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Shameless Self Promoter Withering… But…

July 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Jeff Bryant’s Salon post yesterday gleefully described Michelle Rhee’s fall from glory but noted that someone is waiting in the wings to carry the privatization flam forward.

Bryant’s article recounts StudentsFirst’s loss of revenue, closing of schools, and overall loss of luster in the eyes of the mainstream media and— more importantly– in the eyes of donors. Bryant describes Rhee’s base of support as follows:

Supported by shadowy money and shaky science, these wealthy folks have created a “blame teachers first” campaign that seeks to address education problems rooted in inequality and low investment by attacking teachers’ job protections and professional status. Their efforts are, of course, “for the children.”

Bryant provides examples of StudentsFirst’s diminishing clout as a force for reform and provides many links to the work of bloggers and journalists who undercut Rhee’s claims of “success” in Washington DC and provides evidence of the stonewalling that continues to this day regarding cheating incidents that might have contributed to the marginal test score increases that occurred during Rhee’s tenure. All of this has led to Rhee’s decline in prominence…. but… as Bryant notes, the “blame teachers first” crowd is not cowed by the lack of results or the lack of evidence regarding the privatization movement. They’ve gravitated toward a new icon: CNN’s Campbell Brown. Here’s Bryant’s overview of Brown’s ascension, which is being propelled based on some bogus scare tactics that seem to be getting traction despite their lack of grounding in reality. I’ve added some emphases:

With Rhee and StudentsFirst sinking under the weight of over-promises, under-performance, and unproven practices, the Blame Teachers First crowd is now eagerly promoting Campbell Brown.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Brown launched the group Partnership for Educational Justice, with a Veraga-inspired lawsuit in New York State to once again dilute teachers’ job protections, commonly called “tenure.” The suit clams students suffer from laws “making it too expensive, time-consuming and burdensome to fire bad teachers.”

An article in The Washington Post noted, “Brown has raised the issue of tenure in op-edsand on TV programs such as ‘Morning Joe.’ But she may be just getting warmed up.”

Actually, Brown has already been warmed up and is plenty ready to take the mound and pitch. As the very same article noted, Brown started her campaign against teachers some time ago, claiming that the New York City teachers’ union was obstructing efforts to fire teachers for sexual misconduct. Unfortunately for Brown, the ad campaign conducted by her organization Parents Transparency Project failed to note that, as The Post article recalled, at least 33 teachers had indeed been fired. “The balance were either fined, suspended or transferred for minor, non-criminal complaints.” Oops.

Further, as my colleague Dave Johnson recalled at the time, Brown penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal accusing the teachers’ union of “trying to block a bill to keep sexual predators out of schools.” It turned out, the union wanted to strengthen the bill, not stop it. Double oops.

Nevertheless – or as The Post reporter put it, “undaunted” – Brown has now decided to take on teacher personnel policies on behalf of, she claims, “millions of schoolchildren being denied a decent education.”

Bryant provides a detailed analysis of the funders of the Blame Teachers First crowd and highlights research conducted by Rutgers professor Bruce Baker which concludes that:

…finding enough good teachers to staff its schools – especially those serving high-needs kids – is not obstructed by tenure or seniority policies but more so due to the fact it “is abundantly clear that New York State school districts – especially those serving the state’s neediest children – lack the ability to pay the necessary wages to recruit and retain the workforce they need.

But addressing that issue would require the Rhee-Brown campaign to attack a different target instead – not teachers, but political leaders and lobbyists who influence legislation that keeps teacher compensation inadequate and school districts underfunded.

Sadly, those of us who are committed to making substantive changes to public education are mis-labelled as defenders of the status quo and/or union sympathizers while those who want to reinforce the current structure with standardized testing are called “innovators” and “reformers”… and the media are only too happy to emphasize this false dichotomy.



Cuomo’s Anti-Corruption Commission: BIG Oops!

July 23, 2014 1 comment

I just received a “breaking news” email from the NYTimes” that had a link to a lengthy investigation article “Cuomo’s Office Hobbled State Ethics Inquiry. This in depth article by Times reporters

What resulted provided a grim assessment of state government as “a pay-to-play political culture driven by large checks,” and offered a long menu of recommendations to curtail the influence of money in Albany.

The commission also unsettled the governor when they began digging into lobbies that were designed to keep the names of donors anonymous. Why? It seems that:

…the biggest lobbying spender in 2011 and 2012 was one that was created to support the governor’s own agenda: the Committee to Save New York, which spent more than $16 million and did not disclose where its money came from.

The governor’s office responded to this NYTimes article with a 13 page rebuttal full of non-sequitors. As the article reported, Cuomo created this “independent commission” to “…root out corruption in state politics”, and made multiple assertions that the commission that could look at anything they wanted to look at including “… me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman”… but once a commission started rooting out corruption in HIS sphere he changed his thinking. His 13 page rebuttal is now asserting that “A commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive” because “It is a pure conflict of interest and would not pass the laugh test.” As I noted in a comment left on this article, at least one reader is laughing in bewilderment at this logic!

What does all of this have to do with public education? Readers of this blog and followers of “charter school politics” recall that in the clash between Bill deBlasio and charter maven Eve Moskovitz Cuomo appeared at Moskovitz’ rally supporting her for-profit charter school’s demand for free space in public school facilities while deBlasio was rallying to get more funds for NYC schools. Was this part of the “pay-to-play political culture driven by large checks”? I was hoping the Moreland Commission might find out the answer to that question… and hoping the NYTimes might be looking for the answer as well. The Moreland Commission is out of business but the Times still has a chance to get an answer… here’s hoping someone at the Times will ask.

Expect More: It’s Easy, Fast and Cheap!

July 22, 2014 Leave a comment

David Leonard’s Upshot article in today’s NYTimes describes the results from a recent study completed by Andreas Schleicher, the director of education and skills research at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the group that brought us the PISA test. According to the OECD, US Principals are more likely than their counterparts in other parts of the world to “…believe that many of their students come from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes.”  The study also reports that “Based on the views of principals, a larger share of children in the United States are “socioeconomically disadvantaged” compared with those in Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, Romania and various other countries. 

Leonard offers a rationale for the first finding:

The usual caveats about correlation and causation apply, though. It’s also possible that an outside factor is driving the results of the survey question. The United States, for example, has an extensive and high-profile program of subsidizing lunches for lower-income children. If that program were driving principals’ definition of socioeconomic disadvantage, and other countries did not have similar programs, it could explain why this country is an outlier in the survey. In that case, American principals may or may not have lower academic expectations of their students.

Neither the OECD nor Mr. Leonard posed the question about the student demographics of “…Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, Romania and various other countries” but I would guess that none of those countries offer universal education to all students through high school and that many of them do not have or aggressively enforce child labor laws. Given those assumptions, it may be true that those countries, in fact, do have fewer “socioeconomically disadvantaged” children in their schools. I did some quick Google research and, using some of the data and some back-of-the-envelope lowball estimates offered the following comment:

Your notion that the principals answered honestly based on free and reduced lunch counts is plausible given the number of students who now qualify for that program, which is a proxy for “sociological disadvantage”. It is interesting that Mr. Schleicher is willing to suggest causality between expectations and performance based on the answer to a question posed to school principals on a questionnaire whose statistical basis is arguable but is unwilling to acknowledge ANY causality between poverty levels and academic performance as measured by a (presumably) valid standardized test (e.g. the PISA). Most voters and taxpayers like the notion that all you need to do is expect more from students and they will perform better academically. It’s an easy, quick and cheap fix to a complicated problem that requires time and— yes—money. 

Add “set higher expectations” to the long list of agreeable fantasies that fuel the fire of those who want easy, quick, and, most of all, CHEAP fixes to improving public education.