Archives for category: Administrators, superintendents

Josh Starr, as superintendent of Montgomery County, took a strong stand against high-stakes testing. He won national acclaim, including being named to the honor roll of this blog. Montgomery County has been a national model for its Peer Assistance and Review program for teacher evaluation, which does not include test scores. Despite all this, the Board did not renew his contract. Josh Starr recently became leader of Phi Delta Kappa International.

The school board has chosen Larry Bowers, the school system’s business manager, as its interim superintendent.

Meanwhile, Maryland–long a Democratic stronghold–elected a Republican governor, who recently appointed two people to the state board. They are, of course, supporters of charters and reformsters.

This comes from Michael Hynes, one of the best superintendents on Long Island, Néw York, epicenter of the Opt Out movement:

Public Schools Work- We Need to Focus Below the Iceberg

Everyone in American education hears the relentless and consistent criticism of our schools: Compared to schools in other nations, we come up short. But the evidence on which that judgment rests is narrow and very thin.

A January study released by the Horace Mann League and the National Superintendents Roundtable, “School Performance in Context: The Iceberg Effect,” challenges the practice of ranking nations by educational test scores and questions conventional wisdom that the U.S. educational system has fallen badly behind school systems abroad.

The study compared six dimensions related to student performance—equity, social stress, support for families, support for schools, student outcomes, and system outcomes—in the G-7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) plus Finland and China. They then examined 24 “indicators” within those dimensions.
Of the nine nations, the United States remains the wealthiest with the most highly educated workforce, based on the number of years of school completed, and the proportion of adults with high school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees.

“Many policymakers and business leaders fret that America has fallen behind Europe and China, but our research does not bear that out,” said James Harvey, executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable.
Despite high educational levels, the United States also reflects high levels of economic inequity and social stress compared to the other nations. All are related to student performance. For example, in American public schools today, the rate of childhood poverty is five times greater than it is in Finland. Rates of violent death are 13 times greater than the average for the other nations, with children in some communities reporting they have witnessed shootings, knifings, and beatings as “ordinary, everyday events.”

Some key findings:

• Economic Equity: The United States and China demonstrate the greatest gaps between rich and poor. The U.S. also contends with remarkably high rates of income inequality and childhood poverty.

• Social Stress: The U.S.reported the highest rates of violent death and teen pregnancy, and came in second for death rates from drug abuse. The U.S.is also one of the most diverse nations with many immigrant students, suggesting English may not be their first language.

• Support for Families: The U.S. performed in the lowest third on public spending for services that benefit children and families, including preschool.

• Support for Schools: Americans seem willing to invest in education: The U.S. leads the nine-nation group in spending per student, but the national estimates may not be truly comparable. U.S. teachers spend about 40 percent more time in the classroom than their peers in the comparison countries.

• Student Outcomes: Performance in American elementary schools is promising, while middle school performance can be improved. U.S. students excel in 4th grade reading and high school graduation rates, but perform less well in reading at age 15. There are no current studies comparing the performance of high school graduates across countries. All nations demonstrate an achievement gap based on students’ family income and socio-economic status.

• System Outcomes: The U.S. leads these nations in educational levels of its adult workforce. Measures included years of schooling completed and the proportion of adults with high-school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees. American students also make up 25 percent of the world’s top students in science at age 15, followed by Japan at 13 percent.

“Too often, we narrow our focus to a few things that can be easily tested. Treating education as a horse race doesn’t work,” said HML President Gary Marx.

American policymakers from both political parties have a history of relying on large, international assessments to judge United States’ school performance. In 2013, the press reported that American students were falling behind when compared to 61 other countries and a few cities including Shanghai. In that comparative assessment—called the Program for International Student Assessment—PISA controversially reported superior scores for Shanghai.

The study doesn’t oppose international assessments as one measure of performance. But it argues for the need to compare American schools with similar nations and on more than a single number from an international test. In a striking metaphor, the study defines test scores as just “tip of the school iceberg.”

A fair conclusion to reach from the study is that while all is not well in the American classroom, our schools are far from being the failure they are painted to be. Addressing serious school problems will require policymakers to do something about the huge part of the iceberg that lies below the waterline in terms of poverty and economic inequity, community stress, and support for families and schools. We must stop blaming public schools and demonizing educators. The problem is not at the tip of the iceberg, it is well below the surface.
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Michael Hynes is the superintendent of the Patchogue-Medford School District and member of the National Superintendent’s Roundtable

Governor Mike Pence signed the bill to permit the state board to elect its own chair, which currently is the state superintendent Glenda Ritz. This nonsense is billed as a “reform.” The children of the state will learn more now that the board appoints the chair.

Of course, this is nothing more than a continuation of Pence’s vendetta against Ritz, who won more votes than he did in 2012.

Given that history, she is a natural candidate to run against him in 2016.

Go, Glenda!

Jesse Ruiz, the acting superintendent of Chicago public schools, suspended the controversial $20.5 million no-bid contract to SUPES Academy. Superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett has taken a leave of absence while the contract is investigated because she worked for SUPES before she took the leadership role in Chicago. However, Ruiz voted for the contract and defended his vote.

The story begins:

Acting Chicago schools boss Jesse Ruiz announced Wednesday that the district was suspending payment on a $20.5 million no-bid contract at the center of a federal criminal probe, but he also defended his own vote for the 2013 deal in his role as vice president of the Chicago Board of Education.

Speaking at the first board meeting since news of the investigation broke last week, both Ruiz and board President David Vitale sought to calm concerns over their support of the controversial contract with an executive-training company tied to schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. She took a leave of absence Monday amid the federal probe, and Ruiz was chosen to become acting CEO.

Vitale said the school system followed specific procedures for reviewing a “sole-source” contract, which includes an extra layer of review to ensure standards are met, and the 6-0 vote for the deal with the SUPES Academy came after Chicago Public Schools “management” made the case for the “relatively unique” agreement.

When the deal was approved, there was “a great deal of public comment and concern about the nature of the contract,” he said. The board also was aware that Byrd-Bennett had worked for SUPES, Vitale has said.

“Shortly after the entering of this contract with SUPES Academy, in one of my meetings with the inspector general at that time, he and I agreed that there was enough noise around this issue that it is something that he should look into,” Vitale said during comments at the meeting.

Ruiz agreed with Vitale that the board followed its process and got answers to its questions before approving the deal.

“Given the information we had at that point in time, and given the information that we were provided as board members, I stand by that vote,” Ruiz told reporters before entering an executive board session where his appointment as interim CEO was formally approved.

Steve Cohen and David Gamberg are highly respected superintendents on Long Island. In this post, they explain why so many parents object to the current climate of high-stakes testing. With leaders like Cohen and Gamberg, who think that students need and deserve a real education, you can understand why Long Island is the epicenter of the Opt Out movement in New York and perhaps in the nation. Their article appeared in the Suffolk Times-Review, a local newspaper on Long Island; I should not quote so much of it, but it is such a powerful article that I could not resist. Open the link and read it all. Both of these superintendents, by the way, are already members of the blog’s honor roll.

 

They begin:

 

A mere four years ago, and for decades prior, one could not find any substantial evidence of students opting-out of standardized testing. At first glance, the current, heated, conflict over state testing and the “opt-out” movement appears to be a dispute between those who believe in and those who dispute the value of state tests. But this conflict goes deeper. It is a conflict about what is good for children and adolescents, about how children learn and thrive, and about how to raise young people to enter into and contribute to their communities as mature members of a democratic society.

 

Those who support testing contend that facing tests, and the concomitant adversity that one might experience (even if the test is developmentally inappropriate) are a part of life. To do otherwise is considered weak, and represents a failure to develop the “grit” necessary to fully engage in life’s challenges. For these people, it is inconceivable that locally developed assessments — perhaps even more purposeful and useful assessments — could accomplish that very same goal. Living in a culture of fear as we do, many people believe that it is necessary to impose carefully guarded secret tests from above to make sure that we hold incompetent adults — untrustworthy teachers and administrators — accountable for the abject failure of some children who graduate from our public schools….

 

They write that the so-called reformers,  like Governor Cuomo and the Legislature, are fixated on basic skills and compliance with the demands of the state. What they care very little about is the broader, civic and humane purposes of education.

 

Broad learning in the arts as well as in the sciences, in literature as well as in history, economics, psychology, plus athletics, independent study and community service, is a notion that seems to be beyond the scope of this version of school improvement. Indeed, to reformers, failure to create a “live to work” system of public education will mean that the next generation will not be able to “compete” with young people in other countries for good jobs. In particular, these education reformers believe that African-American, Hispanic, and poor children generally are most at risk if these reforms are not adopted immediately — despite the cruel fact that these tests have increased the “performance gap” between poor and middle class children. People who believe in this “reform” conception of public education insist that current state tests are absolutely necessary to help children learn what they need to know.

 

Many defenders of current state tests also find it morally reprehensible to break the rules, even if the rules support a broken system. To be an agent of change, and seek to be in favor of a better system is considered wrong and virtually un-American to these people. The system is what it is, and everyone should be quiet and obey the rules. Our founding fathers, who were patriots, would have had a hard time understanding why they risked their lives to establish our democracy if they believed that adherence to the official way of doing things could not be challenged. We would suspect that the likes of Washington, Franklin and Jefferson would do far more than simply opt-out of tests.

 

People who reject these ideas believe they have no other way to express their dislike of this conception of public education than to deny reformers the “data” needed to keep education reforms moving ahead, by refusing to have their children take these tests. The governor and the Legislature have ignored the deeply felt beliefs of hundreds of thousands of parents who believe that public education is too complex, and too important to the future of their children, to be characterized adequately by a wooden, mechanical conception of childhood development.

 

They believe that education must be more than the crimped enterprise of getting young people ready for future jobs that may well not even materialize. People who “opt” their children out of these tests believe that public education should not deny young people broad exposure to the deep intellectual and moral heritage of modern democratic society; it should not dismiss local traditions of providing community service; it should not ignore the immense variety among young people’s interests, abilities and needs. Underlying the “opt-out” movement is the belief that there are many highly successful school systems around the state that have taught children to read, write and learn mathematics at the highest levels for decades, while also providing these children with serious exposure to science, history, various arts, athletics and a host of meaningful community experiences. Underlying the “opt-out” movement is recognition of the reality that helping poor children cannot be done by testing them. Underlying the “opt-out” movement is the belief that teachers by and large have contributed greatly to the high-level achievements of countless public school students. Underlying the “opt-out” movement is the belief that a simplistic and suffocating approach to improving education is bad for children — all of them. People who reject these “reform” ideas wonder why the reformers themselves send their children to private schools that work more or less the way hundreds of successful public schools work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jonathan Pelto reacts with dismay to the new state superintendent in Connecticut. Diana R. Wentzell has been interim commissioner since Stefan Pryor departed after a series of charter school scandals.

Wentzell has been a major booster of Common Core and the SBAC tests. If Connecticut follows the pattern of other states, parents will be shocked when they learn their child has failed the test. Connecticut regularly scores second or third in the nation on NAEP.

I am very pleased to discover that the National Assiciation of School Superintendents is featuring this blog on the front page of its website!

If we all stood together to protect our children and our public schools, we could stop the corporate attacks on public education.

I welcome NASS to join us in the battle to strengthen public education and provide a better education for all,not a “race to the top” based in testing and teacher-bashing. Let our children learn and let our teachers teach!

The school board in Burbank, California, is close to hiring Matthew Hill as its next superintendent. Hill currently works for the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he oversaw two disastrous technology programs: the $1 billion iPad fiasco, which was canceled after disclosure of emails showing possible collusion with Apple and Pearson; and the botched MISIS student tracking system, which left thousands of students without schedules.

Hill has never been a teacher or a principal. He is a graduate of the unaccredited Broad Academy, founded by billionaire Eli Broad. Its graduates are known for an autocratic management style and are taught to bring business methods to schools. Many have been ousted by angry parents.

There will be an informational public session this afternoon with Hill, where the public may ask questions.

Stan Karp was a teacher in New Jersey for many years. He now works as an advocate for public education. In this brilliant article, he describes two districts in New Jersey that have been under assault by corporate reformers. One is Newark, the other is Montclair. One is high-poverty and mostly African-American; the other is an affluent and diverse suburb. To different degrees, both have experienced the same failed “reforms”:

 

“Corporate education reform” is used here as shorthand for a set of proposals driving education policy at the state and federal level. These include:

 
Increased test-based evaluation of students, teachers, and schools of education.

 
Elimination or weakening of tenure and seniority rights.

 
An end to pay for experience or advanced degrees.

 
The privatization of school services, including reduced pay and benefits for the aides, custodians, and cafeteria workers who often form an important layer of community-based staff in schools.

 
Closing public schools and replacing them with privately run charters.

 
Replacing elected local school boards with various forms of mayoral or state takeover.

 
Vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition.

 
Implementation of a new generation of computer-based exams tied to the Common Core standards.

 
Typically, low-income districts like Newark, with majority populations of color, including many families who have been poorly served by the current system, have been the entry point for these policies. The rhetoric of civil rights and equity, once invoked to challenge segregation and institutional racism, is now being used to justify the radical dismantling of these districts.

 
Newark reached a turning point on this path in the fall of 2010, a high-water mark for the corporate reform movement: The pro-charter propaganda film Waiting for “Superman” had just been released and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was calling it a “Rosa Parks moment.” Oprah Winfrey ran a week of back-to-school specials highlighted by the appearance of Bill Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who appeared with then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey’s newly elected Gov. Chris Christie.

 
Christie won election by campaigning against teacher unions, calling pre-K programs “babysitting,” and denouncing court-ordered funding levels for New Jersey’s urban districts as “obscene.” “We have to grab this system by the roots and yank it out and start over,” he said. Booker and Christie formed the kind of bipartisan political alliance that has been a defining characteristic of corporate ed reform. As reported by Dale Russakoff in the New Yorker: “Booker presented Christie with a confidential proposal titled ‘Newark Public Schools—A Reform Plan.’ . . . One of the goals was to ‘make Newark the charter school capital of the nation.’”

 

Christie agreed and Booker began pitching the plan to potential donors, including Zuckerberg.

 

So, as schools opened in September 2010, folks in Newark heard Zuckerberg, who had never set foot in the city, announce from a TV studio in Chicago that he was donating $100 million to support what Oprah described as a takeover of Newark Public Schools (NPS) by the “rock star mayor.” Community activists began referring to it as the second takeover.

 

Karp gives a history of the last 20 years in Newark, which was taken over by the state in 1995. Under court order, Newark Public Schools made significant progress. But after Chris Christie was elected governor, Newark became a hothouse for corporate reform.

 

Some of Newark’s highest profile charters are “no excuses” schools with authoritarian cultures and appalling attrition rates. Newark’s KIPP schools lose nearly 60 percent of African American boys between 5th and 12th grades, and Uncommon Schools lose about 75 percent. There are some Newark charters that provide high quality education for a fortunate few, but the overall impact on the district has been polarizing and inequitable, and has accelerated the district’s decline.
For many architects of corporate reform, that’s exactly the point. As Andy Smarick, a former deputy commissioner in Christie’s DOE now with the corporate think tank Bellwether, wrote: “The solution isn’t an improved traditional district; it’s an entirely different delivery system for public education: systems of chartered schools.”

 

Christie appointed Cami Anderson as superintendent of Newark, and her plans to dismantle public education are highly unpopular. She never attends board meetings; her office was occupied recently by a group of students. A new mayor, Ras Baraka, was elected running in opposition to Cami Anderson and state control. But despite her unpopularity, Christie reappointed her for another term and gave her a bonus. Other superintendents have a salary cap; Anderson has none and makes more than any other superintendent in the state.

 

Montclair, New Jersey, is a suburb that has long been desegregated. It has some unusual citizens, including Chris Cerf, the former state superintendent who now works for Joel Klein at Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify division, and Jonathan Alter, the national political journalist who is a cheerleader for corporate reform and had a starring role in “Waiting for ‘Superman,'” lauding accountability and charter schools. Montclair, writes Karp, was a “takeover without a takeover.”

 

In the summer of 2012, as Cami Anderson was hollowing out Newark, Montclair hired a new superintendent. Penny MacCormack was new to the state, had never been a superintendent, and wasn’t known to many in Montclair. But those who track state education politics knew she had been a district official in Connecticut who was recruited by Cerf to be an assistant commissioner in Christie’s DOE. The department had received several grants from the Eli Broad Foundation and was staffed with multiple Broad “fellows.” MacCormack, Cerf, and Anderson all have Broad ties.
MacCormack was at the N.J. Department of Education for less than a year when she suddenly resurfaced as the new Montclair superintendent without any public vetting, a clear sign the board knew this was a controversial hire.
Her welcome reception began with a video about the origins of the magnet system in the struggle to integrate the town’s schools. Some honored town elders who had played key roles were in the audience. MacCormack awkwardly attempted to connect her vision to the compelling town history framed in the video. Despite the town’s commitment to equity, she said, wide “achievement gaps” remained, and addressing those gaps would be her No. 1 priority.
MacCormack didn’t pledge to restore the equity supports that had been eroded in recent years or challenge Christie’s budget cuts. Instead, she announced that the Common Core standards and tests, and the state’s new teacher evaluation mandates, would “level the playing field” and “raise expectations for all.” “And,” she said, “I will be using the data to hold educators accountable and make sure we get results.”
After she finished, a latecomer took the floor and told the audience how lucky Montclair was to have MacCormack come to town. It was Jon Schnur, the architect of the Race to the Top. He also lives in Montclair. We later learned that Schnur was MacCormack’s “mentor” in a certification program she enrolled in after being hired without the required credentials to be superintendent.
In Montclair, there was no formal state takeover and no contested school board elections. Instead, the long reach of corporate education reform had used influence peddling, backdoor connections, and a compliant appointed school board to install one of their own at the head of one of the state’s model districts.

 

Over the next few months, MacCormack’s plans took shape, drawing on a familiar playbook. There was major shuffling at central office; experienced staff were replaced by well-paid imports. Half the district’s principals were moved or replaced.
The new superintendent created a multiyear strategic plan: a 20-page list of bulleted goals, strategies, and benchmarks. One stood out. MacCormack wanted to implement “districtwide Common Core-aligned quarterly assessments in reading, writing, mathematics, social studies, and science” from kindergarten through 12th grade.” The proposal quickly became a dividing line.
Like the rest of the country, Montclair had felt the impact of increased testing. New Jersey used to test students once each in elementary, middle, and high school. But since 2002, NCLB mandated annual testing for every student in every grade from 3 to 8 and again in high school. State testing mandates increased again when New Jersey adopted the Common Core standards and tests. MacCormack’s “benchmark assessments” were an additional layer designed to produce data for her strategic plan.
The town pushed back. Some parents formed a group called Montclair Cares About Schools (MCAS) and posted an online petition asking the board to defer the quarterly tests. Five hundred parents signed in a few weeks. A similar petition initiated by students drew another 500 names. Dozens of speakers lined up at board meetings to urge the board to slow down and change direction. But, as the school year ended, the board that hired MacCormack unanimously endorsed her plan.
When schools opened in September, neither the tests nor the new curriculum they were supposed to assess were ready. Teachers were scrambling to make sense of a complicated new teacher evaluation rubric. Confusion reigned about how this rubric would combine with student test scores to produce numerical ratings for staff, with high-stakes consequences for tenure and salaries. Again, parents and teachers pleaded with the board to delay the new tests, to no avail.

 

McCormack has since moved on, leaving behind an $8 million budget gap and a divided citizenry; the communities under siege are beginning to work together to resist disruptive and chaotic “reforms.”

 

The school reform battles in Newark and Montclair are part of a national struggle over the direction of public education, and the outcome is still very much in doubt. But there are some encouraging signs that building pro-public education coalitions across urban, suburban, race, and class lines is possible.
In the midst of Newark’s mayoral campaign, MCAS [Montclair Cares About Schools] held a fundraiser in Montclair for Ras Baraka. At an overflowing house party, MCAS parents spoke about their efforts to realize a democratic vision of integrated schools and put support for public education back at the center of state and national policy. Baraka spoke passionately about how much it meant to children and parents in Newark to know they had allies beyond their neighborhoods.
Ties across district lines are growing. “Cares about Schools” groups have popped up in more than two dozen other districts. Save Our Schools, N.J., a statewide parents group, has grown to more than 20,000 supporters and built an advocacy network that’s done terrific work on school funding, charter accountability, privatization, and testing. The N.J. Education Association has initiated a campaign against the overuse of standardized testing that is crossing community and constituency lines more consciously than in the past.
Two recent events hint at the possibilities. On a cold January night, MCAS partnered with the Montclair Education Association to sponsor “an evening of song, poetry, comedy, music, and spoken word celebrating the joy of creative teaching and educators.” A crowd gathered in the performance space of a local bar to celebrate the diverse voices of Montclair’s public schools. During a break, an MCAS parent made an announcement: A series of “Undoing Racism” workshops would be held in late March. Participants would be drawn from both Newark and Montclair, with representation from educators and community. “Undoing racism,” she repeated. “Let’s have more of that. And it comes right at the end of the first round of [Common Core] testing, a perfect time to look at issues of race in education.”
A few days later, Ras Baraka became the first mayor of a major city to publicly endorse the right of parents to opt out of state tests. “While test data can be a useful part of accountability systems,” he declared, “the misuse and overuse of standardized tests has undermined the promise of equity and opportunity. . . . New Jersey needs an immediate moratorium on using standardized tests for high-stakes purposes, such as graduation, teacher evaluations, and restructuring schools. . . . I stand in solidarity with the opposition to this regime of standardized testing.”
The seeds of solidarity are starting to sprout.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This a bizarre but true story, told by veteran education reporter Bob Braun about the superintendent of a Néw Jersey school district.

The superintendent, in a display of machismo, wrote a letter to his staff including this hope:

““I desperately hope my children are bullied at least once a year through their K-12 experience….”

“He begins his note by conceding the PARCC tests are difficult—“not for the faint of heart” he says, not terribly originally. But, so what?

“What’s wrong with hard? What’s wrong with some failure? Is adversity to be scrubbed from the adolescent experience altogether?”

Read the whole story. Do you want your children to be bullied at least once a year? Why not daily? That would toughen them up.

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