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8/28/14 – Charter Schools Don’t Need An Ad Campaign

THIS WEEK: Widening Inequality … Report Urges Fewer Tests … Arne Duncan’s Harmful Policies … High Teacher Turnover … Student Loan Apocalypse


Charter Schools Don’t Need An Ad Campaign, They Need Regulation

By Jeff Bryant

“This time of year, while classroom teachers and administrators in public schools are busy welcoming students back to a new school year and figuring out how they’re going to cope with devastating financial constraints, advocates in the charter schools industry are propping up their image with an extensive new public relations campaign, called ‘Truth About Charters.’ That contrast alone pretty much tells you everything you need to know about where we are in the nation’s parallel education narratives, in which a gritty documentary competes with what is essentially an advertising campaign for a shiny, new product.”
Read more …


Back To School, And To Widening Inequality

Robert Reich

Economist Robert Reich writes on his personal blog, “The achievement gap between poor kids and wealthy kids isn’t mainly about race … It’s a reflection of the nation’s widening gulf between poor and wealthy families. And also about how schools in poor and rich communities are financed … As we segregate by income into different communities, schools in lower-income areas have fewer resources than ever. The result is widening disparities in funding per pupil … The wealthiest highest-spending districts are now providing about twice as much funding per student as are the lowest-spending districts … The United States is one of only three, out of 34 advanced nations surveyed by the OECD, whose schools serving higher-income children have more funding per pupil and lower student-teacher ratios than do schools serving poor students … Until we recognize we’re systematically hobbling schools serving disadvantaged kids, we’re unlikely to make much headway ”
Read more …

Accountability Report Urges Fewer Tests, More Peer Review

Education Week

“Accountability for the public schools should be far less test-driven and more the product of teachers holding one another to high professional standards, the National Center on Education and the Economy proposes in a report … Essentially, the NCEE calls on the U.S. to administer tests only in 4th, 8th, and 10th grades, and to use tests that focus largely on performance tasks. In other grades, tests would be taken by random samples of students. To ensure coverage of the full curriculum, these tests would gradually test science and other subjects in addition to English and math. If the results of these exams suggested that a school was falling behind the state curriculum or not sufficiently educating vulnerable students, they could trigger school inspections … The report also urges states to help set up “career ladders” in which experienced teachers would take on roles mentoring colleagues and refining teaching practices; teachers would be held to high standards by their peers.”
Read more …

Is Doing Less Harm Enough For Education Secretary Duncan?

The Washington Post

Barnett Berry, chief executive officer at the Center for Teaching Quality writes, “It has taken [Secretary of Education Arne] Duncan far too long to heed educators’ concerns about new evaluation systems reliant on tests not yet aligned with new college- and career-ready standards … So, what next? … The federal government could spread best practices for evaluation found in top-performing nations like Singapore … The U.S. Department of Education could help to ensure that evaluation systems yield useful information by encouraging states to implement serious peer review systems that give teachers information and support … The USDOE should maximize its new Teach to Lead initiative—inviting accomplished teachers to create and lead professional learning systems that spread expertise to improve student outcomes.”
Read more …

Half Of Teachers Leave The Job After Five Years. Here’s What To Do About It.

The Hechinger Report

“A new report … found that about 13% of the nation’s 3.4 million teachers move schools or leave the profession every year, costing states up to $2 billion. Researchers estimate that over 1 million teachers move in and out of schools annually, and between 40 and 50% quit within five years … The high turnover rates are sometimes due to layoffs, ‘but the primary reason they leave is because they’re dissatisfied’ … New teachers need more on-the-job training and mentor programs for the first two years that’s designed to keep them in the profession. Called ‘comprehensive induction,’ the training should include a high-quality, pre-screened mentor who is an experienced teacher, common planning time with other teachers, regular and rigorous training, and ongoing contact with school leaders.”
Read more …

These 9 Charts Show America’s Coming Student Loan Apocalypse

The Huffington Post

“More than half of Direct Loans … aren’t being repaid on time or as expected … Nearly half of the loans in repayment are in plans scheduled to take longer than 10 years. The number of loans in distress is rising. The increase in troubled loans comes as the average amount of student debt has significantly outpaced wage growth … The Education Department released data this month providing a much more detailed snapshot into how borrowers are coping with their federal student loans and how the government’s handpicked loan companies are juggling their obligations to borrowers and taxpayers … With a lackluster economy, tepid wage growth and vast numbers of Americans still looking for full-time work, some federal policymakers fear current borrowers will need more time to repay their loans than previous generations … The larger fear … ‘Will we have a generation of people who hit age 65 or 70 without any assets?’”
Read more …

Charter Schools Don’t Need An Ad Campaign, They Need Regulation

This time of year, while classroom teachers and administrators in public schools are busy welcoming students back to a new school year and figuring out how they’re going to cope with devastating financial constraints, advocates in the charter schools industry are propping up their image with an extensive new public relations campaign, called “Truth About Charters.”

That contrast alone pretty much tells you everything you need to know about where we are in the nation’s parallel education narratives, in which a gritty documentary competes with what is essentially an advertising campaign for a shiny, new product.

There are good reasons for charter schools advocates to feel they need an ad campaign. Recent polling results from the annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Towards the Public Schools show that Americans generally have favorable opinions about charter schools but don’t really know very much about them.

That situation is eerily similar to what has befallen another education policy favored by influential private interests and federal and state authorities: the Common Core.

Last year’s PDK/Gallup survey found that the Common Core was pretty much a mystery to most Americans, although public support for national standards was high. However, as new standards rolled out, and people became more knowledgeable about them and all they entail, opinion gradually changed. According to this year’s survey, over 80 percent of Americans have heard about the Common Core – 47 percent indicating they have heard a great deal or a fair amount. And most Americans, 60 percent, now oppose them.

A similar evolution may be occurring with charter schools. Because only about 6 percent of school children are enrolled in charters, the vast majority of Americans have had virtually no actual experiences with these schools. But in communities where charters are more prevalent, public opinion is more starkly divided. In school systems such as Philadelphia, Bridgeport, Pittsburgh, and Chicago, where charter schools are major providers, parents and local officials have increasingly opposed charter takeovers of their neighborhood schools.

Probably even more concerning to charter school advocates is the news that credit rating agency Standards & Poor’s recently down-rated the nation’s charter sector to a “negative” outlook.

What are the concerns? Apparently while charter advocates have their version of “truth,” another version of the truth has been playing out in communities around the country.

‘A Racket”

A recent article in the online news outlet The Progressive reported, “There’s been a flood of local news stories in recent months about FBI raids on charter schools all over the country. From Pittsburgh to Baton Rouge, from Hartford to Cincinnati to Albuquerque, FBI agents have been busting into schools, carting off documents, and making arrests leading to high-profile indictments.”

Reporter Ruth Conniff found charter schools allegations range from “taking money that was meant for the classroom,” to spending taxpayer dollars on “luxuries such as fine-dining and retreats at exclusive resorts and spas,” to engaging in “bribes and kickbacks.”

Conniff couldn’t help but conclude the special attention from the FBI is due to the likelihood these charter schools are “a racket.”

Recent news of charter school financial malfeasance abound.

The Washington Post reported, according to a pending civil lawsuit, the District of Columbia financial officer “responsible for monitoring charter schools’ business practices and ensuring their compliance with rules meant to prevent financial mismanagement” was instead allegedly receiving $150,000 to help three former managers of a local charter school chain “evade those rules and take millions of taxpayer dollars for themselves.”

Another report from The Post revealed that “about 25 percent” of the city’s charter schools pay fees – “ranging from 3 percent to 100 percent” of the schools’ total revenue – to nonprofit or for-profit management companies. Not surprisingly, several of the operating agreements with these management organizations prevent “the kind of transparency necessary to assure that schools are operating appropriately,” a DC school board review contended.

In Florida, a local news outlet investigating charter school operations found millions of taxpayer dollars misdirected from classrooms and students to management companies. The report pointed to charter school chain Charter Schools USA that makes “tens of millions” by operating as, essentially, a real estate firm.

CUSA uses tax-exempt bonds to build schools that it then rents to UCSA-affiliated schools. Then the CUSA schools are saddled with rent payments back to CUSA and its management company at rates considerably higher than those charged to other non-CUSA schools in the area.

One CUSA school will pay “more than $2 million this year in rent” – a 23% share of its budget. “That’s money that won’t be spent in classroom resources or teachers,” the report noted.

Education historian Diane Ravitch, writing on her personal blog, recently highlighted a report from the Florida League of Women Voters that explained how these charter school real estate schemes work across the state:

After receiving a variety of grants, loans and tax credits for building a charter school, the for-profit chain charges ever escalating rents and leases to the school district, paid by taxpayer education dollars. The for-profit then reaps the profits when the building is sold in a few years. Meanwhile the properties with high, non-taxable, values based on claimed ‘commercial’ revenue streams from public taxpayer dollars are leveraged to borrow additional funds to build more school buildings.

The League’s report noted, “The high per student management fees (around $450 ) plus rent/lease fees (at least 20 percent of the total school budget) mean that there is less funding available for ‘instruction,’ including teacher salaries, books, etc.”

The charter school racket goes beyond real estate deals.

The Arizona Republic recently “reviewed thousands of pages of federal tax returns, audits, corporate filings, and records filed with the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools” and found, “Board members and administrators from more than a dozen state-funded charter schools are profiting from their affiliations by doing business with schools they oversee. The deals, worth more than $70 million over the last five years, are legal, but critics of the arrangements say they can lead to conflicts of interest.”

In Newark, NJ, the money making opportunity for the charter school chains when the federal government made available millions of dollars in school construction bonds for charter schools. Noticing the potential windfall, the administration of governor Chris Christie promptly withheld funds designated for repairing and renovating existing public schools. This created a bonanza for new charter school construction, while local public schools went deeper into disrepair.

As Owen Davis reported for Truth Out, “By systematically underfunding the public sector while extending market incentives to private actors, the Christie administration has essentially placed its thumb on the scale for charters. The result: Some charters enjoy gleaming new facilities (bankrolled by the same financial milieu that spends its down time plugging them), while the public sector continues its decline.”

The Gülen Factor

An increasingly frequent target for scrutiny is the largest bricks-and-mortar charter-school chain in the United States run by the secretive Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gülen, who lives in exile from Turkey in rural Pennsylvania.

In her Progressive article, Conniff pointed to an August 12 story in The Atlantic that found Gulen schools “don’t have a great track record when it comes to financial and legal transparency.”

Reporter Scott Beauchamp found a Utah Gülen school that was $350,000 in debt while using much of it publicly provided funds to donate to Gulen-affiliated organizations and “pay the cost of bringing teachers to Utah from Turkey.”

Beauchamp also linked to a report in The New York Timesthat found two Gulen schools giving $50 million to Gülen-connected contractors “even though other contractors had offered lower bids.” And in Georgia, a county audit found three Gülen schools “skipped the bidding process altogether and paid nearly half a million dollars to organizations associated with the Gulen movement.

Federal investigations into Gülen schools across the Midwest have found similar shady practices. The Chicago Sun-Times recently reported that Chicago-area Concept Schools, also part of the Gulen charter chain, are subjects of an ongoing federal investigation. The enquiry is about nearly $1 million that has been paid to contractors for work at done at three Chicago-area charter schools run by Concept. The contractors, a management consulting firm, and a foundation – all with ties to the Gülen network – are wrapped up into the scheme.

In California, state auditors are looking at the Magnolia network of charter schools, also affiliated with the Gulen charter network. The audit stems from a sampling of transactions from the charter campuses by the inspector general of the Los Angeles school district, who “found over $43,000 in duplicate payments to vendors.”

Another review revealed, “the schools sent $2.8 million to the network’s management organization. The funds were poorly documented loans, and much of the cash was never paid back to classrooms.” Only a judicial intervention has prevented two of the Magnolia schools from being closed, and now the state has to intervene.

In Ohio, charter schools operated by Horizon Science Academy, also part of the Gülen Concept network, are accused by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks of being covers for Turkish nationals to get into this country.

According to a local news report, four former teachers from one of the Horizon schools, “accused officials at the school of possibly completing state tests for students, of unqualified teachers, of teachers showing videos day after day in class, of women being treated as second-class citizens and of teachers encouraging sexually harassing behavior toward female students.”

Another Ohio press outlet reported that the Gülen schools involved in the scandal are also “related through membership, fundraisers and political giving to the nonprofit Niagara Foundation, which provides trips to Turkey for state, local and federal lawmakers.”

Indeed, the influence of the Gülen network goes beyond the schoolhouse into the statehouse, by “making inroads in US politics,” according to a recent account at BuzzFeed.

“Liberal Democrats like Yvette Clarke, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Al Green, and conservative Republicans like Ted Poe and Pete Olson have all benefitted from donors affiliated with Gülen,” reporter Rosie Gray found.

“The patterns of giving suggest some level of coordination,” Gray discerned, and a number of the donations handed over to political campaigns from modestly paid classroom teachers are surprisingly large, the maximums allowed.

A ‘Market For Lemons’

In his Atlantic article on the spread of Gülen-related charter schools, Beauchamp felt compelled to note, repeatedly, that it could seem xenophobic to single out the Gülen schools for their mysterious use of public funds. However, “it isn’t the Gülen movement that makes Gülen charters so secretive,” Beauchamp wrote, “it’s the charter movement itself.”

Indeed, one of the supposed advantages of charter schools was their exemption to laws and regulations that some feel shackle public schools. But do these exemptions, in fact, lead to less transparency and accountability?

For instance, as a post on the Ohio blog Plunderbund recently explained, charter schools in that state are exempt from over 150 laws required of public schools, including “minimum standards” covering such things as training and qualifications of personnel; public disclosure of instructional materials, equipment, and facilities; “organization, administration, and supervision of schools; and “reporting requirements.”

The blogger, “Greg,” wrote, “If it wasn’t so appalling, we might be able to laugh at the continued insistence that Ohio’s charter (community) schools are held to the same level of accountability as are traditional public schools.”

An article appearing on the website for the University of Connecticut reported the conclusions of a professor who found, “the phenomenal growth of charter schools nationwide has been aided by a canny legal strategy in which the schools claim to be public for the purpose of taking in tax dollars but private for the purpose of evading government oversight.”

The article noted, for instance, “While public schools must provide due process to students when making decisions about suspensions or expulsions, most states exempt charter schools from school district discipline policies.”

Another example of how charter schools evade public scrutiny: A recent law passed in North Carolina, supported by charter schools lobbyists, “allows private, for-profit charter school management companies to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds.”

Another example: When a Hartford, CT charter management group was recently rocked by scandals involving its leadership, the firm responded to media enquiries by simply closing its books.

Another way charter schools organizations evade public scrutiny is by simply rebranding its services under another corporate name, as the online charter company K12, Inc. recently did with one of its product groups.

The culprits behind all this lack of transparency are, of course, public officials, many of whom – fiercely urged on by powerful charter schools lobbying and public relations efforts – actively support charter schools.

As Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker recently wrote on his personal blog, School Finance 101, “In theory, the accountability and efficiency advantage of charter schooling is driven by the market for choice of one school over another. Increasingly, state education agencies have moved from being impartial technical assistance agencies and accountability reporting agencies to strongly promoting the charter sector. This advocacy behavior corrupts the state agency role and creates what economists refer to as an ‘asymmetry of information’ – in the extreme case a ‘market for lemons.’”

For ‘The Kids’?

Faced with the expanding number of charter schools scandals (keep in mind, the above examples are just a sample of what’s been reported just in the past two months), some government officials are beginning to wake up and act.

As Education Week recently reported, “Charter school authorizing, caps, and performance-based closures are among six policy areas getting growing attention in state charter school laws, according to a policy brief released by the Education Commission of the States this month.”

One such measure got the attention of Diane Ravitch who noted on her blog, “The Massachusetts State Senate voted 26-13 not to increase the number of charter schools in the state. A similar bill cleared the House by a vote of 114-35 in May.”

So how do charter schools proponents respond to this kind of legislation? By fighting it tooth and nail.

As edu-blogger Jennifer Berkshire reported on her Edushyster blog, during negotiations on the bill, the positions of the Massachusetts charter lobby were, “any compromise was completely unacceptable.”

And the decision was immediately made a matter of rhetorical overkill by Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker, who according to Ravitch, “issued a statement suggesting the Senate ‘bowed to political pressure and handed urban families stuck in struggling schools a massive defeat by shutting down access to high performing schools.’”

Other charter school proponents responded by comparing anyone wanting to put the brakes on charter school expansions to “George Wallace” declaring “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Really?

Indeed, when charter proponents aren’t engaged in a clever PR campaign, they resort to demagoguery, accusing any and all detractors of charter schools of being engaged in “politics.”

And they say they do this “for the kids”?

8/20/2014 – Schools White People Cannot See

THIS WEEK: Obama Losing Public Support … Bad News For Common Core … Justice Panels Instead Of Suspensions … NCLB Waivers Lose Favor … What To Teach About Michael Brown


Back To Schools White People Cannot See

By Jeff Bryant

“The ‘oxymoronic’ term ‘majority-minority’ is another ‘clear indicator’ of how white people continue to perceive themselves as a “majority” even when statistically they no longer are, in many respects. Public education, in particular, is now one of those ‘majority-minority’ arenas … Given this understanding of the way white privilege distorts perceptions of reality, it’s not a leap of logic to suggest that political and policy leaders have a distorted understanding of the conditions in schools populated by children who look nothing like them. And it’s not unfair in the least to wonder if these leaders are incapable of really seeing the schools they purport to render policy direction for.”
Read more …


Obama Losing Public Support On Education Issues, New Poll Finds

The Washington Post

“Results of a well-regarded annual poll: Support for President Obama on education issues is waning – with only 27% giving him an A or B … A majority of the public … have more trust in their local school board than in the federal government … Support for Obama in education has fallen every year since 2011… A majority of Americans cite the biggest problem facing public schools today as lack of financial support.”
Read more …

Bad Week For The Common Core


“Two new national polls … found the public souring on the academic standards … One … found a steep plunge in support for the standards among public school teachers … [Another] … found that 80% of Americans have heard about the Common Core … Familiarity has apparently bred distrust: Fully 60% of respondents said they opposed using the standards to guide instruction in their community … Among those naysayers, more than three-quarters told pollsters their opposition was motivated at least in part by a belief that local teachers don’t support the standards … Though the major unions both back the Common Core, leaders have complained that their members lack the training, resources and support to implement the standards properly.”
Read more …

Schools Find Justice Panels More Effective Than Suspending Students


“Children’s advocates, teachers and principals have long argued that suspensions are ineffective at improving student behavior … One suspension more often that not leads to many more; students who are suspended are also more likely to drop out of school, break the law and eventually end up in jail. By using justice panels, student mentoring and peer-led conflict resolution, schools … But restorative justice comes with its own difficulties. The student must take responsibility for his or her actions.”
Read more …

Sheen Fades as NCLB Waivers Near Three-Year Mark

Education Week

“In 2011, states chafing under the badly outdated No Child Left Behind Act leapt at the Obama administration’s offer of relief … The biggest policy pothole experts identify over and over again: The waivers tied together the controversial Common Core State Standards, new aligned assessments, and teacher performance … The combination has led to political strife in states … Even state officials with a generally positive view of the waivers say the Education Department has at times fallen short of its rhetoric on collaboration … The waivers have been panned by the administration’s own congressional allies … as a retreat from accountability, particularly for the poor and minority students that the NCLB law was designed to protect.”
Read more …

What Do We Teach When Kids Are Dying? #MichaelBrown

Practical Theory

Chris Lehmann principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA writes on his personal blog, “When I heard that Mike Brown was shot – unarmed, multiple times – by a police officer, my thoughts immediately went to the many stories I have heard over the years from my students of color about their experiences with the police … Conversations I have heard have spoken to a deep level of distrust and fear between students of color and the police … The reaction of the authorities in Ferguson, MO since Mike Brown was shot … has looked more like a police state than anything I can remember in America in my lifetime. All over the country, students are on social media asking – what kind of country does this to its own citizens? … It is incredibly daunting to think about how we frame this issue in our classrooms, but that cannot be the reason for educators to shy away from it. And, if nothing else, now is a moment where educators need to listen deeply to students who need to express what they are feeling … Mike Brown’s death must serve to remind us that there is no such thing … as passive anti-racism. His death – and the police state that Ferguson, MO has become since his death – must remind us that institutional racism is the norm in this country and therefore we have to actively work to do better.”
Read more …

Back To Schools White People Cannot See

As the season for new school openings rolls out, there are reasons for a new consciousness-raising about those schools – the kind of consciousness-raising that can be brought about when there’s a shock to the system like Ferguson, Missouri.

Of the many heartfelt, well thought-out, and clearly written responses to the ongoing travesty happening in Ferguson, one of the most insightful was “Dear White People: The Race You Can’t See Is Your Own” that appeared on Blue Nation Review.

Written by author and communications consultant Anat Shenker-Osorio, the post delved into the issue of race and perceptions of race – the starting point for understanding not only what caused events in Ferguson but also what conditions the different ways people have responded to those events.

From a scientific perspective, Shenker-Osorio explained, people “formulate judgments by race. Not only does race constrain our ability to recall and differentiate among faces and constrain empathy for physical pain, it structures our desired responses to public policies.”

These are just the facts of the matter – with one notable exception, as Shenker-Osorio noted: “whites don’t see race … when they’re looking at other whites.”

To illustrate this phenomenon, Shenker-Osorio recalled a focus group she had run in which “we showed different groups an all white image and asked them to discuss it. None of the white folks remarked upon the lack of people of color, but for the African American, Latino and Asian-Pacific Island groups, it was the first thing they said.”

Shenker-Osorio also pointed out how the “oxymoronic” term “majority-minority” is another “clear indicator” of how white people continue to perceive themselves as a “majority” even when statistically they no longer are, in many respects.

Public education, in particular, is now one of those “majority-minority” arenas. As numerous recent reports have recently conveyed, this new school year will be the first in which white students are no longer a majority in public schools.

Of course, this seismic demographic change didn’t happen overnight. For years, schools have been becoming more and more populated by higher percentages of non-white children, with many districts having been mostly non-white.

But given this understanding of the way white privilege distorts perceptions of reality, it’s not a leap of logic to suggest that political and policy leaders have a distorted understanding of the conditions in schools populated by children who look nothing like them. And it’s not unfair in the least to wonder if these leaders are incapable of really seeing the schools they purport to render policy direction for.

Failure To See The Funding Crisis

Take the issue of school finance. While some would have us believe that the “recovery” has healed school finances, the reality for most schools is very different.

The financial recovery that has occurred in some public and private sectors simply has not happened in K-12 education. Despite some improvements in overall state tax revenues (which provide about 45 percent of K-12 education funding), according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

  • New state budgets for school year 2013-2014 provided less per-pupil funding for kindergarten through 12th grade than they did six years ago – often far less.
  • 34 states provided less per-student funding for K-12 education in 2013-14 than they did in fiscal year 2008.
  • Schools in around a third of states entered the school year with less state funding than they had the preious year.
  • At least 35 states provided less funding per student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession hit.

Adding to the financial plight, counties and municipalities that fund schools at the local level collected 2.1 percent less in property tax revenue in the 12-month period ending in March 2013 than in the previous year. There are no indications 2014 is any better.

Federal funds for K-12 education have continued to decline too according to a report in FiveThirtyEight. Federal per-student spending fell more than 20 percent from 2010 to 2012 and continued to fall in 2013-2014. Title I was down 12 percent. Spending on disabled education went down 11 percent. No increases are coming from the feds for the 2015 school year.

The impact of funding cuts were significant as school administrators had to dig deeper into budgets and cut instructional-related expenses, including teaching positions, instructional materials, and teacher professional development:

A survey of school superintendents found that federal funding cuts implemented in 2014 resulted in reduced expenditures on professional development (59 percent), eliminated personnel (53 percent), increased class size (48 percent), and deferred technology purchases (46 percent).

Another survey of school district leaders found only 11 percent disagreed/strongly disagreed that budget shortfalls would be “a challenge for my school district.” Only 16 percent of district officials surveyed about their instructional budgets in 2013 said they expected their financial situations to improve in 2014. It’s not likely 2015 will bring on a recovery.

The ‘Recovery’ Isn’t Happening

Where funding has increased, it has generally not increased enough to make up for cuts in past years.

A recent report on school funding levels in New York by the Alliance for Quality Education found a $5.9 billion shortfall on what is owed to schools in that state. The report quoted a school official who said, “We’ve cut writing classes, science, athletics, arts, everywhere.” Another official said, ” We have eliminated our entire business program, cut our JV sports teams, reduced our academic intervention programs, as well as decimating our administrative leadership team.”

Cuts to school funding in Pennsylvania have been so severe staffing levels have hit a ten-year low. Democratic state leaders accuse Governor Corbett of cutting a billion dollars from the state education budget, with one public school advocate quoted as saying, “We’ve lost over 400 teachers … 20 percent of the teaching compliment of the Allentown School District.”

In the current North Carolina state budget, education gets $500 million less than the 2008 inflation-adjusted budget, even though school populations have grown dramatically. Progressive group NC Policy Watch has tracked, county by county, the effects of budget cuts on classrooms, documenting slashed classroom teacher and teacher assistant positions, increased class sizes, and cuts to instructional supplies and textbooks. One little-noticed provision in the budget ensures schools no longer get more money when their enrollments increase.

In Florida, Governor Scott declared this year’s budget includes record levels of education funding, but his proposal left the state’s per pupil spending about $200 lower than in the 2007-08 school year, while district needs have only risen.

In Michigan, after a previous state budgets cut education spending over $1 billion, modest increases in the 2015 version barely recovered a quarter of what had been cut. This means a school district, such as Ann Arbor for example, will have funding levels of $6,445,869 (based on 2010-11 levels) compared to $7,727,263 from the previous year. But the cumulative results are still a near $30 million shortfall over a four year period, and that’s just for one district.

In Kansas, largest-ever cuts in state school funding history took funding back to 1992 levels, when adjusted for inflation. The cuts resulted in the elimination of teaching aids, school specialists, and classroom teachers. Textbook purchases were put on hold, schools resorted to radical measures including removing half the light bulbs, dropping tutoring activities, and cancelling summer school.

In Nevada, state funding for schools is so inadequate, communities are resorting to unheard of measures, including, as NPR recently reported, a district raising funds through bars and brothels.

Nationally, a recent survey of teachers found one in three using textbooks 10 years old or older. Thirty percent of teachers report not having enough textbooks to assign homework. Another national survey found budget cuts have resulted in only a third of schools now having school librarians.

Funding Disparities Follow Race/Income

The relationship of education cuts to race becomes even more obvious when recognizing how resources, as dear as they are, are being distributed.

The budget cuts themselves have been distributed in inequitable fashion, with schools serving the poorest – and by proxy nonwhite – children bearing the brunt of the disinvestment.

As an annually recurring report on school funding fairness found in its 2014 edition, “The Great Recession triggered dramatic reductions in state and local revenue from property, sales and income taxes. To prevent layoffs and cuts to education programs, the federal government provided substantial stimulus funds on a temporary basis. When the stimulus ended, however, states faced a crucial test: either restore revenue or allow cuts to education funding and programs. This report shows many of the states failed this test, sacrificing fair school funding after the foreseeable loss of federal stimulus.”

That report found “school funding in most states remains remarkably unfair … The majority of states have flat or regressive funding distribution patterns that ignore the need for additional funding in high poverty settings. Even among ‘progressive’ states, only eight provide more than a 10 percent boost to high poverty districts. In the five most regressive states (North Dakota, Vermont, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Nevada), the poorest districts receive at least 20 percent less funding than higher wealth districts.”

Even within school districts there are huge disparities in spending depending on the wealth – and by proxy, the race – of the local community. As a recent article on The Huffington Post contended, “Students who live in wealthy communities have huge advantages that rig the system in their favor.” The article pointed to an analysis  showing that “wealthier districts” use private local education foundations to ensure their students “attend summer schools that provide educational enrichment, help students make up courses they missed or failed during the academic year, and look good on students’ transcripts when they apply to college.” For students who aren’t in these affluent districts – no such luck.

“Just within Los Angeles County,” the author noted, “there are huge differences between wealthy communities like La Cañada Flintridge (with a median household income of $154,947 and 2.1 percent poverty rate) and San Marino ($139,122 — 4.6 percent) and poorer cities like Pomona ($48,864 — 20.4 percent) and Huntington Park ($36,620 — 27.7 percent) in their ability to raise additional money for their local schools.”

Regarding federal funds, as the above referenced report from FiveThirtyEight noted, “most federal education aid targets two groups, low-income and special education students, who are overrepresented in urban school districts. As a result, urban districts have been hit harder by the recent cuts.”

Funding Fairness Matters, A Lot

These funding disparities have consequences.

As the author of the above linked Huffington Post article noted, “Affluent students in well-off school districts have higher rates of high school graduation, college attendance, and entry to the more selective colleges. This has little to do with intelligence or ability.”

According to a report at Vox, researchers found, “Spending more money on educating children in poor districts can dramatically change the trajectory of those children’s lives.”

The analysis found, “A 20 percent increase in per-pupil spending could make a big difference for students from poor families … The additional spending had virtually closed the high school graduation gap between poor students and their wealthier peers. High school graduation rates increased 23 percentage points for poor students, and those students attended school or college for another year on average.”

Another recent study, according to an article at Education Week, found, “How much state governments spend per pupil and how they spend it does in fact have a significant correlation with achievement, particularly for the low-income students.”

The researches found, “A $1,000-per-pupil funding increase is correlated with a .42-point increase in National Assessment of Education Progress scores for low-income 4th graders … an increase of 20 percentage points in the state share of spending correlated with a 1-point improvement in the 8th grade math scores of low-income students.”

Funding fairness mattered even more as, “An improvement in the equity of funding across a state can improve academic performance without any additional spending overall. And the effect is significant: For example, a 20-point improvement in the equity ratio, holding all other factors constant, is correlated with nearly 2 point improvement in 4th grade NAEP reading scores for low-income students, equal to a roughly 1 percent gain.”

The School Reality White People Cannot See

Many who slough off the importance of equitable funding for schools instead point to other issues they deem to be more apt to even the playing field – such as promulgating new standards or changing teacher personnel policies.

According to this view, if we were just to “raise the bar” on what we expect all students to achieve or “hold teachers more accountable” for the results students get on standardized tests, then these issues of funding simply wouldn’t matter.

These arguments are distractions. As the new president of the National Education Association Lily Eskelsen Garcia recently stated, “That is their narrative. Because if you can talk about something like that you don’t have to talk about why do these kids have an Olympic swimming pool and these kids have a leaky roof. How come these kids get French classes and AP classes – and they should – and these kids don’t even get recess because they spend it drilling and practicing for the standardized test. Equity costs money, so you want to change the subject as fast as you can.”

Back to Shenker-Osorio, she concluded her reflection on the Ferguson tragedy with a call “to face some hard truths. The race we don’t see is our own, and it keeps us from understanding our privilege and thus others’ lived experience of baked-in, perpetual, harms.”

One of those “baked-in, perpetual harms” is that too many of the schools in this country are like the school Michael Brown attended in Ferguson. As a recent post on the liberal blog site Daily Kos noted, Brown’s schools “was created by merging two of the poorest, most heavily minority districts around St. Louis – Normandy and Wellston. The poverty rate for families sending their kids to Normandy Schools was 92 percent. At Wellston School District, the poverty rate was 98 percent. Every single student in the Wellston district was African American.”

The fact that Brown graduated from this school and was about to attend college may have been a “miracle,” as the post claimed. But the reality of his dead body bleeding on the street should spur a call to action very different from the actions education policy leaders want us to undertake. The fact these folks can’t see that is what really is the whole problem.



8/15/2014 – Character Change In The ‘Education Reform’ Soap Opera

THIS WEEK: Teachers Not Prepared For Common Core … Test Resistance Grows … Ed-Tech Teaching Machines … Charter School Corruption … College Debt’s Long-Term Damages


Character Change In The ‘Education Reform’ Soap Opera

By Jeff Bryant

“With the resignation of Michelle Rhee from the organization she founded, StudentsFirst, what we witnessed is an alteration of a script already written by very wealthy people who’ve created an elaborate fiction for how the nation should educate its children.”
Read more …


Despite Training, Half of Teachers Feel Inadequately Prepared for Common Core

Education Week

“Teachers are getting steadily more training in the common core, but they’re not feeling much more prepared to teach it, according to survey results … While far more teachers are attending common-core training, they are giving those sessions low marks for quality … As states edge closer to giving common-core-aligned assessments this spring, it’s notable that the survey found that few teachers were getting training about the tests. Only 23 percent reported that the assessments had been a topic of professional development … Nearly six in 10 said their main curricular materials were not aligned to the new standards.”
Read more …

National Resistance To High-Stakes Testing Grows Even Before School Year Begins

Substance News

“Resistance to the regime of high-stakes testing … never stopped organizing after last year’s testing cycle ended … With another group of secret tests being foisted on American public school children this school year … the Resistance continues to have several issues to confront. Following the debacle of the debate against Common Core … even more teachers are becoming aware of the issues … The Opt Out movement and the Resistance to high-stakes testing can presently be seen to be nationwide.”
Read more …

Google Classroom And The Teaching Machine

Hack Education

Ed-tech blogger Audrey Waters writes on her personal blog, “Much of the history of education technology from the early 20th century onward is concerned with … long-running efforts to automate assignments and assessment … These are frequently framed as ‘labor-saving’ advancements for teachers, who as psychologist Sidney Pressey wrote in 1926, are ‘woefully burdened by such routine of drill and information-fixing’ … The irony seems to be lost on Pressey, no doubt, that the drudgery of repeated grading and testing was a result of the very practices that he and his fellow psychologists had promoted. The irony is still lost on many folks today … Pressey first demonstrated his teaching machine … to the American Psychological Association in 1924 … We can see in Pressey’s machine one of the early attempts to automate the practice of standardized testing … Looking too at the Google Classroom launch with a grading scale based on 100 points (a grading scale that is not ‘natural,’ that has a history) – that technology does not simply work in the service of supporting educational practices. Technology shapes, limits, steers those practices.”
Read more …

How Will Charter Schools Deal With Their Corruption Scandals?

The Washington Post

“Charter schools were originally conceived as centers of experimentation and innovation where educators could try new approaches quickly on a small scale with a minimum of paperwork … That same openness that allows new ideas to flourish may also have left the sector vulnerable to a dangerous level of corruption … Now recent investigations from the Detroit Free Press, South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel, and the Florida League of Women Voters have painted a troubling picture of two out-of-control charter school systems … The charter school systems of Florida and Michigan were set up under the explicit assumptions that choice and market forces could allow a massive government funded set of private companies to run with only minimal oversight and regulation … It is time to start questioning the effectiveness of these policies and their cost to both taxpayers and, more importantly, to students.”
Read more …

Student Debt May Damage Grads’ Lives More Than We Realize, Gallup Finds

The Huffington Post

“College undergrads who take on a lot of student loan debt are less likely to thrive in several key areas after graduation … Major student debt tends to burden the graduates’ lives well beyond their wallets … Graduates who had taken on debt of more than $50,000 were more likely than their less-burdened counterparts to be struggling or suffering in four areas: purpose, financial, community, and physical … Even after controlling for socioeconomic status (using the common proxy of the mother’s highest level of education), the most indebted graduates still had lower ratings in well-being … Graduates’ well-being may suffer in part, Gallup suggested, because student debt often leads people to defer major life events, like getting married and buying a home.’”
Read more …

Character Change In The ‘Education Reform’ Soap Opera

If you’ve ever spent much time watching soap operas, you’re familiar with this scenario: Two characters with furrowed brows, arms akimbo square off: “That’s not true,” says one. “Oh yes it is,” says the other. “If only Brock were here …” as the camera pans right. Music swells, tension builds … only, when the door opens, the person entering doesn’t look like “Brock.”

Oh, he looks Brock-like – same telegenic appearance, good style points. But he’s clearly not Brock. Then the voice over: “Now playing the role of Brock is … ” and what you realize is that the character you’re used to seeing has changed, and the person now playing the part is different.

But as everyone familiar with this knows, the plot remains the same – same settings, same confrontations over fictional creations. The cast change is disconcerting for sure, but you’ll get used to it (it’s happened before). All is in order.

That’s what happened this week in the soap opera called “education reform.”

With the resignation of reform firebrand and former Chancellor of the Washington, DC public schools Michelle Rhee from the organization she founded, StudentsFirst, what we witnessed is an alteration of a script already written by very wealthy people who’ve created an elaborate fiction for how the nation should educate its children.


Indeed, roles have changed. Huffington Post’s Joy Resmovits broke the story of Rhee’s departure, and Politico’s Stephanie Simon provided the backstory, describing Rhee’s organization as “hobbled by a high staff turnover rate, embarrassing PR blunders and a lack of focus” and characterizing Rhee’s leadership as “imperious, inflexible and often illogical.”

The new persona has yet to take the stage, but the “Rhee-placement” seems certain. Echoing my Salon article last month, Resmovits wrote, “The change comes as the education reform movement that Rhee spearheaded has a new face: Former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown. Recently, Brown’s organization, Partnership for Educational Justice, filed a lawsuit in New York state that organized local families as plaintiffs in an effort to have tenure deemed unconstitutional. Throughout, Brown has used talking points similar to the ones Rhee has used when discussing teacher effectiveness, and Brown’s board members and the consultants she has used overlap with StudentsFirst’s.”

Education Week’s Andrew Ujifusa agreed, writing, “The role Rhee had assumed as a member of the vanguard for ‘education reform’ may be taken up by Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor who is at the forefront of efforts to change teacher tenure and dismissal rules. Rhee recently hailed Brown’s effort in the face of criticism.”

And the show goes on.

It’s sad for sure to equate something as important as education policy to daytime drama. Public education is an endeavor that involves billions of dollars and millions of children, families, and public employees. Public schools shape the future of the nation like nothing else can compare to – not even close.

But the nations’ current approach to education policy is indeed a fiction – quite literally, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Failure For Sure

For sure Rhee has played a lead role in the saga of reform.

Simon quoted a StudentsFirst operative who said, “It’s safe to say that none of what’s been accomplished in the ed reform space over the past decade would have been possible without Michelle’s leadership in Washington, D.C., and with this organization.”

So what’s been accomplished?

The script had Rhee coming onto the national scene with the infamous “broom” cover for Time magazine depicting her policy to improve student achievement chiefly by firing teachers. That policy has now been abandoned.

As education historian Diane Ravitch announced on her personal blog, “District of Columbia Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced the suspension of the practice of evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores. This practice was considered the signal policy initiative of Henderson’s predecessor Michelle Rhee.”

The demise of Rhee’s signature solution for school improvement fell on the heels of yet more evidence of her failed legacy. As Bernie Horn of the liberal activist group Progressive Majority wrote on his organization’s blog, the latest round of test results from DC schools reflect the “utter failure of ‘reform’ policies.”

In Rhee’s wake, “the percentage of public school students judged ‘proficient’ or better in reading has declined over the past five years in every significant subcategory except ‘white,’” Horn explained. (emphasis original)

“This is important, and not just for Washington, D.C. It is an indictment of the whole corporatized education movement. During these five years, first Michelle Rhee and then her assistant/successor Kaya Henderson controlled DCPS and they did everything that the so-called ‘reformers’ recommend … Based on the city’s own system of evaluation, none of it has worked.”

No one should expect anything better from Campbell Brown.

Failure Times Two

Now, entering stage right is Brown whose debut “tearfully” posed a lawsuit which her script called an “incredibly brave” endeavor to “fight powers that have been fighting to maintain the status quo for as long as they have.”

The lawsuit claims it should take teachers longer then three years, the current requirement, to qualify for any due process considerations (commonly called tenure) should administration want to fire them. The suit also aims to eliminate “obstacles” such as teacher-evaluation laws, improvement plans, arbitration processes, and seniority considerations that teachers and administrators had previously agreed to in contracts.

Leading education “reform” advocates from across the political spectrum – including Michelle Rhee, former aids of President Obama, and Jeb Bush – promptly deemed the campaign as “an expression of the emerging consensus,” “about fairness and opportunity,” and “courageous,” respectively.

But a new report “The Real Campbell Brown” from two grassroots New York community groups, Alliance for Quality Education and New York Communities for Change, charged Brown with running a “political campaign” that is “wrong about public schools.”

“One need look no further than Campbell Brown’s lawsuit against teacher due process to see the depth of her misunderstanding or outright misrepresentation of the facts,” the report explained.

The report cites a number of “myths” that Brown and her campaign have built their lawsuit on, including “it takes 830 days to fire a teacher in New York State,” (recent data reveals it’s more like 105 days), tenure is granted automatically (it’s not), principals are powerless (they have the option of extending teacher probationary periods to four years), and eliminating seniority protections would result in a population of more effective teachers (research shows that experienced teachers are actually more effective).

When Alyssa Hadley Dunn, an education professor at Michigan State University, fact-checked Brown for her blog appearing at The Washington Post, she found a similarly flagrant denial of reality, concluding, “Quite simply: there is no research demonstrating causation between teacher tenure laws and lower rates of student achievement, which is the entire argument behind [Brown's] lawsuit.”

Brown attempted a rebuttal, claiming the high ground of being the lone actor for what is “good for the child,” yet somehow also maintaining it’s “not about me.” Someone should tell Brown that when your case is based on your moral standing rather than going “point by point,” then it is about you.

But “facts are stupid things” – to quote the “Great Communicator” Ronald Reagan, which is a comment befitting to an education agenda, like what Brown offers, that is mostly a Communications Plan for a fairy tale.

An Alternative, If We Care

The very wealthy people who have propped up Michelle Rhee are likely the same group of “producers” behind Brown (she refuses to divulge her backers).

Stephanie Simon reported them in her article linked to above: former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, hedge-fund managers David Tepper and Alan Fournier, the for-profit charter school management company Charter Schools USA, and several philanthropic foundations, including the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation.” If the match isn’t exact, you can bet it’s something very similar.

After all, it’s really those wealthy folks who have hired the script writers, devised the plot, and determined the cast, so regardless of the players, what will continue to play on is, as classroom teacher Peter Greene described on his personal blog, the continuing campaign to “sell horrible programs through nothing – not evidence, not research, not a track record of success – but the sheer force of … personality.”

Certainly more than just a change in actors is in order.

Furman University education professor Paul Thomas has proposed something that would elevate the policy discourse to something higher than daytime drama.

Writing on his personal blog, Thomas surmised that the education debate is in a place “where the irrational and unmerited thrive.” Most of what has been pushed onto public schools has amounted to “a distraction guaranteeing we will never get to the work needed.”

Something less “distracting” – less entertaining, like maybe “being rational … calling upon evidence … be honest” – would provide a better way forward.

You know, something that’s not drama. It’s real life.

8/8/14 – Not Good Enough For Education

THIS WEEK: Strengthen Schools Serving Poor Kids … Why To End School Segregation … Do Better On School Discipline … Teacher Tenure Battles Miss Nuance … Which Colleges Do More With Less


‘Better Than Republicans,’ Not Good Enough For Education

By Jeff Bryant

“Two new interviews with leading voices in the progressive education movement have brought to light how policy compromises forged by centrist Democrats have enabled truly bad consequences for public education. And progressives are increasingly saying ‘enough.’”
Read more …


How We Can Strengthen Schools Serving Low-Income Children

Education Week

In an op-ed, two education professors write, “It will be extraordinarily difficult to reverse the growth in inequality in educational outcomes in the United States. Yet, there are educational initiatives, conducted at considerable scale, that have improved results for low-income children … All of these initiatives operate in environments characterized by consistently strong school supports and sensible accountability … Consistent supports and sensible accountability are essential complements because, without supports for improved instruction, accountability can be counterproductive. And, supports alone typically are not enough to improve schooling because even hard-working, well-intentioned educators (like most adults) are slow to embrace change … Only if consistent strong supports are in place can accountability improve the education of low-income children.”
Read more …

Another Reason Why Segregated Education Is Bad For Young Students

The Huffington Post

“A new study … found that black students in segregated schools tended to make smaller gains in reading than their black counterparts in more integrated schools. This held true even when researchers accounted for black students’ backgrounds … The years of experience students’ teachers had and the type of literacy curriculum used by the teacher. Even after accounting for these factors, however, black students in segregated schools were still performing worse … The study points to previous research on Latino students, indicating that school poverty might have a greater influence on Latino academic achievement rather than school racial composition.”
Read more …

Suspensions, Expulsions, Arrests Don’t Work: On School Discipline, We Can Do Better

Real Clear Education

Psychology professor Daniel Willingham writes, “How teachers and administrators should react to rule infractions – especially more serious ones – is perennial problem … A newly published report … offers the most comprehensive answer I’ve seen … Present practices tend to focus on student removal … But while they are removed, the offenders fall behind in their schoolwork, and removal puts them at greater risk for dropping out or getting in trouble with the law … Present policies are poorly implemented. Students are often suspended for minor infractions … A better way … is the creation of more positive environments in schools and classrooms, and more supportive relationships among students, teachers, and administration … There’s little evidence that current policies are serving students and schools well, and there is reason to think we can do better.”
Read more …

In Teacher-Tenure Battles, A War for Public Opinion Can Obscure the Nuances

Education Week

Education journalist Stephen Sawchuk writes, “Teacher tenure may exceed the Common Core State Standards as an education policy lightning rod, even as a possible wedge issue in the midterm and 2016 elections … Advocates like [Campbell] Brown are focusing on broad-brush arguments that tenure rules make it too difficult to get rid of poor teachers. Unions, alternatively, posit that tenure protects teachers from reprisals, and that attacks on tenure are really attacks on organized labor and public education … Tenure laws … are actually complex, obscure, and context-specific. State legal codes on tenure go on for pages and pages … For cases of dismissal for incompetence, the picture is further complicated by disagreements about what constitutes an effective teacher and how to measure one. And, as with all laws, they can be implemented well or poorly … There’s a lot here in the weeds to examine.”
Read more …

Study: Minority-Serving Colleges Do More With Less

Education Dive

“Minority students are just as likely to attain their undergraduate degrees at historically black or Hispanic colleges as they are at traditional institutions … The commonly held belief was that minority students automatically would have lower graduation rates in the minority-serving institutions… But the student populations are different at the minority-serving colleges and universities, as judged by their preparation and backgrounds. When researchers did an apples-to-apples comparison of minority students who had similar preparation and backgrounds, they determined that the minority-serving schools ‘are doing more with less’ … ‘Attending a minority-service institution does not appear to have the negative effect so often portrayed in the media,’ [researcher Toby] Park said. ‘Given the fact that [minority serving institution]s are historically underfunded, the fact that the student bodies – when matched with similar students at traditional institutions – graduate at equal rates is astonishing.’”
Read more …

‘Better Than Republicans,’ Not Good Enough For Education

A common admonition progressives have gotten used to hearing over the years is to support more conservative Democratic candidates because “Republicans are worse.”

This admonition makes some sense in electoral politics, when, in most cases, progressives face a ballot box decision where they have to choose the “lesser evil” instead of someone who wants to do something really horrible like roll back government policies to what was in favor a hundred years ago. Elections, after all, are societal constructions where you’re forced to make a choice between only two candidates, usually. To not vote at all forfeits your right to have a say-so in the matter. And few Americans get the opportunity to vote for third party candidates who have viable shots at winning.

But “better than the other side” loses any legitimacy in the policy arena, or at least it should. For sure, there are often trade-offs between adversaries in the legislative process. But when there’s not an actual bill facing an up-or-down vote, there’s simply no reason for progressives to accept policy positions from office holders on the basis of those positions being better than what the other side wants.

Yet progressives who push for polices reflecting their values are constantly scolded for exhibiting a “have it all fantasy.” They’re told to give centrist Democrats “credit” for positions where there is some agreement – such as marriage equality or climate change – and understand when those officials have to make deals with the other side. “That’s how the game is played,” goes the refrain.

When it comes to the education policy arena, “the game” has played into a disaster for the nation’s schoolteachers, parents, and students.

Two new interviews with leading voices in the progressive education movement have brought to light how policy compromises forged by centrist Democrats have enabled truly bad consequences for public education. And progressives are increasingly saying “enough.”

A “Catalyst For Something Really Idiotic”

The “better than the other side” retort came to the fore in my recent interview with Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the charmingly feisty new president-elect of the National Education Association at the 2014 Netroots Nation convention in Detroit.

Quick to rise to the top of our discussion were recent actions by both the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers to demand the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

A particular sore spot for the unions has been the Department’s insistence that states wanting federal grant money or waivers to harsh legal penalties imposed by the feds put into place elaborate evaluation systems that rate classroom teachers based, to varying extents, on student test scores. Eskelsen Garcia echoed what many educators and experts have said that these types of test-based evaluations are unfair to teachers and encourage schools to cheat or game the system in order to hit their numbers.

For the first time in public, she spoke of her conversation with Duncan on July 16, the first discussion between them since the unions had called for his resignation. “He’s very upset with the NEA Representative Assembly’s decision to call for his resignation,” she recalled. “He felt he wasn’t being given enough credit from NEA for advocating for expanded early childhood education and greater access to affordable college. And it’s true there is no light between us on those issues.”

But as Eskelsen Garcia pointed out, “Sure, we get pre-K dollars and Head Start, but it’s being used to teach little kids to bubble in tests so their teachers can be evaluated. And we get policies to promote affordable college, but no one graduating from high school gets an education that has supported critical and creative thinking that is essential to succeeding in college because their education has consisted of test-prep from Rupert Murdoch. The testing is corrupting what it means to teach.”

In other words, being for something that progressives usually want – expanding education opportunities to more of the nation’s young children and college-aged students – can’t absolve a Democratic administration from implementing bad policies taken from the other side of the political spectrum – in this case, harsh measures that punish teachers and schools for conditions that are by and large out of their control.

Eskelsen Garcia told Duncan, “When you required states to base their education programs mostly on test scores, and let states respond with ‘OK, we’ll just do this,’ you encouraged bad policy. You became the catalyst for something really idiotic.

Eskelsen Garcia is far from being the only progressive voice criticizing the status quo in education policy making.

“A Sorry Substitute When Government Gives Up

One of the most outspoken and articulate parent advocates for public schools is Helen Gym from Philadelphia.

Gym, who co-founded the grassroots activist group Parents United for Public Education, was also on hand at Netroots Nation where she appeared on a panel “Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education.”

A reporter, Bill Hangley Jr., for the local Philadelphia  news outlet The Notebook caught up with Gym after the event and asked her to reflect on her experiences there.

What she described is an awakening among progressives to the reality of education “reform” policies pushed onto communities by the Obama administration and a host of conservative state governors.

As a result of these policies, “We’re seeing public land being turned over to private enterprises,” Gym explained, “labor rights being undermined, state takeovers and emergency managers upending democratic governance of schools, schools closed down and communities devastated in their wake.”

Current education reform policies, Gym insisted, are “a launching pad for some of the grossest abuses in the dismantling of public services nationwide. In Detroit, an emergency manager who superseded an elected school board and shuttered dozens of city schools was simply a precursor for a city emergency manager who overran local governance and was shutting off water to hundreds of thousands of Detroit residents, while letting wealthy delinquents like golf courses and sports teams off the hook.”

Gym was particularly critical of political leaders on the left who have abandoned the cause of education equity to rally around the rightwing notion that a market based approach that provides more “choice” will improve education results.

“We used to have an equity agenda in this country,” she lamented, “where our public schools’ vision, despite their flaws, became a model for the world. Moneyed interests have poured millions into convincing the public to walk away from that social contract. But choice is just a sorry substitute when government gives up on equity.”

“No Longer Neutral Territory”

For years, education policy has been portrayed as a neutral ground where political factions were supposed to “meet in the middle” and agree to do “what’s best for kids.” This was never really true, but the narrative played well to the media and to policy elites.

But “education reform” has mostly been a product of groupthink built on a consensus without diversity and without the input of skeptics. Now, that the false consensus is crumbling, people on the ground are more determined to take control of the narrative and make politics about fighting the free market assault on the common good.

“At Netroots,” Gym observed, “I think the future was really laid out for us by the Rev. William Barber, leader of North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement, who called for fusion politics and mass coalition-building to re-establish a real and moral civil rights agenda of our time – of which education is but one part. This is where I see the future going and what inspires me today.”

“People in the progressive movement have to realize,” Eskelsen Garcia asserted, “that regardless of the particular fight they are engaged in, it starts with education. Whether you’re fighting for environmental causes, women’s rights, voting rights, all of these causes – and the very foundations of democracy and how our society makes decisions – start at a schoolhouse door.”

Gym echoed these views, saying, “You’re naive if you don’t make the connection between what’s happening to our schools and communities and what we’re doing more broadly as a nation in terms of attacks on poverty, attacks on immigrants – most of whom are in our public schools too – and attacks on women and women in labor, in particular.

“For a growing number of progressives, education is not neutral territory.”

But is public concern over education significant enough to change the political equation?

Both Gym and Eskelsen Garcia believe the public concern is building and in some communities is influencing elections. Gym noted that progressive activism animated by the fight for public schools made critical differences in recent mayoral races in New York City and Newark. Eskelsen Garcia stated, “We’ve proven that when we ask people to sign petitions and show up at the ballot box to support public schools, they will. And they will do it in droves.”

As my colleague Robert Borosage recently observed, “Providing a fair and healthy shot for every child requires reversing the conservative retreats of the last decades.”

The “economy that does not work for working families,” which Borosage decried, is being mimicked by education policies that don’t work either. This policy agenda “won’t be changed without fierce battles to dislodge powerful and entrenched interests and change the rules.” The fact that centrist Democrats don’t really get this is what is animating progressives in ways not seen since the fight for civil rights.

“These fights will be at the center of our political debates over the next years,” Borosage wrote. “They will be pitched battles against powerful interests. Politicians will have to decide which side they are on.”

Those politicians had better choose carefully.

7/30/2014 – Truth About The New Orleans School Reform Model

THIS WEEK: Children’s Well-Being Suffers … Teacher Pay Stinks … Moms Winning Common Core War … School Library Cutbacks Hurt … Longer School Days No Solution


The Truth About The New Orleans School Reform Model

By Jeff Bryant

“Anyone who wants to have a genuinely honest discussion about education policy based on the real facts of the matter … needs to constantly question what policy leaders and their scribes in the press are foisting off as ‘information’ … An especially egregious example of dishonest conversation is the way school administration in New Orleans … is now being marketed to the entire country as a ‘solution’ for public education.”
Read more …


Children’s Well-Being Reflects a Sluggish Economic Recovery

New America Foundation

“The 25th annual KIDS COUNT Data Book … found that on the whole, children today appear better off in terms of education and health than children five or even 25 years ago … but this doesn’t necessarily translate to changes in welfare for America’s most at-risk children … So while children overall may be doing better today than their predecessors, far too many children still aren’t receiving the resources they need … Despite initiatives to expand access to early education … 54% percent (more than half!) of the nation’s 3- and 4-year-olds are still not enrolled in pre-k … 6 of the 8 KIDS COUNT indicators for economic and family well-being have yet to return to pre-recession levels. The official child poverty rate has increased to 23%.”
Read more …

Teacher Pay Starts Low, Grows Slowly, Is Generally Awful, Report Says

Education Week

“Teachers not only have bad starting pay in many states, but also that teachers are unlikely to see major salary gains even after several years of teaching … Growth in teacher salaries is especially bad when comparing the U.S. to other developed countries … In only four states – Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York – can teachers max out on the salary schedule above $80,000.”
Read more …

Moms Winning The Common Core War


“In a series of strategy sessions in recent months, top promoters of the Common Core standards have concluded they’re losing the broader public debate – and need to devise better PR … Standards supporters say they’re at a huge disadvantage in the PR fight because anytime a child brings home a confusing worksheet, gets a bad grade or stresses out about a test, parents can — and do — blame it on the Common Core … Analysts say the opposition also has an edge because it’s tapped into a populist anger that animates both left and right. The self-proclaimed ‘mommy platoons’ organized to take down the standards portray them as an inferior product forced on unsuspecting communities by a cabal of big business and big government elites. Every time supporters come out with sophisticated new promotional material, it only feeds their anger at the big money backing … National polling … found voters more skeptical of the Common Core than they were two years ago. A Pew Research Center report last month found solid opposition among all Republicans, not just tea party members, while support from liberals was fairly anemic, at around 55%. And a recent Siena College poll of likely voters in New York state found 49% want to drop the standards and only 39% want to keep them.”
Read more …

School Librarian Cutbacks Widen Digital Divide

District Administration

“About one-third of public schools do not have a full-time, state-certified librarian … In states that have already tried Common Core exams, as many as 70% of students failed, raising fears of mass retentions among teachers, parents and children … Though physical book collections are shrinking in many districts, the role of librarians or media specialists is expanding. Along with fostering a love of reading, librarians teach students media literacy, in part how to research, analyze information and evaluate sources to determine what is accurate … School libraries with more staff and larger collections lead to stronger academic performance … Students at schools with better funded media centers tend to achieve higher average reading scores, regardless of family income and parent education level.’”
Read more …

Lessons From A School That Scrapped A Longer Student Day And Made Time For Teachers

The Hechinger Report

“Prompted in part by federal incentives to expand learning time for students, districts serving high-poverty populations are leaping into longer school days, without always embracing what research has found: Simply adding time is not enough to raise student performance … A case in New Haven tells a cautionary tale of what can happen when a low-performing school rushes to add time to close that gap. It also reflects the latest focus of the expanded-time movement: making extra time for teachers to learn … Over half a million American students, predominantly in urban areas, now attend public schools with extended learning time, with on average more than 200 extra hours per year.”
Read more …

The Truth About The New Orleans School Reform Model

Anyone who saw the remarkable HBO series The Wire remembers the scene in the fourth season focused on Baltimore public schools where the term “juking the stats” defined how corporate-driven reengineering of the public sphere has distorted institutions so they no longer serve ordinary people.

An anniversary post for The Atlantic described that memorable moment thus, “Historical pressures push teachers in season 4 as President George Bush’s No Child Left Behind education plan casts a real-life shadow. When a new city teacher, formerly of the Baltimore police, hears how his school will teach test questions, the young man immediately recognizes the dilemma: “Juking the stats … Making robberies into larcenies. Making rapes disappear. You juke the stats, and majors become colonels. I’ve been here before.”

Juking the stats is a practice now so ingrained in the way education solutions are posed to the public that examples are rampant.

But anyone who wants to have a genuinely honest discussion about education policy based on the real facts of the matter – and not statistical distortions achieved through gross manipulation and “policy speak” that covers up realities on the ground – needs to constantly question what policy leaders and their scribes in the press are foisting off as “information.” There are better sources to turn to, and the Internet makes that search remarkably easy.

No Way To Talk About NOLA

An especially egregious example of “juking the stats” is the way school administration in New Orleans – where, basically, the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina was used as an opportunity to summarily fire school teachers and turn over the majority of schools to privately managed charter school operators from out of town – is now being marketed to the entire country as a “solution” for public education everywhere.

As I pointed out in a recent piece for Salon, “In the most recent presidential election, both candidates hailed the New Orleans charter-dominated system as a model for other states to follow. It has been touted by think tanks on the center left and the far right as “what should come next” for “transforming” the nation’s schools.”

I went on to explain that although this model of “reform” was being touted by politicians and in the press, ” There’s no evidence anywhere that the NOLA model of school reform has “improved education.”

This prompted a letter to my Salon editor from an official of the Recovery School District in New Orleans (RSD NO) – the administrative apparatus put in charge of most of New Orleans schools post Katrina – stating there were “several inaccuracies regarding the Recovery School District and the state of public schools in New Orleans.”

I post the exchange that ensued not just to take readers deep into the weeds of understanding why the NOLA model for running schools should be avoided at all costs, but also to exemplify why and how to contest the “solutions” for education policy constantly being marketed to us by a disingenuous campaign that distorts data to serve its generally hidden ends.


“Jeffrey [sic] Bryant states “There’s no evidence anywhere that the NOLA model of school reform has ‘improved education’.” The percentage of RSD students performing at grade level on state assessments has more than doubled from 2007-2013 from 23% to 57%. RSD has been first in the state of Louisiana in performance growth each year since 2007. Also, the percentage of all New Orleans public school students attending a failing school has decreased from 65% in 2005 to 5.7% in 2013. 67% of all public school students in New Orleans attend A, B, or C schools, up from 20% in 2005.

“Jeffrey states “Any comparisons of academic achievement of current NOLA students to achievement levels before Katrina should be discredited because the student population has been so transformed.”

The proportion of African-American students has decreased since Katrina, but only by 7 percentage points; and the proportion of free and reduced lunch students has actually increased by 6 percentage points.

Pre-Katrina – 04-05 New Orleans public school students:

  • 94% African-American; 3% White; 3% Other
  • 77% eligible for Free and Reduced School Lunch
  • Post-Katrina – 12-13 New Orleans public school students:
  • 87% African-American; 7% White; 6% Other
  • 83% eligible for Free and Reduced School Lunch

“Jeffrey states “despite reform efforts, the NOLA Recovery School District has many of the lowest performing schools in Louisiana.” To say this, clearly indicates that Jeffrey does not have the context needed to explain what the RSD is and what we were created to do. The RSD is not a typical school district. Back in 2003, the Louisiana legislature created the RSD to transform the state’s lowest performing schools. A school has to fail for four consecutive years to be RSD eligible. So, only the lowest performing schools are eligible to be in the RSD and as you can see from the growth data, we are improving these schools and will continue to make progress to ensure they are high performing.

“Jeffrey states “You’re not allowed to choose the best performing schools in the city – those that make up the Orleans Parish School Board – because those are selective enrollment only. You’re not going to get priority based on proximity, even if there is a school across the street from your home.”

“OneApp, New Orleans’s central enrollment system, was created by the RSD and the Orleans Parish School Board to provide students and families with the opportunity to choose a school anywhere in the city that suits their interests and needs. Of the 85 public schools, 75 are part of the enrollment system. These 75 schools, are all RSD schools and the schools that Orleans Parish School Board directly operates. In 2012, OPSB passed a policy that states that the remaining ten OPSB schools will join when their charters are up for renewal or they can volunteer to join now. RSD has been vocal about the need for all schools to join now voluntarily and some have chosen to do so already.

“As far as the priority based on proximity comment, we do offer geographic priority for 50% of the available seats in a school. We did this in an effort to allow for families who want to send their children close to home, while also ensuring that students from outside of a school’s neighborhood have access.

“I am writing to request that accurate context and facts be sought prior to posting articles pertaining to our organization and public schools in New Orleans. I am also requesting that Jeffrey correct the article or allow us to publish a response to his piece. Thank you for your time and consideration.”

Zoey Reed

Executive Director of Communications, External Affairs

Recovery School District



Dear Ms. Reed,

Thanks so much for reading my Salon piece “Look out, Chris Christie: The new war on public schools just might be defeated” and taking time to write a thoughtful reply.

In your letter to my Salon editor, you contend that my article contained “several inaccuracies regarding the Recovery School District and the state of public schools in New Orleans.” I want to respond specifically to each of your points and use this exchange as an opportunity to go into more depth about the record of achievement for RSD-NO.

As I stated in my article, public school policies implemented in New Orleans following Katrina are being held up as a “reform” model for troubled school systems around the country, and it is important that we have clear understandings of what this model has actually accomplished.

Your first point of difference with me was that I’ve misread the “evidence” of the NOLA model’s school performance record. While I stated that evidence of improvement is practically nonexistent, you counter, “The percentage of RSD students performing at grade level on state assessments has more than doubled from 2007-2013 [and] the percentage of all New Orleans public school students attending a failing school has decreased from 65% in 2005 to 5.7% in 2013.”

Although these statistics certainly sound impressive, there is much more to the story behind these numbers. As Louisiana math teacher Mercedes Schneider has pointed out on her blog (, the main reason RSD has made such great strides in grade level performance is that from 2012 to 2013 the state changed the formula and scale for measuring school performance, which artificially inflated RSD’s scores.

Schneider, who also authored the book “A Chronicle of Echoes,” wrote on her blog, “Of the 37 RSD-NO schools with complete 2012 and 2013 SPS/letter grade information, 26 increased a letter grade as an artifact of [state superintendent] John White’s changes to the scoring system … In other words, had the same rules applied in 2013 as were applied in 2012 to grading RSD schools, then 15 schools would have received a ‘D’ instead of a ‘C,’ five would have received an ‘F’ instead of a ‘D,’ and five would have received a ‘C’ instead of a ‘B.’ Had consistent criteria been used in grading RSD-NO from 2012 to 2013, its district letter grade would have remained a ‘D.’”

RSD-NO scores were further inflated due to the fact that of the 63 schools in the 2012-2013 ratings, only 49 have complete data for both years, and only 37 have letter grades other than “T” for both years. As you know, “T” schools have no letter grades because they are considered to be in “turnaround” state and are exempt for two years. Thus, of the 64 RSD-NO schools in the 2012-2013 ratings, only 37 have the data that any school outside of RSD is expected to have for a two-year period.

Despite how state reports on RSD-NO performance have been able to “juke the stats” in the district’s favor, those schools continue to show little if any academic gains. As Louisiana teacher Mike Deshotels recently reported on his blog ( the Louisiana Department of education has just released the results of the state accountability testing called LEAP and ILEAP for the Spring of 2014. The report includes a percentile ranking of each of the public school systems in the state according to the performance of their students in math, and English language arts. Deshotels, who taught Chemistry and Physics at Zachary High School near Baton Rouge and served as Research Director for the Louisiana Association of Educators, noted, “This official LDOE report now ranks the New Orleans Recovery District at the 17th percentile among all Louisiana public school districts in student performance … this means that 83 percent of the state’s school districts provide their students a better opportunity for learning than do the schools in New Orleans… This 17th percentile ranking places the New Orleans takeover schools just about where they were before the takeover.”

As Deshotels pointed out, “Dramatic improvements in the LEAP measure of grade level performance for math and ELA” has coincided with “very little improvement for Louisiana students” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAPE). He concluded, “This discrepancy is a strong indication of score inflation for the state’s accountability testing. Either the tests got easier or students learned how to perform better on the state tests without significantly improving their English and math skills.”

Your next point of contention is with my statement, “Any comparisons of academic achievement of current NOLA students to achievement levels before Katrina should be discredited because the student population has been so transformed.”

My statement merely echoes advice from respected education researchers. Independent, peer-reviewed studies generally agree – as research experts at the National Education Policy Center recently did, in comments regarding a study of RSD-NO charter schools – “Right after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans experienced immediate and dramatic shifts in the school population, with a quick enrollment decline from about 68,000 to 32,000 students – slowly climbing back to 42,000 by 2011 … making well-founded conclusions becomes exceptionally problematic in a city with such fundamental changes and such potentially strong selection effects.”

Your next complaint is with my finding that, “despite reform efforts, the NOLA Recovery School District has many of the lowest performing schools in Louisiana,” which you contend, indicates I do “not have the context needed to explain what the RSD is and what we were created to do.”

As Louisiana Weekly recently reported, the whole intentions behind creation of RSD-NO have been murky from the beginning. As the analysis stated, “Before Hurricane Katrina, the RSD (created in 2003) could only take over a school with a performance score less than 60, and which had already gone through four years of corrective action. To legally justify taking the majority of New Orleans schools and then privatizing them, the state changed the failing benchmark from 60 to just under the state average of 87.4. The constant changing of grading scales and benchmarks has continued since, and has become an often scoffed at trademark of Superintendent John White’s dissemination of annual data.”

In fact, the whole “context” for RSD’s existence has changed since its inception. As the Louisiana Weekly article reported, “According to a study by Tulane University’s Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives:

‘Intended as a mechanism for restructuring and reform, the RSD was never meant to be a permanent part of the public school governance landscape in New Orleans. Instead, the RSD was meant to take control of and turn around chronically failing schools for an initial period of five years. After that time, and assuming adequate school improvement, schools would be released from the jurisdiction of the RSD and returned to their local school board. ‘

But that didn’t happen.”

As the article pointed out, the charters that constitute RSD-NO have been given the power to choose whether or not they want to return to the OPSB. But all those eligible thus far have said, “No,” because they would then be subjected to a higher level of scrutiny that characterizes OPSB management.

Your last point of contention is with how I’ve portrayed the OneApp process parents have to do go through to find placement for their children in NOLA schools. You state that the process was created “to provide students and families with the opportunity to choose a school anywhere in the city that suits their interests and needs.”

A recent article by Jessica Williams for The Lens described what the OneApp process means for most parents and how well they fare as they seek to find a school “that suits their interests and needs.” Williams looked at the probable trajectory of students whose “failing” schools were being closed down by the district and found, “the vast majority … are headed to other substandard schools next year.”

Williams reported that parents needed to relocate their students were given a list of choices by the district, and “of the 17 schools listed with grades C or better, nine had seats open in only one or two grades. Five others had no vacancies.”

As Williams reported in another article, “Parents have few options when moving kids from failing public schools” in the RSD-NO system. She found, “More than seven years into the New Orleans choice experiment, documents and interviews reveal the schools are so academically anemic that the RSD fell short in its attempts to comply with federal policy requiring school districts to offer higher quality alternatives to students in failing schools.”

Mercedes Schneider has gone into greater depth on the messy, confusing nature of the OneApp process. On her blog, she recently wrote, “enrollment is no longer based upon students residing in a given area and automatically attending a community school. Thus, the ‘parental choice’ of selecting a school by moving to the neighborhood is moot. That choice exists no more. Now, parents must apply to the schools they would have their children attend – even if they live right next to the school.”

Further complicating matters, the process “involves a detailed application process, with one application necessary per child within RSD and OPSB direct-run schools, and a different consolidated application (no guarantees here) for some (not all) OPSB charter schools. And even though the RSD/OPSB direct-run application notes that siblings are given priority for attending the same schools, there are no guarantees there, either.”

For years, parent activist Karran Harper Royal has struggled to place her children in schools she feels would be best for them and has concluded that what RSD-NO provides to parents isn’t real “choice” at all. She has written, that instead of providing real choice, “students only have the choice to apply to over 70 schools; many students end up in lotteries for the higher performing schools.  Students not selected in the lottery don’t have a choice; they have to attend schools where available seats remain.” Even the higher performing charter schools, Harper Royal noted, are routinely “not offered as options for the lowest performing students in New Orleans.”

For these reasons and others, Harper Royal has joined with other civil rights activists in filing a civil rights complaint against RSD-NO.

To conclude, one point we agree on is, “The RSD is not a typical school district.”

Let’s also agree to keep it that way.