Archives for category: Education Reform

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

Robert Rendo writes this to Karen:


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

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

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

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


Doug Preston’s latest letter:


Dear Author,

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

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

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

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

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

All the best,
Doug Preston

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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



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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Several major technology companies signed a pledge not to sell or misuse private student data. Critics were not reassured.


According to a story in Education Week,


K-12 student-privacy pledge released Tuesday and signed by prominent ed-tech providers prompted immediate statements of concern from some advocacy groups about whether self-regulation will do the job of protecting student data.


The voluntary Pledge to Safeguard Student Privacy, co-authored by the Software and Information Industry Association or SIIA, and the Future of Privacy Forum, and signed initially by 13 companies and one non-profit, includes six “do’s” and six “don’ts” of handling student data. The signers—including Amplify, DreamBox Learning, Edmodo, Follett, Knewton, Knovation, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Microsoft, and Think Through Math—agree to abide by the provisions of the pledge effective January 1, 2015.


Among key elements of the pledge are promises to:


Not sell student information
Not behaviorally target advertising (which means targeting advertising based on a student’s web-browsing behavior)
Use data for authorized education purposes only
Not change privacy policies without notice and choice
Enforce strict limits on data retention
Support parental access to, and correction of errors in, their children’s information
Provide comprehensive security standards
Be transparent about collection and use of data
The pledge was created as parents’ worries about the privacy and security of their students’ data have resonated in state legislatures, and as the state of California enacted a strict privacy law last month. It also follows the collapse of inBloom, a controversial data management company that was striving to be a single repository for up to 400 pieces of information about each student whose data were uploaded to the cloud—but that fell under the weight of protests from parents, some educators, and others.


Software companies selling products to K-12 schools have been concerned, too, that their mission to collect and use student data to help educators better teach their students will not be permitted by law. “Without data, we are flying blind,” said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, founder and executive director of Data Quality Campaign, a national nonprofit that advocates for the effective use of education data to improve student achievement, in a statement in support of the pledge.


Range of Reactions to Pledge


The National School Boards Association and the National PTA joined the organizations that released the pledge with their endorsements in the launch announcement. Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, said he thinks the pledge is helpful. “It states, pretty clearly and crisply—in language a non-lawyer can understand—what’s not going to happen with your data,” he said. Schools and districts are looking for that kind of assurance in an industry standard about the collection, management, and use of personal information, he said.


But Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters based in New York City and co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, said in a statement that “we need legally enforceable provisions requiring parental notification and consent for the disclosure and redisclosure of personal student data, as well as rigorous security standards.” She predicted that the pledge would not reassure parents about data sharing, data-mining and data breaches.


Mark Schneiderman, the senior director of education policy at SIIA, said that, when companies make public pledges like this one, it is enforceable by the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC.


It is worth remembering that the CEO of Knewton, working with Pearson, boasted that education is the most data-minable sector of the economy. Data mining is big business.  Can we trust them?

Daniel S. Katz, a professor of education at Seton Hall University, explains on his blog how to recognize a phony education reform group.

The key is, as always, follow the money. If the group is funded by the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the John Arnold Foundation, or the Helmsley Foundation (among others), you can bet there are no grassroots. If they not only have said funding but an expensive location and grow rapidly, and if they advocate for charter schools and test-based evaluation of teachers, there are no grassroots, only faux reform roots that are part of the movement to privatize public education. The “reform” movement likes to pretend that it has a broad base so it funds numerous “front” groups. We have not seen so many front groups since the 1930s. Today, as then, they represent no community, no one but the funders and the elites and those with a hidden but anti-democratic agenda.

This teacher wrote the following response to a post about “close reading” in first grade. When I read her or his comment, I thought of John Greenleaf Whittier’s great poem “Barbara Frietchie.” I leave it to you to figure out why.

The first-grade teacher wrote:

“Retired teacher, you hit the nail on the head! Six year olds are not ready for this! I am a first grade teacher, and this CCSS garbage is going to ruin our children’s education. In desperation this week, I pulled out my old Margaret Hillert books & used them in my reading groups. The children were so excited, and said, “Teacher, we can read these! This is so fun!” It nearly brought me to tears. In first grade, it’s all about Reading, capital R. My job is to make my babies fall in love with the written word-to make them not be able to wait to turn the page to find out for themselves what funny thing Junie B. Jones or Amelia Bedelia is going to do next. I’ve been teaching first graders to read for 19 years. I know what works. I’m keeping the Margaret Hillert books on the reading table and Pearson Publishers, David Coleman, and Bill Gates can come pry them from these gnarled hands.”

Ed Berger tries to figure out why some parents give up on their district schools, whose teachers are fully certified, to attend partial schools, where ill-trained teachers come and go at a high rate.

“Specific information from teachers about the strengths and the needs of the educational programs are too often left out of the messages given to the community. When a bond issue fails, or enrollment drops, there is great concern that the community does not support its schools. Yes, in difficult economic times folks are reluctant to vote for new bonds. Voters need to know that student needs will be met by their vote. Districts need to counter the claims of partial schools and be very clear about what they offer.

“The reality is that the public will not support district schools that fail to communicate the education benefits they provide, and the needs teachers identify. Partial (alternative) schools succeed where the district schools do not explain the wealth of advantages they deliver for every child.

“Voters will support necessary services for children when they understand how this extra burden of taxation helps kids. Not kids five years from now, but kids in school now.”

And he writes:

“When a partial school can suck students away from a district school, something is very wrong. District schools have elected school boards, certified teachers and administrators, the ability to raise capital dollars through bonds for building and maintenance (and not have to use instructional dollars to create a school space), and comprehensive curricula. It is almost certain that teachers are not being listened to. It is an indicator that the immediate needs of children are only assumed to be known by those interfacing with the community.

“District schools must provide information necessary for parents to decide which school best provides all of the options their child must have. If parents take their children out of district schools it is certain that they do not know the differences between a district school and a partial school, or even what comprehensive curriculum, teacher certification, and teacher expertise and experience mean for students. District schools must keep this information before the public.

“Increasing class size, eliminating experienced and proven teachers and counselors, deleting services, closing libraries, killing art programs, using TFA and other cheap, unskilled class-sitters, and assuming that fear (high stakes testing and its inherent threats) motivates human beings, destroy public support for district schools.”

District schools belong to the community. Choice policies allow voucher schools and charter schools to sell their wares with promises. District schools must clearly explain to parents why it matters to have experienced, well-prepared teachers and a full curriculum, why it matters to have the arts and a band and a library with a trained librarian. Community support must be built and rebuilt, daily. Active parents must be relied upon to reach out to other parents. And the message must be clear: this is our school.

Carol Burris, an experienced high school principal, knows that there are many dimensions to school success. Here she writes about a new program to recognize success without relying exclusively on test scores.

Does your school qualify?

Burris writes:

Dear Colleagues,

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) has started an exciting new high school recognition program called Schools of Opportunity.

Unlike previous “top 100” lists, Schools of Opportunity will recognize schools for doing the right things by their students in order to close opportunity gaps. It allows nominators (principals, teachers or parents) to show how their high school is outstanding by choosing 6 of 11 research based principles and explaining how their school made progress.

The first round requires short responses where the applicant makes his or her case.

The second round asks the school to provide the data it chooses to submit to make its case.

Using a rubric, Silver and Gold Schools will be recognized. There will be follow-up phone or Skype interviews.

Finally a few truly outstanding schools will be visited for special recognition.

We will not be “ranking” Gold or Silver Schools, but they will be recognized with much publicity.

The Answersheet of the Washington Post will be covering and publishing the lists just as Jay Matthews’ does with his challenge index list.

We are piloting this in New York and Colorado this year, and next year going national. That means that there will be a New York Schools of Opportunity list and one for Colorado this spring.

In order to be eligible, you must have at least 10% of your students receiving free or reduced price lunch, and the % of students with IEPs must be no more than 2% below the average for your district. (For most of you, you are the sole high school in your district so that is of no concern). I am one of the co-directors of the program (I am an NEPC Fellow) and because of that, South Side will not be eligible.

We need to change the conversation regarding what school quality is about. This is how we hope to make that happen.

Press releases are going out. You can find the Answersheet’s announcement here

The link to apply is above as well as in the WAPO announcement. If you have any questions, feel free to call me at 516 255 8820. Thanks! Carol


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