Archives for category: Support for public schools

We are living in an era when the very idea of public education is under attack, as are teachers’ unions and the teaching profession. Let’s be clear: these attacks and the power amassed behind them are unprecedented in American history. Sure, there have always been critics of public schools, of teachers, and of unions. But never before has there been a serious and sustained effort to defund public education, to turn public money over to unaccountable private hands, and to weaken and eliminate collective bargaining wherever it still exists. And this effort is not only well-coordinated but funded by billionaires who have grown wealthy in a free market and can’t see any need for regulation or unions or public schools.

In the past, Democratic administrations and Democratic members of Congress could be counted on to support public education and to fight privatization. In the past, Democrats supported unions, which they saw as a dependable and significant part of their base.

This is no longer the case. Congress is about to pass legislation to expand funding of charter schools, despite the fact that they get no better results than public schools and despite the scandalous misuse of public funds by charter operators in many states.

The Obama administration strongly supports privatization via charters; one condition of Race to the Top was that states had to increase the number of charters. The administration is no friend of teachers or of teacher unions. Secretary Duncan applauded the lamentable Vergara decision, as he has applauded privatization and evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students. There are never too many tests for this administration. Although the President recently talked about the importance of unions, he has done nothing to support them when they are under attack. Former members of his administration are leading the war against teachers and their unions. Think Rahm Emanuel, who apparently wants to be known as the mayor who privatized Chicago and broke the teachers’ union. Or think Robert Gibbs, the former White House press secretary who is now leading the public relations campaign against teachers’ due process rights.

The National Education Association is meeting now in Denver at its annual conference. The American Federation of Teachers holds its annual convention in Los Angeles in another week or so. Both must take seriously the threat to the survival of public education: not only privatization but austerity and over-testing. These are not different threats. They are connected. Austerity and over-testing set public schools up to fail. They are precursors to privatization. They are intended to make public schools weak and to destroy public confidence in democratically controlled schools. What is needed at this hour is a strong, militant response to these attacks on teachers, public schools, and–where they exist–unions.

For sure, unions have their faults. But they are the only collective voice that teachers have. Now is the time to use that voice. The battle for the future of public education is not over. Supporters of public education must rally and stand together and elect a President in 2016 who supports public schools. This is a time to get informed, to organize, to strategize, and to mobilize. If you are not angry, you have not been paying attention.

Teachers and administrators continue to feel the pain of budget cuts, long after the end of the recession of 2008. While politicians complain about the cost of schooling, those who work in schools are aware of an era of austerity and disinvestment in education.

This article explains what happened. Federal stimulus dollars helped the schools weather the worst of the recession, but when federal stimulus money ran out, the schools were hit hard.

“Federal per-student spending fell more than 20 percent from 2010 to 2012, and it has continued to fall. State and local funding per student were essentially flat in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. The result: Total school funding fell in 2012 for the first time since 1977, the Census Bureau reported last month. Adjusting for inflation and growth in student enrollment, spending fell every year from 2010 to 2012, even as costs for health care, pension plans and special education programs continued to rise faster than inflation.1 Urban districts have been particularly hard-hit by the cuts in federal education spending: Nearly 90 percent of big-city school districts spent less per student in 2012 than when the recession ended in 2009.2

“The cuts are increasingly hitting classrooms directly. In the recession and the early stages of the recovery, superintendents were largely able to protect instructional expenses such as teacher salaries by cutting from other areas, such as administration and maintenance. But that has become more difficult over time. In the 2011-12 school year, classroom spending fell faster than overall spending.”

The budget cuts, which occur at the same time as widespread attacks on teachers’ due process rights, creates a harsh atmosphere in the schools, one that sends a negative signal to teachers and administrators, showing the nation’s lack of concern for education and educators.

Set aside about 17 minutes and watch this wonderful video. Joshua Katz, a high school teacher, connects all the dots.

This is a truly outstanding presentation. Watch it and help it go viral.

He shows how our present “toxic culture of education” is hurting kids, stigmatizing them as early as third grade by high-stakes standardized testing, while the vendors get rich.

He connects the dots: the testing corporations get rich while our children suffer. He names names: Pearson, McGraw-Hill, ALEC, and more.

The high-stakes tests demoralize many children, label them as worthless, demand “rigor,” while ignoring the children before us, their needs and their potential. As he says, we are judging a fish by whether he can climb a tree and labeling him a failure for his inability to do so. We ignore the development of non-cognitive skills, of character and integrity, as we emphasize test scores over all else. By trying to stuff all children into the same standardized mold, we are hurting them, hurting our society, and benefiting only the for-profit corporations that have become what he calls “the super-villains” of education.

A group of teachers in New York City wrote an impassioned plea against the market-based reforms of the Bush-Obama era. It has since been signed by parents and educators from across the nation. It takes a strong position against high-stakes testing and the standardization of the Common Core. Read this letter and consider signing it.
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This is the beginning:

“We have patiently taught under the policies of market-based education reforms and have long since concluded that they constitute a subversion of the democratic ideals of public education. Policymakers have adopted the reforms of business leaders and economists without consideration for the diverse stakeholders whose participation is necessary for true democratic reform. We have neglected an important debate on the purpose and promise of public education while students have been subjected to years of experimental and shifting high-stakes tests with no proven correlation between those tests and future academic success. The tests have been routinely flawed in design and scoring, and do not meaningfully inform classroom instruction. Test scores have also been misapplied to the evaluation of teachers and schools, creating a climate of sanctions that is misguided and unsupportive.

“In your first speech as Chancellor, you spoke of the importance of critical thinking, or a “thinking curriculum” in education. We know you to be a proponent of critical pedagogy, part of the progressive education tradition. As teachers, we hold critical thinking and critical literacies in highest regard. As professionals, we resolve to not be passive consumers of education marketing or unthinking implementers of unproven policy reforms. We believe critical thinking, artistry, and democracy to be among the cornerstones of public education. We want creative, “thinking” students who are equipped to be the problem solvers of today and tomorrow; equipped to tackle our most vexing public problems: racial and economic disparity, discrimination, homelessness, hunger, violence, environmental degradation, public health, and all other problems foreseen and unforeseen. We want students to love learning and to be insatiable in their inquiries. However, it is a basic truism of classroom life and sound pedagogy that institutional policies should reflect the values and habits of mind we intend to impart on our students. It becomes incongruous, therefore, to charge our students to think critically and question, while burdening our schools with policies that frustrate teachers’ efforts to implement a “thinking curriculum,” perpetuating historic inequalities in public education.

“The “Crisis of Education” and a Crisis of Pedagogy

“Business leaders and economists have used reductive arguments to identify a “crisis of education” while branding educational success words such as achievement, effectiveness, and performance as synonymous with standardized test scores. The majority of education policy decisions are now guided by test scores, making standardized tests an indispensable product. Market-based reforms have been an excellent model of corporate demand creation–branding the disease and selling the cure. Stanford education professor Linda-Darling Hammond described policymakers’ mistaken reliance on standardized tests when she wrote, “There is a saying that American students are the most tested, and the least examined, of any in the world. We test students in the U.S. far more than any other nation, in the mistaken belief that testing produces greater learning.”

“The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

“For-Profit Standardized Tests as Snake Oil

“The keystone of market-based reforms–highly dependent on the mining and misuse of quantifiable data–has been the outsourcing of standardized test production to for-profit education corporations. In New York State, a single British-based corporation, Pearson PLC, manages standardized testing for grades 3-8, gifted and talented testing, college-based exams for prospective teachers, and New York State teacher certification exams. Contracts currently held by Pearson include: $32.1 million five-year contract, which began in 2011, for the creation of English Language Arts and Math assessments; $6.2 million three-year contract in 2012 to create an online education data portal; $1 million five-year contract, which began in 2010, to create and administer field tests; $200,000 contract through the Office of General Services for books and materials.

“Pearson’s management of testing in New York has resulted in a series of high-profile errors. In 2012, questions pertaining to an 8th grade ELA passage about a pineapple and a hare had to be thrown out after they were found to be nonsensical. It was also discovered that test questions had been previously used by Pearson in other state exams. In total, 29 questions had to be eliminated from the tests that year, prompting New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch to comment, “The mistakes that have been revealed are really disturbing. What happens here as a result of these mistakes is that it makes the public at large question the efficacy of the state testing system.” That same year, 7,000 elementary and middle school students were banned from their graduation ceremonies after they were mistakenly recorded as having failed their state tests…….

Tony L. Talbert, a professor of social/cultural studies education and qualitative research in the Baylor University School of Education, writes in the Waco News that we as a nation have failed to recognize “the reality that our students, our teachers and our entire system of pre-K-12 public school education has been significantly and negatively impacted by the very tests we allowed to be enacted over the past 30 years through a combination of hyperbolic fear-mongering and subsequent public detachment from deliberative discourse in matters of public education.”

In short, we–as citizens–dropped out from our responsibility to maintain a public school system that aimed for values more important and valuable than our current test-based system.

Ivy started with President Reagan’s “A Nation at Risk,” which “set off a chain of subsequent predictions, monographs and reports of dire consequences for our nation’s future that could only be resolved by imposing a system of high-stakes testing, narrowly defined curriculum content (i.e., reading and mathematics) and ultimately adoption of a punitive accountability system that had the effect of stymying resistance and silencing critical questioning by educators, parents and even students on the legitimacy of such a radical shift in public education philosophy and practices.”

“As a result, for the next 30 years the American public increasingly “opted out” of direct dialogue and engagement in local, state and national public education philosophy, policy and practice debates. The impact of “opting out” of informed engagement in public education debates has been the radical shift in the quality and value-orientation of public school curriculum from a Transformation-Based Education System to an Information-Based Education System.

“In a Transformation-Based Education System the core value is the education of the whole student through a broad and inclusive humanities, mathematics, science, technology, performing arts and physical education curriculum as measured by the quality outcomes of the improvement of the student’s individual mind and life for the betterment of the collective community. In contrast, an Information-Based Education System embraces the core value of information acquisition, consumption and regurgitation of a basic curriculum by all students as measured by the quality of outcomes on standardized test performance and school ranking.”

Can we change the vicious cycle in which we are now trapped?

Yes, he insists:

“Can we recover what we’ve lost in our education system as a result of “opting out” of our responsibility as guardians of our most valuable democratic institution of pre-K-12 public education? Absolutely! We can restore the fundamental values and quality of a Transformation-Based Education System by choosing to “opt in” to public discourse and democratic action. An obvious way an informed citizenry can express intent to change the high-stakes testing education philosophies, policies and practices is by holding local, state and national elected officials accountable for education legislation at the ballot box.”

In short, my friends, become politically active. Throw out the narrow-minded technocrats that see our children as data points. Elect only those who treasure education as human development, a process of becoming in which we all take part.

Do your part. Get engaged. Be the change.

Anthony Cody here describes teachers as “reluctant warriors,” as men and women who chose a profession because they wanted to teach, not to engage in political battles over their basic rights as professionals.

 

The profession is under attack, as everyone now knows. Pensions are under attack. The right to due process is under attack. The policymakers want inexperienced, inexpensive teachers who won’t talk back, who won’t collect a pension, who will turn over rapidly:

 

In years past we formed unions and professional organizations to get fair pay, so women would get the same pay as men. We got due process so we could not be fired at an administrator’s whim. We got pensions so we could retire after many years of service.

But career teachers are not convenient or necessary any more. We cost too much. We expect our hard-won expertise to be recognized with respect and autonomy. We talk back at staff meetings, and object when we are told we must follow mindless scripts, and prepare for tests that have little value to our students.

No need for teachers to think for themselves, to design unique challenges to engage their students. The educational devices will be the new source of innovation. The tests will measure which devices work best, and the market will make sure they improve every year. Teachers are guides on the side, making sure the children and devices are plugged in properly to their sockets.

 

First, the privatizers came for the schools of the poor, because their parents and communities were powerless and were easy marks for privatization. Then they came for the union and the teachers:

 

Schools of the poor were the first targets. It was easy to stigmatize schools attended by African Americans and Latinos, by English learners and the children of the disempowered. Use test scores to label them failures, dropout factories, close them down, turn them over to privatizers. But this was just the beginning. And now, as Arne Duncan made clear with his dismissal of “white suburban moms,” they want all the schools, and are prepared to use poor performance on the Common Core tests to fuel the “schools are failing” narrative.

 

Teacher unions are under ruthless attack by billionaires, who conveniently own the media, and provide the very “facts” to guide public discourse. Due process is maligned and destroyed under the guise of “increasing professionalism.” Democratic control of local schools is undermined by mayoral control and the expansion of privately managed charter schools.

 

Congress and state legislatures have been purchased wholesale through bribes legalized by the Supreme Court, which has given superhuman power to corporate “citizens.”

 

Teachers, by our nature cooperators respectful of authority, are slow to react. Can the destruction of public education truly be anyone’s goal? The people responsible for this erosion rarely state their intentions. With smiles and praise for teachers, they remove our autonomy and make our jobs depend on test scores. With calls for choice and civil rights, they re-segregate our schools, and institute zero-tolerance discipline policies in their no-excuses charter schools. They push for larger classes in public schools but send their own children to schools with no more than 16 students in a room. Corporate philanthropies anoint teacher “leaders” who are willing to echo reform themes – sometimes even endorsed by our national teacher unions.

 

Now, he says, as the truth gets out about the privatization movement and its bipartisan support, teachers are starting to fight back. They are joining the BATs, they are joining the Network for Public Education, they are speaking out, they are (as in Seattle) refusing to give the tests, they are organizing (as in New York City) to protest the low quality of the tests.

 

Join in the fight against high-stakes testing, which is a central element in the privatization movement. They use the data to target teachers, principals, and public schools. They use the data to destroy public education. Don’t cooperate. Join the reluctant warriors. One person alone will be hammered. Do it with your colleagues, stand together, and be strong.

 

 

 

 

You have to see this film: “Rise Above the Mark.”

It was produced and written by educators and friends of public education in West Lafayette, Indiana.

It is professional, compelling, and honest about the challenges facing children, schools and teachers today.

The team interviewed Pasi Sahlberg, Linda Darling-Hammond, Marc Tucker, me, and others. But more importantly, the film interviews teachers, students, parents, and principals. It shows how today’s policies are crushing teachers and driving them out of teaching.

I saw the movie at a public showing at Butler University in Indianapolis. It is powerful.

You can go to riseabovethemark.com and find out how you can sign up for a copy of the film and show it at your school and to your community.

See it.

You will be glad you did.

An insider at the NYC Department of Education defends Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio’s plan to support schools instead of closing them.

For nearly the past dozen years, Mayor Bloomberg has followed an agenda of closing schools and opening schools.

This insider, anonymous for obvious reasons, says de Blasio is right:

“The New York Post has already begun its propaganda campaign against Mayor-elect de Blasio’s plans to improve New York City’s schools. An honest assessment of the data demonstrates that under Mike Bloomberg’s 12 years of leadership student outcomes in New York City remained flat. Of course, the DOE has run an intense PR campaign designed to conceal this fact, but the data are clear. The NY Post wants those failed policies to continue. De Blasio has promised a new approach.

Today’s NY Post has an article claiming that PS 114, a “school de Blasio saved is back on the fail list.” The NY Post regrets that while under Bloomberg’s policies the school “would normally face the threat of closing” under de Blasio the school will now be supported on a path to improvement. Which approach makes sense?

Let’s begin with the evidence used to claim the school is failing. The solitary data point mentioned by the NY Post is the report card grade of “C” the school received this week. 85% of this grade is based on test scores. The report cards compare student performance across years in a manner the tests were not designed to do. The reports cards also do not account for the statistical noise in test results, meaning that schools whose test scores are statistically indistinguishable nonetheless receive very different grades. The very premise the report card grade is based on is false.

PS 114 has a “peer index” in the lowest 4% of all city schools. Peer indexes are supposed to compare only similar schools to each other, as everyone agrees it would be unfair to compare schools that work with disadvantaged and struggling students to schools that work with only selected students. But the data show that the report cards fail to make fair comparisons. Schools with lower peer indexes receive lower average grades. Schools that receive “F” grades have a peer index 24% lower on average than schools that receive “A” grades. Peer indexes lump together very dissimilar schools and peer indexes do not really control for incoming student characteristics. The grades are bogus and penalize schools that work with disadvantaged students.

Test scores are a very narrow part of what makes a great school. Other data show that this school has many strengths. The students who graduate PS 114 are more successful than the average in passing core courses in middle school. A review of the school by educational experts conducted less than a year ago noted that:

the school’s focus on citywide instructional expectations is evident in literacy, math, teacher effectiveness, and parental involvement action plans…This purposeful drive toward improvement leads to relevant modifications that elevate learning for all students such as embedding specific literacy skills in instructional tasks and prolonged units of study to build confidence and capacity for overcoming the challenge of solving complex math problems… The entire school community contributes to the direction of the school and supports the principal’s vision for improved student outcomes…Parents interviewed expressed knowledge of the school’s annual goals and espouse, “The school is empowering”. Hence, parents state that they work alongside teachers as dedicated volunteers and help set policy for school improvement… The school engages parents in a variety of activities and informational meetings therefore, parents have a good understanding of school-level data and are highly informed as to their role in supporting the academic as well as social-emotional well-being of their children. Ongoing dialogue and established partnerships among stakeholders center on student learning and individual success. Concerted efforts to engage parents in the educational process lead to parents viewing themselves as important partners in the progress of the school as such they perpetuate high academic and social-emotional learning expectations for their children.

Despite attempts by the New York Post and the DOE to obfuscate reality, it is evident that the letter grade is a poor measure of school success. Thankfully, Mr. de Balsio has said he will stop the practice of assigning meaningless letter grades to schools and would create a “war room” of experienced educators to work collaboratively with schools on improvements. Happily for the student and parents of PS 114, there is a bright future for the school community.

We now have the opportunity to discard failed policies and to implement better ones, ones that will help schools improve. How should we go about doing this?

We must do a better job of sharing information about school with parents and students. Stop giving schools meaningless letter grades and made-up report cards. Share a broad array of information about schools transparently and clearly. This should include, in addition to how students do on tests as compared to similarly situated students, such information as arts offerings, clubs, years of teacher experience, suspension rates, % of students leaving the school prior to natural transition point, and videos of classes for parents and students to view. Develop a website and apps that allow parents and students to weigh this information at the level of priority important to them. Websites like this already exist, such as this one that allows the user to rank graduate programs based on individual priorities. Publish test score data using ranges to account for levels of statistical significance and include multiple years of data to account for meaningless year-to-year fluctuations. Create a system so that parents and students can write reviews of schools and publish that information on the website after a peer vetting and review process.

We must do a better job of analyzing school data and working to improve New York City schools. Instead of using data for political and ideological ends let’s start using data, only the statistically significant and meaningful data that is, to support and improve schools.

Analyze the data to see if some schools have large gaps between course pass rates and Regents exam performance (including students who took a course but did not sit for the Regents exam).

Support such schools in clarifying grading practices. Analyze the data to see if some schools have large gaps between graduation rate and student persistence in college.

Support such schools in increasing the rigor of their academics and in building life-skills of students. Analyze the data to see if some schools lose, perhaps as a deliberate strategy to make their numbers look good, a large proportion of their students from each cohort.

Support such schools in working with the every student who enters their doors and in lowering their attrition rate. Provide every school community with a data narrative identifying the long-term, multi-year trends and support each school in working to shift practices if necessary.

Analyze the data on student characteristics to ensure that each school has a student body representative of the diversity of New York City. The Office of Student Enrollment should be held accountable for preventing the clustering of specific sorts of students in specific schools.

Provide schools with continuous feedback on how they are doing throughout the course of the year. Do not grade schools with a single letter, months after the school year ends. No teacher would ever use such a grading practice in the classroom. Use data in positive ways to identify specific teachers and departments that have outstanding results year after year. Use technology platforms to have those teachers and departments share their practices and lessons across the city. Advocate with the State Department of Education to allow students flexible options, in addition to standardized exams, to meet graduation requirements. This should include portfolios, demonstrations, and presentations. Let’s leave behind the zero-sum competitive game that has characterized the last dozen years in the DOE. We need to leverage the outstanding professionals and phenomenal practices that exist in every school in the city to collaboratively provide every student with a great education.

A coalition of Los Angeles parents, teachers and public school advocates are reaching out to others in LA.  They report that;

The LAUSD school board will consider a resolution for “Educational Equity and Achievement for all Title I Students” next Tuesday, November 12 at 4pm. This resolution seeks to restore Title I funding to children attending schools at the former 40% poverty threshold. Fully funding entitled schools at the historical threshold can be achieved from carryover monies alone; not a single dime need be diverted from the coffers of any current Title I school.

YOU can help restore these funds by signing this petition, alerting school board members and staff to your endorsement of this imperative. The school board needs to hear from the community: please sign the petition right now!! Every single member of our diverse, deserving local public school district will benefit from your willingness to speak out. Thank you.

There is another way to help if you live or work near downtown Los Angeles. Please turn out at 333 S Beaudry Avenue (90017), before 4pm on Tuesday, November 12, 2013. Express your support for funding entitled schools at the former 40% poverty threshold; express your support for our Title I learners! If ever there was a population that deserves full, efficient utilization of federal resources, it is this one. Please help us restore entitled funds to our children who most need it.

You can also reach the petition via the following link:  https://www.change.org/petitions/lausd-board-members-stop-taking-money-away-from-our-kids-please-vote-for-educational-equity-and-achievement-for-all-title-i-students-resolution-on-11-12-13

If you know of others in LA, please pass along this important message

A reader explains why public schools matter to the life of communities:

“Public schools are not panaceas for poverty or crime or any of the other ills of our society, but they can provide a place for a community to come together, to learn to get along with each other, to watch out for each other. They can create a sense of security and predictability for our children. Privatization of our schools destroys this sense of community. It takes ownership out of the hands of the community and renders parents powerless in the education of their own children. Those in power would do well to invest in schools that strengthen our communities.”

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