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

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

TOP STORY

Character Change In The ‘Education Reform’ Soap Opera

By Jeff Bryant

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

NEWS AND VIEWS

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

Education Week

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

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

Substance News

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

Google Classroom And The Teaching Machine

Hack Education

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

How Will Charter Schools Deal With Their Corruption Scandals?

The Washington Post

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

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

The Huffington Post

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

Character Change In The ‘Education Reform’ Soap Opera

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

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

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

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

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

Rhee-Placement

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

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

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

And the show goes on.

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

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

Failure For Sure

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

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

So what’s been accomplished?

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

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

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

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

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

No one should expect anything better from Campbell Brown.

Failure Times Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Alternative, If We Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/8/14 – Not Good Enough For Education

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

TOP STORY

‘Better Than Republicans,’ Not Good Enough For Education

By Jeff Bryant

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

NEWS AND VIEWS

How We Can Strengthen Schools Serving Low-Income Children

Education Week

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

Another Reason Why Segregated Education Is Bad For Young Students

The Huffington Post

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

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

Real Clear Education

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

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

Education Week

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

Study: Minority-Serving Colleges Do More With Less

Education Dive

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

‘Better Than Republicans,’ Not Good Enough For Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

A “Catalyst For Something Really Idiotic”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A Sorry Substitute When Government Gives Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No Longer Neutral Territory”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those politicians had better choose carefully.

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

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

TOP STORY

The Truth About The New Orleans School Reform Model

By Jeff Bryant

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

NEWS AND VIEWS

Children’s Well-Being Reflects a Sluggish Economic Recovery

New America Foundation

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

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

Education Week

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

Moms Winning The Common Core War

Politico

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

School Librarian Cutbacks Widen Digital Divide

District Administration

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

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

The Hechinger Report

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

The Truth About The New Orleans School Reform Model

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

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

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

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

No Way To Talk About NOLA

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

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

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

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

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

Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoey Reed

Executive Director of Communications, External Affairs

Recovery School District

 

Response

Dear Ms. Reed,

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

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

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

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

Although these statistics certainly sound impressive, there is much more to the story behind these numbers. As Louisiana math teacher Mercedes Schneider has pointed out on her blog (http://deutsch29.wordpress.com), the main reason RSD has made such great strides in grade level performance is that from 2012 to 2013 the state changed the formula and scale for measuring school performance, which artificially inflated RSD’s scores.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that didn’t happen.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s also agree to keep it that way.

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

TOP STORY

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 …

NEWS AND VIEWS

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

NPR

“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

Politico

“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

TOP STORY

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 …

NEWS AND VIEWS

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

Vox

“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.