Archives for category: Education Reform

Horace Meister, a former data analyst at the New York City Department of Education, knows how to find the data. Here he tells a gripping, data-based story of hypocrisy.

He writes:

“The Hypocrisy of So-Called Ed Reformers and Politicians: A Short Story”

Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York State, recently released a report called The State of New York’s Failing Schools. This report claims to present “statistics and facts” that “expose a public education system badly in need of change” and is designed to support Cuomo’s proposal to turn “failing” schools over to private management and convert them into charter schools. But are these public schools failing? Are charter schools the answer? The facts say no.

To help concretize the question why don’t we take a closer look at one charter chain? Let’s examine how Success Academy maintains its success. Success Academy, the largest charter chain in New York City, and Cuomo are close allies. Success Academy’s donors donated generously to Cuomo’s re-election campaign too. Cuomo was a behind-the-scenes advocate of last year’s charter school rally in Albany led by Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy. A rally for which Success Academy closed its schools and bussed its students to the capital. Success Academy is repeating this gimmick, a gimmick that would be illegal for any public school, again this week.

Success Academy’s schools in Harlem have data going back a couple of years. The most recent data show that the Success Academy schools are not truly succeeding and the public schools identified as “failing” are not truly failing. New York City’s districts 3, 4, 5, and 6 overlap with the geographic boundaries served by Success Academy’s Harlem schools. There are 31 schools within this geographic region that are “failing” New York State accountability measures.

How do the students served by these 31 schools compare to the students served by Success Academy? The data are incontrovertible. Success Academy serves a much more privileged student body. The 31 “failing” schools serve an average of 22.9% English Language Learners, 25.6% special education students, 7.9% high need special education students, 22.8% students living in temporary housing, 70.7% students receiving public assistance, 83.4% students receiving free lunch, and 5.4% students entering middle school overage. On the other hand, Success Academy schools in the same geographic region serve on average 4.9% English Language Learners, 13.9% special education students, 0.7% high need special education students, 7.9% students living in temporary housing, 55.7% students receiving public assistance, 72.3% students receiving free lunch, and 0% students entering middle school overage.

It is obvious, as has been shown again and again in every data set ever studied, that the measures currently used to identify failing schools fail to accurately measure true school performance. Instead, they largely penalize schools that serve the neediest students. Despite claims by advocacy groups such as the so-called “Families for Excellent Schools” [funded by the Walton family, the Broad family, and other billionaire families], “a major ally of charter-school leader Eva Moskowitz,” the data clearly show that charter schools only succeed by not serving the most challenging students. They are definitely not the solution for closing the opportunity gap between America’s privileged and under-privileged.

The ending of our short tale grows yet more sordid. It turns out that Success Academy deliberately manipulated its enrollment system to avoid serving the neediest students in the communities in which it was located. On March 28, 2012 Success Academy requested that its charter authorizer “eliminate an existing, absolute at-risk admissions priority for students zoned to attend failing New York City public schools.” In what can only be characterized as an outright lie Success Academy claimed that this “preference… was difficult to apply, confusing to the public and… contributed to not allowing the schools to attract sufficient numbers of English Language Learners.”

Success Academy revealed its disdain for the members of the communities it is supposedly serving when it claimed the public was confused by an enrollment system that gave priority to students from certain schools. The charter chain misled when it claimed that it was “difficult to apply.” How hard can it be to prioritize students from “failing” schools, schools that we know are really serving a preponderance of at-risk students?

Success Academy lied when it claimed to want to create “a variable set-aside for ELLs, which would be set at 20 percent of the incoming class for the 2012-13 school year.” The data show that in the 2011-12 school year the Success Academy schools in Harlem served 6.3% ELLs. In 2012-13 that number declined to 6.2% ELLs and in 2013-14 that number declined even further to 4.9% ELLs.

It is obvious that by eliminating the priority for students from schools serving a preponderance of at-risk students, including high numbers of English Language Learners, Success Academy was able to further diminish the already small number of ELLs they served.

The charter authorizer, as is all too common, rubber-stamped Success Academy’s request. There was no genuine accountability and no oversight. The truth is obvious to anyone who bothers to examine the facts. Charter schools as a whole, despite claims by Cuomo and by charter special interest groups, have no interest in serving the students who are most in need. In fact some charter schools, as we have seen is the case with Success Academy, actively avoid serving these students. So what is their end-game?

Charter schools such as Success Academy, and their enabling politicians, want to expand their privatized education empires by increasing their ability to skim off the better situated students in public schools. Instead of closing the achievement gap, such a policy, if enacted, would further bifurcate America. What then is the solution?

In a country with almost 14,000 school districts, in a country where private schools exist in order to avoid having students from certain social classes interact at school with students from other social classes, in a country where the courts have made it extremely difficult to enforce schemes designed to establish equitable diversity within schools, we must re-open the national conversation on how to create schools that are a microcosm of our ideal inclusive society. Whatever it takes, from re-thinking housing policy, to sharing tax-revenue across regions, to re-visiting school enrollment systems, we must ensure that schools across America become less segregated, more integrated, and that there is less variability in demographics between schools in geographic proximity.

I spoke at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania on February 10. Originally Lehigh invited me and Michelle Rhee to debate, but after long and fruitless negotiations, she dropped out. (First she wanted a second on the stage; I agreed. Then she wanted a third on the stage; I agreed. Then she said she couldn’t find a third, and she canceled). So I decided to present a mock debate between me and “Mr. Reformer.” Of course, I had all the best lines and more of them; as I explained, that’s what happens to the side that doesn’t show up.


Lehigh made a video, which Is here. If you prefer to read instead of watch, this is a very good summary of the main points.


Lehigh plans to invite Mr. or Ms. Reformer to speak in a future session, in which he or she will get all the good lines.

Frank Breslin, retired teacher of literature and languages, explains to students how to read and enjoy Shakespeare. This is the beginning of a series.

Here is the beginning of his advice:

“The best way to read a play by Shakespeare is to bypass the editor’s introduction and start reading the play itself. Don’t let the editor or anyone else tell you what the play is about, but find out for yourself. “Trust your own judgment and think for yourself!” Let this be your Declaration of Independence. Anything else is building on sand in a world that tells you what to think, or to follow the crowd by not thinking at all.

“It’s important to be your own person when young, because if you routinely rely on the judgment of others, you’ll undermine your belief in yourself and cease to be a person at all. Don’t be dependent on the opinions of others, some of whom will be only too happy to take over your life. When you believe in yourself, you become transformed as a person, take control of your life, and your grades will begin to take care of themselves.

“Some Themes of Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s plays take you out of the comfort zone of a 21st-century American world and set you down in different places and times, where different problems, values, and worldviews prevail. This exposure gives you a broader sense of life’s possibilities and of various ways of being human, in addition to the accustomed American way. It also provides you with a more cosmopolitan frame of reference within which to evaluate the world and the human drama that takes place within it.

“Facing one’s demons, the healing power of art, insight through suffering, the redemptive and destructive power of love, meaninglessness and alienation as ways to finding yourself, the danger of fame, the loneliness of power, ambition and collateral damage, compassion and becoming human, the fragility of human existence, and life without morals are a few of the themes that make up the complex yet fascinating world of Shakespeare as his characters struggle to become who they are despite the setbacks that stand in their way.”

Jeannie Kaplan, who was elected to two terms on the Denver school board, explains here that reform has not worked despite a lavish PR campaign to boast of “results.”

She begins:

“I have been suffering from DPS and “reform” fatigue, hence my recent silence. But several things have occurred that have catapulted me back to my computer: multiple emails from Superintendent Tom Boasberg touting DPS’ success; newspaper stories telling the truth about public education; conversations with real “boots on the ground” DPS educators and parents; and former DPS superintendent, current U.S. Senator Michael Bennet’s somewhat over the top introduction of his childhood friend and current DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg’s appearance at a No Child Left Behind re-authorization panel where the Senator reiterated the DPS success myth. When Senator Bennet finished, committee chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said, “I think that boils down to ‘he [Boasberg] cleaned up after you left.’” To which Senator Bennet responded, “You can’t even know half of the truth.”

Kaplan proceeds to tell the whole truth, not less than half the truth. After ten years of high-stakes testing and charters, achievement gains have been meager. Denver schools are increasingly segregated. The achievement gap has increased. Pension costs have grown, along with debt. Teacher turnover has increased. And local control has been sacrificed as out-of-state money pours in from wealthy individuals and national groups like Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform to elect reformers to the school board.

Read her post to learn the truth that neither Senator Bennett nor Superintendent Boasberg mentioned at the NCLB hearings.

Have you ever wondered what the school day is like for a student in first grade? These are little children, maybe six-years-old.

Katie Lapham teaches first grade in New York City in a low-income school. Read what they do here:

“I administered the first grade benchmarks to my class of 25 students. Pearson’s ReadyGEN ELA assessment was comprised of five multiple choice comprehension questions and five multiple choice vocabulary questions. It also contained a writing question for which students stated an opinion and included a reason (a detail from the text) to support their opinion. While students were given a copy of the realistic fiction reading passage, I was instructed to read it aloud to them three times. From the groans and sighs emitted from my students as I commenced the second reading, I deduced that they didn’t find the passage to be particularly riveting.

“A number of questions and answer choices, which I also read aloud to them, were poorly constructed and confusing. A vocabulary question tricked students by offering large and huge as possible answer choices for What does enormous mean? For one of the comprehension questions – and for the writing piece – students were required to go back to the text to get the answer. I would have lost points on the test if I hadn’t re-read the part of the text that contained the information. Students had to know where to go in the text and they had to be able to both decode and comprehend the paragraph in order to answer the questions correctly.

“As this test was administered in a whole class setting, I found it exasperating trying to make sure the students were paying attention and answering the right question. I observed that some of my strongest readers randomly picked answers – the wrong ones – and theorized that they weren’t paying close attention to the read aloud and/or to the reading of the questions. Only the multiple choice answer choices appeared on the test, not the questions.

“The first grade GO Math! assessment was comprised of 40 multiple choice questions, which I administered over the course of two days. Of the 40 questions, 15 tested skills that students haven’t yet learned. As I alluded to above, giving a test to a group of 25 first graders is emotionally taxing for the teacher. The kids sit together at tables so dividers are needed to prevent cheating. Also, first graders aren’t yet test savvy; some don’t know to consider all four answer choices before choosing the correct one. Multiple choice is NOT a developmentally appropriate method to use in formally assessing six and seven-year-olds. Furthermore, because the test is read to students, teachers must be vigilant to ensure that students are on the right question. For these reasons, I decided to split up the class into three groups for the administration of the GO Math! assessment. While I was testing a small group, laptops occupied the other students. For group three, I had to translate the test into Spanish.”

She assumes that students in affluent districts have time for activities and the arts, not just test prep.

Every so often, I run into someone who says that he or she cannot take seriously the claim that there is such a thing as a “privatization” movement. They think that charter schools are public schools (I do not) and they scoff at any concern about for-profit schools. They say things like, “There have always been for-profit businesses in education, selling tests, textbooks, supplies, etc., why does it matter if some corporations run schools for profit?” In their eyes, corporate reform is innovative and risky, and no one—not even the for-profit corporations—is trying to privatize public education.


To anyone who questions the existence of the privatization movement, I recommend Doug Martin’s “Hoosier School Heist.” Martin is a blogger who holds a Ph.D. in nineteenth century American literature. He is a native of Indiana who is deeply versed in that state’s school politics and its major (and minor) players. His book is eye-opening; actually, his book is eye-popping. It is a no-holds-barred critique of Indiana’s politically and financially powerful privatization movement.


Martin’s critique shows the linkages among the free-marketeers, the Religious Right, and the greedy.


A few examples of his snappy style:


“Academic progress is irrelevant to voucher supporters, for the goal is not to improve schools through competition, as they claim, but to completely dismantle traditional public schools altogether. In fact, those calling for school privatization don’t want to hold anyone with profit motives accountable, as Florida has proven.”


He recognizes that vouchers and charters drain funding from public schools, leaving the latter with fewer teachers, fewer aides, fewer programs—“so for-profit education management companies can take them over with temporary teachers or justify starting charter schools by deeming the neighborhood schools as ‘failing.’”


He sees why Wall Street is involved in the charter industry. “Making money from disasters is a Wall Street specialty, and investors have jumped on the opportunity for school privatization. Besides generating tax-exempt bonds, stocks, and other shady financial gimmicks, school privatization allows big bank CEOs, private equity firm honchos, and hedge fund managers to collect interest on loans to non-unionized charter schools which employ a temporary teacher workforce….Unlike traditional public school boards, charter school boards are unelected, undemocratic, and cloaked in mystery. Their conflicts of interest enable schemes like high rent to waste public education money.”


Martin challenges the corporate-sponsored claims that the public schools are failing to produce a good workforce. He says that Indiana’s newspapers and TV stations “advertise corporate school talking points, portray front group spokespeople as ‘experts,’ and seldom, if ever, question that profit motives and rigged research behind the corporate-sponsored statements that our schools are failing.”


The Republican-dominated legislature has taken steps to cripple the funding of public schools. “To sneak more politically connected for-profit charter schools into Indiana, in 2010 legislators cut $300 million annually from the public school budget and mandated tax caps to purposely ensure the destruction of public schools….Since the state controls the purse strings, Republican lawmakers have purposely bolted in place everything needed to start closing down Indiana schools and expanding for-profit charter schools.”


Martin shows how the overuse of standardized testing has benefited corporate politicians like Mitch Daniels. Not only do they stifle the critical thinking skills needed in a democratic society, not only do they send millions to testing corporations, but they demoralize and drive out good teachers. This too sets public schools up for failure.


One of the valuable aspects of Doug Martin’s book is his careful dissection of the sponsors of corporate reform in Indiana. A key player is called the Mind Trust, which Martin cites as an exemplar of “crony capitalism.” Martin writes:


“The Mind Trust typifies America’s counterfeit political Left. Mouthing the rhetoric of class warfare, civil rights, and female empowerment, the mock liberals at Education Sector, the Center for American Progress, and the New America Foundation, all supportive of the Mind Trust specifically or school privatization in general (and most bringing home six-figure salaries), attack teachers unions and public schools and connive to mount in place a school system based on corporate profit, one which disenfranchises the female teachers and minority and poor students they claim to be helping.”


Martin calls out the enablers of the school privatization movement, such as Eli Lilly and the Lilly Endowment, reliable funders of privatization activities, and of Teach for America and the New Teacher Project, which will recruit the temporary teachers needed for the charters. He cites the power of ALEC in the Indiana legislature, whose members pushed to evaluate teachers by their students’ test scores and to judge colleges of education by the test scores of students taught by their graduates. He provides overviews of the anti-teacher, anti-union, privatization agenda of Stand for Children, DFER (Democrats for Education Reform), the Christian right, the Bradley Foundation, the DeVos family of Michigan, and the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), which promotes charters and vouchers.


Martin doesn’t offer any suggestions about how to combat the well-funded, interconnected organizations that are advancing the privatization agenda. His book contains valuable information about the privatization movement, its goals, its major players, and its strategies. He leaves it to voters to figure out how to save public education in Indiana.


Whether or not you live in Indiana, you should read this book. The major players like DFER and BAEO operate nationally. The activities in Indiana follow a script that is being enacted in many states, probably including yours.


Hoosier School Heist is listed on, or you can obtain a copy by going to the website

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist who writes a column for the Néw York Times, demolishes the “reformers'” claim that bad education is at the root of inequality and economic issues.

He flunks the talking heads and pundits (and by implication, the Néw York Times editorial board, which employs the arguments he debunks) for asserting that schools and teachers are to blame for inequality.

Among other things, he critiques laments about the “skills gap.” If employers want certain skills, they would pay higher wages for those skills.

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?




According to those who were there, about 1,000 parents, educators, and other citizens packed the statehouse in Indianapolis to let the Governor and Legislature know that they support State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, and they don’t want their 1.3 million votes for her to be nullified by petty politics.


Here is a video and text from the Indiana Coalition for Public Education.


Here is Cathy Fuentes Rohwer speaking to the crowd in a riotous speech that had everyone cheering. Cathy wrote a passionate letter that ran on this blog. Cathy said what every teacher and parent knows: “My child is not college-and-career-ready because he is a child!” She also said: “Standards don’t educate children, teachers do!”


Here is the text of her great speech. “We can’t afford a three-tiered system of charters, vouchers, and public. We tried segregation and it didn’t work.”


Here is the video of Phyllis Bush’s wonderful speech.


And if you want even more, here are articles about the rally:…/Disdain-shown-for-Repub…









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.


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