Archives for category: Education Reform

Peter Greene posts his birthday thoughts, recycling a newspaper column from a few years back, before he became a nationally known blogger.

His advice: Live specifically. Your life is not generic. You are more than a data point. Live that one life that is yours alone.

In closely-watched primary races in Philadelphia, pro-public education candidates won in Philadelphia. Helen Gym, a fierce fighter for public schools, won the Democratic nomination for City Council. She was endorsed by the Network for Public Education.

This is a report from the AFT:

PHILADELPHIA—Statement from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on the Philadelphia primary election. Weingarten was in Philadelphia today, visiting phone banks and polling locations as part of our get-out-the-vote efforts. Our rank and file understood the stakes in this election and demonstrated it over and over again, as did the AFT and its affiliates, which together committed more than $1 million to ensure that Philadelphia’s working families have elected leaders who have their backs.

“The people of Philadelphia have spoken: Block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, across all racial, ethnic and class lines, they nominated Jim Kenney for mayor and Helen Gym for city council. The votes last November and again tonight were a clear rebuke to the agenda of former Gov. Tom Corbett, the billionaires from Susquehanna and the unelected members of the School Reform Commission, who want to undermine public education by demonizing teachers, starving districts and closing neighborhood public schools. Education was the No. 1 issue for voters, and in Kenney and Gym, voters nominated two leaders who have proven that they’ll make public education a top priority for the city too. We congratulate Jim Kenney and Helen Gym—two fierce advocates for children who will champion a public education system that the citizens of Philadelphia so richly deserve.

“For months, our members have been knocking on doors and making calls. We’ve placed ads and sent mail and put polls in the field. It’s been a phenomenal effort. But that work doesn’t end with one vote. Today, in voting yes on ballot question 1, the people of Philadelphia sent a clear message to Kenney, to Gym and to all of the nominees: We want the future of Philadelphia’s schools to be in the hands of Philadelphians. Now, it’s up to all of us to get to work.”

Bianca Tanis, teacher and parent in the public schools of Néw York, is an active member of NYSAPE, a large group of parents and educators.

In this post, she asks whether the Chancellor of New York’s Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, violated the law by writing a letter to Governor Cuomo expressing her policy views without consulting other members of the Board.

If she did, Tanis argues, she should step down.

The letter in question was Chancellor Tisch’s response to Jim Malatras, Governor Cuomo’s director of state operations. It contained a series of recommendations that soon became the basis of the Governor’s “reform” plan.

Tanis writes:

“On December 31st, 2014, Chancellor Merryl Tisch responded to Jim Malatras and the Governor with a twenty-page letter co-signed by Elizabeth Berlin as “Acting Commissioner of Education” although her tenure in this position would not begin for several days. In her response, Chancellor Tisch outlined recommendations that the Governor eliminate the use of locally selected measures in teacher evaluations in favor of a significant increase on the reliance on state test scores, increase the powers of the state to close struggling schools and implement a receivership model, maintain Mayoral control in NYC, implement financial incentives for high performing teachers, and increase the teacher probationary period from 3 to 5 years.

“Chancellor Tisch began her response by writing, “The Board of Regents agrees that one of the State’s most important obligations is educating our children” and “…the Board of Regents and the State Education Department (“SED” or “the Department”) appreciate the opportunity to opine on the issues raised in your letter…”

“It seems clear that Chancellor Tisch made the reasonable presumption that a letter addressed to the leader of a democratically elected, 17 member board tasked with overseeing public education in NYS sought the input of the entire Board of Regents, not private citizen Merryl Tisch. This presumption is also evidenced by Chancellor Tisch’s use of Board of Regents letterhead and the inclusion of her letter on the NYS Department of Education’s website.

“Given the serious nature of the questions posed by the Governor (who only months before characterized public education as a “monopoly” that he vowed to break) and the jarring recommendations contained in Tisch’s response, one might presume that the Chancellor had consulted with her fellow Regents before responding on their behalf.

“However, in keeping with what seems to be a pattern of blatant disregard for transparency, the principles of democracy and the concerns of the public, it appears that Chancellor Tisch failed to confer with her fellow Regents when crafting her response and recommendations on their behalf, recommendations made devoid of any basis in research or scholarship and without any chance for public input or debate. To date, there is not a single mention of the Jim Malatras’ December 18th letter or Chancellor Tisch’s December 31st response in ANY Board of Regents agenda or meeting summary.

“This raises some troubling questions. Did Chancellor Tisch violate the procedural rules that govern the Board of Regents? And even more troubling, did the Chancellor violate open meeting laws stipulated in Article 7 of the Public Officer’s Law which state:

“It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of and able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.”

Three weeks later, Governor Cuomo said in his State of the State address that he had asked the State Education Department for its recommendations and was acting upon them. He obviously was referring to the Tisch-Berlin letter.

Did Tisch and not-yet acting commissioner Berlin express their personal views? Or did the letter express the openly discussed and agreed-upon views of the Regents as a whole?

Apparently Chancellor Tisch wrote as an individual. Tanis writes:

“Although Chancellor Tisch speaks from the perspective of “The Board” several times in her letter, Tisch expressed to the media that her letter was not meant to represent the positions of the entire Board of Regents. Chancellor Tisch is quoted as saying; “I was asked a set of very direct questions…The letter was directed to me.”

Tanis believes that the Chancellor usurped the authority of the Board of Regents without their knowledge or permission to advocate for flawed policies.

Tanis concludes:

“Despite hundreds of thousands of letters, emails and phone calls from parents, despite dozens of rallies and forums protesting the over-emphasis on state test scores and decrying the harmful effects on our children, despite a massive test refusal movement, despite overwhelming evidence that test-based accountability systems do not lead to increased academic achievement, and despite the fact that the achievement gap for students in poverty, students of color and students with disabilities has widened since the implementation of Common Core state assessments, Chancellor Tisch usurped the voice of her fellow board members and instructed the Governor to double down on the misuse of these flawed tests.

“Chancellor Tisch’s disregard for the concerns of parents and her attempts to steer public education outside of the democratic process must end. The Chancellor must step down and make room for those who will lead with integrity and protect our children from a political agenda that renders them collateral damage. Failing Chancellor Tisch’s willingness to step down, her fellow Regents and members of the Legislature must call for her to be stripped of her Chancellorship and for an immediate inquiry into the ethics and legality of her actions.”

Bianca Tanis is an elementary special education teacher and public school parent in New York’s Hudson Valley. Bianca is a co-founder of New York State Allies for Public Education, which is allied with over 50 parent and education organizations across New York State. She is a frequent blogger on educational topics and speaks at education forums across New York State. As a special education teacher and a parent of a child with special needs, Bianca has been an outspoken critic of both high stakes testing and the Common Core Learning Standards and has worked to raise awareness of the devastating effects that these reforms have had on all children, but in particular, students with disabilities and English language learners.

Leonie Haimson and Diane Ravitch

Patrick Sullivan and Monica Major

Emily Horowitz and Cynthia Wachtell

invite you to

Class Size Matters Annual “Skinny” Awards Dinner

When: Tuesday, June 9 at 6:30 PM
Where: Il Bastardo/Bocca Di Bacco
191 7th Ave (21st St)
New York, NY 10011

A fundraiser for Class Size Matters

Please join us to honor the New York leaders of the Opt-Out Movement

Change the Stakes

NYC Opt-out

NY State Allies for Public Education

An opportunity to enjoy a four course dinner with wine

And to celebrate three organizations that led a historic movement resulting in 200,000 students refusing to take the NY state tests this year !

Tickets: $250 – Defender of Public Education

$150 – Patron

$75 – Supporter

To buy tickets please click here or here:

This is the story of the destruction of John McDonogh High School in New Orleans. Once a community hub, it was taken over in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Students, alumni, and community members have repeatedly appealed, demonstrated, and gone to the state board to seek the return of the school as a public school. They have been stymied and rebuffed again and again by State Superintendent John White and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. This post is a chronology of events at John McDonogh, from 2005 to the present. Those in the local community who remember what the school was continue to fight for its revival.

At one point, John White promised to consider a plan but then abruptly turned the school over to Steve Barr, who long ago created the Green Dot charter chain and then started a new charter chain called the Future is Now (FIN). Oprah filmed a show about Barr’s new charter school in New Orleans and promised to follow what she was sure would be the miraculous transformation of a “failing school” into a great charter school. Scores plummeted at John McDonogh under FIN, and the charter left town.

Students, parents, and alumni again returned to the state board, pleading for their school to be turned back into a public school. Again, they were rebuffed by a board stacked with charter-friendly, TFA-friendly members. The member who was most consequential in rejecting the community was Kira Orange-Jones, who was elected to the board while she was executive director for TFA in the state. The expansion of charter schools in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and elsewhere depends on the continuing flow of inexperienced TFA corps members who are happy to work 60-70 hours a week and leave after two or three years.

What you will see as you read this account is a remarkable number of overlapping relationships, conflicts of interests, and collusion among “reform” groups to disempower the local community and keep control far away from them.

The post reminds me of Kristen Buras’ study of New Orleans titled “Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance.” Buras documented the fact that New Orleans public schools were underfunded before the hurricane in 2005. Once the district was taken over by the state, money began to flow by the tens–maybe hundreds– of millions from the federal government and philanthropies. The more charters, the more outside money. Charters were never underfunded.

In the latest round over the future of John McDonogh High School, the Recovery School Board decided to turn it into a charter elementary school “focusing on engineering and exploration.” The friends and alumni of John Mac lost again. They plan to appeal the decision. What are their chances? The powerful in Louisiana do not want any public schools in New Orleans.

This statement was written by the board of the Network for Public Education:

“Baltimore Uprising”

The death of Freddie Gray while in police custody is a national tragedy. We support his family and the millions nationwide who call for justice in his case. We support the thousands who have peacefully joined protests for justice. The national media coverage of the Baltimore uprising continues to sensationalize the violent responses of some of those protesting while ignoring the thousands of people across the country peacefully gathering to demand an end to violence inflicted upon our communities.

We will watch intently the outcome of the charges filed yesterday against six police officers allegedly involved in the death of Freddie Gray.

However, the pursuit of justice must not be isolated to this single case. Cries for justice should not only surround Gray’s killing, but also include many people of color who are disproportionately targeted, arrested, and killed by police across the nation.

We also seek justice and fairness for millions of students who are subject to inequitable treatment in our nation’s schools. At the Network for Public Education, we fight for strong public schools and the right of all students, current and future, to receive a quality education.

Notably, across the United States, there are educators implementing restorative justice practices in schools to build affinity and de-escalate tensions before they lead to additional violence and a school-to-prison pipeline. Schools often exacerbate the criminalization and dehumanization of our youth, but they can and must be part of the solution.

At our recent national conference, many spoke on the need for communities of color and education organizations to coalesce to fight for social justice. Some spoke on the need for us to address racial injustice and inequities more directly. We encourage our members and educators everywhere to teach, discuss and learn with and from our students about these issues.

We stand with the people of Baltimore crying out for a nation to see their pain from persisting injustice and inequality. We stand with the students of Baltimore who live in a school system inequitably funded and resourced, who have expressed to the nation that they feel oppressed and ignored.

In this interview with Peter Cunningham, EduShyster gains his insights into the current thinking of the billionaire reformers.


Peter Cunningham was Arne Duncan’s communications director during Duncan’s first term. In Washington, he was known as “Arne’s Brain.” He is smart, charming, and well-spoken. So far as I know, he was never a teacher, but that is not a qualification these days for holding strong views about fixing the public schools. Cunningham is now back in Chicago. He started a blog called “Education Post,” which was funded with $12 million from the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and an anonymous philanthropy. Its goal, proclaimed at the outset, was to introduce a more civil tone into education debates and to advance certain ideas: “K-12 academic standards, high-quality charter schools, and how best to hold teachers and schools accountable for educating students.” Translated, that means it supports Common Core standards, charter schools, and high-stakes testing for teachers, as well as school closings based on testing.


You might say it is on the other side of almost every issue covered in this blog, as Ed Post praises “no-excuses” charter schools, standardized testing, Teach for America, and other corporate-style reforms.


EduShyster asked Cunningham if he feels the blog is succeeding, and he cites Nicholas Kristof’s recent column–admitting the failure of most reform efforts and the need to focus on early childhood programs–as an example of progress. When she pressed him about his “metrics” for “betterness,” he replies:


Cunningham: I think that an awful lot of people on the reform side of the fence are thrilled by what we’re doing. They really feel like *thank God somebody is standing up for us when we get attacked* and *thank God somebody is willing to call out people when they say things that are obviously false or that we think are false.* When I was asked to create this organization—it wasn’t my idea; I was initially approached by Broad—it was specifically because a lot of reform leaders felt like they were being piled on and that no one would come to their defense. They said somebody just needs to help right the ship here. There was a broad feeling that the anti-reform community was very effective at piling on and that no one was organizing that on our side. There was unequivocally a call to create a community of voices that would rise to the defense of people pushing reform who felt like they were isolated and alone.


EduShyster: That expression you see on my face is incredulity. But please go on sir. I want to hear more about the isolation and alone-ness of people pushing reform. How they are faring today?


Cunningham: Take Kevin Huffman. Now you can disagree with him on policy, but he felt like people were waking up everyday and just attacking him on social media. He tried to respond, and he just felt like it didn’t matter. By 2012-2013, Team Status Quo—your label not mine—was very effectively calling a lot of reform ideas into question. I mean look around the country. Huffman’s gone, John King is gone, John Deasy is gone, Michelle Rhee is gone. I’ve created the ability to swarm, because everyone felt like they were being swarmed. We now have people who will, when asked, lean in on the debate, when people feel like they’re just under siege.


There is much in this interview that is fascinating, but most interesting to me is that the billionaires, who have unlimited resources were “feeling isolated and alone.” They felt they were “being piled on and that no one would come to their defense.” They needed to hire bloggers to defend them.


This is indicative, I think, of the fact that social media is very powerful, and those who oppose the “reformers” own social media. The pro-public education voices are in the millions–millions of teachers, principals, parents, and students. The billionaire reformers hire thousands. Whether you consider the more than 200 bloggers who are part of the Education Bloggers Network, which advocates for public education, or consider Twitter and Facebook, the critics of billionaire-backed reform and privatization are many, are outspoken, and command a huge forum. No wonder the billionaires are feeling lonely and isolated. They can create astroturf organizations like StudentsFirst, Education Reform Now, 50CAN, TeachPlus, Educators4Excellence, and dozens more groups, but it is typically the same people running a small number of organizations and issuing press releases.


Is it time to feel sorry for the billionaires?


Be sure to read the comments that follow the interview.








A comment on the blog:


I attended a forum at Scarsdale HS last night (4/30) w panelists Regent Judith Johnson, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, and Scarsdale Schools Superintendent Hagerman.


Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Regent Rosa attended but did not participate.


All panelists spoke to the problems with the state tests and there was general consensus that the tests have no value as a measure of students’ abilities or teacher competencies, that they are a burden to students because test prep takes time away from project-based and other learning and are unnecessarily stressful for children, and are a financial burden to districts.


One of the most interesting comments from Judith Johnson was in response to questions from members of the audience who expressed frustration at not being heard by Albany.


Ms Johnson firmly insisted that parents and opponents to current testing and CC ARE being heard.


HOWEVER, she said that what hasn’t been put forward – what hasn’t be heard – are clear, unified demands and requests for specific changes.


Can you lead us forward in that?


What specific requests should individuals and groups demand of the the Regents, state DOE, Cuomo, and federal government?


Ms Johnson also expressed serious concerns that the State Regents do not having sufficient support staff-experiencing this already and only thirty days into the position. One can certainly see how that could limit her activities and scope of influence. Any thoughts?


There’s much more that I’m leaving out. The event will air on Scarsdale public access TV in next few days.


I’m curious to hear your thoughts.




Mira Karabin
Hartsdale, NY


Dear Mira,


Thanks for writing. Your first question is whether the people in Albany are aware of your concerns. The answer is yes and no. They definitely notice when the parents of nearly 200,000 children refused to take the state test.


Governor Cuomo heard you. He pronounced that you shouldn’t be worried because the tests are “meaningless” and won’t count against your children; they will be meaningful only for teachers, who will be punished if the scores don’t go up by whatever metric the state chooses.


Merryl Tisch heard you. She offered to delay the stakes attached to the testing for a year for some districts, on a case-by-case basis, or to exempt high-performing districts like yours.


But they didn’t actually hear you because they didn’t hear what parents were saying when they opted out. They are not offering to disconnect the scores from teacher evaluations. They are not agreeing to reduce the stakes attached to the tests. They are not offering to review the validity or reliability of the tests. They are not offering any substantive change at all, at best just a delay.


They don’t understand that pressuring teachers to get higher scores–or else–changes what happens in the classroom. It shifts the emphasis from inquiry to drill. It makes test-taking skills more important than thinking skills. It narrows the curriculum only to what is tested. It is contrary to good education, which is why private schools don’t follow the state’s lead. I think it is accurate to say that the leaders and decision-makers in Albany, including the Governor, his staff, most of the Regents, and those at the top of the State Education Department are wedded to an agenda that confuses test scores with education. Tests are a measure not the goal of education. There is also, at the highest level, an inexplicable contempt for the work of teachers and principals. And your children suffer for their ill-conceived policies.


Yes, there are specific, clear demands, voiced by New York State Allies for Public Education. Among other things, they demand “a dramatic reduction of testing in grades 3rd – 8th,” and a call to Congress to shift from annual testing to grade span testing. They also demand an independent review of the state’s standards and a “public and transparent process” for selecting the new state commissioner of education. They say, do not release any personally identifiable data about any student to any third party without parental consent. Check out their list of demands.


I would add a few more.


Reduce the time required for state testing (currently 7-10 hours) to not more than 2 hours, one for reading, one for math.


Convene a task force of independent and qualified testing experts to review the validity and reliability of the state tests.


Release the state tests after they are administered so that parents, teachers, and researchers can learn from them.


Provide teachers with information specific to each child so they will know how to help them do better in the future.


These are clear and specific demands. I think they fairly represent the views of those who refused the tests. If the Governor, the Legislature, and the Regents refuses to change their agenda, more parents will opt out next time. Ideally, there will come a day when no one takes these tests, which have not been reviewed for their validity and reliability and which are kept secret from teachers and parents. How many pineapples might be hidden in the questions? Why shouldn’t teachers learn what students got right or wrong?


I hope this is helpful.





The Indiana Legislature and Governor Mike Pence can’t accept the fact that Glenda Ritz got more votes in the 2012 election than any of them. They want to crush her. Would they do this to a man? Maybe, who knows? But they are certainly acting the role of bully.


They have worked out a “compromise” proposal: not to take away her office (as they would like to do) but to allow her to remain as State Superintendent of Schools until the next election in 2016. At that point, the state board (appointed mostly by Governor Pence) would choose its own chair. Meanwhile, the legislature and the governor have created another agency to manage education, and transferred most of the powers of the State Education Department to the governor’s hand-picked agency.


These men are petty, spiteful, and anti-democratic.


I have an idea: Ritz for Governor in 2016. Liberate Indiana from these yahoos.

There will be a very important meeting tonight in Pittsburgh to learn about the crucial school board meeting.

Be there if you care about public education!

“School Board Town Hall Forum

“You believe in good school boards, right? You’re voting in the primary on May 19th, right? With 4 of 9 school board seats on the ballot, Pittsburgh voters will be electing several new faces – and the new board of directors will be making some pretty big decisions. They will choose the next Superintendent. They will approve budgets and potentially make decisions about school closures and new charter school applications. They will set policies that impact school climate, learning conditions, student discipline, restorative justice practices, and high-stakes-testing, among many other things.

“So it matters who you elect to the school board! Please come to the Town Hall Forum tomorrow to meet the candidates and ask them your questions. Wednesday, April 29th from 5:30 – 7:30 pm at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Hicks Memorial Chapel (616 N Highland Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206). Kevin Gavin from 90.5 FM (WESA) will be our moderator. There’s free parking, refreshments, and childcare is available if you RSVP to What more could you ask for?

“This is civic engagement 101. Please be there and be a part the decisions that will shape the future of our public schools for years to come.”


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