Archives for category: Class size

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the determination of North Carolina’s Tea-Party dominated legislature to allow charters, including for-profit ones, to take over low-scoring schools, a proposal modeled on Tennessee’s Achievement School District. My post was a refutation of an editorial in the Charlotte Observer, which endorsed the idea of using the ASD as a model for North Carolina. My post was titled “North Carolina: Yes, Let’s Copy a Failed Experiment.” Pamela Grundy, a public school champion in North Carolina, also complained to the newspaper and proposed that NC should try reducing class sizes.

 

The author of the editorial, Peter St. Onge, is associate editor of the editorial pages. He didn’t like my post at all. He says that the Tennessee ASD has not failed; it hasn’t had enough time. This follows on a Vanderbilt report about the ASD that concluded the program had “little or no effect” on student achievement. (Here is the link to the report.) NPR summarized the finding of the Vanderbilt study thus:

 

While there were some changes year-to-year — up and down — there was no statistical improvement on the whole, certainly not enough to catapult these low-performing schools into some of the state’s best, which was the lofty goal.

 

St. Onge says the Vanderbilt study didn’t say the experiment failed, it just hasn’t succeeded yet. That is true. The Vanderbilt study did not propose closing down the ASD; it said reform takes years. But please recall that Chris Barbic, who led the ASD, said he could turn around the lowest-performing schools in five years and make them among the state’s highest-performing schools. Clearly that will not happen. Of course, a child attends an elementary school for only four-six years, so they can’t wait ten years. So if we take the original promise of the ASD, it will fail to reach its goal of turning low-performing schools into high-performing schools in five years.

 

One of the lead researchers in the Vanderbilt study, Professor Gary Henry, was in North Carolina this week, where he spoke to a public policy forum. The legislature happened to be holding hearings on the NC version of ASD, but Professor Henry was not invited to testify. Why didn’t the legislature want to hear from him? He told the forum that the model sponsored by the public schools, called the iZone, had significant improvements, but the ASD did not. He said the study was based on only three years of data, so cautioned not to jump to conclusions.

 

So, yes, Peter St. Onge is right. It is too soon to declare the ASD a failure. But it is certainly not a success. Usually, when you look to copy a model tried elsewhere, you copy a successful model. Why should the state of North Carolina copy a model that has thus far shown little to no significant effects and has not shown success? A track record like that of the ASD does not lend itself to being called “a model.” A model for what? For throwing millions into an experiment that alienates parents and communities and after three years has little to no effect on student achievement?

 

When Chris Barbic resigned as leader of the ASD, following a heart attack, he made a statement boasting about gains that included this interesting observation:

 

Let’s just be real: achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment. I have seen this firsthand at YES Prep and now as the superintendent of the ASD. As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.

 

This is a sage observation. A brand new charter school can choose its students. Even with a lottery, the families are applying and informed and motivated. That is very different from taking over a neighborhood school, where parents resent that their school was “taken over” by outsiders without their consent. Charter schools have been notoriously unsuccessful at taking over neighborhood schools. KIPP, for example, took over Cole Middle School in Denver, and abandoned it a few years later. KIPP claimed it couldn’t find “the right leader,” but the reality is what Barbic said. It is much harder to take over an existing school than to start a new charter.

 

The Charlotte Observer, or more accurately, Mr. St. Onge, scorns those he calls “public education advocates” as if all those in favor of the model in which the public is responsible for the education of all children are self-interested and impervious to evidence. I think it is fair to say that in the North Carolina climate, those who promote charters are self-interested and impervious to evidence. The charter operators are in many cases operating for-profit, which is certainly not the motive of public education advocates. Those who claim that the ASD is a worthy model for North Carolina, despite its lack of success, are impervious to evidence.

 

If you can’t call the ASD a failure, you surely can’t call it a success. As the subtitle of the editorial states, “Judging Should Be Based on What Works.” We agree. Children should not be subjected to experiments that do not have a track record of success. Do what works, based on evidence and experience. Reduce class sizes where there is concentrated poverty and segregation; recognize that poverty and segregation are root causes of poor school performance and act to address root causes; make sure there are school nurses and social workers; make sure there is a library; hire experienced teachers, with school aides. Add classes in the arts. Give poor children what all parents want for their children. If you want to see the research base, read my book “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.” Or closer to home, call Helen F. Ladd at Duke University and get her advice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renowned researcher Gene Glass reports that teachers at some virtual charter schools are responsible for more than 1,000 students at a time. 

I’m willing to bet that the school in question operates for profit. 

Blogger Steven Singer reports that parents and children of a school in Puerto Rico are fighting to protect its contents and to persuade the government to reopen the school.

For more than 80 days, about 35 parents and children have been camping out in front of their neighborhood school in the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico.
The Commonwealth government closed the Jose Melendez de Manati school along with more than 150 others over the last 5 years.
But the community is refusing to let them loot it.
They hope to force lawmakers to reopen the facility.
Department of Education officials have been repeatedly turned away by protesters holding placards with slogans like “This is my school and I want to defend it,” and “There is no triumph without struggle, there is no struggle without sacrifice!”
Officials haven’t even been able to shut off the water or electricity or even set foot inside the building.
The teachers union – the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR) – has called for a mass demonstration of parents, students and teachers on Sunday, Aug. 23. Protesters in the capital of San Juan will begin a march at 1 p.m. from Plaza Colón to La Fortaleza (the Governor’s residence)….

Unfortunately, things look to get much worse before they’ll get any better.
The government warns it may be out of money to pay its bills by as early as 2016. Over the next five years, it may have to close nearly 600 more schools – almost half of the remaining facilities!
Right on cue, Senate President Eduardo Bhatia is proposing corporate education reform methods to justify these draconian measures. This includes privatizing the school system, tying teacher evaluations to standardized test scores and increasing test-based accountability.
“Our interest is to promote transparency and flow of data through the implementation of a standardized measurement and accountability system for all agencies,” Bhatia said, adding that the methodology has been successful in such cities as Chicago.

Chicago? Really? As usual, there are moguls and captains of industry behind the machinations, ready to sacrifice the education of children in Puerto Rico so the bond holders are repaid.

Leonie Haimson is chief executive of Class Size Matters and Privacy Matters. She is one of the nation’s foremost advocates for reducing class sizes, especially for the neediest children.

In this article, she reviews the recent scandal in New York City about “credit recovery,” a quick and easy way to hand out high school diplomas. It is “graduate rate inflation,” a practice launched under Mayor Bloomberg but sustained by the de Blasio administration.

The de Blasio administration is trying to help struggling schools instead of closing them, as the Bloomberg administration did. Here are Haimson’s proposals:

According to the Independent Budget Office, all the Renewal schools have much larger numbers of English language learners, immigrant students, students with disabilities, and students in temporary housing, as well as more black and Hispanic students than the system as a whole.

What the students in these schools desperately need is intensive tutoring and small classes to make significant improvements, not a new cadre of inexperienced teachers or administrators breathing down their necks. And yet more than 60 percent of the Renewal schools still have many classes with 30 students or more, according to DOE data.

When Rudy Crew was chancellor, he drew the lowest-performing schools in the city into a new program called the Chancellor’s District, and capped class size in all of their classes at no more than twenty students. This worked effectively to raise achievement. Yet not a single elementary or K–8 school on the Renewal list had capped class sizes at 20 students in grades K-3 last year, as most experts would recommend. These were also the goals that the state demanded the DOE achieve citywide in its class size reduction plan in these grades, as part of the settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit in 2007.

Only eight middle or 6-12 schools out of 43 Renewal schools last year had capped class sizes at 23 students in grades 6-8, and only one renewal high school out of 31 had capped class sizes at 25 – the goals for those grades in the city’s original class size reduction plan. More than half of the high schools had at least some classes with 35 to 44 students – which mean they violated union contract levels.

The real scandal is that hundreds of thousands of New York City high school students, including those at schools that have allegedly engaged in credit manipulation, like Richmond Hill, Flushing, and Automotive, continue to struggle in large classes of 34 or more.

Rudy Crew had a vision of what high-poverty students need to succeed; but right now, there is no comparable vision on the part of this administration. If we are talking about accountability for schools and teachers, we must also address the accountability of those in charge of running our schools, and here the mayor and the chancellor have unaccountably failed.

The highest court in the state of Washington announced that it would fine the state $100,000 per day for failing to comply with a previous order to fund the public schools fully.

“The state’s highest court Thursday delivered a unanimous order sanctioning the state for failing to come up with a plan to fully fund K-12 education per the court’s 2012 McCleary decision. Lawmakers and the governor are meeting Monday to begin work on it….

“The development comes as the state Supreme Court Thursday morning delivered a unanimous order sanctioning the state for failing to come up with a plan to fully fund K-12 education per the court’s 2012 McCleary decision. The court in September held the state in contempt of its decision and threatened sanctions then.

The order requires a fine of $100,000 per day and encourages Inslee to call a special session so that lawmakers can finish their work. The justices want the penalty money to be held in a special account, “for the benefit of basic education,” according to the order. But the fines will be halted if Inslee calls lawmakers into a special session and they succeed in addressing the issues the court raises….

“In their order, justices took issue with lawmakers’ progress over reducing K-3 class-sizes, as well as the lack of a plan by the state to address teacher compensation.

Mike Klonsky writes a post with one of the best titled ever.

He tries to figure out why reformers don’t care about class size. They say there’s no evidence for smaller classes. Well, there is plenty of evidence, but they brush it aside.

It turns they don’t care about evidence. They are not data-driven. They want to take your funding and your schools. They want to save money, but not to spend it on smaller classes.

Phil McRae is a Canadian educator and scholar who is currently the Executive Staff Director of the Alberta Teachers Federation. He writes here about the research about blended learning. “Blended learning” is one of those words that is bandied about with great frequency, often claimed by its promoters as the wave of the future. McRae critically examines those claims.

 

He writes:

 

Students blending the use of technology with face-to-face instruction as a means of collaborating and extending their learning experiences is not unusual, revolutionary or foreign to the average Canadian classroom. As a concept, blended learning is now almost two decades old, having been imported into K–12 education in the late 1990s from corporate education, business training firms and the post-secondary education sector. Although the precise origin is unclear, it has been suggested that an Atlanta-based computer training business coined the term in 1999 (Friesen 2012), as it announced the release of a new generation of online courses for adults that were to be blended with live instruction.

 

Many blended learning practices already fit well with a vast array of hybrid face-to-face and digital experiences that students encounter in K–12 schools, including distributed learning, distance learning, or e-learning. Dr. Norm Friesen, a key academic in this area, suggests that blended learning “designates the range of possibilities presented by combining Internet and digital media with established classroom forms that require the physical co-presence of teacher and students” (Friesen 2012). As this broad definition illustrates, it would be difficult to find any use of technology in education that does not easily fit into this boundary….

 

The current hype around blended learning models, especially in the United States, is that they bring to life personalized learning for each and every child. Personalized learning, as promoted under a new canopy of blended learning, is neither a pedagogic theory nor a coherent set of learning approaches, regardless of the proposed models. In fact, personalized learning is an idea struggling for an identity (McRae 2014, 2010). A description of personalization that’s tightly linked to technology-mediated individualization “anywhere, anytime” is premised on archaic ideas of teaching machines imagined early in the 20th century (McRae 2013).

 

Some blended learning rhetoric suggests that personalization is to be achieved through individualized self-paced computer programs (known as adaptive learning systems), combined with small-group instruction for students who have the most pressing academic needs. For those looking to specifically advance blended learning in times of severe economic constraints, a certificated teacher is optional.

 

Software companies selling their adaptive learning products boldly state that the “best personalized learning programs will give students millions of potential pathways to follow through curricula and end up with the desired result — true comprehension” (Green 2013). This is part of the myth of blended learning and is marketed using superficial math and reading software programs (adaptive learning systems) that make dubious claims of driving up scores on high-stakes tests. Corporate attempts to “standardize personalization” in this way are both ironic and absurd….

 

In the mythical space of blended learning, class sizes apparently no longer matter and new staffing patterns begin to emerge. The amount of time students spend in schools becomes irrelevant as brick-and-mortar structures fade away. However, this myth disregards the overwhelming parental desire and societal expectation that children and youth will gather together to learn in highly relational settings with knowledgeable and mindful professionals (teachers) who understand both the art and science of learning. As John F. Kennedy (1962) so eloquently stated: “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived, and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.”

 

The U.S. Department of Education (2013) has clearly articulated a commitment to making blended learning come to life through nebulous ideas of competency-based systems and personalized learning.

 

These adaptive learning systems (the new teaching machines) do not build more resilient, creative, entrepreneurial or empathetic citizens through their individualized, standardized, linear and mechanical software algorithms. On the contrary, they diminish the many opportunities for human relationships to flourish, which is a hallmark of high-quality learning environments….

 

As school jurisdictions across the U.S. turn to online learning and blended models as a way to reallocate resources, the private providers are also advocating for “eradicating rules that restrict class size and student-teacher ratios” (Horn and Staker 2011, 13). To achieve this means lifting the rules around teacher certification so that schools can replace teachers at will with para-professionals or noncertificated individual learning specialists. As Christensen and Horn (2008) suggest, “Computer-based learning on a large scale is also less expensive than the current labor intensive system and could solve the financial dilemmas facing public schools” (13). ….
Technologies should be employed to help students become empowered citizens rather than passive consumers. Innovations are needed in education that will help to create a society where people can flourish within culturally rich, informed, democratic, digitally connected and diverse communities. We should not descend into a culture of individualism through technology where our students are fragmented by continuous partial attention.

 

For the vast majority of students within Alberta’s K–12 public education system, we must achieve a more nuanced balance that combines both digital technologies and the physical presence of a caring, knowledgeable and pedagogically thoughtful teacher. This is not an optional “nice to have,” but a “must have” if children and youth are to build resilience for the future. Blended learning may be (re)shaped by privatization myths, with adaptive learning systems as their voice, but in Alberta, our teachers still remain the quintessence of the human enterprise of paying it forward for our next generation. It is time for Alberta teachers to claim the space of blended learning and push back at the myths and questionable rhetoric.

Vicki Cobb, author of many nonfiction books for children, attended the Skinny Awards last night. The dinner is an annual fundraiser for Class Size Matters, Néw York’s most dynamic advocacy group for children, parents, teachers, and public schools. It operates on a shoestring but has had national impact through the efforts of its leader, Leonie Haimson, to support class size reduction, to fight high-stakes testing, and to defend student privacy from corporate data mining.

The Skinny Awards are a direct contrast to billionaire Eli Broad’s “Broad Award,” given to the urban district or charter chain that has most vigorously implemented corporate reform. The Skinny Awards go to those who fight for high-quality public education for all and who oppose the corporate assault on public schools.

Vicki decided, as she watched and listened, that she was observing the birth of a movement for civil disobedience. Not called into being by billionaires or the powerful, but led by grassroots parents, teachers, and principals.

She writes:

“The havoc wrought by corporate group-think on education can well cost us a generation of thinkers and doers and risk takers. Our children can’t be written off as the cost of doing business.

“This has awakened a sleeping giant in the population. Opt-out is political. It is democratic. The people are rising up against oppression. It is the only way to make politicians and the billionaires funding this disruption to take notice. If they don’t, watch; there will be further unrest.

“I am honored and energized to add my voice to the opt-out movement fighting for the minds of our children and the future of America.”

Brian Jones, a former teacher in the New York City public schools, is currently a doctoral student at the City University of New York. He here explains a conundrum: Many black parents think that choice and standardized tests are good for their children, despite abundant evidence to the contrary. How should he reason with those who disagree? He focuses here on the issue of standardized testing, which compels schools–especially those serving poor and minority students–to divert time and resources to testing and test preparation, thus leaving less time for the arts and other subjects that are essential ingredients of a good education. In his experience, it is best not to argue with parents who have been persuaded by the “reformer” claims, but to listen respectfully and to “deepen the conversation,” a term he learned from Chicago teacher Xian Barrett.

 

Jones writes:

 

Likewise, when we deepen the conversation about standardized testing, we usually discover that parents and educators want similar things for our children. If standardized tests are widely and loudly touted as an antiracist measure of opportunity and fairness, some parents who are desperately searching for some measure of fairness for their children might latch onto that. Those of us who are opposed to high-stakes standardized testing shouldn’t moralize with people, or disparage their viewpoints or their experience. Rather, we have to validate their experience and find a way to deepen the conversation.

 

In my mind, we can find a lot of common ground on resources and curriculum. Of course, I think teacher training is important. It is absolutely essential that teachers be trained to respect the languages, cultures, and viewpoints of students and their families—and engage them in the learning process. But this should never lead us away from demanding the kind of educational redistribution that this country refuses to take seriously. My experience as a student has convinced me that resources are central. On scholarship, I attended an all-boys’ private high school. As one of the few students of color (let alone black students), did I experience racism and prejudice? Absolutely. However, there are aspects of my education that I wouldn’t trade for anything—the opportunity to read whole novels and discuss them in small classes, the opportunity to participate in several sports teams, to put on plays, to engage in organized debates, and to practice giving speeches. If, for my own child, I had to choose between an amazingly well-resourced school with a fabulously rich curriculum staffed with some prejudiced teachers, on the one hand, and a resource-starved school with progressive, antiracist educators who were forced to teach out of test-prep workbooks on the other, I hate to say it, but I would choose the resources every time.

 

Our society is currently spending untold sums to create more tests, more data systems, more test preparation materials, ad nauseam. And then they have the audacity to tell us that these are antiracist measures! Of course, all this focus on testing is a huge market opportunity for the private companies that provide all these services and materials. What is never under serious consideration is the idea that we could take all those same millions of dollars and create for all children the kind of cozy, relaxed, child-centered teaching and learning conditions that wealthy kids already enjoy.

It is hard to laugh about Governor Cuomo’s nonsensical proposal to demoralize teachers and destabilize public schools. He wants to change teacher evaluation so that 50% of their rating is based on their students’ test scores (he doesn’t realize that most teachers don’t teach reading and math in elementary schools); he wants 35% of their evaluation to be based on the drive-by evaluation of an independent person who doesn’t work in the school; and he wants the judgment of the principal, who sees the teachers regularly, to count for only 15%. He wants more charter schools and vouchers (he calls them “tax credits”) even though neither produces better results than public schools. It makes no sense but he won’t release funds due to public schools unless the Legislature passes his harmful proposals.

 

Cynthia Wachtell, a scholar at Yeshiva University, is a public school parent. She has written a hilarious analysis of Governor Cuomo’s plan. Among his other ill-informed ideas is a proposal to close down the schools whose test scores place them in the bottom 5% so their students don’t have to go to failing schools anymore. She gently offers a math lesson. Sorry, Governor, there will always be a 5%.

 

Therein lies the math problem. If a “school is designated as ‘falling’ if it’s in the bottom 5% of schools across the state,” then, by definition, Cuomo’s goal of “no longer … condemning our children to failing schools” is impossible. The children in the bottom 5% of NYS schools will always be in ‘failing’ schools. Math will be math. And that’s just how percentages work.

 

She tells Governor Cuomo what his state’s public schools and students really need:

 

Clearly we need to improve the education received by all of “our” children. And unlike the Governor, I actually have two children in NYS public schools. The way to help my sons and other NYS students is to reduce class size; shift away from high stakes testing; offer a well-rounded curriculum rich in the sciences, technology, physical education, and the arts; and evaluate teachers in a way that takes into consideration the unique challenges of each of their classrooms. I once sat as a parent visitor in a classroom of thirty-plus sixth graders working through an ELA test prep workbook. And, sorry Andrew, it did not make me happy.

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