In other words, in spite of the probability that an ASD school has been chronically underfunded for years, perhaps decades, the state will now take its own cut from whatever local, state and federal funding the school may be receiving for administrative overhead, further decreasing the actual number of dollars that are going to classrooms, teachers and children.
Local Control

 

Local control, long recognized as a hallmark of public education, is a dinosaur in ASDs. In Detroit, the locally-elected school board still meets, but has essentially been stripped of all power and authority. The members of the elected school board refer to themselves as being “exiled,” and the newly elected state superintendent of schools has called on the governor and state legislators to return control of the Detroit Public Schools to the local school board, saying, “I believe we ought to have a Detroit school district for the Detroit community.” Instead, Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed a radical plan to split the city’s schools into two districts: one to educate children, and the other devoted to addressing the district’s debt problem.

 
Transparency

Even though it is often trumpeted as an integral aspect of effective school governance, very few ASDs follow their own propaganda when it comes to transparency in reporting. Detroit’s EAA is an especially notorious offender in this respect, making claims that do not stand even the faintest amounts of scrutiny. According to Wayne State professor of education Thomas Pedroni, the EAA’s “internal data directly contradicts their MEAP data. Even Scantron, the maker of the internal assessment, would not stand behind the EAA’s growth claims. And Veronica Conforme, the current EAA Chancellor, removed all the dishonest growth claims from their advertising and their website, and told me personally she doesn’t give them credence for the purpose the EAA used them for.” For more from Dr. Pedroni on the EAA’s specious relationship with transparency, see this, and this.

 
Punitive vs. Educative Methods

Many ASD charters include language regarding the possible consequences if schools do not meet “adequate yearly progress” goals, such as: “Operators of ASD schools that do not demonstrate meaningful improvement will be held accountable pursuant to policies set by the ASD.” Indeed, school closings have become a prominent tool in the school reform playbook:
Washington, D.C. closed 23 buildings in 2008. Officials are currently considering another 15 closures.
New York City closed more than 140 schools since 2002; leaders recently announced plans to shutter 17 more, beginning in 2013-14.
Chicago closed 40-plus buildings in the early 2000s. The district recently released a list of 129 schools to be considered for closure.
This approach follows guidelines first established in the No Child Left Behind legislation, which stipulate draconian changes for any school that fails to meet yearly progress within five years….

 

This thinking represents a sea change in terms of strategy with respect to schooling and education policy. Never in our nation’s history have we taken a punitive approach rather than an educative approach when schools or children have struggled with demonstrating expected levels of progress.

This is an open letter to Senator Bernie Sanders written by teachers who support him but oppose high-stakes testing and the Common Core standards. They wanted to let him know that they were disappointed that he voted for the Murphy Amendment to the Senate’s “Every Child Achieves Act.” The Murphy Amendment would have continued, in fact intensified, the punishments attached to No Child Left Behind. These teachers want Senator Sanders to know that they oppose punishments and sanctions based on test scores.

They write:

We are disappointed with your recent votes in the senate that contain provisions which perpetuate quantitatively based measures of education. Your Tennessee senatorial colleague Lamar Alexander correctly stated that what you just recently voted for, “Instead of fixing No Child Left Behind, it keeps the worst parts of it.”

Quantitative measures are invalid. They are masks for social inequalities. They merely highlight and then reflect economic and racial inequalities. Mel Riddile, “PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid'” at the blog, “The Principal’s Corner”, found that numerical performance of districts mirrors the scale of economic inequalities of those districts. Statisticians have proven over and over again that the use of value added modeling is logically flawed. NCLB drove the use of value-added modeling (VAM) which negatively transformed the teaching and learning processes in the nation’s schools.

Furthermore, as union members we believe that the current education “reform” agenda is a relentless and insidious attack on unionism itself. This agenda’s usurpation of the language and iconography of the Civil Rights struggle and the limitlessness financial resources of the billionaires, hedge funders, and corporations who are championing and bank rolling it are reprehensible. It is therefore, sir, not merely an attack on children, teachers, and public education, but an undermining of the noblest and most progressive movements in American history: union rights and civil rights. We implore you to rethink your recent vote, which is wholly and utterly incongruous to your noble and progressive defense of the American working class.

That is only part of their letter. It appeared on the Huffington Post.

Education Next is an influential rightwing publication. Its editors are mostly fellows at the free-market Hoover Institution. It is based at Harvard University, because its editor-in-chief is Paul Peterson, who holds a chair at Harvard. Peterson is one of the leading voices (perhaps THE leading voice) in the academic world for free markets and unfettered choice. He was once a strong supporter of public schools; he is now a strong advocate for vouchers, charters, and anything but public schools. Paul Peterson is a tenured professor who opposes teacher tenure. He also opposes teachers’ unions; he believes they are selfish and greedy and disrupt the working of the free market.  Of course, professors at Harvard make double or triple what the average K-12 teacher earns in a year and work far fewer hours (nine hours a week of class time? three hours? none?). Paul, whom I knew well when I was a senior fellow at Hoover, is an amiable guy. He is also one of the most prolific of the academic boosters for privatization.

 

Paul Peterson’s influence can be seen in the new movement for vouchers, which have repeatedly been voted down by the public. He has trained a large number of scholars who are dedicated advocates of free-market policies and school choice. One of his former students, Patrick Wolf, is the official evaluator of the voucher programs in the District of Columbia, Milwaukee, and Louisiana. Wolf holds an endowed chair in the “Department of Educational Reform” at the University of Arkansas, a department led by another Peterson student, Jay Greene. Peterson and Wolf have written a number of articles together about school choice. On his website, Wolf says that he has received $20 million in grants and contracts for his research studies.

 

Peterson’s latest piece, written with Martin West, another of his former graduate students at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, says that the public doesn’t believe that unions should be able to collect dues from people who don’t want to belong to the union but enjoy the benefits that the union negotiates for them. If the public doesn’t believe in unions, then presumably the courts should be willing to strip them of the revenues that enable them to represent workers and to exert influence to protect workers.

 

Do workers need unions? Growing up as I did in the 1940s and 1950s, unions were seen as a force for progressive change, as the defender of workers, as builders of the middle class. I have never belonged to a union but I continue to believe that without unions, workers will be exploited, treated as chattel, paid below the minimum wage, expected to work long hours in poor conditions, and fired with or without cause. The New York Times recently reported on protests by farm workers, some of whom work nearly 70 hours a week, seven days a week, in substandard conditions. One said that he would be grateful to have one day off a week.

 

I can’t help but think of a recent tweet by teacher Steven Singer: #Unions are the only reason we have weekends, vacations, overtime pay, 8-hour work day, sick leave, etc.

 

As unions disappear in the private sector, we see vast numbers of workers who work long hours, do not receive minimum wage or sick days. We see workers who are exploited by corporations that do not have a human face and discard people like trash. To be anti-union is to be anti-worker and anti-middle-class. Unions have their flaws, but their fundamental role is to create better lives for their members. To lose them will exacerbate the growing divide between the 1% and the poor and will hasten the shrinkage of the middle class. That’s bad for America. It’s bad for families and communities. It’s bad for children. It is shameful.

 

 

Laurie Gabriel, a teacher with nearly three decades experience, decided that she had to do something to fight back against the absurd attacks on teachers.

 

The first thing she did was to create a documentary to explore the critical issues of the day. It is called “Heal Our Schools,” and it offers practical advice that most teachers would vigorously agree with. In her video, she interviews teachers, students, and a few outsiders (like me). The people she spoke to talked about what matters most in teaching and learning, which she would say is to encourage students to find their passions and pursue them. Her first recommendation, by the way, is to reduce class size so children can get individual attention when they need it.

 

The high point of the film, in my estimation, was when she spoke to some vocal critics of teachers. She invited them to teach a list of vocabulary words to ten students, and they accepted her offer. The scenes were priceless. The students were restless; one put his head on the desk. Announcements on the public speaker interrupted the lessons. When one of the “teachers” reprimanded a student and told him that when he was in the Army, he would have gotten 50 push-ups for his behavior, another student piped up and said, “We’re not in the Army.” After their students took their tests, Laurie gave them feedback about their performance. They were less enthusiastic about grading teachers by their students’ test scores and even seemed to be more respectful of the skill that it takes to teach middle schoolers.

 

The second thing she did was to take her documentary on the road, showing it to interested audiences. Her current schedule starts tonight in Wyandotte, Michigan. You can see her other stops listed below. If you live in one of these cities or towns, please show up and bring some friends.

 

July 21 WYANDOTTE MI (Detroit area)- 7:00 at Biddle Hall, 3239 Biddle Ave.
July 22 CLEVELAND – 7:00 at the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church
July 23 PHILADELPHIA – 7:00 at the Ethical Humanist Society, 1906 Rittenhouse Square
July 24 WASHINGTON DC – 8:00 at the Holiday Inn Washington Capitol, 550 C Street SW
July 26 – JERSEY CITY – 7:00 pm at the Jersey City Union Building, 1600 W. Kennedy
July 28 NEW YORK CITY – 2:30 pm at the Actors Theatre Workshop, 145 W. 28th Street, 3rd floor
July 29 RAYNHAM MASS. 6:00 pm at the Massachusetts Teachers Regional Office, 656 Orchard Street 3rd floor
July 30 PORTSMOUTH NH, 7:00 pm at the Women’s City Club, 375 Middle Street
August 3 – GRAND BLANC, MI – 6:00 at the Grand Blanc Mcfarlen Public Library.
August 9 DENVER – 1:00 pm at the Highlands Ranch Public Library, 9292 Ridgeline Blvd in Highlands Ranch

 

If you don’t live in one of those locales and want to see “Heal Our Schools,” contact Laurie at aspenquartet@hotmail.com

 

Perhaps you could arrange a showing in your community.

This post contains a valuable interview with Noam Chomsky.

 

Chomsky is a philosopher, not a statistician or an economist. He looks behind the facade of data to ask “why are we doing this?” “What are the consequences?” “What is the value of collecting the data?” “Why?”

 

Statisticians and economists (fortunately, not all of them) tend to think that when they have collected enough data, they will reach conclusions about the data. They think the data is as solid as “how many cars of this model sold? what was the profit margin? how should we price next year’s model to maximize profit?” or “how high will corn grow with this amount of fertilizer? how many acres should be planted with this seed?”

 

The starry-eyed data-mongers believe that children can be measured like any agricultural or mechanical product.

 

But teachers know that children are not corn; they are not electrical appliances; they are not engineered; they are all different.

 

We need to listen to philosophers. We need to think about what we are doing to children and to teachers by treating them as products of a process that can be tightly controlled.

 

Chomsky says:

 

In recent years there’s a strong tendency to require assessment of children and teachers, so that you have to teach to the tests, and the test determines what happens to the child and what happens to the teacher. That’s guaranteed to destroy any meaningful educational process.

 

It means a teacher cannot be creative, imaginative, pay attention to individual students’ needs. The students can’t pursue things that – maybe some kid is interested in something, but you can’t do it because you need to memorize something for this test tomorrow. The teacher’s future depends on it as well as the student’s.

 

The people sitting in offices, the bureaucrats designing this, they’re not evil people, but they are working within a system of ideology and doctrines, which turns what they are doing into something extremely harmful.

 

By treating children and teachers as widgets, we destroy the meaning of education. The rankings derived from data, Chomsky says, are meaningless because the tests are artificial social constructs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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