Archives for category: California

EduShyster has discovered a mole inside the reform movement in California. He or she plans to share insights into the wonderful world of school reform in the days ahead. Stay tuned.

This letter came from an anonymous source in San Francisco whom I know to be trustworthy. Why the anonymity? The usual reason: fear of being fired for blowing the whistle. It raises the question of why some people teach under difficult circumstances when they could hang up a shingle with a snappy name and get funded for big ideas that have never been tried.

He writes:

Tom Vander Ark’s Ed Week column ran a guest commentary by Sandy Speicher, an executive of the San Francisco design firm IDEO, which appears to lay the groundwork for IDEO to become involved in education “reform” projects.

The column touts an IDEO project in San Francisco brainstorming the use of “design thinking” to improve the “school food experience” in San Francisco public schools, and strongly implies that IDEO’s ideas have been implemented. That’s false; none of the ideas has been implemented in any SFUSD school. This is an important point for observers to be aware of if IDEO continues to hype the project, given the fact that Speicher’s column made it appear that IDEO’s ideas had been implemented and had an impact.

IDEO’s work on the “design phase” of this project was funded by the Sara and Evan Williams Foundation; Evan Williams is a founder of Twitter. The foundation “has committed to providing ongoing support as the school district begins to bring these design ideas to life,” according to IDEO (though in reality, it remains to be seen if the school district will ever be able to use any of the ideas at all).

Here are some points about the IDEO school food proposals in San Francisco schools.

The project deliberately focuses on improving the “experience” but not the actual food.

Again, none of the recommendations — not one — has been implemented in any San Francisco school at any time. The Speicher commentary implies that they have, but that’s inaccurate.

None of the recommendations has even been tested in a real-life San Francisco school setting. Some have been tested on a very small scale, but not in a real-life setting. There was one test in a school cafeteria during the summer with student volunteers who were compensated for their time, not actual populations of students during the school day. There was ample time — no lunchtime rush — and there were plenty of adults, far more than are present in an operating cafeteria during a real school day. And there was no attention paid to the ironclad National School Lunch Program regulations for school meals.
The project actually makes a recommendation that’s likely to lower the quality of the food: increasing the use of government commodity products, which are widely criticized for their inferior quality.

The project’s recommendations for middle and high schools would result in eliminating the use of items from Revolution Foods, a vendor whose products have improved the quality of SFUSD school meals.

The recommendations were made largely without awareness or consideration of the National School Lunch Program regulations for school meals, meaning some or many would be impossible to implement.

The recommendation that has won most acclaim (communal meals at small tables with an adult at each) would require vastly more adults than currently staff SFUSD cafeterias — either depending heavily on volunteers or at greatly increased staffing cost.

The amount that the Williams Foundation has provided is not publicly known. Estimates are that $1 million has been paid to IDEO and $400,000 to SFUSD.

Despite the issues detailed above, SFUSD officials and school board members have given high praise to the IDEO project. Observers speculate that that’s in the hope of securing more funding from the Williams Foundation for school food programs.

For more background, here’s a San Francisco Chronicle feature written by an IDEO insider on the project:

Here’s a critique by San Francisco parent volunteer Dana Woldow, an expert and frequent commentator on school food issues:

The California Teachers Association introduced the resolution calling for Arne Duncan to resign. Similar proposals had been defeated in 2011 and 2012. This one passed. Here it is.

Duncan is without question the most anti-teacher,anti-public schoolSecretary of Education in our history, and I say that advisedly. Both Bill Bennett Reagan’s second term Secretary) and Rod Paige (George W. Bush’s first term Secretary) had their faults, but they did nothing more than talk. Paige, remember, called the NEA a “terrorist” organization. But neither had the ability to open thousands of privately managed schools, neither persuaded states to judge teachers by the test scores of their students. Besides, both served Republican presidents so their antipathy to unions was not surprising. Duncan works in a Democratic administration. What is his excuse for applauding the mass firing of the staff in Central Falls, Rhode Island? The destruction of public education in New Orleans? The release of teacher names with student scores in Los Angeles? The Vergara decision, attacking due process rights? His close alliance with anti-public school groups like Democrats for Education Reform?

Here is what CTA said:


US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan once again showed his lack of understanding of education law and policy, his disregard of the true challenges facing our students and schools, and his disrespect for the hard-working educators in our schools and colleges across the country when he showed support for the flawed Vergara v. State of California verdict.

“Because of his ongoing lack of effective leadership and advocacy on what is really needed to help our schools succeed, the California delegation to the NEA Representative Assembly has submitted a New Business Item calling for Duncan’s resignation.

“His department’s failed education agenda has focused on more high-stakes testing, grading and pitting public school children against each other based on test scores, and promoting policies and decisions that undermine public schools and colleges, the teaching profession, education professionals and education unions.

“Since the beginning, Duncan’s department has been led by graduates of the Broad Academy, Education Trust-West and other organizations determined to scapegoat teachers and their unions. Most recently, some of these former Obama administration staffers announced a national campaign attacking educators’ rights.

“Authentic education change only comes when all stakeholders – teachers, parents, administrators and the community – work together to best meet the needs of the students in their school or college. Teachers are not the problem. Teachers are part of the solution. And it’s time we have a Secretary of Education who understands and believes that.”

The only puzzle is why the vote was close. Are there NEA members who like a Secretary of Education who is hostile to public school teachers?

For a few years, the American Indian Model Charter Schools in Oakland, California, were the most celebrated charter schools in the nation, beloved especially by the conservative and rightwing media, not only for their high test scores but for their founder’s scathing comments about liberals, unions, and “multiculturalists.” Despite the name of the charter, it enrolled few American Indians; most of its students are Asian-Americans. Its discipline was harsh. The school boasted of its “back to basics squared” conservative philosophy.

The adulation slowed when an audit revealed that the founder had diverted $3.8 million in public funds to his other business activities. The district and county officials wanted to close them because of financial mismanagement and possible fraud, but a three judge panel ruled that their high test scores were reason to keep them open.

“The Oakland school district can appeal to the state Supreme Court, but if the injunction stands, the schools would stay open while the legal case plays out.

“Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline, in the unanimous ruling by the First District’s three-member panel, agreed with the lower court ruling, saying in the decision that district officials did not adequately consider the schools’ academic performance in the revocation decision.”

And more:

“In the meantime, a Superior Court judge is expected to rule on the actual merits of the case, determining whether the decision to close the schools was valid. The two sides presented their arguments on May 20 and a ruling is expected any day, said district spokeswoman Sue Piper.

“The three schools, which had about 850 students in grades K-12 in the 2013-14 school year, have been among the highest-scoring schools in the state.

“While the schools were initially created to serve American Indian students, enrollment is about 70 percent Asian, 12 percent English learner and 75 percent low-income, according to state data.

“While the charters have been lauded academically, a 2012 audit of the charter organization found financial impropriety, including $3.8 million in payments to the school’s former director, Ben Chavis, and his wife through real estate deals, consulting agreements and other services, raising ethical and conflict-of-interest concerns. An April 2013 report by the state Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team confirmed those findings a month after the Oakland school board voted to shut the schools down.”

Chavis stepped down as director of the schools but he is doing well financially as he collects rent from them. He owns the properties.

Meanwhile, “the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service raided the schools and Chavis’ Oakland home, seizing several boxes of documents, phones and computers. FBI officials did not respond to inquiries regarding the scope or nature of any ongoing investigation.”

The saga continues.

Rocketship charter chain had an audacious plan to enroll one million students nationwide, drawing students from poor and immigrant communities, putting them in front of a computer in large classes, and relying on low-wage (mainly Teach for America) “teachers.” The chain got high scores and began opening charters outside San Jose, California, where it originated, but then something happened that was unexpected. The scores fell.

But now Rocketship hopes to enroll 13,000 students in the next three years.

“We didn’t deliver,” said CEO and co-founder Preston Smith, about disappointing results that led Rocketship to slow its growth. “That’s in response to our own expectations.”

“Primary among its difficulties, Smith concedes, is the failure of an audacious plan to knock down walls and create 100-student classrooms, which Rocketship is abandoning. Rocketship also suffered through a leadership transition after the exit last year of co-founder John Danner, who began a firm to supply software to schools.

“Yet, Smith maintains, “We have really great schools.” He also points to Rocketship’s loyal parents, long waiting lists for its eight Bay Area schools, all in San Jose, and proficiency scores that outshine schools with similar students. Rocketship still envisions tripling in size to 13,000 students in three years.

“Rocketship, Smith said, has been targeted partly because it challenges the status quo.

“Not so, said the network’s leading nemesis. Brett Bymaster, of San Jose, whose successful lawsuit led Rocketship to abandon plans for an already-approved school in Tamien, southwest of downtown. He said he’s most concerned about governance.

“What happens when you have a relatively secretive organization that has an unelected board and has large growth plans?” asked Bymaster, who organized his Tamien neighborhood to oppose a proposed Rocketship school there, filed a successful land-use lawsuit that has slowed the charter network and now runs a “Stop Rocketship” website that has attracted a local and national following.

“He noted that Rocketship reneged on a promise to maintain local school boards and instead consolidated them with the national board. “How do we as a community hold them accountable?”

“Rocketship maintains that its recipe works. Hiring enthusiastic recent grads from top colleges and employing online learning, the brash nonprofit won awards and attracted investment by getting the hardest-to-educate children to score as high as their wealthier peers. Placing children on computers and with non-credentialed tutors for more than an hour a day has saved on teacher salaries.

“The school day, even for young children, is eight hours. Teacher raises depend on test scores.

“Staffers’ long hours, however, are both a key to success and a source of burnout. Current and former Rocketship teachers characterized their workday as 11 to 16 hours, with just five weeks for summer vacation.”

The teacher burnout rate is high. Many find the workload and hours unsustainable. Certainly it is not compatible with a family life. Rocketship depends on a steady supply of low-wage college graduates willing to devote their life to the school until they can’t anymore.

An earlier post about the Vergara case contrasted the testimony of a plaintiff (a student) who said Ms. McLaughlin was a “bad” teacher with a video in which several students spoke highly of the same teacher, who was named by the Rotary as Pasadena Teacher of the Year.

Christine McLaughlin, the teacher who was the subject of the post, left the following comment:

“I was so surprised to hear of this post regarding the case and my involvement. I want to point out two important facts that might add additional insight into this case.

1. The case was a lawsuit against the State and lawmakers, not individual teachers. The teachers listed in the student’s testimony were pawns in this process. I was sadly one of those pawns.

2. Miss Monterroza stated that every teacher she had in PUSD from 5th through 9th grade were “bad” teachers. Except one! The one that recruited her to join this lawsuit. He had his agenda because he was RIFed and he did not like the system. I was moved into his position ( I was RIFed that year too).”

Adam Bessie, who teaches in California, writes here about the neat rhetorical trick of the people and groups behind the Vergara case. Although they were spending millions of dollars to attack the rights of teachers and workers, they cleverly positioned themselves as part of a campaign for civil rights. Even the decision was written in that frame. Bessie says that teachers must reframe the debate–or lose public education.

He writes:

“As angry and frightened as teachers are of more scapegoating, we must refuse to be cast as villains in a very well produced fictional drama staged by the elites, one that distracts us from looking at the very real causes of inequality of opportunity, of broken dreams, and lost chances. The Vergara verdict must push teachers to make stars of themselves, by reclaiming their role as public servants working on behalf of social justice, working on behalf of students, working on behalf of communities and the country for the public good, working towards civil rights, and better opportunities for all students – or, it will signal the concluding act in public education, and a shot at the American Dream for all students.”

In an interview in Salon, UCLA law professor Jonathan Zasloff says that Judge Rolf Treu’s decision against tenure and seniority was weakly reasoned. If it were a paper in one of his law school classes, he would give it a B-.

Among other curiosities, the decision represents an aggressive sort of judicial activism, which conservatives usually deplore. Zasloff says: “When we find a ruling we don’t like, we call it judicial activism; and conservatives banged on this drum for years and years and years, and are staying on it even in the wake of Bush v. Gore … But this is certainly a very, very aggressive decision and an example of judicial activism.”

Another curious aspect to the decision is that it embraces “disparate impact,” which conservatives typically oppose.

Zasloff says: “But as with all of these things, it really depends on whose ox is getting gored. And if this means that the California Supreme Court, [if it upholds the ruling], is now saying that as part of California’s equal protection law is that you can entertain things on a disparate impact theory, that would make California in a lot of ways quite progressive, judicially. Justice Robert Jackson famously talked about an area of law having invisible boomerangs. This could be one of them.

“One of the things, of course, if California uses a disparate impact theory for its equal protection claims, and does some very aggressive, progressive moves on that (if we’re gaming this out several years in the future), you could then see conservatives going to the federal Supreme Court and saying, “California using disparate impact in state equal protection law is itself a violation of federal equal protection law principles.” So there are a lot of moves to be made in the wake of this one.”

The decision is not only poorly reasoned but has a weak factual basis, says Zasloff:

“If [Treu's] ruling is going to be upheld, and if he’s going to make a case for it, he needs to find a lot of facts. There was a trial here, there was testimony here; but there seemed to be very few facts that the judge explicitly relied on for his decision. So, he says, “Well, we know that there are a lot of grossly inadequate teachers in the system, and we know that at least some of these grossly inadequate teachers are going to go to low-performing schools, so that means that it’s a constitutional violation.” Wait a minute. There are six or seven different steps in there that you’ve got to make. The teachers’ unions argued, “Wait a minute — the reason the teachers might be grossly inadequate is because of the schools that they’re in, not because of the teachers themselves.” You can think that that’s right, you can think that that’s wrong, you can think that that’s true, you can think that that’s false; but it would seem to me that you’ve got to make an argument as to why you think … these teachers are grossly inadequate. What in fact is going on there? What is going on in these schools? That is the kind of thing a trial judge can and should be doing, and the judge here just didn’t do it.”

Mother Crusader, written by New Jersey parent Darcie Cimarusti, determined to find out who was putting up the millions to beat teacher tenure and seniority in California. She examined the 990 tax forms for “Students Matter, the organization that led the battle against the California Teachers Union.

Students Matter spent more than $3 million from 2010-2012; the amount spent in 2013-14 has not yet been reported.

“The 990′s also reveal that the money behind the suit wasn’t Welch’s alone. The two largest contributions did indeed come from Welch; $550,000 from “The Welch Trust” and $568,357 from “LRFA, LLC” which is some sort of business entity that links directly back to Welch’s Infinera.

So that’s well over $1M from Welch.

The next biggest dollar amount came from none other than Eli Broad, who kicked in $200,000 to buy the Vergara ruling.”

“The next biggest dollar amount, $100,000, came from “Tammy and Bill Crown.” It took some digging around to figure out that William H. Crown, who seems to split his time between Chicago and Portola Valley, CA, is one of the heirs to Chicago billionaire Lester Crown’s fortune.

“Lester Crown, 80, chairman of Henry Crown & Co., the privately held company that is the vehicle for much of the family’s investments

“William H. Crown, 41, general partner in Henry Crown & Co.; president and CEO of another family-run investment company, CC Industries Inc. (son) Bucks: Regulars on Forbes’ billionaires list, Lester Crown and clan ranked 52nd this year with an estimated net worth of $4 billion.”

And then there is this: “A $30,000 donation from the Emerson Education Fund may be one of the most interesting, however. The Managing Director of the Emerson Education Fund is Russlynn Ali, who also just happens to be on the Students Matter Advisory Board.” Ali was at Education Trust before she became Arne Duncan’s Assistant Secretary of Education for civil rights. Recall that school segregation has been soaring in the past decade. Could it be because the U.S. Department of Education believes that tenure is a greater threat to civil rights than segregation?

Darcie likens Vergara to the Parent Trigger, which brings disruption to communities, not much else, and she concludes:

“It’s my greatest hope the Vergara decision does not spread to other states, and is overturned in California on appeal due to pressure from the actual parents, teachers and students who would be affected but this reckless ruling. I don’t know about you, but personally I’m pretty sick and tired of monied interests buying legislation, and now a court decision, that could potentially impact my (and your) kids and their teachers.”

Gary Rubinstein notes that the two expert witnesses for the plaintiffs were Raj Chetty, the nation’s leading advocate for VAM (basing teacher evaluation on student test scores) and Thomas Kane, who led the Gates’ Measures of Effective Teaching study.

Chetty throws in his speculation about how much money an entire class loses by having even one “ineffective” teacher, and Kane speculates that students learn nothing when they have an ineffective teacher. Neither the judge nor the experts cared that there was no testimony showing that any of the nine plaintiffs had any ineffective teachers, not even one.

Rubinstein wonders in this post about Kane’s definition of months of learning. He thinks that even the judge found it hard to accept his extreme views and ignored some of them.


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