Archives for category: Research

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a report on Ohio charters, claiming that they were very successful. (TBF is a rightwing organization that supports charters and vouchers.) The Columbus Dispatch wrote that the report demonstrated that charter schools in Ohio are more successful than the state’s public schools. But Stephen Dyer reviewed the report and concluded that its findings are based on cherrypicking schools and manipulating data. In fact, he writes, Ohio’s charter sector continues to be low-performing compared to the state’s public schools, whose students lose funding to charters. The state has recently taken almost $900 million annually from its public schools to pay for a mediocre charter sector.

Dyer is a former state legislator who has written often about the charter industry. He is now Director of Government Relations, Communications and Marketing at the Ohio Education Association. (I served on the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation/Institute from 1998-2009).

He writes:

Fordham Strikes Again

Cherry picking schools; manipulating data; grasping at straws

Look, the Fordham Institute has been improving lately, calling for more charter school oversight and talking a good game. But I guess sometimes old habits die hard, and in Ohio – the cradle of the for-profit charter school movement – those habits tend to linger especially long.

Take the group’s latest report – The Impact of Ohio Charter Schools on Student Outcomes, 2016-2019 – is yet another attempt to make Ohio’s famously poor performing charter school sector seem not quite as bad (though I give them kudos for admitting the obvious – that for-profit operators don’t do a good job educating kids and we need continued tougher oversight of the sector).

But folks, really. On the whole, Ohio charter schools are not very good. For example, of all the potential A-F grades charters could have received since that system was adopted in the 2012-2013 school year, Ohio charter schools have received more Fs than all other grades combined.

So how could the Fordham report claim, as the Columbus Dispatch headline writers put it: “Students at Ohio charter schools show greater academic gains”?

Simple.

Fordham ignored all but a fraction of the Ohio charter schools in operation during the FY16-FY19 school years, including Ohio’s scandalously poor performing e-schools (yes, ECOT was still running then), the state’s nationally embarrassing dropout recovery charter schools (which have difficulty graduating even 10 percent of their students in 8 years), and the state’s special education schools – some of whom have been cited for habitually billing taxpayers for students they never had.

In other words, they only looked at the best possible charter clusters in the state. And even though they essentially ignored the worst actors in the state (effectively ignoring how more than ½ of all charter students perform), the “performance gains” they point to are not impressive.

For example, “Students attending charter schools from grades 4 to 8 improved from the 30th percentile on state math and English language arts exams to about the 40th percentile. High school students showed little or no gains on end-of-course exams.”

Really? A not-even-10-percentile improvement? And none in high school? That’s it?

How about this: “Attending a charter school in high school had no impact on the likelihood a student would receive a diploma.”

So we spend $828 million a year sending state money to charters that could go to kids in local public schools to have literally zero impact on attaining a diploma?

Egad.

Another problem: the report says charter students have better attendance rates. No word on whether the fact all charter students must be bused by local school districts, which in turn don’t have to bus district students, had any impact on that metric.

(Hint: it does.)

The report found better performance from charter students in at least one of the math or English standardized tests in 5 of Ohio’s 8 major urban districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown). Only in Columbus did they outperform the district in both reading and math.

The report ignores that ECOT took more kids from Columbus in these years than any other charter school in Columbus. And, of course, those kids did far worse than Columbus students.

But even cherry picking students. And data. And methodology, Fordham only found slightly better performance in one of two tests the study examined (again, Ohio requires tests in many subjects, but I digress) in 5 urban districts, better performance in both tests in 1 and no better performance in Cincinnati and Toledo, which lost about $500 million in state revenue to charters during these 4 years the study examined.

Of course, the study also ignored that about ½ of all charter school students do NOT come from the major urban districts, including large percentages of students in many of the brick and mortar schools Fordham examined for this study. For example, about 30 percent of Breakthrough Schools students in Cleveland don’t come from Cleveland. Yet Breakthrough’s performance is always only compared with Cleveland.

Ohio charter school performance isn’t complicated. Overall, it’s really not good, especially when you look at the approximately 50 percent of students who attend online, dropout recovery or special needs schools. Are there exceptions? Of course. But here’s what the most recent data tell us:

  • More than 34% of Ohio public school graduates have a college degree within 6 years. Just 12.7% of charter school graduates do
  • More than 58% of Ohio public school graduates are enrolled in college within two years; only 37.2% of Ohio charter school graduates are.

Why is this important? Because if charter schools performed the same as Ohio’s public schools, 750 more charter school students would have college degrees. Why does that matter? Because a college degree will allow you to make about $1 million more during your lifetime than not having it. So it can be said that Ohio charter schools are costing Ohioans about $750 million in potential earnings, just from one class of students!

Some more:

  • The average dropout recovery charter school has less than 0.5% of its students earning an industry recognized credential within 9 years and less than 0.2% of those students earn at least 3 dual enrollment credits within 4 years.
  • In 52 of the state’s 68 dropout recovery charter schools, no kids earned at least 3 dual enrollment credits within 4 years
  • In 33 of the state’s 68 dropout recovery charter schools, no kids earned an industry recognized credential within 9 years!
  • In more than 1 in 5 Ohio charter schools, more than 15% of their teachers teach outside their accredited subjects
  • The median percentage of inexperienced teachers in Ohio charter schools is 34.1%. The median in an Ohio public school building is 6%.

During the time period this report examined, nearly $4 billion in state money was transferred from kids in local public school districts to Ohio’s privately run charter schools. And even if you look at the very best slice of the mud pie that is Ohio’s charter school sector, you get perhaps modest gains – not even 10 percentiles worth though – in a few of the schools.

But that didn’t stop Fordham from excitedly declaring at the beginning of its report that this study demonstrates that “Ohio’s brick-and-mortar charters have proven themselves capable of providing quality options—and it’s time to give families across the state similar opportunities.” Or that “high-quality” charters should be expanded.

One more dirty little secret about “high-quality” charters? Historically, the “high-quality” school buildings in Ohio’s major urban districts actually outperform the “high-quality” charter schools in those districts.

So maybe the answer, especially during this pandemic, is expanding “high-quality” local public school buildings, or investing at least some of the $828 million currently being sent to Ohio’s mostly poor performing charter schools back to local public schools so they have a better shot at being dubbed “high quality”, thereby expanding the number of “high-quality” options for students?

Just a thought…

UNICEF released a ranking of nations in terms of child wellness. The United States is one of the lowest ranking among the advanced nations of the world. The rankings do not include test scores. It’s important to understand that the test scores are the result of child wellness, not a cause. If we expect to improve children’s academic performance, we should focus on their well-being, which is a summary of causal factors. I have often said that when we are comparing students from different nations, we should look at child poverty, access to healthcare, food security, access to high-quality pre-K, and other indicators of child wellness, not test scores. This important report does that.

See the report here.

The National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education has released a study of charter schools and special education by doctoral candidate Katherine Parham at Teachers College, Columbia University.

From the dawn of the charter movement, the subject of charter schools and special education has generated significant controversy.

Albert Shanker cautioned in a Washington Post op-ed in 1994 that the freedom from state and local regulations sought for charter schools would mean control over admissions and thus exclusion of “difficult-to-educate students.” A decade later, Martin Carnoy and his co-authors documented in The Charter School Dust-Up: Examining the Evidence on Enrollment and Achievement (2005) that high-achieving charter middle schools enrolled far more students with strong academic records than neighboring public schools as well as far fewer English-language learners and students with special needs. Similarly, Gary Miron and his co-authors documented in a 2011 study of a major charter management organization (CMO) that it not only managed to screen out a disproportionate number of underperforming students but also shed those who failed to fulfill behavioral and academic expectations. In a 2018 study, Peter Bergman and Isaac McFarlin Jr. documented that charter schools were significantly less responsive than traditional public schools to inquiries from parents of potential applicants with special needs.

Substantiating the concerns of Shanker and the findings of scholars subsequently analyzing this issue was a 2012 report published by the U.S. Government Accountability Office determining that in 2008-2009, 11.3 percent of students in traditional public schools were classified with special needs while 7.7 percent of students in charter schools belonged to the same cohort; in 2009-10, the numbers were 11.2 percent and 8.2 percent, respectively. According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Education, published in 2016, the numbers were 12.8 percent and 10.8 percent, respectively.

In “Charter Schools and Special Education: Institutional Challenges and Opportunities for Innovation,” Katharine Parham explores this gap and the evolution of federal law designed to prevent discrimination against students with special needs. Parham, a doctoral candidate in education policy at Teachers College, concedes the existence of “discriminatory practices, such as ‘cropping off’ service to students whose disabilities make them among the costliest to educate, counseling out students with severe needs, or advising families of students with disabilities not to apply.” However, Parham contends two other factors explain some of the gap: variation in rates of classification of special needs by charter schools and traditional public schools as well as disparities in funding. In addition, Parham analyzes potential remedies for improving the provision of special education by charter schools.

Dispassionate, clear, and concise, this working paper should prove instructive and helpful to policymakers and scholars alike.

Samuel E. Abrams
Director, NCSPE
August 10, 2020

Coming soon: Helen Ladd and Mavzuna Turaeva on charter schools and segregation in North Carolina; Francisco Lagos on the impact of Chile’s Inclusion Law of 2015; and Kfir Mordechay on school choice and gentrification in New York.
NCSPE provides nonpartisan documentation and analysis of school choice and educational privatization.

Peter Greene reviews a new charter school study from the Brookings Institution that exhibits near total ignorance of the perils of privatization. Any time that a study rests its case on DFER data, its a clue that it should not be taken seriously. DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) is an organization created by hedge fund managers to lobby for charter schools. Their “studies” and polling data supply talking points to advance their cause. Similarly, when a study cites Albert Shanker’s initial advocacy for charter schools but fails to acknowledge that he abandoned charters and concluded they were indistinguishable from vouchers, the author has done a slipshod job.

Charter schools began thirty years ago. The research on them has repeatedly demonstrated that some get higher test scores, some get lower test scores, but on average they have produced no amazing innovations, no secret sauce. The Brookings author doesn’t know that. She seems to think that charters have discovered remarkable innovations and those innovations should be replicated by public schools.

Her grand notion that charters will teach public schools how to succeed, he argues, is absurd.

He writes:

Since the [charter] movement is largely premised on the notion of unleashing free market forces–well, in that context, this proposal makes as much sense as telling MacDonald’s that they have to show Wendy’s how to make fries.

And:

There is zero reason to think that the charter world, populated primarily by education amateurs, knows anything that public school systems don’t already know. Charter success rests primarily on creaming student population (and the families thereof), pushing out students who won’t comply or are too hard to educate, extending school hours, drilling tests like crazy, having teachers work 80 hour weeks, and generally finding ways to keep out students with special needs that they don’t want to deal with. None of these ideas represent new approaches that folks in public education haven’t thought of.

And:

If charters were pioneering super-effective new strategies, we would already know. There is a well-developed grapevine in the public education world. If there were a charter that was accomplishing edu-miracles, teachers all over would be talking about it. Teachers who left that charter would take the secret sauce recipe with them, and pretty soon it would be being shared across the country. After decades of existence, charters do not have a reputation in the education world for being awesome–and there’s a reason for that. Puff pieces and PR pushes may work on the general public and provide fine marketing, but that’s not what sells other teachers.

Short answer– if charters knew something really awesome and impressive, public school teachers would already know and already be copying it.

Maybe the author of this paper should meet with Andre Perry, who led charters in New Orleans and left disillusioned. He is also at Brookings.

The University of Kentucky College of Education and the NAACP have agreed to establish a research center at the university to address issues of concern to African American communities. The driving force behind this project is the new Dean of the College, Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, who is a nationally recognized scholar on equity policies. Heilig has written extensively about civil rights, charter schools, and Teach for America. He is a founding board member of the Network for Public Education.

Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post:

The NAACP, the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States, is launching a new education initiative with the University of Kentucky that will provide a home for Black faculty to conduct and disseminate research on the community in a new way.


The enterprise marks the first time that the NAACP has joined with university-based education scholars to help address racial inequities that for decades have plagued public schools around the country.


“It’s a brand new paradigm,” said Julian Vasquez Heilig, dean of the University of Kentucky’s College of Education who has served on the NAACP executive committee and as the education chair for the NAACP’s California Hawaii State Conference. “There is no playbook.”


Vasquez Heilig, who is the initiative’s mastermind, said research will be done not by finding topics in the halls of academia, as is usually done, but rather in African American communities.


The idea here is to go to communities and understand what research they think needs to be done,” he said in an interview. “Instead of going to communities in the colonial way and taking research, we are asking what research they think is important to do.”


The focus of the initiative’s work will be to advance and protect education for students from preschool through higher education — with an emphasis on race-based discrimination. Special attention will be paid to students from underserved communities in Kentucky, which reflects many around the country.


The initiative will also seek to understand the challenges of students who are marginalized in the education sector based on factors including ability, gender, ethnicity, age and sexuality — and it will explore the intersectionality of these identities.


The agreement for the new initiative — for which a director and researchers have been hired — was signed by Vasquez Heilig, NAACP president and chief executive Derrick Johnson, NAACP Chairman Leon W. Russell and David Blackwell, the provost of the University of Kentucky. It will be based in the department of educational policy studies and evaluation at the College of Education at the university, which is largely funding the initiative.


These scholars will partner with students, educators, and communities to document the experiences of those facing educational disparities and use research to shape public policy,” Johnson said in a statement. “To see change, we must focus on discipline policies, school funding structures, college and career readiness initiatives, and our own great teachers in underserved communities.”


The director of the initiative is Gregory Vincent, a renowned civil rights attorney who just joined the faculty of the University of Kentucky. He is also the outgoing Grand Sire Archon of the Boule’, the nation’s first Greek-letter fraternity founded by African American men.


Researchers hired for the initiative include Sarah LaCour, arriving from the University of Colorado at Boulder, who will serve as an assistant director of the civil rights initiative, and Cheryl Matias, a scholar who studies culturally responsive education practices.

I recently had a conversation with Julian Vasquez Heilig, the dean of the College of Education at the University of Kentucky.

Dr. Heilig discusses his own background, a trajectory that took him from Michigan to Stanford, then to Texas, California, and now Kentucky. He is a scholar and an activist who now seeks to lead a new conversation about education in a Kentucky, bringing the community into close connection with the schools.

I have known Julian since 2012, when he became a founding member of the board of the Network for Public Education.

His blog, “Cloaking Inequity,” is one of the liveliest on the web. He has a passion for equity and inclusion that shines through his scholarship, his blog, and his activism.

The National Education Policy Center issued a statement today about teaching reading.

The bottom line: There is no “science of reading.”

It’s time for the media and political distortions to end, and for the literacy community and policymakers to fully support the literacy needs of all children.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Joint Statement Regarding
“Science of Reading” Advocacy

KEY TAKEAWAY:

It’s time for the media and political distortions to end, and for the literacy community and policymakers to fully support the literacy needs of all children.

CONTACT:
William J. Mathis:
(802) 383-0058
wmathis@sover.net

Kevin Kumashiro
kevin@kevinkumashiro.com

BOULDER, CO (March 19, 2020) – The National Education Policy Center and the Education Deans for Justice and Equity (EDJE) today jointly released a Policy Statement on the “Science of Reading.”

For the past few years, a wave of media has reignited the unproductive Reading Wars, which frame early-literacy teaching as a battle between opposing camps. This coverage speaks of an established “science of reading” as the appropriate focus of teacher education programs and as the necessary approach for early-reading instruction. Unfortunately, this media coverage has distorted the research evidence on the teaching of reading, with the result that policymakers are now promoting and implementing policy based on misinformation.

The truth is that there is no settled science of reading. The research on reading and teaching reading is abundant, but it is diverse and always in a state of change. Accordingly, the joint statement highlights the importance of “professionally prepared teachers with expertise in supporting all students with the most beneficial reading instruction, balancing systematic skills instruction with authentic texts and activities.”

This key idea of a “balanced literacy” approach stresses the importance of phonics, authentic reading, and teachers who can teach reading using a full toolbox of instructional approaches and understandings. It is strongly supported in the scholarly community and is grounded in a large research base.

The statement includes guiding principles for what any federal or state legislation should and should not do. At the very least, federal and state legislation should not continue to do the same things over and over while expecting different outcomes. The disheartening era of NCLB provides an important lesson and overarching guiding principle: Education legislation should address guiding concepts while avoiding prescriptions that will tie the hands of professional educators.

All students deserve equitable access to high-quality literacy and reading instruction and opportunities in their schools. This will only be accomplished when policymakers pay heed to an overall body of high-quality research evidence and then make available the resources as well as the teaching/learning conditions necessary for schools to provide our children with the needed supports and opportunities to learn.

The Policy Statement on the “Science of Reading” can be found on the NEPC website at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/fyi-reading-wars

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

Copyright 2018 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

The National Education Policy Center
School of Education, University of Colorado
Boulder, CO 80309

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Education Week examined the extent of state oversight of publicly funded religious schools and found that it was minimal. Betsy DeVos’s goal of public funding for religious school tuition is gaining traction.

However, there is one glaring error in the article: it cites positive poll data from Education Next, which strongly supports vouchers, yet fails to mention that voters have repeatedly rejected such programs, most recently in Arizona in 2018, where voucher expansion lost a state referendum by a margin of 65-35% despite ample funding from the Koch and DeVos families and the support of Governor Doug Ducey, a Koch mentee.

The story begins:

Montana, like many other states, helps some students pay for tuition at private schools. But the rules for the schools that participate in its tax-credit scholarship program are scant: They do not have to hire teachers with college degrees or conduct criminal background checks on all their employees. Schools do not have to publicly report graduation rates or demonstrate that they are on sound financial footing. And no entity-be it the state, the organization that awards the scholarships, or the private schools-is required to track and report basic demographic data on the students who use the program.

Montana is hardly an outlier.

Nearly 30 states that have private school choice programs that either directly pay students’ tuition at private schools or provide generous tax-credits to incentivize businesses and individuals to do so.

But few require private schools to follow standard policies used to ensure transparency and accountability in the nation’s public schools, according to an EdWeek Research Center survey of states on how private school voucher and other closely related programs are regulated.

* Just six states require that all participating private schools admit students regardless of their religion, while only three require participating private schools to admit students regardless of their sexual orientation.

* Only 11 require that all teachers in participating private schools have a bachelor’s degree.

* Fourteen mandate that schools conduct criminal background checks on all staff before accepting tuition paid with the help of state aid.

* And only six states require schools to publicly report their graduation rates.

Those and other findings demonstrate the relatively thin state oversight these programs operate under, especially when compared to the tight regulation and governance of public schools.

While proponents say that giving families the choice to use publicly funded vouchers to attend private schools-and the freedom to walk away from any school that isn’t living up to their expectations-is the ultimate form of oversight, opponents argue that vouchers and their kin are funneling taxpayer money into largely unaccountable private schools.

It’s not a new debate, but it is one that has added urgency as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a case challenging the legality of Montana’s program. The outcome of that case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue (Case No. 18-1195), could remove the constitutional hurdles to establishing voucher programs in many other states.

“For school choice families, transparency is necessary if the policy goals articulated in the voucher laws are to be achieved-does the school provide sufficient information for families to make informed choices?” said Kevin Welner, a University of Colorado education professor who studies law and public policy. He is also the director of the National Education Policy Center, a group that is generally critical of vouchers. “I think more importantly, when the school accepts taxpayer dollars, it has to be transparent … around the responsible use of those dollars.”

Growing Popularity

The popularity of private school choice programs continues to grow.

More than half of Americans now support the idea of allowing government to help families pay for tuition at private schools, according to a 2019 survey on the public’s attitudes toward education by the journal Education Next.

Taken together, the number of private school choice programs, which include traditional vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and education savings accounts, and families using them have expanded substantially over the past decade, fueled by influential advocacy groups and strong parental demand.

While Montana’s program is at the center of the potentially pivotal Supreme Court case, it’s miniscule-around 40 students a year receive an average annual scholarship of $500-compared to private school choice programs in Arizona Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin, which serve tens of thousands of students in their respective states with average scholarship amounts in the thousands.

To better understand the governance and accountability of this small, but growing sector of the K-12 system, the EdWeek Research Center reviewed statutes in 29 states that have at least one of the three types of private school choice programs on the books. The Research Center then sent the results of its analysis to state education departments to verify, correct, or update the findings.

The analysis’ findings include:

* Five states require that all teachers in participating private schools be licensed;

* Eight states require all participating private schools to publicly report the results of state and national tests;

* Four states require public reporting of demographic data on participating students;

* Five states explicitly require all participating private schools to admit students with disabilities;

* Fourteen states mandate that participating private schools prove that they are fiscally sound through audits or other measures.

Finally, half of the states with private school choice programs-14-do not even require that the agencies or organizations overseeing them publicly list all the private schools participating.

The same is true for the third-party organizations that oversee tax-credit scholarship programs. Just 12 states require a publicly available list of scholarship-granting organizations-the groups that are approved by the state to take in tax-credit-eligible donations and award scholarships.

Oklahoma is among the states that do not require that a list of scholarship-granting organizations be publicly reported. It took Education Week dozens of emails, multiple records requests, and six months to simply obtain the names of the scholarship-granting organizations from the state.

This is only part of the article. In the remainder, there are extensive quotes from voucher zealot Robert Enslow of EdChoice, formerly known as the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation, whose only purpose is to promote publicly-funded vouchers.

It would be interesting to see an article in Education Week about the long list of states that have voted against vouchers (including Florida and Arizona) but got them anyway, shoved down the throats of the public by voucher fanatics with large wallets to buy legislators’ votes. Such an article–or a different one–would review the studies of vouchers that show they have a negative effect on students’ test scores. How about an article about the “education scholarships” in D.C., which has never found any gains for voucher students, and most recently showed that voucher students lost ground? Or a review of the Thomas B. Fordham study of Ohio vouchers that showed that students lost grounds in voucher schools? Or similar results in Indiana and Louisiana?

We are hurtling back to the early 19th century, not preparing students to live in the present and the future.

As every reader of this blog knows, Mercedes Schneider is a relentless, dogged, and accurate researcher. She has the skills to dig through IRS reports and other online data that connect the dots and reveal how big money and Dark Money are controlling organizations and elections, thus endangering our democracy. In addition to teaching high school English in Louisiana, she has a doctorate in research methods and statistics. She’s good at taking a complicated subject and teaching it.

In 2018, Mercedes was invited to do a workshop at the annual conference of the Network for Public Education in Indianapolis with Andrea Gabor and Darcie Cimarusti about digging for data. The session was packed.

So many people wanted to learn more that Mercedes decided to write a book sharing her knowledge.

This is the book, published by Garn Press.

Mercedes announced the book.

My latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, is now available for purchase on Amazon.

Garn Press will have the book available for purchase on March 03, 2020.

About the book:

In A Practical Guide to Digital Research, Schneider draws on her years of experience as an educational researcher to offer an easy-to-read, easy-to-digest, concise tutorial for equipping both novice and more experienced researchers in navigating numerous research sources. These include nonprofit tax form search engines, newspaper archives, social media sites, internet archives, campaign filings/ethics disclosures, teaching credential search engines, and legal filings. Also covered are tips on conducting both email and in-person interviews, filing public records requests, and conducting pointed, fruitful Google searches.This powerful, practical text is built upon a foundation of actual examples from Schneider’s own research in education—examples that she dissects and explains as a means of teaching her readers how to effectively make these valuable lessons their own. Though Schneider’s own research is chiefly in the education reform arena, the resources, skills and techniques offered in A Practical Guide to Digital Research transcend any single research field and are indispensable for confronting a variety of research queries. Useful as a classroom text or for independent research study, the book provides foundational learning for those new to research investigation as well as surprising, valuable lessons for more experienced researchers challenging themselves to learn even more.

For those interested, Amazon allows readers to view the book, including its table of contents.

The the idea for this book stems from a presentation I participated in with colleagues Andres Gabor and Darcie Cimarusti on tracking the funding related to the promotion of market-based education reform titled, “Where Did All This Money Come From??: Locating and Following the Dark Money Trail” at the 2018 Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Indianapolis.

I know you will love this book. I predict that Bill Gates, John Arnold, Betsy DeVos and Charles Koch will not.

And a reminder: there are still a few openings at the 2020 annual conference of the Network for Public Education in Philadelphia on March 28-29. It will be at the Doubletree Hilton.It is a great opportunity to meet your allies from a rossthe nation. Please register now!

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, reviews SLAYING GOLIATH in two-parts.

This is part one. 

He begins:

Diane Ravitch’s Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools is the history of the rise and fall of corporate school reform, but it is much more. It isn’t that surprising that a scholar like Ravitch, like so many researchers and practitioners, predicted over a decade ago how data-driven, competition-driven “reform” would fail. Technocratic “reformers,” who Ravitch calls “Goliath,” started with a dubious hunch, that socio-engineering a “better teacher” could overcome poverty and inequality, and then ignored the science that explained why evaluating teachers based on test score growth would backfire.

It may be surprising that Ravitch, an academic who had once worked in the Education Department of President George H. W. Bush, and served on the board of the conservative Fordham Foundation, become the leader of the grass roots uprising of parents, students, and educators which she dubs the “Resistance.” But it soon became clear why Ravitch inspired and guided the Resistance. In contrast to Goliath, who “ignored decades of research” and assumed the worst of their opponents, Ravitch respected and listened to practitioners and patrons.

One big surprise, which is explained in Slaying Goliath, is how Ravitch presciently understood why output-driven, charter-driven reform devolved into “privatization.”  She had firsthand experience with the hubris of the Billionaires Boys Club, understanding the danger of their desire to hurriedly “scale up” transformational change. And being an accomplished scholar, she had insights into how top-down technocrats’ embrace of behaviorism in the tradition of Edward Thorndike and B.F. Skinner, led to their commitment to “rigidly prescribed conditioning via punishments and rewards.”

Ravitch was among the first experts to fully grasp how, “Behaviorists, and the Disrupters who mimic them today, lack appreciation for the value of divergent thinking, and the creative potential of variety. And they emphatically discount mere ‘feelings.’”

Ravitch witnessed how corporate reformers “admire disruptive innovation, because high-tech businesses do it, so it must be good.” Rather than take the time to heed the wisdom of those who had no choice but to become Resisters, Goliath’s contempt for those in the classroom drove an evolution from “creative destruction” to “Corporate Disruption.”

Disrupters were in such a rush that they used children as “guinea pigs in experiments whose negative results are clear.” But they “never admit failure,” and remain oblivious to the fact that “The outcome of disruption was disruption, not better education.”  And these billionaires not only continue to “fund a hobby injurious to the common good.” They’ve ramped up their assault on public education and its defenders, perpetuating a “direct assault on democracy.”

Ravitch predicts, “Historians will look back and wonder why so many wealthy people spent so much money in a vain attempt to disrupt and privatize public education and why they ignored income inequality and wealth inequality that were eating away at the vitals of American society.”

Thompson goes on to tell some of the important events in which I was a participant. Such as the decision within the first Bush administration to trash the infamous Sandia Report, which disputed the desperate findings of “A Nation at Risk.” And my discussions with Albert Shanker about what charter schools should be in the American system. He saw them as part of a school district, operating with the approval of their peers as collaborators, as R&D labs, not as competitors for funding and students. And my 2011 meeting at the Obama White House, when the top officials asked what I thought of  Common Core and I urged them to launch field trials; they rejected the idea out of hand.

And Thompson quickly understood that, unlike the Disrupters, who wanted to reinvent and disrupt the public schools, I listened to practitioners. I assumed they knew far more than I, and I was right about that. I understood the negative effects of NCLB and the Race to the Top because I saw them through the eyes of those who had to implement shoddy ideas.

Thompson concludes:

Ravitch observes that in contrast to the Resistance, “So as long as billionaires, hedge fund managers, and their allies are handing out money, there will be people lined up to take it. But their transactions cannot be confused with a social movement.” Moreover, “The most important lesson of the past few decades is that “Reform doesn’t mean reform. It means mass demoralization, chaos, and turmoil. Disruption does not produce better education.”

I’ll conclude this post with Ravitch’s words on the two dogmas that the Disruption movement relied on:

First, the benefits of standardization, and second, the power of markets. Their blind adherence to these principles has been disastrous in education.    These principles don’t work in schools for the same reasons they don’t work for families, churches, and other institutions that function primarily on the basis of human interactions, not profits and losses.