Archives for category: Closing schools

Alan Singer compares Arne Duncan’s recent denunciation of over-testing–that is, his own policy in Race to the Top–to George W. Bush’s infamous victory speech in Iraq under a banner saying “Mission Accomplished.”

He notes that Duncan offers a one-year delay in using test scores to evaluate teachers, while the other leading voice in American education proposed a two-year moratorium. Wouldn’t you think a simple phone call between Arne and Bill could have settled the matter? You know, it’s not like states or local districts have anything to say about how or when teachers should be evaluated. This decision belongs to Arne and Bill.

Andy Hargreaves of Boston College asks an important question: What is the purpose of benchmarking? We collect data, we measure, we test, we set goals, but why? Will it improve performance if we know that someone else does it better? Do they have the same challenges, the same resources? Is there more to education than raising tests ores and do higher test scores necessarily mean better education?

Andy begins with two stories about benchmarking, one positive, one negative. One improved public health, one made it easier to conduct war.

Right now, under pressure from No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, everything is measured. Why? To fire teachers and principals? To close schools? To hand public property to entrepreneurs? Who benefits? What do we do with the losers? Throw them away? Plenty of children were left behind, and many will not make it to “the top.”

Andy writes:

“Is the purpose of our educational benchmarking to further the public good, to raise the standards of education for all, to elevate the poorest and most disadvantaged students to the greatest heights of accomplishment? And once we have done our calculations and made our maps, what pathways will be opened up, and what people and resources will be pulled along them in this worthy quest for equity and excellence? The White House announced earlier this summer that it would address educational inequities by collecting data to help pinpoint where they existed, but there seemed to be no plan to bring up the people and resources to correct them.

“Is there a second purpose of educational benchmarking then? Is it to delineate the weak from the strong, inciting nation to compete against nation, Americans against Asians, and school against school. After we have pinpointed schools that are failing, does this just make it easier for invading opportunists to set up charter schools in their place, or to market online alternatives, tutoring services and the like?

“As in surveying, benchmarking in education should be about discovering where we stand and learning about who we are and what we do by observing those around us. It should be about improving public education, just as the sewer maps for my hometown contributed to public sanitation. Benchmarking should not be about fomenting panics about performance in relation to overseas competitors. And it should not be about dividing schools, families and communities from each other to create easy pickings for the educational market.

“Whenever we are engaged in the data-driven detail of educational benchmarking, these are the greater questions we should be asking. Of what map or whose map are we the servants?”

In a truly wonderful article in Sunday’s New York Times, David Kirp of the University of California at Berkeley lays waste the underpinnings of the current “education reform” movement. Kirp not only shows what doesn’t work, he gives numerous examples of what does work to help students.

Kirp explains in plain language why teaching can never be replaced by a machine. Although the article just appeared, I have already heard about angry grumbling from reformers, because their ultimate goal (which they prefer to hide) is to replace teachers with low-cost machines. Imagine a “classroom” with 100 students sitting in front of a monitor, overseen by a low-wage aide. Think of the savings. Think of the advantages that a machine has over a human being: they can be easily programmed; they don’t get a salary or a pension; they don’t complain when they are abused; and when a better, cheaper model comes along, the old one can be tossed into the garbage.

David Kirp dashes cold water on the reformy dream. Today’s reformers devoutly believe that schools can be transformed by market mechanisms, either by competition or technology. Kirp, author of “Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools,” says that the tools for the improvement are not out of reach and do not depend on either the market or technology. His common-sense formulation of what is needed is within our reach, does not require mass firings or mass school closings, privatization, or a multi-billion dollar investment in technology.

But Kirp writes:

“It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.”

Reformers have made test scores “the single metric of success, the counterpart to the business bottom line.” The teacher whose students get high scores get a bonus, while those whose students get low scores get fired, just like business, where low-performers are laid-off. And, just like business, where low-profit stores are closed, and new ones are opened “in more promising territory, failing schools are closed and so-called turnaround model schools, with new teachers and administrators, take their place.”

Kirp says bluntly:

“This approach might sound plausible in a think tank, but in practice it has been a flop. Firing teachers, rather than giving them the coaching they need, undermines morale. In some cases it may well discourage undergraduates from pursuing careers in teaching, and with a looming teacher shortage as baby boomers retire, that’s a recipe for disaster. Merit pay invites rivalries among teachers, when what’s needed is collaboration. Closing schools treats everyone there as guilty of causing low test scores, ignoring the difficult lives of the children in these schools — “no excuses,” say the reformers, as if poverty were an excuse.”

Kirp throws cold water on the reformers’ favorite remedy: “Charter schools,” he writes, “have been promoted as improving education by creating competition. But charter students do about the same, over all, as their public school counterparts, and the worst charters, like the online K-12 schools that have proliferated in several states, don’t deserve to be called schools. Vouchers are also supposed to increase competition by giving parents direct say over the schools their children attend, but the students haven’t benefited.”

As we have frequently noted, Milwaukee should be the poster child for both voucher schools and charter schools, which have operated there for nearly 25 years. Yet Milwaukee is one of the nation’s lowest performing cities in the nation on the federal NAEP tests. Milwaukee has had plenty of competition but no success.

What’s the alternative? It is obvious: “talented teachers, engaged students and a challenging curriculum.”

Kirp points to the management ideas of W. Edwards Deming, who believed in the importance of creating successful systems in which workers were chosen carefully, supported, encouraged, and enabled to succeed by the organization’s culture. The best organizations flourish by supporting their employees, not by threatening them.

Kirp identifies a number of models in education that have succeeded by “strengthening personal bonds by building strong systems of support in the schools.” He refers to preschools, to a reading and math program called Success for All model, to another called Diplomas Now, which “love-bombs middle school students who are prime candidates for dropping out. They receive one-on-one mentoring, while those who have deeper problems are matched with professionals.”

Kirp cites “An extensive study of Chicago’s public schools, Organizing Schools for Improvement, identified 100 elementary schools that had substantially improved and 100 that had not. The presence or absence of social trust among students, teachers, parents and school leaders was a key explanation.”

Similarly, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, “has had a substantial impact on millions of adolescents. The explanation isn’t what adolescents and their “big sibling” mentors do together, whether it’s mountaineering or museum-going. What counts, the research shows, is the forging of a relationship based on mutual respect and caring.

Despite the success of programs cited by Kirp, which are built on personal relationships, “public schools have been spending billions of dollars on technology which they envision as the wave of the future. Despite the hyped claims, the results have been disappointing.”

Kirp concludes that “technology can be put to good use by talented teachers,” but it is the teachers who “must take the lead. The process of teaching and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets can hope to replicate. Small wonder, then, that the business model hasn’t worked in reforming the schools — there is simply no substitute for the personal element.”

David L. Kirp is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools.”

Wow! This post will knock your socks off, unless you work for the U.S. Department of Education. The post was written by Mark NAISON, one of the co-founders of the BATs. (I don’t know why, but my iPad always converts Mark’s last name into all-caps.)

The Badass Teachers Association held a rally outside the U.S. Department of Education on July 28, and several were invited to meet with staff at the Office of Civil Rights to air their grievances and see if they could find common ground. After some talk, some of which was contentious, Arne Duncan dropped in unexpectedly and joined the conversation, but said he would talk about only two subjects:

“Secretary Duncan after introducing himself, and saying that he could only stay for a few minutes, asked for two things; first if we could articulate our concerns about the Department’s policies on dealing with Special needs students, and secondly, if Shoneice and Asean could step out with him to talk about what was going on in Chicago.

“In response to his first comment, Marla Kilfoyle started speaking about her concerns about Department from her standpoint of the parent of a special needs student as well as a teacher. She said it appeared that Department policies were forcing school districts to disregard individual student IEP’s and exposing special needs students to inappropriate and abusive levels of testing.

“Secretary Duncan deflected her remarks by saying that the Department was concerned that too many children of color were being inappropriately diagnosed as being Special Needs children and that once they were put in that category they were permanently marginalized. He then said “We want to make sure that all students are exposed to a rigorous curriculum.”

“At that point, I interrupted him in a very loud voice and said “ We don’t like the word ‘rigor.” We prefer to talk about creativity and maximizing students potential.”

“Secretary Duncan was somewhat taken aback by my comments. He said “ we might disagree about the language, but what I want is for all students to be able to take advanced placement courses or be exposed to an IB (International Baccalaureat) curriculum.

“At this point, Larry Proffitt interrupted the Secretary and said that in Tennessee, Special Needs students were being abused and humiliated by abusive and inappropriate testing and that their teachers knew this, and were afraid to speak out.

“We were clearly at an impasse here, which the Secretary dealt with by saying he had to leave and asking Shoneice and Asean to step into the hall with him and continue the conversation.”

This is a small part of a fascinating report on the BATs meeting at the DOE. When people ask me why I support them, I say, “They speak truth to power.” Here is the proof. Too many educators are docile and compliant. They are not.

Please read the whole post.

Do you think that Arne Duncan really believes that the greatest need of students with disabilities is access to rigorous AP and IB courses?

A reader sends a simple recipe that city officials in places like Chicago and Philadelphia use when they want to close a public school and open a charter school:

“They create the demand by killing the public school BEFORE they close it. They underfund it, cut all the specials, close school libraries, let guidance counselors go, get rid of attendance officers, class sizes become huge. What is a parent to do? There would be LITTLE demand if the neighborhood PUBLIC schools were funded properly.”

At a public hearing, Chicago parents and teachers demanded to know why the city closed 50 public schools while opening charter schools.

“How could CPS continue to cut budgets at neighborhood schools while opening new charter and contract schools — even after shutting down a record number of schools just a year ago?

“We need to pull the money from the plan of expanding charter schools, reinvest in neighborhood schools in our communities,” said Scott Hiley, a special education teacher at Lincoln Park High School whose classes have so many desks jammed in that he has little room to move around.

“Still, “my school is fortunate. We’re still open. Kids don’t have to bring their own toilet paper,” he said at Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Van Buren, the West Side location of one of three simultaneous two-hour meetings held throughout the city Wednesday night on the proposed $5.76 billion spending plan.”

“That plan, to be approved on July 23 by the Board of Education, includes about $67 million in cuts to district-run neighborhood schools and $62 million in increases for charter schools over last year, including to the scandal-ridden UNO Charter Network, and the Concept Charter schools that are under federal investigation. Neighborhood high schools have suffered the largest cuts, according to budget documents. CPS links the cuts and raises to enrollment shifts.”

The audience erupted in laughter and derision at some of the officials’ efforts to justify cutting public schools while opening charter schools.

If your school has been closed, if the staff was fired in a “turnaround,” you have experienced the theory of disruptive innovation, which is associated with Harvard Business Professor Clayton Chistensen.

Or perhaps your neighborhood school fell victim to Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of “creative destruction.”

Just so you can see these ideologies from a critical perspective, be sure to read Harvard historian Jill Lepore’s critique of Christianson’s work on disruptive innovation, which first appeared in “The New Yorker.” She challenges his thesis and argues that those bold start-ups flamed out, while stable institutions live on. And yet the idea of disruption has become wildly popular, as we now see in education policy.

Charters and vouchers are disruptive. Firing entire staffs is disruptive. The results of these “innovations” have been unimpressive and sometimes disastrous, yet their champions continue to demand more and more. To understand why, read this article.

Peter Greene responds to the NEA resolution. Calling for Arne Duncan to resign. he first deals with the debate on Twitter, about who would replace Arne Duncan. The assumption behind the discussion is that President Obama has no idea what Duncan has been doing and that when he finds out, Duncan will be ousted.

Then he takes on the NEA resolution.

Greene quite rightly points out that Duncan is doing exactly what the President wants. Were he to leave, which is unlikely, he would be replaced by someone as committed to high-stakes testing, privatization, closing schools, and undermining the teaching profession as Duncan. A likely replacement: Ted Mitchell, the newly appointed Undersecretary of Education, was most recently the CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, the epicenter of privatization and anti-public school activism. Then there is always Michelle Rhee, whom the President and Duncan have lauded.

I can personally vouch for the fact that Duncan is doing exactly what Obama wants. In the fall of 2009, I had a private meeting with Secretary Duncan, just the two of us, no staff. It was very pleasant. He was charming, pleasant, and took notes. I asked him, “Why are you traveling the country to sell Race to the Top accompanied by Reverend Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich? Why Gingrich?” His answer: “because the President asked me to.”

Arthur Camins, Director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ., points put that drug makers are not allowed to make unsubstantiated claims. They are required to gather evidence and to disclose possible negative side effects. They can make boasts, offer up dubious facts, and get away with it. They speak about the individuals’ “right to choose” without acknowledging the harm to the community’s public institutions.

In a thoughtful article, Camins says that the debate about school reform has been obscured by “the fog of war,” a public relations blitz that appeals to individualism and self-interest, replacing evidence and any sense of the common good.

He writes:

“One weapon in the arsenal of opponents of current policies has been to point out the absence of evidentiary support. In fact, there is no system inside the U.S. or around the world that has made substantial systemic progress through charter schools, merit pay or test-driven accountability. Resistance is growing, but so far this line of attack has not built enough widespread public understanding to deter policy makers. Maybe that is because the supporters of these policies have effectively obscured their real goals and values.”

He concludes::

“Stories of dysfunctional, conflict-plagued, private agenda-driven local school boards abound. There are countless examples school boards making uniformed decisions that do not serve the interests of children. However, privatization and shrinking of public participation in decision-making is not an antidote to ineffective, uninformed democracy. Public knowledge and clear-eyed evidence are. History is replete with evidence that the side effect of disenfranchisement in the name of improvement is benefits to the few and disaster for the many. Arguments that restricting democracy will benefit everyone have always been the coins of autocrats and self-appointed experts driven by blind faith or ideology and narrow self-interest.

“The drive to privatize educational governance, especially with respect to expansion of charter schools, has two unstated goals. One is to open up the vast education market to individuals looking for a new profitable place to invest their capital. Another is more cynical. Some people have given up hope for systemic improvement. Instead, they are willing to settle for a system that only provides an opportunity for those they deem to be the deserving and capable few among the unfortunate many. Hence, the negative disruptive side effects of school closings in poor communities are the price that the many will pay to save the lucky few.

“Let’s report the evidence and side effects so the public can decide: Which side are you on? Are you willing to give up your right to democratic participation and risk the future of your child or your neighbor’s to privilege the lucky few? Are you ready to give up on the common good?

“For the sake of clarity, I’ve attempted to present complex issues in binary terms. Assuredly, there are gradations. In reality, ensuring the wellbeing of individuals is inseparable from advancing the common good. The old labor slogan, an injury to one is an injury to all, said it simply, but well. Put another way, my personal gain is diminished or even negated when it comes at the expense of another.

“We need an educational system based on these values. I think, when asked, the public may agree.”

Paul Bruno, a science teacher in California, assembled a few charts to show that there is no “crisis” in American education.

What we have today was aptly named “a manufactured crisis” by David Berliner and Bruce Biddle, in their book “The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools” in the mid-1990s.

Last year, my book “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools” showed how the phony “crisis” rhetoric is cynically used to undermine public support for public schools and advance privatization through charters, vouchers, and virtual charters.

Chris Lubienski and Sarah Lubienski published “The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools.”

David Berliner and Gene Glass recently published “50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education.”

John Kuhn published “Fear and Learning in America: Bad Data, Good Teachers, and the Attack on Public Education.”

Mercedes Schneider published “A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education.”

So, if you want evidence that the “crisis” in American education is a cynical fiction, that it is used to divert attention from the true social and economic crises of inequality, poverty, and segregation, you have quite a selection of books to read. Arm yourself. Read them.

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