Archives for category: Massachusetts

Massachusetts has been engaged this past year in a heated public debate about “lifting the cap” on charter schools. Public school parents are concerned that lifting the cap will encourage a proliferation of charter schools that will harm public schools, draining away students and funding.

One blogger, known as Public School Mama, has become deeply invested in protecting her children’s public school. Recently she and other parents have been slammed on Twitter by an out of state venture capitalist who thinks he knows what is best for parents in Boston and everywhere else.

This venture capitalist doesn’t like public schools. He calls those who defend them ugly names, suggesting they are akin to Nazis or segregationists. He thinks he is a “freedom rider,” although he is not on a bus risking his life for anyone.

My own experience has taught me that it is useless to engage with people who won’t listen. It is passing strange to tell parents that they should open the flood gates to privatization and relinquish their attachment to their community public schools, especially when the person doing the lecture doesn’t even live in the state.

I wrote a response to an editorial that appeared in the Boston Globe, which advocated for using test scores to judge teacher quality.

My response explained why that idea doesn’t work.

I cited evidence and experience.

But people who live in Massachusetts who don’t read the Globe online won’t see it.

Please forward to friends, elected officials, and policymakers.

Open the article to see the links to sources.

Here are some excerpts:

Evaluating teachers by test scores has not raised scores significantly anywhere. Good teachers have been fired by this flawed method. A New York judge ruled this method “arbitrary and capricious” after one of the state’s best teachers was judged ineffective.

Test-based evaluation has demoralized teachers because they know it is unfair to judge them by student scores. Many believe it has contributed to a growing national teacher shortage and declining enrollments in teacher education programs.

A major problem with test-based evaluation is that students are not randomly assigned. Teachers in affluent suburbs may get higher scores year after year, while teachers in urban districts enrolling many high-need students will not see big test score gains. Teachers of English-language learners, teachers of students with cognitive disabilities, and teachers of children who live in poverty are unlikely to see big test score gains, even though they are as good or even better than their peers in the suburbs. Even teachers of the gifted are unlikely to see big test score gains, because their students already have such high scores. Test scores are a measure of class composition, not teacher quality.

Seventy percent of teachers do not teach subjects that have annual tests. Schools could develop standardized tests for every subject, including the arts and physical education. But most have chosen to rate these teachers by the scores of students they don’t know and subjects they never taught.

Scholarly groups like the American Educational Research Association and the American Statistical Association have warned against using test scores to rate individual teachers. There are too many uncontrolled variables, as well as individual differences among students to make these ratings valid. The biggest source of variation in test scores is not the teacher, but students’ family income and home environment.

The American Statistical Association said that teachers affect 1 percent to 14 percent of test score variation. The ASA is an impeccable nonpartisan, authoritative source, not influenced by the teachers’ unions.

The Gates Foundation gave a grant of $100 million to the schools of Hillsborough County, Florida (Tampa), to evaluate their teachers by gains and losses in student test scores. It was an abject failure. The district drained its reserve funds, spending nearly $200 million to implement the foundation’s ideas. Gates refused to pay the last $20 million on its $100 million pledge. The superintendent who led the effort was fired and replaced by one who promised a different direction.

Should Massachusetts cling to a costly, failed, and demoralizing way to evaluate teachers? Should it ignore evidence and experience?

Common sense and logic say no.

Should teachers be judged “subjectively”? Of course. That is called human judgment. Is it perfect? No. Can it be corrected? Yes. Most professionals are judged subjectively by their supervisors and bosses. Standardized tests are flawed instruments. They are normed on a bell curve, guaranteeing winners and losers. They often contain errors — statistical errors, human errors, random errors, scoring errors, poorly worded questions, two right answers, no right answers. No one’s professional career should hinge on the answers to standardized test questions.

Massachusetts is widely considered the best state school system in the nation. The hunt for bad teachers who were somehow undetected by their supervisors is fruitless. The Legislature is right to return the decision about which teachers are effective and which are not to the professionals who see their work every day.

Diane Ravitch is president of the Network for Public Education, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of public education. She is the author of “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Schools.”

As we learned in recent weeks, the state of Massachusetts placed Dever Elementary School in receivership, with no benefit to the children. The Boston Globe ran a major story about the state’s failure: the company that took charge of the school had never run a school; it went through five principals in two years; teacher turnover was high. The school was not turned around. The state failed the children of Dever Elementary School.

But that’s no reason not to do it to another school and more children!

Our reader Christine Langhoff in Massachusetts reports on the latest plan to turnaround a struggling school. Please let me know, dear reader, if You are aware of a successful state takeover anywhere. I can’t think of any.

Christine Langhoff writes:

Despite what is obviously an egregious failure, whose casualties are the children used as guinea pigs in this experiment, the state of Massachusetts with its appointed department of education goes merrily on its reformy way.

Holyoke, Springfield and Southbridge are three of our poorest communities, which have very high ratios of English language learners and SWD’s. So it’s no surprise that MA DESE has targeted them for takeover, just as they have in Lawrence and Boston.

MA DESE took over the Holyoke Public Schools last year, so now they’re hiring TFA’s to do the job of all those teachers they turned out, including Gus Morales, president of the Holyoke teachers union.

This “news” article:

includes “Five questions about Teach for America answered:”, helpfully answered by TFA.

And in Springfield, MA, DESE has turned over another school to UP Academy.

On Friday afternoon (well known as a great time for a news dump), DESE issued its turnaround plan for the latest school system targeted for takeover, Southbridge, MA. Here are some of the key recommendations and “solutions”. This comes after many teachers and paraprofessionals have been notified that they have been terminated.

Merit pay based on the local edition of VAM – Roland “Two-Tier” Fryer is a member of the board, so perhaps he is due credit for this:

5. Revamp compensation approach: The district will revamp its approach to compensation to ensure that individual effectiveness, professional growth, and student academic growth are key factors in a professional compensation system and that employees have opportunities for additional responsibility and leadership. (See also Appendix A, III.)

A major goal is to attract teachers because:

“The most significant school-based factor in students’ learning is the quality of the teaching they receive. Southbridge is committed to attracting and retaining a caring, qualified, and highly competent workforce of teachers and leaders.

Strategy D: Use the Receiver’s authorities to lay the foundation for successful turnaround

1. Limit, Suspend, or Change Provisions in Collective Bargaining Agreements to Support Plan Priorities: The district will limit, suspend, or change provisions in collective bargaining agreements and employment contracts in order to achieve the goals of the Turnaround Plan. Further, the Receiver must have the ability to address issues as they arise, including making additional changes to collective bargaining agreements to maximize the rapid improvement of the academic performance of Southbridge students. Appendix A contains changes will take effect as of July 1, 2016, and must be incorporated into future collective bargaining agreements. The Receiver and/or the Commissioner, at their discretion, will initiate discussions and processes as appropriate pursuant to G.L. c. 69, § 1K. (See also Appendix A.)

2. Change employment contracts: Certain changes to employment contracts between the district and individual employees are necessary to achieve the goals of the Turnaround Plan. The Receiver must have the flexibility to choose and retain principals and other administrative staff who are effective leaders, have the appropriate skills, and bring focus and urgency in implementing the terms of the Turnaround Plan. Consequently, the end date for all employment contracts or agreements entered into with administrative staff members before the declaration of receivership on January 26, 2016, is changed to June 30, 2017. The Receiver may, at her discretion, extend any such employment contract or exercise the termination provisions of any contract. The changed end date supersedes any contrary provisions in any individual employment contract between the district and an individual employee. (See also Appendix A.)”
and because non-turnaround schools are required to provide 990 hours of instruction:

“As of the 2017-2018 school year, there will be a minimum of 1,330 hours of instruction for students K-8. (See also Appendix A, IV.)

The Receiver will establish the school calendar each year. (See also Appendix A, IV.)

All newly-hired teachers may be required to participate in a week-long teacher
orientation/induction program as part of their professional obligation without additional
compensation. (See also Appendix A, IV.)

Explore additional school calendar options to provide additional time for instruction and
enrichment, to reach the required minimum of 1,330 hours of instruction annually for students K-8. This may involve programming options during vacations, extended day, year-long opportunities, and summer school.”

So the plan is to attract the best teachers by taking away any contractual protections, changing the school calendar at will and having them work an extra 340 hours without compensation. I’m sure that’s a great plan.

I’m old enough to remember when educational decisions at the state level were made by educators and informed by research. This triumph of ideology is devastating to our poor communities and the children who live in them.

In a hotly contested lawsuit about whether to lift the cap on charter schools, the New England NAACP and the Lawyers’ Committee of Massachusetts intervened to oppose lifting of the cap.

The groups are getting involved because they say charter schools divert millions of dollars from traditional public schools each year, but serve far fewer students with disabilities and who are English language learners, as well as impose harsher discipline on students of color….

Juan Cofield, president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP, said the organization wants to see students provided with the greatest education that our resources will allow.

“We firmly believe that setting up a separate system is destructive to the notion of providing the best education for all students,’’ he said.

We had two separate systems of education in this country until the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. It took years of struggle to uproot that dual school system, but it is being revived under a new name today: public schools and charter schools.

The Boston Globe seems to be the Rip van Winkle of the mainstream media. It recently published an editorial that insists that teachers should be evaluated by the test scores of their students. Really. Apparently it is still 2010 in the offices of the Globe, when Arne Duncan claimed that this was the very best way to determine which teachers were effective or ineffective.


But it is no longer 2010. The U.S. Departnent of Education handed out $5 billion to states to promote test-based evaluation. The Gates Foundation gave away hundreds of millions of dollars to states to use test scores to evaluate teachers. This method has had negative results everywhere. It has demoralized teachers everywhere. It has contributed to a growing national teacher shortage and declining enrollments in education programs.


Scholarly groups like the American Educational Research Association and the American Statistical Association have warned against using test scores to rate individual teachers. There are too many uncontrolled variables, as well as individual differences among students. The American Statistical Association said that teachers affect 1-14% of test score variation. Surely the Boston Globe editorial board must be aware of that report by an impeccable nonpartisan authoritative source. Surely the Boston Globe editorial board must know that teachers in affluent districts are likely to produce high test scores, while teachers of children with disabilities, English language learners, impoverished children, and homeless children are likely to get low test scores. Even teachers of the gifted will receive low ratings because their students get small test score gains since they are already at the top of the scale.


The Boston Globe editorial board should learn about the disastrous experience with Gates-style test-based evaluation in Hillsborough County, Florida. The district accepted a $100 million award from the Gates Foundation to rate its teachers by test score gains and losses. It was an abject failure. The district drained its reserve funds. It concluded that it would cost the district $52 million a year to sustain the Gates program. The superintendent who led the effort, MaryEllen Elia, was fired. Gates cut its ties to the county and stopped the payout after wasting $80 million.


Should Massachusetts cling to a costly, expensive, failed way to evaluate teachers? Should it ignore evidence and experience?


Common sense and logic say no. Will someone send this post to the editorial board of the Boston Globe?










In this post, EduShyster gives a lesson to corporate reformers who want to reorganize the education system that has made Massachusetts first in the nation on every national and international test.

Their view of the Bay State’s schools is warped by their ignorance. They see Massachusetts as a model of “the first way” (i.e., public schools). Then, “reform” was jump-started by the charter schools added in 1993 (all 25 of them for the whole state). And now, they believe, Massachusetts needs to go “the third way.” Apparently the third way is to make Massachusetts look a lot like Denver (which readers of this blog know is no model).

What they don’t know is that the 1993 legislation increased school spending dramatically, by one-third. In its wake came tests for new teachers, uniform standards and assessments for the state, and early childhood education. The goal was to equalize funding among the best and worst funded districts.

But what is this Third Way. Read the article to find out, but expect to see a blurring of the lines between public and private, plus many opportunities for inexperienced teachers and for entrepreneurs.

Massachusetts is the latest battlefield over the question of how to evaluate teachers. At the center of the conflict is the favorite idea of Arne Duncan and Bill Gates: evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students (or if not their students, someone else’s students). The new Every Student Succeeds Act relieved states of the obligation to tie teacher evaluations to students scores. Oklahoma and Hawaii recently dropped the measure, which many researchers consider invalid and unreliable.

The state plans to impose its evaluation system on all teachers, including teachers of the arts and physical education. How the state will measure the students’ growth in music or art or sports is not clear.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst studied the plan and criticized it:

A 2014 report by the Center for Educational Assessment at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which examined student growth percentiles, found the “amount of random error was substantial.”

“You might as well flip a coin,” Stephen Sireci, one of the report’s authors and a UMass professor at the Center for Educational Assessment, said in an interview. “Our research indicates that student growth percentiles are unreliable and should not be used in teacher evaluations. We see a lot of students being misclassified at the classroom level.”

The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the largest teachers’ union in the state, has come out in opposition to the plan, as has the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, representing the state’s elected school board.

But state officials, led by state Commissioner Mitchell Chester, insist that they won’t back down. Boston’s superintendent, Tommy Chang, a graduate of the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy, is acting to implement the evaluations.

A centerpiece of Massachusetts’ effort to evaluate the performance of educators is facing mounting opposition from the state’s teacher unions as well as a growing number of school committees and superintendents.

At issue is the state’s edict to measure — based largely on test scores — how much students have learned in a given year.

The opposition is flaring as districts have fallen behind a state deadline to create a “student impact rating,” which would assign a numeric value to test score growth by classroom and school. The rating is intended to determine whether teachers or administrators are effectively boosting student achievement. The requirement — still being implemented — would apply to all educators, including music, art, and gym teachers.

“In theory it sounded like a good idea, but in practice it turned out to be insurmountable task,” said Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. “How do you measure a music teacher’s impact on a student’s proficiency in music? How do you measure a guidance counselor’s impact on student achievement?”

Critics question whether the data can be affected by other factors, including highly engaged parents or classrooms with disproportionate numbers of students with disabilities or other learning barriers. The requirement has also created problems in developing assessments for subjects where standardized tests are not given, such as in art and gym.

Resistance has escalated in recent weeks. On Thursday, the state’s largest teachers union, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, as well as others successfully lobbied the Senate to approve an amendment to the state budget that would no longer require student impact ratings in job evaluations. A week earlier, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees passed a policy statement urging the state to scrap the student impact ratings.

But some educators see value in the student impact ratings. Mitchell Chester, state commissioner for elementary and secondary education, defended the requirement, which has been more than five years in the making.

Commissioner Chester is deeply involved with the Common Core and the tests for Common Core. Until recently, he was chair of the PARCC Governing Board.

The educational turmoil in Massachusetts is baffling. It is the nation’s highest-scoring state on standardized tests, yet school leaders like Mitchell Chester can’t stop messing with success. Although they like to say they are “trying to close the achievement gap” or they are imposing tougher measures “to help minority students,” these are the children who fall even farther behind because of the new tests, which are harder than past tests, and are developmentally inappropriate, according to teachers who have seen them.

What is happening in Massachusetts is the epitome of “reform” arrogance. Why doesn’t Commissioner Chester support the fine teachers he has and fight for better funding and smaller classes in hard-pressed urban districts like Boston?

Katherine Stewart and Matthew Stewart, parents in the renowned Brookline school district in Massachusetts, are concerned about their school board’s ties to Bill Gates and  other corporate reformers. Katherine Stewart is the author of “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.”

They write:

“In the ongoing standoff between the Brookline Educators Union and the Brookline School Committee, the School Committee has framed the dispute as one of making do with limited resources and ensuring equity for all students. But in fact, fundamental choices about how we educate our children are also at stake. The teachers are asking for more time to spend with students and more control over their own teaching. The School Committee, on the other hand, appears intent on investing teacher time and town funds in a management system aimed at top-down control of educators through data collection and high-stakes, standardized testing. The differences are not about the value of equity but how best to achieve it….”

The Stewarts go on to detail the connections between at least three members of the board and corporate reform. They implicitly raise the question: Is the board working for the children of Brookline or for Bill Gates and other corporate reformers?



“The Chairman of the School Committee, Susan Wolf Ditkoff, is a partner at The Bridgespan Group, a management consulting firm specializing in the philanthropy sector. Another member, Beth Jackson Stram, is also an associate at the same firm. A third member, Lisa Jackson, operates a consulting company that lists Bridgespan as one of its founders. In 2010, Bridgespan played an instrumental role in bringing Common Core to Massachusetts. The firm was hired to assist the state in its application for Race-to-the-Top funds from the federal government. Bridgespan reportedly received a $500,000 fee for that project, half of which was paid by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation….


“According to its tax filings, the Gates Foundation disbursed more than $5.5 million to The Bridgespan Group between 2010 and 2014. To judge from flattering material posted on its website, Bridgespan is also closely involved with The Broad Foundation and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, both of which promote similar education reform agendas. Tax filings from Bridgespan show that Susan Ditkoff’s total compensation in 2014 was just short of $300,000.”


Transparency would be a good start.

Barbara Madeloni, the firebrand insurgent who won the presidency of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, was re-elected last week on a platform of fighting high-stakes testing and charters.


Madeloni first rose to prominence in 2012 when she fought the EdTPA, the Pearson test required for certification. She refused to administer it to her students and lost her job (she later regained it, then took an unpaid leave, then lost it again, but may be rehire again, or maybe not.)


At that time, she said about teacher certification:


““This is something complex and we don’t like seeing it taken out of human hands,” said Barbara Madeloni, who runs the university’s high school teacher training program. “We are putting a stick in the gears.”


Last week, the MTA filed an amicus brief as part of a lawsuit to stop the legislature from lifting the cap on charter expansion.


Charter advocates filed a lawsuit last year claiming that the state’s cap on charter schools violates the civil rights of students who could then not have an opportunity to attend a charter. The state attorney general, Maura Healey, filed a motion to dismiss and the Massachusetts Teachers Association just filed an amicus brief in support of the AG’s motion to dismiss. The MTA brief confronts the lie behind the charter advocates’ ‘civil rights’ argument.


For her fight for public schools, students, teachers, education, and democracy, I am glad to place Barbara Madeloni on the honor roll.

This is ironic. Michigan wants to drop the Common Core standards and substitute the Massachusetts standards that were dropped by Massachusetts to make way for the Common Core standards!


A bill is moving through the Michigan legislature to do exactly that. Michigan has had a groundswell of opposition to the Common Core standards, like most other states. Their solution is to take the standards of the nation’s highest performing state, Massachusetts, and make them specific to Michigan.


Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, those standards were jettisoned because the state won a Race to the Top Grant and agreed to adopt the Commin Core.  As it happens, the Massachusetts state Commissioner of Education is Mitchell Chester, who was until recently, the chair of the PARCC testing consortium. So naturally he wanted his state to drop the MCAS and use PARCC.


When PARCC started, underwritten by the US Department of Education, 24 states and DC joined its consortium. Now it is down to 6 states and DC. Massachusetts is using a hybrid: part PARCC and part MCAS.


What a fine mess!


When will states figure out that an effective reform strategy is far more complicated than standards, testing, and accountability. When Massachusetts adopted its standards, it invested new resources and  increased equitable spending. It expanded pre-k and raised standards for new teachers.


There is still much to be done in Massachusetts. But it is important to remember that it achieved good results by sensible improvements in schools, not by closing schools, firing teachers and principals or mass privatization (until recently, Massachusetts had only 25 charter schools in the state).




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