Archives for the month of: July, 2013

The emails unearthed by Tom LoBianco of the Associated Press show that Tony Bennett was desperately trying to rig the system to raise the grade of one charter school from a C to an A.

That charter happened to be the charter held by a major donor to GOP campaigns, including Bennett’s, which received $130,000 from her.

As a side benefit of the new formula, the grades of all charters were raised. As this morning’s editorial in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette shows, “The scramble to inflate Christel House’s grade also was successful in pushing more than half of the state’s charter schools to a letter grade of C or better, a claim Bennett couldn’t make before the formula was massaged.”

The editorial notes with alarm that Bennett’s rigged formula is still in place. Schools across the state will get phony grades. Will the state board of education allow Glenda Ritz to impose some integrity to this deeply flawed system?

To quote the editorial:

“The disclosure settles the question why educators well-versed in test scores and evaluation systems couldn’t make sense of it.

“(I)t is not criterion based, it does not statistically make sense, it does not account for standard measure of error, it is unexplainable and difficult to understand, and it fails to comply with current law and administrative code,” Superintendent Chris Himsel of Northwest Allen County Schools told legislators in a letter last November.”

For the past decade, corporate reformers have repeatedly said that poverty is an excuse used by and for bad teachers. If all teachers were “great” teachers, all children would have high test scores, there would be no achievement gap, and our problems would be solved. Forgive me if the logic doesn’t work, but I don’t entirely understand the train of thought. The bottom line is the reformy belief that all children, e ery single one, will achieve at the highest levels if great teachers accept “no excuses.”

A new report from ETS reminds us why poverty matters and how it affects the lives of children and families.

Written by Richard J. Coley of ETS and Bruce Baker of Rutgers, the report finds that 22% of America’s children live in poverty. They show that:

“Children growing up in poverty complete less schooling, work and earn less as adults, are more likely to receive public assistance, and have poorer health.

“Boys growing up in poverty are more likely to be arrested as adults.

“Girls growing up in poverty are more likely to give birth outside of marriage.

“Costs associated with child poverty are estimated to total about $500 billion per year.”

Read this along with Richard Rothstein’s “Class and Schooling.”

And google Helen F. Ladd’s review of the evidence on education and poverty.

Do schools make a difference? Yes, they do.

Do teachers have the power to change children’s lives? Yes, they do.

Are schools and teachers powerful enough to end poverty? No. Poverty rates rise and fall in response to economic trends, not to the rise or fall of test scores.

Here are the conclusions of the ETS report on poverty:


While fierce policy debates persist over how to effectively disrupt the link between poverty and chil- dren’s educational outcomes, a fair amount is known from research on effective strategies and program- matic interventions. Several strategies are offered above that might be used to improve short-term educational and long-term economic outcomes for children from low-income families. Each of these strategies comes with a price, and for any to be equitably and adequately implemented requires equi- table and adequate access to funding. Baker and Welner (2011) pointed out that research on state school finance reforms supports this contention, with a significant body of state-specific studies showing that changes to the level and distribution of available resources can, in fact, influence changes to the level and distribution of student outcomes. Specifically, in one cross-state study, Card and Payne (2002) found “evidence that equalization of spending levels leads to a narrowing of test score outcomes across family background groups.” (p. 49)18

The evidence is clear that income inequality continues to rise in the United States, and that federal and state policies have arguably been less successful at curbing income inequality than policies in other developed nations. Since the “Great Recession” officially ended in 2009, the average net wealth of the wealthiest seven percent of households rose by 28 percent, while the average wealth of the lower- wealth 93 percent of households dropped by 4 percent (Fry & Taylor, 2013). Further, the political balance and distribution of government benefits continues to shift in favor of the elderly to the disadvantage of children. Total federal and state spending per capita is highest for children age 6–11 and next-highest for those age 12–18. Three- to 5-year-olds are in third place, and our youngest children (under age 2) get the least support (Edelstein, Isaacs, Hahn, & Toran, 2012). The confluence of these forces results in a growing gap in educational opportunity, largely influenced by gaps in income.

Indeed, some policy actions such as the provision of children’s health care have improved through blended federal and state policies. But even those successes vary widely across the country, depending largely on state-level actions. Likewise, public education policy continues be highly decentralized and controlled by the states, with state investment in public schooling and participation rates of children
in the public schools varying widely. Further, while a handful of states have made significant efforts to target school funding to those areas where it is most needed, many others have not and show little or no sign of future change in their state school funding policies.

In addition to more precisely measuring poverty and targeting resources accordingly, now is an appropriate time to rethink programs and strategies that might best serve to mediate the relationship between poverty and educational opportunity. Providing high-quality pre-kindergarten programs, reasonable elementary class sizes, and a high-quality teacher workforce for schools serving children in poverty requires sustained, equitable and adequate funding. Federal policy should focus on targeting the maximum available funding to schools, districts, and states with the greatest shares of children in need, and encouraging states to increase their own investment, placing less emphasis on competitive grant programs such as Race to the Top. State school finance policies should ensure equitableand adequate funding first, before attaching strings related to currently popular though largely unproven reforms.”

Click to access poverty_and_education_report.pdf

After the release of emails showing that Indiana State Superintendent Tony Bennett manipulated the grading system to favor a charter school belonging to a big GOP donor, a furor erupted about his ethics. He is now State Superintendent in Florida following his election loss in Indiana last fall, a transition arranged by Bennett’s mentor Jeb Bush. Bennett was head of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change.

Florida’s Governor Rick Scott is facing an uphill battle for re-election in 2014, and some political insiders are wondering if Bennett will drag down Scott, who remained silent and pretended he had not read the stories about his education commissioner.

The question now is whether Bennett will be sacked. Not surprisingly, the loudest voice supporting him was Jeb Bush’s chief of staff.

I received the following email today from Senator Mitch McConnell.

He really needs to get some people on his staff who can read and understand education research.

It is not that hard.

So should Rand Paul, Lamar Alexander, and the other senators who are pushing vouchers.

He would learn, for example, that students in voucher schools have not outperformed students in public schools anywhere.

He doesn’t mention that in this letter, so maybe he does know it and doesn’t care.

He would learn that voucher schools appear to have a higher graduation rate because they have a huge attrition rate.

For example, in Milwaukee, 56% of the students who started vouchers schools in ninth grade dropped out before reaching graduation.

So, the 44% who did not drop out were more likely to have a higher graduation rate than the public schools that accepted the dropouts from the voucher schools.

Why do these so-called “conservatives” want to destroy their own community’s public schools? There is nothing conservative about that.

Conservatives protect traditional institutions.

Conservatives protect their community.

Conservatives are not anarchists.

Funny they don’t mention that vouchers have never been approved in any referendum. Voters don’t want their public dollars to go to religious or unregulated private schools.


McConnell writes:


We, as conservatives, know that the government is not the best place to do a lot of things. Although, if government must take action, we prefer that the most local level of government addresses an issue. 

Sometimes, every level of government creates obstacles to success. I consider it a priority in the United States Senate to remove those obstacles and help citizens, taxpayers and parents succeed.

That is why I am fighting hard for more choice and freedom in our schools.

School choice and parental control are issues I hold dear, which is why I am proud to join my friends Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Tim Scott, Lamar Alexander and others at an important school choice forum.

Every child, whatever their background and no matter where they live, deserves a great education and a chance to succeed in life. Unfortunately, Washington and the entire education establishment are failing our kids.

Every decision that Washington has made in recent years seems to bring more power to the federal government, leaving less control for local schools and parents.

However, school choice is working where it has been allowed to replace the education establishment. Here are a few facts about school choice and the positive consequences of a successful education:

In Washington, the voucher program increased the graduation rate by 21 percent.

By 25, the average high school dropout earns $18,796 per year. On the other hand, the average college graduate with a bachelor’s degree is earning $26,699 per year and will earn nearly 100% more over their lifetime than a high school dropout.

How do we get more young Americans to earn bachelor’s degrees instead of becoming another dropout statistic?

The answer is school choice, and I will continue to fight alongside my colleagues in the Senate to expand the control that parents have over their child’s education.

You can also help by making sure I can keep fighting in Washington. Fighting for choice in education. Fighting for local control of schools. Fighting for parents and taxpayers.

A blogger in Tennessee notes that Rand Paul of Kentucky is excited about what is happening in Tennessee.

He wants Kentucky to follow Tennessee’s lead.

But this is very odd because by almost every measure, Kentucky is more successful in education than Tennessee.

Unlike Tennessee, Kentucky has no charter schools. It does not aspire to enact vouchers. It is doing none of what the corporate reformers love.

And yet, having not followed the reform path to privatization, this is what Kentucky does have:


– Higher scores on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) than Tennessee in seven out of eight categories.

– A higher ACT composite average than Tennessee

– A larger percentage of its population with 4-year college degrees than Tennessee

– A lower unemployment rate than Tennessee

Please ask Senator Rand Paul why Kentucky should copy Tennessee.

Plain logic suggests that Tennessee should strive to be like Kentucky.

A reader from North Carolina explains how the legislatures so-called reforms will affect her:

“I have been teaching in NC for 13 years now. To be honest, having to sign a new contract each year or not getting a raise yet again doesn’t concern me as much as having 25+ 7 year olds with no assistant. I’ve had to share an assistant with 3 other teachers for the past few years, and that is better than having no one. The idea that teachers can meet the individual needs of all children with less time and resources is insane. During a classroom emergency (sick or violent behaving student) how am I supposed to take care of the student needing help plus keep teaching the others? I’d like to see how some of these politicians would function without their secretaries and personal assistants. Instead of trying to help public schools, they are setting us up for failure. It’s like giving a carpenter a hammer, a handsaw, a couple of boards, and a box of nails then calling him incompetent when the house isn’t built in 3 weeks.”

The Badass Teachers Association has produced a series of videos to explain the intricacies and deceptions of corporate reform.

The first laid out the corporate reform strategy.

The second examined the Broad superintendents.

The third looks closely at the legacy of Michelle Rhee.

The thesis that ties them together is that “reform” is a house of cards built on lies that will inevitably fall down, as houses of cards tend to do.

George Schmidt taught for many years in Chicago until he was fired by Paul Vallas, then the CEO, for revealing test questions (to show how idiotic they were). He now offers advice on how to succeed as a teacher:


Thanks for making me laugh this otherwise unfunny Chicago morning. Around here, the best way to become one of the “best” teachers is to get as far as possible away from the hard core segregated impoverished inner city schools (where I had the privilege of teaching for decades before being purged and blacklisted by Paul Vallas & Co). Step one in the “Two Step” is to transfer from a “bad” school to a “good” school within the city. That trick has been done regularly here in Chicago. I remember two decent English teachers who transferred from Chicago’s Collins High School (in the North Lawndale community) to Lane Tech High School (selective enrollment forever), and suddenly they were relieved of all the worries about having their school subjected to “turnaround” etc., etc., etc.

The Big Step then is to wrangle a job in the suburbs — say at New Trier High School, where Rahm Emanuel and his brothers went to school. (I know: Rahm’s a Chicago guy — not). If you become a New Trier teacher, as two people I knew in Chicago did, then you become one of the best teachers in the USA.


The only downside is that you have to teach bratty kids like a young Rahm Emanuel, and deal with parents who will remind you in a pinch (say, when their kid gets an “F”) that they are smarter than you and that if you had any brains, ambition or talent you would be in business and not teaching…

Greg Michie is a teacher in Chicago and a published author. Michie is fed up with the hypocritical incantations of “students first,” when the reality is that the “reformers” put students last.

In this post, he explains what is really happening.

“I see our school’s only computer lab — which should be a student resource — closed for weeks at a time (a total of nine this past year) so it can be used to administer board-mandated standardized tests.

I see revamped teacher, principal, and school evaluation policies that assign heavy weight to gains on standardized test scores. This will likely turn the screws of pressure further on school-based educators, and mean an even narrower curricular focus and a more intensified push for larger gains.

I see dozens of schools closing in low-income African American neighborhoods — despite the protests of parents and community members, despite warnings that children will have to cross potentially dangerous gang lines to get to their “receiving” schools. Can anybody imagine these closings being proposed — much less approved — if 90 percent of the children impacted were white?

I see the mayor’s pet reform initiative, the longer school day, turning out to be what many critics feared: simply a longer day. Not “better,” not “fuller,” and not supported with appropriate resources. The recent layoffs will only make this situation worse.

I see the board laying off nearly 2,000 experienced teachers (and over 1,000 other school-based staff), while at the same time hiring up to 325 recruits from Teach for America, an organization which provides its “corps members” with only five weeks of preparation for teaching in Chicago classrooms. To make matters worse, at a time when CPS claims to be cash-strapped, it will be paying TFA a mind-blowing $1.6 million in “finder’s fees” for its services.”

And more:

“I see principals across the city scrambling to make ends meet with dramatically reduced budgets while the mayor turns a deaf ear, blaming funding issues solely on Springfield’s pension reform impasse. Blaine Elementary principal Troy LaRaviere blasted the budget cuts at a protest at City Hall last week. “When people ask me, ‘How did you achieve the results that you did?’ I give them a list,” he said. “And almost everything on that list has been decimated by this budget… We’ve lost music, we’ve lost our reduced class sizes, we’ve lost our intervention specialists, I’ve lost my ability to recruit and retain and hire the most effective teacher.”

“I could go on, but it would be begging the same question: How does any of this put students first?”

In another great post, Bruce Baker explains the smokescreens that reformers use to divert attention from resource inequality.

One smokescreen is choice. The idea is that liberty should replace equality. But says Baker, choice is highly inequitable. “But these arguments are merely a diversion, sidestepping whether, when applied in practice, adequate alternatives are equitably distributed.

“One problem with this assertion is that variation in resources across private providers, as well as across charter schools tends to be even greater than variation across traditional public schools (Baker, 2009, Baker, Libby & Wiley, 2012). Further, higher and lower quality private and charter schools are not equitable distributed geographically and broadly available to all. At the extreme, in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina where traditional district schools were largely wiped out, and where choice based solutions were imposed during the recovery, entire sections of the city were left without secondary level options and provided a sparse few elementary and middle level options (Buras, 2011).

“Baker, Libby and Wiley show that in New York City, charter expansion has yielded vastly inequitable choices. Table 1 shows the demographics, spending and class sizes of New York City charter schools, by their network affiliation, compared to district schools. Most New York City charter school networks serve far fewer children qualifying for free lunch (<130% poverty level), far fewer English language learners and far fewer children with disabilities than same grade level schools in the same borough of the city. These patterns of student sorting induce inequities across schools. But, these schools also have widely varied access to financial resources despite being equitably funded by the city. Some charter networks are able to outspend demographically similar district schools by over $5,000 per pupil, and to provide class sizes that are 4 to 6 (or more) students smaller.”

Another is the claim that we are spending enough or spend too much.

As Baker writes, “Finally, an argument that reoccurs with some consistency in debates over the adequacy of education funding is that there exists little or no proof that adding more money would likely have any measurable positive effects. This argument hinges on the oft repeated (and as frequently refuted phrase that there exists “no systematic relationship between funding and outcomes.” This argument fails to excuse the facial inequity of permitting some children attending some schools to have twice or more, the resources of others, especially where, as in New York State, higher need children are the ones with systematically fewer resources.”