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11/24/2015 – Teacher Evaluations Fall Off The Education ‘Reform’ Agenda

THIS WEEK: Opt Outs Hit Half Million … Teachers Need Affordable Housing … NCLB For Higher Ed … High School Student Activism … States Take Over Education


Teacher Evaluations Fall Off The Education ‘Reform’ Agenda

By Jeff Bryant

“Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently shook up the education policy world when she challenged one of the pillars of the education establishment for the last 10-15 years, that teachers’ job evaluations and pay should be linked to how students – even students they don’t teach – perform on standardized tests … The important story isn’t as much about what Clinton said as it is about the response it got from the establishment that’s been in charge of education policy for nearly three decades.”
Read more …


At Least 500,000 Students In 7 States Sat Out Standardized Tests This Past Spring

The Washington Post

“About 500,000 public school students in seven states ‘opted out’ and refused to take federally required standardized tests in math and reading in the spring … New York 240,000 students opted out, New Jersey 110,000, Colorado 100,000, Washington state 50,000, Oregon 20,000, Illinois 20,000 and New Mexico 10,000… A study released last month found that the number of standardized tests US public school students take has exploded in the past decade, with most schools requiring too many tests of dubious value.”
Read more …

Can Affordable Housing Help Retain Teachers?

American Prospect

“A great deal of evidence has shown how homelessness and housing insecurity can negatively impact a student’s behavior … Less attention has been paid to the relationship between educators and their housing … Efforts to attract, or retain, teachers through subsidized housing is growing more pronounced, and debates over how such projects impact their surrounding communities are likely to intensify in the coming years … Maybe subsidized housing that targets young professionals won’t be what it takes to help attract career educators, yet it’s clear that cities do want to help recruit and retain educators who actually live in the communities in which they serve – an effort that may require more than just a salary increase.”
Read more …

The University Of North Carolina’s New President Should Scare Anyone Who Cares About Higher Ed

The Nation

Zoë Carpenter writes, “After the board that governs the University of North Carolina unexpectedly fired system president Tom Ross … it chose someone outside the state’s conservative machinery: Margaret Spellings, former secretary of education under George W. Bush. Spellings is a seasoned political operative; Karl Rove introduced her to Bush … Spellings went on to work in the troubled for-profit [college] industry after leaving the White House – an experience, she told UNC’s board of governors, that taught her ‘a lot about how we can serve our students and think of them as customers in providing a product in convenient ways for them.'”
Read more …

The Other Student Activists

The Atlantic

“A surge of student activism has swept across academia in recent weeks as black students and their allies forcefully call attention to racist climates on American college campuses … High-school youth are flexing their collective muscles for equity: fighting budget cuts and out-of-school suspensions as they take on racial issues and academic offerings …. Many youth today are not content to be on the sidelines. Like several hundred Chicago teens who rallied against public-school cutbacks and potential teacher layoffs earlier this month … Similarly, Philadelphia students, rocked by a severe school-funding crisis, took to the streets this fall to protest cuts to neighborhood schools … At the root of student organizing is the demand for fair and equal treatment.”
Read more …

The Fight Over K-12 Education Appears Headed Back To The States

The Washington Post

“Congress is expected to take a final vote on a bill to replace No Child Left Behind, the current federal law, after Thanksgiving … The bill is expected to pass and the White House has indicated that President Obama will sign it … The greatest change in the proposed law is a dismantling of the federal accountability system that defined whether K-12 schools were successful, prescribed actions to improve struggling schools, and imposed penalties on states and schools that failed to make progress. It also prevents the federal government from requiring states to evaluate teachers and principals and adopt specific academic standards … Decisions about how to identify successful and struggling schools and teachers, how much weight to give to test scores, and how and when to intervene in struggling schools will be left to each state.”
Read more …

Teacher Evaluations Fall Off The Education ‘Reform’ Agenda

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently shook up the education policy world when she challenged one of the pillars of the education establishment for the last 10-15 years, that teachers’ job evaluations and pay should be linked to how students – even students they don’t teach – perform on standardized tests.

In an informal “roundtable” with president of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten and a select audience of AFT members, Clinton stated, “I have for a very long time also been against the idea that you tie teacher evaluation and even teacher pay to test outcomes. There’s no evidence. There’s no evidence.”

“This is a direct shot at Obama’s education policy,” reported Vox the next day. “The Education Department pushed states to adopt policies that would link teachers’ professional evaluations in part to their students’ test scores.”

Echoing that accusation, The Washington Post reported Clinton was “dismissing a key feature of education policies promoted by the Obama administration.”

But the important story here isn’t that Clinton’s remark indicates what we can expect from her administration for education policy.

First, her statement wasn’t all that definitive. She followed the remark with a vague comment about linking tests to “school performance,” whatever that means, and she declared, “you’ve got to have something,” presumably meaning she would want to maintain annual testing favored by Obama.

Second, you can disagree with what Clinton said, or argue about the way she said it, but the reality is, federal pressures to require teacher evaluations to include test score data are likely going away. That’s because in the latest version of new federal policy being negotiated in Congress, “there would be no role for the feds whatsoever in teacher evaluation,” Education Week reports.

But, the important story isn’t as much about what Clinton said as it is about the response it got from the establishment that’s been in charge of education policy for nearly three decades.

The Silence Is Deafening

Instead of the expected blowback to Clinton, blogsites and media outlets that fill the policy establishment’s echo chamber had very little to say.

The reliably “reformy” blogsite Education Post, operated by a former Obama administration official, was notably mute. So were wonks at the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

At The Seventy Four, a media site operated by former CNN newscaster Campbell Brown, Matt Barnum weighed Clinton’s comments and concluded what she said had some basis in fact. “We really don’t have a great way to evaluate teachers,” he declares – the operative word, “we,” being people who write policy fodder for a living, as opposed to real educators.

Katlin Pennington at the reform minded Bellweather Education Partners noticed the absence of pushback to Clinton as well. “There has been little outrage from the wider education community,” she lamented. “This is in stark contrast to a few weeks ago when a frenzy ensued after Clinton denounced charter schools for cherry-picking kids.”

That contrast is indeed telling. Writers at the above-mentioned outlets were apoplectic at Clinton’s previous remarks that “most charter schools… don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.”

The contrast is also stark given the previous role test-based teacher evaluations had in the canon of policy directives pushed onto public schools from the top down.

Remember Teacher ‘Effectiveness’?

Way back in 2008, Jonathan Alter, writing for Newsweek, declared, “The challenge is not to find what works for at-risk kids – we know that by now.”

What “works,” Alter believed back then, was to measure the “effectiveness” of teachers by the rise in tests scores of the students they teach. Teachers who “added value” to their students’ testing outcomes were more “effective” teachers, the idea went, and increasing students’ access to these effective teachers was allegedly the most important thing that could be done to improve the education prospects of the nation’s children – especially students in low-income communities who were struggling the most.

Much of the support behind this idea came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates money and influence inspired states and school districts around the country to develop these programs to rate teacher “effectiveness” and redistribute teaching staff accordingly to improve student performance.

The Gates influence was so pervasive, NBC News noted in 2009, “The real secretary of education, the joke goes, is Bill Gates.”

Numerous experts warned against this simplistic notion, but they were mostly ignored, and test-based teacher evaluations became a requirement for all sorts of goodies including gratns from the federal government and legal waivers from the federal legislation that demanded the tests to begin with.

In a 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama heralded a Harvard study that used test score data to conclude, in the president’s words, “We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom.”

By 2013, former Washington DC Chancellor and prominent reform advocate Michelle Rhee was barnstorming the country, hawking her new memoir, with the message that being able to put “effective” teachers in front of the neediest students was virtually a certainty because of standardized tests and sophisticated data systems.

Flash forward to today, and we see that something that seemed so essential to the education reform prescription has slipped far down the rung of the policy ladder.

Of course, in states and districts where test-based teachers evaluations are thoroughly woven into the policy landscape, teachers will likely feel the effects of these systems for some time. So the fight over teacher evaluations is going to go state by state.

But as new reports continue to call the practice into question, there are more examples of where all the work that went into these programs is being gradually undone.

In New York, “it is highly likely that teacher evaluations won’t be linked to student test results … for the next two to three years,” according to a state-based reporter. The school district of Hillsborough, Florida recently abandoned its Gates-funded teacher evaluation system that cost millions to build and use.

What Reformers Will Fight For

Regardless of whether you believe Clinton’s comments on education policy are empty political rhetoric or total sellouts to the teachers’ unions, the one certainty is that the policy landscape in education is changing.

The populist rage against years of top-down education policy is being heard in political campaigns and in the halls of government. Politicians may be more up-for-grabs than they’ve been in years. So factions that have sat at the top of the policy pyramid are likely to find they have to narrow the front in what they’re willing to fight for.

The fight to expand charter schools is, for sure, a cause the policy establishment is eager to take up. But test-based teacher evaluations appear to be one of the first casualties to drop out of the establishment’s reform agenda.

11/19/2015 – What Education Policy Makers Can Learn From A ‘Failing School’

THIS WEEK: Clinton Splits With Obama … Test-Based Teacher Evaluations … Kids With Guns In Schools … Effective Anti-Bullying … How To Beat Big Money


What Education Policy Makers Can Learn From A ‘Failing School’

By Jeff Bryant

“‘How can someone make a decision about a school they’ve never even walked into?’ That question is at the heart of Kristina Rizga’s terrific new book Mission High … Rizga uses her considerable journalistic skills … to involve readers in the lives of students and educators at Mission High, a San Francisco public school with a proud history but a ‘failing school’ label … Rizga came to see a very different story about the school – one of committed educators and persevering learners doing all they can to succeed despite the judgments and prescriptions of policy makers.”
Read more …


Clinton Says ‘No Evidence’ That Teachers Can Be Judged By Student Test Scores

The Washington Post

“Hillary Rodham Clinton said she is opposed to using student test scores as a way to judge a teacher’s performance, dismissing a key feature of education policies promoted by the Obama administration … According to the transcript, Clinton responded … ‘I have for a very long time also been against the idea that you tie teacher evaluation and even teacher pay to test outcomes,’ she said. ‘There’s no evidence’ … In the last few years, nearly every state has implemented systems to evaluate teachers based in part on student test scores, largely because the Obama administration made it a condition for states to receive either a grant under Race to the Top or a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law.”
Read more …

Research Group Latest To Caution Use Of ‘Value Added’ For Teachers

Education Week

“The membership group representing education researchers has released a statement warning of the ‘potentially serious negative consequences’ of using ‘value added’ models to judge individual teachers or teacher-preparation programs … Such models, which are based on growth in students’ test scores over time, potentially misidentify teachers and programs … Many states use some form of student-growth data in their teacher-evaluation systems; others use it, in the aggregate, as a component in reviewing teacher-preparation programs.”
Read more …

Kids Are Bringing Guns To School On An Almost Daily Basis This Academic Year

The Trace

“Since the start of the school year … students from kindergarten through high school have been caught bringing guns onto campus at least 77 times … Excluding weekends, that works out to once every 29 hours … The five Gulf Coast states … account for nearly a quarter of reported incidents …. where gun ownership is surging, even as the share of Americans who live in a household with at least one gun (32%) …. is lower than it’s ever been … Some states have laws designed to hold adults accountable when a child brings a gun to school, but they are rarely enforced … Often times, it is the child who is led away in handcuffs.”
Read more …

What’s The Recipe For An Effective Anti-Bullying Policy?

The Atlantic

“Anti-bullying efforts, including laws many states have passed in the past five years, appear to be helping the 20 percent of kids in the U.S. who say they’ve been bullied in the past 12 months… Those who attended schools in states with anti-bullying legislation that included …. recommended key components were 24% less likely to report that they’d been bullied in the last year, and 20% less likely to say they’d been cyberbullied … Understanding which programs work and why is more complex …. Despite the imperfections of many anti-bullying laws and programs, most agree that we need them.”
Read more …

How Denver Parents Beat Back Big Money, Charter Schools, Right-Wing Lies


Jeff Bryant writes, “A school board race in Jefferson County, Colorado, just outside Denver … is an important story of how communities fighting to control their education destinies can win against big-moneyed interests and a charter school industry that want to dictate what schooling is like across the country … This outstanding school district – where real innovation is taking place in the public schools – is under assault by right-wing groups, some with connections to evangelical Christianity, and a powerful charter school industry … The Jeffco school board win is reflective of other education-relevant races around the country, growing evidence of an Education Spring, where progressives scored equally notable victories.”
Read more …

What Education Policy Makers Can Learn From A ‘Failing School’

“How can someone make a decision about a school they’ve never even walked into?”

That question is at the heart of Kristina Rizga’s terrific new book Mission High: One school, how experts tried to fail it, and the students and teachers who made it triumph.

Rizga uses her considerable journalistic skills—honed as the education writer for Mother Jones—to involve readers in the lives of students and educators at Mission High, a San Francisco public school with a proud history but a “failing school” label.

The school, where Rizga spent four years as an embedded reporter, serves a student body of mostly low-income kids, many from households where the first language isn’t English, and which ranks among the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the country. Only 30 percent of the school’s students score at proficient or above on the state standardized tests in English, and only 40 percent score proficient in math.

But in looking more closely at the school, Rizga discovered that other data—college acceptance and teacher retention—didn’t align with the school’s “failing” label.

When Mission High principal Eric Guthertz welcomed Rizga into his school, she observed something that frustrates students, parents, and educators across the country: As these schools do everything in their power to serve their students, they continue to be judged as failures by a process that seems completely remote and disconnected from the school.

As she walked the halls of Mission High, observed classes, and spoke with the students and their teachers, Rizga came to see a very different story about the school—one of committed educators and persevering learners doing all they can to succeed despite the judgments and prescriptions of policy makers.

Recently, I spoke with Rizga about her experience at Mission High.

Your point of view in this book is not at the 30,000-foot level like many other education books. You spent four years embedded in this school. Was that a deliberate decision you made, to be really at the ground level? Or did that just evolve?

In my research as an education reporter, I always started in libraries and with books but felt what was missing were the voices of students and teachers. It’s impossible to get to the truth without those voices. When you remove those voices and talk about schools as abstractions and policy ideas, you create a recipe for ideological wars with no on-the-ground evidence supporting the positions. I felt that if I could follow the stories of students and teachers and learn what were their needs and what works for them, then I could get beyond the abstractions and the ideological war.

Doesn’t that make your work just anecdotal?

I get pushback on that. But I spent about half my time reporting from the schools, and in the other half, I read some 200 studies written by academics. I consulted with researchers, such as Linda Darling-Hammond, Larry Cuban, and others. There are three chapters in the book where I review nearly a hundred years of education history to give readers an understanding of why we have such a top down, one-size-fits-all policy for education, and why it’s been difficult to include the voices of people who are most impacted by the system.

I looked at some of your earlier writings for Mother Jones from 2010 and saw you’re from Latvia. You described the schools you attended in that country as “Soviet-style schools.” Why didn’t you bring that up in the book?

American education is so complicated I wanted to have a focus and not bring my personal background into it so much. That said, I remember upon landing in this country that one of the most shocking things to me was how unequal the funding is for schools. In Latvia, and just about every other Western and Asian country, public schools get equal funding, and schools that teach high numbers of low-income students get more funding. Whereas in the United States you have a school like Mission High, where the students are mostly low-income, that receives $9,700 per student while in Palo Alto, one of the most affluent suburbs in the United States, schools receive $14,000 per student. I found an elementary school in Sausalito, another affluent community, that receives $33,000 per student. That’s a shocking fact for anyone who comes to this most powerful and wealthy country in the world, to see so much inequality.

How did the inequality of funding affect the students and teachers you met at Mission High?

It’s obvious to the teachers and students in that school. San Francisco is one of the wealthiest cities in the country and in the world. And when you first see Mission High, you see a beautiful building that is quite old and has seen decades of neglect. The beauty of the original structure reflects the past commitment California made to education, but now, some of the furniture hasn’t been replaced since the 1950s, it looks like. The school looks more dilapidated than my high school in Latvia looked, which is one of the poorest countries in the European Union. I still get pictures from my relatives in Latvia, and the children’s schools look 30 years ahead of what Mission looks like in terms of furniture and computers.

Also, classes are larger, and teachers in Mission High work much longer hours than teachers in places like Palo Alto. Because the students at Mission High come from all over the world—from El Salvador, Guatemala, China—the teachers have to provide a lot more personal support before and after school, during lunch, over the weekend. And the classroom preparation takes so much longer too than it does when teaching in a school where the student population is relatively homogenous. Also, many of the students at Mission High come from some of the poorest neighborhoods in San Francisco. Their families are often under-resourced, and there tends to be instability. So students are dealing with home issues, and teachers have to address those personal issues before they can get to academics. That takes more time too. Despite all these extra hours, teachers at Mission High actually get paid $10,000 less than a typical teacher in Palo Alto.

So lack of resources and demands on teachers’ time are big problems at a school like Mission High. Why don’t policy makers get this?

Educational policy is mostly driven by outsiders—philanthropists, politicians, business folks, and tech moguls. They tend to focus on things they know, such as organizational restructuring, management practices, data collection systems. They tend to ignore the most important things about teaching and learning.

Like what?

So many things that happen at the classroom level are completely invisible to most people who aren’t teachers. As the science teacher Rebecca Fulop, who I profile in my book, pointed out, most people feel they’ve spent enough time in classrooms to know what education is all about. But much of what goes into teaching and learning is invisible unless you’re the actual teacher, such as the pace of the class, the variation in instruction, the grading and analysis of student work, the relationships with students. This is why it’s so important to have teacher and student voices in the policy conversation, to make sure policies address these invisible issues.

For someone who wanted to write a book that’s above the “ideological wars,” that sounds pretty ideological.

After four years at Mission, I’ve spent enough time to know the importance of including the voices of teachers and students in policy conversation because they know more than any other academics, politicians, or philanthropists what works in the classroom.

Nearly all the educators you portray approach their practice from a social justice frame. Isn’t that pretty controversial?

I can’t speak about the history of a social justice teaching approach. I can speak about what I learned from the teachers at Mission High School. They all had awareness that schools can be set up as institutions that can replicate racist patterns in society, or they can be institutions that help reduce these racist patterns. At Mission they call it an anti-racist teaching lens.

So where does academics fit in with correcting social problems?

When the teachers at Mission School look at their work through an anti-racist lens, they look at the content and notice whether or not it recognizes that 95 percent of the students in their school are students of color. After students learn the standards in the canon, do they have opportunities to do their own research, and are they allowed to learn about things going on in society that they care about? When it comes to the craft of teaching, are teachers recognizing the needs of African American and Latino students? Are there patterns in grading that unconsciously reflect the race of the students? What support services are there in the school – student clubs, tutoring, help with college application, English classes for immigrant parents, and access to computers?

Another thing you’re adamant about in the book is that a copy-and-paste way of replicating education policies doesn’t work—that you can’t just take what has been effective at one school and assume it will work at another.

Because the cultures of the schools may be very different. Nothing I learned at Mission High can be used as a top-down blueprint.

But aren’t there some main things that just about any school can learn from your experience at Mission High School?

Yes, there are many important principles and ingredients at Mission High that others can learn from.

First, the teaching in this school is student centered. Sure there are standardized tests, but the instruction is centered on the interests, experiences, and needs of individual students. That is the driving force, not the standardized tests. Second, there is an enormous focus on the craft of teaching. Both the administrators and the teachers make sure there is always time set aside to give teachers opportunities to plan lessons together and share knowledge with each other, which is so rare in other schools based on my conversations with other teachers around the country. Third, there is an intense focus on issues of race and equity. Teacher leaders at Mission High are always disaggregating school-based data—not just the standardized test scores, but data on absences, grades, referrals, and other school-based statistics—to identify gaps. They’ll also look at qualitative information, interview teachers and students, look at lesson and unit plans, and student work  to ascertain where students are struggling and what kinds of supports teachers need.

This is the type of support teachers are generally thrilled to receive because it’s respectful. It is based on relationships, not to fire them or give them a bonus. The teachers I met at Mission High in my four years there want to be successful. They are in this profession for very little money because they want to work with kids and help their students succeed.

This article is also published at The Progressive.


11/12/2015 – The Big Education Fight In The Democratic Party

THIS WEEK: Dropout Rates Fall … Schools Without High-Speed Internet … Low Pay For Expensive Childcare … Power Of College Athletes … Cheating In Online Classes


The Big Education Fight In The Democratic Party

By Jeff Bryant

“The ‘big economic fight’ in the Democratic Party that news outlets are reporting isn’t confined to economics … Just as corporate-friendly policies for the economy ‘fared poorly, both as policy and as politics’ … they were a bust on all fronts for education too … The conventional wisdom supporting the market competition of charter schools is being questioned as well, this time from the most unlikely source – presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.”
Read more …


The Nation’s High School Dropout Rate Has Fallen, Study Says

The Washington Post

“The U.S. high school dropout rate has fallen in recent years, with the number of dropouts declining from 1 million in 2008 to about 750,000 in 2012 … The number of ‘dropout factories’ – high schools in which fewer than 60% of freshmen graduate in four years – declined significantly … The new dropout data is not surprising because the nation’s high school graduation rate has been steadily rising … But there are many reasons that graduation rates can rise, and not all of them have to do with stronger schools preparing more students for life after high school.”
Read more …

Fast, Affordable Internet Remains Challenge For Many Schools, Survey Finds

Education Week

“Affordable Internet service and cost-effective access to related infrastructure remain major hurdles for schools … Money is still seen as the biggest barrier to robust school connectivity: 46% of survey respondents identified the cost of monthly recurring charges as their biggest problem, followed by 34% of who cited high upfront capital costs … The country’s rural schools continue to be at a severe disadvantage when it comes to affordable connectivity… Three-fourths of respondents said their districts do not provide any off-campus services to provide connectivity to students.”
Read more …

Child Care Workers Are Paid Less Than Dog Walkers Or Janitors


“Child care workers – including people who care for children in day care centers, in preschools, as nannies, through religious organizations, and in other facilities – are paid almost 40% less than all other workers … Child care workers make 23% less than other workers who are similar to them but work in other industries. Child care workers are also more than twice as likely to live in poverty, and very few receive benefits like health insurance. More than one-third of them live at twice the poverty level or below … If you work in child care and have a bachelor’s degree, you will be rewarded with about a 40% smaller paycheck than your peers in other fields get … An astonishing 95% of child care workers are women … In most states, child care is more expensive than college.”
Read more …

Upheaval In Missouri Highlights Football Players’ Power

The Chronicle Of Higher Education

“On Saturday, black football players at the University of Missouri announced that they were boycotting practice and even a crucial game if the system’s president, Timothy M. Wolfe, didn’t resign over his response to racist incidents … Monday morning, Mr. Wolfe announced his resignation … The players’ involvement made the story national news. And the outcome is a stark example of the power that athletes can have when they unify behind a broad cause … The question for many now is whether athletes at other colleges can and will use the example at Missouri as inspiration to start protests on their own campuses, and not just on broad social injustice but also to improve conditions for the players themselves.”
Read more …

Cheating In Online Classes Is Now Big Business

The Atlantic

“Today, entrepreneurs and freelancers openly advertise services designed to help students cheat their online educations. These digital cheaters for hire will even assume students’ identities and take entire online classes in their place … One of these companies – the aptly named No Need to Study … guarantee[s] … a B or better … Online education is already poised to be a $100 billion global industry. But it could be even bigger if online degrees earn more clout, especially with employers … The growth in online-degree credibility is already happening as more and more colleges move classes and degree programs online … It’s conceivable that someone could pay an extra $1,000 a class – about $40,000 for an entire 120-credit bachelor’s degree – to simply hire someone to earn the degree for them.”
Read more …

The Big Education Fight In The Democratic Party

The “big economic fight” in the Democratic Party that news outlets are reporting isn’t confined to economics.

The link above takes you to a story in the Washington Post explaining how a “populist wing” in the Democratic Party is rebelling against the conventional wisdom of “centrist” Democrats who have dominated the party since the 1990s.

“Right now the populist story is winning,” the article concludes.

My colleague Richard Eskow pounced on the article and writes for the Huffington Post, “The corporate-friendly policies of the party’s more conservative wing have fared poorly, both as policy and as politics, and as a result the party has moved to the left.”

Eskow points to “the insurgent candidacy of Bernie Sanders” and other recent events as signs of “a major setback for the so-called ‘New Democrats’ who have dominated the party since the election of Bill Clinton in 1992. Nearly 25 years after they rose to power, the ideas of the ‘New Democrats’ don’t seem so new.”

The Huffington Post’s politics editor Sam Stein notices the leftward swing in the party as well and how it has resulted in a “panic” among centrist Democrats. “Leading architects of the ‘New Democrat’ movement are sounding the alarm over a lurch to the left in the party,” writes a reporter for The Guardian.

The centrist New Democrats faction of the party Eskow refers to is the corporation- and billionaire-friendly bipartisan agenda that embraced “the magic of the market”, outsourced jobs through corporate giveaways like “free trade”, promoted fiscal austerity, pledged to be tough-on-crime, and vowed to make any recipients of government funds more accountable (“welfare reform”). Followers of this philosophy scorned labor unions and heralded the end of the “era of big government.”

But New Democrat bipartisanship has not been confined to economics. The same big money, Wall Street-connected actors behind this bipartisan agenda for the economy have dominated education policy since the 1990s too.

The Disastrous Bipartisan Education Agenda

With a bipartisan agenda in charge of education, devotion to “the market” unleashed more charter schools, and corporate- friendly outsourcing increasingly sent education jobs and services to private contractors such as Teach for America. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s term for financial austerity in our schools was “the new normal”. Tough-on-crime policies in the streets were translated to “no excuse” and “zero tolerance” policies in classrooms. And “welfare reform” for the poor became “education reform” for public schools that demanded those institutions prove their “accountability” with a never-ending avalanche of standardized tests.

But just as corporate-friendly policies for the economy “fared poorly, both as policy and as politics,” to use Eskow’s words, they were a bust on all fronts for education too.

Outsource services like Teacher for America have had a mixed effect on student learning, with some studies, often conducted by TFA itself, showing benefits and others not. But what we do know for sure is that TFA and other organizations like it have populated some of our most struggling schools with teachers who stay less then three years and are mostly all gone from the schools they were placed in after five years. It’s little wonder that TFA is now experiencing problems with maintaining the enthusiasm for their business.

Regarding the bipartisan devotion to tough discipline policies in our schools, Americans are now reeling in horror at online videos showing what zero tolerance, no excuse policies in schools inflict on students.

The “accountability” measures embraced by centrist Democrats are also now being questioned. Protests against the excessive testing the accountability movement demands have become widespread and continue to grow. State governments are stripping away many of the mandated tests they imposed, including high school graduation and college admission tests. Even the test-happy Obama administration, as PBS reports, “says testing has gotten out of hand.”

Now, the conventional wisdom supporting the market competition of charter schools is being questioned as well, this time from the most unlikely source – presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

What Hillary Said

At a town hall held in South Carolina, broadcast by C-Span, Clinton responded to a question about charter schools by saying

I have for many years now, about thirty years, supported the idea of charter schools, but not as a substitute for the public schools, but as a supplement for the public schools. … The original idea behind the charter schools was to learn what worked and then apply them in the public schools. And here’s a couple of problems. Most charter schools, I don’t want to say every one, but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest to teach kids. Or if they do, they don’t keep them. And so the public schools are often in a no-win situation, because they do, thankfully, take everybody, and then they don’t get the resources or the help and support that they need to be able to take care of every child’s education.

What makes Clinton’s comment particularly startling, notes Valerie Strauss on her blog at the Washington Post, is that “for years – going back to the 1990s – Clinton has expressed support for charter schools.”

Vox education writer Libby Nelson noticed Clinton’s remarks too and writes, “In the 1990s, charter schools were a Clintonian triangulation” response to Republican calls for school vouchers.

So what happened?

Both Strauss and Nelson note recent analyses showing charter schools frequently have higher suspension rates than public schools and use suspensions and other practices to “push out” or “counsel out” struggling students in order to make the schools’ test scores look better than the neighborhood public schools that surround them.

Strauss points to a scandal involving charter school chain Success Academy, New York City’s largest charter business. Strauss quotes a recent story in the New York Times reporting the schools’ practice of “weeding out weak or difficult students” in order to make the chain’s test scores look good. The article told of one Success Academy using a “Got to Go” list to target specific students that should be pushed out.

“Charter schools suspend students at a high rate,” Nelson notes and cites evidence from Washington, DC, and Chicago, in addition to New York City.

Nelson balances her assessment of charter school suspension rates with evidence from studies showing some charter chains don’t have such high rates. But she concludes

Charter schools can expel students, or suspend them so frequently that their parents decide to send them elsewhere, in part because district schools usually exist as a backstop – as Clinton says, ‘they thankfully take everybody.’ That doesn’t mean that test scores are high only because low-achieving students are pushed out. But it does suggest a symbiotic relationship between charter and traditional public schools that charter backers don’t always acknowledge.

Of course, Clinton’s comments about charter schools can’t be taken as definitive statements of where she stands. As reporters for Education Week note, “It’s hard to say” what she precisely meant, and her real intentions won’t likely be known until we know “who Potential President Clinton would pick for her education secretary.”

Nevertheless, what’s telling about the incident is how it has sent New Democrat charter proponents into fits of handwringing.

When Democrats Sound Like Republicans

That same Ed Week post quotes the leader of Democrats for Education Reform – a New Democrat organization if there ever was one – calling “Clinton’s comments ‘highly disappointing’” He worries her remarks bolstered “fears about how her endorsements from both major teachers unions would affect her K-12 platform.”

Jeanne Allen, the founder of the charter-loving Center for Education Reform, was particularly enraged, reports the Washington Post. “[Clinton] sounds like an aloof, elite candidate from a bygone era, before ed reform was a reality.”

“We’re very troubled and concerned,” the Post reporter quotes another Democrats for Education Reform official saying. “We don’t want any sort of slowdown on the Obama legacy of expanding high-quality charter seats.”

These reactions to Clinton’s comments from supposed Democrats are strikingly similar to the response of the ultra-conservative Republican-leaning Wall Street Journal. The editors of that news outlet say Clinton’s remark about charter schools “suggests her Education Department would be a wholly owned union subsidiary.” The editors opine, ” If Mrs. Clinton had looked at the evidence, she’d have seen a different story about charters.”

We know, however, that politics in America rarely revolves around evidence. If the argument for charters were based purely on evidence, the spread of these institutions would have been questioned a long time ago instead of promoted as quick cures for struggling schools.

What Evidence?

Anyone interested in examining the evidence of charter schools’ success should check out this fascinating exchange between charter advocate Demitri Melhorn, a businessman and Democrat, and education scholar and classroom teacher Mark Weber, who goes by the handle Jersey Jazzman. Melhorn and Weber go at each other repeatedly in a heated argument about the supposed success of charter schools.

Regardless of how you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with one side or the other in the debate over the alleged superiority of charter schools, two definitive conclusions seem pretty certain: If there are benefits to expanding charter schools, they are torturously complicated to prove, likely not all that much, and mostly discernable through a very poor and narrow-minded measure – scores on standardized tests.

We also know that expansions of charter schools come with very certain costs to existing public schools. As Weber explains in part six of the exchange, “High quality research shows that charter schools have a negative effect on the budgets of their hosting [district] schools. This makes sense, as charters are redundant systems of school administration, and do not allow districts to fully leverage economies of scale. In other words: When every charter school has its own high-paid superintendent and administrative staff, that’s inefficient. And we have more and more evidence that is the price to be paid for ‘choice’. I’d rather see money go into the classroom.”

Yet, very few politicians will wade this deeply into the swamp of the charter school debate. Anecdotes from the New York Times that show charter schools gain their advantages by skimming the cream of the very best students in a given population will always be more politically impactful than research proving they do.

Also, accusing Clinton of selling out to teachers’ unions is laughable. Wall Street and the wealthy foundations that back the education reform agenda have way more money than poorly paid teachers have.

What’s far more likely instead is that the fading promises the New Democrats made for education are coming face to face with the reality of a new and different Democratic Party with much more populist-driven ideas about education policy. And right now, it looks like the populist side is winning.

11/5/15 – What Congress Could Do Right Now To Improve Education

THIS WEEK: When School Improvement Doesn’t Work … No Money For Common Core … What Motivates Students … Why Schools Get Cops … Who’s Failing Students


What Congress Could Do Right Now To Improve Education

By Jeff Bryant

“There’s some evidence a revision to NCLB may be in the offing, which many folks believe is a good thing … In the rewriting of the NCLB law, it is the undesirables, to a great degree, rather than the ’empirical evidence,’ such that it is, or the desirables, that are driving the process … What would be preferable, of course, is to have federal education policy based on a more robust idea of what works and designed to achieve outcomes that are truly desirable. But if stopping the tyranny of the testocracy is the best we can do right now, that alone seems a good enough reason to hope Congress acts and passes a revision of NCLB before the year’s end.”
Read more …


Here’s Why $7 Billion Didn’t Help America’s Worst Schools


“Why has the [School Improvement Grant] program … produced such uneven results at a total cost of about $7 billion? A comparison by POLITICO of two troubled high schools – one in Miami and one in Chicago – both of which received millions in SIG funds, both of which followed a similar turnaround strategy, reveals that education officials at the federal, state, and local levels paid too little attention to a key variable for success … The difference between the schools was in their readiness to make use of the sudden infusion of money … The SIG program may soon disappear … There would still be money to fix the lowest-performing schools – the federal government just wouldn’t have a say in how to do it.”
Read more …

Financial Woes Plague Common-Core Rollout

The Wall Street Journal

“Five years into the … Common Core … big disparities remain in what and how students are taught, the materials and technology they use, the preparation of teachers, and the tests they are given … Many school districts discovered they didn’t have enough money to do all they needed to do. Some also found that meeting deadlines to implement the standards was nearly impossible … The new standards required more training and teaching materials than they would otherwise have needed … After a burst of momentum and a significant investment of money and time, the movement for commonality is in disarray … Some states turned to grants from the $4.3 billion federal educational-reform program called Race to the Top to help fund a move to the standards. But now most of that money is spent, leaving school districts to shoulder the continuing costs.”
Read more …

What Gets Students Motivated To Work Harder? Not Money

The Conversation

” Rewarding teachers financially for student achievement is an increasingly common practice, despite mixed evidence … Giving kids cash for grades and scores hasn’t proved straightforward either… Adolescents do not respond to incentives in ways that can be easily predicted by economic theory … When students received a certificate of recognition for attending tutoring sessions … the students in the certificate group attended 42.5% more of their allotted tutoring hours … Girls were significantly more responsive to the certificate of recognition than their male counterparts … A student’s effort was not necessarily observable to peers, which could have helped facilitate the positive response. Prior research suggests that the promise of certificates and trophies presented in a class or at a school assembly in front of peers might not necessarily act as a positive incentive … Working with the family to encourage and reward academic behaviors may hold more promise, compared to working directly through school settings where peer pressures and norms play an important role.”
Read more …

Study: Black Students – Not Crime – Determine If Schools Get Security

Talking Points Memo

“New research … showed the mere presence of African American students at a school makes it more likely the school will take on security measures, even when controlling for neighborhood crime and school misconduct … The study also found … greater racial disparities in student suspensions and arrests in schools where there are cops present or other security measures are taken. Those arrest and suspensions are believed to contribute to the so-called ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ … ‘In the average school without police, the black-white disparity in arrests was negligible,’ the authors wrote, with black students being 1.3 times more likely than white students. But with police present, African-American students were 2.2 times more likely to be arrested than white students.”
Read more …

School Vs. Society In America’s Failing Students

The New York Times

Columnist Eduardo Porter writes, “The rest of American society is failing its disadvantaged citizens even more than we realize. The question is, Should educators be responsible for fixing this? … A report released last week suggest[s] that socioeconomic deficits impose a particularly heavy burden on American schools … The score gap between American students and those in the highest-ranked countries … shrinks by 25% in math and 40% in reading once proper adjustments for gender, age, mother’s education, and books in the home are taken into account … A similar pattern shows up within the United States … There’s the wide disparity in resources devoted to education … There’s the informal tracking that happens when smart children are grouped separately … Teachers are paid poorly … And the best of them are not deployed to the most challenging schools.”
Read more …

What Congress Could Do Right Now To Improve Education

The weather is turning colder for sure, but spring is in the air for those who believe there is an urgent need to change the nation’s federal education law known as No Child Left Behind.

Seasoned education journalist Alyson Klein at Education Week believes recent changes in Congress “have lit a fire under negotiations on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” the name of the original law that eventually became NCLB.

In a more recent report, Klein explains, “ESEA reauthorization has been stalled since 2007. But earlier this year, the Senate overwhelming passed a bipartisan bill to rewrite the law, and a GOP-only measure barely skated through the House.”

The goal now is “to negotiate a deal that can make it through both houses of Congress and be signed by President Barack Obama, ideally by the end of the year.”

Calls for a revision of NCLB are coming from outside Congress too. US News and World Report reports the pressure is coming from “a coalition of 10 major education organizations – including the two national teachers unions and groups representing state education chiefs, superintendents, principals, school boards, and others.”

A statement from the coalition posted by Politico says, “It’s time for Congress to finish the job of revising No Child Left Behind and not let another school year go by under the old law.” The coalition’s effort includes a “digital ad campaign” and a “letter to Congress”.

“The push,” notes US News correspondent Lauren Camera, “comes after the Obama administration’s announcement that it wants states and school districts to cut back on the number of tests administered to students. The issue of testing has been front and center in the ongoing reauthorization debate.”

Camera quotes Randi Weingarten, who leads the American Federation of Teachers, a member of the coalition. “The final bill should put an end to the unproductive fixation on high-stakes testing,” she says, “and protect the law’s original intent to target services to districts and schools serving high concentrations of low-income children.”

So there’s some evidence a revision to NCLB may be in the offing, which many folks believe is a good thing.

But shouldn’t any attempts at revising the guidelines be based on an understanding of how well or poorly the law worked?

Did NCLB Work?

First, what do we mean by “worked”?

The premise of NCLB is based on a sort of circular logic. The law said to schools, “You’d better get student scores on standardized reading and math tests up, or else;” then it used that very same narrow range of statistical measures to determine whether the law was working or not. So what was being incentivized by the policy was being used as a proof the policy was working. What if the policy incentivized bad things?

But even if you accept the circular logic of the law, determining whether NCLB “worked” or not is far from a settled matter.

Matt Di Carlo at The Albert Shanker Institute grapples with that question in a recent post on that organization’s blog. “This is not a situation that lends itself to clear cut yes/no answers to the ‘did it work?’ question,” he writes.

Di Carlo points to studies showing that a policy incentivizing upward movements in standardized test scores can eventually result in some upward movements in standardized test scores. (Surprise!)

“Yet even the best of these studies are sometimes used by advocates in an oversimplified fashion,” he argues. “It is seriously unwise to judge test-based accountability based solely (or, perhaps, even predominantly) on short-term testing outcomes.”

What else should be considered? “Accountability policies are fundamentally about changing behavior,” Di Carlo explains, “and there is evidence that accountability systems do sometimes lead to undesirable behavior.”

Di Carlo lists a few of the “undesirables” that NCLB spawned, including gaming the system by reclassifying students and narrowing the curriculum, and just flat-out cheating on the tests.

An undesirable he doesn’t mention is that a test-based accountability system invariably puts way more emphasis on testing and everything that endeavor involves, including test-prep drills, behavior conditioning of the students, and the use of pre-tests to help schools know where their students stand so they can get them ready for the tests.

It’s certainly possible for test-based accountability policies to lead to desirables too. Di Carlo points to a few possibilities: “increasing instructional time, investing in teacher training, and reorganizing the learning environment.” But note these desirables all have one thing in common: they cost more money – something often considered to be the biggest undesirable of all, especially if you’re a Republican.

So it stands to reason that in the rewriting of the NCLB law, it is the undesirables, to a great degree – rather than the “empirical evidence,” such that it is, or the desirables – that are driving the process.

The Undesirables

For sure, one undesirable driving the NCLB revision process is the all-encompassing pervasiveness of testing in our schools.

According to a new study, “The average student in America’s big-city public schools takes some 112 mandatory standardized tests between pre-kindergarten and the end of 12th grade – an average of about eight a year,” reports education journalist Valerie Strauss on her blog at the Washington Post.

“That eats up between 20 and 25 hours every school year, the study says. As for the results, they often overlap, on top of all that are teacher-written tests, sometimes taken by students along with standardized tests in the very same subject.”

The pervasiveness of the testing is driving an “anti-testing rebellion,” notes Strauss, that has “became so loud that even some of the strongest proponents of testing started to say it was time to scale back on the number of assessments students must take. In August 2014, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said finally that he ‘shared’ teachers’ concerns about too much standardized testing and test prep, and that he believed ‘testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools.’”

Another undesirable from NCLB has to do with money. Republicans in Congress, especially those in the Republican dominated House, generally see the need for education funding as an undesirable, unless it comes with a “no strings attached” clause.

For instance, in revising the original ESEA mandates, the House wants to get rid of a provision known as “maintenance of effort.” As Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week, explains, this provision incentivizes districts to keep education spending fairly level from year to year, providing a potential backstop to drastic funding cuts by the state or a conservative takeover of the district.

Also, House Republicans want to give states the option to have their Title I aid, another provision of the original ESEA that earmarked money for disadvantaged students, follow students to the public schools of their choice. To House Republicans it’s clearly undesirable to encourage states to do something about the drastic inequities in funding in the nation.

But as Ujifusa explains in another article, if the House gets its way and makes Title I funds portable, the change would cause funding cuts in many districts, especially those servicing low-income kids. According to the White House, under Title I portability, “the 100 districts facing the most severe cuts would lose 15 percent of their Title I aid, or $570 million in all.”

Weighing The Undesirables

Clearly the coalition groups urging passage of an NCLB rewrite have weighed the options and determined there’s more good than bad in both revisions of the legislation, even as they currently stand.

Part of their rationale is based on the fact Obama is still president. The changes in spending the Republicans want to impose – easing maintenance of effort and instituting Title I portability – are opposed by the Obama administration which has said including these measures in the bill would lead to a veto.

Also, pro-rewrite fans like that major testing issues plaguing current legislation would be resolved in the bill. Whether the Senate or the House gets its way, the new version of NCLB will provide for some ability for parents to opt their children out of standardized testing. States and school districts will have more leeway in developing their own assessments. And a new law will give states flexibility in deciding the role of tests in accountability.

Under a revision, as currently written by both chambers, the annual tests will continue, but the dreaded “Adequate Yearly Progress,” the mechanism used to impose punishments on schools, would vanish and so would the requirement to use student test scores in teacher evaluations.

What would be preferable, of course, is to have federal education policy based on a more robust idea of what works and designed to achieve outcomes that are truly desirable. But if stopping the tyranny of the testocracy is the best we can do right now, that alone seems a good enough reason to hope Congress acts and passes a revision of NCLB before the year’s end.


Education Reform’s Very Bad, God-Awful Week

Because of all the big money behind current education policies, it’s difficult to see any real break in the status quo, but anyone who believes that cracking down harder on neighborhood schools while pushing for privately operated charters are the necessary “reforms” our education system needs has to admit this past week was a huge downer.

Two pillars of a “reform” plan for improving the nation’s public schools –that students’ academic achievement could be raised by subjecting their schools to a relentless regime of standardized testing and that competition from allegedly superior charter schools would force systemic adoption of better education practices – were thrown into doubt by a train wreck of consecutive events.

One would hope that the lesson self-proclaimed education “reformers” would learn from this is that they should stop with the proclamations of knowing “what works” and the self-righteous rhetoric about their devotion to a “civil rights cause.” But for the rests of us, the big take-away is that education reform has never been as much about getting policy right as it has been about getting the politics right. So any work to improve education in the policy shop will be for naught if we don’t match or exceed that level of effort on the political front.

Charter School ‘Black Hole’

What started off the string of bad news for reformers was a new report issued by the Center for Media and Democracy that found more than $3.7 billion in federal funding has been poured into the nation’s charter school sector with virtually no accountability.

As the Detroit Free Press explains, the report revealed that current education policy, by design, provides funding for countless numbers of charter schools that never open or that stay in operation for only a brief period of time.

In Fort Wayne, Indiana, a reporter for The Journal Gazette read the CMD report and concludes, “The federal injection of money in accord with the program objective of incentivizing states where charter schools are exempt from most statutes and regulations has wasted monies on charters that failed in not unforeseeable ways.”

“Charter school budgets are a ‘black hole’ of public information,” reports The Salt Lake Tribune, noticing that the CMD report discovered “the nation’s charter schools largely are created, overseen and policed by pro-charter advocates.” Reinforcing that conclusion, a Michigan-based blogger noticed one recipient of federal grants for a charter that never opened went on to be appointed to lead a state commission involved in state takeovers of struggling school districts that frequently result in the proliferation of charter schools.

Testing Turnaround

Then over the weekend, the Obama administration retreated from well-worn arguments justifying the widespread use of standardized testing in the nation’s schools.

“In a policy reversal,” PBS reports, “the Obama administration, which has supported student and teacher assessment, now says testing has gotten out of hand. This weekend, the White House recommended capping testing at 2 percent of class time.”

For Salon, David Dayen writes (perhaps, hyperbolic), “Rigorous testing was so fundamental to the Obama Administration’s education reform agenda that this repudiation resembles shutting down Obamacare or the EPA’s carbon pollution regulations.”

The change in rhetoric is “a mea culpa,” writes Rebeccca Mead in The New Yorker, “an acknowledgement by the administration that its own policies cultivated the ‘drill and kill’ test prep that has come to characterize many classrooms in the past several years.”

The Obama administration’s announced turnaround on testing coincided with the release of a new study finding, according to a report in Education Week, “Students across the nation are taking tests that are redundant, misaligned with college- and career-ready standards, and often don’t address students’ mastery of specific content.”

NAEP Negativity

Following closely after the Obama administration’s reversal on testing, news outlets everywhere reported the desultory results of this year’s National Assessment of Education Progress

The NAEP, also known as “the nation’s report card,” is a periodic assessment most often referred to as a benchmark for student performance in math and reading. Writing for Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet blog at The Washington Post, former school principal Carol Burris explains, “NAEP is a truth teller. There is no NAEP test prep industry, or high-stakes consequence that promotes teaching to the test.  NAEP is what it was intended to be – a national report card by which we can gauge our national progress in educating our youth.”

So how bad were the results? Emma Brown for the Post reports, “Fourth-graders and eighth-graders across the United States lost ground on national mathematics tests … Reading performance also was sobering: Eighth-grade scores dropped … while fourth-grade performance was stagnant compared with 2013, the last time students took the test. And the tests again show large achievement gaps between the nation’s white and minority students as well as between poor and affluent children.”

Defenders of the education policy status quo – who had been tipped off (by who?) about the disappointing NAEP results prior to their release – were ready with an array of excuses. The disappointing results were due to the recession, the result of demographic shifts in the nation’s school children, an “implementation dip” in the adoption of new reforms (Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s explanation,) or a mere blip in the otherwise upwardly trending NAEP results (only if you go back to 1990, more than ten years before the reform policies of No Child Left Behind legislation were adopted).

This parade of excuses for the disappointing NAEP scores, notes Kevin Welner and William Mathis of the National Education Policy Center, is loaded with irony. It comes from “those who have been vigorously advocating for ‘no excuses’ approaches” that insist schools are failing and can only be improved through “a high-stakes regime” and the competitive pressures of charters.

More Bad News About Charter Schools

Just when it seemed things couldn’t get worse for reform fans, more bad news about charter schools bookended the whole series of reports.

First, a new study looking at academic results coming from charter schools delivering education programs online found students in those programs “make dramatically less academic progress than their counterparts in traditional schools,” according to a report by Education Week.

These schools that have been touted as being more efficient alternatives to traditional public schools are so bad that students taking online courses to learn math make so little progress, one researcher is quoted, “It was ‘literally as though the student did not go to school for the entire year.’”

Then a disturbing story broke in The New York Times about one of the nation’s most celebrated charter schools – a chain of schools often praised as a “high performing” model for other schools to follow.

The schools, called Success Academy, are located in New York City and are operated by former councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, who has battled with Mayor Bill de Blasio over expanding her schools at the expense of public schools.

What Times reporter Kate Taylor learned about Success Academy is “that its remarkable accomplishments are due, in part, to a practice of weeding out weak or difficult students. The network has always denied it. But documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with 10 current and former Success employees at five schools suggest that some administrators in the network have singled out children they would like to see leave.”

At a Success Academy in Brooklyn, administrators maintain a “Got to Go” list of students with repeat discipline problems.

At another Success Academy, administrators “told teachers not to automatically send annual re-enrollment forms home to certain students, because the school did not want those students to come back.”

Success Academy is known to practice a very strict form of discipline that subjects students to punishments, even suspensions, for slight infractions in dress code, behavior, or attitude.

“Even the youngest pupils” writes Taylor, “are expected to sit with their backs straight, their hands clasped and their eyes on the teacher … Good behavior and effort are rewarded with candy and prizes, while infractions and shoddy work are penalized with reprimands, loss of recess time, extra assignments and, in some cases, suspensions as early as kindergarten.”

Suspensions at Success schools are frequent, Taylor notes, as high as 23 percent at one school, “with most suspending more than 10 percent,” compared to 3 percent of students at city public schools

But perhaps more consequential than the frequent suspensions are the schools’ practice of, what Taylor calls, “making [students’] parents’ lives so difficult that they withdraw.”

She reports, “Some of the parents whose children were on the ‘Got to Go’ list acknowledged that they did not agree with how the school managed behavior. But several also said that both before and after the list was created, they thought school and network employees were trying to push them out.”

Are New Policies Possible?

Surely such a series of reports reflecting poorly on the direction of current education policy will motivate policy leaders to consider a different education.

Regarding a course change on testing, knowledgeable observers of education policy point out that change in rhetoric may no lead to real action in this case.

Seasoned education reporter Alyson Klein notes in Education Week, the announcement wasn’t as much of a “reversal” or as “stunning” as most news outlets claim. The Obama administration’s new policy prescriptions on testing, contained in an Action Plan, “aren’t musts, just suggestions,” she writes. “And they are in line with much of what the department has been saying about testing over the past year.”

“The solutions offered,” explains Strauss on her blog at the Post, “don’t much move the needle. They won’t cut into testing time and test prep all that much, if at all, and they won’t eliminate what is arguably a bigger problem: the high stakes associated with the exams.”

Nevertheless, responding to the Obama administration’s calls for less testing, president of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten writes, “The fixation on high-stakes testing hasn’t moved the needle on student achievement. … We need to get back to focusing on the whole child – teaching our kids how to build relationships, how to be resilient and how to think critically.”

It’s not that clear there ever was a “back to” to go to, but isn’t admitting to having a problem always the first critical step to finding a solution?

Responding to the disappointing scores from the NAEP, Welner and Mathis caution against using those results to draw causal inferences about specific policies. But they argue, “It is possible to validly assert, based in part on NAEP trends, that the promises of education’s test-driven reformers over the past couple decades have been unfulfilled. … It has distracted policymakers’ attention away from the extensive research showing that, in a very meaningful way, achievement is caused by opportunities to learn. It has diverted them from the truth that the achievement gap is caused by the opportunity gap.”

Keep Up The Pressure

Advocating for better policies is important for sure, but real change won’t come without political advocacy. As The New York Times reports, the administration’s admission stemmed from “mounting and bipartisan opposition to increased and often high-stakes testing in the nation’s public schools.”

“For years,” Valerie Strauss writes in a different post, “state and federal policymakers have known that kids are being saddled with too many mandated standardized tests. It wasn’t until teachers and parents and principals and superintendents began making strong waves that they finally started to agree.”

“We should all keep up the pressure,” advises Senior Advisor at the Public Leadership Institute Bernie Horn at the blog of the Campaign for America’s Future. He lists what to continue to press for, including the elimination of “test shaming,” an end to evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores, and forbidding charter schools from expelling, pushing, or “counseling” out students who are struggling with behavior and academic problems.

Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian who helped lead a successful test boycott at his school and a successful district wide teacher strike over learning conditions in the city’s schools, defines the political reality that has been and will continue to be a pathway toward real policy change:

“It should be clear that this national uprising, this Education Spring, has forced the testocracy to retreat and is the reason that the Obama administration has come to its current understanding on testing in schools. However, the testocracy, having amassed so much power and wealth, won’t just slink quietly into the night.”


10/22/2015 – Federal Funds For Charter Schools Go Into A Black Hole

THIS WEEK: Integration Benefits White Kids Too … State School Districts Don’t Work … Graduate To What? … Taxpayers Still Funding Scam Colleges … What’s Causing Teacher Shortages


New Report: Federal Funds For Charter Schools Go Into A ‘Black Hole’

By Jeff Bryant

“Very little is known about how charter schools have spent over $3.7 billion the federal government has used to fuel expansion of the charter industry since 1995 … Millions in federal grant money has gone to charter schools that were closed after brief periods of service and to ‘ghost’ charter schools that never opened … The revelation that federal funds to charter schools generally go into a ‘black hole’ further calls into question U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s decision to award even more money to these schools.”
Read more …


The Evidence That White Children Benefit From Integrated Schools


“There’s plenty of evidence that suggests … White students might actually benefit from a more diverse environment … Their test scores won’t be any lower … The federal government just released a report … It found … white students essentially had the same test scores whether they went to a school that was overwhelmingly white or one that was overwhelmingly black … They may work harder and smarter … There’s evidence that corporations with better gender and racial representation make more money and are more innovative. And many higher education groups have collected large amounts of evidence on the educational benefits of diversity … They may become more empathetic and less prejudiced … Your willingness to stereotype declines, and that in turn is linked to a reduction in prejudice.”
Read more …

Are Turnaround Districts The Answer For America’s Worst Schools?

The Hechinger Report

“State-run school districts have a shaky track record, but more are on the way … Louisiana’s Recovery School District is the largest … Graduation rates are up and nearly 60% of RSD 3-8 graders now pass state tests – but more than half of high school students fail. ACT average scores have improved, but at 16.6 out of 36 (around the 25th percentile) remain far below Louisiana’s already low statewide average … Tennessee officials pledged that the state’s Achievement School District … would take schools in the bottom 5% and get them into the top 25% within five years … Lackluster results led Tennessee legislators, during the 2015 legislative session, to introduce 22 bills aimed to curb the ASD’s growth … Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority also struggled in its infancy. At the high schools it took over, four-year graduation rates decreased from 64% to 54% after the first year, rising only to 62% in the second year. And ACT scores in those schools have remained at 13.7, far below the national average.”
Read more …

High-School Diploma Options Multiply, But May Not Set Up Students For College Success

The Chronicle Of Higher Education

“For too many students, high-school diplomas are ‘tickets to nowhere’ that offer ‘false assurances’ that graduates are ready for college or a job… As states try to increase their high-school graduation rates and tailor programs to different goals, the number of diploma options has become ‘incredibly complex’ … About half of first-year students at two-year colleges and 1 in 5 of those entering four-year institutions require remedial coursework before they can start college-level classes … 20 states do not offer a diploma that requires students to complete college- and career-ready standards in English and math … Only 9 states that offer multiple diplomas report which students complete which requirements, making it hard for policy makers to interpret high-school graduation rates.”
Read more …

For-Profit Colleges Accused Of Fraud Still Receive U.S. Funds

The New York Times

“The Education Department, despite a crackdown against what it calls ‘bad actors,’ continues to hand over tens of millions of dollars every month to other for-profit schools that have been accused of predatory behavior, substandard practices, or illegal activity… Hundreds of schools that have failed regulatory standards or been accused of violating legal statutes are still hauling in billions of dollars of government funds … For-profit schools enroll about 12% of the nation’s college students, yet they account for nearly half of student loan defaults … Education advocates have also accused the Education Department of not more aggressively policing for-profit schools that convert to nonprofits as a way of sidestepping federal regulations.”
Read more …

To Fix Teacher Shortages, First Understand What They Are

Education Week

Chicago classroom teacher Xian Barrett writes, “Teacher shortages come in part from a lack of candidates interested in teaching in highly demanding settings and, even more so, from an inability to retain teachers in those settings … Many top-down education reforms to address teacher quality only exacerbate this situation by focusing teachers on areas that are unhelpful to their students. For every teacher who is pushed out by tougher, nonsensical evaluation systems, there are a dozen who leave due to toxic stress caused by these systems … We can begin to heal toward solutions … Allow communities, students, parents, and educators the agency to self-determine our own definitions of success … Build strong induction programs targeting and effectively preparing candidates who are most likely to stay in our communities … Shift accountability for school climate from classroom teachers to administrators and district leadership … Teacher shortages are merely symptoms of the same problems that drive inequity in our society in general.'”
Read more …