Archive for June, 2013

Emanuel Not Wasting a Manufactured “Crisis”

June 28, 2013 Comments off

When he was Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahn Emanuel famously quipped “never let a crisis go to waste” when the economy went in the tank. Many Obama voters— or at least THIS Obama voter— thought that meant a second coming of the New Deal. Instead, we have the second coming of Milton Friedman!

Faced with a vacancy on the Chicago School Board due to billionaire Penny Pritzker’s appointment to Obama’s cabinet, Emanuel is recommending Deborah Quazzo, described in a Schooling in the Ownership Society blog post as a “white wealthy investment banker”. Here’s the chilling prospectus based on her firm’s view of education:

In the venture capital world, transactions in the K-12 education sector soared to a record $389 million last year, up from $13 million in 2005. That includes major investments from some of the most respected venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, according to GSV Advisors, (Quazzo’s) investment firm in Chicago that specializes in education.

The goal: an education revolution in which public schools outsource to private vendors such critical tasks as teaching math, educating disabled students, even writing report cards, said Michael Moe, the founder of GSV.

Like most of my Superintendent colleagues, I had no difficulty outsourcing snow plowing, groundskeeping, or bussing. Food services gave me some pause, but in smaller districts large food companies could get lower prices, offer healthy choices, and provide management expertise that I lacked. I was also willing to effectively outsource after school child care services: I wanted to offer child care in schools but didn’t want the headaches of assuming responsibility for hiring child care providers. In Maryland when we were mandated to provide nurses, I turned to the county health department to provide that service in our schools, reasoning that our staff knew how to operate an educational establishment but was not trained to run a medical operation. I never thought I’d see the day when my job, the job of Principals, and the job of teachers would be outsourced. Anything to save a buck for taxpayers and make a buck for shareholders.

Poverty Deniers

June 27, 2013 Comments off

For several weeks I’ve been working on the analogy between the climate change deniers who oppose any environmental regulation because they are convinced that the changes we are witnessing in our weather are natural and cyclical and the education reformers. I wrote a comment today on Diane Ravitch’s blog post that dealt with Arne Duncan’s recent address to newspaper editors. Here’s what I posted as a comment:

The “reformers” are poverty deniers who, like their kindred spirits the climate change deniers they don’t want to face the political pain and economic sacrifices that result when facts are taken into consideration. Tests and standards in public education’s version of fracking. Tests and standards are far cheaper and politically acceptable than addressing the issue of poverty comprehensively by, say, integrating our schools based on socio-economics or raising enough taxes to provide a bona fide safety net for the children being raised in poverty. And RTTT is every businessman’s dream come true! It incorporates competition, de-regulation, centralization, reduced compensation for workers, and ancillary earning opportunities. This is all possible because tests show that schools serving poor children “fail”. the whole scheme works effectively if you deny that poverty is the problem.

In a future post I hope to elaborate on this analogy. Oh, and here’s what I wrote as a comment to the transcript of Duncan’s speech that appeared in the Washington Post:

The Common Core is NOT the problem: the standardized tests tied to age-cohorts is the problem. If we ant proficiency we should measure for it when the students are prepared for it. We don’t allow drivers to take their tests behind the wheel until we are confident they can handle the car yet we’ve tested students on the common core before their teachers had teaching materials to prepare their students for the tests…. and then blamed the teachers. When standardized tests are administered to large groups of students based on age cohorts the results will always be the same: children raised in poverty will do worse than children raised in affluence.

Astonishing Finding on NYC Administrative Evaluations

June 26, 2013 Comments off

A few days ago Diane Ravitch included a link to this blog post from NYC Public School Parents reporting that after one year, the NYC Central Office responded to a FOIA request seeking copies of the evaluations of top administrators. This request was prompted when then Superintendent Joel Klein allowed the media to post the bogus teacher ratings. Here’s the astonishing response to the FOIA request:

“Diligent searches and inquiries for responsive records have been conducted as to any Chancellor (and his/her Chief of Staff) Chief Academic Officer, Senior Deputy Chancellor, Chief Schools Officer, Deputy Chancellor, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and General Counsel for the time period covered by your request.  It is my understanding that no such records were located, because no such records have been created.  Accordingly, there are no records to provide.”

If this happened on my watch in any of the districts I led over my 29 years as a Superintendent I would have been justifiably fired… and during that same time I cannot think of a single Board who did not provide me with a written evaluation. Why isn’t this splashed all over the front pages of the NYTimes? I know the Lewiston Sun, Exeter Newsletter, Fosters Daily Democrat, the Herald Mail, the Poughkeepsie Journal, and Valley News would have covered the news if the Boards I worked for reported that I had not completed evaluations of my direct reports or if the Principals who worked for me neglected to evaluate their teachers. And waiting over a year to respond to a FOIA request? I cannot imagine the news media I worked with sitting quietly if they waited that long… and I know at least one constituent in the NY district where I worked who would have gone straight to the Commissioner of Education if I failed to respond on time to a FOIA request.

Here’s why I think NYC schools get away with this kind of behavior: they think they are operating by the rules of the private sector. I hope someone in the MSM reminds the district that they are a publicly funded entity and, therefore, need to follow the same rules as public schools— or DO they? If the answer is “No” democracy just took another bullet.


Real education reform would focus on ____________

June 26, 2013 Comments off

A few weeks ago, Bill Gates extended an invitation to teachers to write to him. Several bloggers saw this as an opportunity to offer some prompts for the letter, one of which was: Real education reform would focus on_____. I just read one of these that resonated with me by Harry Proudfoot. The essence of the letter is captured in this paragraph:

The real problem with standardized testing is it tests none of the underlying skills each subject was designed to teach. Rather, it encourages teachers to focus entirely on the trivia of the subject instead of the skills useful to an informed and intelligent citizenry. Programs like “Race to the Top” and ‘No Child Left Behind” actually undermine a teacher’s ability to do the actual job we hire them to do.

It’s worth reading. Here’s the link:

via Real education reform would focus on ____________.

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US College Completion Rates Low

June 26, 2013 Comments off

Eduoardo Porter’s Economix column in today’s NYTimes examines the US’ woeful college completion rates and concludes that lack of preparedness and not lack of loans is the problem. He’s right… but for the wrong reasons. As an economist he views education from a cost-benefit perspective. He seems flummoxed that students dropout of college:

And the most perplexing part of this accounting is that regardless of cost, getting a degree is the best financial decision a young American can make.

According to the O.E.C.D.’s report, a college degree is worth $365,000 for the average American man after subtracting all its direct and indirect costs over a lifetime. For women — who still tend to earn less than men — it’s worth $185,000.

College graduates have higher employment rates and make more money. According to the O.E.C.D., a typical graduate from a four-year college earns 84 percent more than a high school graduate. A graduate from a community college makes 16 percent more.

A college education is more profitable in the United States than in pretty much every other advanced nation. Only Irish women get more for the investment: $185,960 net.

I imagine that the “solution” many will offer to this lack of preparation will be more high stakes graduation tests or a course in personal economics to help students understand how to pay for college. These solutions are both rooted in the same false assumption: that the decision to attend and stay in college is purely an economic one. The ultimate “carrot” is earning a lot of money and by explaining to students how they can access the funds needed to attend college and showing them how they can “increase lifetime earnings” students will make the rational decision to enroll in college and stay in once enrolled.

The underlying problem is that many college-age students have no long-term perspective and a very limited sense of what they want to do with their lives. As a result, when faced with mounting debt, the costs of a car and a spiffy phone with a costly data plan, and an opportunity to make enough to get by, many students abandon college to give themselves a chance to figure out what they want to do with a college degree. When many colleges were underwritten by states it was a lot easier to spend four years earning a degree that you knew would eventually pay off… and you could use the four years to figure out what you wanted to do with the degree. Once a student figured that out– and given the number of times students change majors it is evident that it takes time to do so— college completion took care of itself. Students entering college with a clear focus and students entering selective colleges seldom drop out: it is the students who have no direction who fail to cross the finish line… and those tend to be the students from families with no college experience.

The solution to this problem is not more tests but more intensive and early college and career counseling… the very programs that fall by the wayside in high schools focusing on test preparation.  As noted in a blog post earlier this week, what students need in high school is the connection with one caring adult. That will be far more meaningful and helpful than passing standardized examinations in Algebra II.

Misleading NYTimes Headline on Charters

June 25, 2013 Comments off

The headline in my NYTimes Alert in-box got my attention: “Charter Schools Are Improving A Study Says”. Expecting to read about a marked increase in charter school test scores, I instead read this summary the “improvement” over the past four years:

The original (Stanford) study, conducted four years ago, showed that only 17 percent of charter schools managed to raise student math test scores above those of local public schools. The new report said that 29 percent of charter schools performed better in math than local public schools.

And while the 2009 study showed 37 percent of charter schools were actually providing a worse education than local public schools, that figure declined to 31 percent in the new report.

“At both ends of the quality curve, we see that the situation is getting better,” said Margaret Raymond, the center’s director.

So… 29% of charter schools are better than their public school counterparts and 31% are worse and “…the situation is getting better”. Better for whom? The parents in Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and New York whose kids are being forced out of “failing” neighborhood schools into for-profit charters? The students whose parents are enticed to enroll their children in “better” charter schools only to find that in 31% of the cases they are attending a worse school and in 71% of the cases they aren’t getting any improved schooling (as measured by standardized tests) and perhaps getting a more minimal curriculum in order to improve their test scores?

The article did note that the results might provide fodder for charter opponents and offered one paragraph that did just that:

“Twenty years after the start of the charter school movement, even with all the private energy and public policy cheerleading it has engendered, students in charter schools roughly perform the same as students in the rest of public education — not the leaps and bounds that were promised,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement.

This counterpoint, though, reinforces the narrative that unions oppose charters while “reformers” support them… a narrative that overlooks the many progressive educators who decry the charter movement because it is joined at the hip with the testing regimen and because it undermines the neighborhood schools and it is anti-democratic.

In the end, though, it is the headline that is most problematic from my perspective. The person who writes the article doesn’t get to decide on the headline… that falls to the editor… and given the NYTimes editorial support for Bloomberg’s shift to charter schools it is not surprising to see a headline that states unqualified “improvement” when nearly 3/4 of the charters are no better than or worse than their public school counterparts and there are as many “failing” charters as there are “successful” charters… I don’t think the public would buy a medication that had a similar track record…


NH Waiver Rejected: HOORAY!

June 25, 2013 Comments off

I just read in an Advancing NH Public Education blog post that NH lost its waiver bid, reportedly because NH would not kowtow to the testing requirements set form by USDOE. Here was my comment:

Kudos to Ginny Barry for holding her ground on value added assessments! There is no evidence— NONE— that these improve teaching performance or— more importantly— student performance. They are mathematically elegant but devoid of all meaning.

Here’s a link to a white paper I wrote in October 2009 when I was Superintendent in SAU 70. It outlines why I thought it was a bad idea to seek a waiver:

Two years later, shortly after my retirement, I wrote this white paper discouraging the seeking of a waiver if it meant compromising too much on the value added assessment component:

Anyone familiar with the Pareto Principle knows how the 20% of the evaluation based on value added scores will play out: it will consume 80% of the time and get 100% of the attention of the press.

NH should look across the Connecticut River and join hands with VT in rejecting the waiver. (see: NH, VT, and ME could show the nation the best way to educate children is NOT by testing them to death but by engaging them in designing their own education plans.

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