Archives for category: Education Reform

Yesterday Rick Hess  posted his “Edu-Scholar Rankings,” in which he and a committee  of advisors tallied up multiple measures (not test scores!) and ranked the university-affiliated scholars who are most influential in the public arena. The rankings are based on the number of mentions on Google Scholar, highest Amazon ranking, education press mentions, book points (how many books one authored or co-authored), web mentions, Klout ranking, newspaper mentions, Congressional Record mentions. He describes the rubric and lists his advisors here. Linda Darling-Hammond and I finished up in the top two slots, in a dead heat. Third was Howard Gardner. Then Gary Orfield, Paul Peterson, Andy Hargreaves, David Berliner, Larry Cuban, Yong Zhao, Gene V. Glass. That’s the top 10. It is interesting that only one of the top 10 (Paul Peterson) is a prominent advocate for test-based accountability and choice.

 

So, being the critical thinker that I am, I wonder if it is true that the other nine–myself included–are influencing public opinion. We certainly are ignored by policymakers at the U.S. Department of Education. I don’t see any national policies based on the work of Linda, me, Gary Orfield (his passion–desegregation–has been forgotten), Yong Zhao, Howard Gardner, Andy Hargreaves, Gene Glass, David Berliner, or Larry Cuban.

 

Maybe there is some metric that is missing from Rick Hess’s rating system. Whom does Arne Duncan listen to? Who has the ear of the President and Bill Gates? Those are the men who make national policy. Who influences them?

G.F. Brandenburg has a short post on the horrific massacre of the staff at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Killing journalists and cartoonists because they offended your religious or political beliefs is a threat to free expression and democracy. In a democracy, we should combat words with words, not bullets. Unfortunately, not everyone knows that. It has been a very dangerous time for journalists around the world–in Syria, Russia, Mexico, now France.

Please see the cartoons that Brandenburg includes in his post. The first one shows the irreverent spirit of Charlie Hebedo.

New York State Allies for Public Education wrote a research-based response to a letter written on behalf of Governor Cuomo by his director of state operations Jim Malatras. The letter makes incisive points that are relevant to every state and every district in the nation, so I am posting it in full. Please open the post to see the links to research.

 

 

NYS Allies for Public Education
January 5, 2015

 

Dear Governor Cuomo,

 

We, the undersigned members of NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), are writing in response to the December 18th letter to the Commissioner and Chancellor that Mr. Malatras wrote on your behalf. By responding to the questions posed, we want to separate fact from misinformation. We are also very troubled by several questions that were not included in your letter which continues to demonstrate a disconnect between your office and the public.

 

We strongly believe in the importance and power of public education for all children. While the vast majority of our students are successful, we cannot rest until our struggling students are supported and given the needed resources to be successful.

 

Unfortunately, you have based your vision of school reform on a misguided agenda. That agenda includes ineffective strategies for school improvement. If current policies are not corrected, more state resources will be wasted and our students’ futures will be put at even more risk.

 

Let’s start at the beginning of the letter. The New York State Education Department (NYSED) has established capricious and inaccurate measures of proficiency and college readiness. The proficiency rates that are quoted in the letter (34.8% and 31.4%) reflect arbitrary cut scores set by Commissioner King in 2013. In 2012, proficiency rates in ELA and Math were 55% and 65% by the cut scores set by then-Commissioner Steiner, based on a college readiness study that he commissioned in 2010. Prior to 2010, proficiency rates were higher still under Commissioner Mills. In short, proficiency is an arbitrarily defined standard, and there is good evidence to suggest that NYSED has now set the Common Core standards unreasonably high, for political rather than pedagogical reasons.

 

We understand that you believe that over the past four years “much has been done to improve public education.” We disagree. Our high school graduation rate has barely budged since 2011, and the percentage of students earning a Regents diploma with Advanced Designation has been stagnant for several years and decreased this year. During the past four years, the graduation rate for the state’s English Language learners has dropped by 6 percentage points.

 

The Common Core proficiency rates were essentially flat between year one and two of the new tests (as were the rates on the final two years of the prior test) and our state’s SAT scores have decreased since 2010. In short, although we have engaged in four years of market-based corporate reforms—expansion of charter schools, evaluating teachers by student scores, imposing the Common Core standards and more time-consuming, and developmentally inappropriate tests–there is no evidence that New York schools are improving, and there is some evidence that results are moving backward instead. We believe that there is sufficient evidence to change course.

 

Clearly the public agrees. The 2014 Times Union/Siena College poll indicates that 46% of New Yorkers oppose the implementation of the Common Core standards, compared to only 23% who support them, while 46% oppose the current use of standardized testing, compared to 29% who support it. We believe it is time to listen to your constituents, rather than double-down on damaging policies that are hurting our children. It is our intent, by answering the questions that your office posed, to help you advocate for a better and wiser course in the months ahead.

 

Question 1

 

How is current teacher evaluation system credible when only one percent of teachers are rated ineffective? The NYC system was negotiated by Commissioner King directly and no one claims it is an accurate reflection of the reality of the state of education in NYC. What should the percentages be between classroom observations (i.e. subjective measures) and state assessments, including state tests (i.e. objective measures)? What percent should be set in law versus collectively bargained? Currently, the scoring ·bands and “curve” are set locally for the 60 percent subjective measures. What should the scoring bands be for the subjective measure and should the state set a standard scoring band? In general, how would you change the law to construct a rigorous state-of-the-art teacher evaluation system?

 

The first question implies that the teacher evaluation system called Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), which you insisted be quickly adopted, is deeply flawed. We strongly agree. When it was put in place, over one third of the principals of New York State signed a well-documented letter explaining why APPR would have negative consequences for students and harm the profession of teaching. Since that time, the evidence against evaluating teachers by test scores has only increased.

 

The New York State School Boards Association recently passed a resolution against the use of student test scores for teacher and principal evaluations, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals has also disavowed their use for this purpose. In April of 2014, the American Statistical Association clearly outlined how unreliable this methodology is. Opposition to the evaluation of teachers by test scores is growing among parents as well, with only 31% approving of the practice in national polls.

 

Your question implies that test-score based evaluations are good because they are “objective”—that is, generated by an algorithm devised by the New York State Education Department. We strongly suggest that you review the evidence—just because a number can be generated based on other numbers does not make it a valid measure of performance. To revise APPR to give more weight to test scores would be a grave mistake.

 

You seem troubled that only 1 in 100 teachers were found to be incompetent, according to the APPR evaluation system. Do you have research that indicates that the number should be higher or lower? We strongly suggest that you return the decision on how to evaluate teachers to local education officials and each community’s elected school board. Your recent veto of your own Common Core APPR bill demonstrates that your office does not have a clear understanding of teacher evaluation, and the problems associated with Common Core testing. Albany bureaucrats should not be in the business of designing evaluation systems and arbitrarily determining what acceptable outcomes for each district should be.

 

Question 2

 

How would you address the problem of removing poor-performing educators when the current 3020-a process makes it virtually impossible to do so? Likewise, how would you change the system in New York City where poor-performing educators, with disciplinary problems, continue to be paid in the absent teacher reserve pool as opposed to being terminated?

 

No one wants incompetent teachers in the classroom. Tenure assures due process, not a job for life. You have been misinformed if you believe that the removal of teachers using the 3020a process is impossible.

 

The 3020a proceeding, which was streamlined in 2012, can lead to the termination of a teacher in 125 days or less. Teachers can be terminated for insubordination, immoral character, conduct unbecoming a teacher, inefficiency, incompetency, physical or mental disability, neglect of duty, or the failure to maintain certification.

 

Most experts say the real crisis in teacher quality, specifically in our high needs districts, is teacher turnover. According to a study of New York City schools by researchers Ronfeldt, Loeb, and Wycoff, “teacher turnover has a significant and negative impact on student achievement in both math and ELA. Moreover, teacher turnover is particularly harmful to the achievement of students in schools with large populations of low-performing students of color.”

 

We will not attract and retain the most talented teachers, especially in high-needs schools, by removing their right to due process.

 

Question 3

 

What changes would you make to the teacher training and certification process to make it more rigorous to ensure we recruit the best and brightest teachers? Do you agree that there should be a one-time competency test for all teachers currently in the system? What should be done to improve teaching education programs across the state?

 

We also want “best and the brightest” to be recruited to teaching, which happens by making the profession more attractive to highly talented people who have a desire to commit their lives to guiding and instructing children.

 

Since 2012 and the onset of “reform”, teacher morale is at a 20 year low. New reports have shown that there has been a dramatic drop in enrollment in teacher preparation programs—with a 22% decline in New York State in just the last two years. This suggests that the overwhelmingly negative rhetoric targeted to teachers and the assignment of blame for any and all problems in the way our schools are run have made the profession far less attractive. If the current trends continue, there will soon be a critical shortage of teachers, especially in STEM, special education and foreign languages –areas in which it is already very difficult to find sufficient candidates.

 

If you are interested in advancing teacher education programs, practicing educators should be surveyed, especially recent graduates, to ascertain how their preparation could have been improved. The idea that the quality of a teacher education program can be assessed by using the student test scores of its graduates is even more unreliable than evaluating teacher quality by means of student test scores. Likewise, creating a single high-stakes “test” to weed out practicing teachers is a gimmick, not a sound basis for judgment.

 

Question 4

 

What financial or other incentives would you provide to high-performing teachers and would you empower administrators to make those decisions?

 

The idea that teachers should be financially rewarded when their students receive high test scores has been proposed for decades, despite the fact that numerous studies have shown that merit pay does not work, including a recent three year study conducted by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University.

 

Merit pay would be a waste of taxpayer dollars that would be far better spent on proven reforms.

 

Question 5

 

Do you think the length of a teacher’s probationary period should be extended and should the state create a program whereby teachers have to be recertified every several years, like lawyers and other professions? What other changes would you propose to the probationary period before a teacher is granted tenure?

 

New York State has a rigorous pathway for teacher certification. In order to earn Initial Certification, a candidate must be awarded a bachelor’s degree, pass no fewer than three certification exams, spend a semester of mentored student teaching with a certified educator, pass a written exam, and complete the performance –based assessment known as the edTPA.

 

In order to maintain teaching certification and progress to the required Professional Certification, teachers must have 3 years of satisfactory teaching experience, including one year of mentoring. Additionally, they must earn a Master’s Degree. Once teachers have completed all of these requirements and obtained their Professional Certificate, they must accrue 175 hours of additional professional development every five years.

 

A three-year probationary period during which they are frequently observed and given feedback from principals and other certified observers provides ample opportunity for a school district to assess an educator’s professionalism, growth and ability to incorporate best practices into his or her instruction. It is not unusual for that probationary term to be extended to four or even five years if there are doubts that sufficient progress has not been made. During probation, many struggling teachers leave the profession through the resignation process, so that fewer need to be formally dismissed.

 

Although teachers are not required to undergo recertification, they are required to engage in ongoing professional development and yearly evaluations, which is comparable or goes beyond the requirements of other, high level professions. Local school districts should be encouraged to continue to develop robust programs and protocols to monitor and support both new and veteran teachers.

 

Question 6

 

What steps would you take to dramatically improve priority or struggling schools that condemn generation of kids to poor educations and thus poor life prospects? Specifically, what should we do about the deplorable conditions of the education system in Buffalo?

 

The current practice of shutting down schools that are deemed failing is not an effective long-term strategy. Replacement schools usually do not serve the students in the so-called failing school. These displaced students then remain in a phase-out school with fewer resources, and drop out, or are displaced to another school, with an even higher concentration of at-risk students, thus continuing the cycle of school failure and closure.

 

Your question is based on the false assumption that schools are solely responsible for the outcomes of poor and disadvantaged students. Neither high-stakes testing, the Common Core, or the continual closing of schools can fix the systemic problems of our high-needs schools. NY State has one of the most inequitable funding systems in the nation, despite the decision of the state’s highest court in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that the funding system should be reformed. You have refused to address this inequity–schools with the greatest needs continue to receive the least resources and support.

 

As a result, class sizes in our highest need districts have grown each year. Let’s take Buffalo as an example. In Buffalo, many kindergarten classes have grown to 30 students or more, compared to a statewide average of twenty students per class. In New York City, class sizes have increased sharply since 2007, and last year they were the largest in 15 years in kindergarten through third grades. If you are truly interested in improving outcomes in our highest needs schools, these schools must be provided with the resources to reduce class size, a proven reform that benefits all students, but especially those most at risk.

 

In addition, providing resources for health services, counseling, after school child care and recreational programs to reduce truancy and improve attendance would likely have a positive impact on student learning.

 

Question 7

 

What is your vision for charter schools? As you know, in New York City the current charter cap is close to being reached, so would you increase the charter school cap? To what? What other reforms would you make to improve charter schools’ ability to serve all students?

 

The charter cap should not be raised. Many researchers including Macke Raymond, head of CREDO, a pro-charter research organization funded by the Walton Family Foundation, now agree that charter expansion and enhanced “competition” do not work to improve public schools. Moreover, charters do not enroll their fair share of high needs students – especially English language learners and special needs students, as acknowledged by the NYC Charter Center and independent researchers. According to the 2010 amendment to the New York charter law, before charters are renewed or allowed to replicate, they must show they enroll and retain equal numbers of at risk students as the districts in which they are located, and yet neither the Board of Regents nor SUNY have ever rejected a charter proposal on these grounds – despite the fact that many charters have sky high student suspension and attrition rates. Neither SUNY nor the Regents have provided adequate financial oversight, and in 95 percent of charter audits, the State Comptroller’s Office has found corruption or mismanagement. Yet when the Deputy Comptroller wrote a letter to the state’s major charter-school regulators asking for stronger oversight, he received no response.

 

The recent approval by the Regents of a charter school started by a 22 year old who faked his educational background only further reveals the inability of authorizers to carry out their current responsibilities, no less authorize yet more charters that could waste taxpayer funds. Meanwhile, in New York City, where the vast majority of the state’s charter schools are located, about two thirds of these privately-managed schools receive more public funding per pupil than district public schools – a disparity that will grow even worse with the new law requiring that charters receive free space paid for by the city or be provided space within the district’s already overcrowded public schools. This year, NYC charters are siphoning off $1.3 billion in public funds – while leading to the concentration of the most at-risk students in public schools with fewer resources and less space. It is no wonder that more NYC voters believe the number of charters should remain the same or decrease than be raised.

 

Question 8

 

Do you support using technology to improve public education, like offering online AP courses by college faculty to high schools students who do not have any such courses now, even though these changes have been resisted by education special interests?

 

The push towards using more technology in public education is not being “resisted by special interests,” as your letter claims, but instead is promoted by special interests – including software companies eager to get a larger share of the $8 billion education technology market. There is no rigorous research showing that more exposure to online learning improves student learning or outcomes in K12 schools, and many studies suggest that expanding the amount of time students spend in front of computer screens has negative effects.

 

Question 9

 

What would you do about mayoral control in NYC and do you support mayoral control in other municipalities? What changes and improvements would you make to NYC Mayoral control?

 

In general, mayoral control is an unproven experiment that has NOT worked to improve NYC schools compared to other large urban districts across the country, and should not be expanded across the state. In New York City, the mayoral control law should be amended to give more local control to the city’s residents, by giving the City Council the authority to provide checks and balances, since the city lacks an elected school board. Our democratic system of government relies on the separation of powers, and an omnipotent executive inevitably leads to abuse and poor decision-making. At the same time, the new state charter law should be amended, with local control returned to NYC officials, to enable them to determine whether or not privately run charter schools should receive space at city taxpayer expense.

 

Question 10

 

There are approximately 700 school districts in New York many of which have declining enrollment. Do you think we should restructure the current system through mergers, consolidations or regionalization? If so, how would you do it?

 

This question implies that through mergers, consolidations, and regionalization we can improve education while reducing costs. The research, however, contradicts that suggestion. Studies show that consolidations and mergers actually increase costs to districts and there is typically no gain in academic achievement. The following summary is from Penn State College of Education:

 

“School consolidation continues to be a topic of great concern for many small rural school and districts. While advocates for consolidation commonly cite fiscal imperatives based upon economies of scale, opponents have responded with evidence undermining this argument and pointing out the prominent position of the rural school in the economic and social development of community. Additionally, evidence continues to build demonstrating the advantages of small schools in attaining higher levels of student achievement. Larger schools, in contrast, have been shown to increase transportation costs, raise dropout rates, lower student involvement in extra-curricular activities, and harm rural communities’ sense of place.

 

The consolidation of services is already underway and should be incentivized when it makes sense and benefits students. It is interesting that while you have proposed consolidation for school districts, you have also supported charter school expansion, each of which are considered a separate local education authority or school district –which appears to be a contradiction.

 

Question 11

 

As you know, the appointment and selection process of the Board of Regents is unique in that, unlike other agencies, selections and appointments are made by the Legislature. Would you make changes to the selection and appointment process? If so, what are they?

 

We believe the Board of Regents must stay independent of the executive branch and the Governor should not interfere in matters of education policy. The authority should remain with the legislature to intervene when necessary.

 

There is a fair balance of powers in the NYS Constitution Articles V and XI requiring that the Governor and the Senate have the authority to appoint heads of departmental agencies, and the joint legislature to elect members of the Board of Regents, which in turn appoint the Commissioner of Education.

 

We do believe the nomination of Regent candidates should be a more transparent, inclusive process, and involve stakeholders from each judicial district, including parents, educators, students, and local legislators. For the at-large Regent seats, there should be a state-wide committee consisting of parents, educators, and legislators to nominate candidates after assessing gaps that may exist in the Board of Regents’ expertise, diversity in background and geographical balance.

 

Question 12

 

Chancellor, the Board of Regents is about to replace Dr. King; can we design an open and transparent selection process so parents, teachers and legislators have a voice?

 

We strongly believe there should be a more rigorous, inclusive, and transparent process to appoint the next New York State Commissioner of Education as well. While the appointment process is at the discretion of the Board of Regents as per Article V of the NYS Constitution, the overwhelming dissatisfaction of New Yorkers with the current policies — and the failure of state education officials to listen to parents and teachers – has revealed the need for a new Commissioner who is more responsive to stakeholder needs and concerns.

 

Questions That Should Be Asked

 

We were disappointed by the omission of important questions that should have been asked in your letter. During the past year, members of the public, especially parents, expressed serious opposition to the current education policies during forums that were held across the state. Those concerns, however, were excluded from your list. Here are three questions, which are very much on the minds of parents and that we would like to be asked of state officials:

 

How will the State Education Department review and modify the Common Core standards given the enormous public outcry against the standards and their implementation?

 

In October of 2014, Governor, you said that you were working to roll the standards back. You recognized that implementation had been rushed and that there were questions regarding whether the Common Core standards were the best standards for the students of New York State. The public has clearly expressed its dissatisfaction. A plurality of New Yorkers believes that the implementation of the Common Core should be halted entirely. Many other states are now engaging in a thorough analysis of the standards as they make revisions, both large and small. New York students deserve the best possible standards. Please join us in urging the State Education Department to provide a date when an open review of the Common Core standards will begin in New York.

 

How will we reduce the time students spend on state standardized testing?

 

Polls consistently report that New York parents do not support the grueling and inappropriate Common Core tests. Time spent on state testing has dramatically ballooned since 2012. Last year between 55,000 and 60,000 students “opted out” of the grade 3-8 New York State exams. Make no mistake—this was a deliberate decision on the part of parents to show how displeased they are with the Common Core exams and the way in which these tests have narrowed and diminished the education of their children.

 

Your support for reducing the effects of test scores on students was but a small step in the right direction. Please join us in asking the State Education Department to provide a plan to radically reduce the time spent on state exams, rolling it back to 2010 levels, as long as yearly testing is mandated. Please also inquire as to when teachers will be allowed to author better assessments, so that the state is no longer spending millions of taxpayer dollars to corporations that have consistently produced shoddy products.

 

How will personally identifiable student data be protected?

 

Data privacy of student’s personally identifiable information is still not protected, nor is the privacy legislation that was passed last spring being enforced. While the legislation helped to stop sharing with inBloom, it did not address the concerns of parents of the widespread collection and sharing of their children’s personal data that is occurring without their knowledge or consent.

 

Moreover, allowing data-mining vendors to access children’s personal data has huge risks, including to student privacy and safety. Yet the State Education Department still has not implemented or enforced the new student privacy law, passed last spring, which requires the appointment of a chief privacy officer who will create a parent bill of rights with public input. As a result, numerous districts and schools throughout the state continue to disclose highly sensitive personal student data to vendors without parental knowledge or consent, and are ignoring several federal privacy laws, including FERPA and COPPA, without enforcement or oversight by the state.

 

In summary, it is apparent that the punitive education agenda of testing and privatization is not working to improve student achievement and instead is having a deleterious impact on our schools. It is time to change course rather than intensify these policies through requiring more school closings, expanding charters, and putting even more emphasis on unreliable test scores.

 

What New York badly needs is a new Commissioner with a strong background in public education and a deep understanding of how students learn. He or she should have a healthy respect for local autonomy and the need to work collaboratively with stakeholders. The era of top down, bureaucratic, and monopolistic control of our schools by state officials must end.

 

We believe that the members of the Board of Regents should be thoughtfully selected with input from the communities that they represent. Most importantly, parents and teachers demand appropriate learning standards that allow teachers to focus on learning, not testing. With equitable funding, thoughtful standards, sufficient teacher autonomy, local control, and community support, we know public education will better accomplish what we all want–a brighter future for all students. We also urge you to hold public forums, so you can hear directly from parents, teachers, and other stakeholders how they want their schools improved –rather than remain in a bubble up in Albany, separated from the constituents whose interests you should be dedicated to serve.

 

Sincerely,
NYS Allies for Public Education

 
- See more at: http://www.nysape.org/nysape-response-letter-to-governor-on-public-education.html#sthash.A4nPHMa8.dpuf

What does real education reform look like? Dr. Jeannette Faber, an educator in Connecticut, explains what is needed: innovation and investment.

We won’t achieve the improve t we seek by firing teachers, endless testing, or merit pay for higher scores. Genuine improvement requires positive and well/informed thinking.

She writes:

“To start, by innovation, I mean this: We do need to transform public education as we still largely work on a century-old model – the factory model. We do need to make education more innovative, creative, student centered, and constructivist – all focusing on critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration. The current road of “corporate education reform” will not take us there. In fact, it will take us in the opposite direction.

By investment, I mean this: Equity in funding and resources. When public education became compulsory a century ago, education leaders vowed to make public education the great equalizer. We have failed at that for a century. Usually, wealthier students receive more funding; poor students, less. That is a betrayal of our democratic values.”

She then offers 12 resolutions to transform our schools. All rely on innovation and investment.

Governor Jerry Brown’s Inaugural address includes the following remarks about education. Governor Brown understands that schools need adequate funding to succeed. One of his biggest challenges when he took office was to begin to restore the billions that had been cut from public schools by his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I think he is wrong about Common Core, which caused California to ditch some of the best state standards in the nation and will draw hundreds of millions, if not billions, out of strained school budgets (Los Angeles was about to spend over &1 billion on iPads for Common Core testing until the deal fell apart a few months ago). But, reasonable people differ, and time will tell whether the investment in Common Core is worth it.

Governor Brown said:

“Educating the next generation is fundamental to our collective well-being. An issue that has plagued our schools for decades is the enormous barrier facing children from low-income families. When my father was governor, he sought to remedy the wide inequities among different school districts by calling for equalization of funding. His efforts were not successful.

“Now – decades later – we have finally created a much fairer system of school funding, called the Local Control Funding Formula. Under the provisions of this law, state funds are directed to school districts based on the needs of their students. Districts will get significantly more funds based on the number of students from foster care, low-income families and non-English-speaking parents. This program also breaks with decades of increasing centralization by reducing state control in favor of local flexibility. Clear goals are set, and their enforcement is entrusted to parents and local officials. This puts California in the forefront of educational reform.

“After years of underfunding and even borrowing from our local schools, the state now has significantly increased its financial support for education. Next year schools will receive $65.7 billion, a 39 percent increase in four years.

“The tasks ahead are daunting: making sure that the new system of local control works; recruiting and training tens of thousands of teachers; mastering the Common Core Curriculum; and fostering the creativity needed to inspire students. Teachers need to be held accountable but never forget: they have a tough job to do. They need our encouragement, not endless regulations and micro-management from afar.

“With respect to education beyond high school, California is blessed with a rich and diverse system. Its many elements serve a vast diversity of talents and interests. While excellence is their business, affordability and timely completion is their imperative. As I’ve said before, I will not make the students of California the default financiers of our colleges and universities. To meet our goals, everyone has to do their part: the state, the students and the professors. Each separate institution cannot be all things to all people, but the system in its breadth and diversity, through real cooperation among its segments, can well provide what Californians need and desire…..”

I received this wonderful letter yesterday.

I offered to match the gift.

I will match any similar gifts sent to Network for Public Education for use as scholarships by a deadline of Feb 1.

The address is in the letter below.

 

Dear Dr. Ravitch:

I would like to receive your input whether other people can attend this event if I am paying the tickets without any problem due to the different names in payer vs attendants.

I would like to treat Mrs Susan Lee Swartz, Krazy TA, and Duane Swacker for both days in this special Chicago Conference. ($75.00 x 3 = $225.00 + fee)

Or it would be the best way is that I will mail the money order of $500.00 US in your name to the address of NPE which you gave to your readers in the past, as follows:

Robin Hiller, Executive Director

C/O Dr. Diane Ravitch, President

Network for Public Education
P.O. Box 44200
Tucson, Az 85733

The difference between $500.00 and the cost for three people to attend both days will be my treat to you and your loved ones.

If one or all three designated people cannot attend for any reason, then these available tickets will be your choice to give away as you please. Happy New year and Best Wishes to you, your family, and your advocacy to preserve American Public Education for all children.

Very respectfully yours,

May King from Canada, your secret admirer.

Please note that I will mail this money order to you through NPE address before Friday, January 9, 2015.

Mike Rose has written a thoughtful critique of “school reform” in The American Scholar. The title of the article is “School Reform Fails the Test.” The subtitle hits a bullseye: “How can our schools get better when we’ve made our teachers the problem and not the solution?”

Think about that question. If “teachers are the problem,” the problem will never be solved. It will not be solved by Teach for America, which accounts for less than 1% of all teachers. It will not be solved by putting former TFA into positions of leadership, as we can see by the disruptive and demoralizing experiences of John White in Louisiana and Kevin Huffman in Tennessee. No one, with the possible exceptions of Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan, would point to these states as models for the nation. For five years now, since the introduction of Race to the Top and the release of “Waiting for Superman,” the “reformers” have been obsessed with the hunt for bad teachers. They have been persuaded by Eric Hanushek’s views that our economy will soar by trillions if we regularly fire the bottom 5-10% of teachers, bottom meaning those whose students don’t increase their test scores.

Here is a taste of Mike Rose’s long and pensive essay:

Organizing schools and creating curricula based on an assumption of wholesale failure make going to school a regimented and punitive experience. If we determine success primarily by a test score, we miss those considerable intellectual achievements that aren’t easily quantifiable. If we think about education largely in relation to economic competitiveness, then we ignore the social, moral, and aesthetic dimensions of teaching and learning. You will be hard pressed to find in federal education policy discussions of achievement that include curiosity, reflection, creativity, aesthetics, pleasure, or a willingness to take a chance, to blunder. Our understanding of teaching and learning, and of the intellectual and social development of children, becomes terribly narrow in the process.

School reform is hardly a new phenomenon, and the harshest criticism of schools tends to coincide with periods of social change or economic transformation. The early decades of the 20th century—a time of rapid industrialization and mass immigration from central and southern Europe—saw a blistering attack, reminiscent of our own time. The Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957 triggered another assault, with particular concern over math and science education. And during the 1980s, as postwar American global economic preeminence was being challenged, we saw a flurry of reports on the sorry state of education, the most notable of which, A Nation at Risk (1983), warned of “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”

Public education, a vast, ambitious, loosely coupled system of schools, is one of our country’s defining institutions. It is also flawed, in some respects deeply so. Unequal funding, fractious school politics, bureaucratic inertia, uneven curricula, uninspired pedagogy, and the social ills that seep into the classroom all limit the potential of our schools. The critics are right to be worried. The problem is that the criticism, fueled as it is by broader cultural anxieties, is often sweeping and indiscriminate. Critics blame the schools for problems that have many causes. And some remedies themselves create difficulties. Policymakers and educators face a challenge: how to target the problems without diminishing the achievements in our schools or undermining their purpose. The current school reform movement fails this challenge.

This is not about education, although in a way it is. It is about an act of conscience. It appears on Bill Moyers’ daily blog.

“An honor he dreams not of –>

“French economist Thomas Piketty, whose best-selling tome, Capitalism in the 21st Century, made vivid the accelerating income gap between the very rich and everyone else, has turned down France’s highest official award, the Legion d’Honneur. He told AFP, “I refuse this nomination because I do not think it is the government’s role to decide who is honorable.”

Here is the original story that Moyers links to.

This comment was left by a reader in response to this post from a teacher who had worked in the Brighter Choice charter chain in Albany. A few years ago, this chain was described as “the holy grail” of charter schools. Since then, some of its charters have been closed for poor performance and two more are on the chopping block:

 

 

Hi, I too worked in an Albany Charter and now work in the Albany City School District. I can agree with the post that there are a lot of teachers and administrators who really care about the kids and want to do everything they can to help them. In my time in the charter school I met and learned from a few really fantastic and committed teachers. I can also say most of these teachers and administrators are generally very young and inexperienced. The majority of administrators do not have administrative licenses. The majority of the teachers are still completing their Master’s degree and have limited-no experience.

 

The problem with the Albany Charters is the Brighter Choice Foundation and the tone of the schools. They need to make their money and run the schools like a business. The BCF (which is somehow now called the Albany Charter School Network, not sure why?!) sits on the third floor of the MS that may close. Mr.Carroll, Bender, and the other white, wealthy and older men who run this organization make no effort to get to know the students or interact with the staff. They park in their reserved spots and jet to their cushy offices to send down orders. I don’t really understand how the school can have Board Members who carry the lease of the school and profit from it, work for the BCF or have other clear, financial interests in the school. I think they should have to post all of their board meeting materials in the same manner ACSD does (http://albanyschools.org/district/board/2014-15/12-11/12-11-14.documents.html). Perhaps the public should start attending their board meetings. It is strange that although each school has a separate charter, the four board meetings happen at one time, in one building. I have never seen an agenda or minutes of a meeting, but I understand they are only an hour or two long as well.

 

There is too much pressure on the students, teachers and administrators. Yes, they do not expel as many kids but I have seen them “counsel out” a large, large number of students. They suspend students, have their parents come in and eventually say “maybe the district schools will be a better fit for your family”. The Brighter Choice Middle Schools also do not enroll students in the 7th or 8th grades because “it takes so long to teach the expectations of the school that at 7th grade it is too late”. Their special ed. and ELL population is limited and entirely different than the population of ACSD. They have no self-contained classrooms for students with autism, learning disabilities or emotional disturbances. They have no ELLs who are refugees and have never been to school or learned to read. This is probably a good thing for these students because they teach directly to the test and rarely differentiate instruction. The inexperienced and young teachers are pressured by administrators (who are in turn pressured by the Foundation) to drill test prep and test taking skills. They rarely read novels. Students are pulled during Sci/SS (which they receive in rotation instead of daily) for AIS services. With the high focus on test prep, students receive little to no humanities education. Lunches are often silent and the students do not even have the freedom to stand up to throw away their own lunches. The students know little freedom, so they often rebel any chance they get.

 

The interesting thing about the Brighter Choice MS for Boys and Girls failing is that it is in a way very reflective of both the Albany Charter Schools and the fact that it is not easy to run an effective urban middle school. The majority of the students at BCMS-Girls and Boys are from the area charter elementary schools. This means that the elementary schools (BCCS-Girls, Boys, Henry Johnson, ACC) are not preparing the students for the challenges of middle school as well. Could it be that there is no “quick fix” to better urban middle schools?

 

I imagine the BCF will put up a big fight to keep these schools open as they stand to lose a lot of money if this building closes. I imagine their deep pockets will end up keeping this school open for a few more years. I am sure Cuomo will fight tooth and nail for his friends at the Foundation as well.

Preparing to run for the Republican nomination for President in 2016, Jeb Bush resigned from all the corporate and nonprofit boards he belongs to. One of them is a for-profit firm that sells online courses to university students.

 

He also resigned as a paid adviser to a for-profit education company that sells online courses to public university students in exchange for a share of their tuition payments….

 

Bush’s financial stake in Academic Partnerships, the online education firm, has been relatively small for a millionaire — a $60,000-a-year fee and ownership of a small amount of stock, said Randy Best, the company’s founder and chief executive. Even so, Bush’s affiliation with the firm — which has contracts with schools in a half-dozen states and several foreign countries and has annual sales of $100 million — could complicate his effort to promote his record as an education reformer

 

The company receives up to 70 percent of the tuition some students pay to public universities, and some faculty members say it siphons money from the schools while asserting too much control over academic decisions.

 

Best, a Texas entrepreneur and major political donor, said his firm has increased professors’ access to online students and helped schools attract additional revenue, while Bush aides say the former governor does not have business interests related to K-12 education, which has been his policy focus.

 

Randy Best is a friend of the Bush family who founded a reading program called Voyager Learning, a phonics-based program that benefited handsomely from the Reading First portion of No Child Left Behind. Best eventually sold Voyager for $360 million. For more about Voyager and Reading First, read here and here. The Washington Post wrote in 2006:

 

Five years later, an accumulating mound of evidence from reports, interviews and program documents suggests that Reading First has had little to do with science or rigor. Instead, the billions have gone to what is effectively a pilot project for untested programs with friends in high places.

 

Department officials and a small group of influential contractors have strong-armed states and local districts into adopting a small group of unproved textbooks and reading programs with almost no peer-reviewed research behind them. The commercial interests behind those textbooks and programs have paid royalties and consulting fees to the key Reading First contractors, who also served as consultants for states seeking grants and chaired the panels approving the grants. Both the architect of Reading First and former education secretary Roderick R. Paige have gone to work for the owner of one of those programs, who is also a top Bush fundraiser.

 

 

The $60,000-a-year that Bush received from Best’s company was chicken-feed compared to the $1 million+ a year he received from Barclay’s bank.

 

No question, however, that Jeb Bush has a strong interest in digital education. In Florida, and in some other states that have heeded his advice, students must take online courses as a graduation requirement. Bush’s efforts to push digital learning in Maine were the subject of a prize-winning article for investigative journalism by Colin Woodard, called “The Profit Motive Behind Virtual Schools in Maine.”

 

In my book Reign of Error, I described a report produced by Jeb Bush and former Governor Bob Wise called “Digital Learning NOW!” The report, which was sponsored by major technology corporations, claimed that digital learning was key to closing the achievement gap and that it would produce greater learning and almost every good thing that could be imagined. There was no evidence for these claims. The report recommended deregulation of digital learning so that a corporation could sell its services without having to hire certified teachers or even to have a physical location in the state where they were selling their services.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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