Archives for category: US Education

In an article at, Stephanie Simon presents a gloomy portrait of the future of teacher unions.

At the outset, she acknowledges that the unions have been the target of “a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign portraying them as greedy and selfish.”

This campaign is funded by billionaires, millionaires, ALEC, powerful corporations (Koch brothers?), rightwing think tanks, and wealthy foundations, all of whom we must assume are noble and selfless, not “greedy and selfish” like those no-good, lazy, worthless teachers. And then there are the academics who receive lavish funding from the noble and selfless billionaires and millionaires to produce studies and reports about the greedy and selfish teachers and unions.

But, as Simon reports, the campaign seems to be effective, as union membership falls and revenues decline. As evidence, she offers poll numbers reported by Paul Peterson’s group at Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance and “Education Next,” both of which support vouchers and charters and oppose teachers unions and are funded by the afore-named groups of billionaires and millionaires. The numbers may or may not be correct, but the source is not reliable since both PEPG and “Education Next” are part of the campaign to rid the nation of teachers unions. But Simon does not mention that PEPG is an integral part of the anti-union campaign.

Simon ends the article by concluding that unions only make matters worse if they fight back against the wealthy coalition that now seeks to destroy workers’ rights:

“And some analysts, even those sympathetic to organized labor, say the teachers unions risk alienating the public with their constant complaints about the conspiracy of wealthy forces arrayed against them and their defense of job protections like those found unconstitutional this week in California.

“It’s entirely possible,” Kerchner said, “that unions can turn public education into a bad brand.”

In other words, resistance is futile.

But many teachers would not agree at all. They don’t believe that the 1%–and those who are on their payroll–are fighting for civil rights and social justice. they believe that it is imperative to stand up for hard-working teachers and the children they teach every day. Teachers are not greedy and selfish. their unions are not wrong to stand up for the rights of teachers, which are under attack in many states. Accepting the claims and the rhetoric of the privatization movement is a recipe for losing public education and the teaching profession, not just losing the unions.

Read more:

The story about Bill Gates’ swift and silent takeover of American education is startling. His role and the role of the U.S. Department of Education in drafting and imposing the Common Core standards on almost every state should be investigated by Congress.

The idea that the richest man in America can purchase and–working closely with the U.S. Department of Education–impose new and untested academic standards on the nation’s public schools is a national scandal. A Congressional investigation is warranted.

The close involvement of Arne Duncan raises questions about whether the law was broken.

Thanks to the story in the Washington Post and to diligent bloggers, we now know that one very rich man bought the enthusiastic support of interest groups on the left and right to campaign for the Common Core.

Who knew that American education was for sale?

Who knew that federalism could so easily be dismissed as a relic of history? Who knew that Gates and Duncan, working as partners, could dismantle and destroy state and local control of education?

The revelation that education policy was shaped by one unelected man, underwriting dozens of groups. and allied with the Secretary of Education, whose staff was laced with Gates’ allies, is ample reason for Congressional hearings.

I have written on various occasions (see here and here) that I could not support the Common Core standards because they were developed and imposed without regard to democratic process. The writers of the standards included no early childhood educators, no educators of children with disabilities, no experienced classroom teachers; indeed, the largest contingent of the drafting committee were representatives of the testing industry. No attempt was made to have pilot testing of the standards in real classrooms with real teachers and students.. The standards do not permit any means to challenge, correct, or revise them.

In a democratic society, process matters. The high-handed manner in which these standards were written and imposed in record time makes them unacceptable. These standards not only undermine state and local control of education, but the manner in which they were written and adopted was authoritarian. No one knows how they will work, yet dozens of groups have been paid millions of dollars by the Gates Foundation to claim that they are absolutely vital for our economic future, based on no evidence whatever.

Why does state and local control matter? Until now, in education, the American idea has been that no single authority has all the answers. Local boards are best equipped to handle local problems. States set state policy, in keeping with the concept that states are “laboratories of democracy,” where new ideas can evolve and prove themselves. In our federal system, the federal government has the power to protect the civil rights of students, to conduct research, and to redistribute resources to the neediest children and schools.

Do we need to compare the academic performance of students in different states? We already have the means to do so with the federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). It has been supplying state comparisons since 1992.

Will national standards improve test scores? There is no reason to believe so. Brookings scholar Tom Loveless predicted two years ago that the Common Core standards would make little or no difference. The biggest test-score gaps, he wrote, are within the same state, not between states. Some states with excellent standards have low scores, and some with excellent standards have large gaps among different groups of students.

The reality is that the most reliable predictors of test scores are family income and family education. Nearly one-quarter of America’s children live in poverty. The Common Core standards divert our attention from the root causes of low academic achievement.

Worse, at a time when many schools have fiscal problems and are laying off teachers, nurses, and counselors, and eliminating arts programs, the nation’s schools will be forced to spend billions of dollars on Common Core materials, testing, hardware, and software.

Microsoft, Pearson, and other entrepreneurs will reap the rewards of this new marketplace. Our nation’s children will not.

Who decided to monetize the public schools? Who determined that the federal government should promote privatization and neglect public education? Who decided that the federal government should watch in silence as school segregation resumed and grew? Who decided that schools should invest in Common Core instead of smaller classes and school nurses?

These are questions that should be asked at Congressional hearings.

John Ewing wrote a brilliant article called “Mathematical Intimidation.” If you haven’t read it, please do. It demolishes VAM. He calls on mathematicians to speak out. And at Brown, we read here, he spoke out:

“John Ewing, Executive Director of the American Mathematical Society and President of Math for America, was the speaker at a Brown commencement forum today. He spoke to a packed audience on the question, “Is There an Education Crisis?” Since it’s unlikely that the media was there for this one, here’s a synopsis for those following the public education debate:

“Ewing briefly described the various reports going back to 1958 that proclaimed the so-called crisis, and listed the forces that benefit from keeping it “in the forefront of the news”: politicians; the education/industrial complex; and that aspect of the American character that likes a crisis because a crisis “demands action and demands it now.”

“He focused on three areas in which the crisis has been manufactured. First, the falling scores on the Program for International Assessment (PISA) scores really haven’t fallen; scores have been roughly the same over the years in both reading and math. Second, the reporting of the National Assessment of Educational Proficiency (NAEP) has been misleading; scores have been reported as showing “only” one-third of students as proficient or above proficient, but actually one-third of students received a grade in the A range, which is really pretty good. As for the “dropout crisis,” Ewing pointed out that while the graduation rate looks low at 76%, it’s hard to get right and also a poor measure compared with the completion rate (percent of 18-24 year-olds getting a degree) at 90%, or the dropout rate, which at 8% is about half of what it was in 1970.

“Ewing acknowledged that some things in public education are very wrong – namely endemic poverty, awful textbooks published by an industry that’s only interested in profits, and lax teacher education programs – but condemned the crisis mongering. It leads to public alarm, an obsession with testing and accountability, a failure to focus on the real problems, and, worst of all, the destruction of the public education infrastructure, its teachers. He warned that good, experienced teachers are leaving, and young people no longer see teaching as a worthy career choice. We need to recognize that successful reform is a slow process, to turn down the volume on the alarm, and to make our teacher education programs both appealing to our best college graduates and difficult to gain admission to.”

Here is a first for this blog: Governor Jay Nixon joins the honor roll for his courage in promising to veto a voucher bill passed by the State Legislature.

The State Senate has enough votes to override his veto, but the House does not.

Governor Jay Nixon recognizes that the state has an obligation to provide quality public education for every child. It must meet that obligation by providing every school with the resources and staff it needs, not by sending public funds to private schools.

Governor Nixon may also be aware of the overwhelming research showing that private schools do not get better results than public schools when they enroll the same children.

The bottom line is that Governor Nixon bravely stood up for the principle that the public has an obligation to support public education.

Now it his responsibility to fight for adequate funding and oversight to improve schools that are struggling. In most cases, the schools need more help for children and families that are in need, not just academic programs. The most reliable predictor of low test scores is poverty. Missouri, like other states, must avoid the pursuit of illusory quick fixes. Vouchers don’t “work” better than public schools. Missouri must improve its public school system for all.

Thanks to Governor Jay Nixon for protecting one of the basic democratic institutions that made our country great.

John Kuhn is the superintendent of the small Perrin-Whitt Independent School District in rural Texas. He is an eloquent speaker and supporter of public education. He has spoken at national events and recently published two new books. He knows that the schoolssuffernot only fro budget cuts but from Washington’s wildly unrealistic expectations. He knows it would be nice if every student were bound for college but he knows it is unrealistic and turns success into failure.

This is a wonderful interview with the Texas Tribune. You will enjoy reading it.

This is the last Q&A:

“Trib+Edu: How has your life been different since 2011?

Kuhn: Not a whole lot different in terms of my day-to-day life. I still basically do what I’ve always done for a living and that is work in a rural public school and try to serve my community to the very best of my ability. I’ve been invited to give some speeches here and there and I’ve written a couple of books … I think speaking out like I did put me in a situation to where I’ve been educated in the political reality that affects local schools.

Previously, I just kind of accepted whatever rolled down from Washington, D.C., and whatever rolled down from Austin. I kind of thought the role of a teacher and educator was just to live with dumb policies. And I don’t think that anymore. I think now that I have a moral obligation to speak up and say, “Hey, this policy is dumb. It doesn’t work and this is what we’re seeing on the frontlines.”

I’m a fan of public education. I grew up in a little, rural Texas town where the public school was the center of what we did in town. There was no mayor’s office. It’s an unincorporated town and the school was the heart of the community. And I think, politically, we’ve kind of forgotten how important public schooling is in Texas.”

Over the years, we have seen a steady dumbing down of American culture, especially in the mass media. Whether newspapers, radio, or television, we have lost many of our well-educated, cultured, well-informed thinkers. Often they have been replaced by shock jocks, ranting talk show hosts, and an entire cable channel devoted to trashing liberals, liberal social programs, and labor unions.

I miss Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, and dozens of other smart journalists who brought more than their opinions to their journalism. Bill Moyers is one of that breed. We need more.

Another thing I don’t understand is why people on the far right like to paint their own country in the most negative tones while pretending to be patriots. I used to see a lot of this in rightwing think tanks, where people seized gleefully on every negative statistic to prove what a bad country this is; how horrible our public schools are; how dumb our teachers are; how we are doomed. Michelle Rhee’s advertisements often make me think she really hates this country, that no one is smart enough or good enough for her. .

All of this is a long-winded way of disassociating myself from Glen Beck’s screed against Common Core and public education. It is called “Conform: Exposing the Truth about Common Core and Public Education.”

Here is a review by Hilary Tone of Media Matters that gives you an idea of how false and hysterical this book is. It is clear that Beck did not read “Reign of Error.” I won’t be reviewing “Conform.” I am not interested in reading or writing about crazy rightwing attacks on our great American tradition of public education or on our nation.

In the same vein as the one now being mined by Glenn Beck is a video about a Florida legislator denouncing the Common Core because it will make all children gay. Seriously.

This is crazy stuff, and it makes it difficult if not impossible to have a reasonable discussion about the pros and cons of the Common Core. The Common Core is not wicked, evil, or dangerous, nor are those who wrote it.

Perhaps my critique of Common Core is too sophisticated for those who want simplistic answers. I don’t condemn those who want to use Common Core. I don’t think they are wrong or unAmerican. If they like it, they should use it.

My advice to states that want to use it, who think it is better than what they do now, is this:

1. Convene your best classroom teachers and review CCSS. Fix whatever needs fixing. Recognize that not all students learn at the same pace. Leave time for play in K-3.

2. Do not use the federally funded tests. Do not spend billions on hardware and software for testing. Let teachers write their own tests. Use standardized tests sparingly, like a state-level NAEP, to establish trends, not to label or rank children and teachers.

3. Do not use results of CC to produce ratings to “measure” teacher quality. Study after study, report after report warns that this is a very bad idea that will harm the quality of education by focusing too much on standardized tests, narrowing the curriculum, and forcing teachers to teach to the tests.

4. Do not let your judgement be clouded by people who make hysterical claims about the standards or those who wrote them.

Jan Resseger writes of her delight in discovering that Mike Rose has released a revised edition of “Why School?”

Resseger writes:

“In the 2014 edition, Rose has revised, updated, and expanded Why School? It now addresses the impact of President Obama’s Race to the Top program and other federal programs that have emerged since 2009—including problems with the waivers now being granted to address the lingering effects of the the No Child Left Behind Act, long over-due for reauthorization.

“A much expanded chapter on standards and accountability now explores the goals of the Common Core Standards as well as Rose’s worries about the Common Core testing and implementation.

“Three new chapters speak to issues that have emerged since the first edition of Rose’s book. “Being Careful About Character” examines books like Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed with their thesis that schools can help overcome poverty with programs to strengthen character. “My worry is that we will embrace these essentially individual and technocratic fixes—mental conditioning for the poor—and abandon broader social policy aimed at poverty itself.”

” Another new chapter examines the wave of MOOCs and other on-line education, exploring the learning assumptions we rarely discuss and raising serious questions we ought to be asking before we thoughtlessly adopt these technologies.

“From my point of view the most important new chapter is “The Inner Life of the Poor.” “The poor,” writes Rose, “are pretty much absent from public and political discourse, except as an abstraction—an income category low on the socioeconomic status index—or as a generalization: people dependent on the government, the ‘takers,’ a problem.” “More than a few of Barack Obama’s speeches are delivered from community colleges, but the discussion of them is always in economic and functional terms… I have yet to find in political speech or policy documents any significant discussion of what benefit—other than economic—the community college might bring… To have a prayer of achieving a society that realizes the potential of all its citizens, we will need institutions that affirm the full humanity, the wide sweep of desire and ability of the people walking through the door.”

This article by Michael Brenner, a professor of international relations at the University of Pittsburgh, is a trenchant summary of the relentless attack on public education launched by the Obama administration and backed by billions of federal and private dollars.

Brenner begins:

“A feature of the Obama presidency has been his campaign against the American public school system, eating way at the foundations of elementary education. That means the erosion of an institution that has been one of the keystones of the Republic. The project to remake it as a mixed public/private hybrid is inspired by a discredited dogma that charter schools perform better. This article of faith serves an alliance of interests — ideological and commercial — for whom the White House has been point man. A President whose tenure in office is best known for indecision, temporizing and vacillation has been relentless since day one in using the powers of his office to advance the cause. Such conviction and sustained dedication is observable in only one other area of public policy: the project to expand the powers and scope of the intelligence agencies that spy on, and monitor the behavior of persons and organizations at home as well as abroad.

“The audacity of the project is matched by the passive deference that it is accorded. There is no organized opposition — in civil society or politics. Only a few outgunned elements fight a rearguard action against a juggernaut that includes Republicans and Democrats, reactionaries and liberals — from Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York to the nativist Christian Right of the Bible Belt. All of this without the national “conversation” otherwise so dear to the hearts of the Obama people, without corroboration of its key premises, without serious review of its consequences, without focused media attention.

“This past week, as the deadline approached for states to make their submissions to Arne Duncan’s Department of Education requesting monies appropriated under the Race to the Top initiative, we were reminded that the DOE has decreed that no proposal will be considered where the state government has put a cap on charter schools. In other words, the federal government has put its thumb heavily on the scales of local deliberations as to what approach toward charter schools best serves their communities’ interests. Penalties are being imposed on those who choose to limit, in any quantitative way, the charter school movement.

“This heavy-handed use of federal leverage by the Obama administration should not come as a surprise. After all, Obama himself has been a consistent, highly vocal advocate of “privatization.” He has travelled the country from coast to coast, like Johnny Appleseed, sowing distrust of public schools and – especially – public school teachers. They have been blamed for what ails America – the young unprepared for the 21st century globalized economy; the shortage of engineers; high drop-out rates; school districts’ financial woes, whatever.*”

Please read the entire article, and you will hear loud echoes of the many voices who have posted here: the demoralized teachers, the frustrated parents, the outraged students. We are the outgunned rearguard. And we will not be silent. Our voices will grow louder and louder as we demand an end to policies that destroy public education and demonize teachers and stigmatize students.

Join us at the first annual conference of the Network for Public Education on March 1-2 in Austin, Texas, where we will strengthen our resolve to stop the juggernaut of privatization.

Margaret Mead said it: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

David Berliner has designed a provocative thought experiment.

He offers you State A and State B.

He describes salient differences between them.

Can you predict which state has high-performing schools and which state has low-performing schools?

The Roots of Academic Achievement
David C. Berliner
Regents’ Professor Emeritus
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College
Arizona State University

Let’s do a thought experiment. I will slowly parcel out data about two different states. Eventually, when you are nearly 100% certain of your choice, I want you to choose between them by identifying the state in which an average child is likely to be achieving better in school. But you have to be nearly 100% certain that you can make that choice.

To check the accuracy of your choice I will use the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as the measure of school achievement. It is considered by experts to be the best indicator we have to determine how children in our nation are doing in reading and mathematics, and both states take this test.

Let’s start. In State A the percent of three and four year old children attending a state associated prekindergarten is 8.8% while in State B the percent is 1.7%. With these data think about where students might be doing better in 4th and 8th grade, the grades NAEP evaluates student progress in all our states. I imagine that most people will hold onto this information about preschool for a while and not yet want to choose one state over the other. A cautious person might rightly say it is too soon to make such a prediction based on a difference of this size, on a variable that has modest, though real effects on later school success.

So let me add more information to consider. In State A the percent of children living in poverty is 14% while in State B the percent is 24%. Got a prediction yet? See a trend? How about this related statistic: In State A the percent of households with food insecurity is 11.4% while in State B the percent is 14.9%. I also can inform you also that in State A the percent of people without health insurance is 3.8% while in State B the percent is 17.7%. Are you getting the picture? Are you ready to pick one state over another in terms of the likelihood that one state has its average student scoring higher on the NAEP achievement tests than the other?

​If you still say that this is not enough data to make yourself almost 100% sure of your pick, let me add more to help you. In State A the per capita personal income is $54,687 while in state B the per capita personal income is $35,979. Since per capita personal income in the country is now at about $42,693, we see that state A is considerably above the national average and State B is considerably below the national average. Still not ready to choose a state where kids might be doing better in school?

Alright, if you are still cautious in expressing your opinions, here is some more to think about. In State A the per capita spending on education is $2,764 while in State B the per capita spending on education is $2,095, about 25% less. Enough? Ready to choose now?
Maybe you should also examine some statistics related to the expenditure data, namely, that the pupil/teacher ratio (not the class sizes) in State A is 14.5 to one, while in State B it is 19.8 to one.

As you might now suspect, class size differences also occur in the two states. At the elementary and the secondary level, respectively, the class sizes for State A average 18.7 and 20.6. For State B those class sizes at elementary and secondary are 23.5 and 25.6, respectively. State B, therefore, averages at least 20% higher in the number of students per classroom. Ready now to pick the higher achieving state with near 100% certainty? If not, maybe a little more data will make you as sure as I am of my prediction.

​In State A the percent of those who are 25 years of age or older with bachelors degrees is 38.7% while in State B that percent is 26.4%. Furthermore, the two states have just about the same size population. But State A has 370 public libraries and State B has 89.
Let me try to tip the data scales for what I imagine are only a few people who are reluctant to make a prediction. The percent of teachers with Master degrees is 62% in State A and 41.6% in State B. And, the average public school teacher salary in the time period 2010-2012 was $72,000 in State A and $46,358 in State B. Moreover, during the time period from the academic year 1999-2000 to the academic year 2011-2012 the percent change in average teacher salaries in the public schools was +15% in State A. Over that same time period, in State B public school teacher salaries dropped -1.8%.

I will assume by now we almost all have reached the opinion that children in state A are far more likely to perform better on the NAEP tests than will children in State B. Everything we know about the ways we structure the societies we live in, and how those structures affect school achievement, suggests that State A will have higher achieving students. In addition, I will further assume that if you don’t think that State A is more likely to have higher performing students than State B you are a really difficult and very peculiar person. You should seek help!

So, for the majority of us, it should come as no surprise that in the 2013 data set on the 4th grade NAEP mathematics test State A was the highest performing state in the nation (tied with two others). And it had 16 percent of its children scoring at the Advanced level—the highest level of mathematics achievement. State B’s score was behind 32 other states, and it had only 7% of its students scoring at the Advanced level. The two states were even further apart on the 8th grade mathematics test, with State A the highest scoring state in the nation, by far, and with State B lagging behind 35 other states.

Similarly, it now should come as no surprise that State A was number 1 in the nation in the 4th grade reading test, although tied with 2 others. State A also had 14% of its students scoring at the advanced level, the highest rate in the nation. Students in State B scored behind 44 other states and only 5% of its students scored at the Advanced level. The 8th grade reading data was the same: State A walloped State B!

States A and B really exist. State B is my home state of Arizona, which obviously cares not to have its children achieve as well as do those in state A. It’s poor achievement is by design. Proof of that is not hard to find. We just learned that 6000 phone calls reporting child abuse to the state were uninvestigated. Ignored and buried! Such callous disregard for the safety of our children can only occur in an environment that fosters, and then condones a lack of concern for the children of the Arizona, perhaps because they are often poor and often minorities. Arizona, given the data we have, apparently does not choose to take care of its children. The agency with the express directive of insuring the welfare of children may need 350 more investigators of child abuse. But the governor and the majority of our legislature is currently against increased funding for that agency.

State A, where kids do a lot better, is Massachusetts. It is generally a progressive state in politics. To me, Massachusetts, with all its warts, resembles Northern European countries like Sweden, Finland, and Denmark more than it does states like Alabama, Mississippi or Arizona. According to UNESCO data and epidemiological studies it is the progressive societies like those in Northern Europe and Massachusetts that care much better for their children. On average, in comparisons with other wealthy nations, the U. S. turns out not to take good care of its children. With few exceptions, our politicians appear less likely to kiss our babies and more likely to hang out with individuals and corporations that won’t pay the taxes needed to care for our children, thereby insuring that our schools will not function well.

But enough political commentary: Here is the most important part of this thought experiment for those who care about education. Everyone of you who predicted that Massachusetts would out perform Arizona did so without knowing anything about the unions’ roles in the two states, the curriculum used by the schools, the quality of the instruction, the quality of the leadership of the schools, and so forth. You made your prediction about achievement without recourse to any of the variables the anti-public school forces love to shout about –incompetent teachers, a dumbed down curriculum, coddling of students, not enough discipline, not enough homework, and so forth. From a few variables about life in two different states you were able to predict differences in student achievement test scores quite accurately.

I believe it is time for the President, the Secretary of Education, and many in the press to get off the backs of educators and focus their anger on those who will not support societies in which families and children can flourish. Massachusetts still has many problems to face and overcome—but they are nowhere as severe as those in my home state and a dozen other states that will not support programs for neighborhoods, families, and children to thrive.

This little thought experiment also suggests also that a caution for Massachusetts is in order. It seems to me that despite all their bragging about their fine performance on international tests and NAEP tests, it’s not likely that Massachusetts’ teachers, or their curriculum, or their assessments are the basis of their outstanding achievements in reading and mathematics. It is much more likely that Massachusetts is a high performing state because it has chosen to take better care of its citizens than do those of us living in other states. The roots of high achievement on standardized tests is less likely to be found in the classrooms of Massachusetts and more likely to be discovered in its neighborhoods and families, a refection of the prevailing economic health of the community served by the schools of that state.

Back in the 1990s, when I was on the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation (now the Thomas B. Fordham Institute), we began rating state standards and assigning letter grades to the states. Much to our surprise and delight, the media ate up the ratings. Whenever we released our grades for the states, there would be big stories in the newspapers in almost every state, and it helped to put TBF on the map.

Now, TBF–a conservative advocacy group for accountability, high-stakes testing, and choice–has become a major promoter of the Common Core. Coincidentally or not, TBF received significant funding from the Gates Foundation to evaluate the Common Core, which seems to be a wholly-owned property of theGates Foundation.

In this post, Mercedes Schneider reviews the reliability, validity, and consistency of the Fordham ratings of state standards when compared to the Common Core standards.

She ends her piece by including a bizarre video that TBF commissioned, in which its staff appear to be robots or zombies. They chant against smaller class size and in favor of the Common Core. If nothing else, you can understand the Institute’s priorities. Not for their own children, of course, but for Other People’s Children.