Archives for category: Childhood, Pre-K, K

Former Governor Jim Hunt, a Democrat, is one of the most respected figures in North Carolina on the subject of education. As teacher Justin Parmenter explains in this post, Governor Hunt was a true education reformer who cared about students, teachers, and public schools.

Parmenter writes:

Among others, those initiatives include beginning the Smart Start Pre-K program, putting a full-time teaching assistant in every grade 1-3 classroom, establishing the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, and creating the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (as a personal aside I’d like to add that I am grateful and proud to have been a National Board Certified Teacher since 2006).

Under Hunt’s leadership, teacher pay in North Carolina rose to 19th nationwide, coming within about $2000 of the national average during the 2001-02 school year. The state currently ranks 39th.

Since 2010, North Carolina has been controlled by Tea Party zealots in the legislature, who devoutly believe in charters and vouchers.

Many educators were surprised when Governor Hunt agreed to join a panel that was planning to change the compensation of teachers and tie it to test scores. Perhaps Governor Hunt thought he could steer the group towards sensible solutions, like raising teacher pay to the national average.

But he announced he was quitting the coalition. He must have realized that the state commissioner and her minions were wedded to merit pay.

Parmenter writes:

Governor Jim Hunt has withdrawn as honorary co-chair of the UpliftEd Coalition, a group which will promote a controversial plan to do away with experience-based teacher compensation and replace it with a system of merit pay.

The Pathways to Excellence proposal, currently being worked on by the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC), has proven deeply unpopular with North Carolina educators since it became public earlier this year.

Governor Hunt called on the coalition to draw upon the knowledge of teachers and listen to them.

That’s a novel idea! They are probably listening to the business community, which always complains that teachers are overpaid.

I would recommend that they read my book Reign of Error, in which I thoroughly debunk merit pay. It has been tried again and again for a century, and it has never worked. It’s one of those zombie ideas that never works and never dies.

Dale C. Farran was one of the lead researchers in a study of the effects of an academic pre-kindergarten program in Tennessee. The study concluded that the children who participated in the program eventually fell behind those in the control group who were not in the program.

In an article on the blog of DEY (Defending the Early Years), Farran expressed her views about child development. She used the metaphor of an iceberg.

She wrote:

Years ago, few teachers believed that children should be taught to read in kindergarten; a more recent survey shows that 80% of kindergarten teachers now think children should know how to read before leaving the grade.

As recently as 1993 the great majority of kindergarten teachers did not believe an academic focus in preschool was important for children’s school success.

However, concern for the “fade out” of pre-kindergarten effects has led several researchers and policy makers to argue for a stronger academic focus in those classrooms, including the use of an intentional scripted, academically focused curriculum.

Not only do effects from pre-k classrooms fade, but also results from one study of the longitudinal effects of pre-k attendance conducted by my colleagues and me demonstrated that in the long run the effects turned negative.

A greater focus on academics for three- and four- year-olds is not the solution.

As an author of the recent paper on long term effects and as a primary investigator on the only randomized control trial of a statewide pre-k program with longitudinal data, and, finally, as a developmental psychologist whose career focused on young children’s development, I have thought extensively about what the causes of these unexpected effects might be.

I AM PROPOSING AN “ICEBERG MODEL OF EARLY DEVELOPMENTAL COMPETENCIES.”


The tip of the iceberg, the section floating above the surface, is composed of things that are easily measured.

These types of skills have recently been characterized as “constrained” skills meaning they are finite and definable.

All standard school readiness assessments focus on these types of skills.

But they do so because assessors believe that the skills represent deeper competencies.

They measure these skills somewhat like taking a finger-prick for evidence of the information the assessments provide into other more important characteristics of children.

BOTH THE FOCUS OF CURRENT PRE-K PROGRAMS AND THE PEDAGOGICAL STRATEGIES EMPLOYED FOCUS ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY ON THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG SKILLS.

Many who have been in early childhood for a long time testify to the changes in classrooms.

I believe these changes are accelerated by the process of subsuming preschool into the K-12 system.

In many states the department of education administers the pre-kindergarten program, and the program behaves like an additional grade level below kindergarten – the classrooms are open for the school day (5-6 hours a day) and the school calendar (9 months a year).

The classrooms are most often in elementary schools, where the push down from the K- 12 system is almost impossible to avoid.

Many of the elementary schools are older and unsuitable for younger children – no bathroom connected to the classroom, the requirement to have meals in the large cafeteria, and no appropriate playground.

These physical features mean that children spend a lot of time transitioning from the classroom, necessitating a high level of teacher control as children walk through the halls and endure long wait times.

Descriptions from a number of large studies of the instructional strategies used in current pre-k classrooms show them to be dominated by whole group instruction focused on basic skills (the tip of the iceberg).

TEACHERS TALK AT CHILDREN A MAJORITY OF THE TIME, SELDOM LISTENING TO CHILDREN, AND MULTI-TURN CONVERSATIONS ARE A RARE OCCURRENCE.

Learning opportunities that involve other than right-answer questions are almost never observed, and a high level of negative control from teachers characterizes many classrooms.

This content focus and the teaching strategies, I argue result in a detachment of the tip of the iceberg from the deeper skills under the surface.

Thus, children can score well on school readiness skills at the end of pre-k – especially on those related to literacy – but not maintain any advantage by the end of kindergarten when all children attain these skills with or without pre-k experience.

The tip of the iceberg skills no longer symbolizes those under the surface.

They are no longer the visible and measurable aspects of more important competencies.

Only when the deeper skills are enhanced should we expect continued progress based on early experiences.

A very different set of experiences likely facilitates the development of those deeper skills.

We have known for many years that the developmental period between four and six years is a critical one.

Neuroscience confirmed the importance of this period for the development of the pre-frontal cortex.

The pre-frontal cortex is involved in many of the skills described in the model as being below the surface.

Research does not provide good evidence for which experiences facilitate the development of important skills like curiosity, persistence, or working memory.

But research has demonstrated the importance of these kinds of skills for long term development.

For instance, some argue that early attention skills are more important than early academic skills as predictors of long-term school success including the likelihood of attending college.

In a large longitudinal study, researchers identified the importance of the development of internal self-control during the ages of four to six.

Some children with initially low self- control developed self-control during early childhood and had subsequent better outcomes via what the researchers called a “natural history change.”

Whether an intervention-induced change would yield the same positive outcomes is an open question.

So far, no early childhood curriculum has been able to bring about sustained changes in self-control or any of the below- the-surface skills listed above.

WHAT IS CLEAR IS THAT CHILDREN FROM MORE AFFLUENT HOMES ENTER KINDERGARTEN SCORING HIGHER ON SCHOOL READINESS SKILLS.

Moreover, they maintain that advantage across the school years.

But they did not learn those “readiness” skills from a didactic pre-k experience.

While these children may have had magnetic alphabet letters to play with, for example, parents did not sit them down in front of the refrigerator and force them to learn the letters.

Most of those tip-of-the-iceberg skills were learned through a variety of experiences and the opportunity to learn through interactions with adults and friends.

For these children, measuring the tip does provide information about the beneath the surface competencies that are so important.

Guidance may come from comparing the developmental contexts of families who are economically secure to the pre-k classroom context.

Children of economically secure families are more likely to succeed in school, more likely to matriculate in a two or four year college and more likely to graduate when they enter….

GOVERNMENTS IN MOST HIGHLY DEVELOPED COUNTRIES HEAVILY SUBSIDIZE THE CARE FOR YOUNG CHILDREN PRIOR TO SCHOOL AGE.

Nordic countries all provide a child supplement to parents, which most parents use to offset the modest cost of the government-subsidized group care, care that looks nothing like U.S. pre-k programs.

These programs stress different sorts of competencies in young children, capabilities like “participation” or the ability to be a functioning member of a group (not sitting “criss-cross applesauce” for 20-40 minutes during large group instruction).

The programs stress self-reliance and independence, the ability to make good decisions and to be responsible for one’s actions.

Most of these countries delay formal instruction in academic skills until children are six or seven. Their children do quite well in international comparisons in the later grades.

Concerns about the accelerating academic focus in early childcare education are being voiced by many.

I hope this “iceberg” model will provide a useful visual depiction of the danger of concentrating on basic skills instruction in pre-k.

I hope also that it will help people understand why getting early childhood right is so important and the imperative need to fix the childcare situation in the U.S. for families of poor children – in fact for all our children.

Pre-k is not the magic bullet policy makers hoped it would be. Quite the contrary. The reason it is not may lie with the unavoidable focus of the program when it becomes part of the K-12 system.

Denisha Jones is a lawyer, an early childhood educator, and a member of the board of DEY (Defending the Early Years). She writes here about the necessity of protecting young children from the resurgence of bad ideas. The worst of these bad ideas is standardized testing.

She writes:

As protectors of childhood, we have a duty to resist bad ideas, policies, and laws and be as vocal in our resistance as the proponents are in their insistence.

Though the effects of standardized testing have permeated certain aspects of childhood, young children typically are immune to mandated standardized testing.

When the testing accountability era began with No Child Left Behind, children below third grade escaped the yearly testing requirement.

This does not mean young children are not subject to many assessments as many schools give practice tests to first graders, but children in grades K-2 rarely take national standardized tests.

Five days into the new year, a proponent of standardized testing argues for beginning the NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) tests in kindergarten.

He argues that since advances in technology make it feasible to mass test young children on iPads and computers, we should collect more data in the early years.

Though many feel that NAEP is a good standardized test because it only tests a sample of students, even if this bad idea became the norm, it would only impact a sample of young children.

A THREAT TO SOME CHILDREN’S CHILDHOOD IS A THREAT TO ALL CHILDREN’S CHILDHOOD.

Testing children in kindergarten is a bad idea, period.

We do not need more tests to know what young children learn in school.

More tests lead to more scripted curriculums, teacher-led instruction, and less time to play, explore, and discover.

Please open her article and read it all.

Writing in Psychology Today, Peter Gray reviewed the longitudinal study by Vanderbilt researchers of the effects of pre-kindergarten classes on low-income children.

He noted that the long-term effects were negative.

He usefully points out that the German government conducted a similar study in the 1970s:

The German government was trying to decide whether it would be a good idea, or not, to start teaching academic skills in kindergarten rather than maintain kindergarten as purely a place for play, stories, singing, and the like, as it had always been before. So, they conducted a controlled experiment involving 100 kindergarten classrooms. They introduced some academic training into 50 of them and not into the other 50.

The graduates of academic kindergartens performed better on academic tests in first grade than the others, but the difference subsequently faded, and by fourth grade they were performing worse than the others on every measure in the study. Specifically, they scored more poorly on tests of reading and arithmetic and were less well-adjusted socially and emotionally than the controls.

The Germans, unlike we Americans, paid attention to the science. They followed the data and abandoned plans for academic training in kindergarten. They have stuck with that decision ever since.

The newly reported Tennessee study of pre-K was carefully designed and focused on academic skills.

Yet the students in the academic-intensive pre-K program fell behind the control group in later years.

The major findings of the study are that this expensive, carefully planned pre-K program caused, by 6th grade, reduced performance on all academic achievement tests, a sharp increase in learning disorders, and much more rule violation and behavioral offenses than occurred in the control group….

The most striking finding in the study, to me, is the large increase in diagnosed learning disorders in the pre-K group. It seems possible that this increase is the central finding, though the authors of the report don’t make that claim. Previously I’ve discussed evidence that learning disorders can be produced by early academic pressure (here) and evidence that being labeled with a learning disorder can, through various means, become a self-fulfilling prophesy and result in poorer academic performance than would have occurred without the diagnosis (here). It would be interesting to know if the deficit in achievement test scores was entirely the result of poor performance by those diagnosed with a learning disorder.

A related possibility is that the early academic training resulted in shallow learning of the skills, sufficient to pass the pre-K and kindergarten tests but which interfered with subsequent deeper learning (an idea I discussed here). That could account for the finding that the deficit produced by pre-K grew over the years. As years go on, success on tests may depend increasingly on real understanding, so anything that blocks such understanding might show up more in later grades than earlier ones.

Another possibility is that the pre-K academic grind and pressure caused children to develop a hatred and rebellious attitude toward school. This might account for the increased rule-breaking and offensive behavior of the pre-K group as they went through elementary school. The same rebelliousness might also have caused the children to take their lessons less seriously, which could, over the years, result in an ever-greater gap between them and the controls in test scores.

Still another possibility is that the deficit shown by the pre-K group was caused not so much by what was done in pre-K as by what did not happen there. Four-year-olds need lots of time to play, create, socialize, take initiative, figure things out on their own, and learn to manage themselves. The time spent in academic training is time that they cannot spend on learning the much more important skills that come from self-directed activities. Perhaps the pre-K children were less prepared for school, especially the later grades of school, because they had not had the usual opportunities to learn how to manage themselves before starting school. This suggestion is consistent with previous research showing better long-term outcomes for play-based preschools and kindergartens than for those that have an academic component (here).

I suspect that all these hypotheses have some validity…Regardless of the mechanism, it is now abundantly clear that we should stop even thinking about teaching academics to tots. We should finally make the decision that the Germans made half a century ago and stop formal academic training for children below age 6.

How likely is it that our policymakers will learn from the science?

IMPORTANT!!! K-2 Testing Bill (PROHIBITING K-2 Testing) will be heard TOMORROW!!


Subject: Alert: Sign witness slip in support of this bill–Senate Bill 3986

SB3986 will be heard in the Senate Ed Committee tomorrow.

Slip is here bit.ly/SB3986feb8 and post to share with others https://www.ilfps.org/senate_hearing_sb_3986

If you believe that required testing of children in pre-kindergarten through grade two (other than testing for diagnostic purposes) is not needed for students in today’s schools, please sign in as a PROPONENT to support this bill!

Senate Bill 3986—Pacione Zayas.

Amends the School Code. Prohibits the State Board of Education from developing, purchasing, or requiring a school district to administer, develop, or purchase a standardized assessment for students enrolled or preparing to enroll in prekindergarten through grade 2, other than for diagnostic purposes. Prohibits the State Board of Education from providing funding for any standardized assessment of students enrolled or preparing to enroll in prekindergarten through grade 2. Effective immediately.

Paul Bonner, who recently retired as a principal in Alabama, wrote the following comment as part of a discussion of administering NAEP to kindergartners.

He wrote:

One of the experiences that made me aware that my time with public education was coming to an end was when our district began testing kindergartners. I would walk into kindergarten classrooms and watch students struggle and often cry over the inability to navigate iPads. I would leave those classrooms shaken to the core. The students who could work with the devices were not making decisions about correct answers but through simply getting the program to move from question to question. Almost none of these students could understand what the test was asking them to do. This angered me significantly because what we were focusing on ignored the activities that were needed to build an actual foundational developmental standard. No focus on gross and fine motor skill development or social and emotional growth. No test below third grade will give us meaningful understanding of what children actually know and that really is beside the point. The poor quality of most of the tests I have seen keep us from understanding what those form third grade through twelve understand! What we are doing to children, or being asked to do, is criminal and a denial of how the brain can get to a point of meaningful inquiry. The fact that people who have no experience with child development and have done no meaningful study of the early brain, provides further evidence that our society and polity has no appreciation for the professional approach required to raise children to become successful adults. It just seems to be getting worse. I am absolutely appalled to see another presidential administration and the plethora of state governments that refuse to see the damage they are doing. This predatory capitalism that has so infected education, and all of governance, just might result in the same effect led poisoning had on Rome.

Experienced teacher Nancy Bailey opposes Michael Petrilli’s proposal to give NAEP tests to kindergartners. Petrilli, who is president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute made this proposal in Education Next.

Petrilli recognizes that the typical 5-year-old can’t read and probably can’t hold a pencil but thinks there is value in online visual tests. He argues that it’s a mistake to delay NAEP until 4th grade, because policymakers are “left in the dark” about what children know by age 5.

He writes:

Grades K–3 are arguably the most critical years of a child’s education, given what we know about the importance of early-childhood development and early elementary-school experiences. This is when children are building the foundational skills they’ll need in the years ahead. One report found that kids who don’t read on grade level by 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school later on. Why do we wait until after the most important instructional and developmental years to find out how students are faring?

Petrilli assumes that knowing test scores leads to solutions. I question that. We have been testing random samples of 4th and 8th graders (and sometimes seniors) since the early 1970s, and the information about test scores has not pointed to any solutions. After 50 years, we should know what needs to be done. We don’t, or at best, we disagree. Since 2010, test scores have been stubbornly flat. Does this mean that the Common Core and Race to the Top failed? Depends on whom you ask. It’s hard for me to see what educational purpose would be served by testing a random sample of kindergartners online.

Bailey doesn’t see what the purpose is. She points out that Petrilli was never a teacher of young children. He never was a teacher, period. He is an author and a think tank leader who champions conservative causes.

She writes:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) randomly assesses students across the country in math and reading in grades 4 and 8, and in civics and U.S. History in grade 8 and Long-Term Trend for age 9, but it doesn’t test kindergartners. Why should it? Why is the testing of kindergartners necessary? The answer is it isn’t.

Suppose we learn that 52% of kindergartners recognize the color red. Suppose we learn that 38% recognize a square. Suppose we learn that 63% recognize an elephant. So what? Why does any of this matter?

Bailey writes:

The best assessment of this age group is accomplished through observation, by well-prepared early childhood educators who understand the appropriate development of children this age, who can collect observational data through notes and checklists as children play and socialize with their peers.

Who needs the information that might be collected about a random sample of kindergarten children? What would they do with it?

It’s a puzzlement.

Leonie Haimson assesses Bill de Blasio’s record on education after eight years as Maor of New York City. He succeeded Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who served for 12 years and completely upended the schools, first, by getting the state legislature to give the mayor total control of the city’s public schools, then by closing scores of schools and replacing them with hundreds of small schools and charter schools. De Blasio had served on a local school board and offered the hope of restoring stability and ending Bloomberg’s era of constant disruption. (New York City has a two-term limit for its mayor but Bloomberg persuaded the City Council to make an exception for him and themselves).

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, reviews de Blasio’s record here.

She begins:

When he first ran for Mayor, Bill de Blasio portrayed himself as a leader who would make a host of progressive changes in our schools. He promised to be a far different leader than Michael Bloomberg, who had expanded high-stakes testing, proceeded to grade teachers and schools primarily via test scores, closed dozens of public schools displacing thousands of students, and helped charter schools expand in their place.

Bloomberg and his schools chancellors had done all this by ignoring community opposition, and despite any tangible evidence that this was the right way to improve education, particularly for disadvantaged students. Though Bloomberg had promised during his campaign to lower New York City schools’ excessive class sizes, they increased sharply during his administration, and by the time he left office he said he would “double the class size” if he could, and that would be “a good deal for the students.”

De Blasio said he would do things differently: to listen to and be responsive to parent and community concerns, de-emphasize test scores, and focus on improving public schools rather than providing space and funding to help charter schools expand. Instead of closing schools, he pledged to increase equity and strengthen learning conditions, including by lowering class sizes.

And yet his record on each of these issues was decidedly mixed. He did attain his primary goal in education – to provide universal, publicly-funded pre-kindergarten to every four-year-old, but in a manner that could have been better achieved, as will be discussed later.

There were some bright spots in the de Blasio record, including the Community Schools initiative, begun in the fall of 2014, in which schools partnered with community-based organizations to provide after-school programs, mental health supports, and other resources. By 2018, more than 200 community schools had been established. An independent study found that in these schools, there were lower rates of chronic absenteeism, more students graduating on time, and in elementary and middle schools, higher math scores and fewer disciplinary referrals.

Open the link to read the rest of this important article.

Parent advocate Leonie Haimson has written an urgent plea to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza. They acknowledge that the test for the “gifted and talented” programs are flawed, they know they need to be replaced, they know that it is wrong to test children as young as 4, but they are giving the test anyway. Haimson says, STOP NOW!

Haimson writes:

Last week, Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carranza announced that they will administer the controversial and problematic test for admissions to “gifted and talented” classes this spring, for perhaps a final year. Then: 

“We will spend the next year engaging communities around what kind of programming they would like to see that is more inclusive, enriching, and truly supports the needs of academically advanced and diversely talented students at a more appropriate age… We will also engage communities around how best to integrate enriched learning opportunities to more students, so that every student – regardless of a label or a class that they are in – can access rigorous learning that is tailored to their needs and fosters their creativity, passion, and strengths.” 

Yet the question arises as to why they will continue to give these exams to children as young as four years old at all. They are exams that few respected researchers believe are either valid or reliable. Why not end the practice now, especially given the risks and considerable cost of administering this test during a pandemic? 

We have posted many critiques of New York City’s gifted program over the years on our NYC Public School Parents blog, including this one by esteemed education leader Debbie Meier in 2007, when Chancellor Joel Klein first instituted a standardized, high-stakes testing process for admissions to these classes in the supposed name of “equity.”

As Meier wrote, “They are using two instruments we know for a fact provide racially biased results–it’s the data that the canards about racial inferiority are based on and comes with a history of bias. Both class and race. Furthermore, we know that psychometricians have unanimously warned us for years about the lack of reliability of standardized tests for children under 7.”

The admissions outcome is clearly racially- and economically-biased, as nearly half of all students who take the test in the wealthiest part of Manhattan, District 2, score as “gifted” (meaning at 90th percentile) while very few score that high in the poorer neighborhoods of Brooklyn or the Bronx. Some parents pay up to $400 an hour for their four-year-old children to take test prep classes. 

About 29,000 children took the gifted test last year, and about 3,600 got offers for seats in gifted classes. Currently, according to the New York Post, Asian students account for 43% of these students, followed by white students at 36%, Hispanic students 8%, and Black students 6%.  

To show how ridiculous this test is, Haimson cites a study showing that most of the children who score at the top on the exam are not at the top a year later.

The only beneficiary of this test is Pearson, which turns a profit.

Tracee Miller, a member of the St. Louis Board of Education, writes that she was shocked and dismayed to discover that a proposal to raise taxes for early childhood education was actually a disguised effort to divert more public money to charter schools. The truth leaked out:

Emails exposed via public records requests revealed that not only did the proposal lack specificity around fund distribution, but also that the funds could be redirected to economic projects unrelated to ECE. These articles also named local individuals and organizations affiliated with the deceit, illustrating the depth and breadth of political corruption connected with one ballot measure. Only it isn’t just one ballot measure.

The individuals peddling their agenda under the guise of education equity will continue to steer public dollars toward private programs and gain political capital unless we decide that public education is too important to jeopardize for the sake of private gain. We will all be complicit in the perpetuation of inequity if we choose to let this continue when we know the reality. I feel compelled to ensure, to the extent that I am capable, that the public is as aware of the even broader reach of these local actors. In reading about my experiences, I hope that St. Louis citizens will gain further awareness of the corruption at play in our education system and choose to eradicate that corruption once and for all. The same shadow groups who publicly say one thing yet do another behind-the-scenes, as they did with the ECE proposal, are working to restructure our city’s entire public education system without input from the larger community. It is incumbent upon residents of the St. Louis region to fully unearth the far-reaching influence of these groups, to assess the impact of their operating with impunity for so long, and to ensure that the community leads the way in making decisions that will impact the city’s children and its future.

Because of intense personal pressure, both public and behind-the-scenes, I spent countless hours trying to better understand the connections between groups and the strategies they were using. What I learned will strike fear into the heart of any public education advocate. Since 2018, The Opportunity Trust has funded new charter founders, has steered these founders to specific charter sponsors, and has paid for start-up and strategic planning costs to launch new charter schools or expand existing networks in St. Louis City. They do this even as St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) struggles with under-enrollment and the possibility of school closures. This work has been executed through tactics similar to those used in their attempt to push through the tax increase allegedly for ECE, and for similar self-serving purposes.

In addition to their work in the charter sector, The Opportunity Trust has launched numerous local non-profits and supported three cohorts of fellows, including many individuals connected with the SLPS district and Board of Education (BOE), to study other school systems that have implemented similar reforms. The Opportunity Trust is not a home-grown Missouri organization, and it and its associated organizations are not here to solve Missouri problems. The Opportunity Trust is the local arm of a national organization, The City Fund, whose model seeks to expand the number of charter schools, increase charter enrollment, fund the election of school choice advocates to elected school boards, divide public school districts into factions by treating schools as independent entities that function without the oversight of an elected board, and fund the election of school choice advocates to elected school boards, including at least one current member of the SLPS BOE. The City Fund does not make it clear when it is investing in a city, actively maneuvering funding through non-profits and PACs so that the money and their motives are harder to track.

Who might these “shadow groups” and individuals be? As Miller says, “The Opportunity Trust” is the St. Louis branch of the national group called “The City Fund.” The City Fund started life with $200 million from billionaires John Arnold (Texas) and Reed Hastings (California). It took a few minutes of scouring its web pages to find its list of “investors,” which include familiar names: The Walton Family Foundation; the NewSchools Venture Fund; the Silicon Valley Community Foundation; and other less familiar names, such as the California-based Intrepid Philanthropy Foundation, which supports innovative approaches to teaching, such as Teach for America; also George Roberts, San Francisco-based billionaire and founder of the powerhouse investment fund KKR.

Their agenda is to demand more charter schools, more scrutiny of public schools, and less scrutiny of charter schools. They are there to destroy public schools, not to help them.

Miller writes:

These organizations have made a practice of using distorted data to fundraise and garner support from individuals and organizations who champion the school choice movement. A salient example of this unethical use of data is the past year’s presentation hosted by ednextstl in collaboration with WEPOWER, EdHub STL, Equity Bridge, Forward Through Ferguson, and The Opportunity Trust. The data presented at this community event, where the audience was primarily composed of charter school employees, philanthropists, and self-named equity advocates, was so slanted that a third-party representative subsequently presented on that bias during a meeting of the SLPS BOE.

It is also critical to consider the motives of WEPOWER’s education advocacy campaigns. While budget transparency and community engagement should be pillars of any public education system, these tenets are not specific to traditional public school districts, though WEPOWER treats them as such. As recipients of public tax dollars, charter schools also have a responsibility to the community they serve, yet the group has not included any charter school in the demands they have issued; to-date, SLPS has been the sole target of WEPOWER’s demands. If what they seek to achieve is truly high-quality education for all students, this same level of scrutiny must be extended to charter schools as well. Instead, they have worked harder to push their agenda than they have to truly advance the quality of education in St. Louis, as was made evident in the ECE tax proposal.

Really, it is quite disgusting to see these elites circling the neglected and abused public schools of St. Louis with their discredited solutions that have such an empty track record. Their propaganda is powerful; their track record is abysmal. Will they trick another urban district into abandoning its public schools?

Tom Ultican writes here about the charter vultures descending on St. Louis to pick over the bones of their once glorious public schools. He notes that student enrollment in the district has fallen precipitously since the mid-1960s, when it was 115,543. The drop accelerated since then and it is now under 20,000. Ultican tells the sad story of the reformers who wasted money and opened charters to further enfeeble the district.

 From 2000 to 2020, the student population in St. Louis has again fallen by more than half from 44,264 to 19,222. Some of that decline can be attributed to the continuation of migration to the suburbs which now includes Black families. However, a large portion of the drop is due to the growth of charter schools. The charter school enrollment for 2020 was at least 11,215 students which represents 37% of the district’s publicly supported students. 

Like the national trend, the privatized schools chartered by the state, educate a lower percentage of the more expensive special education students; charters 11.4% versus SLPS 15.1%.

The “reformers” have had their “fun” with the St. Louis public schools. The one thing that they have not done is to improve them. They are raiders of the public schools.

Because of declining enrollment, 11 additional public schools are on the chopping block, candidates for closure. In a recent article in Medium, St. Louis parent Emily Hubbard called on politicians and civic groups to take some pro-active steps to save these 11 schools and what remains of public education. In case they didn’t know how to help the struggling public schools, she offered some ideas:

Here are some suggestions:
* Demand commitments from all your big donors to create an endowment that will fund north city schools for years to come
* Use your strength and connections to demand that county entities pay a white flight/greenlining/educational reparations tax (perhaps that can fund the endowment?)
* Demand a charter school moratorium; refuse to sponsor or delight in these entities that play such a big part in SLPS’s struggles
* Get right to the root cause of another of SLPS’s struggles and provide universal basic income for district families
* Before giving us coats and backpacks, make sure all the parents in the district are being paid fair wages at a job that doesn’t take hours to get to
* Create more non-slummy housing for families that need three bedrooms
* Demand whoever is in charge of it to create a more equitable funding situation than property tax 
*refuse to let charter schools get access to tax breaks and capital that SLPS is unable to access because they are just a plain ol’ public school district
* do what it takes to re-do the de-seg order so that the majority of Black children are able to benefit
* Put your children in St. Louis Public neighborhood schools (and not just the majority/plurality white ones) in a demonstration of solidarity with the families you claim to speak for.
* work out a deal with the city to do something about the unused buildings, free the district from the millstones
* If you want to dismantle the public school system, please just go ahead and say so instead of being all devious 
* if you think your family is too good for SLPS, please just go ahead and say so, instead of dancing around the issue
* repent publicly for not doing the things that you should’ve to care for the children in SLPS’s care, and for doing things that harm the children in SLPS’s care

Is anyone listening? Does anyone care? Will the leaders of the city allow the Wall Street bankers, the hedge funders, and billionaires from California and elsewhere to buy the public school system and close it down?