Archives for the month of: November, 2013

This is very odd. The public schools of Douglas County, Colorado, are controlled by one of the most conservative school boards in the nation, which just retained its majority in a closer-than-expected election. Conservatives usually are zealous about privacy rights and protect traditional institutions. But there is a new strain of ideologue who wants the free market to rule, and the market demands data.

This reader–noting that Colorado pulled out of inBloom–says Douglas County will create and market its own data system:

“Douglas County School District in Colorado has hired consultants to create their own form of Inbloom. The BOE members have publicly stated they wish to market and sell the program to other districts. They have called it InspirEd. Read about it on the DCSD website,”

Superintendent Steve Cohen’s article, posted this morning, got a huge response and many tweets and retweets.

Here he speaks directly to a reader of his post:

“We’ve had at least 30 years of plutocratic leadership in the US, and that reality puts us way behind the curve. What other choice do we have but to gather up our political, moral, cultural resources and resist? These resources may prove to be insufficient. But we know that doing nothing, or believing that our plutocrats are democrats, will just bring us more of what we have. If parents care about their kids’ futures, they must step up, and soon.

In the 1934 gubernatorial election in California, a Methodist minister was asked why he intended to vote for Upton Sinclair, who was then running far behind the Dem and Rep candidates. Wasn’t a vote for Sinclair a “wasted” vote? The minister’s response was, “I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it, than to vote for something I don’t want and get plenty of it.”

We’re at such a point. We need a third party. Now.”

When I spoke in Rhode Island in October, I said that test scores were at their highest point in the past 40 years. I also said that the rate of increase had slowed after the passage of NCLB and Race to the Top. The largest recent gains occurred from 2000-2003, before the implementation of NCLB. Whoever writes the PolitiFact column for the Providence Journal claimed that my statements were “mostly false,” for reasons I did not understand, since I had the graphs from the US Department of Education to back me up.

I wrote a response, which the paper did not print.

Historian-teacher John Thompson corrected PolitiFact as well, included in the previous link.

The newspaper just issued a correction, admitting its error.

It is good to set the record straight.

Vicki Cobb is an accomplished writer of nonfiction books for children. Here she describes her own education, the high points and the low points.

Her high point was her elementary school, a small private progressive school in New York City called The Little Red Schoolhouse. Actually, there used to be many public schools that worked like “Little Red,” as the school known, but the standardization movement has made such schools obsolete. If the federal government demands that all schools take the test, then all schools take the test. The question Cobb implicitly asks is why federal and state policy are killing the love of learning in search of higher test scores.

Here is Vicky Cobb’s description of the schooling she loved and that made her a lifelong learner:

I went to a school where there were no report cards. My parents received written and oral evaluations of my progress from my teachers twice a year. The emphasis was on experiential learning. When we studied colonial America, we made soap and candles in the classroom, we hunted for real Indian arrowheads in a city park, we read books, we sang songs from that time. I went to my first Mexican restaurant when we studied Mexico. I wrote stories and poems. One student, in sixth grade, started a class newspaper and I wrote and illustrated for it. We made puppets and put on shows. When we studied Native Americans we ground corn between rocks and built a teepee in the classroom (where every day two lucky kids got to stay during nap time out of sight from the teacher). My school, The Little Red School House, was a private progressive school in Greenwich Village, NYC still very much alive today. Their stated mission is to produce life-long learners.

Parents, educators and other Chicagoans disgusted with authoritarian control of public education organized their own Board of Education, which held a public meeting one day before the mayor-controlled board held its meeting. The agenda was the same, but the tone and process were very different.

For one thing, the “People’s Board” met from 6-8 pm, in contrast to the regular board’s “banker’s hours.”

The star of the evening was a high school junior. Read her comments in full.

They start like this:

“Hi, my name is Dalia Mena. I’m a student organizer from the Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools, and I am a junior at Steinmetz High School. Last week Rahm Emmanuel gave Lincoln Park Elementary, a school in a rich neighborhood, $20 million. But when the problem is in a poor Black or Latino community suddenly CPS and the city are broke.

“We are a group of students that are not required to meet, but we do anyway because we deserve more than what CPS is giving us. This year, CPS took millions of dollars from neighborhood schools while giving more to charters…..”

If you are a parent of public school children; if you care about your local public schools; if you are a teacher or administrator or school board member, you should think twice before shopping at Walmart. 

The Walton Family Foundation spends nearly $200 million every year to undermine public education. It gives to groups that open charters and promote vouchers. It throws a few thou to the Bentonville Public Schools, but the big money is available only to those who want to bust unions and privatize public education.

Every member of the Walton family is a billionaire. Individual members donate generously to the campaigns of privatizers who run for state and local school boards.

Let them enjoy the fruits of the patriarch’s  business genius.

But I suggest that you not give your hard-earned dollars to those who would destroy your local public schools and remove from working people any collective voice in their working conditions.

Jersey Jazzman has words of wisdom for Néw York Times columnist Frank Bruni. Bruni recently wrote, in defense of the Common Core standards, claimed that American kids are “coddled.”

Read his post in its entirety. He calls it “Dumb Things White People Say About Schools: Frank Bruni.”

This is how he begins:

“Let me start by apologizing to Tom Friedman. You see, for years I’ve thought that the Mustache of Understanding was the silliest, most wankeriffic pontificator within in the NY Times’s Op-Ed Page hierarchy of mandarins. But it’s clear to me now I was completely wrong. The proof?

Frank Bruni’s latest column, in which he jumps into the pool of education policy unencumbered by the water wings of knowledge.”

Steve Cohen, superintendent of the Shoreham-Wading River School District, published an editorial in the local newspaper blasting the New York Board of Regents.

Many educators are afraid to speak out against what they know is wrong because they fear for their jobs. Teachers may be fired. Principals may be fired. Superintendents may be fired. When anyone expresses their professional judgment without fear and says what’s right for children, it takes courage. For teachers, it is best to do it en masse. The same for principals. Superintendents are leaders of their community and are in a position to make a new path. They can lead opinion. More should do so.

I am happy to add Steve Cohen to our honor roll.

High schools have always prepared students for college and careers, he writes. But the Regents have a new idea.

He writes:

First, consider exactly how the Board of Regents defines “College and Career Ready.”

If a student passes an algebra test in 8th or 9th grade at a level that correlates to a C in freshman mathematics in college, and if that same student passes an English test in 11th grade at a level correlated with a C in freshman English in college, along with earning 22 credits in high school and passing three other Regents exams, then she or he is set and ready to go to college and into the world of work.

No music, art, advanced study in much of anything; no community service, no sports, no occupational training; no independent work in any academic or other creative field is required. In addition, to do well on these tests, it is not necessary to read entire novels or histories or write papers of any length or complexity. It is not necessary to develop a love of anything or demonstrate an ability to think on one’s own feet.

Second, note that 16 of the 17 Board of Regents members, in addition to the commissioner of education himself, send their children to private schools — ones that have not embraced the reforms the Board of Regents and the commissioner claim are needed to make students “College and Career Ready.” I mention this fact because its relevance becomes obvious once one understands what “College and Career Ready” means for the children of our educational leaders. You see, the colleges that the children of Regents and commissioners of education are expected to attend, places like Harvard University, define “College and Career Ready” differently.

But this is not what is expected by elite universities, who want so much more for their students.

And he adds:

So it turns out that “College and Career Ready” means two different things depending on whether you are a public school student in New York or a student at an expensive private school. “College and Career Ready” for public school kids means achieving at a decidedly mediocre level when compared to the expectations the Regents have for their own children. Perhaps that’s one reason they would never send them to schools that are benefiting from their wonderful reforms.

For “College and Career Ready,” once one digs a bit below the surface, suggests readying public school students for work that does not demand advanced learning in anything and is not oriented toward preparing students to “take advantage of future learning opportunities of all kinds.” No, these loftier expectations, and the courses and other resources needed to achieve them, are to be reserved for students not subject to the glories of the Regents Reform Agenda, students whose parents have the money and connections to keep them out of the public school system.

Most new jobs created in our economy are low-paying service jobs. We should be concerned that “College and Career Ready” actually refers to a curriculum that guides public school students to these jobs, leaving the few good jobs to students who receive a private high school education that prepares them to “take advantage of future learning opportunities of all kinds.”

Make no mistake about it, “College and Career Ready” is code for education apartheid. Do not let your children breathe the stale air of low expectations, reduced exposure to the arts and music, limited engagement with sophisticated science and little, if any, prolonged, deep and thoughtful contact with great literature.

“College and Career Ready” is a trap. Don’t fall for it. Your kids deserve better. Just like theirs.

Adam Schott and James Jack write here about the poor performance of cyber charters in Pennsylvania.

You might even say the abysmal performance of cyber charters.

Pennsylvania has 16, more of them than any state in the nation, and six more want to open. No wonder they want to open. It is a lucrative business.

They write:

If it was viewed as a single school district, Pennsylvania’s expansive cyber charter sector would represent Pennsylvania’s second-largest district, with more than 35,000 students attending 16 schools statewide. Cyber charters received approximately $366 million in taxpayer funds in 2012-13—drawing payments from 498 of the state’s 500 school districts.

Their performance is awful:

In 2011-2012, just one of the state’s then 12 cyber charter schools met state academic thresholds for adequate yearly progress, while eight schools landed in one of several stages of “corrective action”—the lowest level of academic performance.

A 2011 report by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes that examined Pennsylvania charter schools found that “performance at cyber charter schools was substantially lower than the performance at brick-and-mortar charters.”

Last week, Research for Action and our colleagues at the Education Law Center weighed new data: School Performance Profile scores, which are at the heart of the state’s new accountability plan under its No Child Left Behind waiver. We examined scores for the 11 cyber charter schools for which complete data were available—together, these schools educate nearly 17,000 students, or roughly half of the statewide cyber charter enrollment.

All 11 cybers scored among the lowest schools in the state. Not one of these cyber schools met or exceeded the average performance of Pennsylvania’s public and charter schools.

In fact, according to the state’s data, the average performance of cyber charters was more than 33 points behind that of traditional public schools, and nearly 23 points behind brick-and-mortar charter schools. Put another way, cyber charters—despite recent expansion—represent less than one half of one percent of the state’s schools, yet account for more than one-third of the state’s lowest-scoring based on that data.


Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools enroll a student population that broadly reflects the state as a whole in terms of special education identification rates, English language learner status, and other characteristics. Yet the sector’s performance is well below that of the overwhelming majority of public schools, both traditional and brick-and-mortar charter schools.


Pennsylvania policymakers have an obligation to make decisions informed by all available evidence. We urge them to carefully consider the performance data on cyber charters as they consider further expansion of this sector.

Adam Schott is Director of Policy Research at Research for Action and a former Executive Director of the State Board of Education. James Jack is a Senior Research Associate at RFA.

Agree or disagree?

What makes us human?

This article in the British New Statesman says that what makes us human is playfulness.

Humans do silly, pointless things.

I am not so sure.

Animals don’t make machines.

Animals don’t give each other standardized tests.

Animals don’t have calendars and watches and anxiety attacks and drugs.

Animals don’t have Black Fridays.

Who says humans are smarter than animals?