Archives for the month of: June, 2015

Peter Greene reports on the latest declaration that the sky is falling, released by the Foundation for Educational Excellence. FEE was established by Jeb Bush to push the Florida Miracle, digital learning, vouchers, charters, and high-stakes testing. When Jeb! decided to run for President, he stepped down and Condoleeza Rice took his place. She has been quiet, perhaps because she is learning the ropes about education. While Condi is studying up, Jeb!s righthand woman, Patricia Levesque wrote this latest blast at America’s terrible schools.

Quite frankly, I wonder why everyone swallows the latest alarm. We are,after all, the most powerful nation on earth. If our schools are so awful, how did we achieve economic, military, and cultural success? Sure, we have problems, big problems, especially segregation and poverty. But that is never what reformsters worry about. They work on the assumption that if they could get the right standards and the right tests, poverty would disappear.

FEE has discovered an earth-shattering crisis: the “Proficiency Gap.” It seems that NAEP has a higher standard for proficiency than almost every state. This is not a new finding. I think it has been written about many times. The NAEP “proficiency” standard is very high; it represents a very high level of performance on the NAEP tests. States, which must be concerned about getting kids through high school, do not set as high a standard as NAEP. NAEP proficiency was never meant to be a goal that all or almost all students could reach. No matter how high your expectations, some kids will not do as well as others. Not all will achieve A-level performance.

Greene’s complaint is that FEE never defines what proficiency is or how it should be measured. FEE seems to assume that a score on tests of reading and math are all that is needed to predict whether students are ready for college and careers. Peter has too much experience to accept that claim, especially when it comes from privatization advocates with no classroom experience.

Greene asks:

Is there a proficiency gap?

Between what and what? If the assertion is that we have a gap between the results of one lousy standardized test and another different lousy standardized test, then, yeah, I guess so, but so what? If the gap is between what we tell students they can accomplish and what they actually are able to accomplish– well, where’s the evidence? Oh, I know what reformsters believe– that all the poverty in the country is the result of students who couldn’t score high enough on a standardized test. This strikes me as highly unlikely, though I get that there are many possible explanations for and solutions to widespread poverty. But if we’ve had the most terrible education system in the world, and we should fear that because it will lead to failure and collapse, I just feel as if the country isn’t doing as badly as all these chicken littling privatizers want to say, and where I do see failure, I see problems of racism and systemic barriers to class mobility. Oddly enough, race and poverty do not appear as issues on the proficiency gap site.

So if FEE is declaring that states need to do more about closing the resource gap and the opportunity gap and the stupid racist barriers gap, that would be swell. But I’ve read enough FEE materials to suspect that they’re chicken littling in one more act of “There’s a terrible emergency, so you must do as we say!!” The Honesty Gap folks wanted us all to buy more PARCC and SBA tests, and Common Core harder, as well as handing over more public schools to private interests. Oh, and stop opting out. This seems like more of the same old stuff aimed primarily at helping privatizers close their revenue gaps.

According to the Denver Post, the Douglas County school board plans to appeal the ruling that declared vouchers unconstitutional. It will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The voucher program, which would use taxpayer money to send children to private schools, was put on hold in 2011 just as the first 304 students were about to enroll. Most planned to attend religious schools.

“The court found the program conflicts with “broad, unequivocal language forbidding the State from using public money to fund religious schools.”

“Wrote the court “… this stark constitutional provision makes one thing clear: A school district may not aid religious schools.”

The article describes the county as a “wealthy suburban district.”

School board officials promised to fight for vouchers:

“During a news conference Monday morning, Douglas County school officials indicated they likely would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case for consideration. They also said they will immediately seek a legal way to proceed with vouchers.”

Imagine this great victory for teachers in New York: They will now be allowed to discuss test questions that have been released to the public!


Is this progress? No. Suppose teachers spot unreleased questions that are clearly wrong, poorly worded, confusing, incoherent. If they have not been released to the public, the teachers are not allowed to criticize them or call attention to errors.


Peter Greene wondered if the New York Times recognized the absurdity of its headline, which claimed that the state was going to “relax” the gag order.


He wrote:



See, now the state will allow teachers to discuss items on the test after they have been publicly released, whereas previously, teachers could only discuss test items after they had been publicly released.


The gag order protects Pearson. If the gag order prevailed, we would have never known about the nutty question on a Pearson test about “the pineapple and the hare.” That question was not publicly released. It became public not because of teachers but because students complained about it, and it leaked to the New York City Parent blog.


This “gag order” is insulting to teachers. It should be eliminated. Its only purpose is to protect the interests of the testing companies. They should release all their questions. No one will know which will be on future tests. If there are thousands of test questions available, students can use them to see what is expected of them. And if they are released, parents and teachers will have a chance to evaluate their quality. That may be what scares the testing companies most.


Take off the gag!



This story is behind a paywall, although some readers found a way around the paywall. It was written by staff writer Fred LeBrun. It accurately describes the revulsion that parents and educators feel toward Governor Cuomo’s mean-spirited plan to tie everyone to a stake made of standardized test scores. LeBrun also points out that the State Assembly, which appoints new Regents, might well flip the majority next spring by appointing two new Regents to join the board. Chancellor Merryl Tisch has been a steadfast ally of Governor Cuomo and his plan (which is based on a letter she wrote one of his aides last December, outlining the changes she supported, without consulting the other members of the board of Regents.) If the opt out movement continues to grow–and there is every reason to believe that it will–the Assembly may not re-appoint Tisch to the board, where she has been a member since 1996.



In the linked article, LeBrun writes that it could have been much worse. Cuomo’s “education tax credits” to cut the taxes of billionaires while creating back-door vouchers did not pass.



What the Legislature and governor did agree to during the Legislative session’s final days was to direct the State Education Department to assure that the deeply controversial standardized growth tests and individual questions in Cuomo’s plan are at least age and grade appropriate and more useful as teaching tools. Also, that teachers are no longer gagged from discussing the test questions once they’re made public, and that a teacher’s student growth score, critical to whether that teacher stays employed according to the Cuomo plan, must also consider a number of student characteristics such as special needs, English as a second language, and most importantly, poverty.


Common sense tweaks, but far too few to make much of a difference. The core remains rotten. The Cuomo plan needs to be scrapped for something that actually works and that’s fair to all.


That is not so farfetched as it might seem.


As the Cuomo plan reveals itself as unworkable, unuseful and publicly about as popular as a dead whale in the living room, increasingly the Legislature and governor are shunting off the overly complicated implementation — and blame — on the state Education Department and the state Board of Regents, the body that by law is supposed to set and govern state public education policy. Unequivocally, Regent Roger Tilles of Long Island last week told reporter Susan Arbetter that the Legislature and the governor have all along been stepping on the Regents’ toes over formulating teacher evaluations, and not a single one of the 17 Regents is in favor of the present student and plan so favored by the governor.


After recent personnel changes, the Regents are very quickly becoming radicalized over the evaluation plan, and the so-called ”reform” agenda that embraces it.


The balance of those stridently opposed to the governor’s plan is at present a strong minority, and by March, when the terms of Chancellor Tisch and another Regent are up, that could well become a majority.


Already the Board of Regents is beginning to show new energy. Last week, while reluctantly accepting the education department’s draft teacher evaluation regulations as mandated by the Cuomo plan, the Regents found wiggle room that clearly signals they want to turn this garbage scow around.


The Regents voted for granting four-month hardship waivers without aid penalties to school districts that feel they will not be ready with a teacher evaluation plan by the required Nov. 15 of this year. That takes it to March of next year, which realistically means not before the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. They also decided that yet-to-be created and approved alternative local tests will be acceptable instead of the state standardized tests to meet the Cuomo student growth requirement, and they voted to create their own study group to evaluate and assess the entirety of the current evaluation plan with an eye to changes.


What that study group comes up with will make a dandy justification for an Assembly package of bills to give us a reasonable evaluation plan.


Meanwhile, other major factors speak to dramatic change. Next week, MaryEllen Elias becomes our new state education commissioner. She fills the vacancy left by the largely useless John King. He and Tisch were the main architects and promoters of Cuomo’s draconian version of a Common Core based plan. Elias is a veteran educator who is certainly familiar with the issues facing New York. Let’s see what she can do….



Cuomo can thumb his nose at the Legislature and the education establishment with seemingly little consequence.


It’s another matter when he tries to jam his malarkey down the throats of livid parents and their anxious youngsters, also known as the electorate. Last year, 60,000 Opted Out. This year 200,000. On Long Island alone, 40 percent of the students who could take those tests didn’t. Opt Out is a political force with quickly developing muscle, reflecting deep public dissatisfaction.


No single issue has contributed more to the rapid and still sinking decline of Cuomo’s popularity than his boneheaded war with students, teachers and public schools generally, and there’s no end in sight. Legislature take note.

Do you want to know why teachers need due process (aka “tenure”)? Read the story below, sent by reader Drew Pepper.


Here’s another story of how LAUSD (mis)handles a case where a teacher is accused of something:


1) LAUSD and Sun Valley High teacher Jason Duchan discovers a student drawing genitals on his desk, then reports this to the principal, who then informs the student’s parents, causing the student to get in big trouble with the adults both at school and at home;


2) That same night, the student retaliates by fabricating a Facebook page that is supposedly created by the teacher, Jason Duchan, full of lewd images and writing—all in an effort to frame Duchan; the teacher remains unaware of the page’s existence for over a year;


3) A year or so later, LAUSD’s “Student Safety Investigative Team” (yeah, that’s what the call it) discovers the Facebook page, but does not deign to talk first to the teacher, Jason, Duchan, and ask him whether or not he was the lewd Facebook page’s actual creator, even though doing so would have cleared the matter up instantly;


4) Instead, Duchan is suspended and hauled off to “teacher jail” without being told the reason, where he languishes for weeks before discovering the charge—and not from LAUSD, but from another teacher, his school’s union rep; upon Duchan’s removal, LAUSD immediately sends out a letter informing all of the parents of students at the school that Duchan was under investigation for possibly being a danger to students;


5) The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) becomes involved and does what LAUSD’s quasi-police unit, “The Student Safety Investigative Team”, did not… they first go to Duchan to hear his side of things, who then tells it all — his innocence, how this was all the doings of a mischievous, vindictive student out to frame him, etc.;


The moment Duchan saw the Facebook page, he said he knew who created it. Two of the posts made reference to a student being accused of drawing genitals on a desk, and Duchan said the date the page was created corresponds exactly to the time he reported a student to the assistant principal for drawing genitals on a desk;


6) LAPD quickly investigates the matter, arrests the student for “false impersonation” on a Facebook page, and LAPD Detective Lisette Fuentes issues a statement fully exonerating Duchan;


7) Instead of putting Duchan back to work and apologizing to him, Jose Cantu, head of the district’s Student Safety Investigative Team, said that an active investigation of Duchan by the district is still underway, although he wouldn’t comment on the details;


8) Two weeks later, and after some outcry, Duchan was told by LAUSD that he could return to his classroom, but, as a condition of his return, demanded that he sign a paper that acknowledged he was still under investigation and could not talk about the case. Duchan said he refused to go back to the Sun Valley High campus because he had heard many students thought he was guilty, so he didn’t feel safe returning.


“They were putting me into a hostile environment. They had already sent letters home, and wouldn’t parents be upset to find out a teacher under investigation was back in the classroom?” he said.


Duchan, who teaches media art classes, said he went on medial leave and returned to the district on Feb. 2 as a full-time substitute teacher at a different school. He said the district will only offer him is his old job and no other full-time work. Duchan said he feels his name and reputation have been ruined at the campus.


“I’m trying not to cry when I talk about it,” he said. “I’m going through very severe PTSD, panic attacks, and I have acute insomnia.”

The Supreme Court of Colorado struck down the voucher program in Douglas County. It is unconstitutional, the justices said.

After a radical group won control of the public schools of Douglas County in Colorado, they enacted a plan for vouchers. Being a relatively affluent community, there was no baloney about “saving poor kids from failing schools.” The point was privatization of public funds intended for public schools.

Here is the story, as told by the nonpartisan group that brought the suit, called Taxpayers for Public Education.

Contact: Cindy Barnard

CO Supreme Court Strikes Down Vouchers

Douglas County Program Found to Violate State Constitution

“Denver, CO June 29, 2015) In a landmark legal decision today, the Colorado State Supreme Court struck down the Douglas County School District (DCSD) voucher program. In the case of Taxpayers for Public Education, et al., v. Douglas County School District, et al., the Court found that the program violates the Colorado Constitution.

“This is a great victory for public school children in Colorado,” said Cindy Barnard, President of Taxpayers for Public Education (TFPE), one of the plaintiffs in the case. “The DCSD voucher program took taxpayer funds, intended for public education, and used that money to pay for private school education for a few select students. The decision means that money set aside for public education in Colorado can only be used the way it was intended to be used- for the betterment of education in Colorado public schools.”

“In this groundbreaking case, Michael McCarthy and Colin Deihl of the Denver office of Faegre Baker Daniels represented Taxpayers for Public Education pro bono. Other plaintiffs and intervenors in the suit included children and parents of the Douglas County School District, Douglas County citizens and several local and national organizations that support a strong and vital public education system.

“As we celebrate this important victory, we have to continue to closely watch the leaders of the Douglas County School District as they look to implement other programs and methods to intentionally erode the quality of public education in their own district,” said Barnard.

“Details of the Court’s ruling can be found on the Taxpayer for Public Education website at ”


About Taxpayers for Public Education:
Taxpayers for Public Education, (TFPE), is a Colorado-based, bi-partisan, 501c4 organization. The members are Colorado taxpayers and parents of children enrolled in public schools. TFPE supports public education and believes that a strong public education system is instrumental in building and maintaining an extraordinary workforce that will keep American companies and American entrepreneurship viable and robust to meet the challenges in the years ahead.

For more information, please visit:


Cindy Barnard
President, Taxpayers for Public Education
(303) 905-3803

Anne Kleinkopf
Director, Taxpayers for Public Education
(720) 219-6253

Michael McCarthy
Attorney, Faegre Baker Daniels
(303) 607-3670

Mason Barnard

Plaintiff/Former Douglas County Student

(303) 518 – 7939


Sweden decided to open the floodgates of school privatization in 1992. Twenty-three years is a good long time to see the effects of vouchers and for-profit corporations running schools.   As this article in The Daily Kos shows, the results are not pretty. Test scores have fallen, segregation of all kinds has increased, one of the private corporations running schools went bankrupt, stranding students and wasting millions.

The gains are hard to discern.

Last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided by 5-4 that the right to marry the person of one’s choice is fundamental and cannot be denied by the states. This was a controversial decision, obviously, but it was very important in removing a barrier to many families who are joined in love and would like to be joined in marriage. I have seen estimates that 50,000 or more children live with gay parents, and Justice Anthony Kennedy acknowledged that these children should have the security of knowing that their family is legally recognized. Some of my readers may be aware of the story I told last Friday night at New York City’s gay synagogue, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), but not the details. Others may be shocked. I pondered whether to share my speech with you. But I decided that, since I am two days short of my 77th birthday, it is too late to hide anything.


Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), June 26, 2015


What a historic day!


I am so honored and privileged to speak here tonight and join you in celebrating.


Over the past few days, I read the history of CBST. Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum sent me a book about the founding and development of New York City’s first gay synagogue. It is a story of courage and survival.


Who would have believed, when that first minyan of 10 men met in 1973 that, 42 years later, the US Supreme Court would affirm marriage equality for all?


When I read the history, I discovered that Sharon Kleinbaum is truly “The One.” I read that the CBST search committee conducted a national search; they interviewed many candidates. Rabbi Sharon did not apply, but they heard about her. When they met Rabbi Sharon in 1992, they all agreed: She is The One. Hers was the only name they forwarded to the board.


I knew she was The One when she invited me to speak tonight–somehow she knew, in her great depth of wisdom and foresight, that this would be a great day in gay history. And of course exactly the right time for me to come out in public for the first time.


Some of you may know my writings about education. I was for many years a prominent advocate of testing, choice, and accountability. Five years ago, I renounced my long-held views and declared myself an opponent of high-stakes testing, vouchers, and privately managed charters, in a book called “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.” In 2013, I wrote another book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privation Movement and the Danger to America’s Schools. I have written, blogged, and spoken out across the nation about the menace of privatization. The privatization movement is funded by billionaires, hedge fund managers, and rightwing governors (of both parties), and its goal is to destroy public education, to bust teachers unions, and to undermine the teaching profession. They call themselves reformers but they are just trying to confuse the public about their real goals, which the public would reject. This movement is a threat not only to public education but to the future of our democracy.


But my change of mind about education issues was dwarfed by my life change. I was married to a very fine man for 25 years. We had three children, one of whom died of leukemia.


Thirty years ago, at a conference in Minneapolis sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities–the best thing Bill Bennett ever did–I met the love of my life. I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.


Over the past three decades, we have made a wonderful life together. She has taken care of me in sickness and health, through a pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis, total knee replacement, and more. In the presence of our immediate family and close friends, we were married by Rabbi Kleinbaum at our home in Brooklyn on December 12, 2012.


My wife, Mary Butz, was born in Brooklyn. She is Roman Catholic and of German descent. She spent 35 years as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and executive director for leadership in the NYC Board of Education. Some people think I learned everything I know about education from her, but I did know a few things before I met her.


She is the funniest, kindest person I know, also the most honest and ethical.


Just two anecdotes.


Soon after we started living together, Mary realized that I became depressed around the time of major Jewish holidays. One Yom Kippur, she insisted that we go to the CBST services at the Javits Center, where thousands of LGBT people gathered. I was happy but nervous, because I was still closeted. Would anyone see me? What would they say?


Well, Mary went to the ladies’ room, and ran into many NYC school teachers. No one expressed surprise that she was a lesbian. Instead, everyone said, “Mary, I didn’t know you were Jewish.”


Then there was the time in 2006 when I was invited to speak at Davos, the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. This was a very big deal. They were paying my way and I asked them to pay the way for my domestic partner. They adamantly refused. I insisted. They still refused. Finally, I realized that we had a language problem, when they explained that no one was allowed to bring their domestics with them. When they finally understood that we were a gay couple, all was well.


So here we are in a new world. We no longer have to find circumlocutions for our husbands and wives. We enjoy the same marriage rights as others.


It has been a long struggle and it will no doubt continue on other fronts to protect the rights of people who are LGBT.


I would be remiss if I did not urge you to engage in social and political activism on a broader front. Our nation is beset by growing income inequality and wealth inequality. The Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court struck a blow against our democracy by allowing the super-rich to spend obscene amounts of money on political campaigns, supporting candidates who will protect the privileges of the rich and powerful.


Our victory in the courts today must summon us to fight for all those who are marginalized and who are deemed losers in our harshly competitive society.


We can’t have a great society unless we have a good society. It can be neither good nor great unless it is good for all Americans.


Thank you.

Paul Thomas, professor at Furman University, taught in South Carolina for 18 years. He is an eloquent and informed critic of social and education policy.


In this post, he poses five questions that every Presidential candidate should be asked (again and again).


I paraphrase his words and questions so you will read his post. They boil down to these principles:


Test-based accountability does not change the underlying social and economic conditions that cause disparate test results.


Test-based accountability has stripped teachers of their professional autonomy. As a result, fewer people choose teaching as a career.


Due to underlying economic inequality, children of color are more likely to be poor, to be segregated, to get fewer educational opportunities, to be suspended or expelled, and to have less opportunity to succeed in school and beyond. Tests don’t reduce income inequality or wealth inequality.


What, sir or madam, will you do to reduce these economic gaps instead of spending billions to measure them?

Bryan Alleman, the technology coordinator for Acadia Parish schools in Louisiana, sent the following story. VAM, as you know, is “value-added measurement,” or “value-added modeling,” which is used in many states to evaluate teachers. If test scores go up as predicted by a computer, the teacher is effective; if they exceed the computer prediction, the teacher is “highly effective.” If they don’t, the teacher is “developing” or “ineffective.” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has pushed some version of this approach into almost every state as a condition of Race to the Top funding or waivers from the onerous sanctions of No Child Left Behind.

Bryan writes:

Greetings from south Louisiana! I wanted to share with you an interaction I recently had with a Pearson representative at a technology leadership conference I attended in Baton Rouge, LA a couple of weeks ago.

At the conference, I noticed Pearson was present as a vendor. Pearson owns Powerschool, a Student Information System (SIS), that has a small presence in Louisiana. Rumor is that Pearson is selling off Powerschool.

Typically, SIS systems can be very profitable for a company. Working in SIS management for the past 7 years, I wanted to confirm this rumor.

So, I approached the Pearson rep., a nice gentleman, who confirmed that indeed Pearson was selling off Powerschool. Curious, I asked him, why? Imagine my surprise when I heard the following (paraphrasing):

“…Pearson is strongly committed to improving student outcomes and has decided to score every single product it owns to determine the impact on student achievement. Powerschool didn’t score well so we are selling it off…”

So there I stood–mouth agape—at the realization that Pearson has fallen for it’s own scam. They have actually VAM’d themselves. And, as a result, is selling of a profitable product.

The parallels to students, teachers, principals, and whole schools who have also fallen victim to VAM flooded my brain.

Education has lost valuable human capital (I despise that reference typically….we are human resources, not capital) as a result of VAM.

Pearson is losing a valuable product as a result of their own VAM. I wonder how the Pearson shareholders feel about this.

Just amazing.



“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain
a thought without accepting it.”


is that Pearson is selling off Powerschool. Typically, SIS systems can be very profitable for a company. Working in SIS management for the past 7 years, I wanted to confirm this rumor. So, I approached the Pearson rep., a nice gentleman, who confirmed that indeed Pearson was selling off Powerschool. Curious, I asked him, why? Imagine my surprise when I heard the following (paraphrasing): “…Pearson is strongly committed to improving student outcomes and has decided to score every single product it owns to determine the impact on student achievement. Powerschool didn’t score well so we are selling it off…”

So there I stood–mouth agape—at the realization that Pearson has fallen for it’s own scam. They have actually VAM’d themselves. And, as a result, is selling of a profitable product.

The parallels to students, teachers, principals, and whole schools who have also fallen victim to VAM flooded my brain.

Education has lost valuable human capital (I despise that reference typically….we are human resources, not capital) as a result of VAM.

Pearson is losing a valuable product as a result of their own VAM. I wonder how the Pearson shareholders feel about this.

Just amazing.


Bryan P. Alleman
Technology Coordinator
Acadia Parish School Board
P. O. Drawer 309
Crowley, LA 70527-0309
phone: (337) 783-3664 x279
fax: (337) 783-0194
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain
a thought without accepting it.”