Archives for the month of: October, 2012

Recently, school officials in El Paso were investigated and found guilty of pushing certain students out of school to prevent them from taking the state tests. The purpose was to boost the district’s scores and make it appear to be doing better than it was. Some children were literally excluded from school and never finished. The superintendent was convicted and sentenced to jail. This was disgraceful, and it was an indictment of the officials’ personal ethics, but also an indictment of the absurd high-stakes testing regime foisted on the nation by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. School officials in some district will do literally anything to get their scores up, even though it hurts children. This is wrong. And the system which it incentivizes this behavior is also wrong.

This blogger has a different take on the El Paso incident. He tends to view it as an example of “opting out” of testing. He longs for the day that “No Child Shows Up.”

Of course, if the superintendent in El Paso had told all children to stay home on testing day, he would now be a national hero to angry parents and educators. Instead, he is a convicted criminal because he did not have the best interests of children in mind. He told only the low-performing students to stay home or to drop out of school. He was not acting in their interest. He was acting from self-interest, trying to inflate the scores of his district.

Someday, all educators will have the courage to stop doing things that they know are educational malpractice.

Kris Neilsen is the teacher who wrote the post explaining why he quit in North Carolina. His post went viral.

He has posted several comments on the blog. Here is one of them:

Victims are the ones who stay, play by the crushing rules, and churn out students who are good at passing tests.

I am not that. I am an activist. I got the attention of the leadership in my state, and I plan to engage them over and over, with the support of parents and teachers, until they start to listen.

Considering the outpouring of support and stories I’ve received, NC has been lying dormant under bad policies for years. People are looking for a better way, but don’t know how to get there.

I’m not their savior, but I hope my choice opens up the dialogue to move us out of this mess.

Experienced journalist Tom Toch visited a Rocketship charter school in San Jose, California, and came away impressed.

What impressed him most, however, was not the ubiquitous computer instruction, but the intensity of the human interactions.

He took away a lesson about the importance of parent involvement and support, as well as the intense engagement of teachers.

Conservative commentators see the Rocketship model as a way to reduce the number of teachers and to break the hold of teachers’ unions.

Toch is not so sure.

Rocketship charters are now expanding rapidly into other markets outside California.

What do you think?

Chris Lehman has written an excellent post pulling together solid data about the “reformers'” solutions and the issue that refuse to address: poverty.

What is the problem in U.S. education? What is the cause of low test scores? Is it bad teachers, as the reformers claim?

Or is it poverty, where the U.S. leads the advanced nations of the world?

Can school reform cure poverty? Has it?

If you don’t address the causes, you will never solve the problem of low academic performance.

Nice job, Chris.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles has steadfastly refused to allow its members to be evaluated by the test scores of their students. Unlike the district leadership, UTLA understands that scholars have found that value-added assessment is inaccurate, invalid and unstable. By this method, excellent teachers may be labeled “ineffective,” and poor teachers who teach to the test may be labeled “effective.”

Despite intense pressure by the Los Angeles Unified School District leadership and the federal government, UTLA has insisted that its members should be evaluated by evidence-based methods, not by “value-added assessment” that has not been proven to work anywhere.

UTLA refused to sign off on the district’s request for $40 million in Race to the Top funding, which would have subjected its members to value-added assessment.

UTLA recognizes that accepting $40 million for RTTT would eventually cost the district hundreds of millions of dollars to comply with the federal government’s mandates. This has been the experience of other districts, where teachers have been laid off and class sizes have increased solely because of compliance with RTTT requirements.

Because it has remained true to principle, because it insists on evidence-based evaluation, because it insists on honest accounting for the public’s dollars, UTLA is a hero of public education and joins the honor roll.

Teachers these days are confused by the high volume of attacks on the profession. Members of teachers’ unions are beset by the frequent, virulent attacks on the very idea of collective bargaining.

In conservative states, governors and legislatures are doing whatever they can to weaken or eliminate collective bargaining. Two Hollywood movies in the past two years have cast the unions as the evil force that protects incompetent, lazy teachers and causes poor children to get low test scores. Without unions, it seems, our test scores would be the highest in the world and probably there would be no poverty either. All the industries that fled to China because of labor unions would have stayed here and there would be full employment for anyone willing to work for $2 an hour and live in a dormitory near the factory.

Now comes a publication from the conservative think tank Thomas B. Fordham Institute of DC and Dayton showing just how powerful those evil unions are.

Its report purports to prove that there is no association between high levels of union membership and academic achievement. Massachusetts may be number 1 in academic achievement (93% unionized), followed at the top of NAEP by New Jersey (97%) and Connecticut (99%), but TBF has devised a different way to parse those figures and conclude that unions are actually an obstacle to high achievement.

Mike Petrilli of TBF claims that I am one of those people who say that unions “can’t possibly be to blame for lackluster student achievement…if anything, unionization helps raise achievement, they say.”

This is a falsehood, misinformation, or willful ignorance. Petrilli is annoyed because I pointed out on this blog that Romney boasts about the academic gains in Massachusetts at the same time he is determined to flatten teachers’ unions, never acknowledging that those remarkable gains were accomplished by unionized teachers.

Petrilli should read my book.

I never wrote that unions cause higher achievement. DC is unionized and has low achievement, but it is not because it has a union. Student performance on NAEP is very low for Mississippi and Louisiana is very low, but it is not because they have weak unions.

What I wrote in “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” is this: “No one, to my knowledge, has demonstrated a clear, indisputable correlation between teacher unionism and academic achievement, either negative or positive. The Southern states, where teachers’ unions have historically been either weak or nonexistent, have always had the poorest student performance on national examinations. Massachusetts, the state with the highest academic performance, has long had strong teachers’ unions. The difference in performance is probably due to economics, not to unionization. Where there are affluent communities, student performance tends to be higher, whether or not their teachers belong to unions.”

What the unions do is to give teachers a voice in decisions about the conditions of teaching and learning. They give them representation if they are treated unjustly. They guarantee due process. Further, they provide an advocate for public education when decisions are made about the budget. Had there been a strong union in Texas, the Legislature would not have cut $5.4 billion from the budget for public education. Had there been a strong union in Louisiana, the Legislature would not have authorized the creation of vouchers and charters that take money out of the minimum foundation budget for public schools.

And unions do something else that matters to our society: They create a middle class. It may not be a coincidence that income inequality has grown as union membership has declined. Norman Hill and Velma Hill, veteran civil rights and labor activists, pointed out in a recent post on the Shanker blog that “the wages of black union members are 31 percent higher than the wages of African Americans who are not union members. The union wage advantage for women workers is 34 percent; for Latino workers, it is a whopping 51 percent.”

Rightwing ideologues like ALEC and like-minded think tanks across the nation want a union-free America, free to drive down wages and increase the working hours of teachers and other workers. If they had their way, teachers would have alternate certification or none at all; would be at-will employees; would serve at the pleasure of the corporation that hired them; would leave teaching as easily as they entered it; and would have nothing to say about working conditions or pay or hours.

This would predictably destroy the teaching profession. Why anyone thinks it would improve education is beyond my understanding.

Citizens in Missouri have awakened to the rapid advance of the privatization movement. They have formed an organization called Missouri Public School Advocates to awaken the public and push back against the privatizers.

Missouri Public School Advocates
A Strong Voice for Missouri Public Schools

Calling All Public School Supporters!

The Public Schools are under siege throughout this country.

In Missouri, serious efforts by the State General Assembly to dismantle quality Public School programs date back to the implementation of term limits in 2002 and the large scale change in the membership of that body in 2004.

Learn more about what we do here.

The effort to downsize government and greatly reduce the available resources to fund the Public Schools and the effort to privatize the delivery of education services and erode the strength of the Public Schools is coming from right wing intellectual think tanks, wealthy corporations and individuals, and state legislators who either genuinely believe that the Public Schools are failing or see the delivery of education as a golden opportunity to secure government funding for private enterprise.

Because of these efforts, State Support for the Public Schools is at a low ebb.

Now a group of Distinguished Educators have said, “Enough is enough”. We have formed a non-profit organization entitled MISSOURI PUBLIC SCHOOL ADVOCATES to unite Public School Supporters throughout the State and make a difference.

We want your help to Stop State efforts to reduce Public School funding and to Stop State action to subsidize private education entrepreneurs. JOIN THE MISSOURI PUBLIC SCHOOL ADVOCATES AND LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD.

Missouri Public School Statistics

>In 2010, 8 out of 10 Missouri Public School Districts reduced their number of classroom teachers. There are now 2500 fewer teachers for Missouri kids.

>For the current school year, the State Foundation Formula is $420 million dollars below its statutorily required level.

>Missouri now ranks 46th out of 50 states in average salary for Public School teachers and is more than $10000. per teacher below the national average.

>With regard to State Support of total Public School funding, Missouri is even worse ranking 47th. Missouri pays only 30.6 per cent of K-12 funding while the national average for State Support is 45.5 per cent.

>And in 2011, Missouri sank to 47th in per pupil funding for State Colleges and Universities. The average rate of tuition for Missouri’s four year institutions of higher learning has nearly doubled over the last decade.

How Do I Join Missouri Public School Advocates?

Go to the Missouri Public School Advocates (MPSA) website at mopublic and click on Membership Button. Our current roster of MPSA members is listed online.

Memberships start at just $10.00!

When you become a member of MPSA, you will:

>Ensure that the Public Schools have a strong voice speaking out on their behalf,
>Unite Public School supporters throughout Missouri under an inclusive umbrella, which will provide real policital clout,
>Support candidates for the Missouri General Assembly who are truly Public Education Supporters.

About MPSA
MPSA is completely non-partisan. We are open to anyone who is a supporter of the Public Schools.

We believe the Public School is the Institution that has done the most to make our country great.

This Institution has provided an opportunity for every child to acquire an education and to become a productive and self-supporting human being.

For all inquiries or other communication, please contact us at the information below.

Contact Information
14373 Conway Meadows Ct. E.
Chesterfield, MO 63017
Email: Gary Sharpe, President
Phone: 573-230-3388

Please send all correspondance to Gary Sharpe at 14373 Conway Meadows Court E., Chesterfield, Missouri 63017 or Thank you.

Tony Sinanis, a father of a third grade student in New York and principal of a school, writes a moving and sincere letter to John King, the state commissioner of education.

With all due deference to the state commissioner, he asks a series of questions about the purpose and quantity of tests now raining down on schools across the state.

Teachers are teaching to the test; children are concluding that are “no good” because they are not good at the testing.

Is this in the best interest of children?

Read the letter. Here is a sample:

First of all, our children are feeling overwhelmed, stressed out and they are starting to doubt their own abilities and it is only October. Why? Maybe it is because they are being subjected to numerous difficult tests and tasks as a result of the expectations of the Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) that have recently been put in place. Don’t get me wrong – I know pre and post assessments are critical and that various data points (when properly analyzed) can be a powerful tool for guiding future instruction and personalizing learning; but, when is enough, enough? Do they really need to take a paper and pencil test in the gym in first grade as part of a Physical Education SLO? Or do they need to take the TerraNova in kindergarten as part of a literacy SLO? Or does a second grader need to take an online assessment as part of reading and mathematics SLOs that can go on for hours? Are these types of assessments really developmentally appropriate (especially when considering some of our kindergarten students are still four years old)? Is the data we are gathering actually useful or even accurate? As I heard you recently mention, each district can negotiate their own SLOs so maybe not every first grader is taking a paper and pencil test in the gym but they are taking some type of assessment even though they have barely had a chance to get acclimated to their new teacher, classroom environment and school year. Is this really in the best interest of children? I am not sure but if it is, please let me know how so I can explain it my third grader who shut down during a mathematics SLO and said he was too stupid to finish and refused to take the test (by the way, his teacher wasn’t sure whether she should intervene because all she wanted to do was swoop in and take care of this little boy’s emotional well being but she worried that it might compromise the integrity of the test). Please understand that I am not questioning the importance of assessment nor the analysis of data to help us better instruct our students but in light of the new APPR and SLO requirements, my question is, are we actually doing what is in the best interest of our children?

In all the hype and spin about the privatization of education in New Orleans, no one has heard from students. Various special-interest claim to speak for them, say “it’s all about the kids.” Some raise millions of dollars from corporations and ideologues by claiming to be student advocates. It turns out that students have their own views and need no surrogates.

Silent no more. High school students are speaking out. They are holding a rally on October 30 at 5:30 pm to insist that they be heard. See the details below.

New Orleans students host first ever youth-led election forum for Orleans Parish School Board

Using their voices rather than a Super PAC, impacted students attempt to re-shape direction of a school system that has become a prime target of out-of-state political contributions and influence.

What: The Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association, in partnership with Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools and Orleans Public Education Network, will be mobilizing students and families from all across the city to engage candidates on issues that passionately concern them. A candidate forum of this scale, placing student voices at the center of the discussion, has not taken place in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. From food access, discipline policies, and transportation services, to charter governance, school closures, and resource inequality, student leaders will share testimony and ask the candidates to lay our their plans for improving academic achievement, democratic participation, and resource equity.

When: October 30th at 5:30 pm

Where: Ashe Cultural Arts Center, 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Bldv., New Orleans, LA 70113

Who: The Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association, Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools, Orleans Public Education Network, Fyre Youth Squad, Young Adults Striving for Success, Puentes New Orleans, and students from McMain Secondary, Warren Easton, Benjamin Franklin, and Sarah T. Reed

Why: In recent state school board elections, billionaires Michael Bloomberg, Eli Broad, and Alice and Jim Walton gave $500,000 in political contributions to cement New Orleans’ status as the nation’s preeminent education reform test-tube. Yet, New Orleans students inside this national experiment have not been given meaningful opportunities to provide feedback on these reforms or vocalize their own visions for educational equity. Despite being the stakeholder group with the greatest first-hand experience of present schooling conditions and the most at stake in school board elections, student voices have been consistently drowned out by a well-financed, national education reform agenda.

Media Visuals: Students speaking at a lectern to present issues and questions; students moderating the event; students submitting comment cards; a room with 100-150 community members and youth from all over the city representing over a dozen organizations and schools.

Here are the articles generated by the activist youth groups of New Orleans:

Press on our youth organizing work and campaigns:

EdWeek: (tkn=PNPF+K6Ugps%2F6AuN60lliB8PhatGJThqZFXs&cmp=ENL-EU-VIEWS (Student opinion piece based on survey of conditions in six schools)

The Lens:


Times Picayune:

Good Magazine:

Louisiana Weekly:

Louisiana Weekly:

Times Picayune:

The Lens:


The Los Angeles Times (!) has an outstanding article by reporter Teresa Watanabe about the new teacher evaluation system. It is based on growth in test scores and on computer modeling. The focus is on one teacher who seems to do all the right things: last year, he got a good rating but not this year. What changed? Nothing.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles has been fighting the LAUSD’s efforts to impose this flawed system on all teachers.

Eventually, after we have spent billions of dollars on these mechanical systems, the policymakers will figure out that the experts were right: the ratings reflect who is taught, not teacher quality.

Remember: no other nation in the world is judging teacher quality this way. This is our own nutty idea. It’s main accomplishment: demoralization of teachers.