Archive for June, 2015

NYTimes Believes Philanthropists “Understand” the Problems of Alienated Youth

June 21, 2015 Comments off

In an editorial in today’s NYTimes, the editorial board describes a crisis that has been hiding in plain sight for decades: “…the isolation of millions of young black and Latino men, who are disengaged from school, work and mainstream institutions generally.” Except, as they note later in the piece, the problem extends well beyond young black and Latino men:

Nationally, 21.6 percent of black youths are neither working nor in school, compared with 20.3 percent of Native Americans, 16.3 percent of Latinos, 11.3 percent of whites and 7.9 percent of Asians. In nine metropolitan areas, at least one in four black youths are shut out of society this way.

After identifying the crises, the Times editors preposterously declare that the task of solving this problem “…has been left to the philanthropic community, which understands the crisis and has undertaken various educational initiatives.

As readers of this blog realize, the “various educational initiatives” undertaken by the philanthropic community do not display an understanding of the crisis. The funding of selective charter schools that expel students who do not adhere to strict discipline codes and require parent engagement only serve to reinforce the alienation of the 16-24 year olds the Times describes. The philanthropists funding of the Common Core standards and the tests have done nothing to help schools located in neighborhoods with “high poverty, high unemployment, and housing segregation”. Indeed, they have only dispirited teachers working in the schools and parents whose children are assigned to them.

If philanthropists understood the crisis as the Times asserts, it seems that at least one of them would have launched an initiative to provide low income housing in the affluent communities where schools are successful, or initiated mentoring programs that worked to support the ongoing efforts of public schools, or provided apprenticeships and/or training programs within the highly profitable corporations they lead…

Based on the philanthropy community’s spending record, they “understand” the solution to the crisis: replace open admission “government schools” with selective charters and replace “bad teachers” with bright, vigorous, and untrained youthful teachers.

One other point the Times failed to make: if No Child Left Behind was a success and Race To The Top was a good investment of the limited similes funds provided to schools, wouldn’t the number of alienated and adrift 16-24 year olds have diminished markedly? If you need any further evidence that NCLB and RTTT are bankrupt, read this editorial.

College Athletics, College Admissions, and Ethics

June 19, 2015 Comments off

Last week the NY Daily News reported that the board of Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges, the accrediting agency for that region of the country, was placing the University of North Carolina’s flagship campus at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) on probation for one year as a result of the cheating scandals that occurred in its athletic programs over an extended period of time. The AP article summarized the incidents at UNH-CH:

The agency previously opted against punishing UNC-CH, but acted after learning last fall of the scope of fake classes and artificially high grades in one academic department. A report revealed that the fake classes in the African studies department had gone on between 1993 and 2011. About half the 3,100 students who took the classes were athletes.

The scandal came to light when a tutor felt pangs of guilt and leaked the information to the media several years ago. The scandal resulted in several administrators and teachers losing their jobs and also resulted in the college receiving adverse publicity… but UNC-CH avoided sever punishment and commission President Belle Wheelan acknowledged that “… practical effect of the sanction is they just have to send us more documentation to show their compliance with seven of these principles,”

Alas, the “practical effect” of this misdeed mitigates the black eye UNC-CH received as a result of the accreditation agency’s sanction. The athletic championships UNC won gained publicity AND enrollments. As noted in this 2010 article by Kyle Judah in the Journal of Sports Administration and Supervision:

Examining the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who recently won the NCAA Basketball Championship in March of 2009, we can see an increase in number of applications since 2008 by 2,957, or 15%[6]. The UNC Tarheels were featured in 23 nationally televised games[7] over the course of their 2008-2009 season, resulting in approximately 46 hours of live national television coverage and hundreds more on highlights shows like Sportscenter…. This would result in half the new applications, or 1,478 additional applications, generating $103,460 in application fees. According to the University of North Carolina Admissions website, they admitted 32% of applicants, or 473 students, with 54% enrolling, or 255 students. Tuition for an in state student is $17,424, and for out of state students, it costs $35,740 every year[8]. Enrolling 84% in state students[9] would equal 214 in state students paying $3,728,736 and 41 out of state students paying $1,465,340 every year, resulting in $5,194,076 in revenues every year…derived solely from their athletic success.

The article featured a display indicating that winning and NCAA championship yields an increase in applications of 7.5%. Was UNC-CH’s basketball championship won because of the shenanigans in one department? From a business standpoint is it worth $5,000,000 per year to “get caught” for cheating? How much would UNC-CH have to pay to get “...46 hours of national television coverage and hundreds more on news highlights”? I fear that ethical misdeeds are one of the costs of “running schools like a business”.


Political Solution to the Common Core: Re-Branding!

June 18, 2015 Comments off

Jordan Ellenberg’s op ed piece in the NYTimes earlier this week describes how states who abandoned the Common Core for political reasons replaced it with… THE COMMON CORE! Oh… and those tests that aligned with the Common Core… they were replaced with a NEW set of tests that, surprise, aligned with the THE COMMON CORE!

Ellenberg’s article offered several specific examples of the duplicitous actions of Governors and legislatures when it came to “abandoning” the common core… but it included on egregious error in this phrase in the opening paragraph:

The national reading and math standards, set up by a bipartisan consortium of state governors, have turned into a political lightning rod for a coalition of angry parents and education activists.

The more this meme gets repeated the more it becomes “truth”… and it is NOT true. The so-called “bi-partisan consortium of State governors” did not spring up from the grassroots level: it was orchestrated by the billionaire boys club who wanted to promote the notion that schools should compete with each other in an unregulated environment like businesses supposedly do as a means of developing a common set of assessments that could be used to measure the “bottom line” since schools, unlike businesses, cannot be measured by profits. Every time the agency of the Common Core is ascribed to a “bi-partisan consortium of State governors” it legitimizes the development of the Common Core as a democratically derived set of standards. That is clearly NOT the case and it’s true derivation should be repeated so that the public is aware of the source.

Let’s Test Teachers, Too!

June 18, 2015 Comments off

I read with dismay Elizabeth Harris’ article in today’s NYTimes titled “Tough Tests for Teachers, With a Question of Bias”. The article describes a nascent movement to require that teachers pass rigorous tests in order to get licensure. The article outlines the pros and cons of testing and indicates the racial disparity in the Praxis test results, and offers this paragraph as rebuttal to the critic of teacher testing:

But many public education officials view rigorous entrance requirements as crucial to improving student performance and ensuring a qualified teaching force in the face of uneven preparation programs. In a court document, an expert defending the ALST on behalf of the state is quoted as saying, “The purpose of a teacher licensure test is to protect the public from incompetent teachers.”

It has been four years since I was a Superintendent, but in the 29 years I served in that capacity I can only think of a handful of my colleagues who saw the Praxis test or tests like it as being a valid means of measuring teacher competence. Testing IS cheap and fast means of determining a candidate’s knowledge base of general content, but it was never clear to me that the general knowledge base required for physical education, secondary science, kindergarten, and art had much in common. Moreover, I had at least two instances where we hired a teacher who did extraordinary work as a substitute in the district on the condition that they pass the Praxis tests only to find ourselves releasing them when they could not pass the test: one was a PE teacher and the other was a Special Education teacher. Alas, the talents– the “competence”— they brought to the classroom were immeasurable by a pencil and paper test but I’m sure an expert in the State department and the State Board members slept well knowing they had protected the public from an “incompetent teacher”.

Student Data Collection and Data Sharing… and Corporate Profits

June 18, 2015 Comments off

I read earlier this month week that NYC schools recently replaced their student data web site, as described in this paragraph from the NYTimes article:

The city’s Education Department created NYC Schools to replace Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, or ARIS, a data system built at great expenseunder Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration that was used by only a small fraction of parents. At the end of last year, the department ended its contract with Amplify, the company that maintained ARIS and is run by Joel I. Klein, who was schools chancellor during the system’s creation. Since then, parents have not had a way of viewing their children’s information online.

As one who began my college career as an engineering major and who ended up with a major in Humanities and Technology, I’ve long been an advocate of the power technology could bring to education. When I was Superintendent in upstate NY from 1997-2002 I aggressively expanded the use of technology in our offices and schools. With the technological capability to collect and use data, my staff and I sought ways to use data warehousing to improve our tracking of student progress and management of the reams of information we collected on our students. When I concluded by career working in an interstate school district in Hanover NH and Norwich VT we instituted the use of Powerschool, Apple’s data management system, It helped us schedule MS and HS students, maintain a common set of baseline information on students, and made each student’s grades available to parents through the use of a password protected portal. Both states in the interstate district developed (or bought) and ultimately required the use of on-line IEP programs and both states developed (or bought) management systems that enabled teachers to use data from State assessments to inform their instruction.

The introduction of technology was difficult in both venues. In New York, where the implementation preceded the widespread use of cell phones, I-pads, or even lap top computers, the daily or even periodic use of computers in lieu of paper was new and different and resisted by teachers, administrative assistants, and even parents. A decade later when we instituted the use of the parent portal the debates had more to do with security (e.g. are we SURE that a hacker won’t get into this?), the change in work expectations (e.g. you mean I have to post my grades on-line within a week of giving a test?), and process (e.g. we usually use a democratic process at THIS school to decide issues like the parent portal!). 

To those who questioned security I indicated we WERE acting on faith that Apple had thought this through and was confident their system was secure— much the same way we took on faith that Amazon, our local banks, and our credit card companies are secure.   

To those who questioned work expectations I responded in honest bewilderment. “I hope you don’t expect me to defend your right as a professional to make a student wait a week to find out how they did on an examination or a term paper… because I can’t.” Fortunately the professionalism of the great majority of the staff stopped that rebuttal in its tracks.

To those who questioned the process I had to acknowledge that decisions about what kind of operating system we would use had to be made in a hierarchical fashion…. and computers made it imperative that we abandon the old days where each school had its own system of listing and collecting names, addresses, and other baseline data which then required the successive school and/or teacher to needlessly re-enter the same information in a different format. This was a clear waste of staff time and resources. Of course this also meant that everyone would need to adapt to whatever changes resulted from the new system that was dictated from our office. While each Principal was involved in the decision regarding the kind of system we would design or buy… once the decision was reached EVERYONE had to use the same system. Bottom line: Choosing the system was democratic; implementing the system was dictatorial.

It’s been four full years since I led a school district, and much has changed in that time period. Indeed, even as I was leaving the office I had a sense that change was in the offing relative to data warehousing and student management systems. The small operation that offered the district in NYS a free demo on school warehousing got bought up by a bigger organization and the last I read they were somehow connected with Pearson. Oh, and Pearson bought Powerschool and became the developer of the assessments whose results would be stored on Powerschool… along with lots of information about a student’s health and well-being. And then I read blog posts like the one in last week’s Mathbabe that included this provocative information:

EBay and PayPal recently changed their user agreements so that, if you’re a user of either of those services, you will receive marketing calls using any phone number you’ve provided them or that they have “have otherwise obtained.” There is no possibility to opt out, except perhaps to abandon the services. Oh, and they might also call you for surveys or debt collections. Oh, and they claim their intention is to“benefit our relationship.”

(And) Given how much venture capitalists (who have invested in many on-line services) like to brag about their return (on investment), I think we have reason to worry about the coming wave of “innovative” uses of our personal data. Telemarketing is the tip of the iceberg.

Schools have a trove of electronically stored information that parents and teachers clearly need and want to use… and private for-profit corporations are gobbling up these services and, as the Mathbabe notes, when they DO take them over they can unilaterally change the see agreements.

There IS a solution to all of this… and that is to pass some kind of legislation to regulate the use of student data so that it is not sold or disclosed to anyone. We can’t go back to filing cabinets stuffed with reams of papers that are impossible to sift through and expensive to keep… but we don’t want to compromise the confidentiality that paper documents generally provided.

Michigan: The Ultimate Destination in a Deregulated and Privatized World

June 17, 2015 Comments off

Last week I read an appalling account of the impact of privatization on the state of Michigan and felt a chill go down my spine having just read lengthy stories and blogged about the direction Wisconsin and North Carolina are heading. ” Magical Mystery Tour of American Austerity Politics” by TomDispatch blogger Laura Gottesdiener, described the impact of deregulated privatization on the lives of Michiganders… and the impact is particularly devastating on black families and children and those children and families struggling economically. In 2011, facing a number of cities and communities whose funding was in disarray, Michigan governor Rick Snyder prevailed on the legislature to pass a law allowing him to appoint “emergency managers” in those communities. The emergency managers would have broad authority to close down schools and community centers and override local ordinances that regulated businesses. At the same time, Snyder and the Republican controlled legislature passed several laws that promoted privatization and deregulation. The results were predictably bad and Gottesdiener does an excellent job of recounting them through five profiles of communities in Michigan. Gottesdiener opens with a description of the “pee-colored” water in Flint, MI and proceeds to describe the cancer riddled community of vacant homes near a refinery that process tar sands petroleum in “48217”– the zip code of a community with no name and lots of pollution; the “Great White North” where residents supported the overturning of the anti-democratic law giving the Governor broad authority to manage “failing” cities and towns despite their negative attitudes about the elected officials’ ability to govern those communities; the West Side of Detroit where armed law enforcement officials shot and killed a black man who allegedly wielded a hammer when they raided his home to deliver an arrest warrant. Gottesdiener concludes her “Magical Mystery Tour in Muskegeon Heights in Western Michigan where a for profit charter school hired by the emergency manager broke their contract because they couldn’t make a profit. The charter school worked collaboratively with the emergency manager who had the ability to fire all of the teachers and use the existing facilities. Gottesdiener described the opening day in 2012 under the new charter school’s leadership:

Schedules were in disarray. Student computers were broken. There were supply shortages of just about everything, even rolls of toilet paper. The district’s already barebones special education program had been further gutted. The “new,” non-unionized teaching staff—about10% of whom initially did not have valid teaching certificates—were overwhelmingly young, inexperienced, and white. (Approximately 75% of the town’s residents are African American.)

What happened over the course of the next two years was appalling. Mosaica, the charter company broke it’s contract in 2014 because it couldn’t make a profit. The response from the emergency manager?

The emergency manager said he understood the company’s financial assessment, comparing the school system to “a broke-down car.” That spring, Governor Snyder visited and called the district “a work in progress.”

No one voted for the emergency manager. No school board was involved in the decision to bring in a for-profit charter. Unions were incapable of pushing back because of legislation passed by the State. And now the emergency management system cannot be overturned by referendum as it was in 2011. This is what austerity looks like: no democracy but lots of profit.

Derp in Public Education

June 16, 2015 Comments off

Last week NYTimes columnist Paul Krugman wrote an op-ed piece titled “Fighting the Derp“. What is Derp?

“Derp” is a term borrowed from the cartoon “South Park” that has achieved wide currency among people I talk to, because it’s useful shorthand for an all-too-obvious feature of the modern intellectual landscape: people who keep saying the same thing no matter how much evidence accumulates that it’s completely wrong.

Over the past few days I’ve accumulated examples of Derp in public education. The most obvious example came to me in an instant” the belief that standardized testing will improve schools is the derp of public education “reform”. When I started my career as a school administrator in the mid 1970s Pennsylvania administered state standardized tests to determine which schools were doing best. Since that time I witnessed the advent of state tests in NH, MD and NY and to no one’s surprise the results never changed: schools in affluent communities and neighborhoods ALWAYS outperformed schools serving children raised in poverty. Now we have derp on steroids: a Secretary of Education who— despite evidence to the contrary presented by a national professional association of statisticians— believes standardized tests can be used to measure teacher performance. After decades of testing that has not improved the results one would think another idea might be tried… but that would upset the “school reformers” who want to be reassured in their beliefs.

Other examples of Derp in public education include:

  • The belief that the development of grit and resilience in children— not additional funds for schools— are the secret sauce that children raised in poverty need in order to succeed in school.
  • The belief that there is some way to scale up successful charter programs that are supplemented with grant funds without increasing the public funding needed for the replicated schools.
  • The notion that if parents could select schools the way they select appliances that there would be more equity in education… despite the fact that affluent districts typically do not accept out-of-district students unless they pay full-price tuitions and charter schools have admissions standards that limit their enrollments.
  • The idea that since “Government is the problem” and public schools are government schools they are blocking innovations and advances that would be possible if they were run like businesses.
  • The notion that unions are the primary problem with school performance, a notion that persists despite the fact that the lowest performing schools on NAEP are in the south where unions are weakest.


  • Our mental models concerning the grouping of children in age cohorts is pervasive and unshakeable and, as noted frequently in this blog, is one that drives many of the misguided “reforms”.

I am confident that this list is incomplete and welcome additions and corrections….