Archives for the month of: September, 2013

Here is a good blog by a Los Angeles parent who asks the question, “who is Diane Ravitch?–and explores the answer.

I know who I am.

I am one of eight children, born in Houston and a graduate of the Houston public schools.

I was lucky enough to be admitted to Wellesley College, where my friends included incredibly talented women. I graduated in 1960.

I married a wonderful man two weeks after college, moved to New York City, and began having children. I had three sons, one of whom died of leukemia at the age of two.

I earned a Ph.D. in the history of American education from Columbia University in 1975. My mentor was the great historian Lawrence A. Cremin.

My first book was a history of the New York public school system, published in 1974. It was also my doctoral dissertation.

I was divorced in 1986. My ex-husband and I are good friends.

From 1991-93, I was Assistant Secretary of Education in the first Bush administration. Then I worked as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution for two years.

I missed New York City and moved back to Brooklyn and became an adjunct at New York University. I published more books.

In 1997, the Clinton administration appointed me to serve on the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees federal testing. Secretary Richard Riley reappointed me in 2001, and I served on that board for seven years, learning a lot about testing.

I was a fellow at three different conservative think tanks in the 1990s and early years of this century. The Manhattan Institute, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and the Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution.

In 2010, I published a book explaining that the ideas I had thought were good in theory turned out not to work, that they were actually damaging education, and I became a critic of testing, accountability, choice, and competition. My book explained why and how I lost faith in these ideas. It is “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining American Education.”

I have lived with my best friend for the past 25 years.

I still live in Brooklyn. I have written ten or eleven books and edited many more.

I have four grandsons.

My latest book –Reign of Error–is the #1 book in education and the #1 book on public policy as of this moment on amazon.

I am 75 years old.

I have no staff, no research assistant. Whatever appears under my name was written solely by me.

I love what I am doing.

I love children, and I admire those who dedicate their lives to educating children and improving the lives of children, families, and communities.

I want all children to have a wonderful education, not just the basics and testing.

I will work for a better education for all as long as I have strength and breath.

In this stunning article in Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi describes the cool deals that have enriched hedge fund managers while the pensions of public employees are whittled away. His article is based on research conducted by investigative journalist David Sirota for the Institute for America’s Future. Read Sirota’s article in Salon here, with a link to the full report. And here.

A sample:

“A study by noted economist Dean Baker at the Center for Economic Policy and Research….reported that, had public pension funds not been invested in the stock market and exposed to mortgage-backed securities, there would be no shortfall at all. He said state pension managers were of course somewhat to blame, but only “insofar as they exercised poor judgment in buying the [finance] industry’s services.”

“In fact, Baker said, had public funds during the crash years simply earned modest returns equal to 30-year Treasury bonds, then public-pension assets would be $850 billion richer than they were two years after the crash. Baker reported that states were short an additional $80 billion over the same period thanks to the fact that post-crash, cash-strapped states had been paying out that much less of their mandatory ARC payments.

“So even if Pew’s numbers were right, the “unfunded liability” crisis had nothing to do with the systemic unsustainability of public pensions. Thanks to a deadly combination of unscrupulous states illegally borrowing from their pensioners, and unscrupulous banks whose mass sales of fraudulent toxic subprime products crashed the market, these funds were out some $930 billion. Yet the public was being told that the problem was state workers’ benefits were simply too expensive.

“In a way, this was a repeat of a shell game with retirement finance that had been going on at the federal level since the Reagan years. The supposed impending collapse of Social Security, which actually should be running a surplus of trillions of dollars, is now repeated as a simple truth. But Social Security wouldn’t be “collapsing” at all had not three decades of presidents continually burgled the cash in the Social Security trust fund to pay for tax cuts, wars and God knows what else. Same with the alleged insolvencies of state pension programs. The money may not be there, but that’s not because the program is unsustainable: It’s because bankers and politicians stole the money.

“Still, the public mostly bought the line being sold by Arnold, Pew and other anti-pension figures like the Koch brothers. To most, it didn’t matter who was to blame: What mattered is that the money was gone, and there seemed to be only two possible paths forward. One led to bankruptcy, a real-enough threat that had already ravaged places like Vallejo, California; Jefferson County, Alabama; and, this summer, Detroit. In Rhode Island, the tiny town of Central Falls went bust in 2011, and even after a court-ordered plan lifted the town out of bankruptcy in 2012, the “rescue” left pensions slashed as much as 55 percent. “You had guys who were living off $24,000, and now they’re getting $12,000,” says Day. Though Day and his fellow retirees are still fighting reform, he says other union workers might rather settle than file bankruptcy. Holding up an infamous local-newspaper picture of a retired Central Falls policeman in a praying posture, as though begging not to have his whole pension taken away, Day sighs. “Guys take one look at this picture and that’s it. They’re terrified.”

And here is more from the article:

“The bottom line is that the “unfunded liability” crisis is, if not exactly fictional, certainly exaggerated to an outrageous degree. Yes, we live in a new economy and, yes, it may be time to have a discussion about whether certain kinds of public employees should be receiving sizable benefit checks until death. But the idea that these benefit packages are causing the fiscal crises in our states is almost entirely a fabrication crafted by the very people who actually caused the problem. It’s like Voltaire’s maxim about noses having evolved to fit spectacles, so therefore we wear spectacles. In this case, we have an unfunded-pension-liability problem because we’ve been ripping retirees off for decades – but the solution being offered is to rip them off even more.

“Everybody following this story should remember what went on in the immediate aftermath of the crash of 2008, when the federal government was so worried about the sanctity of private contracts that it doled out $182 billion in public money to AIG. That bailout guaranteed that firms like Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank could be paid off on their bets against a subprime market they themselves helped overheat, and that AIG executives could be paid the huge bonuses they naturally deserved for having run one of the world’s largest corporations into the ground. When asked why the state was paying those bonuses, Obama economic adviser Larry Summers said, “We are a country of law. . . . The government cannot just abrogate contracts.”

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This reader notes that Bill Gates admits that we won’t know if his education “stuff” works for a decade. Yet based on Gates’ support for evaluating teachers by student test scores, teachers are losing their jobs. These are real people, who need to feed their children, not data points in an experiment.

Meanwhile, most researchers agree that the metric is flawed, unreliable, and unstable. Thus comes this reader’s suggestion:

“Here’s a suggestion offered only partly tongue-in-cheek.. The Gates Foundation should be joined as a repondent in every suit filed for wrongful termination as a consequence of any Gates sponsored or designed teacher evaluation system. What could be more quintessentially American than that? Moreover, when suing, it’s always better to go after the party with deep pockets. After all, should cash-strapped urban districts that have had these evaluation systems forced upon them be held solely liable?”

A NYC teacher who calls his or her blog NYCDOENUTS has written a wonderful review of “Reign of Error.”

Teachers understand that this book may be (to use Arne Duncan’s favorite phrase) a “game changer.”

You see, big money can buy legislators, it can buy ads, it can buy media.

But words and ideas can beat big money in a democracy, if we organize.

NYCDOENUTS concludes:

“In the final chapters of the book Ravitch takes the next step by offering many solutions to our current problems in education. It is in this final third of the book where I believe she exceeds her previous book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. The solutions she offers are nothing radical or earth shattering, and none of them would change the system overnight. However they are real solutions (not the next big thing that will be thrown out in 3 years, after several billion dollars are wasted and millions more have dropped out) that would bring real positive results over time. Things like reduced class size, wraparound services, and strengthening the teaching profession. These are real solutions that any teacher who has spent more than two years in a classroom knows are necessary for progress.

“Ravitch has done all of the hard work for us activists. She has made many clear and well researched arguments, and advocated for the real reforms that real educators want. Reign of Error may just be the catalyst that finally pushes back the tide of education reform. Once the public is truly informed and sees through the lies, double talk, and half truths, of the reformers it will be impossible to stop the push back.”

Patrick Welsh is an experienced teacher who writes often in the Washington Post about the real problems of schools. If only the editorial board of the Post–besotted with the failed strategies of corporate reform–would heed the wisdom of Patrick Welsh!

In this article, he describes the many reforms that have been imposed in teachers in his high school since he started teaching forty years ago. The article refers to “four decades of failed school reforms.”

Now we are in the worst of all reforms, where the “reforms” are devised by non-educators or people who taught for a year or two. Where non-educators or those with minimal experience are made state commissioner of education and use their power to demoralize teachers and destroy the teaching profession.

This era will end. But how many excellent teachers will we lose before the reform industry admits its failure and goes away?

Matt Bruenig has written in many journals. He also has
a blog, where this post appeared. He analyzes a fairly
straightforward question: Can schools end poverty? The column is a
commentary on the “reformers” who say that we can’t end poverty
until we fix schools, or something to that effect. We have heard
the same statement from Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Joel Klein,
Bill Gates, and others. Duncan says that even the President agrees.
Bruenig analyzes these three statements:

  1. Education is a way to end
  2. Education is the best
    to end poverty.
  3. Education
    is the only way to end

He starts his short analysis with
this statement: These are all false, but since number
three is the one Rhee and Duncan and the education reformer crowd
pushes, let’s start there. It is flatly not the case that to end
poverty you need to alter education. Americans should know this.
Starting from the 1960s, we
as a society cut outrageously high rates of elderly poverty by
. We did that by sending old people checks called
Social Security. We also know from international data that
low-poverty countries get that way through tax and transfer
schemes, not unlike Social Security (I, II).
If you are saying nothing but education will dramatically cut
poverty, when things other than education absolutely will and have,
you are an enemy of the poor. You are contributing to a discursive
world where people ignore the easiest, most proven ways to cut
If this is true, and I think it is, all the
energy and billions expended on school reforms that are totally
lacking in evidence–like VAM and merit pay and privatization of
public funds–is a handy distraction from meaningful ways to end

In the early years of this century, Bill Gates felt certain
that he knew how to fix the nation’s high schools. He pumped $2
billion into breaking them into smaller schools, often Nader the
same roof.

In 2008, he decided he was not pleased with the
results,and he dropped that idea.

Then, he decided that teacher evaluation was broken, and he would use his billions–plus the
billions of Race to the Top–to create a metric that would identify
the best and worst teachers.

He adamantly opposed reducing class size, even though his own children go to a school known for small classes.

His theory was that “bad” teachers identified by his
metric would be fired, while the “best” teachers would get more
money and larger classes. He gave hundreds of millions dollars to
district to develop the measuring stick, but so far there has been
no results.

The federal government, fully on board with the Gates
idea, now has almost every state following agates’ plan. As
Valerie Strauss points out on her blog, Gates
now says
that it will take about a decade to determine whether his latest
hunch actually works.

So far, it has failed to produce a reliable
metric or results anywhere. So far, it has failed wherever it was tried, and billions of dollars have been wasted.

In the meanwhile, real teachers are being fired and losing their livelihood based on Gates’ latest big
idea. Strauss writes: “Hmmm. Teachers around the country are
saddled every single year with teacher evaluation systems that his
foundation has funded, based on no record of success and highly
questionable “research.”

And now Gates says he won’t know if the
reforms he is funding will work for another decade. But teachers
can lose their jobs right now because of reforms he is funding.

In the past he sounded pretty sure of what he was doing. In this 2011 oped
in The Washington Post (cited in Valerie’s post), he wrote: “What should policymakers do? One
approach is to get more students in front of top teachers by
identifying the top 25 percent of teachers and asking them to take
on four or five more students.” The problem with Gates is that he
tries out his ideas as if he were playing with toy soldiers.

Doesn’t anyone around him have the chutzpah to tell him that his
untested hunches don’t work and are ruining the lives of decent
people? Will anyone in his foundation be held accountable for his
latest foray into redesigning the nation’s public schools? I have
some really good ideas for him in my latest book. They have solid
research behind them. They work. They help people instead of
ruining the lives of others. They do no harm. I wish he would read
it. He could leave a lasting legacy of success rather than a long string of costly failures that harmed people who were doing good work.

New York’s first Common Core tests, administered last spring, produced a dramatic score decline. 70% of the students across the state allegedly “failed.” State education leaders said the tests set a new “benchmark.” They implied that the tests demonstrated the failure of the state’s schools, that more “reform” was needed, and that more years of testing and accountability would cure the widespread “failure.”

However, suburban parents in successful districts see the matter differently. They know they have excellent schools. They don’t believe in the validity of the state tests.

The low scores have ignited a revolt against the state tests among parents and local educators.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

“But the state is looking at a hard sell, particularly in the Lower Hudson Valley and on Long Island, as a growing movement of educators and parents is questioning or outright dismissing the test results for grades three to eight. Their main argument: Most local students already go to good colleges and do quite well, thank you, so the state’s findings can’t be right.

“What do these results mean, that our kids are not at the level we thought?” asked Lisa Rudley, who has three children in the Ossining schools and recently co-founded a statewide group, NYS Allies for Public Education, that plans to fight “excessive” testing and sharing of student data. “I think parents are informed about what the state is saying, but they don’t like it and don’t accept it.”

“Her group has started a campaign urging parents to send their test-score reports back to Education Commissioner John King in Albany. The group is asking parents to write on the envelope: “Invalid test scores inside.”

The state’s strategy backfired. It has fueled the resistance to high-stakes testing.

Wendy Lecker is senior attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal
Equity at the Education Law Center. She writes frequently in
Connecticut newspapers about education issues and advocates on
behalf of students. Here
she reviews
Reign of Error. She
notes, quoting the Nobelist Niels Bohr, that true experts are
willing to acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them. She then
goes on to write: Another Nobel Prize winner, Albert
Einstein, defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over
again and expecting different results. This definition
characterizes the past decade or more of educational “reform”
efforts. Despite the failure of test-based accountability,
charter schools, Teach for America, school closures and other
schemes, policy-makers keep expanding these reforms, to the
detriment of public schools and America’s neediest
Dr. Ravitch has just published,
“Reign of Error,” a readable and well-researched book that examines
this (my term) insanity. The strengths of this book are its
simultaneous breadth and accessibility. Ravitch covers quite a bit
of terrain: the recent history of school reform, the major players
in the reform movement, the claims used to criticize American
public education, the “fixes” championed by reformers and Ravitch’s
suggestions for a more sane and productive education policy. The
book is meticulously researched. Yet, it is also easy-to-read and
engaging. For those who are unfamiliar with the current
landscape of education policy and its historical context, this
volume is a useful primer. For those steeped in all things
education, the book brings new insights. Her overarching
message, that American public education is the bedrock of a healthy
society and democracy, is a theme that cannot be repeated

Gary Rubinstein’s analysis of the charter schools founded by Congressman Jared Polis showed that the schools posted low test score growth. Congressman Polis responded in a comment (posted below) that this was understandable because his charter schools enroll very low-performing students, many of whom barely speak or read English, and many of whom are overage for their grade and far behind. It is understandable, he says, that these kids are not posting big score gains. He also notes that the teachers at his schools are not judged by value-added assessment, given the students they serve.

Congressman Polis is making my case for me but he doesn’t realize it. He should read my book.

He would discover that I support charter schools that enroll the kids who didn’t make it in public schools. They should exist to do what the public schools can’t do. They should exist to help kids who were left behind, not to skim the brightest kids from the poorest communities. Schools should not be closed because of their low scores, and their teachers should not be judged by test scores. Charter schools and public schools should collaborate, not compete. Charter schools should fill a need, as Polis’ schools seem to do, not fight public schools for market share.

If Congressman Polis would read my book, he would see that his are the kinds of charters I endorse.

If he would take the time to familiarize himself with the research on test-based accountability, he would join me in opposing it. He would withdraw his support for Colorado’s SB 191, which bases 50% of a teacher’s evaluation on student test scores. This is one of the nation’s worst, most punitive, and most ignorant teacher evaluation law, based on no research or evidence, just the whim of young State Senator Michael Johnston, ex-TFA. There are good ways to evaluate teachers, and test-based accountability is not one of them. That is why Jared Polis’ charter schools don’t do it.

Since we have now found common ground, despite the fact that Polis called me “an evil woman,” and despite the fact that he stubbornly refuses to apologize for his outburst, I invite him to meet with me in Brooklyn to discuss whether he can overcome his irrational contempt for traditional public schools. Even though he is a billionaire, I will pick up the check for breakfast, lunch, or dinner on one condition: read my book. If you don’t like it, Jared, I will give you your money back. Just promise not to throw it at me.

Here is his comment on the blog in response to Gary’s post:

“Thank you for your post defending the efforts of New America School. New America School (NAS) serves almost entirely NEP (non-English-proficient) and LEP (limited English proficiency) students, many of whom are several grade levels behind when they enter NAS. Nearly all of their students are drop-outs or have major gaps in their education.

“Given that the tests are only available in English, the NAS students have a significant disadvantage.

“A primary metric the school uses to demonstrate success is measuring the acquisition of the English language. Many NAS students are 19 or 20 years old, and only have a 6th grade or 8th grade education prior to entering NAS. Sadly in Colorado students “age out” of public education at age 21, and few students can accomplish 4 or 5 years of learning in 1 or 2 years. But even if they don’t earn a diploma, the students gain functional English language literacy.

“This analysis is a good example of why test scores should not be the only criteria used to evaluate schools or teachers. NAS teachers are hard working and dedicated and have literally transformed lives. To be clear, I support transparency on aggregate test scores, and Mr. Rubinstein is welcome to use that information to make whatever charts he wishes to show that a school is good, bad, or otherwise but it is important to educate the reform community about the importance of alternative education and serving all kids.

“Rubinstein mentions that “Colorado is one of the states that has been most aggressive about tying standardized test scores to teacher evaluations and to school rankings. ” but NAS does not use standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, nor has any kind of “ranking” hurt the school’s effort to fulfill its mission “to empower new immigrants, English language learners, and academically under-served students with the educational tools and support they need to maximize their potential, succeed and live the American dream.”