Philadelphia Magazine invited the education activist Helen Gym and the leader of the School Reform Commission Bill Green to debate the condition of public education in that city, where public schools are in desperate financial shape.

A fascinating discussion and dynamic between the two. Most interesting to me was Green’s insistence that the state-controlled SRC was “democratic” and that having an elected board, as 95% of districts in America do, would be a very bad thing for Philadelphia. People would want counselors and nurses, and no one would be willing to pay for them. Unasked was why Philadelphia is shortchanged by the state, why the city should accept the status quo without fighting for the needed funding for nurses, counselors, librarians, reduced class sizes, the arts, and everything else that the students need.

Here is a brief excerpt:

HELEN: And I do appreciate the private talks, but they’re not in lieu of a public conversation and democratic processes. It’s not really what does Helen say to Bill, but it’s really about what are we trying to break open? What are we trying to understand? And what I’ve always appreciated about you was that I think you more than any other SRC chair have been extremely vocal about the level of inequity. The thing I think we’re struggling with is trying to capture different spaces and be in different spaces where we can hear one another and learn and listen.

BILL: I didn’t take what you said about the SRC as an offense, but what you said is factually inaccurate. Of course we’re democratic. Everything we do is done in public; every vote we take is made in public; people have an opportunity to come and speak to us. How is that any different from your ability to go to your congressperson and talk to them, or your ability to go to City Council and talk to them?

HELEN: So you’re saying this is how government works?

BILL: This is the democratic process. And if you want an elected school board, I think it’s far worse. Because you’re not going to actually do the hard things that are going to allow you to balance a budget, because you’re going to be pandering to get elected. I think an elected school board in Philadelphia would be a disaster and the end of the Philadelphia school system.

HELEN: I disagree. How about how we all listen to one another? I’m trying to get at a little bit less about whether we have an elected school board and more about these questions of whether we negotiate, how we listen to one another, how we hear each other.

BILL: From the SRC’s perspective, we have all these advocates coming in, and what are they asking for? They’re asking for actual things that we would want in all schools. More librarians, more counselors, more nurses, etc. But if we take actions to actually free up resources to make it possible to provide them, they will be opposed. And so they’re asking for these things, which no one in their right mind would disagree with, failing to recognize that the money has to come from somewhere. The district proposed to outsource its cleaning services two years ago; all of the advocates and elected officials were opposed. The schools would be clean; it would cost maybe three-quarters, two-thirds of the price. When the district does try to do things like that, none of the advocates support it.

PHILLY MAG: When you hear this, Helen, are you convinced? Are you swayed? How much do either of you, when talking to advocates or to folks in the district, actually rethink your position?

HELEN: I frequently have extremely positive interaction with district personnel. I learn a lot from a lot of them. I’m curious, though, because there’s this idea of power [with the SRC], and needing certainty, and “We know what works, we will put it in. You don’t know — we know.” I feel like there needs to be a lot more humility about this role.

PHILLY MAG: Which role, the SRC role?

HELEN: Well, especially the SRC, because most people on the SRC don’t have a teaching and learning background. They aren’t regularly in school and don’t have a wide breadth of contacts to be able to kind of balance out what they’re hearing and reading vs. what’s actually unfolding. It was interesting; on WHYY in June, you were given the question, “What kind of leverage does the SRC have?” You were like, “We have none,” which I don’t totally agree with because I don’t think you take a position with zero leverage. But I understand what you are getting at. Really, what it made me think about was how much more you need people to be on your side.

BILL: I agree with you completely. Here is the fundamental problem the district faces. The things we’re going to have to do in the future to eliminate our structural deficit are hard. They will cause most of the loud voices and advocates to not be on our side. Most advocates will say, “I’m not getting involved in that; we are not going to support you.” But they are still going to come before the SRC and ask for additional nurses and counselors and things that our structural deficit and our constant scrambling for money don’t permit. So I don’t know how to bridge that.


Those who long to see teachers fired based on student test scores must have been happy last week in Tennessee. Four teachers were fired based on the state’s evaluation system. Is it valid? Is it reliable? Were they fired for teaching in high poverty schools? Did the state or the district provide them with support?

Audrey Amrein Beardsley blogged about this termination process in Tennessee here. (The number fired went from five to four after she wrote about it.)

Beardsley wrote:

“It’s not to say these teachers were not were indeed the lowest performing; maybe they were. But I for one would love to talk to these teachers and take a look at their actual data, EVAAS and observational data included. Based on prior experiences working with such individuals, there may be more to this than what it seems. Hence, if anybody knows these folks, do let them know I’d like to better understand their stories.

“Otherwise, all of this effort to ultimately attempt to terminate five of a total 5,685 certified teachers in the district (0.09%) seems awfully inefficient, and costly, and quite frankly absurd given this is a “new and improved” system meant to be much better than a prior system that likely yielded a similar termination rate, not including, however, those who left voluntarily prior.”

A lawsuit seems inevitable.

Two board members were outspokenly critical:

“If the firings are approved then [after independent review], the group of teachers will become the first to lose their jobs under Metro’s new system that relies on state teacher evaluation to dismiss teachers deemed low-performing.

[Superintendent Jesse] Register, in pushing firings that state law authorizes, has said that all students deserve excellent teachers. But evaluations continue to be debated in Tennessee four years after their implementation

“If we have bad teachers in the classroom, I fully agree that we need to get them out of the classroom,” said board member Amy Frogge, who voted against certifying the teachers of each. “The problem is, I’m not sure we’re using a fair measure to do that.”

“Two of the teachers who face termination are at Neely’s Bend Middle School, another is at Madison Middle School and the fourth is at Bellshire Elementary School.

“Teacher evaluations in Tennessee, known as the Tennessee Education Acceleration model, have faced criticism particularly for their use of student gains on tests measured through value-added data. This compares student scores to projections and comprises 35 percent of an overall evaluation score. Qualitative in-class observations by principals account for an additional 50 percent. The remaining 15 percent is based on other student achievement metrics.

“The board’s Will Pinkston, a frequent critic of Register, objected to the board being asked to take up the votes after receiving details about the situations of each teacher only days before.

“I do not trust this process or the people behind it,” said Pinkston, who made four unsuccessful motions to defer voting on the charges.

“If mass teacher dismissals are going to be the new normal, then let’s do it right, not scramble to get information to meet some arbitrary deadline.”

The New York Times reports that Jeb Bush has the consent of his family to run for President.

With the war in Iraq now seen as a poorly planned disaster, with No Child Left Behind considered a toxic brand, with Florida’s education “miracle” turned into a free-for-all for entrepreneurs, what will his program be? More charters, more vouchers, more virtual for-profit schools? More wars to prove our might in distant lands? More benefits for the 1%?

The GOP field is slim pickings. Jeb may be the one.

This comes from “In the Public Interest,” an organization that reports on outsourcing and privatization, which is usually NOT in the public interest.

Donald Cohen writes:

As we approach Election Day, a number of governors in tight races are finding that privatizing public services isn’t good politics. But it may be good for campaign fundraisers seeking donations from corporations that want government contracts.

A new report released by the Center for Media and Democracy highlights the intensive efforts of governors seeking re-election to privatize important public services to private firms. Time after time, outsourcing has gone awry, generating worse outcomes for the public, scandals, lawsuits, and scorching headlines that are impacting the campaigns. The report includes examples from Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maine, and Wisconsin.

Here are examples from the report:

• In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder outsourced prison food service to Aramark after the company spent half a million dollars on lobbying. The contract has been plagued by scandals, including maggots, employees smuggling drugs and having sex with inmates, and even murder-for-hire allegations.

• In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Corbett has outsourced millions in legal contracts to major campaign contributors to defend ALEC-style voter ID legislation and other policies. The governor also attempted to privatize liquor sales, which would have benefited another set of deep-pocketed contributors like retail giant Walmart.
 Walmart donated $33,500 to Corbett’s campaign.

• In Florida, Governor Rick Scott has overseen a massive expansion of for-profit online schooling to companies that spent millions on lobbying. Scott signed a bill requiring every student to take online courses and tests benefiting firms like K12 Inc.

The outcomes of these races could very well be an important referendum on outsourcing and privatization. We’ll be watching.

Donald Cohen
Executive Director
In the Public Interest

Marshall Tuck, running against educator Tom Torlakson, got a late infusion of huge campaign contributions.

Former Mayor Michael Blomberg sent $250,000.

Eli Broad sent two checks totaling $1,000,000.

Alice L. Walton of the Walmart family sent two gifts totaling $450,000.

Carrie Penner (of the same Walton family) sent $500,000.

Doris Fisher of the family that owns The Gap sent two gifts totaling $950,000.

Arthur Rock, a member of TFA’s board, sent $250,000.

Laurene Powell Jobs sent two checks totaling $500,000.

There are many other very large contributions, plus earlier contributions made by many of the same people.

The reformers really, really, really want to elect Tuck.

Think of the expansion of privatization!

Think of having a charter advocate running the State Department of Education. Their guy!!

Do the voters know about this? Are they informed? Will they allow the billionaires to buy this job?


Thanks to Common Core and the federally-funded PARCC exams, children in Ohio schools will be tested 10 hours to demonstrate their proficiency or lack thereof. District superintendents say (as do parents and teachers and students), this is ridiculous!


While Arne Duncan is posting his benign views about testing–and how important it is to compare your child to children everywhere–in newspapers across the nation (so far, the same Duncan op-ed has appeared in the Washington Post, Newsday, and the Denver Post), those suffering under his test-centric, student-hostile regime are not happy about it.


Superintendent Jim Lloyd in Olmsted Falls, Ohio, said the amount of time required by PARCC testing was “an abomination.”


Avon Lake Superintendent Robert Scott agreed, saying that “the big bucks of testing companies, curriculum companies, and software companies” are clouding education debates with their own agendas.


He said: “High stakes testing is driven by a misunderstanding of how to motivate students and schools to achieve and/or maintain high academic results.”


Scott called the testing system a “(dis?)incentive program” that doesn’t help struggling schools and wastes the time of high-performing ones.”


Unlike Arne Duncan, who is not an educator and never taught, the district superintendents in Ohio recognize the disaster that Arne is now inflicting on the children of Ohio and the United States. Duncan will be remembered in the history books as a man who wrought harm on public education and the lives of children.


Count on Arne Duncan to speak out against testing while he mandates more and more of it. If you are a teacher and your students’ scores don’t go up, you will be fired. That’s federal policy. That makes standardized testing the measure of a teachers’ worth, not a reflection of the demographics in the classroom. If the teacher teaches students with special needs, the scores may not go up as much as they do for teachers in affluent suburbs. Teachers of English language learners are at a disadvantage. All of this has been proven again and again by researchers. But the news has never reached Arne Duncan.


In this post, Peter Greene says that when Arne Duncan joins the chorus of voices who are criticizing standardized testing, he is just blowing smoke. As usual. Watch what he does, not what he says. Just remember: he was for it before he was against it, and he was against it before he was for it. And the only reason children with disabilities get low scores is because their teachers have low expectations and they don’t take hard enough tests. And the goal of all education is for every student to take and pass Advanced Placement examinations.


Greene writes:



As soon as CCSSO and CGCS announced their non-plan to provide PR coverage for the high stakes test-and-punish status quo, Arne Duncan was there to throw his tooter on the bandwagon. On top of an official word salad on the subject, Arne popped up yesterday in the Washington Post.


There was a time when Duncan could be counted on to at least say the right thing before he went ahead and did the wrong thing. And I cannot fault his opening for the WaPo piece.


“As a parent, I want to know how my children are progressing in school each year. The more I know, the more I can help them build upon their strengths and interests and work on their weaknesses. The more I know, the better I can reinforce at home each night the hard work of their teachers during the school day.”


He’s absolutely correct here. It’s just that his words have nothing to do with the policies pursued by his Department of Education.

Duncan welcomes the stated intention “to examine their assessment systems, ensure that assessments are high-quality and cut back testing that doesn’t meet that bar or is redundant.”Duncan does not welcome an examination of the way in which standardized testing is driving actual education out of classrooms across America.


He makes his case for standardized testing here:


“Parents have a right to know how much their children are learning; teachers, schools and districts need to know how students are progressing; and policymakers must know where students are excelling, improving and struggling.”


As a case for standardized testing, this is wrong on all three points.


1) Parents do have a right to know how much their children are learning. And standardized tests are by far the least effective instruments for informing them. They are minute snapshots, providing little or no description of how students are growing and changing. Standardized tests measure one thing– how well students do on standardized tests.


2) Teachers, schools and districts need to know how students are doing. And if a teacher needs a standardized test to tell her how her students are doing, that teacher is a dope, and needs to get out of teaching immediately. I measure my students dozens of times every single week, collecting wide and varied “data” that informs my view of how each student is doing. A standardized test will tell me one thing– how that student does with a standardized test. If the school or district does not know whether they can trust my word or not about how the student is doing, the school and district are a dope. Standardized tests offer no useful information for this picture.


3) Explain, please, exactly why policymakers need to know how my third period class is doing on paragraph construction? Why do the bureaucrats in state and federal capitols need to know where students are “excelling, improving and struggling”? Is Congress planning to pass the “Clearer Lesson Plans About the Rise of American Critical Realism Act”? Are you suggesting that there are aides in the DOE standing by to help me write curriculum? Because I cannot for the life of me figure out why the policymakers (nice term, that, since it includes both the legislators who pass policy and the unelected suits who write it for them) need to have standardized results on every single kid in htis country.


Duncan follows this up with a reference to another of his pet theories– that students with learning disabilities just needed to be tested harder in order to fix their difficulties.


Duncan goes on to admit that “in some places” testing is eating up calendars and stressing students.


Policymakers at every level bear responsibility here — and that includes me and my department. We will support state and district leaders in taking on this issue and provide technical assistance to those who seek it.


In one sense, Duncan is correct. Policymakers at the state and local level bear responsibility for not telling the federal government to take its testing mandates and shove them where the NCLB-based money threats don’t shine. Duncan’s Department of Education bears responsibility for everything else.


This is the worst kind of weasel wording. This is the kid who sets fire to the neighbors house and then says to the kids who just tried to talk him out of it, “So, we’re all in this together, right?”


It was the Duncan/Obama Education Department that twisted every state’s arm up behind its ear and said, “If you want your Get Out Of NCLB Free Card, you will make testing the cornerstone of your education system.” Duncan does not get to pretend that this testing mania, this out of control testing monster, somehow just fell from the sky. “Gosh,” Duncan says and shrugs. “I guess there was just something in the water that year that made everybody just suddenly go crazypants on the testing thing. Guess we’ll all have to try harder, boys.”


No. No no no no. Testing mania is the direct mandated result of NCLB and its ugly stepsister RttT. It didn’t just happen. The federal government required it. And if Duncan really though this was an actual problem and not just a PR problem, he is the one guy who could wave his magic waiver wand and say, “My bad. Your waiver no longer requires you to test everything that moves and use the test results as the basis for all educational system judgments.”



The cover of next week’s TIME magazine is deeply insulting to hard-working teachers, with its headline, “Rotten Apples” and the claim that it is nearly impossible to fire tenured teachers (but tech millionaires who know nothing about education know how to do it: abolish tenure). As most people in the education field know, about 40% of those who enter teaching leave within five years. More: tenure is due process, the right to a hearing, not a guarantee of a lifetime job. Are there bad apples in teaching? Undoubtedly, just as there are bad apples in medicine, the law, business, and even TIME magazine. There are also bad apples in states where teachers have no tenure. Will abolishing tenure increase the supply of great teachers? Surely we should look to those states where teachers do not have tenure to see how that worked out. Sadly, there is no evidence for the hope, wish, belief, that eliminating due process produces a surge of great teachers.

Jersey Jazzman here begins a series of posts about the TIME article. Some said it wasn’t as inflammatory as the cover. JJ says that may be so, but the article is nonetheless a font of misguided opinion.

Joseph A. Ricciotti, a former professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut, wrote the following post:


One of the most alarming reports concerning the corporate education reform movement and the growth of Common Core in the country was published by Lee Fang in the Nation magazine. Fang’s report highlights how public education is now considered as the last “honeypot” for venture capitalists and Wall Street investors. Investors’ interest in public education as a money making venture was made crystal clear by attendance at the recent annual investment conference in Scottsdale, Arizona which skyrocketed from 370 people the previous year to over 2000 this year. Likewise, the number of companies presenting at the conference increased from 70 to 390, mostly technology companies. It is also no surprise that Jeb Bush, one of the leading advocates of Common Core in the country, was the keynote speaker at the conference. According to Fang, venture capitalists and for-profit education firms “are salivating over the potential 788 billion dollar K-12 education market.”

More and more politicians are learning that, based on the type of corporate reform education policies that they are espousing, these policies will more than likely also impact and lessen their chances of reelection. Take, for example, Governor Dannel Malloy in Connecticut and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel of Chicago, two Democrats who will be seeking reelection in the near future. Both of these political leaders have chosen to advocate typical corporate education reform policies that are basically anti-teacher in nature and have implemented education policies such as advocating charter schools over traditional public schools. Not surprisingly, we may be in for some stunning upsets in the upcoming elections.

In Connecticut, Governor Malloy chose Stefan Pryor as his Commissioner of Education who is not an educator and who has had a history as a charter school advocate. Hence, as a result, we have seen in Connecticut an unprecedented growth of Charter Schools over the past four years with dismal results as well as scandals involving some of their leaders. The appointment of Paul Vallas in Bridgeport as superintendent was another fiasco.


Pryor’s abrupt resignation with no appointment of a replacement in the cards until after the election does not bode well for any indication of change in Malloy’s corporate education policies. Moreover, Malloy may have dug himself into a hole based on the most recent poles and could face extinction come the November election.

Rahm Emmanuel’s actions in closing fifty of Chicago’s public schools has been the catalyst in generating numerous protests from parents and teachers. His battles with the head of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), Karen Lewis, may have resulted in a challenge emanating from the CTU against Rahm Emmanuel for the mayoral seat in the next election. The many protests in Chicago are conveying a message to Rahm Emmanuel that, although he is the mayor, he is not really the leader of the people in Chicago as the protestors themselves are the real leaders. As Naomi Klein has said as an outgrowth of the recent climate change march in New York City, when the leaders refuse to take the appropriate action, the people will become the leaders and take whatever action is needed to bring about necessary change.

This is what is happening today with accountability- based reform or a better term is corporate education reform. These policies throughout the country and especially with the less affluent children in urban schools where the Common Core State Standards are being implemented we find that parents are seething with discontent as they observe and witness the massive failure rate of their children on Common Core tests. As more and more Common Core tests are administered with massive numbers of children failing these tests, there will be a revolution that may serve as the catalyst for change.

Unfortunately, teachers cannot be a part of the Common Core revolt as any dissatisfaction or criticism on their part could be construed as insubordination with possible loss of employment. Hence, the parents of students in public schools will have to be the ones leading the revolt. We have in public education today many non-educators with leadership positions who place the interests of Wall Street and the Corporate sector above the interests of students. And, unfortunately, the corporate reform industry has a stronghold in Connecticut as an outgrowth of Governor Malloy and Stefan Pryor’s corporate reform policies. However, according to Diane Ravitch, author of best selling “Reign of Error,” the corporate education reformists may have all the money but we have the teachers and parents and “we will win” the battle for public education.

Jaime Franchi of the Long Island Press provides here a succinct and accurate summary of the first ever Public Education Nation. The event was held on October 11 at the Brooklyn New School, a public school where 80% of the students opted out of state testing.


The discussions were lively and included people who were watching on live stream. This is the first of what we hope to make an annual event. We is the Network for Public Education.


Go to the website and  you can join (oops, I see it has not been updated to include links to the panels yet). Keep watching and you will be able to see our great presenters.


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