Archives for category: Education Reform

Our blog poet on the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

Gates never gives without getting a tax break and never gives without strings attached.

That’s how you know it is not real philanthropy, but Billyanthropy.

“The Billyanthropist”

Billyanthropist am I
I gave you Common Core
And testing to the sky
I’d like to give you more

Billyanthropist am I
I gave you teacher VAMs
A lovely Chetty pie
And lots of charter scams

Billyanthropist am I
I gave you pseudo-science
And sellebrate the lie
With test and VAM reliance

Billyanthropist am I
Billyanthropy I do
Democracy I buy
Impose my will on you

Mercedes Schneider is back to work teaching high school English in Louisiana. She is doing her best to keep her students socially distanced, though she hasn’t figured out how that will be possible when her class size reaches 24.

But the silver lining is that her students are wearing masks! They are not acting stupid and refusing to protect themselves and others! That’s good news for them and for her.

The Texas State Board of Education approved applications from five charter chains, including the Gulen chain (Royal Public Schools) operated by Soner Tarim, who was compelled to leave Alabama because of community protests. It rejected three charter chains, including Rocketship, whose “pedagogy” puts children on computers for half the day, overseen by inexperienced and low-wage teachers.

Among those approved were the Florida-based Doral chain, operated by the for-profit Academica corporate giant. Learn4Life is a California-based chain of drop-in centers with high attrition rates and low graduation rates.

Heritage Classical Academy, CLEAR Public Charter School and Rocketship Public Schools will not be able to open schools in Texas, after traditional public school usleaders and advocates argued the state could not afford to fund new charters during a destabilizing pandemic. The board’s actions are just the latest in a longstanding political debate in Texas over the growth of charter schools, funded by the state but managed privately by nonprofits.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath recommended the eight charter operators at the end of an in-depth process, including mandatory public meetings in target communities and interviews with state officials. The other five —Brillante Academy, Doral Academy of Texas, Learn4Life-Austin, Prelude Preparatory Charter School and Royal Public Schools — will be allowed to open schools next academic year, unless Morath or the board takes further action within the next 90 days…

Texas is one of the largest charter authorizers in the country, with 171 charter districts in operation as of June. Texas caps the number of charter operators, but doesn’t cap the number of schools each operator can open.

Charter opponents warned that the expansion of charter chains would drain badly needed funding from the state’s underfunded public schools, but the state commissioner of education Mike Morath (a software executive, not an educator) supported all the applications and promised that the charters would introduce much-needed innovation.

Never mind that charters in Texas and elsewhere are not noted for any innovations, other than “no-excuses” discipline. Never mind that the critics are right: the funding for the charters will decrease the money available to the state’s real public schools.

Texas seems to have a special affinity for Gulen charters, which are typically managed and staffed by Turkish men who are connected to the Turkish Imam Fethullah Gulen, who lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania.

Richard Phelps was in charge of assessment in the last year of the reign of Michelle Rhee as superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools. In this post, he describes how difficult and time-consuming it is to identify test cheating and how little the D.C. leadership cared about making the effort. Phelps was supposed to monitor test security and expand testing.

He writes:

The recurring test cheating scandals of the Rhee-Henderson years may seem extraordinary but, in fairness, DCPS was more likely than the average US school district to be caught because it received a much higher degree of scrutiny. Given how tests are typically administered in this country, the incidence of cheating is likely far greater than news accounts suggest, for several reasons:

· in most cases, those who administer tests—schoolteachers and administrators—have an interest in their results;
· test security protocols are numerous and complicated yet, nonetheless, the responsibility of non-expert ordinary school personnel, guaranteeing their inconsistent application across schools and over time;
· after-the-fact statistical analyses are not legal proof—the odds of a certain amount of wrong-to-right erasures in a single classroom on a paper-and-pencil test being coincidental may be a thousand to one, but one-in-a-thousand is still legally plausible; and
· after-the-fact investigations based on interviews are time-consuming, scattershot, and uneven.

Still, there were measures that the Rhee-Henderson administrations could have adopted to substantially reduce the incidence of cheating, but they chose none that might have been effective. Rather, they dug in their heels, insisted that only a few schools had issues, which they thoroughly resolved, and repeatedly denied any systematic problem.

He punctures Rhee’s claim that the test security agency Caveon never found evidence of “systematic cheating.”

He writes:

Caveon, however, had not looked for “systematic” cheating. All they did was interview a few people at several schools where the statistical anomalies were more extraordinary than at others. As none of those individuals would admit to knowingly cheating, Caveon branded all their excuses as “plausible” explanations. That’s it; that is all that Caveon did. But, Caveon’s statement that they found no evidence of “widespread” cheating—despite not having looked for it—would be frequently invoked by DCPS leaders over the next several years.

A decade ago, Richard Phelps was assessment director of the District of Columbia Public Schools. His time in that position coincided with the last ten months of Michelle Rhee’s tenure in office. When her patron Adrian Fenty lost the election for Mayor, Rhee left and so did Phelps.

Phelps writes here about what he learned while trying to improve the assessment practices of the DC Public Schools. He posts his overview in two parts, and this is part 1. The second part will appear in the next post.

Rhee asked Phelps to expand the VAM program–the use of test scores to evaluate teachers and to terminate or reward them based on student scores.

Phelps described his visits to schools to meet with teachers. He gathered useful ideas about how to make the assessments more useful to teachers and students.

Soon enough, he learned that the Central Office staff, including Rhee, rejected all the ideas he collected from teachers and imposed their own ideas instead.

He writes:

In all, I had polled over 500 DCPS school staff. Not only were all of their suggestions reasonable, some were essential in order to comply with professional assessment standards and ethics.

Nonetheless, back at DCPS’ Central Office, each suggestion was rejected without, to my observation, any serious consideration. The rejecters included Chancellor Rhee, the head of the office of Data and Accountability—the self-titled “Data Lady,” Erin McGoldrick—and the head of the curriculum and instruction division, Carey Wright, and her chief deputy, Dan Gordon.

Four central office staff outvoted several-hundred school staff (and my recommendations as assessment director). In each case, the changes recommended would have meant some additional work on their parts, but in return for substantial improvements in the testing program. Their rhetoric was all about helping teachers and students; but the facts were that the testing program wasn’t structured to help them.

What was the purpose of my several weeks of school visits and staff polling? To solicit “buy in” from school level staff, not feedback.

Ultimately, the new testing program proposal would incorporate all the new features requested by senior Central Office staff, no matter how burdensome, and not a single feature requested by several hundred supportive school-level staff, no matter how helpful. Like many others, I had hoped that the education reform intention of the Rhee-Henderson years was genuine. DCPS could certainly have benefitted from some genuine reform.

Alas, much of the activity labelled “reform” was just for show, and for padding resumes. Numerous central office managers would later work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Numerous others would work for entities supported by the Gates or aligned foundations, or in jurisdictions such as Louisiana, where ed reformers held political power. Most would be well paid.

Their genuine accomplishments, or lack thereof, while at DCPS seemed to matter little. What mattered was the appearance of accomplishment and, above all, loyalty to the group. That loyalty required going along to get along: complicity in maintaining the façade of success while withholding any public criticism of or disagreement with other in-group members.

The Central Office “reformers” boasted of their accomplishments and went on to lucrative careers.

It was all for show, financed by Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Waltons, and other philanthropists who believed in the empty promises of “reform.” It was a giant hoax.

The Miami-Dade school board voted to sever ties with the notoriously awful for-profit K12 online corporation.

K12 has long been known as a huge money-maker that produces bad education and high attrition rates.


The Miami-Dade County School Board has voted unanimously to stop using My School Online, the district’s controversial new online learning platform many say is at the center of the failed start of school.

The board voted to sever ties just before 2 a.m. Thursday, 13 hours after the meeting began. Teachers can begin using other platforms immediately.

The early morning decision sent some elementary schools into a scramble. Some schools that never used Microsoft Teams, like Bob Graham Education Center, were caught off guard and quickly went to work to set up Zoom meetings to find a way to educate students.

The School Board debate and vote stretched into the middle of the night because members had to finish public comment on Vice Chair Steve Gallon’s catch-all proposal to get to the bottom of what went wrong. In the first board meeting since school began Aug. 31, nearly 400 teachers and parents submitted comments that were overwhelmingly negative about the online platform….

My School Online is run by the for-profit tech education company K12. Its investors included Michael Milken, the convicted junk-bond king whom President Donald Trump pardoned earlier this year, and current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. In 2016, former California Attorney General and current Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris oversaw a $168.5 million settlement with K12 over alleged violations of the state’s laws against false claims, false advertising and unfair competition.

Read more here: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article245619095.html#storylink=cpy

David Gamberg recently retired as superintendent of schools in two adjoining towns on New York’s Long Island—Southold and Greenport—where he was beloved for his child-centered approach to schooling. In this article, he calls for new thinking and the courage to break free of the obsession with standardized testing and punitive accountability. He announced his retirement in January, not knowing what was about to happen to schools across the nation and the world.

He understands that the status quo of high-stakes testing and demoralizing punishment has failed.

He writes:

I argue that the emphasis must be on capturing the hearts and minds of our students, and not primarily seeking to make up for lost ground academically as noted by education author Alfie Kohn. We must abandon any pretense that the metrics used in recent years to judge, sort, and separate students, teachers and schools through a ranking system based on data that focused on math and ELA standardized testing will serve them well in the near future.

Therefore, the first step is an immediate cessation of the current accountability system, based primarily on the use of high stakes, standardized testing in grades 3-8 that has preoccupied students, teachers, administrators, Boards of Education, families, and school communities since the No Child Left Behind legislation of 2002.

Will our educational leaders have the courage and wisdom to change their focus to students, not their test scores? To humans, not rankings?

Peter Greene assures is that Trump and DeVos are a disaster for education. We know that. No one could be worse. They want to blow up public schools. No question.

But he’s worried that Biden will bring back the staffers from the Obama era of high-stakes testing, charter love, and Commin Core. In particular, he’s worried about Carmel Martin, a perennial favorite of Democratic neoliberals.

My one encounter with Carmel occurred at a panel discussion at the progressive Economic Policy Association in D.C. about one of my books. I lacerated charters, vouchers, and high-stakes testing, as well as the continuity between NCLB and Race to the Top. Carmel vigorously defended all that I criticized.

Like Peter Greene, I’m worried that Obama-era education staffers will return to restore the failed ideas of NCLB and Duncan’s disastrous reign.

Trump must go, and we must keep up the pressure to insist that Biden produce a fresh vision for federal education policy that discards the failures of the past 20 years.

More of the same is unacceptable.

Veteran educator Nancy Bailey has some very clear ideas about the next Secretary of Education. All her proposals are premised on Trump’s defeat, since billionaire Betsy DeVos would want to hang on and finish the job of destroying public schools and enriching religious and private schools.

Let’s hope that the next Secretary of Education has the wisdom and vision to liberate children and teachers from the iron grip of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Every Student Succeeds Act, High-stakes testing, privatization, and a generation of failed federal policies.

Bailey begins:

During this critical time in American history, that individual should be a black or brown woman, who has been a teacher of young children, and who understands child development. She should hold an education degree and have an additional leadership degree and experience that will help her run the U.S. Department of Education.

Children deserve to see more teachers who look like they do, who will inspire them to go on and become teachers themselves. A black female education secretary will bring more diverse individuals to the field and set an example. This will benefit all students.

Many individuals, including accomplished black men, have brilliant minds, and understand what we need in the way of democratic public education. Leadership roles should await them in the U.S. Department of Education, in schools, universities, or states and local education departments.

But with the fight for Black Lives to Matter and for an end to gender inequality, a knowledgeable black woman with a large heart to embrace these times should take this spot. The majority of teachers have always been women, and while men are critical to being role models for children and teens, it is time for a black woman to lead.

We have had eleven education secretaries, and only three of them have been women, including Shirley Hufstedler, Margaret Spellings, and Betsy DeVos. None of these women were educators or had experience in the classroom. Only two African American men have been in this role, and neither of them could be considered authentic teachers and educators. Both had the goal to undermine public schools.

The time is now for a black female education secretary who will set a positive example and be the face of the future for children from all gender and cultural backgrounds.

Mercedes Schneider has written an indispensable post about standardized testing: She noticed that the annual testing mandated by the federal government is beloved by those who are farthest from the classroom and have nothing to do with teaching and learning.

Perhaps she is responding to the recent report that Betsy DeVos will not allow waivers from the mandated testing next year, since the tests are so vital, and her announcement was cheered by the Center for American Progress (a neoliberal think tank), Education Trust (led by former Secretary of Education John King), the Council of Chief State School Officers, Senator Patty Murray (ranking Democrat on the Senate HELP Committee), and Rep. Bobby Scott (chair of the House Education Committee).

Schneider writes:

This is what standardized testing has been in public schools across America ever since No Child Left Behind (NCLB):

It’s like some president-backed, bipartisan Congress decided that we need to measure student physical health based on student weight. Of course, student physical health is by far too complex a concept to be captured by student weight, but let’s just put that reality aside in favor of the appearance of being able to pack a huge, complex package into a matchbox by getting those kids on the scale and putting the onus on teachers and schools to make students weight what the state (answering to the federal government in exchange for funding) decides those students should weigh.

Now, it is ridiculous on its face to hold teachers and schools responsible for student weight– which is why no bathroom scale company will guarantee that their scales are meant to be used to determine anything beyond the weight of the person standing on the scale. However, that president-backed, bipartisan Congress has decided that schools and teachers must ensure that their students achieve some predetermined optimal weight.

So. Weight-prep programs are instituted for students at risk of not achieving their state-determined optimal weights, the point of which is to drill students in scale-optimizing strategies (i.e., where to stand on the scale in order to make the weight appear higher or lower; how to push down on the scale to “weigh more”). In order to make time in the school day for these at-risk weighers to be drilled and redrilled, they must miss lunch, group sports, and playtime, but what is important to the school and to the teacher is achieving the optimal weight number so that we can tout that number, tag the student as physically healthy, keep our jobs, and collect federal dollars.

Surely we also congratulate the hungry and lethargic student for achieving that state-determined weight number. And if anyone points out that the student is hungry and lethargic, supporters of the process ignore the child and tout the number.

Be it noted that the annual standardized testing mandated by NCLB has led to cheating scandals, narrowing of the curriculum, and teaching to the test. For the past decade, there has been no change in NAEP scores.

NCLB failed. Why not admit it and move forward? Why continue to inhale the stale fumes of past policies that failed?

Why won’t prominent Democrats stop embracing NCLB and develop a vision of their own that actually helps students and teachers?