Archives for the month of: May, 2016

Manatee County, Florida, is standing by its stated policy: Third graders who do not take the state test or do not take the SAT-10 will be held back, no matter what their teacher says, no matter what kind of work they can show, no matter what. Period.

To be fair, Manatee is not the only county planning to flunk third-graders who opt out. And to be even more fair, they are just complying with a truly absurd state law.

Many researchers believe that retaining children in third grade is harmful, that it dampens students’ interest in learning, and that eventually retention turns into dropping out in later grades. After all, the students who are held back suffer humiliation.

But while researchers may debate the value of retention, no one argues that a good reader should be flunked because he or she did not take a test. What is the purpose of retaining a good reader, an excellent reader? The district can say it was “just following orders.” The district can say its hands are tied to state law. But no matter what they say, holding back a student for punitive reasons proves that “reform” is not about the kids. It is about a hard-right ideology that wants to standardize children and impose iron conformity, even to unjust laws.

And that is the problem with the Florida law. When excellent students are held back as punishment, then the law is stupid and unjust. As we have learned from opt out in other states, the children who do not take the test are very likely children of educated parents, who consider the test to be unnecessary and burdensome. If the students can demonstrate that they can read by reading-out loud to an examiner, doesn’t it make sense to allow them to advance a grade based on the fact that they can read rather than on their willingness to submit to a multiple-choice test?

Understand that when you discuss the willingness of a third-grader to take a test, you are really talking about their parents, not the child. It is virtually certain that the parent tells the child not to take the test because the parent wants to make a statement.

Bear in mind that the parent pays the taxes that pay the salaries of the legislators, the principal, the state education department staff, and the teachers. These are public employees. Why should they ignore the will of parents? Why should the legislature celebrate school choice, yet deny parents the right to remove their child from the testing regime?

Time to review Peter Greene’s sensible commentary on this goofy situation.

He writes:

An eight year old child who had a great year in class, demonstrated the full range of skills, and has a super report card– that child will be required to repeat third grade because she didn’t take the BS Test.

This is what happens when the central values of your education system are A) compliance and B) standardized testing. This is what happens when you completely lose track of the purpose of school.

What possible purpose can be served by this? Are administrators worried that the child might not be able to read? No– because that is easily investigated by looking at all the child’s work from the year.

What possible benefit could there be to the child? Mind you, it’s impossible to come up with a benefit in retention for the child who has actually failed the test– but what possible benefit can there be in flunking a child who can read, her teacher knows she can read, her parents know she can read, she knows she can read– seriously, what possible benefit can there be for her in retention. How do you even begin to convince yourself that you are thinking of the child’s well-being at all when you decide to do this?

This is punishment, not so pure, but painfully simple. Punishment for non-compliance, for failing to knuckle under to the state’s testing regime. And in taking this step, the districts show where their priorities lie– the education of the children is less important than beating compliance into them and their parents, less important than taking the damned BS Test.

Officials in these counties scratch their heads? What can we do? The law is the law. Well, in the immortal words of Mr. Bumble, “the law is an ass.” And furthermore, just look across county lines at some other Florida counties that are NOT doing this to their third graders. Go ahead. Peek at their answer. Copy it.

Hell, Superintendent Lori White of the Sarasota schools is retiring in February of 2017– is this really how she wants to finish up her time there?

The mainstream press in Ohio has turned critical of the low-performing, profitable, politically connected charter industry. Just read this blistering editorial in The Columbus Dispatch.


“If a charter school can’t perform better than a conventional public school, there is no point in having the charter school.



“After all, Ohio embarked on the charter-school experiment to see if there is a way to improve on the dismal results being achieved in many urban and poor school districts, not simply to replicate their failure. The idea was that if student outcomes improved in charter schools, then the schools would continue. But if charters failed to improve on the performance of conventional schools, they would be closed.



“Now, years after the experiment began, some schools are persistent failures, but instead of being shut down, they want to change the performance measuring stick so that they can remain in business.



“Defenders of conventional public schools long have maintained that failure isn’t the fault of the schools, but is the result of the socioeconomic circumstances of their students: Students who come from poverty, broken homes and associated forms of instability, are harder to teach.



“Now, some charter schools, which were created expressly to find ways to overcome these disadvantages, want to be excused for failure on the same grounds — saying their students are harder to teach. But if they’re doing no better than conventional public schools — and in some cases doing worse — there is no reason for the public to continue to fund them.


“But the straightforward experiment went off the rails when some clever operators figured out how to get rich by sponsoring charter schools. And to keep the gravy flowing, they began making major political contributions to the lawmakers who control the gravy.



“And that is why rumors have been flying around the Statehouse about proposals to weaken accountability standards for charter schools so that they can continue to receive millions of taxpayer dollars even as the students they are supposed to educate continue to fall behind. In many cases, particularly with online charter schools, it appears that many students don’t even participate in learning, but the school’s operators continue to be paid by the state as if these students are receiving an education.



“Charter-school lobbyists are waving their checkbooks and urging lawmakers to ease attendance-reporting rules and to continue to pay the schools even if students don’t log in to learn. They also want to absolve charter-school sponsors of responsibility for the performance of their schools, even though this is a key part of their role as sponsors. Lobbyists also want schools to be measured not by how much progress a student makes each year, but by whether the school performs more or less like other schools with similar student demographics. In other words, if a poorly performing school is doing no worse than other poorly performing, then it should get a pass. This is called the “similar students” measure.



“It is less than a year since the legislature passed House Bill 2, hailed as a giant step forward in holding charter schools accountable for their performance. Part of that bill called for the Ohio Department of education to analyze the “similar students” measure, with a report due by Dec. 1. Now some lawmakers are proposing to pass legislation adopting this approach before the education department has even issued its report. So much for sound public policy.



“Because of such nonsense, it’s important to remember why charters were instituted in the first place. It wasn’t to replicate failure and make excuses. And it wasn’t to make a handful of charter sponsors rich. It was to make students successful.”


This article provides an inside view of the charter racket in California.


If local districts oppose charter schools, it doesn’t matter. No matter what they say or how well the community organizes, the die is cast. State officials will approve the charter application, regardless of its flaws.


Rocketship charter chain wanted to move into the Mt. Diablo district. It had a federal grant to expand, and the chain wouldn’t let community opposition stand in its way. The district did not want Rocketship’s computer-based approach. It did not want a corporate chain whose headquarters was sixty miles away. Neither did the county board of education, which rejected Rocketship.


“This is the opposite of local control,” said Nellie Meyer, the superintendent of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, who called the proposal deeply flawed and was followed by MDUSD’s general counsel, Deborah Cooksey, who said Rocketship had collected its petition signatures “under false pretenses,” by telling people—including parents who were non-English speakers—their kids could get kicked out of school if they didn’t sign.


“This is going to be something that will divide our community,” said Gloria Rios, who has lived in the Monument Corridor near the northeastern Bay Area city of Concord for 20 years and has three children in the district’s public schools. “Our children will suffer the consequences, and these funds can be used for the schools we already have.”


Rejected by the local community and the county board of education, Rocketship went to the State Board of Education.


Slam dunk.


“The first indication that the proceedings were tilted to Rocketship came when Cindy Chan, who oversees the California Education Department’s charter school program, summarized Rocketship’s petition and, using the same legal terms that the Mt. Diablo and Contra Costa County Boards used to reject Rocketship, concluded the opposite. Rocketship’s prograns were “sound” and they “will implement it,” she said.


“Rocketship’s Cheye Calvo, its chief growth and county engagement officer, then led the board through a powerpoint presentation filled with all the buzzwords of the charter school movement. He talked of closing the “achievement gap.” He said that most “Rocketeers” learn more than one year’s worth of studies every school year. He said the school collected 1,100 petition signatures from district residents. He said the computer labs were “personalized learning,” saying they were “no substitute” for instruction. He called their teachers “purposeful, focused.” He said they rely on data to “assess students” and focus on the “whole child.” He acknowledged that Rocketship has high turnover—losing 20 percent of its faculty annually, but said their “teachers are performance-driven professionals who strive to achieve gap-closing” results. Finally, he put up graphs that compared the test scores from Rocketship’s San Jose schools with students in the Mt. Diablo district, saying they can do better than the traditional public schools.


“The opponents, led by the Mt. Diablo School District superintendent and local school board president, said Rocketship’s persistence was an affront to local control. They recounted the major flaws in its curriculum, especially its shallow approach to teaching English to students who did not speak it at home or as a first language. The district’s programs, especially in the Monument Corridor, were appropriately bilingual and award-winning, they said, adding their approach was seen by Rocketship as a liability. They said that Rocketship was not invited by parents to come into the community, but was lured by local real estate developers.


“But mostly, the critique was aimed at Rocketship’s overreliance on its test-centered curriculum and its lack of attention to the needs of what was working in a low-income, bilingual community, and one where special education also was a challenge.


“We are outraged at Rocketship’s lack of information on special education,” said Cheryl Hansen, president of the Mt. Diablo School District Board. “This is not Rocketship’s first school. Rocketship has not been able to answer special education questions at the school board and county board level.” And returning to their English language instruction, Hansen said, “More than 75 percent of their charter schools show declining achievement in the last four years.”


Nothing the district said mattered. Diablo will get a Rocketship charter, despite its poor performance elsewhere, despite its rejection by the local community.


This process is a rejection of local control and a rejection of democracy. It serves corporate interests, not children.








Day by day, we are making inroads into public opinion. Newspapers in Ohio have been speaking out against the frequent violations of public trust by greedy charter operators. Now the Salt Lake Tribune steps up with a bold denunciation of charter school profiteers. It’s about time.

Inviting the private sector to run schools was a colossal error. For the first time in American history, we have schools claiming to be “public”that operate for public. We have charter schools launched by entrepreneurs, not educators. It is wrong. Many members of the public believe that charters are privately funded, not realizing that it is their tax dollars that are paying off investors.

Here is concrete evidence that the tide is turning. It is an editorial in the Salt Lake Coty Tribune called simply “Charter School Profiteers.”

The editorial board says:

“A handful of private companies have banked more than $68 million from Utah taxpayers over the past three years. The money is delivered through no-bid contracts by people who don’t work for government, but the companies are often connected to political officials.

“An extensive examination of charter school spending by Salt Lake Tribune reporter Benjamin Wood shows several companies that exist only to contract with charter schools. While public schools have always contracted for some services, many charters go so far as to contract for their principals and teachers, providing undisclosed profits to the companies while shielding financial information from the public.

“Under state law, the schools must be operated as non-profits, presumably to avoid people profiteering on public education. Charters that contract with for-profit companies for their largest expenses effectively circumvent that requirement. There is no way for Utahns to know how many of their education dollars are ending up as someone’s salary or profits.

“In the meantime, charters are slowly losing one of their most persuasive arguments: that they can educate students for less money than traditional public schools.

“According to a report from the Utah Foundation released last month, Utah charters collect about 10 percent less per student than regular public schools, but they have cost advantages, too. They have fewer non-English speakers and economically-disadvantaged students. Add in the public schools’ requirements to provide busing, to build inefficient rural schools and to provide such things as gang-prevention services, and the cost difference virtually disappears. Looking at test scores, charters track pretty closely to public schools on average.

“In other words, there is no evidence the free-market capitalism allowed in Utah’s charter school system is providing better results for students.

“But it clearly is producing winners. One company that received more than $4 million last year is headed by the sister of the president of the state charter school board. Another company ($1 million from charters last year) is operated by a state legislator, and two others ($4.7 million and $4.5 million last year) are run by relatives of legislators. (Surprise! All three voted in favor of increasing charter school funding by $20 million last session.)

“One of those relatives promised, “We keep it pretty separate.”

“How many charters operate this way? Hard to say, but it’s not all of them. This isn’t an argument for ending charter schools, but it is a system that begs for reform. Otherwise, the worst is yet to come.

“Long before charters, there were non-profit entities providing K-12 education in Utah. They hired their own principals and teachers, and they still do. That is because there are no efficiencies in creating that second entity, but there can be profits.

“And with profits come profit pressures. Some of today’s charters look less like non-profit schools and more like for-profit proprietary colleges. They market on television and employ sales staffs. As charters become more common, competition for charter students increases. Expect to see these for-profit non-profits apply more sales pressure to prospective parents.”

Donna Roof, teacher of English in Indiana for more than 30 years, sent the following message to her class:



Dear Snider High School Class of 2016:
As I reflect on my career of over 30+ years in the classroom, many thoughts and images flash into my mind about what it has meant to me to be a teacher. My decision to retire was not easy. Teaching is much more than my career; it is my passion. Your class has helped me once again to remember why it has been. I honestly can say that there is no other career I would rather have. I simply love what I do. Believe me when I say you are students who make it easy to stay and hard to leave.
So what have all of these years meant? Quite simply, they mean so very much. When I see you, I don’t see test scores and data. I see unique, young people who have their whole lives ahead of them. Each of you has so much potential. You have lives that are more complicated than I can ever begin to imagine. You overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and are successful because you meet your challenges. As you pursue your dreams and goals, I dare you “to color outside the lines.”


I was fortunate to have had so many teachers who instilled in me the love of learning. If I have done the same with you, then we all have been successful. Everyday I entered my classroom believing I am a master teacher, for if I didn’t hold true to that claim, I shouldn’t be in this profession.

I’ve learned that schools are families. We laugh, we cry, we whine, we bicker, we get frustrated. However, even though we are not related by blood, we are related by a sense of community, by a sense of our common experience, and by a sense of our common humanity.

What have you learned from your experience here at school? Has it been numbers and equations, facts and hypotheses, or papers and projects? Have you learned how to share that knowledge with others? Have you learned to be more tolerant with others? Have you learned kindness, consideration, and compassion? Have you learned what it takes to have and to be a friend? Have you learned anything about truth or justice or honor or decency? Have you learned anything about loyalty or love? What kind of foundation have you begun to build while you were here?

While none of the above lessons will raise your scores on any of your exams, are these not the qualities that school is all about? Is this now what life is all about? The individual lessons that I have taught and that you may or may not have learned are not what is important. What is important is how you will apply what you have learned. Despite all that comes our way, working together, we persevere and succeed because that’s what we do.

As a teacher, I am in the business of helping you to grow in every way, whether it be academically, emotionally, or personally. As most of you are counting down the number of days until you get into the “real world,” don’t forget that each of the goals, the obstacles, the frustrations, the joys, and the sadness you’ve experienced here all add up to who and what you are and will become. For you see, this is what is important; this is what counts; this is what matters.

As you enter this newest chapter of your lives, all I can say is that our business here at Snider has been good. Even though I shall miss having you in class, I am thankful that I was able to spend this part of my career with you. No matter where you are, what you do, or what your age is, you will always be “my kids.” I will always look at my years of teaching with fondness, and as I say farewell to all of you, I also say thank you for what all of you have given me.
“Follow Your Bliss!”

Donna Roof

WA reader anonymously named Substitute Tracher posted this comment:



“The Broward County School Board chair at the Calvary Chapel. At 50:45 she says,



“God has really blessed me this year that a lot of my principals were transitioned out, and he filled those spots with new principals that were saved. Principals that loved the lord.”



Are we really allowed to have a criterion in public schools that principals have to be saved before giving them a job? Won’t need vouchers if that is the case.



Note: The previous pastor of this church resigned after it was disclosed he was committing adultery.

Mississippi lawmakers punished the state’s superintendents by defunding their association. This was in retaliation for the superintendents support for Initiative 42, a referendum calling upon the legislature to fund the schools adequately.


Mississippi has extreme poverty, and Schools that are underfunded. Imagine the nerve of those superintendents, sticking up for the children!


“The move creates an uncertain future for what has traditionally been Mississippi’s most powerful school lobbying group. The long-term power of the association was already in question after lawmakers voted this year to make all superintendents appointive. Traditionally, the elected members of the association, especially those in the state’s largest school districts, have wielded the most political power.

“Initiative 42 would have amended the state Constitution to require the state to provide “an adequate and efficient system of free public schools.” Supporters said it would have blocked lawmakers from being able to spend less than the amount required by Mississippi’s school funding formula, and would have allowed people to sue the state to seek additional money for schools.

“Gov. Phil Bryant and legislative leaders opposed the measure because it could have limited legislative power and transferred some power to judges. They warned that it could have led to budget cuts to other state agencies. Lawmakers placed an alternative measure on the ballot, which made it harder to pass the measure. Voters ultimately rejected any change by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin.”

Two Florida school districts–Sarasota and Manatee–have warned parents their children will not be promoted if they opt out of state testing.

The only way to opt out of the state test is to take a state test before opting out. Alice in Wonderland?



Even students who have earned high marks all year will be retained in grade.


“Third-grade students in Sarasota and Manatee counties who refused to take the state’s standardized English Language Arts test and a subsequent alternative test will be held back, school officials say.


“District officials have contacted several parents saying that because their students opted out of taking the state test, called the Florida Standards Assessment, they must take an alternative test to progress from third grade to fourth. If students do not take the test, officials said they will have to repeat third grade.


“School districts across the state are wrestling with what to do with third-grade students who refused to take, or opted out of, the Florida Standards Assessments. A state statute mandates that students take the test, but vague language makes it difficult for districts to determine what alternatives can be used to promote a student — namely whether a portfolio can be used in lieu of the tests.


“Counties such as Pasco, Hillsborough and Charlotte have allowed students who took neither the FSA or the Stanford Achievement Test, 10th edition, to progress to fourth grade. But districts including Orange, Sarasota and Manatee require students who did not take the FSA or the SAT-10 to repeat third grade.”


The tests, with all their flaws, are more important in those counties than teachers’ assessments of their students or parental rights.




Parents have the right to choose a new school but not the right to refuse standardized tests.

Here is Peter Greene on the Florida testing mess.

This is a blog about a blog about a blog about the state of education journalism. But that’s okay, because blogs today are where you are likely to find the liveliest writing and reporting.


John Merrow wrote recently that this was the golden age of education reporting.


I posted his comments and urged Paul Thomas to respond.


Paul did indeed respond, and he was not at all pleased with Merrow’s judgment.


Paul disagrees that we live in the best days of education writing. He says Merrow is “delusional.”


First, Merrow’s assertion can be true only if edujournalism was criminally horrible in the past to which he is comparing today’s journalism—which is negligently horrible.



Next, since Merrow mentions the Education Writers Association (EWA), his delusional post represents perfectly a central problem with edujournalism reflected in EWA: edujournalists are trapped within an insular norm of reporting that includes both traditional flaws in journalism (objective journalism anchored in reporting “both sides” dispassionately) and contemporary market forces that are contracting mainstream media, resulting in press-release journalism by journalists without the necessary expertise or experiences needed to report on a discipline or field….


The primary mainstream outlets for edujournalism are negligently horrible—unable to rise above press-release journalism, to see through the political manipulation of journalism and education, to listen to professional educators and researchers, or to critically examine assumptions about children/students, teaching and learning, and the purposes of school.


And worst of all, he says, is that education journalists today have no historical lens with which to view stories and so they report old news as new news. They think they have discovered something innovative when they encounter a phenomenon that is unknown to them, but well know to experts in the field. And too: they frame educational quality within a simplistic and flawed context that outcomes are primarily about individual effort (students, teachers). 


In short, they lack the depth or breadth to question the system in which education is embedded. And that produces press-release journalism.



Donovan Livingston was the student speaker at the commencement of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2016.


He said:



“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin,
Is a great equalizer of the conditions of men.” – Horace Mann, 1848.
At the time of his remarks I couldn’t read — couldn’t write.
Any attempt to do so, punishable by death.
For generations we have known of knowledge’s infinite power.
Yet somehow, we’ve never questioned the keeper of the keys —
The guardians of information.



Unfortunately, I’ve seen more dividing and conquering
In this order of operations — a heinous miscalculation of reality.
For some, the only difference between a classroom and a plantation is time.
How many times must we be made to feel like quotas —
Like tokens in coined phrases? —
“Diversity. Inclusion”
There are days I feel like one, like only —
A lonely blossom in a briar patch of broken promises.
But I’ve always been a thorn in the side of injustice.



Disruptive. Talkative. A distraction.
With a passion that transcends the confines of my consciousness —
Beyond your curriculum, beyond your standards.
I stand here, a manifestation of love and pain,
With veins pumping revolution.
I am the strange fruit that grew too ripe for the poplar tree.
I am a DREAM Act, Dream Deferred incarnate.
I am a movement – an amalgam of memories America would care to forget
My past, alone won’t allow me to sit still.
So my body, like the mind
Cannot be contained.



As educators, rather than raising your voices
Over the rustling of our chains,
Take them off. Un-cuff us.
Unencumbered by the lumbering weight
Of poverty and privilege,
Policy and ignorance.



I was in the 7th grade, when Ms. Parker told me,
“Donovan, we can put your excess energy to good use!”
And she introduced me to the sound of my own voice.
She gave me a stage. A platform.
She told me that our stories are ladders
That make it easier for us to touch the stars.
So climb and grab them.
Keep climbing. Grab them.
Spill your emotions in the big dipper and pour out your soul.
Light up the world with your luminous allure.



To educate requires Galileo-like patience.
Today, when I look my students in the eyes, all I see are constellations.
If you take the time to connect the dots,
You can plot the true shape of their genius —
Shining in their darkest hour.



I look each of my students in the eyes,
And see the same light that aligned Orion’s Belt
And the pyramids of Giza.
I see the same twinkle
That guided Harriet to freedom.
I see them. Beneath their masks and mischief,
Exists an authentic frustration;
An enslavement to your standardized assessments.



At the core, none of us were meant to be common.
We were born to be comets,
Darting across space and time —
Leaving our mark as we crash into everything.
A crater is a reminder that something amazing happened here —
An indelible impact that shook up the world.
Are we not astronomers — looking for the next shooting star?
I teach in hopes of turning content, into rocket ships —
Tribulations into telescopes,
So a child can see their potential from right where they stand.
An injustice is telling them they are stars
Without acknowledging night that surrounds them.
Injustice is telling them education is the key
While you continue to change the locks.



Education is no equalizer —
Rather, it is the sleep that precedes the American Dream.
So wake up — wake up! Lift your voices
Until you’ve patched every hole in a child’s broken sky.
Wake up every child so they know of their celestial potential.
I’ve been a Black hole in the classroom for far too long;
Absorbing everything, without allowing my light escape.
But those days are done. I belong among the stars.
And so do you. And so do they.
Together, we can inspire galaxies of greatness
For generations to come.
No, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning.
Lift off.