Education Opportunity Network

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12/19/2014 – Education’s Newsmaker Of The Year

THIS WEEK: Wave Of Immigrant Minors Hits Schools … Climate Change Denial Goes To School … 2015 Policy Forecast … Rural Schools Hit By Cuts … Reading For Common Core

TOP STORY

Education’s Newsmaker Of The Year: Charter School Scandals

By Jeff Bryant

“In 2014, charter schools, which had always been marketed for a legendary ability to deliver promising new innovations for education, became known primarily for their ability to concoct innovative new scams … from local stories to national scandal … the charter school scandals of 2014 forever altered the narrative about what these institutions really bring to the populace.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

U.S. Schools Are Saying Goodbye To Foreign Languages

The Hechinger Report

” So far in fiscal year 2014, the number of unaccompanied minors caught on the southern border is more than triple the number apprehended in 2010 … Whatever their reasons for coming, the vast majority of the newly arrived children … are now attending the one American institution legally bound to serve them: public schools … Many new arrivals have had little formal schooling. A majority stopped attending school after sixth grade … In addition to learning English and the subject matter of their various classes, they also must learn to raise their hands to answer questions, change classes when a bell rings and never wander the halls without a bathroom pass … Students have faced starker trauma on their journey here. Several girls told staff at Oakland International that they’d been raped … Many students have lost family members to the violence in their hometowns or even seen them murdered.”
Read more …

The Plan To Get Climate-Change Denial Into Schools

The Atlantic

“Truth in Texas Textbooks coalition, a volunteer-run organization of more than 100 activists that wants global warming to be taught as an opinion rather than fact … have accused publishers of creating textbooks with an ‘anti-Christian’ and ‘anti-American’ bias … Textbooks are often the first conduit between climate science and young people. The books that the Texas truth coalition is fighting over are expected to be used by more than 5 million Texas public school students for at least a decade. Texas is also the second-largest market for textbooks behind California, and publishers often peddle best-selling Texas textbooks in other states … The coalition’s system of rating textbooks could soon spread beyond Texas. White says that activists in California, Florida, Indiana, Maine, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, and Wisconsin have already contacted the coalition to learn how they can create their own rating system.”
Read more …

State Leaders Confront Full Plate Of K-12 Issues

Education Week

“Common standards, testing, and school choice are likely to dominate the education policy debate … A generally improving economic climate … could turn up the heat on lawmakers in many states to raise K-12 spending … Changes to assessment policies could attract significant bipartisan interest … Issues include whether high-performing districts should be allowed to opt out of certain tests, and whether districts should be permitted to pick tests they believe are better than those aligned with the Common Core State Standards … Pushback to the common core could also surface in legislatures.”
Read more …

Rural Schools Hit Hard By Budget Cuts

District Administration

“Funding cuts since the recession have drained the accounts of rural districts, which cannot rely on a resurgence in property tax revenues as heavily as urban school systems can. Some 9.7 million students are enrolled in rural districts, representing more than 20% of all U.S. public school students. And rural enrollment continues to rise… The average expenditure for rural students is $5,826 per pupil, compared to the national average of $11,153. With so few students, it is often more difficult for rural districts to get federal grants to pay for technology or special education. And transportation costs are high, since students are sometimes spread out over hundreds of miles. Finding and retaining teachers for upper-level math and science courses is also a challenge.”
Read more …

How The Newest High-Stakes Tests Are Stealing The Joy Of Reading From Our Kids

Alternet

Chicago teacher Katie Osgood writes, “I haven’t heard many people complain about our skill-based reading instruction that has been in vogue since before [Common Core State Standards], but now under the new standards it’s bad literacy on speed … Even when we choose beautiful pieces of literature, they become lifeless vehicles to teach a dry, decontextualized skill … That looks like reading two myths without any teaching around what myths are, about Ancient Greece, about how the myths point to our own humanity … We are told to do a ‘close read’ of stirring passages about the Underground Railroad for the sole purpose of pulling out the main idea and supporting details. We don’t actually talk about the Underground Railroad, letting the horror of slavery sink in. No, it’s simply about getting the skill, so the kids can demonstrate the same skill on the dreaded test … Schools under high-stakes accountability have been forced into this twisted form of reading instruction for many years. But things are getting worse.”
Read more …

Education’s Newsmaker Of The Year: Charter School Scandals

Since it’s the time of the year when newspapers, websites, and television talk shows scan their archives to pick the person, place, or thing that sums up the year in entertainment, business, sports, or every other venue, why not do that for education too?

In 2014 education news, lots of personalities came and went.

Michelle Rhee gave way to Campbell Brown as a torchbearer for “reform.” The comedian Louis C. K. had a turn at becoming an education wonk with his commentary on the Common Core standards. Numerous “Chiefs for Change” toppled from the ranks of chiefdom. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett went down in defeat due in part to his gutting of public schools, as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker remained resilient while spreading the cancerous voucher program from Milwaukee to the rest of the state. New York Mayor Bill De Blasio rose to turn back the failed education reforms of ex-mayor Bloomberg, only to have his populist agenda blocked by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo who insisted on imposing policies favored by Wall Street. Progressives formed Democrats for Public Education to counter the neoliberal, big money clout of Democrats for Education Reform. And Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush emerged as rival voices in the ongoing debate about the Common Core among potential Republican presidential candidates.

But hogging the camera throughout the year was another notable character: charter school scandals.

In 2014, charter schools, which had always been marketed for a legendary ability to deliver promising new innovations for education, became known primarily for their ability to concoct innovative new scams.

From Local Stories To National Scandal

Troubling news stories about the financial workings of charter schools had been leaking slowly into the media stream for some years.

A story that appeared at Forbes in late 2013 foretold a lot of what would emerge in 2014. That post “Charter School Gravy Train Runs Express To Fat City” brought to light for the first time in a mainstream source the financial rewards that were being mined from charter schools. As author Addison Wiggin explained, a mixture of tax incentives, government programs, and Wall St. investors eager to make money were coming together to deliver a charter school bonanza – especially if the charter operation could “escape scrutiny” behind the veil of being privately held or if the charter operation could mix its business in “with other ventures that have nothing to do with education.”

As 2014 began, more stories about charter schools scandals continued to drip out from local press outlets – a chain of charter schools teaching creationism, a charter school closing abruptly for mysterious reasons, a charter high school operating as a for-profit “basketball factory,” recruiting players from around the world while delivering a sub-par education.

Here and there, stories emerged: a charter school trying to open up inside the walls of a gated community while a closed one continued to get over $2 million in taxpayer funds. Stories about charter operators being found guilty of embezzling thousands of taxpayer dollars turned into other stories about operators stealing even more thousands of dollars, which turned into even more stories about operators stealing over a million dollars.

While some charter schools schemed to steer huge percentages of their money away from instruction toward management salaries and property leases (to firms connected to the charter owners, of course), others worked the system to make sure fewer students with special needs were in their classrooms.

Then the steady drip-drip from local news sources turned into a fire hose in May when a blockbuster report released by Integrity in Education and the Center for Popular Democracy revealed, “Fraudulent charter operators in 15 states are responsible for losing, misusing, or wasting over $100 million in taxpayer money.”

The report, “Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud And Abuse,” combed through news stories, criminal records, and other documents to find hundreds of cases of charter school operators embezzling funds, using tax dollars to illegally support other, non-educational businesses, taking public dollars for services they didn’t provide, inflating their enrollment numbers to boost revenues, and putting children in potential danger by foregoing safety regulations or withholding services.

The report made charter school scandals a nationwide story and received in-depth coverage at Salon, Bill Moyers and Company, The Washington Post, and The Nation.

A Summer Of Scams

Charter schools scandals continued to break throughout the summer.

In Ohio, report after report continued to reveal how popular charter school chains like White Hat Management had sky-high dropout rates while they poured public money into advertising campaigns and executive pay.

In Pennsylvania, a report found exorbitant costs associated with charter school operations and lavish CEO salaries and bonuses for charter school operators despite vastly underperforming the state’s traditional public schools. Another report revealed how Pennsylvania charters had gamed the system for special education funding, resulting in annual profits of $200 million to the schools.

In Michigan, a series by the Detroit Free Press found charter schools with “wasteful spending and double-dipping. Board members, school founders and employees steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders. Schools allowed to operate for years despite poor academic records.”

In Florida, an investigation by the Orlando Sun Sentinel found, “Unchecked charter-school operators are exploiting South Florida’s public school system, collecting taxpayer dollars for schools that quickly shut down.”

Another Florida 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 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.

Still more news stories came out about charter schools related to 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. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Chicago-area Concept Schools, part of the Gulen charter chain, were subjects of an ongoing federal investigation. The enquiry is about nearly $1 million that has been paid to contractors all with ties to the Gülen network.

Articles from The Washington Post found District of Columbia charter school operators evading rules to pocket millions in taxpayer dollars and charter schools pumping public money into for-profit management companies.

A report in The Arizona Republic found, board members and administrators from more than a dozen charter schools “profiting from their affiliations by doing business with schools they oversee.”

The rash of summer charter scandal stories resonated in news outlets across the country.

Then to cap off the summer of charter scandals, The Progressive reported an upsurge in 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.”

Back To Schools For Scandal

As Back to School season rolled out, charter schools scandals broke harder and heavier.

The Center for Popular Democracy, Integrity in Education, and ACTION United published a continuation of their charter schools study with a new report that disclosed charter school officials in Pennsylvania had defrauded at least $30 million intended for school children since 1997.

Startling examples of charter school financial malfeasance revealed by the authors included an administrator who diverted $2.6 million in school funds to a church property he also operated. Another charter school chief was caught spending millions in school funds to bail out other nonprofits associated with the school. A pair of charter school operators stole more than $900,000 from the school by using fraudulent invoices, and a cyber school entrepreneur diverted $8 million of school funds for houses, a Florida condominium, and an airplane.

Then in November, The Center for Popular Democracy, with the Alliance for Quality Education, submitted yet another continuation of its analysis of charter school financial fraud, this time finding as much as $54 million in suspected charter school fraud in New York state.

Specific examples from the report included a New York City charter that issued credit cards to its executives allowing them to charge more than $75,000 in less than two years, a Long Island charter that paid vendors over half a million dollars without competitive bids, an Albany charter that lost between $207,000 to $2.3 million by purchasing a site for its elementary school rather than leasing it, a Rochester charter that awarded contracts to board members, relatives, and other related parties rather than get competitive bids, and a Buffalo charter with a leasing arrangement that paid more than $5 million to a building company at a 20 percent interest rate.

A write-up of the report in the New York Daily News noted CPD “investigators uncovered probable financial mismanagement in 95 percent of the [charter] schools they examined.”

More recently, a widely circulated report from progressive news outlet Propublica revealed how charter schools increasingly use arrangements known as “sweeps” contracts to send nearly all of a school’s public dollars – anywhere from 95 to 100 percent into for-profit charter-management companies.

Reporter Marian Wang wrote, ” The contracts are an example of how the charter schools sometimes cede control of public dollars to private companies that have no legal obligation to act in the best interests of the schools or taxpayers … it can be hard for regulators and even schools themselves to follow the money when nearly all of it goes into the accounts of a private company.”

The New Face Of Charter Schools

In their defense, charter school advocates object to the negative portrayals of their operations by claiming the reports cherry pick bad actors from the broad population of charters. But this year’s avalanche of malfeasance should dispel any argument about cherry picking.

For sure there are examples of charter schools that are doing an excellent job of educating students. But rapid growth in the industry continues to come from charter operators who are not willing to run their operations like these successful charters because it doesn’t suit their “business model.”

Further, would a public school advocate defend public schools by countering, “But look at this good one over here?” they would be mocked and derided by charter school proponents.

Advocates for charter schools also defend the explosion in charter school scandals by pointing to scandals in a public school and contenting, “Look, they do it too.” Indeed, there are instances of financial and other types of scandals in public schools. That’s why they are heavily regulated. Yet charter school backers continue to fight regulations, contribute big money to political candidates who promise a hands-off approach to their schools, and use powerful lobbying firms to coerce legislators to continue unregulated charter governance.

Charter school defenders also argue that these widespread scandals will be remedied by the “market” – that the inevitable “bad” charters will get closed while only the “good” ones remain. It’s true that charter school closures are becoming more commonplace, but charter operators often resist closures – even calling on parents to rally to their cause and appeal to local authorities. Charter schools that close abruptly leave school children and families in the lurch and severely interrupt the students’ learning. Operators of closed charters often flee the scene to practice their malfeasance elsewhere, taking with them the supplies and materials they obtained at taxpayer expense. Meanwhile, enormous sums of precious public money are wasted – with no apparent education benefit – all for the sake of this “market churn.”

As a result of the flood of charter schools scandals, public attitudes about these schools are bound to change.

Surveys show the public generally doesn’t get what charter schools are and don’t understand whether they are private or public or whether they can charge fees or teach religion. Charter operators themselves have muddled their image by arguing successfully in numerous confrontations with legal authorities that “they are exempt from rules that govern traditional public schools, ranging from labor laws to constitutional protections for students.”

But a recent poll in Michigan, a state where rampant charter fraud has been well publicized, found that 73 percent of responders say they want a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools. In many communities, announcements about new charter operations opening up have been greeted with outspoken public protests as we’ve seen in in Nashville, York, PA, and Camden, NJ.

Forecasts about what 2015 will bring to the education landscape frequently foresee more charter schools as charter-friendly lawmakers continue to act witlessly to proliferate these schools. But make no mistake, the charter school scandals of 2014 forever altered the narrative about what these institutions really bring to the populace.

12/11/2014 – Who’s Really Failing Students

THIS WEEK: How Charter Schools Profit … Costs Of Youth Incarceration … So Many School Shootings … Schools As Tech Training Camps … More Education Doesn’t Pay Off

TOP STORY

Who’s Really Failing Students?

By Jeff Bryant

“New standardized tests hitting most of the nation this school year have been engineered to increase failure rates, and policy leaders tell us that children and parents deserve this. The expected sharp downturn in scores will no doubt further tarnish the brand of public schools, siphon yet more precious public dollars into private operators pledging to hold schools ‘more accountable,’ and add fuel to the already raging fires of a growing anti-testing movement. But what too few are asking is who really is the failure here.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

When Charter Schools Are Nonprofit in Name Only

Propublica

“Charter schools often hire companies to handle their accounting and management functions. Sometimes the companies even take the lead in hiring teachers, finding a school building, and handling school finances … This arrangement is known as a ‘sweeps’ contract because nearly all of a school’s public dollars – anywhere from 95 to 100 percent – is “swept” into a charter-management company. The contracts are an example of how the charter schools sometimes cede control of public dollars to private companies that have no legal obligation to act in the best interests of the schools or taxpayers … Schools have agreed to such setups with both nonprofit and for-profit management companies, but it’s not clear how often. Nobody appears to be keeping track. What is clear is that it can be hard for regulators and even schools themselves to follow the money when nearly all of it goes into the accounts of a private company.”
Read more …

Hidden Costs of Youth Incarceration Nationwide Estimated To Run Between $8 Billion And $21 Billion Each Year

Reuters

“33 U.S. states and jurisdictions spend $100,000 or more annually to incarcerate a young person … The first-ever estimate of the overall costs resulting from negative outcomes associated with incarceration … found that these long-term consequences of incarcerating young people could cost taxpayers $8 billion to $21 billion each year … The billions of dollars in hidden costs result from formerly incarcerated young people earning lower wages, paying less in taxes, as well as having a greater dependence upon government assistance and higher rates of recidivism. Research shows that the experience of incarceration increases the likelihood that young people will commit a new offense in the future.”
Read more …

There Has Been A Fatal School Shooting Every 5 Weeks Since Sandy Hook

Mother Jones

“In the two years since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut … A total of 32 victims were killed … 11 victims were injured … 5 shooters were killed … Lockdown drills have become common at schools, and many have added armed personnel or even tested active-shooter detection systems that use technology deployed in war zones … All the same, the toll has gone on, with hundreds of children shot to death, daily violence routinely claiming multiple victims, and mass shootings becoming three times more frequent.”
Read more …

Seeking Coders, Tech Titans Turn To Schools

Politico

“The $30 million campaign to promote computer science education has been financed by the tech industry … But the campaign has also stirred unease from some educators concerned about the growing influence of corporations in public schools. And it’s raised questions about the motives of tech companies … Silicon Valley CEOs have complained for years about a huge shortage of qualified programmers … Skeptics, however, aren’t convinced that there’s a real shortage … They note that salaries in the IT industry have not increased, in real terms, since the late 1990s – unlike salaries in other fields, such as petroleum engineering … Only about two-thirds of students who earn college degrees in computer and information sciences take jobs in that field within a year of graduation … The industry’s initiative comes at a time of increasing corporate involvement in public education. High schools across the country have turned to local businesses to help them develop classes and host internships for students preparing for careers in fields as varied as hospitality, marketing, health care, and environmental planning.”
Read more …

Census: Young Americans More Educated, Not Necessarily Better Off Than Parents

Education Week

“American young adults are more likely to have attended and graduated college today than in earlier generations … but they are also more likely to be earning considerably less, and living either in poverty or with their parents … Americans ages 18 to 34 earn $2,000 less per year than earlier generations, after correcting for inflation, though the percentage graduating college has risen from a little more than 15% to more than 22% … Massachusetts’ young adults earn on average $6,500 more than they would have three decades ago, while young people in Michigan, Wyoming, and Alaska earn $9,000 less … College graduation rates in the Northeast and in Mid-Atlantic states like Maryland and Virginia have grown by double digits, but have flattened in the Midwest … Said Census analyst Jonathan Vespa … ‘Income inequality for households and families has gone up at the same time as the country as a whole has become more educated.’”
Read more …

Who’s Really Failing Students?

“Failure is not an option,” has been a popular slogan in public education for years. Although, flight engineers and astronauts in the Apollo 13 program originally coined the phrase as a motivator for competing against the Russians in the space race, some well-meaning advocates in the education reform community adopted it for their cause.

Then the No Child Left Behind law – with its mandate for 100 percent proficiency by 2014 – literally made “failure” something that would eventually fade from existence. Really!

Now that’s all about to change, and failure – or at least what passes as the current definition of it – is not only back on the table as an option; it is now a desired state – a designation seen as revealing great truths about public education in the United States.

New standardized tests hitting most of the nation this school year have been engineered to increase failure rates, and policy leaders tell us that children and parents deserve this.

The expected sharp downturn in scores will no doubt further tarnish the brand of public schools, siphon yet more precious public dollars into private operators pledging to hold schools “more accountable,” and add fuel to the already raging fires of a growing anti-testing movement. But what too few are asking is who really is the failure here.

Get Ready For Success By Failure

The great big failure comeback is courtesy of new standardized tests being rolled out across the country that are guaranteed – on purpose – to prove more American students are academic failures.

As a recent article on the news website Vox warned, “test scores are going to go down next year” due to the introduction of new assessments aligned to new academic standards called the Common Core.

As reporter Libby Nelson explained, “The test results on Common Core exams, at least at first, are likely to make students’ reading and math abilities look worse than they did on older state tests. The standards are more demanding than what many states had in place previously, and the tests are more difficult. New York and Kentucky – the only two states that have fully switched over to Common Core tests – have already learned that lesson. Proficiency rates dropped by about half in both states, from around two-thirds of students to about one-third.”

What can make exams “more difficult” of course aren’t just the questions posed and how they are posed but where you draw the line for what constitutes a passing grade. For at least 17 states, a federally funded group called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium recently plotted the failure demarcation, known as a “cut score,” at a line that will likely ensure “more than half of students will fall short of the marks that connote grade-level skills,” according to an article in Education Week.

Another brand of these tests, developed by another federally funded consortium called PARCC, are being used in at least 12 other states. PARCC won’t set cut scores until next summer, but field tests of that exam have caused education officials in a number of locales to request delays in implementation due to the difficulty of the tests and problems with implementing them.

Nevertheless, the first wave of the new PARCC tests rolled out to over 30,000 students this month in six states, with millions more students scheduled to take the tests later this school year in a dozen states and the District of Columbia.

More failure is a good thing, we’re being told by United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who has claimed that passing grades of yore were tantamount to “lying to children and parents, telling them they’re ready when they’re not.

Echoing these sentiments, Valentina Korkes recently wrote at Education Post, a blogsite operated by Duncan’s former communications director, “For many years, even decades, we have been giving parents and students faulty information – by producing inflated achievement levels that, unfortunately, do not portray an accurate picture of learning.”

How “decades” of grade inflation have forever damaged the country is hardly ever made clear by testing advocates. (Indeed, is that what led to the downturn in American manufacturing, flattened household incomes for 30 years, years of costly conflict in the Middle East, and the Great Recession?)

Nevertheless, testing zealots assure us these score drops are the only clear-eyed path forward.

Going Nowhere

But the path forward being touted by test advocates may be more like a winding trail to continued disappointment.

Public school advocate and senior attorney at the Education Law Center Wendy Lecker recently explained the course our leaders have chosen. “Despite paying lip service to the perils of over-testing, our leaders have imposed educational policies ensuring that standardized tests dominate schooling. Though standardized tests are invalid to measure teacher performance, the Obama administration insists that students’ standardized test scores be part of teacher evaluation systems. Both under [No Child Left Behind] and the NCLB waivers, schools are rated by standardized test scores. Often, a high school diploma depends at least in part on these tests. When so much rides on a standardized test scores, tests will drive what is taught and learned.”

Many adults who have bothered to scrutinize the exams have been baffled by test items and have questioned the age-appropriateness of the exams.

Education experts and parents have found that cut scores have been set at unrealistic levels.

Teachers are alarmed at how much instructional time will be lost to the tests and how extensive and required test prep is distorting classroom teaching.

Some state officials have expressed doubts that setting thresholds on students’ academic performance levels has any validity at all. Is there really a sharp line to distinguish when a third-grade child is proficient at reading and when he is not? At extreme ends of the scale, that may be clear. But isn’t the exact differential really a judgment call?

A populist backlash against standardized testing continues to scale up with every passing month.

A recent account of the opposition to standardized testing at Alternet found strong “opt out” movements in Colorado, Oklahoma, Florida, and Maryland. Writers at Education Week found school districts in New Jersey making sharp cutbacks to their numbers of assessments.

A recent article in The Atlantic quoted a director of one of the organizations responsible for the new testing regime, the Council of Chief State School Officers, who realizes the potential for disaster. “Students who were being told that they were on track are now going to be told, ‘You’re not quite there,’ … Well, who decided this was the right thing for kids? Who decided that these test scores were actually what kids need?”

Who indeed?

Who Benefits?

Certainly anyone who has an income connected to testing isn’t whining.

According to recent calculations from the Education Division of the

Software & Information Industry Association, the testing and assessment industry grew by 57 percent in the past three years.

According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, “As states race to implement the Common Core academic standards, companies are fighting for a slice of the accompanying testing market, expected to be worth billions of dollars in coming years.”

This is understandable when you take into account that new standardized exams in the state of Colorado alone will require $78 million a year plus teacher time. In Maryland, the price tag is projected to be at least 100 million to implement the new tests in the first year alone.

Most of the windfall is “flowing to some of the education industry’s most familiar and entrenched players,” according to a report from Education Week noted, the “big vendors” that have benefited from imposed education regulation in the past.

It’s important to note that all this money being directed to big testing companies comes at a time when most school districts have not yet rebounded financially from the sharp budget cuts caused by the Great Recession.

Nevertheless, test advocates maintain the tests are necessary not only to soothe the troubled minds of econometric bureaucrats but also for civil rights reasons.

Writing at Altenet, New York City-based teacher and public education advocate Brian Jones pointed out that standardized testing is often framed as a “solution” for long-standing institutional racism in public schools.

Drawing from his experience as an African American teacher in an inner city system, Jones maintained that this framing takes “audacity.” He suggested, instead, whether the billions being spent on testing would be better spent to “create for all children the kind of cozy, relaxed, child-centered teaching and learning conditions that wealthy kids already enjoy.”

Another African American inner city schoolteacher from the other side of the country argued even more forcefully against the supposed civil rights benefits of standardized testing.

On the Edushyster blogsite operated by Jennifer Berkshire, Seattle’s Jesse Hagopian explained in an interview with Berkshire, ” The first major test resisters were Black intellectuals.” Citing Horace Mann Bond and W.E.B. Dubois, Hagpian explained that Black civil rights advocates knew “from the very beginning that these tests were designed to show Black failure, and they’re still showing that. The fact that there’s been such a stability of test scores – that rich white students score the best – shows that these are a tool for ranking and sorting. And increasingly these tests are being used to shut down schools in poor neighborhoods and which serve predominantly students of color.”

Writing at The Huffington Post education professor and co-director of the National Education Policy Center Kevin Welner recently wrote, “Reforms like test-based accountability give us the feeling of doing something – of demanding excellence – without providing the capacity to achieve our goals. Continuing down that path will continue to leave us disappointed.

Some Hopeful Signs

Fortunately there are signs that some education policy leaders may be getting the message.

In New Jersey, at least one school district “has decided to drop midterm and final exams.”

In Colorado, the state board has “issued a letter calling for cutting state standardized testing to federal minimum requirements and for other changes in the assessment system.”

In Washington state, school chief Randy Dornno declared his intention “to stop requiring students to pass high-stakes exams before they can graduate from high school, a proposal that would reverse years of standardized testing policy in the state.”

And on Capitol Hill, a new bill has been introduced by House Democrat Suzanne Bonamici, OR, that would give states grants for rethinking their assessment systems.”

As Welner noted in his above-cited post, the increasingly strong voices to curtail test-based accountability will likely not prevail until there is a more prominent consensus behind an alternative. But as that alternative takes time to form, let’s be sure that when intentional failure is imposed on public schools, we turn any judgment of failure back around to the real sources of failure: testing advocates who refuse to see the harms they continue to inflict on our schools.

12/4/2014 – Award For Questioning Charter School Hype

THIS WEEK: Test Score Declines Coming … Costs Of Digital Learning … Koch Brother Influence … New Teacher-Prep Program Rules … Colleges Charge Poor Kids More

TOP STORY

EON Awarded For ‘Questioning The Charter School Hype’

By Jeff Bryant

“Charter schools have been relentlessly marketed to the American populace as a silver bullet for ‘failed’ public schools … But as these institutions proliferate, so are troubling reports of what the charter movement has unleashed.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Test Scores Are Going To Go Down Next Year. Blame The Common Core.

Vox

“Most students’ math and reading skills are going to look much worse after they take Common Core-aligned tests in spring 2015. More than half of students will probably get scores too low to be considered proficient … New York and Kentucky … have already learned that lesson. Proficiency rates dropped by about half in both … Low scores on Common Core tests will add more fuel to criticisms that the standards are too hard, lessons are too confusing, or that the whole reform is being rushed.”
Read more …

Is Digital Learning More Cost-Effective? Maybe Not

NPR

“Digital learning … a new study suggests … is neither more powerful nor cheaper than old-fashioned teaching … Researchers don’t really know what works and what doesn’t … Consumers – local school districts – are buying blind … Buzzwords like ‘personalized instruction’ and ‘personalized learning’ that sound great … are a bit nebulous … Online-only learning had no impact on student achievement and in some cases had a slightly negative impact. The results of blended learning were more mixed, but in cases where it improved student learning, it also cost more than traditional methods.”
Read more …

How The Koch Brothers Are Sneaking Their Way Into Public Schools

Aternet

“For years, the Bill of Rights Institute has … been the conduit for millions of dollars from Charles and David Koch, as the brothers seek to influence the country’s social studies curriculum … In its materials for teachers and students, the Bill of Rights Institute cherry-picks the Constitution, history, and current events to hammer home its libertarian message that the owners of private property should be free to manage their wealth as they see fit … Educator resources for “Documents of Freedom” at the BRI site underscore this business-good/government-bad message … Another Koch organization that targets public schools, Youth Entrepreneurs… produce an economics curriculum to challenge what the group identified as ‘common economic fallacies,’ including: ‘Rich get richer at the expense of the poor … What makes the Koch brothers’ focus on public schools so profoundly cynical is that they hate public schools.’”
Read more …

New Rules Would Judge Teacher-Prep Programs On Job Placements And Student Learning

The Chronicle Of Higher Education

“Proposed rules … would require states to evaluate teacher-training programs based, in part, on how many of their graduates get and keep jobs and how much their graduates’ future students learn. Only programs deemed effective by their states would be eligible to award Teach Grants, which provide students with up to $4,000 a year … Teacher unions and college lobbyists worry that the rules will punish programs whose graduates are concentrated in high-need schools, where test scores tend to be lower and teacher turnover higher. They warn that the plan could discourage colleges from placing their students in such schools … Skeptics say the existing “value added” measures are unproven. They cite a recent statement by the American Statistical Association that concluded that ‘the majority of the variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control, such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, and unmeasured influences.’”
Read more …

Colleges That Pledged To Help Poor Families Have Been Doing The Opposite, New Figures Show

The Hechinger Report

“As institutions vie for income and prestige … net prices they’re charging the lowest-income students, after discounts and financial aid, continue to rise faster on average than the net prices they’re charging higher-income ones … This includes the 100 higher-education institutions whose leaders attended a widely publicized White House summit in January and promised to expand the opportunities for low-income students to go to college. In fact, the private universities in that group collectively raised what the poorest families pay by 10%, compared to 5% for wealthier students … Even at the 36 taxpayer-supported public universities that signed the White House pledge, poor students paid an average net price of about $8,000 in 2008-09 and almost $10,000 in 2012-13. That’s a 25% increase. During the same period, wealthier students at those schools saw their average net price go from about $18,000 to $21,000, a 16% increase.”
Read more …

EON Awarded For ‘Questioning The Charter School Hype’

The following article authored by Education Opportunity Network Director Jeff Bryant has been awarded one of the “top 25 most censored or underreported news stories of 2014.” The award came from Project Censored, “a media research, literacy, and education organization established in 1976.” The article originally appeared in Salon.com.

Imagine your 5-year-old boy went to a school where he was occasionally thrown in a padded cell and detained alone for stretches as long as 20 minutes.

Or you sent your kid to an elementary school where the children are made to sit on a bare floor in the classroom for days before they can “earn” their desks.

Or your kid went to a school where she spent hours parked in a cubicle in front of a computer with a poorly trained teacher who has to monitor more than 100 other students.

Maybe you don’t have children or send them to private school? So how do you feel when you find out the local school that you pay for with your taxes is operating a scam that diverted millions of dollars through fake Medicaid billing?

Or the school used your tax dollars as “grants” to start up other profit-making enterprises … or pay lavish salaries – $300,000, $400,000 or more – to its administrators … or support a movement linked to a reclusive Turkish cleric being investigated for bribery and corruption.

Welcome to the world of charter schools.

Are there wonderful charter schools doing great things for kids? Probably. Are all these cumulative anecdotes an unfair representation of the value that charter schools can bring to some communities? Maybe.

But neither of those questions matters because of what the charter school movement has come to represent in the landscape of American education.

Charter schools have been relentlessly marketed to the American populace as a silver bullet for “failed” public schools, especially in poor urban communities of African-American and Latino/a students.

Politicians in both parties speak glowingly of these schools – which, by the way, their children seem never to attend.

Opening charter schools has become the latest fad for celebrities including athletes and rap stars.

Huge nationwide chains – called education management organizations (EMOs) – now run many of these charters. A recent study by the National Education Policy Center found, “Students across 35 states and the District of Columbia now attend schools managed by these non-government entities.” These for-profit and nonprofit EMOs – such as K12 Inc., National Heritage Academies, Charter Schools USA and KIPP – now account for nearly half of the students educated by charter schools.

Substantial, well-funded nationwide organizations have rapidly developed to lobby for these schools. One such organization, the Alliance for School Choice, recently received a $6 million gift from the Walton Foundation, of Wal-Mart fame.

Slick marketing campaigns have been rolled out in communities across the country to tout the coming of new charters.

The actual academic results of these schools seems to matter to hardly anyone, despite report after report showing that these schools tend to do poorly on state and national tests and fail at providing equitable education to underserved students.

Yet lobbying for more of these schools continues unabated with more money funneled into the campaigns of politicians who support charters and more efforts to press state lawmakers to lift any provisions currently in place to regulate how these schools operate and are held accountable to the public.

As a result, charter schools now serve one in 20 students nationwide, despite “mixed results” at best.

Yet how much is really known about how most charter schools operate on a day-to-day basis? Most of the people who witness what these schools actually do are students, who have little voice outside the classroom; teachers, who need to hold onto their jobs; and charter administrators, who can’t always be depended on to blow the whistle on shenanigans.

But as these institutions proliferate, so are troubling reports of what the charter movement has unleashed.

Turning Our Backs on Abuse

Keeping a running tally of charter school scandals could amount to so much cherry-picking if it weren’t for the fact the tree is so loaded there’s practically nothing but fruit.

Two of the anecdotes cited above surfaced recently in schools operated by a nationwide chain called KIPP, which has been acclaimed for doing “wonderful things” to poor kids that most middle-class parents would not want to see done to their kids.

The incident where a 5-year-old student was confined in school to a padded cell prompted Chicago (where the incident occurred) blogger Mike Klonsky to write, “Brutal forms of discipline have become routine for KIPP.

“No divergence is permitted and deviants are quickly labeled, punished or expelled. KIPP has the highest student attrition rate in the nation. I recall one KIPP school where African-American children were made to sit on a bench with a sign around their neck that said, ‘CRETIN.’”

Klonsky noted the nationwide chain’s practice of using a behavioral technique, called “Slant,” that “instructs students to sit up, listen, ask questions, nod and track the speaker with their eyes.” It’s “military style behavior,” renowned educator Debra Meier remarked on her blog at Education Week.

Meier explained how these schools rely on “public shaming” as a form of behavior control, which often includes “children being ‘exiled’ to a special table at lunch, required to wear their KIPP shirts backwards, and other forms of public embarrassment.”

James Horn, who came across the incident where students had to “earn” their desks by siting on the floor, wrote, “KIPP requires the poorest urban children, those who have received the least in life, to earn everything at KIPP.”

Horn interviewed a former teacher from that KIPP school who recounted, “[The children] would sit there and do homework on the floor. They would fill in forms and pass them. And they had to all do it correctly, otherwise, they’d do it again and again and again … It was 100 [students]. It was all the fifth-graders in a classroom.”

Horn noted, “This is not the first time such educational atrocities at KIPP have been documented,” and he linked to a “series of incidents” in Fresno, Calif., where the school principal was accused of  ”slamming students against the wall, placing trash cans over their heads, forcing kids to crawl on their hands and knees while barking, and enforcing unreasonably strict bathroom rules, resulting in students having accidents and vomiting on themselves inside the classroom.”

“How long will we turn our backs on this kind of abuse?” Horn asked.

Rocketship to Nowhere

The questionable practices of many charter schools go beyond classroom management.

The charter cited above where students spent hours stuck in cubicles, in front of computers, is part of a nationwide charter chain called Rocketship.

According to ed-tech media outlet EdSurge, “Rocketship Education is a charter school network in hot demand, courted by urban school districts across the nation. Both Kaya Henderson, Superintendent of D.C. Public Schools and New York City’s outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg have publicly said they’d welcome Rocketship schools in their districts.” (emphasis added)

Tech market enthusiasts at EdSurge claim, “Rocketship has broken down the traditional factory school model, rethinking things like the bell-schedule, the role of teachers, the way kids are grouped, and even the physical space itself.”

What does all this “innovation” look like in practice?

As Samantha Winslow explained in the article cited above, Rocketship’s allure comes mostly from cost savings because so much of the “instruction” is delivered via computers. “The company says it saves half a million dollars a year by using fewer teachers, replacing them with non-certified instructors at $15 per hour … Half its teachers have less than two years’ experience; 75 percent come from Teach for America.”

The chain “targets low-income students” with the claim it can raise their test scores by drilling them with computer-based instruction. “Instructors monitor up to 130 kids at a time in cubicles in the schools’ computer labs. Rocketeers, as students are called, sit looking at computer screens up to two hours per day.

“Skeptics say the Rocketship test scores just demonstrate the schools are focusing on test preparation at the expense of arts, languages, and real learning,” Winslow noted.

The Last Thing These Children Need

In these types of high-tech-driven charters, where efficiency and driving down the costs of teachers are priorities, “there is never much time to actually teach,” explained one teacher who had been employed at a virtual charter school run by the company K12.

Writing recently at the the blog site of Education Week edu-blogger Anthony Cody, the teacher, Darcy Bedortha, recounted, “Each class met for 30 minutes in an interactive-blackboard setting one day each week. Fewer than 10 percent of students actually attended these ‘classes.’ Other than that time and any one-on-one sessions a teacher and student might set up (which, in my experience, almost never happened), there is no room for direct instruction.

“I was an English teacher,” Bedortha explained, “so my students would write. They wrote of pain and fear and of not fitting in. They were the kinds of young people who desperately needed to have the protective circle of a community watching over them. They needed one healthy person to smile at them and recognize them by name every day, to say ‘I’m glad you’re here!’ … The last thing these young people needed … was to be isolated in front of a computer screen.”

The educational malpractices committed by charter schools aren’t confined to the tech-driven ones.

A tutor who had worked at a “no excuse” charter school in Boston recently wrote a letter to her former students on the edu-blog site Edushyster. She confessed, “What I saw at your ‘No Excuses’ charter startled me and still troubles me deeply. I was trained on how to discipline you, but not on the best way to help you understand material. I was lectured on how to turn your learning into data points, but was never told who you are and where you came from. Your school forced me to do things that I don’t believe are in your best interest.”

A recent report coming out of Ohio told of a charter management operation in Columbus where teachers failed to show for work because they hadn’t been paid. There were bedbugs in the school, the food vendor stopped providing lunches, and an assistant principal was making less than minimum wage. The charter operator had two other charters it operated closed down by the state Department of Education in the previous month because “inadequate staffing led to fights among students and to lunch not being served on a set schedule.”

A “Perfect Storm” of Corruption

In addition to questionable classroom practices, charter schools are dogged by corruption.

The scandal cited above in which a charter chain defrauded taxpayers of millions of dollars in a Medicaid scheme presents a “perfect storm,” according to one analysis, “of everything that might go wrong with private, for-profit ‘educators’ trying to make more than a buck from public education under the guise of charter school management.”

The D.C.-based firm Options Public Charter School managed to orchestrate a train wreck of corruption, including not only the Medicaid fraud scheme, but also payoffs of public officials and a local television news personality, diversion of funds meant for schools to personal accounts, business arrangements that siphoned funds to contractor partners, and bloated executive salaries.

The charter scandal involving the Turkish cleric is especially bizarre. As the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss explained at her Answer Sheet blog, “The reclusive cleric is Fethullah Gulen, who has been linked to charter schools in some 25 states and to other schools in dozens of countries around the world.”

But Gluen is no mere charter operator. In fact, as Al Jazeera reported, he is the head of a powerful movement in Turkey involved in “the most extensive and sensational corruption investigations” of that country’s recent history.

“The public charter schools in what is unofficially known as the Gulen network,” Strauss explained, “are believed to be operated by people – usually Turks – in or associated with the Gulen movement.”

Many of the schools have strong academic records, but have been the subject of frequent investigations of “whether some employees at some of these schools are ‘kicking back part of their salaries’ to the Gulen Movement.”

Strauss noted, “The New York Times and CBS News as well as PBS have reported on the Gulen charter network, citing problems such as whether these schools give special preference to Turkish companies when handing out contracts.”

No Scrutiny Please

One doesn’t have to dig deeply to find examples of charter school malfeasance. Indeed, all the above examples appeared in news stories and blog sites since the current school year began.

In the meantime, charter promoters do all they can to avoid any external audits or legal consequences related to what they do.

As education historian Diane Ravitch recently reported from her blog, when charter school operators in California were convicted of misappropriating over $200,000 in public monies, the California Charter Schools Association entered an amicus brief stating the defendants were “not guilty of any criminal offense because charter schools are not subject to the laws governing public schools. CCSA says that charter schools are exempt from criminal laws governing public schools because they are operated by a private corporation.”

In the same blog post, Ravitch told of a case in Arizona where another charter successfully argued that it was a private corporation, not a public school. And in Chicago, when the teachers at a charter school wanted to form a union, “the charter founder argued before the National Labor Relations Board that the charter was operated by a private corporation and not subject to state labor laws.”

Wait … and you thought charter schools were public schools?

Movement Interrupted

If it weren’t for the great marketing job the charter movement has employed, this education “innovation” would be a P.R. disaster.

So far, only the most well-informed fans of charter schools, who aren’t wrapped up in the movement ideology it has become, have changed their minds about what’s befalling schoolchildren and communities across the country.

An impartial observer of charter schools, Rutgers professor Bruce Baker, once hoped charters would be a possible source of “some creative, energetic leadership … that might be associated with a mission-driven start-up school, coupled with an ounce or two of deregulation.”

Recently, however, his perception has changed. “This whole movement has gotten way out of control – it has morphed dramatically – especially the punditry and resultant public policy surrounding charter schooling. Sadly, I’m reaching a point where I now believe that the end result is causing more harm than good.”

Recently, Stan Karp of Rethinking Schools wrote, “Nearly every teacher dreams of starting a school. I know I did.

“But I also know the charter school movement has changed dramatically in recent years in ways that have undermined its original intentions … The counterfeit claim that charter privatization is part of a new ‘civil rights movement,’ addressing the deep and historic inequality that surrounds our schools, is belied by the real impact of rapid charter growth in cities across the country.”

His conclusion? “It’s time to put the brakes on charter expansion and refocus public policy on providing excellent public schools for all.”

Amen.

 

11/20/2014 – People ‘Walk In’ For Public Schools

THIS WEEK: Number Homeless Children Soars … New Test Scores, More Failures … Banks Rip-Off Schools … K12 Charters Tank … $3.9 Billion For EdTech

TOP STORY

Why People Are ‘Walking In’ For Public Schools

By Jeff Bryant

“Organizations representing advocates for public schools have joined their voices today in events across the country as part of a national Week of Action for the Public Schools All Our Children Deserve. The combined groups refer to themselves as the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a national alliance of parent, youth and community organizations and labor groups fighting for educational justice and equity in access to school resources and opportunities. The actions and appeals of today’s events vary, but there’s a unifying theme throughout: well-resourced community schools.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Number Of Homeless Children In America Surges To All-Time High: Report

The Huffington Post

“The number of homeless children in the U.S. has surged in recent years to an all-time high, amounting to one child in every 30 … Nearly 2.5 million American children were homeless at some point in 2013 … Child homelessness increased by 8 percent nationally from 2012 to 2013 … Neither federal nor state housing assistance nor incentives for developers to create low-income housing have kept pace with demand.”
Read more …

Cutoff Scores Set For Common-Core Tests

Education Week

“A consortium that is designing assessments for the Common Core State Standards released data Monday projecting that more than half of students will fall short of the marks that connote grade-level skills on its tests of English/language arts and mathematics … According to cut scores approved Friday night by the 22-state consortium, 41% of 11th graders will show proficiency in English/language arts, and 33% will do so in math. In elementary and middle school, 38% to 44% will meet the proficiency mark in English/language arts, and 32% to 39% will do so in math … If the achievement projections hold true for the first operational test next spring, state officials will be faced with a daunting public relations task: convincing policymakers and parents that the results are a painful but temporary result of asking students to dig deeper intellectually so they will be better prepared for college or good jobs.”
Read more …

How The Banks Bamboozled Chicago

Chicago Sun Times

“The City of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools pay more than $100 million annually on interest rate swaps … Banks misled CPS about the risks involved with these deals … Complex financing schemes involving auction rate securities and swaps likely could cost CPS at least $100 million more than plain vanilla bonds … Banks unlawfully steered CPS into these deals without making adequate disclosures about risk … The banks have a legal and moral obligation to give back the money they have stolen from Chicago and CPS.”
Read more …

What Went Wrong At The Upstart School Milken Backed?

Bloomberg News

“K12 Inc. (LRN) was heralded as the next revolution in schooling. Billionaire Michael Milken backed it, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush praised it … Plagued by subpar test scores, the largest operator of online public schools in the U.S. has lost management contracts or been threatened with school shutdowns in five states this year … Once-soaring enrollment at the more than 60 public schools it manages has dropped almost 5%. Targeted by short sellers, who benefit from a company’s decline, K12 shares have tumbled by two-thirds.”
Read more …

FCC Proposes $3.9 Billion For School Technology Program

THE Journal

“A proposal … called for a permanent $1.5 billion increase in the cap for E-rate, up from the current $2.4 billion, that would be used to pay for technology in schools … E-rate is funded through a fee users pay as part of their phone bill. The increase in the cap, to $3.9 billion, would be covered by an increase to that fee of about $0.16 to $0.19 per month per residential ‘rate payer’ … The announcement was met with immediate support from education advocacy groups.”
Read more …

Why People Are ‘Walking-In’ For Public Schools

Every school day in the Lincoln Park community on the North Side of Chicago greets students with well-appointed institutions that include some of the best facilities that American public schools have to offer.

Click over to the Yelp ratings for the elementary schools and you’ll read parent reviews that talk about their elementary school’s band programs, afterschool programs, and recent innovative practices being implemented. The high school website features the school’s richly stocked library and well-outfitted sports teams (the swim team has its own Olympic-sized pool, and there’s a golf team, no less). There’s a performing arts faculty, a world language department offering French, German, Spanish, and Arabic; extensive performing arts opportunities; and an International Baccalaureate program. A raft of “specialists” are on hand to support students needing extra help.

This is not at all like the lived experience of students attending public schools on Chicago’s South Side. The schools serving the overwhelmingly black and brown students in those neighborhoods aren’t quite so sparkling. Click over to the websites for those schools (if the sites are still functioning), and you’ll see into a different world: no pool, no library, much shorter lists of academic offerings, and relatively few mentions of the arts.

In fact, according to a recent report at The Huffington Post, the U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into alleged discrimination at two of those public schools “where course offerings have been slashed to the point where physical education is only available as an online class,” and students are no longer being offered any honors and other advanced classes they need to attend college.

What’s worse, many neighborhoods in South Side Chicago don’t even have public schools anymore, making their communities “school deserts,” according to a recent report from MSNBC. After years of chronic neglect, their schools were deemed “failures,” and they were closed.

Did the schools fail, or did the system? Do these schools need “reform,” or does the whole system?

You’d think this blatant discrimination would get noticed and addressed in cities like Chicago. But people at the brunt of these disparities have yet to be heard. Today, they are speaking out again.

A National Week Of Action Culminates Today

Many of those who are raising their voices in protest in Chicago are showing up today at a press conference in front of the Mayor’s office at City Hall in which parents, teachers, students, and community members, predominantly from the South Side, will demand a meeting with the mayor and will be prepared to engage in civil disobedience.

The Chicago activists are not alone. Joining activists in Chicago today, there are protest actions in at least 18 other cities. Like today’s event in Chicago, the happenings in other cities are taking place because students, parents, teachers, and citizens from underserved communities in many of our cities are fed up with the conditions of their schools – especially when they can see that schools in the better-off parts of town get what they need.

Organizations representing these aggrieved citizens have joined their voices in today’s events as part of a national Week of Action for the Public Schools All Our Children Deserve.

The combined groups refer to themselves as the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a national alliance of parent, youth and community organizations and labor groups fighting for educational justice and equity in access to school resources and opportunities.

The actions and appeals of today’s events vary, but there’s a unifying theme throughout. The events coincide with recognition of November 20 being the Universal Children’s Day approved by the United Nation’s Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959.

In many of today’s actions, the Alliance reports, activists will walk their children into schools and hold demonstrations at prominent public buildings. They’ll join with civil rights leaders, elected officials and faith leaders to promote policies that improve schools instead of closing them. They’ll call for their schools to be resourced well enough to include the full range of student needs, including adequate teaching staff for a well-rounded curriculum, school nurses and librarians, and counselors and social workers.

This demand for more well resourced schools that attend to the full range of student needs is being loosely defined as “community schools.”

Walking In For Education Equality

Many of the actions involve walking into schools – as opposed to walking out – as a symbolic gesture of support for public education and an opportunity for concerned citizens and the media to see the conditions and challenges these schools face.

The “walk-in” concept originated in North Carolina and St. Paul, Minnesota, where teachers and students, unable or unwilling to walk out of schools, held walk-ins to voice their concerns, educate their communities, and galvanize support for the movement to reclaim our public schools.

In Austin, public school activists are focusing on Travis High School, a struggling school in an underserved community that has been labeled “failed.” They are inviting media inside the school to see the conditions and view firsthand the challenges the educators and students face in their school. And they are calling for the Austin district to implement the community schools model for school like Travis.

In Boston, public school advocates are walking in early to Dearborn Middle School to support the school, address critical infrastructure issues, advocate for a turnaround approach for the school based on a community schools mode, and protest the school being turned over to a charter operator.

In Detroit, Michigan, people are meeting at the home of one child in the Brightmoor neighborhood and then accompanying their children on their route to school, where they will meet in a press conference to call attention to inequitable transportation for students and demand implementation of sustainable community schools.

In other cities – Buffalo, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and elsewhere – public school advocates are packing school board meetings where they will air their grievances over inadequate resources and call for community schools in their neighborhoods.

Advocates in Philadelphia, New York City, and elsewhere are holding educational presentations with panel discussions and other informative activities. New York City recently gave the concept of community schools a big boost when newly-elected mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to address the city’s most troubled schools with more money and staffing, extended day services, and arrangements for social services to be delivered to students and families on site.

Local Actions, Nationwide Problem

The Week of Action is national because the problem is national in scope.

Many of the participants in today’s events, recently, combined their voices in a project under the banner of a Journey for Justice alliance.

Their report “Death by a Thousand Cuts: Racism, School Closures, and Public School Sabotage,” published earlier this year, concluded, “The public education systems in our communities are dying. More accurately, they are being killed by an alliance of misguided, paternalistic ‘reformers,’ education profiteers, and those who seek to dismantle the institution of public education.”

The report documents that staggering budget austerity being inflicted on school systems in urban communities around the country. While “predominantly Black and Latino communities are experiencing an epidemic of public school closures,” the report contends, “there has been a massive shift in resources from public entities to private organizations, especially within low-income communities of color.”

The authors note that “a small number of community-based charter schools offering high-quality, innovative services that cannot be provided by our local public schools” has morphed into a policy for charter schools to “replace our public schools.”

Their research finds that the disruption of this massive reshaping of urban schools undermines education quality, limits access (and choice) to good schools, wastes resources and diminishes teacher effectiveness, among other results.

Today’s nationwide walk-ins should be a call to all Americans to demand our leaders abandon current public education policies and begin implementing what would truly represent a more positive direction forward.

 

 

11/13/2014 – Can We Stop Using Tests To Drive Education Reform?

THIS WEEK: Where Education Won … What $160 Gets You … Importance Of School Absentee Rates … Choice Breeds Segregation … For-Profit College Stocks May Soar

TOP STORY

Can We, “Stop Using Tests To Drive Education Reform?”

By Jeff Bryant

“With the new standards seemingly a potentially beneficial ends being undone by a stifling, narrow-minded means … the best idea may be to ‘stop using tests to try to drive education reform.’ That conclusion is in fact rapidly becoming the center of the debate over education policy across the country… Reports about widespread protests against standardized tests are now routine … Politicians and public officials are starting to hear the growing chorus against testing … We’ve yet to hear a coherent answer to, ‘Can we stop using tests to drive education reform?’ But any legitimate notion of ‘reform’ will have to come up with one.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Ballot Measure Wins Show Strong Support For Pro-Public Education Policies

National Education Association

“Many voters who had the opportunity to vote on specific issues supported policies that are good for students and working families. That held true even in states that elected candidates who are less-friendly or downright hostile toward public education … Missouri voters took a stand on behalf of their educators and public schools when they voted overwhelmingly against … an initiative to change the state constitution to use student performance on high-stakes standardized tests to determine teacher pay; demote or terminate educators; or punish struggling schools … Illinois voters said ‘heck yeah’ when they were asked whether individuals with incomes greater than $1 million should pay more of their fair share in taxes in order to increase support for public schools … Voters in Hawaii rejected a ballot measure that would have used public money on private pre-kindergarten programs. Opponents of the measure strongly believe that the state should indeed expand early learning programs, but by establishing fully funded preschool through the public education system … Washington state passed its class size ballot measure. [Update here]”
Read more …

Running A School On $160

The Philadelphia Inquirer

“The number couldn’t possibly be right, Marc Gosselin thought: $160. That was the total discretionary budget he was handed as the brand-new principal of Anna Lane Lingelbach Elementary … Gosselin zeroed in on students’ reading levels – just 42% were meeting state standards. He wanted to administer short tests to gauge children’s reading … But there was no money to buy the test – or even paper to copy it … The school has no music class nor playground equipment … Nearly 90% of pupils live in poverty … Still, the school is calm. It runs smoothly, and its staff want to be there. They have been the glue holding Lingelbach together, and classrooms are bright with materials teachers have purchased themselves.”
Read more …

Absenteeism: Another Way To Measure School Poverty

The Hechinger Report

“A new report out of New York City suggests that policy makers should identify troubled schools by their absenteeism rates – a relatively easy data point to obtain – and then work to fix the schools by addressing each one’s unique problems, from homelessness and child abuse to teacher turnover and safety … Only 11% of the students at schools with chronic absenteeism passed the city’s math and reading tests in 2012-13. Other schools with similar poverty levels but better attendance rates posted much higher test scores … Schools with chronic absenteeism were likely to be beset by other poverty-related problems, such as male unemployment in the neighborhood and high rates of homelessness.”
Read more …

Cliques Thrive in Schools That Give Students More Choices, Study Says

Education Week

“Students are more likely to organize in homogenous and hierarchical cliques in schools that offer them more choices … ‘Schools that offer students more choice – more elective courses, more ways to complete requirements, a bigger range of potential friends, more freedom to select seats in a classroom – are more likely to be rank-ordered, cliquish, and segregated by race, age, gender, and social status,’ … Such tight social arrangements are less likely to form at schools that limit social choices – encouraging students to interact based on school work rather than on the basis of their social lives – and at smaller schools … Choice in schools just makes it easier for students to form those social clusters. So maybe the answer can be found in addressing those social and emotional elements, rather than taking the choices away all together.”
Read more …

Banks Urge Investors To Buy For-Profit College Stocks Now That The GOP Is Taking Back Congress

Think Progress

“The Republican resurgence on Capitol Hill makes for-profit education company stock a hot commodity, according to industry analysts who expect a GOP-controlled Congress to loosen oversight of both student lending firms and for-profit colleges … The analyses were based primarily on future legislative predictions … much friendlier to the companies that run for-profit schools … ‘diminished regulatory risk characteristics of a Republican-controlled electorate’ makes student lending company stocks likely to rise in value … Stock in Strayer Education Inc., one of the largest for-profit college companies, was up almost 10% from Tuesday morning to Thursday morning. DeVry’s stock is up nearly 3% and Apollo Education Group’s is up over 2.5% … The companies that operate these high-cost, low-value degree-granting institutions are immensely profitable, spend a billion dollars more on recruiting than on educating annually, and reward their executive officers with massive pay packages. In many cases, these companies get 90 percent of their income from federal student loan dollars.”
Read more …

Can We, “Stop Using Tests To Drive Education Reform?”

“Stop using tests to try to drive education reform.”

That’s the conclusion from a recent in-depth report examining the pros and cons of new education standards called the Common Core and the standardized tests that accompany the new achievement targets.

The report “Questioning The Common Core Tests” from American Radio Works, a project of American Public Media, examined the rollout of the new standards, particularly in the state of New York where that rollout has been accompanied by huge controversies over dramatic increases in the failure rates on new state tests.

The reporter, Emily Hanford, casts the new standards as mostly a good thing. She quoted a “a mom and a former math teacher” who claims the standards have led to changes in her children’s school that encourage them to “think more.” And Hanford spoke with Carol Burris, an award-winning principal from a high school on Long Island, New York, who “would like to see students at all schools in the United States get the kind of education that’s laid out in the Common Core standards.”

But Hanford balanced sunny views of the Common Core with the reality of the increased standardized testing that tends to accompany the new standards wherever they go. Indeed, increased testing is now at the heart of “reform” policies being implemented in every school, with new tests now being rolled, even in kindergarten and pre-school and to children who have severe disabilities.

“Testing is sucking the joy out of learning,” the New York mom Hanford interviewed declared. “She’s upset about all the class time taken up by the tests. Students in New York sit for up to nine hours of Common Core testing, at the end of the school year, plus interim assessments and practice tests.”

Another parent complained, “The curriculum has been taken over by ‘constant’ test prep.“ Another said, “The kids hear all day long and all year long, ‘Do it this way so it’ll be right on the test’ … The kids are getting a sense that it’s all about this looming test.”

Principal Burris, Hanford summarized, doesn’t believe any potential good coming from new standards “will happen as long as there are high-stakes tests attached.”

Given the context Hanford’s report established – with the new standards seemingly a potentially beneficial ends being undone by a stifling, narrow-minded means – it’s hard not to reach the same thought she ended with, paraphrasing Burris, that the best idea may be to “stop using tests to try to drive education reform.”

That conclusion is in fact rapidly becoming the center of the debate over education policy across the country, not just in New York and not just in regards to the roll out of Common Core.

Test Rebellion Grows, Spreads

Indeed, reports about widespread protests against standardized tests are now routine.

Most prominent among them was the recent headline in The New York Times “States Listen As Parents Give Rampant Testing An F.” The article told of a recent parent meeting in a Florida high school auditorium in which, moms and dads “railed at a system that they said was overrun by new tests coming from all levels – district, state and federal. Some wept as they described teenagers who take Xanax to cope with test stress, children who refuse to go to school and teachers who retire rather than promote a culture that seems to value testing over learning.”

The reporter, Lizette Alvarez, noted Florida schools this year will “dedicate on average 60 to 80 days out of the 180-day school year to standardized testing. In a few districts, tests were scheduled to be given every day to at least some students.”

The overemphasis on testing, Alvarez found, has led to parents and educators across the state “rebelling.”

Florida, even more than New York, has been a “model” of “education reform” other state leaders have been urged to follow – implementing the Common Core and other “innovations.” But the changes have brought about the increased emphasis on testing. In response to that emphasis, parents and educator inFlorida, like those in New York, are joining what amounts to “a national protest,” in Alvarez’s words, against all the testing requirements that invariably accompany the reforms.

As proof of the national scope of the uprising, the Times reporter pointed to the organization Fair Test, the National Center on Fair and Open Testing, which keeps a running tally of test-related news and commentary on its website. Anyone scanning the weekly accounts will quickly learn that the vehement outrage over increased standardized testing has spread to every state and is continuing to increase in intensity.

Last month FairTest released a detailed report on the testing resistance and reform movement. The report found, “In the spring of 2014, an estimated 60,000 parents refused the tests in New York (5 percent of the state’s students in grades 3-8), more than 1,000 opted out in Chicago, and across Colorado more than 1,400 boycotted. Parents and students opted out in many other states. Meanwhile, people organized to roll back testing in more than half the states, using public forums, social and traditional media campaigns, rallies, petitions and legislative efforts, as well as boycotts. This represents a major expansion from spring 2013; for example, there were 10 times as many refusers in New York this year compared with last.”

Roots Of Test Mania

Where did all the testing come from?

As the Times reporter Hanford noted, “Common Core does not require states to test students, but the No Child Left Behind Act does. That law, signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, says that in order to get certain kinds of federal education funding, states must test their students every year in grades three through eight and once in high school. The law requires states to publish test results. When the law went into effect, it mandated that by 2014, every student would have to score ‘proficient’ on those tests. States that failed to reach this goal could lose federal funding.”

Then the emphasis on testing increased dramatically when new requirements for teacher and principal evaluations rolled out under the Obama administration. “Evaluating teachers by test scores is not part of Common Core,” Hanford explained again, “but it’s been linked to it because of money the Obama administration gave to states as part of its Race to the Top grant program. To be eligible for that program, states had to adopt Common Core (or similarly rigorous standards and assessments), and they had to put into place teacher evaluation systems that use student test score growth as a ‘significant’ part of both teacher and school principal evaluations.”

Actually, it’s difficult to find any aspect of the agenda known as “education reform” that is not inextricably linked to test scores.

Scores on international tests have been used to condemn the American public education system. Test scores are frequently given as chief rationale for state takeovers of local school districts and for closing neighborhood schools. And test scores are now the principal means of determining nearly every value proposition for education – whether to include art and music in the curriculum, choose charter schools over public ones, add extended hours or new technologies.

As I explained some time ago, education reform advocates took their lessons from financial markets that learned how to “flip” the value of a commodity with unclear quantitative value – whether it was the number of hits on a website or the unsecured value of a mortgage debt – into a specific value in the form of a security to buy and sell on Wall Street.

By decreeing that student scores on standardized tests would define the “output” schools would be accountable for, reformers – either unwittingly or intentionally (does it matter?) – turned student learning – and by extension, the students themselves – into a commodity that could be speculated on in the context of all sorts of “reform” schemes – from starting charter schools to lowering teacher salaries to closing schools.

Now the true costs of this mindset – that it might be corrupting, even inhumane – are becoming clear to people who are most affected by the policy.

Leaders Are Starting To Hear But Do They Listen?

Politicians and public officials are starting to hear the growing chorus against testing.

Recently in Ohio, district superintendents in the northeast corner of the state condemned what they called “test mania,” calling the state’s new exam schedule – doubling test time to 10 hours per student – an “abomination.”

As the FairTest report cited above noted in its Executive Summary, “School boards are also resisting test overkill. In Texas, 85 percent of districts passed a resolution condemning testing for ‘strangling’ education. That set the stage for a 2013 parent-led legislative campaign that rolled back the number of graduation tests from 15 to 5. In New York, about 20 districts refused to administer tests used for the sole purpose of trying out items for the next year’s state exams. Parents prodded the districts and provided legal backing. This fall, the Lee County, Florida, school board voted to opt out of all state-mandated standardized tests. Though it later retreated, that school board and others across the state, together with parent and teacher allies, are pursuing strategies to slash state test requirements, making it easier for districts to reduce their own testing mandates.”

In August, Education Secretary Arne Duncan added to the chorus when he wrote in a blog post that “testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools.” Recently, 11 civil rights groups that constitute the Advancement Project told Duncan to drop K-12 test-based accountability system.

Then in October, leaders of state and large-city school districts announced “a joint effort to evaluate and improve the quality and quantity of student assessments in public schools across the nation.”

Back to the question, “Can we stop using tests to drive education reform?”

Answering that question will take more than new policy; it will take a new mindset.

As Hanford noted in her Times article, “New York State Education Commissioner John King believes tests are necessary to get teachers to start teaching the Common Core. ‘People do what’s measured,’ he said at an education policy breakfast at NYU in the Fall of 2012. ‘And measuring the Common Core has to be a part of how we insure successful implementation.’”

This is not only an extraordinarily narrow-minded view of human nature; it’s also bad for education. The notion that something as complex as a school system, overseeing something as ill-defined as “learning,” can be evaluated and governed by specific and isolated “data outputs,” has always been a really bad way of thinking about public policy. In fact, there’s lots of evidence teachers will try new ideas when they’re not being measured.

Changing this mindset will be harder than changing the policy. As teacher and Education Week contributor Peter Greene wrote on his popular blogsite, when Secretary Duncan criticized the over-reliance on high stakes testing in our schools, he was essentially correct. ” It’s just that his words have nothing to do with the policies pursued by his Department of Education … Duncan does not welcome an examination of the way in which standardized testing is driving actual education out of classrooms across America.”

What Greene, Principal Carol Burris, and others foresee, unfortunately, is rather than a complete change in mindset, what we’re seeing instead is just a change in jargon in how supporters of reform express their policy proposals.

So we’ve yet to hear a coherent answer to, “Can we stop using tests to drive education reform?” But any legitimate notion of “reform” will have to come up with one.