Archives for category: Poverty

Jonathan Lovell is a professor at San Jose State University in San Jose, California, where he supervises students who plan to teach high school English. In this post, he explains the evolution of educational thinking about the teaching of reading over the centuries and does it with wit and style. He also examines the likely impact of the Common Core standards. He notes that the same groups that helped write the standards are now writing the tests. Instead of making millions, they will make billions. Will standards, testing, and a standardized curriculum close gaps between different groups of students? Read on.

 

The post is brilliantly illustrated. I predict you will enjoy it.

 

The article appears in Engaging Cultures and Voices: The Journal of Learning Through Media, edited by Roy Fox and Lynn Chang, University of Missouri.

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Thomas, professor at Furman University in South Carolina, takes note of the recent story in the New York Times about the weight of poverty and race on academic outcomes and writes that policy must be based on evidence, not outliers.

 

The story showed the powerful impact of race and poverty. The subtitle was: “Sixth graders in the richest school districts are four grade levels ahead of children in the poorest districts.”

 

The story identified two districts that were outliers. Two small districts beat the odds. That set off a discussion about how they did it. What could we learn from Unuon City, New Jersey, and Bremen, Georgia? (I too am guilty of pointing to the outliers as models.)

 

Thomas writes:

 

“But then there is this:

 

[Quoting the story in the Times] The data was [sic] not uniformly grim. A few poor districts — like Bremen City, Ga. and Union City, N.J. — posted higher-than-average scores. They suggest the possibility that strong schools could help children from low-income families succeed.

 

“There are some outliers, and trying to figure out what’s making them more successful is worth looking at,” said Mr. Reardon, a professor of education and lead author of the analysis.
Well, no, if we find outliers—and virtually all data have outliers in research—we should not waste our time trying to figure out how we can make outliers the norm.”

 

Thomas vigorously dissents:

 

“The norm is where we should put our efforts in order to confront what is, in fact, not “puzzling” (used earlier in the article) at all; the data are very clear:”

 

[Quoting the story]: “What emerges clearly in the data is the extent to which race and class are inextricably linked, and how that connection is exacerbated in school settings.”

 

“Not only are black and Hispanic children more likely to grow up in poor families, but middle-class black and Hispanic children are also much more likely than poor white children to live in neighborhoods and attend schools with high concentrations of poor students.”

 

Thomas writes:
“Our great education reform failure is one of failing to rethink our questions and our goals.

 

“Let’s stop trying to find the “miracle” in a rare few schools where vulnerable students appear to succeed despite the odds against them. With time and careful consideration, we must admit, those appearances almost always are mirages.

 

“Let’s instead put our energy in eradicating the poverty, racism, and sexism that disadvantages some students, vulnerable populations easily identified by race and social class, so that we can educate all students well.”

 

 

 

 

The New York Times features a new study of the intersection of race, family income, and test scores by Sean Reardon, Demetra Kalogrides, and Kenneth Shores.

 

It shows beyond doubt that family income and test scores are tightly correlated. A chart of educational attainment in school districts, arrayed by family income, shows that: “Sixth graders in the richest school districts are four grade levels ahead of children in the poorest districts.”

 

That is a huge test score gap.

 

We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools.

 

We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.

 

Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.

 

Even more sobering, the analysis shows that the largest gaps between white children and their minority classmates emerge in some of the wealthiest communities, such as Berkeley, Calif.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Evanston, Ill. The study, by Sean F. Reardon, Demetra Kalogrides and Kenneth Shores of Stanford, also reveals large academic gaps in places like Atlanta and Menlo Park, Calif., which have high levels of segregation in the public schools….

 

 

Why racial achievement gaps were so pronounced in affluent school districts is a puzzling question raised by the data. Part of the answer might be that in such communities, students and parents from wealthier families are constantly competing for ever more academic success. As parents hire tutors, enroll their children in robotics classes and push them to solve obscure math theorems, those children keep pulling away from those who can’t afford the enrichment.

 

“Our high-end students who are coming in are scoring off the charts,” said Jeff Nash, executive director of community relations for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

 

The school system is near the flagship campus of the University of North Carolina, and 30 percent of students in the schools qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, below the national average.

 

The wealthier students tend to come from families where, “let’s face it, both the parents are Ph.D.s, and that kid, no matter what happens in the school, is pressured from kindergarten to succeed,” Mr. Nash said. “So even though our minority students are outscoring minority students in other districts near us, there is still a bigger gap here because of that.”

 

By contrast, the communities with narrow achievement gaps tend to be those in which there are very few black or Hispanic children, or places like Detroit or Buffalo, where all students are so poor that minorities and whites perform equally badly on standardized tests….

 

What emerges clearly in the data is the extent to which race and class are inextricably linked, and how that connection is exacerbated in school settings.

 

Not only are black and Hispanic children more likely to grow up in poor families, but middle-class black and Hispanic children are also much more likely than poor white children to live in neighborhoods and attend schools with high concentrations of poor students.

 

One school district stood out as a district that beat the odds: Union City, New Jersey.

 

David Kirp wrote a book about Union City, called Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools.  

 

What did they do in Union City? Time to read Kirp’s book and start implementing real education reform.

 

Or read an article by Kirp about what he discovered. No charter schools. No Teach for America. Steady work, careful planning, collaboration, no heroics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I received an invitation to attend a conference at Harvard Graduate School of Education. Since I can’t be there, I am hoping someone who reads this blog will attend and report back to us on what you learned.

 

The keynote speaker is Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee, whose state was one of the first to receive Race to the Top funding. Tennessee created the Achievement School District, which clustered low-performing schools into a virtual district and gave each of them to a charter operator. Vanderbilt researchers reviewed the data and found no significant gains in the ASD. Nada. Tennessee has been a hotbed of corporate reform over the past five years. On the 2015 NAEP, Tennessee had flat scores compared to 2013; no gains in reading or math (though if you google the results, you will see that the Tennessee government and StudentsFirst put out deceptive claims about Tennessee’s unimpressive performance in 2015). Tennessee scores at the national average in both reading and math. What secrets will Governor Haslam impart to the Harvard audience? Or will he pretend that the state made big gains in 2015, as it did in 2013? Academic expert Campbell Brown will moderate the two panels.

 

 

 

You were recently invited to the By All Means convening on Tuesday, May 17th. We would love to have you join us.

 

By All Means is a bold undertaking to address the iron-clad correlation between a child’s socio-economic status and his or her prospects for educational achievement and life success. BAM utilizes two key strategies: deep fieldwork in a select number of cities and a series of national convenings at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Through our partnerships with six cities (Oakland, CA, Louisville, KY, Providence, RI, Somerville, MA, Salem, MA and Newton, MA), we will implement improved, integrated systems of child development and education that focus on personalization, braiding health and human services with schools, and access to high-quality out-of-school learning opportunities.

 

The upcoming convening, titled Poverty Matters: Making the Case for a System Overhaul will take place on the campus of the Harvard Graduate School of Education on May 17. The day will include introductory remarks from Harvard President Drew Faust, a morning keynote address by former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a panel conversation with city mayors and a lunch keynote address by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. Additionally, other sessions will feature nationally recognized leaders in the field. Please see the agenda below for more details.

Additional logistical details can also be found below along with a link to the registration site.

Thanks for taking the time from your busy schedule to consider this event. We sincerely hope you can join us on May 17th!

 

RSVP Here. 

 

Best,
Paul

Poverty Matters: Making the Case for a System Overhaul
Tuesday, May 17th
9:15a.m.-5:00p.m.

 
Agenda

Registration and Coffee (8:30a.m.-9:15a.m.)

Welcome Remarks (Askwith Hall)
Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean James Ryan

Opening Address (Askwith Hall)
Introductory Remarks – Harvard University President Drew Faust
Opening Keynote Remarks – Hon. Deval Patrick, former Massachusetts Governor

Demography and Destiny (Askwith Hall)
Paul Reville, Professor – Harvard Graduate School of Education & Founder – Education Redesign Lab

Break

Panel of By All Means Consortium City Mayors (Askwith Hall)
Mayor Joseph Curtatone, Mayor Kimberly Driscoll, Mayor Jorge Elorza,
Mayor Greg Fischer, Mayor Libby Schaaf, & Mayor Setti Warren

Moderator: Campbell Brown, Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief, The 74

Break

Lunchtime Keynote Speaker (Radcliffe Institute)
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam

Break

Can schools alone overcome the challenges of poverty? (Askwith Hall)

 
Moderator: Campbell Brown, Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief, The 74
Panelists: Roland Fryer, Henry Lee Professor of Economics – Harvard University,
Richard Barth, CEO – KIPP Foundation, Dr. Pam Cantor, CEO – Turnaround for Children

Break
Best Investments to Ensure Student Success (Askwith Hall)
Panelists: Nicholas Donohue, President and CEO – Nellie Mae Foundation,
Mary Anne Schmitt-Carey, President – Say Yes to Education, along with other invited panelists

Closing (Askwith Hall)
Paul Reville, Professor – Harvard Graduate School of Education & Founder – Education Redesign Lab

Paul Reville
Francis Keppel Professor of Practice of
Educational Policy and Administration
Director, Education Redesign Lab
Harvard Graduate School of Education

 

 


I am reposting this exchange because one of Whitney Tilson’s readers found it annoying to read ALL CAPS and said it reads like shouting. So he changed the typeface and put my answers in blue, which made sense. So here it is again, in a more readable format. And I just learned how to change colors on the print.

 

 

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 in the Bronx. 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 we disagree.

 

 
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 sent 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 blue), 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 gone 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 Mills: 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 knowledgeable 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.

 

I look forward to continuing the dialogue.

 

Diane Ravitch

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this post, EduShyster interviews Teach for America alumna-turned-academic Terrenda White. She joined TFA in the early 2000s. CNN followed her around during her first year of teaching, presumably to show how successful this new thing called TFA was. Now she studies TFA’s diversity problem. While TFA claims to have increased the diversity of those within its ranks, it also causes a decrease in the number of teachers of color by displacing them.

 

White says:

 

While TFA may be improving their diversity numbers, that improvement has coincided with a drastic decline in the number of teachers of color, and Black teachers in particular, in the very cities where TFA has expanded. I don’t see them making a connection between their own diversity goals and the hits that teachers of color have taken as a result of policies to which TFA is connected: school closures where teachers of color disproportionately work, charter school expansion, teacher layoffs as schools are turned around. We have to talk about whether and how those policies have benefited TFA to expand in a way that they’re not ready to publicly acknowledge….

 

What happened in New Orleans, for example, is a microcosm of this larger issue where you have a blunt policy that we know resulted in the displacement of teachers of color, followed by TFA’s expansion in that region. I’ve never heard TFA talk about or address that issue. Or take Chicago, where the number of Black teachers has been cut in half as schools have been closed or turned around. In the lawsuits that teachers filed against the Chicago Board of Education, they used a lot of social science research and tracked that if a school was low performing and was located on the north or the west side and had a higher percentage of white teachers, that school was less likely to be closed. As the teachers pointed out, this wasn’t just about closing low-performing schools, but closing low-performing schools in communities of color, and particularly those schools that had a higher percentage of teachers of color. What bothers me is that we have a national rhetoric about wanting diversity when at the same time we’re actually manufacturing the lack of diversity in the way in which we craft our policies. And we mete them out in a racially discriminatory way. So in many ways we’re creating the problem we say we want to fix….

 

For TFA, the managerialism and the technocratic approach excludes a serious discussion about these larger, systemic problems: poverty, segregation and unequal funding. When I was a TFA corps member, I really believed that if I just had perfect lesson plans, then these larger problems wouldn’t matter. The technocratic approach is just about test scores and making them go up, and it’s disconnected from these larger questions. How do we involve parents, and do they have any say in what a good school is? Are they a part of these turnaround models? Do they get any kind of voice? I think the whole community-based model of schooling is very much being lost to a top-down managerial approach.

 

This is another fascinating interview from EduShyster that introduces us to a young scholar who will have a large impact on the future of teaching and on how TFA is perceived by the public.

Paul Thomas of Furman University in South Carolina knows that elected officials are intrigued with the idea of “turnaround districts,” although they know surprisingly little about the research or experience associated with such districts. The idea is simple: if a school has low test scores for x number of years in a row, or if it ranks in the bottom x% of all schools in the state, fire the principal and the teachers and give the community’s public school to a private charter operator. Kind of like declaring bankruptcy, but forgetting that a school is not a business like a chain store.

 

Thomas points out that there are good reasons to be wary of turnaround districts. He cites research about what has happened to them.

 

First, advocacy for takeovers is mostly political cheerleading, and second, a growing body of research has revealed that takeovers have not achieved what advocates claim and often have replicated or even increased the exact problems they were designed to solve, such as race and class segregation and inequitable educational opportunities.

 

New Orleans is a low-performing district that has become even more segregated and stratified than it was before the takeover.

 

He writes:

 

Takeovers in several states—similar to embracing charter schools and Teach For America—have simply shuffled funding, wasted time, and failed to address the root causes of struggling schools: concentrated poverty and social inequity.

 

Yes, SC must reform our public schools, and we should shift gears to address our vulnerable populations of students first. But charter takeover approaches are yet more political faddism that our state and children cannot afford.

 

Continuing to double-down on accountability based on standards and high-stakes testing as well as rushing to join the political reform-of-the-moment with clever names is inexcusable since we have decades of evidence about what works, and what hasn’t.

 

SC must embrace a new way—one committed to social policies addressing food security for the poor, stable work throughout the state, and healthcare for all, and then a new vision for education reform built on equity.

 

All SC students deserve experienced and certified teachers, access to challenging courses, low class sizes, fully funded schools, safe school buildings and cultures, and equitable disciplinary policies and practices. These are reforms that must be guarantees for every public school student regardless of zip code, and they need not be part of complex but cleverly named programs.

 

You will want to read the post in full to gain access to its many excellent links to news and research.

 

Those who continue to advocate for already failed fixes are stalling, delaying the day that we must address the root causes of educational failure. They should be held accountable for their neglect of the real needs of children, families, and communities. And some day, they will.

 

Angie Sullivan teaches early elementary grades in Las Vegas, where most of her students are English language learners, and all qualify for free and/or reduced price lunch. She regularly writes to legislators, trying to bring them into contact with the realities of schooling as seen by a practicing teacher.

 

She writes here about retention:

 

 

This is the time of year when primary elementary teachers discuss retention.

 

 

Even though all valid education research states retention should only be used in rare and special instances, it has become an unfortunate political remedy. When kids who are not supported properly fail academically – people leap to the conclusion that repeating a grade again is the solution. Again every scrap of real research shows this is not effective and in many cases detrimental- but it is politically popular.

 

 

http://www.nasponline.org/assets/Documents/Research%20and%20Policy/Position%20Statements/WP_GradeRetentionandSocialPromotion.pdf

 

 

Nevada has read-by-three legislation that CCSD (the Clark County School District) is preparing to implement. Another punitive measure which will be detrimental and primarily affect language learners and kids in poverty – because of lack of access and lack of proper support. It will be primarily minority students who will fail en masse in some parts of town. Legislators say it is tough love. It is actually a lack of understanding of learning and a failure to fund appropriate instruction. It is an attack on kids in poverty which is the real issue. It is very likely that two-thirds of the district will be retained at grade three if implemented.

 

 

http://www.fasp.org/PDF_Files/FASP_Publications/PP3rdGrdRet.pdf

 

 

Read-by-Three will be a living nightmare in Las Vegas. At-risk schools will balloon in second and third grades. Students will be hurt.

 

 

How do I know? Already we see the effects as Nevada teachers receive students who have been victims of this type of retention legislation in other states like Florida, Ohio, Indiana.

 

 

Currently a Stanford student who was retained in first and second grades three times in Florida – is finally being assessed for a reading disability at my school. This looks like a 10 year receiving instruction with 6 year olds in a first grade classroom – awkward and weird for everyone. It is not socially appropriate and actually disguised the real problem and best remedy. It is easier to punish a voiceless child than work to effectively to determine the real source of the problem. This child in particular was finally removed from her mother in Florida and placed with a step-father in Nevada. It is highly likely, it was parental neglect that led to her current situation and multiple retentions. Nothing that was the child’s fault, she is now socially out of place and years older than her peers. She will be 14 in the fifth grade.

 

 

Other states who have put this legislation in place already regret it or have had to revisit.

 

 

http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?cid=25919971&bcid=25919971&rssid=25919961&item=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.edweek.org%2Fv1%2Few%2F%3Fuuid%3D68D76FA2-DD1D-11E3-AAEC-4BCDB3743667

 

 

Besides the national failure of huge retention programs, Nevada schools also manipulate scores by retaining.

 

 

There are CCSD principals who routinely fail ten students per grade level to manipulate scores. How is this done? Identify the students who scored poorly – force disenfranchised parents to sign retention paperwork. Student scores are “hidden” because retained students “do not count” in the scores the next year. This is done at many schools that supposedly showed “growth”. Is this good for kids? No. It is a game played on communities of color to satisfy politicians and a number system the community demands for supposed accountability.

 

 

Again -retention in large numbers is inappropriate. Nevada will regret it. It will hurt at-risk kids. It is a remedy that has failed in other states. It also gets manipulated, hides real problems, and punishes kids who actually require the most help.

 

 

http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2012/08/16-student-retention-west

 

 

Please read the actual huge body of educational research. Change for the sake of change is not good change.

 

 

Retention is not best practice.

 

 

The gauntlet is already raised against 75% of children in Vegas. Poverty is the real obstacle which is not resolved by a stigma creating law which is punitive instead of requiring and funding real help.

 

 

Meanwhile I see very effective best practice – like class size reduction– is under attack in CCSD school board discussions. The acccounting gimmicks and tricks at CCSD never cease to amaze and confuse most everyone who sees the public relations campaigns against educators and kids. Never enough money unless there is a trip to take or a limo to ride in. Teachers are watching and see it all.

 

 

This is why we do not make headway.

 

 

Egos, power plays, bad managment, people who are not educators, people who have not read real educational research, implementing expensive ineffective change that won’t help anyone in my language learning, Title I, 100% free and reduced lunch classroom.

 

 

Angie

Paul Thomas, professor at Furman University in South Carolina and former high school teacher, warns of the risks of relying on standards and accountability to fix poverty.

 

South Carolina has families trapped in generational poverty. This is no secret or new discovery. What do policymakers propose: tougher standards and accountability, and school takeovers. They tell themselves and the public that the New Orleans Recovery Dchool District and the Tennessee Achievement District is the answer to poverty, although there is no evidence to back their assertion.

 

In effect, accountability is a hoax, a scam, a swindle. It is a 3-card Monte game. It diverts our attention from what must be done. It is a quick fix that fixes nothing.

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