Archives for category: Corporate Reformers

John Merrow learned about the latest trending idea in teacher training. Give a teacher a script, put a “bug” in his or her ear, and let the teacher follow instructions.

This is what he calls “insect-based” teacher training.

He decided to visit some schools to find out how it was working.

Part 1 begins like this:

The latest development in the never-ending struggle to improve teaching involves “A bug in the ear” AND “A fly on the wall.”  This insect-based approach has a highly-trained but distant observers watching (on closed circuit video) teachers at work and giving them instructions and suggestions in real time, so the teachers can modify methods and instantly improve their instruction. 

According to Education Week, what’s called ‘Bug in the Ear Coaching”  is being used in about a dozen states. “The premise is simple: A teacher wears an earpiece during a lesson, which is being live-streamed for an instructional coach who is somewhere else. Throughout the lesson, the coach delivers in-the-moment feedback to the teacher, who can add something or switch gears based on what she’s hearing in her ear.”

I reached out to some of the sources I developed in my 41 years of reporting for a closer look. One enthusiastic superintendent, who requested anonymity, said that the system would pay for itself in higher scores on standardized tests. “While the initial investment of $500,000 per school for cameras and directional microphones for every classroom, a dedicated room of monitors, the cost of a half-time tech person, and the salaries of the instructional experts who monitor the teachers, looks like a lot, once those standardized test scores go up, it’s smooth sailing.”

Are there other costs, I wanted to know?

“Our experts wanted all the teachers to wear identical loose-fitting shirts and blouses to minimize sound interference.  I had a great deal worked out with the company that makes the uniforms they wear at the federal penitentiary in the next county.”  He chuckled, “But without stripes, of course.” However, he explained, the teachers union shot the idea down. 

He (and some educators cited in Ed Week) say that most teachers like the immediacy of the system, saying that instant feedback is really the only kind that sticks.  “It was really nice to feel supported and get direct feedback in the moment,” a special education teacher in Washington State told Ed Week.

However, when I reached out to some veteran teachers I respect, I found no support for the approach.  (Stop reading here if vulgar language offends you.)

I stopped reading right there, but you don’t need to!

Then he posted Part 2, where he continued his investigation. 

Last week in this space I took a poke or two at what I called “Insect-Based Teacher Training,” specifically the practice of wiring teachers so that remote observers can hear and see what they do in their classrooms.  What they call “Bug in the Ear training” enables experts to interrupt teachers and tell them what they are doing wrong. In theory, that allows teachers to improve on the spot.  You may remember that the expert I observed in action wasn’t particularly effective.

(Full disclosure: In last week’s essay I took a small liberty with the two veteran teachers whose opinions I cited: neither of them actually referenced ‘ants in underpants’ or ‘ticks on dicks.’   I owe my readers an apology because the teachers did not say that.  I made that up, just for the fun of it. 

Why would I do that?  Well, after so many years of reporting for public broadcasting, where the emphasis is on truth, making stuff up gives me a huge adrenalin rush.

However, everything else in that essay  is 100% accurate.  You can take that to the bank.)

But I digress. What I want you to know is the morning after “Insect-Based Teacher Training” was published, I received a call from the School Superintendent whose district I had visited.   He was upset about my portrayal of the process, saying that the observer had a bad day.  Moreover, he said, I had failed to grasp the subtle, significant ways that technology improves education.  Would I come back and learn more, he asked?

I rushed out the door, and a few hours later the Superintendent and I were in the school’s monitoring room, staring at the 30+ video screens that showed all the school’s classrooms.

I wanted to hear his defense of the “Bug in the Ear” approach.  Would he have wanted to have a bug in his ear when he was teaching, I wanted to know?

“I actually never taught,” came his response. “I came up the ranks through coaching.”

Then he chuckled.  “That’s an old joke, superintendents starting out as coaches.  I was never a coach either.”

What was his background, I wanted to know?

“I studied organizational behavior in college, and then, for my MBA, I focused on management.”

He continued:  “But that’s not why I asked you to come back,” he said. “I want you to see another way that monitoring and advanced technology improve teaching and learning.”

Go on, I said.

To get the inside scoop on “insect-based teacher training,” this is a must-read.

In case you wondered, the first time I ever heard of the bug-in-your-ear approach to teaching, it was in the description of the methodology of Bridge International Academies, the private sector effort to take over schooling in certain African nations. The BIA approach was to give each teacher an iPad (or similar device) with a curriculum written by TFA teachers located in Boston. Then each teacher got a bug-in-the-ear to make sure that they were delivering the curriculum precisely as directed by the device. BIA charges a fee and was engaged in trying to turn a profit by enrolling hundreds of thousands of students in the world’s poorest countries. Its investors included Bill Gates, Pearson, Mark Zuckerberg, Pearson, and the World Bank. The problem with its approach was that it had the effect of discouraging the government from taking responsibility for building a universal, free public education system. Furthermore, if students couldn’t pay the fees, they were kicked out. BIA says it gets higher scores, which is not surprising since it accepts students only if they can pay. Strange that BIA’s methods crossed the ocean back to where it was started.

Two of the best education bloggers in the nation weighed in on the nature and purpose of the new “National Parents Union,” which proudly announced that it would give parents’ “voice” in opposition to the teachers’ unions.

Peter Greene asks, “Do You Smell Astroturf?” 

He provides a detailed history of the well-established “ed reform” credentials of its founders, as well as a scathing letter by a parent who previously founded the New York City Parents Union, and found that she was pushed aside by the Walton-funded newcomers. He notes: I have heard the argument over and over and over again that philanthropist money and Walton and Gates and Broad and Jobs money is necessary to counterbalance the vast financial resources of the unions, but the union is a bb gun in a field of howitzers.

And quite by coincidence, Steven Singer wrote about the “National Parent Union” and issued an “Astroturf Alert: National Parents Union is Thinly Veiled Union Busting Backed by Billionaire Cash.” 

Actual classroom teachers, like Greene and Singer, upon whom actual schools depend for their survival, do not have a low opinion of teachers’ unions.

Singer begins:

How do you do something disgusting without hurting your image?

If you’re the Walton Family, you hide behind a mask.

That’s what their latest AstroTurf front group is – the so-called National Parents Union (NPU).

It’s a way to bust teachers unions, destroy public schools and profit off of students behind the guise of a friendly parents organization.

Oh, it’s all funded with oodles of cash from the Walton family and other billionairesbut they get to pretend to be nothing but supporters on the sidelines.

The people who bust unions before most of us have even had breakfast yet claim they have nothing to do with this anti-union movement. It is all the parents doing. The Walmart heirs just put up the money to let these parents live their dream of union free schools – as if schools where educators have no rights or intellectual freedom were somehow in the best interests of students.

In the world of ed reform (ed deform), billionaires must always wear masks, because parents and teachers don’t trust their motives. What are they after? What are they trying to do? What gives them the right to rearrange my local public school? Who elected them? Best to find a front group to carry their water for them. Or their spear.

 

 

 

 

Gary Rubinstein has been following the Tennessee Achievement School District since its inception and reporting annually on its failure. The ASD was funded by $100 million from the Obama-Duncan “Race to the Top.” The theory behind the ASD was that students had low test scores because they attended public schools with bad teachers. Take the same students in the same schools, turn them over to charter operators, and their test scores would soar. The theory was wrong.

Gary writes about it here. 

Since 2011 I have been following the biggest, and most predictable, disasters of the education reform movement — the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD).  It was formed in a perfect storm of reform theory.  First, Tennessee won Race To The Top money.  Then they hired a TFA-alum and the ex-husband of Michelle Rhee, Kevin Huffman to be their state commissioner.  Then he hired TFA-alum and charter school founder Chris Barbic to design and run the ASD.  The initial promise of the ASD was that they would take schools in the bottom 5% and convert them into charter schools in order to ‘catapult’ them into the top 25% in five years.  They started with 6 schools in 2012 and grew to over 30 schools within a few years.

They completely failed at this mission.  Chris Barbic resigned, Kevin Huffman resigned, Barbic’s replacement resigned, Barbic’s replacement’s replacement resigned.  Of the 30 schools they nearly all stayed in the bottom 5% except a few that catapulted into the bottom 10%.

The new education commissioner of Tennessee is also a TFA alum with ideas similar to Huffman.  She promised, however, to get a handle on the ASD and what to do about its failure.  After a listening tour around the state she made, it seemed at first, a decision that was long overdue.

Chalkbeat TN recently had a post with the enticing title ‘All 30 schools in Tennessee’s turnaround district would exit by 2022 in a massive restructuring proposal.’  It would seem like this is good news.  The ASD was such a costly failure, costing about $100 million over the years I think, the only thing to do was to put it out of its misery and dissolve it completely.

But I’ve been studying reformers enough over the years not to get too excited about this.  The headline would make the most optimistic readers think that the 30 schools going back to the district would again become public schools.  The charter schools supposedly traded flexibility for accountability so their failure to deliver on their promises should result in them being sent packing.

But according to the article, it is not clear yet if being returned to the district means that they will become public schools again.  Also they say that there still will be an ASD after this.  Now there can’t be a school district with zero schools, so what’s going on?

I think, and I hope I’m wrong about this, that with the failure of the ASD there was no way that they could justify adding more schools to it.  But by ‘returning’ the 30 schools back to their districts, and probably keeping them as charters, there will now be room to add more schools in the bottom 5% to the re-booted ASD.  If this is what happens, the ASD won’t be disappearing or even shrinking, it will be expanding.  There will be the 30 schools that are still charters, but just operating as part of the district they have been returned to.  And then there will be another 20 schools, maybe, that are in the new ASD.  (They actually call it the ASD 2.0 in the state slide show)

Gary suspects a bait-and-switch, like a businessman declaring bankruptcy, then reappearing with a new name and more money.

He will keep watch for us.

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics, is a specialist in the Destroy Public Education movement.

In this post, he describes the effort underway to take over the Providence public schools, a tactic that has not worked anywhere else.

He begins:

November 1, 2019, Angélica Infante-Green, Rhode Island’s new Commissioner of Education, announced the state was taking over Providence Public Schools. A neoliberal Democratic governor, a like minded mayor and the chamber of commerce appear to be instituting a school privatization agenda.

All power over schools in the state is held by the governor and mayors. Citizens do not have the right vote for local school leaders and school system leaders are subordinates of mayors. This structural weakness in Rhode Island has left public education vulnerable to the whims of a governor or mayor that does not respect professional educators and public education. [CORRECTION: A READER POINTED OUT THAT PROVIDENCE HAS AN APPOINTED SCHOOL BOARD, BUT OTHER LOCAL BOARDS ARE ELECTED.]

Governor Gina Raimondo holds the non-distinction of being the least popular governor in the nation, with a favorability rating of only 36%.

Gina attended private school while growing up in Providence. She studied economics at Harvard and sociology at Oxford University. Following Oxford she earned a juris doctorate from Yale Law..

Raimondo worked in Massachusetts at the venture capital firm Village Ventures which was backed by Bain Capital before she ran for to be Rhode Island State Treasurer in 2010. A puff piece in News Week describes how Gina defeated labor union opposition to roll back pension funds. The piece states, “The changes she persuaded the Democrat-controlled Legislature to pass over union opposition will save about $3 billion by delaying retirement, suspending cost-of-living increases and offering workers 401(k)-type savings plans.”

Her neoliberal pension reform plan matches the thinking of Charles Koch and the Cato Institute. The corporate supported American Legislative Exchange Council provides legal templates for reforming pension funds that look very much likeRaimondo’s Rhode Island pension reforms…

Raimondo is all in for charter schools. She especially admires Achievement First, a no-excuses charter chain based in Connecticut.

Raimondo selected a new state commissioner of education in the spring of 2019,

Angélica Infante-Green, who trained under Joel Klien and Michael Bloomberg in New York City. Infante-Green is a former Teach for America Corp member who began her career in New York City.

According to Angélica’s LinkedIn page, she taught at PS 4M, CS 77X, and South Park High School between 1994 and 1998. All of her administrative experience appears to revolve around bilingual education. She has never been a superintendent or a principal, which makes her an odd choice to lead Rhode Island’s schools.

However, she was in the first cohort of future chiefs at Jeb Bush’s Chief’s for Change. Their official comment on Angélica’s hiring came from Chief’s for Change Board member Pedro Martinez. He said, “We applaud Gov. Gina Raimondo for selecting a commissioner with a deep commitment to creating and expanding opportunities for all students.” Martinez is the Broad trained administrator who is instituting the billionaire financed portfolio model of education reform in San Antonio, Texas; a model that posits disruption as good and democracy as a hindrance.

Researchers from John Hopkins University conducted a review of Providence Public Schools. Their report begins,

“In May 2019, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy led a review of the Providence Public School District (PPSD). We did so at the invitation of the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Commissioner, Ms. Angélica Infante-Green, with the support of Governor Gina Raimondo and Mayor Jorge Elorza. The Partnership for Rhode Island funded the review.”

Infante-Green officially assumed her position on April 29 and in May she already had arranged for corporate money to finance a study of PPSD.

The corporate money came from The Partnership for Rhode Island, a group of leading CEO’s in the state. The Governor and the Mayor supported the new Commissioner of Education’s invitation for the study to be done. When the report was released, media, politicians and business executive started vehemently denouncing PPSD as a dysfunctional failure….

An amazing fact:

The Johns Hopkins study was commissioned in May and presented in June and by July 19th Mayor Elorza officially petitioned the state to takeover PPSD.

What kind of a study is commissioned in May and presented in June?

 

 

Steve Hinnefeld is a veteran reporter on Indiana education.

In this post, he describes the shift from a simplistic A-F rating system (the one devised by Jeb Bush) to the federal rating system, which includes more factors.

The problem with both ratings systems is that they accurately measure student income.

The highest rated schools have students with the highest income.

The lowest rated schools have students with the lowest income.

So if teachers choose to teach the neediest students, they will be teaching in a “failing” school, no matter how dedicated they are.

If teachers land a job in an affluent suburb, they can consider themselves successful.

He writes:

For example, at schools that exceeded expectations, the overall rate of students who qualified by family income for free and reduced-price school meals was 17.6%, compared to the state average of about 48%. At schools that did not meet expectations, the free-and-reduced meal rate was 74.2%. The correlation between poverty and federal ratings held for charter schools as it did for public schools.

What worthless junk!

 

Jersey Jazzman, aka New Jersey teacher Mark Weber, analyzes the false promises of choice advocates.

He demonstrates their repeated claims that charters and vouchers will give poor kids “the same choices” as rich kids.

This is nonsense.

Wealthy Right-wingers have been trying to destroy public education for decades. This is their latest hoax.

The private schools where rich families send their children cost between $35,000-$60,000. A voucher is seldom equal to the cost of public school tuition. Its promoters tout vouchers as a money-saver. In North Carolina, for example, a voucher is worth less than $5,000. What kind of schooling does that pay for? A school with uncertified teachers, and a Bible Belt curriculum.

That’s not the same schooling that rich kids get.

Charter schools? The day-lilies of American education. The big corporate chains administer tough discipline. Kids are punished if their shirt tail isn’t tucked in. They get demerits if they talk in the hall. Kids sit in front of computers for half the day. This is not what rich kids get.

The New York Daily News reports that lobbyists for billionaires who support charter schools had a cozy meeting with Democrats in the State Senate. 

Even though pro-public education progressives swept control of the State Senate away from the charter-crazy Republicans in the State Senate, the lobbyists know that money is still green, no matter who is in power.

Jeffrey Cook-McCormac, a lobbyist working under Dan Loeb, one of the state’s most prolific political bundlers and once a pariah among Dems for racist comments made about now-Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), can be heard on the tape praising Democrats for not taking steps to scale back charters.

“I just want to say that I think a lot of people are breathing a sigh of relief on how you governed in your first few months in the majority,” Cook-McCormac told an audience that included Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) as well as Sens. Brian Benjamin (D-Manhattan) and Jim Gaughran (D-Long Island)…

The comments came in the wake of a legislative session in which Dems, in control of both chambers for the first time in years, were bolstered by a slate of progressive members who are either openly wary of charters or the moneyed interests behind them….

Cook-McCormac’s presence at the Nov. 4 fundraiser at the swanky Midtown outpost Aquavit was especially surprising to some Dems considering his boss’ past comments about Stewart-Cousins.

In 2017, Loeb came under fire for a Facebook post saying that the Senate Democratic Leader had done “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood.”

Lawmakers, including Benjamin, staged protests outside of Success Academy charter schools at the time, calling for the billionaire founder of the Third Point hedge fund to be fired from his position as chairman of the board for the city’s largest charter-school operator. Loeb later apologized.

While Dems accepting cash from charter proponents isn’t new, some were stunned by the chumminess on display.

So, to be clear, billionaire Dan Loeb implies that State Senator Stewart-Cousins–now the majority leader– is worse than the Ku Klux Klan.

But that is no reason not to take Loeb’s money, right?

 

Thousands of teachers in Florida are rallying at the state capitol today to demand higher wages and better working conditions. The Republican-dominated legislature has been handing out public monies to charter schools and for voucher programs, but ignoring the public schools that enroll 85% of the state’s students. Several of the key legislators are related to charter operators. Conflicts of interest are not a problem in Florida. The State Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran–former Speaker of the House–is married to a charter operator.

Bernie Sanders wrote a message of support to the teachers who are speaking out. It appeared in the Sun Sentinel. 

Every Democratic candidate should heed Senator Sanders’ advice (except, of course, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who wants more privatization, merit pay, and larger class sizes).

This week, tens of thousands of teachers from across Florida are rallying outside the state capitol to demand real support for their public schools. They are taking this action despite the outrageous threats from Republican officials to fire them just for standing up for their students. These educators are part of a massive nationwide movement, from Maine to California, that’s fighting back against years of underfunding, privatization, and draconian high-stakes testing. I am proud to stand with them in this struggle.

Florida educators have good reason to be angry. Their pay is among the lowest in the nation and far too many support staff live below the poverty line. Gov. Ron DeSantis and his fellow Republicans have refused to increase pay for veteran teachers, and yet just last year, they gave corporations half a trillion dollars in tax breaks. As a result, large numbers of teachers are leaving the profession and this year, more than 300,000 children entered classrooms without a full-time teacher.

The indignities and stresses of high stakes testing are another reason teachers are quitting in droves. Like in other states, educators are being made to teach to the test and schools are being forced to sacrifice important subjects like arts education. But in Florida, children are required to take their first standardized test within 30 days of beginning kindergarten and Governor DeSantis wants to extend harsh accountability requirements to preschoolers. That’s not only absurd, it’s also pointless given that testing such young children in this way does not yield reliable results.

Florida’s Republican leaders are also forcing children with severe cognitive disabilities to take standardized tests. This is downright abusive. In one case, the state required the teacher of a critically ill boy with cerebral palsy to regularly document his medical condition. They did not stop even when he lay in a coma on his deathbed. Sadly, the list of such horror stories in the state of Florida goes on and on.

Florida is ground zero of a school privatization movement intent on destroying public education. It has the largest private school voucher program in the country, and each year almost $1 billion in state money goes to private instead of public schools. These private schools operate with little to no accountability and in many cases their students’ math and reading skills have declined.

Moreover, almost half of the charter schools in the state are run by for-profit corporations. These schools perform no better than traditional public schools, yet they still benefit from public support. Between 2006 and 2014, more than a third of the Florida charter schools that received federal funding — almost $35 million — have either closed or never opened to begin with.

It is long past time we put an end to these attacks on public education. Under my Thurgood Marshall Plan, taxpayer money will be used to invest in our teachers and students, and not in corporate welfare. We will establish a national minimum salary of $60,000 for educators; triple funding for Title I schools; and strengthen the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) by ensuring that the federal government provides 50 percent of the support for students with special needs. We will combat privatization by eliminating school voucher programs and placing a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools. And we will put an end to high-stakes testing once and for all.

Betsy DeVos and her billionaire friends in the Walton and Koch families do not want any of this to happen. If it were up to them, we would continue to give corporations trillions of dollars in tax breaks and starve our public education system of the resources it needs to be the best in the world.

 

This is the current (and evolving) list of my speaking engagements in connection with the publication of my new book: SLAYING GOLIATH: THE PASSIONATE RESISTANCE TO PRIVATIZATION AND THE FIGHT TO SAVE AMERICA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

I am trying not to wear myself out. Ten years ago, I hopped from city to city like a mountain goat.

But now I am 81 years old, and my knees are worn out. I have to pace myself.

Come out and say hello if you are in one of these cities.

SLAYING GOLIATH is a pro-public education, pro-teacher, pro-social justice, pro-common-good book. It is a book meant to give hope and encouragement to those who stand up to the billionaires and fight the status quo of choice and high-stakes testing. It contains inspiring stories of parents, students, teachers, and civil rights activists who took action against the powerful and won. At some of these events, the bookstore charges a modest fee to cover its expenses. Most are free.

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Michael Kohlhaas, the blogger who has used the California Public Records Act to obtain emails among charter leaders, the California Charter Schools Association, and their enablers, reveals here what happened when protestors shut down a charter board meeting last March, accusing the charter school of taking money from the nefarious Eli Broad and the Waltons. Broad and Walton have a shell takeover corporation deceptively titled “Great Public Schools Now,” whose goal is to turn public schools into privately managed charter schools. The leader of the Extera Charter School did not directly answer the question, but Kohlhaas answers it now. Yes, the charter did take money from the Waltons and Broad.

The public is getting wise to the deceptive tactics of the charter lobby. Public schools are accountable and transparent. Charter schools are not. Public schools are audited and overseen by public officials. Charter schools answer to no one but their self-selected private boards.

Kohlhaas writes:

So you probably heard about how activists from Centro CSO and the United Teachers of Los Angeles and Eastside Padres Unidos Contra la Privatizacion protested vigorously and shut down the March 19, 2019 meeting of the Extera Charter Conspiracy Board of Directors to express their opposition to Extera’s colonial co-location at Eastman Avenue Elementary School in Boyle Heights.

And one of the key exchanges was between a protester, whose name I don’t know, and self-proclaimed doctor and supreme Extera commander Jim Kennedy, and you can watch it here.1 The backstory is that Corri Ravare had been talking previously about how Extera was getting some money from famous Walton/Broad privatizing front organization Great Public Schools Now, which, as the protester notes, is extraordinarily revealing with respect to which team Extera plays for.2

The protester called Dr. Jim Kennedy out on this and he denied that they had taken any money from GPSN: “At this point we have not …” But the truth, as the protester said, is that Corri Ravare had already “said we pretty much have the money.” And the problem with this? Well, clearly, it is that “Great Public Schools Now have declared themselves an enemy of public education. Those are the people we have to work against because they are selling out our public schools to Eli Broad and the Walton Foundation.”

She’s absolutely right about that, of course, and Doctor Jim Kennedy seems to understand that, or at least to realize that Extera’s association with GPSN doesn’t look so good. No doubt this is why he went on to tell her straight out that “[Extera has] not yet accepted that money.” But, as you may already have guessed, Doctor JK is being extraordinarily deceptive here with his mumbled half-denials. In fact Extera had been actively pursuing money from GPSN since December 2018, four months before the date of this meeting.

And the money they were pursuing was not innocuous. Not meant for important things like supplies, textbooks, instructional materials, anything at all to be used to actually educate actual children. They were seeking money from GPSN’s charter school expansion funding program for a planning grant to support their continued colonial charter conspiracy expansion, this time into the majority-Latino Montebello Unified School District. In other words, the protester’s criticism was right on target.

Things are going badly for the charter industry when their mask of beneficence is stripped away and behind it are the same voracious billionaires, eager to strip democratic control away and privatize public schools.