Archives for category: US Education

The commenter who calls himself or herself “Democracy” says the following about the Reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as NCLB):

“Bill Mathis correctly points out that education legislation pending in the Congress “would still ‘disaggregate’ test results by ethnic affiliation and income levels so as ‘to shine a light’ on the disparities and inequalities of educational opportunities and outcomes.” He adds this: “These inequalities have been well-documented for the last half-century.” And yet, they persist.

The problem is that proposed legislation does nothing to address the inequities. To provide substance would “require politicians and inside the beltway actors to actually press for funding equal to the mandates. It would require significant investments in job, community and comprehensive educational support systems.”

Over at the Center for Education Reform, resident crackpot Jeanne Allen dispenses some horrifically bad information and advice on education “reform.” Allen claims (incorrectly) that “65 percent of America’s K-12 student population that is failing and falling through the cracks” (she must not read anything about NAEP scores or disaggregated PISA scores).

Allen says that “the federal role should be one of assessment and data gathering,” and “there must be firm consequences for federal spending at state and local levels” because “local control is a hallow theme when it is school board groups and teachers unions doing the controlling.” Yet, when it comes to charter schools, Allen wants no accountability whatsoever.

Allen demands merit pay for regular public school teachers based on student test scores, even though there is no solid research to support it. As Mathis notes, “test-based evaluation systems have such a high error rate that their use in teacher evaluation is unstable.” This troubles Jeanne Allen not at all. But then, the Center for Education Reform gets its funding from conservative organizations like the Arnold, Bradley, Broad, Kern, Milken, and Walton Foundations, and from the Gates Foundation.

To cite but two examples, the Arnold Foundation is a right-wing organization founded by a hedge-funder who resists accountability and transparency in derivatives markets but calls for them in education. Its executive director, Denis Cabrese was former chief of staff to DIck Armey, the Texas conservative who now heads up FreedomWorks, the group that helps to pull the Tea Party strings and gets funding from the billionaire arch-conservative Koch brothers.

And the Walton Foundation focuses on “competition”, “charter school choice,” “private school choice,” and teacher effectiveness. It funds groups like Teach for America, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (whose board of directors includes Rick Hess and whose advisory board includes a KIPP founder, a Walton board member, and education blatherer Andrew Rotherham) and the Charter School Growth Fund (interestingly, Kevin Hall sits on the board of both this group AND the Charter School Authorizers and was previously the “Chief Operating Officer of The Broad Foundation” and “worked at…Goldman, Sachs & Co., and Teach For America.”).

The corporate-style “reformers” – and their Republican and Democratic allies – care not for addressing the real inequities in American public schooling.

And that truly is a shame.”

A reader who signs in as “democracy” posted this comment:

Education in a democratic republic has a special place and purpose. At least it’s supposed to, and public education’s purpose is most certainly NOT to make a society “more competitive.” Aristotle argued for a system of public education in ancient Athens, noting that “each government has a peculiar character…the character of democracy creates democracy, and the character of oligarch creates oligarchy, and always the better the character, the better the government.”

Democratic governance is supposed to be “of the people, by the people, for the people.” By contrast, oligarchy is government by a relatively small – usually wealthy – group that “exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes.” Considering who funds the Common Core, and who supports it (think the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce), and the process by which it was brought to fruition, is there really any question as to the purpose behind it?

Early state constitutions in the U.S., like those of Massachusetts (1780) and New Hampshire (1784), set up and stressed the importance of a system of public education. The Land Ordinance of 1785 provided for public school financing in new territories. In Virginia, Thomas Jefferson sought a publicly-funded system of schools, believing that an educated citizenry was critical to the well-being of a democratic society. In his Notes on the State of Virginia (1794), Jefferson wrote “The influence over government must be shared among all men.” The earliest advocates for public schools –– Jefferson, George Washington, Horace Mann, for example –– agreed that democratic citizenship was a primary function of education.

There are those who don’t believe in the fundamental purpose of public education. They are not interested in the developing the “democratic citizen,” one who understands and is committed to the core values and principles of democratic governance; one who is imbued with the “character of democracy.” There are certain people and groups and special interests who’ve felt threatened by education for “the masses,” especially Mann’s view of public education as “the balance-wheel of the social machinery” in a democratic society. And this begs the question, is the Business Roundtable committed to the core values and principles of democracy? The Chamber of Commerce? Bill Gates? Jeb Bush? And what about Arne Duncan?

All of these people and groups make two false claims about public education in the United States. First, they say that public schools are in “crisis.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

As I’ve noted repeatedly, the data (which these folks claim to care about) have shown and continue to show that there is no general “crisis” in public education in the United States.

The Sandia Report (Journal of Educational Research, May/June, 1993), published in the wake of A Nation at Risk, concluded that:

* “..on nearly every measure we found steady or slightly improving trends.”

* “youth today [the 1980s] are choosing natural science and engineering degrees at a higher rate than their peers of the 1960s.”

* “business leaders surveyed are generally satisfied with the skill levels of their employees, and the problems that do exist do not appear to point to the k-12 education system as a root cause.”

* “The student performance data clearly indicate that today’s youth are achieving levels of education at least as high as any previous generation.”

The critics like to cherry-pick international test data to buttress their call for “reform.” I suppose if –– like the Roundtable and the Chamber – you’re willing game the economy for profit at the expense of the nation, while calling for more top-end tax cuts and the axing of social safety net and public programs, then you’re also quite willing to lie about a set of numbers.

Reading is considered to be a key to learning and school achievement. Below are PISA reading scores (disaggregated for the U.S., which has an incredibly large, diverse, and increasingly poor student population:

Average score, reading literacy, PISA, 2009:
[United States, Asian students 541]
Korea 539
Finland 536
[United States, white students 525]
Canada 524
New Zealand 521
Japan 520
Australia 515
Netherlands 508
Belgium 506
Norway 503
Estonia 501
Switzerland 501
Poland 500
Iceland 500
United States (overall) 500
Sweden 497
Germany 497
Ireland 496
France 496
Denmark 495
United Kingdom 494
Hungary 494
OECD average 493
Portugal 489
Italy 486
Slovenia 483
Greece 483
Spain 481
Czech Republic 478
Slovak Republic 477
Israel 474
Luxembourg 472
Austria 470
[United States, Hispanic students 466]
Turkey 464
Chile 449
[United States, black students 441]
Mexico 425

[Note: data can be gleaned at ]

The common refrain among the current crop of “reformers” is that their brand of “reform” is necessary to “make America more competitive” in the global economy. Bill Gates says it. Jeb Bush says it. The U.S. Chamber says that ““Common core academic standards among the states are essential” U.S. competitiveness. The Business Roundtable resurrects the “rising tide of mediocrity” myth of A Nation at Risk, saying (falsely) that ““Since the release of A Nation at Risk in 1983, it has been increasingly clear that…academic expectations for American students have not been high enough.” And Arne Duncan parrots what they say.

However, as I continue to point out, the U.S. already IS internationally competitive.

The World Economic Forum ranks nations each year on competitiveness. It uses “a highly comprehensive index” of the “many factors” that enable “national economies to achieve sustained economic growth and long-term prosperity.”

The U.S. is usually in the top five (if not 1 or 2). When it drops, the WEF doesn’t cite education, but stupid economic decisions and policies.

For example, when the U.S. dropped from 2nd to 4th in 2010-11, four factors were cited by the WEF for the decline: (1) weak corporate auditing and reporting standards, (2) suspect corporate ethics, (3) big deficits (brought on by Wall Street’s financial implosion) and (4) unsustainable levels of debt.

Last year (2011-12), major factors cited by the WEF are a “business community” and business leaders who are “critical toward public and private institutions,” a lack of trust in politicians and the political process with a lack of transparency in policy-making, and “a lack of macroeconomic stability” caused by decades of fiscal deficits especially deficits and debt accrued over the last decade that “are likely to weigh heavily on the country’s future growth.” The WEF did NOT cite public schools as being problematic to innovation and competitiveness.

And this year (2012-13) the WEF dropped the U.S. to 7th place, citing problems like “increasing inequality and youth unemployment” and, environmentally, “the United States is among the countries that have ratified the fewest environmental treaties.“ The WEF noted that in the U.S.,”the business community continues to be critical toward public and private institutions” and “trust in politicians is not strong.” Political dysfunction has led to “a lack of macroeconomic stability” that “continues to be the country’s greatest area of weakness.”

[Note: data on 2009, from the 2010-1011 competitiveness report can be found here: ]

The critics continue to point the finger of blame and responsibility, though, at public schools and teachers. Seriously, you’d almost have to be a moron to buy into this stuff. And yet……

The problem in American public education is largely one of poverty. The data show it. Indeed, PISA scores (the scores usually cited by public education critics) are quite sensitive to income level. If one disaggregates U.S. scores the problem becomes clearer: the more poverty a school has, the lower its scores. The presumed do-gooders seem to think that more “competition” and ambitiousness will cause the schools to fix the effects of poverty. Those effects are pernicious.

A technical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics on the damaging effects of toxic stress in children – the kind of stress found in high-poverty urban areas – finds that such stress involves “activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis and the sympathetic-adrenomedullary system, which results in increased levels of stress hormones, such as corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline. These changes co-occur with a network of other mediators that include elevated inflammatory cytokines and the response of the parasympathetic nervous system, which counterbalances both sympathetic activation and inflammatory responses.”

The result is that “toxic stress in young children can lead to less outwardly visible yet permanent changes in brain structure and function….chronic stress is associated with hypertrophy and overactivity in the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex, whereas comparable levels of adversity can lead to loss of neurons and neural connections in the hippocampus and medial PFC. The functional consequences of these structural changes include more anxiety related to both hyperactivation of the amygdala and less top-down control as a result of PFC atrophy as well as impaired memory and mood control as a consequence of hippocampal reduction.”


In plain speak, alleviating poverty and its pernicious effects, and providing children with high quality environments before they get to school, and following up with health and academic and social policy programs while they are in school, results not only in high-quality education but also in a high-quality citizenry….and in promoting the general welfare of the nation. This is surely not what the “reformers” want. It might – will – require a cessation to the gaming of the “markets” and the tax system.

The public education system in a democratic republic is supposed to develop and nurture democratic character and citizenship. That’s the kind of reform we need.

And it’s exactly the kind of reform the “reformers” detest.

Conservative groups are hoping to cripple teachers’ unions by urging members to “opt out.”

According to the Wall Street Journal blog, “A coalition of 60 groups in 35 states has begun a national campaign to tell workers they have the right to opt out of a labor union, and are providing instructions on how and when to do it.

“The campaign, which launched Sunday, is the brainchild of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, libertarian think tank. The group last year ran a local campaign informing teachers in the Las Vegas area how and when to opt out of the Clark County Education Association, a union affiliate of the larger National Education Association. To opt out, members had to submit a written notice during a two-week window in July, which many did, campaign leaders say.”

A union official in Nevada said: “The real intent of right-wing organizations like NPRI is to strip teachers of their bargaining rights as well as their organization’s political advocacy for public education,” Ms. Elias said.”

Will it improve education if teachers’ unions are destroyed?

Well, let’s see, the nation’s highest performing states–Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut–are highly unionized. Without the collective voice of teachers, it is easy to cut education spending, eliminate the arts, and increase class sizes. Rendering teachers voiceless in their working conditions is not good for students or teachers.

Julie Underwood, dean of the school of education at the University of Wisconsin, has been watching ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and warns that their agenda includes the elimination of local school boards.

School boards are a basic democratic institution. Some 95% are elected. They hire and fire superintendents and set each district’s policy goals. Most people would see them as an expression of local control, a place where citizens may voice their views.

But ALEC has a radical agenda of privatization, and the school boards get in the way. ALEC would like to see more vouchers and charters, and the creation of unelected state boards that can override local decision-making.

Leo Casey explains here that there really is “class warfare” in the U.S. today.

It is not the 1% that is attacking unions and working Americans.

It is the 1% of the 1%.

Nine of the ten richest Americans–all billionaires–are united in opposition to rights for working people.

They don’t want working people to have an assured pension.

They don’t want teachers to have any job security.

They want to roll back the New Deal.

They want capital to be unfettered.

They want teachers to have no rights at all.

They want to open up public education for entrepreneurs and profiteers.

They want privatization of public education.

But do not despair.

Armed with knowledge, we can beat them where it counts: at the polls.

What is presently called “reform” consists of market-based policies such as school choice, high-stakes testing, evaluating teachers by test scores, and closing schools.

The Broader Bolder Approach to Education just released a report on what they call “market-oriented reforms.” The report analyzes performance data in three “market-oriented” cities–Washington, D.C., Chicago, and New York City–and concludes that in these districts, the rhetoric trumps the reality. Non-market-oriented districts consistently outperformed the three “market reform” districts.

The authors say in summary:

“Top-down pressure from federal education policies such as Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind, bolstered by organized advocacy efforts, is making a popular set of market-oriented education “reforms” look more like the new status quo than real reform. Reformers assert that test-based teacher evaluation, increased access to charter schools, and the closure of “failing” and under-enrolled schools will boost at-risk students’ achievement and narrow longstanding race- and income-based achievement gaps. This new report from the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education examines these assertions by comparing the impacts of these reforms in three large urban school districts – Washington, D.C., New York City, and Chicago – with student and school outcomes over the same period in other large, high-poverty urban districts. The report finds that the reforms deliver few benefits, often harm the students they purport to help, and divert attention from a set of other, less visible policies with more promise to weaken the link between poverty and low educational attainment.”

A reader comments:

The profitization of public education on the backs of students, parents & teachers is obscene to the spirit of the human being business we call Education. Families raise the children, educators prepare them for the free world as American citizens armed with knowledge and compassion to contribute to the good of this planet.

No matter how critical the corporate deformers think testing should be to the rest of us, WE educators have something they do not…experience.

The business model just doesn’t work quite the way they think it should in education. We aren’t manufacturing widgets, cookies or engine parts that are built through exact science and physics…all ingredients are the same in measure and substance to the finished product that rolls out on the assembly line after rejects are tossed out for scrap materials.

We are grooming human beings who are uniquely individual and diverse in their abilities, culture & wiring. Last time I looked out into my classroom, there weren’t any robots looking back at me.

It may feel right to test the living hell out of kids for the sake of using the latest data analysis and pretend it’s important to the artful task of teaching, but coming from a Southern farm growing up, I may know a thing or two about how to produce a fine, marketable outcome.

“You can’t fatten a pig by weighing it!” Testing is NOT teaching.

The results can redirect teaching, suggest new methods, offer ideas and determine that more time is needed for a child to learn the material, but excessive amounts of testing will not create a learned student. It is a waste of time beyond the basic measurement of how “fattened” s/he is with the knowledge needed to become a great American citizen.

That time is better used to connect, welcome an abiding relationship and create a more humane environment in which a child can truly learn and grow into the kind of citizen we all want going out into the world.

Quit the bickering, ignore the foul pundits who seem to think it’s okay to make blood money from their pitiful displays of greed and start speaking out against it all. This meek & mild approach to our work has to end. Some will be sacrificed, but that’s what happens in great battles.

We have all the good stuff on our side. Without an uprising and demanding of the right change, we will continue to suffer. The administration has been put in the middle of this tirade, forced to succumb to irrational mandates funded by philanthropists and govt interventions that do not work and from the top down, the teachers carry all that angst, frustration and fear into the classrooms where it is dumped onto the hearts and minds of students.

Make no mistake about this truth folks…the conditions of education are the conditions in your childrens’ classrooms. Always has been, always will be. It’s a human being business and no amount of infiltration of corporate shenanigans will ever change that. Don’t mess with human nature, big boys. You will never be greater than that reality. I am one “Edgy-cator” these days! ranks and rates the nation’s public, charter and private schools. It aims to be a consumer’s guide for parents who are shopping for a school.

I know some of those involved, and I know they mean well. But this sort of rating service, based on data and reviews, not only raises a basic question—how can you judge an establishment you have never visited or seen with your own eyes–but contributes to the marketplace mentality that is now dissolving any sense of community or support for public schools.

The rating system reinforces the data-driven perspective that keeps everyone obsessed with testing and ranking and rating. And in doing so, it promotes consumerism as parents search desperately for better rated alternatives, not knowing that the alternatives may be no better. The end result is destruction of community and loss of the commons.

This may not be the intention of those involved in the organization. But in life, intentions matter less than outcomes.

This letter came from a teacher in Texas:

Dear Dr. Ravitch:

I am not sure if you have dealt with these morons before, but I am infuriated and am writing to you to see if you can use this in your blog to educate parents nationwide.

I recently learned from my parents, that an editorial came out in our local newspaper, the Laredo Morning Times, where our local school districts both received rankings of 3 and 4 respectively, from an “Independent Organization” called “Great Schools” on a 10 point scale. Basically, the editorial cited that both districts have the worst state test results in decades as of the recent administration of the now called STARR test, previously TAKS, previously TAAS, etc, etc, ad nauseoum.

From a cursory browsing of the Great Schools Web Site, if you look at the list of supporters and funders, you see the all too familiar names of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Group, etc. And their officers and board members? All of them seem to be a parade for private school alumni and hedge fund managers.

I am taking advantage of our Thanksgiving holiday week, to send a letter exposing these jerks, and defending our public education system, at least at the local level, to our town newspaper. These jokers have just smeared the faculty members of mine and many other campuses by saying our districts are failing our students. On the website, you can see many ads for charter schools, K12, and many other pictures that scream privatization and school choice.

Their misleading slogan of “Involved Parents, Succesful Kids” leads site visitors to believe that they are all pro-students, when in reality, they are advertising a painful truth in our districts( Poverty and Family Violence, among many other issues that create null parent involvement) and using it as a way to convince the uneducated parents that privatization, school choice and online charters are better.

If you can offer any insight on how to draft my letter to the newspaper, your wisdom would be immensely appreciated. I am not going to let this attack on the profession I love so much go unanswered.

Yours in Education,

Why do we have public schools? Would we be better off, as certain reformers now think, if everyone had school choice and went to a charter or used a voucher to go to a private or religious school?

Do we need public schools?

I asked Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center, New York, how she would answer these questions.

How would you answer?

This is what Carol wrote:

“When I think of the purpose of public schooling I always think of Dewey’s famous phrase that is stenciled into the entrance wall of Teacher’s College ““Schools are the fundamental method of social progress and reform” (Dewey,1897). I believe that these words are as true today as when they were first included in John Dewey’s “Pedagogic Creed” .

“There is a compact that exists between a community and its public school. It is a promise that the school will teach every child that passes through its doors—poor children, affluent children, children with disabilities and children who show great academic promise. The common public school is required to teach the easy to teach and the difficult to teach. The common public school is there for the student with strong parent advocates and for the child who is, for all practical purposes, alone.

“Most important of all, it is where such children meet and sit side by side in classrooms, on bleachers and in cafeterias. They learn from each other as surely as they learn from their teacher. That social learning is also what gives rise to the promise of social progress and social reform.

“I attended a private high school where I met children who looked like me, thought like me and prayed liked me. It was a good school, but I did not have as rich an experience as the public school students who attend my school. There were no students with substantial learning disabilities in my high school. It was a test-in school so no one struggled with academics. Only two of the students who attended were Black, and none of the students were poor. There was learning that I missed during my teenage years. I am glad we sent our daughters to public school.

“Charters and privates are not designed to serve all students—they are designed to serve students who are more like each other than not. Although there may be some diversity, those who are truly different either never apply, are never accepted or are counseled out. . One has to only look at New York City Schools, which are becoming more segregated and stratified by income than ever before, to understand the outcome of charters, selection policies and choice.

“We can take the easy road that leads to improvement for some kids at the expense of others, or the more difficult road that will improve education for all kids. Without vibrant, supported public schools, the second option does not have a chance.”


A reader offers his observations:

Charter Schools, a failure that cannot be measured.

January 12, 2013 by Joe Hernandez

As I drive happily and optimistically through our South Florida roads, I can’t fail to notice the familiar signs we are all accustomed to viewing, the burger chains, gas stations and the strip malls. As an educator and more specifically, a school psychologist, something catches my eye in a decrepit, run down strip mall, a charter school. I pull in, curious, as to what this school has to offer, as it looks like any other store I could walk in, including an adult book store a few hundred feet away and a gun shop to go with it! I ask the friendly young lady behind a window, what type of school is this? She happily explains that this is a Kindergarten through Eigth grade charter school. Curiously, I ask where are the classrooms? She answers, they are behind that door, but I’m sorry, visitors are not allowed back there. So I ask, may I see the school counselor? I have some questions about enrolling my children here. The young lady quickly snaps back and says, “I am the school counselor”. Being of a mental health background I naturally ask, what experience do you need to be a counselor here? She quickly responds, none, that is just my title. I enroll students here. I only work part-time here. At this point, this so-called counselor is beginning to become suspicious of my intentions. So she asks, would you like to see our administrator? I answer no, not now at least, I am going to read the application completely first.

I settle down into what appears to be an old sofa of a doctor’s office, in fact, the whole charter school appears to be an old office renovated for educational purposes, complete with the obnoxious sliding glass window you need to knock on to get the attention of the office aide/school counselor to turn in your application. In the far distance, I can here the familiar laugh of children and a teacher screaming at the top of her lungs “shut up”. I look around the small waiting room, and I cannot help to notice a young lady wringing her hands, with an impatient look. Next to her, is a stack of papers and a textbook. Curious, I ask her, how do you like this school? She quickly responds that she is very disappointed. Very disappointed I ask? Yes, she says, as she begins to recount how she arrived to this school. I was offered something called a McKay Scholarship where I could choose any school I wanted private or public. Acting naive, I asked, isn’t this a good thing? She answers back, well, on the surface, everything looks great. The school is small, the staff is friendly, and the students all have to wear uniforms. So what is the problem?, I ask. She quickly explains that in order for her “application” to be accepted she had to sign a waiver. A waiver I ask? Yes a waiver. You see, when my child was in public school last year, she was receiving special education services for her Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. This school, like most other charter schools do not have the resources that public schools have. So you are required to sign a waiver stating that even though your child has “special needs” you agree that the school does not have to provide any accommodations. Surprised at this revelation, I asked the parent, and you agreed to this? Well, the school seemed so eager to please, I felt at ease that my child could learn here. So what are your plans, I ask the mother. I am going to ask the administrator if the staff could at least look at her previous year’s work and have some compassion. I looked back at her and asked, and when will the administrator see you? She snapped quickly, they told me in half an hour, but as you can see, you and I have been close to an hour here and there is no administrator in sight. I again ask naively, is this common? Oh, you don’t know? I said no, I am applying here. She looks at me straight in the eyes, think twice about the decision you are about to make. There is one administrator for the ten charter schools this company runs.

At this point, I had heard or you can say learned enough. I quietly exit the waiting room and venture to the back alley of the strip mall to see for myself what type of Physical Education field or playground this charter school had to offer. As I passed numerous, obnoxiously smelling dumpsters, I observed a fence, a 20 by 20 feet area approximately, that had a group of students doing some jumping jacks. There were no swings, slides, fields to run through, nada! Just concrete and space to do some kinesthetics!

By this time, my charter school curiosity had been fulfilled, I had seen enough what this “free, unregulated, market model” had to offer our children. I believe my experience with this randomly selected charter school, in a local strip mall may not be representative of all charter schools. I suspect that charter schools, located in our more affluent/wealthier neighborhoods run at a higher standard. Naturally, this defeats the notion of an “equal education for all”. Some may disagree with me and say, there is no more segregation in our education system. I beg to differ, charter schools are creating and contributing to what I call the new “socio-economic segregation” of our times. It is the cancer that is draining the resources of an education system, already stretched to its limits, and that has long been regulated to serve all of our children, hungry, poor, rich, disabled, gifted etc.

Joseph Hernandez, ED.S.
School Psychologist


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