Archives for the month of: May, 2021

Tom Ultican wrote about I-Ready three years ago, and he continues to receive frequent clicks and letters from angry students.

He thinks the deal between Oakland Public Schools and Johns Hopkins University is of dubious value. Hopkins gets the data; students in the Oakland public schools get a curriculum that most will hate.

Ultican notes the connection between I-Ready and Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. More billionaires with big idea to change the schools.

He writes:

The foundation being cited as funding the i-Ready and Johns Hopkins study has assets of more than $600 million. FounderKenneth Rainin was an entrepreneur from Toledo, Ohio who became wealthy manufacturing and selling laboratory pipettes. When he died in 2007, the foundation became the beneficiary of the majority of his estate.

The Rainan Foundation has spent significant sums on advancing its “Seeds of Learning” reading program and the corporate control of public education. As the LittleSis map depicted above shows, the foundation sends large grants both directly and indirectly to billionaire funded “school choice” promoting organizations.

The “Seeds of Learning” program is supposed to improve reading education results through its preschool efforts. The lead story on the foundation’s web page is “Research Show Seeds of Learning Produces Quick Gains.” The research is not peer reviewed or independent. The Kenneth Rainin Foundation has spent more than $3 million for a Chicago company to produce the results. Report briefs are made available but not the study itself.

The dark side of the study is that they are testing 4- and 5-year olds in alliteration, letter naming, letter sounds, rhyming and vocabulary. That is child abuse. This appears to be an amateur created program that ignores the much greater need for babies to engage in self-directed play in safe and stimulative environments. “Seeds of Learning”  is likely more personality damaging than it is helpful for reading.

Amateurs need to stop using their financial power to control education policy.

Jane Nylund is a parent activist and educator in Oakland.

She writes:

A bit of background: we are a family of two kids through OUSD, nearly 20 years with the district. Strong foundation in math and science, and some experience with statistics. As a classified educator in a high-needs school, I have recently spent time proctoring the I-Ready diagnostic in my fourth grade class. Out of concern for my math group, who all had pained looks on their faces, I was able to view some of the math test questions.

I was appalled at what I saw. Yes, I know the test is supposed to be adaptive, but the material that they expected the kids to try and answer was 6th grade level math, possibly higher. I noted the following:

1) Multi-step unit conversions in the context of a word problem2) Definitions/examples of independent and dependent variables3) Simplification of algebraic equations with two variables.

These types of questions appeared around the 15% test completion point for one student. It’s possible that there was some kind of operator error on the teacher’s part and that’s why these types of math problems showed up on the diagnostic. Nevertheless, the idea of creating a diagnostic that is essentially designed so that the kids fail 50% of the questions is a problem.

I could go on and on about how wrong this is and why this diagnostic test is completely unnecessary for our kids to suffer through. It almost seems like none of the adults in the decision-making process bothered to take it themselves. And if they did, and still thought this was all reasonable for students who are still learning math facts and long division, they have no business working around kids.

What I’m more interested in is how our district decided that I-Ready should be a thing. Did they just read the marketing and hype and just go along with it? Did they bother to check the “studies”, most of which were commissioned by Curriculum Associates (CA)? None of which were peer-reviewed. Or was it just an off-the-shelf substitution for the SBAC, like buying a box of cereal?

Anecdotally, I heard the Rainin Foundation provided funding for the project. It also turns out that the board voted on an item on the Consent Agenda that allows the district to share our kids’ I-Ready data with Johns Hopkins for a study; only two districts are part of the study. Why? And why Oakland? I’ll get to that. The Rainin Foundation contracts out with a consulting firm calledBridgespan. They, in turn, make all kinds of ed reform-based recommendations to their clients. So, it’s possible that Bridgespan, Rainin Foundation, and OUSD were working in tandem somehow to recommend I-Ready. Rainin agrees to fund it, and Johns Hopkins is gleefully rubbing their hands together at all the data they will capture. The district is notorious for never turning down a free data lunch, even if it’s an I-Ready garbage sandwich. It’s what they do.

What’s the feedback around I-Ready? Across the board, nearly everyone despises it: teachers, students, families. Who loves it? None other than Jeb Bush of Foundation for Excellence in Education. Yeah, that guy. Is this the same path that we should be heading down with yet another ed-tech privatization tool that just makes money for Curriculum Associates? Should we really be emulating what they are doing and supporting in Florida, a hotbed of dubious ed reform, profiteering, and graft? After an entire year of screen time, should we be supporting an ed-tech industry product that makes a fortune off the very thing that we have said is bad for our kids, even more testing and screen time? In typical ed-tech fashion, what our district is allowing them to do is collect our kids’ data for free, then later sell a product back to OUSD to get our kids to “improve” their achievement. At the same time, the I-Ready team will likely find that their products/services neatly dovetail into the brand-new residual gain growth model that the SBE has just approved. Yet another golden opportunity sought after by Curriculum Associates and I-Ready. Oakland has now become the perfect market for an educational tool that serves no purpose other than to punish and demoralize our children, waste our teachers’ time, demean the teaching profession, and make big bucks for Curriculum Associates.

Here’s my favorite part. According to the literature (See one “independent” study here), which students perform better on I-Ready? The ones who are already performing at a high level. Wow, there’s a prediction. Who would have thought? Apparently, high-achieving kids are willing to stick with it longer because they don’t fail the program’s adaptive algorithm right away. So it’s not quite as miserable an experience for them. In addition, there is no longitudinal peer-reviewed data showing the effectiveness of I-Ready on achievement. The referenced study (WestEd, funded by Gates and Silicon Valley Education Foundation) had no randomized test design, just for starters and there’s no way to show causation.

What’s the end game? Are the students going to be subjected to the IAB, ELPAC, SBAC, and now I-Ready? By the way, the program is so universally despised that our smart young people have figured out how to hack into the program to add time to the lessons so they can quit the program sooner. According to one Reddit user, “finally, the suffering is over”.

Another quote from an actual user: “As a student required to use this program twice a week before the quarantine and an hour a week during, this is an issue. The program has specific and bizarre questions with very broad categories and overall fails to teach anything, as students are turned off from engaging due to the sheer amount of frustration that it is caused from the lack of sensible instruction. It absolutely fails to properly give students the right lesson. I am a 7th grader in 9th grade math, however it gives me and many students 5th and 6th grade math, some students have had basic division and multiplication despite their actual math abilities. I give my full advocation and so does my boyfriend and all of my friends to the removal of this harmful and unhelpful program.”

Another example:

“FCPS (Fairfax County Public Schools, Florida) defends critique of the iReady assessment by asserting that teachers should use iReady as a screener to identify students “at risk,” not as a diagnostic assessment. I think this defense wears thin when schools begin to use iReady assessment data as a measure of growth on their School Improvement Plans. I think this defense wears thin when schools print out the reports and use them to sort and label children for intervention in data dialogue meetings. “

This author nailed it. What is supposed to be a diagnostic tool will be mislabeled and misused as a tool to “measure” achievement. News flash, we already have a flawed standardized test to “measure” achievement and we don’t need another. All this is also predicated on the usual idea that teachers have absolutely no clue how their kids are doing in class even though they are with their students for hours at a time, you know, teaching. I’ve already seen charter schools use I-Ready to boast of their superior “achievement” on social media. Charters aren’t using it as a diagnostic tool. They are using it as a marketing tool.

This author wrote an extremely well-researched piece on how I-Ready and other programs like it are all tied into privatization and profiteering. It’s a long read, but it really sums up all that is wrong with this kind of educational climate that promotes tech over experienced teachers and our willingness to be participants in its many forms, while sacrificing any real hope of authentic improvement.

Finally, Curriculum Associates will embrace all that tasty Johns Hopkins data from our kids to sell their brand of misery to other unsuspecting districts. Our children have experienced enough “rigor” in their everyday existence this past year. They don’t need another ed-tech company treating them like lab rats and preying upon them for the almighty dollar. Just stop it, I-Ready. We’ve had enough. Do the right thing and cancel the contract with Johns Hopkins. That would be a move in the right direction. Thanks for listening.

Maurice Cunningham is perpetually amazed that the mainstream media—and even Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona—take the so-called National Parents Union as an authentic parents’ group. Without the generous funding of Charles Koch, the Waltons, and other rightwing billionaires, there would be no NPU.

The IDEA charter chain in Texas was one of Betsy DeVos’s favorite grantees. She handed over $200 million from the federal Charter Schools Program to IDEA to spur its expansion. With so much money, the management of IDEA indulged in luxuries. They planned to lease a private jet for $2 million a year but backed off because of adverse publicity. They bought season box seats at the San Antonio Spurs basketball games. When the founder resigned, he was given a $1 million golden parachute.

But the IDEA spending spree didn’t end there. The board of the charter chain received a whistleblower’s letter and commissioned an independent audit of its finances. When the audit was completed, the board fired the chief executive officer and the chief operating officer. Go to this link to read the board’s letter to the public and its recognition of the leadership’s corruption.

This scandal goes to the heart of the basic lie behind the charter industry: their lobbyists have waged bitter fights against transparency and accountability. They have sold the lie that private entrepreneurs should get millions and millions of public dollars without oversight. “Trust us,” they said. They lied.

In state after state, charter schools do not get better test scores than public schools, unless they choose their students carefully and kick out the ones they don’t want.

The IDEA scandal should bring renewed scrutiny to the federal Charter Schools Program, which currently receives $440 million a year. As the Network for Public Education documented in two reports (see here and here), about 37% of the federally-funded charter schools either never opened or close within a few years. There is now a campaign in Congress, led by the charter lobby, to increase its funding from $440 million to $500 million per year.

Let’s be clear: the charter school industry is amply funded by billionaires, mostly hedge fund managers as well as Silicon Valley titans and billionaires like Charles Koch and the Walton Family. It attracts the support of libertarians and right wingers who want to privatize public schools.

The federal Charter Schools Program should NOT be expanded. It should be eliminated.

In the GOP’s race to the bottom on teaching about racism, Texas takes the lead. The legislature passed a bill limiting what teachers can teach in history and social studies about race. Rightwing Governor Greg Abbott will sign it.

Here’s a description of the legislation from the Texas Tribune, written before it was passed by the Senate:

After the bill passed both houses, the Huffington was blunt about its purpose: Teachers should not teach about racism or white supremacy.

The faculty at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill selected the highly accomplished Nikole Hannah-Jones to serve as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the UNC Haussmann School of Journalism and Media.

She was quite a catch: she has won a Pulitzer Prize, a coveted MacArthur Fellowship, has worked for major newspapers. She’s even an alumna of UNC. The committee that interviewed her was impressed. They offered her the chair and tenure. All previous holders of the chair at UNC were awarded tenure.

But the board of the university withdrew the offer of tenure. They said she lacked academic qualifications. They made that lie up on the spot, because the position is designed not for academics but for people with real world experience of journalism.

Twenty-two holders of the Knight Chair at other universities wrote a joint letter in support of Hannah-Jones and told the UNC-Chapel Hill board that they should be ashamed of themselves.

The NC Policy Watch boiled the issue down to one word: Race.

The Trumpian right is abuzz with fear about the 1619 Project and critical race theory. Nikole Hannah-Jones was in charge of producing the 1619 Project for the New York Times. it seeks to place slavery and racism at the center of the American experience. White traditionalists prefer to think only about the grand achievements of the Founding Fathers. This is the culture war issue that they have put front and center. They are not letting go.

Billy Townsend doesn’t pull any punches. In this post, he tears into the State Commissioner for thinking he can indoctrinate the students of Florida with lies.

He titles his piece:

Indoctrinate this, part 1: The voices of the Great Migration laugh at Richard Corcoran

A grifter who can’t make finalist in a university president search rigged for him is no match for the honest, competitive study of America — which is an unpoliceable classroom without walls.

I was already in the process of writing and documenting this piece about The Great Migration’s relevance to today’s economic and social moment when the comical ball of failure and grift that is Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran did what he tends to do.

He helped me — by saying really dumb stuff.

Indeed, it’s hard to quantify all the usefully dumb stuff he said to an audience at Hillsdale College during his recent freestyle Facebook rant dressed up as a Q&A. I will try, bit by bit, in weeks to come.

But the passage that follows is most relevant to this article. It’s about the importance of indoctrinating your kids and mine with whatever nonsense Richard Corcoran claims to believe at any given time. I see no evidence he actually believes in anything but petty personal dominance, which means the “indoctrination” will morph from moment to moment if he thinks he can bully you with it. Indeed, note the part in bold at the end. I think it illustrates pretty well Corcoran’s embarrassing sense of himself as tiny dictator.

But you have to police it on a daily basis, it’s 185,000 teachers in a classroom with anywhere from 18-25 kids and it you’re not physically there in the classroom. I will tell you it’s working in the universities and it’s starting to work in… I’ve censored or fired or terminated numerous teachers for doing that. I’m getting sued right now in Duval County … because it was an entire classroom memorialized to Black Lives Matter… we made sure she was terminated and now we’re being sued by every one of the liberal left groups for “freedom of speech” issues and I say to them … “look let’s not even talk about whether it’s right or true or good …

That, of course, directly conflicts with this laughably vague, unenforceable, and undefinable rule Corcoran is now pushing though the Florida Department of Education as some kind of poor man’s performative “Cultural Revolution.”

Instruction on the required topics must be factual and objective and may not suppress or distort significant historical events, such as the Holocaust, and may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Keep this Corcoran prologue in mind as you read the rest of this article, which is Part 1 of 2. And remember that I didn’t know any of what follows about Florida and American history, really, until about 12 years ago.

That’s because of the “indoctrination” of “traditional,” inaccurate, and woefully incomplete American History standards taught by my public schools in Florida and my elite private college in Massachusetts.

I had to teach myself — with help from microfilm, Google, and some great historians — through engaging the actual words and behaviors of people who lived the history as it happened.

Kids today are so far ahead of me at their age. They already know so so so so much more than I did. I’ve maybe helped a little with my books and countless vibrant discussions with young people inside classrooms and outside classrooms. I find them insatiably hungry to know who they are and how they came to fit into America in the way they do.

If that frightens Corcoran, perhaps he should come “police” me, if he can. But I’m not very important, obviously. And I’m not the reason Corcoran has already lost.

Every kid is their own teacher

HBO has put Tulsa on film twice in the last 18 months in two different series. “Drunk History” is more factual and more fun than Corcoran’s grifter drivel. YouTube blows up lies as often as it creates them. Knowledgable “amateurs” on Twitter embarrass grifter clowns and gatekeeping blowhards alike every single day. Of all subjects a teacher “teaches,” history and its adjacent social topics are the least like syringes of content to inject.

Whatever side you take, the ongoing battle for historical memory and its modern application isn’t occurring within walled classrooms. No one can police it; and no one can make a kid — or even an adult — swallow an obvious lie, even if it’s important to the brittle self-identity of the liars. You might test a lie and get a kid to bubble in the lie you want them to for the sake of a cheap grade; but that’s not indoctrination. Not even close.

Keep reading. There’s lots more about the Great Migration and the lies taught about it.

Richard Corcoran, state commissioner of education in Florida, announced that he fired Amy Donofrio, a teacher in Duval County, because she supported #BlackLivesMatter.

Corcoran made his decision known during a lecture at conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan. He was speaking about “critical race theory” and curriculum oversight and used her as an example of his cleansing of the ranks. Donofrio learned of her termination on a YouTube video. If you look at the photograph accompanying the story, you will see that she teaches at Robert E. Lee Hgh School. (Irony alert.)

Richard Corcoran is not an educator. He was the Speaker of Florida’s House when he was appointed to run the state system. His wife is or was a board member of a charter school associated with Hillsdale College. The Corcorans’ six children were home-schooled.

Corcoran has made clear his hostility to public schools and his desire to voucherize all the state’s schools. You may get the sense that he is totally unqualified to be state commissioner of education, and you would be right.

The Arizona State Senate hired a private firm, whose owner is a Trump supporter, to conduct an audit of the 2020 ballots in Maricopa County. Election officials fear that the voting machines may have been manipulated. Replacing the machines are likely to cost $6 million.

The Arizona Republic writes:

The Arizona Senate gave contractors unfettered and unmonitored access to Maricopa County’s vote-counting machines for an audit of the county’s general election results, raising the question of whether the equipment is safe to use for future elections.

It could take a lot of time and money to determine that, due to strict federal and state laws along with local rules for certifying and protecting election equipment.

For now, county officials are promising voters they will use only certified equipment for elections and not equipment “that could pose a risk to free and fair elections,” said Megan Gilbertson, spokesperson for the county’s Elections Department.

Private companies and individuals having access to government-used voting machines are unprecedented in Arizona.

The Senate’s contractors, including Florida-based cybersecurity firm Cyber Ninjas and  others who the Senate and Cyber Ninjas have refused to name, got the equipment last month only after a court ruled that the county had to turn it over in response to Senate-issued subpoenas.

Now that much of the equipment is back, county officials are “working with our attorneys on next steps, costs and what will be needed to ensure only certified equipment is used in Maricopa County, Gilbertson said.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency that certifies all voting systems used in U.S. elections, recommends that any time the rules or procedures for maintaining and securing voting systems — known as the chain of custody — are broken or could have been broken, that the equipment is completely retested under state and county rules, said Mona Harrington, executive director of the commission.

Harrington did not say whether the chain of custody was broken in this instance.

Matt Masterson, a former leader of election security at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told The Arizona Republic that this kind of review can take weeks to months and cost $100,000 or more, depending on what processes are used.

Considering this, Masterson said it might not be worth it for the county to use the machines again.

“It’s a really hard call for the county,” he said. “It’s a tough situation.”

The county leases its voting machines through a three-year, $6.1 million contract with Dominion Voting Systems. It’s unclear if the county can break that contract if needed, and how much it would cost to replace the machines.

Senate received hundreds of machines

Maricopa County gave the Senate its election equipment, 2.1 million ballots, voter rolls and other election information in response to subpoenas Senate Republican leaders issued in January.

The Senate then handed everything over to contractors, some of whom they have named and some of whom they have refused to name, to audit the county’s November 2020 election results.

What is known about who is involved is concerning to many election consultants. Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, has touted unfounded claims of election fraud online, and much of the recruiting for the review of ballots was done by right-wing groups.

[Read the rest of the article if it’s not behind a pay wall. It’s fascinating.]

Bill Phillis is a retired state education official who writes frequently about the Republican war against public schools and against the education provisions of the state constitution. He created the Ohio Coalion for Equity and Advocacy of School Funding to publicize his campaign for equitable funding and his opposition to privatization.

He writes:


The Senate President, in response to the Universal Voucher bill (HB 290), is quoted in the May 9 Gongwer, as saying:

“The education in Ohio needs to be student-or user-based, not institution-based.” The Ohio constitution (Article VI, section 2) requires the legislature to secure and fund a thorough and efficient system of common schools. The common school system is “institution-based” as required by the constitution.

It appears that the oath of office taken by all legislators means nothing to some of them. HB 290 is treachery; Betrayal of the Ohio constitution; Subversion. 

The No Child Left Behind Act Has Put The Nation At Risk

Vouchers Hurt Ohio

Universal Voucher Bill Drops Amid K-12 Budget Debate

Placeholder legislation aimed at giving parents multiple options for using state primary and secondary education funding has spurred strong pushback despite a lack of firm details.

The bill (HB 290) as introduced by Rep. Marilyn John (R-Shelby) and Rep. Riordan McClain (R-Upper Sandusky), which currently consists of two sentences, calls for the creation of a funding formula that “allows families to choose the option for all computed funding amounts associated with students’ education to follow them to the schools they attend.”

Rep. John said in an interview Friday the legislation was inspired in part by the coronavirus pandemic, which led many parents to reevaluate their children’s educational options after schools shut their doors to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“The vision is really to provide greater choice for students and parents,” she said, “I think we have found during the pandemic that each child’s needs when it comes to education can be different. It is our goal to provide resources so that each child can receive a quality education in the way that they best learn.”

She said the measure could end up providing funding for students taught in private schools or at home, with the best interest of each child being the sponsors’ focus.

Rep. McClain said in an interview one potential model to follow is legislation recently signed by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice creating a system of educational savings accounts. The law gives families the ability to access to up to $4,600 per student in state funding to spend on private school tuition or other education-related expenses.

“Working that into our funding formula would be a path that I would like to pursue, but I’m certainly not entrenched in any one manner,” he said. “I just want to make sure that parents at the end of the day have access funds for the use of the education of their child and that they have greater flexibility in the education that they give their child.”

The bill’s introduction came after the House voted to pass a state operating budget (HB 110) that largely incorporates a school funding formula (HB 1) developed in part by Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima). Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) has said the upper chamber could keep some aspects of plan but is unlikely to pass a budget containing the entirety of the House’s proposal. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, April 21, 2021)

Rep. John called it a “great time” for lawmakers to expand the debate over the future of school funding in the state. She said she and Rep. McClain are “waiting to see what happens in the Senate” and having discussions on their bill as they work to craft a more-detailed version of the measure.

The introduction of HB290 drew immediate criticism from public school officials and advocates.

“Harmful universal vouchers are a reckless abrogation of the Ohio General Assembly’s responsibility to provide a high quality education to every child in this state,” Dan Heintz, a member of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District Board of Education, said in a statement. “Lawmakers don’t get it. Vouchers are like termites eating away at the very foundation of our communities,”

Bill Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, said in a statement that the proposal is an attempt to undermine traditional public schools.

“This is a direct assault on the Ohio Constitution,” he said. “We know vouchers are primarily a refund and a rebate program for parents who never intended to send their children to public schools. Vouchers disproportionately harm impoverished and minority students and reward the well-to-do.”

The coalition is behind a long-simmering legal effort over existing state voucher programs that help qualifying families pay private school tuition. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, December 18, 2020).