Archives for the month of: January, 2015

Who has primary responsibility for children, the state or their parents? Florida says it is the state, not the parents.


Parent and teacher Andy Goldstein here makes an impassioned plea to the local school board: Stop the madness! Opt out of the state tests! Our children can’t wait! Restore the joy of learning! Opt out! Opt out!


However, State Commissioner Pam Stewart warned that opting out of state tests is illegal. She told legislators that opting out is not an option under Florida law. Teachers will be punished if they encourage parents to skip the testing. Those parents who insist on parental rights should contact their state legislator and demand changes in the law.


Florida is a state that tests children again and again and again. Parents should do what they think is right for their child. The only way to stop the testing madness is if enough parents refuse to allow their children to take the tests and ignore the State Commissioner’s threats.



Massachusetts is switching from its 20-year-old MCAS testing program to PARCC, the federally-funded Common Core test.

Massachusetts is the highest performing state in the nation on NAEP, the federal tests. Why is it making the change?

Some think it is because Massachusetts’ State Commissioner Mitchell Chester is the chair of the PARCC governing board.

“Mitchell Chester, the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary education, said the PARCC exam would help the state reduce the stubborn achievement gaps between rich and poor, white and minority, by giving teachers better information about which kids need extra support.”

So let’s get this right: a harder test will improve the test scores of kids who are poor? A harder test will raise the scores of minority students but not white kids so the gaps will be reduced? Or the scores of poor and minority kids will increase at a faster pace than the scores of rich and white kids?

And one other question: why do teachers need a new test to tell which kids need extra help? Didn’t they learn that with the MCAS? Don’t they know it by seeing the kids in class daily and reviewing their class participation and homework?

None of this makes sense.

The civic group Parents United and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia have been fighting the School Reform Commission for access to secret documents created by the Boston Consulting Group as its “reform” plan for the Philadelphia public schools. The plan was shared with district officials and the foundation that paid for the report, but was not made public. The groups just won a victory and were able to review the report, see the list of schools that BCG wanted to close, and see how flawed BCG’s projections were. Of course, BCG wanted to privatize as much of the district’s schools and operations as possible.


BCG called for closing 88 District-managed schools, which would have displaced a conservative estimate of 22,000-31,000 students districtwide – more than triple the number of students displaced by the actual 2013 school closings. A five-year plan sought the removal and reassignment of up to 45,000 students, more than one-third of the District.


This information and more came to us after Parents United for Public Education and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia won a two-and-a-half-year battle to get BCG’s list of school closings. After losing three times in official proceedings, the District this month agreed to hand over BCG’s recommendations.


And more:


Parents United’s fight for this list wasn’t just about legal technicalities, although some interesting issues arose as a result. Our fight was about the importance of public transparency and dialogue on matters of grave importance to communities and taxpayers.


In 2012, the Boston Consulting Group came under intense criticism for a controversial plan that promoted school closings, massive charter expansion, and privatization of key functions within the District. Under its multimillion-dollar contract with the William Penn Foundation, BCG agreed to provide the foundation with a number of “contract deliverables,” one of which was identifying schools for closure.


In court proceedings regarding our case, the District sought to make a troubling, and fortunately unsuccessful, argument that “certain stakeholders and members of the philanthropic community” ought to have special access to information denied to the public – a move that we think is closely akin to pay-to-play.


We argued that large donors, such as former William Penn Foundation president Jeremy Nowak, had special access to school-closing documents and to District officials. An Ethics Board investigation later found that Nowak did have private meetings with District officials and reviewed and commented on draft reports.


The District held that some “members of the philanthropic community” and undefined “stakeholders” get to have a different level of access than the rest of the public. This reveals a lot about decisionmaking and voice in a state-takeover district.


It should make a difference that some of the entities that helped contribute to the Boston Consulting Group plan had board members who were real estate developers and individuals with financial and political stakes in charter school operators. These were groups that pushed hard for school closures, which rocked the District in 2012-13, forcing 7,000 children to crowd into schools that today are worse off than the ones they had attended. A number of the properties were then fast-tracked for sale.


We know that mass school closings didn’t improve the District’s finances. They didn’t stop the loss of nearly 4,000 jobs just a few months later. They didn’t buy us any good will from the state legislature. And most important, they didn’t improve the academic opportunities for students in schools targeted for closure or for those in the rest of the District.




Remember all the stories about long waiting lists for charter schools? Well, it is not the case at Tennessee’s all-charter Achievement School District. The ASD has taken over low-performing public schools, turned them over to privately managed charter schools, and promises that the schools would be high-performing within five years. Unfortunately, the parents in Memphis and Nashville are not happy about losing their neighborhood public school.


Chalkbeat reports that Republican legislators in Tennessee are proposing to allow the ASD to enroll children from outside their zoned residential district, in order to find more students. It turns out that the schools do not have waiting lists and have low enrollments. One charter operator–Rocketship–won’t open unless the bill passes.


Nashville school board member Amy Frogge warned that the bill would siphon off students and funding from public schools:


“The need for such a bill indicates that the ASD is unable to meet its goal of turning around low-performing schools without a change in student population, and it also indicates that parents are not ‘voting with their feet’ to attend these charter schools,” said Amy Frogge, a board member for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and a vocal critic of charter schools and the ASD.
Frogge voiced concern that schools in the ASD will recruit the highest-achieving students from nearby neighborhoods, which could “burden traditional schools with larger populations of more challenging and costly-to-educate students,” she responded in an email to Chalkbeat.

What is happening in Indiana right now is an outrage. The Republican party holds every statewide office but one: State Superintendent of Education.


That post was won by Democrat Glenda Ritz in 2012, when she defeated Tony Bennett, the avid promoter of charters, vouchers, and Common Core, even though Bennett outspent her by a margin of 5-1. It was a stunning upset. Ritz got more votes than Governor Mike Pence or anyone else on the ticket. Tony Bennett, chair of Jeb Bush’s “Chiefs for Change” was quickly hired as Florida Commissioner of Education but almost as quickly resigned when the story broke that he had adjusted school grades to protect the charter school of a big campaign donor.


From the day of Glenda Ritz’s election a little more than two years ago, Governor Pence has employed every political strategy to strip her office of any authority for education. He created a competing agency that reports directly to him. He appoints every member of the State Education Board, which the State Superintendent chairs. Now in his pettiness, he and his allies in the Legislature are moving bills to remove her as chair of the State Board and allow the Board to elect its own chair which obviously won’t be Ritz. If Pence and pals have their way, Ritz will have a title with no authority whatever.


Dave Bangert, a columnist for the Lafayette Journal and Courier, wrote a scathing article about this sordid situation. Most shocking is the statement by David Long, the president of the Indiana State Senate, in a radio interview. In defense of the party’s willful effort to strip Ritz of her duties, he said, “In all fairness, Superintendent Ritz was a librarian, OK?” The implication was that she was “just a librarian,” unqualified for the position to which the voters elected her.


You have to wonder whether he was so condescending because he has no respect for librarians or because he has no respect for women.


Whatever it is, he certainly has no respect for the voters. Ritz was elected by a large margin. As Bangert writes, an attack on Ritz is an attack on the voters.


Frankly, I would like to see her run against Mike Pence in two years and do to him what she did to Tony Bennett. Go, Glenda!

Max Brantley, a fearless blogger in Arkansas (and former editor of the Arkansas Times), wrote an analysis of the Arkansas State Board of Education’s decision to takeover the Little Rock School Board. “The Billionaires Boys Club and its allies at the chamber of commerce won a hard-won and well-orchestrated battle,” he wrote.


Look who is on the state board:


The votes for takeover included Diane Zook, wife of Randy Zook, head of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and aunt of Gary Newton, who heads several organizations financed by the Walton Family Foundation and advocates establishment of charter schools. Others included Vicki Saviers of Little Rock, who’s served on the board of the pro-charter-school Arkansans for Education Reform, a lobby financed by the Waltons and other wealthy Arkansans. She also helped found the eStem charter school in Little Rock, another beneficiary of Walton money. Another takeover vote was Kim Davis of Fayetteville, director of external relations for the Northwest Arkansas Council, a private development group whose key backers are the Walton Family Foundation, Sam’s Club and Tyson Foods. The other vote for takeover, besides Ledbetter, was Toyce Newton of Crossett, who heads Phoenix Youth and Family Services. She has served on the Board of the Rockefeller Foundation, which has been partnering with the Walton Family Foundation on an education improvement project. Saviers is on the Rockefeller Foundation board as well. The Rockefeller Foundation is a financial contributor to Newton’s nonprofit.


You know what will happen next, right? You remember that Carrie Walton Penner told Forbes that her vision for “fixing” education in America was charter schools, vouchers, and a free market in schooling.



In a closely divided vote, the Arkansas State Board of Education voted to take over the Little Rock School District. The same superintendent will remain in place, but he will report to the state commissioner. The elected school board will be dissolved and replaced by a citizen advisory board. The cause of the takeover was the low test scores of six schools.


Patrons of the district, including state Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, students, teachers, and parents, addressed the board, with most urging the board to wait.


Many students told the board the schools they attended were places they considered safe havens in spite of the problems they may have, and insisting that test scores alone are a poor measure to evaluate the schools or the district.



I have yet to see an example of a state takeover that led to improved education. No one at the State Education Department–in any state–knows how to turn water into wine or make other miracles. When schools are struggling, they need help. They need smaller classes, they need librarians, social workers, nurses, and psychologists; they need additional support for the children and families. That doesn’t change whether the district or the state is in charge. New York state had a takeover many years ago of the Roosevelt School District in Long Island. By all accounts, state control cost more and produced nothing.



David Sirota reports that billionaire Stephen Schwarzman told a high-level audience of business and government leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that schools don’t need more money. He suggested that they could improve by enlisting unpaid labor, like retirees, to tutor children.

“DAVOS, Switzerland — Private equity investor Stephen Schwarzmann is generally a believer in the power of money, a trait that has netted him billions of dollars worth of that useful commodity. But when it comes to education, Schwarzman says more money is not necessarily a fix for ailing American public schools.”

He added:

““I’ve always wondered, what you do in a society with people who just retire,” he told conference attendees. “If you could get those people, like a board, [to be an] unpaid workforce, pay them next to nothing or nothing, and have them go into the school system to be mentors to kids, and be an example of a certain type of success that you would get dramatically different outcomes. If you can get unemployed people that cost nothing, that can have this dramatic difference, that costs nothing. I love things that cost nothing that have great results. Imagine if you laid on technology and other types of things, you could really set the world on fire with this type of stuff.”

And more:

“Schwarzman’s firm recently touted its investment in an expanding private education company. Yet, more than a third of Blackstone’s entire investment pool is comprised of money from public pension plans — that is, the retirement money of government employees like public school teachers.”

Despite the lack of evidence for tying teacher evaluation to student test scores, despite the hundreds of millions spent to implement it without success, this is Arne Duncan’s line in the sand. He insists on mandated annual testing, because without it, his idea of teacher evaluation crashes. He doesn’t care that most teachers don’t teach tested subjects. It is not the annual tests he loves, it is the teacher grades based in annual test scores.


In this thoughtful article in Education Week, Alyson Klein explains the dilemma of states. They need an NCLB waiver, but to get it they must follow Duncan’s orders on teacher evaluation. If the new Congress reauthorizes NCLB, all of this might be swept away. So the US DOE is trying to lock states into plans that last until 2018, long after this administration is gone. Once Duncan is gone, most states will abandon his mandates if they can.



Klein writes:



Congress is moving full steam ahead on a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act that could undo nearly of the Obama administration’s K-12 policy priorities, including state goals for student achievement, dramatic school turnarounds, and evaluating teachers through test scores—and maybe even the tests themselves.


But, even the most optimistic prognosticators don’t expect the final legislation to make it across the finish line until the summer.


That means states with waivers from the No Child Left Behind law—42 plus the District of Columbia—will still have to negotiate the finer points of their accountability plans with the department for waiver renewals that could last through 2018-19, well beyond the end of the Obama administration.


Already states, including Texas and Maine, have been told they need to make changes to their teacher rating systems—or provide the department with much more information—before submitting their renewal applications at the end of March. Neither state’s waiver has been put on high risk status just yet. (More below.)


The administration, though, may be entering into the waiver-renewal process with a severely weakened hand, especially when it comes to holding states’ feet to the fire on the policy that seems nearest and dearest to its heart: crafting teacher evaluation systems that take state test scores into account, and align with the administration’s vision.


“I think there’s going to be so much state pushback on that that the department may have to be open to negotiations on what states put in for teacher evaluation,” said Terry Holiday, Kentucky’s education commissioner who, coincidentally enough, is testifying at a Senate NCLB reauthorization hearing on Tuesday on teacher quality…


What’s more, once the waivers are a thing of the past—either because NCLB has been reauthorized or because a new president has gotten rid of them—states aren’t likely to continue with teacher evaluation through outcomes on assessments, Holliday said.


I think we’d all quickly abandon all the work on tying teacher evaluation to test scores,” he said.

Reader Jennifer Horowitz writes about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to base 50% of teachers’ evaluation on state test scores (as opposed to the current 20%):



Here’s what’s INEFFECTIVE about the plan to me:
It doesn’t matter if you have 15 kids or 35.
It doesn’t matter if your students had any books read to them before Kindergarten.
It doesn’t matter if their parents have them do homework or ensure a good night’s sleep.
It doesn’t matter if assessment cut scores are so high that no nation has ever achieved excellent results with expectations that high.
It doesn’t matter if the district provides high quality professional development for the faculty.
It doesn’t matter if the classroom has enough books, not to mention desks, for all the students.
It doesn’t matter how many students learn to be kind, helpful, attentive, resilient or respectful.
It doesn’t matter how many phenomenal pieces of literature or symphonies or theories the teacher has shared with the class.
It doesn’t matter how many children learned the values of voting and debate.
It doesn’t matter if the child or parents value education and care about classroom success.
It doesn’t matter if the state cuts school district budgets so much that dozens or hundreds of faculty members have been let go and programs have been cut to the bare bones.
Teachers should be rated based on how students perform on a test for a few days each year.
What intelligent person would start a career in a profession like that?
Who will be the teachers of tomorrow?