Archives for category: Education Reform

Antonio Olmedo writes here about the new undemocratic, unaccountable Philanthrocapitalism, as embodied by the Gates Foundation:


In 2008, in their Ode to philanthrocapitalism, Bishop and Green claimed that philanthrocapitalists are “hyperagents who have the capacity to do some essential things far better than anyone else”. Apparently, the fact that they “do not face elections every few years, like politicians, or suffer the tyranny of shareholder demands for ever-increasing quarterly profits, like CEOs of most private companies” or that they do not have to devote “vast amounts of time and resources to raising money, like most heads of NGOs”, situates them in a privileged position to “think long term”, to go “against conventional wisdom”, to take up ideas “too risky for government” and to deploy “substantial resources quickly when the situation demands it”. These new super agents can solve the problems of the world, and do it fast, cleanly, and absolutely.

Behind Bishop and Green’s philanthrocapitalim, Bill Gates’ creative capitalism, and David Cameron’s Big Society, which are closely related conceptions, is a new relation of ‘giving’ and enacting policy. This relation is based on a more direct involvement of givers in policy communities, that is a more ‘hands on’ approach to the use of donations. In previous writings we have referred to this new political landscape as philanthropic governance, that is the ways in which, through their philanthropic action, these actors are able to modify meanings, mobilise assets, generate new policy technologies and exert pressure on, or even decide, the direction of policy in specific contexts.

Democratic deficit

The problem here, or the problem for some of us, is that the claims and practices of new philanthropy are premised on the residualisation of established methods and traditions of democracy. They see no need to respond to or be accountable for their philanthropic investments to anyone else but themselves. This is what Horne indicates when he claimed that new philanthropists operate in a ‘para-political sphere’[1] within which they can develop their own policy agenda untrammelled by the vicissitudes of politics. What we are facing here is more than just givers who ‘vote with their dollars’[2]. As Parmar puts it: “the foundation-state relationship, therefore, is not a conspiracy – it may be quite secretive and operate behind the scenes, but it is not criminal enterprise. It is, however, strongly undemocratic, because it privileges the right people, usually those with the right social backgrounds and/or attitudes”. The direct involvement of new philanthropists in the para-political sphere enables “some individuals to act as their own private governments, whose power can be used to challenge that of the state and force it to re-examine its priorities and policies”

Gambling with children’s future

Essentially this is a simplification of policy, a cutting out of the messy compromises, dissensus and accommodations that attend ‘normal’ policymaking. But perhaps change is less simple than it seems initially from the perspective of great wealth! In a recent public letter from of Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, there is a frank recognition that single-mindedness and a deliberate circumvention of traditional policy actors may not actually be constructive or effective in getting change done.

“… we’re facing the fact that it is a real struggle to make system-wide change.

Our valued reader Laura Chapman had a long career as a teacher, curriculum developer, and consultant in the arts. It is always a pleasure to post one of her careful essays. A teacher from Hawaii recently wrote to ask if she could read Laura’s research on SLOs, as that is her state’s preferred method of evaluating teachers.

Laura had previously posted this study on Audrey Amrein-Beardsley’s blog Vamboozled.

So if you want to know more about SLO and its relation to management by objectives, read Laura’s work.

In New Jersey, David M. Aderhold, the superintendent of schools of West Windsor-Plainsboro, called out Governor Christie’s “reforms” for the frauds they are. He says it is time to fight back. I add him to the honor roll for his independence and support for children and public education.

http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/16/09/22/op-ed-what-the-public-doesn-t-know-can-hurt-our-students-our-schools/

He writes:

“The unspoken message is that the New Jersey Department of Education and the New Jersey State Board of Education believe they can change educational outcomes by implementing a system of standardized tests, data points, and accountability measures. They believe that if you create “valid” and “reliable” assessment instruments, that all students will magically succeed. Through a blind allegiance to standardized assessments, the NJDOE and NJSBOE have failed to provide the support, programs, and professional development that would work to ensure that all students succeed….

“As a community of parents and educators, we must come together to rebuff the politicization of public education and insist that these changes are met with opposition and disapproval. We cannot remain on the sidelines as upheaval from the politics of education clouds what is best for our children. We must remain vigilant and centered on the essence of our work, which is to ensure the highest-quality educational experience for all students.”

In a shocking story in Reuters, we learn that the newly redesigned SAT will have negative effects on many students–especially those who are neediest–because of the mathematics portion of the exam.

The story is part of a series.

Renee Dudley writes for Reuters:

In the days after the redesigned SAT college entrance exam was given for the first time in March, some test-takers headed to the popular website reddit to share a frustration.

They had trouble getting through the exam’s new mathematics sections. “I didn’t have nearly enough time to finish,” wrote a commenter who goes by MathM. “Other people I asked had similar impressions.”

The math itself wasn’t the problem, said Vicki Wood, who develops courses for PowerScore, a South Carolina-based test preparation company. The issue was the wordy setups that precede many of the questions.

“The math section is text heavy,” said Wood, a tutor, who took the SAT in May. “And I ran out of time.”

The College Board, the maker of the exam, had reason to expect just such an outcome for many test-takers.

When it decided to redesign the SAT, the New York-based not-for-profit sought to build an exam with what it describes as more “real world” applications than past incarnations of the test. Students wouldn’t simply need to be good at algebra, for instance. The new SAT would require them to “solve problems in rich and varied contexts.”

But in evaluating that approach, the College Board’s own research turned up problems that troubled even the exam makers.

About half the test-takers were unable to finish the math sections on a prototype exam given in 2014, internal documents reviewed by Reuters show.

The problem was especially pronounced among students that the College Board classified as low scorers on the old SAT.

A difference in completion rates between low scorers and high scorers is to be expected, but the gap on the math sections was much larger than the disparities in the reading and writing sections.

The study Reuters reviewed didn’t address the demographics of that performance gap, but poor, black and Latino students have tended to score lower on the SAT than wealthy, white and Asian students.

In light of the results, officials concluded that the math sections should have far fewer long questions, documents show. But the College Board never made that adjustment and instead launched the new SAT with a large proportion of wordy questions, a Reuters analysis of new versions of the test shows.

The redesigned SAT is described in the College Board’s own test specifications as an “appropriate and fair assessment” to promote “equity and opportunity.” But some education and testing specialists say the text-heavy new math sections may be creating greater challenges for kids who perform well in math but poorly in reading, reinforcing race and income disparities.

Among those especially disadvantaged by the number of long word problems, they say, are recent immigrants and American citizens who aren’t native English speakers; international students; and test-takers whose dyslexia or other learning disabilities have gone undiagnosed.

“It’s outrageous. Just outrageous,” said Anita Bright, a professor in the Graduate School of Education at Portland State University in Oregon. “The students that are in the most academically vulnerable position when it comes to high-stakes testing are being particularly marginalized,” she said.

College Board CEO David Coleman, the chief architect of the redesign, declined to be interviewed, as did other College Board officials named in this article.

Read the rest of the article, which contains more detail.

Some states plan to use the SAT as a graduation exam, which should not happen because the test was not designed as an exit exam but as a measure of college readiness. In the past, testmakers would warn states against misusing their test, but this is apparently not happening now. The College Board is supposed to be a nonprofit, but the SAT is its biggest money maker. Now that nearly 900 colleges and universities are test-optional, meaning that students seeking admission to not need to supply either SAT or ACT scores, the College Board has to maintain its revenues and does not warn about the misuse of the SAT.

What will those states that use the SAT as a high school graduation test do when half the seniors can’t “pass” it? What will the young people who can’t get a high school diploma do?

I just donated to this gofundme campaign.

I hope you will too.

David Gamberg is the enlightened superintendent of schools in Southold and Greenport, on the North Fork of Long Island.

Here is his vision: Play. Children learn happily when they have time to play.

I have visited his schools.

I ate vegetables that the children raised.

I enjoyed the musical performance.

At the center of learning in his schools are physical activity, music, the arts, gardening, and much more. Southold has a superb robotics team.

It also has one of the highest opt out rates in the state.

Congratulations, Dr. Gamberg, for setting a wonderful example for educators everywhere!

A recent article in The Guardian in the U.K. revealed the secret of Europe’s most successful school system: Finland. It is a four-letter word: P-L-A-Y.

The author, Patrick Butler, visited the Franzenia daycare center and describes what he saw.

Central to early years education in Finland is a “late” start to schooling. At Franzenia, as in all Finnish daycare centres, the emphasis is not on maths, reading or writing (children receive no formal instruction in these until they are seven and in primary school) but creative play. This may surprise UK parents, assailed as they are by the notion of education as a competitive race. In Finland, they are more relaxed: “We believe children under seven are not ready to start school,” says Tiina Marjoniemi, the head of the centre. “They need time to play and be physically active. It’s a time for creativity.”

Indeed the main aim of early years education is not explicitly “education” in the formal sense but the promotion of the health and wellbeing of every child. Daycare is to help them develop good social habits: to learn how to make friends and respect others, for example, or to dress themselves competently. Official guidance also emphasises the importance in pre-school of the “joy of learning”, language enrichment and communication. There is an emphasis on physical activity (at least 90 minutes outdoor play a day). “Kindergarten in Finland doesn’t focus on preparing children for school academically,” writes the Finnish educational expert Pasi Sahlberg. “Instead the main goal is to make sure that the children are happy and responsible individuals.”

Play, nonetheless, is a serious business, at least for the teachers, because it gives children vital skills in how to learn. Franzenia has 44 staff working with children, of whom 16 are kindergarten teachers (who have each completed a three-year specialist degree), and 28 nursery nurses (who have a two-year vocational qualification). The staff-child ratio is 1:4 for under-threes and 1:7 for the older children. Great care is taken to plan not just what kind of play takes place – there is a mix of “free play” and teacher-directed play – but to assess how children play. The children’s development is constantly evaluated. “It’s not just random play, it’s learning through play,” says Marjoniemi.

He cites British researcher David Whitbread, who says:

Carefully organised play helps develop qualities such as attention span, perseverance, concentration and problem solving, which at the age of four are stronger predictors of academic success than the age at which a child learns to read, says Whitebread. There is evidence that high-quality early years play-based learning not only enriches educational development but boosts attainment in children from disadvantaged backgrounds who do not possess the cultural capital enjoyed by their wealthier peers. Says Whitebread: “The better the quality of pre-school, the better the outcomes, both emotionally and socially and in terms of academic achievement.”

Importantly, early years care in Finland is designed and funded to ensure high take-up: every child has a legal right to high-quality pre-school care. In Franzenia, as in all daycare centres, there are children from a mix of backgrounds. Fees, subsidised by the state, are capped at a maximum of €290 (£250) a month (free for those on low incomes) for five-day, 40 hours a week care. About 40% of 1-3-year-olds are in daycare and 75% of 3-5-year-olds. Optional pre-school at the age of six has a 98% take-up. Initially envisaged in the 70s as a way of getting mothers back into the workplace, daycare has also become, Marjoniemi says, about “lifelong learning and how we prepare young children”.

Finnish educator look at the big picture, not test scores.

Daycare is not the only factor underpinning academic success. Hard-wired into Finland’s educational mission is the idea that equality is vital to economic success and societal wellbeing, as well as the belief that a small nation, reliant on creativity, ingenuity and solidarity to compete in the global economy, cannot afford inequality or segregation in schooling or health. Behind its stellar education ranking is a comprehensive social security and public health system that ensures one of the lowest child poverty rates in Europe, and some of the highest levels of wellbeing. Gunilla Holm, professor of education at the University of Helsinki, says: “The goal is that we should all progress together.”

Finnish children do not face the competitive pressures of children in the UK and US. When test scores on PISA dipped, what do you think Finnish educators did?

As UK educational policy becomes more narrow and centrally prescribed, Finland devolves more power to teachers and pupils to design and direct learning. Teachers are well paid, well-trained (they must complete a five-year specialist degree), respected by parents and valued and trusted by politicians. There is no Ofsted-style inspection of schools and teachers, but a system of self-assessment. Educational policy and teaching is heavily research-based.

Worried that its sliding Pisa scores reflected a complacency in its schools, national curriculum changes were introduced this year: these now devote more time to art and crafts. Creativity is the watchword. Core competences include “learning-to learn”, multiliteracy, digital skills and entrepreneurship. At the heart of the new curriculum, the National Board of Education says unashamedly, is the “joy of learning.”

Mike Klonsky has been a radical for many decades. Back in the 1960s, he was a key figure in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

He offers sage advice to his fellow lefties on the current election:

http://michaelklonsky.blogspot.com/2016/09/note-to-some-fellow-lefties.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+mikeklonsky+(SmallTalk)&m=1

He writes:

Students from Johnson C. Smith University at a rally for Hillary Clinton in Charlotte, North Carolina. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times
Sorry to say, rapacious capitalism will still be here in November. Not only that, but I doubt it will ever be simply voted out. Even if a “socialist” like Bernie were to someday be elected (I wish). But maybe that’s just old-school me.

Whatever the case, come the first of the year, either Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump, will be our next president and Jill Stein and Gary Johnson will have taken their campaign funds and gone home, a la Ralph Nader and the rest of those perennial presidential spoiler candidates

That’s when the real movement for social justice, peace and racial equality needs to kick into gear again — after the election, no matter who is elected.

NYT columnist Charles Blow, speaking to Morgan State Univ. students, tries to break through the reported millennial political malaise and encourage a large youth turnout for Clinton.

“First — and this cannot be said enough — Clinton and Trump are not equally bad candidates. One is a conventional politician who has a long record of public service full of pros and cons. The other is a demagogic bigot with a puddle-deep understanding of national and international issues, who openly courts white nationalism, is hostile to women, Mexicans and Muslims, and is callously using black people as pawns in a Donnie-come-lately kinder-gentler campaign.”

As an educator, I would also include Trump’s pledge to do away with public education or what he calls, the “government monopoly” of public schools. And here I thought Trump loved to play Monopoly.

Blow continues…

“That person will appoint someone to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court (assuming that the Senate doesn’t find religion and move on Merrick Garland before the new president takes office) and that person will also appoint federal judges to fill the 88 district court and court of appeals vacancies that now exist (there are 51 nominees pending for these seats).”

And more…

“You can’t have taken part in a march for Eric Garner, chanting “I can’t breathe,” and risk the ascendance of a man who has as one of his chief advisers Rudy Giuliani, the grandfather of the very “broken windows” policing strategy that sent officers after low-level offenders like Garner.

“You can’t detest racial-dragnet-policy stop-and-frisk policing as not only morally abhorrent but thoroughly unconstitutional and risk the ascendance of a man who on Wednesday reportedly suggested that he would consider using stop-and-frisk more across the nation.
Makes sense. As Bernie Sanders himself said last week: “This is not the time for a protest vote.”

As one of the leaders of the “vote in the streets” 60’s youth revolt and someone who has often cast protest votes or gone fishing on meaningless election days, I couldn’t agree more.

Rebecca Lee teaches at the KIPP Tulsa College Preparatory School, where Terence Crutcher’s daughter is a student. She describes in this post (which appeared on Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog at the Washington Post) how the children in the school reacted to the terrible news of the unjust death of their schoolmate’s father.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/09/22/as-the-questions-roll-so-do-the-tears-a-tulsa-teacher/

Weep for the children. What lessons are they learning from these events?

New York State just released a draft of its revision of the Common Core standards.

There are different interpretations of how much has changed. Some say more than half of the standards were tweaked. Defenders of the standards insist they were barely changed at all.

We will have to wait until teachers have seen the revisions and offered their comments.

In New York, the Common Core standards have also became part of a larger discussion about other policy reforms, such as the use of state standardized test scores in teacher evaluations. Replacing the standards is the first step in redefining what it means to get an education in New York state, which will include revising assessments, teacher evaluations and how the state rates schools.

The standards will now go out for public comment, which will be open until Nov. 4. The Board of Regents are expected to consider the standards in early 2017 and roll out new assessments based on the standards by the 2018-19 school year.

The standards were revised in response to the success of the Opt Out movement; 20% of children eligible to take the tests–about 200,000–did not take them in 2015. The number rose slightly this past year. Governor Cuomo formed a commission that recommended a thorough review of the standards and the tests.

Here are the draft standards:

http://www.nysed.gov/draft-standards-english-language-arts

and here:

http://www.nysed.gov/draft-standards-mathematics

The crucial question will be whether the standards are age-appropriate, especially in the early grades, where complaints have been most intense. Early reviews from teachers suggest that very little if anything has changed in the K-2 grades, where the standards are the worst.

We have had quite a lot of back and forth on this blog about Boston charter schools, in anticipation of the vote this November in Massachusetts about lifting the charter cap and adding another 12 charter schools every year forever. Pro-charter advocates argue that the Boston charters are not only outstanding in test scores but that their attrition rate is no different from that of the public schools, or possibly even less than the public schools.

Jersey Jazzman (aka Mark Weber) is a teacher and is studying for his doctorate at Rutgers, where he specializes in data analysis.

In this post, he demolishes the claim that Boston charters have a low attrition rate. As he shows, using state data,

In the last decade, Boston’s charter sector has had substantially greater cohort attrition than the Boston Public Schools. In fact, even though the data is noisy, you could make a pretty good case the difference in cohort attrition rates has grown over the last five years.

Is this proof that the independent charters are doing a bad job? I wouldn’t say so; I’m sure these schools are full of dedicated staff, working hard to serve their students. But there is little doubt that the public schools are doing a job that charters are not: they are educating the kids who don’t stay in the charters, or who arrive too late to feel like enrolling in them is a good choice.

This is a serious issue, and the voters of Massachusetts should be made aware of it before they cast their votes. We know that charter schools have had detrimental effects on the finances of their host school systems in other states. Massachusetts’ charter law has one of the more generous reimbursement policies for host schools, but these laws do little more than delay the inevitable: charter expansion, by definition, is inefficient because administrative functions are replicated. And that means less money in the classroom.

Is it really worth expanding charters and risking further injury to BPS when the charter sector appears, at least at the high school level, to rely so heavily on cohort attrition?