Archives for category: Obama

Ken Silverstein slices and dices the “liberal” think tank called the Center for American Progress, in The Baffler.

Silverstein documents the ties between corporations and CAP. He also shows that its policies reflect those of the Obama administration.


To understand just how Thomas Friedman, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Gail Collins have been repurposed as purveyors of bold new ideas, it helps to see how the world of liberal think tanks has been upended, ever so gently, by a steady onrush of corporate funding—and corporate-friendly policy agendas. Think tanks have always reflected relatively narrow elite opinion and were never entirely impartial, but the earliest were modeled on academic institutions. Brookings, the first, began in 1916 (as the Institute for Government Research) and subsequently billed its mission as “the fact-based study of national public policy issues.” During the Great Depression, its scholars took sides both for and against the New Deal. The Council on Foreign Relations began in New York five years after Brookings and, as author Peter Grose later wrote, sought to “guide the statecraft of policymakers” with in-depth reports prepared by “groups of knowledgeable specialists of differing ideological inclinations.”

An emerging, more aggressive perspective was prompted by the specter of economic stagflation and the twin political crises of the early 1970s, Vietnam and Watergate. In 1974 and 1975, top corporate officials convened annually under the auspices of still another ideas consortium called the Conference Board—but this time out, they didn’t feel quite so dispassionate about the policy-debate scene. Feeling pressured by then-powerful labor unions and the demands of what they saw as an ungrateful citizenry, the assembled CEOs feared a popular revolt might be imminent. “We have been hoist with our own petard,” one executive said at one conclave. “We have raised expectations that we can’t deliver on.” Another executive complained, “One man, one vote has undermined the power of business in all capitalist countries since World War II.”

In order to recapture politicians, intellectuals, and the media, corporations increased their Washington lobbying efforts and jacked up campaign contributions as well. Just as important, corporations shoveled cash into existing think tanks and established dozens of new ones. The Heritage Foundation began in 1973, and within a decade its annual budget topped $12 million. The American Enterprise Institute, which began life as a fairly nondescript business advocacy group, became more politically emboldened and saw its budget triple between 1975 and 1985. New conservative think tanks founded in the post-Watergate period included the Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute, and the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Over time, corporations also provided major support for think tanks aligned with Democrats, especially moderate ones. The Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) began in 1989 and received millions of dollars from sources such as the Tobacco Institute, Occidental Petroleum, and various Wall Street firms.

The article doesn’t say much about CAP’s education initiatives. Too bad, because it has been a reliable mouthpiece for corporate reform. Peter Greene roasted CAP in “The Progressive” for supporting charter schools, high-stakes testing, and every other right wing idea.

Before readers point it out, please note that the founder of CAP was John Podesta, now managing Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

I think there is only one genuine liberal think tank in D.C., at least where education is concerned, and that is the Economic Policy Institute.

In an interview published in The Hechinger Report, Randi Weingarten expresses her belief that Hillary Clinton will change course from the Obama education policies. She expects that a President Clinton would select a new Secretary of Education, one who shares her expressed belief in strengthening public schools and supporting teachers.

Emmanuel Felton, who conducted the interview, writes:

While teachers unions have long been a key pillar in Democratic Party, they’ve been on the outs with President Barack Obama’s education department. The administration doubled down on Republican President George W. Bush’s educational agenda of holding schools accountable for students’ test scores. Under the administration’s $3 billion School Improvement Grant program, for example, struggling schools had options to implement new accountability systems for teachers, remove staff, be closed or converted into charter schools, the vast majority of which employ non-unionized staff.

These policies devastated some local teachers unions, including Philadelphia’s, which lost 10,000 members during the Obama and Bush administrations. Weingarten expects Clinton to totally upend this agenda, and hopes she won’t reappoint Education Secretary John King, who was just confirmed by the senate in March.

From the day he was elected, President Obama decided to maintain the punitive policies of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and made standardized testing even more consequential. He and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan pressed for higher standards, tougher accountability, and more choices, especially charter schools. They used Race to the Top to promote the evaluation of teachers by their students’ test scores, a policy that cost hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars, with nothing to show for it.

Let’s all hope that Hillary Clinton, if elected, will recognize the damage done by the Bush-Obama education agenda and push the “reset” button for a federal policy that helps children, educators, and public schools.

Anthony Cody, co-founder of the Network for Public Education, strongly supported Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination. Like Bernie’s many millions of followers, Anthony was deeply disappointed when Bernie lost the nomination and thoroughly disgusted when he learned that the Democratic National Committee had undermined Bernie’s campaign.

What to do now? Anthony will vote for Clinton, but not with enthusiasm.

He writes:

How will education reform be handled by a Clinton administration? We know that big money held sway over education policy under President Obama. Candidate Clinton has been vague and inconsistent, offering both criticism and praise for charter schools and high stakes tests. Tim Kaine has shown a better understanding of education issues. But in 2008, many of us thought that Obama would be better than George W. Bush on education, especially with Linda Darling-Hammond advising him. But then the hedge fund money talked, Darling-Hammond walked, and we got seven years of Arne Duncan. So the only thing that will keep Clinton from going the way Obama went is intense grassroots pressure.

All of this brings us to the great challenge this election presents to us. We have a balancing act to perform. While I plan to vote for Clinton, we cannot simply “get on board” the DNC campaign train. We cannot unsee the corruption, the deep flaws in Clinton and her corporate allies. There IS something wrong with taking big money for speeches from Wall Street financiers, especially when they invite you back time after time – and you refuse to share what you told them.

We must continue to uncover the corruption of both corporate Democrats and corporate Republicans. If grassroots organizing can reclaim the Democratic Party so it fights for working people, then that would be excellent. Such a reclamation is under way over in Britain right now and is worth watching. If corporate Democratic Party leadership clings to power and will not allow this to happen, then a third party alternative should be strengthened. I respect those who have already made this leap, but I cannot do so while Trump looms. I have joined Bernie Sanders effort to continue his political revolution and defeat Donald Trump, and look forward to the continued growth of this movement.

Dana Goldstein, veteran education journalist, reports that Hillary Clinton is striking a very different note with teachers and their unions than Obama did.

Obama’s education policies were shaped to cut the power of unions and to reduce teachers’ job protections. His administration was openly hostile to public schools and teachers. In response to the hedge fund managers at Democrats for Education Reform, whose favorite he was, and to the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation, the Obama administration invested heavily in privately managed charter schools and forced thousands of public schools to close, based on their test scores. The burden of school closings fell mainly on poor communities of color, which were destabilized by his punitive policies.

Goldstein says that Hillary is taking a very different tack:


Clinton’s speech to the NEA was notable both for what she said and, perhaps even more so, for what she didn’t say. She promised to expand access to child care and pre-K, pay teachers more, forgive their college debt, construct new school buildings, and bring computer science courses into K-12 education. While a brief mention of successful charter schools (most of which are not unionized) was met with scattered boos, for the most part the audience of activist teachers greeted Clinton ecstatically, chanting “Hillary, Hillary!”

Following eight years of federally driven closures and turnarounds of schools with low test scores, which have put union jobs at risk, it was music to the NEA’s ears when the presumptive Democratic nominee promised to end “the education wars” and “stop focusing only on quote, ‘failing schools.’ Let’s focus on all our great schools, too.” And in a big departure from the school-reform rhetoric of President Barack Obama, the only time Clinton referenced “accountability” was to refer not to getting rid of bad teachers, but to giving unions a bigger voice in education policy. “Advise me and hold me accountable,” she said. “Keep advocating for your students and your profession.”

This speech, the first big moment for K-12 education in this general election, signals a potentially meaningful shift in Democratic Party education politics. The Obama era has been, often, a painful one for teachers-union activists. Obama launched his presidential campaign in 2007 as an ally of Democrats for Education Reform, a group of philanthropists (most with ties to the financial sector) who support weakening teachers’ tenure protections, evaluating teachers according to their students’ test scores, and increasing the number of public charter schools.

Obama held many positions with which teachers’ unions agreed, like helping teachers improve through peer mentorship programs and pushing states to embrace the Common Core national curriculum standards. Still, he represented a wing of the Democratic Party that thought unions held too much sway over education policy, and in 2008, the NEA chose not to endorse in the Democratic primary, while the other national teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers, endorsed Obama’s primary challenger, Hillary Clinton.*
As president, Obama followed through on his promises to union critics. He created a $4 billion program, Race to the Top, that tied federal education dollars to policies like evaluating teachers according to student test scores and weakening tenure protections, so underperforming teachers could more easily be fired.

Goldstein’s conclusion is premature:

It’s safe to say it is a new day for the Democratic Party on education policy. But here’s hoping that Clinton’s turn toward the unions doesn’t mean she lets go of some of the Obama administration’s more promising recent ideas.

It is too soon to say whether it is a new day for the Democratic policy on education policy. DFER has not gone away, nor have the billionaires who want to crush teachers, unions, and public schools.

And I wonder what the Obama administration’s “more promising recent ideas” are. I haven’t heard them. John King was known in New York for his zealous embrace of Common Core, high-stakes testing, opposition to opt out, and commitment to evaluating teachers by test scores. His brief tenure as Education Secretary does not show any disposition on his part to abandon those policies.

So, as the saying goes, time will tell. We should all give Hillary Clinton a chance to change direction. Heaven knows we can’t continue with the federal government making war on public schools and their teachers. If that’s what she means by ending the education wars, I am all for it.

This story is shocking. Former officials in the Obama administration, once in charge of regulating predatory the for-profit higher education industry, now want in on the action themselves. Their financier is Obama’s best friend. The story was written by Michael Stratford and Kimberly Hefling. Please read this report as background for what follows.

Mercedes Schneider wrote about it here.

She writes:


Obama’s close friend, Marty Nesbitt, and others are seeking US Department of Education (USDOE) approval to purchase the fiscally-troubled for-profit, University of Phoenix. Nesbitt and former Deputy Secretary of Education, Tony Miller, run a Chicago-based private equity firm, Vistria Group.

Vistria Group is part of a small collective that wants to purchase University of Phoenix, and the for-profit school’s parent organization, Apollo Education, is apparently all in.

USDOE approval would keep the student loan and Pell grant bucks coming to University of Phoenix– which happens to be the subject of three state attorneys general as well as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The price tag for Vistria et al. appears to be $1.1 billion. As it stands, University of Phoenix receives $2 billion annually in public money.

If University of Phoenix goes under, then all of those student loans are forgiven– which means taxpayers foot the bill. If Vistria et al. acquire University of Phoenix, then the goings-on at the school become private. No more requiring that that public be made aware of the salaries of the school’s executives, or that the public be made aware of litigation against the school, or that the public know about pending investigations.

The story was originally posted at PoliticoPro, which is an expensive subscription; fortunately, it is now available for free at politico.com. Here is an excerpt from the original story:

As the Obama administration cracks down on for-profit colleges, three former officials working on behalf of an investment firm run by President Barack Obama’s best friend have staged a behind-the-scenes campaign to get the Education Department to green-light a purchase of the biggest for-profit of them all — the University of Phoenix.

The investors include a private equity firm founded and run by longtime Obama friend Marty Nesbitt and former Deputy Education Secretary Tony Miller. The firm, Chicago-based Vistria Group, has mounted a charm offensive on Capitol Hill to talk up the proposed sale of the troubled for-profit education giant, which receives more than $2 billion a year in taxpayer money but is under investigation by three state attorneys general and the FTC.

What stands out about the proposed deal is that several key players are either close to top administration officials, including the president himself, or are former administration insiders — especially Miller, who was part of the effort to more tightly regulate for-profit colleges at the very agency now charged with approving the ownership change. For-profit college officials have likened those rules to a war on the industry, and blame the administration for contributing to their declining enrollments and share prices.

The proposed sale carries high stakes for taxpayers, students and investors: The University of Phoenix’s financial stability may depend on the $1.1 billion acquisition. If the company were to fail, more than 160,000 students could be displaced and the government would be on the hook for hundreds of millions in student loans.

But the investors’ effort to seek Education Department approval of the school’s ownership change also raises questions about potential conflicts of interest.

“There is at least a taste of unseemliness involved in this,” said Mark Schneider, a former top education official under President George W. Bush. “They regulate it. They drive the price down. …They are buying it for pennies on the dollar.”

Vistria Group said it isn’t seeking special treatment. “We expect the Department to evaluate this proposed transaction on the merits,” the company said in a statement.

Vistria is part of a consortium of investors involved in the proposed acquisition, which has already won over shareholders of the school’s parent company, Apollo Education Group. But now the investors need the Education Department and the school’s accreditors to sign off on the ownership change to keep the federal money flowing — most of it in the form of student loans and Pell Grants.

With those decisions looming, Miller and at least one other former Obama insider have met with staff to Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), looking to reassure some of the loudest critics of for-profit colleges in the president’s own party, several Senate aides confirmed to POLITICO. Those lawmakers have pushed Obama’s Education Department to be even tougher on for-profit colleges.

Miller has also met with staff members working for other committee members, including Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), as well as with Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate education committee. Nesbitt was not part of those Capitol Hill meetings, according to the aides….

But the specter of former insiders pushing the sale of a company in an industry that has long been in the administration’s crosshairs is not lost on critics. For seven years, the Obama administration has waged a crackdown on poor quality and predatory practices at many for-profit colleges, with the president himself excoriating some schools for “making out like a bandit” with federal money, but saddling students with big debts and leaving them unprepared for good jobs. He did not name the schools.

“It’s ironic that a former senior official at the Department of Education — an agency that has intentionally targeted and sought to dismantle the for-profit college industry — would now take the reins at the country’s largest for-profit college,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican who leads the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s higher education subcommittee….

The sale price, which shareholders approved last month after initially balking at a lower price, is considered a bargain by some industry observers. The day Obama was sworn into office on Jan. 20, 2009, the company’s stock closed at $86.54 per share. Today, it’s trading at around $9, although a recovering economy, unfavorable media coverage and the for-profit industry’s general slump have also contributed to that drop.

Some Senate Democrats said they are also uneasy with the investors’ plan to take the university private, which means it would no longer have to publicly disclose information such as executive compensation, lawsuits or when it’s a target of investigations. Those details are useful to prospective students, they say, at a time when the school faces inquiries from both state and federal authorities.

“Essentially, a company that receives more than $2 billion annually from federal taxpayers — nearly 80 percent of its revenue — is going dark, and it’s happening at a time when the University of Phoenix has come under increased scrutiny from state and federal regulators,” Durbin wrote in a March letter to the Education Department.

Republicans think that the Obama officials drove the price down by their regulatory actions, then moved in to buy it at a bargain price.

This transaction is unsavory. It should be stopped. The conflicts of interests and self-dealing are abhorrent.

Valerie Strauss conducted a written Q&A exchange with me over the weekend.

She asked good questions. She wanted to know what I had changed in the revision of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

She asked me what I would say to President Obama if I had the chance to sit down with him.

She asked what I thought Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would do.

I thought it was a good opportunity to sum up what is happening right now.

As an aside, readers of this blog might be interested to note that our old friend Virginia SGP comments and claims that he was “censored” on my blog. Happily, a reader of this blog pointed out that he was limited to only four comments a day, which is not censorship. If I posted everything he sent in, he would have had 10-12 comments a day. And then there was the problem that he often used his space to slam and slander people he disagreed with. Not me, but others. He has left us, sadly. I no longer have to read a dozen comments of his daily and decide which to post.

John Thompson, historian and teacher, lives and writes in Oklahoma, where he has a first-hand view of the assault on the public sector.

 

Most of my professional friends are focused on What’s the Matter with Oklahoma? Our state followed the rightwing playbook described by Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas?, and we face a series of worse case scenarios as the legislature and the governor avoid dealing with the $1.3 billion budget hole that was created by the Kansas playbook.

 

 
Being an educator, I worry just as much about the neo-liberal and liberal school reforms that have been imposed from above; these corporate school reformers are taking advantage of the potential catastrophe produced by the rightwing, and are kicking teachers, unions, and public schools while we are down. So, I was commiserating with a veteran progressive about a seemingly arcane quandary about how to communicate with professionals and philanthropists who should be on our side. My friend turned me on to Frank’s new Listen, Liberal or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?.
http://www.listenliberal.com/

 
I can say enthusiastically that my friend was right about Listen, Liberal. But, I have to say reluctantly that Frank has nailed the reasons why so many neo-liberal Democrats have become some of public education’s worst enemies. I wish it weren’t true, but Frank pulls together the various strands of the story of how so many liberals have abandoned poor students of color, leaving them to the mercies of those who would shrink government to a size where it could be “strangled in the bathtub.”

 

Tragically, technocrats in the Obama administration, the Gates Foundation, and other “venture philanthropists,” doubled down on the teacher-bashing and union-bashing while coercing states into adopting most or all of the corporate reform agenda.

 
Franks doesn’t deny that the Republicans, who represent the “One Percent,” are worse. Democrats, however, have abandoned “the People,” as we became the party of the “Ten Percent.” Frank explains how the Democrats have become devoted to elite professionals, and how they have created a “second hierarchy” based on “credentialed expertise.” He borrows the words of David Brooks, the conservative whose initial support of President Obama was described as a “bromance.” Brooks praised Obama for the way he staffed his administration with like-minded professionals and creating a “valedictocracy.” In doing so, Franks explained why it is so hard for educators to get the Ten Percent to listen to why they should stop supporting corporate reformers and edu-philanthropists who are treat our students like lab rats in ill-conceived and risky top-down experiments.

 
The specific problem which baffled me was the question of why can’t we persuade more philanthropists who support early education and other humane, science-based pedagogies to distance themselves from “brass-knuckled” philanthropists who fund its opposite – the test, sort, reward, and punish school of reform. Perhaps today’s advocates for pre-kindergarten and wraparound services don’t know that neo-liberal, output-driven reformers used to ridicule those policies as “Excuses!” and “Low Expectations.” The idea that poverty, not “bad” teachers, is the enemy has long been derided by those test-driven, competition-driven reformers. Why is it that supporters of early education and/or full-service community schools, which are based on the idea that teaching in the inner city must become a team effort, will often go along with mandates for soul-killing, bubble-in accountability and attacks on unions?

 
The Obama administration, as well as so many other Democrats seeking a “Third Way,” have convinced themselves that “college can conquer unemployment as well as racism, … urban decay as well as inequality.” Had these professional elites shared on-the-job experiences with working people, or even listened to fellow professionals who study economic history, perhaps they would have subjected their assumptions to an evidence-based cross examination. But, without a basis in fact, they bought the reform spin and the claim, “If we just launch more charter schools, give everyone a fair shot at the SAT, and crank out the student loans” that education “will dissolve our doubts about globalization.” The person who may have drank the biggest dose of their Kool Aid, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, said it worst, “What I believe – and what the president believes, is that the only way to end poverty is through education.”

 
Perhaps because I have been such an Obama loyalist, I’ve ducked the hard realities which Frank lays out. “To the liberal class,” he observes, “every big economic problem is really an education problem.” Obama’s education policy may have increased segregation, undermined the teaching profession, broken the morale of many educators, and benefitted rightwing union-haters, as it drove down student performance, but it can’t face up to these facts because, “To the liberal class this is a fixed idea, as open to evidence-based refutation as creationism is to fundamentalists.”

 
Frank explains why my efforts to reach out to our erstwhile allies (who may still ally themselves with unions and educators on progressive social issues while attacking the teaching profession) haven’t gained traction. The seemingly weird idea that education reform can defeat poverty is “a moral judgment handed down by the successful from the vantage of their own success.” Frank then concludes with a bluntness that I wouldn’t dare express on my own. The Ten Percent’s prescription for better teaching as the cure for poverty is “less a strategy for mitigating inequality than it is a way of rationalizing it.”

 
Arne Duncan’s and the Obama administration’s reign of education policy error is the culmination of more than a generation of Democratic fidelity to the “learning class.” Under the names of neo-liberalism, futurism, the Democratic Leadership Council, and New Democrats, they have assumed that “wired workers” were destined to dominate the 21st century and both parties had to “compete single-mindedly for their votes.” President Clinton propelled the party down a path which ignores working people and less-respected professionals by assembling an administration with a “tight little group of credentialed professionals who dominated his administration.” It was a political monoculture where “almost everyone agreed” with their technocratic, meritocratic mentality.

 
Then, the Obama administration put this “professional correctness” on steroids. It forgot that “the vast majority of Americans are unprofessional: they are managed, not managers.” So, “Team Obama joined the fight against teachers unions from day one.” This became nearly inevitable as his administration was staffed by people “whose faith lies in ‘cream rising to the top’ (to repeat [Jonathan] Alter’s take on Obama’s credo)” and “tend to disdain those at the bottom.”

 
Sadly, Frank doesn’t have concise solutions. He provides little hope that accountability-driven school reformers will hold themselves accountable for either the education debacle they choreographed or for abandoning the overall fight against economic inequality. Frank mostly urges us to speak truth to our party’s power. He also makes a great case that the Democrats rejection of populism is “a failure for both the nation and for their own partisan health.”

 
Perhaps I’m being naïve, but I also find hope in listening to President Obama who re-found his voice after the 2014 election. And, in the short term, we must support Hillary Clinton, and hope she takes heed of the message delivered by Bernie Sanders and Listen, Liberal.

This week was for some years Teacher Appreciation Week. Now, thanks to President Obama, it is also Charter Appreciation Week. I earlier reported that the latter replaced the former. I was wrong.

 

Peter Greene analyzes the two proclamations and notices a different tone in each.

 
“There’s something to be learned about this administration’s feelings about both charters and teachers from looking at these two proclamations, so let’s do that. Spoiler alert: there will be no pleasant surprises forthcoming.
“Here’s the first line from one of the proclamations. See if you can guess which one:

 

“Our Nation has always been guided by the belief that all young people should be free to dream as big and boldly as they want, and that with hard work and determination, they can turn their dreams into realities.

 

“That would be the opening sentence from the proclamation in praise of charter schools.

 

“The proclamation is laudatory, leaving one with the impression that charter schools are the whole education show. Schools are awesome, and “we celebrate the role of high-quality charter schools” in achieving this awesomeness. Also, “we honor the dedicated professionals across America who make this calling their life’s work by serving in charter schools.”

 

“Charter schools “play an important role in our country’s education system” and work in our underserved communities where they can “ignite imagination and nourish the minds of America’s young people” while finding new ways to do the education thing. Obama reinforces the notion that charters experiment and find new ways to help underperforming schools (though we must close them when they don’t do well). This language continues. “Forefront of innovation.”

 

“Also, “different ways of engaging students” including personalized instruction, technology and rigorous/college-level coursework. This administration has supported charters big-time because Obama has remained committed to “ensuring all of our Nation’s students have the tools and skills they need to get ahead.” All of which leads me to wonder A) what he thinks public schools are doing and B) if he knows that charters don’t serve all students and actually sap the resources for many other students still in public schools.”

 

Where did he get the idea that charter teachers dedicate their lives to this work? TFA?

 

What do you think he said about public school teachers?

 

Emma Brown, writing in the Washington Post, reports the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress: High school seniors showed a slippage in their test scores in math and no improvement in reading.

 

Throughout the entire period of “reform” that started with No Child Left Behind, scores of high school students have been stagnant. Brown writes:

 

The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, also show a longer-term stagnation in 12th-grade performance in U.S. public and private schools: Scores on the 2015 reading test have dropped five points since 1992, the earliest year with comparable scores, and are unchanged in math during the past decade.

 

 

The NAEP report says:

 

In comparison to the first year of the current trendline, 2005, the average mathematics score in 2015 did not significantly differ. In comparison to the initial reading assessment year, 1992, the 2015 average reading score was lower.

 

In short, NCLB (signed into law in 2002) and Race to the Top (launched in 2009) have been failures. They have been disastrous failures. How many billions of dollars were wasted no testing and test prep? How many teachers and principals were fired? How many schools were closed? How many public schools were turned over to entrepreneurs?

 

As a nation, we have endured fourteen years of failed federal policies. Will we ever learn that testing doesn’t produce higher achievement? Will we ever learn that intrinsic motivation is more powerful than threats and rewards?

 

Heckuva job, President Obama and former Secretary Arne Duncan!

 

 

Whitney Tilson is one of the founders of Democrats for Education Reform. He is a hedge fund manager. He is on the board of KIPP. He helped to launch Teach for America. He is not a likely ally for me. But he is a very intelligent and forthright person. When he lambasted the for-profit virtual charter chain for the inferior education it provides, he sent me his comments, and I applauded him. More recently, we have exchanged emails about the abominable bathroom bill in North Carolina, which he opposes as I do. I have never met Whitney, but our emails have been very cordial, so I consider him a gentleman (no matter what he has written about me on his blog). He was gentleman enough to suggest that we exchange views, and he initiated the dialogue by sending me a list of statements that represent what he believes. I responded, closing out the conversation after midnight last night. It seems that Whitney never sleeps, as he posted the exchange immediately this morning. He has promised to write a response to my comments. When he does, I will post them too. I must say that I was very impressed by his willingness to state that charter schools should be expected to accept the full range of children, not just those who are likely to get high scores. That is a big step forward, and I hope that his views resonate. I also hope that this exchange is widely read. My only regret is that I neglected to thank him for initiating it. It was a bold step and I welcome the opportunity to identify the areas where are in agreement and the areas where he disagree.

 

 

 

This is the post that Whitney Tilson sent out this morning (his words are in italics, mine are in caps):

 

 

 

If someone forwarded you this email and you would like to be added to my email list to receive emails like this one roughly once a week, please email Leila at leilajt2+edreform@gmail.com. You can also email her if you’d like to unsubscribe. Lastly, in between emails I send out links to articles of interest via Twitter (I’m #arightdenied) so, to get them, you must sign up to follow me at: https://twitter.com/arightdenied.

 
———————
STOP THE PRESSES!!!

 

 

I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations in my life – and this ongoing one with Diane Ravitch certainly ranks up there.

 

 

If I recall correctly, we first exchanged emails a few years ago when I send her my presentation about K12, the awful for-profit online charter school operator. I knew we’d have common ground there, as she’d also exposed K12’s misdeeds in her book, Reign of Error.

 

 

I reached out to her again recently because I knew we’d have common views on North Carolina’s hateful HB2 law (in fact, we’ve both now published articles in the Huffington Post on this; here’s mine: An Open Letter to a North Carolina State Legislator; and here’s hers: That Dumb Bathroom Bill in North Carolina).

 

 

Our common views got me thinking: how is it that two well-informed people can agree on so much in almost all areas, yet apparently disagree on so much in one area (ed reform)? Is it possible that we agree on more than we think?

 

 

So I sent her the email below, in which I wrote 24 statements about which I thought we might agree, and asked if she’d reply, in the hopes that we might both learn something, find more areas of agreement where we could work together, and, in general, try to tone things down.

 

 

She was kind enough to reply, so I have included her comments (in ALL CAPS), interspersed and at the end of my original email (shared with her permission of course).

 

 

Overall, I was heartened to see how many things we agree on.

 

 

That said, we still disagree on many things, about which I will respond in due time. But in the interests of keeping this email to a manageable length, I’ll let her have the last word here – but not the final word, as we’ve both committed to continuing (and sharing) our ongoing discussion.

 

 

In the meantime, I hope you’ll find our initial exchange as interesting and illuminating as I did.

 
——————————

 
Hi Diane,

 

 

You know, despite our disagreements on ed reform, I’d bet we agree on 95% of everything else. I’m certain that we agree that the Republican party has been hijacked by extremists, Trump is a madman, Cruz is terrifying, and there’s nothing more important than getting a Democrat elected president in November (and, ideally, retaking the Senate and maybe even the House as well).

 

WE AGREE.

 

I’ll admit that this creates quite a dilemma for me: I want the teachers unions, which remain the single most powerful interest group supporting the Democratic party, to be strong to help as many Democratic candidates as possible win. But when it comes to my desire to implement the reforms I think our educational system needs, I usually want them to be weak.

 

I DISAGREE.

 

I WANT THE TEACHERS’ UNIONS TO BE STRONG SO THEY CAN DEFEND THEIR MEMBERS AGAINST UNFAIR PRACTICES AND PROTECT THEIR ACADEMIC FREEDOM. TEACHERS HAVE BEEN BLAMED FOR THE ILLS OF SOCIETY, MOST ESPECIALLY, POVERTY. TODAY’S REFORMERS HAVE CREATED THE MYTH THAT GREAT TEACHERS–AS DEFINED BY THEIR STUDENTS’ TEST SCORES– CAN OVERCOME POVERTY AND CLOSE THE ACHIEVEMENT GAPS AMONG DIFFERENT GROUPS OF STUDENTS. I WISH IT WERE TRUE, BUT IT IS NOT. THE MYTH ENCOURAGES LAWMAKERS TO BELIEVE THAT WHEREVER POVERTY PERSISTS OR TEST SCORES ARE LOW OR ACHIEVEMENT GAPS REMAIN, IT MUST BE THE TEACHERS’ FAULT.

 

RACE TO THE TOP REQUIRED STATES TO EVALUATE TEACHERS TO A SIGNIFICANT DEGREE BY THEIR STUDENTS’ TEST SCORES, WHICH WAS A HUGE MISTAKE THAT HAS COST STATES AND DISTRICTS HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS BUT HASN’T WORKED ANYWHERE. THIS METHOD HAS PROVED UNSTABLE AND INACCURATE; IT REFLECTS WHO IS IN THE CLASS, NOT TEACHER QUALITY.

 

SCORES ON STANDARDIZED TESTS ARE HIGHLY CORRELATED WITH FAMILY INCOME, OVER WHICH TEACHERS HAVE NO CONTROL. IN THE PAST FEW YEARS, SOME STATES HAVE ELIMINATED COLLECTIVE BARGAINING, AND THERE IS NO CORRELATION BETWEEN THE EXISTENCE OF A UNION AND STUDENTS’ ACADEMIC SUCCESS. IN FACT, THE HIGHEST-PERFORMING STATES ON THE NATIONAL ASSESSMENT OF EDUCATION PROGRESS–MASSACHUSETTS, CONNECTICUT, AND NEW JERSEY–ARE MORE LIKELY TO HAVE UNIONS THAN THE LOWEST PERFORMING STATES, WHERE UNIONS ARE WEAK OR BANNED.

 

SOME STATES HAVE ENACTED MERIT PAY PROGRAMS, WHICH HAVE NEVER IMPROVED EDUCATION OR EVEN TEST SCORES DESPITE NUMEROUS EXPERIMENTS. THERE HAVE BEEN NUMEROUS ASSAULTS IN LEGISLATURES AND IN THE COURTS ON DUE PROCESS (CALLED “TENURE”) AND ON PAY INCREASES FOR ADDITIONAL EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE. I HAVE OFTEN HEARD TEACHERS SAY THAT THEY BECAME TEACHERS KNOWING THEY WOULD NEVER BECOME RICH, BUT AT LEAST THEY WOULD HAVE A SECURE JOB. TAKE THAT AWAY AND TEACHERS SERVE AT THE WHIM OF ADMINISTRATORS WHO MAY OR MAY NOT BE SKILLED EDUCATORS. HOW WILL IT IMPROVE EDUCATION IF TEACHERS HAVE NO JOB SECURITY, LESS EDUCATION AND LESS EXPERIENCE?

 

SOMETIMES IT SEEMS LIKE THE BOYS IN THE BACKROOM ARE SPENDING THEIR TIME TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO CRUSH TEACHERS’ MORALE AND FREEZE THEIR PAY. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THESE ANTI-TEACHER PUBLIC POLICIES HAVE BEEN UGLY. TEACHERS ACROSS THE NATION FEEL THEMSELVES TO BE THE TARGETS OF A WITCH-HUNT. MANY TEACHERS HAVE TAKEN EARLY RETIREMENT, AND THE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE ENTERING TEACHING HAS PLUMMETED. EVEN TEACH FOR AMERICA HAS SEEN A 35% DECLINE IN THE NUMBER OF APPLICANTS IN JUST THE PAST THREE YEARS. THE ATTACKS ON TEACHERS HAVE TAKEN THEIR TOLL, AND THERE ARE NOW SHORTAGES ACROSS THE NATION.

 

I BELIEVE UNIONS ARE NECESSARY, NOT ONLY IN TEACHING, BUT IN OTHER LINES OF WORK AS WELL, TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF WORKING PEOPLE, TO MAKE SURE THEY ARE NOT EXPLOITED AND TO ASSURE THEY ARE TREATED FAIRLY. UNIONS ARE BY NO MEANS PERFECT AS THEY ARE; SOME ARE TOO BUREAUCRATIC AND SELF-SATISFIED, SOME ARE TOO COMPLACENT TO FIGHT FOR THEIR MEMBERS, SOME STIFLE ANY CHANGES. BUT, IN MY VIEW, UNIONS BUILT THE MIDDLE CLASS IN THIS COUNTRY. WE ARE LOSING OUR STRONG, STABLE MIDDLE CLASS AS THE PRIVATE AND PUBLIC SECTORS ELIMINATE UNIONS. INCOME INEQUALITY IS WIDENING AS UNIONS SHRIVEL. IN EDUCATION, UNIONS ARE ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT TO MAKE SURE THAT TEACHERS ARE FREE TO TEACH CONTROVERSIAL SUBJECTS, LIKE EVOLUTION, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CONTESTED BOOKS (YOU WOULD BE SURPRISED HOW MANY CLASSIC BOOKS, LIKE “HUCKLEBERRY FINN,” “INVISIBLE MAN,” AND “OF MICE AND MEN” ARE ON THE AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION’S LIST OF THE 100 MOST FREQUENTLY BANNED BOOKS).

 

DO UNIONS PROTECT “BAD” TEACHERS? YES, THEY DO. ONE CAN’T KNOW WHO IS “BAD” IN THE ABSENCE OF DUE PROCESS. A TEACHER MAY BE FALSELY ACCUSED OR THE ADMINISTRATOR MAY HARBOR A DISLIKE FOR HER RACE, HER RELIGION, HER SEXUAL ORIENTATION, OR HER PEDAGOGICAL BELIEFS. THOSE WHO WISH TO FIRE THEM AFTER THEIR PROBATIONARY PERIOD (WHICH MAY BE AS LITTLE AS TWO YEARS OR AS MANY AS FIVE YEARS–AND IN MANY STATES, TEACHERS DO NOT HAVE DUE PROCESS OR TENURE) MUST PRESENT EVIDENCE THAT THEY ARE BAD TEACHERS OR THAT THEY DID SOMETHING THAT MERITS THEIR REMOVAL. PROBATIONARY TEACHERS HAVE NO RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS. TEACHERS HAVE SOMETIMES BEEN FALSELY ACCUSED. TEACHERS SHOULD BE ABLE TO CONFRONT THEIR ACCUSERS, TO SEE THE EVIDENCE, AND TO BE JUDGED BY AN INDEPENDENT ARBITRATOR. IF BAD TEACHERS GET TENURE, THEN BLAME BAD OR LAZY ADMINISTRATORS. THE RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS MUST BE EARNED BY PERFORMANCE IN THE CLASSROOM AND SHOULD NOT BE AWARDED WITHOUT CAREFUL DELIBERATION BY THE ADMINISTRATOR.

 

GIVEN THE FACT THAT A LARGE PERCENTAGE–AS MUCH AS 40%, EVEN MORE IN URBAN DISTRICTS–LEAVE TEACHING WITHIN THEIR FIRST FIVE YEARS, OUR BIGGEST PROBLEM IS RETAINING GOOD TEACHERS, NOT GETTING RID OF BAD ONES. BAD ONES SHOULD BE PROMPTLY REMOVED IN THEIR FIRST OR SECOND YEAR OF TEACHING. W. EDWARDS DEMING, WRITING ABOUT THE MODERN CORPORATION, SAID THAT A GOOD COMPANY HIRES CAREFULLY AND THEN HELPS ITS EMPLOYEES SUCCEED ON THE JOB. IT INVESTS IN SUPPORT AND TRAINING. IT MAKES A CONSCIENTIOUS EFFORT TO RETAIN THE PEOPLE IT HIRED. WHY DON’T WE DO THE SAME WITH TEACHERS AND STOP BLAMING THEM FOR CONDITIONS BEYOND THEIR CONTROL?

 

This dilemma isn’t new – in fact, it’s one of the reasons I helped start Democrats for Education Reform: because I wasn’t comfortable joining forces with other reform-oriented organizations that existed at the time (roughly a decade ago), which were mostly funded, supported and run by Republicans with whom I shared almost no views in common other than in the area of ed reform (and even in that area, I disagreed with their union busting and overemphasis on vouchers).

 

I SERVED AS ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF EDUCATION FOR RESEARCH IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF GEORGE H.W. BUSH, BUT REALIZED OVER TIME THAT I DID NOT AGREE WITH THE REPUBLICAN APPROACH TO EDUCATION, NAMELY, COMPETITION, SCHOOL CHOICE, TESTING, AND ACCOUNTABILITY. IT IS IRONIC THAT THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION ADOPTED THE SAME POLICIES AS THE REPUBLICANS, WITH THE SOLE EXCEPTION OF VOUCHERS. THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY USED TO HAVE A CORE SET OF EDUCATIONAL PRINCIPLES AT THE FEDERAL AND STATE LEVELS: EQUITY OF RESOURCES, EXTRA SUPPORT FOR THE NEEDIEST STUDENTS, LOW COLLEGE TUITION TO INCREASE ACCESS, VIGOROUS ENFORCEMENT OF CIVIL RIGHTS LAWS, AND SUPPORT FOR TEACHER PREPARATION. THAT APPROACH COMES CLOSEST TO PROVIDING EQUALITY OF EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY.

 

I OPPOSE THE REPUBLICAN APPROACH TO EDUCATION POLICY FOR THE FOLLOWING REASONS:

 

A) THEY DON’T SUPPORT PUBLIC EDUCATION AT ALL; EVERY ONE OF THEIR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES HAS ENDORSED SOME FORM OF PRIVATIZATION AND SAID NOTHING AT ALL ABOUT THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS THAT ENROLL 90% OF OUR STUDENTS.

 

B) THEY WOULD BE THRILLED TO ELIMINATE ALL UNIONS; THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT PEOPLE WHO ARE POOR OR STRUGGLING TO GET INTO THE MIDDLE CLASS OR TO STAY IN THE MIDDLE CLASS.

 

C) THE REPUBLICANS HAVE SWALLOWED THE FREE MARKET APPROACH TO SCHOOLING HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER, AS A MATTER OF IDEOLOGY, NOT EVIDENCE. I DON’T BELIEVE IN VOUCHERS, BECAUSE I KNOW THAT VOUCHERS HAVE NOT WORKED IN CHILE AND SWEDEN, AND THEY HAVE NOT WORKED IN THIS COUNTRY EITHER. MANY STATES HAVE ADOPTED VOUCHERS, THOUGH USUALLY CALLING THEM SOMETHING ELSE (EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNT, EDUCATION TAX CREDITS, OPPORTUNITY SCHOLARSHIPS, ETC.). MOST ARE USED TO SEND CHILDREN TO RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS, MANY OF WHICH HAVE UNCERTIFIED TEACHERS, INADEQUATE CURRICULA, AND NO ACCOUNTABILITY AT ALL. FURTHERMORE, THE RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS RECEIVING VOUCHERS USUALLY TEACH CREATIONISM AND OTHER RELIGIOUS BELIEFS. I DON’T THINK PUBLIC MONEY SHOULD SUBSIDIZE RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS. VOUCHERS HAVE NEVER WON A PUBLIC REFERENDUM, BUT REPUBLICAN LEGISLATURES KEEP DEVISING WAYS TO GET AROUND THEIR OWN STATE CONSTITUTIONS.

 

The creation of DFER helped resolve this dilemma because I could fight against union policies when I felt they weren’t in the best interests of kids, without fighting against the principle of collective bargaining, which I believe in. And I could happily limit my political donations to supporting only Democrats (reform-oriented ones, of course, like Obama, Cory Booker and Michael Bennet).

 

WHAT OBAMA, CORY BOOKER, MICHAEL BENNETT AND OTHER CORPORATE-STYLE REFORMERS HAVE IN COMMON IS THAT THEY BELIEVE IN BREAKING UP PUBLIC EDUCATION AND REPLACING IT WITH PRIVATE MANAGEMENT. THEY BELIEVE IN CLOSING SCHOOLS WHERE TESTS SCORES ARE LOW. I DON’T. THE HIGHEST PERFORMING NATIONS IN THE WORLD HAVE STRONG, EQUITABLE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEMS WITH RESPECTED, WELL PREPARED, AND EXPERIENCED TEACHERS. THEY HAVE WRAP-AROUND SERVICES TO MAKE SURE THAT ALL CHILDREN COME TO SCHOOL HEALTHY AND READY TO LEARN. THEY DON’T TEST EVERY CHILD EVERY YEAR FROM GRADES 3-8 AS WE DO. THEY DON’T HAVE VOUCHERS OR PRIVATELY MANAGED CHARTERS.

 

So why am I feeling this dilemma again right now? Because the stakes are so high: our country is politically polarized, the Republican party is spiraling out of control, mostly likely nominating either a madman or extremist, and there’s an opportunity for we Democrats to not only win the presidency, but also take back Congress. The election in November will have an enormous impact on so many critical issues that hang in the balance: a majority in the Supreme Court, income inequality, healthcare, immigration, foreign policy/our relationships with the rest of the world, environmental issues/global warming, LGBT and women’s rights…the list goes on and on.

 

I CERTAINLY AGREE. THE REPUBLICAN PARTY HAS LOST ITS BEARINGS, AND ITS CANDIDATE IS LIKELY TO BE SOMEONE ABHORRED BY ITS LEADERSHIP.

 

As such, I’m going to be extra careful in my writings, when I’m critical of the unions, to make clear that these are policy differences and that I don’t support attempts to demolish unions altogether, whether in the education sector or elsewhere.

 

Writing about things I think we agree on outside of ed reform has gotten me thinking: what might we agree on within the area of ed reform?

As one of my mentors, Charlie Munger, always says: “Invert, always invert.”

So I have tried to compile a list of statements that I believe that I think you might agree with as well. I’m not trying to change your mind about anything or put words in your mouth – I’m genuinely trying to find areas of agreement, at least on general principles (the devil’s usually in the details of course, but a good starting point is agreeing at a high level):

 

• Every child in this country has the right to attend a safe school that provides a quality education.
WE AGREE.

 

• The color of a child’s skin and his/her zip code shouldn’t determine the quality of school he/she attends.
WE AGREE.

 

• Poor parents care deeply about ensuring that their children get a good education.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• Sometimes the closest neighborhood school isn’t right for a child, so parents should have at least some options in choosing what public school is best for their children.

 
I PAUSE HERE, BECAUSE THIS IS MOVING INTO SCHOOL CHOICE TERRITORY, WHERE REPUBLICANS HAVE SOLD THE IDEA THAT PARENTS SHOULD CHOOSE THE SCHOOL AS A MATTER OF CONSUMER CHOICE (JEB BUSH COMPARED CHOOSING A SCHOOL TO CHOOSING WHAT KIND OF MILK YOU WANT TO DRINK–FAT-FREE, 1%, 2%, WHOLE MILK, CHOCOLATE MILK, OR BUTTERMILK). UNFORTUNATELY, MANY CHOICE IDEOLOGUES TAKE THIS ARGUMENT TO ITS LOGICAL CONCLUSION AND PURSUE AN ALL-CHOICE POLICY, IN WHICH THE ONE CHOICE THAT IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE IS THE NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL. THAT IS THE CASE IN NEW ORLEANS. IT OFTEN SEEMS THAT REFORMERS–LIKE REPUBLICANS–CONSIDER PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO BE OBSOLETE AND WANT TO REPLACE THEM WITH AN ALL-PRIVATIZED DISTRICT.

 

• It is not the case that too many children are failing too many of our schools; rather, the reverse is true.

 
I DON’T AGREE. I WOULD SAY OUR SOCIETY IS FAILING OUR CHILDREN AND THEIR FAMILIES BY ALLOWING SO MANY OF THEM TO LIVE IN POVERTY. WE HAVE THE HIGHEST PROPORTION OF CHILDREN LIVING IN POVERTY OF THE WORLD’S ADVANCED NATIONS–ABOUT 22%. THAT IS SHAMEFUL, THE SCHOOLS DIDN’T CAUSE IT. AS I SAID BEFORE, FAMILY INCOME IS THE BEST PREDICTOR OF STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES; THAT IS TRUE OF EVERY STANDARDIZED TEST, WHETHER IT IS THE SAT, THE ACT, THE STATE TESTS, NATIONAL TESTS OR INTERNATIONAL TESTS. IF POVERTY IS DIRECTLY RELATED TO LOW ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE, THEN TARGET POVERTY AND PURSUE PUBLIC POLICIES THAT WILL IMPROVE THE LIVES OF CHILDREN, FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES. AT THE SAME TIME, WORK TO IMPROVE SCHOOLS, NOT TO CLOSE THEM. THERE IS NOW A CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT OF RESEARCH SHOWING THAT STATE TAKEOVERS SELDOM IMPROVE SCHOOLS; THAT CHARTERS PERFORM ON AVERAGE ABOUT THE SAME AS PUBLIC SCHOOLS; THAT VOUCHER SCHOOLS ON AVERAGE PERFORM WORSE THAN PUBLIC SCHOOLS; THAT THE CHARTERS THAT GET THE HIGHEST TEST SCORES EXCLUDE OR REMOVE STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES, STUDENTS WHO DON’T READ ENGLISH, AND STUDENTS WHO GET LOW TEST SCORES.

 

• Poverty and its effects have an enormous impact, in countless ways, on a child’s ability to learn.

 
WE AGREE. THE CHILD WHO IS HOMELESS, WHO LACKS MEDICAL CARE, WHO IS HUNGRY IS LIKELY NOT TO FOCUS ON HIS OR HER STUDIES AND IS LIKELY TO BE FREQUENTLY ABSENT BECAUSE OF ILLNESS OR CARING FOR A SIBLING. IT REALLY HURTS CHILDREN WHEN THE BASIC NECESSITIES OF LIFE ARE MISSING.

 

• If one had to choose between fixing all schools or fixing everything else outside of schools that affects the ability of children to learn (poverty, homelessness, violence, broken families, lack of healthcare, whether parents regularly speak and read to children, etc.), one would choose the latter in a heartbeat.

 
I CERTAINLY AGREE BECAUSE REDUCING POVERTY AND ITS ILL EFFECTS WOULD IMPROVE SCHOOLS AT THE SAME TIME.

 

• Schools should be rigorous, with high expectations, but also filled with joy and educators who instill a love of learning.

 
I MIGHT HAVE AGREED WITH YOU IN YEARS PAST, BUT I HAVE COME TO SEE “RIGOR” AS A LOADED WORD. IT REMINDS ME OF “RIGOR MORTIS.” I PREFER TO SAY THAT TEACHERS SHOULD TEACH ACADEMIC STUDIES WITH JOY AND ENTHUSIASM, AWAKENING STUDENTS TO THE LOVE OF LEARNING AND INSPIRING INTRINSIC MOTIVATION.

 

• Some testing is necessary but too much testing is harmful.

 
I AGREE THAT SOME TESTING IS NECESSARY. I BELIEVE BASED ON MANY YEARS OF STUDY OF STANDARDIZED TESTING THAT MOST TESTING SHOULD BE DESIGNED BY THE CLASSROOM TEACHERS, NOT BY OUTSIDE TESTING CORPORATIONS. I WOULD PREFER TO SEE MORE TIME DEVOTED TO ESSAYS, PROJECTS, AND ANY OTHER KIND OF DEMONSTRATION OF WHAT CHILDREN HAVE LEARNED OR WHAT THEY DREAM AND IMAGINE AND CREATE. STANDARDIZED TESTING SHOULD BE USED ONLY DIAGNOSTICALLY, NOT MORE THAN ONCE A YEAR, AND IT SHOULD NOT FIGURE INTO THE STUDENTS’ GRADE OR THE TEACHERS’ EVALUATION. I SAY THIS BECAUSE STANDARDIZED TESTS ARE NORMED ON A BELL CURVE; THE AFFLUENT STUDENTS CLUSTER AT THE TOP, AND THE LOW-INCOME STUDENTS CLUSTER AT THE BOTTOM. IN SHORT, THE DECK IS STACKED AGAINST THE KIDS IN THE BOTTOM HALF, BECAUSE THE TESTS BY THEIR NATURE WILL ALWAYS HAVE A BOTTOM HALF. WHY NOT HAVE TASKS THAT ALMOST EVERYONE CAN DO WELL IF THEY TRY? GIVE CHILDREN A CHANCE TO SHOW WHAT THEY CAN DO AND LET THEIR IMAGINATIONS SOAR, RATHER THAN RELYING ON THEIR CHOICE OF ONE OF FOUR PRE-DETERMINED ANSWERS.

 

I AGREE THAT TOO MUCH TESTING IS HARMFUL, AND IT IS ALSO HARMFUL TO ATTACH HIGH STAKES (LIKE PROMOTION, GRADUATION, OR TEACHER EVALUATION) TO A STANDARDIZED TEST BECAUSE IT MAKES THE TEST TOO IMPORTANT. STANDARDIZED TESTS ARE NOT SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS; THEY ARE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONS. THEY FAVOR THOSE WHO COME TO SCHOOL WITH ADVANTAGES (EDUCATED PARENTS, SECURE HOMES, BOOKS IN THE HOME, ETC.) WHEN THE TESTS ARE HIGH STAKES, THE RESULTS ARE PREDICTABLE: TEACHING TO THE TEST, NARROWING THE CURRICULUM, CHEATING. WHEN SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS WILL BE PUNISHED OR REWARDED FOR TEST SCORES, THE MEASURE ITSELF IS CORRUPTED (CAMPBELL’S LAW). IT NO LONGER MEASURES WHAT STUDENTS KNOW AND CAN DO, BUT HOW MUCH EFFORT WAS SPENT PREPARING FOR THE TEST. TEACHERS ENGAGE FOR WEEKS OR MONTHS IN TEST PREPARATION, SCHOOLS CUT BACK OR ELIMINATE THE ARTS, PHYSICAL EDUCATION, HISTORY, SCIENCE, AND WHATEVER IS NOT TESTED. TEACHERS, ADMINISTRATORS, SCHOOLS, EVEN DISTRICTS WILL CHEAT TO ASSURE THAT THEIR SCORES GO UP, NOT DOWN, TO AVOID FIRINGS AND CLOSURES AND INSTEAD TO WIN BONUSES.

 

ALL OF THIS CORRUPTS EDUCATION, AND IN THE END, THE SCORES STILL ARE A REFLECTION OF FAMILY INCOME AND OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN. AND CHILDREN HAVE A WORSE EDUCATION EVEN IF THEIR SCORES RISE BECAUSE OF THE ABSENCE OF THE ARTS AND OTHER IMPORTANT PARTS OF A SOUND EDUCATION.

 

• Tests should be thoughtful and cover genuine knowledge, not easily game-able, which too often leads to excessing teaching-to-the-test.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• Expanding high-quality pre-K, especially for poor kids, is important.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• Teachers should be celebrated, not demonized.

 
YES, ABSOLUTELY. TEACHERS HAVE ONE OF THE HARDEST, MOST CHALLENGING JOBS IN OUR SOCIETY AND THEY ARE UNDERPAID AND UNDER-RESPECTED. WHEN I WAS IN NORTH CAROLINA LAST WEEK, I WAS TOLD BY AN EDITORIAL WRITER THAT THE ENTRY PAY IS “GOOD,” AT $35,000, BUT THE TOP SALARY IS ONLY $50,000. TEACHERS SHOULD BE TREATED AS PROFESSIONALS AND EARN A PROFESSIONAL SALARY THAT ENABLES THEM TO LIVE WELL AND SEND THEIR CHILDREN TO COLLEGE.

 

• They should be paid more, both on a relative and absolute basis.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• Some teachers are phenomenal, most are good, some are mediocre, and some are truly terrible.

 
THIS SPREAD IS PROBABLY THE SAME IN EVERY OTHER PROFESSION. THOSE WHO ARE “TRULY TERRIBLE” SHOULD BE REMOVED BEFORE THEY ACHIEVE TENURE; MOST, I SUSPECT, LEAVE EARLY IN THEIR CAREER BECAUSE THEY CAN’T CONTROL THEIR CLASSES. WE ACTUALLY HAVE MANY MORE SUCCESSFUL TEACHERS THAN MOST PEOPLE BELIEVE; AS STATES HAVE REPORTED ON THEIR NEW EVALUATION SYSTEMS, MORE THAN 95% OF TEACHERS HAVE BEEN RATED EITHER “HIGHLY EFFECTIVE” OR “EFFECTIVE.” VERY FEW FELL BELOW THOSE MARKERS. FRANKLY, TEACHING THESE DAYS IS SO DIFFICULT THAT IT TAKES A VERY STRONG PERSON TO HANDLE THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE CLASSROOM.

 

• All teachers should be evaluated regularly, comprehensively and fairly, with the primary goal of helping them improve their craft.

 
I AGREE, ALTHOUGH I THINK THAT TEACHERS WHO RECEIVE HIGH RATINGS FROM THEIR ADMINISTRATORS AND PEERS SHOULD NOT BE REGULARLY EVALUATED. THAT IS A WASTE OF TIME THAT SHOULD BE DEVOTED TO THOSE WHO NEED HELP IN IMPROVING. THE TOP TEACHERS SHOULD BE OFFERED EXTRA PAY TO MENTOR NEW TEACHERS.

 

• The best teachers should be rewarded while struggling ones should be given help so they can improve.

 
I DON’T BELIEVE IN PERFORMANCE BONUSES. THE RESEARCH SHOWS THEM TO BE INEFFECTIVE. I AGREE THAT THOSE WHO STRUGGLE SHOULD RECEIVE HELP SO THEY CAN IMPROVE.

 

• If a teacher doesn’t improve, there needs to be a timely and fair system to get them out of the profession.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• There should be a timely process to handle disciplinary charges against teachers so that there is no need for things like rubber rooms, which are a costly and dehumanizing embarrassment.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• In fighting for the interests of teachers, unions are doing exactly what they’re supposed to – and have done it well.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• The decline of unionization (which has occurred mostly in the private sector), has been a calamity for this country and is a major contributor to soaring income inequality, which is also a grave concern.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• What Gov. Scott Walker did in Wisconsin as well as the Friedrichs case were wrong-headed attempts to gut union power, and it was wonderful that the Supreme Court left existing laws in place via its 4-4 tie in the Friedrichs case last week.
AGREED. I WOULD SAY THE SAME ABOUT THE OVERTURNING OF THE VERGARA CASE IN CALIFORNIA, WHICH THREW OUT A LOWER COURT DECISION INTENDED TO ELIMINATE DUE PROCESS FOR TEACHERS.

 

• Charter schools, like regular public schools, should: a) take their fair share of the most challenging students; b) backfill at every grade level; and c) follow comparable suspension and expulsion policies.

 
I AGREE TO AN EXTENT. IN THE PRESENT SITUATION, WHERE CHARTERS COMPETE WITH PUBLIC SCHOOLS FOR STUDENTS AND RESOURCES, I THINK THESE ARE FAIR REQUIREMENTS THAT ENSURE A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD. HOWEVER, IF WE WERE TO TAKE YOUR GOOD SUGGESTIONS, WE WOULD HAVE TWO PUBLICLY-FUNDED SCHOOL SYSTEMS, ONE MANAGED BY PUBLIC OFFICIALS, THE OTHER BY PRIVATE ENTREPRENEURS. I SEE NO REASON TO HAVE A DUAL SCHOOL SYSTEM–ONE HIGHLY REGULATED, AND THE OTHER UNREGULATED, OR AS YOU PROPOSE HERE, REGULATED TO A GREATER EXTENT THAN AT PRESENT. IF CHARTERS DO CONTINUE AS THEY NOW ARE, YOUR PROPOSAL WOULD MAKE THEM FAIRER AND LESS PREDATORY. IN THEIR CURRENT STATE, THEY ARE BANKRUPTING SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND SKIMMING OFF THE EASIEST TO EDUCATE STUDENTS, AND THAT’S NOT FAIR.

 

I WOULD LIKE TO SEE CHARTER SCHOOLS RETURN TO THE ORIGINAL IDEA PROPOSED IN 1988 BY ALBERT SHANKER AND A PROFESSOR IN MASSACHUSETTS NAMED RAY BUDDE. CHARTER SCHOOLS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE COLLABORATORS WITH PUBLIC SCHOOLS, NOT COMPETITORS. THEIR TEACHERS WOULD BELONG TO THE SAME UNION AS PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS. THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO HAVE FREEDOM TO INNOVATE AND EXPECTED TO SHARE THEIR INNOVATIONS WITH THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. AT THE END OF THEIR CHARTER–SAY, FIVE YEARS OR TEN YEARS–THEY WOULD CEASE TO EXIST AND RETURN TO THE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT. SHANKER THOUGHT THAT CHARTER SCHOOLS SHOULD EXIST FIND INNOVATIVE WAYS TO HELP THE KIDS WHO WERE NOT MAKING IT IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS, THOSE WHO HAD DROPPED OUT, THOSE WHO WERE UNMOTIVATED, THOSE WHO WERE TURNED OFF BY TRADITIONAL SCHOOLS. I SUPPORT THAT IDEA. WE HAVE STRAYED VERY FAR FROM THE ORIGINAL IDEA AND ARE MOVING TOWARDS A DUAL SCHOOL SYSTEM, ONE FREE TO CHOOSE ITS STUDENTS, THE OTHER REQUIRED TO ACCEPT ALL WHO SHOW UP AT THEIR DOORS.

 

• For-profit online charters like K12 are providing an inferior education to far too many students and thus need to be much more carefully regulated and, in many cases, simply shut down.

 
FOR-PROFIT ONLINE CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE A SCAM AND A FRAUD. THEY SHOULD BE PROHIBITED. I APPLAUDED YOUR FRANK DISSECTION OF K12 INC, WHICH SURPRISED ME BECAUSE VIRTUAL SCHOOLS GRAB ON TO THE COAT-TAILS OF THE REFORM MOVEMENT. FOR ANOTHER GREAT EXPOSE OF THE K12 VIRTUAL CHARTER CHAIN, READ JESSICA CALIFATI’S OUTSTANDING SERIES IN THE SAN JOSE MERCURY-NEWS, WHICH WAS PUBLISHED JUST DAYS AGO:

 

http://www.mercurynews.com/education/ci_29780959/k12-inc-california-virtual-academies-operator-exploits-charter

 

STUDENTS WHO ENROLL IN THESE SCHOOLS HAVE LOWER SCORES, LOWER GRADUATION RATES, AND LEARN LITTLE. A STUDY BY STANFORD UNIVERSITY’S CREDO EARLIER THIS YEAR SAID THAT THEY LEARN ESSENTIALLY NOTHING. WHY SHOULD TAXPAYERS FOOT THE BILL?

 

IN ADDITION, I WOULD LIKE TO SEE FOR-PROFIT CHARTER SCHOOLS PROHIBITED. THE PUBLIC PAYS TAXES FOR SCHOOLING AND BELIEVES THAT THE MONEY WILL BE SPENT ON EDUCATION, NOT ON PAYING A PROFIT TO INVESTORS IN A CORPORATION. THE PURPOSE OF A FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION IS TO MAKE A PROFIT; THE PURPOSE OF A PUBLIC SCHOOL IS TO PREPARE YOUNG CHILDREN TO LIVE A FULL AND SATISFYING LIFE AS CITIZENS AND MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY. THERE SHOULD NEVER COME A TIME WHEN SCHOOL LEADERS CHOOSE THE NEED TO SHOW A PROFIT OVER THE NEEDS OF STUDENTS. I WOULD ALSO STOP SPENDING PUBLIC MONEY ON FOR-PROFIT “COLLEGES.” THEY HAVE BEEN CHASTISED IN CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS TIME AND AGAIN FOR THEIR PREDATORY PRACTICES, BUT THEY ALWAYS MANAGE TO SURVIVE, THANKS TO SKILLFUL, BIPARTISAN LOBBYING. I RECOMMEND A NEW BOOK BY A.J. ANGULO, TITLED “DIPLOMA MILL$: HOW FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES STIFFED STUDENTS, TAXPAYERS, AND THE AMERICAN DREAM” (JOHNS HOPKINS PRESS).

 

• Voter IDs laws are a despicable and thinly disguised attempt by Republicans to suppress the turnout of poor and minority voters, which in turn hurts schools serving their children.

 
WE AGREE.

 

So what do you think? Do you disagree with any of these statements? What have I missed? What do you believe that you think I would agree with? I think it would be productive and interesting to come up with a long of a list as possible.

 

Best regards,

 

 

Whitney
———————–

 

DEAR WHITNEY,

 
HERE ARE A FEW OF MY BELIEFS THAT YOU MAY OR MAY NOT SHARE.

 

*I BELIEVE IN SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. PUBLIC MONEY SHOULD NOT BE SPENT FOR RELIGIOUS SCHOOL TUITION. PEOPLE SHOULD NOT BE ASKED TO SUBSIDIZE THE RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OF OTHERS. ONCE WE START ON THAT SLIPPERY SLOPE, TAXPAYERS WILL BE UNDERWRITING SCHOOLS THAT TEACH CREATIONISM, WHITE SUPREMACY, FEMALE SUBJUGATION, AND OTHER IDEAS THAT VIOLATE BOTH SCIENCE AND OUR DEMOCRATIC IDEALS.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT EVERY CHILD, REGARDLESS OF ZIP CODE OR FAMILY INCOME, RACE, GENDER, DISABILITY STATUS, LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY, OR SEXUAL ORIENTATION, SHOULD BE ABLE TO ENROLL IN AN EXCELLENT SCHOOL.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT AN EXCELLENT SCHOOL HAS SMALL CLASSES, EXPERIENCED TEACHERS, A FULL CURRICULUM, A WELL-RESOURCED PROGRAM IN THE ARTS, SCIENCE LABORATORIES, AND A GYMNASIUM, SITUATED IN A WELL-MAINTAINED AND ATTRACTIVE BUILDING. STUDENTS SHOULD HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO STUDY HISTORY, LITERATURE, THE SCIENCES, MATHEMATICS, CIVICS, GEOGRAPHY, TECHNOLOGY, AND HAVE AMPLE TIME FOR PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES, SPORTS, AND EXERCISE. THE SCHOOL SHOULD HAVE A WELL-STOCKED LIBRARY WITH A FULL-TIME LIBRARIAN. IT SHOULD HAVE A SCHOOL NURSE, A SOCIAL WORKER, AND A PSYCHOLOGIST. THE PRINCIPAL SHOULD BE AN EXPERIENCED TEACHER, WITH THE AUTHORITY TO HIRE TEACHERS AND TO EVALUATE THEIR PERFORMANCE. TEACHER EVALUATION SHOULD BE BASED ON PEER REVIEW AND CLASSROOM PERFORMANCE, NOT ON TEST SCORES.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT THE PRIMARY PURPOSE OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS, BASED ON MY STUDIES AS A HISTORIAN OF EDUCATION, IS TO DEVELOP GOOD CITIZENS. THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB THAT CITIZENS HAVE IN OUR DEMOCRACY IS TO VOTE THOUGHTFULLY AND TO BE PREPARED TO SIT ON JURIES AND REACH WISE DECISIONS ABOUT THE FATE OF OTHERS. CITIZENS MUST BE WELL INFORMED AND KNOWLEDGEABLE. THEY SHOULD KNOW HOW TO COLLABORATE WITH OTHERS TO ACCOMPLISH GOALS. THEY SHOULD CARE ABOUT THE FAIRNESS AND FUTURE OF OUR DEMOCRACY. THEY SHOULD BE KNOWLEDGABLE ABOUT AMERICAN AND WORLD HISTORY. THEY SHOULD UNDERSTAND THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF GOVERNMENT, ECONOMICS, AND SCIENCE SO THEY CAN UNDERSTAND THE GREAT ISSUES OF THE DAY.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT PUBLIC EDUCATION IS ONE OF THE BASIC BUILDING BLOCKS OF OUR DEMOCRACY. AS CITIZENS, WE HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO SUPPORT A GOOD PUBLIC EDUCATION FOR ALL CHILDREN, EVEN IF WE HAVE NO CHILDREN OR IF OUR OWN CHILDREN ARE GROWN OR IF WE SEND OUR CHILDREN TO RELIGIOUS OR PRIVATE SCHOOLS.

 

*BECAUSE I BELIEVE IN THE IMPORTANCE OF PUBLIC EDUCATION, I OPPOSE ALL EFFORTS TO PRIVATIZE PUBLIC SCHOOLS OR TO MONETIZE THEM.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT THE PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITY FOR SHAPING EDUCATION POLICY SHOULD BE IN THE HANDS OF EDUCATORS, NOT POLITICIANS. EDUCATORS ARE THE EXPERTS, AND WE SHOULD LET THEM DO THEIR JOBS WITHOUT POLITICAL INTERFERENCE.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT TEACHERS SHOULD NOT ONLY BE RESPECTED, BUT SHOULD BE PAID MORE FOR THEIR EXPERIENCE AND EDUCATION. I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT EDUCATION WILL GET BETTER IF TEACHERS HAVE LESS EXPERIENCE AND LESS EDUCATION.

 

*I BELIEVE IN SCHOOL CHOICE, BUT I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT PRIVATE CHOICES SHOULD BE PUBLICLY SUBSIDIZED. ANYONE WHO WANTS THEIR CHILD TO HAVE A RELIGIOUS EDUCATION SHOULD PAY FOR IT. THE SAME FOR THOSE WHO WANT THEIR CHILDREN TO ATTEND A PRIVATE SCHOOL OR TO BE HOME-SCHOOLED. PARENTS HAVE A RIGHT TO MAKE CHOICES, BUT THEY SHOULD NOT EXPECT THE PUBLIC TO PAY FOR THEIR CHOICES.

 

*I WOULD LIKE TO SEE TODAY’S REFORMERS FIGHT AGAINST BUDGET CUTS TO PUBLIC SCHOOLS, AGAINST SEGREGATION, AND AGAINST THE OVERUSE AND MISUSE OF STANDARDIZED TESTS. I WISH WE MIGHT JOIN TOGETHER TO LEAD THE FIGHT TO IMPROVE THE LIVING STANDARDS FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES NOW LIVING IN POVERTY. I WISH WE MIGHT ADVOCATE TOGETHER FOR HIGHER SALARIES FOR TEACHERS, SMALLER CLASSES FOR STUDENTS, EFFECTIVE SOCIAL AND MEDICAL SERVICES FOR CHILDREN WHO NEED THEM, AND EXCELLENT PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN EVERY NEIGHBORHOOD.

 

*I WOULD LIKE TO SEE ALL OF US WHO CARE ABOUT CHILDREN, WHO RESPECT TEACHERS AND WANT A GREAT EDUCATION FOR EVERY CHILD, JOIN TOGETHER TO PERSUADE THE PUBLIC TO INVEST MORE IN EDUCATION AND TO CONSIDER EDUCATION THE MOST IMPORTANT ENDEAVOR OF OUR SOCIETY, THE ONE THAT WILL DETERMINE THE FUTURE OF OUR SOCIETY. LET US RECOGNIZE TOGETHER THAT POVERTY MATTERS, TEACHERS MATTER, SCHOOLS MATTER, AND THAT WE MUST STRIVE TOGETHER TO REACH THE GOALS UPON WHICH WE AGREE.

 

THANK YOU FOR INITIATING THIS DIALOGUE. I LOOK FORWARD TO CONTINUING IT.

 

DIANE RAVITCH

 

 

 

 

 

 

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