Archives for the month of: April, 2014

Yes, you read that right.

School officials in Elwood, Néw York, canceled a kindergarten play scheduled for May 14-15 because it would take time away from getting the little tykes “college-and-career ready.”

Washington Post journalist Valerie Strauss called the school for confirmation. It sounded too crazy to be true.

But it is factual. The interim principal sent a letter to parents of children in kindergarten canceling the annual show. The letter said, in part, “The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers.”

A member of the district staff vouched for the letter’s authenticity.

This is nuts. Blame Duncan. Blame Obama. They know nothing about child development. Their poll-tested policies hurt little children. Their policies have no basis in research. Children need time to play. They need time to socialize. Five-year-olds should be allowed a childhood.

Anthony Cody points out that for the past dozen years or so, Bill Gates has had his fun experimenting with education reform. Obsessed as he is with measurement and data, he imagined that he could impose his narrow ideas on American public schools and bring about a magical transformation.

Does American education need reform and improvement? Absolutely. Stuck as it is in the paradigm of testing and punishment, it sorely needs a revival of humanism and attention to the needs of children, families, and communities. It needs teachers who are well-prepared. It needs a recommitment o the health and happiness of children and to a deeper love of learning.

Yet Gates used HS vast wealth to steer national policy to the dry and loveless task of higher scores on tests of dubious value.

He wanted charter schools, and Arne Duncan, his faithful liege, demanded more charter schools,even if it was central to the Republican agenda.

He wanted national standards and quite willingly paid out over $2 billion to prove that one man could create the nation’s academic standards by buying off almost every group that mattered.

He wanted teachers to be evaluated based on test scores, and Ducan gave that to him too.

But says Cody, everything failed.

Cody writes:
.

“Last September Bill Gates said,

“It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.”

But, says Cody,

“I think we already know enough to declare the experiment a failure.

Value Added is a disaster. Any “reformer” who continues to support giving significant weight to such unreliable indicators should lose any credibility.

“Charter schools are, as a sector, not better than public schools, and are expanding segregation, and increasing inequality.

“The Common Core and the high stakes accountability system in which it is embedded is on its way to the graveyard of grand ideas.

“The only question remaining is how long Gates and his employees and proxies will remain wedded to their ideas, and continue to push them through their sponsored advocacy, even when these policies have been proven to be ill-founded and unworkable.

“Part of the problem with market-driven reform is that when you introduce the opportunity to make money off something like education, you unleash a feedback loop. Companies like the virtual charter chain K12 Inc can make tremendous profits, which they can use to buy off politicians, given our Supreme Court’s “Corporations are people and money is speech” philosophy. There are no systemic brakes on this train. The only way turn this around is for people to organize in large enough numbers, and act together in ways that actively disrupt and derail the operation.

“Along those lines, activists in Seattle are organizing a demonstration on June 26th, protesting the Gates Foundation at their headquarters. It has been a year and a half since I engaged the Gates Foundation in dialogue. Given the rather poor aptitude for learning Gates and company have shown, I will be joining this protest, and perhaps if enough of us are there, we can take the dialogue to the next level.”

Politico reports this morning:

“WATCH OUT FOR TEACHERS: Harvard professor Paul E. Peterson is out with a new book urging Americans not to be lulled into thinking of teachers as regular folk. On the contrary, he writes in “Teachers versus the Public,” they’re part of a large and powerful special interest group — and their interests often diverge from the public’s. “We tend to think of teachers as sort of like our second cousins or our neighbors and not as another group that has its own interests as an occupation,” Peterson told Morning Education. His book, co-written with Michael Henderson and Martin R. West, is crammed with poll data showing that teachers are far less likely than the public to support reform strategies such as banning tenure or introducing merit pay. They’re also far less likely to back school choice options such as vouchers and charter schools. The group Teach Plus has found that younger teachers are more likely to back reforms than veterans, but Peterson has not seen such a split in years of polling. “Their results are flatly wrong,” he said.

— The book’s findings will be aired at a forum Tuesday featuring former New Jersey Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and the incoming president of the National Education Association, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, among others. The noon event will be aired live on the Hoover Institution’s Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/1tKLNG2”

Imagine that! Teachers are opposed to vouchers! They don’t think they should abandon due process rights!

Please note that the book was written by professors who have not just due process, but LIFETIME tenure. I have no idea what Paul Peterson’s salary is, but I am willing to bet that it is at least TRIPLE the salary of the average teacher. His junior authors undoubtedly also have lifetime tenure and are paid more than teachers while carrying a burdensome nine hours a week of teaching.

Peterson of Harvard is one of the nation’s academic proponents of vouchers.

After reading in the New York Times about how many gazillions the Walton family has given to create charter schools (and vouchers) so that poor children can escape from failing public schools, EduShyster was deeply moved by their charitable impulses. And then she thought about their parents, the ones who work for Walmart.

She writes:

“Tough love

“I will stop briefly for a moment, reader, to allow you to reach for a fresh hanky (or to freshen your drink), such is the heart-warming nature of this particular tale. Alas, here is where our story takes a detour into darker, less feel-good fare. You see, if the Walheart throbs with love for low-income kids, it beats somewhat less enthusiastically for their low-income parents, especially those who are low-income by virtue of working at Walmart. Take Washington, DC, for example, where nearly every aspect of the city’s choice-infused school system comes stamped with a *W.* One choice that’s not on offer in the District: living wage jobs at big-box stores including Walmart. Or consider Walmart’s response after workers at stores across the country walked off the job to protest crap wages and benefits and a work culture that might best be described as tough love. (Hint: Walmart didn’t hug the workers.)

“The Tell Tale Heart (and a quick Common Core math problem)

“That sound you hear in the background, reader, is an organ—albeit not one of the ventricular variety. I’m talking old school, Vincent Price-style organ music of the kind that plays just before some dark and dirty business is carried out. In other words, this is where we pause to contemplate a heart-wrenching paradox: how is it possible that the great big lovin’ Walheart pounds for the sake of preparing low-income kids for college and career readiness in the future even as Walmart itself presides over a transformation of the workplace into one great big, underpaid, precarious, rights-free hell? Common Core math problem: Drawing on the informational text above, construct a Venn diagram that best demonstrates the overlap between the 1.4 million, mostly low-wage Walmart employees and the 2 million students who are being made college and career ready with the aid of Walmart profits. Don’t forget to provide a written explanation of how you reached your conclusion.”

The Waltons especially love the “no excuses” charters, and EduShyster knows why:

“Known for long days, long years, strict discipline and stripped down, test-prep academics focused almost exclusively on English and math, the schools so beloved by the Waltons specialize in a particular kind of acculturation that might best be described as learning how to work for the man. Students attending these schools receive training in such invaluable 21st century skills as showing up on time, making sure one’s uniform shirt is always tucked in and learning that you can only go to the bathroom when the boss says its OK and go home when s/he unlocks the doors.”

Great training, right? Just the work ethic needed to be a sales associate at Walmart.

On issues related to education, Connecticut’s Governor Dannell Malloy is one of the worst governors in the nation.

Jonathan Pelto, who served in the state legislature, is considering a run against Malloy. Pelto knows that Malloy has repeatedly let down students, parents, teachers, and communities. Malloy has followed the money–the hedge fund money–which supports charter schools for the few.

Pelto would also challenge Malloy’s corporate tax breaks and his failed economic development policies.

Win, lose, or draw, Pelto’s candidacy would be a breath of fresh air for Connecticut. It would force Malloy to defend his giveaway of public education to private corporations.

Jeff Bryant is a marketing and communications expert, and he understands why Common Core is in deep trouble.

 

The “education reform movement” is not really a movement. It has no mass base. It is a public relations campaign created by a very small number of people with deep pockets. They thought they could pull a fast one.

 

But the American public is not buying.

 

The fake “reformers” made claims that aren’t true, and their campaign is floundering.

 

Please read his article to find the many links he uses to sustain his argument.

 

He writes:

 

For years, elites in big business, foundations, well-endowed think tanks, and corporate media have conducted a well-financed marketing campaign to impress on the nation’s public schools an agenda of change that includes charter schools, standardized testing, and “new and improved” standards known as the Common Core.

 

These ideas were sold to us as sure-fire remedies for enormous inequities in a public school system whose performance only appears to be relatively low compared to other countries if you ignore the large percentage of poor kids we have.

 

But the “education reform” ad campaign never got two important lessons everyone starting out in the advertising business learns: Never make objective claims about your product that can be easily and demonstrably disproven, and never insult your target audience.

 

For instance, you can make the claim, “this tastes great” because that can’t be proven one way or the other. But when you claim, “your kids will love how this tastes,” and parents say, “my kids think it tastes like crap,” you’re pretty much toast. And you make matters all the worse if you respond, “Well, if you were a good parent you’d tell your kid to eat it anyway.”

 

Those two lessons seem to be completely lost on advocates behind the menu of education policies currently being force-fed to classroom teachers, parents, and school children across the country. As more Americans take a big bite of the education reform sandwich, more choose to spit it out.

 

The Common Core was presented and sold as some sort of historic miracle cure, but the evidence is lacking, says Bryant.

 

What is happening now, he says, is the collapse of a very badly thought out marketing scheme:

 

It’s now obvious that advertising claims behind current education policies like the Common Core were never based on strong objective evidence. More Americans are noticing this and objecting. And politicians are likely to get more circumspect about which side of the debate they lean to.

 

So what’s an education reformer to do?

 

So far, the strategy is to churn out more editorial, along the lines of what David Brooks wrote, to exhort Americans to “stay the course” on what is becoming a more obviously failing endeavor.

 

But as this sloganeering wears thin, we’re likely to get a new and improved “message” from the policy elite – a Common Core 2.0, let’s say, or a “next generation” of “reform.”

 

What’s really needed, of course, is to see the marketing campaign for what it really is: a distraction from educational problems that are much more pressing. Why, for example, focus on unsubstantiated ideas like the Common Core rather than do something that would really matter, such as improve instructional quality, reverse school funding cuts that are harming schools, or address the inequities and socioeconomic conditions that researchers have demonstrated are persistent causes of low academic performance?

 

But that would require something much more than another marketing campaign. It would mean developing a whole new product.

 

So maybe in a few years, people will think about the Common Core standards and put them in the same category as the Edsel and the New Coke, products that were heavily sold by their creators but had a poor marketing campaign and failed.

 

 

 

 

 

In one of her very best articles, AFT President Randi Weingarten names the real retirement crisis. Many American workers, having paid into pension funds, will retire into a life of poverty because of a campaign to wipe out defined benefit pension plans.

Randi writes:

“America has a retirement crisis, but it’s not what some people want you to believe it is. It’s not the defined benefit pension plans that public employees pay into over a lifetime of work, which provide retirees an average of $23,400 annually (although some public officials fail to make their required contributions to these and then claim they are unaffordable). It’s not the cost of such plans, which may ultimately cost taxpayers far less than risky, inadequate and increasingly prevalent 401(k) plans. It’s not Social Security, which is the healthiest part of our retirement system, keeps tens of millions of seniors out of poverty and could help even more if it were expanded. The crisis is that most Americans lack the essential elements of a secure retirement–pensions and adequate savings. They’ll depend on Social Security to stave off poverty once they stop working, and it will not be enough.

“The crisis is that the economic collapse that started in 2007, triggered by fraudulent and risky financial schemes, wiped out many Americans’ personal savings and decimated many state and city pension investments. And while the stock market and many pension investments have rebounded, for numerous Americans the lingering economic downturn, soaring student debt, diminished home values, the responsibility of caring for aging parents and other financial demands have made it hard, if not impossible, to save for retirement.

“The crisis is that the median retirement savings for all working-age households–according to the Federal Reserve–is $3,000, and only $12,000 for those near retirement. And that retirement insecurity is made worse by state-sponsored pension theft in places like Illinois, where public employees are being robbed of pension funds they earned and contributed to over decades of public service.”

Matt Taibbi and David Sirota “have written about the vast sums spent to undermine the retirement security of ordinary Americans. John Arnold, for example, a former Enron executive who walked away with a fortune from the bankrupt company, has spent tens of millions in his crusade to deny public employees guaranteed benefits at retirement. This, after public pensions reportedly lost more than $1.5 billion as a result of their investments in Enron.

“Their investigations have exposed the hypocrisy of some Wall Street hedge fund managers like Dan Loeb, who seek to profit from public employee pension funds at the same time they support abolishing such benefits. The problem is the hypocrisy–not hedge funds or Wall Street per se. And it’s their disconnectedness from the economic pressures regular people face every day just to meet their basic needs, pressures that only grow once their working years are over.”

We must muster the will to protect retirees and workers so that they do not consigned to a life of poverty, courtesy of billionaires who are whipping up a public frenzy against their fellow citizens.

A few days ago, I posted the names of the members of the “work groups” that wrote the Common Core standards. There was one work group for English language arts and another for mathematics. There were some members who served on both work groups.

 

Altogether, 24 people wrote the Common Core standards. None identified himself or herself as a classroom teacher, although a few had taught in the past (not the recent past). The largest contingent on the work groups were representatives of the testing industry.

 

Mercedes Schneider looked more closely at the 24 members of the two work groups to determine their past experience as educators, with special attention to whether they had any classroom experience.

 

Here are a few noteworthy conclusions based on her review of the careers of the writers of the CCSS:

 

In sum, only 3 of the 15 individuals on the 2009 CCSS math work group held positions as classroom teachers of mathematics. None was a classroom teacher in 2009. None taught elementary or middle school mathematics. Three other members have other classroom teaching experience in biology, English, and social studies. None taught elementary school. None taught special education or was certified in special education or English as a Second Language (ESL).

Only one CCSS math work group member was not affiliated with an education company or nonprofit….

 

In sum, 5 of the 15 individuals on the CCSS ELA work group have classroom experience teaching English. None was a classroom teacher in 2009. None taught elementary grades, special education, or ESL, and none hold certifications in these areas.

Five of the 15 CCSS ELA work group members also served on the CCSS math work group. Two are from Achieve; two, from ACT, and one, from College Board.

 

One member of the work groups has a BA in elementary education but no record of ever having taught those grades.

 

Almost all members who had any classroom experience were high school teachers.

 

Schneider concludes:

 

My findings indicate that NGA and CCSSO had a clear, intentional bent toward CCSS work group members with assessment experience, not with teaching experience, and certainly not with current classroom teaching experience.

In both CCSS work groups, the number of individuals with “ACT” and “College Board” designations outnumbered those with documented classroom teaching experience.

 

The makeup of the work groups helps to explain why so many people in the field of early childhood education find the CCSS to be developmentally inappropriate. There was literally no one on the writing committee (with one possible exception) with any knowledge of how very young children learn. The same concern applies to those who educate children in the middle-school years or children with disabilities or English language learners. The knowledge of these children and their needs was not represented on the working group.

 

 

 

 

Susan Ochshorn rightly worries that the current policy craze for universal pre-kindergarten will push developmentally inappropriate practices into the early years. Kindergarten will become what first grade used to be, and four-year-olds will be expected to read and take standardized tests.

Ochshorn writes:

“Fast-forward to the polar vortex of 2014. Nerissa Ediza’s tweet, on February 1, says it all. “What sober person gives standardized tests to a kindergartner? Someone who’s actually never met a five-year-old?” she asked, releasing into the twitterverse a picture of the front page of The Oregonian. “Kindergarten test results ‘sobering,’” read the headline, the text below depicting Governor Kitzhaber’s displeasure with early childhood education’s “scattershot” approach.

“Rebecca Radding, a former pre-K and kindergarten teacher in a New Orleans KIPP school weighed in a week later, spilling her tale of woe:

Radding wrote:

“By year three it had become very, very difficult for me to hide my disdain for the way the school was managed. In the previous two years, I’d fought hard for the adoption of a play-based early childhood curriculum, only to see it systematically dismantled by our 25-year-old assistant principal. When this administrator told us that our student test scores would be higher if we used direct instruction, worksheets and exit tickets to check for their understanding, I lost my shit. I’m sorry, but five year olds don’t learn that way.

“I was fired a week later. Well, to be fair, I was told that I “wasn’t a good fit”…Somewhere along the line I developed this radical idea that children are humans who should be treated with dignity, and that the classroom should ideally be a place to be even if schooling weren’t compulsory.”

Ochshorn continues:

“The earth has moved—an avalanche of accountability, threatening the child-centered precincts of the field. Whole cities are assigning homework to preschoolers, demanding they “read” hundreds of books. “Study finds that kindergarten is too easy,” crowed Education Week, reporting on a forthcoming article, in the American Educational Research Journal, by Amy Claessens, Mimi Engel, and Chris Curran, who found greater gains in math and reading when students were exposed to more advanced content. The article, soon to retreat behind a firewall, has garnered most-viewed status on AERA’s website since it was posted on November 13. Claessens attributes the interest to “some pretty interesting policy implications,” adding that “shifting what you’re teaching is very cost-effective.” Nothing like a little cost-benefit analysis to get those synapses firing.”

What kind of person would think that “kindergarten is too easy?” Maybe someone who has never met a five-year-old? Someone who has never taught a five-year-old? Someone who thinks that children should be seen and not heard? Someone who believes “spare the rod and spoil the child”? Maybe what we need are workhouses for tykes who don’t read by five and who don’t do their homework.

What kind of society will we be if we listen to people who don’t understand or like childhood, who think that four-year-olds and five-year-olds need to work harder and play less or not at all?

It seems like only yesterday that Governor RickSnyder appointed an emergency manager for the public schools of Muskegon Heights, which were running a deficit.

The emergency manager turned the district over to Mosaica, a for-profit charter chain.

But Mosaica didn’t make a profit, instead they ran a deficit, and their contract has been canceled“.

“Muskegon Heights Public Schools Emergency Manager Gregory Weatherspoon said the separation came down to an issue of finances. Mosaica, a for-profit company, was running a deficit budget and not making a profit. School officials said the split is not the result of dissatisfaction with academic progress of students in the K-12 Muskegon Heights Public School Academy.

“Weatherspoon said both Mosaica and the charter district board agreed the separation agreement was necessary.

“They came here to do a service for the children,” Weatherspoon said. “They got the job done, but it didn’t fit their financial model… The profit just simply wasn’t there.”

“At the core of the financial problems were investments into the school buildings, which Mosaica leased from the public school district for $1, as well as higher-than-expected special education costs and lower-than-expected enrollment. As the first charter school district in the nation, school officials have acknowledged there was a lot of uncertainty about costs when Mosaica took on the management role two years ago.

“Mosaica recently has had cash flow troubles that resulted in it seeking emergency advances of state aid in order to make payroll, which had to be delayed earlier this month. The management company, based in Atlanta, fronted $761,000 so that staff could be paid, Weatherspoon said.

The company will be repaid that money with a portion of a $1.4 million emergency state loan that Muskegon Heights Public Schools expects to receive on Monday, he said.

“Mosaica’s contract calls for it to receive about a $1 million annual management fee. It was paid the fee the first year of the contract, but not this year. This year, the company will receive $84,000 split over the next three months, which will help cover administrators’ salaries for the rest of the year, said John Gretzinger, an attorney for the charter district.

What do you say? Job well done? No profits to be found? Try, try again? What next?