Archives for the month of: December, 2019

Matt Barnum and Gabrielle LaMarr LeMee wrote a provocative article  about the way that a private school rating agency rates schools and steers patents toward white affluent schools and away from schools where children of color predominate. Larry Cuban reposted the article on his blog.

GreatSchools ratings effectively penalize schools that serve largely low-income students and those serving largely black and Hispanic students, generally giving them significantly lower ratings than schools serving more affluent and more white and Asian students, a Chalkbeat analysis found.

And yet, according to GreatSchools’ own data, many schools serving low-income, black, and Hispanic populations are doing a good job helping students learn math and English. But those schools still face long odds of getting an above-average rating on GreatSchools — likely because their students are arriving far behind.

The result is a ubiquitous, privately run school ratings system that is steering people toward whiter, more affluent schools. A recent preliminary study found that as the site rolled out an earlier version of its ratings, areas with highly rated schools saw increases in home prices and rises in the number of white, Asian, and better-educated families. After three years, the study found, property values in those areas increased by nearly $7,000, making it more difficult for low-income families to buy into the areas.

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that this rating service is funded in part by rightwing foundations that want to promote school choice and destroy neighborhood schools.  Most notable among the funders is the Walton Family Foundation, which despises public schools and eagerly promote charter schools and vouchers.

Kentucky passed a law authorizing charters but never provided funding for them. The new governor of Kentucky, Democrat Andy Beshears, was elected in part because of his strong support by teachers and his commitment to public schools.

First charter school application in Kentucky rejected

NEWPORT, Ky. (AP) — The first charter school application filed in Kentucky has been unanimously denied. News outlets report Newport Independent Schools rejected the application Thursday night. The superintendent says the documents submitted by the proposed River Cities Academy lacked planning in multiple areas. A review committee says there was significant plagiarism in the application process. The committee also found a lack of authentic community support for the school. River Cities Academy can appeal the decision to the state board of education. The state approved charter schools in 2017 but a funding source for the schools hasn’t been provided

An anonymous reader left this comment about the SAT.


Once upon a time, 25 years ago, I ‘offered’ SAT tutoring (at a rather high price of $50/hr.) to denizens of a tony private school. I could charge that much because I ‘got results’. But, it was rather easy to improve scores.

First, there was the fact that almost all of my clients had scored ‘too low’ when they first took the test. The probability was, therefore, that if they simply took it again, they would ‘improve’. Secondly, most low performers had a certain level of anxiety when they took the test. Simply being familiar with the format by reviewing former tests helped those students assess the test in a more calm and analytical manner. Thirdly, despite the subtraction of ‘wrong’ answers from the score (at a rate commensurate with the number of answers), the students needed to understand that they actually knew something, if only at the subconscious level, and they needed to ‘guess’ (even randomly) because an inaccurate random guess didn’t really count against the score. They needed to trust their instincts.

The result was often (among ‘median’ scores) a 100 point increase. Were the students any ‘smarter’ after the tutoring? Well, no. Were they more ‘scholastically fit’, well, no. All they learned was how to contain their anxiety and (to some extent) ‘psyche out’ the test. Nothing more.

The test is (and always was) a scam. I say this as one who has benefited from such tests as a youth (I always did well, even qualified for MENSA on my GRE’s). These tests measure nothing of value, and I’m ever so happy to see more and more colleges relying on a body of student work and the recommendations of former teachers (sometimes in the form of ‘grades’… although ‘grades’ are only a shapshot in time, and often a narrowly forced evaluation by a particular teacher who would have much more to say, if asked).

This is a beautiful and powerful statement spoken in court by a young man on trial for “extremism” in a Russian court. It was translated by Masha Gessen and appears in The New Yorker online. it explains the power of Resistance to tyranny and the importance of individual responsibility and love.

Gessen writes:

A twenty-one-year-old university student named Yegor Zhukov stood accused of “extremism,” for posting YouTube videos in which he talked about nonviolent protest, his campaign for a seat on the Moscow City Council, and different approaches to political power. In his most recent video, recorded four months ago, he suggested that “madmen” like Vladimir Putin view power as an end in itself, while political activists view it as an instrument of common action. In many of his vlog entries, Zhukov is seated against the backdrop of the Gadsden flag—“Don’t Tread on Me”—which appears to hang in his bedroom in his parents’ apartment. The prosecutor had asked for four years of prison time for Zhukov. On Friday, a Moscow court sentenced Zhukov to three years’ probation—an unusually light punishment probably explained by the public response to Zhukov’s speech, which several Russian media outlets dared to publish. Hundreds of people gathered in front of the courthouse on the day of the sentencing. As a condition of his probation, Zhukov is banned from posting to the Internet. The judge also ordered that the flag, which was confiscated by police, be destroyed.

Instead of writing my own column, I have translated Zhukov’s final statement, delivered in court on Wednesday. I did it because it is a beautiful text that makes for instructive reading. Parts of it seem to describe American reality as accurately as the Russian one. Parts of it show what resistance can be.

Zhukov’s statement:

“This court hearing is concerned primarily with words and their meaning. We have discussed specific sentences, the subtleties of phrasing, different possible interpretations, and I hope that we have succeeded at showing to the honorable court that I am not an extremist, either from the point of view of linguistics or from the point of view of common sense. But now I would like to talk about a few things that are more basic than the meaning of words. I would like to talk about why I did the things I did, especially since the court expert offered his opinion on this. I would like to talk about my deep and true motives. The things that have motivated me to take up politics. The reasons why, among other things, I recorded videos for my blog.

“But first I want to say this. The Russian state claims to be the world’s last protector of traditional values. We are told that the state devotes a lot of resources to protecting the institution of the family, and to patriotism. We are also told that the most important traditional value is the Christian faith. Your Honor, I think this may actually be a good thing. The Christian ethic includes two values that I consider central for myself. First, responsibility. Christianity is based on the story of a person who dared to take up the burden of the world. It’s the story of a person who accepted responsibility in the greatest possible sense of that word. In essence, the central concept of the Christian religion is the concept of individual responsibility.

“The second value is love. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ is the most important sentence of the Christian faith. Love is trust, empathy, humanity, mutual aid, and care. A society built on such love is a strong society—probably the strongest of all possible societies.

“To understand why I’ve done what I’ve done, all you have to do is look at how the Russian state, which proudly claims to be a defender of these values, does in reality. Before we talk about responsibility, we have to consider what the ethics of a responsible person is. What are the words that a responsible individual repeats to himself throughout his life? I think these words are, ‘Remember that your path will be difficult, at times unbearably so. All your loved ones will die. All your plans will go awry. You will be betrayed and abandoned. And you cannot escape death. Life is suffering. Accept it. But once you accept it, once you accept the inevitability of suffering, you must still accept your cross and follow your dream, because otherwise things will only get worse. Be an example, be someone on whom others can depend. Do not obey despots, fight for the freedom of body and soul, and build a country in which your children can be happy.’

“Is this really what we are taught? Is this really the ethics that children absorb at school? Are these the kinds of heroes we honor? No. Our society, as currently constituted, suppresses any possibility of human development. [Fewer than] ten per cent of Russians possess ninety per cent of the country’s wealth. Some of these wealthy individuals are, of course, perfectly decent citizens, but most of this wealth is accumulated not through honest labor that benefits humanity but, plainly, through corruption.

“An impenetrable barrier divides our society in two. All the money is concentrated at the top and no one up there is going to let it go. All that’s left at the bottom—and this is no exaggeration—is despair. Knowing that they have nothing to hope for, that, no matter how hard they try, they cannot bring happiness to themselves or their families, Russian men take their aggression out on their wives, or drink themselves to death, or hang themselves. Russia has the world’s [second] highest rate of suicide among men. As a result, a third of all Russian families are single mothers with their kids. I would like to know: Is this how we are protecting the institution of the family?

“Miron Fyodorov [a rap artist who performsunder the name Oxxxymiron], who attended many of my court hearings, has observed that alcohol is cheaper than a textbook in Russian. The state is pushing Russians to make a choice between responsibility and irresponsibility, in favor of the latter.

“Now I’d like to talk about love. Love is impossible in the absence of trust. Real trust is formed of common action. Common action is a rarity in a country where few people feel responsible. And where common action does occur, the guardians of the state immediately see it as a threat. It doesn’t matter what you do—whether you are helping prison inmates, speaking up for human rights, fighting for the environment—sooner or later you’ll either be branded a ‘foreign agent’ or just locked up. The state’s message is clear: ‘Go back to your burrow and don’t take part in common action. If we see more than two people together in the street, we’ll jail you for protesting. If you work together on social issues, we’ll assign you the status of a “foreign agent.” ’ Where can trust come from in a country like this—and where can love grow? I’m speaking not of romantic love but of the love of humanity.

“The only social policy the Russian state pursues consistently is the policy of atomization. The state dehumanizes us in one another’s eyes. In the state’s own eyes, we stopped being human a long time ago. Otherwise, why would it treat its citizens the way it does? Why does it punctuate its treatment of people through daily nightstick beatings, prison torture, inaction in the face of an H.I.V. epidemic, the closure of schools and hospitals, and so on?

“Let’s look at ourselves in the mirror. We let this be done to us, and who have we become? We have become a nation that has unlearned responsibility. We have become a nation that has unlearned love. More than two hundred years ago, Alexander Radishchev [widely regarded as the first Russian political writer], as he travelled from St. Petersburg to Moscow, wrote, ‘I gazed around myself, and my soul was wounded by human suffering. I then looked inside myself, and saw that man’s troubles come from man himself.’ Where are these kinds of people today? Where are the people whose hearts ache this much for what is happening in our country? Why are hardly any people like this left?

“It turns out that the only traditional institution that the Russian state truly respects and protects is the institution of autocracy. Autocracy aims to destroy anyone who actually wants to work for the benefit of the homeland, who isn’t scared to love and take on responsibility. As a result, our long-suffering citizens have had to learn that initiative will be punished, that the boss is always right just because he is the boss, that happiness may be within reach—but not for them. And having learned this, they gradually started to disappear. According to the state statistical authority, Russians are slowly vanishing, at the rate of four hundred thousand people a year. [Deaths exceeded births by nearly two hundred thousand in the first six months of 2019.] You can’t see the people behind the statistics. But try to see them! These are the people who are drinking themselves to death from helplessness, the people freezing to death in unheated hospitals, the people murdered by others, and those who kill themselves. These are people. People like you and me.

“By this point, it’s probably clear why I did what I did. I really want to see these two qualities—responsibility and love—in my fellow-citizens. Responsibility for one’s self, for one’s neighbors, for one’s country. This wish of mine, your honor, is another reason why I could not have called for violence. Violence breeds impunity, which breeds irresponsibility. By the same token, violence does not bear love. Still, despite all obstacles, I have no doubt that my wish will come true. I am looking ahead, beyond the horizon of years, and I see a Russia full of responsible, loving people. It will be a truly happy place. I want everyone to imagine Russia like this. And I hope this image can lead you in your work, as it has led me in mine.

“In conclusion, I would like to state that if the court decides that these words are spoken by a truly dangerous criminal, the next few years of my life will be marked by deprivation and adversity. But I look at the people [who have been jailed in the latest wave of activist arrests] and I see smiles on their faces. Two people I met briefly during pretrial detention, Lyosha Minyaylo and Danya Konon, never complained. I will try to follow their example. I will endeavor to take joy in having this chance—the chance to be tested in the name of values I hold dear. In the end, Your Honor, the more frightening my future, the broader the smile with which I look at it. Thank you.”

 

Robin Lithgow, former director of arts education in the Los Angeles school district, is writing a history of arts education for children. This the last of her installments about the boy choirs in England, and it is enthralling.

“Let’s start with the tradition of the Boy Bishop, celebrated all over Europe, dating back to the the early years of Christianity. In English villages the Boy Bishop was traditionally elected on the 6th of December, the feast of Saint Nicholas, and and his authority lasted till December 28, the Holly Innocents’ Day. He and his entourage were usually chosen from the choir boys at the local church. During his rule the real Bishop would, symbolically, step down at the deposuit potentes de sede of the Magnificat (“he hath put down the mighty from their seat”), and the boy would take his seat at et exaltavit humiles (“and hath exalted the humble and meek”). The elected boy would be dressed in full bishop’s robes, complete with mitre and cozier, and his comrades would be dressed as priests. They would travel about the parish blessing the townsfolk and would perform all of the ceremonies at the church except for the mass. It was a solemn rite, but being boys, they most likely had some fun hamming it up. Except for a brief revival during the rule of the Catholic Mary, this custom did not survive the English Protestant Reformation; but it was still very much in evidence all over the realm early in the reign of Henry VIII. …

It is impossible to overstate the role of the voices of boy singers, thought to be the voices of angels. Entire cathedrals were designed as huge acoustical sound boxes to capture the purity of the sound, and that sound was heard throughout the realm during the Christmas season.”

Robin Lithgow, former director of arts education for the Los Angeles public schools, has been researching the history of children’s theater, in particular, the boys’ acting companies that were popular in England.

This is Part 4 of her series. 

She begins:

If you’ve been on the edge of your seat waiting for this final post on the boys’ companies active in the Tudor Age, you are probably alone, and I need to hear from you! This is a shame, because if theatre historians Harold Newcomb Hillebrand and Charles William Wallace are correct, the Globe Theatre and Shakespeare would never have happened without them!

My first three posts on this subject covered the immense popularity at court of the Children of St. Paul’s and the Children of the Chapel (along with many others that came and went and entertained the aristocracy in the provinces) up through the last decade of Elizabeth’s reign. The third post chronicled their demise as a result of politics and the far more active men’s companies. Hillebrand and Wallace wrote their books early in the last century, and since then there has been almost total silence. Fortunately their books are exhaustive in their detail, and if you can get your hands on them, you might join me in appreciating the role that boy actors played in our rich history

The truth is, the last gasp of the boys’ companies during the reign of James I, while dazzling and controversial, was brief; and it was entirely different from what had gone before. Both the Children of the Chapel and St. Paul’s had a second flowering with the ascendance of a new monarch, but their new life was a life sustained by a different breath—the breath of commerce. Ambitious entrepreneurs banked on the nostalgia for the playful antics of the boys who cavorted through the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and they took a huge gamble. They had investors, and they threw their money around rashly, hiring the best playwrights available. Samuel Daniel, John Day, George Chapman, Thomas Middleton, John  Marston, and Ben Johnson pocketed way more money writing for the boys than they did for the men, and their brilliant plays can still delight us; but the playful antics of the cavorting boy actors were not a good fit for them. Jacobean audiences had grown much more sophisticated, and they and demanded edgier and more dangerous fare than the children could manage.

 

Among rightwing think tanks, none has more intellectual firepower than the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, due to its leading thinker Chester E. Finn Jr., who has an Ed.D. from Harvard Graduate School of Education and worked in the administrations of Reagan and Nixon, as well as working for Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Lamar Alexander.

The Institute, formerly a foundation, is based in Washington, D.C., where it has a large voice in Republican politics, but its actual (if not physical) home is Ohio, because the money came from a Mr. Thomas B. Fordham, who lived in Ohio.

TBF is very influential in Ohio, where it recently wrote the state’s academic standards. TBF has been a loud cheerleader for the Common Core standards, having received millions from the Gates Foundation both to evaluate them and advocate for them.

Fordham looms large as an advocate for charters, vouchers, high-stakes testing, and punitive policies towards teachers and principals. I was an original member of the TBF board, when it was launched, and resigned in 2009, when I realized that my views were no longer aligned with those of TBF. One of the projects I disliked intensely was a “manifesto” funded by Eli Broad, which argued that one did not need to be an educator to be a school principal. I disagreed. I also disagreed with the TBF decision to accept Gates’ funding, since it would hamstring TBF’s role as an independent think tank and put it in the debt of Gates. It was also unnecessary, since TBF had $40 million in the assets at the time. Since I left TBF, it has accepted many, many millions from Gates, Broad, Walton and other external funders.

Who was Thomas B. Fordham? How did his fortune become the founder of a rightwing think tank?

Mercedes Schneider here reviews an analysis of the origins of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, based on a paper by Richard Phelps. 

As I have often stated, I was an original member of the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. I objected to two major policy positions: one, the decision to become an authorizer of charter schools in Ohio, which I believed was not the role of an independent think tank. I lost that vote. As I recall, almost every one of the charters authorized by TBF either closed or failed or both. I also objected to accepting money from the Gates Foundation, as it would impair our independence and make it impossible to criticize Gates when it was wrong. And TBF didn’t need the money, it had assets of $40 million. I lost that vote too. I left the board in 2009, since I no longer supported either choice or the TBF vision of accountability. I later heard that “my seat” (the girl) was awarded to the CEO of a Gulen charter chain in Los Angeles. So there.

New Jersey is a corrupt state, whose Democratic leadership controls the state and patronage. The Democratic machine worked happily with Republican Governor Chris Christie.

The Working Families Party is fighting to upend the Democratic establishment, whose titular head is boss George Norcross, who happens to be a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and the Democratic National Committee.

One WFP member, Sue Altman, was recently arrested and forcibly removed from a public hearing.

Altman previously lived in New York, where she was a founding member of NYSAPE, the group that fights high-stakes testing.

The confrontation was brief but explosive, and it laid bare the deepening fault lines within the Democratic Party in one of America’s bluest states.

New Jersey state troopers singled out Sue Altman, the leader of the left-leaning Working Families Alliance, grabbed her by the arms and forcibly removed her from a standing-room-only State Senate hearing on corporate tax breaks.

She was led past her main political rival, George E. Norcross III, a Democratic power broker who was at the hearing to testify in support of an $11 billion economic incentive program that Ms. Altman had criticized harshly and that is the subject of state investigations and subpoenas.

The imagery and its aftermath have roiled Trenton, exposing a generational and philosophical rift between progressive and mainstream Democrats that is mirrored nationwide…

Images of the clash were shared widely on social media — including by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democratic presidential candidate — amplifying tensions between the Democratic factions that control the state government: lawmakers aligned with the progressive first-term governor, Philip D. Murphy, and those, including the powerful State Senate president, who are linked to Mr. Norcross…

Her outspokenness about corporate tax breaks and her decision to live in Camden, a city seen as the Norcross family’s inviolable power base, made her a ready target for opponents long before the contentious Senate hearing.

Ms. Altman regularly spars with the powers-that-be on Twitter and seems to revel in the role of outside agitator. Barely a week into her job as the alliance’s director, she participated in a demonstration where protesters stood near an inflatable pig handing out fake million-dollar bills stamped with Mr. Norcross’s face.

She credits her years on the basketball court with making her comfortable in the political scrum. After leading her college team at Columbia University in scoring, she played professionally in Ireland and Germany. She went on to teach and coach at Blair Academy before studying at Oxford, where she also played basketball.

“You’re going to get booed,” she said. “You still have to make your foul shots.”

She is flirting with the possibility of making a primary run against Donald Norcross. “I haven’t ruled it out,” she said, despite taking no concrete steps toward a campaign…“She doesn’t have to stay here,” said Ronsha Dickerson, 42, an African-American mother of six who works for an organization that has called for a moratorium on new charter schools in Camden. “But she’s chosen this space to really be committed to making change.”

 

John Merrow has good news for you! 

You have been selected as a winner by his crack marketing team to do a good deed!.

Since he has selected the Network for Public Education as one of his honorees, I urge you to open his link.

The distinguished education researcher Gene Glass reads this blog and occasionally comments. Yesterday I quoted a short statement by Margaret Raymond, director of CREDO, the Walton-funded evaluator of charter schools, who stated publicly that markets don’t work well in schooling. We can speculate on why markets don’t work: parents don’t have enough information, information is distorted by marketing and propaganda, test scores are the wrong information, etc. If you believe that society has a fundamental obligation to provide good schools for all children, the market is the worst delivery mechanism because it exacerbates inequity. The one thing the market can never do is produce equality of educational opportunity.

Gene Glass responded to the post with this comment:

Wikipedia describes Kenneth Ewart Boulding as “… an economist, educator, peace activist, poet, religious mystic, devoted Quaker, systems scientist, and interdisciplinary philosopher. “ Indeed, Ken Boulding was all of those things and many more. At the University of Michigan in the 1950-60s, he founded the General Systems society with Ludwig von Bertalanffy. Born in Liverpool in 1910, he was educated at Oxford (Masters degree).

His textbook, Economic Analysis (1941) was virtually the introduction to Keynesianism to American academics. He never obtained a doctorate, though surely he never felt the want of one due to the many honorary doctorates he received. In his long career, he served as president of the Amer. Econ. Assoc. and the AAAS, among other organizations. He died in Boulder in 1993.

I was very lucky to be situated at the University of Colorado when Boulding left Michigan in 1967 to join the Economic Department at Boulder. I had joined the faculty there in 1966. Within a few years the word spread that this new fellow in Economics was someone to listen to. Twice, in the early 1970s, I sat through his undergraduate course in General Systems. The undergraduates had no idea how lucky they were; I was enthralled. Boulding was a Liverpudlian, and that coupled with a pronounced stammer made listening to him lecture extremely demanding. But somehow the effort produced greater concentration. I can recall so many of the things he said though more than 40 years have passed. “”The invention of the correlation coefficient was the greatest disaster of the 19th century, for it permitted the subtitution of arithmetic for thinking.”

From 1969 through 1971, I was editing the Review of Educational Research for the American Educational Research Association (AERA). In the office, I enjoyed a few small privileges in connection with the 1971 Annual Meeting. For one, I could invite a speaker to address the assembled conventioneers. I invited Boulding. An expanded version of his talk was published in the Review of Educational Research (Vol. 42, No. 1, 1972, pp. 129-143). I have never read anything else by an economist addressing schooling that equals it.

Here is the merest sampling of what he wrote:

Schools may be financed directly out of school taxes, in which case the school system itself is the taxing authority and there is no intermediary, or they may be financed by grants from other taxing authorities, such as states or cities. In any case, the persons who receive the product-whether this is knowledge, skill, custodial care, or certification-are not the people who pay for it. This divorce between the recipient of the product and the payer of the bills is perhaps the major element in the peculiar situation of the industry that may lead to pathological results. (pp. 134-135)

Boulding originated the notion of the “grants economy” in which A grants a payment to B who delivers a service or product to C. Of course, this turned on its head the paradigm used by most economists, who imagine C paying B for services or products. When Boulding referred to this grants economy underlying schooling as leading to “pathological results,” he was referring to the fact that the schooling industry is “not normal,” i.e. does not follow the course of classical economic models. In the years ensuing since Boulding’s early forays into this notion, the grants economy has become increasingly important to understanding a nation’s economy.

Boulding was considered a bit of a rebel. David Latzko wrote of Boulding that “The narrow bounds of the economics discipline could not contain his interests and talents.” Perhaps this accounts for why many traditional economists have not followed him where reality leads. Perhaps this is why Dr. Margaret Raymond could pronounce so recently that “And it’s the only industry/sector [schooling]where the market mechanism just doesn’t work.” In fact, the “market mechanism” fails to work in many sectors.

But back to Dr. Raymond. Margaret Raymond is the head of the Hoover Institution’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes. As key researcher in charge of the first big CREDO study of charter schools that dropped on the charter school lobby with a big thud: charter schools no better than old fashion public schools, some good, some really bad. And then more recently, CREDO under Raymond’s direction conducted a study of charter schools in Ohio, a locale that has known its problems attempting to keep charter schools out of the newspapers and their operators out of jail. What did this second CREDO charter school study find? Charter schools in Ohio are a mess.

All of this bad news for the charter school folks caused Dr. Raymond to go before the Cleveland Club and confess thusly:

“This is one of the big insights for me. I actually am kind of a pro-market kinda girl. But it doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education. I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career. That’s my academic focus for my work. And it’s the only industry/sector [schooling] where the market mechanism just doesn’t work.”

Of course, it is positively absurd to think that schooling is the only “industry” in which free markets just don’t work. And Dr. Raymond didn’t give up entirely on the free market ideology for education — she would probably have to find a professional home outside the Hoover Institution if she did. She went on to tell the Cleveland Club that more transparency and information for parents will probably do the trick.

Frankly parents have not been really well educated in the mechanisms of choice.… I think the policy environment really needs to focus on creating much more information and transparency about performance than we’ve had for the 20 years of the charter school movement.

So parents just aren’t smart enough to be trusted to make choices in a free market of schooling, and they need more information, like test scores, I presume. I’ll leave Dr. Raymond at this point, and recommend that she and her associates at the Hoover Institution spend a little more time with Kenneth Boulding’s writings.