Archives for category: Education Reform

Steven Singer, a teacher in Pennsylvania, explains what is most important to him in public education:

Diversity is the Most Important Reason to Save Public Schools

Public schools are under attack.


So what else is new?


It’s been so since the first moment the institution was suggested in this country  by revolutionaries like Thomas Jefferson:


“Education is here placed among the articles of public care… a public institution can alone supply those sciences…”


And John Adams:


“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it.”


But as the founders saw public education as primarily a means of securing democracy by creating informed citizens able to intelligently vote, that is only one of its many benefits today.


Compared to its main alternatives – charter, voucher, and private schools – public schools are more fiscally responsible, democratically controlled and community oriented.


However, these are not the most important reasons to cherish our system of public schools.


For all the system’s benefits, there is one advantage that outshines all the others – one gleaming facet that makes public schools not just preferable but necessary.


That is diversity. 


Public schools ARE the American Dream. 

They are the melting pot made real. 

Where else can you go and see so many different races, cultures, ethnicities, religions, abilities and genders learning together side-by-side from adolescence to adulthood?


Nowhere. 


I don’t think you can understate how important that is.


When you grow up with someone, you can’t really remain strangers. Not entirely.


When you sit beside different kinds of people in every class, you learn that you and people like you aren’t the center of the universe. You learn that there are many other ways to be human.


And make no mistake. I’m not talking about mere tolerance. I mean seeing the beauty in difference.


I’m talking about seeing the grace and originality in black names and hairstyles, the fluidity of Arabic writing, the serenity of Asian philosophy…


When you make friends that are diverse, have different beliefs, styles, cultures, you open your mind to different ideas and concepts.


If children are our future, we become that future in school. If we’re educated together in a multifaceted society, we are more at home with our country’s true face, the diversity that truly is America. By contrast, if we become adults in secluded segregation, we find difference to be alien and frightening. We hide behind privilege and uphold our ways as the only ways worth considering.


In fact, privilege is born of segregation. It is nurtured and thrives there.


If we want to truly understand our fellow citizens and see them as neighbors and equals, it is best to come to terms with difference from an early age in school.


Integration breeds multiculturalism, understanding and love. 


I’m not saying this happens in every circumstance. All flowers don’t bloom in fertile soil and not all die in a desert. But the best chance we can give our kids is by providing them with the best possible environment to become egalitarian.


That’s public schools.


Of course, diversity was not there from the beginning. 


Through much of our history, we had schools for boys and schools for girls that taught very different things. We had schools for white children and schools (if at all) for black children – each with very different sets of resources.


But as time has gone on, the ideal embodied by the concept of public schooling has come closer to realization.
Brown v. Board took away the legality of blatant segregation and brought us together as children in ways that few could have dreamed of previously.


Unfortunately, a lot as happened since then. That ruling has been chipped at and weakened in subsequent decades and today’s schools still suffer from de facto segregation. In many places our children are kept separate by laws that eschew that name but cherish its intent. Instead of outright racial or economic discrimination, our kids are kept apart by municipal borders, by who goes to which school buildings and even by which classes students are sorted into in the same building.


But it’s really just segregation all over again. The poor black kids are enrolled here and the rich white kids there.
The surprising fact is how much we’ve managed to preserve against this regression. Even with its faults, the degree of diversity in public schools far outshines what you’ll find at any other institution.


That’s no accident. It’s by design. 

Each type of education has a different goal, different priorities that guide the kind of experiences it provides for students.


Privatized schools are by definition discriminatory. They only want those students of a certain type – whatever that is – which they specialize in serving. This is true even if their selection criteria is merely who can pay the entrance fee.


After all, the root word of privatization is “private.” It means “only for some.” Exclusion is baked in from the start.


By contrast, public schools have to take whoever lives in their coverage area. Sure you can write laws to exclude one group or another based on redlining or other discriminatory housing schemes, but you can’t discriminate outright. Yes, you can use standardized testing to keep children of color out of the classes with the best resources, but you need a gatekeeper to be intolerant in your place. You can’t just be openly prejudiced.


That’s because you’re starting from a place of integration. The system of public education is essentially inclusive. It takes work to pervert it.


And I think that’s worth preserving.


It gives us a place from which to start, to strengthen and expand.


There are so many aspects of public schools to cherish. 


But for me it is increased diversity, understanding and integration that is the most important.


What kind of a future would we have as a country if all children were educated in such an environment!?

In 2011, I was interviewed by Terri Gross on “Fresh Air,” her NPR program. When my book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. When it was published, there was quite a lot of speculation about why I changed my views. Apparently, no one ever has a change of mind or heart. I have been consistent over the years in admitting that I was wrong when I supported charter schools, testing, and accountability. It was really hard for some people to accept the plain statement, “I was wrong.”

On the 10th anniversary of this interview, I post it now (I didn’t have a blog in 2011).

The book became a national bestseller, a first for me. (My next book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement, was also a national bestseller).

I had a wonderful appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart about Death and Life. When I heard I was invited on his show, I had never heard of it. I watched the day before I appeared. Stewart interviewed Caroline Kennedy, and my heart sank, thinking what a nerd I was. When I went on the show, the booker had me wait in the wings until he announced me. As he started to announce me, the audience began applauding loudly in anticipation of a celebrity, but the applause died down when they realized I was no celebrity, no big name. I hesitated behind the curtain, and the booker gave me a sharp shove that propelled me onto the stage. Jon Stewart was very kind to me, and I truly liked him. The next day, the book was the number one nonfiction book on Amazon. Seeing it rise to number one was one of the most thrilling moments of my professional life!

I appeared again on The Daily Show when Reign of Error was published.

Again, he was wonderful, and he helped propel the book to the bestseller list. No one was sadder when he retired than I.

Laura Chapman is a retired arts educator and a tireless researcher. After she read a post about the disappointing history of education technology and its constant self-promotion, she wrote a post about the current frenzy to buy and build new forms of education technology for the classroom. While most parents and teachers will welcome the return to full-time, face-to-face instruction, many entrepreneurs are betting that the sky is the limit for new technologies. The market is booming!

She writes:

A February 14, 2021 report from EdSurge Biz is all about a deluge of venture capital pouring into the edtech industry and with high hopes of getting a big return on their dollars. In the span of only two days three transactions for US edtech companies totaled over $1 billion. An example of big deals and high hopes is Renaissance’s $650 million acquisition of Nearpod.

Renaissance enables one-click use of ClassLink and Clever. More than 13,000 schools use the Renaissance performance tracking dashboards assembled as “myIGDIs“ (Individual Growth & Development Indicators) for early childhood. The indicators are displayed in colorful dashboards. These displays show at least one “kindergarten readiness score” for early literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional development.

Renaissance also markets “Star” assessments with a claim that these are “highly predictive of performance on state and other high-stakes tests.” There are Star tests for Early Literacy K-3; Literacy growth, K–12; Math for grades 1 to 12; Star elementary school “Curriculum-based tests” in reading and math; Bilingual tests for reading, math, and early literacy for emerging bilingual students… and more (custom tests). https://www.renaissance.com/products/star-assessments.

Renaissance’s acquisition of the Nearpod platform provides a way for teachers to upload and distribute digital lessons in the form of interactive slide decks. The platform also tracks student progress and interactions with the materials.

Nearpod has since expanded this “toolbox” with features that let teachers create quizzes, offer virtual reality content for digital field trips, and embed mini-games into lessons. There is also a library of over 15,000 pre-made lessons from third-party providers including Amplify, Desmos, iCivics and Teaching Tolerance. In 2020, an estimated 19.5 million lessons were taught on Nearpod, marking a six-fold increase from the previous year, according to its CEO Pep Carrera.

“The pandemic really accelerated the need for teachers to find ways to continue doing things that were once easily done in classrooms,” he said in an interview. Today, the platform is used by 75 percent of all U.S. public school districts. Nearpod offers some of its content and tools for free and sells licenses to individual teachers, schools and districts. see  https://www.edsurge.com/news/2021-01-13-a-record-year-amid-a-pandemic-us-edtech-raises-2-2-billion-in-2020

Other deals

HOBSONS SPLIT AND SOLD: Hobsons, a provider of college planning, readiness and enrollment tools since 1974, will be broken up and sold. PowerSchool will be acquiring its college and career-planning tools, Naviance and Intersect; EAB will purchase the student engagement service, Starfish. These two are expected to net Hobson’s owner $410 million.

CODECADEMY COMEBACK: Long before coding boot camps were a thing, there were startups like Codecademy building web-based tools to teach programming. Now, a decade after it launched, the New York-based company continues to grow, selling to colleges and companies and—perhaps most importantly—achieving profitability. That long, steady growth has been rewarded with a $40 million investment led by Owl Ventures”

Kahoot, the Norweigian provider of a game-based learning platform, has acquired Whiteboard.fi, a Finnish developer of digital whiteboard tools for teachers and students, in a deal worth up to $12 million.

Photomath, a San Francisco-based developer of a math problem-solving app, has raised $23 million in a Series B round led by Menlo Ventures, and joined by GSV Ventures, Learn Capital, Cherubic Ventures and Goodwater Capital.

Praxis Labs, a New York-based provider of virtual-reality educational programs for workplaces, has raised $3.2 million in a seed round led by SoftBank’s OB Opportunity Fund, and joined by Norwest Venture Partners, Emerson Collective, Ulu Ventures, Precursor Ventures and Firework VC.”

These ventures dismiss the need for face-to-face deliberations about education and from early childhood to college readiness. Many focus on the required subjects for tests and capitalize on the high stakes attached to test scores. They have contributed to the truncated curriculum in schools. Most substitute “artificial intelligence” and marketing for the work of professionals in education.

Julian Vasquez Heilig, Jameson Brewer, and Frank Adamson have written a peer-reviewed analysis of the politics of school choice. As Heilig wrote in his description of the analysis, “Modern notions of “markets” and “choice” in schooling stem from the libertarian ideas Milton Friedman espoused in the 1950s. Considering the underlying politics of school choice, it is important to examine the ramifications of neoliberal and collective ideology on market-based school choice research. In this chapter we point out that much of the research suggesting positive findings is continually conducted and promoted by neoliberal ideologically-driven organizations.” I would add to their analysis that Milton Friedman was not the sole originator of the ideology of “school choice.” As I wrote in the New York Review of Books, Friedman shares that dubious distinction with white Southern politicians who were adamantly opposed to the Brown decision and desegregation.

Nancy Bailey is a retired teacher and a terrific blogger. She and I co-authored a book called EdSpeak and DoubleTalk: A Glossary to Decipher Hypocrisy and Save Public Schooling. We have never met in person but I asked her to help me revise a similar book that I published a decade earlier; it had become obsolete. Now it is the go-to book to understand education jargon and decipher hoaxes. It was a joy to work with her. Nancy wrote this post for me while I was out of commission having surgery.


Why I Write About Students and Public Schools

Democratic Public Schools

Ensuring that the public has access to good public schools after Covid-19 is more critical than ever. We cannot go back to continuous high-stakes testing and schools that punish teachers and students, especially our youngest learners. Schools should also not be allowed to continue to collect unregulated data through online assessments. Parents need stronger FERPA laws. 

I think we have also learned with this pandemic that parents and students value public schools, that technology is a tool but can never replace the classroom.      

Americans own our schools through a democratically elected school board, or at least we should. We lose that ownership when outsiders with ulterior motives to privatize or change schooling’s nature make schools more like a business. They convert the system to charter schools or change curriculums to serve companies that will make money on the school district’s new plan.

The more involved corporations become with public education, the more changes occur within public schools. Common Core, high-stakes standardized tests, the reliance on AP classes and SAT and ACT testing from the College Board, and many tech programs convert public schooling to a privatized system. 

It is crucial to protect public schools from individuals or corporations who wish to remove the “public” in public schools. Parents should be able to be involved in how their schools function. We need parents, teachers, and the community to be active participants in how public schools serve children bringing Americans together. 

School choice fans believe parents should choose their school, but this is a false argument. Most private school administrators will determine who to accept to the school. Charter schools may choose students by lottery, which is not parent choice either. Even if a student is randomly selected, charter schools can always counsel students out.

Charter schools were initially supposed to be for teachers to run. The charters doing the best jobs are likely run by or highly influenced by real teachers. But many charters are run by Educational Management Operations (EMOs) that set the rules and are prone to scandal. For years, charter schools have primarily served children of color, often with harshly run curriculum and punishing discipline. 

It is hard to see why America needs two systems of education. It further divides people, and charter schools are still substandard to a well-run public school system. Charters that work, run by real teachers, could become alternative schools in a public school system.  

Helping students work together in public schools—students with all kinds of backgrounds and students of color—will bring us together as a nation. The diversity in our country should be cherished, not destroyed by privatization. 

When public schools are valued, when school boards are elected and work with the constituents to better schooling for all children, it is the best that democracy can be. We must afford every child a chance to learn in a well-managed, excellently staffed public school. 

Teaching

I learned to be a special education teacher in the seventies when the All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 became law. It was amazing to see schools open their doors for all children, and universities begin offering specialized classes for different special education areas. I saw it as a shining moment in America.

My undergraduate degree was to teach students with emotional disabilities, with a minor in elementary education. I took challenging coursework. My student teaching took place at one of the best residential treatment centers in the nation, Hawthorn Center, along with an elementary school near Detroit where teachers worked well together, especially in reading. 

Hawthorn Center has struggled with funding since I student taught there, yet many parents desperately search for residential treatment. The elementary school where I student taught closed long ago. I struggle to understand this.  

In the meantime, Teach for America claims that you can teach with five weeks of training, or maybe it is six weeks now. Many from this group go on to lead schools in states and the nation when they never had the kind of preparation necessary to teach children! 

Writing

I write about these issues and more. It is sometimes overwhelming that public schools have so many concerns and how children and teens face such hurdles to get good schooling in America. There is no reason why this country should not have the best public school system in the world for all children!

Please join me and the Network for Public Education in calling for an end to the federal Charter Schools Program. For the past four years, it functional as Betsy DeVos’s personal slush fund. She handed out $440 million a year, mostly to corporate charter chains.

Two studies by the Network for Public Educatuon combed through the records of the CSP and found that nearly 40% of the schools it funded never opened or closed soon after opening. The hundreds of millions the charter industry received were never returned.

Carol Burris wrote:

It is time for a moratorium on the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). As Congress prepares the next budget, we need to let members know enough is enough. END CSP FUNDING

Right now, there are bills in seven states that would either establish charter schools or greatly expand them. This is in addition to additional bills to expand vouchers.

Right-wing Libertarians, funded by DeVos and the Koch network, are committed to destroying public education. And while they may prefer vouchers, charter schools are certainly part of their plan.

Send your email here

Here is the bottom line. The federal government should not be in the business of funding new charter schools, and as our two reports on the CSP demonstrate, the CSP program is rife with waste and abuse–funding schools that do not open, those that open and shut down, and those with policies designed to exclude disadvantaged students. As our latest report on for-profits shows, the CSP has generously supported the start-up of for-profit-run schools as well.

Send your email and then call your representatives in Congress. You can find your Representative’s phone number here and your Senators’ numbers here.

Below is a script you can use.

My name is [name], and I am calling to ask [Representative] to eliminate funding for the Charter Schools Program in the 2022 budget. The program has wasted approximately one billion dollars on schools the never opened or that have shut down. 

In addition, it lacks quality control and real accountability. It has funded charter schools run by for-profits, schools that do not participate in the federal lunch program, and schools that make special education students unwelcome. The program should be defunded in 2022. Thank you.

Please act today.

You can share our newsletter with this link: https://npeaction.org/cspmoratorium/

Thanks for all you do,

Carol Burris

Network for Public Education Action Executive Director

The privatizers are on the move again in Florida. They want to send billions more to unaccountable, low-quality voucher schools. They will take money away from your public schools to pay for vouchers for religious schools where students are not required to take state tests and teachers are not required to be certified. Stop the Steal of public education!

Carol Corbett Burris was a teacher and principal on Long Island, in New York state for many years. After retiring, she became executive director of the Network for Public Education.

She writes:

Last spring, HBO released Bad Education, which tells the story of how a Roslyn, New York Superintendent named Frank Tassone conspired to steal $11.2 million with the help of his business officer, Pamela Gluckin.  Promo materials called the film “the largest public school embezzlement in U.S. history.”

I did not watch it. I am waiting. I am waiting for HBO to release a movie on how a crafty fellow from Australia, Sean McManus, defrauded California taxpayers out of $50 millionvia an elaborate scheme to create phony attendance records to increase revenue to an online charter chain known as A3. 

Or the documentary about the tens of millions that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) owes taxpayers for cooking the books on attendance. Or perhaps there will be a mini-series about the fraud and racketeering that charter operator Marcus May engaged in that brought his net worth from $200,000 to $8.5 million in five years and landed him a 20-year sentence in jail. 

The truth is, Frank Tassone and his accomplice are small potatoes compared to the preponderance of charter school scandals that happen every day. What is different is how lawmakers respond. 

When the Tassone case hit the news, I was a principal in a neighboring district. The New York State Legislature came down hard with unfunded mandates on public schools.

We all had to hire external auditors and internal auditors that went over every receipt, no matter how small. Simple things like collecting money for field trips or a club’s T-shirt sale suddenly became a big deal. Although there was no evidence that any other district was engaging in anything like what happened in Roslyn, every district transaction came under scrutiny.

Whether those regulations and their expenses were justified or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that despite the years and years of scandal in the charter sector, state legislatures never change laws or impose new rules. For-profits run schools doing business with their related companies behind a wall of secrecy, and lawmakers do not worry a bit. 

I am puzzled. Why can’t charter schools be as transparent as public schools?  Why is the ability to easily engage in fraud necessary to promote innovation? 

No one has been able to answer my question yet. 

In New York, several school districts announced an “opt in” policy for state testing, led by the Ossining School District. The deal: If parents want their children to take the tests, they must write a letter asking for them to “opt in.” Other districts followed. Now the entire state of New York will allow districts to have an “opt in” policy. If parents want their child tested, it will be done. If they don’t, they don’t have to “opt out” or do anything. Some districts may prefer to stick with the old way of requiring everyone to take the tests.

This is a remarkable turn of events!

The U.S. Department of Education has denied waivers to states that don’t want to administer the tests. This was an incredibly tone-deaf decision that brought an outcry from educators and parents, who know it is unfair to administer standardized tests in the midst of a pandemic. During the campaign, candidate Joe Biden promised to get rid of the annual standardized tests. But his test-happy minions in the Department of Education issued a decision breaking his promise, even before Secretary Cardona was confirmed. He has had to explain and try to justify an very bad decision.

May New York’s Opt-In strategy travel far and wide!

This is terribly sad news. Last night, Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers Union, was killed in a car crash. She was 70 years old.