Archives for the month of: August, 2012

A reader responds to an earlier post:

As Augustine said, an unexamined life is not worth living.  My single attribute was the ability to defend others.  After nearly 16 years in special forces I found myself shot up one time too many.  I had too many broken bones to keep jumping out of aircraft. Too many psychotic violent people had come too close to killing me.  As I woke up in intensive care again I contemplated the meaning of life.  I met a fine young lady that had volunteered to help a bunch of us soldiers with our therapy before returning to duty.  By divine providence I returned to the area for training afterwards and was hurt once more.  I found my soul mate and a new challenge for my intellect.  I no longer wanted to match wits with violent people, my busted up hands were no longer agile enough to safely disarm bombs as I once had, I needed a new reason to live.  Teaching gave me something important to do that used my mental talents, my wife gave me the courage to become a teacher, she said she could live with the lesser monetary status it would assure us.  I have no regrets other than not doing this sooner

A couple of weeks ago, I invited Stephen Dyer of Innovation Ohio to write a post explaining the Cleveland Plan.

He did that here.

I thought the post was fair, balanced, and informative.

Terry Ryan of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, based jointly in Dayton and Washington, D.C., responded to Dyer and criticized me for printing the post.

When I visited Cleveland earlier this year to address the Cleveland City Club, what stuck me was that it is a sad, sad city. Except for sports stadiums, it feels abandoned. The downtown is small and has many empty commercial buildings. Neighborhoods have boarded up buildings and empty lots where buildings used to be. I was struck by how impoverished the city is, how disheartened the teachers are, and how inadequate is the response of state and city leaders to the collapse of this once-proud city.

According to NAEP, the district consists of 100% poor children.

About the time I was in Cleveland, the Cleveland Plan was announced, and all I heard about was merit pay and charters. I haven’t seen any evidence that this is a winning strategy for a deeply impoverished city. Charters in Ohio don’t get better results than regular public schools; many are in academic emergency or academic watch. I wanted to understand more, which is why I asked Dyer to explain the Cleveland Plan. The plan has been warmly embraced by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson (D) and Governor John Kasich (R).

Just a bit of background. I was a founding director of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. I left the board in 2009. One of the reasons that I became disillusioned with charter schools was that I saw several of the charters in Ohio sponsored by TBF flounder and fail. My experience at TBF pushed me away from the nostrums that are now so popular on the right and with some Democrats, such as Arne Duncan. I came to see charters as part of a wider effort to privatize public education.

Two things I want to add:

First, I know Terry Ryan and always found him to be fair-minded, so I was disappointed that he took issue with my invitation to Stephen Dyer to write on an issue about which he is deeply knowledgeable. I previously asked Terry’s colleague Mike Petrilli to write a blog to explain why some conservatives support the Common Core standards (he was too busy). I don’t clear my decisions with anyone. I was also surprised that Terry thinks I am less committed to local democracy when I question charters, which transfer public funds to private corporations and replace public control of public education. It is because I believe in democracy that I am disturbed by the rapid growth of charters, which erode the democratically-controlled public sector. The growth of charters is the leading edge of a free market in education, and Terry knows it.

Second, unlike Dyer, I am unalterably opposed to for-profit schools. I think they are an abomination, and moreso in Ohio than in most places, where the for-profit sector is unusually rapacious and greedy and uses its profits to expand and generate more profits, not good schools.

Julian Vasquez Heilig is an education researcher at the University of Texas who keeps close watch on the reform issues of the day. Here is his website:

He wrote a withering critique of Teach for America in the New York Times, calling it “a glorified temp agency.”

He has conducted important research on Teach for America and KIPP that reviews their claims.

Equity in education is the focus of his research.

He is a rising star in the research community.

The Economist magazine has published a major international survey of early childhood education.

The survey establishes the importance of early childhood education, which is supported by extensive research.

It says:

“This Index assumes that all
children, regardless of their background,
legal status and ability to pay, have a right to
affordable, quality preschool provision.”

Then, it ranks 45 nations by their provision of early childhood education.

The United States is #24, tied with the United Arab Emirates.

Can we expect to see editorials across the U.S. about this shockingly poor performance?

Can we expect to see a Hollywood film–documentary or fictionalized–about this shameful statistic?

Will we soon hear reformers insisting that all three- and four-year-olds should be able to participate in a high-quality program that has well-prepared and credentialed teachers and small class sizes?

Now that’s a reform movement we could all support.

Michael Paul Goldenberg explains why progressives are suspicious of KIPP and TFA:

There are a couple of key issues that seem to arise (or sit just below the surface) in nearly every conversation about educational policy these days. No one who is critical of the school deform movement (in which I squarely place KIPP and TFA) thinks that because poverty is such a devastating factor that no one should try to create better schools with great teachers, and in other ways to improve education for the nearly 25% of American children living below the poverty line. It’s grossly unfair to suggest that in criticizing deformers, their motives, and their policies, Diane Ravitch and many others are saying, “Until poverty is addressed, do nothing about education.”

KIPP, TFA, and other programs may well have started out as well-intentioned attempts to make things better for underserved students, schools, and neighborhoods despite poverty. But they have morphed over time into fiscal and social conservative models for how to create miracles without needing to address critical social and economic issues. Whether that transformation reflects the political views of those running these programs or simply represents mission slip combined with the influx of capital from those who saw an opportunity to promote panaceas meant to convince politicians and the general public that obviously most public schools were horrible (and please note, this analysis slyly shifts tactics by starting with the neediest, most disadvantaged schools and communities but then creating policies like NCLB that are guaranteed to make the vast majority of public schools appear to be “failing” because of doubtful criteria and truly crazy mathematics). Once the notion that “US public schools are failing” becomes accepted common wisdom, the financial vultures move in with a host of projects that are almost entirely about making a profit from a crisis. This is the way disaster capitalism operates.

So maybe KIPP, TFA, and other magic bullets are “pure of heart,” but looking at them over time, it appears reasonable to start picking at all the ways in which they have become cult-like, absurdly self-promoting, creating and/or believing all the hype that arises about them, and desperately denying any and all criticism raised about what they’re actually doing. And so we hear some people suggesting that these are examples of people really doing something good, really making a difference, and being unfairly bashed by mean-spirited critics like Diane Ravitch.

Two points I have to try to make here. First, KIPP et al., will look either like pawns or frauds as long as they are so unwilling to recognize their role in a national crisis that goes far beyond schools, one that is fundamentally about the concentration of unprecedented wealth and power in the hands of the few coupled with unprecedented levels of poverty and need among a scandalously high percentage of the nation. They fight so hard to stave off reasonable questions and criticism that I can’t see how Schorr expects people not to continue to get a clearer picture of what’s behind the hype.

But perhaps at least as important is the TYPE of education KIPP provides, the kind of teaching TFA promotes, and what that means for students. On my view, KIPP is a very regressive philosophy. It’s “work hard, be nice” mantra sounds wonderful to many people, but to me, given that KIPP is working mostly with poor students of color, it sounds very much like “get back in your place. Don’t complain. Do what you’re told.” And given that there is so much emphasis on chanting, rote, and in general the sort of bunch o’ facts education that none of its wealthy backers and cheerleaders would EVER accept for themselves or their children, it feels racist, classist, and reactionary: designed to ensure that inner-city students of color and poverty are pacified with marginal and minimal skills that will not lead them to satisfying, challenging lives with competitive salaries. Frankly, I would scream if my son were in a KIPP-style school, and so would most educated parents.

I can’t possibly develop this argument completely here, but I hope I’ve raised a couple of key points that will get some folks who don’t understand why there is a great deal of animus towards KIPP, TFA, and other projects coming from progressives. We want a better analysis of the social/economic justice issues to inform the debate. And we want a better kind of education for all students, not just those whose parents can afford Sidwell-Friends and the like. The day President Obama puts his daughters in a KIPP school or one staffed with TFA novices is the day I’ll start considering that he really believes those are fine approaches to education.

A reader sends this update from Maine:

Follow up: Superintendent Perzanoski apologized Tuesday for putting his comments in an official school letter, but he did not back away from his actual comments:

Too bad our governor can’t figure out that he should not use his own taxpayer-funded official time and venue to bully his school leaders.

Pearson has sent a solicitation to principals: If you allow us to use your students to field test items, we will give you an IPad or another electronic device of your choice. The principal who sent this to me put it somewhat more plainly: Should I turn my kids into guinea pigs in exchange for a free IPad?

Field Study November 2012

Program Information and Participation Form – Grades 3-7

Dear Principal,

ACT has engaged Pearson in a national effort to try out new test materials. ACT and Pearson have worked together since the earliest days of ACT’s history and share over 50 years of cooperation and experience developing and delivering the highest quality assessments.  We are seeking your participation in a field study that will help lay the foundation for the next generation assessments that address college readiness and the Common Core State Standards.

By nature, educators are future-focused believers in the potential of the next generation.  Their professional ethic is to help young people reach this potential and achieve their dreams.  And, at the highest levels, educators understand the need for systematic evaluation and guidance to pave the way from dreams to reality.  Will you be one of those who help ACT set the guideposts on the path to success for the next generation?

Pearson is requesting applications from districts/schools willing to assist in the development of these test materials while offering an opportunity for your school to generate benefits in return for your school’s participation.

Why Should You Participate?

Educational excellence is the core of a nation’s economic prosperity, and just as data drives the decisions of those who manage corporations, measures of educational achievement inform the decisions of those, like you, who manage our educational institutions. But these measures must reflect such achievement accurately, so, partnership between educators and testing professionals is critical. You are the key.

In return, we will give you a choice of an iPad, iPod Touch, Nook Tablet, or Kindle Fire. For grades 6 and 7, you can select an online administration of ACT’s new ENGAGE 6-7.

Incentive Packages


For every 80 assessments completed:

Grades 3, 4 & 5

2 iPod Touches


3 Nook Tablets


1 iPad


2 Kindle Fires

Grades 6 & 7

80 ENGAGEregistrations

How does ENGAGE benefit your school?

For every completed assessment in grades 6 and 7, one of your students can be assessed, at no charge to your school.  ENGAGE is a low-stakes, self-report assessment that measures students’ behaviors and psychosocial attributes–critical but often overlooked components of their success.  It can assist in the identification of students who may be at risk of academic difficulties or dropout. ENGAGE is anextremely powerful way for educators to improve their graduation rates and directly reach students whose personal challenges go unreported in standardized academic tests.

What Will Your School be Required to do for the Field Study?

  • Fill out the online application:

  • Submit your classroom rosters which include students’ demographic information.
  • If testing online, complete system setup and have teachers participate in an online training session.
  • If testing on paper, receive and distribute materials to your participating teachers.
  • Teachers will administer one to four 30-40 minute tests, with mainly multiple choice items. Tests will also include a few constructed response items.
  • Submit and return materials by designated deadline.

Our intent is to gather data for analyzing our testing program while offering your students an opportunity to practice their test-taking skills at no cost to your school.

Project Details

  • ·         Public, private and charter schools are eligible to participate.
  • ·         The field study is available to grades 3 through 7.
  • ·         The project is to be group administered any time between November 1 and 30, 2012.
  • ·         Each test will cover one of four subjects: English, mathematics, reading, or science.
  • ·         We request schools register to test all of the four subjects. However, if circumstances prevent your school from testing all four subjects please indicate the number of subtests your school may administer.  Please note, if you register for less than four subjects, Pearson will assign the subject tests to you and notify you as to what tests you will be administering.
  • ·         The testing does not necessarily have to occur in a class of the same subject.
  • ·         You may choose to administer the computer-based or paper-based assessment. Minimum system requirements are necessary for the online assessment.
  • ·         No score reports will be available as this assessment is in the developmental phase.

What to Do Next?

1)    Apply online:

2)    Share this opportunity with colleagues who may also be interested.

We appreciate your interest and look forward to working with you.

An earlier post described the excellent results obtained by the schools in the NYC Performance Standards Consortium, where standardized tests were replaced by performance assessments.

This teacher taught in one of these schools:

In fall 2008, I student taught at one of those schools, after a prior student teaching gig in one of the ‘small-school’, test-is-king high schools elsewhere in Manhattan. The difference is overwhelming. I am a history teacher, and we had the ability to teach thematically, and to assess based on performance on creative, innovative projects also deeply rooted in critical thinking skills. The kids responded in incredibly positive ways, and were producing some amazing work. If I could have gotten hired there, I would have in a heartbeat … But then Bloomburg instituted his hiring freeze (I landed at another fantastic school in Massachusetts, so no regrets). I have no doubt that schools like these are better serving the students of NYC, and I’m thrilled to hear that this might be expanding. I was raised on the Regents exam, and as a student I never worried about them or had problems excelling on them. But when I started teaching in NYC, I saw how much of a toll those tests took on more disadvantaged students, without any real measure of their intelligence or development in their study of history. To have more schools follow the model of performance assessments is a small step in the right direction for once.

A reader in New York City has been studying the New York City Department of Education website. She keeps coming up with intriguing findings. Here are some of them:

A recent post on Diane Ravitch’s blog and a recent article in the New York Times Magazine got me curious. I wondered: Do New York City’s education policy makers really put children first? Are they doing all they can to make sure every single student succeeds, no matter their social or economic environment? Do they follow their own rhetoric?

We know that they blame teachers when students living in deep poverty do not graduate high school. But what are they doing to support public schools that serve the neediest students? Are they providing “fair student funding” as they claim?

I pulled school budget numbers from the New York City Department of Education’s own web site. I also pulled a list of the 10 high schools serving the most academically privileged students on entry and the 10 schools serving the most academically under-privileged students on entry using numbers (they call it a “peer-index”) from their own web site.  I want to make clear that these students are identified based on their performance prior to entering these high schools. The high schools themselves are not “responsible” for this particular measure.

What did I find?

The schools serving the most academically privileged students received over 99.5% of the funds the city’s own formula entitles them to. The schools serving the most academically under-privileged receive 82.3% of the funds they are entitled to. 

Let’s repeat that: The high schools that admit the most struggling students receive 17% less funding than they are entitled to BY THE CITY’S OWN FORMULA than high schools that admit the most academically privileged students.  How is this fair? And how will this help schools that take on the most challenging work in education help these kids? Whose needs are being put first?

One of the model laws circulated and advocated by the rightwing group ALEC is a voucher program for students with special needs.

ALEC, you may know, represents many of our nation’s major corporations. It has about 2,000 conservative state legislators as members and a few hundred corporate sponsors. ALEC crafted the “Stand Your Ground” law that the shooter invoked when he killed Trayvon Martin last spring in Florida. ALEC also crafted model legislation for voter ID laws that are characterized by its critics as voter suppression laws.

In education, ALEC has written draft legislation for vouchers for all, vouchers for special needs, charters, alternative certification, test-based teacher evaluation, and anything else they could think of to transfer public money to private hands and to undermine the teaching profession.

Ohio recently expanded its statewide voucher program, which was written originally for students with autism; now it is for students with disabilities of other kinds. This is part of the ALEC game plan to erode public support for public education. Read the article from Ohio. It says that the private schools are not accepting the students with the greatest need, and that some students who never attended public schools are now getting public subsidy. All combine to reduce public funding to public schools.

The Florida voucher plan for students with disabilities is called the McKay Scholarship program. It was embroiled in controversy when an investigative reporter discovered that the program was unsupervised, that some participating schools had no curriculum, no educational program and were run by unqualified people. Which raises the question of whether the point of the program is to help the children or to dismantle public education.

New York state has a similar program for pre-K special education students. Although it is not called a voucher program, it is almost completely privatized (and it predates ALEC’s agenda). The New York State Comptroller recently released an audit showing the program to be rife with fraud, inflated enrollments, corruption, etc.  It is also the most expensive program for pre-K special education in the nation.

The private sector does not have all the answers. Neither does the public sector. Any program using public money should be carefully, rigorously supervised and regulated, especially when children are involved.