Archives for category: Students

I recently received this email from Tim Farley, an elementary school principal in Néw York:

Here is the link to a blog written in the fall of 2013 by the Head of Schools for Woodland Hill, Susan Kambrich. In this letter turned blog, she writes to her parents of her experience at the annual NYSAIS (New York State Association of Independent Schools) Heads of Schools conference.

Woodland Hill may sound familiar to you and your readers because this is the school that the soon-to-be-former New York State Education Commissioner John King sends his children to. If he were to send his children to public school, his children would attend the Bethlehem Central School District – a highly respected public school in the suburbs of Albany.

In her blog, Susan writes about the featured presenter, Yong Zhao, a highly respected author and professor at the University of Oregon. His message focused on the importance of having an education system that promotes creative and strategic thinking. He posits that the United States has typically produced students who are by-and-large not good test takers, as opposed to students in China. Zhao, according to Susan, also spoke on the importance for the United States to help its students to “develop entrepreneurial qualities such as risk-taking, empathy, confidence, alertness to opportunity…”

Susan continues by writing, “Zhao says that investing in testing will only create good test takers, and test scores are not valid predictors of success. If we invest our resources in tests, we will get good test-takers; if we spend our time celebrating and encouraging our variety of abilities, creativity, and diverse thinking we will better help our students succeed. Testing should be a tool, not the focus.” She concludes with, “Interestingly, he also mentioned that his children went to a Montessori school.”

The reason I bring this blog to your readers’ attention is to highlight the hypocrisy of John King’s personal decisions compared to the decisions he made that affect well over a million students throughout New York state. It appears after reading about Woodland Hill’s philosophy on their web page (, that they have embraced much of what Zhao says is good for students. Teachers at Woodland Hill have the autonomy to create an individualized education for their students. Furthermore, there is no test-based accountability system at Woodland Hill.

This sounds like an absolutely wonderful school and I have already contacted the school to schedule a tour. I do not begrudge John King for deciding to send his children to Woodland Hill. In fact, I believe all parents should be making these decisions for their children. However, as Commissioner, John King prescribed a very different educational experience for the children whose parents do not have the same opportunities that he has. Many parents can ill-afford the tuition at a school such as Woodland Hill.

Commissioner King has foisting a punitive, highly competitive, rank and sort, test-based accountability school system on all of our children. Mr. King knows all too well the benefits of sending his children to a school like Woodland Hill, but he refuses to allow public school children the same opportunities. This is the epitome of hypocrisy – Common Core, high stakes testing, and data-mining for the masses; an individualized collaborative and creative learning experience for his children.

If Mr. King knows what is best for his kids, shouldn’t he be trying his best as Commissioner to give all New York students the same thing?


Tim Farley

Education Advocate

Lee Barrios is a retired Nationally Board Certified Teacher in Louisiana.

Open letter to BESE –

Occasionally, albeit rarely, I receive confirmation that I am not only NOT crazy but that I am correct. Because I always base my actions on evidence and am always open to correction, it doesn’t really surprise me and I sleep well at night.

This BESE, on the other hand, ( 8 of you to be exact) have proven that you have personal agendas and are determined to support the lies of Supt. White and his well known cadre of business and political promoters. You are all very intelligent individuals and have ample opportunity to seek out and understand the truth. I give you no benefit of the doubt.

As I have said repeatedly, you are complicit as proven by your actions. However it is never too late to redeem a modicum of respect and honor by standing up and admitting you have been duped. It appears that now is an appropriate time to do that.

You all and John White have created chaos, pain, suffering, loss of excellent teachers, embarrassment for our state, and REAL damage to the education and lives of our children. You must understand that there can be NO test this spring and that the whole high stakes testing accountability must be overhauled and transformed from a purely punitive weapon to some kind of constructive process. Get rid of all the TFA junkies in LDE and replace them with education experts so that can be accomplished! Begin with Supt. White!

Lee P. Barrios, M.Ed., NBCT
Secondary English, Journalism, Gifted
178 Abita Oaks Loop
Abita Springs, Louisiana 70420

“If a child struggles to clear the high bar at five feet, she will not become a “world class” jumper because someone raised the bar to six feet and yelled “jump higher,” or if her “poor” performance is used to punish her coach.” – – CommonSense

“I believe in standardizing automobiles. I do not believe in standardizing human beings. Standardization is a great peril which threatens American culture.”—— Albert Einstein

Edward F. Berger, blogger in Arizona, knows that our education leaders are obsessed with data, but the one datum they don’t track is what happens to the kids who were pushed out or dropped out of their schools.


He writes:



Where are the follow-up studies of those dropped on their heads by the schools? We don’t have information – at least not in any district or charter schools I know of – about the kids pushed out of schools. We like to call them “dropouts,” but they really are “push outs.” For whatever reason, these kids are damaged and forced out as soon as they reach the legal age to drop them. We need to track them. My state, known as the “Wild West of Charter Schools,” has what may be the highest push-out rate in the US. It is created by ideologies that have failed, but are still in place and never accountable.


There are no funds to repair the damages and help the push-out kids get caught-up. Few community colleges can provide the remedial work and tutoring necessary for these damaged human beings to master the essential skills and pass the GED – or at the least, get the basic skills necessary for employment. As it stands, few employers will hire them. The military doesn’t want them. They have no futures. We are creating a massive welfare generation of very angry alienated citizens.


Parents sold on school choice, pull their children out of comprehensive public schools and enroll them in partial schools in the hope that this choice will deliver a better education. Then two things happen: 1)The partial school works for their child and what has been left out of a comprehensive education may not hurt the child’s chances. 2)The partial school must show progress on test scores and college admissions. Kids that don’t perform well are most often dropped and kicked back to the district school. They arrive back in the district schools way behind the other students who have experienced teachers and a comprehensive curriculum. As they experience the failure built into this reality, they most often drop out, or fade until they are passed on to get rid of them….Tests have been forced on our schools by those who buy into a business model for education and believe more data will make schools accountable and better. The irony is that they have not collected and analyzed the data about children failed by the schools as a result of failed ideologies.


Don’t we have an obligation to follow these young people and find out what happened to them after they left school?

Anthony Cody is rightly concerned about an article in the Néw York Tomes proposing the use of genetics to identify which students need which interventions.

As he observes, eugenics has an ugly history. In the early decades of the twentieth century, some of our leading intellectuals became enthusiastic about the idea that the human race could be improved if we applied the same principles used in breeding animals to the breeding of people. Those of high intelligence and character should marry and reproduce, while those who were of low intelligence should be discouraged from reproducing, even sterilized to prevent them from doing so. That was the moral of the famous story of the Jukes and the Kallikaks. That cautionary tale was included in high school textbooks as late as the 1950s (I know because I read those textbooks in high school).

Now, as Cody writes, eugenics is presented as a new and liberal idea, meant to bring help to those students who need it most. The lesson of the last century is: Beware Unintended consequences. Beware of giving to anyone the power to decree which lives are worthy based on “genetic markers.” In the 1930s, Hitler turned that philosophy into bloody reality.

Caitlin Emma, who writes for, here reviews the threat to student privacy posed by online courses.

While students are taking these courses, the provider is gathering a treasure trove of information about each of them. This data may later be sold to marketers, who see students as customers.

There is a federal law that is supposed to protect student privacy, but in 2011-12, Secretary Arne Duncan oversaw a weakening of FERPA regulations, removing key protections.

Companies working together, like Pearson and Knewton, are gathering confidential student data whenever your child goes online.

Why should corporations advertise when they can use Big Data to identify their target audience? Race to the Top required states, if they wanted to be eligible for federal cash, to create a massive student data warehouse, to open more charters, and to adopt “college and career ready standards,” I.e. Common Core. Clever, no? A bonanza for certain corporations.

This is scary stuff.

The Badass Teachers Association issued a strong statement registering their conscientious objection to high-stakes testing.

They write, in part,

“We know that we are in the middle of a war, fighting for our schools and our students. One of the tolls in this war is the implementation of high stakes testing. These tests are like weapons, based upon the knowledge that these tests do not accurately measure educational achievement, but are more truly a measurement of the economic characteristics of the student. Today, decisions are being made to divert funds from numerous programs and appropriate staffing levels as districts are rushing to meet technology requirements and implement test practice programs. This money could be better used to increase staffing levels to allow for better student to teacher ratios, implement new programs that increase cultural and global awareness, create services that support the needs of the whole child, and renovate existing school structures that are in desperate need of repair.
The amount of stress that our students are under has become overwhelming and our schools are becoming less able to help that. As educators it is our moral responsibility to become a shield for our children and protect them from the people that seek to manipulate their education to personally profit at their expense. We have the moral obligation to become conscientious objectors as we remember our responsibility to our students.”

This video was made by NYC public-school parent and film-maker Michael Elliot. It is a powerful video that expresses the views of parents and students.


It is available on Youtube and vimeo.



We can be grateful that Peter Greene has accepted the burden of reading the reports that pour forth come D.C. think tanks, saving the rest of us the trouble. Of course, when we read Peter’s analysis, we often end up reading the report anyway to find out if it is as bad as he says.


Here Peter analyzes a study produced by the Brookings Institution on the crucial importance of character, drive, and prudence. Peter titles this post “Poor Kids Suck,” because they get worse academic results, which presumably means they are lacking character, drive, and prudence.


Peter writes:


When it comes to slick-looking research of questionable results in fields outside their area of expertise, you can always count on the folks at Brookings. They have a new report out entitled The Character Factor: Measures and Impact of Drive and Prudence, and it has some important things to tell us about the kinds of odd thoughts occupying reformster minds these days.


The whole report is thirty-five pages long, but don’t worry– I’ve read it so that you don’t have to. Fasten your seatbelts, boys and girls (particularly those of you who can be scientifically proven to be character-deficient)– this will be a long and bumpy ride.


Character Is Important


Yes, some of this report is clearly based on work previously published in The Journal Of Blindingly Obvious Conclusions. And we announce that in the first sentence:


A growing body of empirical research demonstrates that people who possess certain character strengths do better in life in terms of work, earnings, education and so on, even when taking into account their academic abilities. Smarts matter, but so does character.


In all fairness, the next sentence begins with “This is hardly a revelation.” That sentence goes on to quietly define what “character” means– “work hard, defer gratification, and get along with others.” But we push right past that to get to Three Reasons This Field of Study Is Now a Thing.


1) There’s concrete evidence to back it up, a la Duckworth et. al.
2) That evidence suggests that character is as important as smartness for life success
3) Given that importance, policymakers ought to be paying more attention to “cultivation and distribution of these skills.”


The report brings up the marshmallow study, to introduce the importance of deferred gratification among four-year-olds.


There has been some great research in the last forty years to parse out what this hoary old study might actually mean and might actually miss. I like this one in particular from Rochester, because it finds a huge difference factor in the environment. Some researchers behaved like unreliable nits, while others proved true to their words, and the result was a gigantic difference in the children’s wait time. This is huge because it tells us something extremely important–


It’s much easier to defer gratification till later if you can believe that you’ll actually get it later. If you believe that deferring gratification means giving it up entirely– you are less likely to defer. Brookings does not include the new research in their report.


Brookings concludes this section with


Drive and prudence contribute to higher earnings, more education, better health outcomes
and less criminal behavior.And as long as we’re just making stuff up:


We can also easily imagine that they are important for marriage, parenting, and community involvement.


Plus, we can imagine that they give you better hair, firmer muscle tone, and fresher smelling breath. Plus, you probably won’t get cancer. But as unsupported as these suppositions are, they are still a critical part of the foundation for what comes next.


Yes, Rich People Really Are Better


Brookings now bravely turns to the question of how class is related to these character strengths. And I can’t accuse them of burying the lede:


If character strengths significantly impact life outcomes, disparities in their development may matter for social mobility and equality. As well as gaps in income, wealth, educational quality, housing, and family stability, are there also gaps in the development of these important character strengths?


This is followed by some charts that suggest that poor kids do worse on “school-readiness measures of learning-related behavior.” Another chart shows a correlation between income and the strengths of persistence and self-control through the school years.


Here is the good news! Peter writes:


Brookings, who don’t always seem to get all of the reformster memos, go a page too far now by suggesting (with charts!) that their prudence and drive measures (which would be a half-decent band name) are as good a predictor of success as cognitive/academic measures. Which means that we can totally scrap the PARCC and the SBA tests and just check to see if the kid is able to sit still and wait fifteen minutes for a marshmallow. I will now predict that this is NOT the headline that will be used if leading reformster publications decide to run this story.


Bottom line:


Best case scenario– we’ve re-demonstrated that people who come from a high socio-economic background tend to be successful in school, and those who don’t, don’t. Staple on some tautologies as a side show and call it an insight.


Or maybe this is a report that buttresses old farts everywhere by suggesting that since if your kid can’t learn to sit still, he probably lacks character and is likely to fail at life.


And remember up above when we decided to call these “character strengths.” That meant these behaviors are deeper than simple learned behaviors, but not quite genetically hardwired. So we’re stopping just short of saying that poor kids are born with a lack of character.


But at worst– at worst– this is codified cultural colonialism. This is defining “success” as “making it in our dominant culture, which we will define as normal for all humans.” And then declaring that if you want to make it as (our version of) a normal human, you must learn to adopt our values. This is going to Africa and saying, “Well, of course these people will never amount to anything– they don’t wear trousers.”







A remarkable meeting took place in the Manhattan offices of Teach for America.


TFA leadership sat down with leaders of United Students Against Sweatshops, a group that has visited campuses to warn students against joining TFA.


This article that appears in “In These Times” describes the meeting. To see the links and read the article in full, open it.


It begins:


Dani Lea, a sophomore at Vanderbilt University, believes that Teach for America (TFA) teachers in her high school in Charlotte, North Carolina, were detrimental to her learning experience and for those around her.


Upon hearing this, TFA co-CEO Matthew Kramer said, “That’s not our lived experience.” Lea responded, “That was my lived experience.”


The volley took place during an unusual open meeting at TFA’s midtown Manhattan headquarters November 13 between United Students Against Sweatshop (USAS) activists and TFA’s top leadership, which offered the meeting after a widespread USAS campaign against the organization that includes visiting college campuses to question the education organization’s projected image as crusading do-gooders in American public education.


USAS is the country’s largest student labor organization, which has emerged in recent years as a serious force to be reckoned on labor issues ranging from sweatshop apparel production to campus union drives. The group’s main gripes with TFA and its Peace Corps-like model for American education, bringing college students—most from elite universities—to teach for a short period of time in some of the country’s poorest school districts, are that it is inadequately training teachers and promoting a for-profit, anti-union education reform agenda.


The Nation also recently released TFA documents regarding its response to critical press, adding to TFA’s recent headaches. USAS is demanding that TFA increase teacher training well beyond five-weeks and sever ties with anti-union corporations such as Walmart; USAS groups at universities like Harvard have demands their schools sever ties with TFA.


After offering an olive branch praising the intentions of TFA teachers across the country, USAS activists argued that the organization acts as a convenient staffing organization for municipalities looking to purge their career, unionized teaching staff and switch to a cheaper model based on high turnover.


Eastern Michigan University graduate student Will Daniels said his father, a career teacher in Detroit, was laid off in 2011 as a result of the city’s financial crisis, and said he saw the austerity-minded school authorities forming a marriage of convenience with TFA. The district could hire “three TFA members for the price of my dad,” Daniels said.


Kramer, who along with his co-CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard, patiently and calmly listened to the students, denied that the organization aims to get rid of existing teachers. “We only place people in open positions,” he said. “We do not force people out of a job.”


Beard also rejected the idea that TFA provides a pool of short-term teachers, saying 60 percent of TFA trained teachers stay for a third year and that while surely many young people think of it is a placeholder position before graduate school or some other endeavor, 67 percent stay in education.


But Harvard USAS activist Hannah McShea countered that in some school districts, teacher layoffs are so massive that veterans are laid off along with the rookies and unsatisfactory teachers. “TFA provides a solution of synthetic teachers,” she said. “It is complicit in austerity.”





Large numbers of high school students at Fairview High School in Boulder opted out of state tests.

“More than 5,000 Colorado 12th graders have refused to take the new state-mandated science and social studies tests as student anxiety about over-testing grows.

“Hundreds of high schools students in Boulder staged a mass walk out Thursday and Friday, refusing to take their 12th grade social studies and science tests.

“Fairview High School students say they want to send a clear message that when it comes to testing, enough is enough.”

They also objected to the idea that their teachers and schools might be harmed by their scores.

“Students complain the new tests don’t reflect what they’ve learned in school. Fairview Senior Jennifer Jun says some of the material was taught years earlier, or not at all.

“For them to be testing us on things that we never learned about just doesn’t make sense to us,” Jun says.

“Senior Chaya Wurman says students also worry that part of a teacher and school’s evaluation could eventually be tied to the results of tests.

“Our school is going to be harmed and our teachers are going to be harmed if students don’t do well on this test and obviously they won’t do well on this test because we’ll be tested on material that we have never learned or haven’t learned in years,” she says.

“Thursday morning, nine Fairview High students took the science test out of 538 seniors. Friday, 10 students took the social studies test.”

– See more at:


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