Archives for category: Class size

William J. Mathis has drawn together the research on class size to explain why it matters.

It is costly to reduce class size, but it is very likely the most effective intervention to help students who are struggling.

It also happens to be the single reform that parents want most. When class size was put on the ballot in Florida, it was overwhelmingly approved. Despite numerous attempts by Jeb Bush and his allies to get rid of it, the caps on class size have remained intact.

Reformers disregard the research on class size because they don’t want to spend more money to do what works. They prefer changes in governance, like charter schools, vouchers, mayoral control, state takeovers–anything but reducing class size. They claim that reducing class size benefits unions because it requires more teachers. But the biggest benefit of reducing class size is to the children, who get the attention and time they need to learn.

Daphne Stanford left the following comment on the blog. Idaho, she says, doesn’t care about education. It doesn’t care about its own children.

 

 

Yes, there is a problem with education in Idaho; however, it’s not the fault of the teachers or the schools. The problem is much more complex than that. As a former high school English teacher who has also taught college-level composition, I can testify to the woeful state of education funding in Idaho: while I was teaching in Riggins, for example, the district had to pass an emergency bond levy for more school funding simply in order to keep the schools open. That’s ludicrous. I’ve also never heard of high schools actually charging students to take choir or art, for example, or to participate in team sports. It’s painfully obvious to me that part of the problem is not only that there is a lack of funding; there is also, sadly, a lack of belief or trust in education and educators–especially in rural Idaho. As one of the reddest states in the U.S., our state is especially prone to private corporations hijacking public education in the name of progress or technology. However, it’s not that simple. What is simple, however, is the formula that makes for good education: small class sizes, teachers who are adequately paid & supported, and a community that also supports and believes in education. If class sizes are bloated and overcrowded, if funding is non-existent, if teachers are overworked and underpaid–guess what? Education is going to suffer. It’s really not that complicated.

Do you have 3 minutes towatch a video?

 

Watch this graphic video and share it with your friends when they ask you what a charter is.

 

It explains in clear visuals how charters operate and how they hurt public schools by draining away the students chosen by the charter and the resources that previously funded the community’s public school.

 

The he video was commissioned by the Network for Public Education. Help it go viral. Share it. Tweet it. Put it on Facebook.

Stuart Egan is a National Board Certified teacher of high school English in North Carolina. I have published his posts before. I met Stuart at the Network for Public Education annual conference in Raleigh a few weeks ago and invited him to write a post that would sum up the damage that the Tea Party government has done to teachers and schools in the past five years. He agreed to do so. His perspective is especially valuable because he is in the classroom.

 

 

Stuart Egan writes:

 

 

When the GOP won control of both houses in the North Carolina General Assembly in the elections of 2010, it was the first time that the Republicans had that sort of power since 1896. Add to that the election of Pat McCrory as governor in 2012, and the GOP has been able to run through multiple pieces of legislation that have literally changed a once progressive state into one of regression. From the Voter ID law to HB2 to fast tracking fracking to neglecting coal ash pools, the powers that-now-be have furthered an agenda that has simply been exclusionary, discriminatory, and narrow-minded.

 

And nowhere is that more evident than the treatment of public education.

 

Make no mistake. The GOP-led General Assembly has been using a deliberate playbook that other states have seen implemented in various ways. Look at Ohio and New Orleans and their for-profit charter school implementation. Look at New York State and the Opt-Out Movement against standardized testing. Look at Florida and its Jeb Bush school grading system. In fact, look anywhere in the country and you will see a variety of “reform” movements that are not really meant to “reform” public schools, but rather re-form public schools in an image of a profit making enterprise that excludes the very students, teachers, and communities that rely on the public schools to help as the Rev. William Barber would say “create the public.”

 

North Carolina’s situation may be no different than what other states are experiencing, but how our politicians have proceeded in their attempt to dismantle public education is worth exploring.

 

Specifically, the last five year period in North Carolina has been a calculated attempt at undermining public schools with over twenty different actions that have been deliberately crafted and executed along three different fronts: actions against teachers, actions against public schools, and actions to deceive the public.

 

 

Actions Against Teachers

  1. Teacher Pay – A recent WRAL report and documentary highlighted that in NC, teacher pay has dropped 13% in the past 15 years when adjusted for inflation (http://www.wral.com/after-inflation-nc-teacher-pay-has-dropped-13-in-past-15-years/15624302/). That is astounding when one considers that we are supposedly rebounding from the Great Recession. Yes, this 15 year period started with democrats in place, but it has been exacerbated by GOP control. Salary schedules were frozen and then revamped to isolate raises to increments of five+ years. As surrounding states have continued to increase pay for teachers, NC has stagnated into the bottom tier in regards to teacher pay.
  2. Removal of due-process rights – One of the first items that the GOP controlled General Assembly attempted to pass was the removal of due-process right for all teachers. Thanks to NCAE, the courts decided that it would be a breach of contract for veteran teachers who had already obtained career-status. But that did not cover newer teachers who will not have the chance to gain career status and receive due process rights.

 

What gets lost in the conversation with the public is that due-process rights are a protective measure for students and schools. Teachers need to know that they can speak up against harsh conditions or bad policies without repercussions. Teachers who are not protected by due-process will not be as willing to speak out because of fear.

 

  1. Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed – Because advanced degree pay is abolished, many potential teachers will never enter the field because that is the only way to receive a sizable salary increase to help raise a family or afford to stay in the profession. It also cripples graduate programs in the state university system because obtaining a graduate degree for new teachers would place not only more debt on teachers, but there is no monetary reward to actually getting it.
  2. The Top 25% to receive bonus – One measure that was eventually taken off the table was that each district was to choose 25% of its teachers to be eligible to receive a bonus if they were willing to give up their career status which is commonly known as tenure. Simply put, it was hush money to keep veteran teachers from speaking out when schools and students needed it. To remove “tenure” is to remove the ability for a teacher to fight wrongful termination. In a Right-To-Work state, due process rights are the only protection against wrongful termination when teachers advocate for schools, like the teacher who is writing this very piece.
  3. Standard 6 – In North Carolina, we have a teacher evaluation system that has an unproven record of accurately measuring a teacher’s effectiveness. The amorphous Standard 6 for many teachers includes a VAM called Assessment of Student Work.

 

I personally teach multiple sections of AP English Language and Composition and am subject to the Assessment of Student Work (ASW). I go through a process in which I submit student samples that must prove whether those students are showing ample growth.

 

In June of 2015, I uploaded my documents in the state’s system and had to wait until November to get results. The less than specific comments from the unknown assessor(s) were contradictory at best. They included:

 

Alignment

Al 1 The evidence does not align to the chosen objective.

Al 4 All of the Timelapse Artifacts in this Evidence Collection align to the chosen objectives.

 

Growth

Gr 1 Student growth is apparent in all Timelapse Artifacts.

Gr 2 Student growth is apparent between two points in time.

Gr 3 Student growth is not apparent between two points in time.

Gr 4 Student growth samples show achievement but not growth.

Gr 9 Evidence is clear/easily accessible

Gr 10 Evidence is not clear/not easily accessible

 

Narrative Context

NC 1 Narrative Context addresses all of the key questions and supports understanding of the evidence.

NC 4 Narrative Context does not address one or more of the key questions.

 

 

And these comments did not correspond to any specific part of my submission. In fact, I am more confused about the process than ever before. It took over five months for someone who may not have one-fifth of my experience in the classroom to communicate this to me. If this is supposed to supply me with the tools to help guide my future teaching, then I would have to say that this would be highly insufficient, maybe even “unbest.”

 

  1. Push for Merit Pay – The bottom line is that merit pay destroys collaboration and promotes competition. That is antithetical to the premise of public education. Not only does it force teachers to work against each other, it fosters an atmosphere of exclusivity and disrespect. What could be more detrimental to our students?

 

Those legislators who push for merit pay do not see effective public schools as collaborative communities, but as buildings full of contractors who are determined to outperform others for the sake of money. And when teachers are forced to focus on the results of test scores, teaching ceases from being a dynamic relationship between student and teacher, but becomes a transaction driven by a carrot on an extended stick.

 

  1. “Average” Raises – In the long session of 2014, the NC General Assembly raised salaries for teachers in certain experience brackets that allowed them to say that an “average” salary for teachers was increased by over 7%. They called it a “historic raise.” However, if you divided the amount of money used in these “historic” raises by the number of teachers who “received” them, it would probably amount to about $270 per teacher.

 

That historic raise was funded in part by eliminating teachers’ longevity pay. Similar to an annual bonus, this is something that all state employees in North Carolina — except, now, for teachers — gain as a reward for continued service. The budget rolled that money into teachers’ salaries and labeled it as a raise. That’s like me stealing money out of your wallet and then presenting it to you as a gift.

 

  1. Health Insurance and Benefits – Simply put, health benefits are requiring more out-of-pocket expenditures, higher deductibles, and fewer benefits. There is also talk of pushing legislation that will take away retirement health benefits for those who enter the profession now.
  1. Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE) – Seen as a union and therefore must be destroyed, the North Carolina Association of Educators has been incredibly instrumental in bringing unconstitutional legislation to light and carrying out legal battles to help public schools. In the last few years, the automatic deduction of paychecks to pay dues to NCAE was disallowed by the General Assembly, creating a logistical hurdle for people and the NCAE to properly transfer funds for membership
  2. Revolving Door of Standardized Tests – Like other states, we have too many. In my years as a North Carolina teacher (1997-1999, 2005-2015), I have endured the Standard Course of Study, the NC ABC’s, AYP’s, and Common Core. Each initiative has been replaced by a supposedly better curricular path that allegedly makes all previous curriculum standards inferior and obsolete. And with each of these initiatives comes new tests that are graded differently than previous ones and are “converted” into data points to rank student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Such a revolving door makes the ability to measure data historically absolutely ridiculous.

 

Actions Against Schools

 

 

  1. Less Money Spent per Pupil – The argument that Gov. McCrory and the GOP-led General Assembly have made repeatedly is that they are spending more on public education now than ever before. And they are correct. We do spend more total money now than before the recession hit. But that is a simplified and spun claim because North Carolina has had a tremendous population increase and the need to educate more students.

Let me use an analogy. Say in 2008, a school district had 1000 students in its school system and spent 10 million dollars in its budget to educate them. That’s a 10,000 per pupil expenditure. Now in 2015, that same district has 1500 students and the school system is spending 11.5 million to educate them. According to Raleigh’s claims, that district is spending more total dollars now than in 2008 on education, but the per-pupil expenditure has gone down significantly to over 2300 dollars per student or 23percent.

  1. Remove Caps on Class Sizes – There is a suggested formula in allotting teachers to schools based on the number of students per class, but that cap was removed. House Bill 112 allowed the state to remove class size requirements while still allowing monies from the state to be allocated based on the suggested formula.

Some districts have taken to move away from the 6/7 period day to block scheduling. Take my own district for example, the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County Schools. When I started ten years ago, I taught five classes with a cap of 30 students. With the block system in place, I now teach six classes in a school year with no cap. The math is simple: more students per teacher.

  1. Amorphous Terms – North Carolina uses a lot of amorphous terms like “student test scores”, “student achievement”, and “graduation rates,” all of which are among the most nebulous terms in public education today.

 

 

When speaking of “test scores”, we need to agree about which test scores we are referring to and if they have relevance to the actual curriculum. Since the early 2000’s we have endured No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top initiatives that have flooded our public schools with mandatory testing that never really precisely showed how “students achieved.” It almost boggles the mind to see how much instructional time is lost just administering local tests to see how students may perform on state tests that may be declared invalid with new education initiatives. Even as I write, most states are debating on how they may or may not leave behind the Common Core Standards and replace them with their own. Know what that means? Yep. More tests.

 

 

“Graduation rate” might be one of the most constantly redefined terms in public schools. Does it mean how many students graduate in four years? Five years? At least finish a GED program or a diploma in a community college? Actually, it depends on whom you ask and when you ask. But with the NC State Board of Education’s decision to go to a ten-point grading scale in all high schools instead of the seven-point scale used in many districts, the odds of students passing courses dramatically increased because the bar to pass was set lower.

 

 

  1. Jeb Bush School Grading System – This letter grading system used by the state literally shows how poverty in our state affects student achievement. What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help — not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health-care accessibility. These performance grades also show that schools with smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction are more successful, a fact that lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.
  2. Cutting Teacher Assistants – Sen. Tom Apodaca said when this legislation was introduced, “We always believe that having a classroom teacher in a classroom is the most important thing we can do. Reducing class sizes, we feel, will give us better results for the students.” The irony in this statement is glaring. Fewer teacher assistants for early grades especially limit what can be accomplished when teachers are facing more cuts in resources and more students in each classroom.

 

Actions To Deceive The Public

 

 

  1. Opportunity Grants – Opportunity Grant legislation is like the trophy in the case for the GOP establishment in Raleigh. It is a symbol of “their” commitment to school choice for low-income families. But that claim is nothing but a red-herring.

Simply put, it is a voucher system that actually leaves low-income families without many choices because most private schools which have good track records have too-high tuition rates and do not bus students. Furthermore, the number of private schools receiving monies from the Opportunity Grants who identify themselves as religiously affiliated is well over 80 percent according to the NC State Educational Assistance Authority. Those religious schools are not tested the way public schools are and do not have the oversight that public schools have. Furthermore, it allows tax dollars to go to entities that already receive monetary benefits because they are tax free churches.

 

 

  1. Charter Schools – Charter school growth in North Carolina has been aided by the fact that many of the legislators who have created a favorable environment for charter benefit somehow, someway from them. Many charters abuse the lack of oversight and financial cloudiness and simply do not benefit students.

 

Especially in rural areas, uncontrolled charter school growth has been detrimental to local public schools. When small school districts lose numbers of students to charter schools, they also lose the ability to petition for adequate funds in the system that NC uses to finance schools ; the financial impact can be overwhelming. In Haywood County, Central Elementary School was closed because of enrollment loss to a charter school that is now on a list to be recommended for closing.

 

 

  1. Virtual Schools – There are two virtual academies in NC. Both are run by for-profit entities based out of state. While this approach may work for some students who need such avenues, the withdrawal rates of students in privately-run virtual schools in NC are staggering according to the Department of Public Instruction.

 

  1. Achievement School Districts – Teach For America Alumnus Rep. Rob Bryan has crafted a piece of legislation that has been rammed through the General Assembly which will create ASD’s in NC. Most egregious is that it was crafted secretly. Rather than having a public debate about how to best help our “failing” schools with our own proven resources, Rep. Bryan chose to surreptitiously strategize and plan a takeover of schools. ASD’s have not worked in Tennessee. They will not work in North Carolina except for those who make money from them.

 

  1. Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges – At last report, teaching candidate percentages in undergraduate programs in the UNC system has fallen by over 30% in the last five years. This is just an indication of the damage done to secure a future generation of teachers here in North Carolina.

 

  1. Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program – Once regarded as a model to recruit the best and brightest to become teachers and stay in North Carolina was abolished because of “cost”.

 

 

Overall, this has been North Carolina’s playbook. And those in power in Raleigh have used it effectively. However, there are some outcomes that do bode well for public school advocates for now and the future.

 

  • Teachers are beginning to “stay and fight” rather than find other employment.
  • NCAE has been able to win many decisions in the court system.
  • North Carolina is in the middle of a huge election year and teachers as well as public school advocates will surely vote.
  • The national spotlight placed on North Carolina in response to the voter-ID laws and HB2 are only adding pressure to the powers that be to reconsider what they have done.
  • Veteran teachers who still have due-process rights are using them to advocate for schools.

 

I only hope that the game changes so that a playbook for returning our public schools back to the public will be implemented.

 

Stuart Egan, NBCT
West Forsyth High School

Whitney Tilson is one of the founders of Democrats for Education Reform. He is a hedge fund manager. He is on the board of KIPP. He helped to launch Teach for America. He is not a likely ally for me. But he is a very intelligent and forthright person. When he lambasted the for-profit virtual charter chain for the inferior education it provides, he sent me his comments, and I applauded him. More recently, we have exchanged emails about the abominable bathroom bill in North Carolina, which he opposes as I do. I have never met Whitney, but our emails have been very cordial, so I consider him a gentleman (no matter what he has written about me on his blog). He was gentleman enough to suggest that we exchange views, and he initiated the dialogue by sending me a list of statements that represent what he believes. I responded, closing out the conversation after midnight last night. It seems that Whitney never sleeps, as he posted the exchange immediately this morning. He has promised to write a response to my comments. When he does, I will post them too. I must say that I was very impressed by his willingness to state that charter schools should be expected to accept the full range of children, not just those who are likely to get high scores. That is a big step forward, and I hope that his views resonate. I also hope that this exchange is widely read. My only regret is that I neglected to thank him for initiating it. It was a bold step and I welcome the opportunity to identify the areas where are in agreement and the areas where he disagree.

 

 

 

This is the post that Whitney Tilson sent out this morning (his words are in italics, mine are in caps):

 

 

 

If someone forwarded you this email and you would like to be added to my email list to receive emails like this one roughly once a week, please email Leila at leilajt2+edreform@gmail.com. You can also email her if you’d like to unsubscribe. Lastly, in between emails I send out links to articles of interest via Twitter (I’m #arightdenied) so, to get them, you must sign up to follow me at: https://twitter.com/arightdenied.

 
———————
STOP THE PRESSES!!!

 

 

I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations in my life – and this ongoing one with Diane Ravitch certainly ranks up there.

 

 

If I recall correctly, we first exchanged emails a few years ago when I send her my presentation about K12, the awful for-profit online charter school operator. I knew we’d have common ground there, as she’d also exposed K12’s misdeeds in her book, Reign of Error.

 

 

I reached out to her again recently because I knew we’d have common views on North Carolina’s hateful HB2 law (in fact, we’ve both now published articles in the Huffington Post on this; here’s mine: An Open Letter to a North Carolina State Legislator; and here’s hers: That Dumb Bathroom Bill in North Carolina).

 

 

Our common views got me thinking: how is it that two well-informed people can agree on so much in almost all areas, yet apparently disagree on so much in one area (ed reform)? Is it possible that we agree on more than we think?

 

 

So I sent her the email below, in which I wrote 24 statements about which I thought we might agree, and asked if she’d reply, in the hopes that we might both learn something, find more areas of agreement where we could work together, and, in general, try to tone things down.

 

 

She was kind enough to reply, so I have included her comments (in ALL CAPS), interspersed and at the end of my original email (shared with her permission of course).

 

 

Overall, I was heartened to see how many things we agree on.

 

 

That said, we still disagree on many things, about which I will respond in due time. But in the interests of keeping this email to a manageable length, I’ll let her have the last word here – but not the final word, as we’ve both committed to continuing (and sharing) our ongoing discussion.

 

 

In the meantime, I hope you’ll find our initial exchange as interesting and illuminating as I did.

 
——————————

 
Hi Diane,

 

 

You know, despite our disagreements on ed reform, I’d bet we agree on 95% of everything else. I’m certain that we agree that the Republican party has been hijacked by extremists, Trump is a madman, Cruz is terrifying, and there’s nothing more important than getting a Democrat elected president in November (and, ideally, retaking the Senate and maybe even the House as well).

 

WE AGREE.

 

I’ll admit that this creates quite a dilemma for me: I want the teachers unions, which remain the single most powerful interest group supporting the Democratic party, to be strong to help as many Democratic candidates as possible win. But when it comes to my desire to implement the reforms I think our educational system needs, I usually want them to be weak.

 

I DISAGREE.

 

I WANT THE TEACHERS’ UNIONS TO BE STRONG SO THEY CAN DEFEND THEIR MEMBERS AGAINST UNFAIR PRACTICES AND PROTECT THEIR ACADEMIC FREEDOM. TEACHERS HAVE BEEN BLAMED FOR THE ILLS OF SOCIETY, MOST ESPECIALLY, POVERTY. TODAY’S REFORMERS HAVE CREATED THE MYTH THAT GREAT TEACHERS–AS DEFINED BY THEIR STUDENTS’ TEST SCORES– CAN OVERCOME POVERTY AND CLOSE THE ACHIEVEMENT GAPS AMONG DIFFERENT GROUPS OF STUDENTS. I WISH IT WERE TRUE, BUT IT IS NOT. THE MYTH ENCOURAGES LAWMAKERS TO BELIEVE THAT WHEREVER POVERTY PERSISTS OR TEST SCORES ARE LOW OR ACHIEVEMENT GAPS REMAIN, IT MUST BE THE TEACHERS’ FAULT.

 

RACE TO THE TOP REQUIRED STATES TO EVALUATE TEACHERS TO A SIGNIFICANT DEGREE BY THEIR STUDENTS’ TEST SCORES, WHICH WAS A HUGE MISTAKE THAT HAS COST STATES AND DISTRICTS HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS BUT HASN’T WORKED ANYWHERE. THIS METHOD HAS PROVED UNSTABLE AND INACCURATE; IT REFLECTS WHO IS IN THE CLASS, NOT TEACHER QUALITY.

 

SCORES ON STANDARDIZED TESTS ARE HIGHLY CORRELATED WITH FAMILY INCOME, OVER WHICH TEACHERS HAVE NO CONTROL. IN THE PAST FEW YEARS, SOME STATES HAVE ELIMINATED COLLECTIVE BARGAINING, AND THERE IS NO CORRELATION BETWEEN THE EXISTENCE OF A UNION AND STUDENTS’ ACADEMIC SUCCESS. IN FACT, THE HIGHEST-PERFORMING STATES ON THE NATIONAL ASSESSMENT OF EDUCATION PROGRESS–MASSACHUSETTS, CONNECTICUT, AND NEW JERSEY–ARE MORE LIKELY TO HAVE UNIONS THAN THE LOWEST PERFORMING STATES, WHERE UNIONS ARE WEAK OR BANNED.

 

SOME STATES HAVE ENACTED MERIT PAY PROGRAMS, WHICH HAVE NEVER IMPROVED EDUCATION OR EVEN TEST SCORES DESPITE NUMEROUS EXPERIMENTS. THERE HAVE BEEN NUMEROUS ASSAULTS IN LEGISLATURES AND IN THE COURTS ON DUE PROCESS (CALLED “TENURE”) AND ON PAY INCREASES FOR ADDITIONAL EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE. I HAVE OFTEN HEARD TEACHERS SAY THAT THEY BECAME TEACHERS KNOWING THEY WOULD NEVER BECOME RICH, BUT AT LEAST THEY WOULD HAVE A SECURE JOB. TAKE THAT AWAY AND TEACHERS SERVE AT THE WHIM OF ADMINISTRATORS WHO MAY OR MAY NOT BE SKILLED EDUCATORS. HOW WILL IT IMPROVE EDUCATION IF TEACHERS HAVE NO JOB SECURITY, LESS EDUCATION AND LESS EXPERIENCE?

 

SOMETIMES IT SEEMS LIKE THE BOYS IN THE BACKROOM ARE SPENDING THEIR TIME TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO CRUSH TEACHERS’ MORALE AND FREEZE THEIR PAY. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THESE ANTI-TEACHER PUBLIC POLICIES HAVE BEEN UGLY. TEACHERS ACROSS THE NATION FEEL THEMSELVES TO BE THE TARGETS OF A WITCH-HUNT. MANY TEACHERS HAVE TAKEN EARLY RETIREMENT, AND THE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE ENTERING TEACHING HAS PLUMMETED. EVEN TEACH FOR AMERICA HAS SEEN A 35% DECLINE IN THE NUMBER OF APPLICANTS IN JUST THE PAST THREE YEARS. THE ATTACKS ON TEACHERS HAVE TAKEN THEIR TOLL, AND THERE ARE NOW SHORTAGES ACROSS THE NATION.

 

I BELIEVE UNIONS ARE NECESSARY, NOT ONLY IN TEACHING, BUT IN OTHER LINES OF WORK AS WELL, TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF WORKING PEOPLE, TO MAKE SURE THEY ARE NOT EXPLOITED AND TO ASSURE THEY ARE TREATED FAIRLY. UNIONS ARE BY NO MEANS PERFECT AS THEY ARE; SOME ARE TOO BUREAUCRATIC AND SELF-SATISFIED, SOME ARE TOO COMPLACENT TO FIGHT FOR THEIR MEMBERS, SOME STIFLE ANY CHANGES. BUT, IN MY VIEW, UNIONS BUILT THE MIDDLE CLASS IN THIS COUNTRY. WE ARE LOSING OUR STRONG, STABLE MIDDLE CLASS AS THE PRIVATE AND PUBLIC SECTORS ELIMINATE UNIONS. INCOME INEQUALITY IS WIDENING AS UNIONS SHRIVEL. IN EDUCATION, UNIONS ARE ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT TO MAKE SURE THAT TEACHERS ARE FREE TO TEACH CONTROVERSIAL SUBJECTS, LIKE EVOLUTION, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CONTESTED BOOKS (YOU WOULD BE SURPRISED HOW MANY CLASSIC BOOKS, LIKE “HUCKLEBERRY FINN,” “INVISIBLE MAN,” AND “OF MICE AND MEN” ARE ON THE AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION’S LIST OF THE 100 MOST FREQUENTLY BANNED BOOKS).

 

DO UNIONS PROTECT “BAD” TEACHERS? YES, THEY DO. ONE CAN’T KNOW WHO IS “BAD” IN THE ABSENCE OF DUE PROCESS. A TEACHER MAY BE FALSELY ACCUSED OR THE ADMINISTRATOR MAY HARBOR A DISLIKE FOR HER RACE, HER RELIGION, HER SEXUAL ORIENTATION, OR HER PEDAGOGICAL BELIEFS. THOSE WHO WISH TO FIRE THEM AFTER THEIR PROBATIONARY PERIOD (WHICH MAY BE AS LITTLE AS TWO YEARS OR AS MANY AS FIVE YEARS–AND IN MANY STATES, TEACHERS DO NOT HAVE DUE PROCESS OR TENURE) MUST PRESENT EVIDENCE THAT THEY ARE BAD TEACHERS OR THAT THEY DID SOMETHING THAT MERITS THEIR REMOVAL. PROBATIONARY TEACHERS HAVE NO RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS. TEACHERS HAVE SOMETIMES BEEN FALSELY ACCUSED. TEACHERS SHOULD BE ABLE TO CONFRONT THEIR ACCUSERS, TO SEE THE EVIDENCE, AND TO BE JUDGED BY AN INDEPENDENT ARBITRATOR. IF BAD TEACHERS GET TENURE, THEN BLAME BAD OR LAZY ADMINISTRATORS. THE RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS MUST BE EARNED BY PERFORMANCE IN THE CLASSROOM AND SHOULD NOT BE AWARDED WITHOUT CAREFUL DELIBERATION BY THE ADMINISTRATOR.

 

GIVEN THE FACT THAT A LARGE PERCENTAGE–AS MUCH AS 40%, EVEN MORE IN URBAN DISTRICTS–LEAVE TEACHING WITHIN THEIR FIRST FIVE YEARS, OUR BIGGEST PROBLEM IS RETAINING GOOD TEACHERS, NOT GETTING RID OF BAD ONES. BAD ONES SHOULD BE PROMPTLY REMOVED IN THEIR FIRST OR SECOND YEAR OF TEACHING. W. EDWARDS DEMING, WRITING ABOUT THE MODERN CORPORATION, SAID THAT A GOOD COMPANY HIRES CAREFULLY AND THEN HELPS ITS EMPLOYEES SUCCEED ON THE JOB. IT INVESTS IN SUPPORT AND TRAINING. IT MAKES A CONSCIENTIOUS EFFORT TO RETAIN THE PEOPLE IT HIRED. WHY DON’T WE DO THE SAME WITH TEACHERS AND STOP BLAMING THEM FOR CONDITIONS BEYOND THEIR CONTROL?

 

This dilemma isn’t new – in fact, it’s one of the reasons I helped start Democrats for Education Reform: because I wasn’t comfortable joining forces with other reform-oriented organizations that existed at the time (roughly a decade ago), which were mostly funded, supported and run by Republicans with whom I shared almost no views in common other than in the area of ed reform (and even in that area, I disagreed with their union busting and overemphasis on vouchers).

 

I SERVED AS ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF EDUCATION FOR RESEARCH IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF GEORGE H.W. BUSH, BUT REALIZED OVER TIME THAT I DID NOT AGREE WITH THE REPUBLICAN APPROACH TO EDUCATION, NAMELY, COMPETITION, SCHOOL CHOICE, TESTING, AND ACCOUNTABILITY. IT IS IRONIC THAT THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION ADOPTED THE SAME POLICIES AS THE REPUBLICANS, WITH THE SOLE EXCEPTION OF VOUCHERS. THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY USED TO HAVE A CORE SET OF EDUCATIONAL PRINCIPLES AT THE FEDERAL AND STATE LEVELS: EQUITY OF RESOURCES, EXTRA SUPPORT FOR THE NEEDIEST STUDENTS, LOW COLLEGE TUITION TO INCREASE ACCESS, VIGOROUS ENFORCEMENT OF CIVIL RIGHTS LAWS, AND SUPPORT FOR TEACHER PREPARATION. THAT APPROACH COMES CLOSEST TO PROVIDING EQUALITY OF EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY.

 

I OPPOSE THE REPUBLICAN APPROACH TO EDUCATION POLICY FOR THE FOLLOWING REASONS:

 

A) THEY DON’T SUPPORT PUBLIC EDUCATION AT ALL; EVERY ONE OF THEIR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES HAS ENDORSED SOME FORM OF PRIVATIZATION AND SAID NOTHING AT ALL ABOUT THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS THAT ENROLL 90% OF OUR STUDENTS.

 

B) THEY WOULD BE THRILLED TO ELIMINATE ALL UNIONS; THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT PEOPLE WHO ARE POOR OR STRUGGLING TO GET INTO THE MIDDLE CLASS OR TO STAY IN THE MIDDLE CLASS.

 

C) THE REPUBLICANS HAVE SWALLOWED THE FREE MARKET APPROACH TO SCHOOLING HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER, AS A MATTER OF IDEOLOGY, NOT EVIDENCE. I DON’T BELIEVE IN VOUCHERS, BECAUSE I KNOW THAT VOUCHERS HAVE NOT WORKED IN CHILE AND SWEDEN, AND THEY HAVE NOT WORKED IN THIS COUNTRY EITHER. MANY STATES HAVE ADOPTED VOUCHERS, THOUGH USUALLY CALLING THEM SOMETHING ELSE (EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNT, EDUCATION TAX CREDITS, OPPORTUNITY SCHOLARSHIPS, ETC.). MOST ARE USED TO SEND CHILDREN TO RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS, MANY OF WHICH HAVE UNCERTIFIED TEACHERS, INADEQUATE CURRICULA, AND NO ACCOUNTABILITY AT ALL. FURTHERMORE, THE RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS RECEIVING VOUCHERS USUALLY TEACH CREATIONISM AND OTHER RELIGIOUS BELIEFS. I DON’T THINK PUBLIC MONEY SHOULD SUBSIDIZE RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS. VOUCHERS HAVE NEVER WON A PUBLIC REFERENDUM, BUT REPUBLICAN LEGISLATURES KEEP DEVISING WAYS TO GET AROUND THEIR OWN STATE CONSTITUTIONS.

 

The creation of DFER helped resolve this dilemma because I could fight against union policies when I felt they weren’t in the best interests of kids, without fighting against the principle of collective bargaining, which I believe in. And I could happily limit my political donations to supporting only Democrats (reform-oriented ones, of course, like Obama, Cory Booker and Michael Bennet).

 

WHAT OBAMA, CORY BOOKER, MICHAEL BENNETT AND OTHER CORPORATE-STYLE REFORMERS HAVE IN COMMON IS THAT THEY BELIEVE IN BREAKING UP PUBLIC EDUCATION AND REPLACING IT WITH PRIVATE MANAGEMENT. THEY BELIEVE IN CLOSING SCHOOLS WHERE TESTS SCORES ARE LOW. I DON’T. THE HIGHEST PERFORMING NATIONS IN THE WORLD HAVE STRONG, EQUITABLE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEMS WITH RESPECTED, WELL PREPARED, AND EXPERIENCED TEACHERS. THEY HAVE WRAP-AROUND SERVICES TO MAKE SURE THAT ALL CHILDREN COME TO SCHOOL HEALTHY AND READY TO LEARN. THEY DON’T TEST EVERY CHILD EVERY YEAR FROM GRADES 3-8 AS WE DO. THEY DON’T HAVE VOUCHERS OR PRIVATELY MANAGED CHARTERS.

 

So why am I feeling this dilemma again right now? Because the stakes are so high: our country is politically polarized, the Republican party is spiraling out of control, mostly likely nominating either a madman or extremist, and there’s an opportunity for we Democrats to not only win the presidency, but also take back Congress. The election in November will have an enormous impact on so many critical issues that hang in the balance: a majority in the Supreme Court, income inequality, healthcare, immigration, foreign policy/our relationships with the rest of the world, environmental issues/global warming, LGBT and women’s rights…the list goes on and on.

 

I CERTAINLY AGREE. THE REPUBLICAN PARTY HAS LOST ITS BEARINGS, AND ITS CANDIDATE IS LIKELY TO BE SOMEONE ABHORRED BY ITS LEADERSHIP.

 

As such, I’m going to be extra careful in my writings, when I’m critical of the unions, to make clear that these are policy differences and that I don’t support attempts to demolish unions altogether, whether in the education sector or elsewhere.

 

Writing about things I think we agree on outside of ed reform has gotten me thinking: what might we agree on within the area of ed reform?

As one of my mentors, Charlie Munger, always says: “Invert, always invert.”

So I have tried to compile a list of statements that I believe that I think you might agree with as well. I’m not trying to change your mind about anything or put words in your mouth – I’m genuinely trying to find areas of agreement, at least on general principles (the devil’s usually in the details of course, but a good starting point is agreeing at a high level):

 

• Every child in this country has the right to attend a safe school that provides a quality education.
WE AGREE.

 

• The color of a child’s skin and his/her zip code shouldn’t determine the quality of school he/she attends.
WE AGREE.

 

• Poor parents care deeply about ensuring that their children get a good education.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• Sometimes the closest neighborhood school isn’t right for a child, so parents should have at least some options in choosing what public school is best for their children.

 
I PAUSE HERE, BECAUSE THIS IS MOVING INTO SCHOOL CHOICE TERRITORY, WHERE REPUBLICANS HAVE SOLD THE IDEA THAT PARENTS SHOULD CHOOSE THE SCHOOL AS A MATTER OF CONSUMER CHOICE (JEB BUSH COMPARED CHOOSING A SCHOOL TO CHOOSING WHAT KIND OF MILK YOU WANT TO DRINK–FAT-FREE, 1%, 2%, WHOLE MILK, CHOCOLATE MILK, OR BUTTERMILK). UNFORTUNATELY, MANY CHOICE IDEOLOGUES TAKE THIS ARGUMENT TO ITS LOGICAL CONCLUSION AND PURSUE AN ALL-CHOICE POLICY, IN WHICH THE ONE CHOICE THAT IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE IS THE NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL. THAT IS THE CASE IN NEW ORLEANS. IT OFTEN SEEMS THAT REFORMERS–LIKE REPUBLICANS–CONSIDER PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO BE OBSOLETE AND WANT TO REPLACE THEM WITH AN ALL-PRIVATIZED DISTRICT.

 

• It is not the case that too many children are failing too many of our schools; rather, the reverse is true.

 
I DON’T AGREE. I WOULD SAY OUR SOCIETY IS FAILING OUR CHILDREN AND THEIR FAMILIES BY ALLOWING SO MANY OF THEM TO LIVE IN POVERTY. WE HAVE THE HIGHEST PROPORTION OF CHILDREN LIVING IN POVERTY OF THE WORLD’S ADVANCED NATIONS–ABOUT 22%. THAT IS SHAMEFUL, THE SCHOOLS DIDN’T CAUSE IT. AS I SAID BEFORE, FAMILY INCOME IS THE BEST PREDICTOR OF STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES; THAT IS TRUE OF EVERY STANDARDIZED TEST, WHETHER IT IS THE SAT, THE ACT, THE STATE TESTS, NATIONAL TESTS OR INTERNATIONAL TESTS. IF POVERTY IS DIRECTLY RELATED TO LOW ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE, THEN TARGET POVERTY AND PURSUE PUBLIC POLICIES THAT WILL IMPROVE THE LIVES OF CHILDREN, FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES. AT THE SAME TIME, WORK TO IMPROVE SCHOOLS, NOT TO CLOSE THEM. THERE IS NOW A CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT OF RESEARCH SHOWING THAT STATE TAKEOVERS SELDOM IMPROVE SCHOOLS; THAT CHARTERS PERFORM ON AVERAGE ABOUT THE SAME AS PUBLIC SCHOOLS; THAT VOUCHER SCHOOLS ON AVERAGE PERFORM WORSE THAN PUBLIC SCHOOLS; THAT THE CHARTERS THAT GET THE HIGHEST TEST SCORES EXCLUDE OR REMOVE STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES, STUDENTS WHO DON’T READ ENGLISH, AND STUDENTS WHO GET LOW TEST SCORES.

 

• Poverty and its effects have an enormous impact, in countless ways, on a child’s ability to learn.

 
WE AGREE. THE CHILD WHO IS HOMELESS, WHO LACKS MEDICAL CARE, WHO IS HUNGRY IS LIKELY NOT TO FOCUS ON HIS OR HER STUDIES AND IS LIKELY TO BE FREQUENTLY ABSENT BECAUSE OF ILLNESS OR CARING FOR A SIBLING. IT REALLY HURTS CHILDREN WHEN THE BASIC NECESSITIES OF LIFE ARE MISSING.

 

• If one had to choose between fixing all schools or fixing everything else outside of schools that affects the ability of children to learn (poverty, homelessness, violence, broken families, lack of healthcare, whether parents regularly speak and read to children, etc.), one would choose the latter in a heartbeat.

 
I CERTAINLY AGREE BECAUSE REDUCING POVERTY AND ITS ILL EFFECTS WOULD IMPROVE SCHOOLS AT THE SAME TIME.

 

• Schools should be rigorous, with high expectations, but also filled with joy and educators who instill a love of learning.

 
I MIGHT HAVE AGREED WITH YOU IN YEARS PAST, BUT I HAVE COME TO SEE “RIGOR” AS A LOADED WORD. IT REMINDS ME OF “RIGOR MORTIS.” I PREFER TO SAY THAT TEACHERS SHOULD TEACH ACADEMIC STUDIES WITH JOY AND ENTHUSIASM, AWAKENING STUDENTS TO THE LOVE OF LEARNING AND INSPIRING INTRINSIC MOTIVATION.

 

• Some testing is necessary but too much testing is harmful.

 
I AGREE THAT SOME TESTING IS NECESSARY. I BELIEVE BASED ON MANY YEARS OF STUDY OF STANDARDIZED TESTING THAT MOST TESTING SHOULD BE DESIGNED BY THE CLASSROOM TEACHERS, NOT BY OUTSIDE TESTING CORPORATIONS. I WOULD PREFER TO SEE MORE TIME DEVOTED TO ESSAYS, PROJECTS, AND ANY OTHER KIND OF DEMONSTRATION OF WHAT CHILDREN HAVE LEARNED OR WHAT THEY DREAM AND IMAGINE AND CREATE. STANDARDIZED TESTING SHOULD BE USED ONLY DIAGNOSTICALLY, NOT MORE THAN ONCE A YEAR, AND IT SHOULD NOT FIGURE INTO THE STUDENTS’ GRADE OR THE TEACHERS’ EVALUATION. I SAY THIS BECAUSE STANDARDIZED TESTS ARE NORMED ON A BELL CURVE; THE AFFLUENT STUDENTS CLUSTER AT THE TOP, AND THE LOW-INCOME STUDENTS CLUSTER AT THE BOTTOM. IN SHORT, THE DECK IS STACKED AGAINST THE KIDS IN THE BOTTOM HALF, BECAUSE THE TESTS BY THEIR NATURE WILL ALWAYS HAVE A BOTTOM HALF. WHY NOT HAVE TASKS THAT ALMOST EVERYONE CAN DO WELL IF THEY TRY? GIVE CHILDREN A CHANCE TO SHOW WHAT THEY CAN DO AND LET THEIR IMAGINATIONS SOAR, RATHER THAN RELYING ON THEIR CHOICE OF ONE OF FOUR PRE-DETERMINED ANSWERS.

 

I AGREE THAT TOO MUCH TESTING IS HARMFUL, AND IT IS ALSO HARMFUL TO ATTACH HIGH STAKES (LIKE PROMOTION, GRADUATION, OR TEACHER EVALUATION) TO A STANDARDIZED TEST BECAUSE IT MAKES THE TEST TOO IMPORTANT. STANDARDIZED TESTS ARE NOT SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS; THEY ARE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONS. THEY FAVOR THOSE WHO COME TO SCHOOL WITH ADVANTAGES (EDUCATED PARENTS, SECURE HOMES, BOOKS IN THE HOME, ETC.) WHEN THE TESTS ARE HIGH STAKES, THE RESULTS ARE PREDICTABLE: TEACHING TO THE TEST, NARROWING THE CURRICULUM, CHEATING. WHEN SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS WILL BE PUNISHED OR REWARDED FOR TEST SCORES, THE MEASURE ITSELF IS CORRUPTED (CAMPBELL’S LAW). IT NO LONGER MEASURES WHAT STUDENTS KNOW AND CAN DO, BUT HOW MUCH EFFORT WAS SPENT PREPARING FOR THE TEST. TEACHERS ENGAGE FOR WEEKS OR MONTHS IN TEST PREPARATION, SCHOOLS CUT BACK OR ELIMINATE THE ARTS, PHYSICAL EDUCATION, HISTORY, SCIENCE, AND WHATEVER IS NOT TESTED. TEACHERS, ADMINISTRATORS, SCHOOLS, EVEN DISTRICTS WILL CHEAT TO ASSURE THAT THEIR SCORES GO UP, NOT DOWN, TO AVOID FIRINGS AND CLOSURES AND INSTEAD TO WIN BONUSES.

 

ALL OF THIS CORRUPTS EDUCATION, AND IN THE END, THE SCORES STILL ARE A REFLECTION OF FAMILY INCOME AND OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN. AND CHILDREN HAVE A WORSE EDUCATION EVEN IF THEIR SCORES RISE BECAUSE OF THE ABSENCE OF THE ARTS AND OTHER IMPORTANT PARTS OF A SOUND EDUCATION.

 

• Tests should be thoughtful and cover genuine knowledge, not easily game-able, which too often leads to excessing teaching-to-the-test.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• Expanding high-quality pre-K, especially for poor kids, is important.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• Teachers should be celebrated, not demonized.

 
YES, ABSOLUTELY. TEACHERS HAVE ONE OF THE HARDEST, MOST CHALLENGING JOBS IN OUR SOCIETY AND THEY ARE UNDERPAID AND UNDER-RESPECTED. WHEN I WAS IN NORTH CAROLINA LAST WEEK, I WAS TOLD BY AN EDITORIAL WRITER THAT THE ENTRY PAY IS “GOOD,” AT $35,000, BUT THE TOP SALARY IS ONLY $50,000. TEACHERS SHOULD BE TREATED AS PROFESSIONALS AND EARN A PROFESSIONAL SALARY THAT ENABLES THEM TO LIVE WELL AND SEND THEIR CHILDREN TO COLLEGE.

 

• They should be paid more, both on a relative and absolute basis.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• Some teachers are phenomenal, most are good, some are mediocre, and some are truly terrible.

 
THIS SPREAD IS PROBABLY THE SAME IN EVERY OTHER PROFESSION. THOSE WHO ARE “TRULY TERRIBLE” SHOULD BE REMOVED BEFORE THEY ACHIEVE TENURE; MOST, I SUSPECT, LEAVE EARLY IN THEIR CAREER BECAUSE THEY CAN’T CONTROL THEIR CLASSES. WE ACTUALLY HAVE MANY MORE SUCCESSFUL TEACHERS THAN MOST PEOPLE BELIEVE; AS STATES HAVE REPORTED ON THEIR NEW EVALUATION SYSTEMS, MORE THAN 95% OF TEACHERS HAVE BEEN RATED EITHER “HIGHLY EFFECTIVE” OR “EFFECTIVE.” VERY FEW FELL BELOW THOSE MARKERS. FRANKLY, TEACHING THESE DAYS IS SO DIFFICULT THAT IT TAKES A VERY STRONG PERSON TO HANDLE THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE CLASSROOM.

 

• All teachers should be evaluated regularly, comprehensively and fairly, with the primary goal of helping them improve their craft.

 
I AGREE, ALTHOUGH I THINK THAT TEACHERS WHO RECEIVE HIGH RATINGS FROM THEIR ADMINISTRATORS AND PEERS SHOULD NOT BE REGULARLY EVALUATED. THAT IS A WASTE OF TIME THAT SHOULD BE DEVOTED TO THOSE WHO NEED HELP IN IMPROVING. THE TOP TEACHERS SHOULD BE OFFERED EXTRA PAY TO MENTOR NEW TEACHERS.

 

• The best teachers should be rewarded while struggling ones should be given help so they can improve.

 
I DON’T BELIEVE IN PERFORMANCE BONUSES. THE RESEARCH SHOWS THEM TO BE INEFFECTIVE. I AGREE THAT THOSE WHO STRUGGLE SHOULD RECEIVE HELP SO THEY CAN IMPROVE.

 

• If a teacher doesn’t improve, there needs to be a timely and fair system to get them out of the profession.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• There should be a timely process to handle disciplinary charges against teachers so that there is no need for things like rubber rooms, which are a costly and dehumanizing embarrassment.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• In fighting for the interests of teachers, unions are doing exactly what they’re supposed to – and have done it well.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• The decline of unionization (which has occurred mostly in the private sector), has been a calamity for this country and is a major contributor to soaring income inequality, which is also a grave concern.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• What Gov. Scott Walker did in Wisconsin as well as the Friedrichs case were wrong-headed attempts to gut union power, and it was wonderful that the Supreme Court left existing laws in place via its 4-4 tie in the Friedrichs case last week.
AGREED. I WOULD SAY THE SAME ABOUT THE OVERTURNING OF THE VERGARA CASE IN CALIFORNIA, WHICH THREW OUT A LOWER COURT DECISION INTENDED TO ELIMINATE DUE PROCESS FOR TEACHERS.

 

• Charter schools, like regular public schools, should: a) take their fair share of the most challenging students; b) backfill at every grade level; and c) follow comparable suspension and expulsion policies.

 
I AGREE TO AN EXTENT. IN THE PRESENT SITUATION, WHERE CHARTERS COMPETE WITH PUBLIC SCHOOLS FOR STUDENTS AND RESOURCES, I THINK THESE ARE FAIR REQUIREMENTS THAT ENSURE A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD. HOWEVER, IF WE WERE TO TAKE YOUR GOOD SUGGESTIONS, WE WOULD HAVE TWO PUBLICLY-FUNDED SCHOOL SYSTEMS, ONE MANAGED BY PUBLIC OFFICIALS, THE OTHER BY PRIVATE ENTREPRENEURS. I SEE NO REASON TO HAVE A DUAL SCHOOL SYSTEM–ONE HIGHLY REGULATED, AND THE OTHER UNREGULATED, OR AS YOU PROPOSE HERE, REGULATED TO A GREATER EXTENT THAN AT PRESENT. IF CHARTERS DO CONTINUE AS THEY NOW ARE, YOUR PROPOSAL WOULD MAKE THEM FAIRER AND LESS PREDATORY. IN THEIR CURRENT STATE, THEY ARE BANKRUPTING SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND SKIMMING OFF THE EASIEST TO EDUCATE STUDENTS, AND THAT’S NOT FAIR.

 

I WOULD LIKE TO SEE CHARTER SCHOOLS RETURN TO THE ORIGINAL IDEA PROPOSED IN 1988 BY ALBERT SHANKER AND A PROFESSOR IN MASSACHUSETTS NAMED RAY BUDDE. CHARTER SCHOOLS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE COLLABORATORS WITH PUBLIC SCHOOLS, NOT COMPETITORS. THEIR TEACHERS WOULD BELONG TO THE SAME UNION AS PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS. THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO HAVE FREEDOM TO INNOVATE AND EXPECTED TO SHARE THEIR INNOVATIONS WITH THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. AT THE END OF THEIR CHARTER–SAY, FIVE YEARS OR TEN YEARS–THEY WOULD CEASE TO EXIST AND RETURN TO THE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT. SHANKER THOUGHT THAT CHARTER SCHOOLS SHOULD EXIST FIND INNOVATIVE WAYS TO HELP THE KIDS WHO WERE NOT MAKING IT IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS, THOSE WHO HAD DROPPED OUT, THOSE WHO WERE UNMOTIVATED, THOSE WHO WERE TURNED OFF BY TRADITIONAL SCHOOLS. I SUPPORT THAT IDEA. WE HAVE STRAYED VERY FAR FROM THE ORIGINAL IDEA AND ARE MOVING TOWARDS A DUAL SCHOOL SYSTEM, ONE FREE TO CHOOSE ITS STUDENTS, THE OTHER REQUIRED TO ACCEPT ALL WHO SHOW UP AT THEIR DOORS.

 

• For-profit online charters like K12 are providing an inferior education to far too many students and thus need to be much more carefully regulated and, in many cases, simply shut down.

 
FOR-PROFIT ONLINE CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE A SCAM AND A FRAUD. THEY SHOULD BE PROHIBITED. I APPLAUDED YOUR FRANK DISSECTION OF K12 INC, WHICH SURPRISED ME BECAUSE VIRTUAL SCHOOLS GRAB ON TO THE COAT-TAILS OF THE REFORM MOVEMENT. FOR ANOTHER GREAT EXPOSE OF THE K12 VIRTUAL CHARTER CHAIN, READ JESSICA CALIFATI’S OUTSTANDING SERIES IN THE SAN JOSE MERCURY-NEWS, WHICH WAS PUBLISHED JUST DAYS AGO:

 

http://www.mercurynews.com/education/ci_29780959/k12-inc-california-virtual-academies-operator-exploits-charter

 

STUDENTS WHO ENROLL IN THESE SCHOOLS HAVE LOWER SCORES, LOWER GRADUATION RATES, AND LEARN LITTLE. A STUDY BY STANFORD UNIVERSITY’S CREDO EARLIER THIS YEAR SAID THAT THEY LEARN ESSENTIALLY NOTHING. WHY SHOULD TAXPAYERS FOOT THE BILL?

 

IN ADDITION, I WOULD LIKE TO SEE FOR-PROFIT CHARTER SCHOOLS PROHIBITED. THE PUBLIC PAYS TAXES FOR SCHOOLING AND BELIEVES THAT THE MONEY WILL BE SPENT ON EDUCATION, NOT ON PAYING A PROFIT TO INVESTORS IN A CORPORATION. THE PURPOSE OF A FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION IS TO MAKE A PROFIT; THE PURPOSE OF A PUBLIC SCHOOL IS TO PREPARE YOUNG CHILDREN TO LIVE A FULL AND SATISFYING LIFE AS CITIZENS AND MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY. THERE SHOULD NEVER COME A TIME WHEN SCHOOL LEADERS CHOOSE THE NEED TO SHOW A PROFIT OVER THE NEEDS OF STUDENTS. I WOULD ALSO STOP SPENDING PUBLIC MONEY ON FOR-PROFIT “COLLEGES.” THEY HAVE BEEN CHASTISED IN CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS TIME AND AGAIN FOR THEIR PREDATORY PRACTICES, BUT THEY ALWAYS MANAGE TO SURVIVE, THANKS TO SKILLFUL, BIPARTISAN LOBBYING. I RECOMMEND A NEW BOOK BY A.J. ANGULO, TITLED “DIPLOMA MILL$: HOW FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES STIFFED STUDENTS, TAXPAYERS, AND THE AMERICAN DREAM” (JOHNS HOPKINS PRESS).

 

• Voter IDs laws are a despicable and thinly disguised attempt by Republicans to suppress the turnout of poor and minority voters, which in turn hurts schools serving their children.

 
WE AGREE.

 

So what do you think? Do you disagree with any of these statements? What have I missed? What do you believe that you think I would agree with? I think it would be productive and interesting to come up with a long of a list as possible.

 

Best regards,

 

 

Whitney
———————–

 

DEAR WHITNEY,

 
HERE ARE A FEW OF MY BELIEFS THAT YOU MAY OR MAY NOT SHARE.

 

*I BELIEVE IN SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. PUBLIC MONEY SHOULD NOT BE SPENT FOR RELIGIOUS SCHOOL TUITION. PEOPLE SHOULD NOT BE ASKED TO SUBSIDIZE THE RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OF OTHERS. ONCE WE START ON THAT SLIPPERY SLOPE, TAXPAYERS WILL BE UNDERWRITING SCHOOLS THAT TEACH CREATIONISM, WHITE SUPREMACY, FEMALE SUBJUGATION, AND OTHER IDEAS THAT VIOLATE BOTH SCIENCE AND OUR DEMOCRATIC IDEALS.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT EVERY CHILD, REGARDLESS OF ZIP CODE OR FAMILY INCOME, RACE, GENDER, DISABILITY STATUS, LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY, OR SEXUAL ORIENTATION, SHOULD BE ABLE TO ENROLL IN AN EXCELLENT SCHOOL.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT AN EXCELLENT SCHOOL HAS SMALL CLASSES, EXPERIENCED TEACHERS, A FULL CURRICULUM, A WELL-RESOURCED PROGRAM IN THE ARTS, SCIENCE LABORATORIES, AND A GYMNASIUM, SITUATED IN A WELL-MAINTAINED AND ATTRACTIVE BUILDING. STUDENTS SHOULD HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO STUDY HISTORY, LITERATURE, THE SCIENCES, MATHEMATICS, CIVICS, GEOGRAPHY, TECHNOLOGY, AND HAVE AMPLE TIME FOR PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES, SPORTS, AND EXERCISE. THE SCHOOL SHOULD HAVE A WELL-STOCKED LIBRARY WITH A FULL-TIME LIBRARIAN. IT SHOULD HAVE A SCHOOL NURSE, A SOCIAL WORKER, AND A PSYCHOLOGIST. THE PRINCIPAL SHOULD BE AN EXPERIENCED TEACHER, WITH THE AUTHORITY TO HIRE TEACHERS AND TO EVALUATE THEIR PERFORMANCE. TEACHER EVALUATION SHOULD BE BASED ON PEER REVIEW AND CLASSROOM PERFORMANCE, NOT ON TEST SCORES.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT THE PRIMARY PURPOSE OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS, BASED ON MY STUDIES AS A HISTORIAN OF EDUCATION, IS TO DEVELOP GOOD CITIZENS. THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB THAT CITIZENS HAVE IN OUR DEMOCRACY IS TO VOTE THOUGHTFULLY AND TO BE PREPARED TO SIT ON JURIES AND REACH WISE DECISIONS ABOUT THE FATE OF OTHERS. CITIZENS MUST BE WELL INFORMED AND KNOWLEDGEABLE. THEY SHOULD KNOW HOW TO COLLABORATE WITH OTHERS TO ACCOMPLISH GOALS. THEY SHOULD CARE ABOUT THE FAIRNESS AND FUTURE OF OUR DEMOCRACY. THEY SHOULD BE KNOWLEDGABLE ABOUT AMERICAN AND WORLD HISTORY. THEY SHOULD UNDERSTAND THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF GOVERNMENT, ECONOMICS, AND SCIENCE SO THEY CAN UNDERSTAND THE GREAT ISSUES OF THE DAY.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT PUBLIC EDUCATION IS ONE OF THE BASIC BUILDING BLOCKS OF OUR DEMOCRACY. AS CITIZENS, WE HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO SUPPORT A GOOD PUBLIC EDUCATION FOR ALL CHILDREN, EVEN IF WE HAVE NO CHILDREN OR IF OUR OWN CHILDREN ARE GROWN OR IF WE SEND OUR CHILDREN TO RELIGIOUS OR PRIVATE SCHOOLS.

 

*BECAUSE I BELIEVE IN THE IMPORTANCE OF PUBLIC EDUCATION, I OPPOSE ALL EFFORTS TO PRIVATIZE PUBLIC SCHOOLS OR TO MONETIZE THEM.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT THE PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITY FOR SHAPING EDUCATION POLICY SHOULD BE IN THE HANDS OF EDUCATORS, NOT POLITICIANS. EDUCATORS ARE THE EXPERTS, AND WE SHOULD LET THEM DO THEIR JOBS WITHOUT POLITICAL INTERFERENCE.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT TEACHERS SHOULD NOT ONLY BE RESPECTED, BUT SHOULD BE PAID MORE FOR THEIR EXPERIENCE AND EDUCATION. I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT EDUCATION WILL GET BETTER IF TEACHERS HAVE LESS EXPERIENCE AND LESS EDUCATION.

 

*I BELIEVE IN SCHOOL CHOICE, BUT I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT PRIVATE CHOICES SHOULD BE PUBLICLY SUBSIDIZED. ANYONE WHO WANTS THEIR CHILD TO HAVE A RELIGIOUS EDUCATION SHOULD PAY FOR IT. THE SAME FOR THOSE WHO WANT THEIR CHILDREN TO ATTEND A PRIVATE SCHOOL OR TO BE HOME-SCHOOLED. PARENTS HAVE A RIGHT TO MAKE CHOICES, BUT THEY SHOULD NOT EXPECT THE PUBLIC TO PAY FOR THEIR CHOICES.

 

*I WOULD LIKE TO SEE TODAY’S REFORMERS FIGHT AGAINST BUDGET CUTS TO PUBLIC SCHOOLS, AGAINST SEGREGATION, AND AGAINST THE OVERUSE AND MISUSE OF STANDARDIZED TESTS. I WISH WE MIGHT JOIN TOGETHER TO LEAD THE FIGHT TO IMPROVE THE LIVING STANDARDS FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES NOW LIVING IN POVERTY. I WISH WE MIGHT ADVOCATE TOGETHER FOR HIGHER SALARIES FOR TEACHERS, SMALLER CLASSES FOR STUDENTS, EFFECTIVE SOCIAL AND MEDICAL SERVICES FOR CHILDREN WHO NEED THEM, AND EXCELLENT PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN EVERY NEIGHBORHOOD.

 

*I WOULD LIKE TO SEE ALL OF US WHO CARE ABOUT CHILDREN, WHO RESPECT TEACHERS AND WANT A GREAT EDUCATION FOR EVERY CHILD, JOIN TOGETHER TO PERSUADE THE PUBLIC TO INVEST MORE IN EDUCATION AND TO CONSIDER EDUCATION THE MOST IMPORTANT ENDEAVOR OF OUR SOCIETY, THE ONE THAT WILL DETERMINE THE FUTURE OF OUR SOCIETY. LET US RECOGNIZE TOGETHER THAT POVERTY MATTERS, TEACHERS MATTER, SCHOOLS MATTER, AND THAT WE MUST STRIVE TOGETHER TO REACH THE GOALS UPON WHICH WE AGREE.

 

THANK YOU FOR INITIATING THIS DIALOGUE. I LOOK FORWARD TO CONTINUING IT.

 

DIANE RAVITCH

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Bryant always goes to the heart of the issues. He recognizes that K-12 education has not played a role in this presidential campaign. He recounts the dreary corporate reform narrative of failure, which is a flat out way to mask and evade the damage done by economic inequality and poverty. 

But in this post, he sees the emergence of a new narrative, one built on facts, evidence, and reason, as well as common sense. 

He writes: 

“This new narrative is familiar to parents and educators and anyone who can reflect on their own education journey: that every child has the innate ability to learn, that access to education opportunity is an inalienable right, and that it is incumbent on government to provide education opportunities as a common good, free and accessible to all.
“This may not sound like a new story – indeed, it’s as old as America itself – but it’s a radical departure from the current policy that constricts educational opportunity by imposing financial austerity, expanding private ownership of the system, and using narrow-minded measures of what constitutes “results.””
The new narrative begins now, with the release of the NPE report card, which takes into account the equitable and adequate funding of public education; class size; opportunity to learn; teacher professionalism; resistance toprivatization; and the many other factors that strengthen public education and move us towards equality of educational opportunity, instead of ranking and sorting children. 
It is a good read. I recommend it. 

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the determination of North Carolina’s Tea-Party dominated legislature to allow charters, including for-profit ones, to take over low-scoring schools, a proposal modeled on Tennessee’s Achievement School District. My post was a refutation of an editorial in the Charlotte Observer, which endorsed the idea of using the ASD as a model for North Carolina. My post was titled “North Carolina: Yes, Let’s Copy a Failed Experiment.” Pamela Grundy, a public school champion in North Carolina, also complained to the newspaper and proposed that NC should try reducing class sizes.

 

The author of the editorial, Peter St. Onge, is associate editor of the editorial pages. He didn’t like my post at all. He says that the Tennessee ASD has not failed; it hasn’t had enough time. This follows on a Vanderbilt report about the ASD that concluded the program had “little or no effect” on student achievement. (Here is the link to the report.) NPR summarized the finding of the Vanderbilt study thus:

 

While there were some changes year-to-year — up and down — there was no statistical improvement on the whole, certainly not enough to catapult these low-performing schools into some of the state’s best, which was the lofty goal.

 

St. Onge says the Vanderbilt study didn’t say the experiment failed, it just hasn’t succeeded yet. That is true. The Vanderbilt study did not propose closing down the ASD; it said reform takes years. But please recall that Chris Barbic, who led the ASD, said he could turn around the lowest-performing schools in five years and make them among the state’s highest-performing schools. Clearly that will not happen. Of course, a child attends an elementary school for only four-six years, so they can’t wait ten years. So if we take the original promise of the ASD, it will fail to reach its goal of turning low-performing schools into high-performing schools in five years.

 

One of the lead researchers in the Vanderbilt study, Professor Gary Henry, was in North Carolina this week, where he spoke to a public policy forum. The legislature happened to be holding hearings on the NC version of ASD, but Professor Henry was not invited to testify. Why didn’t the legislature want to hear from him? He told the forum that the model sponsored by the public schools, called the iZone, had significant improvements, but the ASD did not. He said the study was based on only three years of data, so cautioned not to jump to conclusions.

 

So, yes, Peter St. Onge is right. It is too soon to declare the ASD a failure. But it is certainly not a success. Usually, when you look to copy a model tried elsewhere, you copy a successful model. Why should the state of North Carolina copy a model that has thus far shown little to no significant effects and has not shown success? A track record like that of the ASD does not lend itself to being called “a model.” A model for what? For throwing millions into an experiment that alienates parents and communities and after three years has little to no effect on student achievement?

 

When Chris Barbic resigned as leader of the ASD, following a heart attack, he made a statement boasting about gains that included this interesting observation:

 

Let’s just be real: achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment. I have seen this firsthand at YES Prep and now as the superintendent of the ASD. As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.

 

This is a sage observation. A brand new charter school can choose its students. Even with a lottery, the families are applying and informed and motivated. That is very different from taking over a neighborhood school, where parents resent that their school was “taken over” by outsiders without their consent. Charter schools have been notoriously unsuccessful at taking over neighborhood schools. KIPP, for example, took over Cole Middle School in Denver, and abandoned it a few years later. KIPP claimed it couldn’t find “the right leader,” but the reality is what Barbic said. It is much harder to take over an existing school than to start a new charter.

 

The Charlotte Observer, or more accurately, Mr. St. Onge, scorns those he calls “public education advocates” as if all those in favor of the model in which the public is responsible for the education of all children are self-interested and impervious to evidence. I think it is fair to say that in the North Carolina climate, those who promote charters are self-interested and impervious to evidence. The charter operators are in many cases operating for-profit, which is certainly not the motive of public education advocates. Those who claim that the ASD is a worthy model for North Carolina, despite its lack of success, are impervious to evidence.

 

If you can’t call the ASD a failure, you surely can’t call it a success. As the subtitle of the editorial states, “Judging Should Be Based on What Works.” We agree. Children should not be subjected to experiments that do not have a track record of success. Do what works, based on evidence and experience. Reduce class sizes where there is concentrated poverty and segregation; recognize that poverty and segregation are root causes of poor school performance and act to address root causes; make sure there are school nurses and social workers; make sure there is a library; hire experienced teachers, with school aides. Add classes in the arts. Give poor children what all parents want for their children. If you want to see the research base, read my book “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.” Or closer to home, call Helen F. Ladd at Duke University and get her advice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renowned researcher Gene Glass reports that teachers at some virtual charter schools are responsible for more than 1,000 students at a time. 

I’m willing to bet that the school in question operates for profit. 

Blogger Steven Singer reports that parents and children of a school in Puerto Rico are fighting to protect its contents and to persuade the government to reopen the school.

For more than 80 days, about 35 parents and children have been camping out in front of their neighborhood school in the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico.
The Commonwealth government closed the Jose Melendez de Manati school along with more than 150 others over the last 5 years.
But the community is refusing to let them loot it.
They hope to force lawmakers to reopen the facility.
Department of Education officials have been repeatedly turned away by protesters holding placards with slogans like “This is my school and I want to defend it,” and “There is no triumph without struggle, there is no struggle without sacrifice!”
Officials haven’t even been able to shut off the water or electricity or even set foot inside the building.
The teachers union – the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR) – has called for a mass demonstration of parents, students and teachers on Sunday, Aug. 23. Protesters in the capital of San Juan will begin a march at 1 p.m. from Plaza Colón to La Fortaleza (the Governor’s residence)….

Unfortunately, things look to get much worse before they’ll get any better.
The government warns it may be out of money to pay its bills by as early as 2016. Over the next five years, it may have to close nearly 600 more schools – almost half of the remaining facilities!
Right on cue, Senate President Eduardo Bhatia is proposing corporate education reform methods to justify these draconian measures. This includes privatizing the school system, tying teacher evaluations to standardized test scores and increasing test-based accountability.
“Our interest is to promote transparency and flow of data through the implementation of a standardized measurement and accountability system for all agencies,” Bhatia said, adding that the methodology has been successful in such cities as Chicago.

Chicago? Really? As usual, there are moguls and captains of industry behind the machinations, ready to sacrifice the education of children in Puerto Rico so the bond holders are repaid.

Leonie Haimson is chief executive of Class Size Matters and Privacy Matters. She is one of the nation’s foremost advocates for reducing class sizes, especially for the neediest children.

In this article, she reviews the recent scandal in New York City about “credit recovery,” a quick and easy way to hand out high school diplomas. It is “graduate rate inflation,” a practice launched under Mayor Bloomberg but sustained by the de Blasio administration.

The de Blasio administration is trying to help struggling schools instead of closing them, as the Bloomberg administration did. Here are Haimson’s proposals:

According to the Independent Budget Office, all the Renewal schools have much larger numbers of English language learners, immigrant students, students with disabilities, and students in temporary housing, as well as more black and Hispanic students than the system as a whole.

What the students in these schools desperately need is intensive tutoring and small classes to make significant improvements, not a new cadre of inexperienced teachers or administrators breathing down their necks. And yet more than 60 percent of the Renewal schools still have many classes with 30 students or more, according to DOE data.

When Rudy Crew was chancellor, he drew the lowest-performing schools in the city into a new program called the Chancellor’s District, and capped class size in all of their classes at no more than twenty students. This worked effectively to raise achievement. Yet not a single elementary or K–8 school on the Renewal list had capped class sizes at 20 students in grades K-3 last year, as most experts would recommend. These were also the goals that the state demanded the DOE achieve citywide in its class size reduction plan in these grades, as part of the settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit in 2007.

Only eight middle or 6-12 schools out of 43 Renewal schools last year had capped class sizes at 23 students in grades 6-8, and only one renewal high school out of 31 had capped class sizes at 25 – the goals for those grades in the city’s original class size reduction plan. More than half of the high schools had at least some classes with 35 to 44 students – which mean they violated union contract levels.

The real scandal is that hundreds of thousands of New York City high school students, including those at schools that have allegedly engaged in credit manipulation, like Richmond Hill, Flushing, and Automotive, continue to struggle in large classes of 34 or more.

Rudy Crew had a vision of what high-poverty students need to succeed; but right now, there is no comparable vision on the part of this administration. If we are talking about accountability for schools and teachers, we must also address the accountability of those in charge of running our schools, and here the mayor and the chancellor have unaccountably failed.

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