Author Archive

Governor Brown’s Appeal

September 2, 2014 Leave a comment

CA Governor Jerry Brown and AG Kamila Harris are appealing the decision of Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu to abandon tenure in CA as part of his Vergara vs. California lawsuit brought “on behalf of children” by Students Matter, an organization largely underwritten “…by a Silicon Valley technology millionaire, David Welch.” Mr. Welch’s logic is that since the schools serving students raised in poverty perform poorly on standardized tests it MUST be the poor teaching that causes this and the poor teachers are in the classroom because they have “tenure”.

But here’s the problem with the ruling: contrary to the judge’s assertion in rendering his decision it isn’t based on any factual information. Read this paragraph (with my emphasis added) to see where I draw this conclusion:

In a one-page appeal filed late Friday afternoon, Mr. Brown and the state attorney general, Kamala D. Harris, argued that a decision of such scope needed to be made by a higher court, and that the judge in this case had declined a request by the governor and attorney general “to provide a detailed statement of the factual and legal bases for its ruling.” 

Presumably if the judge HAD provided the “detailed statement of the factual and legal basis for the ruling” AND Brown and Harris were convinced the facts and legal basis supported the ruling they might have thought twice about proceeding with an appeal… but absent this analysis, even though the judge claimed the evidence was “compelling” and “shocked the conscience”, the ruling should be challenged.

I am sure it is no accident that the timing of this appeal– which was driven by the timing of the lawsuit– comes as the gubernatorial election is about to begin. I am sure that the billionaire computer magnate figured out that Brown would be forced to either abandon the teachers or “fight against the removal of incompetent teachers” in the coming months. Kudos to Jerry Brown and Kamila Harris for standing up to evidence based decision making!

Roots of Charter Schools

September 2, 2014 Leave a comment

A NYTimes article describes the roots of charter schools, and they are not where you might think. According to “The Original Charter School Vision” by Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter, they were the brainchild of AFT leader Albert Shanker who envisioned a “…new kind of public school where teachers could experiment with fresh and innovative ways of reaching students.” They described a visit Shanker made to Germany in the mid-1980s where he witnessed economically and ethnically diverse schools led by teams of teachers, schools whose performance exceeded that of traditional German schools because their programs matched the needs of the student population instead of conforming to the traditional German paradigm.

When I read this, I was unsettled, because I had a different recollection, one that was based on an article I read several years ago and managed to find through a Google search. The monograph by Ted Kolderie gave Ray Budde, a UMass-Amherst credit for the original idea that somehow found its way to Al Shanker…. and while I may be making this up… I also seem to recall reading that one of the rationales for Shanker proposing this idea was to get ahead of the then nascent privatization movement. In the late 1980s when Shanker proposed this, there were already some rumblings from the Friedman economists and political acolytes that vouchers were the answer to the problems facing public education (see my previous posts recounting the impact of the Nation at Risk on defining public schools as “failing”).  While vouchers were still seen by most as a fringe idea, they seemed to be gaining traction among Republicans and Shanker, sensing this, effectively counter-proposed charters.

While the ultimate attribution of the “invention” of charters is unimportant, I DO think the context of the times is important, and having lived through and led schools during the 1980s and 1990s I can recall an emerging sense that our traditional model was failing. Indeed, Kahlenberg and Potter write that Albert Shanker “…estimated that only one-fifth of American students were well served by traditional classrooms,” thug he was more concerned with social justice issues than the business preparedness or international competitiveness that consumed the Reagan administration leaders.

Like “school reform”, the term “charter schools” has been expropriated by the business community and turned into something that can yield a handsome profit. Unlike Shanker’s vision, though, privatized charter’s are top-down hierarchical organizations that focus on engineering the traditional factory model of schooling and treat teachers as replaceable parts on the factory floor. If the media thought Al Shanker was indignant in the 70s and 80s, I cannot imagine what they would think of him today.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Remembering “A Nation At Risk” Part II

September 1, 2014 Leave a comment

The seeds for high stakes testing were planted in “A Nation at Risk”… and the groundwork for high stakes testing was laid the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1987 I was appointed Superintendent in Washington County MD where I was quickly introduced to the work of John Murphy, celebrated Superintendent of Schools in Prince Georges (PG) County. The President of the County Commissioners arranged for me and the Board president to join him in what can only be described as a pilgrimage to Prince George’s County to witness Dr. Murphy’s miraculous transformation of public schools. As noted in the link to Dr. Murphy’s obituary, he was credited with improving PG county’s stature by increasing its standardized test scores. What our county commissioner liked was the WAY he did this: he had a conference room plastered with test results from each school and convened periodic private meetings with principals to make sure they knew how important the improvement of test scores was to him and the school board. If a Principal was unsuccessful at increasing test scores, they would be replaced. In short, Dr. Murphy was using what became the SOP of today: “no-excuses-data-driven-management”.

On the two hour ride back to our district the county commission president shared anecdotes about the horrible leadership at the building level, the terrible teachers in the classroom, and “the fact” that high expectations are more important than more money. In short, he hoped our district would embrace some kind of system like PG County. Evidently, he was not alone in his belief that “money was not the solution to improving schools”… and Dr. Murphy’s results in PG County were getting state and national attention. Change was about to happen in MD as well… in the form of a Report Card that would be issued to every county on an annual basis.


While I DID and DO agree that data collection and analysis is helpful in identifying ways to improve a school district, I DID NOT and DO NOT see a single metric as sufficient and— because of my experiences with Dr. Renzulli and trying to use item analyses from off-the-shelf standardized tests to inform instruction— was ESPECIALLY suspicious of national norm-referenced tests as a valid measure. I was pleased that Nancy Grasmick, the State Superintendent in MD at the time of the advent of Report Cards, and the majority of my colleagues shared this perspective. We made sure the Report Card included more than test results, offered data on school spending, provided disaggregated test data, and was presented in a thoughtful and comprehensive way to the media.

I was distressed to see that in order to receive a waiver for RTTT, Maryland had to abandon its tests and, presumably, the Report Card system that they had in place. For one short time period in the early 1990s it looked like States would be providing legislators and voters with timely and helpful information on what schools needed to be successful. Sadly, that time has passed and we are left with the hollow test scores as the sole metric for school performance.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

Remembering “A Nation At Risk” Part I

August 31, 2014 Leave a comment

A recent blog post from Diane Ravitch described the huge impact “A Nation at Risk” had on the public when it was issued. Many of the commenters lamented the fact that the mainstream media ignored the Sandia report, released in the early 1990s, which contradicted virtually all of the findings of the “Nation at Risk” report.

I began my service as Superintendent of Schools in 1981 and can attest to the outsize impact of “A Nation at Risk”. When it was published, I recall receiving enough copies for me to distribute to my school board members and administrators and advised that additional copies would be available for free or at least at cost. Like many of my colleagues, we saw this report as a means of waking the public to the need to support their public schools and to show that OUR schools were not “at risk”. By the time I took over my second assignment as Superintendent in Exeter NH, in 1984 we began examining our standardized test scores to see how we might improve on them. My assistant and I worked with the representatives of the company that published the standardized tests used in NH at that time and found a way to use the item analyses to determine the areas of the curriculum that contributed to our failure to achieve scores in the 95th percentile instead of the 85th percentile.

At one point during my four years at Exeter we received a grant from an anonymous donor for $10,000 to institute a program for gifted and talented students. The grant DID have on condition: we had to hire Joseph Renzulli as a consultant. While I was unfamiliar with Renzulli’s work at the time, my assistant had worked with him in CT and enthusiastically endorsed his work. At our first meeting with him, he asked me what I hoped to accomplish by implementing the gifted and talented program. I responded that I wanted to increase our test scores from the 85th percentile to the 95th percentile. He asked me why and I was taken aback. After a moment’s hesitation I gave this very bad response: “Why… because 95 is bigger than 85″. What followed was my first lesson in the hollowness of standardized test scores.

Unfortunately, I would need to wait two decades to get to a district where STATE standardized test scores and AP results no longer mattered and witness the advent of high stakes testing that continues unabated to this day.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Private Public Partnerships: A Failed Magic Bullet

August 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Private Public Partnerships, or P3s, are one of the recent “silver bullets” proposed by those who want to “run government like a business”. But, as reported in the Pittsburg Post Gazette, these P3s are not quite as effective as advertised. First, some background on the P3s taken from the Gazette’s article:

President Ronald Reagan‘‍s plea to “get government off our backs” inspired a mistrust of government’‍s ability to efficiently provide roads, schools and other vital services at a cost taxpayers can afford. Mr. Reagan encouraged the belief that the private sector can do a better job. The result was replacing government workers with private sector workers who mow lawns around government buildings, collect trash, operate school cafeterias and buses, and provide other services under government contracts.

P3s are more far-reaching undertakings than hiring private companies as contractors. They involve turning over infrastructure to private investors who can design it, finance it, build it, operate it, and maintain it.

The ventures are attractive to cash-starved governments, which sometimes get hefty upfront payments. Even when they don‘‍t, investor funds enable governments to take on projects they might not otherwise be able to afford. The deals also fit many taxpayers’‍ notions about cutting waste, eliminating bureaucracy, and running government more like a business.

The article describes one of the celebrated P3 failures, Chicago’s decision to privatize parking meter collections that ultimately resulted in the city receiving “…$974 million less from the 75-year lease than it would have received by keeping the meters and operating them under the same terms it gave to the investors” but DID result in Morgan Stanley, who operates the system, receiving $61,000,000 reimbursement for “lost opportunities” when streets were closed for festivals and over $43,000,000 in profits. So, the Morgan Stanley shareholders got over $100,000,000 in profit while taxpayers lost the chance to save $974,000,000 on their bill. THIS is a good deal?

The four part series describes other adverse consequences of P3s that result primarily from overly optimistic revenue forecasts. For example, when a highway is built based on a long-range forecast based on a baseline of, say, 8 million fee-paying customers and only 7 million drivers participate, it results in the need to charge higher fees which, in turn, reduces the customer base even further. And what happens if the loan payments cannot be paid? No problem: the loans are backed by the federal government!

So… to recount: taxpayers don’t trust the government to build highways so they support having the government turn over the operation to the private sector who, in turn, earns profits or gets bailed out by the taxpayers if their revenue estimates are too high. Oh… and by charging fees they limit the use of these highways to those who can afford fees! Oh again… and because they are PRIVATE corporations their construction methods are not subject to public review or scrutiny.

Bottom line: P3s are an anti-democratic example of profiteering at its worst. They are a lose-lose proposition for taxpayers and a win-win proposition for shareholders.



So IS the Common Core Mandated or not?

August 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes has an article my Mokoto Rich reporting that Oklahoma lost its waivers because it failed to adopt the Common Core and did poorly on “…national tests. In 2013, only a third of fourth graders in the state reached proficiency in math and less than a third hit the benchmark in reading.” Waivers WERE granted to KS, VA, and IN even though they failed to adopt the Common Core. VA and IN “…adopted… standards that have been certified by the state’s universities”  but KS did not. The article is a muddle… but it’s really not Rich’s fault. The article is a muddle because the whole waiver process is a muddle. KS evidently GOT a waiver WITHOUT adopting the Common Core because, I goes, they didn’t do as poorly as OK on the standardized tests?

It’s all very confusing… which is why VT’s decision to sidestep the whole waiver process and have their school’s declared “failing” by NCLB seems to be the most sensible step in the Alice-in-Wonderland Waiver World of RTTT.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

The bad teacher conspiracy

August 29, 2014 Leave a comment


I was going to write a post on this… but I hereby surrender to the Mathbabe. She does a GREAT job eviscerating the arguments implicit in this article. BTW, as noted in an earlier post, there IS no tenure!

Originally posted on mathbabe:

Any time I see an article about the evaluation system for teachers in New York State, I wince. People get it wrong so very often. Yesterday’s New York Times article written by Elizabeth Harris was even worse than usual.

First, her wording. She mentioned a severe drop in student reading and math proficiency rates statewide and attributed it to a change in the test to the Common Core, which she described as “more rigorous.”

The truth is closer to “students were tested on stuff that wasn’t in their curriculum.” And as you can imagine, if you are tested on stuff you didn’t learn, your score will go down (the Common Core has been plagued by a terrible roll-out, and the timing of this test is Exhibit A). Wording like this matters, because Harris is setting up her reader to attribute the falling scores to bad teachers.

Harris ends her piece with a reference…

View original 473 more words

Categories: Uncategorized