Archives for the month of: August, 2015

Lillian Lowery stepped down as state superintendent in Maryland. Republican Governor Larry Hogan has now named six of the 11 members of the state board and will influence the choice of the next superintendent. His last two appointees were Andy Smarick and Chester Finn Jr., both conservatives and supporters of charter schools and the Common Core.

The article speculates that the Governor and state board might select Finn as state superintendent.

At last! Three civil liberties groups have sued to block the implementation of “education savings accounts” in Nevada, which are vouchers that will be used in religious schools.

LAS VEGAS – Three civil liberties organizations filed suit today in Nevada District Court to challenge a school voucher program signed into law last June by Gov. Brian Sandoval. The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued on behalf of a group of parents, clergy, and other taxpayers who oppose the program’s effort to divert taxpayer money to private, religious schools.

“Parents have a right to send their children to religious schools, but they are not entitled to do so at taxpayers’ expense. The voucher program violates the Nevada Constitution’s robust protections against the use of public funds for religious education,” said Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada. “This program allows public money to be spent at intuitions which operate with sectarian missions and goals and impart sectarian curricula. This is exactly what the Nevada Constitution forbids.”

Under the program, parents of students enrolled in public school for at least 100 days may transfer their children to participating private schools, including religious schools, and are eligible to receive thousands of dollars in public education funds to pay for tuition, textbooks, and other associated costs. The funds will be disbursed through so-called “Education Savings Accounts,” and there are no restrictions on how participating schools can use the money.

The lawsuit argues that the funding scheme violates Article XI Section 10 of the Nevada Constitution, which prohibits the use of public funds for any sectarian purpose. The lawsuit also claims that the program runs afoul of Article XI, Section 2, which requires the legislature to provide for a uniform system of common schools.

“The voucher program will use taxpayer dollars for religious education and indoctrination at a number of religious schools, many of which discriminate in admissions and employment,” said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “The program would be a huge loss for religious liberty if implemented.”

This is great news! Eastside Memorial High School in Austin will NOT be closed! For years, the school has been threatened with closure or conversion to a charter. The students, parents, teachers, and educators fought to keep their neighborhood school open. It is high poverty and 96% students of color, but the school refused to die.

School leaders brought in the Johns Hopkins Talent Development Group to help them. Everyone rallied to save their school, and they did it.

“At Austin’s Eastside Memorial High School, a new school year began for the first time in years without the familiar threat of closure, mass layoffs or reorganization from above. Its students earned a passing grade from the state last year, ending a run of more than a decade in which at least part of the campus came up short in the state’s ratings. In 2008, it became the first school in Texas closed for poor test performance. Austin ISD has been frantically trying to right the ship ever since.

“So on Tuesday, it was especially sweet to hear Education Commissioner Michael Williams in the school library delivering the good news: “We ain’t closing the school.”

The above quotes come from the Austin Statesman and they are behind a paywall.

The story appears also in The Texas Observer.

Eastside met state standards and raised its graduation rate. It is no longer a”failing school.”

A few years ago, I was in Austin to speak to the state’s school boards and administrators. When I had some free hours, I visited Eastside and spoke to a large gathering of educators, parents, and students. I felt their spirit. I knew they would resist. I urged them to keep fighting. They did. They elected a new school board member who supported the school. They worked together and they won.

Congratulations, Eastside Memorial!

Daniel Luzer, the news editor of Governing magazine, reviews Arizona’s voucher program, enacted almost 20 years ago.

Competition was supposed to be a game-changer. Advocates said it would cost the state only $4.5 million a year and would lift the performance of minority students.

None of that was true.

The program now costs $140 million a year, and there has been little change in test scores for minorities.

It was a giveaway to the wealthy, who managed to save money on their taxes.

Luzer writes in Washington Monthly:

Over the 20 years the state’s education performance has gotten a little better, but that’s also occurred in pretty much every state in the country. The state has seen no significant improvements, either for students in general or ethnic minorities, as a result of the private school fund.

Another problem is that this fund is a way to avoid taxes. People or businesses can take care of their tax budgets by just dropping some money in the education slush fund. And that deprives the state of money it needs to operate.

In fiscal 2014, the most recent year available, Arizonans claimed $84 million in individual tax credits. Corporations claimed another $39 million.

But that’s a whole lot of money that they’re not paying for other things, funds Arizona needs to operate other programs.

The other, perhaps more serious, result, according to the article, is the state now essentially runs a tax scheme under which people and companies can avoid paying taxes (which pay for public schools) by contributing money into a fund that pays for a few people to pay for private schools.

Only about 3 percent of the money is designated specifically for special-needs students. And 32 percent of the scholarship money given through the individual tax-credit programs goes to children of “low income” families, defined as those earning 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or $44,862 for a family of four…. The corporate tax credit for “low income” families has a more-generous definition — a family of four can earn as much as $82,996.

That’s because private school enrollment in the state is actually going down, and public school enrollment is increasing.

And meanwhile almost 70 percent of that fund is used to send the children of reasonably affluent people to “a school of their choice,” even though many of them could just afford the tuition on their own.

Not exactly a data-driven program.

Troy LaRaviere is one brave man. He is the principal of Blaine Elementary School in Chicago. Blaine is one of only three schools in the city singled out for praise for meeting standards set by the Mayor himself, Rahm Emanuel.

Yet LaRaviere, despite his successful leadership, has been given a warning by the board of the Chicago Public Schools. This warning may be a prelude to termination.

Read LaRivere’s response to this warning here.

He was warned first of all because he supported parents who wanted to opt their children out of the state tests. His school had an 80% opt out rate. The board said he was disobeying by refusing its orders to force the children to take the tests until the child herself refused, not the parent. He says that if parents should have choice about where to send their child to school, why not honor their request to refuse the tests?

He was warned because he asked a question at a meeting where no questions were allowed.

As he writes:

The second thing I was cited for was insubordination when I violated a “no questions” policy at a district principals budget meeting. I sat there at the meeting listening to CPS officials blame Springfield and teacher pensions for the budget woes, while they completely ignored their own well documented corrupt and reckless spending (e.g., $20 Million Supes Contract, $340 Million Aramark Contract, $10 million central office furniture purchase, etc. etc.). So I stood up and asked the question anyway, citing several questionable expenses. Then CEO, Jesse Ruiz, stood up and told me that I was being disruptive. It is a profound moment of truth and clarity when a CPS official gets up and makes it clear that he considers asking relevant questions “disruptive.” I have already written extensively about the details of this encounter in a post entitled, “Adding Insult to Injury: A Look Inside a CPS Principals Budget Meeting.” In the resolution, the board cites me for insubordination, in part, because Ruiz asked me why I worked for CPS if I were so unhappy with its leadership, and I responded, “To save it from people like you.” It is important to note that Ruiz asked me to come into the hallway where he called me a “loud-mouthed principal” and asked me that question. In essence, the board is attempting to discipline me for answering his question. If he didn’t want an honest answer, he should not have asked the question.

Another disturbing thing about this resolution is the way I was informed about it. I received an email on Monday telling me I could come in on Tuesday at 1pm to respond to the allegations on a resolution that the board would be voting on the next day. The board clearly knew that I was scheduled to speak at the City Club of Chicago’s panel on CPS Bankruptcy at that time since one of their own—Jesse Ruiz—was also on the panel. I chose to keep my appointment on the panel and thereby miss my opportunity to respond to this absurd resolution.

The CPS board accuses him of trying to “raise his profile.” LaRaviere is just trying to do what is right for the children and parents he serves.

He writes:

Yesterday, I drove by Washington Park to see if there was any organized activity at the scene of the Dyett School hunger strike. There didn’t seem to be, so I pulled away and headed toward 43rd and Vernon, about a block east of Martin Luther King Drive. The entire part of the block facing 43rd street is an empty lot on which once stood a fire-damaged slum I lived in as a child; where my brothers and I slept on floors and cots for months until the owner of Moore’s Furniture and Piano Mover’s donated a bunk bed to my mother. I go back there often to remind myself of the road I have traveled, and of the awesome responsibility I have been given. I came here from nothing. By any reasonable odds, I was not supposed to be here. And yet, here I am. I am not an overtly religious man but circumstances leave me no choice but to believe that whatever power put me on this earth—and in this position—did so for a reason. While I am here, I have a responsibility and a duty to use this position to advocate as strongly as humanly possible for the betterment of our city and its schools. That includes advocacy for sound evidence-based education policy and prudent fiscal management of district resources—the advocacy that led to the current warning resolution.

I will continue to support all of my PTAs efforts on behalf of the children and families of Blaine and I will continue to call out CPS on its reckless fiscal operational and educational mismanagement of our district at every opportunity they give me. Unfortunately, for our teachers and the students they serve, those opportunities abound.

Where does a man like Troy LaRaviere come from? Where does his courage come from? Why is he able to stand tall and be fearless when so many others quake in the face of power? Why are there not hundreds and thousands of principals and superintendents like Troy LaRaviere?

He is already on the blog’s honor roll. All I can say is “Thank you for your courage. Thank you for your integrity. Thank you for your inspiration.”

Michael L. Hays, Ph.D., sent this interesting suggestion to address the problem of student debt. I was reminded when I read it that this issue came to a head in 1972, when Congresswoman Edith Green from Oregon fought for the idea below, that is, sending federal money to colleges to use for need-based scholarships. On the other side from Green was Senator Claiborne Pell, who advocated direct federal loans to students, not to institutions of higher education. Pell won and created the Pell Grant program, which some have likened to a voucher for higher education. Now these issues are being reconsidered as Presidential candidates debate what to do about the soaring cost of higher education and the crushing burden of debt that so many students carry.

Hays writes:

Recent campaign proposals to address the problems of student debt called my attention to the context of those loans and the mechanisms for making and collecting them. What struck me was that these proposals do not address the problems but oblige the federal government to spend hundreds of billions of dollars without any suitable means to evaluate the merits of its expenditures or to control them.

At present, students borrow money from a variety of sources, mainly the federal government. Colleges receive this money, apply it toward their students’ expenses, and let their graduates repay their loans to the government. Colleges have no reason to limit the number of students whom they admit, to maintain their admission and academic standards, to ensure the quality of education provided, or to moderate their tuition or fees. Students assume all the risks of those loans, even as, in too many cases, colleges engage in essentially predatory practices, especially for-profit schools which would otherwise not exist. In short, colleges have no stake in the entire process except for latent incentives to exploit easy government loans to students.

We need to put college funding on a sensible basis. The government should not lend money indiscriminately to anyone who wants it for college: serious students, students unsure of their purposes, students for whom college is a substitute for unemployment, students who want a two- or four-year vacation, etc. Instead, it should lend to colleges on their demand for funds; in turn, the colleges would make loans to students whom they believe, on the basis of their already existing application processes, likely to benefit from college and to repay their loans; in turn, the colleges would use their repayments to repay the government. Schools would assume the costs of their mistakes—perhaps some small allowance (ten percent?) for the inevitable mistakes—; otherwise, states would be guarantors of the loans of public colleges and universities. Private, especially, for-profit schools, would also assume the costs of their mistakes and require private-equity guarantors of their loans. For-profit schools, usually living off the federal dole and providing a poor education, would be forced to up-grade themselves or would drive themselves, or be driven, out of business.

The benefits of this approach to college funding are many. Colleges would face the risks of real consequences of excessive borrowing and reckless lending. To minimize or avoid these risks, they would focus on and improve the standards and quality of the education which they provide (not least by putting a brake on lowering academic standards and inflating grades), select students better matched to and suited for those standards and not admit others to swell enrollments for purposes of institutional and budgetary growth, and restrain increases in tuition and fees. As a result, their graduates would be more likely to get jobs and repay loans not inflated by unrestrained costs.

By requiring colleges to decide on these “small business loans” for students, the government could attend to ensuring that colleges do not “red line” certain populations.

The disadvantages of this approach are few and easily offset. Initially, a small downward shift of some students with weak backgrounds, admittedly, disproportionately minorities, to lower-ranked colleges would be compensated by the greater chance of their academic success, their increased graduation rates, and their better chances of employment and loan repayment.

The important points are that the government, after a one-time start-up fund for loans and some modest annual appropriations to maintain funding to serve demand (and supplement some loan defaults), would not incur large and uncontrolled expenses; students would have more assurance of getting the education for which they pay; and colleges would have incentives to do a better and more economical job of educating their students.

Dr. Michael L. Hays
Las Cruces, New Mexico

Kristina Rizga in “Mother Jones” explains why the Opt Out movement is becoming a national phenomenon.

She focuses on the story of Kiana Hernandez, a student in Florida. She made the decision on her own, but she was inspired by seeing TV coverage of students opting out.

“By her own estimate, Kiana had spent about three months during each of her four years at University High in Orlando preparing for and taking standardized tests that determined everything from her GPA to her school’s fate. “These tests were cutting out class time,” she says. “We would stop whatever we were learning to prepare.” The spring of her senior year, she says, there were three whole months when she couldn’t get access to computers at school (she didn’t have one at home) to do homework or fill out college applications. They were always being used for testing.

“Kiana had a 2.99 GPA and is heading to Otterbein University in Ohio this fall. She says she did well in regular classroom assignments and quizzes, but struggled with the standardized tests the district and state demanded. “Once you throw out the word ‘test,’ I freeze,” she tells me. “I get anxiety knowing that the tests count more than classwork or schoolwork. It’s a make or break kind of thing….

“Students in American public schools today take more standardized tests than their peers in any other industrialized country. A 2014 survey of 14 large districts by the Center for American Progress found that third- to eighth-graders take 10 standardized tests each year on average, and some take up to 20. By contrast, students in Europe rarely encounter multiple-choice questions in their national assessments and instead write essays that are graded by trained educators. Students in England, New Zealand, and Singapore are also evaluated through projects like presentations, science investigations, and collaborative assignments, designed to both mimic what professionals do in the real world and provide data on what students are learning.”

Rizga’s book “Mission High” was just published. I intend to review it soon. It is the story of a so-called “failing school” in San Francisco where students and teachers work hard to beat the odds against them.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg left office in January 1, 2014. One of his legacies was the changes he made in the school system over 12 years of total control.

Today the Néw York Post says his “reforms” were disastrous, and the only hope for children in the city’s public schools is escape to a privately managed charter school.

The Post writes about the Bloomberg reforms:

“New York’s public-school system is an ongoing horror — one that traps hundreds of thousands of kids in schools that don’t work, “tracked” into dead-end “promotions” to equally bad schools that lead to worthless diplomas and limited economic opportunities for the rest of their lives.”

The Post has long–at least since Rupert Murdoch owned it–loathed public schools, their teachers and administrators, and unions.

So the editorial says that the “obvious solution”–based on a study commissioned by billionaire hedge fund managers who have the chutzpah to call themselves “Families for Excellent Schools”—is more charter schools.

Why not?

Let Eva do it! Let her open her schools to the children with severe cognitive impairments, the students who can’t speak or read English, the kids right out of the juvenile justice system! She should show what she can do.

She has a chance to demonstrate that her schools are replicable for all, not merely a triumph of skimming and attrition.

Shannon Puckett, the producer and director of the pro-public education film “Defies Measurement” is offering free copies to anyone who wants one.

She writes:

I would like people to know that I am offering Defies Measurement (for free) to anyone who would like to use the film as a fundraiser event in support of public education. All proceeds can be used to support public schools or organizations that support public schools. My website has a page dedicated to “how to host a screening” where anyone can learn more about planning a community event.

The film continues to get great reviews from supporters of public education. Articles have appeared in Daily Kos, Education Week, and Caflifornia Teacher. It is also being offered on KweliTv. (The mission of Kweli Tv is “To enhance knowledge, encourage self-empowerment, and promote positive change within the global black community through challening, inspiring and thought-provoking video content.”)

In the 5 months that Defies Measurement has been available for free online, it has reached close to 18,000 people in 92 countries. (you know as well as I do that that doesn’t mean all of these people have watched it, but I do know that nearly 6,000 people have played the film in 59 countries). It has also inspired passionate discussions within communities after screenings. Teachers unions, PTAs, teachers, parents, organizations and college professors have all used the film to create dialogue around the important issues facing public education.

This would be a great back-to-school party!

You can reach Shannon at

See her website:

You can watch the video there, for free

Fred LeBrun of the Albany Times-Union warns State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia that she is making a huge mistake by her confrontational tactics with the parents of the 225,000 children who opted out of mandated state tests last spring.

He predicts that if she doesn’t change course, the number of opt outs will grow in 2016.

She assumes that the parents need a lecture (“it’s the law!”) or information (they just don’t understand how important these tests are).

Neither is true, writes LeBrun. The law days the state must give the tests, but the law does NOT say that students must take them.

And the opt out parents in Long Island and upstate New York are not uninformed. They know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it.

LeBrun writes:

“Remember the state Education Department’s own statistical analysis of Opt Outers, the one-third of eligible upstate and Long Island third through eight graders who chose not to take the standardized tests last spring. Their families are white, solidly middle class, well educated, generally from low needs — that is to say, not impoverished — school districts. Regardless of what the new standardized tests might suggest about them — more would fail than pass — these students routinely grow up to hit the appropriate SAT benchmarks, graduate and go on to two- and four-year colleges.

“These are not the kind of parents who are likely to be intimidated by vague assertions that, as Elia now suggests, a reason to take the standardized tests is because, ”listen, it’s the law.” It may be the law that public schools must offer the tests. But nothing I’ve read even suggests it’s the law a student must take them. Parents do have rights. If anything, Elia’s tack is likely to throw fuel on the fire rather than quell it in terms of opting out. Likewise, any back handed attempt to paint the Opt Out movement as being fanned by teachers is as insulting to the legions of parental volunteers who are Opt Out’s core, and know it, as it is to teachers. Nor is Elia’s condescending suggestion that fuller knowledge of what Common Core is and these standardized tests are about will turn Opt Outers around.”