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Campbell Brown, Charter Cheerleader, Now Facebook’s News Arbiter… Expect Only Glowing Articles About School Reform

August 15, 2018 Leave a comment

As a strong supporter of a free and open press, my worst fears were confirmed this morning the I read Facebook Executive Threatens News Outlets in Private Meeting, a Truthdig article by Jake Johnson. In the article, Mr. Johnson reported that the Facebook executive:

…reportedly warned news publishers that refusal to cooperate with the tech behemoth’s efforts to “revitalize journalism” will leave media outlets dying “like in a hospice.”

And who was that Facebook Executive None other than Campbell Brown, a TV “journalist” turned, according to Wikipedia, into an “… education reform and school choice activist, and now, head of global news partnerships at Facebook. While Facebook executives “vehemently” deny the reports what transpired at the meeting, at least five journalists validated the comments.

If Ms. Brown is the arbiter of “news” at Facebook, I expect to read no good news about public schools and lots of reports about “failing public schools”, and “amazing charter schools”. I expect to read lots of reports about unions blocking “innovation” but nothing about the countless charters who have bilked parents and taxpayers while cheating students out of a good education. Given Ms. Brown’s work at The 74 and Mr. Zuckerberg’s forays into reform, why should readers expect anything but bad news about public schools and nothing but good news about empowering parents with the opportunity to choose their schools.

I hope I am wrong… but I trust that someone from the public school advocacy groups will be monitoring the coverage carefully.

 

 

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Three Posts by Diane Ravitch Illustrate How Three State Legislatures Enable Profiteers to Test, Pillage, and Escape Punishment

August 15, 2018 Leave a comment

Three of yesterday’s posts by Diane Ravitch illustrated how charter school profiteers operate: they get legislators to pass bills that close schools that are failing based on standardized test scores, deregulate those schools, and allow them to escape with no adverse consequences if they fail to provide an education to the students.

In Arkansas, Diane describes how the Waltons “...used their billions to leverage control of the State Education Department, the Legislature, and the State Education Board” by getting legislation passed that enabled them to get a former lobbyist appointed to Commissioner of Education and passing a law that required

“…Arkansas school districts to turn over buildings constructed with local property taxes to be turned over to any charter school that wants them, no matter how unproven the charter operator, no matter how damaging the charter might be to existing — and successful — true public schools.”

That’s not Diane Ravitch’s interpretation of the language: that IS the language! Then, when six of Little Rock’s 48 public schools were labeled “failing,” the state to took control of the entire district, ending local control. This is Ms. Ravitch’s reaction:

Read that again. The low test scores of 6 of 48 schools were grounds for the dissolution of democratic control in the entire district.The goal, of course, was to enable the Walton puppets to introduce private charter schools, which are controlled by private boards.

In another post Diane drew from a post by Mercedes Schneider describing how the Louisiana legislature passed laws that assign letter grades to schools and then use “low grades” as the basis for school closures and takeovers by profiteers. Ms. Schnieder describes the gambit underway at their State Department of Education where a recalibration of grades will result a decline of 38% in the number of A rated schools and a 57% increase in the number of F rated schools, which will broaden the pool of schools that coulee be privatized. But wait! Who are those F rated schools?

“Of course, the great irony here is that most charter schools in Louisiana are concentrated in New Orleans, and 40 percent of those scored D or F in 2017— prior to the anticipated, 57 percent increase in F-graded schools. But in the view of market-based ed reform, it is okay for charter schools have Fs because theoretically, these can be replaced by new charter schools ad infinitum with charter-closure churn being branded as a success.”

Churn might happen in Louisiana… but based on another post of Diane’s it is extremely difficult to create churn in Florida, where it is seemingly impossible of the school board to close a failing charter school. Eagle Arts Academy owes the Palm Springs School District $700,000, has declining enrollments, has shifted many of its revenues into the business of it’s head administrator, and has poor test scores. In the “free market” of charter schools, Eagle Arts Academy should be out of business… but the legislature has made it extraordinarily difficult to close a “failing charter” even though it makes it extraordinarily easy to close a “failing public school”.  As Diane Ravitch laments:

Okay, so the director puts the school’s money into his personal business. Is that a problem? So it hasn’t paid rent? No problem. The director explained that the test scores are low because the students are visual learners, you know, artistic types.

Taken together these three posts describe the life cycle of profiteers: pass legislation that makes it easy to close failing public schools; require the cash-strapped public schools to open their buildings to profiteers; and allow the profiteers to stay in business even if they fail to meet the expectations set for public schools. Oh… and last but not least make it impossible for democratically elected boards to close the profit centers. Test, plunder, and escape punishment…. all in the name of “reform”.

 

Arne Duncan Continues Tour, Amassing Evidence of His Obliviousness

August 14, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s Common Dreams included a reprint of a column by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post titled “Arne Duncan Never Learns“. Ms. Strauss, like most reviewers who do not support his brand of “reform”, was appalled at his opening statement in his new book titled “How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success from One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education.” That sentence? “Education runs on lies.” Ms. Strauss, ever the thorough researcher, offered a long list of times that Mr. Duncan used that phrase while he was Secretary of Education, and as I read through each one it became clearer and clearer that Mr. Duncan was not only lying to the audience when he uttered these epithets about public education, he was lying to himself and using these lies to buttress his narrative about “failing public schools”, a narrative that does not stand up to scrutiny.

Like earlier columns that review his latest book, Ms. Strauss’ includes highlights of an interview Mr. Duncan conducted, this time with  journalist Margaret Brennan on CBS’s “Face the Nation,.”The interview included this exchange, which includes my highlights:

BRENNAN: So, some colors and personal anecdotes but you also really, it’s not so much about how schools work but really an indictment of how schools aren’t working. It’s a very critical take in this book about the education system, and you say, “the education system runs on lies.” What do you mean by that?

DUNCAN: That’s a tough statement to make. But let me just give you a couple of notes. We say we value education, but we never vote on education. We never hold politicians accountable, local, state, or national level, for getting better results, higher graduation rates, more people graduate from college. We say we value teachers, but we don’t pay teachers. We don’t support them.We don’t mentor them the way they need to do their incredibly important, tough, complex work. And then maybe the toughest lie, for me, Margaret, is that we say we value kids and we’ve raised a generation of young people, teens who have been raised on mass shootings and gun violence. And that simply doesn’t happen in other nations. So I don’t look at what people say. I look at their actions. I’d look at their policies. I’d look at their budgets. And our values don’t reflect that we care about education, we care about teachers or that we truly care about keeping our children safe and free and free of fear.

Ms. Strauss, like me and presumably like most readers of this blog, looked at Mr. Duncan’s actions and was appalled at his ignorance and hypocrisy. First, we ALWAYS vote on education in America by adopting budgets at the local and the State level. Second, most parents assess the quality of their local schools by examining the quality of their child’s experience— not test scores or graduation rates. And, as I HOPE Mr. Duncan realizes, those parents who are engaged in the lives of their children are well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the schools their child attends and work with the schools to make them better. Finally, and most appallingly, when he held the seat as Secretary of Education Mr. Duncan never spoke out about the shootings that took place in the same way as he is now, he never enacted policies or budgets that would help schools serving disadvantaged kids get a good start and have an even playing field, and never supported teachers. Worse than his hypocrisy is his obliviousness. He fails to see that his policies damaged the equity in schools by diverting stimulus funds to assessments and the Common Core, crushed the morale of teachers by using standardized tests to measure their “performance”, and diverted attention away from the need to create the kind of nurturing environment in schools that might reduce the loneliness and alienation children feel.

Ms. Strauss does an excellent job of contrasting the failures of Mr. Duncan’s administration, page-by-page and section-by-section… but her best rejoinder dealt with his insistence that VAM would be a “game changer”:

Ample evidence exists that Duncan’s push for annual standardized testing for high-stakes decisions on teachers, students and schools was destructive and in some cases nonsensical. In some places, teachers were evaluated on students they didn’t have and subjects they didn’t teach simply because test scores had to be used as an evaluation metric.

I do not believe Mr. Duncan intentionally undercut public schools. Rather, he had a narrative about education and how to “fix” it that he clung to steadfastly in the face of accumulating evidence that his “fix” was wrongheaded and destructive. It was his obliviousness more than his incompetence or ignorance that troubles me. When the facts on the ground were not matching his beliefs he chose to ignore them and as a result children and teachers across the nation suffered an extension of the test-and-punish regimen imposed by NCLB, a regimen that is now extended even further into the future at the State level by ESSA.

When President Obama was elected I hoped that NCLB would be replaced. When it was evident that the USDOE would be the beneficiary of stimulus funds, I hoped to see an upgrade to technology infrastructure or a redoubling of the redistribution of funds that was implicit in Title One. Instead, we got Arne Duncan’s RTTT: more tests linked to adverse consequences and less respect for the hard work being done by teachers. Hope vanished… and fear was increased. John McCain would have been happy with Mr. Duncan’s work.

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“Hardening Schools”: An Example of Orwell’s “Naming Things Without Calling up Mental Pictures of Them.”

August 13, 2018 Leave a comment

Over the past several months I’ve read several stories on the need to “harden” schools. Yesterday, I read a Truthdig article by Loveday Morris, Hazem Balousha, and Ruth Eglash on the inappropriate use of the word “clash” when one side has a clear and decided advantage over another, as has been the case in several “clashes” in the Middle East. In the article, the writers cited a quote from George Orwell:

“Clash” is a reporter’s best friend when they want to describe violence without offending anyone in power—in the words of George Orwell, “to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”

On the heels of reading yesterday’s story in the New York Times, it struck me that our use of the phrase “hardening public schools” is the reporter’s best friend when they want to describe the de facto incarceration of children without offending parents, voters, and the politicians who use that phrase. After all, would anyone support the “solution” to the school shooting problem if it was was presented as

  • enclosing schools with razor-wire fences that can only be entered through checkpoints overseen by armed guards,
  • monitoring the behavior of students with surveillance cameras,
  • providing teachers with concealed weapons, and
  • having children engage in periodic drills designed to frighten them into submission should a shooter somehow get through the impenetrable fortress that constitutes a “hardened school”

“Hardened schools” fails to conjure up a mental picture… for if it did, no one would support it.

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Can Economists and Reformers Ever Be Friends? Based on John Lancaster’s New Yorker Article, Absolutely YES!

August 13, 2018 Leave a comment

I just finished reading John Lancaster’s New Yorker article titled “Can Economists and Humanists Ever Be Friends” and was struck by the similarities between the thought patterns of the economists described in the article and the “reformers” who seek to improve public education. The article, which appeared under the “Critic at Large” heading, was essentially Mr. Lancaster’s reaction to several books written by economists who attempt to quantify and codify “laws” of human behavior and use these codes to determine the economic efficacy of various decisions. In the process of doing so, however, these economists tend to overlook the humanistic consequences that flow from their decision making models. The hard core economists who use these decision models assert that once human interaction is reduced to a mathematical algorithm based on the assumption that the economic concept of “utility” is the ultimate “good”, the humanistic consequences are immaterial. The problem from Mr. Lancaster’s perspective is that “utility” is an amoral metric.

Here’s the case of a study conducted by the World Bank’s economists that Mr. Lancaster describes how “utility” ignores a major benefit to a group of human beings suffering from a crippling disease:

In the nineteen-eighties, Schapiro—who today is the president of Northwestern University, as well as a professor of economics—was part of a team that put together publications for the World Bank. One of their books had a chapter on onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness. It is a parasitic disease that has cost millions of people their eyesight, and is endemic in large parts of sub-Saharan Africa. In 1974, seven West African nations got together, contacted donors, and set out to create the Onchocerciasis Control Program, overseen by the World Health Organization. The program was a huge success, in that it prevented hundreds of thousands of people from going blind, but there was a problem: the economists involved couldn’t show that the venture was worth it. A cost-benefit analysis was “inconclusive”: the people who were being helped were so poor that the benefit of saving their eyesight didn’t have much monetary impact.“There are humanitarian benefits associated with reducing the blindness and suffering caused by onchocerciasis,” the World Bank report allowed. But “these benefits are inherently unmeasurable, and we will not account for them here.” In other words, the very thing that made the project so admirable—that it was improving the lives of the poorest people in the world—also made it, from an economic point of view, not really worth doing.

This conclusion immediately brought to mind the consequences of using standardized tests as the sole metric for “quality” in schools, a metric beloved of the economic quants who advocate their use for rating schools and teachers. Another metric the Obama administration advocated for measuring the value of post-secondary education, earnings, is equally useless. Both test scores and earnings are “utility” metrics that, like the World Bank’s metric, overlook benefits accrued by schooling that “don’t have much monetary impact”. They also overlook the fact that most of the benefits children get from public education and undergraduates get from college are inherently unmeasurable… but “reformers”, like economists, would contend that since they are “unmeasurable” there is no need to account for them… and the legislators and general public at this point seem to agree that anything that can’t be measured isn’t work considering when determining the efficacy of schooling.

As long as the public agrees that the only things worth teaching in public schools is content that can be measured in norm-referenced standardized tests and the only reason to attend post-secondary school is to earn more money than, say, a truck driver or construction worker, we will be stuck in the rut we are living in today.

Mr. Lancaster concludes his article with this observation:

The project of reducing behavior to laws and the project of attending to human beings in all their complexity and specifics are diametrically opposed.

To paraphrase this to public education, I conclude that

“The project of reducing the measurement of the worth of public education to tests and earnings and the need  of attending to the humanity of students in all their complexity and specifics are diametrically opposed.”

Anything schools can do to improve the emotional and psychological well-being of students is a huge benefit, even if it is inherently unmeasurable.

The Sad Reality: Students Returning to “Hardened” Schools

August 12, 2018 1 comment

Here’s the headline in today’s NYTimes headline article by Patrick Mazzei:

Back-to-School Shopping for Districts: Armed Guards, Cameras and Metal Detectors

The article describes the sad reality of public education’s reaction to school shootings:

  • We are investing millions on armed guards who monitor children and FAR too little on staff members who could provide support to teachers and parents when students become disengaged and depressed.
  • We are using precious and limited staff development time to train teachers on how to use tourniquets instead of how to identify and deal with students who are disengaged and depressed.
  • We are redoubling the lockdown drill training, increasing the frequency and “reality” of school shooting drills that increase anxiety and fear among students.
  • We are spending millions of limited dollars to acquire fences, sophisticated surveillance cameras, and metal detectors while roofs leak, many schools lack the technology infrastructure needed to prepare students for the future, and many teachers dig ever deeper in their pockets to provide students with school supplies.
  • We are seeking more funds from taxpayers for these expenditures at a time when spending for education overall has decreased in real dollars since the Great Recession… and decreased substantially in many states.
  • And in 10 states, districts will be debating the feasibility of arming classroom teachers… a debate that will use precious time at school board meetings, time that could be used to debate other means of dealing with student alienation and despair that leads to the school shootings.

I completely understand the urgent need to “do something”… but I am distressed that the “something” seldom addresses the root causes of student violence, which have little to do with “arms control” or “hardening” schools and more to do with making schools warm and welcoming to each and every student enrolled. I hope in the days ahead to read of a district who is taking steps in THAT direction!  I despair that we are creating schools that make 24/7 surveillance in fenced environments patrolled by armed guards the norm for our future citizens.

Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn is Right: It’s Time to Abandon “Gifted and Talented” Label

August 12, 2018 Leave a comment

Let’s Retire the “Gifted and Talented” Label“, Michael Horn’s recent post in the Christensen Institute Newsletter, had a special resonance with me. Mr. Horn argues against the label because it is inextricably linked to the tests used to identify students who are “gifted and talented” and those tests, in turn, are inextricably linked to the grouping of students in age-based cohorts that fail to take the differences in rates of intellectual maturity. But my personal experience tells me there are at least two more reasons to abandon the label.

In 1957 I was in 4th grade at the Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, having moved to that city when my father was transferred by DuPont. I recall being amazed that the math topics offered that year were identical to the math topics I covered a year earlier in Pennsylvania. I also recall one news event that fall that captured the imagination of the nation: the USSR’s launching of Sputnik. One of the immediate responses to the launch was passage of the National Defense Education Act in 1958, an act that included millions of dollars for science education and an act that sought to identify the best and brightest students to help the US win the Space Race that was launched when Sputnik orbited the earth.

At the end of 5th grade, I was identified as one of the “best and brightest” students in Oklahoma and placed in a special program with several of my peers. I am certain my “excellence” in math classes helped in my identification as one of the “best and brightest”, an “excellence” that had more to do with Oklahoma’s lagging curriculum standards than my aptitude. I also am certain that my test scores helped as well, for I have always done well on the tests that stand as a proxy for “intelligence”.  For my 6th grade year in Oklahoma, our group was assigned what would come to be called “inter-disciplinary units” instead of traditional subject-matter classes, working on projects instead of worksheets. It was by far the best year I experienced in my entire K-12 schooling. The teachers and interns worked with us closely and provided individual tutoring and counseling and my classmates were all engaged and committed to learning. We were taunted by others in school on occasion, but once we got on the athletic fields at recess our status as “gifted and talented” students didn’t matter, only our ability to kick a soccer ball (incredibly we couldn’t play football at recess!) and pitch, catch, and hit a baseball.

A year later, my father was transferred back to Pennsylvania and because of the timing of our arrival and the fact that I was “from Oklahoma”, I was placed in the second highest cohort of 60-70 students in the homogeneous groupings in junior high school. I was no longer “gifted and talented”. Instead, I was among the 80% of students at South Junior High Schoo who were identified as UN-gifted and UN-talented. From that day forward I understood the preposterousness of classifying students based on test scores or “academic performance”, for despite the fact that I earned high grades and scored high on tests in 7th grade, there was no room for me in the classrooms in the highest performing cohort and so I was relegated to the second tier for the balance of my secondary education… that is until I qualified to take calculus in 12th grade making it impossible for me to “fit” into second tier classes elsewhere.

I tell this anecdote because it reinforces two adverse elements of identifying “gifted and talented” students. First, when a small group of students is segregated as being “gifted and talented” it simultaneously identifies those NOT identified as “UN-gifted and UN-talented” as my experience with “second tier” students in Pennsylvania demonstrated to me. The teachers who worked with our group in Junior High School constantly told us explicitly and implicitly that most of us in the class “were not college material” and that we needed to work hard if we ever hoped to go on for more education. I know my friends in the top division heard a different and far more positive message from their teachers. Secondly, any isolation of “gifted and talented” students necessarily excludes students who are moving from school-to-school or region-to-region. How many students are affected by this? According to an Education Week article by Sarah Sparks from 2016, 6.5 million students per year! And that same article included this finding:

High churn in schools not only can hurt the students who leave, but also those who remain enrolled. A 2014 report by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement in Georgia found schools with higher concentrations of mobile students had higher percentages of students with disabilities and fewer students in gifted education programs.

In a report on student mobility by the National Academy of Sciences, Chester Hartman, the research director for the Poverty and Race Research Action Council in Washington, noted that high-poverty urban schools can have more than half of their students turn over within a single school year.

“It’s chaos,” he said in the 2010 report. “It makes all the reforms—smaller classes, better-trained teachers, better facilities—irrelevant.

Not only does the identification of “gifted and talented” students penalize “late bloomers”, it also penalizes students attending schools with high levels of transience and stigmatizes all the UN-gifted and UN-talented students who are NOT identified. Michael Horn is right: it is time to retire the “gifted and talented” label for once and for all and begin to identify the unique gifts and talents of all the children.