Archive for June, 2015

What If Every Educator Pledged to Vote in 2016?

June 24, 2015 Comments off

This wouldn’t have done much good in NYS… or ANY state where a neo-liberal DINO is running against a voucher-loving ALEC funded conservative… and if we have another Bush-Clinton choice those of us who are opposed to privatization might want to look seriously at a third party…. and all of this makes voting in off year elections and school board elections especially critical.

Diane Ravitch's blog

So many terrible education policies have been enacted in the past several years, and so many people feel powerless to act and make a difference. But there is a way to take action: Vote. That’s the only way to get better leadership. It works, but only if everyone votes.

What if every educator took a pledge to vote in 2016? If you vote, you can beat big money. Imagine the difference educators can make in every state. You can save public education, save the teaching profession, and restore democracy.

This idea is starting in Néw York. It should spread to every state and city and town and village and school district.

Subject: Educator Oath To Vote

Hello, Fellow BATs,

I have a bit of an announcement to make – sort of a “Coming to a School Near You” kind of thing and I believe, if successful, it will change the…

View original post 1,087 more words

Categories: Uncategorized

Common Core Testing: Wedding Planners Deciding the Fate of Teachers

June 24, 2015 Comments off

“Grading the Common Core: No Teaching Experience Required”, a matter-of-fact article by Mokoto Rich in yesterday’s NYTimes, describes the techniques national standardized testing consortia are using to grade their Common Core tests… and it’s not a pretty picture! Instead of hiring trained and carefully screened teachers and professors to grade the tests as ETS does for its AP tests, PARCC and Pearson are hiring temporary employees recruited through want ads… and here are the results:

There was a onetime wedding planner, a retired medical technologist and a former Pearson saleswoman with a master’s degree in marital counseling. To get the job, like other scorers nationwide, they needed a four-year college degree with relevant coursework, but no teaching experience. They earned $12 to $14 an hour, with the possibility of small bonuses if they hit daily quality and volume targets.

I found it fitting that the linchpin of the factory school— the standardized test— was graded using the factory model perfected by fast-food chains, as described by a Pearson executive below:

Officials from Pearson and Parcc, a nonprofit consortium that has coordinated development of new Common Core tests, say strict training and scoring protocols are intended to ensure consistency, no matter who is marking the tests.

At times, the scoring process can evoke the way a restaurant chain monitors the work of its employees and the quality of its products.

“From the standpoint of comparing us to a Starbucks or McDonald’s, where you go into those places you know exactly what you’re going to get,” said Bob Sanders, vice president of content and scoring management at Pearson North America, when asked whether such an analogy was apt.

“McDonald’s has a process in place to make sure they put two patties on that Big Mac,” he continued. “We do that exact same thing. We have processes to oversee our processes, and to make sure they are being followed.”

An article several years ago disparagingly compared students to widgets being manufactured in a factory… and now we have an executive favorably comparing his corporation to McDonalds… which effectively compares students to raw meat being converted into hamburgers for mass consumption.

One thing Rich’s article did not mention: these tests were inextricably linked to RTTT grants that, in turn, mandated the use of these test results to evaluate teachers. The net result: wedding planners and retired radiologists being paid $12-$14 dollars per hour are determining the fate of experienced classroom teachers across the country. But hey… it’s cheap, it’s fast, and it’s politically popular. What’s not to like?


Who Will Be Newark’s New Superintendent? A Political Gordian Knot for Christie

June 23, 2015 Comments off

The NYTimes Kate Zernike’s report on Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson’s decision to step down provided a thorough and objective recounting of her tumultuous term of office. Indeed, unlike most Times writers Zernike referred to those opposing the status quo as “self-described reformers“, an apt description given the direction they intend to lead public education. The article also described the context New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is facing in making the appointment…. and it’s not a pretty picture:

  • The former Newark mayor, Cory Booker, was on the same page as Christie when Anderson was appointed Superintendent. The new mayor, Ras Baraka, is not… and his recent election was based on the notion that after 20 years of failed State interventions it was time for Newark to seize control of its schools.
  • Early in her term of office Anderson managed to negotiate a contract with the AFT that incorporated merit pay, but her bungling of the execution of the contract and her misguided notion of eliminating neighborhood schools has now created a rift between the administration and the unions and the administration and the community.
  • Christie wants to be President and he has used his bi-partisanship and his ability to turnaround the “failed public schools” in Newark as evidence of his competence as an executive. Anderson’s decision to leave is, at best, an “oops”. At worst, it is evidence that his ideas about school reform are a failure.

The article (and several other blog posts) suggests that Christie intends to appoint former New Jersey Commissioner Christopher Cerf to replace Anderson because he’s “the decider” on this issue. At the same time he’s indicated a willingness to allow “…the advisory school board some role in approving a replacement for Ms. Anderson.” I doubt that Mr. Baraka will see this as acceptable. He ran for office on a platform of returning control of the schools to the city and an advisory role will not meet that standard. Worse for Christie is the fact that his image as a bully is working against him at the national level… and if he railroads the appointment of the Newark Superintendent over the objections of a recently elected mayor his bullying image will be reinforced. From here it looks like a lose-lose proposition for Christie… but worse… a lose-lose proposition for local control of schools and a victory for privatization. Here’s hoping it is a Pyrrhic victory.

1984 Arrives Thirty Years Late: Say Goodby to Privacy Forever if This Bill Passes

June 23, 2015 Comments off

1984 Arrives Thirty Years Late: Say Goodby to Privacy Forever if This Bill Passes.

Diane Ravitch nails all the reasons this legislation is bad… but she and the commenters miss a horrific assumption implicit in the legislation: the most important outcome of schooling is earning megabucks.  Based on that assumption, the most meaningful metric for a college is the earnings of its graduates and calculating that metric will require the collection of scads of data. And here’s a prediction I’ll make: some legislator will suggest this initiative could be funded by selling the data! After ll, selling the data is much more desirable than raising taxes… and anyway the kids entering college are already used to being monitored on cameras— and they have nothing to fear with their data being shared unless they have something to hide.

Nevada’s Voucher Legislation Rewards Middle Class, Punishes Children Raised in Poverty

June 22, 2015 Comments off

The Nevada legislature’s passage of a “Universal School Choice” bill introduces a new acronym into the anti-government-school arsenal: the Education Savings Accounts or ESA. As breathlessly described in the National Review, ESAs will provide a means for “every single student” to escape from the clutches of the “government school monopoly”. Here’s how the plan works:

As of next year, parents in Nevada can have 90 percent (100 percent for children with special needs and children from low-income families) of the funds that would have been spent on their child in their public school deposited into a restricted-use spending account. That amounts to between $5,100 and $5,700 annually, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Those funds are deposited quarterly onto a debit card, which parents can use to pay for a variety of education-related services and products — things such as private-school tuition, online learning, special-education services and therapies, books, tutors, and dual-enrollment college courses. It’s an à la carte education, and the menu of options will be as hearty as the supply-side response — which, as it is whenever markets replace monopolies, is likely to be robust.

There are several flaws with this, not the least of which is that parents who are currently paying for private schools out of their own pockets or homeschooling their will be getting a windfall while parents who attend public schools will, presumably, need to make up the difference out of their own pockets. But wait, there are even more flaws in this plan!

Notably, families can roll over unused funds from year to year, a feature that makes this approach particularly attractive. It is the only choice model to date that puts downward pressure on prices. Parents consider not only the quality of education service they receive, but the cost, since they can save unused funds for future education expenses.

What this does is incentivize homeschooling, especially on-line homeschooling since parents will be able to accumulate unspent money for post secondary schooling. And how will the government be certain that the money is well spent?

Accountability is infused throughout the ESA option. Funding is distributed into the accounts quarterly, and parents provide receipts for expenditures to the state. In the event there is a misuse of funds, the subsequent quarter’s distribution can be withheld and used to rectify it. Students must also take a national norm-referenced test in math and reading, a light touch that doesn’t dictate students take a uniform state test.

The plans set forth in this paragraph defy comprehension! How will be parents submit the receipts? How will they be processed fast enough to withhold them in “the subsequent quarter”? If student’s are taking a norm referenced test by definition half of them will score below average. What happens to those students? Will their parents be allowed to withdraw funds the next quarter? Oh… and the test itself: who will grade it? Who will monitor the results? Call me cynical, but I doubt that the legislature has answers for these questions and I doubt that they included funding for the oversight and auditing that this plan will require… but no matter, no one will suffer because this will break the government’s stranglehold on schooling and lead to an environment where everyone will have a chance to learn— if they come from a typical middle class home. Here’s National Review blogger Lindsey Burke’s analysis of how tis will play out for students:

So imagine now what the future of education could look like in Nevada. Instead of being assigned to brick-and-mortar schools based on their parents’ ZIP codes, students can instead have their state funds deposited into an ESA. Parents can then craft a learning plan that matches best to the unique learning styles and needs of their children.

So in the Brave New World of the Nevada legislature all children are being raised in households with parents who have the time and ability to “craft a learning plan for their children“, who can drive their children out of their ZIP codes with dilapidated schools to a private school that will gladly accept their lower tuition payments,  who can access on-line courses on their high-speed internet connections. It’s a world with no poverty, no ESL students, no special needs students, cars in every garage, supplemental funds to cover the costs of private schools, broadband and high-end computers in every home… and unicorns eating leafy plants in the desert.


Categories: Uncategorized

Presidential Politics: “Appearances” vs. “Assurances”

June 21, 2015 Comments off

Let me put my biases regarding the 2016 election on the table: I am 100% behind Bernie Sanders for President because he is the only candidate to date who has made it explicitly clear that he would abandon the practice of relying on standardized tests to “measure” school and teacher performance, made it clear he opposes the privatization of public education, and made it abundantly clear that he opposes the gutting of union contracts.

His opponents in the Republican party all hold the opposite view. To a person they want to use “objective measures” to evaluate teachers and schools, apply market forces to public education, and heap public scorn on “greedy teachers” with “tenure” that makes it “impossible for administrators to get rid of bad teachers”.

The position of Mr. Sanders opponent on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, is less clear, as a recent article by Allie Bidwell in the US News and World Report indicates. In describing Ms. Clinton’s positions on various K-12 initiatives, Bidwell wrote that she “…appeared sympathetic to union concerns about testing and support for teachers” and she “…appears poised to depart from aspects of the Obama administration’s K-12 education agenda that have alienated some rank-and-file members of the Democratic Party” and that “…the two national teachers unions and national advocacy group Democrats for Education Reform – sides that have often been at odds – all appear pleased with Clinton’s campaign thus far.”


Eight years ago I voted for Barak Obama on appearances. He appeared to be supportive of someone like Linda Darling-Hammond to be Secretary of Education, appeared to be opposed to the mindless testing that drove No Child Left Behind, and appeared to be someone who supported the kinds of anti-poverty programs that were needed to close the widening economic divide. We cannot have another candidate elected on appearances. We need assurance that the standardized test driven eduction policies are eliminated and replaced with policies that will provide equitable resources to all schools and equitable opportunities to all children.

Bad Assumptions Lead to Worse Conclusion: Fundraising, Not More Taxes, Needed

June 21, 2015 Comments off

Thanks to Google Alerts I receive a wide range of newspaper articles on public education each day, which gives me an opportunity to see how various news outlets across the country are dealing with public education in their region. Today I read an article from Roger Ruthbert, the editor of the Quad Cities Dispatch Argus titled “Time for Public Schools to Embrace Private Fundraising”. Ruthbert opens his article with this assumption:

Let’s face it, revenue from local property taxes is climbing slowly if at all and increased state funding in Illinois seems unlikely.

And with tax-based funding off the table, where does Ruthbert suggest we turn?

As I noted several weeks ago, Chicago charter schools have been so successful privately funding school projects, it’s something public schools should copy.

If you start with a flawed assumption you will invariably reach a bad solution… and private fundraising is a terrible decision, especially if the goal of the State is to provide each of its children with an equal opportunity for school success. Private fundraising will invariably come with strings: a benefactor will insist that their donation go for a specific program (e.g. classical music) or a specific kind of student (e.g. a student-athlete) or a particular facility (e.g. lights for a stadium). The irony is that this flaw was evident in the Quad Cities:

In Rock Island, almost everyone in the community knows that the development director’s job has been a place to “justify” paying big money for the football coach. A $100,000-plus salary is justified because that person is also out raising money for the district.

The district had piled on three jobs in an effort to entice him here. He was trained as a math teacher, put up a sterling record as a football coach in the suburbs, and then was also given the development job.

But what has drawn the school board’s attention is that while the development director was paid $106,163 in salary and benefits in 2014-2015, only $119,510 was raised. After you figure in some additional expenses, that leaves $11,374 to be spent on students, or about a 10 percent return.

So Rock Island paid a football coach/math teacher to take on the role of development officer and, in doing so, barely covered his salary. But instead of seeing the futility of this effort, Ruthbert suggests a redoubling of the fund raising effort… and implies that every district and every school in a district could underwrite the costs of a development officer and raise more and more money from willing volunteers. Talk about an agreeable fantasy!

Here’s my bottom line: public schools are a public good and should, therefore, be underwritten with public funds. Every successful businessperson, parent, and voter benefitted from the public’s willingness to fund schools when they were children… and every businessperson, parent and voter should be willing to provide the same opportunity for the children in their town and for children across the state. Instead, those who oppose ANY government spending focus on the fact that money doesn’t “go into the classrooms”, it goes to teachers who, they assume, “don’t go into the classrooms”. As the title of this post indicates, bad assumptions lead to bad conclusions… and in this case the students raised in poverty are the ones who will suffer the most.