Archives for category: Education Reform

A former student who all’s him/herself “ArtTeacher” left the following moving tribute to our beloved friend and frequent contributor Dr. Laura Chapman. I wonder if she knew how many lives she influenced, how admired and respected she was? I learned from everything she wrote here.

ArtTeacher wrote:

I was an art education student of Dr. Chapman and her life partner, Patricia Renick from 1974-78 at the University of Cincinnati. We called Patricia “Pat,” and she was vivacious, loving, and upbeat. Her nickname was “Mother Art.” Even as adults, my classmates and I had difficulty dropping the “Dr.” because we held Laura in such high esteem.

I was the first Art Education major to graduate summa cum laude from the school of Design, Architecture and Art, and I still have her letter of recommendation that described me as one of the “brightest and best.” I felt as if I had failed them both when I quit teaching after being RIFed from 2 schools in 3 years.

In 2000 when I became an art teacher again, NCLB was in full force in Ohio, and I boldly phoned her to meet and catch up on current education trends. She laughed when I told her how she struck fear in our undergraduate hearts if we showed up unprepared for her class. She was interested in hearing that two of my 8th graders filled in their scan-tron sheets to create a smiley face and a penis. When I asked what on earth they were doing, one of them said that he was only there so he could attend the dance that Friday. “I happen to know this test doesn’t affect my GPA,” he told me, pointing a finger at my face, “It affects YOU, and I don’t care about you. You can make me come to school, but you can’t make me try.” I told Laura that surely the principals and superintendents would protest the obvious flaws in forcing a school in a rural, low-income area to improve scores on such a test each year, when students’ home lives were such a struggle. The next year I was hired by a surburban elementary school to teach art to over 600 fourth graders, many of whom became physically ill on testing days because they wanted so much to do well, the opposite of the other school.

In 2012 she sent an email asking me to describe how I’m evaluated, how many students I taught, budget, schedules, etc. for a research paper. She said, “The evaluation of teachers by standardized test scores and principal observations is going in the direction that hit the teacher at Oyler (a public school in a low-income area near U.C.). In fact, more standardized tests are in the works and scheduled for administration in 2014, grades 3-12, as a condition for schools receiving federal funds from the ESEA. New state mandates are getting on the books regardless of the governor’s political affiliation. Since 2009, Bill Gates who thinks he is qualified as an expert on education, had been funding many projects that converge on more data gathering and sruveillance of teachers and the overall performance of schools.” So you can see that even as a retired professor, Laura was right on top of everything that was happening, who was doing it, and why.

I started meeting her for breakfast every month or so, to fill her in on what was new at school, and she explained the agenda behind it all, and warn me about was was coming next. I used to awaken in the wee hours with the chlling thought that it was like the plot of a bad sci fi movie, where there seemed no way to effectively fight the evil forces that had taken over. I joined BATs about a month after it began, full of hope that all we had to do was reveal what we knew was going on, and our communities (and unions) would shut it right down. I had even greater hope listening live to the first NPE convention from my home as I prepared art lessons. I remember our union presidents promising Diane to stop accepting Gates’ money, then reneging on that promise three days later.

In 2014 Laura gave a lengthy slide presentation at the Ohio Art Education convention that was titled “The Circular Reasoning Theory of School Reform: Why it is Wrong,” explaining in part why SLOs and VAM were invalid measurements of learning. It was, as you can imagine, annotated like a Master’s Thesis. Her voice was weak because was suffering from COPD and recovering from a cold, but her presentation had an enormous impact. Immeditately afterward we art teachers attended a workshop by the Ohio Dept. of Education intended to train us to write SLOs for our K-12 art students. We nearly rioted. Yet, the following school year, I had to give a test to my fourth graders the first day of school over a list of art vocabulary words I was certain they would not already know. At the end of the year, I tested them on the same 15 words, and nearly every one of 850 students passed with flying colors. Yet most were upset to see their low scores from the beginning of the year. “I can’t believe I was that stupid,” one girl said. I told her that I had to show that she learned something from me, so she was supposed to fail the test the first time. “WHY would you DO that to us?” she gasped. Now we have opted for shared attribution, where 50% of my evaluattion as an art teacher is based on 4th grade math and reading scores.

My students look forward to art class, and I have lost no enthusiasm for teaching them. This is my 20th year at my school, and every year I have something new to try, something marvelous to experience with my students. I rarely miss a single day of teaching. My way of fighting back is to absolutely refuse to let anything dampen my love for teaching art. I actually feel lucky to be an insider during these years, to see and know that even with the most misguided of mandates, my colleagues and I show up every day for the children who come through our doors.

The last time I saw Laura was in late February 2020 when it was becoming obvious that teaching in a building with 2400 fourth, fifth and sixth grade students was putting me at risk for contracting COVID, and that our Saturday breakfasts must stop to protect Laura’s health. I held my breath and hugged her. My school shut down mid-March, and I was allowed to teach online from home last year — to about 900 students in grades 1-4. I sent long emails describing what that was like, and she was fascinated by my reports. She said she was picking up groceries, staying in her condo, and of course, continuing her research and advocacy. In the spring I asked if we could get together again, and although she didn’t say no, she closed by wishing me and my famliy good health and happy lives. I knew that it was her way of saying good-bye.

Jeff Bryant is a journalist who specializes in education. In a recent issue of The Progressive, he details the many failures of what is falsely called “education reform.” The term for many has been a ruse for privatization via charter schools and vouchers. Instead of “reform,” it should be called disruption and destruction. Bryant leads the Progressive’s Public School Advocate project. This is a good-news story. Ed Reform has no successful strategies or ideas, but it’s billionaire funders and the U.S. Department of Education continue to fund its failed ideas.

He begins:

It was telling that few people noticed when Chicago’s Board of Education announced in late May that it was closing down its school turnaround program and folding the thirty-one campuses operated by a private management company back into the district.

The turnaround program had been a cornerstone of “Renaissance 2010,” the education reform policy led by former Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan, who became U.S. Secretary of Education during the Obama Administration. As the news outlet Catalyst Chicago reported, Duncan used the core principles of Renaissance 2010 as the basis for “Race to the Top,” his signature policy that he rolled out to the nation.

Race to the Top, a successor to former President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program, included holding schools accountable for higher scores on standardized tests, inserting private management companies into district administration, and ramping up charter schools to compete with public schools.

Another news event affecting Chicago public schools that got very little national attention was the decision by the Illinois state legislature to rescind mayoral control of Chicago schools and bring back a democratically elected school board. The plan is backed by the state’s Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker (and, predictably, opposed by Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot). For years, prominent Democratic leaders—including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and former Chicago mayor and previously Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel—touted mayoral control and a rejection of school board governance.

A third story from the Chicago education scene was that, in December, Noble Charter Network, the city’s largest charter school chain, disavowed its “no excuses” approach to educating Black and brown students because of the racist implications. Noble’s decision added to other reports of no-excuses charter chains dropping their harsh behavioral control and discipline policies during the past year.

These stories highlight the waning of three “school improvement” approaches: strict accountability with private management, mayoral control, and no-excuses charter schools. Each approach was among the pillars of “education reform” favored by previous presidential administrations and heartily endorsed by Washington, D.C., policy shops, such as the Center for American Progress.

Taken in unison, the three stories also contribute to the much larger narrative of how the once all-pervasive and generously funded policy movement known as education reform has ended—not with a bang, but a whimper.

Other policy directives of the reform movement that are also being relegated to the dustbin of history include state takeovers of low-performing schools, evaluating teachers based on student test scores, and flunking third-graders who score below a certain threshold on reading exams.

Please open the link and read on.

Laura H. Chapman was a devoted supporter of public education, the Network for Public Education, and this blog. I was honored to post her carefully researched and well documented comments on this blog. Although her health clearly was in decline, she faithfully attended every annual meeting of NPE.

Laura was a distinguished arts educator. Please read her obituary in The Cincinnati Enquirer. We have lost a treasured friend.

Laura shared my dislike of billionaire reformers who didn’t know much about education but imagined they could solve its problems with Big Data. She was opposed to privatization of public funds. She opposed the substitution of technology for real teachers. She was a fierce and eloquent supporter of a rounded liberal arts education. she never failed to inspire me with her wisdom.

The attached report was prepared by Unkoch My Campus and SOS Arizona. Unkoch My Campus is an activist organization that exposes the nefarious influence of the Charles Koch network in higher education. It decided to examine the Koch effort to capture K-12 education and teamed up with SOS Arizona. The result is a brilliant, informative, important critique of a billionaire-funded attack on American public education. Please read it.


Executive Summary


The Koch network’s massive and targeted “investments” are reshaping K-12 education. According to the Washington Post, in early 2018, Koch officials announced plans to “fundamentally transform America’s education system,” including K-12. Stacy Hock, a major Koch donor, called K-12 “[t]he lowest hanging fruit for policy change in the United States today[.]”


In order to influence K-12 public education, the Koch network has financed local, state, and national mechanisms to create multiple crises — only to turn around and cite these same crises as reasons to adopt their free market solutions.


*Supporting the seating of state legislators who intentionally defund public education

*Destabilizing state funding in schools to promote policies that divert funds away from traditional public schools to charter schools, private schools, and online education under the guise of “school choice”

*Funding higher education centers that create the curriculum and textbooks being used in some K-12 programs

*Astroturfing moral panic about ideologies that critique their idea production and theory of change as regressive and racist (Critical Race Theory)


The Koch network has made no secret about the critical role that public education plays as an ideal arena for influencing U.S. policy and culture.

Through a variety of tactics — charter schools, vouchers, curriculum, textbooks, trainings, using state politicians to engage in culture war against progressive ideas and more — the Koch network is able to ensure the spread of their ideas, including climate disinformation and free-market favoring economics philosophy.

All public institutions are a threat to the Koch network’s free market economic agenda. In their assault on public education, the network has taken actions to increasingly privatize and corporatize K-12 institutions. In doing so, they’ve created a lot of waste, pushed to close “failing” schools, favored CEO-like superintendents, aggressively cut costs, and more.

Lack of public accountability and transparency surrounding private and charter schools, as well as privately created curriculum and textbooks, leaves little room for parents and educators to take action against undesired and harmful agendas. Privatized education institutions are often not subject to audits, regulations that create standards for educators, and can lack standards for curriculum and assessment.

The Kochs’ infiltration of K-12 education harms students, teachers, and our democracy. Students are losing access to quality public-school education. Teachers are losing access to resources and the support needed to create a healthy, generative public-school ecosystem. Finally, our democracy is harmed as students are taught with Koch-funded curriculum that promotes regressive and ahistorical ideologies that contribute to myths of meritocracy, normalizes extractive economic practices which

See the pdf here.

Why do so many billionaires think that it is their responsibility to redesign education? I, personally, would prefer to see them spend their time figuring out how to reduce poverty, how to provide medical care in low-income communities, how to provide affordable housing for all. But they don’t ask me.

Chalkbeat reported recently that three of our biggest billionaires are combining forces to discover “breakthroughs” in education. As usual, the billionaires—Gates, Walton, and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative—assume that they will discover a magic trick that solves all problems. Like the Common Core, which David Coleman and Bill Gates believed would raise test scores and close all achievement gaps. They assumed that standardization of curriculum, standards, tests, and teacher training would produce high test scores for all students. Except it didn’t.

Matt Barnum wrote:

Three of the biggest names in education philanthropy have teamed up to fund a new organization aimed at dramatically improving outcomes for Black, Latino, and low-income students.

The Advanced Education Research & Development Fund, announced Wednesday, is already funded to the eye-popping tune of $200 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Walton Family Foundation. (Gates and Walton are also supporters of Chalkbeat.)

AERDF (pronounced AIR-dif) says its focus will be on what it calls “inclusive R&D,” or bringing together people with different expertise, including educators, to design and test practical ideas like improving assessments and making math classes more effective. Still, the ideas will have “moonshot ambitions,” said the group’s CEO Stacey Childress. 

“One of our mottos for our program teams and the projects they fund is ‘heads in clouds and boots on the ground,’” she said. 

It’s an unusually well-funded start for a new education organization, especially as big education funders have seen their influence wane in recent years after some of their ideas showed uneven results and prompted backlash. AERDF suggests these funders still have significant ambitions for improving education in the U.S., even if those efforts are less splashy — or controversial — than they once were.

The organization emerged from work that began in 2018, when CZI and Gates teamed up to invest in R&D. That resulted in a project known as EF+Math, which funds efforts to embed lessons in executive functioning — a set of cognitive skills related to self control and memory — into math classes. 

Read on.

Governor Abbott opposes mandates for masks and vaccinations. Yesterday he tested positive for COVID. He has been holding large meetings where no one is masked.

Historian and former teacher John Thompson sat in on three different panels about the reopening of schools. He heard the concerns of leading educators and medical experts. The latter were all in favor of masking and vaccinations, but the educators were cautious about making powerful people angry.

The Oklahoma state legislature has banned mask mandates and vaccinations are out of the question. The medical experts stressed the importance of the measures that have been banned.

Legislators in states like Oklahoma are putting the lives of children, families, and communities at risk. Unnecessarily.

Chicago Public Schools was first to ban the popular graphic novel Persepolis,” in 2013.

The book has sold millions of copies. The author, Marjane Satrapi, was born in Iran and used the book to tell her story. Chicago school officials decided to pull the book from classrooms and school libraries, after receiving complaints that the book was not “age-appropriate.” The officials saw two pages that circulated among them. There is no indication that any of them actually read the book. The Superintendent at the time was Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who was subsequently sent to prison for accepting bribes to buy services from vendors.

A graduate student asked for copies of internal emails about the decision to remove the book:

News of the ban broke on March 14, 2013, when a local education blogger got hold of an email from the principal of Lane Tech College Prep High School which informed teachers and staff that he had been directed in no uncertain terms to collect all copies of Persepolis from the school’s library and classrooms. He was given no explanation for the sudden purge, he said.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett started backpedaling later that day, after teachers and students raised objections and local media began asking questions. Byrd-Bennett revised the directive in another email to principals, saying that “we are not requesting that you remove Persepolis from your central school library.” But the book was still banned from seventh grade classrooms and “under review” for use in eighth through tenth grades. Teachers of college-level AP classes for 11th and 12th grade students would be allowed to retain the book in their curricula.

Unsurprisingly, Byrd-Bennett’s “clarification” did little to assuage the concerns of teachers and especially students, who organized a demonstration outside Lane Tech on March 15. By then, CPS was receiving national press coverage and stern rebukes from free speech groups, including CBLDF through the NCAC’s Kids’ Right to Read Project. In response to the growing furor, district spokesperson Becky Carroll claimed that “the message got lost in translation, but the bottom line is, we never sent out a directive to ban the book…. We’re not saying remove these from buildings altogether.”

Allan Singer, a professor of social studies education at Hofstra College in New York, wrote at Daily Kos about the recent decision by the Commack School Board to ban Persepolis.

He writes, in part:

The city of Persepolis was founded by Persian Emperor Darius I in 518 B.C. as a religious center and the capital of the Achaemenid Empire. The Persian Empire was defeated by Alexander the Great and Greek armies about 330 B.C. and the city was burned. Today its ruins are located in southwestern Iran and are considered one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites.

Persepolis lived again in the graphic arts book Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Pantheon Graphic Library 2004) by Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi was born in Iran and grew up in the current capital city, Tehran. Her parents were leftwing political activists and after the 1979 Islamic revolution they arranged for her to move to Vienna, Austria when she was fourteen. She later returned to Iran where she studied Visual Communication and earned a Master’s Degree from Islamic Azad University in Tehran. At the age of 24, Satrapi left Iran to live in France. 

Her black-and-white 341-page graphic novel Persepolis is autobiographical and recounts Satrapi’s experiences from age six to fourteen, including surviving a missile attack and learning about torture. The New York Times named it a Notable Book and Time Magazinecalled it the “Best Comix of the Year” for 2004.

Because the book includes a realistic pictorial depiction of torture and as part of the new rightwing assault on multiculturalism and anything that even suggests association with critical race theory, Persepolis is under attack and its educational supporters are threatened with retribution. At a recent Commack, New York school board meeting high school students and alumni protested against the removal of the book from 11th grade English classes. It has been an assigned text for more than a decade. Students from Islamic and South Asian backgrounds pointed out that it is the only place that someone like them appears in the entire 7-12 English Language Arts curriculum. Speakers who were also attacking Critical Race Theory demanded that Persepolis be dropped as “pornographic.”

If you want to learn more about the censorship of textbooks and books used in schools, read my book The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (Knopf).

There’s been much discussion around the nation about racism. Is it persistent? Is it systematic? Is it behind us?

Read this story that appeared in the Washington Post and it should end the debate (although it won’t).

An African American man, who happens to be a veteran, brought his teenage son with him as he went house hunting with a real estate agent (also black) in Wyoming Michigan. A neighbor saw them entering the house that was for sale and called 911 to report a break in.

The police sent an armed team, who surrounded the house, entered and handcuffed the potential buyer and his young son.

Racism? Of course.

The story says:

As a police officer turned Roy Thorne around to cuff his hands behind his back, the 45-year-old father saw the same happening to his 15-year-old son.

Feelings came quickly then to Thorne, who’s Black: rage that his son was being arrested. Humiliation that the teenager had to watch his dad get handcuffed while the whole neighborhood looked on. Confusion about how viewing a house with his real estate agent on a Sunday afternoon could lead to a half-dozen police officers pointing guns at them.

It’s good news to see teachers’ unions endorsing vaccination mandates to protect students and staff.

For Immediate Release

UTLA Board votes to support vaccine mandate for LAUSD employees

LOS ANGELES — The UTLA Board of Directors has voted overwhelmingly to support a vaccine mandate for all LAUSD employees. The UTLA Board had previously voted to not oppose a vaccine mandate. This stronger position comes as the Delta variant continues to surge in our communities and as students and staff prepare for a return to full-time, in-person learning next week.

“I am the parent of an LAUSD fifth-grader, and my family has been going through the same uncertainty and anguish as so many other families as we approach the return to school,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said. “Because of the protocols that UTLA educators and LAUSD families fought for and won, LA Unified has among the strictest COVID safety protocols in the country. But this Delta variant is unlike anything we have seen so far in this crisis — especially its impact on children — and we all need to step up to do our part to protect the most vulnerable among us.”

The current surge in COVID cases underscores why UTLA members fought so hard for mask mandates, ventilation, access to vaccines, and other safety measures for our schools. Those safety measures we negotiated include a COVID Task Force at each school, which should be doing a physical walk-through of campuses today, August 13, to note violations of safety protocols so they can be addressed before students return on Monday.

UTLA also calls on the District to actively encourage and facilitate greater access to vaccination for parents, eligible students, and the communities we serve. The District and LA County Department of Health must work together to increase outreach, vaccination clinics, and testing in communities with low vaccination rates and high transmission rates.

However, vaccines are one layer of protection. As staff and students return to school, we urge everyone to remain vigilant about all the layered mitigation strategies — from masking and ventilation to testing and tracing — needed to keep our learning spaces safe.

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