Archives for category: Administrators, superintendents

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette (Indiana) endorsed State Superintendent Glenda Ritz for re-election.

I add my strong support for Ritz, who has shown courage, integrity, and vision on behalf of the children of Indiana, even as Governor Pence and his allies have kept up a relentless attack on public schools and on Ritz personally.

The editorial says:

“In a year [2012] that saw sweeping Republican victories in Indiana, more than 1.3 million Hoosiers chose Democrat Glenda Ritz for state superintendent. No clearer repudiation of the state’s direction in education policy – school choice, high-stakes testing, Common Core, punitive school letter grades – could be found than in the resounding 2012 defeat of Superintendent Tony Bennett, the face of so-called education reform.

“But newly elected Gov. Mike Pence, the GOP-controlled General Assembly and deep-pocketed reform supporters did not get the message. They immediately set to work to diminish Ritz’s authority – at one point establishing a shadow education agency to undermine her work. The state superintendent has spent much of the past four years battling their obstructive efforts, but she delivered on her pledge to challenge the direction Indiana’s public schools were being taken. Today, Ritz remains the best candidate to prevent development of a two-tier system: private schools allowed to choose their own students and public schools left with fewer resources to serve everyone else. She’s best positioned to finally move to a student-centered testing system and to serve as a check on a voucher program with few safeguards.

“Republican Jennifer McCormick, superintendent of Yorktown Community Schools, has a solid record of serving students and public schools. But her promise to put students before politics is diminished by the tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions she’s accepted from the very individuals and interest groups determined to steer money from public schools for private benefit….

“Ritz, a former school media specialist, defends her record, noting improvements in performance at nearly 200 schools targeted for assistance; supporting student success in career and technical education; an increased number of school safety specialists; continuing focus on family literacy; and a strategy to address a growing teacher shortage.

“The reason I speak about outreach so much is because that’s what my job is really about – serving kids in our schools, making sure they get what they need,” she said. “Where people say they have a perception I don’t work with somebody? I work with everybody. That’s the only way I can move things forward.”

“McCormick pledges to improve communication, which she argues is “very splintered, not real timely and not very manageable to try to find what you’re being told.”

“I would argue we don’t have a lot of real leadership at the (Department of Education) to give us the guidance that would be necessary for superintendents and principals and educators,” she said.

“It’s a valid complaint confirmed by other administrators, but it also ignores the full-court defense Ritz has been forced to employ. She would benefit in a second term from appointing an unofficial cabinet of advisers – retired administrators and teachers who can suggest ways to improve procedures for local school districts, particularly in improving the state’s testing program.

“As a district superintendent, McCormick might be better prepared for administrative duties, but she is not prepared for the inevitable political forces. As of Wednesday, she had accepted more than $195,000 – more than two-thirds of her total contributions – from school choice advocates. Some are the same donors who backed Bennett four years ago. The same legislators responsible for laws harmful to public education will return to the Statehouse in January.

“To ensure the votes they cast in 2012 continue to protect Indiana’s public schools and place students first, Hoosiers should choose Ritz once again.”

Dr. Michael Haynes, the bold and fearless leader of the Patchigue-Medford school district on Long Island in New York State, has called on his fellow superintendents to join him in fighting misguided and harmful “reforms.’

New York School Superintendents: What Side Are You On?

Michael Hynes

Patchogue-Medford School District

“The school reform debate is reaching a super crescendo. The latest wake-up call from the U.S. Department of Education highlights the fact that we are running out of time to the stop the imprudent attempts of reformers to make the case that public schools need to be fixed by them. By them… I mean both educators and businessmen and women who believe they know the answer(s).

“U.S. Secretary of Education’s John King’s latest unchildfriendly (that’s a new word) doubling down on the importance of standardized tests tells me he is unfit for this office. Secretary King is not only bad for students, he is terrible for teachers and principals as well. The man has zero business leading the nation’s public schools. To think the U.S. Department of Education will now look to hold teacher preparation programs (TPPs) accountable for how their teacher graduates perform as teachers merely based on their students’ success on standardized tests… it begs the question, when will the insanity end?

“There is no better time to finally draw a line in the sand and come together as the educational leaders of our school communities and say enough is enough. We are done with the scare tactics. We are done with the threats and we are done with the reformers holding our children and educators hostage.

“Make no mistake: this will trickle down to all 50 State Education Departments and impact our newest and brightest teachers. Sadly, it reinforces the reformers’ notion that standardized test scores are what’s most important because children and adults are merely widgets and numbers. The real numbers reformers care about is the $621 billion (with a b!) per year endeavor they stand to make.

“I challenge our school superintendents to publicly denounce this latest atrocity to our school system by Secretary King. We must stand together and declare enough is enough. Now is time to choose sides.

“Are you on the side of reformers who at every turn want to increase charter schools (at the public schools expense) and myopically over emphasize tests scores and weaken unions? Or are you on the side of public school advocates who fight for equity and opportunities for all students?

“New York Superintendents, let us collectively create a thunderclap response. The Council of School Superintendents should finally do something provocative and proactive by making a public service announcement asking King to step down. Tell our NY U.S. Senators we have a vote of no confidence for John King. That would be a first.

“Let me make this crystal clear to all school reformers out there…socio-economic status is the most relevant determinant of student success in school. The problem is you already know that.”

The Metro Nashville School Board was hurried into picking a new school director and doing it fast. The number of candidates were few, the search was hurried, and the choice of Dr. Shawn Joseph is turning into a major embarrassment. Dr. Joseph, it turns out, is embroiled in a major controversy in his previous district, but apparently no one had time to check that out.

Public school parent and blogger T.C. Weber tells the whole sordid story here.

Nashville just went through a bitter election contest in which voters made clear that they want good public schools, not privatization. The school board can’t afford to squander the public’s confidence by letting the new director run roughshod over the elected board. The board is in charge; Dr. Joseph works for them. They are his employer.

Nashville didn’t want a corporate reformer, but made the mistake of hiring an autocratic, power-hungry, tone-deaf bureaucrat.

If the elected board can’t straighten out this mess and revise Dr. Joseph’s contract to assure that he works for the board–the board does not work for him–then it’s time to cut their losses and terminate his contract. Don’t accept excuses for his wasteful spending, his ill-advised hires, his importing of the same aides involved in the scandal in Prince George’s County. If he won’t comply, say goodbye. It’s imperative to admit it when you have made a mistake. Cut your losses sooner rather than later.

Fire whatever search service you used. There are others who can identify superintendents who have served with honor and integrity. Take the time to do it right.

The superintendent of schools in Madison, Connecticut, is Tom Scarice. He is already on the honor roll of this blog because he speaks out for good education, not corporate reform.

In this interview, he is clear about what schools should do.

This is the opening of a wonderful interview:

CTViewpoints: Assuming for a moment that these scores are meaningful, (not everyone thinks so) shouldn’t we be outraged and alarmed that only about half our children are making the grade?

Scarice: Perhaps the biggest problem is that we’re having the wrong conversation, from our current presidential candidates right down through education advocates, bureaucrats, etc.

I believe that chasing test scores is not only fool’s gold, but it will clearly not prepare our kids for the world they will enter when they leave our K-12 schools. In fact, chasing test scores, especially invalid ones like the SBAC, prepares kids for a completely different era, one that vanished decades ago. Automation, artificial intelligence, robotics, and big data will continue to transform the job market, leaving millions without utility, unless they are prepared to take on the jobs that machines cannot perform.

This reality, and the future problems our children will face, necessitates combining rich academic content with the development of deep analytical and critical thinking, and perhaps more importantly, boundless divergent and creative thinking. Students also need authentic experience in developing collective intelligence, learning from and working with others.

No one works alone. Perhaps most importantly, students need to apply their learning to novel situations. There is not one stitch of usefulness in the SBAC with regards to giving us this information — the most important information — on student performance in these essential capacities. In fact, the part of the SBAC intended to measure application of learning was removed. Yet the scores erroneously take center stage in assessing school quality.

There isn’t one piece of reputable research indicating that SBAC measures anything other than maybe family wealth. In fact, CT State Department of Education literature, referred to as the SBAC “Interpretive Guide,” states that, “characterizing a student’s achievement solely in terms of falling in one of four categories is an oversimplification.” Essentially, the “box score” of test scores that gets published every August lacks meaning and usefulness, but, most importantly, it lacks validity.

Yet, million dollar decisions are made based on those scores, and educators around the state sadly get wrapped around the “test score axle,” compelled to chase higher scores, trapped in a flawed system.

However, there is one thing that the SBAC “box scores” do provide, something that the public has an insatiable appetite for, and that is misleading rankings, sorting, charts, winners/losers, top ten lists, etc.

What we should be outraged and alarmed about is the fact that states are participating in this testing consortium, voluntarily and willingly, spending millions of dollars for meaningless tests, the results of which are purported to gauge student learning and – stunningly – misused to assess teacher competence and school quality, which this test, or any test, simply cannot do.

The misuse of test scores has stained a generation of public education by conflating our goals with our measures and distorting the teaching and learning of millions of children.

In New Jersey, David M. Aderhold, the superintendent of schools of West Windsor-Plainsboro, called out Governor Christie’s “reforms” for the frauds they are. He says it is time to fight back. I add him to the honor roll for his independence and support for children and public education.

He writes:

“The unspoken message is that the New Jersey Department of Education and the New Jersey State Board of Education believe they can change educational outcomes by implementing a system of standardized tests, data points, and accountability measures. They believe that if you create “valid” and “reliable” assessment instruments, that all students will magically succeed. Through a blind allegiance to standardized assessments, the NJDOE and NJSBOE have failed to provide the support, programs, and professional development that would work to ensure that all students succeed….

“As a community of parents and educators, we must come together to rebuff the politicization of public education and insist that these changes are met with opposition and disapproval. We cannot remain on the sidelines as upheaval from the politics of education clouds what is best for our children. We must remain vigilant and centered on the essence of our work, which is to ensure the highest-quality educational experience for all students.”

T.C. Weber is the parent of children in the Metro Nashville public schools. He is a strong supporter of public schools and a strong opponent of privatization. He reported on the battle against charter schools on his blog “Dad Gone Wild,” which ended in a sharp electoral rebuke to the privatization groups like Stand for Children.

But now he turns his attention back to his children’s public schools, and he worries because their schools are underfunded. His children’s elementary school does not have a playground.

The Nashville public schools have a new leader, Dr. Shawn Joseph. Weber filed a FOIA request and learned that Dr. Joseph has added new top administrative posts and has raised the salaries for the top layer of administrators. His pick for his chief of staff was an administrator who has worked to promote charter schools in other states. The board room of the schools was remodeled. Each of the administrators gets an expensive staff car. What’s going on? Was the school board the victim of a clever trick? Is it turning its electoral victory into a real-world loss?

Weber writes:

We recently hired a brand new director of schools, Dr. Shawn Joseph, from Prince George’s County in Maryland, at a salary of $285k per year. A significant raise from the previous director’s salary. We all clapped ourselves on the back because he didn’t seem to be a reformer. But everything is not that simple. I recently put in a FOIA request for what has been spent since Dr. Joseph came to Nashville, and I found some pretty appalling things happening. Maybe the public and the school board have been too busy with other things to notice. But we ought to be asking questions, even if it’s unpleasant. Just because someone does some things that are okay, it doesn’t mean everything is okay.

Once Joseph began his tenure here, he proceeded to hire 4 “Chiefs,” 3 from out of state, at an annual salary of $185k each along with the use of a car. In order to attract a few other desirable hires, the pay schedule for Executive Officers was raised to $155k and there are 8 at that designation. If I’m reading the previous salary schedule correctly, EO’s should max out at $110k per year. To put things in context, the previous Number 2 person in the district, responsible for creating an academy model that has won national accolades, earned only $154k a year until he left the district in April. Just 5 months later and there are now 12 people making over that amount. Perhaps the district pay schedule was way out of line, but that is a significant difference, and if so, I’m not sure that it’s one that should be rectified in one year. Especially when teachers have been asked to be patient for so long.

After he reviews the new salary schedule for administrators and the fact that each of them gets a Chevy Tahoe (which cost about the same as a teacher’s salary for the year), he adds:

Much has been written about the outside money that tried to buy this year’s school board race. In fact, last week the Election Commission announced that there was enough evidence to warrant an investigation into Stand For Children and the candidates they supported in the election. Dr. Joseph’s response was to hire Jana Carlisle as the new Chief of Staff. She is from New York City and knows virtually nothing about Metro Schools. She worked to enact the charter school laws that were recently ruled unconstitutional in Washington by utilizing a flood of outside money – the very same tactics that were employed in Nashville. Despite voters and parents clearly saying they were against the policies that organizations like Stand for Children support, Dr. Joseph ignored those voices and offered Carlisle $185k per year, a car, and money to relocate from NYC to Nashville. Dr. Joseph argues that she is extremely smart. I’d argue that there are a lot of smart people in Nashville who don’t have ties to dark money.

Now I ask: what’s the difference between a charter school’s board of directors that ignores the community and a Director of Schools who does the same? We argue often about the manner that charter schools lock out the voices of those who they serve. How many times have we heard it argued that with an elected board, a parent who has concerns has a venue to voice those concerns? But if a community makes its opinion known and a school board director chooses to ignore it, what’s the difference? I don’t know that there is a bigger expression of a community’s voice than the results of an election. So if nobody’s listening to our voices, we’ve got a problem.

Nashville, you have a problem.

New Jersey Commissioner of Education David Hespe will step down and be replaced, at least temporarily, by his deputy.

New Jersey is only of only five states and D.C. that still administers Pearson’s PARCC exams.

The El Camino Real Charter High School was a successful public high school; in 2011, it converted to charter status, and it is now a successful charter school.

But it has a big problem. Its principal and other top employees charged many thousands of dollars to the school’s credit card for expensive dinners, luxury hotels, and first-class air travel while moonlighting as a scout for a professional basketball team.

The school has been warned repeatedly, and now the school board is giving it one month to clean up the mess.

The case is one more example of tensions between the nation’s second-largest school system and its charter schools, which manage their own public funding and are free from some rules that govern traditional campuses. El Camino Real Charter High School was run by the district until 2011.

At last week’s meeting, board member Scott Schmerelson said El Camino as a charter remains “an excellent school.”

But it “is not a private school,” said Schmerelson, who represents the west San Fernando Valley area where the school is located. “It is a public school. They have to go by the same rules we do.”

The El Camino case could test the limits of that assertion. El Camino, for example, has declined to tell the district whether it has taken disciplinary action against Executive Director Dave Fehte, who has come under internal and external scrutiny. Such action could be considered a confidential personnel matter, to be kept even from L.A. Unified.

A report from the district’s charter school division accuses El Camino of demonstrating “an inability to determine how public funds are being used,” adding that “fatal flaws in judgment … call into serious question the organization’s ability to successfully implement the charter in accordance with applicable law and district requirements.”

According to L.A. Unified, a sampling of 425 credit card expenses from five El Camino employees, including Fehte, revealed that “countless expenses were incurred without adherence to any uniform procedure, and without verification of the necessary details.”

Apparently the charter school board thought that the school’s autonomy extended to its financial affairs. We will watch what happens.

Is it a public school or a publicly funded private school?

Steven Singer reports here that big money failed to block the new pro-public school superintendent Anthony Hamlet.

Elite reformers tried to stop his appointment but they failed. Even the corporate media pitched in to criticize him. But the elected board prevailed (the same board that ousted TFA) and Hamlet won a five-year contract.

John Thompson, teacher and historian in Oklahoma, decided to check out what the supporters of the original Vergara decision were up to. They have appealed the reversal of the original decision. The original decision struck down California statutes that protect tenure and seniority. On appeal, that lower court decision was reversed by a unanimous court. Now the plaintiffs have filed an appeal, seeking to restore the original decision. Thompson wrote a direct letter to two distinguished legal scholars who filed amicus briefs, asking them to explain why they support a decision that was anti-tenure, anti-seniority, anti-teacher, and anti-union.

After reading the names of eminent scholars who signed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff of Vergara v California, I sent a “say it ain’t so” email to a couple of them. I appreciate the responses that I received, but I must admit that they reinforced my fears about the continuing corporate reform, anti-teacher public relations campaign. As Jal Mehta explains, teaching is treated like a “semi-profession.” It’s bad enough that school reformers seek to silence our hard-earned insights, as they move us around like chess pieces, in the hopes that they can someday-over-the-rainbow devise a system of rewards and punishments that will transform our schools. It is sadder still that eminent jurists would agree that the noneducators in the Billionaires Boys Club have virtually no burden of proving that their hunches about school improvement would cause more good than harm to poor children of color.

Two legal scholars replied that they aren’t anti-teacher, and their brief is limited to a specific aspect of California constitutional law. I wonder if they would follow the same logic and write an amicus brief in support of a narrow point in the Citizens United case. After all, Vergara is just one part of a corporate assault on unions, collective bargaining and traditional public education governance; Citizens United was a similar attack on traditional electoral politics. But here is the vexing problem: legal scholars would never come out in support for Citizens United without conducting a careful review of the facts as well as the legal logic of the case. I wonder how many Vergara supporters have even read the evidence presented by the plaintiffs at trial. Had they done so, I wonder if they would see the disconnect between the experts’ narrow research methodology, their broad expressions of personal opinions on the witness stand, and the real world.

The amicus brief says that five challenged statutes should be stricken because “they guarantee education ineffectiveness without regard to the educational rights of students.” “Guarantee” is a strong word. My view is that the striking of those statutes would virtually guarantee the acceleration of the exodus of teaching talent from inner city schools. And, that gets to the heart of the issue. The case is based on opinions versus opinions. I think it is fair to say that the beliefs of the noneducators behind Vergara are held by a minority of scholars, and that the preponderance of evidence is that the contested statutes are imperfect but basically beneficial to poor children of color. I wonder if the amicus signers are aware of the huge body of social science and education history that argue against the plaintiff’s claims. But, the amicus argues that it is the state law, not the hypotheses of corporate reformers, which must carry the burden of “strict scrutiny.”

I wonder if the amicus signers are aware that the Vergara trial was fundamentally a venue for market-driven reformers’ high-dollar, anti-union publicity campaign, which presents adorable images of students who they claim are victims of the due process rights of teachers. Expert witnesses, like the Gates Foundation’s Tom Kane, presented theoretical research (mostly dealing with average outcomes) that had little or no relevance to the policy questions at hand. Their regression studies were basically props, providing numbers (of dubious relevance) for beautiful multi-colored graphics. The plan is to take their well-funded dog and pony show across the nation. For them, it’s a win-win, political hardball strategy. If they lose at trial or on appeal, teacher-bashers, like the Vergara II campaign known as Campbell Brown’s The 74, can continue with their meme, that supposedly it is “bad teachers,” protected by bad unions that keep poor children of color down. If they win, two of the nation’s largest unions are crippled, meaning that the coalition which seeks to stand up to the One Percent is undermined.

Much of the problem is rooted in segregation. There’s a huge gulf between life in the Ivory Tower and the inner city. I wonder if the signers would support a corporate effort to strip college professors of tenure. Public school teachers don’t have the same free speech rights on the job as university professors, but we need the due process rights which allow us to speak up for our students during special education IEP meetings, in student disciplinary hearings, and in debates over policy. These legal scholars not only poo-poo the claim that public school teachers have First Amendment rights, but would strip us of our legislative victories that protect the clash of ideas in the urban classroom.

I suspect the amicus signers sent their kids to elite schools where nobody would try to silence teachers defending the rights of affluent students to receive a holistic education, not just bubble-in malpractice. I wonder if they are aware of the pro-testing litmus tests that the corporate reformers who push Vergara have helped impose, such as “exiting” teachers in SIG schools who don’t pledge fidelity to teach-to-the-test under the pretense that they are “culture-killers.” Do they understand that the challenged laws have helped California resist this destructive micromanaging? Don’t they realize that striking down those laws could virtually guarantee the victory of the test, sort, reward, and punish school of output-driven reformers?

I also wonder if the signers would question their assumption that they are on the side of justice if they read Tom Kane’s latest piece which, like so many other expressions of his opinions, actually argue against Vergara. Kane argues that the education problem “is state law, combined with teacher’s employment preferences.” The Court must disregard teachers’ employment preferences because, he says, it would be too expensive to recruit and retain teachers in high-need districts. Even a $20,000 bonus has been shown to be an inadequate incentive for moving top teachers to the inner city. So, the Court must undermine duly-enacted protections against forced transfers of teachers.

That raises the question of why Kane doesn’t insist that the best and the brightest, i.e. elite college professors, be forced to transfer to the urban classroom. After all, if they have the intellect (and the interpersonal skills?) to earn tenure at elite universities, those professors must surely have the talents that would lift children in the toughest schools out of poverty.

I kid Kane, but he’s awfully disconnected from reality. His arguments make it sound like a key purpose of Vergara is to justify his pet project, his persuading of Bill Gates and the federal government into coercing more than 40 states to adopt his dubious test-driven approach to teacher evaluations. When not campaigning for Vergara, Kane repeatedly protests his mandates for value-added evaluations weren’t a fiasco, and others should be blamed for their costly failures. Now, the economist says that the Court of Appeal incorrectly ruled: “Although the statutes may lead to the hiring and retention of more ineffective teachers than a hypothetical alternative system would, the statutes do not address the assignment of teachers.” But, Kane still ignores the costs of his alternative in terms of driving teaching talent out of the profession in response to taking away our hard-earned legal rights.

Kane then shows how he misunderstands the nature of public education when criticizing the Court’s “view of the crux of the case” by concluding. “Plaintiffs still could have demonstrated a facial equal protection violation, however, by showing that the challenged statutes, regardless of how they are implemented, inevitably cause poor and minority students to be provided with an education that is not ‘basically equivalent to’ their more affluent and/or white peers.”

Once again, Kane remains oblivious to the myriad of ways that his next argument undermines Vergara’s logic. Rather than articulate a facial equal protection violation, he asserts “the challenged statutes “inevitably cause” poor and minority students to be provided with a lower quality education” in two ways:

The negative impact can take two forms, depending on the district leadership’s response to the statutes: First, if the district leadership chooses not to intervene in the flow of teachers moving between its own schools and between districts.

The second way in which the negative effects can be felt, however, is when district leaders do take counter-measures.

Kane further complains that “often collectively bargained, school districts cannot simply force effective teachers to move to high-needs schools to take the place of their less effective colleagues.” It never occurs to the economist that the personalities, backgrounds, and people skills required to teach in the inner city may be very different than those of teachers in low-poverty schools.

Let’s think for a second what Kane is saying. The life of a policy-maker is hard. Problems are complex and intertwined. The preferences of employees can’t simply be ignored because they still would have the freedom to quit and move elsewhere. So, the Court should order lawmakers to accomplish that task. Legislators should then mandate the crafting of a whole new set of laws that impose Kane’s metrics that are inherently biased against inner city teachers in order to attract more talent to the inner city!?!?

Vergara supporters would recruit and retain smarter teachers by taking away our democratic rights and ending, not mending, seniority (which, real world, is our First Amendment.) They would stifle teachers’ ability to help create an evolving balance which, we believe, may be flawed but which still protects students. Kane, like the amicus signers, would set the ground rules so that the chance of victory in the battle for the best ways to help poor children of color doesn’t go to the side which presents the best case. They would insist that we educators, and our expert witnesses, have to face strict scrutiny, and basically prove that those corporate-funded reformers’ opinions are not just misguided but basically irrational.

I had a modest proposal for university professors who want to strip tenure from teachers in elementary and secondary schools: They should prove their sincerity by giving up their own tenure. When they do that, we can take them seriously. Until they do, they are just blowing smoke.