Archives for category: Supporting public schools

I read Jeff Bryant’s interview with the President-elect of NEA, Lily Eskelsen, and I think I love her.

She is smart, strong, and she doesn’t mince words.

She was a classroom teacher for many years, and she speaks from experience teaching many kinds of kids, including kids in special education and kids in a homeless shelter.

She knows that VAM is ridiculous.

She knows that tests can be valuable when used for diagnostic purposes, but harmful when used to pin a ranking on students, teachers, principals, and schools.

She gets it.

Here is a small part of the interview. Jeff asked why NEA delegates voted for a resolution calling on Duncan to resign.

“Bryant: So what’s the frustration for teachers?

“Eskelsen: Here’s the frustration – and I’m not blaming the delegates; I will own this; I share in their anger. The Department of Education has become an evidence-free zone when it comes to high stakes decisions being made on the basis of cut scores on standardized tests. We can go back and forth about interpretations of the department’s policies, like, for instance, the situation in Florida where teachers are being evaluated on the basis of test scores of students they don’t even teach. He, in fact, admitted that was totally stupid. But he needs to understand that Florida did that because they were encouraged in their applications for grant money and regulation waivers to do so. When his department requires that state departments of education have to make sure all their teachers are being judged by students’ standardized test scores, then the state departments just start making stuff up. And it’s stupid. It’s absurd. It’s non-defensible. And his department didn’t reject applications based on their absurd requirements for testing. It made the requirement that all teachers be evaluated on the basis of tests a threshold that every application had to cross over. That’s indefensible.

“Bryant: So any good the Obama administration has tried to accomplish for education has been offset by the bad?

“Eskelsen: Yes. Sure, we get pre-K dollars and Head Start, but it’s being used to teach little kids to bubble in tests so their teachers can be evaluated. And we get policies to promote affordable college, but no one graduating from high school gets an education that has supported critical and creative thinking that is essential to succeeding in college because their education has consisted of test-prep from Rupert Murdoch. The testing is corrupting what it means to teach. I don’t celebrate when test scores go up. I think of El Paso. Those test scores went up overnight. But they cheated kids out of their futures. Sure, you can “light a fire” and “find a way” for scores to go up, but it’s a way through the kids that narrows their curriculum and strips their education of things like art and recess.

“Bryant: Doesn’t Duncan understand that?

“Eskelsen: No. That reality hasn’t entered the culture of the Department of Education. They still don’t get that when you do a whole lot of things on the periphery, but you’re still judging success by a cut score on a standardized test and judging “effective” teachers on a standardized test, then you will corrupt anything good that you try to accomplish.”

Wow! This post will knock your socks off, unless you work for the U.S. Department of Education. The post was written by Mark NAISON, one of the co-founders of the BATs. (I don’t know why, but my iPad always converts Mark’s last name into all-caps.)

The Badass Teachers Association held a rally outside the U.S. Department of Education on July 28, and several were invited to meet with staff at the Office of Civil Rights to air their grievances and see if they could find common ground. After some talk, some of which was contentious, Arne Duncan dropped in unexpectedly and joined the conversation, but said he would talk about only two subjects:

“Secretary Duncan after introducing himself, and saying that he could only stay for a few minutes, asked for two things; first if we could articulate our concerns about the Department’s policies on dealing with Special needs students, and secondly, if Shoneice and Asean could step out with him to talk about what was going on in Chicago.

“In response to his first comment, Marla Kilfoyle started speaking about her concerns about Department from her standpoint of the parent of a special needs student as well as a teacher. She said it appeared that Department policies were forcing school districts to disregard individual student IEP’s and exposing special needs students to inappropriate and abusive levels of testing.

“Secretary Duncan deflected her remarks by saying that the Department was concerned that too many children of color were being inappropriately diagnosed as being Special Needs children and that once they were put in that category they were permanently marginalized. He then said “We want to make sure that all students are exposed to a rigorous curriculum.”

“At that point, I interrupted him in a very loud voice and said “ We don’t like the word ‘rigor.” We prefer to talk about creativity and maximizing students potential.”

“Secretary Duncan was somewhat taken aback by my comments. He said “ we might disagree about the language, but what I want is for all students to be able to take advanced placement courses or be exposed to an IB (International Baccalaureat) curriculum.

“At this point, Larry Proffitt interrupted the Secretary and said that in Tennessee, Special Needs students were being abused and humiliated by abusive and inappropriate testing and that their teachers knew this, and were afraid to speak out.

“We were clearly at an impasse here, which the Secretary dealt with by saying he had to leave and asking Shoneice and Asean to step into the hall with him and continue the conversation.”

This is a small part of a fascinating report on the BATs meeting at the DOE. When people ask me why I support them, I say, “They speak truth to power.” Here is the proof. Too many educators are docile and compliant. They are not.

Please read the whole post.

Do you think that Arne Duncan really believes that the greatest need of students with disabilities is access to rigorous AP and IB courses?

Jason Carter, grandson of President Jimmy Carter, is running for governor of Georgia against incumbent Nathan Deal. Carter, elected to the state senate in 2010, is a graduate of Duke University who served in the Peace Corps in South Africa, the graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law. His wife is a high school teacher. Carter has made education a centerpiece of his campaign and has been especially critical of the devastating budget cuts imposed on the state’s public schools by Governor Deal. This year, election year, Governor Deal proposed to increase education funding, following years of budget cuts. Carter has emphasized that funding education is economic development, an investment in the future.

This showdown is a chance to build a bipartisan coalition to support public schools in every community.

Leading with His Chin: Deal’s Laughable Attack Ads

Ads Betray Vulnerability on Education Issues

ATLANTA—Two new attack ads from Gov. Nathan Deal show his campaign is desperate five months out from Election Day.

“Gov. Deal has the worst record on education in the history of this state,” said Matt McGrath, campaign manager for Carter for Governor. “It’s laughable that he thinks he can trick parents, teachers and students into believing his newfound interest in education funding is anything but an election year sham.

“That said, if Gov. Deal wants to talk about education and whose vision is better for Georgia families, we’re happy to have that debate.

“Jason has been a champion for investing in our schools. He has laid out a specific plan to make sure that students, parents and educators are treated like the priority they should be. Jason is the only candidate in this race with credibility any on education.”

Carter spoke about his plans to invest in education during a conference of Georgia school board members last week. Gov. Deal had been scheduled to speak at the same conference, but canceled at the last minute [Savannah Morning News, 6/13/14] [Creative Loafing, 6/16/14].

At the same conference, Republican State Superintendent John Barge said the governor has “a negative past in dealing with public education,” adding, “The positive things he’s to do this year will be viewed by most folks as election-year politics. And not sincere” [Creative Loafing, 6/16/14].

See below for a summary of Gov. Deal’s record on education:

Governor Deal Is Starving K-12 Education In Georgia

GOVERNOR DEAL’S ELECTION YEAR INTEREST IN K-12 EDUCATION IS TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

In an election year, Governor Deal made his first effort to close Georgia’s education funding gap, but still missed the target by three-quarters of a billion dollars [Georgia Department of Education QBE Report for 2015, accessed 6/5/14].

Forty percent of the budget increase for education in this year’s budget covers routine formula increases. The budget only restores $314 million of the year’s austerity cut of $1.06 billion. [GBPI, Jan. 2014]

Gov. Deal’s budget is failing to do what he promised it would. GBPI: “[T]he governor’s [FY 2015 budget] proposal does include money for salary adjustments for state employees, Board of Regents staff and K-12. But the increase is probably not enough for every state employee and teacher to receive even a token pay raise” [GBPI, 02/06/14]. This week, the Muscogee County School District announced it is laying off 42 employees after losing $1 million in state funding this year [Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, 6/16/14]. Other districts across the state are seeking waivers to raise their class sizes to as high as 36 students per class [WSAV, 6/10/14] [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 4/28/13].

GOVERNOR DEAL HAS UNDERFUNDED K-12 EDUCATION IN GEORGIA BY BILLIONS

On average, Governor Deal has underfunded K-12 education in Georgia by over $1 billion per year since taking office [Georgia Department of Education QBE Reports for 2012-2013, accessed 4/16/14].

After just four years in office, Gov. Deal is responsible for more than half of the total austerity cuts (about $4.1 billion). In the 13 years since “austerity cuts” to K-12 education began in FY 2003, Georgia has underfunded Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding by a total of over $7.5 billion. Between FY 2003 (when “austerity cuts” began) and FY 2011 (when Gov. Deal took office)—a period encompassing the worst years of the Great Recession—the average QBE shortfall was just $380 million per year. Nathan Deal’s average has been more than 250 percent higher than that, at just over $1 billion per year [Georgia Department of Education QBE Reports for 2003-2015, accessed 6/5/14].

LOCAL TAXES ARE GOING UP, BECAUSE THE GOVERNOR HAS FAILED TO ADEQUATELY FUND K-12 EDUCATION AT THE STATE LEVEL

At least 91 Georgia school districts have had to raise local tax rates between 2010 and 2013, with at least 38 having done so in the last year alone “to offset the combined financial pressure of increased expenses and deep state budget cuts” [GBPI, 11/13; Georgia Department of Revenue Tax Digest Millage Rates for 2010-2013, accessed 6/12/14.]

THE NUMBER OF SCHOOL DAYS IN MOST GEORGIA DISTRICTS HAS FALLEN BELOW 180 DAYS, WHILE CLASS SIZES HAVE GROWN AND PROGRAMS ARE CUT

Each year since Gov. Deal took office, more than two-thirds of Georgia school districts have not taught the 180-day school year, with several districts cutting 30 or more days [Data from the Georgia Department of Education; GBPI, 11/13].

More than 95 percent of Georgia school districts surveyed by GBPI have increased class size since 2009 [GBPI, 11/13].

Public school class sizes in Georgia have increased as districts struggle with funding cuts and falling tax revenue. AP reports: “about 80 percent of Georgia’s 180 school districts approved plans to surpass class size caps last year. Districts are allowed to surpass class size caps as long as they get the decision to do so approved during a public meeting.” [AP, 7/28/13]

Eighty percent of surveyed Georgia school districts will furlough teachers this year, and the majority are slashing funding for professional development [GBPI, 11/13].

About 42 percent of surveyed districts are reducing or eliminating art or music programs and 62 percent are eliminating elective courses. More than 38 percent of surveyed districts are cutting back on programs that help low-performing students [GBPI, 11/13].

Increasing class sizes is a problem with educators trying to teach a more rigorous curriculum. AP: “[S]tudent performance diminishes when class size increases, and overcrowded classrooms can lead to a loss of discipline and more disruptions.” [AP, 7/28/13]

HAVING DRASTICALLY UNDERFUNDED K-12 EDUCATION FOR YEARS, GOV. DEAL NOW WANTS LOCAL AUTHORITIES TO TAKE THE BLAME FOR TEACHER FURLOUGHS AND STAGNANT TEACHER PAY

On his website, Gov. Deal attempts to wash his hands of responsibility for the tough choices his chronic underfunding of education has foisted on local school boards and says questions as to how to make too little money go far enough to meet each district’s needs are “up to your local school board to decide . . .” The website suggests that, if a citizen, parent, teacher or other stakeholder in Georgia’s public education system wants to see teachers better compensated for the critical work they do, he or she should join Gov. Deal in “calling on the school boards to pay teachers more.” [nathandeal.org/payteachersmore, accessed 6/12/14]

“[T]he Nathan Deal campaign is attempting to turn back [criticism that Georgia school systems are “broke” by pointing] dissatisfied parents to local school boards.” From the AJC: “Now the Nathan Deal campaign is attempting to turn back [criticism that local school systems are “broke”] – with this online petition that points dissatisfied parents to local school boards.” [AJC, 2/7/14]

###

Jennifer L. Owens
Deputy Political Director
Jason Carter for Governor
jennifer@carterforgovernor.com
Cell: (404) 625-4377

Veteran educator Val Flores pulled off a stunning upset when she beat a well-funded candidate for a seat on the state board. No one thought it could happen.

Val spent $20,000. Her opponent spent $135,000. Val won by a margin of 59-41.

Jeanne Kaplan, a former member of the Denver school board, explains what happened.

A circuit court judge in Alabama ruled that a law to give public dollars to private schools is unconstitutional.

“A program that pro-public education activists have called a throwback to the 1950s–a time when Alabama tried avoiding integration by directing public school funds to private schools–has been ruled unconstitutional by a Montgomery County circuit court judge.

“The Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 targeted students attending public schools that the state deemed “failing.” Instead of providing real solutions to help all students gain access to a quality public education, the Accountability Act starved public schools of critical funding.

“The law created a tax-credit program that used public dollars to reimburse the cost of tuition to those parents who pulled their children out of public schools and enrolled them in private or religious schools. Tax credits were also given to companies and individuals who gave money to certain organizations to fund scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools.
The program cost taxpayers $40 million during the 2013-14 fiscal year, yet, studies show that voucher and tuition tax-credit schemes don’t result in a better education for students.”

The law was challenged by the Alabama Education Association. It is sure to be appealed.

John Kuhn is the superintendent of the small Perrin-Whitt Independent School District in rural Texas. He is an eloquent speaker and supporter of public education. He has spoken at national events and recently published two new books. He knows that the schoolssuffernot only fro budget cuts but from Washington’s wildly unrealistic expectations. He knows it would be nice if every student were bound for college but he knows it is unrealistic and turns success into failure.

This is a wonderful interview with the Texas Tribune. You will enjoy reading it.

This is the last Q&A:

“Trib+Edu: How has your life been different since 2011?

Kuhn: Not a whole lot different in terms of my day-to-day life. I still basically do what I’ve always done for a living and that is work in a rural public school and try to serve my community to the very best of my ability. I’ve been invited to give some speeches here and there and I’ve written a couple of books … I think speaking out like I did put me in a situation to where I’ve been educated in the political reality that affects local schools.

Previously, I just kind of accepted whatever rolled down from Washington, D.C., and whatever rolled down from Austin. I kind of thought the role of a teacher and educator was just to live with dumb policies. And I don’t think that anymore. I think now that I have a moral obligation to speak up and say, “Hey, this policy is dumb. It doesn’t work and this is what we’re seeing on the frontlines.”

I’m a fan of public education. I grew up in a little, rural Texas town where the public school was the center of what we did in town. There was no mayor’s office. It’s an unincorporated town and the school was the heart of the community. And I think, politically, we’ve kind of forgotten how important public schooling is in Texas.”

Ras Baraka is in a tough fight for Mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

The hedge fund managers have poured into the campaign more than $1 million–that has been reported–to defeat him and to turn over more public schools and children to corporate charter chains. Please help save public education in Newark by supporting Ras Baraka.

Ras is a high school principal and a member of the Newark City Council.

Please donate whatever you can to help him.

The primary election is May 13.

He needs your help NOW.

This is what Mark Naison wrote about Ras Baraka:

“Friends of public education. The most important election in the nation regarding the future of public education is happening right now in Newark New Jersey. On one side is Shevar Jeffries, a lawyer and a huge charter school supporter getting millions of dollars in contributions from Hedge Fund advocates of school privatization and on the other side is Ras Baraka, a high school principal who has been in the front lines of community voices resisting Chris Christie “One Newark” plan and the school closings and mass teacher firings which have accompanied it. Rarely has there been a clearer choice for defenders of public education and those who think Big Money Interests should not determine the future of our schools. Ras Baraka is not only the right choice for Newark students, teachers and families, his election will inspire candidates like him to come forth in cities like Philadelphia and Chicago and Los Angeles where pro privatization Mayors currently are in office. And he is not just strong on paper. His is a brilliant speaker, someone who inspires those who hear him to step forward in the struggle for justice, and take on the Special Interests who are deforming our democracy.

“Any way you can help this campaign will help our entire movement. We need Ras Baraka as Mayor of Newark, and we need more people like him to run for office in every urban center in the nation

https://m.facebook.com/profile.php?id=246039618866448″

David Gamberg, superintendent of two neighboring school districts in Long Island–Southold and Greenport–has taken the lead in trying to forge a vision for the renewal of public education. He is one of the brave superintendents who have organized meetings with his peers, with fellow citizens, with other educators, to think about how to improve the public schools. He, along with his fellow superintendents in Shelter Island and Shoreham-Wading River, brought together renowned experts to discuss ways to strengthen the education profession though collaboration and teamwork, rather than falling for the false promise of competition. Competition in the small towns and villages on the North Fork of Long Island would shatter communities, not strengthen them. I have met with David Gamberg; he is very proud of the music programs in his community schools as well as the garden where children raise their own vegetables. He is a kind person, who cares about children and those who teach them. Imagine that.

In this essay, Gamberg considers the choices before him and his colleagues:

 

Two Roads Diverged…

David Gamberg

…no this is not Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, but it is where we stand—at a crossroads in education. We have two competing views of how we as a nation should travel into the future. On one side exists a technocratic solution—the system has failed or is failing, and therefore a radical change is necessary. This is the disruptive innovation view. To those who subscribe to this view, the covenant that we have had with public education since the days of Horace Mann in the 1850s is no longer what drives this most fundamental democratic enterprise. They would carve up neighborhoods, sort and select human beings into winners and losers (children and adults alike), and treat learning like a business.

 

On the other side exists a powerful vision to promote the core values and practices established by the highest achieving educational systems on earth. Many exist here in America, while others are thriving in both large and small countries outside the U.S.

 

Don’t be fooled by the protagonists that stand at the fork in the road waving a false banner of bad business practices trying to lure the public. Their claims suggest the road ends with the pot of gold promising that we will regain the lead in a globally competitive market place. Cheered on by celebrities and the media elite who fail to see the potholes in the road that no banner of merit pay, standardized testing, vouchers, and charter schools will repair—this is a road to ruin. This crowd of cheerleaders claims to see great promise in racing, competing, and overcoming society’s challenges with “Taylor like” dystopian metrics used to beat others, where only the strong survive.

 

A road that celebrates childhood, and one that sees professional teachers and teaching as being indispensible to building the future of our nation is a stark contrast to our foray down the path of slick silver bullets that dominate the landscape of the current reform agenda. Don’t be misled. There are no easy “microwavable answers” to what we must do to promote the best for our children in America’s schools. Intractable issues like poverty, civic engagement, and the preservation of an enlightened citizenry will not be solved by tougher standards, market driven schemes, and a divided public education system.

 

At issue is a choice of how we can best serve our democracy. This is not a choice between the public and private sector, the left or right on the political spectrum. It is, however, a choice between a society that advances the principles of how individuals and organizations perform well, given the best evidence available, or how we might follow a narrow band of profit driven, unproven metrics that leads to potentially corrupt and short sighted returns.

 

Evidence abounds that the current reform agenda is reeling with mistrust, broken communities, and a simplistic attempt to leverage what works in some “ business sectors” and misapply it in others.

 

The alternative to the current agenda is not a pipe dream. This is not some nostalgic yearning for the good old days. Rather, hard won victories in strengthening the professional work of educators and forging lifelong habits of mind in our youth that will serve both themselves and the larger society well do exist. It is a wise path that sensible leaders and thoughtful adults espouse for themselves, their families, and their communities. In the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

This comment came from a teacher in Mexico who read the post by a charter school teacher in a “no excuses” charter school. .

She writes:

“I am a kindergarten teacher in Mexico we belong to the so called third world and what you have described as a bad experience is what is happening here too. This kind of teaching has led us to a lack of values and a general violent citizenship. This is a wrong way, it is like going backwards. If you as a country start teaching your kids as third world countries or as dictatorships do you are in danger of losing the progress and the benefits of a civilized society where human rights and human development will be lost. Please keep on fighting to support your public schools so we can have a role model to follow; do not give up what you have achieved, give us some hope by standing for the joy of learning, for the respect of children, for preserving their integrity and dignity, do not let go, please, keep on leading the way so we can refer to you when we try to explain to our authorities what school should be.”

“Please look at this teacher you will love it though it is in spanish. Performance para repensar el rol del docente – El…: http://youtu.be/f00lfICI6s4″

Sara Stevenson, one of the heroes of this blog, reads the Wall Street Journal regularly, and she gets outraged every time the paper writes an editorial or publishe an article blasting public schools. That occurs frequently, as the WSJ supports privatization, not public schools.

When Sara read an article by a charter teacher in his second year of teaching, she wrote the following letter. In what other field would a person with so little experience pretend to expertise?

She wrote:

Dear Editors,

Almost daily you publish pieces lashing out against public schools. You give prime print real estate to a second year teacher, Nicholas Simmons– something you would never do for a newbie in any other profession.

I am grateful that you have published some of my letters through the years, but I am requesting a bigger platform. I would love the opportunity to write a short piece, along the lines of Mr. Simmons’s, about the selection bias inherent in high-flying charter schools and elite private schools. I’d also like to discuss the demoralizing effect your barrage of education bashing has on those of us working daily in our nation’s public schools. If you don’t want to hear from me, although I have twenty-two years of teaching experience (eleven as a public school librarian and ten as a private, Catholic high school teacher), please consider publishing a piece by Perrin-Whitt ISD superintendent, John Kuhn. I stayed up late last night reading his fabulous book: “Fear and Learning in America.”

Here is a review of his book that I posted on goodreads.com this morning.

John Kuhn, of the famous Alamo letter and rallying cry at the Save Texas Schools Rally in 2011, has written a book that will completely confirm or convert you to the cause of protecting the great democratizer, public education, from its assault by government, business, and so-called reformers. If I had used a highlighter to mark significant passages and hard-hitting barbs, every page of this book would be permeated yellow. The book is that good. It’s also highly personal with stories about how this good ole Texas Baptist farm boy woke up to the attack on teachers and public schools and how current policies play out in real children’s lives. This is the most important book to read on what is happening in education in this country. Get involved. Save our Schools! Read this book!

I am having a difficult time holding onto my WSJ subscription, which I have had since 1991. I love your reporting, your Personal Journal and other features. Your editorial pages are a trial for me, but I force myself to read them and respond. I know I can’t change your minds, but please listen to us. Give the other side a voice. I am not a union teacher. I’m in Texas, where we have no unions, no tenure. I’m 54 and just now passed the $50,000 salary threshold. I love my work as a middle school librarian. I am passionate about inspiring my children to become lifelong readers, who make the best citizens. On the other hand, I am disheartened by your editorial board’s continued assault on public schools.

Thank you for listening.

Sincerely,

Sara Stevenson
O. Henry Middle School librarian
Austin, Texas
512-414-6998

http://www.ohenrylibrary.com

P.S. If you wonder why I’m able to write this during work hours, it’s because my library is shut down for the third day this week for state testing.

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