Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

Paul Thomas of Furman University writes that he has a new perspective about social media. He used to get into heated debates on Twitter with “reformers,” arguing about their ideas and practices. But now he says he won’t do it anymore. He believes that when you debate a proposition, you legitimate the other side. If someone says “poverty doesn’t matter,” why debate such a silly statement?

 

Peter Greene disagrees with Thomas; he says we must engage because the public needs to be informed. He is unwilling to let error and misguided opinion shape public policy about public education.

 

Thomas writes that public policy in education has been dominated in recent years by non-educators:

 

Historically and significantly during the last three decades, U.S. public education policy and public discourse have been dominated by politicians, political appointees, billionaire hobbyists, pundits, and self-appointed entrepreneurs—most of whom having no or little experience or expertise in the field of education or education scholarship….

 

Over about two years of blogging at my own site and engaging regularly on Twitter and other social media platforms, I have gradually adopted a stance that I do not truck with those who are disproportionately dominating the field of and public discourse about education.

 

Yes, I have done my share of calling out, discrediting, and arguing with, but except on rare occasions, I am done with that. Those who have tried to include me in the “@” wars on Twitter may have noticed my silence when the other side is added.

 

Each time we invoke their names, their flawed ideas, or their policies, we are joining the tables they have set….

 

Peter Greene says, this is our house, and we should not let the entrepreneurs set the table or own it.

 

I agree with Peter. We cannot allow public education policy to be shaped without regard to facts, evidence, or experience. Peter gives the example of Common Core: for a long time, reformers claimed that CC was written by teachers. That claim was so thoroughly and frequently debunked that one seldom hears it anymore (now we hear that it was written by the narion’s governors…as if).

Like Paul, I have argued with “reformers” on Twitter. Almost always, it is a fruitless exercise. I can’t convince them, they can’t convince me, not with 140 characters, not with essays or even books. Yes, we must build solidarity.

But I am still a believer in the value of marshaling facts and evidence to prove that the test-based accountability, the teacher-bashing, and privatization schemes now promoted by leading foundations and the U.S. Department of Education are harmful to our children and our society.

 

What do you think?

 

 

 

The Néw York Post, owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch (who has contributed millions to charters), ridicules the idea that Wall Street hedge fund managers have motives other than kind-hearted philanthropy for pouring millions of dollars into pro-charter lobbying. The chief editorial writer attributes these suspicions to the teachers’ union and Zephyr Teachout.

Let’s see. Readers of this blog know that hedge fund money is pouring into state and local elections to support candidates who favor privatization, who want to eliminate unions, who love the Néw Orleans model of wiping out public schools and replacing experienced teachers with Teach for America recruits (who won’t stay around long enough to qualify for a pension).

You never hear them complain about budget cuts or segregation. They think that charters will counter poverty even though charters perform no better than public schools when they enroll the same students. They don’t care that high-performing charters do not “backfill,” meaning that they don’t replace kids who leave and they end up with a small graduating class.

They pour millions into lobbying for charters (and in some states, vouchers) because they are kind.

Toni Jackson, a teacher in Memphis, wrote a powerful article about what “reform” is doing to her city, and especially what it is doing to black and brown children.

 

She writes:

 

There is a stench in the air in Memphis and it’s a smell that is permeating throughout black school districts. One can get a whiff of it in Newark, N.J., Philadelphia, New Orleans and most urban areas that received Race To The Top federal dollars for education. This awful stench derived from education reform and it’s been perpetrated on minorities with lower incomes and those who live under a lower socio economic status.

 

This stench has led corporations and politicians to the belief that they can control the education of African American and minority children (black and brown students) simply because they were granted millions of dollars by the government. They want to buy our children and they believe the federal government has given them the power to do so with the money allotted to improve student achievement.

 

So these Nashville politicians have neatly packaged the Shelby County School District, which is 85 percent African American, in a box where students are behind, teachers are ineffective, teaching jobs are tied to test scores, and student scores are tied to whether a school is slated for takeover or is closed altogether.

 

These politicians have aligned themselves with rich corporate types and they have passed laws that will give themselves total and complete power over urban schools, urban teachers, urban children, and young black and brown minds from K-12 grades in Memphis, which will lead to generational control. We have seen this before, Memphis. We have fought this fight before and now 50 years later, we are facing the same thing our grandparents faced when they went against a power structure designed to have access and control over the minds of our children. It was called the civil rights era and the legal case was Brown vs. Board of Education. That is where the state would like to take us, but we’re not going back there.

After a four-day sit-in and a meetung with State-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson, Newark Student Union members agreed to end their occupation of her office. They apparently won no concessions from her, but achieved widespread attention for their grievances.

Bruce Baker of Rutgers University here analyzes the claims of a charter advocacy group called “Families for Excellent Schools.” Its latest “study” argues that New York City wastes money on low-performing schools as compared to high-performing schools. Baker points out that the “low-performing schools” have higher proportions of children with disabilities and others with high needs, as compared to the high-performing schools to which they are compared. Baker says the FES “study” is “totally bogus.” He has a few other choice phrases to describe this politically motivated analysis.

 

It is useful to bear in mind who the “families” for excellent schools are. Last year, this group spent $5 million or more to attack Mayor Bill de Blasio while demanding legislation to protect charter schools and to open more. This suggests that these are not your ordinary charter-school families. It is not that easy to raise $5 million in a few days or weeks. The “families” are the Walton family, the Eli Broad family, and the families of other extremely wealthy people. One may safely assume that none of these families has their own children in public schools or in charter schools.

As we have seen in Pennsylvania and other states, charters drain resources from public schools, and in some districts, like York City, Pennsylvania, cause the financial collapse of the school district.

 

Here is the latest from Louisiana: the public schools of Lafayette, Louisiana, expect to lose $17 million next year as three charter schools expand and another plans to open in August. In time, a tipping point will occur, when public education is no longer viable. As more public dollars flow to privately managed charters, the public schools will fall into deficit, cut programs and services, lay off teachers and other personnel. The plan is working, if the goal is to destroy public education.

Jonathan Pelto, a former legislator and now Connecticut’s premier blogger, warns that a money grab for charters is on the horizon, while the state’s neediest schools are ignored.

 

This Wednesday, February 18, 2015, Governor Malloy will play his hand as to whether he will insert taxpayer funds into next year’s state budget in order to fund Steve Perry’s dream of opening a privately-owned, but publicly-funded charter school in Bridgeport. An out-of-state company is also counting on Malloy to come through with the cash needed to expand their charter school chain into Stamford, Connecticut.

 

Both charter school applications were vehemently opposed by the Bridgeport and Stamford Boards of Education.

 

However, despite that opposition from the local officials responsible for education policy and despite the fact that Connecticut doesn’t even fund its existing public schools adequately and the fact that the State of Connecticut is facing a massive $1.4 billion projected budget deficit next year, Governor Malloy’s former Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and Malloy’s political appointees on the State Board of Education approved four new charter school proposals last spring.

 

Initial funding for two of the four applications was included in this year’s state budget, New Haven’s Booker T. Washington charter school and yet another charter school for Bridgeport.

 

Now the charter school industry is counting on Malloy to divert even more scarce public funds away from the state’s public schools so that Steve Perry can start pulling in a $2.5 million management fee from a charter school in Bridgeport and the out-of-state company can open up a revenue stream from a new charter school in Stamford.

 

While most public education advocates are focused on the Malloy administration’s ongoing attempt to privatize public education via policies at the state level, the politically connected Achievement First Inc. Charter School chain is using a completely different approach as it seeks to pull off a deal in New Haven that would shift existing funds away from New Haven’s public schools and into the coffers of the Achievement First operation.

 

Of course, Achievement First Inc. is the charter school chain founded by Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s former commissioner of education.

 

Achievement First Inc. is also the charter school chain that gets the lion’s share of the $100 million in public funds that are already diverted to charter schools in Connecticut.

 

New Haven is the only district in the state with a mayoral controlled board.

 

The New Haven Board of Education is not democratically elected by the citizens of New Haven. It is one of the only boards of education in Connecticut to be appointed by the mayor of the community.

 

In this case, the New Haven Board of Education is appointed by Mayor Toni Harp – who, thanks to an earlier sweetheart deal – happens to sit on the Achievement First Inc. Board of Directors for the Amistad Academy schools.

 

Wonder what will happen there? Read on.

 

 

Anthony Cody was first to feature a leaked document that advised reformers how to mollify parents who are angry about testing.

But it is well worth reading EduShyster’s hilarious explication of the same document.

She begins:

“Can we talk about testing? And by *talk* I mean the thing where parents offer up reasonable, legitimate and likely heartfelt concerns, which testing advocates then deflect by changing the subject and *pivoting to a higher emotion.* That’s right reader—it’s time for another edition of Say This, Not That.Today’s topic: testing. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll gasp in amazement as our *testing talk* is transformed to appeal to different audiences. But watch out for weeds and rabbit holes!”

In the first year of this blog, someone explained the methodology of corporate reformers by referring to the marketing strategy known as FUD. This is an acronym for fear, uncertainty, and doubt. When trying to put a competitor out of business–whether in politics or commerce–spread FUD. That way, the public will distrust their brand or candidate, and be open to your promises for your brand or candidate. According to Wikipedia, the term has been used since the 1920, but more recently was adopted by IBM, then by Microsoft. We have certainly seen FUD employed against public education since 1983, when we heard from the government report “A Nation at Risk” that our very identity as a nation and a people, as well as our economic competitiveness, was undermined by our mediocre public schools. In 2012, Joel Klein and Condoleeza Rice released a report on behalf of the Council of Foreign Relations declaring that our terrible public schools were a threat to our national security. What was our salvation: Common Core, charters, and vouchers.

 

Peter Greene has analyzed the reformer game-plan and boiled it down to a 3-step strategy. Step 1: there is a terrible crisis; Step 2: therefore we must do Step 3) what I prescribe.

 

Here is one of his examples:

 

1) SOMETHING AWFUL IS GOING TO HAPPEN OH MY GOOD LORD IN HEAVEN LOOOK I EVEN HAVE CHARTS AND GRAPHS AND IT IS SOOOOOOOOO TERRIBLE THAT IT WILL MAKE AWFUL THINGS HAPPEN, REALLY TERRIBLE AWFUL THINGS LET ME TELL YOU JUST HOW AWFUL OH GOD HEAVENS WE MUST ALL BEWARE— BEEE WAAAARREEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!

 

2) therefore for some reason

 

3) You must let me do X to save us!

 

The trick here is to load up #1 with facts and figures and details and specifics. Make it as facty and credible as you possibly can (even if you need to gin up some fake facts to do it).

 

#3 is where you load in your PR for whatever initiative you’re pushing.

 

And #2 you just try to skate past as quickly as possible, because #2 is the part that most needs support and proof and fact-like content, but #2 is also the place where you probably don’t have any.

 

In a normal, non-baloney argument, #2 is the strongest point, because the rational, supportable connection between the problem and the solution is what matters most. But if you are selling baloney, that connection is precisely what you don’t have. So instead of actual substance in #2, you just do your best to drive up the urgency in #1.

 

Thus, we have a constant litany of complaints about test scores, graduation rates, dropout rates, etc., linked to solutions that have no evidence that they will have any impact whatever on test scores, graduation rates, dropout rates, etc. Where is the evidence for vouchers and charters? There is none? Where is the evidence to take away teacher tenure? There is none. Where is the evidence that merit pay improves student performance? There is none. Where is the evidence that evaluating teachers by test scores improves education? There is none.

 

Evidence doesn’t matter. So long as reformers play on the public’s doubts and fears for their children, they can keep pushing failed policies.

 

 

Seven outstanding teachers wrote a letter to Governor Cuomo. It was published in the Albany Times-Union, where there is a good chance he and members of the Legislature might read it. Unfortunately, it is behind a paywall. Maybe by now the paywall has disappeared. I hope so as everyone in every state should read this excellent letter.

The teachers write:

The following article was written by seven New York state Teachers of the Year: Ashli Dreher (2014, Buffalo); Katie Ferguson (2012, Schenectady); Jeff Peneston (2011, Syracuse); Rich Ognibene (2008, Rochester); Marguerite Izzo (2007, Malverne); Steve Bongiovi (2006, Seaford); and Liz Day (2005, Mechanicville)

Dear Governor Cuomo:

We are teachers. We have given our hearts and souls to this noble profession. We have pursued intellectual rigor. We have fed students who were hungry. We have celebrated at student weddings and wept at student funerals. Education is our life. For this, you have made us the enemy. This is personal.

Under your leadership, schools have endured the Gap Elimination Adjustment and the tax cap, which have caused layoffs and draconian budget cuts across the state. Classes are larger and support services are fewer, particularly for our neediest students.

We have also endured a difficult rollout of the Common Core Standards. A reasonable implementation would have started the new standards in kindergarten and advanced those standards one grade at a time. Instead, the new standards were rushed into all grades at once, without any time to see if they were developmentally appropriate or useful.

Then our students were given new tests — of questionable validity — before they had a chance to develop the skills necessary to be successful. These flawed tests reinforced the false narrative that all public schools — and therefore all teachers — are in drastic need of reform. In our many years of teaching, we’ve never found that denigrating others is a useful strategy for improvement.

Now you are doubling down on test scores as a proxy for teacher effectiveness. The state has focused on test scores for years and this approach has proven to be fraught with peril. Testing scandals erupted. Teachers who questioned the validity of tests were given gag orders. Parents in wealthier districts hired test-prep tutors, which exacerbated the achievement gap between rich and poor.

Beyond those concerns, if the state places this much emphasis on test scores who will want to teach our neediest students? Will you assume that the teachers in wealthier districts are highly effective and the teachers in poorer districts are ineffective, simply based on test scores?

Most of us have failed an exam or two along life’s path. From those results, can we conclude that our teachers were ineffective? We understand the value of collecting data, but it must be interpreted wisely. Using test scores as 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation does not meet this criterion.

Your other proposals are also unlikely to succeed. Merit pay, charter schools and increased scrutiny of teachers won’t work because they fundamentally misdiagnose the problem. It’s not that teachers or schools are horrible. Rather, the problem is that students with an achievement gap also have an income gap, a health-care gap, a housing gap, a family gap and a safety gap, just to name a few. If we truly want to improve educational outcomes, these are the real issues that must be addressed.

Much is right in public education today. We invite you to visit our classrooms and see for yourself. Most teachers, administrators and school board members are doing quality work. Our students and alumni have accomplished great things. Let’s stop the narrative of systemic failure.

Instead, let’s talk about ways to help the kids who are struggling. Let’s talk about addressing the concentration of poverty in our cities. Let’s talk about creating a culture of family so that our weakest students feel emotionally connected to their schools. Let’s talk about fostering collaboration between teachers, administrators and elected officials. It is by working together, not competing for test scores, that we will advance our cause.

None of these suggestions are easily measured with a No. 2 pencil, but they would work. On behalf of teachers across the state, we say these are our kids, we love them, and this is personal.

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