There is one school in the United States where the “parent trigger” has been used to convert a public school to a charter school: Desert Trails in Adelanto, California.

 

According to this article in Capital and Main, the new charter is a disaster. Children with special needs are ill-served. Teacher turnover is outrageously high. Teachers buy supplies out of their meager salary.

 

Among the most serious accusations are charges that administrative chaos at Desert Trails has resulted in both a stampede of exiting teachers and staff; that uncredentialed instructors have taught in its classrooms; and that Desert Trails had an unwritten policy of dissuading parents of students with special learning needs from seeking special education. The teachers also allege that they had to endure a bullying regime in which, they say, they were continually screamed at, spied on, lied to and humiliated in front of parents and their peers by Tarver and her deputies. Capital & Main spoke with the teachers, four of whom agreed to go on the record for this story. (“The High Desert is a small place and Debbie Tarver has a long reach,” said one teacher who requested anonymity.)….

 

The most telling outward sign that all was not right at Desert Trails, however, may be its startling turnover in administration and teaching staff. During its first year, teachers say, the charter lost a principal (Don Wilkinson) and a director (Ron Griffin) — both before the Christmas break — its vice principal, six classroom teachers and its behavioral specialist. In addition, only nine of Desert Trails’ first-year teacher roster — or 33 percent — are returnees this year. Desert Trails’ charter promises “less than five percent annual employee turnover.” And, teachers say, Desert Trails seems to be running true to form for the 2014-15 year, with four teachers jumping ship as of this writing — including two from the kindergarten level….

 

 

 

 

Politico.com reports on the pending announcement of new federal regulations governing schools of education. Arne Duncan wants to drive the “bad” schools out of business. Did you know that was part of his job as Secretary of Education? The question is how he will determine which schools of education are “bad” schools. Will he grade these colleges by the test scores of students taught by graduates of schools of education? That will certainly make the stakes even higher for high-stakes testing. Oh, and did you hear that Duncan is modifying his fervent support for testing. But does he mean it? Watch for the regulations governing schools of education.

Alice G. Walton has written an important article in Forbes about the controversy over Common Core. (She is a Forbes contributor with a Ph.D., no relation to the Arkansas Waltons.)

She addresses three questions? Are the standards developmentally appropriate? Is the problem with the standards caused by standardized testing, and would the standards be fine if the testing were eliminated? What is the science behind the standards?

She interviewed several eminent experts in the field of early childhood education who agreed that the standards are NOT developmentally appropriate for young children. She interviewed one of the writers of the standards, Sue Pimentel, who insisted that nothing is wrong with the standards and blames the schools for poor implementation.

But this is what the leading experts said about pushing little kids to learn more faster and earlier:

“It’s not clear exactly where the current trend – of pushing more information on kids earlier – came from, but it seems to be a response to the idea that the U.S. needs to catch up to other countries’ education systems. The problem with this strategy is that there doesn’t appear to be much evidence that “more sooner” is the most effective strategy. “The real school starting age is 7,” says Alvin Rosenfeld, MD, faculty at Weill/Cornell Medical School and author of Hyper-Parenting and The Over-Scheduled Child. “It may be 8 or 6, depending on the child. This is all based on what we know about child development, starting from Piaget. Your brain isn’t sufficiently wired to do it before then. And you also have to keep in mind, all kids are different, and it’s very hard to predict what will happen with age. Some kids who were reading Harry Potter at 4 end up as career baristas. Others can’t read till they’re much older, and they turn out to be highly successful as adults.”

David Elkind, long-time child development expert at Tufts University and author of The Hurried Child, says that a related problem with the Common Core standards is that “children are not standardized.” Between ages 4 to 7, he says, kids are undergoing especially rapid changes in cognitive ability, but this neurological and psychological development occurs at all different rates. “Some children attain these abilities—which enable them to learn verbal rules, the essence of formal instruction—at different ages. With the exception of those with special needs, all children attain them eventually. That is why many Scandinavian countries do not introduce formal instruction, the three R’s until the age of seven. In these countries children encounter few learning difficulties. Basically, you cannot standardize growth, particularly in young children and young adolescents. When growth is most rapid, standardization is the most destructive of motivation to learn. To use a biological analogy, you don’t prune during the growing season.”

Could the standards be acceptable if they were decoupled from standardized testing? No, the standards and tests go together. There is considerable doubt among the experts she interviewed about whether standardized tests are good predictors of life success:

Gene Beresin, Executive Director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, adds that the link between standardized tests and life success isn’t particularly clear. “The powers that be need to realize that there is not always a great correlation between high achievement on standardized tests and brilliant achievement in the workforce, in academics and in life,” says Beresin. “Some people, myself included, are notoriously bad multiple choice test takers… Good test takers know what is expected for an answer and give the test what it is looking for. But the most successful individuals may well do better on other measures of achievement, for example, writing, journaling, verbal expression, creative productivity, and group interaction. I can tell you as a medical educator there is notoriously poor correlation between results on standardized multiple choice tests and being a good doctor!”

By the time you finish the article, you realize that there is no science behind the Common Core. It is a cultural product, written by a small number of people who believe strongly in rigor and who see no problem either with standardization of children, as if they were widgets, or with setting cognitive demands beyond the reach of many–or most–young children.

This is an excellent article, not only because the author interviewed experts in child development and approached the subject with balance, but because it was published in Forbes and will reach people in the business world who need to hear these informed views.

Peter Greene discovers what the real purpose of Teach for America is: to get a great job in the corporate world! (Actually, that is not the real purpose of TFA: the real purpose is to provide low-wage, temporary non-union teachers for charter chains.)

He read an article, what is usually called a puff piece, in a business publication about how TFA is terrific preparation for working at Google. In some cases, the young graduates secure the job at Google first, then defer their start time until they have done their TFA stint.

He writes:

“People looking to get a job at Google might first want to spend a few years as a teacher.

“That is the lede for what appears to be a serious imitation of the classic Onion send-up of Teach For America. Business Insider has written a glowing portrait of how TFA can be a great stepping-stone to a career at Google.

“A company spokesperson tells BI writer Aaron Taube that the tech giant loves people from TFA because the program “requires new graduates to think on their feet and achieve success in a challenging new environment…” Google in fact has a partnership with TFA that allows Googlers to defer a job offer until they’ve served their two years with TFA. How liberating it must be to walk into that classroom knowing that your real job is already waiting for you.

“Taube’s interview was with Meghan Casserly, Google head of culture communications, and A. T. McWilliams, TFA alum and current Googler.

“TFA graduates have to coach their students in an environment where motivation isn’t always a given … and solve very complex problems that require patience, perseverance and commitment — things we really value at Google,” said Casserly. “It’s difficult to find talented professionals with this kind of intense experience at such an early stage in their career.”

“McWilliams offers his own experience as an example. He was placed in Brooklyn (in one of the “coveted” TFA openings).

“There, McWilliams learned a handful of skills that he says have helped make him more effective at his job at Google, where he became a full-time member of the company’s New York corporate communications team this past summer.

“Taube actually frames TFA’s infamous five weeks of training (hey– how much do you need to be a teacher, really) as a plus. It forced McWilliams to learn on the job and come up with creative solutions. See, if he had actually been trained to be a teacher, he would have wasted his time just implementing proven professional instructional techniques, and lord knows he wouldn’t have gotten any business training out of that.”

Greene is disgusted by the way his profession as a teacher is viewed by these corporate types.

“Sigh. It is McWilliams who has the last word in the article. “I think the Teach for America experience is really applicable in any place that requires you to be smart and creative,” he says. Because, yes, that’s what TFA is apparently supposed to do– provide college grads with an experience that they can apply to their real jobs later. Those children are just your own personal ladder to success.

“I often discuss TFA as if it is dismissive of teaching as a profession, that it belittles the whole idea of teaching. But this is actually worse, because teaching isn’t even on the radar in this article. It’s just one more life experience for a college grad who’s just passing through, unable to see the children for all the visions of Googlebucks. Sorry, Onion. Real life has passed you up.”

Many wealthy families want to leave a legacy, something to remind the world of their beneficence and power. Andrew Carnegie covered the land with free public libraries. Others have endowed museums, public parks, zoos, and many other monuments that the public would enjoy long after the family had gone.

The Kramer family of Minneapolis will leave as its legacy the destruction of public education in that city. They have devoted their considerable energy and power to building public support for charter schools and cutting away public support for public schools. Because of their role as advocates for charter schools, Minneapolis this year has 34,000 students, while the surging charter sector has 20,000. This year, the public schools expected enrollment growth of 900, but only two new students appeared. Meanwhile, the Board of Education bickers about “market share” and forgets their primary mission as stewards of a public trust, as Peter Greene explained.

What have the Kramers to do with the sinking fortunes of public education? EduShyster documented their leadership of the privatization movement in Minneapolis. She writes, in her cheeky fashion:

“Readers: meet the Minneapolis Kramers. Father Joel is the former publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and took home $8 million when the paper was sold to McClatchy. These days he presides over Minnpost.com and a brood of young rephormers. Son Matt is the president of Teach for America, in charge of TFA’s “overall performance, operations, and effectiveness.” Son Eli, another former TFAer, is the executive director of Hiawatha Academies, a mini charter empire in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, daughter-in-law Katie Barrett-Kramer is a former TFAer who now serves as director of academic excellence at Charter School Partners, a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the number of charters in Minneapolis, including the ones her brother-in-law runs.

“Now I have acquired a deep thirst just writing about the Kramer siblings and their dedication to the civil right$ i$$ue of our time. But there’s still more. Matt, who with his brother attended the tony Breck School (which I suspect is likely not a ‘no excuses’ school), also sits on numerous rephorm boards. Matt is the chair of the board of 50Can and a member of the board of Students for Education Reform.

“And did I mention that the Kramers are avid supporters of young TFA school board candidate and life-long educator Josh Reimnitz, who moved to Minneapolis in May, and received an undisclosed amount of money from TFA’s political phund???

But what about Père Kramer? Has he no role in this touching rephorm tableau? Phear not reader. Papa Kramer’s online publication, MinnPost, serves as an influential booster for all of the Kramers’ assorted kauses, including Hiawatha Academies. There is nothing the slightest bit conflict-of-interest-ish about this as evidenced by this, perhaps the kraziest quote from an actual publication that I have ever encountered:

“And here we must pause for Learning’s Curve’s lengthiest Kramer Disclaimer yet: [Charter School Partners] employs Katie Barrett-Kramer, wife of Teach for America President Matt Kramer and daughter-in-law of MinnPost founder and Editor Joel Kramer and Chief Revenue Officer Laurie Kramer.”

It is difficult to think that any family in the U.S. wants to be remembered as the family that destroyed and privatized public education. But that is how the Kramer family of Minneapolis will be remembered. How very sad.

Peter Greene read TIME’s story about the alleged impossibility of firing bad teachers. He wrote it before he saw the cover about “Rotten Apples.” Here is his take on the story. It is not as inflammatory as the cover, yet it quotes none of the scholars who would challenge its take, only two guys from the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Greene’s major objection to the article is that it does not see any problem about letting some very rich guys take control of a basic democratic institution, because they want to.

This is the talk, both written and video, that Wendy Lecker gave about charter schools at Public Education Nation in Brookyn on October 11. The event was sponsored by the Network for Public Education at the Brooklyn New School. Please read/watch. Lecker was terrific.

TIME Magazine has a cover story called “Rotten Apples,” in which it falsely asserts (on the cover) that “It’s Nearly Impossible to Fire a Bad Teacher. Some Tech Millionaires May Have Found a Way to Change That.” Here is a link to the cover and a petition denouncing this slander.

This TIME cover is as malicious as the Newsweek cover in 2010 that said, “We Must Fire Bad Teachers. We Must Fire Bad Teachers. We Must Bad Teachers,” and the TIME cover in 2008 showing a grim Michelle Rhee with a broom, prepared to sweep out “bad” teachers and principals. (As we now know, Rhee fired many educators, but saw no significant gains during her tenure in office.)

This non-stop teacher bashing, funded by millionaires and billionaires, by the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and even by the U.S. Department of Education, has become poisonous. Enrollments in teacher education programs are declining, sharply in some states. Experienced teachers are retiring early. Teaching has become so stressful, in this era of test mania, that our nation’s biggest teacher issue is recruiting and retaining teachers, not firing them.

Since when do tech millionaires know anything about teaching children? Why should they determine the lives and careers of educators? Why don’t they volunteer to teach for a week and then share their new wisdom?

Randi Weingarten is fighting back against TIME’s scurrilous cover. She is organizing a campaign to let TIME know that they have outraged and insulted America’s teachers. This bullying has to stop! Speak out! Tweet! Sign the petition! Write a letter to the editor! Organize a protest at TIME headquarters. Don’t let them get away with bullying teachers who earn less, work harder, and have greater social value than the writers at TIME or the tech millionaires.

Randi Weingarten writes:

From: Randi Weingarten
Date: Thu, Oct 23, 2014 at 5:36 PM
Subject: Teachers aren’t rotten apples

Time magazine is about to use its cover to blame teachers for every problem in America’s schools. On Monday, Nov. 3, this cover will be in every supermarket checkout line and newsstand across the country—and it’s already online.

When I saw this today, I felt sick. This Time cover isn’t trying to foster a serious dialogue about solutions our schools need—it’s intentionally creating controversy to sell more copies.

We’re running a petition demanding that Time apologize. Will you help us spread the word by using the tweets below to call on Time to apologize?

This midleading @Time cover hurts teachers and damages the mag’s own credibility. Ask them to apologize! #TIMEfail

Why is @Time attacking teachers? This misleading cover is more about sales than truth. Demand and apology! #TIMEfail

.@Time should do the right thing and ditch the planned anti-teacher cover! #TIMEfail

Once you’ve tweeted, please sign the petition telling Time’s editors to apologize for this outrageous attack on America’s teachers.

The millionaires and billionaires sponsoring these attacks on teacher tenure claim they want to get great teachers into the schools that serve high-need kids. It’s a noble goal, but stripping teachers of their protections won’t help.

In fact, this blame-and-shame approach only leads to low morale and high turnover, making it even harder to get great teachers into classrooms. Just today, constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky wrote a fact-based argument that tenure protections help recruit and retain high-quality teachers! In fact, there is a strong correlation between states with strong teacher tenure and high student performance.

And Time’s cover doesn’t even reflect its own reporting. The Time article itself looks at the wealthy sponsors of these efforts. And while it looks critically at tenure, it also questions the testing industry’s connections to Silicon Valley and the motives of these players.

But rather than use the cover to put the spotlight on the people using their wealth to change education policy, Time’s editors decided to sensationalize the topic and blame the educators who dedicate their lives to serving students. The cover is particularly disappointing because the articles inside the magazine present a much more balanced view of the issue. But for millions of Americans, all they’ll see is the cover, and a misleading attack on teachers.

There are serious challenges facing our schools—tell Time that blaming teachers won’t solve anything.

When we work together instead of pointing fingers, we know we can help students succeed.

In places like New Haven, Conn., Lawrence, Mass., Los Angeles’ ABC school district and many others, union-district collaboration is leading to real change2.

Instead of pitting students and teachers against each other, these districts are showing how we can build welcoming, engaging schools by working together to give kids the education they deserve. As a result of this collaborative approach, once-struggling schools all over America are turning around.

When we collaborate, we’re able to recruit AND retain high-quality teachers, and reclaim the promise of a high-quality education for every student.

And when we work together, we can also change tenure to make it what it was supposed to be—a fair shake before you are fired, not a job for life, an excuse for administrators not to manage or a cloak for incompetence.

But instead of a real debate, Time is using the cover to sensationalize the issue so it can sell magazines.

Tell Time magazine to apologize for blaming teachers in order to sell magazines.

We need to have a substantive, facts-based conversation about the challenges our schools face and the real solutions that will help educators and kids succeed.

Help us tell Time that blaming teachers isn’t the way to help struggling schools.

In unity,
Randi Weingarten
AFT President

1 “Teacher Tenure: Wrong Target”

2 “Four Solutions to Public School Problems”

In one of his first actions as
Superintendent of the Los Angeles public schools, Ramon Cortines said that money in a construction bond should not be used to pay for iPads.

Superintendent John Deasy often said that providing an iPad to every student was a civil rights issue.

Apparently Cortines believes that using money intended to renovate schools and provide children with a safe and wholesome climate is even more compelling.

“Newly installed Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon Cortines said he opposes using construction bond money to pay for curriculum on student computers, raising new questions about the future of the system’s controversial $1.3-billion technology project.

“Using voter-approved bonds for curriculum rather than building and repairing schools has been a contentious element in the effort to provide every student, teacher and campus administrator with a computer. Critics and some officials harbor lingering concerns about its legality and wisdom, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The Times.

“Cortines left no doubt about where he stands.

“I don’t believe the curriculum should be paid for with bond funds, period,” he said in an interview.”

The Massachusetts Teachers Association is taking a militant stand against the state’s plans to tie teachers’ licenses to student test scores. If you live in the state–the most academically successful state in the nation–please help fight this insulting and educationally retrograde move against the state’s teachers.

Worcester School Committee Tracy Novick blasted the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Read here to see what’s happening.

Here is an announcement from MTA:

“In our Reclaiming Public Education forums we have been talking about issues that are critically important to our members, and we are beginning to plan actions. We are facing one such issue now: the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s “performance-based” licensure proposals.

How would you feel about the prospect of losing your license to teach – not just your job – based on your evaluation and/or your students’ test scores? Several versions of just such a proposal were outlined in a document called “Design Principles and Policy Options” released by DESE on October 20, one day before the first of several DESE-controlled “town halls.” These town halls are part of DESE’s plan to propose a “performance-based” licensure system in the spring and implement it by October 2015.

Members who attended the October 21 town hall in Springfield noted that the session was tightly controlled and that educators were invited to express their views on “the pros and cons” of the various plans, but were not invited to say, “No. It is an outrage to suggest tying licensure to performance.” Despite DESE’s constraints, we are urging members to register here to express their views loudly and clearly. Please review the Design Principles document carefully before attending. Here are the remaining dates and locations:

Thursday, 10/23 – Central MA (Worcester Technical High School) 4:30 pm-7:00 pm (Capacity of 75)

Saturday, 10/25 – Boston (Simmons College) 9:30 am-12:00 pm (Capacity of 90)

Wednesday, 11/19 – Metro Boston (Malden High) 4:30 pm-7:00 pm

Thursday, 11/20 – Southern MA (Bridgewater State University) 4:30 pm-7:00 pm

Click here for more information on the proposals and MTA’s messages about them.

It is time to organize! Besides registering for a town hall, get the word out. Please engage at least two members in conversation about these proposals. Building reps, this would be a great time to hold a 10-minute meeting to make sure our members are informed.

If you attend a town hall, please send a report to MTA’s Beth Shevlin (eshevlin@massteacher.org):

Who was there? What questions were asked? How many people spoke out against the proposal? How well were you being listened to? Were your remarks being recorded?

Our response to these plans will not be limited to the DESE-controlled town halls. Stay tuned for more organizing efforts to come. For now, speak up and spread the word!

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