Archives for category: Broad Foundation

The indefinite suspension (firing) of five principals in Newark–who spoke out against the closure of their schools– by Chris Christie’s appointee Cami Anderson is going viral! Time for an anti-bullying program in New Jersey.

Jersey Jazzman shows in this post that the bullying agenda of Governor Chris Christie is advancing in many New Jersey towns, but it is no longer hidden.

Veteran journalist exposed it, I used Bob Braun’s expert reporting on the national “The Ed Show” on MSNBC, and the fight is on for the future of public education is on in New Jersey. Legislators from affected cities in NJ have introduced a proposal requiring that school closings have not only state, but local, approval. Call it the reverse-ALEC bill, since ALEC pushes legislation to override local control regarding school closings, charter schools, and privatization.

One other amazing fact: the NJ agenda of school closings and charterizing was underwritten by the ELI Broad Foundation in Los Angeles. The Broad money went to NJ with one restriction: it is contingent on Chris Christie remaining as governor. The bully foundation supporting the bully governor.

In an earlier post about the indefinite suspension of several principals in Newark, who had protested the closing of their schools at a public meeting, I wrote that state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson was a graduate of the unaccredited Broad Academy.

Readers have informed me that she is not a graduate of said “academy,” but that she is associated with it through a fellow organization:

http://www.broadcenter.org/residency/join/partner-organizations1

This page says Anderson is a “Fellow of the second class of The Pahara – Aspen Education Fellowship.”
http://www.aspenactionforum.org/user/52

Some Pahara participants have done both.
http://www.aspeninstitute.org/news/2012/12/18/pahara-institute-announces-new-class-entrepreneurial-leaders-pahara-aspen-education

Apparently there is a connection between the Broad Foundation and the Pahara Institute and the Aspen Education Fellowship.

Other bloggers no doubt will connect the dots.

On the very eve of the weekend celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Newark’s state-appointed superintendent showed the citizens of Newark that they have no votes and they have no voice when it comes to the fate of their schools.

The Newark public schools have been under state control since 1995.

Cami Anderson, the current Newark Superintendent is a former Teach for America teacher and a graduate of the unaccredited Broad Academy, which is known for advocating the closing of public schools and the handover of public schools to private management.

At a public hearing called by Newark Councilman Ras Baraka to discuss school closings,  the principals of several schools spoke against their closing.

Anderson fired them for daring to dissent.

Here Jersey Jazzman describes the situation. 

He quotes Councilman Baraka, who said:

“Today Cami Anderson indefinitely suspended four Newark principals: Tony Motley of Bragraw Avenue School, Grady James of Hawthorne Avenue School, Dorothy Handfield of Belmont-Runyon, and Deneen Washington of Maple Avenue. She suspended the four principals because they spoke at a public forum on Wednesday in opposition to Ms. Anderson’s widely criticized “One Newark” reorganization plan which includes closing or “repurposing” nearly one third of Newark’s public schools.

Ms. Anderson’s action in suspending the four principals is the last straw in a chain of inept, and horribly out-of-touch decisions. The people of Newark need to hear the views of those within the school system who disagree with Ms. Anderson. The four principals have a constitutional right to speak out. The Newark school district is not a military dictatorship, and Ms. Anderson is neither an army general nor a police chief. Her behavior must be governed by the principles of our democracy.

Whatever one thinks of Ms. Anderson’s political and educational ideology, she has proven time and again that she holds in contempt the opinions of the people of Newark. From the beginning, she has not consulted with Newark’s parents, community and political leaders, or professional educators on any significant decision. Most recently, she announced and began implementing her ” One Newark” reorganization plan on the people of Newark with no consultation and no advance notice. In doing this, she ignited a firestorm of opposition from outraged citizens.

Anthony Cody watched videos of the hearing and has extensive clips from the testimony of each of the principals.

He writes as follows:

New Jersey is making headlines this month as the bullying tactics of Governor Christie have gone beyond shouting down individual school teachers, which many in the media seemed to find amusing, and into the realm of political scandal as the “Bridgegate” emails came to light.

Now Newark, New Jersey, is exploding, thanks to the attempts at intimidation by Governor Christie’s hand-picked superintendent of schools, Cami Anderson. Anderson came to Newark after working in New York City schools. Before that, she was employed with New Leaders for New Schools and Teach For America. She was trained by the Broad Academy, which literally wrote the book on how to close schools.  

Journalist Bob Braun today carries a report on the decision by  Anderson to “indefinitely suspend”  five of Newark’s principals. Braun explains:

The “incident” was a community meeting at the Hopewell Baptist Church last Wednesday where (H.G. James) spoke, praising the efforts of his students, teachers and parents.

James was one of five principals indefinitely suspended in one day by Cami Anderson, Christie’s agent in Newark. The others were Tony Motley, Bragaw Avenue School; Dorothy Handfield, Belmont-Runyon School; Deneen Washington, Maple Avenue School, and Lisa Brown, Ivy Hill School.

Four of the principals…tried to answer questions from local residents  worried about what would happen to their children as Anderson moves toward a wholesale transfer of public school assets to the KIPP Schools, a charter organization that operates TEAM Academy Charter Schools. Questions Anderson wasn’t answering.

The plot thickens when we understand what these community forums were all about. These forums were convened by mayoral candidate Ras Baraka, to give the community a voice in response to planned school closures. A video shows the principals speaking to their community.

It is not clear whether four or five principals were indefinitely suspended. It is clear that Christie, Cerf, and Anderson intend to hand the children of Newark over to charter operators, regardless of the wishes of their parents and the community. And it is clear that any school employee who disagrees will be indefinitely suspended.

This is not the way democracy is supposed to work. Public schools belong to the public, not to state officials to use as their plaything. Public officials are supposed to serve the public, not dictate to them.

The state-controlled districts in New Jersey–all predominantly African-American–are being treated like subjugated territories, in which the residents have no say about the control or disposition of their schools.

I agree with Anthony Cody: The destruction of public education in New Jersey’s state-controlled districts–deliberate and knowing–is far worse than Bridgegate. One involved an abuse of political power, an act of spite on the part of Governor Christie’s closest staff. The other involves the deliberate destruction of democracy and public education. It should be an impeachable offense.

Seth Sandronsky and Michelle Renee Mattison try to understand the logic behind school closures? Is it low academic performance? Under-enrollment? Right sizing? Why are the closures concentrated in neighborhoods populated by Frican Americans and Hispanics? What is their record?

They write:

“Will there be a time when the term “school to prison pipeline” becomes “the home to prison pipeline” or the “home to military pipeline” because there are simply no more schools to speak of? If you interpret the public school closure epidemic sweeping U.S. cities as a deliberate attack on primarily poor black, Latino, and immigrant communities, then you already understand more than many politicians, judges, CEOs, and education policy apologists/analysts will concede.”

They ask the obvious question: Does it make sense?

“How can it be that we live in a political climate where school closure is accepted by many as a strategy for improving educational opportunities? (“Honey, they are going to teach the kids better by shutting lots of schools down.”) Can you imagine an argument whereby more hungry people will be fed if more grocery stores and restaurants are closed? How do we intervene in this nonsensical climate to keep our schools open?”

They note that the Eli Broad Foundation wrote the playbook on closing schools. It’s time, they say, to write our own to stop the relentless and destructive assault on public schools.

Montclair, New Jersey, has long been proud of its fine public schools. But these days, not even good schools and good districts are exempt from the corporate reform steamroller. At present, a substantial part of the community is at war with the school board and the Broad-trained superintendent. A group of dissident parents, who happen to be among leading scholars of education —–including Ira Shor, Stan Karp, and Michelle Fine—wrote the following description of the turmoil in Montclair.

PREFACE FROM MONTCLAIR CARES ABOUT SCHOOLS:

Montclair, New Jersey is a progressive town with highly-regarded public schools noted nationally for successfully desegregating through a districtwide magnet system. Kids of all colors go to all schools; families of all colors, classes, and sexual preferences are welcome here.

But the town now has a renegade board of education issuing subpoenas to uncover names of critics posting anonymously on blogs and websites. And we have a schools superintendent, hired by the board in fall 2012, who lacks state certification but was trained by the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy. The superintendent, Penny MacCormack, came to Montclair from the NJ State Department of Education run by Christopher Cerf, another Broad graduate. Liberal Montclair, which voted overwhelmingly against Republican Governor Chris Christie, now has a superintendent from his administration.

Our school board, appointed by the mayor, took a destructive turn a few years ago by embracing austerity, cutting effective programs and essential classroom aides, ending services needed by students, while piling up multimillion-dollar budget surpluses year after year. The board also tried closing two successful and integrated schools, a plan it abandoned only after sustained parent protests.

Things went from bad to worse after MacCormack’s hiring following a secretive search. In true corporate-reform fashion, the board and MacCormack have restricted comments by the public and the local teachers‘ union president at meetings. Community management not public dialogue is its stock in trade. MacCormack hurriedly declared that Montclair was woefully behind on adapting the Common Core standards; she pushed a new “Strategic Plan” with a new layer of quarterly skills tests in every grade. After some of these new district assessments somehow got onto the Internet in the fall, the board launched an investigation and issued its subpoenas – including to a fellow board member – the only one to publicly question the superintendent’s policies- and to Google and a local online news site in an attempt to find out the identities of a local blogger and online commenters critical of the district leadership.

The ACLU of New Jersey sued on behalf of the blogger and following public protests, including from the Town Council, the board has withdrawn the subpoenas seeking identities of online critics. But the board’s subpoena against its own board member is still live and demands him to turn over emails and phone records, in fact, virtually all records of everyone he talks to in the community. You can see the subpoena here.

Our group, Montclair Cares About Schools, came together last spring out of concern over the destructive direction in the schools. We speak at board and Town Council meetings, hold public forums and workshops, send letters to the editor of the town paper, and have an active and popular Facebook page.

In December, Montclair Cares About Schools presented to the board and residents a timeline of how we got to this sad point in our district. An edited and abridged version is below.
_____

Timeline of a Debacle: “Just Six Months Ago…”
(issued Dec. 16, 2013)

Just six months ago, Montclair Cares About Schools asked the board to please slow down their plan to impose a new layer of quarterly, district-wide tests. Had the board listened to MCAS instead of ignoring our suggestion, the costly and divisive events since last June 23 could have been avoided.

June 2013: MCAS posted a petition online asking the board to slow down implementation of the planned quarterly assessments. Within 48 hours, 370 parents and community members signed online and another 40 signed a hard copy. Since then, online signers have grown to 560. At the board meeting that night, Montclair High School students presented their own petition signed by about 578 students also asking to slow down implementation of the new assessments.

The board refused to respond to the pleas to slow down. Instead, it rushed ahead recklessly.

It rushed ahead even though the new quarterly assessments and related curricula changes mandated by Superintendent MacCormack would come in the same year as a complex and burdensome new teacher evaluation system imposed by the State.

July and August 2013: The district recruited more than 100 teachers to develop the new quarterly assessments for every K-12 class. The superintendent maintained the new tests were necessary to get students ready for the upcoming state PARCC exams scheduled to begin in 2015.

>The public was told that the district would generate open-ended assessments, attuned to the unique characteristics and concerns of our high-performing district.

>By summer’s end, despite great cost and rush, only the first-quarter tests and lessons were ready, not the whole-year curriculum. School started in September with teachers not having the yearlong curriculum ready for them to plan their lessons.

>Teachers also learned that the assessments would have to be graded on a Scantron-ready metric. Our school curricula were being dumbed down to make them computer-friendly for the new PARCC testing en route to all classrooms.

>Although supposedly every Montclair student would be subject to the new layer of assessments, Advanced Placement students were exempt, making these new Scantron tests directed at only certain students, in a district where fairness and equity matter.

>We also have no evidence that any accommodations were planned for students in special education taking the new tests.

September 2013: At the start of school, students throughout the district were given ‘surprise’ pre-assessment tests. Many were on material not yet taught. We have a copy of a memo telling teachers to make these assessments difficult so that teachers could demonstrate students’ improvement on the next round of tests and to NOT share the pre-assessments or how students performed on them with students or parents.

Based on these unannounced, unprepared, and unnecessary pre-assessments, students were pulled out of regular classes for math and English language arts support, often without any notification or explanation to parents. This disturbed parents, frustrated those children pulled out of classes, and in many cases altered the racial makeup of classes.

October 2013: On Friday, October 25, the district learned that at least 14 of the district’s 60 first-quarter assessments suddenly appeared on an unprotected website on the Internet. Teachers were supposed to administer these tests the following week.

Three things happened in the wake of the online publication of the assessments:

1. Suspicion about how the assessments got online landed immediately on people who were publicly critical of the assessments, the board and the superintendent.

2. As copies of the published assessments began circulating among parents, the cover was blown off the Superintendent’s and board’s claims that these assessments were creative and teacher-generated. Many were canned short-answer tests, a low standard for assessment. Some had been copied verbatim from model state exams and some were clearly developmentally inappropriate for their grades. So much for the high-quality, teacher-generated assessments promised to the public.

3. The true cost of the assessments became known: $490,000. A half-million dollars of our taxes wasted by the board to get us into this mess, with a huge legal bill to follow.

October 28 or 29: According to Baristanet, a local online news outlet, the District filed a police report about the unauthorized publication of the assessments around October 28. As we understand it, the police did not pursue this case because they judged that no crime had been committed.

November 1: The board held a hastily called meeting to vote to hire its own attorney for what it claimed would be an “independent” investigation into the online publication of the assessments.

The board attorney was quoted in news reports that he would “cast a wide net” and would be issuing subpoenas to “blogs and websites.” At that same meeting however, board Pres. Robin Kulwin told reporters that she believed the “leak” was internal.

Why, if the board president believed the leak was internal – that is, caused accidentally or deliberately by someone who works for the district – did the board authorize its attorney to cast a wide net with subpoenas directed at outside parties? This key contradiction has never been explained. Why a big dragnet for a local problem with no evidence of criminal behavior presented?

December 4: The ACLU of New Jersey sued the board to quash subpoenas that the ACLU said were defective and beyond the limited investigative authority of a local school board. The ACLU had previously approached the board asking it to withdraw the subpoena to its client. But unlike other school districts in New Jersey approached by the ACLU on similar matters, our board refused to stop hounding its critics.

December 5: A state judge acknowledged the merits of the ACLU’s claims by granting a temporary restraining order against the board to prevent it from issuing any more subpoenas or taking further action on the ones issued.

December 9: The Montclair Township Council voted to refuse a school board request to investigate a computer network server shared by the town and school district. The council resolution declared that the investigation “is contributing to divisiveness and strife among the people of Montclair,[and] is resulting in the diversion and expenditure of substantial funds.”

December 16 board meeting: We ask the board, how much money has been poured into this punitive and pointless investigation for which you have provided no evidence of criminal activity? Why are you targeting your critics?

We propose that evidence points to the following scenario:

• The assessments had been placed by the district placed on an unprotected site (as confirmed by the board’s own computer network coordinator).

• The assessments were found on GoBookee, a “spider” or scavenger site that retrieves documents from the Internet and then tries to sell them online. Considering this and other Montclair school documents are on this site, we think it likely that this is how the assessments got online.
• We believe no one “leaked” the assessments but that they were poorly secured on the web portals open to teachers. Given the rush and lack of care in this entire process of creating and mandating these new assessments, this is not surprising.

No crime was committed here, and we think the board knows it. The only offenses have been by the board by engaging in a witch hunt – an investigation of parents, educators and community members critical of the board. This investigation has violated freedom of speech rights, embarrassed this respected town, and most likely, as the ACLU asserts, broken laws.

The township council has spoken, parents have spoken, educators have spoken. Enough.
The superintendent and board leadership should take responsibility for any security breach, apologize to the community and cease this destructive investigation.

______

Epilogue: As 2014 begins, Montclair Cares About Schools continues its fight to expose and stop the damage to our good schools caused by this board’s and superintendent’s top-down, test-focused management and by its failure to tolerate public dialogue about our public schools. Our group endeavors to show alternatives. We hold public forums, workshops, living-room meetings for parents. We invite everyone interested in public education to visit our Facebook page.

********************

In addition to this joint statement, Ira Shor wrote the following letter to the editor of the Montclair Times to complain about the influence of the Broad Foundation in Montclair:

Dec. 29, 2013

Is Billionaire Eli Broad Running Our Schools?​

Why is the District refusing to release items regarding the Superintendent’s relation to the Broad Foundation? On October 31, 2013, I filed a request under NJ’s Open Public Records Act(OPRA) for documents regarding Supt. MacCormack’s financial disclosure that she received “more than $2000” in 2013 from the Broad Foundation. We need to know how much “more than $2000” Broad is paying her and for what services. Contrary to OPRA law, Mr. Fleischer, her COO, provided no requested documents and did not explain why he refused. OPRA requires district officers to meet legal requests in 7 business days or explain in writing why not. Mr. Fleischer had 35 days but provided no Broad items and explained nothing.

What is the Superintendent hiding? Who does she work for–Montclair’s families or billionaire Eli Broad and his campaign to standardize public schools? She attended the unaccredited Broad Academy whose “grads” follow Broad’s playbook, imposing one-size-fits-all curricula, endless bubble-tests, and high-priced consultants and testing technology. We have a right to know if she answers to Broad or to us.

The Superintendent and our Board have recklessly disrupted our good schools and squandered taxes on ridiculous subpoenas, while refusing to spend yet another huge surplus on things our kids need: smaller classes, foreign language, aides in all classes, librarians in all schools, instrumental music, and after-school mentoring for at-risk kids. Listen to our over-tested kids reporting fear and stress; listen to our under-supported teachers at monthly Board meetings; then, you’ll agree we should roll back the Broad agenda and its assessment train wreck. The refusal of my OPRA request joins other illegal refusals from Mr. Fleischer and the Supt.’s office. Stop hiding from those you should be serving. Open your books and files.

Ira Shor
302 North Mountain Avenue
Montclair, NJ 07043
973-337-6783

Surprise! The school leadership of Charleston, South Carolina, has come up with some stale ideas and branded them as “reform.”

Nothing like copying what was tried and failed everywhere else!

The district calls it a “new” program of teacher evaluation, pay for performance, and reconfigured salary structure BRIDGE but in fact it is the status quo demanded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Every Broad-trained superintendent has the same ideas but is tasked with calling them “new” (when they are not), “evidence-based” (when they are not), and “reform” (when they are the status quo, paid for and sanctified by the U.S. Department of Education).

Patrick Hayes, a teacher in Charleston, has launched a campaign to expose the destructive plan of the district leaders, whose primary outcome will be to demoralize and drive away good teachers.

This blogger, the Charleston Area Community Voice for Education, recognizes that the new structure is not new, that it relies on “Junk Science,” and that it is “a Bridge to I Don’t Know Where.”

He writes:

BRIDGE brings into full play in Charleston many of the recent reform strategies and policies, including

  • large-scale testing,
  • using test scores to rate principal and teacher performance (VAM), merit pay,
  • Broad Academy trained leadership (starting with the superintendent), for example

It is important to note that these are the reforms of the last decade or so that have produced little improvement in schools as measured by the same testing and by the recently announce PISA results. These “reforms” are the status quo; in fact, they are not reform at all. As Hayes and others have pointed out, there is no credible evidence to support the effectiveness of these efforts, at least in terms of increased learning or even measuring teacher quality.

Further, the school district has built no case for why do BRIDGE in terms of what we want for our children, teachers, and classrooms. BRIDGE appears to be a large, well-funded ($23.7 million) solution to vague, and even non-existent problems. It is a solution the district apparently intends to impact every classroom and hence every student in Charleston public schools.

Here’s the thing. There are students in all schools who are not learning to their potential. There are also schools that have issues, academic and otherwise, that need addressing. There are also schools and students doing amazingly well.

The success of those students and schools cannot be attributed to evaluation (of teachers, schools, or even the students), nor is there any evidence that evaluation will fix the problems that do exist. Hint: we already know where the problems are. To base a massive restructuring of how schools, teachers, principals, and certainly students do business and spend their days is bogus, and the impacts of flawed, misdirected programs in education usually drive us to a cliff.

The bottom line is this: Charleston County School District has embarked on a very large experiment, called BRIDGE, with vaguely defined goals (except, perhaps raising test scores) with the plan of “let’s see if this works, because we have to do something”. Of course, in science, when you’re out there exploring the unknown, you don’t know what you’ll get.

Perhaps I’m missing the point here, so maybe I need to ask my six year old granddaughter and her teacher and principal, all of whom are doing quite well, thank you.

I would like to hear an answer from the school board and superintendent addressed to Grace (who understand quite a bit) to this question:

Why are you doing this BRIDGE thing?

Go ahead. I dare you.

Jersey Jazzman describes the new era of creative disruption in Montclair, New Jersey, under its Broad-trained superintendent.

Montclair was, until now, one of the best districts in a high performing state.

Expect the crisis narrative to begin any day now as a prelude to charters and school closings. Unless, that is, the parents rebel. Suburban parents don’t like to be shoved around, and don’t like experiments on their children.

A state investigation revealed the identities of donors to a secret fund to oppose an initiative that would increase funding to public schools and to support an initiative to weaken the unions’ political influence.

Among the donors to the $11 million secret fund was billionaire Eli Broad. He publicly supported Governor Jerry Brown’s measure to raise taxes to help the state’s struggling public schools at the same time that he put $1 million into the fund to defeat the new tax.

Broad similarly has pretended to be a friend to unions, but was a contributor to the fund–organized in part by the far-right Koch brothers–that would have limited the ability of unions to raise political cash.

The billionaires failed. The tax increase passed, and the effort to curb union spending was defeated.

If the bill limiting union spending had passed, only the super-rich would be able to give large campaign contributions but those who represent working people would be stripped of any opportunity to fund candidates or issues they cared about.

Other donors to the secret fund were investor Charles Schwab and the Fisher family, owners of the Gap and a major funder of KIPP.

Eli Broad and other donors to this fund went to great lengths to hide their antipathy to public schools and unions.

When I spoke in Sacramento two years ago, I spent two hours with Governor Brown and he told me he had to be diplomatic and nice to Michelle Rhee to keep Eli Broad’s support for his tax increase. He was fooled.

The tax increase was needed because former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had cut the public schools’ budget by about $15 billion while setting aside capital funds for charter schools and giving charter advocates a majority of seats on the state board of education. At that time, charters enrolled about 4% of the students in California.

Fred Klonsky has an excellent summary and hilarious critique of Mike Petrilli’s review of “Reign of Error.”

Mike suggests that I was “a double agent,” hiding in plain sight in rightwing think tanks for thirty years, so I could one day exposé them.

This is funny.

Checker Finn and I founded the Educational Excellence Network in 1981. We published screeds about declining standards for years. Note: That is when my work as a double agent began. When Checker joined the Reagan administration, I took over his role as leader of the Network. Aha, I had to double down on our criticism of the schools to hide my secret identity.

Checker recommended me to Lamar Alexander, who invited me to take Checker’s old job as Assistant Secretary in charge of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement and Counselor to the Secretary. Wow, I was really embedded in the belly of the beast.

After leaving government, I spent nearly two years at Brookings (warning sign of double agent!), turned down the offer to hold the Brown Chair in education (now held by Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, head of education for George W. Bush, who fired me from my unpaid fellowship at Brookings in 2012), and returned to Brooklyn in 1994 and a research professorship at New York University. For a time, it appeared that my days as a double agent were over.

But opportunity soon knocked, and I was paid to be a fellow at the rightwing Manhattan Institute, on whose behalf I went to Albany to testify on behalf of charter schools. The legislation passed, demonstrating that my bona fides as a double agent were in good standing.

Also, after I left government service, all the while pretending to believe in testing, accountability, competition, and choice, I wrote several articles advocating these policies to maintain the pretense. More important, I was a founding member of Checker Finn’s Thomas B. Fordham Foundation (now called Institute, for tax purposes).

I was also a founding member of the Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution, which consisted of the creme de la creme of the conservative intelligentsia. Now firmly established as a genuine rightwing critic of our failing public schools, I learned all the inside secrets. Nirvana for a double agent! I learned that most of my colleagues hated unions (I already knew that); I learned that testing was the sine qua non of education policy (I knew that too); I learned that the answer to educational malaise was unregulated choice. (No surprise.) I loved the lavish parties, the great wines, I actually liked and enjoyed my colleagues.

But, finally, after thirty years as a double agent, the burden of duplicity became too great.

I had to confess that I preferred children to plutocrats.

I had to confess that I had no faith in the transformative power of unregulated choice (especially after the economic meltdown of 2008).

I realized I could not betray my origins as a graduate of the Houston public schools.

I lost my faith, if faith it was. I blew my cover with the publication of “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.” Author Steve Brill said I sold out for the speaking fees that unions would surely shower on me. How clever of me to plan so far in advance. After many years as a double agent, I laughed at Brill’s theory. I knew where the real money was–and when I blew my cover, so well hidden for thirty years, I knew I was leaving behind the Hoover Institution, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and so many others willing to pay handsome fees to those they trust.

After my cover as a double agent was gone, I made a series of recommendations that Mike Petrilli ridiculed as pie in the sky:

Klonsky writes:

“Petrilli sneers:

“The skeptical, hard-nosed (if biased and data-slanting) Ravitch of the first half of her book turns into a pie-in-the-sky dreamer in the second half.

“Consider her “solutions”:

“1. Provide good prenatal care for every pregnant woman.

“2. Make high-quality early-childhood education available to all children.

“3. Make sure every school has a “full, balanced, and rich curriculum.”

“4. Reduce class sizes.

“5. Provide medical and social services to the poor.

“6. Devise actionable strategies and specific goals to reduce racial segregation and poverty.

“(She lists five other “solutions” that simply amount to rolling back reforms: Ban for-profit charters and charter chains; eliminate high-stakes standardized testing; don’t allow “non-educators” to be teachers, principals, or superintendents; don’t allow mayoral control of the schools; don’t view education as a “consumer good.”)”

Klonsky comments:

“That’s what Petrilli considers pie-in-the-sky.

“To me it sounds like a recipe for quality schools.”

Carole Marshall is a retired teacher in Rhode Island who explains how State Commissioner Deborah Gist’s insistence on standardized testing has discouraged educators and students across the state. The most pernicious effect of this policy, Marshall shows, has hurt poor and minority youngsters the most.

In an article in the Providence Journal, Marshall writes:

The Oct. 15 Commentary piece (“R.I.’s diploma system brings out the best”) by Deborah Gist, Rhode Island’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education, is yet another demonstration of her ability to say what she wants to be true, as if the saying of it makes it true.

Among the many half-truths and untruths in her screed is the insinuation that students who score badly on the New England Common Assessment Program tests, i.e. urban students, have been subject to “years of poor, inadequate education,” while students who do well have teachers who, by contrast, “provide great instruction that engages students on many levels and teaches key academic skills.”

This malicious slur on urban teachers is the ultimate in hubris from a young woman who spent a handful of years teaching in an elementary school and since then has glided up the professional ladder on the shoulders of right-wing politicians and millionaires like Jeb Bush and Eli Broad. If there are any urban teachers who didn’t know what the commissioner thought of them before, they know now.

I left urban teaching before I had planned to for one reason only: I could not be a participant in what top-down, standardized testing does to destroy education in urban schools and, by extension, the lives of students who are already hanging on by a slender thread to the dream of a successful middle-class life.

Before the systematic destruction began, I would have held my school, Hope, up against any other school in the state in terms of who was providing great instruction. Hope’s faculty included a significant number of advanced degrees, Ivy League graduates, and national-board-certified teachers. With the support of then-Commissioner Peter McWalters, we taught literacy across the curriculum, shared rubrics for scoring work, and created a system for student portfolios. We were doing the slow, careful job of building a climate characterized by rigorous, accountable learning.

Then high-stakes testing arrived on the scene and to nobody’s surprise, urban schools’ scores were worse than the scores of suburban schools; the same pattern repeats itself year after year in every corner of this country.

Why? There are a host of extremely well-documented reasons for this. To name just a few: Urban schools have a hugely disproportionate number of students who are new to the language; a hugely disproportionate number of students with learning disabilities; and large numbers of students with serious behavioral problems, including those sent from their suburban districts to group homes in the cities.

That is in addition to the reality that students from impoverished environments are often handicapped by circumstances beyond their control, such as vocabulary deficits, health problems, unstable homes, hunger, and the list goes on. We can all wish these conditions didn’t exist, but we can’t, as Commissioner Gist likes to do, simply ignore them away. Throwing tests at urban students does nothing to solve their problems. The disparities will only grow wider as mandatory test preparation steals more and more time from real education in urban schools.

On the subject of test prep and teaching to the test, Commissioner Gist is correct about one thing: “schools with students who perform well on state assessments do not focus on test preparation.” Pretty tautologically obvious in my opinion; the schools with students who perform well have no reason to focus on test preparation.

On the other hand, in the schools that are being threatened with closure solely on the basis of test scores, you can be sure administrators are not just sitting around, waiting to lose their jobs. The specter of low scores powerfully encourages test preparation and teaching to the test.

This year, the turn-around company hired for $5 million to raise scores in Providence schools hired tutors who spent every school day during the month of September prepping 11th graders for the NECAP assessments.

The students were missing their regular classes every day, even in subjects like physics and foreign languages, so that the schools could show improvement. Suburban parents would never have allowed this; urban parents were not informed.

Students are disingenuously told that this is all happening for their own good. Any reader of this newspaper who truly believes that the testing juggernaut is about benefiting the students is sorely uninformed.

The textbook publishers who sell the test and test-prep materials will make their billions, the so-called turn-around companies will make their millions, and carpetbaggers like Ms. Gist will continue blithely along their career paths, leaving behind wrecked schools and crushed dreams in the cities.

Carole Marshall taught at Hope High School for 18 years, retiring in 2012. Before that she was a business correspondent for the Observer of London and taught journalism at Fairleigh Dickinson University and the University of Rhode Island.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 95,221 other followers