Archives for the month of: May, 2016

Peter Greene reports that the Florida Department of Education made an ambiguous statement when pressed on the Manatee County’s determination to hold back third-grade students who opt out, even if they have excellent reports cards and can read very well.

The spokesperson for the state said that the law is clear: students have to take the test. But the law does not say that students must be held back.

Peter reads this to mean that the state is blaming the district.

So, Superintendents Diane Greene and Lori White– the ball’s in your court. In fact, you’re kind of in your court all alone now. The state has sent a clear message of “Don’t lay this foolishness on us!” My suggestion? make a reasonable, humane, decent decision here– the kind of decision that one would expect from a professional educator who actually cares about the welfare of children. Take the opening the state has given you, and pass those children.

Class Size Matters will hold its annual “Skinny Awards” (the opposite of the Broad awards) in New York City on June 9. Unlike the Broad awards, which come with a prize of $1 million or so, the Skinny awards are accompanied by a lucite figure and the priceless gratitude of many. Class Size Matters fights for smaller classes, research-based practices, and student privacy.

You are invited!

Please click on the link to reserve your seat for this wonderful event.

I will be there, along with Leonie Haimson and other friends and allies who fight for better schools for all.

Class Size Matters Annual

“Skinny” Awards Dinner

When: Thursday, June 9 at 6:30 PM
Where: Il Bastardo/Bocca Di Bacco
191 7th Ave (21st St)
New York, NY 10011

A fundraiser for Class Size Matters

Please join us to honor

investigative reporter Juan Gonzalez

with a Lifetime “Skinny”award


former Bronx member of the Panel for Educational Policy

Robert Powell

An opportunity to enjoy a four course dinner with wine

Tickets: $250 – Defender of Public Education

$150 – Patron

$75 – Supporter

Politico reported this morning on a continuing debate about the “test/and-punish” policies of Michelle Rhee, whose ideas about testing, school closings, and teacher evaluation were reflected in the iniatives of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top: 

“EDU-PINION: Pundits are once again debating the legacy of Michelle Rhee, the controversial former D.C. public schools chancellor who became a national figure in the education reform movement. Citing recent commentary questioning whether Hillary Clinton should embrace Rhee-style reform to the same extent as Obama did, Jonathan Chait of New York magazine pushes back. “Rhee’s policies have worked,” he writes. “If you believe education policy should be designed to increase learning and economic opportunity for low-income children, then Washington, D.C., is a model that should be emulated.” More:”

The New York Times wrote  about the control of the mass media by billionaires, an issue that should concern us all. Not only do they own the media, some use it to promote their financial self-interest and political ideology.


This is is not an entirely new phenomenon, the story notes, mentioning William Randolph Hearst as an example. But Hearst co-existed with thousands of community newspapers. In this age of concentrated ownership of the media, a handful of moguls own the news.


Jim Rutenberg, the reporter, points out an ominous development. Billionaire Peter Thiel bankrolled a lawsuit by wrestler Hulk Hoganagainst, a gossip website, as payback for Gawker’s report that he was gay. Hogan won $140 million, which, if upheld on appeal, would put Gawker out of business.


This is an ingenious way to stifle dissent. If a billionaire doesn’t like a website, he or she can sue it into bankruptcy.

Thomas Ultican, teacher of physics and mathematics in San Diego, California, writes about the disastrous impact of charter schools on public schools. According to a study commissioned by the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the district loses $500 million annually to charters.


The charter lobby in the state–led by the California Charter School Association– is wealthy and politically powerful.


Ultican points to Prop 39, passed into law in 2000, as the mechanism that allows privately managed, lightly regulated charters to expand into public space and gobble up resources and the students they want.


“The MGT study illustrates how charter school law in California is fashioned to favor privately operated charter schools over public schools. If a local community passed a bond measure in the 1980’s to build a new public school, it is the law in California that the members of that local community – who still might be paying for that public school – will have no choice but to allow a private operator move into the facility. In addition, the charter school law requires the local school district to incur many direct and indirect costs to support charter schools.


“In California, since its statehood, a super-majority (67%) was required to pass a school bond measure. In 2000, after losing an effort that March to mitigate the super-majority rules and the infamous proposition 13 limitations, supporters brought forward proposition 39 that would reduce school-bond super-majorities to 55% and did not seriously threaten proposition 13 protections enacted in 1978. It passed 53% to 47% in November.


“In the official ballot summary for proposition 39 in the November 7, 2000 election the support message was signed by Lavonne Mcbroom, President California State PTA; Jacqueline N. Antee, AARP State President; and Allan Zaremerg, President California Chamber of Commerce. The statement against the proposition was signed by Jon Coupal, Chairman Save Our Homes Committee, Vote No on Proposition 39, a Project of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association; Dean Andal, Chairman Board of Equalization, State of California; and Felicia Elkinson, Past President Council of Sacramento Senior Organizations.


“This proposition was a battle royal with every media source and elected official bloviating endlessly about the righteousness of their side. However, like in the official ballot measure statements, there was no discussion of the charter school co-location funding requirement in article six of the proposition.


“When proposition 39 is coupled with the undemocratic charter authorizing system in California, citizens lose all democratic control of their local schools. With the three levels of government having the power to authorize charter schools it is almost impossible to turn down a charter request no matter how bad the schools previous history is or how inundated a community might be with certain types of schools…..


“Public education run by democratic processes is a major good. The past two decades of school reform have produced nothing but negative results and profits. The more enthusiastically the corporate and billionaire driven reforms have been embraced the worse the results (see Denver, New Orleans and Washington DC). It is time to stop all new charter school authorizations in California. It is time to reject the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. It is time to embrace professional educators working democratically within local communities to restore public education in America. It is time to protect our great inherited legacy – public education – which is definitely not a privatized market driven education.”




Fred LeBrun of the Albany Times-Union is the best mainstream journalist in New York state. He understands parents and teachers, and he writes sharp columns that explain more about the state of education than anything you will read in the editorial columns of the New York Times, which hews closely to the NCLB/RTTT narrative. This column is a critique of the recent statement issued by State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and State University of New York President Nancy Zimpher, containing their proposals for elevating the teaching profession and recruiting more teachers. Take it from LeBrun, the proposals are hogwash that will make it harder to recruit new teachers.

He writes:

A national public school teaching shortage looms, with New York no exception.

This is not breaking news. We’ve known this was coming for some time, although New York poses an interesting set of internal contrasts and contradictions for what this actually means. Like most of the rest of the nation, New York faces a big bloc of baby boomers aging out as teachers and administrators, leaving a lot of holes to be filled.

That is nothing new, either, and not necessarily a bad thing. Retirements bring opportunity for new blood, fresh ideas and enthusiasm. Teachers, even very good ones, wear out.

New York has always been able to meet the challenge of filling classrooms in 700-plus school districts with qualified, accredited teachers because we arguably have, in the State University of New York, the best teacher preparation network of colleges in the nation for cranking them out. We are so good at it we’re a major provider of teachers for other states.

And therein lies New York’s problem. It’s not in creating qualified teachers, even with teacher preparation enrollment in New York dropping 40 percent in the last six years. It’s in keeping them in teaching and in the state, particularly in difficult assignments that aren’t hard to guess at.

Nor is it hard to guess why the college-bound are avoiding the teaching profession in droves, or leaving New York once they get a degree.

You’d have to live on another planet to be mystified. Across the country, public school teaching has gone through six years of organized disrespect by opportunistic politicians and morons with big money looking to privatize public education, abetted by morons with higher degrees in education with wing-nut ideas. Teachers have been deliberately made scapegoats for the far-reaching effects of poverty, demonized, demoralized and sneered at by the likes of Gov. Andrew Cuomo among others. Cuomo seemed to particularly relish humiliating teachers every chance he got, for reasons that remain a mystery. Public revulsion for what teachers were subjected to finally put a stop to it.

Morale within the teaching ranks has to be low, and my guess is recruitment for the retiring ranks will be tough for some time in parts of New York. You can thank Cuomo and his hedge fund friends for that.

So, when State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher* and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia held a press conference last week to tout an extensive new TeachNY report leading into a campaign for recruiting teacher preparation applicants, it was timely.

I sat down and read all 140 pages of it, and all 62 recommendations. If you can spare a couple of hours, I recommend it. (

Not especially for the content. As I was painfully reminded, there is no gibberish like education gibberish. A good editor could knock it down to under 20 pages of actual English, with maybe a dozen rather ho-hum recommendations. But it’s worth looking at for what it markedly isn’t.

It has only marginally to do with how to recruit teachers to fill a coming shortage. I was astounded at how much a bait and switch it turned out to be, because the report is mostly about how to torque up requirements at those aforementioned teacher preparation colleges in order to make teaching far more demanding, even more rigorous in continual training and evaluation, even more time-consuming in delivery than it is now. More hoops to go through.

The net effect of the recommendations would be to elevate the requirements for becoming — and remaining — a teacher to roughly the status of brain surgery.

I was gobsmacked. Rather than attract more candidates to the profession, the thrust of this report, if executed, will chase more away. What are these people thinking was my first reaction.

Then I took a harder look at the language, and noticed bits like “data-driven” and “evidenced based” and “metrics,” and suddenly the reek of familiar garbage brought on a eureka moment. I’d seen this stuff before, in the justification and language associated with the utterly discredited state high stakes standardized testing tied to teacher evaluations nonsense. The work of the Common Core cadets. That took me to scanning the multitude of participants in this study, and sure enough there was the abominable John King himself, former state commissioner of education, high advocate of blame the teacher. Come to find out the TeachNY report was funded by Race to the Top, groan…..

We need respect for what a teacher is and does and can do, and build from there. This goofy report doesn’t come close.

LeBrun says that the real danger of the report is that any part of it might be picked up and enacted by the legislature, which has demonstrated repeatedly that it does not have a clue about improving education.

He points out that we need an army of new teachers, not a trickle. The recommendations of Elia and Zimpher will narrow the pipeline and make it more like a straw.

The best thing to do with this lengthy report is to ignore it.

Hopefully it is only online and no trees were felled to print it.

*Nancy Zimpher announced that she will step down as president of the State University of New York in September 2017:

I hope the day comes when I will never again type the four-letter word G-R-I-T.


But that day has not yet arrived.


Here is a meta-analysis of everything that scholars have written about grit. Yes, there actually is a “Grit Literature.”


Personally I prefer grits. But this is serious. The National Assessment of Educational Progress has been stampeded into assessing grit on national tests.


Surely there are now programs and consultants selling their advice about how to incorporate grit into school lessons.


So maybe you might want to look over the meta-analysis, so you can discuss grit in the faculty lounge or at home.

Some of us are old enough to remember a time when there were no “rubrics” for teaching. Teachers learned how to teach in their teacher preparation programs and as student teachers; they struggled the first year or two, and if they were lucky, an older teacher helped them get better. And then they were good teachers, able to manage the class, deal with discipline issues, and lead their students to whatever they were teaching.

But these days, there is a formula for almost everything (except what matters most, like living a good life, coping with adversity, managing the stresses and strains of a culture that bombards us with more information and sensation than we can handle).

In teaching, there is the rubric created by Charlotte Danielson.

Katie Lapham, who teaches in the New York City public schools, thinks back to what inspired her when she was a student in Atlanta. Her teacher never heard of the Danielson rubric or the Marzano method. Yet he was the one who changed her life.

After seeing Michael Elliott’s wonderful film about the drama teachers who changed his life, Katie wrote:

While these lifelong teachers, now retired, had different teaching styles, interests and personalities, they all taught with passion and instinct, traits not measurable by a rubric. They also had freedom and autonomy, conditions that motivate teachers and boost their morale. The current path that we are on – the standardization of teaching and learning and the narrowing of curriculum – is short-sighted and unsustainable. It unfortunately deprives students of experiences that Michael Elliot touchingly describes in his short film. Eileen Daniel Riddle, James Gilchrist and Dr. Rick Chase are teachers who not only inspired students to expand their learning but also created spaces in which students could feel alive.

Paul Tough popularized the term “grit” in his best-selling book How Children Succeed, but EduShyster decided to avoid that topic in this interview.


Tough has done something close to a 180. In his new book Helping Children Succeed, he admits that grit can’t be taught.


Instead, he reviews the latest research on child development and concludes that what matters most is attachments, human attachments.


He recommends programs that engage children with caring adults, and he is critical of the rote learning that now predominates in so many test-obsessed schools.


EduShyster confided to me, Paul sounds a lot like you in Reign of Error. That’s a compliment. His previous book was one of their favorites. I hope they read this one too.

John Thompson, teacher and historian, writes here about two examples of a disturbing trend. In the first one, a teacher writes about her abhorrence of data walls, which publicly shame children. The other is the current flap in Florida, where some districts are punishing children who do not take the state test, even though they are known to be good students whose work in class demonstrates their ability.



He writes:


Have They No Shame?


Virginia 3rd grade teacher, Launa Hall, exposes a shocking example of how corporate reform has lost its soul. In doing so, she reminds us of the way that bubble-in accountability started the nation’s schools down this abusive road. Hall writes, “Our ostensible goal in third grade was similar to what you’d hear in elementary schools everywhere: to educate the whole child, introduce them to a love of learning … But the hidden agenda was always prepping kids for the state’s tests.” When educators’ jobs shift from the unlocking of children’s whole potential to increasing test scores, some or many educators will stand and fight against destructive pedagogies, but it is amazing how many otherwise caring human beings will agree to inflict so much pain on children.


In Florida, for instance, most schools aren’t punishing 3rd graders for “opting out” of tests. Two districts, however, are warning parents that their children will be retained if they opt out. The Manatee district is “cherry-picking” from the state law in order to hold back a third-grader who “has gotten nothing but rave reviews from teachers.” Another parent opted her son out of the testing because of his test anxiety; “she said her son reads on a fourth-grade level and performs at or above grade level in the classroom.” These school systems are obviously willing to hurt those kids in order to send a message to parents who have the temerity to push back against the testing mania.

A few years ago, I thought I witnessed the ultimate abusive practice designed to shame children into working harder to meet higher quantitative targets. It was bad enough that the New Orleans “No Excuses” charter school I was visiting prohibited talking in the cafeteria during lunch. Even worse, their data wall was prominent in the lunchroom for everyone to see. I had once seen an Oklahoma City data wall, identifying the scores of all students, but it was in a room, inside another room, and it was for faculty eyes only. Teachers and administrators in OKC had long been warned that a NOLA-style breach of confidentially could cost us our teaching licenses, but that had seemed redundant. What sort of human being would publically reveal individual students’ attendance and/or classroom performance data?

And that brings us back to Launa Hall’s story. She notes that posting students’ names in such a way without parental consent may violate privacy laws. But, “At the time, neither I nor my colleagues at the school knew that, and … we were hardly alone.” Hall adds that the U.S. Education Department encourages teachers to not display the numbers for individuals, who are identifiable by name, and that approach would have been more “consistent with the letter, if not the intent, of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. But it would be every bit as dispiriting. My third-graders would have figured out in 30 seconds who was who, coded or not.”

Hall’s focus is not on the legal games adults are playing but on the damage done by this shaming to individual children. She paints us a picture of the pain that was inflicted on “Child X” when she saw her real name followed by “lots of red dots” declaring that she was not meeting official state standards. Of course, Hall “tried to mitigate the shame she felt.” The teacher’s efforts at reconnection may have helped a little, but the student “still had all those red dots for everyone to see.”
Hall then tells us “exactly who is being shamed by data walls.” Janie (her pseudonym for Child X) “is part of an ethnic minority group. She received free breakfast and lunch every school day last year, and some days that’s all she ate. Her family had no fixed address for much of the year, and Janie, age 8, frequently found herself the responsible caretaker of younger siblings.”

The Post story prompted around 400 comments and more discussion on social media. Almost all were opposed to the public posting of children’s data, often decrying the walls as insane and reprehensible. One commented, “Hard to imagine this actually occurring. Why not just put the dots on their foreheads?” Some commenters tried to blame the individual teachers who posted data walls, but others explained how that is often required by under-the-gun school systems.

Even so, the few supporters of such data walls, as well as the venom of some commentators casting blame on individuals, illustrate the tragedy unleashed by corporate reformers appealing to our basest instincts. A few recalled the good old days and complained “today’s little flowers can’t take competition or even comparisons of any kind,” or said that similar things happened 50 years ago, but “if some little snot bragged about getting the highest grade, he/she would get beat up after school.” One personified the market-driven mentality which gave us such brutality, saying that 3rd graders should be separated “into two tracks: one would be the “everyone gets a trophy track,” while “the other track would be the ‘competitive track,’ which would feature these dreaded ‘data walls,'” so we could see who became more successful in life.

Hall is magnanimous in wrapping up this sorry tale of cruel competition and compliance, “when policymakers mandate tests and buy endlessly looping practice exams to go with them, their image of education is from 30,000 feet. They see populations and sweeping strategies. From up there, it seems reasonable …” But, how could they disagree with her admonition? “Teaching the young wasn’t supposed to feel like this.”

I would only add that the ultimate tragedy would be the creation of a new generation of educators and patrons where this sort of shaming feels like teaching.