Archives for the month of: June, 2016

In reference to North Carolina, you can never say “it can’t get worse.” It always can, as long as Pat McCrory is Governor and the Tea Party extremists control the legislature.

Governor McCrory named a new member of the state board of education: J. Todd Chasten. His major qualification appears to be his role in efforts to ban a book from the English honors class in his district.

The North Carolina General Assembly will vote on his nomination tomorrow.

NC Policy Watch reports:

Governor Pat McCrory’s recent nomination of J. Todd Chasteen to serve on the State Board of Education has raised the eyebrows of some western North Carolinians.

A Boone resident who appears to have a thin record of experience with public education, Chasteen was deeply involved last year in efforts to ban a book from a public high school English classroom in Watauga County.

“We should reject Governor McCrory’s recent nomination of Wataugan J. Todd Chasteen to the North Carolina Board of Education,” said Appalachian State University English professor Craig Fischer at a public forum at the university earlier this week, objecting to Chasteen’s lack of experience in public education.

“Chasteen sided with would-be censors during last year’s battle over keeping Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits in the sophomore English Honors curriculum at Watauga High,” Fischer added. “He spoke on behalf of banning the book at a February 10, 2014 school board local forum about the controversy, claiming–inaccurately–that Allende’s book is full of ‘deviancy’ and child pornography.”

Chasteen, an attorney and executive with Boone-based international aid organization Samaritan’s Purse, not only spoke publicly for removing The House of the Spirits from the classroom, but also lobbied the eventual tie-breaking board of education member, Ron Henries, in person and via email in an effort to persuade him to vote for banning the book, according to emails obtained by N.C. Policy Watch.

This is the mission statement of his organization:

Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Since 1970, Samaritan’s Purse has helped meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ. The organization serves the church worldwide to promote the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

He is obviously a man drawn to charitable, faith-based work. But he has no particular qualification to sit on the state board of education. His activity in the book-banning controversy was sufficient to recommend him to McCrory as right for the state board of education.

Will the NEA get a pledge from Hillary not to support non-union charters? Will Hillary agree to cut off federal funding of predatory for-profit charters? Will Lily get Hillary to speak out against misuse of testing? Will Hillary lay out a new vision for the federal role in education?


Hillary Clinton to Address NEA Representative Assembly

Presumptive Democratic Nominee will deliver remarks to annual gathering of 7,500 educators

WASHINGTON― Secretary Hillary Clinton, presumptive Democratic Presidential Nominee, will address more than 7,500 delegates at the National Education Association’s 95th Representative Assembly (RA) in Washington, DC on Tuesday, July 5, 2016. In October, NEA educators recommended Secretary Clinton in the Democratic Primary.

The RA is the top decision-making body for the nearly 3 million-member NEA, and sets Association policy for the coming year. Delegates adopt the strategic plan and budget, resolutions, the legislative program, and other policies of the Association. Delegates also vote on proposed amendments to the NEA’s Constitution and Bylaws. NEA’s RA is the world’s largest democratic deliberative body.

NEA is the nation’s largest labor union, with its members representing one in every 58 general election voters. NEA households represent one in every 32 voters nationwide. NEA member households will be a robust and significant voting bloc during this fall’s election.

WHO:
Hillary Clinton, Presumptive Democratic Nominee
Lily Eskelsen García, NEA President

WHAT:
Will address delegates to the NEA’s 95th Representative Assembly

WHERE:
Walter E. Washington Convention Center
801 Mt. Vernon Place NW
Washington, DC 20001

WHEN:
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Preset: AM, time TBD
Remarks: AM, time TBD.

Despite the best efforts of the Florida legislature to give every possible financial and regulatory break to charter school operators, the charter industry is having many problems.

Charters in Duval County are not doing well at all. The legislators and former Governor Jeb Bush have promised again and again that the move to private control would unleash a new era of excellence and innovation, but it hasn’t happened.

Duval’s charter schools performed worse than the district’s public schools on state tests.

Recently released results from the annual Florida Standards Assessments and from state end-of-course exams reveal that in 17 out of 22 tests on reading, math, science, history and civics, charter schools averaged fewer students passing the tests than those in district schools.

In some tests and subjects, far fewer. The biggest differences were in science.

Nearly three out of four Duval students taking biology last year passed its end-of-course exam, compared to less than half, 48.4 percent, of charter school students. Fifty-two percent of Duval’s fifth-graders passed that grade’s science test, compared to 41 percent of their charter school peers.

In every tested grade except sixth, Duval students’ English language arts passing rates and math passing rates exceeded charters.’

“You can see that our schools are improving at a faster clip,” said Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

There were exceptions, where charters decisively outperformed district schools.

In sixth grade, 48 percent of charter school students passed math, compared to nearly 40 percent at district schools.

In algebra 1, charter schools passed 53 percent of students, 5 percentage points more than the district’s 48 percent. In Florida, high school students need to pass algebra 1 to graduate.

Also, in geometry, the difference between charter and district schools was about 19 percentage points; nearly 56 percent of charter school students passed compared to 37 percent of district students.

(The comparisons are estimates, because Florida obscures scores in grades with few students to protect their identities. That affects charter schools more than district school data.)

Charter schools are independently operated schools that compete with the district for students as well as state and federal tax dollars. Charter school students take the same tests as students in traditional public schools.

Charter advocates will leap to celebrate the grades and subjects where charters got higher scores than public schools, but it should be remembered that charters (unlike public schools) are free to choose the students they want and free to throw out the students they don’t want. They should be superior across the board, but they are not.

This is one of the few articles I have read that acknowledges that charters “compete with the district for students as well as state and federal tax dollars.” Many people do not realize that charters–even low-performing charters–drain money from the public schools.

Oops! Pearson picked the wrong teacher for its Silver Award.

Rose Veitch, a teacher at Hackney College, turned it down.

Georgia’s elected officials have chosen charter schools as their way to improve education. Thus far, their bet has not paid off.

A new report from the State Charter Schools Commission finds that charter schools perform about the same as public schools. This is similar to the conclusions of many states and districts and studies. Charter schools are free to choose their students and free to push out the ones they don’t want. They are free from most state regulations and are lightly supervised. But there are few differences in performance between the charter sector and the public schools. Some might argue that test scores should not be used as the yardstick of quality, but low test scores–and the promise of raising them–was the rationale for creating charter schools. So, it is duplicitous to make excuses for their inability to bring every child to high levels of proficiency, as they once claimed they could do.

A new report about the performance of schools authorized by the State Charter Schools Commission finds a mixed bag, with 15 statewide charter schools neither excelling far ahead of nor dragging far behind the traditional public schools against which they’re meant to compete.

At the elementary school level, most of the charter schools performed as well as the average traditional school in 2014-15, says the report by Georgia State University, which provides significant detail about the performance of each school. In general, by middle school, the charters were performing as well as or better than average. High school was a mixed bag.

The Charter Schools Commission was established in 2012 by a state constitutional amendment and began working in 2013. It authorizes a subset of charter schools, with local school districts still the lead authorizer for most (the local districts work with the Georgia Department of Education, a separate entity from the Commission).

As of December, 91,000 Georgia students were attending 441 charter schools, including 97 “start-up” charter schools, 18 “conversion” charter schools, and 326 “charter system” schools in 32 charter systems, which are regular school districts that have signed charters with the state, according to a recent Education Department report. The number of charter systems is growing, though.

Here is a link to the full report, written by Professor Tim Sass of Georgia State University.

Georgia plans to create an “Achievement School District,” based on the failed model in Tennessee. It promised to take over the state’s lowest performing schools (in the bottom 5%) and move them in five years to the top 25% in test scores by turning them over to charter operators. But the schools it has turned into charters have remained mired in the bottom 5-6%.

This is one of the best articles ever on how to end the teacher shortage.

Janice and Geoffrey Strauss write:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s irrational vendetta against teachers and public education, aided and abetted by the state legislature and former Commissioner John King’s inept handling of Common Core, charter schools and the public education system have all led to such a toxic atmosphere in education that few candidates want to even get near public school teaching…..

We must make public school teaching attractive again, and here is a short list of what should be done:

1. Eliminate the EdTPA. This system, promoted as increasing standards for teachers, is in reality so onerous and poorly thought out that it is discouraging qualified applicants to the profession. It costs both teacher candidates and the state millions, and has resulted in teacher candidates being less prepared for teaching rather than more so.

2. Eliminate standardized testing in the public schools and for teacher candidate preparation. Research shows the best indicator of a student’s success is their GPA, not standardized test scores. Standardized testing merely adds to the coffers of the private testing industry. Reinstitute teacher-created Regent’s exams. Teacher created exams are age appropriate, more accurately test the learning of students and cost much less than corporate prepared tests.

3. Let teachers mark their own students’ tests. It’s cheaper and better.

4. Eliminate corporate “canned” teaching modules created to meet Common Core Standards, and allow teachers to create their lesson plans. Teachers are the experts; release their creativity so that they can teach students properly.

5. Make the teaching profession attractive financially. Eliminate Tiers V and VI in the teacher retirement system. One of the tradeoffs teachers had accepted for the relatively low pay for the amount of education required was a decent pension. Tiers V and VI were created to punish teachers, not reward them for their service.

6. Create a “Teacher Bar Association” to establish educational requirements for teachers for public and charter schools, thus officially recognizing that teaching is a profession. Lawyers, doctors and CPAs are experts in their fields, as are teachers in theirs.

7. Establish a program to help raise the status of teaching in the public’s consciousness. Few want to enter a profession which is constantly derided by politicians and the press.

8. Common Core has been a disaster; eliminate it. While the intent was perhaps a good one, it was created by non-educators more for political and profit motives than educational ones.

If we want more teachers, we must make the profession attractive financially and creatively. Let teachers do what they do best — teach!

Mitchell Robinson, professor of music education at Michigan State University, writes here about the frightening new direction that is on the horizon for evaluating student teachers.

Here comes NOTE (National Observational Teaching Examination), created by ETS, in which student teachers are judged by their ability to instruct cartoon characters (“avatars”).

Robinson minces no words in chastising educators who have decided to join forces with the corporatization of teacher education-evaluation.

He writes:

Now, even some of these education experts, tempted by the prospect of previously unimaginable wealth and power, have sold out their profession for a shot at cashing in on the corporate reform gravy train. Witness Dr. Deborah Ball’s stepping down as Dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan to concentrate on her work on NOTE: National Observational Teaching Examination for ETS, the Educational Testing Service.

As I’ve written about previously here, and here, and others have written about here, NOTE is a high-stakes student teacher evaluation test that requires pre-service teachers to “instruct” avatars–yes, avatars! And if their “teaching” of these cartoon characters isn’t deemed adequate, the student teacher is denied their certification or teaching license, in spite of the fact that the student teacher in question has just completed an accredited, rigorous 4 or 5 year teacher preparation program, regardless of the student teacher’s earned GPA or demonstrated capability to teach real, live children in hundreds of hours of field experiences in local school classrooms, or the intern’s exhibited knowledge, understanding or competence in their subject area.

(And, just to rub a little salt in the wound: the persons who are remotely-operating the avatars are not teachers themselves–they are unemployed actors who have been trained to manipulate the joy sticks and computer simulations that control the avatars’ voices and movements. The designers of the avatar system found that teachers thought too much about their responses to the interns’ teaching “moves”–the actors didn’t concern themselves with matters like content correctness or developmentally-appropriate responses; they just followed the provided script, and efficiently completed the task at hand.)

Schools Matter reported on this alarming new methodology here and here, and clarifies that the new technology-driven program is funded by….(no surprise)…the Gates Foundation, which gave $7 million to “remake teacher education in a corporate high tech image, one that can be turned into deep and fast-running revenue streams by the increasingly rapacious Silicon Valley data miners and dystopian isolationists who view democratic community as a threat to unbridled corporate greed.” It seems that Bill Gates will never abandon his goal of standardizing American education.

Our reader Jack Covey supplied this video.

Do you suppose that future teachers might master teaching cartoon avatars yet lack the skills and knowledge of a well-prepared teacher?

William J. Mathis has drawn together the research on class size to explain why it matters.

It is costly to reduce class size, but it is very likely the most effective intervention to help students who are struggling.

It also happens to be the single reform that parents want most. When class size was put on the ballot in Florida, it was overwhelmingly approved. Despite numerous attempts by Jeb Bush and his allies to get rid of it, the caps on class size have remained intact.

Reformers disregard the research on class size because they don’t want to spend more money to do what works. They prefer changes in governance, like charter schools, vouchers, mayoral control, state takeovers–anything but reducing class size. They claim that reducing class size benefits unions because it requires more teachers. But the biggest benefit of reducing class size is to the children, who get the attention and time they need to learn.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Randi Weingarten is taking union pension funds away from hedge funds that attack teachers’ pensions. Leading hedge funds have contributed to organizations that want to eliminate defined-benefit pensions and substitute 401k plans for them. The hedge fund billionaires have also taken the lead in funding nonunion charter schools.

Randi has pushed the investment committees of unions to withdraw their pension funds away from hedge funds that are subsidizing attacks on teachers’ pensions.

Defenders of the hedge funds say that the unions should seek the best return on their funds, without regard to the politics of the hedge fund.

Randi has the better side of this dispute. Why should teachers invest their pension funds in a company that wants to take away their pensions?


Daniel Loeb, Paul Singer and dozens of other hedge-fund managers have poured millions of dollars into promoting charter schools in New York City and into groups that want to revamp pension plans for government workers, including teachers.

The leader of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, sees some of the proposals, in particular the pension issue, as an attack on teachers. She also has influence over more than $1 trillion in public-teacher pension plans, many of which traditionally invest in hedge funds.

It is a recipe for a battle for the ages.

Ms. Weingarten started by targeting hedge-fund managers she deemed a threat to teachers and urged unions to yank money from their funds. Then she moved to Wall Street as a whole.

Her union federation is funding a lobbying campaign to eliminate the “carried-interest” tax rate on investment income earned by many money managers. It is trying to defeat legislation that would increase the charitable deduction in New York state for donations to private schools. And it has filed a class-action lawsuit accusing 25 Wall Street firms of violating antitrust law and manipulating Treasury bond prices.

‘Given your strong support…for an organization which is leading the attack on defined benefit (DB) pension funds around the country, I was surprised to learn of your interest in working with public pension plan investors.’
—Randi Weingarten, in March 15, 2013, letter to hedge-fund manager Daniel Loeb

Some pension funds have withdrawn money from hedge-fund managers criticized by the teachers union. And some hedge-fund managers stopped making donations to advocacy groups targeted by Ms. Weingarten.

Hedge funds, reluctant to buckle to the pressure, say Ms. Weingarten is doing a disservice to the teachers she represents, because funds should aim solely to earn the highest possible return on their assets. The personal beliefs or donations of hedge-fund managers, they argue, shouldn’t be a factor in that decision. At least one manager, Mr. Loeb of Third Point LLC, has increased his donations to a charter-school group, citing Ms. Weingarten.

Sander Read, chief executive officer of Lyons Wealth Management, which hasn’t been targeted, likened what Ms. Weingarten is doing to “hiring a dentist because of their political beliefs. You may see eye to eye on politics, but you may not have great, straight teeth.” None of the hedge funds targeted by the teachers unions would discuss the matter publicly, a sign of how sensitive the battle has become.

Ms. Weingarten said in an interview: “Why would you put your money with someone who wants to destroy you?”

The battles are rooted in a political fight over how to improve public education. Republicans have long sought major changes, such as creating new competition for public schools, including charter schools. Democrats largely have supported solutions backed by the unions, particularly increased spending for existing schools.

About a decade ago, some liberals joined conservatives in pushing to expand charter schools. Those efforts received financial support from hedge-fund managers including Mr. Loeb, Mr. Singer of Elliott Management Corp. and Paul Tudor Jones of Tudor Investment Corp., who together kicked in millions of dollars.

Some of those involved in the effort cast public-school teachers and their unions as obstacles to improving education. The reputation of the teachers union took a beating.

When Ms. Weingarten was elected president of the American Federation of Teachers in 2008, she aimed to restore public trust in public-school teachers and their unions.

As she rose in the union, she got close to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Last summer, the federation became the first union group to endorse Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign. Ms. Weingarten sits on the board of the super PAC supporting her candidacy, and the American Federation of Teachers has donated $1.6 million to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

Ms. Weingarten’s federation represents about two dozen teachers unions whose retirement funds have a total of $630 billion in assets, a big chunk of the more than $1 trillion controlled by all teachers unions. The federation doesn’t control where that money is invested; the unions themselves do. But Ms. Weingarten can make recommendations.

She instructed investment advisers at the federation’s Washington headquarters to sift through financial reports and examine the personal charitable donations of hedge-fund managers. She says she focuses on groups that want to end defined-benefit pensions. Many of the same entities also back charter schools and overhauling public schools.

In early 2013, the union federation published a list of roughly three-dozen Wall Street asset managers it says donated to organizations that support causes opposed by the union. It wanted union pension funds to use the list to decide where to invest their money.

The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a think tank that supports increasing school choice and replacing defined-benefit pension plans with 401(k)-type plans for future government employees, is one of the groups to which donations were viewed unfavorably.

Lawrence Mone, its president, says the tactics amount to intimidation. “I don’t think that it’s beneficial to the functioning of a democratic society,” he says.

After KKR & Co. President Henry Kravitz made the list in 2013, Ms. Weingarten got a call from Ken Mehlman, an executive at the private-equity firm and former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Mr. Mehlman said KKR had a record of supporting public pension plans, according to Ms. Weingarten.

Ms. Weingarten agreed, removed Mr. Kravitz’s name from the list and invited Mr. Mehlman to talk about the firm’s commitment to public pensions at a meeting in Washington with 30 pension-fund trustees representing 20 plans that control $630 billion in teachers’ retirement money.

When Cliff Asness of hedge fund AQR Capital Management LLC found out Mr. Kravitz had gotten off the list, he called Mr. Mehlman, a friend. Mr. Asness also hired a friend of Ms. Weingarten’s: Donna Brazile, a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who has been a paid consultant to the American Federation of Teachers.

Ms. Brazile arranged a lunch meeting between Mr. Asness and Ms. Weingarten, where they discussed ways to work together. Not long after, Mr. Asness’s firm paid $25,000 to be a founding member of a group that KKR’s Mr. Mehlman was starting with Ms. Weingarten to promote retirement security.

Mr. Asness was removed from the list. A year later, when Ms. Weingarten noticed he continued to serve on the Manhattan Institute board, she considered putting him back on.

In September of last year, when the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or Calstrs, considered increasing its hedge-fund investments, Ms. Weingarten saw another chance to apply pressure.

Dan Pedrotty, an aide to Ms. Weingarten who runs the hedge-fund effort, spoke to a Calstrs official about Mr. Asness’s continued service on the Manhattan Institute’s board. The Calstrs official then called Mr. Asness.

In December, Mr. Asness said he would step down from the Manhattan Institute board. His spokesman says he already had made the decision at the time of the call, after reassessing time spent on the boards of several nonprofit groups.

“Randi is committed to helping hard working employees achieve the secure retirement they deserve,” Mr. Asness said in a written statement.

Mr. Loeb, founder of the $16-billion Third Point fund, has been more combative. He is a donor to the Manhattan Institute and chairman of the Success Academy, which operates a network of charter schools in New York City.

‘I can appreciate that it may be frustrating for the certain plan sponsors to invest with managers who have different political views or party affiliations, an issue they must come to terms with due to their fiduciary responsibilities.’
—Daniel Loeb, in March 22, 2013, email to union leader Randi Weingarten

In a March 2013 letter to Mr. Loeb, Ms. Weingarten noted his support of a group “leading the attack on defined benefit pension funds” and said she was “surprised to learn of your interest in working with public pension plan investors.” Seeking business from union pension funds while donating to the group, she wrote, “seem to us perhaps inconsistent.”

The two agreed to meet.

Mr. Loeb emailed Ms. Weingarten, noting his fund’s average annual return of 21% over 18 years. “I completely respect the political considerations you may have and understand if other factors dictate how funds are allocated,” he wrote.

A week later, Ms. Weingarten wrote back to reiterate that unions were wary of investing with Mr. Loeb “given the political attack on defined benefit funds.”

In response, Mr. Loeb asserted that it must be “frustrating” for unions to invest with funds that “have different political views or party affiliations.” He added: “At least we can rejoice in knowing that as Americans we share fundamental values that elevate individual opportunity, accountability, freedom, fairness and prosperity.”

The meeting was called off, and Mr. Loeb was added to the list.

At a fundraising dinner that May for his charter-school group, Mr. Loeb stood up and said: “Some of you in this room have come under attack for supporting charter-school education reform and freedom in general.” He called Ms. Weingarten the “leader of the attack” and pledged an additional $1 million in her name.

“Both Randi and I believe America’s children deserve a 21st century education, and I hope the day comes when she embraces the positive change created by public charter schools,” Mr. Loeb said recently in a written statement.

In late 2013, state union officials pressed a Rhode Island pension fund to fire Third Point. The following January, the pension fund did just that, pulling about $75 million from Mr. Loeb’s fund. A spokeswoman for the state treasurer said at the time that Mr. Loeb’s fund was too risky.

Roger Boudreau, a member of the teachers union and an elected adviser of the Rhode Island fund at the time, says the donations played a role. “It’s fair to say that those kinds of donations are going to be looked at very critically,” he says.

Around that time, a giant billboard appeared above Times Square. “Randi Weingarten’s Union Protects Bad Teachers,” it read above a picture of her scowling face.

Ms. Weingarten immediately assumed the hedge-funders were behind the attack. The entity listed as the billboard’s sponsor is the Center for Union Facts, a Washington-based advocacy group. The group declines to disclose who paid for the billboard.

“We all guessed it had to be people like Dan Loeb,” Ms. Weingarten says. Mr. Loeb declined to comment.

The billboard kicked off a campaign against Ms. Weingarten by the Center for Union Facts, including radio and newspaper advertisements. “She’s the head of the snake, so it was appropriate to go after her personally,” says the group’s president, Richard Berman.

The ads directed people to a website that said she oversaw a “crusade to stymie school reforms and protect the jobs of incompetent teachers.” It listed her salary and called her a “member of the elite.”

In September 2014, Mr. Berman sent a 10-page letter to lawmakers, union officials and opinion leaders charging that Ms. Weingarten‘s “ineptitude is a threat against America, against hard-working teachers, and especially against our nation’s children.”

Lorretta Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, responded in a letter to union leaders that Mr. Berman represented a “front group whose mission is to vilify and destroy unions.”

The Center for Union Facts, led by Richard Berman, is a rightwing, virulently anti-union public relations firm that specializes in demonizing unions; it has also defended the tobacco industry against critics.

Chuck Pascal was elected as a delegate on Bernie Sanders’ slate in Pennsylvania.

He is a member of the Platform Committee and will attend its meetings in Orlando, where he plans to represent the views of parents and educators who share our values about strengthening public schools and repelling privatization.

He needs our help to defray the costs.

He has launched a Go Fund Me campaign and welcomes contributions of any size: $10, $20, whatever you can afford.

Yes, we can crowd source his trip! We need a voice in the deliberations of the Democratic Platform Committee.