Archives for the month of: May, 2015

Arthur Camins writes in response to Marc Tucker’s article about the failure of annual testing:

“One of the contributors to the problem that Mark Tucker identifies is cynicism.

“Few appear to believe anymore that government will do anything more than the meager attention effects of annual testing to address inequity. As a country, we have forgotten that it was the collective action of the labor and civil rights movements that has mediated inequality, not punishment regimes or the individualism inherent in the so-called choice notion behind charter schools. It’s not federal overreach that’s the problem, but reaching for the wrong things. See:

“It doesn’t have to be this way. We Can Be Better than the Audacity of Small Hopes:

“Since the Reagan era, the Democrats have been on the defensive, and have run away from collective action for equity. It’s time to re-embrace community responsibility rather than selfish-individualism.”

Wendy Lecker,civil rights attorney,says that claims made on behalf of school turnarounds—firing the staff and leaders—are usually inflated or false.

“With their narrow focus on test scores, disruption and structural changes, such as firing staff, education reformers constantly push the notion of school and district “turnarounds.” However, turnarounds been widely proven as ineffective in improving the longer-term educational quality of targeted schools.

“The evidence shows that turnarounds result in, at best, temporary boosts in test scores that often fade after a few years. These policies also often do lasting damage to the school culture by getting rid of teachers and staff who know the students.

“Consequently, experts warn that aggressive turnaround strategies must be viewed with caution. Connecticut’s legislative education committee seemed unaware of this warning as it participated in a day of turnaround presentations, organized by the charter lobby, ConnCAN.

“The failure of the turnaround plan at Hartford’s Milner Elementary was documented in my last column.

“A second turnaround “model” presented by ConnCAN, Lawrence, Massachusetts, had all the characteristics of turnarounds that are more hype the help.”

Despite claims of success without additional resources, Lecker says this is untrue. Lawrence received millions in additional resources, and the results were unimpressive.

“The overall results from Lawrence hardly paint a picture of success. In the majority of subjects and grades reported, there was either no improvement in proficiency rates or an actual decline.”

Even Governor Cuomo of Néw York has looked to Lawrence as a model.

Wendy Lecker says: Keep looking

Lita Blanc, a veteran teacher in San Francisco, won election as President of the United Educators of San Francisco, the union representing 6,000 employees of the district.


Blanc, a teacher at George Moscone Elementary School in the Mission District for the past 27 years, has been a long-time union activist, both in a leadership capacity and as a rank-and-filer. The UESF reform caucus was created 8 years ago, seeing a need to challenge UESF leaders on issues of democracy and representation.



Educators for a Democratic Union ran three races against the UESF leadership, winning positions of leadership, while consistently lobbying against erosion of working conditions and striving to advance the status and power of all members, especially classified employees.



Taking the example of the reform movement of the Chicago teachers’ union as a guide — where the union was revitalized both from below and from increased outreach to parents and the broader community — Blanc ran as part the Educators for a Democratic Union (EDU) slate.



Two other candidates from the EDU slate also won top union office: Lisa Gutierrez Guzmán was elected secretary, and Tom Edminster was elected treasurer. EDU candidates were also elected to the union’s executive board to represent elementary, middle-school, and high-school teachers.



The election, which witnessed a higher turnout than the one three years ago, was described as an “experience of democracy in action” by Lalo Gonzalez, a new young teachers’ aide at Balboa High School. Gonzalez and others criss-crossed the city to deliver their last-minute ballots. “We wanted to make sure that our ballots were counted,” he said.



“It truly made me believe in the grassroots movement,” wrote another teacher right after the election. “People who wouldn’t usually participate really believe that there needs to be a change.”



Another teacher was equally moved by the election results. ” I have hope again!” said Deirdre Elmansoumi, a librarian at Flynn Elementary. Yet another union member raised the bar even higher: “It’s time for San Francisco teachers to lead our school district toward a world-class model for public education.”



Blanc spelled out her priorities in an interview. She made clear that the union must fight for the children, their families, and communities, as well as opposing the test mania that has overtaken education:



In an interview with Beyond Chron, Blanc said she is looking forward to “bring[ing] together the experience and wisdom of the current leadership with a vision of a reinvigorated union that puts membership empowerment and participation first and foremost.” She said she is hoping that the union will organize a fall conference to give members the tools necessary to fight for the resources their students need at school sites.



Outreach to parents is another top priority. “We are not going to wait three years for the next round of contract negotiations to connect with the parents of our students. Together we need to ensure that the new tax dollars coming from Sacramento go to guarantee the services that our children deserve: PE teachers, counselors, social workers, a teacher aide in every classroom.”



UESF must deepen the fight for affordable housing. Blanc said that the “union is fighting for the soul of our city — and that means not just securing mortgage assistance for educators but also protecting the two-thirds of city residents who are renters. These are the parents of our children and our young teachers, many with families, who cannot afford to live in the city. Both are being driven out of San Francisco by skyrocketing rents. ”



Blanc said that a priority must be vacancy control, an end to evictions, and the moratorium on market-housing development in the Mission proposed by Supervisor David Campos. “There is nothing more urgent than strengthening the parent-community coalition for affordable housing,” Blanc said.



On the issue of standardized testing, Blanc wants to see the union educate parents about their legal right to opt-out their children from standardized testing, noting that an “opt-out upsurge” occurred across the country this past April.



“Standardized testing has narrowed the curriculum, robbing our children of the chance to explore music and art,” Blanc continued. “The move to computerized testing has resulted in the net transfer of million of dollars from SFUSD to tech companies and to the corporations that produce these tests.”




Peter Greene, a master of metaphor and analogy, has written a field guide explaining how to recognize a charter school fan.

For example,

“If every time your car gets too full of fast food wrappers and empty drink cans, you go buy a new car (and kept the old one so you can make payments on both), you might be a charter school fan.

“If ice cream cones cost a dollar and you only have 75 cents, so you decide the solution is to buy three, you might be a charter school fan.

“If you think it’s a shame that some schools have gotten worse since they let Those People in, you might be a charter school fan.”

Peter Greene performs a valuable dissection of Frank Bruni’s uninformed defense of the U.S. Department of Education and its current occupant, who has done so much to demoralize teachers, demand high-stakes testing, and pump many millions into the privatization movement. The column wouldn’t matter so much if it appeared in a grocery store tabloid, but Bruni writes for the New York Times.

Let it be noted that Bruni was a wonderful critic of food and wine in earlier days at the Times.

But he shows no evidence of knowing anything about education. He thinks American kids are too “coddled.” (Even the 50% living in low-income families?) He may have been the only critic in the nation to applaud the pro-charter, pro-parent trigger movie “Won’t Back Down,” which opened in 2,500 movie theaters and disappeared without a trace within 30 days.

Here is a small part of Peter Greene’s excellent post:

So– to recap– Bruni has taken the Senate attempt to re-authorize the ESEA, and instead of placing that in the context of a bill that has been awaiting re-authorization by Congress since 2007 and has finally been tackled by the appropriate Senate committee for that tackling, he’s creating a new narrative in which, steeped in an anti-department atmosphere, Murray and Alexander just kind of go rogue and float this bill created out of whole cloth just to spank the department.

So what else does Bruni want to point out in this alternate universe?

Well, goodness. Under this proposal, the USED would not have say “over how (or if)” teacher evaluation would occur. And– Good lord in heaven– here’s a short list of Things Bruni Does Not Know:

1) Even with the USED’s watchful eye, states are managing to gut the teaching profession. Current leader in assaulting the profession would be the Wisconsin, where they’re thinking that maybe anybody– even a high school dropout– can be a teacher.

2) USED’s ideas about how to evaluate teacher are stupid. Their major contribution has been to demand that teachers be evaluated by using student test scores, an approach supported by no actual research or science or even common sense, and repudiated by pretty much everybody who doesn’t have financial or political benefits tied to the approach.

3) “Or if”? Come on. Name one state, one school, one corner of the country where politicians and leaders are saying, “Let’s never evaluate teachers at all.” Well, except for charter schools. But the USED supports charters and the charter right to make up any rules they like, so again– if this is a problem, the USED is definitely not on the case.

4) The best teacher evaluation systems are coming from local school districts, not the feds. Time magazine is profiling a system created by UCLA schools in Koreatown (in LA– my son’s neighborhood!) that Audrey Amrein-Beardsley calls “legitimately new and improved.”


Jonathan Pelto reports that Governor Dannel Malloy has let the legislature know that he will not accept a new state budget unless it includes money for two new charter schools. At the same time, many public schools will be flat funded or see budget cuts. According to a story in the Connecticut Mirror, Democratic legislators are balking at the governor’s plan to cut millions from some of the state’s neediest districts while setting aside $15.9 million to expand charter school enrollment by fewer than 1,500 students.

Pelto writes:

Democrat Malloy, along with Democrats New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have become the poster boys for the anti-union, anti-teacher, anti-public school corporate education reform industry and their unprecedented effort to privatize public education in the United States.

In 2012 Malloy rolled out his “education reform” initiative becoming the first Democratic governor in history to call for eliminating teacher tenure for all public school teachers and unilaterally repealing collective bargaining rights for teachers in the state’s poorest schools.

Corporate Education Reform Industry advocacy groups have since pumped more than $7.5 million into their record breaking lobbying campaign in support of Malloy’s efforts to denigrate teachers, radically reduce local control of education and turn the state’s public schools into little more than Common Core testing factories.

When presenting his proposed state budget earlier this year, Malloy called for record cuts to Connecticut’s public schools while demanding that Connecticut’s legislators divert scarce public funds so that Malloy’s charter school allies could open two more charter schools in the state.

Under Malloy’s plan, Steve Perry, the infamous opponent of teacher unions, is slated to get funding for his privately owned but publicly funded charter school in Bridgeport.

The Governor’s plan also calls for funding a charter school company from the Bronx that says it will save Stamford, Connecticut by opening a sister school there.

In both cases, the local Boards of Education voted against the charter school proposals and testified in opposition to the charter schools before the State Board of Education and the General Assembly’s Education Committee.

Governor Malloy has quickly forgotten or put behind him the scandals surrounding Jumoke Academy, once his favorite charter chain in the state. His ties to the hedge fund managers of Greenwich, New Canaan, and Darien outweigh the facts on the ground.

In this brilliant article, Marc Tucker explains why the civil rights community is making an error by supporting annual testing as a “civil right.” He knows their leaders believe that poor and minority children will be overlooked in the absence of annual testing. But he demonstrates persuasively that annual testing has done nothing to improve the academic outcomes of poor and minority children and that they have actually been harmed by the pressure to raise scores every year.


Tucker writes:


First of all, the data show that, although the performance of poor and minority students improved after passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, it was actually improving at a faster rate before the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act. Over the 15-year history of the No Child Left Behind Act, there is no data to show that it contributed to improved student performance for poor and minority students at the high school level, which is where it counts.



Those who argue that annual accountability testing of every child is essential for the advancement of poor and minority children ought to be able to show that poor and minority children perform better in education systems that have such requirements and worse in systems that don’t have them. But that is simply not the case. Many nations that have no annual accountability testing requirements have higher average performance for poor and minority students and smaller gaps between their performance and the performance of majority students than we do here in the United States. How can annual testing be a civil right if that is so?



Nonetheless, on the face of it, I agree that it is better to have data on the performance of poor children and the children in other particularly vulnerable groups than not to have that data. But annual accountability testing of every child is not the only way to get that data. We could have tests that are given not to every student but only to a sample of students in each school every couple of years and find out everything we need to know about how our poor and minority students are doing, school by school.



But the situation is worse than I have thus far portrayed it. It is not just that annual accountability testing with separate scores for poor and minority students does not help those students. The reality is that it actually hurts them.



All that testing forces schools to buy cheap tests, because they have to administer so many of them. Cheap tests measure low-level basic skills, not the kind of high-level, complex skills most employers are looking for these days. Though students in wealthy communities are forced to take these tests, no one in those communities pays much attention to them. They expect much more from their students. It is the schools serving poor and minority students that feed the students an endless diet of drill and practice keyed to these low-level tests. The teachers are feeding these kids a dumbed down curriculum to match the dumbed down tests, a dumbed down curriculum the kids in the wealthier communities do not get….



It turns out that there is one big interest that is well served by annual accountability testing. It is the interest of those who hold that the way to improve our schools is to fire the teachers whose students do not perform well on the tests. This is the mantra of the U.S. Department of Education under the Obama Administration. It is not possible to gather the data needed to fire teachers on the basis of their students’ performance unless that data is gathered every year.



The Obama Administration has managed to pit the teachers against the civil rights community on this issue and to put the teachers on the defensive. It is now said that the reason the teachers are opposing the civil rights community on annual testing is because they are seeking to evade responsibility for the performance of poor and minority students. The liberal press has bought this argument hook, line and sinker.



This is disingenuous and outrageous. Not only is it true that annual accountability testing does not improve the performance of poor and minority students, as I just explained, but it is also true that annual accountability testing is making a major contribution to the destruction of the quality of our teaching force….


The evaluation systems recently created has serious flaws. Their goal is to fire teachers, and those likeliest to be fired are teachers in minority communities. Meanwhile applications to professional education programs are plummeting. This is a very bad scenario for children and teachers alike; it harms teachers by putting the fear of failure in their minds, and it harms the children by giving them a stripped-down schooling and a revolving door of teachers.


Time to think again, says Tucker. I agree.












In an article in Long Island Business News, three members of the New York State Board of Regents criticized the state tests, on which 70% of the state’s students failed to meet “proficiency.” They said, the students didn’t fail, the tests failed. The tests have questions that are above the students’ understanding, there is not enough time to finish, they have questions that are confusing and intended to lure students to the wrong answer.

Regent Kathleen Cashin, an experienced educator, said the tests may be neither valid nor reliable. Regent Judith Johnson, an experienced educator, said that students are fearful that their teachers will be fired if they do poorly on the tests.

Members of the Board of Regents at their meeting last Monday said the tests, due to poor design and process, may be doing damage. Rather than setting high standards, they may simply be failing to measure education, progress and skills.
“I’ve heard horror stories that, as I said to teachers, we did not hear in previous years,” Regent Judith Johnson said. “We’ve been testing forever. There are new stories that are coming out in greater numbers than ever before.
She said students are worried their teachers will be fired, if and when they do poorly on these tests – raising the stakes even higher than anticipated.
“How do we convert this notion that children have now acquired that their teachers’ livelihood depends on children’s performance in a classroom?” Johnson said, referring to the state’s comments regarding the use of results.”

Ken Wagner of the state education department defended the tests.

He said:

“He also suffers over the pain some students feel.
“If there’s anything I struggle with around assessments, it is the notion that students are crying or getting sick over the idea of taking tests,” he said. “That is s antithetical to my philosophy of how to work with children and to my assessment about what assessments are supposed to do.”
Wagner said the tests themselves are not necessarily the source of this stress, but rather the perception of them as an unrelenting and difficult master.
“It’s just an opportunity, an opportunity for them to come to the testing moment and show us what they can do and what they can’t yet do,” he said, “so the adults can help figure out how to move them from point A to point B.”

Regent Betty Rosa, an experienced educator, “said that these tests, far from being rigorous, fail to measure progress, but do damage by creating a pervasive aura of perceived failure – when the tests themselves may be what are failing.

The exams have become a failure factory, finding 70 percent of students falling short of what the test maker describes as the acceptable standard.
“At the end of it, try to pick them up. Tell them, ‘Don’t worry. You failed. But don’t worry. Next year you’ll have another opportunity,” Rosa said. “I think it’s a disservice. I think we are not being honest. I think we are not facing reality.”
Read more:

There have long been rumors that Cuomo didn’t pass the bar exam until his fourth attempt. Some have been repeated here. Casey Seller of the Albany Times-Union says it is a false rumor. She says the Governor passed on his first try.

I think many people believed the rumor because it seemed to explain why Cuomo is so hostile to teachers and wants to make their lives miserable.

So if the bar exam rumor is untrue, there must be another reason why the Governor doesn’t like teachers. Wonder why? Why is it he doesn’t like public schools? Why doesn’t he support separation of church and state? Why does he want to transfer money from public schools and give it to religious schools? Why does he want to give tax credits to the rich to subsidize private and religious schools?

What do you think? No rumors, please.

Carol Burris posts a letter from a young teacher in DC who graduated from Burris’ school in Long Island. She is not happy with the high-stakes testing, test-based accountability, and Common Core. Want to know why so many teachers are leaving? Corporate, punitive, gotcha reform.