Archives for the month of: February, 2021

Jeff Bryant wrote in the LA Progressive about President Biden’s “golden opportunity” to strengthen public education by throwing out two decades of failed “reforms.”

As we now know (and Jeff did not when he wrote the article), Biden got off on the wrong foot by mandating another round of standardized testing this spring. This unwise decision was foretold when the news came out that the Biden administration had hired Ian Rosenblum as Deputy Assistant Secretary in a key part of the Department of Education, where policy and strategy are forged. Rosenblum was never a teacher. He previously worked for the pro-testing Education Trust New York, where John King was his mentor. When King was Commissioner of Education in New York, his heavy-handed advocacy for Common Core and high-stakes testing created the parent-led Opt Out movement.

The Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has not yet been confirmed; he is not anti-testing, but might he have been more thoughtful about mandating a renewal of testing in the midst of a global pandemic? Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten has not yet been confirmed; she knows that testing is an after-effect, not a cause of sensible education policies. But neither of them was in place. Was Rosenblum left on his own to impose a national mandate? I suspect that President Biden never heard of Ian Rosenblum, yet this young man has made millions of parents and teachers angry with his insensitive, heavy-handed announcement.

Yes, President Biden has a “golden opportunity” to rebuild and strengthen public education. But not by relying on people molded by the twenty years of failed “reforms” of the Bush-Obama-Trump years.

As Bryant points out, the schools need a new vision for education, not a stale, warmed-over dose of testing, accountability, and privatization. No, we do not need another dose of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Every Student Succeeds–all of which failed. It’s time to break free of the status quo. It’s time for fresh thinking. Filling up the U.S. Department of Education with retreads from the Obama years–and their progeny–will send us backwards, not forwards. Now is a time for sensitivity, not stupidity.

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics in California, is a dogged researcher who uncovers the mysteries of privatization and the education industry. In this post, he responds to a parent who asked him about an organization that was providing free airfare for her school district’s leaders. He was on the case.

He begins:

A North Carolina resident asked “what do you know about the Urban Collaborative?” She was concerned about a company providing free airfare to school leaders in her child’s district; airfare to meetings in far-off cities. She wondered, “What is their motive? Is it more about money and power than special education?”

The Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative was founded by Dr. David Riley, Educational Co-Chair of the Summer Institute on Critical Issues in Urban Special Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Riley was the Executive Director of the Collaborative until he succumbed to cancerMay 2, 2016. The Collaborative is a national network of education administrators responsible for youth with disabilities in urban school districts. It is a national version of the Massachusetts Urban Project, a state-wide network that Dr. Riley founded in 1979. In 1994, The Education Development Center (EDC) expanded the Urban Collaborative into a national organization.

Ultican then goes on to describe the history of the organizations and their collaborations with a foray into changes in the physics curriculum.

EDC once had noble ambitions and accomplishments:

In the early years, the EDC was an organization making liberal ideology a reality. They developed a science curriculum specifically for the realities of Africa. They led a consortium of U.S. universities in founding the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur. The EDC produced educational TV shows noteworthy for their African American and Latino casts. They engaged in educating village health workers in Mali.

Unfortunately, in the 1980s, EDC seems to have become distracted by power and money while it dove into education technology.

And then, oh my, money and power begin to change things.

He concludes:

The relationships that Urban Collaborative fosters and the curricular development activities at EDC may have value. But sadly, these organizations have been corrupted by billionaire dollars and the lust for national prominence. They have lost their focus on improving public education and have become power players in the world of corporate education reform.

Mercedes Schneider is a native of Louisiana and she has lived through its recent history. She understands the state and city’s long, deeply ingrained racism. In this post, where she reviews Douglas Harris’s recent book Charter School City, she points out that he is oblivious to that history and context. He describes the state takeover (by affluent white elites) of the district as “reform.” He is focused on test scores and other data. She refuses to connect today’s disempowerment of the city’s black community from the long history of white power, exercised by those who see no need to engage the community in discussions about their children.

It’s an excellent read.

Will Huntsberry of Voice of San Diego writes here about one of the biggest scams in the history of charter schools (the biggest was probably the ECOT–Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow–scandal in Ohio, which cost the state about $500 million).

The two ringleaders of an online charter school scam that raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges on Friday. 

Sean McManus and Jason Schrock, as well as nine other defendants, including a superintendent, were charged back in 2019 as part of a complicated scheme that involved enrolling fake students into their online charter schools and collecting public money for each student...

“The general activity is you and your friend got these millions of dollars from the state and you funneled them into your pocket, correct?” asked San Diego Superior Court Judge Frederick Link, while taking the pleas. 

Both answered yes. 

Online charter schools are allowed to collect just as much money per student as brick-and-mortar schools. But the case has pushed legislators in Sacramento to re-examine the rules surrounding online charters. Lawmakers passed a two-year moratorium on the creation of new online charters and are considering changes to the state’s enrollment and funding practices. 

Over a several-year period leading up to 2019, McManus and Schrock’s schools brought in roughly $400 million in revenue, prosecutors from the San Diego District Attorney’s Office have said. 

As part of McManus and Schrock’s plea deal, they have agreed to turn over all remaining cash and assets owned by A3 and its subsidiary companies. So far, that includes at least $215 million that will eventually make its way back into state coffers. 

A3 may have misappropriated more than $215 million but that was all the cash and assets they had.

The next time someone insists that “charter schools are public schools,” ask them when was the last time that they heard of a public school stealing $215 million from the state.

A CREDO report in 2015 found that going to an online virtual charter was equivalent to a full year’s of lost time in mathematics, and almost half a year in reading. Yet numerous states are now considering legislating that would fund the child in any kind of school–charter, religious, for-profit, virtual, home schooling, Uncle Jed’s barn, whatever they want. We are rapidly advancing backwards to the 19th century.

Denisha Jones explains here what happened at a televised event in Pittsburgh when she asked candidate Joe Biden if he would eliminate standardized testing. Denisha is a highly accomplished woman and a champion for children.

Biden’s Broken Promise: Time to Opt Out! 

On December 14, 2019, I asked President Biden a question about standardized testing. Seeking the Democratic nomination, he had joined other presidential candidates at a Public Education Forum, the creation of a collective of organizations, including the Schott Foundation, Network for Public Education, and Journey for Justice, live-streamed and moderated by MSNBC.

I had all day to frame my question–Biden was last in the lineup. Given the widespread havoc that standardized testing has wreaked, I had to cover a lot of ground. I wanted to demonstrate the negative impact of standardized testing on teacher autonomyand early childhood education. I needed to emphasize the racist history of standardized testing to remind everyone how we got to this point.  

“If you are elected president, will you commit to ending the use of standardized tests in public schools?” I asked.   “Yes,” said Biden. He told me that I was preaching to the choir and assured me that he was well-informed about the over-reliance on standardized tests to evaluate teachers and students.  He agreed that we need to give teachers the power to determine the curriculum and build children’s confidence. 

“When testing is the measure of whether or not the student is successful…teaching to a standardized test makes no sense,” he said. The question went viral, with many educators hopeful that this dark cloud would finally evaporate under a Biden presidency.  At the time, I didn’t believe him, and though I voted for him, I had no faith that he would keep his promise to me and America’s teachers.

I knew that Democrats were too deeply aligned with neoliberal education reform policies to end standardized testing. Some thought otherwise, hoping for a positive influence from  Dr. Jill Biden, a teacher. Democratic presidents may publicly speak out against such assessments while filling their administration with people who support them.   I remembered that President Obama also had delivered a critique of testing and then ramped it up with his Race to the Top program.  Biden could have selected Dr. Leslie Fenwick, with a proven track record against standardized testing, as his Secretary of Education. Instead, he chose a moderate, unknown candidate, Miguel Cardona.  

I was right.

On February 22ndChalkbeat reported, “States must administer federally required standardized testing this year…” the administration announced. While schools will not be held accountable for scores and can administer the test online and shorten it, states will not receive an exemption through federal waivers. 

Of course, when Biden made his promise to me, we had no idea that COVID-19 would upend public education as we know it, plunging teachers, students, and families into the world of remote teaching and learning. Now would be the perfect time for Biden to make good on his promise. Last year’s tests were canceled. As the pandemic rages on and districts struggle to move from remote to hybrid and fully in-person, why should Biden insist on keeping the standardized tests he claimed made no sense in a pre-COVID world?

Everyone is asking me what we should do now. Fortunately, parents and students have an excellent tool at their disposal.They can opt out. 

I cannot imagine a more opportune time for parents to refuse to have their children participate in a standardized test.  The last thing our children need is the added pressure of a test that won’t count, but they are still required to take.  Our focus should be on helping children build the resilience they need, not just tosurvive the trauma from this pandemic but to thrive in this new education landscape.  Jesse Hagopian passionately reminds us,  

“While corporate education reformers prattle on about a need for more high-stakes testing to evaluate ‘learning loss,’ what students truly require is the redirection of the billions of dollars wasted on the testing-industrial complex toward supporting educators and students: to gain access to COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and vaccinations, as well as psychologists, nurses, social workers, trauma counselors, after-school programs, restorative justice coordinators, and more.”

Opting out of standardized testing is a parent’s choice and right, despite administrators’ push back. Pre-COVID 19, some schools tried to force children to sit and stare for hours while their classmates took the exam. Now that testing has gone virtual, some parents had to give up their right to opt out when they signed up for online schooling. They can make you logon to the testing platform, but no one can force your child to answer the questions.  

I am not alone in my calls for widespread opt out. On Thursday, February 25th, the recently resigned Chancellor of New York City Schools, Richard Carranza, called for parents to refuse the tests. NYC Opt Out and Integrate NYC hosted a town hall to strategize opting out of spring testing.  You can sign the Integrate NYC petition here

Opting out will not hurt schools, but it will hurt the testing corporations, desperate to prove that these assessments can survive in virtual schooling and protect their bottom line. Two years in a row without standardized testing would clear the way to finally dismantle this racist practice–the likely rationale forhis broken promise. The time has come to banish this obsolete relic of a painful past.  

For more information on the opt out movement, visit http://www.unitedoptoutnational.org/

You can also read my blog, Five Myths About the Standardized Testing and the Opt Out Movement

Full Text of My Question

Good afternoon. My name is Denisha Jones, and I am the Director of the Art of Teaching Program at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Today I’m here representing the Network for Public Education Action, Defending the Early Years, the Badass Teachers Association, and The Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action National Steering Committee. 

Teaching has changed drastically over the last 20 years. Instead of being allowed to use their expertise to develop creative,engaging, culturally relevant lessons, teachers are often forced to use a scripted curriculum and move students along even when they need more time. Many teachers feel more like a test prep tutor than a teacher of children and are concerned that both teachers and students are evaluated too heavily based on test scores. Beginning in kindergarten, young children are losing time for play and discovery and instead forced into developmentally inappropriate academic instruction in an effort to get them prepared for tests. Although formal testing does not begin until 3rd grade, younger students are bombarded with practice tests that narrow the curriculum and often leave many of them hating school.

Given that standardized testing is rooted in a history of eugenics and racism, if you are elected president, will you commit to ending the use of standardized tests in public schools? 

VIDEO: Watch Biden’s response here

BIO

Denisha Jones is the Director of the Art of Teaching Program at Sarah Lawrence College. She is a former kindergarten teacher and preschool director who spent the past 17 years in teacher education.  Denisha is an education justice advocate and activist. She serves as the Co-Director for Defending the Early Years, the Assistant Executive Director for the Badass Teachers Association, an administrator for United Opt Out National, and the Network for Public Education board. Since 2017, she has served on the national Black Lives Matter at School steering committee. In 2020 she joined the organizing committee for Unite to Save Our Schools. Her first co-edited book, Black Lives Matter at School: An Uprising for Educational Justice, was published in December 2020 by Haymarket Books. She is an attorney.

The BBC reports that the British Psychological Society warns that policymakers should emphasize children’s well-being rather than “catching up” with academics. They are concerned that children are facing too much pressure as the adults make decisions about what to do next. All schools in England are expected to open by March 8.

Dr Dan O’Hare, co-chair of the BPS division of educational and child psychology, said it was “absolutely understandable” that parents are concerned children have “been missing out on many aspects of their formal education” – but warned against setting expectations too high.

“The notion that children need to catch up or are ‘behind’ at school due to the pandemic reinforces the idea that children have ‘one shot’ at their education and puts them under even more pressure to perform academically after what has been a challenging and unprecedented time for everyone,” he told the PA News agency.

Maurice Cunningham is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts who specializes in unmasking the influence of billionaires’ dark money. “Dark money” is money that is contributed with the expectation that the donors’ name will not be disclosed. I wrote about the role of Cunningham in exposing the dark money behind the 2016 effort to pass a referendum to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts; his exposes alerted voters to the vast sums spent by out-of-state billionaires like the Waltons and Michael Bloomberg to buy education policy in Massachusetts.

As he demonstrates in this article, the Waltons–who cumulatively are worth about $200 billion–are still funding pro-charter, anti-union groups in Massachusetts, still pushing their anti-public school agenda. The Waltons’ vehicle of choice is the “Massachusetts Parents United” group, which claims to be just a lot of concerned moms while collecting millions each year from the Waltons and other oligarchs.

The leader of the Walton-funded parent group is collecting, according to tax records, nearly $400,000 a year. Not a bad gig.

Cunningham reviews a story in Commonwealth Magazine that compares funding for Massachusetts Parents United with funding for the state’s teachers union.

But there are crucial differences, Cunningham writes:

Stories like this tend to equate spending on organizations like MPU with the unions. They’re not comparable. Union funding comes from members’ dues. The unions are democratically organized. My local voted out an incumbent last year, as have other teachers’ unions. MTA term limits its president (a good thing, as Barbara Madeloni was far tougher than her surrender-prone predecessor Paul Toner). There is no democracy to MPU. The Waltons are from Arkansas and probably couldn’t find Chicopee or Tewksbury on a map; never mind getting Alice Walton to pronounce Worcester or Gloucester. The Waltons just write checks and measure ROI–return on investment. MTA and Massachusetts Federation of Teachers members live here. Want to hold the Waltons accountable for the vast changes to Massachusetts education policy they seek through MPU? Good luck with that.

If you’ve gotten this far let me say a few words about why I care about this stuff. We simply do not have a functioning democracy when the vast wealth of a few oligarchs sets the policy agenda and gains influence by showering money on upbeat sounding fronts like Families for Excellent Schools and Massachusetts Parents United. Nor do we have a functioning democracy when the true power—the men and women behind the curtain—remain unknown to the public and uncovered by the media. In Dark Money, Jane Mayer talks about “weaponizing philanthropy.” In Just Giving, Rob Reich points out the “plutocratic bias” enjoyed by the foundations. (Hey, did I mention all these public policy altering contributions by oligarchs are a valuable tax deduction to them? Yes, you’re subsidizing them to change your state’s policy. Never give a sucker an even break). Huge investments in policy change and hidden money threaten rule by the people.

And that’s what MPU is—a tax deductible front for oligarchs weaponizing their philanthropy in a campaign to privatize public goods. The Waltons, Koch, and other oligarchs don’t want us to peek behind the curtain. It is our democratic obligation to tear that curtain down.

In 2018, voters in Palm Beach County, Florida, were asked to decide on a referendum to raise property taxes for the “operational needs of district non-charter schools.” That is, for public schools, not charter schools. After the measure passed, two charter schools in the district sued for their “share” of the revenues. The case went to an appeals court which ruled 2-1 against the charters. Then it went to the full court of appeals, which ruled 7-4 that the charter schools were entitled to a share of the money.

The opinion also said that the wording in the ballot measure that prevented charter schools from receiving money was “severable” — essentially meaning that it can be disregarded — and that the rest of the referendum could remain in “full force and effect.”“Severing and striking the ‘non-charter’ limitation from the 2018 referendum still accomplishes the 2018 referendum’s intent to generate additional revenue ‘to fund school safety equipment, hire additional school police and mental health professionals, fund arts, music, physical education, career and choice program teachers, and improve teacher pay.’ The only difference is that a portion of those funds must be shared with charter schools,” said the 17-page majority opinion shared by Chief Judge Spencer Levine and Judges Dorian Damoorgian, Burton Conner, Alan Forst, Mark Klingensmith, Jeffrey Kuntz and Edward Artau.

But dissenting judges lambasted the majority for deciding that the referendum could remain in effect and for deciding to take up the case en banc.They argued, in part, that allowing the referendum to remain in effect violates the will of voters, who thought they were casting ballots on a measure that would exclude funding for charter schools. Judge Robert Gross described it as an act of “judicial hocus pocus.”

“Rather than taking that principled approach and acknowledging the only proper remedy is the referendum’s invalidation, the majority has instead rewritten the referendum and pulled a bait-and-switch upon the voters of Palm Beach County,” Gross wrote in a dissent joined by Judges Martha Warner and Melanie May. “By judicial fiat, the majority has imposed a levy for the benefit of charter schools that the voters never approved ‘by local referendum or in a general election’ as required (by a section of state law).”

In a separate dissent, Judge Cory Ciklin pointed to the majority “ignoring the will of 528,089 Palm Beach County voters who participated in a countywide election. Not this court nor the School Board nor the charter schools can legally agree to severing and striking the non-charter limitation from the 2018 referendum as if the sanctity of voter intent is of no concern and one that can be blithely cast aside as nothing more than an unimportant annoyance.”

The voters thought that the ballot explicitly excluded the charter schools from the taxes they were willing to increase. The court decided otherwise.

As Judge Gross said in his dissent, this is a classic case of “bait and switch.”

Thirty-one years ago, I was invited by Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander to join him at the U.S. Department of Education as Assistant Secretary of Education in Charge of Research and Improvement. Before he invited me, he learned a lot about my work and my views. It was a big jump for me because I had never planned to work in government and was surprised to be invited. After I was confirmed by the Senate, I selected the person I wanted as my Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education. It was Francie Alexander, who had been Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Assessment in the State of California. I had gotten to know her when I worked on the California history-social science framework in the late 1980s.

Given this brief personal history, I am puzzled that the Biden administration is staffing up the key jobs in the U.S. Department of Education before any of the top officials (Secretary of Education, Deputy Secretary of Education, Undersecretary of Education) have been confirmed. The next layer of officials–the Assistant Secretaries–have not even been named.

Yet the administration continues to roll out lists of people who will be deputies to Assistant Secretaries who are as yet unknown; “chief of staff” to an official who has not been confirmed; “confidential assistant” to a high official. Most of these appointments have one of two things in common: 1) they worked on the Biden-Harris campaign; or 2) they worked in the Obama administration.

It is likely, highly likely, that Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona and his Deputy Secretary-designate Cindy Marten have never met or even heard of any of these people who will be their closest associates. They will not pick their team; when they take office, their team will be in place, chosen by someone else. Who? Arne Duncan? John King?

The important job of Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Programs in the Office of the Secretary went to Scott Sargrad, who was until recently vice-president for K-12 education at the Center for American Progress. CAP, as is well known, is pro-testing and pro-charter schools.

Will the Biden administration revive Race to the Top but call it something else?

Asking for a few million friends.

Republicans hold a supermajority in the Missouri legislature. They can pass whatever they want. The House just passed the first voucher law in the state’s history. Thirty Republicans voted against it. The program will cost the state $50 million for starters. The measure now goes to the State Senate. Do they know that most voucher studies show that kids are harmed by switching from public schools to religious schools? Do they care?

Proponents of a measure allowing students in the St. Louis area to draw scholarship funds in order to attend the school of their choice won a narrow victory in the Missouri House on Thursday, sending the proposal to the Senate for debate.

The measure survived on an 82-71 vote, winning the minimum number of “yes” votes necessary to advance to the upper chamber. Thirty Republicans voted against the measure.

Republicans are also considering a proposal to establish Rush Limbaugh Day to honor a native Missourians. The measure was sponsored by a legislator known for his contempt for gays.