The New York Times published an essay by Pope Francis about the COVID crisis. He seems to disagree with the Supreme Court decision opposing limits on the number of people who may congregate in houses of worship because such limits restrict “freedom of religion.”

Pope Francis wrote (in part):

With some exceptions, governments have made great efforts to put the well-being of their people first, acting decisively to protect health and to save lives. The exceptions have been some governments that shrugged off the painful evidence of mounting deaths, with inevitable, grievous consequences. But most governments acted responsibly, imposing strict measures to contain the outbreak.

Yet some groups protested, refusing to keep their distance, marching against travel restrictions — as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom! Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate.

It is all too easy for some to take an idea — in this case, for example, personal freedom — and turn it into an ideology, creating a prism through which they judge everything.

The coronavirus crisis may seem special because it affects most of humankind. But it is special only in how visible it is. There are a thousand other crises that are just as dire, but are just far enough from some of us that we can act as if they don’t exist. Think, for example, of the wars scattered across different parts of the world; of the production and trade in weapons; of the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing poverty, hunger and lack of opportunity; of climate change. These tragedies may seem distant from us, as part of the daily news that, sadly, fails to move us to change our agendas and priorities. But like the Covid-19 crisis, they affect the whole of humanity.

Look at us now: We put on face masks to protect ourselves and others from a virus we can’t see. But what about all those other unseen viruses we need to protect ourselves from? How will we deal with the hidden pandemics of this world, the pandemics of hunger and violence and climate change?

If we are to come out of this crisis less selfish than when we went in, we have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain. There’s a line in Friedrich Hölderlin’s “Hyperion” that speaks to me, about how the danger that threatens in a crisis is never total; there’s always a way out: “Where the danger is, also grows the saving power.” That’s the genius in the human story: There’s always a way to escape destruction. Where humankind has to act is precisely there, in the threat itself; that’s where the door opens.

This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities — what we value, what we want, what we seek — and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of.

God asks us to dare to create something new. We cannot return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis. We need economies that give to all access to the fruits of creation, to the basic needs of life: to land, lodging and labor. We need a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that affect their lives. We need to slow down, take stock and design better ways of living together on this earth.

In a ridiculous 5-4 decision released Wednesday, the Unitedla States Supreme Court ruled that Governor Cuomo’s limits on the number of people who may congregate in houses of worship are unconstitutional. The deciding vote was that of Trump’s appointee Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Just a few months ago, the same Court ruled that limits on the number of people in religious gatherings were appropriate because of the pandemic.

The death of Justice Ginsberg and her replacement by Justice Barrett means the right to practice religion is more important than public health. All three of Trump’s choices—Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett—are religious extremists. Their votes, plus those of Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, made this lethal decision possible.

Justice Gorsuch said it was unfair to allow hardware stores and ice cream shops to open while limiting religious services. But how many hardware stores or ice cream shops have hundreds of customers at the same time, congregating for hours, and singing?

Those who worship in a sanctuary with dozens or hundreds of others, singing, praying, chanting, breathing in each other’s exhalations—will go out into their communities and spread disease.

This is a terrible decision that will contribute to the pandemic. People will die because of it. We can anticipate more extremist decisions in which religious beliefs take precedence over other constitutionally protected rights as well as public health.

Even worse decisions lie ahead, in which religious beliefs will distort the law.

This is the first time that any of us has experienced Thanksgiving in the midst of a national pandemic. Many people will heed the advice of doctors and cancel their family get-togethers. Others will gather in small groups, hopefully with masks and social distancing. A strange holiday, as will be Christmas and New Year’s.

I want to wish you and your families a Happy Thanksgiving and wish you the strength and good health to persevere. The pandemic will not last forever.

On a personal note, I want to let you know that I am taking a weekend break. It’s something I have not done since I started the blog in April 2012. Right now, there are only a limited number of topics that seem relevant. Whether schools should be open or closed; the joy in seeing Betsy DeVos no longer in charge of the U.S. Department of Education; speculation about who might replace her; and intense concern about whether President-Elect Biden will resurrect the failed Race to the Top strategies or whether he will forge a new path that actually supports students, teachers, and schools instead of punishing them.

These are all important issues. I will turn to them again on November 30, when I resume blogging. If something important happens in the next few days, like Biden naming the new Secretary of Education, you will hear from me. Or if I want to share something. If not, silence.

Stay well. Protect your health and that of your loved ones.

Our blog poet frequently favors with rhyme:

 

Privatize the planet

Privatize the planet
Plunder it for gain
Light the fire and fan it
Mine the golden vein

Privatize the water
Sell it to the poor
Privatize your daughter
Sell her as a whore

Privatize the wildlife
Charge a viewing fee
Like a Wall Street low life
That is what you’ll be

The superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Susana Cordova, resigned abruptly, and her departure was followed by finger pointing. Denver has been a hot spot for “reformers,” and it’s school board elections attract DFER, “Education Reform Now,” and other big-money donors from out of state.

I asked Jeanne Kaplan, a former DPS board member, to explain what’s going on. She sent me her comments and a statement released by the Colorado Latino Forum.

Kaplan writes:

In spite of the cacophony of adulation from education reformers there is no evidence that Susana Cordova has been pushed out by the Board of Education. Susana Cordova left in the middle of the school year in the middle of a pandemic because Susana Cordova wanted to leave for reasons unknown. (Ms. Cordova has been silent so far except for her initial letter of resignation). Was the Board at odds with her and her reformer staffers? At times, yes, but that should be expected when education reformers consistently sought to thwart the decision of the people and the mandate to the Board through two election cycles. In fact an argument can be made that these education reformers are in fact the reason for Ms. Cordova’s exit, for it is they who have sewn chaos and dissent within the District.  

Since Ms. Cordova’s announcement reformers have gone into a full court press to push a story line that says, “Mean board pushed out a local woman of color superintendent. Bad Board would not work with superintendent” with a clear undercurrent message: “ board needs to be replaced.”  Letters of support and social media postings for Cordova have poured in from a former and the current mayor (both of whom it should be noted are strong education reformers),  education reformer extraordinaire, Arne Duncan (former Secretary of Education), 14 former DPS women school board members, historically reform oriented organizations like Donnell-Kaye, A+ Colorado, and a myriad of other smaller reform organizations. Again, with no evidence the “superintendent pushed out by the board” storyline has become the storyline.  But is this case? Or is this just a last ditch effort for education reform to continue to push to be the driving philosophy in Denver? Or, are one or more of these scenarios possible? Is this

o   An attempt for mayoral control of Denver’s public Schools?

o   An attempt to lay the groundwork for a no holds barred school board election cycle in 2021 where the current board is blamed for the chaos?

o   An attempt to blame teachers for her exit?

o   An attempt to blame Susana for the failures of Michael Bennet and Tom Boasberg?

o   A subtle attempt to undermine Denver’s women school leaders, since the Superintendent, Board president and Board vice president are women? And finally,

o   Did Susana’s departure lead to the departures of her education reformer staffers, Mark Ferrandino and Jen Holladay, or did their impending departures lead to Susana’s departure? The Colorado Latino Forum, whose mission is to increase the political, social, educational and economic strength of Latinas and Latinos, just released a statement regarding the current situation.  CLF has documented the situation and speaks for many of us.  Thank you to the Board of Directors for the honesty and bravery.

Statement Regarding Resignation of Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova

The sudden resignation of DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova has sparked a small but politically powerful group, led by Mayor Michael Hancock, to decry Cordova’s resignation as a far-fetched racist and sexist conspiracy — a charge so outrageous that it can not go unchallenged. Therefore, the CLF Board is compelled to set the record straight with several facts omitted by the Mayor in his campaign to smear duly elected Board of Education members, who, unlike Mayor Hancock and his wealthy allies, are unpaid public servants.

First, Superintendent Susanna Cordova resigned last week of her own accord. According to her public announcement, she is taking a high-level position at a school district in the Dallas, Texas area. Ms. Cordova will benefit from a hefty pension from the DPS budget that will allow her to comfortably transition into a presumably well-paying new salary. However, unlike Ms. Cordova, many under-paid teachers and their students will continue to languish during a pandemic without adequate resources, such as basic internet access for remote learning. Further, their parents will continue to financially struggle to secure adequate childcare, and to make ends meet. It is disappointing that the Mayor does not express the same level of outrage for these teachers, students and their families.

Second, when selecting former superintendent Tom Boasberg’s replacement, Board members with close ties to the Hancock administration ensured that Cordova, as Boasberg’s protege, was the sole finalist after an expensive and superficial national search process. However, these same political insiders are now demanding an “independent” community engagement process — an opportunity that they denied to public education advocates during a succession of politically-connected superintendents dating back to over fifteen years. It is worth noting that neither Boasberg nor Bennet had education backgrounds, but were selected anyway over strong community objections.

Third, to blame teachers for hastening Cordova’s departure is irresponsible and mean spirited. Last November, the remaining Hancock-aligned board members opposed the teacher’s strike. These politically connected insiders also opposed raises and better working conditions for teachers while funneling increased resources to charter schools. For more than a decade, the Boasberg-Hancock-Cordova alliance forced overworked teachers to take a backseat to multimillion-dollar construction projects, while a corporate-backed board siphoned an increasing share of the $1.4 billion dollar school district budget to expand charter schools while destabilizing our public education system.

Fourth, Hancock — like most career politicians — is facing the end of his political reign due to term limits. The influence he once had to control DPS through mayoral appointees who held dual positions on the school board and within city government is coming to an end. It explains his outrageous Trumpian letter that mirrors some of the dysfunction in Washington politics. We wish to state unequivocally that Denver taxpayers would be better served if Mayor Hancock focused on managing the unprecedented crises facing

the City of Denver including the pandemic, racial unrest, economic recession and deepening housing crisis rather than interfering with the business of the DPS board.

Fifth, CLF dispels the myth that there is a monolithic Latino group that speaks for the interests of all Latinos in Denver, including the signatories of recent letters to the media from the same small circle of usual suspects. Given that, we strongly object to the Mayor weaponizing race and gender to smear volunteer school board members composed, in part, of dedicated people of color. Screaming “racism” and “sexism” by politically connected wealthy insiders hurts the movement for racial, social and education justice. If the Mayor wishes to go there, CLF reminds him that the staff of outgoing superintendent Cordova t​ hreatened striking teachers​, who were disproportionately Latinas, with deportation.

Further, we remind the Mayor that an inequitable system of economic disparities and institutional racism continues despite having a Latina superintendent according to statistics from the DPS and the Colorado Department of Education websites: 

  • ●  Only 38% of DPS students attend a ‘Blue’ or ‘Green’ school (SPF labels), compared to the goal of 80% by 2020.
  • ●  Only 68% of Black and Latino and 49% of Native students graduated high school in 4 years last year compared to the 81% of white students that graduated high school in 4 years. This is only 1800 out of 6200 seniors actually graduating from a DPS high school on time.
  • ●  Latino students continue to be under-enrolled in AP courses. Latinos make up more than 54% of the student population but they receive only 39% of AP credits. This percentage has decreased in the last 4 years. Meanwhile, White students receive 43% of AP credits, but only make up 25% of the student population.
  • ●  Approximately 1 in 5 teachers and principals left DPS. It is almost double the turnover rates of Adams-12 and Jefferson County districts.
  • ●  Reports of unfair, inequitable HR practices leading to disproportionate pushout of Black and Latino teachers have increased.
  • ●  There has been a 0% increase of Latino/Chicano teacher representation in the past 5 years — and only a 1% increase in Black teacher representation. Latino teachers only make up 17% of teaching staff in 2019-2020, and this percentage holds from five years ago. Black teachers make up 5% of the teaching population, only 1% higher than five years ago.
  • ●  The percentage of Latino principals has decreased by 1% in the past 5 years (from 19% to 18%); Black principals have not increased at all from 12%.These disparities occurred during Ms. Cordova’s tenure as Deputy Superintendent and Superintendent. The reinforcement of oppression of teachers, students and parents of color is inexcusable. It is a disservice to DPS teachers, students and families to mischaracterize her lucrative departure as the result of racist and sexist victimization. Instead of the Mayor tearing down members of a duly elected seven-member Board of Education, he should be encouraging the community to come together and engage in a search for a nationally-acclaimed superintendent of the highest caliber. We do not need another back-door, handpicked crony by opportunistic and meddling politicians who should stay in their lanes.Denver deserves top-notch candidates who can steer the billion-dollar DPS behemoth on a course of independent governance that takes our students to their highest educational and social potential. Let’s stop calling racism when millionaires don’t get their way. Instead, let’s get on with the business of supporting the Denver School Board’s search for an equity-driven, pro-public education candidate for this critical position. 
  • Signed,
    CLF BOARD of DIRECTORS

Laura Chapman recently wrote about the policy of holding third grade students back if they didn’t pass the third grade reading test. One result of this initiative is to raise fourth-grade reading scores on state tests and NAEP.

 

She writes:

There is a national read-by-grade three campaign. The practice of holding students back a grade is not new, but in the olden days it was never based on test scores alone and certainly not based on scores from national tests. I am no expert in reading, but I have learned to question how questionable policies proliferate.

Right now, The Annie E, Casey Foundation is a source of the national “Read by Grade 3” campaign. It is financed by about thirty other foundations and corporations. You can read about the investors here: http://gradelevelreading.net/about-us/campaign-investors

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is also the source of widely cited and dubious research about reading. For example, the Foundation sponsored “Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation (2010, updated 2012)” by Dr. Donald J. Hernandez, sociologist at Hunter College (more recently at the University of Albany, State University of New York). I find no evidence that this study was peer-reviewed. https://www.aecf.org/resources/double-jeopardy/

In this study, the rates of failure in grade three reading were based on scores from the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT) Reading Recognition subtest. This test has 84 items said to increase in difficulty from preschool to high school. It is an oral reading test that includes items such as matching letters, naming names, and reading single words aloud.

To quote directly from the PIAT manual, the rationale for the reading recognition subtest is as follows: “In a technical sense, after the first 18 readiness-type items, the general objective of the reading recognition subtest is to measure skills in translating sequences of printed alphabetic symbols which form words, into speech sounds that can be understood by others as words. https://www.nlsinfo.org/content/cohorts/nlsy79-children/topical-guide/assessments/piat-reading-reading-recognitionreading

The author of Double Jeopardy then invented a way to treat scores on this oral test of reading “readiness” as if comparable NAEP scores for proficiency. But, NAEP reading tests are not administered until grade four! Moreover, according to NAEP, “Fourth grade students performing at the Proficient level should be able to integrate and interpret texts and apply their understanding of the text to draw conclusions and make evaluations.”
The author appropriated the standard for proficiency in NAEP, grade four, to make make judgments about the necessity for read-by-grade three policies based on an oral test in grade three. The study is not worthy of the publicity it has received.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation also financed a related study by Lesnick, J., Goerge, R., Smithgall, C., & Gwynne J. (2010). Reading on Grade Level in Third Grade: How Is It Related to High School Performance and College Enrollment? The executive summary, page 1 states: The results of this study do not examine whether low reading performance causes low future educational performance, or whether improving a child’s reading trajectory has an effect on future educational outcomes.”

So what was the take-away from this study?

The major conclusion, executive summary, page 4 is: “Students who are better prepared for a successful ninth grade year are more likely to have positive future outcomes, regardless of third grade reading status. The sooner that struggling readers are targeted for supports, the easier it will be to ensure that students are progressing on course toward strong performance in ninth grade, high school graduation, and college enrollment. NOTHING SUPPORTS GRADE THREE AS THE MAKE OR BREAK YEAR. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED517805

I looked at “Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children” published in 1998 by the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council. The brief discussion of grade retention on 280-281 did not support the practice of grade retention. It also noted that grade retention policies differed in several ways. Simply repeating the same grade is not the same as repeating the grade with substantial and well-placed help. There is a single reference associating grade retention based on poor reading skill with dropping out of school. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED416465.pdf

Please look again at the Annie E. Casey Foundation sponsored “Read by Grade 3” campaign.

Parent advocate Carl J. Peterson writes here about a charter school in Los Angeles that figured out to game the system for more money and space.

He writes that “Citizens of the World” collects signatures of parents who are not likely to apply for the school and uses them as expressions of intent to enroll.

A Facebook post by Jirusha Lopez, the principal of COW’s Hollywood campus, provides some insight into how this charter chain scams the system. While the estimate of attendance is supposed to be based on students who have expressed a “meaningful interest” in the program, Lopez took to social media to ask parents to sign a Prop 39 form even if they had no plans to attend the charter school. In fact, she promised that completing the form would “not impact your family’s plans for what school you would like to attend or currently attend.”

While Lopez seems to think that the collection of these signatures is a “fun game schools get to play each year”, it is actually part of a legal process. By submitting names of students who never expressed any interest in attending the school, COW committed fraud against the students of the LAUSD. The district needs to take this action seriously and hold the charter chain responsible, to whatever the greatest extent possible might be. Additionally, all data provided by COW to the LAUSD needs to be audited by the Inspector General to ensure that there are not any other cases of inaccurate information being submitted.

As anyone who read my book Left Back (2000) knows, I have long been persuaded of the value of phonetic instruction for early readers. I was a friend of the late Jeanne Chall, who began her career as a kindergarten teacher and eventually became a Harvard professor and the nation’s most eminent reading researcher. Her 1967 book, Learning to Read: The Great Debate, should have ended the reading wars, but they continued for the next half century. She understood that both sides were right, and that teachers should have a tool-kit of strategies, including phonetic instruction, that they could deploy when appropriate.

In recent years, proponents of phonics have termed themselves champions of “the science of reading.” Even though I support phonics instruction, I find it misleading to use this term. Learning to read is one of the most important experiences that children have in their lifetimes. Of course, teachers should know how to teach students how to decode words. Of course, teachers should use reading and writing instruction together. Of course, teachers should introduce children to wonderful literature. Of course, of course, of course.

But teaching reading is not science. Good reading teachers use their knowledge, judgment, skill, and experience. They are not scientists. They are reading teachers.

The “science of reading” sounds to me like “the science of play,” “the science of cooking,” “the science of pedagogy,” “the science of love,” “the science of finding the right mate,” “the science of tennis.” You can take it from there.

Reading is not chemistry, biology, physics, or mathematics. Some children will learn to read before they ever start school, because they sat on the lap of a parent who read the same books over and over, with love, delight, and enthusiasm. Many children do need systematic decoding instruction and phonemic awareness. Reading teachers know which children need which approach.

Just as there is no “science of history,” “science of literature,” or “science of government,” there is no “science of reading.” I would go farther and ay there is no “science of teaching science.” Science is based on hypothesis and evidence, but teachers will find a variety of ways to teach science. Good teachers, whatever their field, rely on the knowledge and judgment gleaned from practice, study, and experience. With time and good teachers, all children will learn to read.

This afternoon, President-Elect Biden introduced his first Cabinet picks, all of whom are highly qualified and experienced. None is remotely controversial.

Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that he would oppose them all.

One reason he gave was that they had Ivy League educations. On Twitter, one of the many responses was a list of Trump Cabinet members who had gone to Harvard, Yale, and other Ivies. Trump went to UPenn, an Ivy, and Jared Kushner’s dad gave Harvard $2.5 million to grease his entry to Harvard.

Will the race to grab the Trump know-nothing base, e.g., the race to the bottom, encourage Senate Republicans to block any appointments Biden makes? That would create a constitutional crisis and destroy Biden’s Presidency before it begins.

I recently had the pleasure of reading Kevin Welner’s terrific new Onion-like book, “Potential Grizzlies: Making the Nonsense Bearable.” In tweets, I described Kevin as the Stephen Colbert and Groucho Marx of American education. Kevin and I had fun discussing the book on a Zoom sponsored by the Network for Public Education. (WATCH: Diane Ravitch in Conversation with Kevin Welner). Kevin has pledged all royalties he earns to the Network for Public Education. I hope you will watch, then buy the book, which makes a great holiday gift! To give you a feel for the book, here’s a new piece Kevin just wrote.

Perilous De-DeVos-ing Cleanup Is Underway

The Biden education transition team today assured a worried public that it is carefully following established procedures for the clean-up of the U.S. Department of Education. “The de-DeVos-ing process is indeed grueling, but all necessary precautions are being taken to assure a safe and complete mission,” said spokesperson Darcy Wiggins.

Four years of policy contaminants are reported to have been strewn throughout the Department at a level that sources insist must have been either intentional or extraordinarily reckless. “In the Title IX area alone, we found a spill of transphobia and a release of toxic masculinity all over the sexual assault regulations. That latter one may take years to fully mop up.”

There are also said to be large vats of voucher policies piled up in storage closets, but they haven’t yet broken containment.

Additional dangers, however, remain. According to a member of the transition team we spoke with, an unknown amount of policy contaminants may have been transported a mile northeast, to the chambers of several Supreme Court justices who seem determined to release the policies on the general public at the earliest opportunity.

Here is a photograph of the Biden transition team in the midst of De-Vos-ing contents of the U.S. Department of Education.