Archives for the month of: February, 2013

Democrats were in a state of fury in Alabama as the legislature swiftly passed a bill to give tax credits to corporations and individuals so that students in “failing schools” can attend private schools with public money.

“Republicans heralded it as a historic day for education and life-altering for children stuck in poorly performing schools. But tempers boiled over as Democrats called the maneuver “sleaziness” and a “bait and switch.””

On the other side of the aisle:

Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, as she was leaving the House chamber threw her hands over her head and shouted, “Welcome to the new confederacy where a bunch of white men are now going to take over black schools.”

Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst of Alabama–preserving its reputation as a reliable ally of the most rightwing Republicans across the South– wasted no time in hailing the legislation:

As Alabama moves toward providing districts with increased flexibility and parents with more school choice, we hope policymakers implement strong performance standards to ensure that schools are being held accountable for student success.




One of the readers of this blog, experienced teacher Brian Ford, has written a new book. It seems to encapsulate the major themes of today’s privatization movement.

Respect for Teachers and the Rhetoric Gap:
How Research on Teaching and Schools is
Laying the Ground for New Business Models in Education

(A New Economy Story about the State of the Union)

Author: Brian Ford
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield

Summary of Book

For the last 30 years we have been in the midst of a paradox. In the discourse on education reform, national attention in the US has focused on how to improve the education system as a means to keep the US from slipping in international economic competition. It the end we may have actually done the opposite – made the US less competitive economically, with a system that has gotten worse at its core, in its philosophical tenets and in its ultimate effect on children and young adults, by placing unwonted pressure on them and in stifling their creativity.

Still, claims that the public schools in the US are failing are rampant. The teacher evaluation system is broken. America is being out-educated. The bottom rank of teachers are beyond redemption. New, effective teachers can eliminate the achievement gap in four years, but they aren’t given the chance because our education system is in the thrall of teachers unions, ignores our children and emphasizes ‘adult interests.’ ‘Respect for Teachers,’ which takes its title from a phrase President Obama used in a State of the Union address, examines these claims, looking first at the rhetoric and the research that supposedly backs it up. It argues that most of this is not only wrong, but endangers both the egalitarian basis of democracy and broad-based forms of learning which promote creative and critical thinking.

But what is the source? Money changes everything and the book suggests, on the one hand, that we are all connected to money. On the other hand, research on education has been systematically misreported, presenting a bleaker picture overall while ignoring the central problem: our schools are failing in areas of concentrated poverty. It does so by looking at how research is presented, the gap between rhetoric and research and how one hand might be washing the other.

Working as if from a common script, private interests present a false picture. Schooling is big business, after all — two trillion dollars world-wide. Joseph Schumpeter once said, “No bourgeoisie ever disliked war profits.” One would assume no bourgeoisie ever disliked the spoils of school reform, either.

A charter school in Sarasota, Florida, is in court over a simple question: who owns the school?

The for-profit corporation Imagine Schools says it owns the school. The board of the charter fired Imagine and says the board owns the school.

The board didn’t like paying Imagine nearly $1 million a year for its services.

Charter operators around the nation will watch to find out: Who owns this school?

Sorry, I forgot the link! Here it is:


This video was created by Herbert Bassett.

Herb Bassett is a Louisiana music teacher who also holds a math minor. His principal asked him in October to investigate Louisiana’s school performance scores. Since then, Herb has also done work to explain and expose Louisiana’s value added modeling (VAM),

The teacher evaluation model in Louisiana is based overwhelmingly on student test scores. A single year rating of Ineffective can get a teacher fired.

This is wrong. Those imposing this punitive and inaccurate approach should be held accountable for their errors and for demoralizing the state’s teachers.

Mathematica Policy Research has good news for KIPP. Their students make significant gains. The press release follows with a link to the report and summary of the findings.

A few questions occur to me about the replicability of the KIPP model.

First, KIPP has raised hundreds of millions of dollars from philanthropists and the U.S. Department of Education. Does that extra money translate into smaller classes and other perks? If not, what is it used for?

Second, to what extent do KIPP students benefit from peer effects, in that the comparison group is attending schools with kids with more problems and issues than those in KIPP?

Third, will KIPP ever take on the challenge of an entire small impoverished (I call it “the KIPP Challenge”)? So long as they take some but not all, the suspicion of selective attrition and exclusion will linger.

Here is the press release.

New Report Finds KIPP Middle Schools Produce Significant Achievement Gains

Contact: Jennifer de Vallance, (202) 484-4692

WASHINGTON, DC—February 27, 2013—A report released today by Mathematica Policy Research shows that Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) middle schools have significant and substantial positive impacts on student achievement in four core academic subjects: reading, math, science, and social studies. One of the report’s analyses confirms the positive impacts using a rigorous randomized experimental analysis that relies on the schools’ admissions lotteries to identify comparison students, thereby accounting for students’ prior achievement, as well as factors like student and parent motivation. Fact sheet.

Key findings on KIPP’s achievement gains include:

KIPP middle schools have positive and statistically significant impacts on student achievement across all years and all subject areas examined. In each of their four years of middle school, KIPP schools produced positive academic impacts on state standardized tests. Significant positive impacts are evident on average as well as for the majority of individual KIPP middle schools in the study.

The magnitude of KIPP’s achievement impacts is substantial. In each of the four subjects studied, KIPP schools produced achievement gains large enough to have a substantial impact on student outcomes:

Math: Three years after enrollment, the estimated impact of KIPP on math achievement is equivalent to moving a student from the 44th to the 58th percentile of the school district’s distribution. This represents 11 months of additional learning growth over and above what the student would have learned in three years without KIPP.

Reading: Three years after enrollment, the estimated impact in reading is equivalent to moving a student from the 46th to the 55th percentile, representing 8 months of additional learning growth over and above what the student would have learned in three years without KIPP.

Science: Three to four years after enrollment, the estimated impact in science is equivalent to moving a student from the 36th to the 49th percentile, representing 14 months of additional learning growth over and above what the student would have learned in that time without KIPP

Social Studies: Three to four years after enrollment, the estimated impact in social studies is equivalent to moving a student from the 39th to the 49th percentile, representing 11 months of additional learning growth over and above what the student would have learned in that time without KIPP.
The matched comparison design produces estimates of KIPP’s achievement impacts similar to estimates of the same impacts based on an experimental, lottery-based design. Researchers found that KIPP’s achievement gains are similar for the matched comparison design and the experimental lottery analysis.

KIPP’s gains are not the result of “teaching to the test.” For KIPP students in the lottery sample, researchers administered the TerraNova test—a nationally norm-referenced test—which students had not prepared for, and which carried no consequences for students or schools. The impacts shown in the TerraNova test were consistent with those shown in state tests.
Mathematica senior fellow and study director Philip Gleason said, “KIPP is making important strides to close achievement gaps for disadvantaged students. Findings from this large and comprehensive evaluation show that KIPP schools lead to educationally meaningful increases in student achievement, not just in basic reading and math, but in a broader set of subjects, including science and social studies.”

In addition to studying academic impacts, researchers also administered surveys to students and parents in the lottery group, to assess how KIPP affects behavior and attitudes toward school. The surveys showed that KIPP students complete up to 53 minutes more homework per night than they would have at non-KIPP schools, and that winning a KIPP lottery had a positive effect on both parents’ and students’ satisfaction with school. However, they also found that KIPP students reported no discernible increase in attitudes associated with success, and had an increased incidence of self-reported undesirable behaviors, including losing their temper, arguing with or lying to their parents, or giving their teachers a hard time.

The new report—the latest from Mathematica’s multi-year study of KIPP middle schools—is the most rigorous large-scale evaluation of KIPP charter schools to date. The report confirms and adds to the findings of the first Mathematica report on KIPP schools, released in 2010. The newly released 2013 report covers twice as many schools: 43 KIPP middle schools in 13 states and in the District of Columbia. In addition, the new report includes a broader range of student outcomes, examining not only state test results in reading and math, but also test scores in science and social studies; results on a nationally normed assessment that includes measures of higher-order thinking; and behaviors reported by students and parents.

The report also describes the population of students entering KIPP schools. Researchers found that students entering KIPP schools are similar to other students in their neighborhoods: overwhelmingly low achieving, low income, and nonwhite. Ninety-six percent are either black or Hispanic, and 83 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. Before enrolling in KIPP, typical students had lower achievement levels than both the average in the elementary school they attended and the average in the district as a whole. On the other hand, KIPP students are somewhat less likely than others in their elementary schools to have received special education services or to have limited English proficiency.

About Mathematica: Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan research firm, provides a full range of research and data collection services, including program evaluation and policy research, survey design and data collection, research assessment and interpretation, and program performance/data management, to improve public well-being. Its clients include federal and state governments, foundations, and private-sector and international organizations. The employee-owned company, with offices in Princeton, N.J.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Cambridge, Mass.; Chicago, Ill.; Oakland, Calif.; and Washington, D.C., has conducted some of the most important studies of education, disability, health care, family support, employment, nutrition, and early childhood policies and programs.

Some of the leading thinkers of our day decided that our really big crisis is not the low test scores of the bottom 10%, but the desultory gains of our top 10%. This is known as the “top student crisis.”

Where would American education be, after all, if a day went by without another crisis?

Some might say that top students are bored by our national testing regime. Or maybe they suffer because of the abrupt resignation of many experienced teachers.

Paul Thomas has the answer to this latest crisis. He thinks we need to do to the top 10% what reformers have done to the bottom 10%. After all, as EduShyster might say, why should all that excellence be reserved only for those with the worst scores?

Thomas proposes TFA for the top students, making sure they get young, ill-trained teachers rather than those tired veterans; KIPP schools and other no-excuses for them, where they learn to obey rules promptly; larger class sizes, preferably 40-1; and be sure they get no music or art but focus strictly on test prep.

Then, no doubt, we will see innovation and excellence and higher scores for our top students. Another crisis solved.

This reader asks the question of the day, which is the title of this post. If you are doing a job you want to do but are required to do what you know is wrong, what do you do?

One answer: join with others who agree with you. Find others teachers who feel the same. Join with parents. Alone you are powerless and vulnerable. Learn about any organized opposition to educational malpractice in your community, region, or state.

The reader writes:

I am new to your blog and am finding it very informative and enlighening! I am a middle school math teacher and am in a district that is ALL about test scores. Our students are tested MANY times during the year, and EVERYTHING revolves around the numerous data sets associated with those tests. Online benchmarks for state testing (3), district benchmarks, pilot constructed response assessments (4 of those), writing assessments (3 or 4, not sure), state tests, the list goes on..

My question is this,,, how does one ‘fight’ that when I HAVE to have a job and live in an area where choices are limited. I love my school and love the area where I live. I am a good teacher with 13+ years of experience, but I also see the disturbing harm all this testing, and tunnel-vision focus, is doing to the long-term educational trajectory of my students. I work with very good, experienced teachers who want to bail out because they feel, as I do, that we aren’t really teachers any more. Rather, we are more like computer programmers, programming our students to make the district look good. We end up with students who are ‘programmed’ for testing, not educated and informed.
Frustration mounts….. daily.

PS – Do you ever sleep?? 🙂

Just when you think the corporate reformers have run out of ways to hurt children and kneecap educators, they pull another trick out of their bag.

In New Jersey, the state board of education proposes to cut staff trained to identify and manage the cases of special education students and turn the job over to classroom teachers.

Jersey Jazzman delineates what is happening:

“The New Jersey state Board of Education wants to give districts the option to fire Child Study Team members and have teachers take over the management of special education cases.

“I understand that we are all looking for ways to save money, but this is perhaps the most egregious cost-cutting scheme imaginable: the NJBOE wants school districts to balance their budgets on the backs of our most vulnerable and needy students.

“Case managers spend hours testing, coordinating services, working with parents, and – most importantly, perhaps – holding districts accountable for providing the services that special needs children must, by law, receive. It is outrageous that the NJBOE wants to move this critical function over to “any staff member with appropriate knowledge.” What is “appropriate”? Why won’t the NJBOE clearly delineate this?

“If this regulation is adopted, it will be nothing more than an excuse to fire CST members at-will. Without question, it will gravely affect districts with greater numbers of at-risk kids, but it will also severely impact every district in the state. All of you parents with special needs children know what a big deal this is: imagine if the person you’ve been working with all throughout your child’s school career was suddenly fired and replaced by a teacher who already has a full workload.

“And if you don’t have a special needs child, think about how your child’s classroom teacher will be affected when the responsibilities for overseeing IEPs are dumped into her lap. Do you think she will have time to actually teach when she has to test and fill out paperwork and counsel parents and coordinate services?”

This is an assault on the state’s neediest children.

This is not reform.

Bring in the lawyers.

David Coleman, widely acknowledged as the “architect” of the Common Core standards, was selected last year as CEO of the College Board. He announced recently that the SAT will be redesigned to reflect the Common Core.

Get to know David Coleman.

He is now the de facto controller of American education. He decided what your child in kindergarten should know and do. He decided what children in every grade should know and do. He has decided how they should be tested. Now he will decide what students need to know if they want to go to college. He had some help. But make no mistake: he is the driving force that is changing what and how your children and your students learn.

Coleman, whose mother is president of Bennington College, graduated from Yale and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes scholar. He then worked for McKinsey.

He created the Grow Network, an assessment program that he sold to McGraw-Hill in 2005, reportedly for $14 million.

He left McGraw-Hill in 2007 and founded Student Achievement Partners, funded by the Gates Foundation and others, which led the writing of the Common Core standards.

He was chosen to lead the College Board in 2012. The NewSchools Venture Fund, a leading corporate reform group that supports the expansion of charter schools, named Coleman as one of its “Change Agents of the Year” in 2012.

He was a founding board member and treasurer of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, along with Jason Zimba, who led the writing of the Common Core math standards. The only other member of Rhee’s board was also a member of Coleman’s staff.

In the history of American education, there has never been anyone like David Coleman. He has fashioned the nation’s standards and curriculum. Others have tried and failed. Will his vision change the schools for the better? We will know more later.

Philadelphia columnist Will Bunch couldn’t believe the onerous, mean-spirited proposal made by school officials to the city’s teachers. They are asked to accept a cut in pay and benefits, larger classes, a longer work day, and, adding insult to injury, no copying machines or supplies, no water fountains or parking facilities, not even desks.

Students will be in larger classes, in schools with no libraries, no librarians, no guidance counselors, and a corps of beaten-down teachers.

Way to go, School Reform Commission! I am reminded that the best corporations in the United States pamper their employees and make sure they have excellent working conditions. They want their employees to have high morale. In Philadelphia, they want to crush their teachers’ morale. The school officials are not employing a business model, unless they have in mind the 19th century idea of treating workers like scum.

If ever there were conditions for a strike against witless, cruel management, this is it.

Bear in mind that Philadelphia has not had an elected school board in over a decade. The School Reform Commission is appointed by the governor and mayor.

Will they care if there is a mass exodus of teachers? Will they happily employ scabs? Do they care about the quality of education? Or is driving down the cost of teachers more important than anything else?