Archives for category: Education Reform

I recently criticized PBS for ignoring the corporate assault on public education (with the exception of Bill Moyers), but the current airing of Ken Burns’ monumental series on “The Roosevelts” is television at its finest. We would not expect to see this seven-part, fourteen-hour series anywhere but on PBS. I sat glued to the television for seven straight nights. What struck me most forcefully was that the three great figures chronicled: Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor–all felt a keen responsibility to stand up to the members of their own class and fight for the majority of Americans. Seeing this was a reminder that no one in high political office today is capable of defying the source of political campaign cash: Wall Street, the billionaires, and the big corporations.


No one has expressed these ideas better than this article by historian Joseph Palermo, which appeared on Huffington Post.


Palermo writes:


By exploring the lives and times of TR, FDR, and ER Burns shows that in our not-so-distant past the governing institutions of this country were actually responsive to the needs and desires of working-class Americans. This superb and moving portrait is a perfect fit for our times. The utter failure of our current “leaders” is glaring by comparison.


Yes, TR was a warmonger, and FDR signed the order that imprisoned innocent Japanese Americans. There are long lists of both presidents’ failures. But we shouldn’t let those flaws bury the fact that both TR and FDR were not afraid to stand up to big corporations and Wall Street if they viewed their actions as damaging to the country. That alone is probably the biggest difference between those leaders of the early decades of the 20th Century and today….


Over the past thirty years, Presidents and Congresses have become so subservient to corporations and Wall Street that the two major political parties are all but indistinguishable.


One of the reasons why our politics have become so volatile and opinion polls show over and over again that our people have nothing but contempt for the whole political class in Washington is the widespread recognition that the plutocrats, CEOs, and Wall Street bankers have effectively seized our governing institutions.


Another subtext for our times of the Burns documentary is the reminder that people who come from the richest .01 percent of Americans don’t have to be total assholes. Unlike the Koch Brothers, or the Waltons, or Representative Darrell Issa (the richest man in the House of Representatives) the Roosevelts didn’t feel they had a class interest in keeping their boots on the necks of America’s working people; they strived to uplift them.


And they saw the federal government not as a bazaar of accounts receivable to vacuum up precious tax dollars for the already rich but as a means to improve the lives of the 99 percent…


Today, when we see Democratic politicians like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo or Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel bludgeoning teachers’ unions while supping at the table of big campaign donors from Wall Street we’re left with the realization that working people have few reliable advocates for their class interests anymore….


Ironically, in the 1990s, when the Democratic Party grew more diverse based on race and gender, it shifted far closer to the Republicans in terms of class. We’ve seen one Democratic president (Bill Clinton) push NAFTA and other “free trade” deals that decimated labor unions; unravel the social safety net in the name of “welfare reform”; and deregulate Wall Street. And we’ve seen another Democratic president (Barack Obama) refuse to send any bankers to jail for the massive fraud they committed in the mortgage markets; choose to beat up teachers’ unions with Arne Duncan’s “Race to the Top”; and accommodate the profiteers inside our health care system.


All of these policies represent a capitulation to the interests of big corporations and Wall Street on the part of Democratic administrations at the expense of their own constituencies. The Burns documentary leaves one wondering what TR or FDR would do regarding these same policies. We’ll never know because history doesn’t work that way. But we can use our imaginations a little and recognize that compared to the responsiveness of the federal government during the Square Deal and New Deal eras, our current crop of “leaders” from both political parties have failed the majority of Americans and in doing so they’ve failed the country.

Another aspect of the Burns documentary is a revealing look at the kind of patriotism that TR, FDR, and ER exhibited throughout their lives. It was a patriotism that recognized that the country is strongest when all Americans had opportunities and the federal government not only helped to uplift them materially, but also protected them from the rapacious predators of the Wall Street ruling class.


Marc Tucker recently published a position paper arguing that our current system of test-based accountability, testing every student every year in grades 3-8, has failed and that we need a new approach. His approach, as Anthony Cody argued, would test at transition points but would still have high stakes and would test more subjects. Tucker wrote a post criticizing Cody and me and arguing that high-stakes testing is necessary to raise test scores and improve education.

Yong Zhao here weighs in with a brilliant response to Tucker, sharply disagreeing with him on the value of high-stakes testing.

Zhao points to Tucker’s inconsistency thus:

“Why does one who condemns test-based accountability system so much want more test-based accountability? The inconsistency exemplified by Marc Tucker does not make sense to me at all. Yet it is widespread so it must make sense in some way. I try to put myself in the shoes of Tucker and other similarly minded people and learned the chain of reasoning underlying their inconsistency:

“Premise #1: Education quality matters to individual and national prosperity.

“Premise #2: Education is a top-down process through which students are instilled the prescribed content and skills (curriculum) deemed universally valuable by some sort of authority.

“Premise #3: Teachers and schools are responsible for the quality of education, i.e., instilling in students the prescribed knowledge and skills.

“Premise #4: How well students master the prescribed knowledge and content is measured by tests.

“Conclusion #1: Thus test scores measure the quality of education, and thus the capacity for individuals and nations to be economically prosperous.

“Conclusion #2: American students have lower test scores on some international tests, thus American schools offer a lower quality education than countries with higher test scores.

“Conclusion #3: Therefore, American teachers must be less effective than their counterparts in other countries.

“Conclusion #4: Therefore, to prepare Americans to succeed in the global economy, American teachers and schools must be held accountable for improving the quality of education, which is to raise test scores (Tucker’s goal: “the only acceptable target for the United States is to be among the top ten performers in the world” [I assume top 10 on the PISA league table]).

“Conclusion #5: Hence we must improve the test-based accountability system, which then leads to higher quality education, which then leads to economic prosperity.

“Bait and Switch

“Marc Tucker’s objection to Anthony Cody’s questioning his assertion that “the economic future of our students will only be guaranteed if we educate them better” is a standard bait-and-switch tactic, playing with the afore-mentioned logic. It starts with the premises. Education is a term that has a positive connotation, but in practice it has many different, sometimes, contradictory, incarnations, in the same way the word “democracy” is used in reality. For example, some of the worst dictatorial countries claim to be democratic. Thus whether education matters to the prosperity of individuals and nations depends entirely on what it means.

He concludes:

“When economies change, as Tucker notes, so fast and on a global scale, it has become even more difficult to predict the skills and knowledge that matters in the future. But one thing seems to be clear. Even if Americans are equipped with the same skills and knowledge as Chinese and Indians, America’s favorite competitors, Americans won’t have an economic advantage simply because it costs much less for these countries to develop the same skills. So more of the same skills and knowledge won’t work, neither will the same education. America does not need a quantitatively better education, it needs a different kind of education.

“There are of course other problems with Tucker’s chain of reasoning; for example, are American teachers truly worse educators than their counterparts in other countries? Again it depends on the definition of education. Is education about test scores? Or is it about cultivating diverse, creative, passionate, and curious innovators and entrepreneurs?

“Tucker has much faith in this plan. “We know this form of accountability will work because it is already working at a national scale in the countries that are outperforming us.” Even if Tucker were right, America will at best outperform the top performing country—China. But is that what we want? My answer is NO and my reasons are in my book ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World.'”

The October 2014 Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup Poll says the following about what the public thinks about teachers. The big news here, in my view, is the dramatic shift in public opinion from favoring to opposing the use of standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. Only 1% was undecided on this question. Those favoring such a policy dropped from 61% to 38%. The public, if this poll is right, understands that value-added measurement is not working and is hurting the teachers in their community’s public schools. The bad news for Teach for America is that the public wants well-prepared, highly-trained teachers in their schools, not inexperienced young college graduates who have not passed through rigorous preparation and screening.



Only 38% of Americans favor using student performance on standardized tests to evaluate teachers, with parents even less supportive (31%). [My comment: Only two years ago, 52% approved using test scores to evaluate teachers; this is a big change in public opinion. The 61% who oppose using student performance on standardized test has increased from 47% in 2012.]


Of three reasons proposed for evaluating a teacher’s performance in the classroom, 77% of Americans said helping teachers improve their ability to teach is a very important reason for evaluating them. But fewer Americans (65%)
said documenting ineffectiveness that can lead to dismissal is a very important reason to evaluate their performance, and 46% said using teacher performance to determine salaries and bonuses is very important.


More than 70% of Americans said new teachers should spend at least a year practice teaching under the guidance of a certified teacher before assuming responsibility for their own classrooms.


More than 80% of Americans said teachers should pass board certification in addition to being licensed to practice, similar to professions like medicine and law.


60% of Americans said entrance requirements into teacher preparation programs should be more rigorous.


64% of public school parents have trust and confidence in the men and women who are teaching children in the public schools, but this percentage declined from 72% in 2013.


57% of Americans would like their child to take up teaching in the public schools as a career. This proportion was lower than when the question was last asked in 2005, when 62% supported teaching as a profession for their child.





As a general rule, to which I have never seen an exception, classroom teachers know more about what is happening in the schools than editorial writers and pundits.


Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times published an editorial chastising critics of Superintendent John Deasy and accusing them of wanting to go back to the “good old days” when the teachers’ union–United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA)—had more influence than it does today.


But this teacher has a different view of the “good old day.” This is a message for Karen Klein, education editorial writer of the Los Angeles Times:


I have been a teacher for over 20 years. Most of my teaching career has been spent in East Los Angeles. Teaching in this community has never been easy. I don’t know what “nostalgia” I’m supposed to feel about the past. If the author had referred to the “good old days” when my classroom was swept, vacuumed and mopped regularly, I might agree. If the good old days meant having a full time librarian, psychologist, speech therapist and other support staff, I might agree. If the “good old days” meant not having brownish water come out of aging pipes most mornings, then I might agree. If the “good old days” meant having all the children’s bathrooms clean and available for over 1,000 students, stocked with soap and toilet paper, I might become nostalgic too. The fact is our learning and working conditions have never been worse. This became evident with the sweltering heat as schools’ primitive air conditioning systems broke down. But the author places no blame on our superintendent. No- it’s “greedy” teachers like me who purchase supplies for my classroom, including small brooms and baby wipes for kids to use. I remember the “good old days” when I didn’t need to purchase my very own roach motels to keep them from infesting learning materials in my closets during the summer and during the school year as a result of kids eating in the classroom. I really “miss” the days when I didn’t have to pay for my own quality professional development in order to keep up with new advances in education. Thank you L.A. Times for taking me back to the ” good old days.”

WOW! Read this!

The revolution is beginning. The reformers are in trouble. People are waking up and catching on.

“Dad Gone Wild” writes about how he loved Punk Rock. He thought he was the only one. No one understood. That was back in 1977.

Now he found himself wondering about education reform. It didn’t feel right to him. He started looking, and he discovered he was not alone.

He writes:

“Then a crazy thing happened. Slowly but surely punk rock began to creep into the mainstream. I can remember the first time I heard the familiar chorus of the Ramones blasting from a car commercial. Iggy Pop music was being used in Carnival Cruise ads. New bands were being formed that sited the forefathers as instrumental in their formation. The truth was beginning to reach people and they were embracing it. It was all very magical and validating.

“I see a similar thing taking place in the world of education. A few years ago when I first started paying attention to education policy it was all about the power of Teach for America, Charter Schools and Choice. These were tenets that never felt right to me but the voices of support were so great I felt like I was missing something. After all Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Wendy Kopp, David Levin and Mike Feinberg are all highly educated individuals who have studied education policy extensively. How could they possibly be wrong? Then I discovered Diane Ravitch.

“Discovering Diane was a feeling akin to the first time I heard a Clash record. Wait a minute there are people that feel like I do who can help formulate these feelings and give them voice? It was awe inspiring and I wanted more. So instead of hanging around record stores I started hanging around Twitter and other social media sites. Instead of discovering the Ramones, Undertones, Replacements and Husker Du, I began to discover Bruce Baker, Gary Rubenstein, Anthony Cody, Edushyster, Crazy Crawfish and Julian Vasquez Heilig. I read, and still do, everything they wrote. I followed the people they followed and my mind once again just began to expand.”

And he joined with other parents and they started fighting for their schools, and they started pushing back against legislation that would hurt their public schools.

“These days it seems everywhere I look there is a parent group or community group pushing back against the reform agenda. People are starting to realize that our schools may need work but they don’t need scrapping. They need us all to get in together and work to improve them. There is realization that schools are a cornerstone of our community and a healthy school translates to a healthy community. They are starting to realize that poverty in America is very real and fighting it is essential to improving our schools. I can not express to you how much it makes my heart sing to see this uprising. If it continues, not only will we improve our schools but we’ll improve our communities.”

WOW! The wheel is turning, the revolution is underway.

Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times wrote a scathing description of the failed implementation of the $1.3 billion iPad boondoggle, which shows poor planning, a thrown-together program that amounted to buying gadgets with no preparation for using them.


“In the first formal evaluation of the troubled iPads-for-all project in Los Angeles schools, only one teacher out of 245 classrooms visited was using the costly online curriculum. The reason, according to the report, was related to the program’s ambition, size and speed.


The analysis found that district staff was so focused on distributing devices that little attention was paid to using iPads effectively in the classroom.


The report, conducted by an outside firm at the request of the school system, was intended to provide an early assessment of the program, which began last year at 47 schools.


Among the issues cited at several schools: high school math curriculum wasn’t provided, efforts to log in and access curriculum were unsuccessful and at least one school said it preferred the district’s own reading program. Four out of five high schools reported that they rarely used the tablets.


“The overarching theme of comments … was that deployment of devices on this scale and pace had never been attempted before in the district, and that [teachers and others] had to learn and adapt as the project unfolded,” the report said.


This view was echoed by many of those the researchers interviewed. The early goal “was to just get the devices out, that was basically it, just get the devices out, use them as quick as possible … there were other goals …. they were talked about but they really didn’t get implemented,” one technical specialist told evaluators.


A district leader who was not identified said: “We didn’t have enough people so everyone was working on deployment … that really, really impacted our professional development [training] rollout, in fact we barely had one because of that.”


The review, conducted by a nine-member team from the Washington, D.C.-based American Institutes for Research, offers a sharp contrast to early pronouncements from the school district on the $1.3-billion effort. In particular, Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy labeled the project “an astonishing success” and officials faulted media reports for suggesting otherwise.


Now, if only the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board would read Howard Blume’s brilliant reporting, maybe they would stop blaming teachers and their union for Deasy’s failures.


Larry Lee is a writer in Alabama who has studied rural schools.


He writes:


“Teacher bashing” has become as common as bugs on a car windshield. It’s just something we’ve come to expect from the misguided and uninformed. However, I do not understand why universities, like Troy University in Alabama, spew venom at educators.

Troy has been around for nearly 130 years and like many regional colleges in the South, was created expressly to train teachers. In fact, it was known as Troy State Teachers College for years. Today they have one of the larger colleges of education in Alabama and have awarded degrees to 2,000 teachers in the past decade.

Yet a few days ago they released a dreadful attempt at scholarship entitled “Reinventing the Alabama K-12 System to Engage More Children in Productive Learning.” Once again we are subjected to a regurgitation of discredited notions about vouchers, charters and the like. The authors are John Merrifield, an economist from San Antonio and Jesse Ortiz, Jr. with the Public Works Department in Houston.

Just out bad is this report? Here is what Bill Mathis with the National Education Policy Center in Colorado said about it?

A quick read indicates that this gentleman is woefully ignorant of the vast body of research literature on educational reforms. The appearance is that he started with his conclusions and then cherry-picked “studies” to support his notions. Witness the very large proportion of papers from pro “reform” authors (with an over-reliance on right wing economists) and the virtual absence of the prominent scholars in the field.

It is a bunch of unsupported claims that go against the substantial body of legitimate research.

He demonstrates a near-religious fealty to market-models even when the evidence is not with him. As generally known, choice schemes and vouchers do no better or worse than TPSs. He claims NAEP is “stagnant” when truth is NAEP scores have been rising for 30 years and are at an all-time high. He dismisses the underfunding of Alabama’s schools and claims money does not matter – except that private schools should get more.

And he misses the literature entirely on instruction, pay schedules, merit pay, money and class size.

It is basically an evidence free screed whose transparent purpose is to pretend the reforms work. If implemented, expect gaps to grow larger. This would be an embarrassment in the research community because it is a political document.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, a week later the director of the Manuel Johnson Center at Troy University put out an article lamenting how Alabama did on the recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce Leaders & Laggards report card (which itself lacks credibility.)

Alabama received an F on this report and the director of the center implies that this is because of unions. What I find interesting is that Alabama is a right-to-work state and does not have teachers unions, while each of the 10 states getting an A for academic achievement have unions.

However, knowing that the Johnson Center receives funding from the ultra-right Koch Brothers Foundation where propaganda always trumps truth, how could one expect real scholarship?

And when you run this rabbit all the way to its hole, here is what you find. If Alabama school kids really are failing, then they must be being taught by failing teachers, who must have gone to failing colleges of education. One of which, in this case, would be Troy University.

In south Alabama we call this, “biting the hand that feeds you.”



Chris in Florida writes in response to the news that Broward County may give as many as 1,500 tests to satisfy a new law that requires tests in every subject and every grade—to evaluate teachers:

“The Florida Legislature is famous for making poor, spur of the moment decisions when passing laws, never thinking through the longterm results and implications.

“If ALEC says do it, they do it and smile broadly while cashing the campaign contribution checks from the lobbyists.

“This time they have overreached by about a mile. School districts in Florida cannot raise taxes to pay for unfunded mandates such as this. The state cut funding under Gov. Scott and shifted much of the education money to charter schools and ‘opportunity’ scholarships for religious private schools.

“We have the ability in this state to pass any constitutional amendment put forth to the voters. That is how we got the Class Size Amendment done.

“I think it is time for us to write an amendment barring the state legislature from micromanaging public schools through unfunded mandates, using school funding to intimidate and coerce districts into abusing children through testing, and requiring legislators to undergo the same kinds of scrutiny and evaluation they force on teachers. It’s time for legislative VAM and weekly civics and law tests.

“Are you with me, Sunshine staters?”

When Kristen Buras read that the leaders of York City, Pennsylvania, were considering turning their schools into an all-charter district, she didn’t think it was a good idea. When she read that all the students in Muskegon Heights, Michigan, had been turned over to for-profit charter operator Mosaica, she thought it was necessary to issue a warning.


This is the comment she left on the blog:


Hmm . . . Mosaica? I’ve been studying the corporate takeover of New Orleans public schools for the past decade. Let me share a story that community members in York City will find relevant to their battle. It comes from the Times-Picayune newspaper and reveals how the board of Lafayette Academy charter school in New Orleans terminated its contract with Mosaica, which was paid $773,000 for the first year of its five-year agreement. Nonetheless, Mosaica failed to arrange appropriate transportation for students; did not organize a repeatedly requested after-school program for students below grade level; and kept the school filthy. The school also lacked copy machines and insurance when the school year began. Through a legal arbitration process, a judgment of $350,000 was issued against Mosaica. Find the story here:


For more on what York City can expect if for-profit operators take over the schools, check out my book Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance, which chronicles the past ten years of “reform” in New Orleans.


I hope this helps.

Stephen Dyer, education policy fellow at Innovation Ohio, has analyzed the latest state report cards. The state’s Governor, John Kasich, is pro-charter, pro-voucher, and pro-market forces. He is no friend to public education. The legislature is the same. They want more schools that are privately managed. As we saw in a post yesterday, Ohio has a parent trigger law, and (as I posted yesterday) the State Education Department has hired StudentsFirst (founded by Michelle Rhee) to inform parents in Columbus about their right to convert their low-performing public school to a charter or hand it over to a charter management organization. Given the statistics in this post, the odds are that the parents will turn their low-performing public school into an even lower-performing charter school, with no hope of escape.


Yet when the state report cards came out, public schools overwhelmingly received higher grades than charter schools. Dyer explains in this post that “The Ohio Report Cards are now all out, and the news is worse for Ohio’s embattled Charter Schools than it was last year. Charter Schools received more Fs than As, Bs and Cs combined. Their percentage of Fs went up from about 41% last year to nearly 44% this year.” Think of it, nearly half the charters in the state earned an F grade, yet the state wants MORE of them.


Dyer also found that the public schools in the Big 8–Ohio’s urban districts–face more challenges than charters, yet still outperform the urban charters. He writes:


In further analyzing the Ohio Report Card data released today, schools in Ohio’s Big 8 urban centers (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown) scored higher on their performance index score (the closest thing Ohio has to an overall performance assessment at this point) than Charter Schools, despite having substantially higher percentages of children who were economically disadvantaged. A staggering 51% of Big 8 urban buildings have more than 95% of their students designated as economically disadvantaged (the Ohio Department of Education only says buildings have “>95.0″ if their economic disadvantaged number is higher than 95%).


So, despite having more than half their buildings with, for all intents and purposes, all their kids economically disadvantaged, Ohio’s Big 8 urban buildings actually perform better, on average, than Ohio’s Charter Schools, which were originally intended to “save” children from “failing” urban buildings.


Dyer also notes that “Of the top 200 PI [Performance Index] scores, 10 are Charters, 190 are districts. Of the bottom 200 PI scores, 21 are districts and 179 are Charters.”


When Dyer looked at Value-Added Measures for districts, the public school districts still outperformed charters, showing more test score growth than charters.


The puzzle in these results is why Ohio policymakers–the Governor and the Legislature–want more charters. The answer, as we have observed again and again, is that sponsors and advocates for charters make large political contributions to elected officials. They have become a potent special interest group. This is a case where results don’t matter.


The question is, who will save poor children from failing charter schools? Or will Ohio recklessly continue to authorize more charter schools without regard to the performance of the charter sector?


I should point out here, as I have in the past, that I think school report cards with a single letter grade, is one of the stupidest public policy ideas in the “reform” bag of tricks. There is no way that a letter grade can accurately reflect the work of a complex institution or the many people in it. Think of a single child coming home from school with a report card that contained only one letter, and it gives some notion of what a simplistic idea it is to grade an entire school in this way. Nonetheless, this is the system now in use in many states (pioneered by the master of ersatz reform, Jeb Bush), so I report what the state reports.






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