Archives for the month of: October, 2015

The Network for Public Education Action Fund endorses Helen Gym, a fighter for public schools and children.

NPE Action is proud to join the growing list of organizations endorsing Helen Gym in the Primary Election for a City Council At-Large seat in the city of Philadelphia.

NPE President Diane Ravitch has lauded Helen as a hero of public education and an inspiration for us all. When asked about Helen’s candidacy, Diane said she is “a great advocate for children and education. Philadelphia needs her eloquent voice on the City Council.”

Helen is the mother of three Philadelphia public school students, a former public school teacher, and a fierce advocate for public education in Philadelphia and beyond. She has been a dedicated community activist for two decades; her work has touched on issues regarding taxation, civil rights, criminal justice, jobs, labor, and neighborhood development. She is a founding member of Parents Across America, and the co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, a nationally recognized group of public school parents advancing broad causes for social justice in the Philadelphia public schools. Helen also serves on the editorial board of Rethinking Schools, a social justice education journal.

Philadelphia principal Chris Lehmann, founder of the renowned Science Leadership Academy, said, “Helen Gym has been a champion for the children and the teachers of Philadelphia. She is a tireless advocate who will work to improve public education in our city, and therefore, help Philadelphia become the city we all know it can be.”

Not only has she been a fearless advocate for fair funding, bringing national attention to the dire underfunding situation in Philadelphia, she has developed a plan to ensure that going forward the city’s schools have the funds they need without over burdening homeowners. Please read more about her Fair-Share Plan, which will ensure that all Philadelphia students have access to the services such as nurses, counselors, libraries, music, and the arts.

Helen also supports less testing in our schools stating, “Tests should be one measure which informs practice. It should not be used as a major measure to evaluate teachers, determine pay, close schools or deny children a diploma or access to a quality education.”

And true to form, Helen has backed up her belief with action. When the city recently estimated that only 22% of students would graduate, Helen called for the end of the state’s Keystone exams, which are end of course exams used as a graduation requirement. Helen said, “The School District’s projection of a 22 percent graduation rate when the state and city have failed to adequately meet schools’ needs is an outrage and threatens the future of hundreds of thousands of students in this city.” She added, “No one wins with a testing system destined for failure.”

You can read more about Helen’s education policy positions here.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers said, “For Philadelphia’s educators, the choice to endorse Helen Gym for City Council At Large was an easy one. No other candidate possesses Helen’s combination of passion for quality public schools and deep knowledge of education issues.”

We urge you to do what you can to ensure Helen is elected to be the champion the children and teachers of Philadelphia so desperately need. Please visit her website to donate to her campaign and help spread the word about her candidacy.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that Dr. Jere Hochman, the superintendent of the Bedford school district, will become his chief education advisor.

Jere Hochman is a wise and experienced educator. Maybe he can educate the governor. He often comments on this blog, and I have posted some of his newsletters to parents and staff.

According to the local newspaper:

A Westchester County school superintendent is joining Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet as his top education aide.

Jere Hochman, who has headed the Bedford Central School District since 2008, will leave to become Cuomo’s deputy secretary for education, Gannett’s Albany Bureau has learned.

Cuomo is set to announce the appointment Wednesday.

“Dr. Hochman brings tremendous experience and an in-depth knowledge of the public education system to his new role,” Cuomo said in a statement. “He has spent his career working to strengthen learning environments and make schools a better place for all, and he will be a valuable member of our policy team.”

A former English teacher and school principal, Hochman will become the Democratic governor’s top education adviser at a time when the state’s implementation of the Common Core education standards continues to receive criticism from parents and teachers.

Prior to his appointment, Hochman was also the president of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents, the organization representing school chiefs in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Dutchess counties. The region has become a hotbed for parent anger over the state’s standardized tests and the Common Core.

Good luck, Jere.

John Thompson, historian and teacher, says that he usually doesn’t worry about principals, but this piece demonstrates that he knows the stress they are under in the current context of fire first, aim later.

Principals and assistant principals give up the best job in the world, teaching, for one of the most stressful of careers. In my experience, they do it in order to help more students. Three excellent articles describe the additional pressure that is being placed on principals in an age of reform.

Clearly, these efforts will not be sustainable if we do not start treating school leaders as valuable resources that can’t be squandered.

My principals all had to claim to believe that better instruction, data, “High Expectations!,” and leadership were enough to turn around the highest-challenge schools. The few who really believed that systemic progress could be driven by instruction within the four walls of the classroom could be annoying, but they were sincere. For instance, one of those frustrating assistant principals faced down a student with a loaded gun rather than take the safe path and allow the police to handle it.

For over a decade, the prime method of turning around schools with the highest concentrations of generational poverty and kids who have survived extreme trauma has been to use up and throw away dedicated teachers and principals. Chalkbeat NY’s Geoff Decker, in “Q&A with Automotive High’s Principal: ‘There’s Always Pressure in This Building,’” featured one of those principals, Caterina Lafergola. She has fought the good fight at New York City’s Automotive High School since 2011.

Lafergola says, “You can’t do this work unless you love it because it will chew you up and spit you out. I love the work. I love the kids.”

The principal cites two huge problems, the “compliance issues” that a school leader must handle, and students’ trauma. Lafergola says of her students, “They’re traumatized. Last year, one of our babies was murdered. Died like a dog in the street.”

Automotive is no longer a “madhouse,” where it took 20 minutes to transition between classes and where there were rampant gang affiliations and drugs. If the standard school improvement model was working, by now Automotive would be creating some stability. But, of Lafergola’s 32 teachers, 14 are brand new. On the other hand, perhaps under Chancellor Carmen Farina and Mayor Bill de Blasio and with the implementation of Restorative Practices, more improvement will be possible.

In a second instructive article, the Hechinger Report’s Peg Tyre featured New Orleans charter school principal, Krystal Hardy. Significantly, it is entitled, “Why Do More than Half of Principals Quit after Five Years?”

When Hardy first took over, Tyre reports that her office “became something of a war room. Colorful line graphs affixed to the walls showed student progress on interim standardized tests.” The young principal “planned every school day around maximizing opportunities to provide guidance to her staff. She assigned daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals for teachers. All were written out in crisp detail and color-coded.”

Every day, the former TFA instructional coach “gave teachers a mini-lesson on instruction,” then “checked her teachers’ lesson plans, and once a week she issued a newsletter that “singled out teachers for ‘glows’ and ‘grows,’ and set goals for the coming week.

Despite the principal’s all-consuming dedication, test scores were disappointing, evaluations further stressed out teachers, and five of the 14 teachers in the kindergarten through fifth-grade classes left. The article ends with possibly good news; Hardy’s “tenor has softened.” Tyre describes the principal’s evolution as a lesson for reformers. She concludes, “In their zeal to create new models to help vulnerable children, mission-driven education reformers across the country have created schools where the days are demanding and the goals grueling. It’s why even the most gifted principals and teachers leave so quickly.”

Third, Stanford’s Professor Emeritus Larry Cuban published an excerpt from Kristina Rizga’s Mission High. This features San Francisco principal Eric Guthertz. Guthertz almost lost his job in 2009 due to School Improvement Grant regulations, but he was fortunate that the district has been supportive of his pedagogy – one that is a challenge to the S.I.G. norm.

Guthertz says that “most of the work that helps students develop as mature and compassionate adults happens in the classrooms,” but he and his team “spend at least half of their time building a healthy and inclusive school culture outside of the classrooms.”

Mission High’s administrative team also observes classrooms regularly, studies the data, especially referrals and suspensions and the number of Fs and Ds disaggregated by ethnicity and race. The purpose, though, is to support students and teachers. One-on-one teacher coaching is provided and teachers plan units together and analyze student work collectively. Consequently, “Mission High is the only school in the district that teaches high numbers of African American, Latino, and low-income students and is no longer considered a ‘hard-to-staff school’” The district’s chief communications officer says, “Mission High is famous at the district because it is known as a learning community and good, supportive place to work.”

Teaching in the inner city has always been tough, and being a principal even harder. After NCLB ramped up the pressure, my school rarely had year when a principal or an assistant principal did not require hospitalization in the spring. Most were hit by heart-related illnesses and probably all of their conditions were complicated by the stress of the job. Of course, many veteran teachers were also felled by the conditions in the inner city. For the life of me, I can’t understand why reformers have been so cavalier about using up and throwing out educators. But, maybe articles and books like these will make a difference and, to borrow Cuban’s phrase, we will stop disposing teachers and principals like worn-out tissue paper.

Kevin Welner, executive director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, has advice for the test-loving reformers: Stop making excuses!

For the past 15 years or more, a passel of organizations have pushed test-based accountability; they never met a test they didn’t like and they used test scores to bash teachers and American public education. They ARE the status quo. They own the U.S. Department of Education. Their views are backed by federal law, the No Child Left Behind Act, and by the billions handed out by the federal Race to the Top. They have had the admiration and financial support of Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton family, and dozens of other philanthropic (testophilic) foundations. Their theory was simple: More testing will produce higher achievement; test scores can be used to weed out bad teachers; test scores can be used to fire teachers and principals, and to close public schools. Test, test, test, test and one day all children will be proficient, everyone will go to college, and there will be no more poverty.

When NAEP 2013 scores were released, Arne Duncan boasted about the success of test-based accountability. See? The scores are up! The states that got Race to the Top funding are making higher scores! See! See!

Except: the 2015 NAEP scores didn’t go up. In fact, most were either flat or declined. Some of the scores declined the most in the Race to the Top winning states. The theory failed.

But, as Kevin Welner shows, the test-loving reformers now resort to excuses. Sometimes they even sound like those who disagree with them: It must be demography! It must be poverty! It must be the opt-out movement! It must be the lingering effects of the 2008 recession! It is an anomaly, a minor blip! Wait until 2025 before judging!

Kevin writes that it is a mistake to draw causal inferences from test scores, as is now so common. There are many reasons that scores go up or down, and not all of them are apparent. I would add that it is a mistake to use standardized tests as the Holy Grail of education because they have limitations and flaws; they are a social construct, not a scientific instrument. If nothing else, the 2015 scores should teach test-loving reformers not to make tests the measure of all things. Perhaps now they will agree that schools and education and students must be evaluated with far greater sophistication and understanding than simplistic standardized tests permit.

Kevin Welner writes:

This morning’s release of results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports a dip in scores, according to multiple sources. These lower grades on the Nation’s Report Card are not good news for anyone, but they are particularly bad news for those who have been vigorously advocating for “no excuses” approaches — standards-based testing and accountability policies like No Child Left Behind. Such policies follow a predictable logic: (a) schools are failing; and (b) schools will quickly and somewhat miraculously improve if we implement a high-stakes regime that makes educators responsible for increasing students’ test scores.

To be sure, the sampling approach used by NAEP and the lack of student-level data prohibit direct causal inferences about specific policies. Although such causal claims are made all the time, they are not warranted. It is not legitimate to point to a favored policy in Massachusetts and validly claim that this policy caused that state to do well, or to a disfavored policy in West Virginia and claim that it caused that state to do poorly.

However, as Dr. Bill Mathis and I explained eight months ago in an NEPC Policy Memo, it is possible to validly assert, based in part on NAEP trends, that the promises of education’s test-driven reformers over the past couple decades have been unfulfilled. The potpourri of education “reform” policy has not moved the needle—even though reformers, from Bush to Duncan, repeatedly assured us that it would.

This is the tragedy. It has distracted policymakers’ attention away from the extensive research showing that, in a very meaningful way, achievement is caused by opportunities to learn. It has diverted them from the truth that the achievement gap is caused by the opportunity gap. Those advocating for today’s policies have pushed policymakers to disregard the reality that the opportunity gap arises more from out-of-school factors than inside-of-school factors.

Instead, they assured us that success was a simple matter of adults looking beyond crumbling buildings and looking away from the real-life challenges of living with racism or poverty. As a substitute, we were told to look toward a “no excuses” expectation for all children. This mantra has driven policy for an entire generation of students. The mantra was so powerful that we as a nation were able to ignore the facts and fail to provide our children with opportunities to learn.

His question: Will we now focus where we should have focused for the past 15 years, on opportunity to learn?

His wish: Would the reformers please reflect and stop making excuses?

Massachusetts is widely considered the state with the most successful public schools in the nation. Its students outperform the rest of the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The state has a strong tradition of local control. It also has great independent schools. But it is the state that launched public education, whether you trace them to their 17th century roots or to the common school revival led by the great Horace Mann in the 1830s and 1840s.

But now the cradle of public education is under pressure to remove the state cap on charter schools, the entering wedge of privatization. The usual privatizing groups have descended on the legislature, abetted by a Republican governor.

The privatizers, as usual, claim they have silver bullets or secret sauce that can save poor kids from failing schools. This is balderdash, but who will tell the legislators? They are impressed by the Walton-funded CREDO studies and by a study from Harvard’s Center in Education Policy, not only Gares-funded but including leading charter advocates as faculty members (Thomas Kane, Martin West, Marguerite Roza).

But now another set of voices has weighed in: the Massachusetts school committees, or local school boards. The school committees ask the basic question: Whose children are served? Charters have a well-established record of selecting their students to reduce or exclude students who might pull down their scores. Charters are also known for boasting about their scores. They were supposed to be innovative, but the no-excuses charter look like 19th century schools. This is not the kind of innovation that should be imposed or shared with public schools.

In state after state, the charter industry is under a cloud because of political and financial scandals.

Why doesn’t Massachusetts improve its public schools, using research-based strategies, instead of privatizing them?

Education is a profession that is supposed to be about nurturing, developing, helping, supporting, and building not only intellectual competence but affective qualities. Race to the Top, with its harsh and punitive approach to school reform, ruined the lives and careers of many dedicated educators. Many were harmed, not only children, who were tested endlessly, but teachers and principals who were unjustly fired.

What happened to the principals who were fired because their school had low test scores? Carole Meyer of Washington State was one of them. She was fired in 2010 because her school was among the lowest performing in the state. She decided to write a dissertation about what happened to her and others similarly placed. She interviewed six other principals who were fired in 2010. She earned her doctorate. She is now a principal in a middle school that she has led successfully for the past five years. Her dissertation can be found here:

The title of her dissertation is “School Principals’ Reassignment Under Race to the Top Legislation: Washington State Principals’ Sense Making and Affective Experience”

She writes:

The purpose of this qualitative interview study was to explore how K-12 public school principals in Washington State “made sense” of the experience of being reassigned under the provisions of Washington State’s version of RTTT.

The research questions this study attempted to answer were:

(a) How do principals describe what happened when they were reassigned?

(b) How did principals work with staff, students, district, and community around the issue of being reassigned?

(c) How did reassignment impact principals emotionally, personally, and professionally?

(d) What are principals’ evaluations of this type of policy approach?

And (e) What were the human costs/benefits associated with reassignment?

Conceptual frames related to human costs (Rice & Malen, 2003), sensemaking (Weick, 1995, 2005, & 2007), and Kübler-Ross’s Grief Construct (1969) were used to guide the study. Extensive in-depth interviews were conducted with six selected principal participants to explore their experiences of reassignment.

The major themes that emerged from the data analysis were (a) costs of reassignment associated with RTTT policy implementation, (b) principal critique of this type of policy approach, and (c) the sensemaking journey of each principal impacted by reassignment. This study found that reassignment had substantial impacts on principals, their critiques of the policy included: (a) unintended consequences; (b) the number of years required to successfully turn around a low-performing school; (c) lack of alignment with good practice in schools; (d) SIG grants’ failure to demonstrate notable benefits to students; (e) the mistake of funding education through competitive means; and (f) the importance of political action and principal “voice” in shaping education policy.

However, over time, the participants were able to resume a sense of normalcy in their work.

The following four major conclusions from this study can be stated: (a) RTTT is a draconian approach to education reform and its costs outweigh the benefits; (b) RTTT policy’s restrictive requirements were seen as unfair and left little choice for districts; (c) principal “voice” is a critical component in education reform; and (d) conceptual frames of Rice and Malen (2003), Weick (1995, 2005, & 2007), and the Kübler-Ross Grief Construct (1969) describe participant’s experiences.

Carol Burris, experienced educator and executive director of the Network for Public Education, writes hereL about the 2015 NAEP scores.

She reminds us that Arne Duncan crowed about the scores in 2013. His Race to the Top states proved he was right. Now he says, it takes time to absorb the changes I have imposed on the nation’s schools. Wait until 2025 to judge.

As usual, a brilliant piece.

Gary’s latest post has a smart title: “For Whom the Bell Tolls; It Tolls for Rhee.”

Having received Race to the Top funding, and being part of the (not so) great “reform” movement, the District of Columbia enthusiastically endorsed every reformy idea that involved high-stakes testing, or test-based accountability. Of course, D.C. school leaders Michelle Rhee and her successor Kaya Henderson supported Common Core and joined the PARCC testing consortium (one of the few to remain in PARCC).

The scores were released yesterday. Gary has analyzed them and made some important discoveries. The scores overall were pretty awful, as you would expect from a test that was designed to fail most students. But, surprisingly, the much-abused D.C. public schools outscored the much-lauded D.C. charter schools. How could that happen? How embarrassing for the Walton Family Foundation, which has poured so much money into charterizing the D.C. schools, as well as to Eli Broad, who recently announced his intention to open more charters in D.C. to save more kids from the terrible public schools. And yet those “terrible” public schools got higher scores than the charter schools! Go figure.

Rhee used to say that she would turn D.C. into the best urban district in the nation. She used to scoff at the educators who preceded her, citing the fact that only 10% met the standards in math. Well, what percent do you think met the “proficiency” standard in math? 10%.

Gary writes:

So of course the ‘no excuses’ crowd begins making excuses. But rather than saying that the quality of the PARCC test could be an issue, they instead say things like, “We knew this was going to happen. We just need to adjust to the new more rigorous standards.” This may buy them a few years, but I have to wonder how long supposedly ‘data driven’ reformers can continue to ignore data that refute their agenda.

Sometimes events happen that seem to be disconnected, but after a few days or weeks, the pattern emerges. Consider this: On October 2, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that he was resigning and planned to return to Chicago. Former New York Commissioner of Education John King, who is a clone of Duncan in terms of his belief in testing and charter schools, was designated to take Duncan’s place. On October 23, the Obama administration held a surprise news conference to declare that testing was out of control and should be reduced to not more than 2% of classroom time. Actually, that wasn’t a true reduction, because 2% translates into between 18-24 hours of testing, which is a staggering amount of annual testing for children in grades 3-8 and not different from the status quo in most states.

Disconnected events?

Not at all. Here comes the pattern-maker: the federal tests called the National Assessment of Educational Progress released its every-other-year report card in reading and math, and the results were dismal. There would be many excuses offered, many rationales, but the bottom line: the NAEP scores are an embarrassment to the Obama administration (and the George W. Bush administration that preceded it).

For nearly 15 years, Presidents Bush and Obama and the Congress have bet billions of dollars—both federal and state– on a strategy of testing, accountability, and choice. They believed that if every student was tested in reading and mathematics every year from grades 3 to 8, test scores would go up and up. In those schools where test scores did not go up, the principals and teachers would be fired and replaced. Where scores didn’t go up for five years in a row, the schools would be closed. Thousands of educators were fired, and thousands of public schools were closed, based on the theory that sticks and carrots, rewards and punishments, would improve education.

But the 2015 NAEP scores released today by the National Assessment Governing Board (a federal agency) showed that Arne Duncan’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program had flopped. It also showed that George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind was as phony as the “Texas education miracle” of 2000, which Bush touted as proof of his education credentials.

NAEP is an audit test. It is given every other year to samples of students in every state and in about 20 urban districts. No one can prepare for it, and no one gets a grade. NAEP measures the rise or fall of average scores for states in fourth grade and eighth grade in reading and math and reports them by race, gender, disability status, English language ability, economic status, and a variety of other measures.

The 2015 NAEP scores showed no gains nationally in either grade in either subject. In mathematics, scores declined in both grades, compared to 2013. In reading, scores were flat in grade 4 and lower in grade 8. Usually the Secretary of Education presides at a press conference where he points with pride to increases in certain grades or in certain states. Two years ago, Arne Duncan boasted about the gains made in Tennessee, which had won $500 million in Duncan’s Race to the Top competition. This year, Duncan had nothing to boast about.

In his Race to the Top program, Duncan made testing the primary purpose of education. Scores had to go up every year, because the entire nation was “racing to the top.” Only 12 states won a share of the $4.35 billion that Duncan was given by Congress: Tennessee and Delaware were first to win, in 2010. The next round, the following states won multi-millions of federal dollars to double down on testing: Maryland, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

Tennessee, Duncan’s showcase state in 2013, made no gains in reading or mathematics, neither in fourth grade or eighth grade. The black-white test score gap was as large in 2015 as it had been in 1998, before either NCLB or the Race to the Top.

The results in mathematics were bleak across the nation, in both grades 4 and 8. The declines nationally were only 1 or 2 points, but they were significant in a national assessment on the scale of NAEP.

In fourth grade mathematics, the only jurisdictions to report gains were the District of Columbia, Mississippi, and the Department of Defense schools. Sixteen states had significant declines in their math scores, and thirty-three were flat in relation to 2013 scores. The scores in Tennessee (the $500 million winner) were flat.

In eighth grade, the lack of progress in mathematics was universal. Twenty-two states had significantly lower scores than in 2013, while 30 states or jurisdictions had flat scores. Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Florida (a Race to the Top winner), were the biggest losers, by dropping six points. Among the states that declined by four points were Race to the Top winners Ohio, North Carolina, and Massachusetts. Maryland, Hawaii, New York, and the District of Columbia lost two points. The scores in Tennessee were flat.

The District of Columbia made gains in fourth grade reading and mathematics, but not in eighth grade. It continues to have the largest score gap-—56 points–between white and black students of any urban district in the nation. That is more than double the average of the other 20 urban districts. The state with the biggest achievement gap between black and white students is Wisconsin; it is also the state where black students have the lowest scores, lower than their peers in states like Mississippi and South Carolina. Wisconsin has invested heavily in vouchers and charter schools, which Governor Scott Walker intends to increase.

The best single word to describe NAEP 2015 is stagnation. Contrary to President George W. Bush’s law, many children have been left behind by the strategy of test-and-punish. Contrary to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, the mindless reliance on standardized testing has not brought us closer to some mythical “Top.”

No wonder Arne Duncan is leaving Washington. There is nothing to boast about, and the next set of NAEP results won’t be published until 2017. The program that he claimed would transform American education has not raised test scores, but has demoralized educators and created teacher shortages. Disgusted with the testing regime, experienced teachers leave and enrollments in teacher education programs fall. One can only dream about what the Obama administration might have accomplished had it spent that $5 billion in discretionary dollars to encourage states and districts to develop and implement realistic plans for desegregation of their schools, or had they invested the same amount of money in the arts.

The past dozen or so years have been a time when “reformers” like Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and Bill Gates proudly claimed that they were disrupting school systems and destroying the status quo. Now the “reformers” have become the status quo, and we have learned that disruption is not good for children or education.

Time is running out for this administration, and it is not likely that there will be any meaningful change of course in education policy. One can only hope that the next administration learns important lessons from the squandered resources and failure of NCLB and Race to the Top.

The 2015 NAEP scores were released at midnight. For the first time in many years, the scores in math and reading were flat or declining. The story was the same across the nation. DC boasted of fourth grade gains but overlooked no gains in eighth grade and the biggest achievement gaps of any urban district  in the nation.

Excepting the 4th grade gains in DC, the Race to the Top winning states made no gains. One of them, Maryland, saw significant declines. I will write in more detail in the morning.

Duncan said:

“Big change never happens overnight,” Duncan said. “I’m confident that over the next decade, if we stay committed to this change, we will see historic improvements.”

Bill Gates said the same thing a few years ago. Something like “it will take at least 10 years to know whether this stuff works.”

Should it occur to them that churn, disruption, and chaos are not good for children? The 2015 NAEP scores are a national commentary on the failure of what they call reform, but what others see as reckless experimentation on other people’s children.

Race to the Top is a flop. Let it go. NCLB failed. It left many children behind. Stop funding failure. Stop making excuses.