Archive for August, 2014

87% of Detroit Students Experience Gun Violence

August 28, 2014 Comments off

Here’s the astonishing headline from the MLive blog post:

87 percent of Detroit Public Schools students know someone who has been shot or murdered, survey found

Some questions:

  • What percent of suburban Detroit students “know someone who has been shot or murdered?”
  • If  child has witnessed a shooting, do they feel safe in their neighborhood?
  • Is there any way we can control the access to guns in urban neighborhoods?
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New HQ for Cuomo’s Favorite Charter

August 28, 2014 Comments off

Diane Ravitch’s blog yesterday included a link to a New York Daily News article by Juan Gonzalez titled “Eva Moskowirz isn’t Just Backed by Wall Street, She’s Moving There”. Ms. Moskowitz is the CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools has been featured in many blog posts here as Andrew Cuomo’s favorite charter school magnate and the arch enemy of Mayor Bill diBlasio’s efforts to limit the privatization of public schools. This article illustrates everything that is wrong with privatization without mentioning the term at all. Here are some of the items that jumped out at me, bearing in mind that  Success Academy enrolls only 6700 students in 22 schools:

  • Her new office space on Wall Street will cost $31,000,000 over a 15 year period, more than four-fold increase over their Harlem rent.
  • Her headquarters have 58,000 square feet of office space
  • Her salary for 2012-13 was $567,000, “…a raise of $92,000 from the previous year, and more than double the $212,000 paid to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña”.
  • The the size of her central staff doubled last year to 258
  • At least five officials at the nonprofit network… were paid more than $240,000 last year. The network’s Executive Vice President Kerri Hoyt…received a $104,000 raise, to $366,000. Its director of pedagogy Paul Fucaloro jumped by $100,000, to $246,000.
  • Ryan Alexander, the network’s former chief financial officer, was paid $350,000. Alexander does not appear in the financial report as a key employee, but Bikdata LLC, a firm he founded and which he operates out of his Tribeca loft apartment, was listed as the network’s biggest outside vendor for “financial consulting services.”
  • And finally, this: “Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature responded with a new law requiring the city to pay rent for all future charter schools. As a result, the school system is spending $5.3 million this year to house the three new Success Academy schools in buildings owned by the Catholic Archdiocese.”

I cannot comprehend how taxpayers are accepting these administrative costs, these salaries, or the fact that their funds are going into the coffers of the Catholic Archdiocese. It is even harder to understand how the Governor of the State is allowing these funds to be drawn against the money the state is providing to NYC schools. It is possible that some will read this article and not understand how grossly overstaffed Moskowitz’ organization is, will not understand that the salaries she is paying are in excess of those earned by any public school administrator, and will not understand that providing public funding for an explicitly religious organization sets a dangerous precedent. Gonzalez made an effort to place some of these figures in context, but the statement by  Success Academy spokesperson Kerri Lyon that concludes the article is unchallenged. That statement, “Our salaries are consistent with those of other similarly sized nonprofits in New York City,” may be true for “non-profits”, but it is absolutely false for similarly sized public schools…. and 258 central office staff members for 6700 students? Try getting that into a budget that requires voter approval!


Education Benchmarking

August 27, 2014 Comments off

Diane Ravitch wrote a post on Monday posing a set of questions raised in a Washington Post op ed essay on benchmarking by Boston College professor Andy Hargreaves. In the essay Hargreaves describes his perspective on the rationale behind benchmarking, which came to the public’s attention in the 1990s as part of the response to the fallout from A Nation at Risk. Hargreaves rightfully points out that benchmarking– especially international benchmarking— has been used by “reformers” as a means of “proving” that US schools are deficient and, therefore, should be overhauled. But, as I noted in a comment to both posts, benchmarking is nothing new in public education.

For decades individual student performance has been based on benchmarks. Teacher-made tests served as the de facto benchmark for determining whether a student passed or failed. The aggregated set of grades a student earned (i.e. their transcript) served as a benchmark for determining whether a student gained entry to particular colleges or not. Students were disciplined based on standards set forth in student handbooks and or standards set by a classroom teacher.

In most cases these standards were normative and not formative: a student was not compared to a set standard but rather compared to his or her cohorts. One of the reasons for setting benchmarks was to devise standardized tests like the SAT that provided a means for colleges to determine if a student with all A’s at East Podunk HS was as prepared as a student from an elite private school. Another reason to move away from this normative comparison of cohort groups was to avoid using it as a basis for homogeneous grouping that identified some students as “high perfuming” and others as “slow”. An important reason was to establish a means of implementing a mastery learning model whereby students progressed individually instead of as a cohort.

Before decrying benchmarking I think it is important to realize it’s been in place— and not necessarily to good effect.

An anecdote from my experience as a HS Principal in rural ME illustrates two approaches to the “benchmarking” teachers used to grade students.

In November of the first year I was Principal I reviewed the computer print-out listing the grades each teacher assigned to students and discovered that every student in one of the science teachers’ classes received an “A”. I asked my secretary (this was 1977— we didn’t have “administrative assistants” at that time) to schedule an appointment with this teacher after school. My intention was to make certain he understood that we wanted to have higher standards in the school and that “giving all A’s” was unacceptable. When I asked the teacher to explain why he had “given” all of his students an A, he replied that he hadn’t “given” them anything, they earned it. He believed it was imperative that all his students master the information presented in order for them to understand the information he would be presenting in the coming units and so he insisted that they re-take tests until they earned an “A”. That meeting in my office stayed with me for years to come…. and was on my mind later that year.

At the end of every school year, there is invariably a student who falls short of a passing grade… and invariably a case where a teacher can decide whether a 64.5 is an “F” or a “D”. One young woman had started the year off badly because of issues she was dealing with at home and done very poorly academically as a result. As the year progressed, a combination of her emerging maturity and the amelioration of her problems at home resulted in an upward trajectory in her grades. Several of her teachers were sympathetic to her problems and recognized that the improvement was genuine. Her social studies teacher, however, who was skeptical of my “higher standards” mantra, threw it back in my face when the student fell .75 short of his “high standard”.

Both teachers had benchmarks, but each was using them for different ends. As readers of this blog realize, I’ve come to realize that the science teacher’s benchmarks are the ones we SHOULD be using when we grade schools and students. Unfortunately, it’s the social studies standard that is in place thanks to NCLB, RTTT, and “education reform”.

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Social Workers in School

August 26, 2014 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes op ed page features an essay by Daniel Cardenali advocating that schools serving children in poverty require the services of a social worker. I completely agree with this assertion since social workers possess a different skill set than guidance counselors, psychologists, special education case managers, and– in some cases– classroom teachers, the staff members who typically try to assume some of the responsibilities that a social worker could do more effectively. Here’s a key paragraph from Cardenali’s op ed piece:

The key is to put dedicated social-service specialists in every low-performing, high-poverty school, whether they are employed by the school district or another organization. This specialist must be trained in the delivery of community services, with continued funding contingent on improvement in indicators like attendance and dropout rates.

As I noted in the comment section, this can be accomplished economically by having school districts providing space for the Department of Social Service (DSS) staff in their schools. When I was a superintendent in MD in the 1990s we set up offices for DSS staff in two of our high poverty schools. The DSS agency head and I reasoned that we were needlessly competing with each other for scarce $$$ and his staff’s services and ours meshed. We saved DSS the costs for office space and he saved me adding much needed and arguably duplicative services. Moreover, it created opportunities for interagency cooperation and communication that helped the students and parents. Teachers could meet and confer with a student’s social worker face to face and share insights that would help them work with the families.

My experience in MD indicated that when schools duplicate social services it adds to the net costs to the public. When schools create partnerships with service providers it is a win-win. The best example of this was when the State mandated that we place a school nurse in each of the 42 schools in our county. At the time this requirement was put in place, we had four on our payroll, all of whom were paid on the teacher’s pay schedule which made them among the highest paid nurses in the region. By forming an alliance with the County Health Department whereby THEY hired and supervised the staff, we saved thousands of dollars in hiring staff and avoided the need to add another administrative position to oversee health services. Finally, as I wrote in an essay published in Education Week that I posted earlier, this kind of interagency co-housing helped break down the silos of confidentiality that work against providing the kind of support children in poverty need.

Cardenali concludes his essay with this paragraph:

Putting social workers in schools is a low-cost way of avoiding bigger problems down the road, analogous to having a social worker in a hospital emergency room. It’s a common-sense solution that will still require a measure of political courage, something that all too often has itself been chronically absent.

My take: it will require a measure of COMMON SENSE, something that seems to be completely lacking in Washington DC. This could be another case where a State will lead the way.

Vermont to the Nation: This Is What Good Education Looks Like

August 25, 2014 Comments off

Vermont to the Nation: This Is What Good Education Looks Like.

Vermont ROCKS! Here’s what’s distressing, though… the Burlington Free Press had to add this editorial “insight” to it’s reportage:

However, the state’s high graduation rate has not translated to significant gains in college graduation rates. Many Vermont teens graduate and find they must pay to take non-credit bearing remedial courses even at open-admission community colleges.

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Unsupervised Play Should be Illegal?

August 24, 2014 1 comment

The headline of a recent post from reports on the findings of a recent survey they conducted:

Poll: Most Americans Want to Criminalize Pre-Teens Playing Unsupervised

Here are the distressing findings of their poll:

68 percent of Americans think there should be a law that prohibits kids 9 and under from playing at the park unsupervised, despite the fact that most of them no doubt grew up doing just that.

What’s more: 43 percent feel the same way about 12-year-olds. They would like to criminalize all pre-teenagers playing outside on their own (and, I guess, arrest their no-good parents).

When I read these kinds of reports I recall my adventures as a five-year old exploring construction sites and red ant hills in Salt Lake City, my adventures in the woods outside of West Chester PA when I was in early elementary school grades, my adventures walking along the railroad tracks between Lee School and my house seven blocks away in Tulsa OK in grades 4-6, the many pick up baseball, football, and basketball games I played in as a middle and high school youngster… and I feel sad that my grandchildren might not have the same kinds of experiences, especially my two grandkids in Brooklyn.

But I also recall the unsolved disappearance of a seven-year old who was walking to school in Exeter NH when I was superintendent. It sent shock waves through the community, shock waves that were dampened by cooler heads in the area. Fortunately, many parents in that community did not want to restrict their children’s ability to play without supervision or discourage their children from walking to school unaccompanied. The PTAs and Chamber of Commerce head arranged to have guest speakers come to public forums. This helped dispel the panic and encourage parents to allow their children to experience childhood…. but I am certain this episode contributed to the fears of many parents in the region and may still be used as evidence for those who want to criminalize parents for allowing their children to play without supervision and walk unaccompanied to the neighborhood store or playground. Unfortunately, as we know all to well, fear trumps love and so we find ourselves raising our children in a world where we prefer spending money on arms instead of butter.


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Competing Views of College

August 24, 2014 Comments off

I just read two articles in the last hour that make me wonder what the conversation would be like if the  two writers had an improbable meeting.

Anthony Grafton’s review of “Excellent Sheep”, a recently published book by Yale professor William Deresiewicz, describes our countries elite universities as factories that take well-behaved, high achieving and affluent entrants and turn out soulless graduates who learn “…that they are superior to all others, and that even if they break rules or fail, they will never suffer.”  In effect, Deresiewicz asserts that professors have little or no influence on the students who entered the hallowed halls of elite colleges. He writes: “The system churns out an endless procession of more or less uniform human specimens” and, as noted above, suggests the specimens are not forced to question their own worth.

In contrast, Houston Baptist College professor Collin Garbarino writes in an essay in Canon and Culture that our universities are churning out moral relativists who are being brainwashed by progressive professors… that is the professors HAVE more agency than Deresiewicz is observing and they are using that agency to turn students away from “their parents worldview”.

So… putting these two conclusions together one can only assume that the Ivies are doing a great job in Garbarino’s view: the students entering school leave with the same world view they brought to the institution! As for Garbarino’s perspective on moral relativism, all I can say is followers of ISIS are not moral relativists… and the world would be a lot more peaceful if we had fewer ISIS followers and more secular humanists!