Everyone wants to reform education. Everyone went to school, so everyone has ideas.

But Amy Frogge, a member of the Metro Nashville School Board, has a truly novel idea: Let experienced educators lead the way. Think of it. Who knows best what children need? Experienced teachers. Who knows best what’s needed to make schools run more efficiently? The people who have been working in them.

Frogge also has the audacious idea that schools would get better if we relied on time-tested research and evidence.

She writes:

“While we must measure progress, our students need more than tests. They need physical activity and unstructured, supervised play. Recess time in many schools has been eliminated or greatly decreased to make way for more instructional time and test prep. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, recess is a crucial component of healthy development that offers cognitive/academic, social/emotional and physical benefits. Here, research verifies common sense: Physical activity actually improves behavior and boosts academic performance.

“All students should have access to a rich, broad curriculum. For-profit testing companies are impacting not only recess, but also school curriculum. Too often, the arts and enrichment activities are curtailed in an effort to improve standardized test scores, which provide only limited information for educators. Students need exposure to music, art and nature. New research indicates that music can even help close the achievement gap, and school gardens offer excellent opportunities for children to spend time outside while learning hands-on lessons about core subjects, healthy eating and the environment.

“As a community, we must ensure that every child comes to school ready to learn. Research confirms that poverty, not poor teachers, is at the root of sagging school performance. Indeed, the single biggest factor impacting school performance is the socioeconomic status of the student’s family. Nashville has seen a 42 percent increase in poverty in the past 10 years, and our child poverty and hunger rates remain alarmingly high throughout the U.S. Too many of our students lack basic necessities, and many suffer what experts have termed “toxic stress” caused by chronic poverty. Our efforts to address this problem must extend outside of school walls to provide “wrap-around services” that address social, emotional and physical needs of children through community partnerships and volunteers.”

Frank Breslin, retired high school teacher, considers the current obsession with standardized testing in reading and mathematics and laments the neglect of history, foreign languages, science, and everything else that is not tested.

He writes:

“Reading and math, indeed, must be taught, but much more besides — literature, history, science, world languages, music, art, and, in an age of childhood obesity, physical education. But, thanks to this mandate, they no longer are because they no longer are tested.

“Even the restorative elixir of play and recess so vital to children is often omitted, so frantic are teachers at not having enough time to cover the testable material of reading and math. The result is an alarming narrowing both of curriculum and of children’s minds by this relentless barrage of testing and test preparation.

“But this has also had an overlooked, though no less pernicious, effect on students, not just by the little that is now being taught, but also by the many subjects now being omitted because there is no time to teach them.

“And it is this that is so very chilling about this educational “reform,” which is not about reform at all, but something very ominous — control of the mind.

“How better undermine education than by crippling thought; how better discourage critical inquiry than by stressing rote learning; how better weaken democracy than by subverting its schools!

“Teachers are deeply disturbed by what is now going on in the classroom. Only someone ignorant of what a school is about, who likens the classroom to an assembly line for the making of widgets, could be blind to the intangible dimension of what should be going on between teacher and students, but no longer is — the opening of vistas, introducing new worlds, the inducing of wonder, pushing back the unknown.

“Gone are those wondrous “teachable moments” that all of us recall from our own childhood years when a teacher would transfix us for a few rapturous moments when time stood still, as he or she took us into the very heart of what it means to be human, thrilling lessons that would remain with us for the rest of our lives. Such old-fashioned teaching is a thing of the past….

“Dickens skewered such “education” in his grotesque portrayals of Victorian schools in Hard Times, Nicholas Nickleby, and David Copperfield, where gargoyle schoolmasters like Gradgrind, Squeers, and Creakle are let loose upon children to their irreparable harm.

“The interminable mantra of “facts” heaped upon “facts,” the dogmatic insistence that only what can be measured, quantified, counted, and weighed is real and important, objective and useful, that all else is humbug — this pestiferous doctrine was unmasked for all times as tragically destructive to children. Such was the national fury and outrage at what innocent children were being made to endure in such schools that they were swept away overnight.”

Only those who know nothing of the love of learning could impose so soulless and deadening a regime on the nation’s children. Unfortunately Washington, D.C. and our state legislatures are overrun with people who resemble Mr. Gradgrind.

Anthony Cody noted a very interesting exchange of comments about the Gates Foundation on Mercedes Schneider’s blog. Schneider wrote about a perceived conflict of interest when the Gates Foundation funds media and even meets with their representatives.

One of her examples was a grant to establish the “Education Lab” at the Seattle Times. The Lab is supposed to report on “success” stories. Focusing on “success” is itself a form of bias , Schneider said. Cody added, “What would stories have looked like in the 1960s if reporters covering the Vietnam War were supported with grants that encouraged them to “focus on success”?”

Then followed, on Schneider’s blog, an exchange between Wayne Au, a professor at the University of Washington, and Claudia Rowe, a reporter for Education Lab.

My bet: Education Lab will never write an article that questions the role of the Gates Foundation in steering American education to satisfy the whims of Bill Gates. A free press must be free of its sponsors.

Rahm Emanuel wants to privatize public education as much and as fast as he can. Aside from closing down 50 schools in one fell swoop, the mayor privatized custodial services to two companies for $340 million over three years, promising cleaner schools and cost savings.

But, as reported by Catalyst, a respected journal that covers education in Chicago, principals complain that their schools are filthy and rodent-infested. The corporations have promised to improve.

Sarah Karp of Catalyst wrote, in an article titled “Dirty Schools Now the Norm Since Privatizing Custodians: Principals”:

“The $340 million privatization of the district’s custodial services has led to filthier buildings and fewer custodians, while forcing principals to take time away from instruction to make sure that their school is clean.

“That is the finding from a survey done by AAPPLE, the new activist arm of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.”

The leader of AAPPLE, principal Troy LaRiviere, is an outspoken defender of Chicago’s public schools and its students.

Valerie Strauss summarizes responses from principals to the new arrangement:

“Principals reported serious problems with rodents, roaches and other bugs, filthy floors, overflowing garbage bins, filthy toilets, missing supplies such as toilet paper and soap, and broken furniture — issues they said they didn’t have before. Now, many said, they spend a lot of time trying to clean their buildings.”

One of the companies, Aramark, announced recently that it would lay off 476 custodians, 20% of the custodial workforce. This may improve its profits but is likely to worsen its services.

Tom Ratliff, a member of the Texas state Board of Education, wrote this article for the Longview News-Journal. It is a warning to parents not to assume that charter schools are better than public schools. On average, he says, the opposite is true.

 

Public schools ranked higher for financial accountability:

 

During the 2012-13 school year (the most recent year of the rating), Texas’ traditional public schools far outperformed charter schools in both academic and financial measurements. Don’t take my word for it, look at the information straight from the Texas Education Agency:
Financial accountability: bit.ly/1rIFYsm
Academic accountability: bit.ly/1pXZ3RZ
To summarize these reports, I offer the following:
The FIRST rating is the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas and, according to the education agency, is designed to “encourage public schools to better manage their financial resources in order to provide the maximum allocation possible for direct instructional purposes.” I think we all agree, that’s a good thing to measure.
According to the agency, the FIRST rating uses 20 “established financial indicators, such as operating expenditures for instruction, tax collection rates, student-teacher ratios, and long-term debt.” How did the schools do? Glad you asked.
Traditional ISDs: 89 percent ranked “superior” and 1.2 percent ranked “substandard.”
Charter schools: 37 percent ranked “superior” and 20 percent ranked “substandard.”
Yes, one out of five charter schools ranked “substandard” on how they spend the tax dollars supporting them, while almost 9 out of 10 ISDs ranked “superior”.

 

And public schools outperform charter schools academically too:

 

Let’s shift our attention to academic performance. If the academic performance is good, the taxpaying public might be more understanding of a low rating on a financial measure. Unfortunately, the charters do not compare well there, either, under the 2014 TEA Accountability System.
Traditional ISDs: 92.6 percent met standard, while 7.4 percent did not.
Charter schools 77.7 percent met standard, while 17.3 percent did not.
Again, almost one out of five charter schools failed to meet the state’s academic standards.

 

And then Tom Ratliff asks the best question of all:

 

“Where is the outrage from groups like the Texas Association of Business or the Austin Chamber of Commerce?” Those groups rarely miss an opportunity to criticize the shortcomings of traditional ISDs. Why not express concerns when numbers like these relate to charter schools? If these numbers were attributable to ISDs, you can bet those groups would be flying planes around the Capitol and holding press conferences like they have in the past. A little consistency would be nice when asking for taxpayer-funded schools to perform as expected.”

 

Ratliff points out that his father wrote the original charter law. It is refreshing to see a policymaker looking at the data and seeing that competition does not translate into better education or more accountability. By the way, Tom’s father Bill Ratliff –former Lieutenant Governor of Texas–is already a member of the blog’s honor roll for his willingness to speak up and think for himself. A good Texas family.

The Providence Student Union Is an inspirational group of high school students who have shaken up Rhode Island. Due to their creative protests against high-stakes testing, especially the use of a normed, standardized test for graduation, they won the support of the Boston Globe and then the state legislature, which declared a moratorium on using tests for high stakes purposes.

Take a moment and help PSU organize other high school groups.

This is a letter from Aaron Regunberg, one of the PSU leaders who just won the Democratic primary for a seat in the State Senate:

“PSU was nominated for an award from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation for $100,000 dollars. Here’s all the information:

http://www.rifuture.org/help-the-providence-student-union-win-100000.html

And here is the award site:

http://www.nmefoundation.org/grants/larry-o-toole-award.aspx

As you can imagine, $100,000 would be game-changer – not just for our organization, but really for the fight for public education across our state. Everything we’ve been able to do has been on a shoestring budget; with that level of resources, we could create a student union in every urban district in Rhode Island and really change the power balance for public ed in RI.

In order to win, we need to get more online votes than the 5 other nominated groups. We’ve had a really late start – as we’ve been working on the actual state elections until this last Tuesday – and now need to kick into high gear.

If you could encourage your loyal readers and fans to vote (takes 10 seconds) and spread the word, it truly could make a radical difference here in RI. You can use the language from the post on RIFuture above.

–Aaron”

Bertis Downs, a member of the board of directors of the Network for Public Education, lives in Georgia. He sent the following comment, which gives hope that the citizens of Georgia will support their local public schools and vote for a Governor who wants to improve them. An earlier post described Governor Nathan Deal’s desire to create a statewide district modeled on the failed RSD in New Orleans (failed because most of the charters are rated D or F by the state and the district as a whole is one of the lowest performing in the state).

 

Bertis writes:

 

 

Some narrative-shifting appears to be going on here in GA I am happy to report (but not resting on any laurels as we are up against the Big Money snake oil nonsense like everywhere else of course)

But some examples:

–from Savannah Morning News, this is good to see, a clear and direct report on the effects of budget cuts over time–

http://bit.ly/1ux1Sjs

–from middle Georgia, Macon’s Telegraph had a recent editorial on education and poverty with a key paragraph:

“During this political season, there is no better question to ask the candidates, particularly those running for state school superintendent and governor, what they plan to do to support the state’s K-12 education system. Then, whoever is elected, will have to be held accountable if they don’t keep their word.”

http://bit.ly/1wt1LaA

–and in Athens news, check out this editorial on our school board and superintendent pushing back about the absurdities of the new testing heavy statewide teacher evaluation system– the Athens Banner-Herald supporting the position of our local educators is a good thing:

http://bit.ly/1q2NpFo
http://bit.ly/1tB14Hp

–finally, here is an interesting piece on the GO PUBLIC film recently screened in Athens:

http://bit.ly/1tQU1dN

Jason Carter has built his campaign on public education issues and slowly but surely the word is getting out that if we want to truly support public schools and teachers in Georgia, Jason Carter is the right candidate for governor. And with the incumbent faltering by the day, his talking points now featuring unabashed support for Jindal-style reform gimmicks like RSD, it’s no wonder the polls are tied and Jason has a serious chance of winning by attracting moderate Republican and independent education voters. Nobody, Republican, Democrat or Independent, nobody likes to see their local schools diminished and weakened, good teachers leaving teaching, and their children’s love of learning sapped away by the high-stakes overtesting being done these days in the name of “reform.” People are realizing the fact that under the current state leadership, that’s what Georgia will continue to get– if Deal gets another term.

From reader Chiara:

 

This is absolutely amazing. [Ed: read the story in the link]

 

The Ohio Department of Education has chosen a lobbying group. StudentsFirst, to direct efforts to “inform” parents on whether to turn over a bunch of public schools to private contractors under the Parent Trigger:

 

“Columbus Superintendent Dan Good said yesterday that the district is working to understand all the nuances of the law. On Tuesday, the school board is to hear a presentation by the Education Department and StudentsFirst, the group that the department chose to inform and organize parents”

 

Rules released by the department yesterday refer to StudentsFirst as a “neutral third party,” but Columbus Education Association President Tracey Johnson said the group is not neutral; it’s a school-reform lobbying organization.”

 

This is ridiculous. Our state Department of Education is completely captured by lobbyists.

 

They’re a joke. I resent paying these people. I think StudentsFirst should put them on the payroll and take them off mine. They are actively working against existing public schools in this state.

 

Chiara is right. StudentsFirst, founded by Michelle Rhee, is not a neutral third party. It actively lobbies and advocates for charters, vouchers, and high-stakes testing in states across the nation. It also supports the parent trigger. According to the article cited by Chiara, one in five of the schools in Columbus are eligible for parent takeover, even though many of them have been reconstituted and turned around previously. The laws have been written in such a way as to label many schools as failures without actually doing anything to help them. This sets them up for privatization. StudentsFirst has no track record of improving schools. It is a lobbying organization for privatization.

 

This was sent to me as a gift by George McLaughlin. George was one of the teachers at Central Falls High School in Central Falls, Rhode Island, who was summarily fired along with the rest of the staff, without due process or evaluation.

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have…and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

— from Mother Teresa”

Peter Greene read the preceding piece by EduShyster about the strategy, tactics, and philosophy of “no excuses” charter schools. He was troubled, alarmed, repulsed by the behaviorist methods.

I was reminded of what we use to call “brainwashing.”

He thought of Frederick Douglass.

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