Archives for the month of: November, 2015

Patty Williams, an activist for public education in North Carolina, read the post yesterday about “The Nazi Metaphor Question,” and she pointed out that I had neglected to include Charlie Chaplin’s classic “The Great Dictator,” released in 1940.


Patty sent me this amazing speech from the film. How appropriate for our times and for all times. Please watch it. It is only about 1 minute.


(There is a 3-minute, uncut version of this speech, which is even more powerful, but for some reason I can’t get the link to it–it returns me to the 1-minute version. This is the full speech, not reflected in the 1-minute video.)

It is common knowledge that Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence supports charters, vouchers, and digital learning. When he announced his run for the GOP nomination, he stepped down and brought in Condaleeza Rice to lead FEE.


Who provided the money to showcase Bush’s education platform? Bush released his list of donors from 2007-14.


“WASHINGTON (AP) — Big-time donors to a nonprofit educational group founded by Jeb Bush, disclosed for the first time Wednesday, highlight the intersection between Bush’s roles in the worlds of business, policy and politics years before he began running for president….

After leaving the Florida governor’s office in 2007, Bush formed the Foundation for Excellence in Education, with a mission “to build an American education system that equips every child to achieve their God-given potential.” With Bush serving as president, the group attracted $46 million from donors through 2014.

That donor list shows the circular connections as Bush moved from governor to education advocate to corporate board member. Supporters in each of those stages of his career contributed to his educational foundation — which, in turn, sometimes supported causes benefiting its donors. They include Rupert Murdoch’s media giant News Corp., GOP mega-donor Paul Singer’s foundation, energy companies such as Exxon Mobil, even the Florida Lottery….


“If you wanted access to Jeb Bush, one of the ways to do it is to make a large donation to one of those foundations,” said Bill Allison, who until recently was a senior fellow with the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for open government…


“Records show:

—Four companies and nonprofits that appointed Bush to their boards of directors or advisory boards backed the educational foundation. One, Bloomberg Philanthropies, was among the most frequent supporters, making seven donations worth between $1.2 million to $2.4 million. Bush served on Bloomberg’s board from 2010-14. He also served on the boards of Jackson Healthcare, Rayonier Inc. and an affiliate of CNL Bank, each of which gave a lesser amount to the foundation.


—Bush’s education nonprofit provided $1.1 million in public information grants to eight states in 2013, its tax form shows. In recent years, at least nine charter school and education-related donors to the Foundation for Excellence in Education won contracts in those eight states, revealing the mirrored missions of donors and the foundation.


—The most frequent individual donor to Bush’s group was Florida citrus grower Bill Becker and his wife, Mary Ann Becker, who made eight donations worth between $225,008 and $450,000. A longtime Bush family supporter, Becker once provided Jeb Bush the use of his Cessna airplane for campaign travel….


—Major corporations backed Bush with big money. The most generous organization was the Walton Family Foundation, formed by Wal-Mart’s founders, which gave from $3.5 million to more than $6 million. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Wal-Mart Foundation gave $35,002 to $80,000 more. Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ foundation gave between $3 million and more than $5 million. Murdoch’s News Corp. made three contributions, at $500,001 to $1 million apiece. The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, built from the family real estate empire, gave more than $2 million.


—Total donations steadily increased over time, going from a 2007 maximum of $335,000 to $8.4 million in 2011 and as much as $12.2 million in 2014.

Education outfits such as Charter Schools USA, the publishing and education company Pearson PLC and Renaissance Learning were frequent contributors. So were financial groups and big businesses, with the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation giving from $1.6 million to $3.25 million and the SunTrust Bank Foundation $300,003 to $750,000. Exxon Mobil Corp., Duke Energy and BP America made nine contributions combined.”






John Kass of the Chicago Tribune speculates that Rahm Emanuel would not have been re-elected Mayor of Chicago if the video of the police killing of teenager Laquan McDonald had been released before the 2015 election.


Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by a police officer in October 2014. The video appeared only days ago, more than a year after the event. The police officer has been charged with first-degree murder. There have been marches and demonstrations since the release of the video.


Kass writes that had the video been posted before the election, no black politician would have stood by Rahm Emanuel’s side. He would have lost the black vote, and he would not be mayor today.


It is the Chicago way.


Kass writes:


You can see the truth of it by watching the other politicians scrambling for cover in the wake of the Laquan McDonald video release.


They don’t like questions about how they helped Rahm win. That puts the jacket on them. And they don’t want to wear the jacket.


So they’re stitching one up for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who charged Van Dyke with murder the other day.


They want Alvarez to wear the jacket for it all.


Rahm seems to be throwing her under his bus, but he doesn’t want his fingerprints on her. So his ally, David Axelrod, threw her under.


Axelrod is a Rahm pal, but for years he was also the mouthpiece for former Mayor Richard Daley, and was the top political and media strategist for Obama. It’s a Chicago thing.


“Why did it take a year to indict a CPD officer who shot a kid 16 times?” Axelrod tweeted Tuesday night. “Would it have happened today if judge hadn’t ordered video release?”


That puts it on Alvarez. Does she deserve it?


I don’t think so. To me, she’s not the issue.


The video threatened Rahm Emanuel and his pursuit of power. Alvarez told reporters she’d been waiting for the feds to issue a joint announcement with her office. That didn’t happen.


Funny how things work out.



When I worked in the U.S. Department of Education in the early 1990s, there was a strict code of ethics. The Inspector General’s office scrutinized every employee and transaction for any hint of personal or commercial gain. But now the Department itself is hawking products.

Reader Chiara sent this comment:

“Here’s the US Department of Education selling a product called “Edgenuity”. This reads like an actual advertisement. I wonder if the company helped draft the ad:

“Village Green uses an online curriculum, called “Edgenuity,“ which allows students to move through assignments at their own pace. Every student has a workstation where they log into their own personal Edgenuity portal and choose what to work on. Students take frequent tests and quizzes, and complete practice assignments. A data dashboard displays skills they’ve already mastered in green, those they are on track to master in blue and those they are struggling with in red.

“The main things the teachers are freed from at Village Green are quiz and test construction, grading, and designing core lessons. “However, they still have to plan the workshop and plan to re-teach Edgenuity in case a lesson is not grasped,” explained Pilkington.”

“Is it ethical (or even legal) for Obama’s ed dept to be selling tech product to public schools? Aren’t there rules or regs about this sort of thing? Where is the line between the public sector and the private sector?”

The Momma Bears of Tennessee see a disaster coming. It is called TNReady, the new online test that is confusing, requires keyboard skills that many children lack, and is certain to label their children as failing.


Momma Bears are a group of anonymous parents who are fierce protectors of their children, just like bears.


What can they do?


They can protest and demonstrate in their legislators’ offices.


They can insist that the legislators take the tests and publish their scores.


They can build and organize a massive opt out movement, as New York parents did. No matter how much school officials warn of punishments to come, opt out. The more students opt out, the more school officials will cringe and back away. The punishments will never materialize unless only a handful opt out. Get 20% to opt out, as in New York, and the Mamma Bears and their cubs win.


OPT OUT! It is  your most powerful tool. You have the right and the power to defend your children. Use it!


The Momma Bears took sample questions from the test and concluded that they were NOT ready for use. The tests are a mess.


Some of our Momma Bears bloggers spent a precious Saturday taking the sample TNREADY tests and trying to get answers. Here is what we observed on the Sample TNREADY computerized tests:
Difficult to read passages: A tiny 4-inch scroll window to read long passages of text. This requires good mouse skills and eye tracking. (see pic below) Students with knowledge of how to expand the reading pane using the little tab in the middle, and collapse it again to get to the test questions, will fare better. This format isn’t like any of the internet sites or reading apps that most children are accustomed to; they will need to be taught how to navigate those tools for the sole purpose of taking this test.
Tiny window for the test questions: It was barely large enough to show all the answer options, and not large enough to show the “RESET/UNDO” buttons at the bottom of the question unless the student scrolled lower. See the photo below to understand how students are supposed to write an entire essay response in a text box that is about 4″ square. Typing, mind you, which elementary students aren’t fluent in doing; their hands aren’t even large enough to reach all the keys properly. So, they will be hunting and pecking letter keys to write an essay in a box the size of a cell phone screen.
Distracting numbers on ELA test: Bold paragraph numbers along the left margin of the text passages.
4 Quite distracting
5 if you’re trying
6 to read something.
7 Isn’t it?

My friend Kipp Dawson in Pittsburgh sent me this Facebook posting by a teacher who calls himself Les LBL, but from context I assume is Les Williams, a middle-school teacher.


Unfortunately, there are far too many of us who can’t recognize the depression many of us suffer in. The expectations, stress, and demands are far worse than I ever imagined. At the level I teach (middle school), the expectation and pressure that you’re held to control the behavior of some students who obviously and sometimes not so obviously have social, emotional and mental and family challenges that make classroom learning a far-off secondary priority are at its highest with the least bit of support.


Everywhere I have taught I have found great and inspirational educators and great students who want to learn. Unfortunately, due to the shifting of challenges once shared by teachers, students, parents, and adminstrators, that has now fallen squarely on the shoulders of teachers, it makes the day to day struggle difficult and the future seem bleak, and many of us who are upbeat, charismatic, passionate, fun-loving, inspired and hopeful people have slowly changed into shell-shocked, beaten-down, tired humans who are soul-searching and trying to find a glimmer of hope at the end of a vaguely colored rainbow.


I still love teaching but the way it’s structured today, it certainly isn’t as fun as it used to be, and the more creative and passionate one is about learning and teaching truths, the more you are under attack and scrutinized in your profession.


Teaching shouldn’t be so combative between adults. Kids, I understand, lol, but between adults? Please. Definitely not only does each student and teacher deserve better but all of my family deserves better.


At the end of the day my wife Nikia N Williams just wants her best friend and husband to share quality time and be by her side each night, and my children just want their goofy dad who inspires, encourages, laughs with them and listens to them each day I come home. Too many days they get an exhausted, saddened but hopeful, loving father who wonders if their school days could be as uninspiring and negative as some of my daily experiences are. It’s really unfair to all parties.


My wife hates hearing about most of my school experiences because so many are negative or have a negative impact on my career and subsequently our immediate and future financial health. My wife has to delicately balance my children’s experiences with listening to mine and try to manage to stay positive herself- a tough chore in this social and political climate.


Many teachers are depressed not only with their own current situations but with the doomsday direction our education system is headed through. To me, I am a revolutionary so I’ll keep fighting but that doesn’t make it any easier. I wish many of my friends would not so much as say, “I gotta give it to you, I couldn’t do that,” or “these parents and kids today . . .” and instead say, “oh, now I understand how all of this is connected to all of our presents and futures, how can I help?” I’d say become more informed and become active because even if you have no children, today’s students still are tomorrow’s future.


My resolutions are to still try to find that line which allow me to leave a lot of stress and negativity at work day’s end and bring home only smiles, listening ears, hugs, positivity, laughs, loving support and quality time to my family. Thanks.

I recently saw two excellent documentaries on television. I highly recommend both.


One was narrated by Fareed Zakaria; its title: “Terror in Mumbai.” It appeared on HBO. I vividly remember the horrible events, when 10 terrorists landed in Mumbai in 2008 and killed dozens of people–at the train station, in hotels, in a Jewish center, and at other sites. At the time, there was great confusion about how many terrorists there were, what happened, and why. Now we know. The Indian police were totally unprepared. But most interesting was to learn that the Indian intelligence service managed to tune into the frequency used to communicate between the terrorists and their controller, who gave them instructions and constantly reminded them to create as much havoc as possible. He also reminded them that they would succeed only if they died.


The second documentary is called “The Hunting Ground.” It appeared on CNN. It is about sexual assaults on campus. A number of young women (and some young men) have organized to tell their stories and to expose their universities’ indifference to their reports of rape and other assaults. What’s shocking about this story is the hypocrisy of the universities, all of which claimed that took these reports “very seriously.” Yes, very seriously. If the alleged assailant was a star athlete, the chances of a genuine investigation were slim to none.


PS: sorry about the earlier blank posting!



John Thompson, historian and teacher, says that the Gates Foundation is fighting a losing battle to justify value-added assessment. At its root, he says, is an assault on public education, facilitated by a worship of data and a belief in the value of teacher churn.


He writes:
One of the Gates Foundation’s star value-added scholars, Dan Goldhaber, has voiced “concerns about the use of VAM estimates at the high school level for the evaluation of individual teachers.” Two years ago, he asked and answered “yes” to the question of whether reformers would have placed less emphasis the value-added evaluations of individual teachers if research had focused on high schools rather than elementary schools.
I once saw Goldhaber’s statement as “a hopeful sign that research by non-educators may become more reality-based.”
As the use of estimates of test score growth in evaluations becomes even more discredited, Goldhaber is not alone in making statements such as, “The early evidence on states and localities using value added as a portion of more comprehensive evaluation systems suggests that it may not be differentiating teachers to the degree that was envisioned (Anderson, 2013).”
So, what is now happening in the aftermath of the latest warning against value-added evaluations? This time, the American Educational Research Association AERA Council “cautions against VAM being used to have a high-stakes, dispositive weight in evaluations.”
The logic used by the nation’s largest education research professional association is very similar to what I thought Goldhaber meant when he warned against using various tests and models that produce so many different estimates of the effectiveness of high school teachers. The point seems obvious. If VAMs are imposed on all types of schools and teachers with all types of tests and students, then they must work properly in that wide range of situations. It’s not good enough to say we should fire inner city high school teachers because some researchers believe that VAMs can measure the quality of teaching with random samples of low-poverty elementary students.
Goldhaber now notes, “AERA’s statement adds to the cacophony of voices urging either restraint or outright prohibition of VAMs for evaluating educators or institutions. Doubtless, these stakeholders are genuinely concerned about potential unintended consequences of adopting these performance measures.”
However, Goldhaber and other supporters of corporate reform still twist themselves into pretzels in arguing that we should remain on their value-added path. Ignoring the effects of sorting as one of the factors that make VAMs invalid and unreliable for evaluating individuals, Goldhaber counters the AERA by illogically citing a couple of studies that use random samples to defend the claim that they can be causally linked to a teacher’s performance.


In other words, Goldhaber grasps at any straws to claim that it might not have been a mistake to mandate the risky value-added experiment before studying its likely negative effects. His bottom line is that VAMs might not be worse than many other inaccurate education metrics. And, yes, many things in education, as in all other sectors of society, don’t work. But, even if VAMs were reliable and valid for evaluating individuals, most people who understand school systems would reject the inclusion of test scores in evaluations because of the predictable and destructive policies it would encourage.



Moreover, Goldhaber is attacking a straw man. The AERA and corporate reform opponents aren’t urging a multi-billion dollar investment to scale up failed policies! My classroom’s windows and ceiling leaked, even as I taught effectively. But, that doesn’t mean we should punch holes in roofs across the nation so that all schools have huge puddles of water on the floor!
For reasons that escape me if the goal was improving schools as opposed to defeating unions, Goldhaber also testified in the infamous Vergara case, which would wipe out all California laws protecting teachers’ rights. He chronicled the negative sides of seniority, but not the benefits of that legally-negotiated provision. One would have thought that a court would have sought evidence on both sides of the issue, and Goldhaber only explored one side.
Goldhaber estimated the harm that could be done through “a strict adherence” to the seniority provision of “Last In, First Out” (“LIFO”). I’m sure it occasionally happens, but I’ve never witnessed such a process where the union refused to engage in a give and take in regard to lay-offs. More importantly, it once would have been easy to adopt the old union proposal that LIFO rights not be extended to teachers who have earned an “Unsatisfactory” evaluation. An agreement on that issue could have propelled a collaborative effort to make teacher evaluations more rigorous (especially if they included peer review.)
Reformers like Goldhaber ignore the reasons why we must periodically mend, but not end seniority. His work did not address the enormous social and civil rights benefits of seniority. It is the teacher’s First Amendment. Without it, the jobs of leaders who resist nonstop teach-to-the test will be endangered. Systems will have a green light to fire veteran teachers merely to get rid of their higher salaries and benefits. Without LIFO, corporate reformers will mandate even more mass closures of urban schools. Test scores will remain the ammunition in a war to the death against teachers unions. The poorest children of color will continue to be the prime collateral damage.
Even though he did not do so before testifying in Vergara, I hoped that Goldhaber would subsequently update his methodology in order to study both sides – both the costs and the benefits to students – of seniority protections. He has not done so, even though his new research tackles some other issues. In fact, I would have once been cautiously optimistic when reading Are There Hidden Costs Associated with Lay-offs? Goldhaber, Katherine Strunk, David Knight, and Nate Brown focus on the stress created by layoffs. They conclude, “teachers laid off and hired back to teach in the next school year have significantly lower value added in their return year than they had in years unthreatened by layoffs.” They find that the stress of receiving a lay-off notice undermines instructional quality and contributes to the teacher “churn” that especially hurts children in the poorest schools.
In a rational world, such a finding would argue for the reform of the education budgeting process that distresses educators – not for punitive measures against teachers who were blameless in this matter. In an even more rational world, Goldhaber et. al’s research would be used as an argument for more funding so that systems don’t have to cut it so close, and to provide support to teachers and students in stressful high-challenge schools.
By the way, I once faced such a layoff. It wouldn’t make my list as one of the thousands of the most stressful events of my career. The transparency of the process mitigated the uncertainty, minimized the chance of losing my job, and eliminated the chance that I would lose my career in an unfair manner. If Goldhaber and Strunk are really curious about the causes of teacher churn, they should visit the inner city and take a look at the real world that their metrics are supposed to represent. But, that is unlikely. Corporate reform worships at the idol of teacher churn. It is the cornerstone of the test, sort, reward, and punish policies that VAMs are a part of.
Goldhaber still seems to be sticking with the party line: Teacher churn is bad, except when it is good. We must punish teachers by undermining their legal rights in order to address the failings of the entire society. We must fight the stress fostered by generational poverty by imposing more stress on teachers and students in poor schools.
Once I believed that Gates-funded quantitative researchers were merely ignorant of the realities in schools. Maybe they simply did not know how to connect the dots and see how the policies they were advocating would interact with other anti-teacher, anti-union campaigns. Maybe I was naïve in believing that. But, at a time when the Broad Foundation is trying to replace half of Los Angeles’s schools with charters, we must remember the real danger of mandates for VAMs and against seniority in a competition-driven reform era where test scores are a matter of life and death for individual schools, as well as the careers of individual educators.
Every single rushed policy defended by Goldhaber may be a mere mistake. But, whether he understands it or not, the real danger comes from combining those policies in a top-down assault on public education.

Ever wonder who is the supplying the money behind the privatization of public schools?

It is a long list, and it starts with the U.S. Department of Education. Every year since 1994, your taxpayer dollars have been used to open schools that drain resources from your public schools while selecting the students they want. If your state has charters, you can expect that they will lobby the legislature for more charters. They will close their schools, hire buses, and send students, teachers, and parents to the State Capitol, all dressed in matching T-shirts, to demand more charters. Since the children are already enrolled in a charter and can’t attend more than one, they are being used to advance the financial interests of charter chains, which want to expand.

The big foundations support the growth of the charter industry: the Walton Family Foundation has put more than $1 billion into charters and vouchers; the Gates Foundation and the Eli Broad Foundation also put millions into charters, often partnering with the Far-right Walton Foundation.

There is a long list of other foundations that fund the assault on public education, including the John Arnold Foundation (ex-Enron trader), the Dell Foundation, the Helmsley Foundation, the Fisher Family Foundation (Gap and Old Navy), the Michael Bloomberg Foundation, and many more.

Here is a list of the funders of 50CAN, which started in Connecticut as ConnCAN, created by billionaires, corporate executives, and hedge fund managers, led by Jonathan Sackler, uber-rich Big Pharma.

Here is an example of a foundation that is very active in support of privatization. Check out where their money goes.

ALEC uses its clout with far-right legislators to promote charters and vouchers, as well as to negate local control over charters.

To see where the Walton Family Foundation spread over $202 million to advance privatization, look here.

The money trail is so large, that it is hard to know where to begin. Certain recipients do collect large sums with frequency, including KIPP, Teach for America, Education Trust, to name just a few.

As we say at the Network for Public Education, we are many, they are few. They have money, we have votes. Out ideas for children and education are sound, their ideas fail every time, everywhere.

From time to time, a blogger or a commenter compares something to Nazism or to Hitler. As sure as night follows day, there will be outraged comments saying that any invocation of Nazis and Hitler is strictly forbidden, intolerable, unacceptable, verboten.


I disagree. I wrote a book in 2003 called The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn, about efforts to censor what appears in textbooks and on tests. Everybody has some words that they want to ban, some topic they find execrable, some illustrations they can’t abide, some depictions that they consider stereotypes. The publishers are so fearful of controversy that they have written guidelines with long lists of words, topics, and illustrations that may not appear in textbooks or on tests. I learned about these guidelines when I was on the National Assessment Governing Board. That is when I discovered that every education publisher runs their material through a “bias and sensitivity review panel” to make sure that nothing appears that anyone might object to. You will never see an owl mentioned on a standardized test or witches or evolution or stories with disobedient children or any reference to a landlord or a cowboy. You will never see elderly people with a cane or sitting in a rocker. You will never see a mom making dinner. Instead, you might see a drawing of grandpa on the roof nailing in shingles and a female truck driver. You will see no reference to poverty or cancer or roaches or rats or nuclear war or suicide or abortion. No rainbow flags. No anatomically correct cows. Everyone is happy. Everything has been carefully scrubbed to avoid offending anyone, any group.


I don’t like censorship. It is true that I don’t permit certain well-known curse words on this blog, but I am not imposing my views on anyone else.


As for Hitler and Nazis, please see Mel Brooks’ movie “The Producers.” Mel Brooks said that the best way to deal with Hitler today is to laugh at him, to make him a fool, and the movie indeed made him into a butt of Brooks’ jokes. I also suggest the classic comedy “To Be or Not to Be,” with Jack Benny, Carole Lombard, and Robert Stack; it was made in 1942 when Hitler was no joke. But they made him into a laughing stock. The movie was remade in 1983 by Mel Brooks and his wife Anne Bancroft. Brooks turned it into a fabulous musical in 2001, which won multiple awards and was turned into another movie. Brooks told the German publication Spiegel that comedy robs Hitler of his posthumous power. Those who are afraid to speak his name confer power on him.


To those who say, “You can’t say that,” I say “Yes, you can, and so can I.” If you are afraid to use Hitler and Nazis as metaphors, that is your choice. It is not mine. If Jack Benny could do it in 1942, if Mel Brooks could do it in 1968 (To Be or Not to Be) and again in 1983 (The Producers), well, I say, let freedom of speech ring.