Archives for category: Education Reform

Jersey Jazzman warns of a very serious malady found in the charter industry: Charter cheerleading.


He says it is perfectly normal to be proud of your school and its accomplishments. It is normal to want the world to know that your teachers and kids are terrific.


But charter cheerleaders go beyond the bounds of normal pride. Their schools are far, far better than yours. They quote statistics that ignore the reality of skimming and cherry-picking. They even boast when their school has not been open long enough to have produced any statistics. The simple fact of being a “charter” makes them say that they are better than any public school.


These people need help.



The data mining company inBloom died, killed off by parent opposition, but the data mining industry is not dead. Far from it. It is growing and metastasizing as investors see new opportunities to profit from the data surreptitiously collected while children are using computers, taking tests online, chatting online, and practicing for state tests online.


According to this article in Model View Culture, investors have poured billions of dollars into new technologies to track students’ movements.


Designed for the “21st century” classroom, these tools promise to remedy the many, many societal ills facing public education with artificial intelligence, machine learning, data mining, and other technological advancements.

They are also being used to track and record every move students make in the classroom, grooming students for a lifetime of surveillance and turning education into one of the most data-intensive industries on the face of the earth. The NSA has nothing on the monitoring tools that education technologists have developed in to “personalize” and “adapt” learning for students in public school districts across the United States.


The federal government and the law called FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, passed in 1974) were supposed to prevent invasions of privacy, but the U.S. Department of Education loosened the FERPA regulations in 2011 to make it easier for vendors to data mine. Make no mistake, this is big business. It will not easily be stopped.


“Adaptive”, “personalized” learning platforms are one of the most heavily-funded verticals in education technology. By breaking down learning into a series of tasks, and further distilling those tasks down to a series of clicks that can be measured and analyzed, companies like Knewton (which has raised $105 million in venture capital), or the recently shuttered inBloom (which raised over $100 million from the Gates Foundation) gather immense amounts of information about students into a lengthy profile containing personal information, socioeconomic status and other data that is mined for patterns and insights to improve performance. For students, these clickstreams and data trails begin when they are 5 years old, barely able to read much less type in usernames and passwords required to access their online learning portals.


These developments are alarming. Why should commercial vendors have the right to monitor our every move? Why should the government? This must be stopped, and the successful fight against inBloom proved that it can be stopped. Parents will have to inform themselves and protect their children by demanding legislation that puts an end to the surveillance of their children at school and at home, whenever they are online.









Frank Breslin, a retired high school teacher of history and world languages, has written an eloquent article about the corporate assault on public education and explains why this assault endangers democracy and the American dream of equal opportunity.


He begins in this way:


A specter is haunting America – the privatization of its public schools, and Big Money has entered into an unholy alliance to aid and abet it. Multi-billionaire philanthropists, newspaper moguls, governors, legislators, private investors, hedge fund managers, testing and computer companies are making common cause to hasten the destruction of public schools.


This assault also targets the moral and social vision that inspired the creation of public schools – the belief in a free and inclusive democratic society that unites all of us in a common destiny as we struggle together toward a just society and a better life for ourselves and our children.


Public schools were the welcoming gateway to equal opportunity for our nation’s children. The fate of Old Europe with its assigned stations in life, its divinely-appointed places in the order of things, was not to be ours as Americans. Inspired by the stories of Horatio Alger, we would seek our fortune because this was America, the country where dreams came true; the land of promise, where pluck, hard work, and a bit of luck would carry the day.


This was the manifest destiny of the poor and marginalized who came to these shores, and public-school children were ushered into this grand tradition of exalted ideals. The poor and the homeless, the sick and the hungry could lay claim to our help because that is what a great nation did – took care of its own, especially those who through no fault of their own couldn’t care for themselves. This was a radiantly humane vision in a dark and indifferent world, a belief that would insure our survival in mutual concern as a compassionate people.


Public schools were the flame-keepers of this national creed enshrined in FDR’s New Deal, now under radical assault by corporate America and their neoliberal acolytes who would drag the 99 percent back into the Dark Ages of Social Darwinism, the law of the jungle where might makes right, and the poor and weak go to the wall.


The Gates, Broad, Walton, and Koch Foundations deserve special mention in unleashing Armageddon upon our public schools, all the while preening themselves hypocritically as angels of light. So intent are these Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in their class warfare against their own country that the sacrifice of millions of public-school children as collateral damage means nothing to them.

This statement just was released by the Chicago Teachers Union:

October 15, 2014 312-329-6250

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis acknowledges expressions of support offered during her leave

Today, President Karen Lewis released the following statement to the public regarding the thoughts, prayers and well wishes regarding her leave of absence from the Chicago Teachers Union:

“My husband, John, and I wish to thank each and every one you for your outpouring of support, thoughts, prayers and well wishes over the last few days,” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union. “Your expressions have given me a sense of renewed energy as I shift my focus to restoring my health. It has been said, that our city is one of big shoulders. I cannot agree more; today those shoulders have become the compassionate arms from brothers and sisters from all walks of life. I want to personally thank you for respecting my privacy during this difficult time. While I’m in this fight, please know I’ll continue to stand for the city we love and deserve; and look forward to joining you again on the battlefield.”

I just noticed that the blog has had 15,000,050 page views since its inception on April 26, 2012.


I am amazed and gratified.


Thank you to the readers who are here everyday, commenting, sending articles from your town, city  or state.


Thank for for engaging in thoughtful dialogue in the comment section.


Some of the best-read blogs have been written not by me, but by you.


The blog has become a hub of the resistance to high-stakes testing and privatization. I will continue to highlight the hard work you do to strengthen your public schools, to stand up for children, and to defend real education, as opposed to the massive machinery of data collection that is now promoted by the U.S. Department of Education and the Gates Foundation. I will continue to honor those parents, students, and educators who speak out for real education and for treating students and teachers with dignity. I will continue to support those who fight politically motivated budget cuts that hurt children.


Together we will do what now seems impossible. We will one day restore sanity to education policy, which is now completely off-track and determined to tag and label each of us as though we were cattle. The policies that govern federal policy are written for the benefit of the education industry, not for the education of our children. Our policies bear no meaningful relationship to love of learning. We will put a stop to it, because it is absurd. Not today, not tomorrow, but in due time, the cyborgs who now control education policy will return to the planet from which they came and allow us once again to educate our children for meaningful lives, not as pawns of the testing industry, not as consumers of tech products, not as data points, but as full human beings.

When Karen was well, she read this blog every day. Sometimes she left comments. I hope she is reading this now and feeling the love that we are sending her.

Robert Rendo writes this to Karen:


“My wife and I are both public school teachers, and we cannot tell you enough how much we love and respect you. You will pull through this because you are enveloped by love, energy, and the will of the rest of us who you have inspired, catalyzed, and lead.

“You are a national figure, but you feel as though you are right here at our kitchen table or on our sofas in our living rooms. You are family to us advocates.

“Know that you are loved and that love and good always triumph over evil . . . “

Doug Preston is an author who has mobilized many hundreds of other authors to sign a petition to stop Amazon’s monopolistic practices. Here is the letter that Preston wrote to the Amazon board of directors, along with the names of the authors who signed the letter. As you may have read, Amazon is in a dispute with publisher Hachette. To break Hachette’s will, Amazon has been raising the prices of its books and delaying shipment. But when the author of a Hachette book was Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, none of those punitive tactics were applied. Most of those who signed his petition are not Hachette authors; they are authors who hate to see Amazon harassing a publisher, even as it drives physical bookstores out of existence. The owner of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, is also owner of the Washington Post.


Doug Preston’s latest letter:


Dear Author,

I wanted to bring your attention to an important piece written by Franklin Foer, editor of the New Republic, which will be the cover story in the magazine this week. This article puts the Hachette/Amazon dispute in the broadest historical and humanistic context.

Our own letter to the Department of Justice is still in preparation. This is a critical initiative involving a number of people and a lot of research. We are partnering with the Authors Guild in this effort. Working together, we hope to present a viable argument, citing law, of why the Justice Department should at least look into Amazon’s market practices. We have already had several conversations with attorneys at the Antitrust Division of the DoJ, and we’ve been assured that they welcome any information we can provide. The letter we give them is a serious step and we have to make sure it is right.

When the letter is done, I will post it on our website and send you a link so you can review it. If you wish to withdraw your name, you can email me at any time, now or when the letter is posted.

Something many of us feared Amazon might be doing has now been documented–see this piece in the Times:

If you’re a powerful Congressman, it seems, Amazon will cut you a break. At least one Hachette author–Paul Ryan–doesn’t have to worry about delayed shipping, manipulated “search” results that hide his book, and short discounts.

All the best,
Doug Preston

Mike Petrilli leads the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which advocates for the Common Core and for privatization of public education. Although I was a founding board member of TBF, I left the team because I no longer agree with the rightwing agenda.


But on one thing we can agree: Arne Duncan has overstepped his bounds as Secretary of Education. Mike is exercised because Duncan’s Office of Civil Rights believes that all children as a matter of right should have equal access to Advanced Placement courses. Mike writes:


Another obsession of Duncan’s OCR has been getting more poor and minority students into advanced courses, such as the College Board’s AP classes. On its face this is a laudable goal, and reform-minded districts (and charter schools) have made much progress in preparing disadvantaged students for the rigors of challenging coursework. But is this an appropriate realm for civil-rights enforcement?


If schools are forced by an OCR investigation to expand access to AP classes for poor and minority kids, what are the chances that they will also do all the complex work it takes (from kindergarten through 11th grade) to make sure those students are ready? To implement solid curricula, hire stronger teachers, provide extra help for struggling children? Isn’t it much more likely that bureaucrats will simply flood AP courses with unprepared students? We can all guess what the impact will be on the students who are ready for AP coursework, whose classes will be inundated by peers who haven’t mastered the prerequisite material.


From one perspective, Duncan is shoveling more money towards the College Board to pay for AP courses. This is very profitable for the College Board, run by Arne’s buddy David Coleman, architect of the Common Core. Taking an AP course does not guarantee that one will pass it, although OCR might require that too.


But that is the least of Arne’s meddling. He used Race to the Top to force states to adopt the Common Core standards before the ink was dry on them; the former Commissioner of Education in Texas, Robert Scott, said he was asked to endorse them before they were finished. He used Race to the Top to force states to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students, which has failed wherever it has been tried. He used Race to the Top to demand greater privatization of public schools. He has rewarded schools that close public schools and replace them with privately managed charters. Now, he is punishing states that refuse to bow to his edicts about teacher evaluation by canceling their waivers from the onerous and absurd sanctions of No Child Left Behind.


This is a man who never taught, but thinks he knows better than any teacher what should happen in the classroom and how teachers should be judged. I have not decided whether he suffers from a surfeit of arrogance or a lack of judgment or something else.


Whatever it is, Arne Duncan will be remembered as a man who was a destructive force in public education, a man who blithely closed schools and fired staffs, a man who disrupted the public education system of the most successful nation in the world.

I admit that I have lost all respect for Duncan. I believe he disregards federalism. His funding of Common Core tests, in my view, directly breaks federal laws that prohibit any officer of the government from trying to influence, control or direct instruction and curriculum. To cling to the transparent fiction that testing does not influence curriculum or instruction fools no one.

When I worked for Lamar Alexander in the U.S. Department of Education, one thing I admired about Lamar was that he did not think his ideas were better than those of everyone else in the nation. Arne does not have that sense of humility. In fact, he has no humility at all. He tramples on the lives of children, teachers, and educators as though they were insects under his feet, awaiting his all-powerful judgement. Where he got the idea that he knows more about education than people who have actually taught children for many years is a mystery.

My experience working at the Department of Education taught me an important lesson: there are very few people who work there who are educators. There are many program administrators, contract managers, and clerks. They should not tell schools how to educate children because they have not done it. Arne should not do it either. It is against the law.



The AFT invites everyone–members, non-members–to sign a get-well card for Karen to show our love and support.


She has been an amazing leader of the Chicago Teachers Union, and she has been an inspiration for educators everywhere.


She is an experienced chemistry teacher, she is a National Board Certified Teacher, and she loves teaching.


We need many more like her. But more than that, we need her.

Whatever your religious views, or if you have none at all, please pray for or send powerful thoughts for the healing and speedy recovery of our friend Karen Lewis.


Karen is in the hospital in Chicago following serious surgery. We will wait to hear the details of the surgery from those who speak on her behalf.


What we do know is that the surgery was serious and that Karen is resting comfortably.


I first met Karen in 2010, spent four hours talking at our first meeting, and came to have great respect for her vision, her intelligence, her compassion, and her courage.


In fighting against the forces of corporate reform that seek to destroy public education, Karen Lewis has been a model for all of us. She is a teacher. She has taught all of us how to organize from the ground up, how to rally resistance, how to live in truth and integrity.


She is my friend. I love her. I love her as a kind and strong human being. I love her for her work on behalf of others.


She is in my thoughts and prayers, as I hope she is in yours.


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