Archives for the month of: May, 2015

Jeb Bush created an organization called “Chiefs for Change,” comprised of state superintendents who shared his views about vouchers, charters, high-stakes testing, accountability, VAM, and digital learning. Then, as members lost their elections and their jobs, the Chiefs shrank from nine to four. Not what you would call a show of force. To avoid meeting in a very small room, the Chiefs decided to open their ranks to include district superintendents. Its newest members are Chris Barbic, who runs the little all-charter Achievement School District in Tennessee, and Mike Miles, superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District. Dale Erquiaga, the new state chief in Nevada, also joined. Deborah Gist, a long-time member, will not have to give up her membership when she moves from being state superintendent of Rhode Island to superintendent in Tulsa.

This is a terrific interview with Helen Gym, a public school activist who just won a seat on the Philadelphia City Council.

The state took control Philadelphia public schools in 2001, and the Governor appoints a majority of the members of the School Reform Commission. A majority of voters endorsed a non-binding resolution to restore democratic control to the district. In addition, a pro-public schools candidate was elected Mayor, defeating a heavily funded corporate reformster candidate.

Helen Gym has been a tireless and fearless advocate for public schools. In this interview, she offers sound advice about fighting for your community’s schools.

She said:

“Philadelphia is a place where corporate education reform has done so much damage. No one is a bigger symbol of that damage than the hedge fund billionaires behind the Susquehanna Group. They poured nearly $7 million into a municipal election, dwarfing any amount of money coming from elsewhere. As I said in a press conference, these were three billionaires looking to destroy public education in a city they would never live in and hurting children they would never know. That about sums it up, and it’s why the public resoundingly rejected them and their narrow abusive agenda that had done so much harm not just to children but to entire neighborhoods and communities…..

“For years, we’ve been subjected to relentless rhetoric that people don’t want to invest in public institutions anymore, that their schools have failed and their teachers have failed, and that school choice was the only option people had – and they ought to be grateful to those who provided it. But as I campaigned around the city, I was amazed at how many communities had really soured on that idea. Especially in the neighborhoods that suffered from the most disinvestment, people really understand just how important their public institutions and their public spaces are. I mean, you can’t be electing officials who want to shut down our schools, take away services from communities and cut taxes on the wealthy and call that working in the public interest. We had gone so far to that extreme that none of this corporate education reform message was resonating any more. It felt hollow, empty and defeatist. I also think that a lot of people now really understand that the problem isn’t so much that our public institutions have failed, but that we’re competing with other interests that are sucking away our ability to invest in them….

“Gym: The biggest lesson is that this was work that was built up over years. There’s no short cut. It wasn’t like some amazing superstar suddenly burst onto the scene. We’re all just pretty ordinary people who’ve learned to work together, and figured out how to build a bigger, broader movement over time. I think that’s the lesson that other communities can learn from. That when your work has integrity over time, and you work collaboratively, the broader community can see it come to fruition. I think the other lesson here is about the difference between political power and a grassroots movement. Political power was not the first thing we sought. Instead, we were really trying to build a stronger base to highlight the voices of different communities across the city. That’s how you change things, when a collective movement builds and earns political power rather than just grasps for it…..

“This election sent a loud and clear message: the place to start is investment in public institutions, and real partnerships with community organizations and parents and educators. Reforming our institutions takes collaboration and solutions rooted in vision and possibility, not narratives of failure. It’s a lesson that hope always wins the day.”

Supporters of public schools are happy in Pittsburgh!

The sky may be falling in other cities and states but not in Pittsburgh.

Blogger Jessie Ramey (“Yinzercation”) explains why the citizens of Pitttsburgh are enjoying “sunshine and happiness.”

They have been organizing and building grassroots alliances for a long time. And it paid off with the election of a pro-public schools slate of candidates in the recent election.

Testing resistance is strong and growing, inspired to a large extent by English teacher Mary King’s refusal to administer the state tests to her English language learners.

Newly elected Governor Tom Wolf has proposed more funding for the public schools, as he had promised. He is turning out to be the real deal, not a politician who relies on hedge fund money and dances to their tune.

The public school advocates (“Great Public Schools Pittsburgh”) are now working to reduce suspensions and push-outs, which have a disparate impact on students of color and students with disabilities. They have a forward-thinking plan to help the students who most need help, not suspension from school.

As you see, there are many reasons to celebrate in Pittsburgh. The lesson for the rest of us is the importance of grassroots activism and coalition-building. When parents are informed, they don’t want to lose their public schools to entrepreneurs. Getting the word out and organizing is the work before us.

Patrick Walsh, a teacher and blogger in New York City, reviewed Mercedes Schneider’s “Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education.” I missed the review when it first appeared last fall, so am reporting it to you now because it remains timely. Walsh says it is one of the three most important books to read about “reform” today.


He writes that if the “reformers” succeed,


“…the U.S. public school system, the backbone of American public life, could well be but a memory in another 10 years. The noble art of teaching, which has sustained civilization since the days of Socrates, could well be reduced to a temp job or, at best, a micromanaged performance both scripted and judged by an international corporation like Pearson—which has, over the past decade, evolved from publishing textbooks to producing curriculum, making and grading tests, and in some states is involved in teacher certification—or worse.


Who are these people? How did they amass such power over a “public” institution of such magnitude?


In “A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education,” Mercedes K. Schneider sets out to answer those questions. She does so with fierce intelligence, wit, an ocean of unearthed facts, and a vengeance. Schneider, who in very short order has established herself as one of the nation’s most profound and prolific education bloggers, has taught for 19 years in many grades in four states and is currently teaching high school English in St. Tammany Parish, La.


You can sense her pride in her profession in every word she writes, as well as her righteous rage toward those who would defile it. Schneider is also a Ph.D. in applied statistics and research methods, which, for people who like to bury information and obscure reality with numbers, makes her a force to be reckoned with….


The book is as much a modern day bestiary as a chronicle. With the exception of former TV anchorwoman Campbell Brown, recently catapulted to privatization super-stardom, Schneider misses no person and no organization of note. They are all there, all the names conscientious teachers have heard of but whose stories were rendered as hagiographies or remained hidden as a hedge fund. Until now. Here are the stories of economists like Eric Hanushek; the entrepreneurs David Coleman and Eva Moskowitz; the professional think tank thinkers like Chester Finn and Hess; the hedge fund manager messiahs Whitney Tilson and his Democrats for Education Reform (DFER); the “radicals” like Rhee and Wendy Kopp; and, above and beneath all, the limitless coffers of the Gates, Broad and Walton foundations. And, of course, the American Legislative Exchange Council. Schneider shows again and again how they are all linked. Brilliant at uncovering the incestuous forces fueling the entire privatization campaign, she discovers the same few names popping up all over the terrain.


Walsh says that “A Chronicle of Echoes” is “an extraordinary achievement.” Dream this: Imagine if every education reporter in the mainstream media read this book.


A parent in New Jersey heard the news that Governor Chris Christie had decided to abandon Common Core. Apparently that is good politics today. Governor Christie is against the Common Core. But he favors keeping the Common Core-aligned PARCC tests. Is that good politics? Does it even make sense? This parent doesn’t think so.




He wrote the following letter to legislators:


Dear Senate Education Committee:


Last night I attended a friend’s absurd annual party where we sit around drinking, laughing, and betting on the National Spelling Bee (which this year came to an incredible draw). I ended up down about $10. In this age of spellcheck, I (somewhat facetiously) can’t think of any more useless talent than knowing how to spell, but that did not stop me from lovingly asking my 12-year-old daughter this morning why she can’t be as smart as those kids (she is, even though her spelling is atrocious).


Last weekend in Livingston during the Youth Appreciation Week activities, the student members of the Livingston High School Robotics Club presented ingenious working 3D Printers that they designed and built.


I don’t know whether those kids are ready for college or career. I pray that they never find out until they get there.


The prior Monday, at the Senate Education Committee hearing, we finally heard from some people (all parents of children at North Star Academy [a charter school]) who felt that they had benefited from PARCC. There was a heavier-set gentleman who worked in the community, a father and son, two women who were unable to read aloud the words that were prepared on their behalf on the papers before them, and one lively woman who spoke of being $100,000 in school debt and of the pride and sense of accomplishment that her son felt when he prepared for, focused on, and took the PARCC Exam.


The problem is that the suburban parents of the students who set the standards on standardized tests… they largely do not believe that pursuit of those standards is a worthy goal. I cannot imagine what it is like to live in a community that has been wracked by socio-economic malaise for generations. If the PARCC Exam served that community by demonstrating the rewards that come with focus and goals, then PARCC may have had a sliver of value as one tool in the infinite quiver. However, that sense of focus and accomplishment… that can be learned in music, in arts, in the scientific method of exploration, in language, in mathematics, in athletics, in making history come alive, in studying the dictionary, or in designing and building your own 3D printer. The Pursuit of Happiness and The Pursuit of Excellence are intertwined as both individual and team pursuits. To force anyone year over year over year to reach for the subjective levels of “excellence” set by others seems as silly as it is inhumane (especially when the students of Newark have as of late so boldly set new standards of excellence for public advocacy).


We should thank the Governor for his strong leadership in abandoning the Common Core. It is silly to impose a common set of standards on students across the board because to do so distracts us from actually addressing the needs of each community and each child as an individual. A common set of standards subverts the tried and true simple method of Observation. Profit motives probably got in the way. If we are going to impose standards, they should be actionable standards… standards for facilities… standards for staffing… standards for programming (how about every fourth grader in the South visits the Liberty Bell and every fifth grader in the North visits the Statue of Liberty?). The standard is, “Nothing worse than we would want for our own children.” Every school should be teaching coding and have a robotics club. Every school should have a school library brimming with new books (and yes, even dictionaries). Every school should serve the needs of the Community. These are actionable standards. They are investments that we can ill-afford NOT to make.


The Purpose of Education is to create active and engaged citizens… citizens who may pull from their vast experiences across the liberal arts to address and solve today’s problems while being prepared for tomorrow’s concerns. There is no reason why The People of The Garden State cannot lead the country in those efforts. It will take months of hard work to overcome years of misfeasance and malfeasance. We should all be thankful that we get to start together on Monday. We have unlimited potential for Growth.


Thank you to the Senate Education Committee for its leadership.


Have a great weekend.


Justin Escher Alpert
Livingston, New Jersey


P.S. Perhaps we ought to welcome each of those North Star parents back in front of the Senate Education Committee to testify in the safe space… in their own words… about their real struggles and needs. Perhaps PARCC had only scratched the surface. Government is instituted for the protection, security, and benefit of The People, and they have the right at all times to alter or reform the same, whenever the Public Good may require it. Let us commit to each other that that time is NOW.

Jersey Jazzman was struck by the hypocrisy of Governor Christie’s recent statements. He is against the Common Core because there is no teacher “buy-in.” Since when, asks JJ, has Christie cared about teachers’ views?


He wants standards developed by New Jersey educators. This is a good one, says JJ.


No politician in the history of New Jersey has listened less to teachers than Chris Christie. It’s absurd that he pretends that he wants educators to be involved in any aspect of education policy.


– “The buy-in from both communities has not been what we need…” Buy-in from teachers?! Is he insane?!


This is a man who compared us to drug dealers, told us we were greedy, told our students we didn’t care about their learning, and said we only care about having summers off. Now he worries we haven’t had “buy-in”?!


No politician in the history of New Jersey has done more to demonize and denigrate the teaching profession than Chris Christie. The thought that he is suddenly concerned that we haven’t had enough “buy-in” is laughable.


Why should we listen to Governor Christie, asks JJ.

America, take it from those of us living in Jersey: this man doesn’t care one whit about the Common Core, or education standards, or anything having to do with school policies. Chris Christie’s sole interest in education policy is in its worth as a political tool: a tool to diminish the strength of unions, demonize public workers, and shift the focus off of his own many, many failures as governor.


When the Bridgegate scandal blew open, Christie decided to unveil a useless initiative to lengthen the school day and year, hoping to get the press talking about anything other than his out-of-control staff. It never went anywhere — and why would it? Once it had served its purpose as a distraction, it went away.


There is a serious debate to be had about the Common Core — but Chris Christie really couldn’t care less about the issue. So long as he harbors delusions of gaining of national office, this man will use New Jersey’s education system in any way he thinks will gain him political points.


In a sane world, anything Chris Christie says about education policy would be ignored.


– See more at:






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Chris Christie came up with a clever strategy to deal with the political hot potato called Common Core. He had long been a vocal supporter. But now, anticipating the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, he has turned against them.


But here is the bizarre part. He wants to keep the Common Core-aligned PARCC test. This parent, Sarah Blaine, calls him out for hypocrisy and double-dealing. She points out that if you believe he is really abandoning the Common Core, she has a bridge to sell you. It is not clear whether she is selling the Brooklyn Bridge (which connects Brooklyn and Manhattan) or the George Washington Bridge (which Christie aides closed to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for refusing to endorse Christie).

I posted earlier today about the menu of budgets cuts and lowered standards that the Wisconsin legislature has prepared in its quest to assault public education. Just one hour ago, this story was posted (an attentive reader sent the link to me).

GOP legislators want the University of Wisconsin to authorize additional charters in districts with more than 25,000 students—that means Madison and Milwaukee. The UW charter institute may authorize charters even if the local school district objects. That shows you how much these GOP legislators care about local control. This is definitely an ALEC attitude; ALEC encourages state authorizers that can override local school districts’ decisions.

Bob Delaporte, who works for Joint Finance Committee co-chairwoman Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said the intent behind the proposal is “to leverage change in large urban school districts with systemic rates of failure,” and based, in part, on the State University of New York’s Charter Institute.

“We are confident the proposal can fundamentally transform the educational opportunities that are available to students in Wisconsin’s two largest school districts,” he said, pointing to Department of Public Instruction data that shows just under 40 percent of Madison students have tested proficient in reading in recent years.

But Madison School District superintendent Jennifer Cheatham blasted the proposal, saying in a statement “We are incredibly determined, and we are making progress on behalf of all children. But at every step of the way, the legislature puts more barriers in our way and makes our jobs more difficult.”

Madison School Board member Ed Hughes called the proposal “breathtaking.”

“It looks like the UW President is required to appoint someone who could then authorize as many publicly-funded but potentially for-profit charter schools in Madison as that unelected and unaccountable person wanted,” he said.

The proposal requires the DPI to reduce a school district’s funding by the same amount that is paid per student to independent charter schools, which is currently about $8,000.

“And under another budget bill provision, we’d have to provide these students with sports and extracurricular activities for free,” said Hughes, referring to a previous committee-approved provision that would require school districts to allow students not attending public schools to participate in after-school activities.

Ignore the rhetoric. This is a proposal to defund public education and transfer money and control to private entrepreneurs.

Read more:

A group of education leaders in New York have drafted an appeal to suspend implementation of the “Education Transformation Act of 2015” and to convene a panel of educators and educational experts to design a research-based teacher evaluation system.


They hope to get 10,000 signatures. They have gathered nearly half that number. If you are a New Yorker, please sign so the Legislature and the Regents will begin the process of revising a truly terrible program that is guaranteed to demoralize teachers, discourage students, and produce more teaching to the test.

From a reader in Arizona. Being a reformster means never being accountable when your promises don’t pan out:

“What does private/public partnership really mean?

“Well, in Arizona it means alliances that enable seamless, chameleon–like, transitions from one high profile, high-paying, private or public policy position, to the other.

“Here are a few examples:

“THEN: Rebecca Gau, Director of the Office of Education Innovation for Governor Jan Brewer was responsible for implementing the Education Reform Agenda, after work at the Morrison Institute of Public Policy and AZ Charter Schools Association.

“NOW: Rebecca Gau is the Executive Director of Arizona’s Stand For Children, and organization that advocates for school leaders, quality teachers and excellent schools for every child and high academic standards. Stand For Children is currently involving itself in a local public school board matter in the title one, Alhambra Unified School District. Curious? Indeed, because Stand For Children featured a former Alhambra superintendent, Dr. Karen Williams, on their website two years ago.

“The organization offers a Stand University for Parents, advocates for children and features blog pieces on why OPTING-IN for testing, is the way to go. But, whose children is Stand For Children, standing for?

“THEN: Pearl Chang Esau served as the Executive Director of Teach For America, Phoenix and was responsible for growing the number of corps member leaders who teach for two years in hard-to-staff public and charter schools before launching their own careers.

“NOW: Pearl Esau is the Executive Director of Expect More Arizona, “The movement (Where did I hear that word? Ah, yes,TFA promos) dedicated to building the collective public will needed to achieve a world-class education for all Arizona students.”

“THEN: Greg Miller founder of Challenge Schools (charter group) was appointed to the Arizona Board of Education and served on the Charter School Board.

“NOW: Greg Miller is the President of the Arizona State Board of Education, and a charter millionaire (see Glass:
challenging an elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“THEN: Eileen Klein, formerly with state government in Florida, was paid to serve as Chief of Staff for Governor Brewer, and Director of Policy for the Arizona House of Representatives and chief advisor to the majority leadership. During her tenure in the administration of the governor, the Arizona Commerce Authority, the state’s leading public/private economic development organization and launching Arizona Ready, an education reform plan to align statewide education goals across the P-20 spectrum, began. She worked with the Arizona Board of Regents to develop a performance-based funding model for the university system. She is a former Arizona Board of Education member.

“NOW: Eileen Klein is finishing out a three year contract (2013-2016) as President of the Arizona Board of Regents and the Arizona Higher Education Enterprise (AHEE) at a time when state funding cuts to the three public universities amounts to $99 million dollars and several community college funding is eliminated entirely.”