Archives for the month of: August, 2014

Shortly after posting that the school board of Durham, North Carolina, voted not to renew its contract with Teach for America, I recalled that another major city had done the same, reversing the previous board’s decision to bring in 30 TFA recruits.

Last December, the newly elected majority on the Pittsburgh school board voted 6-2 not to renew its contract with TFA. The issue was how to fill positions at hard-to-staff schools. One of the board members who voted not to renew TFA said, “Board members said they’re concerned resignations from teachers in those schools stem from a lack of support for the educators. “People will come to hard-to-staff buildings if they know they will have support there.”

The Durham public school board voted 6-1 to finish its current contract with Teach for America and then sever the relationship.

“The Durham school district will honor its current contract with Teach For America, but the national teacher training program’s future with Durham Public Schools is up in the air.

“The school board voted 6-1 last week to honor its commitment to TFA teachers, including five hired to work for DPS this school year, but to not pursue any new relationships with the program beyond the 2015-16 school year.

“That’s when the five TFA teachers hired for this school year will complete their service obligation with the program.

“Seven other TFA teachers have begun their second years with DPS and will complete their two-year obligation with the program at the end of this school year.

“Among concerns voiced by school board members who voted not to pursue any new relationships with TFA is the program’s use of inexperienced teachers in high-needs schools.

“It feels like despite the best intention and the efforts, this has potential to do harm to some of our neediest students,” said school board member Natalie Beyer, who voted against the school district’s contract with TFA three years ago.

“Others said they were concerned that TFA teachers only make a two-year commitment.

“I have a problem with the two years and gone, using it like community service as someone said,” said school board member Mike Lee.

“School board Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown was the only member to vote in favor of the district’s continuing its relationship with TFA.

“She agreed that school districts need teachers who are willing to make long-term commitments, but only if they are doing a good job in the classroom.

“Having tenure, just being there because you’re there and not dong what you should be doing, committed to every child, every day, having high expectations for every child, every day, if you’re not doing that, it doesn’t matter if you’ve become a veteran in the classroom,” said Forte-Brown. “I need a veteran, qualified teacher in every classroom.”

Some teachers asked the board to use the funds to try to replicate the highly successful North Carolina Teaching Fellows, a five-year training program for career teachers that was defunded by the Legislature. But the executive director of TFA for Eastern North Carolina defended the program, saying that it was “North Carolina’s source for our state’s most effective beginning teachers.”

The district was expected to pay TFA $3,000 for each beginning teacher. But the board decided not to continue the relationship.

Stephen Sawchuck notes in his blog at Education Week that a pattern is emerging from teacher evaluation programs: The highest ratings go disproportionately to teachers of advantaged students and the lowest ratings to teachers of students who are disadvantaged. He wonders whether this suggests that the ratings systems are biased against those who teach the neediest students or does it suggest that the schools with high numbers of disadvantaged students get the worst teachers.


I am reminded of the joint statement released a few years ago by the American Educational Research Association and the National Academy of Education, which predicted that those who taught the neediest students would get the lowest ratings because of factors beyond their control. Their schools are apt to get less resources than they need and have larger classes than is beneficial to students. It may have fewer science labs and computers. Its students are likelier to be ill and have a higher absentee rate because of inadequate medical care.


That report found that:


Even when the model includes controls for prior achievement and student demographic variables, teachers are advantaged or disadvantaged based on the students they teach. Several studies have shown this by conducting tests which look at a teacher’s “effects” on their students in grade levels before or after the grade level in which he or she teaches them. Logically, for example, 5th grade teachers can’t influence their teachers’ 3rd grade test scores. So a VAM that identifies teachers’ true effects should show no effect of 5th grade teachers on their students’ 3rd grade test scores two years earlier. But studies that have looked at this have shown large “effects” – which suggest that students have at least as much bearing on the value-added measure as the teachers who actually teach them in a given year.


One study that found considerable instability in teachers’ value-added scores from class to class and year to year examined changes in student characteristics associated with the changes in teacher ratings. After controlling for prior test scores of students and student characteristics, the study still found significant correlations between teachers’ ratings and their students’ race/ethnicity, income, language background, and parent education. Figure 2 illustrates this finding for an experienced English teacher in the study whose rating went from the very lowest category in one year to the very highest category the next year (a jump from the 1st to the 10th decile). In the second year, this teacher had many fewer English learners, Hispanic students, and low-income students, and more students with well-educated parents than in the first year.

This variability raises concerns that use of such ratings for evaluating teachers could create disincentives for teachers to serve high-need students. This could inadvertently reinforce current inequalities, as teachers with options would be well-advised to avoid classrooms or schools serving such students, or to seek to prevent such students from being placed in their classes.


So, do schools serving low-income students get worse teachers, or do teachers in low-income schools get smaller gains because it is harder to succeed when kids do not have the extra resources they need and are burdened with poverty? I would say it is some of both. For one thing, brand new teachers are disproportionately placed in low-income schools, some having just finished their teacher training, as well as TFA recruits who have only 5 weeks of training. First-year teachers are likely to be less successful than experienced teachers. At the same time, it is harder to get big test score gains in schools where there are large numbers of students who don’t speak English and who have high needs.










Mercedes Schneider has discovered a new public relations campaign to sell the Common Core, especially in California, where the state has not jumped head first into testing, as New York did.

Since public support, especially teacher support, for Common Core appears to be evaporating, it makes sense to hire a sophisticated group of communications experts to redesign the sales campaign.

No more crisis talk (quick, someone tell Arne and Bill)!

No more bad-mouthing our kids. After all, if they are so far behind, how can they meet new standards?

Downplay the blame game, downplay the importance of competition, downplay the high-stakes testing. Those tropes don’t work. They discourage support.

The good words are innovation, excellent teaching, systemic, etc.

As a teacher, Schneider is not convinced: “Just because someone hands me a tablecloth, calls it a cape, and tells me to tie it to my back does not mean that if I jump from my roof, I will fly.”

She could have used that great line about putting lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig.

As for Common Core, no amount of high-priced PR can save it. The more that teachers learn about it, the less they like it. How else to account for teacher support falling from 76% to 46% in a single year?

Common Core is not simply a toxic brand, as some of its defenders believe. It got one of the greatest send-offs in history, adopted by 45 states even though no one was sure exactly what it was. It came wrapped in such grandiose claims that it was bound to flop. There was no evidence that Common Core standards would improve education, raise test scores, narrow the achievement gaps, make children globally competitive or college and career-ready.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this fiasco, it is that process matters, evidence matters. Money can buy elections, but money alone is not enough to buy control of American education. A change as massive as national standards requires the willing and enthusiastic by educators, parents, and communities. Arne Duncan and Bill Gates thought they could bypass those groups, if they funded enough of their leadership organizations. They thought they could design the standards they thought best and impose them on the nation. It is not working. As New York high school principal Carol Burris said recently about Common Core, stick a fork in it, it’s done.

Another post by the tireless public school advocate Bill Phillis of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy:

Unconscionable, far-reaching consequences intrinsic in the White Hat Management company’s claims of private ownership of school assets purchased by public funds

A lot of public school personnel in Ohio at this time are embroiled with the question of, “To have or not to have Common Core.” As important as this discussion is, it pales relative to the White Hat Management claims before the Ohio Supreme Court (oral arguments will be heard September 23). The Court is being asked to decide the question of ownership of charter school assets that are purchased with taxpayer money. This is a matter that should rankle all taxpayers, particularly those who are public education advocates.

White Hat Management company claims ownership. On the other side, ten or more of White Hat’s own school boards claim ownership. Six organizations, including the charter school advocacy group, Ohio Coalition for Quality Education, have filed amicus briefs in support of White Hat’s claims. Conspicuously absent from the fray are statewide public education associations and local public school groups. Ohio School Boards Association filed the only amicus brief against the White Hat Management claims.

When the $11 million charter school pilot project was enacted, a long time public education professional was scorned, even by associates, for saying that one day this pilot project will turn into a billion dollar per year fiasco. At this juncture, it can be predicted that a ruling in favor of White Hat Management will hasten the demise of the public common school system.

A ruling in favor of the White Hat Management claims could have eventual consequences such as:

Private companies operating public services, such as corrections, might seek and acquire ownership of existing public facilities via cozy campaign contribution-related relationships between company and state officials.

Aggressive private companies might “elect” company-friendly school district board members who in turn could transfer ownership of public facilities and equipment to private operators as one of the terms in the contract.

Transparency and accountability in the use of tax money might disappear completely. Taxation without representation is already a fact in charterland and a decision in favor of White Hat Management would worsen the situation.

The privatization of education movement would be energized by a decision in favor of White Hat Management.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

Bill Phillis, a veteran warrior for public schools and equitable financing of them, wrote the following in response to a court case that will be heard on September 23. Does a for-profit private corporation own all the assets of the schools it manages?

Who owns school facilities, equipment, technology, furniture and other assets purchased with taxpayer’s money? White Hat Management? The privately-operated White Hat charter school board? The public?

Over the past couple of decades, citizens of Ohio have, through taxes, purchased more than 1,000 new school buildings, complete with furniture, equipment, technology, etc. Who owns this vast investment? Duh–the public.

September 23, 2014 will be a pivotal day in Ohio history. The Ohio Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on whether a private company owns real estate, facilities, furniture, equipment, technology, and other assets that were purchased by taxpayer money extracted from school districts. The Supreme Court’s decision on this issue will have far-reaching consequences. Historically, taxes devoted to public school infrastructure has been owned and controlled by the public.

For the past couple of decades, while taxpayer money was being used to rebuild Ohio’s public school infrastructure, state officials have extracted $7 billion from school districts to fund privately-operated, so-called “public” charter schools. A portion of that $7 billion financial drain on public school districts has been used to purchase charter school furniture, equipment, technology, etc. Who owns these assets? The public? Individuals? Private corporations?

It would be absurd for public policy to allow private ownership of the new 1,000 public school buildings or any other school district assets. But, White Hat Management and some if its charter school allies, including the Alliance for Public Charter Schools, argue for private ownership.

The lower courts supported the claims of White Hat Management. It is quite interesting that the State Attorney General supported the claims against White Hat Management in the lower courts but has since dropped out of the case.

Also of interest is that the Attorney General’s Chief Operations Officer is the former Executive Director of the Ohio Department of Education’s Center for School Options and Finance and thus had administrative oversight of the Office of Community Schools.

Oh what a tangled web state officials weave—the taxpayers do they intend to deceive.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Equity and Adequacy Coalition asks, where is the outrage?

He writes:

“Charter school operators argue that public tax money becomes private when it reaches the borders of charterland

“Real estate, facilities, equipment, education materials and all other assets purchased by public school districts, obviously, belong to those political subdivisions-not private individuals. Down in charterville, school operators and their charter school allies claim that assets purchased with public tax dollars are owned, not by the public, but the private companies.

“For-profit companies that operate charter schools attempt to shield themselves from transparency and accountability, including public audits, by claiming that tax dollars become private at the moment the tax dollars are transferred to private hands.

“White Hat Management Company, in a case before the Ohio Supreme Court, contends that school property purchased with public tax dollars belongs to White Hat. Hence, real estate, facilities, equipment, educational materials and other assets which were purchased with public dollars would become private property. White Hat, not only turns a profit from its charter school operations, but claims to own publicly-purchased assets.

“An August 9 Akron Beacon Journal article indicates that several non-profit advocacy groups have filed briefs with the Ohio Supreme Court in support of White Hat’s position. It’s all about money, ideology and politics-not education.

“Over the past 15 years charter-promoting state officials have created an out of control monster that intrudes on the rights and funds of school districts. Ohio’s students and taxpayers are the losers.

“Where is the outrage?”

William Phillis
Ohio E & A
Join Our Mailing List!

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

Susan Ochshorn, a specialist in early childhood education, demonstrates in this post (as she has before, and will again) that play is crucial for the healthy mental development of young children. Ochshorn is the founder of ECE Policyworks and a tireless advocate for childhood.

Ochshorn cites the research of Deborah Leong to explain the importance of play.

“Self-regulation, as the non-neuroscientists among us refer to executive function, has to do with the development of the prefrontal cortex, and influences both cognition and emotions. Leong compares this “muscle,” which grows exponentially in the years from birth to five, to a traffic controller, allocating mental resources to focus on the tasks at hand. Here are the three components of executive function:

Inhibitory self-control, which allows children to delay gratification, and to stay on task, even when they’re bored;

Working memory, which enables kids to take multiple perspectives and hold two strategies in mind at the same time; and

Cognitive flexibility, or the ability to adjust mental effort depending upon the task, and to pay attention when the task is challenging.

And here’s why it matters: Levels of executive function have been found to predict academic success better than IQ and social class. Moreover, self-regulation correlates with acquisition of literacy skills, improved teacher-child interactions, and relationships with other children. Emotional regulation is also linked to a child’s ability to control stress while learning. Unregulated children just can’t get down to the important business at hand, and they are becoming alarming statistics. Today, one out of 40 preschoolers is expelled, or three times the rate of K-12 expulsions. Class size, teacher-child ratios, duration of day, teacher credentials and education levels, as well as teacher stress have all been implicated in this growing phenomenon. Early childhood mental health consultation is increasingly seen—and indeed, welcome—as a viable strategy for changing this calculus. But it’s not enough.”

In short, children need to play, and our test-obsessed education system is reducing the available for play. This is not good for children or for the mental health of our troubled society.

Ra Rmanuel has not disguised his dislike for public education or his love for charter schools. After all, he closed more public schools at one time –50–than any other school district in U.S. history.

Well, how about this? An independent report found that Chicago public schools outperformed Chicago charter schools, especially in reading, but in math as well.

“Austin community activist Dwayne Truss said neighborhood schools are burdened by negative stereotypes.

“There’s heavy marketing that somehow neighborhood schools are a horrible place and charter schools are better,” Truss said, adding, “we don’t have that advocacy in the political arena to say, ‘Hey, Mr. Mayor, we need to look at these numbers.’ ”

If teachers had turned out to vote–teacher Justin Katz would have been in the runoff for the Palm Beach County school board. He lost by 54 votes of 15,400 votes cast.

Teacher Joshua Katz lost in Orange County by 67 votes out of 14,500 cast.

The moral of the story: if you want change, get out and vote!