Archives for category: U.S. Department of Education

This essay was written by Horace Meister, a young untenured scholar who cannot use his own name for fear of retribution. Read it and judge it by the evidence.

 

This is what happens when policy is based on ideology, not evidence.

 

He writes:

 

The power and reach of the federal Department of Education (DOE) has grown dramatically since 2009. The DOE has used Race to the Top and the controversial granting of waivers from the legal mandates of No Child Left Behind to force states to implement very specific policies. These policies include increasing the number of charter schools, evaluating teachers through value-added measures, and implementing the Common Core Standards and associated assessments. The DOE has also attempted to improve the “lowest-achieving schools” by closing them, turning them over to private operators, or firing the principal and/or the staff.

 

Unfortunately, not a single one of these policies has any supporting evidence. As a sector charter schools do not have better student outcomes than public schools.[i] Value-added metrics are unreliable measures of teacher quality.[ii] The adoption of standards has no effect on student learning.[iii] The “lowest-achieving schools” are statistically schools that work with a more challenging student body, not schools with failing teachers and principals.[iv]

 

It is bewildering to see an entire department of the federal government taken over by what can only be described as mass hysteria. With no evidence backing their policies, we are left with ideology and the power of special interests as explanations for what is happening. This refusal to use evidence in evaluating educational policies is apparent in the work of Arne Duncan’s chief speechwriter, David Whitman. In 2008 he wrote a book, Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism.[v] The book profiles six “no excuses” schools and argues that they show the way to a radically improved education system in the United States. But let’s see if the evidence actually supports this claim.

 

The first school profiled in the book is the American Indian Charter School in Oakland, California. Whitman forgot to mention that “half the 6th grade students performing poorly in 2007 had left the school before graduation, and only 39 of the 51 students who started in 2006 completed their middle school years with AIPCS[vi].” He also forgot to mention that “Chavis [the principal] routinely abused his students verbally, humiliating them in front of their classmates, to force them [to] score higher on tests or quit the school altogether… At minimum, Chavis’ schools appear to be nothing more than a rigged system in which mostly high-scoring students apply to get in, are accepted, and then continue to score well on tests.[vii]” Another story noted that “there’s evidence to suggest that the school’s high scores aren’t the result of an unusually high caliber of teaching or organization, but rather the educational equivalent of bringing in ringers… the school appears to be asking parents to submit test scores as part of their student’s applications.[viii]” Strangely enough Whitman claimed on page 80 of his book that the school was “hardly an example of selective recruiting or creaming from the top of the local academic ” It appears that he didn’t dig deep enough.

 

Moving on to the second school profiled in the book– Amistad Academy, an Achievement First school in New Haven, Connecticut. Here is what’s really going on at Amistad “Data show that for nearly one of them [i.e. graduating seniors] who walked across the stage Wednesday, another was “lost” along the way. Students “lost” to Amistad include one senior who withdrew in March to attend adult education…Of the 64 students who entered Amistad High in 2009 as freshmen, plus two who joined the group after freshman year, 25 are graduating this year and heading to college; seven were retained and plan to graduate high school next year; and 34 withdrew from the school.[ix]” Whitman notes (on pages 119-120) that every Achievement First school “is expected to keep student attrition to less than 5 percent a year.” He somehow forgot to mention that Amistad fails to meet this expectation.

 

Another aspect of the Amistad “model” is captured by this parent comment “the middle school is a stressful, mentally abusive, black children being degraded mess! I have never seen a kid get so many DEDUCTIONS, OSS, ISS in my life. If you are so much about kids getting their education, why are you so quick to kick them out of class and/or suspended them?[x]

 

 

The third school profiled is Cristo Ray Jesuit High School in Chicago, Illinois—a school that requires all students to work one full weekday a week to pay off tuition costs. An interview with G.R. Kearney who wrote More Than a Dream: The Cristo Rey Story: How One School’s Vision Is Changing the World noted that “Almost half of the student who enroll in Cristo Rey fail to graduate from Cristo Rey.” To which the Kearney added “Cristo Rey has a fairly rigorous application process, though there is no entrance exam. The school goes to great pains to ensure that the students selected to attend are capable of graduating and attending college. In theory, those students who would be true negative influences are screened out in the application process.[xi]” The interviewer also mentioned that the descriptions of disciplinary issues at the two schools dramatically differ between the two books “Whitman seemed to describe it as a place where discipline problems almost magically ceased to exist while Kearney provides a slightly different picture.” This raises some questions about whether or not Whitman’s descriptions of the schools he profiles mirror reality.

 

We are halfway through the list of schools that Arne Duncan’s chief speechwriter believes should serve as the model for transforming the entire American education system. So far we haven’t seen anything at all compelling. What comes next? The forth school profiled is KIPP Academy in Bronx, New York. Much space in Whitman’s chapter is devoted to describing the orchestra in which every student participates. When describing the school’s academic outcomes Whitman acknowledges (pages 176-78) that KIPP Academy serves students with higher incoming academic performance than the district average, many fewer English Language Learners (who score poorly on standardized exams), and many more female students (who in aggregate do better on standardized exams than male students). He nonetheless insists (page 175) that “the usual demographic suspects fail to explain the superior performance of KIPP students.” It is clear that Whitman has not done his research and neglects to mention lots of relevant data. “On their math tests in the fourth grade (the year before they arrived at KIPP), KIPP students in the Bronx scored well above the average for the district, and on their fourth-grade reading tests they often scored above the average for the entire city.[xii]” “KIPP Academy had one of the highest suspension rates among New York City charter schools.[xiii] Despite Whitman’s claim that “like their peers at comparison schools, KIPP students are likely to live in poverty (page 175)” the data actually show that KIPP schools in New York City have dramatically fewer free lunch students than local public schools.[xiv] KIPP schools in New York City serve many fewer high need special education students.[xv] And KIPP Academy has a 20% cohort attrition rate in middle school.[xvi]

 

Ironically, KIPP schools in New York City have done rather poorly on the policies that Whitman writes speeches for Duncan defending. Reporting on the Common Core test results Politico noted “the highly touted KIPP network also stumbled, with proficiency rates well below the city average for several grades and subjects.[xvii]” KIPP teachers also receive lower value-add scores than teachers at comparable schools.[xviii]

 

The fifth school profiled by Whitman is SEED, a boarding school in Washington D.C. The sky-high attrition rates at this school make it anything but a model for nationwide reforms. One analysis noted that of students who began 7th grade at SEED “most of their cohort was gone by the time graduation rolled around.[xix]” The SEED high school alone has attrition rates of over 50%, although Whitman only acknowledges attrition as an issue in the middle school.[xx] The New York Times describes “The incoming class of 70 students slowly dissipated each year so that by senior year, the remaining students barely filled a gym bleacher. The high attrition made the school’s much-lauded college acceptance rate less impressive: If a class of 70 seventh graders fell to 20 students by the time of graduation, those remaining 20 students were arguably among the best — at least in terms of self-discipline and a willingness to stick it out — of the original class.[xxi]

 

We now come to the final school model, University Park Campus School, in Worcester, Massachusetts. This is the only public school profiled by Whitman and it has a number of interesting characteristics. Unlike the other schools in the book, which focus on lecture-centered pedagogy, University Park Campus School’s focus is on group work. This is more aligned to the teaching style used in schools that serve America’s middle and upper class students than the militaristic methods focused on obedience all too common in “no excuses” schools serving America’s lower class students.

 

Whitman mentions some demographic differences, such as more students coming from “intact families” than the district average. He forgets to mention a lot of others– including half the number of African-American students and three times the number of Asian students as the district average.[xxii] He also forgets to mention that the school serves half as many English Language Learners and half as many special education students as the district average.[xxiii] Whitman claims (page 244) that “its attrition rate is effectively zero” but the data show that the attrition rate is actually 8% a year and five times higher among African-American and Hispanic students than White and Asian students.[xxiv] English Language Learners attrite at a rate 4% higher than the student average.

 

Whitman’s claim (on pages 243-44) that “unlike the two other high schools profiled… University Park has succeeded not only in eliminating the college attendance gap but the achievement test gap as well” is demonstrably false. According to the data the school has a 15% AP exam pass rate, well below the national average.[xxv]

 

So where does this all leave us? It is no fun to debunk the work that schools, principals, and teachers across America are doing. Each and every one of the schools discussed here has dedicated leaders and teachers doing amazing work with students every single day. In the current political climate claims about the performance of some schools are used by our Secretary of Education to bludgeon and demean the rest.[xxvi] That is not OK and the misrepresentations must be addressed. Hopefully, there will be a shift in policies at the federal level to reflect evidence and data.

 

We all want great teachers for every student. So let’s provide the training and on-the-job professional development that teaches teachers how to be great teachers.[xxvii]

 

We all want teachers to be held accountable for doing a great job with students. So let’s increase the use of peer-to-peer observation, feedback, intervention, and dismissal when appropriate.[xxviii]

 

We all want great schools for our students, especially students living in poor neighborhoods. So let’s build community schools that provide wraparound services for students.[xxix] And yes, let’s acknowledge that without addressing underlying issues of poverty, racism, and social inequality in neighborhoods and homes we will never close the achievement gap.

 

We all want our children to have rich and engaging curricula. So let’s ensure that our school districts are providing their schools with such curricula that teachers can modify and adapt for their students.[xxx]

 

We all want to know how are students are doing in school. So let’s let teachers create assessments that make sense for their classes and students. As has been done throughout history teachers will share the assessments and student progress in a transparent fashion with students and parents. A high-quality standardized exam given to a sample of students every other year will suffice to serve as a standardized measuring stick to norm across schools.

 

We all want to know the truth and create an education system that works for all students. So let’s stop perpetuating myths and falsehoods for ideological reasons.[xxxi]

 

 

[i] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/09/24/the-bottom-line-on-charter-school-studies/

[ii] https://www.amstat.org/policy/pdfs/ASA_VAM_Statement.pdf

[iii] http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/pb-options-2-commcore-final.pdf

[iv] http://shankerblog.org/?p=8664

[v] A pdf of the book can be found here http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED502972.pdf

[vi] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Indian_Public_Charter_School

[vii] http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2012/06/18/its-time-to-close-the-american-indian-public-charter-schools

[viii] http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/are-american-indian-public-charter-schools-test-scores-inflated/Content?oid=3233632

[ix] http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/amistad_signing_ceremony/

[x] http://www.greatschools.org/connecticut/new-haven/1440-Amistad-Academy/reviews/ typos have been corrected.

[xi] http://www.edpolicythoughts.com/2009_09_01_archive.html

[xii] http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/magazine/26tough.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all&oref=slogin

[xiii] http://school-stories.org/2012/05/pushed-out-charter-schools-contribute-to-the-citys-growing-suspension-rates/

[xiv] http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2011/07/06/zip-it-charters-and-economic-status-by-zip-code-in-ny-and-nj/

[xv] https://dianeravitch.net/2012/12/20/inflated-claims-of-charter-success-in-nyc/

[xvi] http://miracleschools.wikispaces.com/KIPP+Academy+New+York

[xvii] http://www.politico.com/story/2013/08/new-york-fails-common-core-tests-95304_Page2.html

[xviii] http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/what-do-the-available-data-tell-us-about-nyc-charter-school-teachers-their-jobs/

[xix] http://shankerblog.org/?p=1078

[xx] http://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/2011/07/charter-school-attrition-exposes-bs-of.html

[xxi] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/magazine/27Boarding-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[xxii] http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/profiles/student.aspx?orgcode=03480285&orgtypecode=6&leftNavId=300&

[xxiii] http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/profiles/student.aspx?orgcode=03480285&orgtypecode=6&leftNavId=305&

[xxiv] http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/attrition/default.aspx?orgcode=03480285&fycode=2014&orgtypecode=6&

[xxv] http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/massachusetts/districts/worcester-public-schools/university-pk-campus-school-9570/test-scores

[xxvi] http://garyrubinstein.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/arne-debunkin/

[xxvii] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/magazine/why-do-americans-stink-at-math.html

[xxviii] http://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/spring-2014/one-piece-whole

[xxix] http://www.communityschools.org/assets/1/Page/CCSFullReport.pdf

[xxx] http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2009/10/14-curriculum-whitehurst

[xxxi] http://www.amazon.com/Myths-Threaten-Americas-Public-Schools/dp/0807755249

SomeDAM Poet (Devalue Added) writes poems on current issues with frequency:

“The Perfect Reform Storm”

When education reform
Becomes a perfect storm
The stakes align
Like fronts in time
And chaos is the norm

Andy Sher, a reporter in Tennessee, thought he would trip up Lamar Alexander by saying that he supported national standards when he was U.S. Secretary of Education in 1991-92, and is thus hypocritical now when he criticizes Common Core.

Senator Alexander explained that he supported voluntary national standards then and now.

Senator Alexander is right. I was there. I administered the award of grants to professional groups of teachers and scholars to write voluntary national standards. We made awards to develop standards in science, history (U.S. and world), English, the arts, civics, economics, physical education, foreign languages, and geography. We made no awards to secret committees headed by entrepreneurs, only to professionals in the field.

As Senator Alexander says, we made clear that the standards were strictly voluntary. It was up to states to use them or not, to revise them as they saw fit. There were no tests of the standards. That was left to the states too.

The goal was to inspire states, not compel them. One thing I admired about Lamar. He never thought he had all the best ideas. He respected federalism.

Laura H. Chapman provides here the relevant federal statutes that restrict the role of federal officials to prevent federal intrusion and control of public education. The prohibition of federal employees exercising any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, instruction or personnel of public schools was enacted when the U.S. Department of Education was created in 1979. Secretary Duncan insists that the Department of Education is not directing or influencing curriculum or instruction by its ardent support for the Common Core standards or its $360 million funding of CCSS tests. We all know that standards and tests don’t influence curriculum and instruction, right?

Legal Restriction: “U. S. Congress. General Provisions Concerning Education. (2010, February). Section 438 (20 U.S.C. § 1232a). US Code TITLE 20 EDUCATION CHAPTER 31, SUBCHAPTER III, Part 2, §§ 1232a. Prohibition against Federal control of education. No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, or over the selection of library resources, textbooks, or other printed or published instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, or to require the assignment or transportation of students or teachers in order to overcome racial imbalance.” Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/20/usc_sup_01_20.html

Legal Restriction: “The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-110, 115 Stat. 1425 (2002). Section 9527 ESEA amended by NCLB (20 U.S.C. § 7907(a).1) This provision is based on 20 U.S.C. 7907(a) (Section 9527(a) of NCLB). Section 7907(a) is one of the ESEA’s general provisions contained in Title IX of the Act. It states: Nothing in this [Act] shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s curriculum, program of instruction, or allocation of State or local resources, or mandate a State or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this [Act]. 20 U.S.C. 7907(a).”

Since 2002 federal officials have been threading legal needles with the carefully contrived language of “deniability” if they are accused of violating federal law.

No one in Congress has the interest or courage to call for the hearings needed to expose the damage, incompetence, and under the table deals with lobbyists–all enabling the destruction of public education except for the funding that will subsidize for-profit schemes conjured by billionaires who see education the nation’s young people as a source of profit and, in some cases,opportunity for indoctrination.

Missouri Education Watchdog is a wonderful blog that I discovered only recently.

 

In this post, these questions are raised: why doesn’t the U.S. Department of Education know about the tenth amendment to the Constitution? Why, under Arne Duncan, is the DOE unaware of federalism? Why is the DOE constantly overstepping its bounds, trying to impose its ideas not only on states but on districts? Don’t the leaders and lawyers know that they are breaking the law? The law is clear: no employee of the U.S. government is supposed to influence, control or direct the curriculum or instruction in the nation’s public schools. Democrats and Republicans agreed on that provision; neither wanted the other to interfere in what is a state and local responsibility.

 

The most recent transgression is an initiative called “The Future Ready,” in which the DOE is bypassing states and going right to the districts to hawk technology.

 

“The main goal of this initiative is to get districts, charters and private schools to commit to maximizing their use of digital learning and broadband access to the internet. They want schools to fund the resources necessary to “leverage their maximum impact on student learning… to develop the human capacity, digital materials, and device access to use the new bandwidth wisely and effectively.” In other words, buy more devices so you can meet our Race To The Top goal of 1:1 student:device ratio so you can purchase more digital learning services and supplies. They have a lot of high powered (well funded) friends of Washington who produce educational supplies and services who need to be repaid for helping get the right people in office so the bureaucrats could get an appointment.

 

“They want districts to “transition to effective digital learning,” to “achieve tangible outcomes for the students they serve.” So here we all still are on the outcomes based education bandwagon.

 

“It’s a nice little system. Millions of students with no other education option, will be pushed into using a private company’s product which will in turn continuously collect data on their use to improve said product. And who benefits from this? The private company. How many of our Superintendents will gladly be team players and sign this little pledge without any careful consideration of the costs of such an action? If history is any example, it unfortunately will be many.

 

“Among other things, the pledge commits districts to helping support home internet access. Since when is this the job of a school district? If it is, then shouldn’t they also support efforts to get every child a nice desk and chair at which to study? Shouldn’t they also be in the business of making sure every child has a nice bed since sleep is critical to learning readiness? Where does the school district’s responsibility end when it comes to a child’s education? And since when is it the job of the education department of the federal government to make sure that internet is available in the home? Sure the internet is useful, but is this how we want our education dollars spent – paying for school officials to work on these kinds of ancillary projects? Aren’t we in fact turning our district personnel into free lobbyists for all the private companies who will benefit financially from the district’s use of technology?”

Peter Greene calls attention to a new federal grant program of $28.4 million, to pay for low-income students to take Advanced Placement courses. AP courses are a source of revenue for the College Board, whose president is David Coleman, architect of the Common Core.

Greene writes:

“I will remind everyone, as I always do, that the College Board (home of the AP test and the SATs) is not a philanthropic organization, administering these tests as some sort of public service. They are a business, one of several similar ones, selling a product. This program is the equivalent of the feds saying, “Students really need to be able to drive a Ford to school, so we we’re going to finance the purchase of Fords for some students.”

“What does the College Board get out of this program?

“Huge product placement. David Coleman’s College Board has been working hard to market the AP test as the go-to proof that a student is on the college path. Some states (PA is one) give extra points to school evaluation scores based on the number of AP courses offered. The new PSAT will become an AP-recommendation generator. This program is one more tap-tap-tap in the drumbeat that if you want to go to college, you must hit the AP. The program can also be directed toward IB tests or “other approved advanced placement tests,” but it’s the AP brand that is on the marquee.

“The product placement represents a savvy marketing end run. The AP biz has previously depended on the kindness of colleges to push their product. But colleges and universities weren’t really working all that hard to market the College Board’s product for them. Now, with the help of state and federal governments and their own PSAT test, the College Board is marketing directly to parents and students, tapping into that same must-go-to-college gut-level terror that makes the SAT test the must-take test.

“$28.4 million.

“What do low-income students get out of this?

“A chance to take an AP test. Not, mind you, more resources to get ready for it, nor do they get help with actually going to a college after taking the test (which may or may not give them any help once they get in).

“These grants eliminate some of the financial roadblocks for low-income students taking Advanced Placement courses, letting them take tests with the potential of earning college credit while in high school,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.”

So it’s not help to prepare for the tests, no guarantee of earning college credit in high school, just a chance to take a test that you may not be prepared for. And a nice addition to the College Board’s bottom line. Let us not forget that Coleman got his start at McKinsey. He is a businessman, not an educator. And the College Board’s relationship with the DOE is good business.

After reading Mark Naison’s account of the BAT’s meeting with DOE staff and the Duncan himself, Peter Green was delighted that staff at the U.S. Department of Education finally had to listen to teachers that were not hand-picked to be deferential.

He noted two important points that inadvertently emerged from the talk.

“First, Marla Kilfoyle expressed her concerns about the Department’s new policy of testing students with disabilities into a magical state of Not Having Disabilities.

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 student are exposed to a rigorous curriculum.”

So… we’re afraid that too many children of color are being mislabeled as having special needs, so rather than fix that, we’re just going to operate on a new assumption that students labeled special needs don’t actually have special needs. This is perhaps not the most direct way to attack that particular problem (we might start by checking to see how big a problem it is).

Then this, in a discussion of VAM and school closings, leading to the subject of teacher evaluation.

They two officials [one communications guy and an intern] had no real answer to what Dr Wiliams was saying and deflected attention from his critique by insisting that we needed to hold teachers accountable by student test scores because there was no other way of making sure teachers took every student seriously and helped all of them reach their full potential.

It’s not that we didn’t deduce this already, but there’s your statement. Teachers are the problem. We don’t want to do our jobs and the only way we can be made to do our jobs is with threats, because that’s the only thing we will possibly respond to.”

There you have it. Teachers won’t do their job unless D.C. Is threatening them. Please understand that most of the staff at the U.S. Department of Education have never taught. They are bureaucrats or clerks or very nice people who landed a good job in government.

How dare they tell teachers how to teach and threaten their jobs?

Sarah Reckhow and Jeffrey W. Snyder explain the new educational philanthropy–and how it intersects with federal priorities–in this valuable article.

They spot three significant trends:

“Our analysis proceeds in three parts. First, we examine phil- anthropic grant-making for political activities and demonstrate that funding for national policy advocacy grew from 2000 to 2010. Second, we analyze the shifting policy orientation among top education philanthropies. We find that most major education foundations increasingly support jurisdictional challengers— organizations that compete with or offer alternatives to public sector institutions. Meanwhile, funding for traditional public education institutions has declined. Third, we examine the range of actors and perspectives supported by philanthropic grants, applying social network analysis to identify overlapping patterns of grant-making. We find that top donors are increasingly supporting a shared set of organizations—predominantly jurisdictional challengers. We argue that the combination of these trends has played a role in strengthening the voice and influence of philanthropists in education policy.”

What are jurisdictional challengers? These are organizations that challenge the traditional governance of education, such as charter schools. More philanthropic money goes to these challengers, less money goes to traditional public schools, and more money goes to networks of jurisdictional challengers, like the NewSchools Venture Fund and Stand for Children.

This is a fine scholarly work that confirms what many of us saw with our own eyes. The philanthropic sector–led by Gates, Walton, and Broad and their allies like Dell–prefer disruptive organizations of charters to public schools. Indeed, they are using their vast fortunes to undercut public education and impose a free market competition among competing schools. As they go merrily about the task of disrupting an important democratic institution, they work in tandem with the U.S. Department of Education, which has assumed the task of destabilizing public education.

Big money–accountable to no one—and big government have embarked on an experiment in mass privatization. Do they ever ask themselves whether they might be wrong?

Here is the latest federal government report on fraud, waste, and abuse in the charter sector. It was released in May 2014 by the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education. The most common type of fraud identified was embezzlement.

CHARTER SCHOOL VULNERABILITIES TO WASTE, FRAUD, AND ABUSE

With the increase in funding that schools are receiving through the Recovery Act, we issued a report that highlighted past OIG investigations involving fraud at charter schools. The report brought to the Department’s attention our concern about vulnerabilities in the oversight of charter schools. Since 2005, OIG has opened more than 40 criminal investigations at charter schools, which have thus far resulted in 18 indictments and 15 convictions of charter school officials. Charter schools generally operate as independent entities that are subject to oversight by an LEA or authorized chartering agency. Our investigations have found, however, that LEAs or chartering agencies often fail to provide adequate oversight needed to ensure that Federal funds are properly used and accounted for. The type of fraud we identified generally involves embezzlement. The schemes that are used to accomplish this are varied. For example, we have found cases where charter school executives falsely increased their schools’ child count, thus increasing the funding levels from which to embezzle. We also identified an alleged grade changing scheme that allowed failing students to pass in order to ensure that the school met Adequate Yearly Progress, which allowed the school to continue operating, thus continuing a funding scheme from which to embezzle. We have also unraveled schemes where owners or employees of the charter schools created companies to which they diverted school funds and misused school credit cards for personal expenditures. Our report provided examples of investigative cases involving charter schools. The Department generally agreed with our observations and expressed interest in working with OIG in determining how to enhance, when appropriate, its policies and monitoring processes involving charter schools.

Paul Thomas here reviews many of the public statements of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and finds a common theme: the cause of low test scores is low expectations.

 

If only society, the schools, and parents had higher expectations, no child would be left behind, no child would ever get low test scores, children with disabilities would excel.

 

Embedded in this claim is the strange belief that poverty, hunger, homelessness, racism, and other social maladies have no effect on students’ ability to learn in school.

 

Thomas refers to a list of popular but misguided beliefs that Duncan loves to repeat because they support his narrative of blaming teachers, parents, and schools:

 

In a recent blog post, Jack Schneider identified 10 popular reform claims offered by the current slate of education reformers, including Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, and Duncan himself:

Claim 1: American teachers need more incentive to work hard….

Claim 2: Schools need disruptive innovation. The status quo is unacceptable….

Claim 3: The public schools are in crisis….

Claim 4: It should be easier to fire bad teachers. Tenure is a problem…

Claim 5: Schools need to teach more technology….

Claim 6: Teachers should be paid for results….

Claim 7: We need more charter schools…

Claim 8: We’re falling behind the rest of the world….

Claim 9: Teacher preparation is a sham….

Claim 10: Teachers only work nine months a year….

 

What do these claims have in common? First, each can be found repeatedly in comments made by Duncan, media reports, and the day-to-day assumptions held by the public. Second, each claim is misleading at best, and false at worst.

 

Obama’s USDOE and Secretary Duncan, however, use these widely accepted though false claims as partisan political distraction, rather than relying on evidence-based cases to target politically volatile and unpopular issues related to poverty, racism, inequity, and the short-comings of the free market. That’s not just a shame, it’s deplorable.

 

Thomas says that the U.S. Department of Education has a “twisted culture inside the USDOE—a culture that maintains a message of high expectations for students, teachers, and schools and thus diverts attention away from the more powerful influence of poverty and inequity in both society and schools.

Yet it seems increasingly evident that the only place where low expectations are the main sources of failure is inside the USDOE itself—specifically with the appointment of Duncan.” Duncan is not the only Secretary of Education who never taught, but he is the only Secretary with the arrogance to chastise teachers for their failures and low expectations, as if he knew how to do their job better than they do. Thomas writes that the USDOE is “a collection of appointees under Obama that lacks the experience, expertise and political will to lead the needed reforms facing U.S. public schools. Once the brief flurry of outrage passes, we must admit that the Obama education agenda will remain one of the greatest failures of the hope and change that Obama once promised.” So long as the USDOE continues to ignore the root cause of poor performance, none of their “reforms” will make any difference.

 

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