Education Opportunity Network

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7/24/2014 – Education ‘Reform’ Loses The Netroots

THIS WEEK: Voters Overwhelmingly Want Pre-K Expansion … Teacher Dropout Crisis … Segregation Feeds Tea Party … Jeb Bush Policies Hit Obstacles … Choice Is About Sorting


Education ‘Reform’ Loses The Netroots

By Jeff Bryant

“At this year’s Netroots Nation conference … those whose white-hot enthusiasm for presidential politics may be dampened by the inevitability of a Hillary Clinton candidacy, there may be no more promising alternative channel than the raging fight for public education.”
Read more …


Poll: 70 Percent Of Voters Support Federal Preschool Expansion

The Washington Post

“Seven in 10 voters, including 6 in 10 Republicans, support a plan for the federal government to expand quality early childhood programs for low- and middle-income families … State governors and mayors from both political parties have made strides in expanding preschool in recent years, but Obama’s proposal to increase federal funding to help states improve access to preschool has stalled in Congress … On a list of national priorities, voters ranked ‘ensuring children get a strong start’ second only to ‘increasing jobs and economic growth’ and above ‘improving the quality of our public schools’ and ‘reducing the tax burden on families’ … Key groups of swing voters also supported the proposal, including 80% of Hispanics, 75% of moderates and 72% of suburban women.”
Read more …

The Teacher Dropout Crisis


“Roughly half a million U.S. teachers either move or leave the profession each year… This kind of turnover comes at a steep cost … up to $2.2 billion a year … at-risk students suffer the most. Nearly 20% of teachers at high-poverty schools leave every year, a rate 50% higher than at more affluent schools. That’s one of every five teachers, gone by next September … Variety of reasons for the turnover, including low salaries and a lack of support … Most likely to quit are also the least experienced: 40 – 50% of new teachers leave within their first five years on the job.”
Read more …

Tea Party Support Linked To Educational Segregation, New Study Shows

Notre Dame News

“Statistical analyses show that even after accounting for many other factors, Tea Party organizations were much more likely to form in counties with high levels of residential segregation based on education levels … College graduates were more likely to indicate support for the Tea Party if they resided in a county characterized by high levels of educational segregation … ‘The commonly held view that individuals and families who are struggling to get by are undeserving of government assistance is reinforced when the highly educated have limited contact with those who have been less fortunate.’”
Read more …

Jeb Bush’s Reading Rule Loses Ground


“It was one of Jeb Bush’s signature initiatives as Florida governor: Require third-graders to repeat the year if they flunked a reading test … Now, political pressure to dilute the policies is building … 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 … Studies have shown that retention leads to loss of self-esteem, a decreased feeling of belonging at school and negative effects on college attendance. A Harvard University study found that any positive effects of retention fade out over time. Data from Florida show that about a third of students held back for a year in 2003 never became proficient at reading … Oklahoma Education Association President Linda Hampton said … the union opposes the law and argues that retention can prove ‘detrimental to a child’s academic growth … emphasis our state has placed on a single test, on a single day to determine whether or not our 8- and 9-year-olds are prepared for the next grade level is unfair and disappointing … Education professionals, in partnership with parents, are better equipped to assess a child’s ability to read.’”
Read more …

The Big Sort: How Chicago’s School Choice System Is Tracking Kids Into Different High Schools Based On Achievement

The Hechinger Report

“Chicago is trying to expand the number of ‘quality school options’ and offer students a choice of where to go to school … An unintended consequence of the choice system: students of different ability levels are being sorted into separate high schools … The findings … raise questions about whether the city’s school choice system is actually creating better schools, or whether it’s simply sorting certain students out and leaving the weakest learners in separate, struggling schools … New York City and New Orleans see a similar dynamic … High-performing students are like gold in a school. Everybody does better around them – including other high-performing students. And it’s not just about test scores. The biggest predictor of whether a school is safe and orderly is students’ academic achievement. Having top performers makes an entire school easier to run.”
Read more …

Education ‘Reform’ Loses The Netroots

Every year Netroots Nation is arguably the most important annual event in the progressive community and a telling barometer of what is on the minds of, as Howard Dean put it, “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”

Last week’s meeting was no exception.

Mainstream coverage of that event has been focused exclusively on the reception Senator Elizabeth Warren got, and it was ecstatic for sure. The “clarity” of her message, as Esquire’s Charles Pierce put it, that the economic trajectory of most Americans “is rigged” – and not in our favor – rang true with the attendees and they shouted their approvals. When she urged the crowd, “We can whimper. We can whine. Or we can fight back,” it was clear those in attendance preferred door number three.

But despite the enthusiasm for Warren’s message, the inevitability of a Hillary Clinton presidential nomination permeated the air. As my friend and colleague Richard Eskow wrote, “A more appropriate slogan for the event, at least for some attendees, might have been ‘I’m resigned to Hillary.’”

While acknowledging that Warren’s presence “had an extraordinary impact on the convention,” Eskow pointed to “other opportunities” where progressives are finding political space and exploiting it for real, positive change.

“These seem like promising alternative channels for progressive energy,” he stated. For those whose white-hot enthusiasm for presidential politics may be dampened by the inevitability of a Hillary candidacy, there may be no more promising alternative channel than the raging fight for public education.

The education related conversations at the meeting were numerous and animated – from demands for early childhood education, to anger at President Obama’s K-12 policies, to outcries against the exorbitant costs of higher education and ballooning college debt levels.

This hasn’t always been the case at Netroots Nation.

We’ve Come A Long Way

The first Netroots Nation I attended, Pittsburgh in 2009, was mostly a celebration of the Obama victory the previous year. But as events rolled out the rest of that year and into 2010, it became painfully obvious that the new White House would maintain – actually even increase – a disastrous policy agenda carried over from the George W. Bush administration for the nation’s public schools. Public schools activists looked to Netroots Nation as a venue where progressives could push back.

We had our work cut out for us.

As I wrote on the blogsite OpenLeft back in 2010, the Netroots Nation event seemed “generally in denial about issues of race and class that are at the heart of” problems in public schools. Instead, all the conversation was about “reform.” And teachers’ unions fought for attention on the agenda by addressing the worsening conditions for the nation’s public school teachers as a “labor issue.”

“Lots of lip service was paid to ‘saving teachers’ jobs,’” I recalled. But “not much of anything on the agenda addressed the destructive education policies of the Obama administration.”

News that Michelle Rhee, the public school chancellor in Washington, DC that year, had fired another 241 teachers was completely overlooked in any of the panels and speeches. Instead, as I reported, “As the news broke, an attendee I was having coffee with was absolutely gleeful. ‘There are too many bad teachers,’ she explained to me while coolly scrolling through the headlines on her Blackberry, ‘And they’re never made accountable for anything.’” Those around nodded in agreement.

Certainly no one of any prominence at the meeting pointed out the blatant unfairness of the Obama administration’s push to evaluate teachers on the basis of students’ scores on standardized tests. And during the conference’s education caucus, when National Education Association vice president Lilly Eskelsen warned of the rapidly expanding charter school industry that was spreading corporate influence and privatization of public schools, attendees defended “wonderful charter schools.”

A Turning Point At Netroots

The following year, at Netroots Nation 2011 in Las Vegas, I led a panel that included Eskelsen, U.S. Representative Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Sabrina Stevens (who now leads Integrity in Education), and Kevin Welner, an education professor from the University of Colorado, Boulder and co-director of the National Education Policy Center.

The title of that panel was “Engaging Progressives in the Fight for Public Education,” and we warned attendees of the dangers of current education policies and urged attendees to get involved in the growing movement to take back our public schools.

Both Eskelsen and Chu cited a Stanford study of charter schools nationwide that found most charter schools fail to outperform comparable neighborhood schools. And they decried the application of business models to education because business is designed to create winners and losers and stratify opportunities.

Stevens spoke eloquently and passionately of her experience teaching in a Denver public school where a reform agenda imposed by the state had stifled teachers’ practice, turned teaching into rote test-prep, and sapped the joy of learning from the students.

At one point during the session, Welner asked if there was anyone in the audience from the Center for American Progress. Two attendees raised their hands, which prompted Welner to chide, “Your organization is as bad as the American Enterprise Institute on education,” noting the groups that generally represent the range of the political spectrum – from left-leaning CAP to ardent right wing AEI – actively colluded in the campaign for corporate education reform.

Both CAP staffers promptly walked out. Based on what transpired in 2014, it’s now clear they – and the agenda masquerading as “education reform” – never really came back.

A High Mark For Dissent

In the ensuing two years, those fighting against corporate take-over of public education kept their cause on the Netroots Nation agenda, building to a crescendo in 2014.

This year, the opening keynote included a speech from now president of the NEA (and remarried) Lily Eskelsen Garcia who warned of the growing dangers of privatizing the nation’s public schools and the harmful education malpractice that arises from current obsessions with standardized tests.

Then Rev. William Barber III, leader of the Forward Together movement in North Carolina, electrified the crowd with an address that included support for public education in a moral vision for America.

Six panels on education topics – ranging from curriculum standards, to student suspensions, to student loan debt, to reclaiming the promise of public schools – presented a unified front against current “reform” policies and for a vision of equity and excellence in public education.

Indeed, the dialogue at the meeting made clear the term “education reform” has become a pejorative in the progressive community.

Getting Education Policy Above The “Snake Line”

As Eskow wrote, “the emotional high point” of this year’s conference was unquestionably Barber’s speech exhorting the crowd to “get our policies above the snake line.”

The “snake line,” Barber explained, marked a line in mountainous territory above which dangerous reptiles cannot live and where the “cold-blooded” can’t survive.

Indeed, America’s cold-blooded education policies can no longer survive above the bright line of progressive values. Netroots Nation showed we’re taking education policy to higher ground. As Barber urged us to do, we’ve turned to each other and declared, “We’re on our way.”

7/17/2014 – Waking Up To Our Broken Education Policies

THIS WEEK: How Tests Screw Poor Kids … Kids Need To Move … NOLA Choice Program Is A Mess … Schools Need Libraries … Most STEM Don’t Get STEM Jobs


Waking Up To Our Broken Education Policies

By Jeff Bryant

“Those in prominent news outlets tempted to jump into the fray of the nation’s education debate should be aware they are late to the scene and way behind the narrative proceeding recent events … Despite how the particulars of the debate pivot to issues about content standards, to assessment results, to school choice, to teacher tenure, grievances with inadequate and inequitable funding and lack of democratic control are what’s driving the debate – not teachers’ unions, Diane Ravitch, or the inner dynamics of the Democratic Party.”
Read more …


Why Poor Schools Can’t Win At Standardized Testing

The Atlantic

“Standardized tests are not based on general knowledge … They are based on specific knowledge contained in specific sets of books: the textbooks created by the test makers … Corporations write the tests, grade the tests, and publish the books that students use to prepare for the tests … Any teacher who wants his or her students to pass the tests has to give out books from the Big Three publishers … [But] no one is keeping track of what students need and what they actually have. Another problem is that there’s simply too little money in the education budget … Stop giving standardized tests that are inextricably tied to specific sets of books. At the very least, stop using test scores to evaluate teacher performance without providing the items each teacher needs to do his or her job. Most of all, avoid basing an entire education system on materials so costly that big, urban districts can’t afford to buy them. Until these things change, it will be impossible to raise standardized test scores—despite the best efforts of the teachers and students who will return to school this fall and find no new books waiting for them.”
Read more …

Why So Many Kids Can’t Sit Still In School Today

The Washington Post

“Over the past decade, more and more children are being coded as having attention issues and possibly ADHD … The problem … Children are not nearly moving enough, and it is really starting to become a problem … Having soccer practice once or twice a week is likely not enough movement for the child to develop a strong sensory system … Children are going to class with bodies that are less prepared to learn than ever before. With sensory systems not quite working right, they are asked to sit and pay attention. Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of … They need hours of play outdoors in order to establish a healthy sensory system and to support higher-level attention and learning in the classroom.”
Read more …

Anger, Frustration As Hundreds Of New Orleans Parents Turned Away From Public School Enrollment Center

The Times-Picayune

“New Orleans public school enrollment faltered badly Wednesday when hundreds of parents arrived at the lone resource center to sign up their children – only to be turned away for lack of staff to help them. It was an embarrassing fiasco for an enrollment process that has received national praise and aims to make life easier for families.”
Read more …

College, Career And Democracy Ready? Not Without A Trained Librarian

CT News Junkie

Connecticut-based journalist Sarah Darer Littman asks, “Why are we spending so much money on testing while schools that most need functioning libraries don’t have any? … Many previous studies found that ‘regardless of how rich or how poor a community is, students tend to perform better on reading tests where, and when, their library programs are in the hands of endorsed librarians . . . At schools where library programs lose or never had an endorsed librarian, students suffer as a result’ … In the districts that need them most, we are seeing school libraries underfunded or zero funded, and endorsed school librarian hours cut or eliminated.”
Read more …

So Much For STEM: Most Science And Math Majors Don’t Work In Those Fields


“Educators and employers alike will tell you that it’s important to get US students more interested in STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math … [But] people who graduate with STEM degrees by and large don’t work in STEM jobs. Only around 1 in 4 people with what the Census classifies as science and engineering degrees works in a STEM job … To say there is a ‘STEM shortage’ doesn’t really begin to tell you meaningful things about what’s going on in the labor market … Separating jobs out into “STEM” categories may be missing the point.”
Read more …

Waking Up To Our Broken Education Policies

Who could ever forget comedian Jon Stewart’s commentary in early 2009 on how financial reporters totally botched reporting of the Great Recession. Stewart mocked journalists at CNBC for missing all the warning signs of the over-valued housing market and their failure to question wild speculation on sub-prime mortgage debt. In one famous clip, Stewart said financial reporters’ astonished reaction to the economic calamity was like a journalist from The Weather Channel reporting at the scene of a tropical storm and wondering why he was getting rained on.

Stewart’s commentary about financial reporting back then would ring true today in describing how journalists are responding to recent fights over American education policy.

Indeed, those in prominent news outlets tempted to jump into the fray of the nation’s education debate should be aware they are late to the scene and way behind the narrative proceeding recent events.

Trying To Catching Up

Opinionators have been sleeping through a veritable rock concert of dissent over current education policies and are now suddenly awakening to declare the band just started and, “Boy, is it loud.”

“Teachers Turn On Obama,” the headline blared from Beltway news source The Hill. “Teachers unions have turned on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration,” the story went, “creating a major divide in the Democratic Party coalition.”

The reporter, Peter Sullivan, seemed to believe that the Obama administration and public school advocates had been copacetic until the nation’s largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association, recently voted in favor of demanding that Secretary Duncan resign. As proof, he quoted laudatory comments from former District of Columbia education Chancellor Michelle Rhee praising “the work Duncan and Obama have done,” and hailing a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality that found that because of federal pressures, 20 states now “require student growth to be the main factor in teacher evaluations, up from just four states in 2009.”

All these changes “progressed with little fanfare,” Sullivan declared. But suddenly now, teachers unions and Democrats are “fiercest sparring partners.”

Another headline, “Teachers Unions Turn Against Democrats,” came from New York Magazine. Jonathan Chait warned that teachers “are growing increasingly obstinate in their opposition of the sorts of accountability and pressure that Obama has helped bring upon them.” The inspiration for their growing disenchantment: education historian Diane Ravitch.

Ravitch, Chait insisted, “Has depicted education reform as a plot by corporate elites to privatize schools and destroy unions.” Her “militance” is turning leaders of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – into vehement opponents of what Chait appeared to endorse: opening more charter schools, extending school days, curtailing teachers’ job protections, and evaluating teachers by students’ test scores. Of course Chait didn’t bother to explain why these policies are supposedly so good for education – just that anyone disagreeing with them is a “militant.”

An article in The New York Times on the recent NEA vote for Duncan’s resignation quoted a representative of Democrats for Education Reform who contended “the Duncan vote” made the teachers look “like the lunatic fringe.”

One wonders where these people have been. Dissatisfaction with Duncan and the President’s education policies isn’t anything “new” at all. The conflict didn’t start with Diane Ravitch, although she is certainly a prominent voice. And recent actions by teachers’ unions are not as much a sudden lurch toward a more radical position as they are a reflection of frustration and resentment that’s been building in communities, in the teaching ranks, and beyond, around the country.

Welcome To The Education Spring

For years, collectivist actions in protest of public school policy have been scaling up from isolated protests to a nationwide movement of unified resistance. The movement is widespread among teachers, students, and parents. From the beginning, the movement was been grassroots driven and demanding of changes in the way our schools are being run.

From boycotts against standardized testing among teachers in Seattle, to ongoing protests among principals in New York state against new teacher evaluations, to objections to over-testing of students in Texas, the movement is diverse and outspoken.

From all corners of the country, students as young as eight years old are organizing and taking part in a variety of actions including zombie marches, prominent, headline-earning protests to school closures, and social media actions to whip up student resentment to the budget cuts and unfair policies slamming teachers and harming education programs.

Students in Denver, Philadelphia, Providence, Rhode Island, Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere have formed student unions that have developed attention-getting tactics, which have spread to a national scale.

Disenchantment with education policies has pushed protestors into the streets of Newark, Philadelphia, and Bridgeport, Connecticut. And discontent isn’t limited to communities of the urban poor and people of color, as evidenced by news reports from towns and cities in Western New York – populated with mostly white, middle-class parents.

In Pennsylvania, teachers, parents, and public school activists have staged multiple actions (here, here, and here) to protest severe budget cuts that have eliminated programs and laid off teachers. At the state capital of North Carolina, boisterous “Moral Monday” demonstrations against the state’s conservative government have made public education funding part of a rallying cry for a more progressive agenda in that state.

Over-reliance on standardized tests, a fetish of the Obama administration, continues to roil opposition across the nation.

In Connecticut, resistance to the state tests is growing so rapidly that “the state Department of Education released guidelines telling school districts just how to deal with parents who want to opt out.”

In Pittsburgh, hundreds of Pennsylvania parents who had opted their children out of state tests caught the attention of a local news outlet that interviewed one of the mothers leading the fight.

In Colorado, “a growing cacophony of assessment protests” has prompted public school officials to release new guidelines for opting out of tests because of so many “teachersparentsschool leaders and school boards have increasingly raised questions over the merit and amount of testing.”

On the west coast, anticipating the rising test rebellion in Washington, the state’s largest teachers’ union just “passed a motion to support parents and students who opt out of statewide standardized tests.”

And somehow journalists have missed all this?

Why Now?

The more interesting question for sure is not whether there is widespread discontent with the Obama administration’s education policies but why is it reaching a crescendo now.

Commenting on the recent moves by both unions, NEA and the American Federation of Teachers, to openly censure Arne Duncan, AFT President Randi Weingarten told reporters and bloggers at the recent AFT annual convention that the Secretary’s positive response to a recent court case overturning teachers’ long-standing job protections in California had been “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

The language of that judicial ruling, Vergara v California, was “so shocking … and extreme,” Weingarten stated, that when Duncan reacted positively to the decision, “it caused people to question what the issues are.”

Among those “issues,” are recent “50 year anniversary recognitions of past court decisions that were about righting the wrongs of inequity,” Weingarten elaborated, referring to the recent commemoration of the Brown v Board decision and other actions that enforced civil rights and racial integration of public schools. “But now federal policies have gone so far afield of that,” Weingarten stated. Instead, current policies emphasize “accountability” of teachers and schools to such an extent they ignore the issues of “adequate and equitable supports for our schools.”

That’s the story journalists who haven’t been following education don’t get. Behind nearly every protest to the status quo education policies are common grievances about resource deprivation, inequity, and widespread feeling that ordinary Americans no longer control their children’s and community’s education destinies.

Despite how the particulars of the debate pivot to issues about content standards, to assessment results, to school choice, to teacher tenure, grievances with inadequate and ijequitable funding and lack of democratic control are what’s driving the debate – not teachers’ unions, Diane Ravitch, or the inner dynamics of the Democratic Party.

Reporters and pundits who would prefer not to see their write-ups about the education debate parodied in public had better get that.

7/9/2014 – Democrats’ Divide On Education

THIS WEEK: Era Of Majority White Students Ends … Little Kids Need Less Structure … Public Support For Education Spending … Secret Of Effective Motivation … College Remediation Rates Distorted


Democratic Party’s Divide On Education Policy Gets Worse

By Jeff Bryant

“The Democratic Party’s divergence from real progressive values for governing our schools mostly went unnoticed in major media outlets until recently … Now Democratic candidates and their operatives and supporters need to decide which side makes the most sense to ally with.”
Read more …


School Is Over for the Summer. So Is The Era Of Majority White U.S. Public Schools.

National Journal

“The 2013-14 school year has drawn to a close in most U.S. school districts, and with it the final period in which white students composed a majority of the nation’s K-12 public school population. When schools reopen in August and September, black, Latino, Asian, and Native American students will together make up a narrow majority of the nation’s public school students … As public schools increasingly become institutions serving large numbers of students of color, some states with largely white state legislatures and aging electorates have already proven unwilling to raise taxes or divert needed funds to meet the needs of public schools. School funding and other public resource needs will become increasingly critical as children of color go on to become the majority of the U.S. workforce and total population by 2042.”
Read more …

Study: Too Many Structured Activities May Hinder Children’s Executive Functioning

Education Week

” When children spend more time in structured activities, they get worse at working toward goals, making decisions, and regulating their behavior … Instead, kids might learn more when they have the responsibility to decide for themselves what they’re going to do with their time … When children are in control of how they spend their time, they are able to get more practice working toward goals and figuring out what to do next. For instance, the researchers write, a child with a free afternoon ahead of her might decide to read a book. Once she’s finished, she might decide to draw a picture about the book, and then she’ll decide to show the drawing to her family. This child will learn more than another child who completes the same activities, but is given explicit instructions throughout the process.”
Read more …

Gauging Public Support For Education Spending

New America Foundation

“Across all programs, inflation-adjusted federal spending on children declined by 13.6% from 2010 to 2014. Education is down 15.1%, and early childhood spending 6.2% over the same time period … Even though we know that investing in kids markedly improves their long-term life outcomes and saves public money, our representatives in Washington have been steadily cutting back on programs that support children … In sum, the data show that: 1) Americans overwhelmingly want us to do more in early childhood, 2) only a small percentage of Americans want us to spend less on education generally, and 3) we’ve been cutting education spending at the federal level over the last five years … A few things going on here. First of all, consider that education is rarely a determinative political issue at the federal level—and it’s only marginally more so at the state level … Second, education polling sometimes captures a conflicted picture of Americans because of the muddled state of American education politics.”
Read more …

The Secret Of Effective Motivation

The New York Times

“Whenever a person performs a task well, there are typically both internal and instrumental consequences. A conscientious student learns (internal) and gets good grades (instrumental) … But just because activities can have both internal and instrumental consequences does not mean that the people who thrive in these activities have both internal and instrumental motives … For students uninterested in learning, financial incentives for good attendance or pizza parties for high performance may prompt them to participate, but it may result in less well-educated students … Rendering an activity more attractive by emphasizing both internal and instrumental motives to engage in it is completely understandable, but it may have the unintended effect of weakening the internal motives so essential to success.”
Read more …

How College Remediation Rates Are Distorted – And Why

The Washington Post

Award-winning Long Island, NY high school principal Carol Burris writes, ” College remediation rates are used to justify the need for the Common Core … Facts about college remediation are distorted or framed to cause maximum alarm … One think tank created the 40% remediation rate … The 40% then made its way into another think tank’s report, which was picked up by a nameless author who posted it on the Huffington Post. A few years later, in his zeal for supporting the expansion of charter schools in Boston, Duncan further inflates the rate by telling the people of Massachusetts that 40 percent of their graduates need remediation … Remediation is complicated … It is wrong to inflate remediation numbers and then use them to justify everything from charter schools to the Common Core.”
Read more …

Democratic Party’s Divide On Education Policy Gets Worse

Political pundits who try to tamp down talk of divisions within the Democratic Party must not be paying any attention to education policy.

For quite some time, close observers of the nation’s education policy have been calling attention to the fault lines between education progressives in the Democratic Party and Third Way-style centrists, such as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Democrats for Education Reform, who lean toward a market-based, econometric philosophy for public education governance.

As Furman University education professor Paul Thomas recently wrote for Alternet, “While the Obama administration has cultivated the appearance of hope and change, its education policies are essentially slightly revised or greatly intensified versions of accountability reform begun under Ronald Reagan.”

But the Democratic Party’s divergence from real progressive values for governing our schools mostly went unnoticed in major media outlets until recently when a few light bulbs went off among political observers. Writing for Slate, Matt Yglesias noticed, “Education reform, not ‘populism’ divides Democrats.” Then, Connor Williams of the New America Foundation saw the light and explained for The New Republic, “In 2016, Democrats have good reason to run against Obama’s education record.”

Now, Jonathan Chait has penned a piece for New York Magazine, “Teachers Unions Turn Against Democrats,” in which he postulates that a “backlash” to President Obama’s education policies, energized by education historian Diane Ravitch, could lead to an alliance between teachers unions and, gulp, Republicans.

For sure, the divide on education policy within the Democratic Party has grown into a Rubicon, and now Democratic candidates and their operatives and supporters need to decide which side makes the most sense to ally with.

The President’s Great Day Goes Sour

The divisions over education policy were all too apparent recently when President Obama joined Secretary Duncan to introduce an ambitious new plan to place more highly qualified teachers in front of students who need those teachers the most.

As education reporter Lyndsey Layton of The Washington Post wrote, “The Education Department is directing every state and the District to devise a plan by April 2015 to get more good teachers into their high-poverty schools.”

“This is a really important exercise for the nation to undertake,” Secretary Duncan said.

The White House had already lined up Beltway groups such as The Education Trust to ballyhoo the effort. There would be a press gathering, of course. And to highlight the initiative, Duncan and the president had scheduled lunch with a group of teachers. A grand day for sure.

But at the photo-op luncheon, it seemed the teachers hadn’t gotten the memo. Instead of gabbing about the new teacher equity plan, they apparently talked mostly about “frustration at the lack of resources at their schools and the regularly changing demands of their jobs,” according to Layton.

McClatchy reported the conversation similarly, referring to a North Carolina teacher in attendance who, “Told Duncan that teachers are frustrated because they’re being asked ‘to do something great with minimal resources.’”

And when reporters gathered, the question that was top of mind was not about the President’s new initiative at all. Instead, journalists wanted to know how the administration felt about the nation’s largest teachers’ union calling for Secretary Duncan’s resignation.

Delegates of the National Education Association, meeting in Denver at their annual convention, had just passed a resolution citing the teachers’ objections to the “department’s failed education agenda” and calling for Duncan to resign.

Duncan had initially “brushed off,” according to a report from Politico, the NEA resolution. But the issue is undoubtedly nagging him.

As education journalist Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post wrote, “Duncan can try to downplay the vote … But the NEA vote is a new sign of growing disenchantment with Duncan’s policies from the unions and well beyond them, as parents, principals, superintendents and others protest the Duncan agenda.”

How did the frustrations felt by everyday teachers and the growing resentment their organizations have with Secretary Duncan rule the day?

Frustration Rules The Day

The President’s desire to see the nation’s more experienced and educated teachers distributed in schools is a important for sure. Schools that serve poor, minority kids tend not to get the ones with the deepest resumes. As a recent article from The Huffington Post explained

  • The more affluent the district, the more likely teachers are to have received a master’s degree or higher.
  • Affluent districts tend to employ teachers with more experience.
  • The more white the school, the more likely teachers are to be certified in the subjects they teach.

That news outlet’s education reporter Joy Resmovits wrote in her report on the Obama initiative, “Students in high-poverty schools, a national survey has shown, are twice as likely to have their most important classes taught by teachers without proper certification. And federal data shows that minority students’ teachers on average have less experience than the teachers of their wealthier peers.”

What’s interesting though is that, as The Post’s Layton pointed out, the President’s initiative “doesn’t address the thorny problem of how to identify an effective teacher.” That challenge has been relegated to new teacher evaluation systems that Secretary Duncan has advocated for but teachers abhor.

Those evaluations rely, to varying extents, on how students score on standardized tests. As education historian Diane Ravitch asked when looking over the President’s new teacher equity plan, “Will the Obama administration ever figure out that test scores reflect socioeconomic conditions more than teachers? They might look at research or even the recent report of the American Statistical Association, which attributed 1-14% of score variation to teachers.”

Further, although the new teacher equity plan enforces requirements for states to put experienced and highly qualified teachers in schools serving high numbers of poor and minority students, the Obama administration has steered millions of federal dollars to Teach for America. TFA is an organization that places new teacher recruits from elite colleges and universities into some of the poorest schools in America – after only five weeks of training.

And Secretary Duncan and his supporters claim they want to see more experienced, better educated teachers serving in schools serving poor, black and brown kids. Yet they hail actions, like the recent legal ruling in the Vergara v California case, that undermine the job security of more experienced teachers.

If the President and his supporters really wanted to do more to help ensure more of the nation’s best teachers ended up in front of students who need them the most, they would have embraced guidelines put forth by the Opportunity to Learn campaign last year. OTL’s plan, Excellent Teachers For Each And Every Child: A Guide for State Policy, addressed the many factors that influence teaching quality and equitable distribution, such as learning conditions, school environment, and instructional resources. [Disclosure: OTL is a partner of the Education Opportunity Network and the Campaign for America's Future.]

Yet instead, Duncan has continued to blaze an education policy path that talks out of both sides of its mouth – pronouncing great beliefs in the value of experienced teachers but doing everything possible to undermine them with unfair evaluations, competition from less-credentialed recruits, and attacks on their job protections.

The frustrations teachers feel from these policies – while they grapple with the budget cuts imposed by conservative state governments – have been building for some time. And now they’re boiling over.

Should Democrats care?

Democrats Will Have To Choose

The list of education related legislation pending in Congress is not extensive and may not make any headway in a blocked up, unproductive House and Senate. So now the White House is relying on executive actions, such as its teacher equity initiative, to circumvent congressional gridlock.

But it’s hard to believe that executive actions will have much effect on the ground when the people on the ground, in this case classroom teachers, are not at all supportive.

The fact of the matter is that this presidential administration and some of its most ardent backers have never really gotten education at all.

Amy Dean asked in a recent piece for Truth Out, “Why does the Obama administration keep getting it wrong on education policy?” In her interview with Leo Casey of the American Federation of Teachers, she asked, “The priorities of the Obama administration’s Department of Education seem little changed from the failures of the Bush administration … What sort of policies should we be pushing for?”

In response, Casey outlined a more positive, more progressive way forward, “We need to look at a different way to do accountability that would not be focused on standardized tests, but that would really look at good measures of learning. It would focus not on punishing and negative sanctions, but on improving what’s going on in schools and classrooms. All of that is eminently doable on a national level and with a Democratic administration that is not so enthralled to the market model of reform.”

As my colleague Robert Borosage has argued, the divisions on economic policy among Democrats are “fundamental … grounded on very different perspectives that lead in significantly different directions.”

In the education arena, those fundamental differences have been stewing in the pot for a long time. What teachers and their unions have done now is to finally serve them up to the table.

Now, it’s mostly a matter of seeing who will be the first Democrats to understand those differences and use them as wedge issues to influence the increasingly angry electorate

And when the November election looms on the horizon, and you’re a candidate looking for volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls, organizations like The Education Trust are nowhere to be found. Your local teachers on the other hand?

7/2/2014 – Leaving Educators Off The Education Agenda

THIS WEEK: Gaps Start In Kindergarten … Common Core Support Plummets … Ed-Tech Increases Achievement Gaps … States Falter On School Turnarounds … United States Of Cruelty


The Cost Of Leaving Educators Off The Education Agenda

By Jeff Bryant

“As too few expectations of the policy wonks in D.C. seem to catch hold at school and classroom levels, what certainly has ‘trickled down’ is the attitude that the voices of teachers don’t matter much … Education policy leaders today make a big to-do about teachers being ‘the most important in-school factor’ in a student’s academic achievement. So what does it say when you take that factor and muzzle it … What you get … is a negative impact on learning.”
Read more …


The Major Disadvantage Facing Black Students, Even In Kindergarten

The Huffington Post

“A recent analysis from liberal think tank Economic Policy Institute (EPI) outlines the severe segregation that exists among kindergarten classrooms … EPI found that while white kindergarteners largely attended classrooms with fellow white students living above the poverty line, black students were much more likely to be in classrooms with low-income peers of color … The phenomenon not only denies American students the intangible benefits of learning in more integrated classrooms, but it perpetuates the achievement gap between students of different racial and class backgrounds before they barely have had an opportunity to start their educations … ‘Research makes fairly clear that racial integration – enabling white students to learn together with black and Hispanic students, and vice versa – benefits all student groups,’ the EPI report, written by researchers Emma Garcia and Elaine Weiss, states.”
Read more …

Common Core Support Among Those With School-Age Kids Plummets


“Support for Common Core among Americans with school-age children has fallen dramatically … A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 34% of American Adults with children of elementary or secondary school age now favor requiring all schools nationwide to meet the same Common Core education standards. That’s an 18-point drop from 52% in early November of last year … 47% oppose the imposition of the national standards, compared to 32% in the previous survey. Little changed are the 19% who are undecided.”
Read more …

Educational Technology Isn’t Leveling The Playing Field

The Hechinger Report

“While technology has often been hailed as the great equalizer of educational opportunity, a growing body of evidence indicates that in many cases, tech is actually having the opposite effect: it is increasing the gap between rich and poor, between whites and minorities, and between the school-ready and the less-prepared … Granted access to technology, affluent kids and poor kids use tech differently. They select different programs and features, engage in different types of mental activity, and come away with different kinds of knowledge and experience … As with books and reading, the most knowledgeable, most experienced, and most supported students are those best positioned to use computers to leap further ahead … This may stem in part from the influence of adults on children’s computer activities … These different patterns of use had quantifiable effects on the children’s learning … A computer in the hands of a disadvantaged child is in an important sense not the same thing as a computer in the hands of a child of privilege.”
Read more …

NCLB Waiver States Struggle To Turn Around Low-Performing Schools

Education Week

“According to an Education Week analysis of U.S. Department of Education monitoring reports … 17 out of 34 waiver states for which waiver monitoring reports have been released by the Education Department were cited for not following through on their plans for fixing up ‘priority’ schools – those bottom 5% of performers … 17 states were hit for not doing enough to help ‘focus’ schools, which are an additional 10% of troubled schools, including those with persistent achievement gaps … 9 states for not doing enough to improve student achievement at other Title I schools (those that get federal money for serving poor kids) … Where is implementation going well? Standards and assessments.”
Read more …

The United States Of Cruelty


Columnist Charles Pierce writes, “There is a new kind of systematized cruelty in our daily lives, in how we relate to each other, and in how we treat our fellow citizens, and, therefore, there is a new kind of systematized cruelty in our politics as well … There is something different abroad in the politics now, perhaps because we are in the middle of an era of scarcity and because we have invested ourselves in a timid culture of austerity and doubt. The system seems too full now of opportunities to grind and to bully … In our politics, we have become masters of camouflage. We practice fiscal cruelty and call it an economy. We practice legal cruelty and call it justice. We practice environmental cruelty and call it opportunity. We practice vicarious cruelty and call it entertainment. We practice rhetorical cruelty and call it debate … The time for camouflage is over. Cruelty is cruelty. It should be recognized as a fundamental heresy against the political commonwealth and wrung out of all its institutions. That is the only way out.”
Read more …

The Cost Of Leaving Educators Off The Education Agenda

This act is wearing thin.

As implementations of Common Core State Standards falter around the country, supporters of the new academic benchmarks continue a sort of dog and pony show to reinforce the message to “stay the course.”

The latest such example came from the Center for American Progress who staged a panel recently on “A Roadmap for a Successful Transition to the Common Core in States and Districts.” Typical of these sorts of affairs, the panel consisted of two Beltway think tank execs and two former pols now firmly ensconced in the private sector. There wasn’t an actual practicing educator in sight.

The report bears out the superficial substance of the PR event, a view from 30,000 feet up with seemingly no input from practicing teachers and principals on the ground.

Keep in mind this is an effort to promote implementation – where the rubber really meets the road – with, supposedly, examples of teachers and administrators doing it more successfully. And it’s a “roadmap.” Yet there’s little if any evidence of input from the people actually driving on the road.

With the emphasis exclusively on programmatic prescriptions rather than pedagogical examples, the report leaves the means of how teachers and administrators implement the standards pretty much a mystery.

Whether you agree with the necessity and quality of the Common Core or not, what afflicts implementations of the new standards is not as much the “politics” – what most of the handwringing is about – as it is their practicality – whether educators can get much utility out of standards in improving their practice and whether those changes in practice eventually yield any results.

New York, for instance, is cited as a state exhibiting some strategic turns in the road to adopting the Common Core. Yet that state has encountered numerous practical pitfalls that are completely unaddressed by the report – inadequate teaching materials and textbooks, poor assessments, inappropriateness of expectations to student ages and developmental levels, just to name a few.

There are reasons why implementations of the Common Core are rife with practical problems such as those experienced in New York.

As college teacher Paul Buchheit recently observed at Alternet, today’s policy leaders – who like to refer to themselves as “reformers” – are primarily businesspeople, not educators. Buchheit noted, “Writers of the Common Core standards included no early childhood educators or experienced classroom teachers … Achieve Inc., the key drafter of Common Core, brags about its academic deficiencies, saying, ‘Achieve remains the only education reform organization led by a Board of Directors of governors and business leaders.’”

The lack of educator engagement in policy making and policy enforcing circles is not limited to the Common Core. And the consequences of leaving educators out of policy discussions go far beyond problems with poor policy uptake on the ground – what one panelist at the CAP event, Fordham Institute’s Chester Finn, facilely referred to as “slow trickle down.”

Teachers Feel Undervalued

As too few expectations of the policy wonks in D.C. seem to catch hold at school and classroom levels, what certainly has “trickled down” is the attitude that the voices of teachers don’t matter much.

That’s an outcome reflected in the newest results of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) given by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the same responsible for Pisa tests. The TALIS survey compared international education standards, asked 100,000 teachers in 34 education systems around the world about the quality of their work lives.

Looking at the OECD survey results, Emily Richmond observed at The Huffington Post that teachers in the U.S. feel particularly undervalued – only 34 percent believe their work is valued by society.

Richmond added that the TALIS results aligned with recent findings from a Scholastic/Gates poll which revealed that only one out of every 20 teachers believed their opinions mattered outside of their school.

Indeed, the low value policy makers place on the input of teachers gets reflected in the way schools are run.

As Sarah Sparks noted for Education Week, “When it comes to implementing research-backed teaching practices such as collaboration, many teachers reported not being able to do so. In spite of research touting the benefits of collaboration, the survey found that more than half of teachers in grades 7 to 9 reported they rarely or never co-teach or observe their peers teaching. Moreover, nearly half never get feedback on how they can improve.”

Furthering teachers’ feeling of being undervalued is the fact that they face one of the world’s more challenging teaching jobs.

As Richmond noted, “U.S. teachers said they work an average of 45 hours per week, of which 27 hours are spent on classroom instruction. By comparison, their international peers work an average 38 hours per week, with 19 hours teaching.”

Also, “64 percent of American teachers said they work in schools where at least 30 percent of their pupils are economically disadvantaged. That’s compared with 20 percent of teachers on average for the other 33 countries in the OECD’s survey. In other words, U.S. teachers are three times as likely to work in schools with some poverty. Additionally, 62 percent of U.S. teachers said they were regularly able to motivate struggling students to take an interest in their work, compared with the international survey average of 70 percent.”

Teachers who feel their input is valued and who get the input of their peers are much happier in their jobs. As editors for The Hechinger Report noted when they looked at the survey data, “Teachers who say they get included in school decision-making and collaborate often with other teachers are more likely to say that teaching is a valued profession in their society. In turn, these same teachers report higher levels of job satisfaction and confidence in their ability to teach and to motivate students.”

And when teachers feel they’re not being valued, that’s got to hurt the effort to keep qualified teachers. As Richmond asked, “How is that perceived lack of respect influencing recruiting, hiring and retaining a high-quality teacher workforce?”

After all, education policy leaders today make a big to-do about teachers being “the most important in-school factor” in a student’s academic achievement. So what does it say when you take that factor and muzzle it?

Ignoring Teachers Hurts Learning

What you get, according to Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond, is a negative impact on learning.

Looking over the TALIS survey data, Darling-Hammond wrote for The Huffington Post that work life for the typical American teachers – who presides over larger class sizes (27 versus the TALIS average of 24) and spends many more hours than teachers in any other country directly instructing children – reflects “a leftover of factory-model school designs of the early 1900s.”

What she noted is that the work life of the American teacher, with its lack of collaborative support and input into the education process of the school and the system differs significantly from the work life of teachers whose students rank high in international tests.

This “gap” between what we know teachers need to advance student achievement and what our system provides could be remedied by “policy lessons,” Darling-Hammond contended, that include more and better support for our students, for sure, but also putting more value on teachers and teaching and redesigning schools and school policies so that teachers have more time to collaborate and get more substantive feedback from administrators.

“We cannot make major headway in raising student performance and closing the achievement gap until we make progress in closing the teaching gap,” Darling-Hammond concluded.

Trickled Down Or Trickled On

It’s not like we don’t know teachers value and need and exchange in ideas.

In fact one of the recommendations of the CAP report on Common Core implementation is for more teacher collaboration.

But all too often what policy makers and policy advocates – including CAP – tend to reflect in their actions is a disregard for teacher voice as they impose policies such as test-driven evaluations and merit pay that teachers generally oppose.

The Common Core appears to be one of those policies that teachers don’t uniformly object to. But when policy leaders in D.C. relegate educator input to platitudes in their reports, instead of placing that voice at the podium and on the panel, there’s little chance they’ll ever see much trickle down. Instead, more educators will feel they are being trickled on.

6/25/2014 – Stopping Charter School Corruption

THIS WEEK: Shocking Treatment Of School Kids … Case Against School Closures … What Closes Opportunity Gaps … D.C. Halts Test-Based Teacher Evaluation … State Regulators Go Easy On For-Profit Colleges


Will Anyone Stop Charter School Corruption?

By Jeff Bryant

“Real evidence of ‘the good charters’ remains mostly anecdotal, as financial corruption and poor education results from ‘bad ones’ continue to mount with every passing month … Recent reports from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida reveal a cavalcade of corruption … Yet in the meantime, at the urging of charter school advocates and others promoting ‘school choice,’ lawmakers around the country are proposing and enacting new policies to feed more children into the charter chain pipeline.”
Read more …


Violent And Legal: The Shocking Ways School Kids Are Being Pinned Down, Isolated Against Their Will


“Mental-health facilities and other institutions have worked to curtail the practice of physically restraining children or isolating them in rooms against their will. Indeed, federal rules restrict those practices … But such limits don’t apply to public schools … The practices … were used more than 267,000 times nationwide in the 2012 school year … Three-quarters of the students restrained had physical, emotional or intellectual disabilities. Children have gotten head injuries, bloody noses, broken bones and worse while being restrained or tied down … At least 20 children nationwide have reportedly died while being restrained or isolated … Often, parents remain unaware their child has been restrained or put in a scream room … Montgomery County Public Schools in Virginia … stopped using restraints and seclusion more than two decades ago … The district uses an approach called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports.”
Read more …

Report Calls For Moratorium On Chicago School Closures

Education Week

“A new report from the University of Illinois, Chicago, calls for a moratorium on school closures, turnarounds, and the expansion of charter schools in the city, citing the disruptive nature and harm those actions cause families and the lack of evidence that they have improved education … Parents felt the closures negatively impacted their children and the new schools to which they were sent were not an improvement; they felt excluded from the decisions to close the schools; and the closures left a deep distrust between parents and the Chicago Public Schools … School closures – or even plans to do so – are hot topics in urban school districts, from Philadelphia to Newark, as they struggle to address the problems confronting them.”
Read more …

Report: “Student-Centered Schools” Close Opportunity Gap


“Personalized instruction, high expectations, and hands-on and group learning experiences are helping to close the achievement gap in four Northern California schools … Such ‘student-centered’ practices improved the outcomes for African-American and Latino students at two district schools and two district-approved independent charter schools… ‘The numbers are compelling,’ said Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University professor and SCOPE faculty director, in published comments about the report. ‘Students in the study schools showed greater achievement than their peers, had higher graduation rates, were better prepared for college and showed greater persistence in college.’”
Read more …

D.C. Dumping Test Scores From Its Teacher Evaluations

Associated Press via The Huffington Post

“The District of Columbia public school system, one of the first in the country to evaluate teachers using student test scores, announced Thursday that it would suspend the practice while students adjust to new tests based on Common Core standards … Officials are concerned it wouldn’t be fair to use the new tests until a baseline is established and any complications are worked out. The District has fired hundreds of teachers under the system, which was put in place by … Michelle Rhee … Last week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joined the two largest teachers’ unions in calling for a temporary halt to evaluating teachers based on Common Core tests.”
Read more …

State Regulators Going Easy On For-Profit Colleges, Consumer Group Says

The Hechinger Report

“While state law-enforcement authorities are cracking down on abuses by private, for-profit colleges and universities, state regulators are doing little to prevent those abuses in the first place, a new report contends … The report, by the National Consumer Law Center, or NCLC, says … most [regulators] ‘continue to neglect their critical oversight and consumer protection role.’ There’s no regulation at all in most states of for-profit colleges that offer only online education … Attorneys general in at least 32 states are investigating complaints that for-profit colleges and universities use misleading marketing and leave their students with high debt. Fourteen states have reached the stage of issuing subpoenas.”
Read more …

Will Anyone Stop Charter School Corruption?

When politicians and pundits take to the barricades to defend “wonderful charter schools,” is this what they’re thinking of?

A recent article in a Minnesota newspaper reported about a change in state law that could imperil the existence of a charter school that serves a student body sorely in need of heroic efforts. According to the reporter, “Nine out of 10 of the school’s 275 high schoolers meet the legal definition of ‘highly mobile,’ meaning they do not have stable housing; 109 are flat-out homeless. Some couch-surf. Some sleep in cars, some in bus stations. Often they spend the night in small groups, for safety. Poverty – a given – is usually the least of their worries. To teens forced to support themselves, a diploma is a life raft.”

The schools founder and chief operator is quoted: “We have kids who are one credit away from graduating … We are one of the first consistent things in their lives.”

A compelling story for sure and likely one example, among others, that was in the minds of most in Congress when the US House of Representatives recently passed controversial legislation to expand federal funds for more charter schools without placing any substantial new regulations on those schools.

What lawmakers in Washington, DC had been told, of course, was that starting up lots and lots of charter schools was going to create a “marketplace of education,” where the problem of “quality” would take care of itself as “bad” charters “go out of business,” and the wonderful ones that do such great things for the most unfortunate children get picked up and replicated all over the world.

For sure, there were those on “the outside” who advocated against expanding charter schools without taking into account steps toward stricter regulation. As The Nation’s Zoe Carpenter pointed out, the bill’s emergence in the House coincided with publication of a report by the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education that documented “shocking misuses of the federal funds being funneled into the poorly regulated charter industry.”

Nevertheless the charter sector won the Hill that day and has continued to ascend in state capitals around the country since. Meanwhile, real evidence of “the good charters” remains mostly anecdotal, as financial corruption and poor education results from “bad ones” continue to mount with every passing month.

Just look at Ohio.

Buckeye State Boondoggle

The Buckeye State, where charter schools have operated for well over a decade, has had loose regulations, business-minded state governance, and a Beltway-based conservative think tank serving as a charter sponsor. According to a recent report in the Akron Beacon, “Enrollment in Ohio charter schools now stands at more than 120,000 in nearly 400 schools, with seven more schools expected to open next year. These quasi-public schools enroll less than 7 percent of Ohio’s students and receive $912 million in state tax dollars, about 11 percent of all state funds set aside for primary and secondary education.”

According to charter school enthusiasts at the Center for Education Reform, Ohio is a “Top Ten” state – number 3, in fact – on its rating scale for states that provide “parent power” – something that is, apparently, in abundance when lots of charter and virtual schools and just about anything else but good traditional public schools are prevalent. (Vermont, one of the top performing school systems in the country, based on the National Assessment of Education Progress, is number 47 in “parent power.”) Contributing significantly to Ohio’s top rating no doubt is the state’s citation for “providing even more growth” in the charter school sector. But nowhere on the CER site is there a hint of how all this choice and growth have actually benefited Ohio students and taxpayers.

For that information, you have to turn to the progressive state group Innovation Ohio who earlier this year found that, in the 2011-2012 school year, the state’s enthusiastic support of charter schools had resulted in a transference of $774 million from the public school system to charter schools that tend to perform worse on the state’s school performance rating system.

Since that report, very little to any improvements seem to have occurred. As a recent series of reports appearing in the Akron Beacon revealed, one of the states’ most popular charter school chains, run by White Hat Management, has enjoyed such carte blanche operation that Ohio lawmakers approved additional funding for about 77 of those schools and exempted them from “full accountability until at least 2017.” The legislation passed despite the fact that dropouts are so prevalent at these schools that many of them report “single-digit graduation rates.” The Beacon reporter found that during last school year, more students dropped out of these schools than attended on the average day.

Anther Ohio newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, carried a recent editorial explaining that the primary beneficiary of the loophole legislation favoring White Hat run charter schools is not the state’s students nor its taxpayers but the charter school operator, Akron businessman David Brennan who “has poured more than $4 million into the coffers of Republican candidates in Ohio during the last decade.”

In the face of lagging academic results, higher dropout rates, and the aroma of crony corruption, what do Ohio charter promoters do to improve their performance? Amp up their marketing. As another recent Beacon report found, “State audits suggest that some Ohio charter schools spend more than $400 in public money per student to attract them away from public schools.” Using keywords such as “free, flexible, one-on-one and find your future,” Ohio charter school companies are “advertising on television, radio, billboards, handbills and even automated telephone messages to entice students away from public schools.”

You have to wonder if this is how the taxpayers in Ohio like to see their hard earned money spent.

In the meantime, one state over in Pennsylvania, the situation with charter schools doesn’t look any better.

Quaker State Cash Cow

In the Quaker State, charter schools have long competed for funds with traditional public schools on an uneven playing field that exempts them from serving the full range of student abilities and revealing financial details of their operations to the public. Despite all this freedom from regulation, according to the Pennsylvania School Board Association, “Charter schools continue to academically underperform traditional public schools, with less than half of the brick and mortar charter schools meeting acceptable benchmark scores … None of the cyber charter schools met the mark. Nearly three-quarters of traditional public schools, however, earned passing scores in the first year of the new measuring system.”

Despite poor academic results, Pennsylvania scores a 12 on the reform index contrived by CER. But what CER calls “parent power” in Pennsylvania is actually “no real oversight” according to the Keystone State Coalition, a “non-partisan public education advocacy group of several hundred locally elected, volunteer school board members and administrators from school districts throughout Pennsylvania.” That organization’s recent report tallied 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.

A more recent KSC report revealed how Pennsylvania charters have gamed the system for special education funding, resulting in annual profits of $200 million to the schools. As one local Pennsylvania blogger explained, “Charter schools collected $350,562,878 last year for special education funding and spent $156,003,034 for special education! Where did the other $200 million go? The fact of the matter is that charter schools are not obligated to spend special education funding for special education purposes. That money can be spent for numerous miscellaneous reasons.” (emphasis original)

A KSC video that education historian Diane Ravitch linked to on her blog explained how Pennsylvania charters also game the special education financial process by luring away students from public schools who are classified special education in the least expensive disability categories, which would include relatively mild disabilities such as speech impairment, and neglect to educate students in more expensive disability categories that would include more severe disabilities such as autism.

This is especially devastating to school districts such as Philadelphia where budgets are in perennial crisis. As the local news outlet The Notebook reported, ” Philadelphia charter schools received more than $175 million last year to educate special education students, but spent only about $77 million for that purpose … nearly $100 million gap at a time when city education leaders are considering raising some class sizes to 41 students and laying off 800 more teachers.”

To fix a funding system that rewards charter schools for services they do not provide, Pennsylvania lawmakers from both parties introduced a bill (HB 2138 and SB 1316) to fund each district based on the actual number of students with disabilities it has and on each child’s needs. Charter advocates responded to this proposed legislation by opposing it.

As bad as the situation is with charter schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania, it may be even worse in Michigan.

The Great Lakes Robbery

In the Great Lakes State, a series by the Detroit Free Press this month reported, “Michigan taxpayers pour nearly $1 billion a year into charter schools – but state laws regulating charters are among the nation’s weakest, and the state demands little accountability in how taxpayer dollars are spent and how well children are educated.”

The yearlong investigation found, “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. No state standards for who operates charter schools or how to oversee them.”

Meanwhile, “38 percent of charter schools that received state academic rankings during the 2012-13 school year fell below the 25th percentile, meaning at least 75 percent of all schools in the state performed better. Only 23 percent of traditional public schools fell below the 25th percentile.”

For-profit corporations are permitted to run 61 percent of charter schools in Michigan even though over a third of those schools are in the bottom 25 percentile for academic performance.

The variety of scams at work in the Michigan charter sector make your head spin. In one example, a real estate/investment firm bought property for $375,000 that it sold six days later to a charter school, for $425,000. The quick $50,000 profit went to founders of the firm – one the president of school’s management company, the other married to the school’s top administrator.

At another charter school, members of the founder’s family were paid to provide meals and maintenance to the school,” and “family members still rent the building to the school or collect a management fee for running it.”

How does the charter industry respond to such damning evidence of failure and corruption? With a marketing campaign of course.

As the local Michigan blog Eclectablog noted, just as the Detroit Free Press series was unfolding, the state’s largest for-profit charter chain National Heritage Academies sprung into action and proceeded to purchase nearly all of the available ad space on the newspaper’s website.

And by the way, the “parent power” ranking CER gives Michigan is 11, commending the state for its “robust charter law.”

The unchecked charter school chicanery is not limited to the Northern Mid West.

Sunshine State Scam

A new 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 … virtually anyone can open or run a charter school and spend public education money with near impunity.”

Examples cited in the series include a man who received $450,000 in tax dollars to open two new charter schools just months after his first collapsed. The schools closed in seven weeks. Another example: A man with “a history of foreclosures, court-ordered payments, and bankruptcy received $100,000 to start a charter school.” It closed in two months.

Sun Sentinel reporters found an elementary charter school that “sometimes had no toilet paper, soap or paper towels in the student bathrooms … Students sometimes ate hours after their designated lunchtimes, often from fast-food restaurants.”

School districts have little to no recourse when charters fail to submit financial reports – “some don’t file them or turn in unreliable paperwork.” And management companies that run two-thirds of South Florida’s charter schools add to the problems of transparency and financial disclosure.

Despite these problems, charter schools continue to “pop up within blocks of each other – or in the same building – offering similar programs as neighboring schools. With such wild growth, district officials say, many new charters no longer fill a niche or offer innovation. Yet Florida lawmakers repeatedly have declined to tighten charter-school regulations.”

Florida’s score in the CER ranking: 2.

Someone Please Say, “Stop!”

Despite this cavalcade of corruption – most of which has been published in just the past two months, mind you – must we now pay homage to the “wonderful” charter schools?

Take that charter program for homeless children cited above. Do we demand more of those schools to be replicated? Do we ask whether we need an outside, unregulated vendor to reveal the unsurprising conclusion that it’s important to pay attention to the special needs of children? Do we ask why these children aren’t being accommodated in local schools and take the necessary steps to ensure they are? Or do we ask, why the hell do we have record numbers of homeless school children in this country to begin with?

Good questions for sure. Yet in the meantime, at the urging of charter school advocates and others promoting “school choice,” lawmakers around the country are proposing and enacting new policies to feed more children into an increasingly corrupt charter chain pipeline.

And in Washington, DC, that house legislation that would expand federal funding to these sorts of schools has been joined by a Senate version that is now steaming toward bipartisan consideration.

Certainly, faced with such a growing calamity, it’s not being “negative” or “oppositional” or a “status quo defender” to stand in the pathway and yell, “Stop!”