Archives for the month of: October, 2012

This parent is very happy with the public schools her children attend. She says the teachers are dedicated and terrific.

My kids attend NC public schools. I hate the standardized test prep every year and the stress it puts my kids under, but I love their school. They have fantastic teachers, take eight or nine field trips every year, and begin dissection in science in third grade. They have opportunities I couldn’t offer them if I homeschooled. I volunteer in their classrooms and I know what the teachers put into their work and what they do without due to budget cuts. I know there’s a lot of junk and politics for teachers to deal with, but it doesn’t go unnoticed. There are good schools out there.

Jonathan Raymond, superintendent of the Sacramento City school district, has some lessons for New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

Friedman recently raved about the success of Race to the Top, claiming that it was preparing students for the high-skill jobs of the new economy.

Raymond says this is wrong. Race to the Top is divisive and subjects schools to derision.

It is top-down, heavy-handed and undermines the collaboration needed to make genuine improvement.

States that promise to comply with Duncan’s heavy handed mandates are “winners” while those making progress without Duncan’s script are losers.

He adds:

Meanwhile, school districts that are making real, tangible strides to increase student learning are left behind in this “race.” In Sacramento City Unified, we are turning around seven low-performing schools (called Priority Schools) through research-proven strategies for raising student achievement. Six of the seven schools have shown dramatic increases in student achievement and dramatic improvements in school culture and climate. These strategies include relevant professional development for principals and teachers; collaborative teacher planning time; data analysis and inquiry; and building strong family and community engagement. With federal funding, we could take this pilot program to scale statewide. California districts could build on each other’s successes and the gains of districts across the country. This is exactly what federal dollars should be spent on.
Yet Race to the Top’s scripted approach effectively discounts these reforms because they do not fit into the neat categories created by the prescriptive program. Moreover, forcing school districts to compete for badly needed resources is like offering a starving man food but only if he agrees to whatever strings may be attached. This is certainly the choice that school districts like ours face in California.

In response to the post from North Carolina teacher Kris Neilsen on why he quit, this teacher has good advice on how to survive the deluge of mean-spirited policies now raining down on students, teachers, and schools. My suggestion: Hang in there until this house of cards collapses, as it will.

As a twenty-year veteran of public education (secondary ELA) I found many of my fears and frustrations in this letter. I could well have written it myself, but I would be hard-pressed to refrain from vituperation. Kris was so much more eloquent than I could have hoped to be. Recently, my colleagues and I have made a pact: We’re determined to share the good things that are happening in our classrooms. We are committed to supporting each other, because no one else will. I am comforted by the words of the Mahatma Ghandi- “When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always faIl. Think of it–ALWAYS.” If we band together through social media, as another poster has suggested, we can weather this storm.

Thomas J. Adams, on the faculty of Tulane University, has a startling and funny column at Huffington Post about what the East Coast can learn from the Gulf Coast.

Now, New York, New Jersey, and other states have had their own version of Hurricane Katrina. Ours is Sandy.

Adams says we can do what New Orleans did:

The absolute first thing you have to do is fire all your public school teachers. Just fire them. We all know education is broken in this country and that teachers are to blame. So why not take this opportunity to do what you helped us do back in 2005? It might create a bit of confusion when the power gets turned back on and the debris gets removed, but that’s a small price to pay for our children’s future. Besides, if there’s a shortage of teachers we can help with that the same way you helped us. We certainly have a surfeit of energetic recent college graduates who we’ll happily send up there to fix your ailing schools. They may have no experience and most peer-reviewed education research concludes they’re not as effective as your former teachers, but they bring energy to the classroom! Sure, they may only stay for a year or two, but their M.B.A. and law school applications will be so much stronger because of it and they’ll make quality education a national issue.

Then he says, what follows easily is complete privatization and new opportunities:

After you get rid of your teachers it will be that much easier to turn control of your schools over to a variety of non- and for-profit groups. Don’t worry, you need not be concerned about whether these schools are effective or not, whether they cherry pick students, cook their test scores, get rid of education professionals in favor of computers, what kinds of salaries their board members are taking in, etc. As you’ve told us many times on countless of your leading editorial pages, this is the model for education reform in the country. In fact if you’re as lucky as us, this will lead you down an easy road to a voucher system in the next few years. Educational equality will come shortly thereafter, I promise.

While the privatization fever is raging, next to go is public housing, then free clinics.

Read it and remember that Arne Duncan said that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing ever to happen to education in New Orleans. I’m waiting to hear if he says the same about Hurricane Sandy.

Read here about the “Manchester Miracle,” about an elementary school in Pennsylvania that had only 40 fiction books on its shelves.

The community came together, renovated the library, and stocked its shelves with books.

And then there is the bad news. In Pittsburgh, only 14 of 51 schools have a full-time librarian. Most librarians spend only one day a week at each school.

This is the part I don’t understand.

When I went to public school in Houston many years ago, every school I attended had a library and a librarian. Some had more than one.

Our society is now immeasurably richer than it was then.

Why can’t every school have a library and a librarian?

Why don’t hedge fund managers support libraries?

Andrew Carnegie did, and it made him a hero for all time, enabling people to forget about labor practices at his steel mills. So today, because of his benefactions, he is remembered for his gift of libraries and literacy, not the brutal suppression of the Homestead Strike in 1892.

If the hedge fund managers and equity investors supported school libraries, we would think of them kindly and the memory of 2008 would fade.

Hello, Democrats for Education Reform! How about Democrats for School Libraries?

Many people have written via Twitter or email to ask if I am okay, and the short answer is yes.

Unlike many in New York City, I and my family emerged unscathed. There was a lot of wind and rain, but no damage to body or property.

Many people, including good friends, did suffer terribly. One lives in a neighborhood that was devastated by a terrible fire. Others experienced flood damage.

And the city remains crippled.

The mass transit system is out of commission, so people can’t get to work and children–in this city so dependent on school choice–can’t get to school.

Most Americans depend on private transportation and find it hard to imagine a city where public transportation is critical to the life of the city.

This Forbes blogger explains here how she can’t get to work and her son can’t get to school. Without the subways, people are simply unable to reach their destinations.

Mayor Bloomberg has done a great job as a leader and an explainer during these past few days.

But several people have written to me to complain that the Mayor’s policy of free-market choice for middle schools and high schools has made it impossible for students to get to school when so many depend on the subways to take them on journeys of 45 minutes to an hour from home.

New Yorkers are incredibly resilient and we will get through these trying times, as we got through the horrific aftermath of 9/11 and through various blackouts.

Events like these reinforce our sense of mutual interdependence and our need for a strong and effective government. We live in an age when some extremists want to gut government services, want to strangle the government and reduce it to impotence. I invite them to live in New York City during a blackout or a hurricane and rethink their rugged individualism. Individualism helps to survive, but government is necessary to bring individuals together as a community and support those in trouble.

Michelle Rhee is endorsing and funding rightwing candidates across the nation, showering cash on those who are opposed to teachers’ rights and unions and support privatization of public education.

In Ohio, she is using her StudentsFirst millions–collected from anonymous billionaires, millionaires and corporations–to support opponents of public education.

An Ohio blogger writes:

Now, here in Ohio, Michelle Rhee’s true colors simply cannot be ignored.  Rhee has chosen to fund multiple candidates in Ohio who are running for the Ohio House this year, citing their individual votes to support the Kasich budget that cut public education funding by $1.8 billion as a reason for StudentsFirst’s support.  Let me restate that: StudentsFirst supports these candidates because they supported Kasich’s budget that cut $1.8 billion from school funding.
PlunderBund (

Of all her endorsements in Ohio, the most disgusting is that Rhee is supporting a candidate with no education experience running against Maureen Reedy, an experienced and admired teacher. The two are candidates for an open seat in the 29th district.

Maureen Reedy was a teacher for 29 years. Rhee claims to “love” effective teachers. Maureen Reedy was Ohio’s Teacher of the Year in 2002. But Michelle Rhee is supporting her Republican opponent.

Maureen Reedy has pledged to expose the frauds that allow profiteers to waste millions of taxpayers’ dollars in Ohio. She has pledged to support public education in the state legislature. And that is why Rhee opposes Maureen Reedy.

This election tells us who Michelle Rhee is. She supports far-right Republicans, not Democrats. She supports those who voted to defund public education. She supports those who advocate for privatization of public education and who benefit from ineffective, for-profit schools. She does not support effective teachers. She opposes effective teachers.

Forget what she calls herself.

Judge her by her actions.

She is a rightwing Republican who hates public education and those who support it.

Want to know why Rhee opposes Maureen Reedy? Here is an excerpt from an article Reedy wrote for the Columbus Dispatch:

Charter schools are a poor investment of Ohio’s education dollars and have a worse track record than public schools in our state; there are twice as many failing charter schools as successful ones, and one in two charter schools is either in academic emergency or academic watch, compared with only one in 11 traditional public-school buildings. Five of seven of Ohio’s largest electronic-charter-school districts’ graduation rates are lower than the state’s worst public-school system’s graduation rate, and six of seven of the electronic charter schools districts are rated less than effective.

And finally, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow has failed in every identified state category for eight years, a worse track record than the Cleveland City School system, which is under threat of being shut down by the state. The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow is run by unlicensed administrators. Lager, in addition to his $3 million salary, earned an additional $12 million funneled through his software company, which sells products to his charter-school corporation. Just how much does the average teacher in the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow earn you may ask? Approximately $34,000 per year.

This teacher wrote a comment responding to Kris Neilsen’s explanation of why he could no longer teach in North Carolina. I found her note moving and sad. What are state legislatures doing to their teachers? Why do they think they will get better schools by demoralizing teachers? Why is the U.S. Department of Education encouraging this punitive behavior through its Race to the Top program?

I teach in Ohio and although we are allowed to strike, things aren’t different here. We are all tired and run down. I work in a high needs district, where nearly 80% of the kids are on free or reduced lunch and we haven’t met the state”s standards on state testing, and the state is In our district telling us if we don’t do better this year then they will take over. I am 8 years in and scared I can’t do this the rest of my life. Thank you for doing what I am not brave enough to do.

In case you are lucky enough to live in Tucson, Arizona, you should know that there is a terrific organization there called Voices for Education. Its leader is Robin Hiller, a parent dedicated to the needs of Tucson’s children and its underfunded public schools.

Voices for Education joins our honor roll as a hero of public education.

It is a parent advocacy group that supports public schools, reduced class size, and a sound education for all.

On its website, Voices for Education points out that state law limits class size for barbers to twenty students per teacher, but in kindergarten there is no  limit. Current kindergartens in Arizona are typically 32-35 students. Why do barbers get more consideration from the Legislature than five-year-old children?

Earlier this year, Voices sent out a legislative alert urging its supporters to contact Governor Jan Brewer and urge her to veto HB 2626, the Arizona
Empowerment Scholarship Account.

“This bill allows parents to cash out of the public school system by removing
their child from public school and placing them in a private school or home
schooling them. This bill has passed the House and Senate and is on the
governor’s desk.  HB2626 could bankrupt our state, it’s the ALT FUELS fiasco
on steroids. 
“Parents who take their kids out of a public or charter school can receive
90% of the cost of educating that child.  If they homeschool, they can use
the money for extra-curricular activities or for college.”

The governor vetoed the proposal as part of budget negotiations but then turned around and signed it into law in May. This will allow parents whose children are in a school rated D or F to homeschool their children or to use the state money for private school or for their own expenses as home-schoolers. Any tuition money not used by the end of high school may be applied to college tuition. The “educational saving account” is a voucher with a new name. Other states call them “opportunity scholarships.” The educational savings account is a clever way for states to circumvent a constitutional prohibition on vouchers.

For its steadfast support for the children and public schools of Arizona, for its willingness to speak out repeatedly on issues of importance to children and families, for its defense of the common good, Voices for Education joins the honor roll of heroes of public education.

Pennsylvania has 16 full-time cyber charter schools. Of the twelve that have been around long enough to report on test scores, only one made AYP this year. Last year, two made AYP. Eight are in corrective action status. None has ever been closed. The other four were authorized earlier this year.

Last summer, the offices of the state’s largest cyber charter school was raided by the FBI, which apparently had many questions about where the money is going in an enterprise that collects more than $100 million every year. The board of that school fired its top staff but the investigation continues.

A review of the cyber charters by CREDO at Stanford University concluded that they get terrible results: their students have low scores, low graduation rates, and high attrition rates. A spokesperson for CREDO said: “whatever cyberschools are doing in PA is definitely not working and should not be replicated.”

But the cyber charters just keep growing, as they spend more and more money to recruit students and more and more money to lobby legislators.

So what does the future hold for cyber charters in Pennsylvania in light of evidence that cyber charters get poor education results and need greater oversight?

Eight more cyber charter schools just applied to the state for authorization.

The state auditor complained that the cyber charters overbill the state.

But aside from his report, has the governor or legislative leaders or the state commissioner of education expressed concern about the growth of the state’s lowest performing education sector?

Are you kidding? This is not about improving education. It’s not about “the kids.” This is the edu-business.