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Stan Karp’s Ten Signs for Hope for Our Public Schools Comments Off

Posted on February 10, 2012 by dmayer

I was one of the 1650 people who attended the Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference in Seattle on October 1, 2011. Rethinking Schools editor Stan Karp gave a well-received talk on “Challenging Corporate Ed Reform.” He ended on an uplifting note with ” Ten hopeful, tangible signs of organizing resistance and alternatives to the corporate reform agenda.” After a tough year of teacher bashing and a barrage of attacks from corporate reformers, it was just what I needed to hear. There is so much information chocked into this hour-plus presentation, but I was mesmerized through the entire speech.

A few months ago, in a moment of clueless arrogance, director Davis Guggenheim posted an invitation on the Huffington Post to “Teachers, to tell me what you think” (along with a discount offer to see his teacher-bashing film during Teacher Appreciation Week). In return, he received pages upon pages of scathing comments from educators and parents. Perhaps the best response came from a veteran early childhood teacher who said: “I felt personally offended by your film. Its oversimplified and antagonistic message has stirred me into becoming a whole education activist.” And of course, that’s the key. Because democratic ideas are only as strong as the ability of people to organize movements to implement them. So let me end by offering a quick survey of some of the hopeful, tangible signs of organizing resistance and alternatives to the corporate reform agenda and then open it up for discussion about how corporate reform is affecting your schools and classrooms and how we might build the movement against it over the coming year.

In no particular order, let me mention 10 hopeful signs that the tide is turning against corporate reform: 1. I’ve already mentioned Parents Across America (PAA) which has linked experienced parent activists from Seattle to Chicago to New Orleans to New York, Florida, and elsewhere into a growing parent voice for better policies. The landscape is different in every city, but there is no more crucial work than building an alliance between parents and teachers to defend and improve public education. Even a small group of activists representing teachers, parents, and progressive academics can have a big influence on local reform debates if they work together. If you haven’t connected to PAA already, do it. 2. The outpouring of critical response to Waiting for Superman last fall was when a lot of teachers discovered they were not alone. Rethinking Schools’ “NOT Waiting for Superman” campaign drew tens of thousands of supportive responses and has created an archive of information and resources for countering corporate reform that’s still growing. In New York City, the GEM produced a documentary response to the film entitled The Inconvenient Truths Behind Waiting for Superman that’s served as a rallying point for organizing and discussion across the country. 3. The two large teacher unions, the AFT & the NEA, have had mostly weak and defensive responses to the policy attacks of the past few years. But they are being pressed by both their members and by reality to develop more effective responses. This includes on-the-ground efforts at reform and the election of activist teacher leaders like Karen Lewis in Chicago and Bob Peterson in Milwaukee. Years of failing to effectively mobilize their membership or develop effective responses to school failure in poor communities have taken a big toll on the ability of our unions to lead the charge in defending public education. But their role remains crucial and activists have begun to rebuild that power on the basis of new politics and new coalitions with the communities schools serve. 4. The heroic Wisconsin rebellion. More than a month of sustained large scale protests and organizing that’s still targeting a recall effort for Gov. Scott Walker. Check out OneWisconsinNow.org for the latest. 5. In Ohio, outrage over another anti-labor bill, SB#5 helped over generate 1.3 million signatures to put a referendum on the ballot and the measure may be repealed this November by popular vote. 6. There’s a growing national movement of parents and students to opt out of standardized testing. This effort has the potential to mobilize large numbers of parents and students in the fight against the testing plague. Check out Unitedoptout.com or Testing is Not Teaching. 7. The growth of locally-based teacher activist groups. There are now active Teachers for Social Justice groups with various names in Chicago, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Portland, New York City (where there are multiple groups), St. Louis, Atlanta, and New Jersey to name just the ones I can remember. If there’s one in your town, join it. If not, start one. 8. Education for Liberation is a national network of educators, youth, and community activists, led by people of color, doing great work on school-to-prison pipeline, youth organizing, and other social justice issues. Their conference in Providence this summer was probably the biggest and most dynamic yet. 9. The Save Our Schools march and conference last July reflected both the growth and the as yet unfulfilled potential of a national teachers’ voice in defense of public education and the teaching profession. Interestingly, the SOS project did not begin with radical political activists, but with impeccably well-credentialed national board certified teachers, who attempted to engage the Obama administration to discuss it’s education policies and who were stunned by the arrogance and ignorance of the response. A project that began with Anthony Cody’s Teachers Letters to Obama found itself pushed by the aggressive acceleration of corporate reform into a more political and activist response. The media offensive of last fall around Waiting for Superman and the state-by-state battles last winter and spring convinced many that a national mobilization was sorely needed. The well-credentialed, experienced teachers at the center of the project were able to attract a significant number of well-known, respected advocates for public education who threw their support behind the effort, including Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol, Linda Darling-Hammond, Pedro Noguera, Angela Valenzuela, Nancy-Carlsson Paige and others. Actor Matt Damon added media visibility and celebrity star power and Parents Across America broadened the project’s base and outreach, as did savvy use of social media. The event had an impact far beyond the 8000 people who turned out for the rally, and while it remains to be seen whether SOS will be able to harvest what it started and sustain a national network, local and state groups are building on the grassroots energy that SOS helped set in motion. 10. And finally there’s my own home base, Rethinking Schools, which has somewhat miraculously survived to this year celebrate its 25th anniversary as a voice for activist educators. Rethinking Schools has always tried to connect efforts to create classrooms that are places of hope and humanity with larger struggles for racial and social justice. It made me a better teacher in the classroom and a better activist outside it. I don’t think it’s ever been more important to fight on both fronts and I thank you for letting me be part of that effort today.

Test of the entire speech:

About a year ago I was invited to Portland to give a talk about who was bashing teachers and public schools in the wake of the release of the pro-charter propaganda film Waiting for Stupidman. Since then, it’s been a year from hell for many teachers; at times it seems the people making education policy have completely lost their minds, and the attacks on public schools and those who work in them or rely on them have morphed in ugly and sometimes dangerous ways. But it’s also been a year of pushback, heroic resistance, and movement building. There are cracks in the corporate reform movement, recently reflected in the collapse of the coalition that supported NCLB, and there are signs of resistance everywhere (e.g. recent Tacoma strike). So today I want to take a closer look at the corporate school reform movement because I think it can help expose where that movement is vulnerable to the most hopeful development of the past year, and that’s the steady growth of a deep, broad and at times quite militant pushback against corporate reform. There’s been some discussion about whether the phrase “corporate school reform” is the right label for a set of proposals coming from private foundations like Gates, Broad, and Walton and their well-funded partners in elite corporate, media, and political circles. Some call it “market reform” or “neo-liberal reform.” Some call it “de-form” instead of “re-form.” Some call it “Rhee-form” with an R-h-e-e for Michelle Rhee, one of its most high profile representatives. I think my own favorite term is “reforminess,” a label borrowed from comedian Stephen Colbert’s rightwing TV persona whose beliefs and ideas are strongly held but have only a tenuous connection to reality, a quality he calls “truthiness.” [BTW, even though I'm a big Colbert fan, you may have noticed his show has a steady stream of "reformy" heroes as guests: Kopp/Canada/Rhee/Guggenheim. It's because one of Colbert's chief producers is the wife of the self-appointed education pundit and corporate reform cheerleader Jonathan Alter.] The corporate reformers like to call themselves just the “reformers” and counterpose themselves to the “status quo.” And there’s no doubt that the corporate/foundation crowd has successfully captured the media label as “education reformers.” If you support testing, charters, merit pay, the elimination of tenure and seniority, and control of school policy by corporate managers you’re a “reformer.” If you support increased school funding, collective bargaining, and control of school policy by educators, you’re a “defender of the status quo.” This bears no resemblance to reality or to the substance of the issues under debate. As Seattle’s own parent activist Sue Peters put it so well in a blog post a few months ago, “The current crowd of education reformers like to dismiss any of us who disagree with their agenda as ‘defenders of the status quo.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. I am not a defender of the status quo in public education because the status quo is currently a beleaguered, underfunded system [that] has been ravaged by damaging policies…pushed by those who want to privatize our public schools.” Now I’ve also spent a large part of my adult life criticizing the flawed institutions and policies of public education—as a teacher, an education activist, and a policy advocate. Rethinking Schools has been pressing for radical reform of public education since it was started 25 years ago. But with debate about education policy now sharply politicized and polarized, it’s important to be specific about the policies we oppose and why, and the alternatives we need to address the very real problems our schools face. So I’m going to use “corporate reform” to describe a specific set of specific policy proposals and political forces driving current education policy at the state and federal level. This corporate reform movement advocates the following: * Increased test-based evaluation of students, teachers, and schools of education. * Elimination or weakening of tenure and seniority rights. * An end to pay for experience or advanced degrees. * Closing schools deemed low performing and their replacement by publicly funded, but privately run charters. * Replacing governance by local school boards with various forms of mayoral and state takeover or private management. * Vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition. * Increases in class size, sometimes tied to the firing of 5-10% of the teaching staff. * Implementation of common core standards and something called “college and career readiness” as a standard for high school graduation. These proposals are currently being promoted by reams of foundation reports, well-funded think tanks, a proliferation of Astroturf political groups and canned legislation from the rightwing American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC). Together these strategies use the testing regime that is the main engine of corporate reform to extend the narrow standardization of curricula and scripted classroom practice that we’ve seen under NCLB, and to drill down even further into the fabric of schooling to transform the teaching profession and create a less experienced, less secure, less stable, and less expensive professional staff. Where NCLB used test scores to impose sanctions on schools and sometimes students (e.g., grade retention, diploma denial), increasingly test-based sanctions are targeted at teachers. Alongside these efforts to change the way schools and classrooms function, a larger social/political goal is reflected in the attacks on collective bargaining rights, union rights, and the permanent crisis of school funding across the country. These policies undermine public education and seek to replace it with a market-based system that will do for schooling what the market has done for health care, housing, and the labor market, produce fabulous profits and give opportunities for a few and unequal outcomes and access for the many. It’s been stunning to see this play out in my home state of New Jersey where I was a high school teacher for 30 years before going to work for New Jersey’s Education Law Center, one of the nation’s most successful legal advocacy projects for funding equity. Since I left the classroom five years ago, I’ve worked at ELC on reform issues growing out of a landmark funding equity case called Abbott. For those not familiar with Abbott, it’s worth noting briefly that for ten years, roughly between 1998 and 2008, New Jersey’s Abbott decisions produced the highest funding levels in the country for poor urban districts. Some 30 districts with about 350,000 schoolchildren received per-pupil parity with the richest districts in a state that ranked at or near the top in school spending. They also received extra funding for supplemental programs including full-day, high-quality pre-school for 3 and 4-year olds, reduced class size, extended school days and years, concentrated early literacy programs, a multi-billion program of school construction, and an unprecedented set of health and social service supports. The Abbott districts were the only place I know where the kind of wraparound supports now universally praised in Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children Zone, which gets two-thirds of its funding from private sources, were mandated for all high-needs students and sustained, at least for a while, with public dollars. This funding helped lay the basis for progress that was described by Linda Darling Hammond in a chapter in her most recent book, The Flat World and Education. She described New Jersey’s public education system as one that: * Ranked in the top 5 states in every grade and subject tested by the National Asessment of Educational Progress. * Was one of the few states that had significantly reduced achievement gaps as measured by test score terms. * Saw its African-American and Hispanic students outscore the average student in California. * Had the highest overall graduation rate in the country. * Had the #1 high school graduation rate for Hispanic students and the #2 rate for African-American students * Accomplished all this in a strong teacher union state where 45% of the public school population is comprised of students of color. Yet almost none of this was any defense against a fierce corporate reform attack on teachers and public education over the past two years. Fueled by NCLB’s test and punish accountability system, the mainstream conversation has been all about public school failure and the need to reduce the power of educators over school policy while increasing the power of corporate managers and political bureaucracies. The attack has been led by Governor Chris Christie, a Republican protégé of Karl Rove—who is to education reform what MTV’s Jersey Shore is to culture—and more recently by Chris Cerf—former CEO of the private education management firm Edison Schools and deputy chancellor under Joel Klein in NYC—who is now Christie’s Education Commissioner. Alongside these efforts to change the way schools and classrooms function, a larger social/political goal is reflected in the attacks on collective bargaining rights, union rights, and the permanent crisis of school funding across the country. The corporate reform campaign in New Jersey at times has reached bizarre media circus levels. It has involved everyone from Oprah to Mark Zuckerberg to Newark Mayor Cory Booker and the entire cast of WfS. The campaign covers the whole range of bad ideas from privatized charters to vouchers to test-based merit pay to attacks on union bargaining rights to massive intervention by unaccountable private foundations in the design and implementation of public education policy. Two things have been painfully clear throughout this sustained attack on public education in New Jersey: 1. Deep racial and class inequality remains the Achilles heel of public education. New Jersey has a better equity record than most states, but the race and class divisions remain stark and appalling; fourth most segregated, the best black/Latino high school graduation rates in the country are still 20-30 points below rates for whites. One decade of Abbott progress was not enough to erase huge gaps in achievement and opportunity created by decades of separate and unequal schooling and, for young people of color, the school-to-prison pipeline is still a far greater reality in their lives than the mostly hollow college for all rhetoric. This inequality is the entry point that allows the corporate reform virus to enter and attack the entire system. 2. This attack on New Jersey’s public education system has been immeasurably strengthened and legitimized by the Obama/Duncan Administration. Last April, Secretary of Education Duncan came to New Jersey. [It was about two years after some of us dreamed that Linda Darling-Hammond might be named Secretary of Education after an election many of us were desperately hoping we had won]. Duncan came on the same day that the New Jersey Supreme Court heard ELC’s challenge to Governor Christie’s $1.6 billion in school aid cuts. He came to Newark to talk about education reform. But he failed to say a single word about the Governor’s cuts, which were so drastic the New Jersey State Supreme Court ultimately ordered $500 million restored for urban schools. Instead, Duncan staged a photo op with Christie and embraced him as a “partner” in his education reform efforts. In response, Christie said, “Secretary Duncan and I have a lot of common views and interests on the school reform agenda. What he and the president are doing is making possible the kind of reforms that are happening in New Jersey, that are happening in other states.”We’ve seen this again and again (Central Falls/Raleigh…Obama’s broken picket promise…Ohio, Ill., Indiana, Colorado). Like a lot of us here today, I suspect, I supported Obama in 2008 out of a desperate desire to see an end to the era of war, hate, lies, and greed that flourished under George Bush and Republican rule. And the fact that Obama’s administration has a bigger achievement gap between its policies and its rhetoric than any public school you’ve ever seen has no doubt been a contributing factor to the political funk progressive forces have been in for the past few years. The only thing more demoralizing than losing is thinking you’ve won only to find out you haven’t. But anyone who has followed the development of NCLB and corporate education reform knows it has always been a bipartisan project. And the support that the Obama Administration has given to corporate reform has been a major factor in its ascendency. It has also greatly facilitated the attempt of the hedgehogs, private foundations and billionaires who are driving the corporate education reform movement to attach their agenda of union busting, privatization, and test-based accountability to the needs of poor communities who have been poorly served by the current system. This fall, instead of WfS, we have Steven Brill’s book Class Warfare, which pretty much is to reporting on education policy what WfS was to documentary film making: a well-crafted but deeply ideological and completely inaccurate framing of the problems facing public education. Like Guggenheim’s film, Brill’s book is more valuable for what it tells us about the aims and mythology of the corporate reform movement than what it has to say about our schools or our teachers. But it’s a good barometer of where that movement currently is and where it may be headed. The book includes a starry-eyed look at how a tight circle of wealthy, well-connected, self-styled education reformers, most of whom never attended a public school or taught in a classroom, staged a virtual coup, seized control of federal education policy and drove it off the rails. Brill makes it clear that Barack Obama was in partnership with this effort early on. One of the key vehicles for advancing the corporate reform agenda has been the Democrats for Education Reform, or DFER, a political lobby initiated and funded by hedge fund superstar Whitney Tilson. According to Brill, then-Senator Obama was present at the founding meeting of DFER in 2005, which was sponsored by a group of financial and charter school entrepreneurs, some of whom would later become key figures in the coming financial meltdown. DFER was formed explicitly to drive a wedge between Democrats and the two large teacher unions, the NEA and AFT, and to cultivate political support and develop strategies to bring market reform to public education. The fact that Obama won the Democratic nomination by defeating Hillary Clinton, who initially had the backing of both national teachers unions, only strengthened Obama’s ties to the hedge fund/DFER crowd. After Obama won, DFER produced a strategy paper memorably entitled “Bursting the Dam,” in which it described Obama’s election as creating “unprecedented political conditions” for “fundamental reform of public education.” Brill describes how former Clinton staffers who helped construct the test and punish regime that eventually produced NCLB, were hired to lead DFER and how they used insider beltway politicking and lobbying to advance what had previously been a mostly Republican agenda of school choice, charters, testing and union attacks inside the new administration. Some of you will remember the campaign to replace Linda Darling Hammond as Obama’s spokesperson on education issues and potentially his Secretary of Education with his Chicago crony and schools CEO Arne Duncan. This was not only one of DFER’s first major successes; it was also just a small part of a strategy to staff every key education position in the Department of Education and the White House with people from the corporate, foundation, and think tank worlds committed to the corporate reform agenda. One of the more ironic quotes in Brill’s book comes from hedge fund billionaire Whitney Tilson who wrote “The whole idea behind Democrats for Education Reform [is] it has to be an inside job.” Now, the irony isn’t only in dressing up a straight up anti-union, pro-privatization Republican agenda as a Democratic plan for education reform. But some of you will no doubt recognize the the phrase “inside job” as the title of the documentary film about the fiscal crisis which mercifully beat out WfS as best documentary last year. Even if you haven’t seen either film, it’s worth considering the parallels they suggest between corporate prescriptions for school reform and the economy. One of the common themes used by corporate reformers is their persistent calls for “accountability.” Brill complains that teaching has become “an occupation where performance just doesn’t count… There really isn’t any other workplace in the United States where how well you do, how energetic you are, how much you care, how professional you are doesn’t count.” Now this is a fantasy that discounts the 24/7 pressure most teachers I know feel every day to prepare for their students while coping with the bureaucratic screws tightening from above. But it’s a good indication of the bubble these self-proclaimed education policy experts live in. According to Brill and the corporate reformers, the key to imposing the kind of accountability schools need is test-based evaluation of teachers. Brill goes so far as to describe what he calls “the discovery” that “good teaching matters” and that it can be measured by standardized test scores as “the beginning of a flood of scholarly work,” much of it “financed by a data-obsessed wonk named Bill Gates” that would “reframe the education debate” and provide “ammunition” for a “growing network of reformers.” Now the corporate reformers misrepresent almost every aspect of this topic from the reliability of test-based evaluation formulas, to the research on merit pay, to the comparative academic performance of US students, to the impact of poverty, to straw man arguments about supposed reluctance of teachers to consider student progress in evaluating schools and teachers. But before looking at some of these specifics, it’s worth reminding ourselves that this is a society that generally does not do accountability well. For example, the movie Inside Job—again not to be confused with Whitney Tilson’s Trojan horse education reform lobby—reminded us that “the financial crisis of 2008 costs tens of millions of people their savings, their jobs, and their homes.” Yet “the men who destroyed their own companies and plunged the world into crisis walked away from the wreckage with their fortunes intact.” Architects of the crisis like Summers and Geitner remained in high policy-making positions. Nobody from Goldman Sachs went to jail. Corporate profits and executive bonuses are at the highest levels in the history of the country. Where’s the accountability? Some of these same members of the financial wrecking crew are now righteous education reformers. NYC union activist Leo Casey recently noted that of the 10 names on Forbes’ list of the richest Americans, only one “is not engaged in active political warfare against public school teachers and teacher unions.” The rest are investing their fabulous wealth in campaigns for vouchers, charter expansion, Astroturf political groups like Michelle Rhee’s self-promoting Students First, and efforts to end seniority and tenure rights for teachers. And much as Inside Job documented how the academic economists who designed and promoted the theories that deregulated the financial markets and allowed the looting of the private and public wealth to proceed profited directly from these policies, today virtually the entire official world of education research and policy analysis is on the payroll of the Gates Foundation. My own favorite example of this crowd is David Tepper, who lives in New Jersey, a few towns over from me. Tepper manages something called the Appaloosa Hedge fund. In 2009, partly because of the massive taxpayer bailout of the financial sector, Tepper made $4 billion dollars as a hedge fund manager. This was equal to the salaries of 60% of the state’s teachers who educate 850,000 students. But for two years in a row, Governor Christie vetoed a millionaire’s tax and cut $1 billion out of the state school budget, so people like David Tepper would have lower taxes. So this past year, flush with more money than God, Tepper followed the example of your own local billionaire Bill Gates, and created an education reform group called Better Education for Kids. He hired the states’ chief lobbyist for school vouchers to be his executive director and began pouring millions of dollars which should be going to the public treasury into slick campaigns to promote vouchers, expanded charters, eliminate tenure and seniority and attack the state teacher’s union. This is how the creation of public policy is being privatized in state after state. And the economy is far from the only area of social policy where accountability is virtually non-existent. George Bush systematically lied a nation into a war that killed hundreds of thousands of U.S. and foreign citizens. No accountability. Former VP Dick Cheney, who should be facing a war crimes tribunal for authorizing torture and other violations of the US Constitution, is instead on the book tour circuit. Where’s BP’s accountability for the Gulf oil spill? Who’s being held responsible for the march to global climate change disaster? This absence of accountability for major social crimes teaches some very different lessons about how our society deals with responsibility for various social outcomes. And frankly, it makes a mockery of most discussions of accountability in education. The same people and politicians who accept no accountability for having created the most unequal distribution of wealth in the history of the planet, an economy that threatens the health and well being of hundreds of millions, want to hold you accountable for your students’ test scores. And they even want to use similar instruments to do it. Standardized tests have been disguising class and race privilege as merit for decades. Today they’ve become the credit default swaps of the education world. Few people understand how either really works. Both encourage a focus on short-term gains over long-term goals. And both drive bad behavior on the part of those in charge. Yet these deeply flawed standardized tests have become the primary policy instruments used to shrink public space, impose sanctions on teachers, and close or punish schools. And if the corporate reformers have their way, their schemes to evaluate teachers and the schools of education they came from on the basis of yet another new generation of standardized tests, it will make the testing plague unleashed by NCLB pale by comparison. Right now, New Jersey is getting ready to implement a so-called “growth model” developed in Colorado, where they are now giving first graders multiple choice questions about Picasso paintings and using the results to decide the compensation level and job security of teachers. Or take the issue of poverty. Again, I have no doubt that the majority of us agree that poverty is no excuse for school failure or year after year of lousy school outcomes; and much of the work of the people in this room is about proving that the potential of our students and communities can be fulfilled when their needs are met and the reality of their lives is reflected in our schools and classrooms. But the contradictions of trying to promote positive change amidst intolerable conditions are becoming sharper. And in the current education reform debates, saying poverty isn’t an excuse has become an excuse for ignoring poverty. The corporate reform plans now being put forward do nothing to reduce or disperse the concentrations of 70/80/90% poverty that remain the central problem in urban education. Instead what we’re getting is disruptive reform that is increasing instability, especially in our more vulnerable communities, and creating new forms of collateral damage for students, teachers, schools, and families. Let’s look for a minute at what the corporate reform has actually accomplished: First the corporate reformers over-reached and chose the wrong target. They didn’t go after funding inequity or poverty, they didn’t go after reform faddism or consultant profiteering or massive teacher turnover or politicized bureaucratic management or the overuse and misuse of testing. Instead, they went after collective bargaining, teacher tenure, and seniority. And they went after the universal public and democratic character of public education. Look again at the issues the corporate reformers have made prominent features of school reform efforts in every state: rapid expansion of charters, closing low performing schools, more testing, elimination of tenure and seniority for teachers, and test-based teacher evaluation. If every one of these policies was fully implemented in every state tomorrow, it would do absolutely nothing to close academic achievement gaps, increase high school graduation rates, or expand access to college. There is no evidence tying any of

State takeover of Oregon’s Education System? Comments Off

Posted on February 10, 2012 by dmayer

Oregon’s governor seems intent on building a “too big too fail” education system. Is any other state doing this? Scraping the entire system and building it from ground up as a big business headed by a CEO? Is Oregon’s Governor Kitzhaber on the verge of a major coupe? Is his plan to implement a new cradle to career education system governing every facet of education from nursery to preschool to K-12 to community college to state universities without public input a covert attempt to privatize much of Oregon’s public school system? Although it may be too soon to tell, the know details are troubling to educators and parents who have been left out of the conversation about this ambitious plan. Since August, 2011, a “skunk works” project has been in the works. LearnWorks, a team of about 30 members, most having no education expertise, have been charged with developing a new education system for the state. Not one parent or student group was represented on the LearnWorks team. The governor has also chosen top education advisors who are not educators, but who do have strong ties to Stand for Children (SFC). While SFC poses as a grassroots organization with a mission to teach everyday people how to join together in an effective grassroots voice in order to win concrete, long-lasting improvements for children, at both state and local levels, it is funded by the Billionaire Boys Club and exists primarily to influence elections at state and local levels. Knowing just this much about the governor’s plan is enough to raise eyebrows and pique curiosity. Over the past several months, members of Oregon Save Our Schools have been asking questions, giving testimony, and pleading with the governor to share information with the public about the plan and how much it will cost. The group coalesced over an immature rant at the Aspen Idea Festival when Stand for Children President Jonah Edleman exposed the organization to be a conduit to the Billionaire Boys Club that is intent on privatizing American public schools. It isn’t the first time skeptical Oregonians thought Stand for Children stands more for corporations than students. See Jonah rant. Stand for Children will spend the next couple of months promoting the LearnWorks plan to make sure Oregonian parents “buy-in” to it. This is the new way our democracy works: The governor appoints a small group of people to secretly develop a plan that will dramatically affect the lives of Oregon citizens, and all they get to do is “buy in” to it. To what extent are they expected to “buy-in?” We don’t know. The LearnWorks team was not burdened with the responsibility of creating a budget. Most Oregonians found out about the plan Friday when the headlines of The Oregonian read: Oregon to seek powerful ‘chief education officer’ to revamp preschool, public schools, colleges.

The chosen leader will need the vision to help Oregon streamline, improve and connect all the education programs and institutions that serve or should serve learners from birth through college, he said. He or she will also have to be an education expert, plus be able to motivate those who work in the current system to embrace change. The political challenges will be huge. Nevertheless, Kitzhaber said, “We are confident we can get a real star.”

The job is expected to pay about $280,000, a figure based on research into comparable positions in other states, said Tim Nesbitt, lead staffer for the overarching education board.

We might have expected this from a Republican governor. As far as I can see, Kitzhaber (D) is no different than so many Republican governors who have bashed teachers, quashed collective bargaining, and taken rights away from citizens. Only he has taken it more slowly and acted in the shadows. It is yet to be seen whether Oregonians will “take it” or stand up for themselves by protesting and demanding a say as citizens have done in Wisconsin, New York, and Ohio, and other places across the country. Yes, Oregon’s governor seems intent on building a “too big too fail” education system. Is any other state doing this? Scraping the entire system and building it from ground up as a business headed by a CEO? Please let me know in comments.

Diane Ravitch speaks at the National Opportunity to Learn Summit Comments Off

Posted on February 10, 2012 by dmayer

Are you listening President Obama? Arne Duncan? Bill Gates? Diane Ravitch is my hero because she learns from her mistakes. It’s not too late to follow her example. In the first paragraph of her speech she confesses that what she once thought was excellent education policy turned out to be devastating for children, teachers, and schools. She’s smart because she can see the effects of bad policy, and change her mind. Mr. President, Mr. Secretary, Mr. Gates, you can do the same, and you must if our children are going to have the education they deserve. Photobucket Diane’s very excellent speech:

1 NATIONAL OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN SUMMIT December 9, 2011 Diane Ravitch My theme for today: Whose children have been left behind? Let me tell you a little bit about myself. For many years, I was a strong advocate of testing, accountability, and choice. I worked in three conservative think tanks where these ideas were held sacred. In 1998, I went to Albany, New York, to testify on behalf of charter legislation. At the time I was connected to the conservative Manhattan Institute. I thought that testing would help diagnose the problems that children had and enable teachers to identify their needs. I thought that charters would enroll the kids who had failed in regular public schools or who were not well served by regular public schools. I thought that charters would collaborate with the public schools. In a book published last year, I said that I was wrong. I was wrong on every count. Testing should be used for diagnostic purposes, to help students and teachers, but it has turned into a blunt instrument that is used to reward and punish teachers and schools. Charters should serve the neediest, but, with some notable exceptions, they have become aggressive and entrepreneurial. Instead of seeking out the neediest students, many of them exclude the neediest students and skim the best. In some states, like Michigan, most of the charters are for-profit, with big dividends to the investors; their profits come right out of the public school budget and into the pockets of shareholders. In some states, like Ohio, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, virtual charter schools are making millions of dollars for their owners, while children sit home alone in front of a computer. These cyber charters get full state tuition, but they have no buildings, no playgrounds, no library, no custodian, no nurse, and few teachers. They often have one teacher to monitor 100 screens. For investors, it’s a great business, but the educational results are awful. In Colorado, for example, only 12% graduate from the Virtual Academy, compared to a statewide graduation rate of 78%. We have had a full decade of No Child Left Behind, and we now know that the law has been a disaster. True, it has documented the shocking gaps in passing rates between different groups of children, but it has done nothing to change the conditions that cause those gaps. We know the gaps are there; actually, we knew about the gaps long before NCLB was passed. Yet Congress is still patting itself on the back for identifying a problem and doing nothing meaningful to solve it. Many children are still left behind. We know who they are. In the year 2000, during the Presidential campaign, candidate George W. Bush told the nation about the Texas miracle. He said that there was a simple way to reduce the gaps: Just test every child every year, he said; reward the teachers and schools where the scores went up; and humiliate the teachers and schools where the scores went down. Texas did this, he said, and the gaps were closing; test scores were rising; graduation rates were going up; dropout rates were going down. He said that we had to end the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and set the same standards for all children, rich and poor, black and white, advantaged and disadvantaged. 2 After his election, Congress bought this story and passed No Child Left Behind. This law mandated that all children would be proficient by 2014 in grades 3-8. All children without exception. Bear in mind that no nation in the world has ever achieved 100% proficiency. Now we know the results of this absurd law. More than 80% of our schools have been labeled failing schools. By the year 2014, nearly 100% of our schools will be considered failures. Has any other national legislature in history ever passed a law guaranteed to label every single one of its schools a failure? I don’t know of any. We now know that NCLB was based on a phony claim. On national tests, Texas does not lead the pack; it’s right in the middle. We now know that the achievement gap did not close in Texas, and that dropout rates went up. But the whole nation is stuck with this testing regime. Let’s be clear about what NCLB has really accomplished: It has convinced the media and major philanthropies and Wall Street hedge fund managers that American public education is a failure and that radical solutions are required. The philanthropists and Wall Street hedge fund managers and Republicans and the Obama administration and assorted right wing billionaires have some ideas about how to change American education. They aren’t teachers but they think they know how to fix the schools. Their ideas boil down to this strategy: NCLB failed because we didn’t use enough carrots and sticks. They say that schools should operate like businesses, because the free market is more efficient than government. So these reformers—I call them corporate reformers—advocate market-based reforms. They say that states must hand public schools over to private management because the private sector will be more successful than the public sector. They say that teachers will work harder if they get bonuses when test scores go up. They say that teachers should have no job protections because workers in the private sector don’t have job protections, not even the right to a hearing. They say that if schools have low scores, they should be closed and replaced by new schools, just like a chain store—a burger franchise or a shoe store–would be closed if it didn’t make a profit; or the entire staff should be fired and replaced by new staff. They say that the quality of teachers should be judged based on whether their students’ scores go up or down. The Tea Party governors embraced this narrative and took it to the next level. They used their sweeping victories in 2010 to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public workers and to slash spending on public education, even as they demanded more funding for charters and vouchers. The mayor of New York City said a week ago that if he had the power to do it, he would fire half the city’s teachers, double the pay of those that remained, and double class size. He said when he went to school, he was in a large class and he turned out OK. He didn’t mention that his daughters went to schools where the class size was 12. My youngest grandchild attends kindergarten in a Brooklyn public school. He has a class size of 24. Under the mayor’s plan, his teacher would have a class of 48. None of them would get any individual attention. I don’t see this as progress, particularly because the evidence is clear and strong that minority children benefit most when class sizes are reduced below 20 in a classroom. So which children would be left behind? 3 We have now had ten years of No Child Left Behind, and we now know that there has been very little change in the gaps between the children of the rich and the children of the poor, between black children and white children, between Hispanic children and white children. Meanwhile our policymakers say we need higher standards, more rigorous standards, and more testing. How exactly will that help children who are struggling to read and do math? Or, in some cases, struggling to read and speak English? Or in the case of children with disabilities, how are they helped by harder tests? This is like saying, “if these children can’t jump over a four-foot bar, let’s lift the bar to six feet and see how they do.” Do you know how they will do? It seems obvious to me. Just this week, the federal government released the urban district test results and we could see that the gap remained as large as ever. After ten years of NCLB, the children at the bottom were still at the bottom. Those districts where poverty and racial segregation—such as Detroit and Washington, D.C.–are most concentrated had the lowest scores. But wait, some of the districts tested by the federal government have been actually implementing the market-based reforms advocated by the corporate reformers: New York City, which has had mayoral control since 2002; Washington, D.C., which has had mayoral control since 2007; Chicago, where Arne Duncan launched market-based reforms in 2001; and Milwaukee, which has had vouchers since 1990. Since the mayor took charge in 2002, New York City has enthusiastically imposed market-style reforms. It has more choice than any other major city—parents and students get to choose among 400 high schools, as well as more than 100 charter schools. All schools are given letter grades based on test scores. NYC spent $56 million on merit pay, then abandoned the program when it showed zero results. After nine years of market-based reforms, however, the achievement gap between black and white students is unchanged. On the federal tests, math scores are up but no more than in districts without market reforms. Eighth grade reading scores have been flat since 2003. Which children do you think were left behind? In Washington, D.C., there have been many claims in the media about sensational test score gains, but that’s not what you see on the latest federal tests. In fourth grade reading, the scores have been rising steadily since 2003, but not for all students. The scores of high-income students have gone up but the scores of black students, Hispanic students, and low-income students remain unchanged for the past four years. In eighth grade reading, scores are down for the past four years for black students, Hispanic students, and low-income students. And most importantly, the District of Columbia public school system has the largest achievement gap of any city in the nation between white and black students, a staggering 64 points in 4th grade, compared to an average of 30 points for all urban districts; and an equally staggering 58 points in eighth grade, compared to 28 points for all urban districts. So whose children were left behind? In Chicago, where Secretary Duncan’s reform program led to the closing of 100 neighborhood schools, only 18% of the new schools were judged successful by the state of Illinois. On the 4 NAEP for cities, Chicago continues to be one of the lowest performing in the nation. Since 2003, black and Hispanic students have seen no improvement in their reading scores in fourth grade. In eighth grade reading, there have been no gains whatever for black students or low income students since federal testing began in 2002, and no gains for Hispanic students since 2005. According to the latest research, the black-white achievement gap is larger now in Chicago than when the reforms began. In Milwaukee, after 21 years of vouchers, black students have among the lowest scores of any city tested, ranked at the bottom along with Detroit, Fresno, and Cleveland. Independent research has shown that the black and low-income students in Milwaukee’s voucher schools have the same low scores as the black students in the public schools. Their scores are about the same as those of poor black kids in the Deep South. Vouchers and competition did nothing for the children of Milwaukee. These children were left behind. And consider this: Tea-party governors know that vouchers do nothing to improve education, but they are pushing them anyway. The Governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, pushed through the first statewide voucher program in the nation. Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin got his conservative legislature to expand the Milwaukee program, to raise the income eligibility cap, so that more children could go to voucher schools, despite the evidence that vouchers don’t improve education. The whole point seems to be to decimate the public sector. And here is the latest voucher scandal. When Jeb Bush was governor of Florida, he pushed through a voucher program. The state courts struck down one part of the voucher program, the part for students in failing schools. But the courts did not eliminate the McKay Scholarships, which enabled students with disabilities to get vouchers to attend any school. Just this week, the Florida press revealed that some of the deregulated voucher schools are fly-by-night operations, conducted in storefronts, churches, and dingy homes, staffed by administrators and teachers with criminal records. They found students who spent their entire day filling out workbooks or hanging around a gymnasium watching television. One school had a class, described as “business management,” which consisted of shaking cans on street corners. Florida has pumped over $1 billion into this voucher program and Governor Scott wants to expand it to more deregulated schools. Whose children are left behind by these policies? From all the developments, experiences, and research of the past decade, here is what I have learned: First, charter schools have been portrayed as a silver bullet that will raise up every child, especially poor and minority children, but they are not. By their very nature, charters vary. Some are excellent, some get high scores but are boot camps where children are taught to obey without question, some are terrible. On the whole—and study after study shows this—charters don’t get different results from regular public schools. When I was active a decade ago with the Manhattan Institute, which is led by conservative business leaders, it was decided that the best way to market charter schools was to present them as a way to save minority children. This strategy, it was believed, would win liberal support for a very conservative idea. They were right. Liberals could not resist this narrative. 5 So today we see Wall Street hedge funders and billionaires saying that they are leading the civil rights movement of our time. I have trouble imagining Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., walking arm in arm with billionaires in a crusade to privatize control of public education. Dr. King understood that social movements need a mass base, and that they are not based in Wall Street. He knew that the civil rights movement depended on its moral authority as well as its ability to mobilize poor and working people in coalition with labor unions. He had no desire to privatize. He wanted to make private interests bow to the demands of the public interest. As I watch rightwing politicians doing their best to destroy the public sector unions, I recall that Dr. King was assassinated at the very time that he was fighting to organize the sanitation workers of Memphis. How dare they invoke his legacy to attack public education and public sector workers! We know—or we should know—that poor and minority children should not have to depend on the good will and beneficence of the private sector to get a good education. The free market works very well in producing goods and services, but it works through competition. In competition, the weakest fall behind. The market does not produce equity. In the free market, there are a few winners and a lot of losers. Some corporate reformers today advocate that schools should be run like a stock portfolio: Keep the winners and sell the losers. Close schools where the students have low scores and open new ones. But this doesn’t help the students who are struggling. No student learns better because his school was closed; closing schools does not reduce the achievement gap. Poor kids get bounced from school to school. No one wants the ones with low scores because they threaten the reputation and survival of the school. The goal of our education system should not be competition but equality of educational opportunity. There should not be a Race to the Top. What is the Top? Who will get there first? Will it be poor and minority students? Don’t count on it. The Top is already occupied by the children of the 1%. To be a healthy society, we must improve our public schools. We must provide better schools in every neighborhood. We must help the children who need help. We must treat our teachers and principals and administrators with respect. If they need support, they should get it. With all the talk about the achievement gap, it is important for you to know that there are two different achievement gaps. One is the gap between the children of the wealthy and the children of the poor. This gap has doubled in the past half century, as poverty and income inequality have increased. The racial achievement gap was actually cut in half in the 1970s and 1980s. Paul Barton of the Educational Testing Service attributed the shrinking of the racial achievement gap to the creation of federal assistance programs for the neediest children, such as Title I; to desegregation; to reduced class sizes; to early childhood education; and to increased economic opportunities for African-American families. He pointed out, however, that the racial achievement gap has remained almost unchanged since the 1980s. We now know that none of the current carrot-and-stick policies will shrink the gap. We know it because they have been tried for 10 years and they haven’t worked. Structural changes like charters and vouchers overall will not make a difference. Merit pay makes no difference. Judging teachers by test scores demoralizes teachers and will lead to narrowing of the curriculum—so that the districts where children have the lowest scores will have more time for test preparation 6 and less time for the arts, less time for history or civics, less time for science, less time for physical education. The children who need a great education the most will get the least. And many more children will be left behind. The entire current reform movement rests on a fanatical belief in standardized testing. Yet testing experts warn us that the tests should be used for diagnostic purposes, not to fire teachers and close schools. The basic rule of testing is that a test should be used only for the purpose for which it was designed. A test of fifth grade reading tests whether students can read at a fifth grade level; it is not a test of teacher quality. Testing experts warn that tests are subject to statistical error, measurement error, and human error. Sometimes the answer is wrong. Sometimes the question is wrong. Sometimes a thoughtful child will pick the wrong answer because it sounds plausible. One thing we know for certain about standardized testing. Poor and minority kids consistently get lower test scores than white and privileged kids. So why would we make testing the most important measure of education? Why would we take the technology that is most discouraging to children in the bottom half and then insist that it matters more than anything else? Why would we give more credibility to standardized tests than to teachers’ and parents’ judgments about children’s potential? In September, I visited Finland and I want to share with you what this tiny nation has accomplished. It regularly scores at the top of international tests in reading, mathematics, and science. It has the least variance from school to school, meaning that almost every school is a good school. Students in Finland never take a standardized test until they complete high school. Teachers in Finland are required to have a master’s degree. Teaching is a highly respected profession. Parents trust teachers. Teachers have autonomy to exercise professionalism. Every child has regular medical checkups and healthcare, at no cost. Schools have health clinics. Whereas more than 20% of our children live in poverty, less than 4% of Finnish children do. Higher education is tuition-free. Finland has no charter schools, no vouchers, no merit pay, no standardized testing. Instead, every teacher is trained to take care of the needs of individual children. If children are having learning problems, there are specialists and social workers in every school to take care of them early and provide whatever assistance is needed. Nearly half of all Finnish students get extra attention and services in the early years of schooling. Finland has no tracking. All children get the education and support they need to succeed in school. Finland does not have a longer school day or a longer school year. Finnish schools emphasize creativity, ingenuity, problem-solving, the arts, projects, activities, physical education, and risk-taking. By the way, Finnish teachers and principals belong to the same union. It doesn’t seem to be a problem. So what can we do? First, we should speak out when politicians say “there is no more money.” There is money to do what we want to do. There is money to fight wars in the Middle East. There is enough money to give big corporate cuts. There is enough money for 1% of this nation 7 to live lives of splendor. Why is there not enough money to provide the basic public services that every child needs? Every pregnant woman should have good pre-natal care and nutrition so that her child is born healthy. One of three children born to women who do not get good prenatal care will have disabilities that are preventable. That will cost society far more than providing these women with prenatal care. Every child should have the medical attention and nutrition that they need to grow up healthy. Every child should have high-quality early childhood education. Every school should have experienced teachers who are prepared to help all children learn. Every teacher should have at least a masters degree. Every principal should be a master teacher, not a recruit from industry, the military, or the sports world. Every superintendent should be an experienced educator who understand teaching and learning and the needs of children. Every school should have a health clinic. Schools should collaborate with parents, the local community, civic leaders, and local business leaders to support the needs of children. Every school should have a full and balanced curriculum, with the arts, sciences, history, civics, geography, mathematics, foreign languages, and physical education. Every child should have time and space to play. We must stop investing in testing, accountability, and consultants and start investing in children. Do we want to be a decent society or a decadent society? Do we want to nurture, protect and inspire all of our children? Do we want children who are leaders or followers? Do we want to make sure that this generation of young people is prepared to sustain our democracy? Do we want citizens prepared to ask questions or just to answer questions posed by authorities? We must stop the trash talk about our public schools and dedicate ourselves to making every one of them a school that is just right for all our children. Yes, it will cost more, but ignorance and neglect are much more expensive. Surely the greatest nation in the world can mobilize the will to do what is right for the children. It won’t be easy, it won’t be cheap, and it won’t be fast. Doing the right thing never is. The only simple part is to recognize that what we are doing now is not working and will never work. What we need is a vision of a good education for every child. We should start now. Today.

#Occupy Teach for America Comments Off

Posted on February 10, 2012 by dmayer

If you are a teacher, consider this. Occupy/Apply to Teach for America. When Wendy Kopp founded (wink, wink) Teach for America (TFA) with the help of million dollar contributions from some of America’s wealthiest corporate citizens, she barred teachers from joining. Only the best and brightest young Ivy Leaguers outside education were eligible to apply. While some of us would call that discrimination, government leaders and the wealthiest 1% showered TFA with the kind of grandiose monetary support that even the worthiest nonprofit organizations only fantasize about in their wildest dreams. (See TFA financial records here — still waiting for that 2010 tax return.) This year, for the first time, teachers are eligible to apply for teaching jobs through TFA. I discovered this quite by accident as I was reviewing the TFA website for Education Watch — it’s not the kind of thing the organization promotes. Why this unexpected change of heart? Could those at Teach for America finally be cognizant of the fact that untrained, inexperienced recruits do real harm to children as documented in Teach for America: a False Promise and many other studies? My guess is that no such soul searching (or data analysis) has occurred. More likely the change in policy was a condition required by the Department of Education in awarding TFA 50 million of our tax dollars in the latter part of 2010. Like Anthony Cody and teacherken, I am furious with NEA President Dennis Van Roekel for betraying educators by co-authoring a column in USA Today with Kopp about teacher quality. The backlash from angry educators cannot be harsh enough. At The Answer Sheet, Valerie Strauss interviewed Van Roekel about the obvious teacher dissatisfaction and asked the question: Has the NEA warmed up to Teach for America? Although Van Roekel says, “No,” his actions or inaction, speaks louder than that word:

“One of the things I’ve learned they do well is recruitment,” he said. “In the regular teaching profession we don’t have a recruitment process. They do. They identify certain students and go after them to get them to apply.”

A curious person might ask why the NEA has not addressed the problem of teacher recruitment, if indeed that is the problem. A couple of years ago I asked Lily Eskelsen, vice-president of NEA, that very question. “Why hasn’t the NEA taken a proactive role in placing professional teachers in school districts where TFA operates?” I asked. I know there are teachers who would gladly work in those schools. I said it’s not only that they take away teaching jobs, but after two or three years, TFA recruits land positions as charter school principals and superintendents making over $100,000 a year — not bad for having neither education credentials nor adequate experience to do the job. Eskelsen’s response was short-sighted to say the least. She said she routinely had a beer with a TFA rep and really didn’t see the organization as a threat to the profession. When I begged to differ and offered suggestions for combating the influence of TFA, she was dismissive and eventually cut off contact with me. I’m guessing she is still having that beer from time to time with the TFA guy though. Now that TFA is accepting teacher applicants, we may not need to combat their recruiting machine. We can take advantage of it. We can Occupy TFA and change the organization from the inside out. From Strauss:

In my interview with Van Roekel, he said his “basic premise” about Teach for America has not changed. That premise, he said, is that Teach for America’s basic strategy of asking for a two-year teaching commitment from recruits, and giving them five weeks of training before they start teaching in high-poverty schools on their own, has to change.

That sounds like an invitation to me! While I don’t support the mission or business practices of Teach for America, I do support a professional teacher in every classroom. Through exclusive contracts with school districts across the country, Teach for America has teaching jobs locked up. Certified teachers can’t get those jobs if they don’t apply for them through TFA. That makes Teach for America a logical place to #Occupy! Our only other choice is to do just what Van Roekel has done: recognize them as a force to be reckoned with and kowtow to their insidious practices and policies. Teach for America is a totally artificial construct of the 1% that enjoys the support of the President, both political parties and this country’s richest citizens, aka the Billionaire Boys Club. Essentially, it is a temp service, a jobs program for the elite. Its function is to bash teachers, destroy collective bargaining and teaching as a profession, and supply Ivy Leaguers with temporary teaching jobs on their way to real careers. While they are a detestable group, they do have access to the jobs. More Strauss on Van Roekel:

“Outright antagonism toward Teach for America doesn’t make much sense, he suggested. “They are not going away. They have too much money backing them. They are around the world now. If there are things we can learn from them, let’s take it. … It’s talking to people with whom we don’t agree on every issue. This is way too important to only talk to people we totally agree with.”

I disagree. If Teach for America were put out of business today, education wouldn’t suffer in the least, and thousands of children would get a better teacher. If NEA leaders don’t have the backbone to challenge TFA for the sake of our neediest children, then let them step aside because TFA has got to go! I’m proposing that licensed teachers apply for TFA jobs because all children deserve a professional teacher. Extraordinary situations call for extraordinary measures. Teach for America presents a perfect opportunity for the #Occupy movement to protest. If you are skeptical about my motives in suggesting this, don’t be. I have been a vocal critic of Teach for America for years — a few examples are here, here, here, and here. You must apply by February 10th, 2012. That is the final deadline for the 2012-2013 school year. If you have an earnest interest in becoming a teacher, please apply. Do it now. We only have a month to put a chink in the TFA armor this year, but next year — they’re going down! #Occupy Teach for America! APPLY NOW!

Occupy “American Teacher” — American Hoax Comments Off

Posted on February 10, 2012 by dmayer

The movie American Teacher finally premiered in Portland, Oregon, where I live. I had been curious to see it since it was promoted on ABC’s Education Nation in September. The movie is said to be based on the book, Teachers Have It Easy co-written by Ninive Calegari, Daniel Moulthrop, and Dave Eggers and first published in 2005. The movie had received glowing affirmations from National Education Association president, Dennis Van Roekel, and American Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingarten. It is narrated by Matt Damon who gave a passionate speech to teachers at the Save Our Schools March in Washington, D.C. this past summer. Finally, I was ready to be inspired by a film about teachers that would bring a modicum of respect and recognition to the profession. So, when four friends and I met up at the screening, what I hadn’t anticipated was that by the end of the film, I would feel betrayed and disappointed . . . again. Unlike Waiting for Superman, last year’s blockbuster propaganda piece, funded, produced, and promoted by the Billionaire Boys Club, American Teacher had no national release. It is appearing at in cities across the country, usually for a one night showing. There is no charge for admission, but there is an option to make a donation when you RSVP or show up at the door. Why such an unorthodox method of promotion and distribution? With the backing of the Billionaire Boys, why no national release? I did some research on American Teacher. What I found is disturbing and confusing. I’m sharing it so that you can ask thoughtful questions when the American Teacher tour comes to a theater near you. Join me below as I share my American Teacher experience. Before the movie began, author and producer Ninive Calegari, giving a brief introduction to the film, informed the audience that her 200 city tour had just expanded to include 300 more showings through the generosity of Bill Gates. That revelation evoked groans from many in the audience, including my friends and me. But, we vowed to be optimistic; to keep an open mind. Calegari then invited the entire audience to join her in a bar across the street for appetizers and drinks to discuss the movie afterward. The movie tells the stories of four teachers and the hardships they face working and living on a teacher’s salary. As a solution to the low salary issue, the movie offers TEP — The Equity Project, a charter school that pays all teachers $125,000 a year with a chance to earn a $25,000 bonus. According to the film and the Q & A after, TEP operates the school and pays eight teachers $125,000 each using only the per pupil expenditure funding from the government. “WOW! Remarkable! That’s amazing,” I thought. But, how can that be? Time for a reality check. If this charter school can pay teachers $125,000 a year, then why don’t all schools pay teachers more? Outside the theater my friend Kris and I stopped Calegari to ask a couple more questions. Our conversation went something like this:

“Is the principal at TEP a Teach for America entrepreneur?” I ask Calegari. She evades the question at first and eventually answers, “Yes, Zeke has figured this all out.” Zeke is Zeke Vanderhoek, principal of TEP. “Are class sizes much larger at TEP?” I ask, thinking that would be one way to pay larger salaries. Again she evades the question at first, but after some persistence from me, says she thinks class sizes are a little larger. “How many students are enrolled at TEP?” is my next question. She evades the question again, but finally says, “Let’s say 200.” Kris and I simultaneously do the math to determine the class size to be about 25. “That’s about average, small for Oregon,” we say. “Come inside and have a drink, and we’ll talk more about it,” she urges, visibly flustered. “I’d rather not imbibe on drinks paid for by Bill Gates,” I reply.” I just want to ask one more question about the money.” Kris is somewhat taken aback by my response. “Just look at the financial statements, it’s all there.” At this point Calegari becomes testy, hurls a couple of insults at me in response to my lack of appreciation for Gates’ hospitality, and excuses herself to go to the party. Kris politely offers her regrets to Calegari, and we leave.

I think she’s lying I told Kris as I remembered Pamela Meyer’s talk on TED about How to Spot a Liar. Lying is a cooperative act, and I wasn’t willing to indulge Calegari. So, I investigated American Teacher and TEP’s financial statements. The research generated more questions than answers. An alternate title for the film is The Teacher Salary Project. Slate magazine described the film this way: Dave Eggers and Matt Damon’s American Teacher is almost as flawed as last year’s big school reform movie, Waiting for Superman. Within the first few minutes of the movie, the big three make an appearance to espouse their views on education reform in regard to teacher compensation: Bill Gates, who has no education credentials but has positioned himself Education Czar; Arne Duncan, who has no education credentials but has been appointed Secretary of Education; and President Obama, who prescribes corporate charter schools staffed by those without credentials for children living in poverty. All three promote competition for funding among public schools and accountability though relentless standardized testing as keystones of education reform. All three send their children to elite private schools that subscribe to none of these reforms. Film synopsis from Slate:

In Brooklyn, Jamie Fidler spent $3,000 of her own money on classroom supplies. In the Dallas exurbs, Erik Benner works the night shift at a home improvement store to make ends meet. New Jersey elementary school teacher and Harvard grad Rhena Jasey can’t afford takeout when she gets home too late and exhausted to cook dinner. And Jonathan Dearman, a beloved San Francisco charter school teacher, quits his job because he can earn twice as much annually selling real estate—even in a “slow” year. These stories are engagingly told, and the movie effectively fights back against stereotypes that teachers are lazy and undereducated, with short, easy work days. Who wouldn’t want good folks like these four educators to earn more money for doing incredibly difficult work?

Truth be told, the title of the movie could be “American Worker” because most of the difficulties experienced by these teachers are not unique to the teaching profession. Workers in any occupation/profession may need to work a second job or find a better paying one to make ends meet these days. Jamie Fidler’s family leave problem is not unique to her profession. Moms in many professions face the issue of having to return to work in only six weeks, and many don’t even receive pay during their leave. Rhena Jasey has huge student loans to repay, but so do many, many students in this economy where tuition escalates, and Pell grants and scholarships are hard to come by. Unlike workers in most other fields, teachers know exactly how much money they will make before they enter the profession — salary schedules are public information. Would it be nice to be paid more? Of course, but the same holds true for any occupation or profession. So why all the concern over teacher pay? From Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholastic Project as reported in the Wall Street Journal:

The project has conducted in-depth studies of over 3,000 teachers on the attitudes and expectations of public school teachers . . . Of 15 items on the survey of things that might retain the best teachers, salaries ranked 11th, behind benefits.

If teachers rank salary as 11th on their list of concerns, why is Bill Gates promoting American Teacher and The Teacher Salary Project as an issue of great importance to teachers while ignoring and even thwarting their foremost concerns? My guess is to showcase TEP. NBC’s Education Nation promoted TEP at length. ABC’s 60 Minutes did a segment about the bold experiment conducted at TEP. The charter school professes to pay teachers $125,000 plus a year if they take on more responsibilities, give up benefits, and decline job security including protection offered by the union. But data compiled at Great Schools for America Education Watch, is in dispute with claims made by the movie and the media. Some discrepancies include: 1. IRS returns do not list one person as being paid more than $100,000. Since paying teachers $125,000 is the primary tenet of the school and the movie, this is either a major oversight or something more nefarious. Teachers agree to work other jobs and forgo benefits to earn the higher salary. So, why would the school make extraordinary claims and then forget to report compensation on its tax return? And, why if teachers are giving up benefits, does the school list over $90,000 in employee benefits? 2. TEP claims to enroll 480 students on its tax return, 2009-2010. The New York City Report Card sets that number at 125. Perhaps TEP intends to grow the school to 480 at some later date, but the IRS likes facts not aspirations. In its first year, 2009, The Equity Project Charter School enrolled 125 fifth-grade students. 3. The school is funded by more than the government per pupil expenditure. Both the annual report and tax returns state clearly that the school receives over a million dollars in local, state, and federal grants, and generous private contributions and loans in addition to the annual per pupil expenditure. According to the TEP’s web site, the school is seeking investors:

We are currently seeking one or more lead donors for the Bricks for Equity capital campaign to help fund construction of TEP’s new building. Facility naming opportunities are available!

According to Crain’s New York Business, Prudential made a $750,000 start-up loan to the Equity Project:

“We liked the model and concept, and when we met Zeke, we recognized we liked the guy putting it together,” said Preston Pinkett III, vice president of social investments at Prudential, which made a $750,000 loan to the school. “He’s bright, energetic and committed to making a difference.” TEP is facing the growing pains familiar to any startup. The school is housed in 15 temporary red trailers, and Mr. Vanderhoek needs to raise $10 million to build a $28 million facility on land purchased in Inwood.

4. Although the film makes no claim to providing its students with an adequate education, its state test results are dismal. According to the Annual School Report Card (Accountability and Overview Report 2009-2010, p. 13), only 24% of students tested proficient in language arts and 37% tested proficient in math. It seems that paying teachers much higher salaries does not buy an excellent education. 5. TEP’s principal claims that The Equity Project is scalable. Zeke Vanderhoek says the model can be replicated on a national basis so that teachers in communities across the country can make $125,000 a year plus $25,000 in bonuses. Since the data seems to infer that The Equity Project isn’t making it as a single school, Vanderhoek’s claim of scalability seems, at the very least, premature. So, what’s going on here? Why is American Teacher being promoted by Gates when it appears that the entire concept is a hoax? Why did our teacher unions promote this scheme when TEP is so obviously anti-union? Why are Teach for America darlings, who know nothing about education, being entrusted with the education of our most vulnerable children in the name of entrepreneurial education? I’m fairly certain if an honest-to-goodness educator went to the bank, presented this scheme, and requested a $750,000 loan, she’d be laughed out of the institution. Is the purpose of the movie to plant the seed of unrealistic expectations in the minds of teachers? Is the movie more than a hoax? Is the deception fraud? Are the presenters profiting off the deception? Is the presentation harmful? Of one thing I’m certain, with the Gates involvement, the show will likely go on. So, when American Teacher comes to your neighborhood theater, again you can check the schedule here, occupy the movie and ask tough questions. Have a drink on Gates — he can afford it, and let the producers know we can pay teachers adequately and give kids a great education without giving credence to this charade.

#Occupy Teach for America – Apply for a Job! Comments Off

Posted on February 10, 2012 by dmayer

If you are unemployed, listen up. If you are a college graduate, this may be a lead for you — especially if you are a teacher. Occupy/Apply to Teach for America. When Wendy Kopp founded (wink, wink) Teach for America (TFA) with the help of million dollar contributions from some of America’s wealthiest corporate citizens, she barred teachers from joining. Only the best and brightest young Ivy Leaguers outside education were eligible to apply. While some of us would call that discrimination, government leaders and the wealthiest 1% showered TFA with the kind of grandiose monetary support that even the worthiest nonprofit organizations only fantasize about in their wildest dreams. (See TFA financial records here — still waiting for that 2010 tax return.) This year, for the first time, teachers are eligible to apply for teaching jobs through TFA. I discovered this quite by accident as I was reviewing the TFA website — it’s not the kind of thing the organization promotes. Why this unexpected change of heart? Could those at Teach for America finally be cognizant of the fact that untrained, inexperienced recruits do real harm to children as documented in Teach for America: a False Promise and many other studies? My guess is that no such soul searching has occurred. More likely the change in policy was a condition required by the Department of Education in awarding TFA $50 million of our tax dollars in the latter part of 2010. Like Anthony Cody and teacherken, I am furious with NEA President Dennis Van Roekel for beraying educators by co-authoring a column in USA Today with Kopp about teacher quality. Although Van Roekel says, “No,” his actions or inaction, speaks louder. One of the things I’ve learned they do well is recruitment,” he said. “In the regular teaching profession we don’t have a recruitment process. They do. They identify certain students and go after them to get them to apply. An intelligent, curious person might ask why the NEA has not addressed the problem of teacher recruitment, if indeed that is the problem? A couple of years ago I asked Lily Eklensen, vice-president of NEA, that very question. “Why hasn’t the NEA taken a proactive role in placing professional teachers in school districts where TFA operates?” I asked. I know there are teachers who would gladly work in those schools. I said it’s not only that they take away teaching jobs, but after two years TFA recruits land positions as charter school principals and superintendents making over $100,000 a year — not bad for having neither education credentials nor adequate experience to do the job. Eklensen’s response was short-sighted to say the least. She said she routinely had a beer with a TFA rep and really didn’t see the organization as a threat to the profession. When I begged to differ and offered suggestions for combating the influence of TFA, she was dismissive and eventually cut off contact with me. I’m guessing she is still having that beer from time to time with the TFAer though, judging from NEA President Dennis Van Roekel’s recent public decision to cozy up to Kopp and co-author a column in USA Today about teacher quality. While I don’t support the mission or business practices of Teach for America, I do support a professional teacher in every classroom. Through exclusive contracts with school districts across the country, Teach for America has teaching jobs locked up. Certified teachers can’t get those jobs if they don’t apply for them through TFA. That makes Teach for America a logical place to #Occupy! Teach for America is a totally artificial construct of the 1% that enjoys the support of the President, both political parties and this country’s richest citizens. Essentially, it is a temp service, a jobs program for the elite. Its function is to bash teachers, destroy collective bargaining and teaching as a profession, and supply Ivy Leaguers with temporary teaching jobs on their way to real careers. While they are a detestable group, they do have the jobs. Valerie Strauss reports in the Answer Sheet: Outright antagonism toward Teach for America doesn’t make much sense, he suggested. “They are not going away. They have too much money backing them. They are around the world now. If there are things we can learn from them, let’s take it. … It’s talking to people with whom we don’t agree on every issue. This is way too important to only talk to people we totally agree with.” I disagree. NEA is a teacher’s union 3 million strong. Show some backbone, Van Roekel. Stop taking Gates’ money and protect the people that pay your salary. If Teach for America were put out of business today, education wouldn’t suffer in the least. I’m proposing that licensed teachers apply for TFA jobs because all children deserve a professional teacher. Extraordinary situations call for extraordinary measures. Teach for America presents a perfect opportunity for the #Occupy movement to protest. If you are skeptical about my motives in suggesting this, don’t be. I have been a vocal critic of Teach for America for years — some examples here, here, here, and here. You must apply by February 10th, 2012 That is the final deadline for the 2012-2013 school year. If you have an earnest interest in becoming a teacher, please apply. Do it now. #Occupy Teach for America! APPLY NOW!

The 1% v. the 99% on charter schools Comments Off

Posted on February 10, 2012 by dmayer

KIPP, Knowledge Is Power Program, charter schools have been highlighted in Outliers by Malcolm Galdwell. According to the publisher’s description, the author:

takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of “outliers”–the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different? His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing.

That sounds plausible, but the arguments Gladwell makes, especially for the success of poor minority children like Marita, leave me cold. As I read his story about this KIPP student, I wept for her and thousands of others like her. I could hardly contain my anger. If ever there was an argument against corporate charter schools, this has to be it. From this educators point of view, Outliers is a simplistic analysis of the success of some people. The book recognizes some factors that lead to success while conveniently ignoring others, like wealth and position. The chapter entitled Marita’s Bargain describes the day-to-day life of a middle school girl who attends a corporate public charter school. Gladwell makes it clear that her experience is typical of that of other students who attend KIPP. Below are some excerpts from Gladwell’s telling of her story. Marita begins:

I wake up at five-forty-five a.m. to get a head start. I brush my teeth, shower. I get some breakfast at school, if I am running late. Usually get yelled at because I am taking too long. I meet my friends Diana and Steven at the bus stop, and we get on the number one bus.

Marita’s morning is typical of most KIPP students. As if it were a point of pride with South Bronx KIPP Academy administrator David Levin, he polls Marita’s music class of 70 students to find that three-quarters rose before 6:00 a.m., half of those before 5:30 a.m. One boy, Jose, wakes up at 3:00 – 4:00 a.m., finishes his homework, and then goes back to sleep for a bit. Twelve-year-old Marita is African-American as are the majority of students at KIPP, the rest are Hispanic. She lives with her mother in a one bedroom apartment in the Bronx. She went to a parochial school until her mother heard about KIPP. As Marita recalls:

When I was in the fourth grade, me and one of my other friends Tanya applied to KIPP. I remember Miss Owens. She interviewed me, and the way she was saying made it sound so hard I thought I was going to prison. I almost started crying. And she was like, if you don’t want to sign this, you don’t have to sign this. But then my mom was right there, so I signed it.

Marita is at school weekdays from 7:25 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.(but some students stay until 7:00 p.m); Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.; and summers 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The school day breaks down like this: 30 minutes of thinking skills, 90 minutes of English, 90 minutes of math, 60 minutes of science, 60 minutes of social studies, 60 minutes of music twice a week, and 75 minutes of orchestra once a week. Levin proudly states that students at KIPP spend fifty to sixty percent more time learning in the classroom than students in traditional schools. Marita continues to describe her day after school:

I leave school at five p.m. and if I don’t lollygag around, then I will get home around five-thirty. Then I say hi to my mom really quickly and start my homework. And if it’s not a lot of homework that day, it will take me two or three hours, and I’ll be done around nine p.m. Or if we have essays, then I will be done like ten p.m., or ten-thirty p.m. Sometimes my mom makes me break for dinner. I tell her I want to go straight through, but she says I have to eat. So around eight, she makes me break for dinner for like, a half hour, and then I get back to work. Then usually after that, my mom wants to hear about school, but I have to make it quick because I have to get in bed by eleven p.m. So I get all my stuff ready, and then I get into bed. I tell her all about the day and what happened, and by the time we are finished, she is on the brink of sleeping, so that’s probably around eleven-fifteen. Then I go to sleep, and the next morning we do it all over again. We are in the same room. But it’s a huge bedroom and you can split it into two, and we have beds on the other sides. Me and my mom are very close. Sometimes I don’t go to sleep when I’m supposed to. I go to sleep at, like, twelve o’clock and the next afternoon, it will hit me. And I will doze off in class. But then I have to wake up because I have to get the information. I remember I was in one class, and I was dozing off and the teacher saw me and said, “Can I talk to you after class?” And he asked me “Why were you dozing off?” And I told him I went to sleep late. And he was, like, “You need to go to sleep earlier.”

Although Gladwell writes profusely about how expertise in one’s field is achieved after 10,000 hours of study, mentoring, and practice in one’s chosen profession, he fails to mention that Levin has no education background or expertise and that KIPP hires people, many of whom are Teach for America corps members who lack education credentials, to staff its schools. They seem to think that more time and more tasks make a better educated student. In other words, the administration and staff of KIPP schools have no idea how to educate children, and students like Marita are paying the price for it. Gladwell summarizes his observation of Marita with these words:

She has the hours of a lawyer trying to make partner, or a medical resident. . . Marita’s life is not the life of a typical twelve-year-old. Children, we like to believe, should have time to play and dream and sleep. Marita has responsibilities . . . Her community does not give her what she needs. So what does she have to do? Give up her evenings and weekends and friends — all the elements of her old world — and replace them with KIPP.

Marita has responsibilities! Marita must be held accountable or else her teacher will lose her job and the community will lose its school. Marita has HUGE responsibilities! Marita admits to having no friends in her neighborhood since she enrolled at KIPP. Yet, knowing full well the the enormity of the price Marita must pay for her education, Gladwell gushes over KIPP:

The miracle school that transforms losers into winners is, of course, all too familiar. It’s the stuff of inspirational books and sentimental Hollywood movies.

According to Gladwell, a KIPP education is a gift to kids like Marita, a bargain for the promise of a better future. How could Marita’s commitment be a bad bargain? Children like Marita are lucky to have a school like KIPP. KIPP is a national network of 99 KIPP public schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia enrolling more than 26,000 students. KIPP schools gained national prominence when President George W. Bush appointed Rod Paige Secretary of Education. Paige was the first to give credence to KIPP, even though it was only a couple of years old at the time and had no track record of excellence. For some inexplicable reason, President Obama has chosen to follow the misguided direction chosen by his predecessor. Do President Obama and First Lady Michelle choose Marita’s life for their daughters? (There is a KIPP in Washington, D.C.) Does Arne Duncan choose such a life for his children? Does Bill Gates, who funds such schools, send his children off to KIPP? NO. They all choose expensive, elite private schools for their children. That’s why it makes no sense that they support corporate charter schools for our poorest children of color. The practice smacks of racism and elitism. Even if the aforementioned parents did send their children off to KIPP and insisted they adhere to the life schedule required of Marita, all day – every day, educators cannot support such a program. It’s cruel. We need to strengthen and enrich community schools, not abandon them in favor of hateful, misguided charters like KIPP. In explaining KIPP’s perceived success, Gladwell expounds:

The Kipp program represents one of the most promising new educational philosophies in the United States. But its success is best understood not in terms of its curriculum, its teachers, its resources, or some kind of institutional innovation. KIPP is, rather, an organization that has succeeded by taking the idea of cultural legacies seriously.

In chapters previous to “Marita’s Bargain” in Outliers, Gladwell describes several cultural legacies. Among them, a rice paddy culture found in China/Asia and another, the Italian-American community of Roseto, Pennsyvania. KIPP, he says, is based on a rice paddy culture. Without going into detailed explanations here, suffice it to say, KIPP has chosen the model of the ancient, back-breaking life of the Chinese rice paddy workers for our poorest children. (To fully understand his convoluted logic connecting the rice paddy culture to KIPP, one must delve more deeply into the book.) In another chapter, Gladwell describes a culture rich in tradition, a community interwoven with intricate layers of support for its members. Roseto is a healthy, happy community with a particularly egalitarian ethos, a community which discourages the wealthy from flaunting their success and helps the unsuccessful obscure their failures. This educator prefers Roseto-like communities to rice paddy cultures. Why doesn’t Gladwell? Why don’t our government leaders? If we require our most vulnerable students to pay for their education by sacrificing their childhood and community, what does that say about Americans as a people? Roseto or rice paddies? The answer is easy for me. All children deserve to attend nice schools with before and after school childcare in their own communities. They deserve a reasonable school day, week and year. They are children, after all. They deserve to be taught by professional teachers who know how kids learn. And, they deserve time to be kids, to play, to dream, to make friends, and to be free to make their own choices having nothing to do with school and tests. This is the KIPP mantra that Levin requires students to chant regularly: Knowledge is power Power is money And I want it. Would you send your child to this school? KIPP is only the tip of the iceberg. Many other CMO’s, or corporate management organizations, exist — robbing the education treasury of precious dollars, the teaching profession of precious jobs, and children of an irreplaceable childhood. A list of CMOs (incomplete but growing) may be found at EdWatch at Great Schools for America. We must do right by our children — all our children. We can do better. We have a choice. Rice paddies or Roseto?

Why “Education Watch”? Comments Off

Posted on February 10, 2012 by dmayer

Some of the richest people in America are taking an unhealthy interest in our public schools. They want to own them. So, maybe we should pay attention to what they are doing. Education Watch profiles organizations that are funded by the very rich. Eli Broad, Bill Gates, The Walton Family, The Dells, Dennis Bakke, and several to-big-to-fail financial institutions are of particular interest along with many others also peaking our interest. As we expand our Education Watch, the questions raised become curiouser and curiouser. For example:

  • Why is Bill Gates so intent that every child have a college education when he is not a college graduate himself?
  • Why do the Broad and Gates initiatives, the NewSchool Venture Fund in particular, support so many programs that so blatantly dismiss the idea that teachers should be schooled in the art of teaching before entering a classroom?
  • Why do the very rich support organizations such as Teach for America that think the classrooms of poor children should be staffed with people who are not teachers?
  • Why do Broad and Gates, who have no education training between them, think they have all the answers about staffing and running our schools?
  • Do these private corporations (CMOs) own our public schools as Dennis Bakke suggests?
  • Why would our government give hundreds of millions of dollars to a for-profit corporation like Imagine Schools, Inc. organization?

Through Education Watch, we collect data about the private organizations that are replacing our traditional public schools. An extraordinary amount of private funding, as well as government funding, has gone into charter management networks (CMO) that isn’t available to regular public schools. We hope to track the funding to determine the cost per pupil at these much touted “superior” charter schools. This task has proven difficult because the annual reports of these organizations are sketchy at best on financial information. While they are quick to flaunt standardized test scores of children, they are remiss in sharing dollar amounts spent on them. Since our local, state, and federal governments pump millions into our public schools, would it be too much to ask for disclosure of all funding to these CMOs that purport themselves to be the answer to our education woes? Education Watch is a perpetually evolving project. As information becomes available, we will post it, analyze it, and draw conclusions from it. We will connect the dots to present the bigger picture. We will engage those who would dismiss the field of education and the teaching profession as secondary to all others. We say to Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Dennis Bakke, and all you other very rich elitists who see the education profession as easy pickens, back off. You’re not getting our public schools, our teaching and administration jobs, and ultimately our children without a fight! Anyone with information to offer for our Education Watch page, please send a resourced link or message to mail@greatschoolsforamerica.org.