Archives for the month of: March, 2015

Last night I watched the first segment of the CNN special on “Cancer: The Emperor of Maladies.” It was very well done. Most of the program was about childhood leukemia. It brought back many sad memories. Our Steven, a beautiful child age 2, died in 1966 of leukemia after six terrible months of suffering, in and out of the hospital. We thought he had the best of care. We prayed for a miracle that never happened.

The program interviewed the first child to survive. She was about 12 when she was diagnosed. The doctors in Boston gave her a “cocktail” of four drugs. She is now middle-aged. Her treatment started in 1964. When I heard the date, it broke my heart.

Julian Vasquez Heilig honors Cesar Chavez’s birthday here.

He uses the occasion to contrast the views towards unions of Chavez, as contrasted to those of Campbell Brown and Michelle Rhee.

Brown says her fight to diminish teachers’ unions is equivalent to the fight for marriage equality. Rhee says that collaboration with teachers and their unions is unnecessary.

But what did Cesar Chavez say?

Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Center, New York, doesn’t think much of Governor Cuomo’s proposal for teachers to be evaluated by drop-by outsiders. The Governor made this part of his education package of “reforms.” His original proposal, which has been handed over to the State Education Department (or the Board of Regents) was to have test scores count for 50% of each teacher’s evaluation, to have 35% determined by an “independent evaluator,” and only 15% based on the principal’s judgment. Who would these outside evaluators be? How much would they be paid? What would it cost? How many would be hired to review the work of every teacher in the state? How much time would they spend with each teacher? This is the kind of idea that would be dreamed up only by someone who never was a principal or a teacher.

Here is what Burris says:

The folks up in Albany are showing once again that they never met a bad idea they didn’t like. The idea that teaching would improve if only “outsiders” came in to do observations is absurd.

When confronted with the costs of this half-baked scheme, legislators suggested that money could be saved by “swapping” administrators among districts to do observations. Can you imagine the consequences of putting this idea in place?

Schools would not function as principals are put on the road to observe teachers in other schools, leaving their own students and teachers without support when a crisis occurs. In rural New York, schools may be an hour or more apart. If the outside observations stay within the district, we would have elementary principals observing physics classes, and high school principals observing pre-k.

Observations would become little more than a check list hastily done by someone who has no vested interest in helping the teacher improve. One might imagine a cadre of “hired guns” who excel in writing harsh observations being brought in to a school to get a teacher who is respected in the building principal but not by a district office or a Board of Education.

This scheme makes one thing crystal clear–Cuomo despises teachers and the principals who support them. Let’s see if the legislature goes along or stands up for our public schools and the children they serve.

The New York Council of School Superintendents and the New York School Boards Association issued the following joint statement in opposition to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s latest proposal to change teacher evaluation:

Media Contacts:
David Albert, NYSSBA 518-783-3716 (w), 518-320-2221(c) Robert Lowry, NYSCOSS 518-435-5996

Joint statement of Robert Reidy Jr., Executive Director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents and Timothy Kremer, Executive Director of the New York State School Boards Association regarding announced details of a new teacher evaluation law within the New York State Budget:

“The well-known definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Since 2010, legislation to change the teacher evaluation system in New York has been passed three times. The proposals currently under consideration as a part of state budget negotiation will be the fourth attempt in five years.

In 2012, the Governor and the Legislature passed changes to the evaluation system and tied the annual increase in school funding to adoption of local, collectively bargained plans by a deadline. Many of the deficiencies of the current system which the Governor cites are the direct result of that linkage, which forced districts to bargain APPR plans with the threat of losing state aid hanging over their heads. Now policymakers are considering the same thing again hoping for a different outcome.

Also under consideration is the mandated use of independent evaluators. According to school leaders, the current observation measure, done by actual supervisors, is the one positive element of the present system. The conversations about how to improve instruction are what lead directly to improved learning for students. Introducing an unaffiliated “independent” evaluator to this practice would undermine the one successful piece of the current evaluation law.

Together these proposals represent yet another costly unfunded mandate on local school districts, while jeopardizing their ability to access needed state aid.

The current teacher evaluation system is not perfect, and changes are certainly warranted, but this proposal would double down on the system’s deficiencies and undermine its current successes.

We urge all decision makers to stand strong and reject these misguided proposals.” 

New York State Council of School Superintendents 7 Elk Street, 3rd Floor
Albany, NY 12207

New York State School Boards Association 24 Century Hill Drive, Suite 200 Latham, NY

The head of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), Karen Magee, spoke bluntly in favor of a boycott of the state tests.

The chair of the State Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, blasted back at Magee and accused her of protecting adults, not children. Of course, this is a favorite meme of the “reform” movement, that anyone who cares about teachers is ipso facto acting in opposition to the interests of children. Michelle Rhee called her group “StudentsFirst,” implying that those who teach children never put children first. Hedge fund managers put children first, not the people who teach them every day for about the same amount of money in a year that the typical hedge fund manager makes in a week. No one has ever explained how education will get better if no one wants to teach because of disrespect, poor working conditions and demoralization.

According to the article:

“I would urge parents at this point in time to opt out of testing,” Karen Magee of the New York State United Teachers said in an appearance on upstate public radio’s “The Capitol Pressroom.”

“They’re not valid indicators of student progress,” she added.

State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch shot back that the tests “provide an important source of objective information.”

“It’s time to stop making noise to protect the adults and start speaking up for the students,” Tisch said.

Parents are leading the test boycott and opt out movement, not teachers and not their unions. Parents, we may safely assume, care more about their children than state officials do.

Parents get it. They see their children stressed out by constant testing. Their children bear the burden of knowing that their performance may cause their teacher to be fired. That’s a heavy burden. Parents understand that tests don’t teach children. Teachers teach children. Without teachers, there is no instruction.

Laura Clawson at the Daily Kos reports that some teachers at a charter chain in Los Angeles want to organize a union. They have asked management to stay neutral. They thought management agreed, but it created an anti-union video.

Laura knows that the charter business model relies on low wages and teacher turnover; much of the money behind the charter industry (think Walton) is staunchly anti-union.

By the way, the incoming chair of the charter board previously led the Broad Foundation.

Bill Phillis of the Ohio Coaltion for Equity and Adequacy explains the origins of choice in Ohio and how it has evolved into a lucrative for-profit industry. If “choice” meant better education, Ohio by now should have the best schools in the nation. It doesn’t. What has happened has been the transfer of $8 billion out of the state’s public schools to satisfy rightwing, evidence-free ideology.

Phillis writes:

“The school choice movement in Ohio: Is it about parents choosing good schools or the school choosing good students?

Open enrollment was a product of SB 140, an education “reform” bill more than a quarter century ago in the 118th General Assembly. The rationale set forth for enacting the concept was that parents should be allowed to choose a better academic option in a neighboring district. Although there has been no extensive research regarding why people choose open enrollment, experience indicates that better academics is the least frequent reason for the choice of another school district.

Open enrollment was the precursor to the Ohio privately-operated choice movement. Then-President George H. W. Bush told a large gathering of people in Columbus on November 25, 1991, you have open enrollment and now you need to go the whole nine yards and give a voucher to every student. Bush’s speech was reported in the November 26, 1991 Cincinnati Enquirer article-Bush: Give private schools money, Ohio audience wary of proposal.

The Cleveland Voucher Plan, a brainchild of Akron Industrialist David Brennen and then-Governor George V. Voinovich, followed the Bush recommendation. Ohio’s education choice programs have removed nearly $8 billion from Ohio school districts since “choice” began.

The education choice gospel is preached in a way that resonates with lots of folks. Who would take issue with such a sacred-sounding verse–choice? But the reality is that choice is more about private and privately-managed education entities choosing students than parents choosing a school. Private schools and charters are not obligated to take students and many of them screen out or counsel out students they don’t want.

The irony is that those parents who choose charter schools are, in a majority of cases, opting for schools with lower academic ratings than the district of residence. But that phenomenon, as long as folks are blinded by the empty promise of choice, will continue to lead to consumer fraud. Massive snake oil salesman-type advertising misleads parents. Most of the solicitations for student enrollment do not match the charters’ educational opportunities and results.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

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

The “tax credit” program in Pennsylvania is a backdoor way of spending public money for children who enroll in private and religious schools.

What does the State Constitution say?

Pennsylvania Constitution Article III Section § 15.

Public school money not available to sectarian schools.

No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.

“Religious Freedom
Section 3.

“All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.”

This latter provision has been cited by the state courts to prohibit public funding of religious schools.

Isn’t it funny how Republicans claim to be in favor of strict construction of the Constitution, except when they don’t?

Isn’t it funny how so many Republican state legislators belong to ALEC, which is trying to obliterate local school boards and local control.

Blogger Yinzercation has an excellent article explaining the negative effects of “tax credits” on public education.

“While our legislators are busy looking under their sofa cushions for spare change to fund the state budget, they might want to consider the $75 million that just walked out the front door. That’s how much the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program costs us taxpayers every year.

“The misnamed EITC program has nothing to do with educational improvement and everything to do with funneling what would have been state budget dollars into private schools, while increasing profits for corporations. Here’s how it works: corporations can get an EITC tax credit by contributing to a Scholarship Organization, which channels the money to private schools. The companies receive up to 90% of their contributions as a tax credit, worth up to $300,000 per year, and can get a federal tax write-off as well, making the program highly attractive.

“Not only do corporations get a tax write-off, but they also receive good publicity and increased access to legislators. For example, gas driller XTO Energy (now owned by Exxon) donated $650,000 over the past three years allowing it to stage ceremonies all over the state at the time when its fracking technique was coming under intense scrutiny. The New York Times reported last week that a state official credited XTO with going “ ‘above and beyond’ its duty” when “[i]n reality, as much as 90 percent of XTO’s donation was underwritten by taxpayers.” [unless otherwise noted, all quotes from New York Times, May 21, 2012]….”

“And there is no accountability for that $75 million. The Keystone Research Center analyzed the EITC’s K-12 component (the program also funds pre-K scholarships and ‘educational improvement organizations’ that work with public schools) and found that “schools benefiting from the EITC scholarships are not required to report on student progress or document school quality.” [Keystone Research Center report, April 7, 2011]

“In fact, the legislature outlawed any attempts to collect such information and the program is actually managed by the Department of Community and Economic Development – not the Department of Education.

“With practically no state oversight, the public has almost no financial information on the organizations receiving tax credits or distributing scholarships. The Keystone report warns, “Experiences in Arizona indicate that a lack of financial accountability opens the door to the misuse of public funds.” And we’re talking about a program that provides scholarships to over 38,000 students to attend private and religious schools – that’s more than the number of students in the Pittsburgh Public School District.”

EITC is a “backdoor voucher program” promoted by ALEC and the voucher advocates “American Federation for Children.”

It is intended to undermine public education and funnel public money to private and religious schools with NO accountability.

Never forget: Vouchers have never won at the ballot box.

A group of high school students in Lake Oswego, Oregon, has launched a campaign to persuade their classmates to refuse the Smarter Balanced tests, which will be given in April and May.


I have always believed that students are the best advocates for change, because they are the victims of the adult obsession with measuring their brains with bubble tests, and they have an additional advantage: they can’t be fired.


Here is the story:


Last week, they mailed letters to the parents of more than 300 LOHS juniors, urging them to opt out and including a link to an opt-out form they’d created.


“It’s not that we want to cause trouble for the school district or the parents or anything,” said Shaheen Safari, a junior and Student Union member. “It’s just what we personally believe in. We’re exercising our democratic right to speak our voice.”


The Student Union evolved from a series of stories on the front page of the March 13 issue of Lake Views, the LOHS student newspaper. The coverage included an opinion piece by all six editors headlined “Everyone, opt out now,” a news story about opt-out efforts across the country and a local story that quoted faculty, administrators and teacher union president Laura Paxson Kluthe…..


“Opting out is a private action, allowing status- and appearance-focused Oswegans to resist in an environment that contemporarily antagonizes political action,” said Daniel Vogel, an LOHS junior and co-editor-in-chief of Lake Views.


Students in grades three through eight and high school juniors are scheduled to take the SBAC tests this spring. The tests involve more in-depth problem solving than previous assessments, and about 30-40 percent of Oregon students are not expected to meet the new standards, according to state Department of Education spokeswoman Crystal Greene…..


A school’s performance rating is linked to its implementation of SBAC, and one of the criteria for a top score is student participation of 94.5 percent. On the five-point rating scale, enough LOHS students have opted out to drop the school from a five to a four. A lower rating affects a school’s image, Greene said, because some people use the rankings when deciding whether they will move to a particular neighborhood.


For LOHS junior Farah Alkayed, that’s not a good enough reason to take the new tests.


“We think it’s more important to create change in our education and educate people about (SBAC) than to be concerned with our school’s ranking,” Alkayed said….


“Opting out is a lot easier than holding rallies or encouraging students to walk out of the tests, and students/parents cannot be punished for opting out,” he said. “That’s not to say we’ve ruled out the possibility of walkouts or rallies. Opting out allows us to gauge support for further actions.”