Archives for the month of: April, 2015

The judge who sentenced educators to jail for as long as seven years changed his mind.

“Before sentencing on April 14, Baxter had urged the convicted educators to accept an offer from prosecutors that would have allowed them to avoid extensive time behind bars in exchange for taking responsibility, apologizing and waiving their right to appeal. Only two accepted.

“Clearly rankled that the majority refused to accept the last-minute deal, Baxter sentenced the remaining eight educators to prison, reserving his harshest punishment for the highest-ranking educators. Sharon Davis-Williams, Michael Pitts and Tamara Cotman, all regional supervisors with Atlanta Public Schools, each received seven years in prison, 13 years of probation and a $25,000 fine.

“But a few days later, Baxter had second thoughts and notified the trio of senior administrators that he had scheduled another hearing. On Thursday, he reduced the administrators’ sentences to three years in prison and seven years of probation, with a $10,000 fine and 2,000 hours of community service.

“I’m going to put myself out to pasture in the not-too-distant future, and I don’t want to be out in the pasture with any regrets,” the judge said.”

Jeannie Kaplan, a former member of the Denver Board of Education, began looking into the role of Teach for America in Denver. At first, she thought that they were probably a big problem but then decided that as teachers, they were not having much of an impact, except for their cost. Then she realized that the real problem was how rapidly they moved into leadership roles for which they were not prepared.

She writes:

When I started researching TFA in Denver, I thought my conclusions about its impact would be, “TFA is not only NOT the solution for teacher excellence, it is in fact the problem.” However, in all honesty I have not found that to be the case. The number of corps members is very small, and the impact of these CMs in classrooms has been negligible. One real threat TFA poses in Denver Public Schools appears to be in the leadership roles TFA recruits are assuming in the District. TFA CMs are rising rapidly to principal positions with little educational or leadership experience. (Information for the 2014-15 school year shows TFA has supplied DPS with 7 traditional school principals or assistants, 2 innovation principals, and 12 charter school leaders, 5 of whom are in the STRIVE network. Any relation between the TFA trained leaders and declining academic performance in the STRIVE network?) Another real threat posed by TFA is what effect these CMs are having on overall teacher morale. But here again, TFA is not solely to blame for the rift between professional teachers and alternatively licensed teachers. DPS has found other organizations to provide cheap, non-professional teachers.

One positive outcome from my TFA inquiry is the level of detail the DPS central administration gave me regarding this outsourcing. It responded with clarity and timeliness. One negative outcome from my inquiry has been more confirmation that charters are only public schools when they want taxpayer money. The DPS administration does not have charter school/TFA information because in reality, charters operate as private schools. Charters have their own boards, their own budgets, their own operating methods, and while taxpayers are funding most of these operating expenses, the central public school administration does not have access to this information. Or at least it has not shared it. To get the charter school information in general, TFA information specifically, a person has two options: 1) call each charter school or the Charter Management Organization (CMO). Denver has close to 60 charter schools and while twenty belong to two CMOs that still left leaves close to forty calls; or 2) call the organization in question, in this case TFA. I chose the option number 2.

At the beginning of February I had a pleasant meeting with the TFA Colorado State Director who regaled me with data and success rates of TFA in Colorado. We even had several pleasant email exchanges as I tried to dig deeper and get more information. Then something happened. After being assured I would get my requested information – how many teachers were currently at each TFA serviced school – our communication went from a pleasant “Let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns,…” to “I am not able to prioritize this right now” leaving me without several important pieces of data. What changed ? I believe it is the request for accountability. TFA seems unable to produce evidence that it is really making a difference, that its CMs are really getting better results. When asked to substantiate data and deliver real accountability, not just spin and talking points, TFA like most “reform” organizations is unable to “show me the money….”

Given all of this, here is possibly the worst consequence of TFA’s presence in Denver today: TFA in DPS is contributing to the constant teacher churn. TFA as currently structured, will hardly be the savior of delivering a “reform” top tenet: A GREAT TEACHER IN EVERY CLASSROOM. And as long as this nation refuses to address the affects of poverty on our students, no one “reform” organization, nor for that matter will “reform” itself, make any significant impact on academic achievement or really the more important goal – providing a world class, well rounded education for all!

Several people have told me that some of the slides were not available on the link I posted to Yong Zhao’s fabulous presentation.


Here is the raw footage, with all the screen images. You have to skip the first 14-15 minutes, because it consists of audience members filing in and taking their seats. But the amazing slides he put up are there to enjoy along with his remarks.


Here it is again:


Just remember to skip past the first 14 minutes to Julian Vasquez Heilig’s introduction.


I watched the raw footage twice, but have not seen the edited version. Nothing was cut out of Yong Zhao’s presentation, but several people said they wanted the version with all the images.

The PTA of the Hastings-on-Hudson, Néw York, school district sent the following open letter to Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy charter schools. They shared it with me and asked me to post it.


Eva Moskowitz
Success Academy Charter Schools,
Chief Executive Officer

Dear Ms. Moskowitz:

We write in response to your recent comment to WNYC, explaining why Success Academy schools don’t accept new students after fourth grade: “It’s not really fair for the student in seventh grade or a high school student to have to be educated with a child who’s reading at a second or third grade level.”

As advocates for children, we are deeply troubled by your and Success Academy’s view. Many seventh graders who read at a second or third grade level are children with learning differences. These children already face huge obstacles and prejudices, even as research clearly supports that including these children in general education settings benefits all.

Inclusive classrooms, which comprise special education students and their general education peers, are academically, socially and emotionally beneficial to both groups. In fact, the advantages of such classrooms are so powerful and the outcomes often so successful that federal law requires that these children be placed with their non-disabled peers whenever possible (i.e., in the “least restrictive environment”). At a recent PTA meeting here in Hastings-on-Hudson, parents of general education students specifically asked for their children to be placed in inclusion classes, with their special education peers, once they learned more about the benefits to all that those classrooms produce, including more attention to differentiated learning, as well as additional teaching staff.

In addition, dismissing a child who is reading below-grade level puts too much emphasis on reading and ignores the myriad of other measures of achievement. A child who reads below grade level may excel in math or biology or be an exceptional artist, athlete, or musician.

We live in a diverse world, and it is our job and our duty to create environments that engender respect, support, and, possibly most important, empathy. The direction you advocate
— separating and rewarding just the highest achievers in selected subjects — does a disservice to all.

So while you state that including struggling readers is “not really fair” to your current Success Academy scholars, what saddens us – and feels truly unfair – is this layer of unnecessary and painful exclusion and hardship, in the name of protecting your high-achieving scholars, that you find appropriate and necessary.

We are happy to meet with you and explain these issues more deeply, if that would be helpful. And in any event, we ask that you issue an apology, and also that your schools make a concerted effort to include children with special needs or learning differences. It’s not only best practice, ethical, and fair, but it is the law.

Very truly yours,

Hastings-on-Hudson PTSA Executive Board, Lisa Eggert Litvin and Jacqueline Weitzman, Co Presidents

Hastings-on-Hudson SEPTA (Special Education PTA) Executive Board, Nina Segal and Jennifer Cunningham, Co Presidents

(Note that we are sending this to the general information email for Success Academies, because after extensive online searches, as well as numerous phone calls to individual Success Academy Schools and to the State’s offices governing charters, we have been unable to obtain an accurate email address for you. We left a message at Success Academy’s business office (as it was called by a receptionist at one of the academies) explaining the gist of the letter and asking for your email. If we receive a response, we will forward to that address.)

The Long Island Business News is all over Common Core. It published an article exploring the money trail that leads again and again to Pearson. Unlike Newsday, the major newspaper on Long Island, LIBN is attentive to the widespread parent revolt against Common Core and the testing associated with it.

In this editorial, Joe Dowd begins with a question:

How would you feel if your kids toiled in a factory run by a British company whose overlords were faceless bureaucrats in Albany?

LIBN’s Claude Solnik’s in-depth probe of British testing giant Pearson reveals that, over the past few weeks, your children – ages 8-14 – were asked to labor long hours during a six-day span without pay or tangible reward. In the process, they contributed to the testing factory’s windfall profits.
Meanwhile the state, which forced this down the throats of our children, took federal money to do the company’s bidding. Pearson not only produces the tests but the preparatory and remedial materials necessary to implement them. We pay for this through our taxes and parental angst.
Our kids received no pay, no timely results – merely the pain of mind-numbing test-taking for hours, answering questions with very questionable answers. Incredibly, this disgraceful form of mind management is designed as an evaluation of teachers, not actually their students.
Common Core: Think of it as forced child labor. Our nation fought for laws that made child labor illegal.

If you weren’t intimidated by a system that does not have your child’s best interest at heart, you’d opt out, right? “No thanks,” you’d say. “I think I’ll let my kids take a pass.”
Tens of thousands across Long Island and the state did just that. Their kids were required to go to school and sit in auditoriums for hours with little to do and no substantive instruction.
Where were our leaders at budget time? Why did they cave? If this system is so broken, why don’t we stand up and stop it?
Believe me: If my kids were of that age, I would have declared snow days in April and let them play and ponder the world from home. I’d tell them that when your government stops being responsive, it’s our duty to change it….

Opt out; demand representation: If this be treason, make the most of it.

Curious that some of the legislators who were strongest in supporting Governor Cuomo’s punitive and mindless teacher vengeance plan come from Long Island: Dean Skelos, the Republican leader of the State Senate, and John J. Flanagan, chair of the State Senate Education Committee. Why don’t they pay attention to the voices of the people they allegedly represent?

Read more:

Yong Zhao spoke to a general session at the annual conference of the Network for Public Education. His speech was spectacular! He was witty, informative, actually hilarious. The audience loved him.


I will not try to summarize what he said. You must watch yourself. Julian Vasquez Heilig introduces Yong Zhao.

This is one of the best presentations I have ever seen about education today. Don’t take my word for it. Judge for yourself.


Sit back and prepare to laugh out loud. If you don’t have time now, save it for when you have 45 minutes for sheer fun and intellectual pleasure. Then show it to your friends and colleagues. Show it to your local school board, your state board, your legislators. Share it with all who care about our kids and our society.

Thanks to videographer Vincent Precht.

In the second round of Common Core testing, devoted to math, the early counts from Long Island indictate that more students will skip the exams than did so for the ELA.

Crack reporter Jaime Franchi has reported on the movement. which has been active for years. The moms in the movement have been active for at least the past three years.

“Fueling the mass rejections are a litany of complaints among parents and teachers, two being that their objections are falling on deaf ears and that Common Core supporters continue to mischaracterize them as frightened of academic challenges and what state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch dubs as students being caught in the crosshairs of a “labor dispute” between teachers unions and the governor.

“This is a governor who is just fixated on firing teachers and breaking the union,” slams Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School and 2013 New York Principal of the Year, in a phone interview from the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago April 25. “There’s no other lens to see it because it’s not in the best interest of the children.”

“Other gripes harbored by parents opposing the Common Core tests include their belief that the exams lack diagnostic value, as test scores are returned during the summer and cannot be used to further instruction. Zephyr Teachout, Fordham professor and former Democratic gubernatorial primary challenger to Cuomo, tells the Press: “The tests have no pedagogical value, so parents are opting out because they aren’t helping the kids.”

“Opponents are concerned that with such a heavy focus on high-stakes testing, teaching in the classroom would resort to an increasing amount of test preparation at the expense of various other learning opportunities and a more diverse curriculum. They contend the assessments are age- and grade-level inappropriate, charging as proof that several reading samples for the recent ELA tests were coded two to three grade levels above appropriate reading levels.”

Public radio station KPCC in Los Angeles obtained a copy of the audit of the charter school run by Ref Rodriguez, who is running for the city’s school board on May 19 against incumbent Bennett Kayser.

The story was written by Annie Gilbertson, the same reporter who broke the Deasy-iPad scandal.

“A Los Angeles Unified school board member sought to withhold an inspector general audit finding Partnership to Uplift Communities’ Lakeview Charter Academy was insolvent for nine years.”

An unnamed member of the school board had tried to suppress the audit until after the election.

The audit shows that the charter was insolvent for nine years. Also it “noted numerous fiscal “deficiencies,” including poorly documented expenditures, failure to meet minimum reserves and questionable oversight by the parent organization.”

Rodriguez is co-founder and treasurer of the charter organization.

On the second day of the second annual conference of the Network for Public Education’s Conference, I moderated a discussion between the leaders of the NEA and the AFT. Lily Eskelsen represented the NEA, and Randi Weingarten of the AFT.

This is the first video to emerge from the
program. Two very strong women! The video was made by Vibcent Precht.

Jim Arnold, former superintendent of schools in Pelham, Georgia, explains why he encouraged his grandsons and their parents to opt out.

He writes:

“Just imagine the millions of dollars spent on standardized test development, scoring, actual testing, test training and test security that could be spent to hire new teachers, lower class sizes, restore art and music and elective classes, buy new school technology, books, materials, end furlough days or – gasp – give teachers a raise.

“Imagine an end to the silly insistence that standardized testing is the only way to hold teachers and schools accountable.

“Imagine the return of the authority of the classroom teacher to actually teach their students rather than follow a scripted test-centric routine designed not to improve teaching and learning but to improve test scores.

“Just imagine schools focused on taking students where they are educationally and socially and concentrating on teaching and learning rather than on how they test.

“Just imagine students being judged by the classroom work they do rather than by a score on a standardized test.

“Just imagine your kid’s school being judged by the parents, teachers and community members on their effectiveness rather than some made-up metric based on the junk science of standardized testing.

“Just imagine teachers being judged by their administrators and mentored by other teachers to help them learn how to be more effective in what they do rather than being evaluated by student test scores — often of students they don’t even teach by a method condemned by the American Statistical Association?

“Just imagine. That’s why we’re opting our boys out.”