Archives for category: Humor

Jennifer is a Momma Bear in Tennessee. The Momma Bears are a parent group that fights for their children and their schools.

Jennifer had a fantasy: She imagined she was stuck in an elevator with Bill Gates. Trapped between floors. And she told him what she thought. In the time they were stuck, she insisted he watch a video that disproved his world-view. She even gave him fruit snacks (he was famished).

What did she teach him? Read and enjoy.




NY Teacher wrote the following comment in response to the TeachPlus survey, which said that teachers think the PARCC test is better than their own state tests. This gave me a belly laugh.



“Before the teachers were allowed to assess the tests, Teach Plus provided them with training to ensure they had the necessary background knowledge.”


“This training was preceded by a snack of psilocybin mushrooms laced with a generous sprinkling of lysergic acid diethylamide. Teachers were not only impressed with the quality of the PARCC items but were also mesmerized by cursors that continuously changed size, shape, and color, keyboard keys that greeted them by spelling out their name, and wallpaper in the test room that breathed as if alive.”

Every year, the National Education Policy Center selects the absolutely worst research, worst  policy proclamations, and worst think tank pronouncements and bestows upon them the Bunkum Award. Here are the winners! Open the link to watch the thrilling video.
2014 Bunkum Honorees:


The ‘Class Size Reductio ad Absurdum’ Award
To GEMS Education Solutions for The Efficiency Index

Comparing international test scores and drawing ominous conclusions is quite the rage. Also, as GEMS Educational Solutions found, it is a great way to garner credulous coverage from The Economist and the BBC. All that’s needed is a pile of data and a mathematical model, and one can do creative things like rank countries’ educational systems based on their “efficiency.” It apparently matters not how much sense it all makes, as long as it can be puffed up with something that sounds sufficiently intimidating, such as a stochastic frontier analysis, to lend an air of gravitas to an inherently silly idea. So armed, GEMS set out in The Efficiency Index to rank 30 countries. When the data emerged from the GEMS statistical grinder, researchers concluded from the resulting mince meat that to get a 5% increase in PISA scores, teacher wages would (on average) have to go up by 14% or class sizes would (on average) have to go down by 13 students per class.


The most entertaining part of this report is the efficiency index itself, which purports to list optimal wage levels and class sizes for each country. For four countries, the optimal class size is estimated at fewer than two students per teacher. The teacher salary part of the report is almost as risible. The Swiss, we discover, should cut teachers’ wages nearly in half to achieve that nation’s “optimal” teacher salary. Indonesian teachers meanwhile would see their wages triple. As explained by our reviewer, City University of New York economist Clive Belfield, such anomalies expose the weaknesses in each of the study’s three key elements: “the output measure is questionable, the input measures are unclear, and the econometric method by which they are correlated does not have a straightforward economic interpretation.”


Meanwhile, even those of us in the research community who have long pointed to the benefits of (smart) class-size reduction can savor the irony of an “efficiency” report suggesting that two students is an optimal class size.



The ‘What the World Needs Now is Choice Sweet Choice’ Awards
To Fordham Institute for Expanding the Education Universe

To Reason Foundation for Federal School Finance Reform
The past decades have seen school choice expand through charter schools, vouchers, tax credits (neo-vouchers), and various other mechanisms dreamed up after feverish evenings of reading Milton Friedman. While it’s true that all this choice has increased systemic inequities even as it has failed to improve educational outcomes, that’s no reason to stop or slow down—at least not according to two Bunkum-winning reports: Expanding the Education Universe: A Fifty-State Strategy for Course Choice from the Fordham Institute, and Federal School Finance Reform: Moving Toward Title I Funding Following the Child from the Reason Foundation.


The Fordham report urges policymakers to bring the blessings of market competition to the selection of classes, envisioning a future when students design their own selection of online and off-line classes, offered by a variety of public and private providers. Unfortunately, the report makes no effort to actually evaluate the merits of the idea. It “assumes, without solid evidence, that course choice, electronic educational provisions, and the like are viable, effective, and proven methods,” according to reviewers and University of Southern California scholars Patricia Burch, Jahni Smith and Mary Stewart. “Accordingly, the piece rests entirely on assumptions and assertions.” The reader is left to ponder the next step after course choice. Perhaps our children might purchase individual lessons (and grades) through a bidding process on eBay?


Or they can just take federal Title I funding and head off directly to a private school, as proposed by the Reason Foundation in its report Federal School Finance Reform: Moving Toward Title I Funding Following the Child. Those lost in the antiquated “Good Ole Days” of the Great Society may have mistakenly thought that the purpose of Title I was to provide equal educational opportunities via compensatory services for needy children. It turns out that it’s really about school choice, if one takes the perspective of the Reason report, which argues that Title I funds, and other funds that states and districts may wish to contribute, should be distributed as a form of voucher (this is one version of what is called, “Title I portability”).


Under the current system, Title I is the federal government’s primary way of assisting schools serving large numbers of students meeting Title I eligibility criteria. So moving money away from those schools of concentrated poverty may seem counter-productive to the untrained eye. It might also seem odd to be telling low-income families that the way for them to receive better educational opportunities is to take $2,100 or so, somehow supplement it with their own money, and find a private school. Reviewer Gail Sunderman, a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland, concluded that the report’s recommendations are “likely to exacerbate existing inequities between schools within the same district rather than improve them.” But surely Sunderman and those who share such concerns simply fail to appreciate the miracle of school choice.



The ‘Back-Tracking via CTE’ Award
To Lexington Institute for Updating Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century

The U.S. has a long history of tracking low-income students and students of color into dead-end vocational classes that prepare them for neither college nor a career. Every so often policymakers notice this, wring their hands, and say “never again.” Yet hope springs eternal in the human breast. So we can trust that a new generation of politicians will pop up with “innovative” ideas about how to create vocational tracks that produce completely different results.


Not ones to disappoint, a collection of think tanks and elected officials of both major parties are now promoting the idea that Career and Technical Education (CTE) schools will prepare their students for jobs in our New EconomyTM. We encourage the Lexington Institute to accept its Back-tracking Bunkum Award on behalf of the many other think tanks and policy wonks, across the centuries, that have discovered and rediscovered this most derivative of ideas. The Lexington report, Updating Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century, offers advice on how to unleash CTE’s potential to meet the needs of employers and employees alike in our rapidly changing economy. It is built on the Petrillian assumption that we should separate academically talented children from those in need of a non-academic alternative.


Reviewers Marisa Saunders and Jaime del Razo, both of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, concluded that the report manages to over-reach and under-reach simultaneously: It uses “a few poorly developed examples to make broad claims about key attributes of successful programs;” at the same time it does not capture the potential of high school CTE programs to bridge between academic features and the potential to use CTE approach to make learning more relevant and engaging. By replicating the harmful mindset that career education is somehow in conflict with college preparatory curricula, thus requiring separation of academic and voc-ed students, the report reinforces longstanding divisions by social class that funnel students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds disproportionately toward a vocational track, while affording those from higher socioeconomic backgrounds greater access to higher education and the higher incomes that come with it.



The ‘It’s Never Too Early to Revise History’ Award
To Sonecon, Inc. for The Economic Benefits of New York City’s Public School Reforms, 2002-2013

Michael Bloomberg hadn’t yet left New York’s City Hall before a series of publications were released that put a rosy gloss on his administration’s educational record. One such report, The Economic Benefits of New York City’s Public School Reforms, 2002-2013, was produced by Sonecon, Inc. a Washington, D.C., economic advisory firm that claims to apply “methodologies that produce analytically unassailable results.” Sonecon’s chairman, Robert Shapiro, authored the report along with Kevin Hassett, the American Enterprise Institute scholar who co-authored the visionary (i.e., delusional) 1999 book, “Dow 36,000.” The Sonecon report credited New York City education reforms during the Bloomberg years with boosting the City’s economy to the tune of $74 billion. “While such estimates are always an exercise in some level of speculation, this report relies on highly inappropriate assumptions to reach its conclusions,” reviewer and NYU economics of education professor Sean Corcoran explained. “Specifically, it attributes all gains in high school completion and college enrollment to the reforms, applies national statistics on earnings and college completion to the marginal graduate in NYC, and extrapolates cross-sectional associations between graduation rates and home prices at the zip code level as the causal effect of higher graduation rates.” For example, breaking down the report’s math, Corcoran finds that the estimated impact of the Bloomberg-era reforms on property values is equivalent to “two-thirds of the entire increase in residential property values between 2007 and 2013.” Finally, let’s not forget that the Bloomberg-era reforms were preceded by a landmark court ruling which, Corcoran notes, “helped drive a large increase in state resources for the City’s schools”—yet that case is not mentioned in the Sonecon report. The “back of the envelope” estimates that the Sonecon report makes, Corcoran concludes, “are pure fantasy.”



And finally…



The ‘Fractured Fraction Award for Using Erroneous Numerators and Denominators to Get Predetermined Results’

To School Choice Demonstration Project and University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform for Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands


To University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform for The Productivity of Public Charter Schools

The University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform (EDRE) wins our Grand Prize for two reports. The first, Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands, argues that charter schools are underfunded. The second, The Productivity of Public Charter Schools, argues that despite being underfunded, charter schools still manage to produce better outcomes than district schools. The reports are impressive indeed—as long as we’re collectively willing to overlook the researchers’ bungling of their calculations of both the numerator and the denominator of their equation.


The charter school funding report was reviewed by Rutgers University school finance professor Bruce Baker. He noted the report authors’ misunderstanding of intergovernmental fiscal relationships, and he explained how this misunderstanding produced an erroneous assignment of “revenues” between charters and district schools. A district’s expenditure is frequently a charter’s revenue, since charter funding is often received by a pass-through from district funding. Thus, the EDRE report doubles up on the assignment of revenue to the public school districts: their own plus the charters’. The Arkansas authors also fail to take into account the fact that districts often retain responsibility for direct provision of services (such as transportation) to charter school students. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the report suffers from vague documentation of its research methods and data sources. For example, it treats “all revenues” (not defined) as expenditures (which they assuredly are not). When numbers were not handy, report authors drew on murky “additional data sources.”


A productivity calculation looks at results per expense, so the enigmatic revenue calculation of the first report is used by the EDRE authors as their denominator. Their numerator computation is not much better, since it’s cobbled together with entirely inappropriate comparisons of student population characteristics.


That second report was reviewed by University of Colorado Boulder research professor Gene Glass, who found that it used state average NAEP scores without bothering to consider the well-known population differences between charter schools and non-charter public schools on demographic variables such as poverty (free lunch eligibility) or special-needs status. As Glass asks in his review, “If one is calculating ‘bang for the buck,’ what is left if neither the bang nor the buck can be believed?”


For these stunningly incompetent analyses, the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform has thoroughly earned the 2014 Bunkum Grand Prize for shoddy research.

T.C. Weber, a parent in Tennessee, has a hilarious post on his blog (“Dad Gone Wild”) about the end days of corporate-style reform, of which there has been a surfeit in his state. Humor, as we have often seen, can be an effective vehicle for serious social criticism. Reformers, he says, are like little children who refuse to go to bed and keep making excuses about why they should have just a few minutes more. Please, Daddy?


He writes:


I love my children dearly but I am no fan of bedtime. Things at your house may be a little different, but at my house, it’s like standing behind a jet plane. The kids are going a million miles a minute. Questions are flying. Toys are sprawled everywhere. The noise is deafening. I’m alternately crying, begging, and yes, yelling, “Brush your teeth,” “Put your pajama’s on,” and “Get over here and listen to this book.”


All the while the kids are working off a different agenda. They realize that the day is coming to an end, and they’re not ready to let it go. It’s been a good day, and they want to milk it for everything they can. So they are fighting and talking and trying to create enough energy to delay the inevitable. Finally, though, the kids are settled into bed and the day comes to an end, and preparations begin for tomorrow. It was always a forgone conclusion that they would end up asleep at some point and the day would finally come to an end and that their protestations were pointless.


In my mind, that’s where we are with the reform movement in education right now. The day is coming to an end, and like my children, reformsters are kicking and screaming and making as much noise as they can to try and delay the inevitable. We have reached a point, that the reform movement was once engaged in battle against the status quo has become the status quo. As Nietzsche said, “Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster; and if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you.” I certainly don’t consider myself and other like-minded individuals monsters, but man have we been demonized by the reform movement, and now the abyss is gazing right back at them.


The reform movement has been in action long enough that we have a body of evidence to examine. It’s a body of evidence spanning some twenty-plus years, and it looks a whole lot like the status quo. Teach For America has been around since 1991, but as Gary Rubenstein points out, it has become this big blob with no real sense of direction or ability to evolve. A recent in-depth study on charters illustrates, that they have more in common with traditional schools than they’d like to admit. A look at voucher data debunks their value pretty, quickly and don’t get me started on achievement districts as blogger Crazy Crawfish points out, they are their own monstrosity.


When confronted with all this evidence, you would think reformers would start looking forward for new solutions and cast off the ones that have been proven ineffective. That would be the wrong assumption. In fact, it’s just the opposite: they double down in defense of the status quo. They accuse education experts of not believing in children of color. They beg for more time. They create focus groups to study things we already know. They pretty much do everything that they’ve accused public education advocates of doing for years. Hello, kettle? This is pot, and guess what, you are black…..


How many studies to we have to present or debunk in order to show the unsustainable practices of charter schools before it sinks in that they are not the panacea they’re made out to be? How many times must we slap the hands of a Achievement District for jockeying numbers before they accept the truth that it’s just not working? How many times and in how many ways must it be shown that charter schools do not perform better than public schools? None of these are isolated events. They are repeated over and over and over and still the reformers fight to maintain the status quo processes. Just like my kids asking for five more minutes – please.


I’ll be honest. I’m a little bit weary of these conversations. There are few things I enjoy more than a good philosophical discussion, but when the other party continues to ignore empirical evidence, it just becomes tiresome and makes it hard to take them serious. I long to move on to something a bit more meaningful. Truth is, I long for the day when I no longer feel compelled to write this blog because we are actually employing research backed best practices.


Reformers tend to further mimic my children in their desire to constantly be doing something, seldom pausing to consider overall implications. It makes me think about what fellow blogger Rob Miller recently wrote, “The tendency to take action often leads to action without reason or research, which has the potential to cause more problems than it fixes.” Miller makes a compelling argument about slowing things down transferring our focus from the individual and onto the whole.


There is more. And it is all right to the point. There are links to the evidence. Read it and enjoy a good analysis. A good laugh, about things that are not very funny. There are good-hearted people–and some not so good-hearted–who are tearing up American public education and demonizing hard-working teachers. Doing the same things over and over again, doubling down when they fail. Never giving up even after they have become the new and dysfunctional status quo. And as they keep on failing,  the reformers refuse to recognize that they are not actually “reforming” education but creating chaos and new problems.


Dad’s advice: All the protestations and whining isn’t going to change the fact that the day is coming to an end.




Does the Onion have secret sources inside the U.S. Department of Education? its stories are typically a week ahead of the real news. Some things are impossible to satirize.

“WASHINGTON—Citing the need to measure student achievement as its top priority, the U.S. Department of Education launched a new initiative Thursday to replace the nation’s entire K-12 curriculum with a single standardized test.

“According to government officials, the four-hour-long Universal Education Assessment will be used in every public school across the country, will contain identical questions for every student based on material appropriate for kindergarten through 12th grade, and will permanently take the place of more traditional methods such as classroom instruction and homework assignments.”

This is funny.

Politico reports:

“BAY STATE SMACKDOWN: Education Secretary Arne Duncan penned a glowing tribute in the Boston Globe [] this week praising the legacy of outgoing Gov. Deval Patrick in improving the state’s schools. “Quite simply,” he wrote, “Massachusetts leads the nation.” That raised the hackles of Jim Stergios, executive director of the conservative Pioneer Institute. He responded with his own op-ed [ ], which opens with the line: “Who says Common Core advocates don’t like fiction?” Stergios notes that the big gains in Massachusetts test scores came before Patrick took office – and that scores have since dropped in several key areas, such as third-grade reading proficiency and SAT scores. Stergios blasts Patrick for abandoning Massachusetts’ famously high standards in favor of the Common Core. He’s even harsher on Duncan, suggesting that the secretary suffers from a “toxic mix of self-importance and the inability to see reality.”

Somebody at The Onion is on the right side of history.

Here are The Onion’s suggestions for fixing our nation’s schools. And they didn’t get an i3 grant from Arne or a grant from Gates or Broad or Walton.

Teacher Steven Singer tweeted:

“When I hear the words RIGOR and GRIT, I think I’m about to scrub a toilet, not inspire a child.”

Open the link to see the graphic

In part 1, we learned that Forbers asked a group of billionaires how to fix American education. In this installment, a group of leaders review the billionaires’ agenda.

“In our last installment, Forbes called a summit of Many Very Rich People to lay out what it would cost to fulfill the Must Have list for remaking American education. Now, we’re going to sit around with some alleged representatives of education stakeholders. And we should note that it’s happening in the department of Forbes.

“Paul Tudor Jones (founder of the Robin Hood Foundation) will be directing traffic as Andy Cuomo, Arne Duncan, Randi Weingarten and Kay Henderson (DC school chancellor) jaw about this. I should note that I’ll be walking you through the Short and Marginally Sweeter transcript; apparently there is a longer version, but I just can’t bring myself to go there.”

So here are the billionaires’ five Big Ideas:

“1) Teacher efficacy– recruit best and brightest

2) Universal Pre-K– because childhood is too long

3) School leadership– give principals greater power over staff

4) Blended learning– broadband and computers for everybody

5) Common Core/ College Readiness– insert all classic baloney arguments here”

What do our leaders think? They love the Big Ideas. But they have different timelines and slightly different strategies.

Take Cuomo, for example:

“Cuomo observes that he didn’t get anything done by being nice, so he made everybody’s money contingent on how well they follow his orders and he hasn’t had any problems since. Money buys compliance!”

Here are Kaya Henderson and Arne Duncan:

“Henderson gives Arne some strokes for being the only government guy who will fund innovation, and I think we can all agree that using a bureaucratic waiver maneuver to create new laws without the benefit of Congress is pretty innovative. The guillotine was also hot new stuff in its day.

Arne will now deliver more History from an Alternative Universe:

Having a common way of measuring success is just so basic and fundamental to all of your businesses–that’s a radical concept in education. We need to get to that point of having a high bar and having clear ways of measuring how everybody is stacking up against that bar. Under No Child Left Behind, about 20 states dummied-down their standards, they reduced their standards. Why? To make politicians of both parties look good. It was terrible for children. Not one person challenged those politicians. Until [philanthropic leaders] and the broader citizenry hold politicians accountable, we’ll continue to be mired in mediocrity.

“It’s true. In thirty-plus years of teaching, I have never measured success in any manner. Just throw darts at a board and call it a day. But states did not dummy down under NCLB to make politicians look good. They did it to save their states’ school from punishment under the heavy brainless hand of top-down federal mandates. They did it to avoid an unavoidable punishment that was inevitable because the feds set standards that nobody believed could be met, but they set them anyway. The dummying down was a completely predictable result of the perverse incentives built into a unsustainable punishment-based test-driven system created by educational amateurs in Washington DC. Dammit, Arne, if you want to learn a lesson from NCLB, learn that one, and learn it in some manner other than repeating the same damn mistakes.”

On his blog “Cloaking Inequity,” Julian Vasquez Heilig conducts an annual poll seeking to identify the “Turkey of the Year.” This year’s winner, hands down, is Arne Duncan. This was an unusually impressive victory because in the listing of candidates, Duncan’s name appeared last. And better: he garnered a majority of the votes, even though there were several choices.


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