Archives for the month of: November, 2019

Jan Resseger gives thanks for the teachers and other educators who boldly walked out and went out on strike over the past two years. So do I.

These courageous educators challenged the national narrative that had been so deviously cultivated by billionaires and Wall Street about “failing schools” and “bad teachers,” in an effort to destroy public faith in public schools and promote privatization of public funds.

Thanks to #Red4Ed, the new and realistic narrative is about crowded classrooms, crumbling schools, underpaid teachers, and schools without nurses, social workers, or librarians.

#Red4Ed said, “No more!”

The first walkout was in West Virginia in the spring of 2018. That walkout closed every school in the state and unleashed a wave of strikes and walkouts that continues now.

Reading about the West Virginia walkout inspired me to start writing a book that will be published January 21, called SLAYING GOLIATH. I will be in West Virginia on February 22 to meet those brave teachers and thank them for what they have done for all of us.

 

The superintendent of the New Orleans’ all-charter school district recommended the closure of two charter schools that received a grade of F, but parents and students turned out at the Orleans Parish School Board meeting to demand that the board override his decision and keep their schools open.

Students, parents and leaders of two Orleans Parish charter schools turned out by the dozens on Thursday night to protest Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr.’s decision to pull the school’s charters, prompting the president of the Orleans Parish School Board to say he’s considering a board vote on overriding the decision.

President John Brown said he was responding to the two schools’ request after Lewis confirmed his recommendation not to renew their charters because of failing grades.

The protests, which included emotional speeches by parents and students, and the response from Brown set up a potential clash between the superintendent of NOLA Public Schools, the new name of Orleans Parish’s all-charter school district, and the leader of the city’s school board…

If the board were to override Lewis’ decision not to renew the two charters, it would be the first time a board took that step since the city’s all-charter network of schools returned to local control.

More than 50 representatives from the schools showed up at Thursday’s board meeting to urge Lewis to reconsider. 

A ruling by five of the board’s seven members can overturn the superintendent’s decision.

In a private email to me, Lance Hill, an education activist in New Orleans, explained:

The subtext of this is that there a few charters that began early on that were controlled by black former OPSB teachers and administrators that were islands of local control (MLK in particular) in a white-dominated, outsider controlled charter system. These schools have struggled in part because they would not cherry-pick and force out  challenging students (Treme in particular) and have always been resented by the NSNO (New Schools for New Orleans) people.  They have also moved toward unionizing lately.  
But it is a good example of how some charters build their own constituencies, even if they are failing, because they are perceived as more locally and black controlled.  I imagine the school board will give them a pass just to avoid the conflict. 

 

The Wall Street Journal published an expose of the College Board’s practice of selling student data, which is illegal in some states. The colleges buy the names and addresses of students, encourage them to apply, then reject them so they can claim they are “exclusive.” It looks good on the US News phony ratings when colleges have a low acceptance rate.

For 47 cents, the College Board will sell an individual’s information, feeding admissions frenzy

Jori Johnson took the practice SAT test as a high-school student outside Chicago. Brochures later arrived from Vanderbilt, Stanford, Northwestern and the University of Chicago.

The universities’ solicitations piqued her interest, and she eventually applied. A few months later, she was rejected by those and three other schools that had sought her application, she said. The high-school valedictorian’s test scores, while strong by most standards, were well below those of most students admitted to the several schools that had contacted her.

“A lot of the rejections came on the same day,” said Ms. Johnson, a 21-year-old senior film major at New York University, one of three schools that accepted her out of 10 applications. “I just stared at my computer and cried.”

The recruitment pitches didn’t help Ms. Johnson, but they did benefit the universities that sent them. Colleges rise in national rankings and reputation when they show data suggesting they are more selective. They can do that by rejecting more applicants, whether or not those candidates ever stood a chance. Some applicants, in effect, become unknowing pawns.

Feeding this dynamic is the College Board, the New York nonprofit that owns the SAT, a test designed to level the college-admissions playing field.

The board is using the SAT as the foundation for another business: selling test-takers’ names and personal information to universities.

That has helped schools inflate their applicant pools and rejection rates. Those rejection rates have amplified the perception of exclusivity that colleges are eager to reinforce, pushing students to invest more time and money in preparing for and retaking exams College Board sells. Colleges say the data helps them reach a diverse pool of students they might have otherwise missed.

The top 10% of universities don’t need to do this. They are buying some students’ names who don’t have a great chance of getting in,” said Terry Cowdrey, an enrollment consultant for universities and Vanderbilt University’s acting dean of undergraduate admission in 1996 and 1997. “Then the kids say, ‘well why did you recruit me if you weren’t going to let me in?’ They do it to increase the number of applications; you’ve got to keep getting your denominator up for your admit rate.

If anyone doubts that big money is buying our democracy, read Mercedes Schneider’s post about the recent election in Louisiana.

Anyone who doubts that ueber-wealthy ed reformers are purchasing elections in other states need only consider this November 10, 2019, campaign finance reportfor the Louisiana Federation for Children (LFC) Action Fund PAC. Even so, as one quickly realizes when following ed reform money, the connections readily become numerous and complicated.

Let’s see how concise I can keep this this post centered on a single, LFC campaign finance report.

LFC is a state-level tentacle of the American Federation for Children (AFC), the school choice vehicle formerly chaired by US ed sec, Betsy DeVos. Louisiana gubernatorial challenger, Eddie Rispone is the former LFC chair. and also the former treasurer of the LFC Action Fund PAC.

According to LFC Action Fund PAC’s November 10, 2019, filing, three out-of-state donors (two individuals and one PAC), donated a combined $825K in October 2019. The same three donated a combined $2.6M in 2019 alone. They are Arkansas billonaire and Walmart heir, Jim Walton; California billionaire William Oberndorf, who succeeded DeVos as AFC chair, and a school choice PAC, Public School Allies:

  • William Oberndorf (CA): $275K in 10/19; $550K YTD (year to date).
  • Jim Walton (AR): $350K in 10/19; $912K YTD.
  • Public School Allies (VA): $200K in 10/19; $1.2M YTD.

Public School Allies lists as its address “6312 Seven Corners Center #354
Falls Church, VA 22044,” which is a UPS drop box. However, the October 24, 2019, Chlakbeat reports that Public School, Allies is the “political arm” of the City Fund, created in 2018 to spread school choice by three individuals, including former New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) CEO, Neerav Kingsland. From Chalkbeat:

The political arm of The City Fund, the organization with ambitions to spread charter schools and the “portfolio model” of school reform across the country, plans to spend $15 million to influence state and local elections over the next three years.

That political group, known as Public School Allies, has already directed money toward to school board races in Atlanta, Camden, Newark, and St. Louis, and state elections in Louisiana, Georgia, and New Jersey. Donations have ranged from $1 million to as little as $1,500.

The information was shared by Public School Allies and, in a number of cases, confirmed by campaign finance records. The $15 million comes from Netflix founder Reed Hastings and former hedge-fund manager John Arnold, the organization said.

According to his Linkedin bio, Kingsland worked for both Hastings and Arnold “leading education giving” immediately prior to establishing the City Fund.

Sure makes it read like the City Fund “belongs” to billionaires Hastings and Arnold.

But they are not alone. In 2018, billionaire Bill Gates gave the City Fund $10M “to increase the number of high-quality public schools in Oakland.” Of course, to the City Fund, a “public school” is a charter school.

Those complex ed-reform funding paths always seem to end with a few millionaires and billionaires, tossing their cash and puppeting the strings of American K12 education.

Open the link to read the list of officials who were elected by out-of-state billionaires.

Here is the thing: They can buy the seats, but once they have bought them, they have no plans that will actually improve anything. They love power. They buy elections.

Big money is a malignant force in our democracy.

A group of scholars collaborated to write a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research that studies how teachers affect student height. It is a wonderful and humorous takedown of the Raj Chetty et al thesis that the effects of a single teacher in the early grades may determine a student’s future lifetime earnings, her likelihood graduating from college, live in higher SES neighborhoods, as well as avoid teen pregnancy.

When the Chetty study was announced in 2011, a front-page article in the New York Times said:

WASHINGTON — Elementary- and middle-school teachers who help raise their students’ standardized-test scores seem to have a wide-ranging, lasting positive effect on those students’ lives beyond academics, including lower teenage-pregnancy rates and greater college matriculation and adult earnings, according to a new study that tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years.

The paper, by Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, all economists, examines a larger number of students over a longer period of time with more in-depth data than many earlier studies, allowing for a deeper look at how much the quality of individual teachers matters over the long term.

“That test scores help you get more education, and that more education has an earnings effect — that makes sense to a lot of people,” said Robert H. Meyer, director of the Value-Added Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which studies teacher measurement but was not involved in this study. “This study skips the stages, and shows differences in teachers mean differences in earnings.”

The study, which the economics professors have presented to colleagues in more than a dozen seminars over the past year and plan to submit to a journal, is the largest look yet at the controversial “value-added ratings,” which measure the impact individual teachers have on student test scores. It is likely to influence the roiling national debates about the importance of quality teachers and how best to measure that quality.

Many school districts, including those in Washington and Houston, have begun to use value-added metrics to influence decisions on hiring, pay and even firing….

Replacing a poor teacher with an average one would raise a single classroom’s lifetime earnings by about $266,000, the economists estimate. Multiply that by a career’s worth of classrooms.

“If you leave a low value-added teacher in your school for 10 years, rather than replacing him with an average teacher, you are hypothetically talking about $2.5 million in lost income,” said Professor Friedman, one of the coauthors…

The authors argue that school districts should use value-added measures in evaluations, and to remove the lowest performers, despite the disruption and uncertainty involved.

“The message is to fire people sooner rather than later,” Professor Friedman said.

Professor Chetty acknowledged, “Of course there are going to be mistakes — teachers who get fired who do not deserve to get fired.” But he said that using value-added scores would lead to fewer mistakes, not more.

President Obama hailed the  Chetty study in his 2012 State of the Union address.

Value-added teacher evaluation, that is, basing the evaluation of teachers on the rise or fall of their students’ test scores, was a central feature of Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top when it was unveiled in 2010. States had to agree to adopt it if they wanted to be eligible for Race to the Top funding.

When the Los Angeles Times published a value-added ranking of thousands of teachers, teachers said the rankings were filled with error, but Duncan said those who complained were afraid to learn the truth. In Florida, teacher evaluations may be based on the rise or fall of the scores of students that the teachers had never taught, in subjects they had never taught. (About 70% of teachers do not teach subjects that are tested annually to provide fodder for these ratings.) When this nutty process was challenged inn court by Florida teachers, the judge ruled that the practice might be unfair but it was not unconstitutional.

The fundamental claim of VAM (value-added modeling or measurement) has been repeatedly challenged, most notably by economist Moshe Adler. When put into law, as it was in most states, it was found to be useless, because only tiny percentages of teachers were identified as ineffective, and even the validity of the ratings of that 1-3% was dubious. The use of VAM was frozen by a judge in New Mexico, then tossed out earlier this year by a new Democratic governor. It was banned by a judge in Houston.  A large experiment funded by the Gates Foundation intended to demonstrate the value of VAM produced negative results.

Now comes economic research to test the validity of linking teacher evaluation and student height.

 

Marianne Bitler, Sean  Corcoran, Thurston Domina, and Emily Penner wrote:

NBER Working Paper No. 26480
Issued in November 2019
NBER Program(s):Program on Children, Economics of Education Program

Estimates of teacher “value-added” suggest teachers vary substantially in their ability to promote student learning. Prompted by this finding, many states and school districts have adopted value-added measures as indicators of teacher job performance. In this paper, we conduct a new test of the validity of value-added models. Using administrative student data from New York City, we apply commonly estimated value-added models to an outcome teachers cannot plausibly affect: student height. We find the standard deviation of teacher effects on height is nearly as large as that for math and reading achievement, raising obvious questions about validity. Subsequent analysis finds these “effects” are largely spurious variation (noise), rather than bias resulting from sorting on unobserved factors related to achievement. Given the difficulty of differentiating signal from noise in real-world teacher effect estimates, this paper serves as a cautionary tale for their use in practice.

 

Staff and parents of students in the remaining public schools of the Chester-Upland district in Pennsylvania, are planning a rally to protest the charter proposal to take over all the elementary students. The district’s big charter, owned by a for-profit corporation that belongs to a wealthy lawyer, has lower scores on state tests than the public schools it wants to close.

Chester Community Charter School, owned by wealthy Republican donor Vehan Gureghian, is a low-performing charter.

The charter aims to eliminate one choice: local public schools.

If the supporters of the public schools had external funding, they could buy everyone a matching T-shirt, like charters do.

Chester Upland School District employees will hold a rally with parents and other community members next week with the hope of staving off a “charter school takeover” of all elementary schools in the district.

“They’re trying to take over pre-K through eighth grade,” said Dariah Jackson, a life skills teacher at Stetser Elementary School and vice president of the local teacher’s union. “We would just have our high school students.”

Chester Community Charter School, the largest brick-and-mortar charter school in the state with more than 4,300 students, already educates more than half of the district’s elementary school children.

The charter filed a petition earlier this month in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas asking the court to direct the district and Pennsylvania Department of Education to issue requests for proposals for charters to educate the remaining elementary school students in the district….

The charter schools – they’re sucking up our funding,” said Jackson. “They’re getting a higher percentage of school district funds. We don’t have enough money because it’s going to the charter schools. That’s one of the arguments, that financially we’re not doing well, but financially we’re not doing well because we’re giving them the money.”

Jackson added that the idea of placing all elementary school students into charters goes against the very “school choice” idea proponents of charters espouse.

They’re taking away the parents’ choice and they’re only giving them one option,” she said. “The charter school was created to give the parents an option other than a public school district. We have parents who want to send their children to the public school district, but they’re taking that option away.”

Jackson added that Chester Upland’s traditional elementary schools outperform CCCS in Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests and said that with more funding, they could do even better. She also pointed to extracurricular activities available in the public schools like football and soccer that are not offered elsewhere in the city.

Reader C.H. Rubinstein eases into the debate about GRIT.

Oy, where have we heard this song & dance before?

Grit is something your mom used to yell about, such as when you were playing outside,

“Wipe your feet before you come in the house, or take your shoes off! Don’t get that grit all over my kitchen floor!”

Or, as my sister would presently yell, “Who got the sink all grit-ty?! Clean it up NOW!!”

Paul Waldman of the Washington Post went down memory lane with prominent Republicans who called out Trump as a phony before he was elected.

 

On Friday, the president of the United States called in to the daily festival of idiocy that is “Fox & Friends,” where he blathered and rambled for an entire hour. He slandered people, repeated ludicrous conspiracy theories, told numerous lies, and devolved into incoherence, leaving even the show’s trio of devoted handmaids puzzled and confused.

In other words, it was a typical morning in the Trump era. As Republicans buckle down to defend him in the next phase of the impeachment process, they have made clear that there is almost no malfeasance on Trump’s part they will not countenance and no betrayal of his office they will not excuse.

What makes their own moral complicity even more profound is that this didn’t come as some sort of surprise.

It’s not as though Republicans suddenly found themselves with a president who turned out to be mentally unbalanced, as petty and vindictive as a 5-year-old, and more corrupt than anyone who has occupied his office. They knew exactly who he was.

Not only that, a great many of them tried to warn the country and their own party that if Trump became president, it would be a disaster.

They were right. Yet today, the best that can be said of nearly any of them (with an exception or two) is that they try to remain silent in the face of Trump’s misdeeds, ducking into elevators to avoid answering questions about the president they support. And some have become his most passionate defenders, eagerly explaining why the very pathologies they warned about are in fact strengths, and that the man they described as a monster is in fact a hero.

Let’s remind ourselves of what they said back in 2016 when Trump was in the process of seizing control of their party:

  • “He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. He doesn’t represent my party. He doesn’t represent the values that the men and women in uniform are fighting for,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham in December 2015. In another interview, Graham said, “I think he’s a kook. I think he’s crazy. I think he’s unfit for office.” Graham has now become one of Trump’s most ardent advocates.
  • “This man is a pathological liar, he doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies,” said Sen. Ted Cruz in May 2016, adding that “the man is utterly immoral” and “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.” Cruz now insists that Trump did nothing illegal with regard to Ukraine and says of the impeachment inquiry, “Washington is always a circus, but this is three rings with all the clowns and it’s nuts right now.”
  • “Yes, I am supporting Donald Trump, but I’m doing so despite the fact that I think he’s a terrible human being,” said Mick Mulvaney in November 2016. He now serves as Trump’s acting chief of staff.
  • “He offers a barking carnival act that can be best described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued,” said Rick Perry in July 2015. “Trump’s candidacy is a cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded.” Perry became Trump’s secretary of energy, then was tasked to implement Trump’s corrupt Ukraine policy as one of the “three amigos.”
  • “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” said then-governor Nikki Haley in February 2016 in a reference to Trump, adding that he was “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president.” Haley became his ambassador to the U.N., and now says of Trump that he’s “truthful” and “great to work with.”

Audrey Watters begins each of her posts at HEWN with a description of a bird. Then she gets into the story, the story in this one being an “epistemic crisis,” a society where truth itself is doubted, experts are dismissed, and everyone is entitled to not only their own opinions but their own facts.

I particularly recommend her links. I enjoyed the one about Mr. Rogers. It compels to think about ourselves, who we are, what we believe, why. The kinds of questions we asked ourselves when we were adolescents but then got hardened into our lives as adults.

Jan Resseger writes here about the damage that “portfolio districts” do to students, schools, and communities. The original concept for “portfolio districts” was developed by Paul Hill of the Gates-funded Center for Reinventing Public Educatuon at the University of Washington. The fundamental idea was that the school board would act like a stock portfolio manager, closing low-performing schools, replacing them with charter schools, keeping open the schools with high test scores. Students would choose where to go to school. The concept was adopted by many districts as the latest thing, and many beloved neighborhood schools serving black and brown communities were shuttered. If their replacement got low scores, it was also closed. The students were collateral damage.

She writes:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein launched this scheme in New York City by creating district-wide school choice, breaking up large comprehensive high schools into small schools with curricular specialties, encouraging the opening of a large number of charter schools, co-locating many schools—small specialty public schools along with charter schools—into the same buildings.  Those running the school district would consider all of these schools of choice as if they were investments in a stock portfolio. The district would hold on to the successful investments and phase out those whose test scores were low or which families didn’t choose.

Portfolio school reform has created collateral damage across the school districts which have experimented with the idea. After the Chicago Public Schools, another district managed by portfolio school reform theory, closed 50 schools at the end of the 2013 school year, the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research, and separately a University of Chicago sociologist, Eve Ewing tracked widespread community grieving when neighborhoods lost the public school institutions that had anchored their neighborhoods.

But there have been other kinds of collateral damage beyond the tragedy of school closures. In a new piece for the NY Times, Eliza Shapiro documents how district-wide school choice in New York City has contributed to inequity along with racial and segregation.

One problem is inequitable access to information. Parents who can afford to pay for consultants and who have the skills and position to understand how to navigate the system are able to privilege their own children with access to the schools widely thought to be desirable.  Shapiro explains: “There is a trick to getting to the front of the lines that clog sidewalks outside New York City’s top public high schools each fall. Parents who pay $200 for a newsletter compiled by a local admissions consultant know that they should arrive hours ahead of the scheduled start time for school tours. On a recent Tuesday, there were about a hundred mostly white parents queued up at 2:30 p.m. in the spitting rain outside of Beacon High School, some toting snacks and even a few folding chairs for the long wait. The doors of the highly selective, extremely popular school would not open for another two hours for the tour. Parents and students who arrived at the actual start time were in for a surprise. The line of several thousand people had wrapped around itself, stretching for three midtown Manhattan blocks.”

Resseger adds:

My own children graduated from a racially and economically diverse public high school in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.  Articles like Shapiro’s cause me to appreciate our family’s privilege in a way I had never really previously considered.  From the time they entered Kindergarten, our children knew they would someday go to the big high school at the corner of Cedar and Lee.  At a week-long summer music camp in our school district, middle school students play side-by-side with some of the members of the high school band and orchestra. Our daughter learned to know the high school tennis coach when he worked with younger students in the city recreation program. And the summer before his high school freshman year, our son, knowing that the high school cross country team worked out in a city park during August, went to the park and asked the coach if he could start working out with the team. High school for our children was a natural, predictable, and exciting transition. How lucky we were.