Posts Tagged ‘RTTT’

Bad Metrics Not Limited to Education: Employment Rates Mis-measure Our Economy Too

June 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Earlier this week, President Trump effectively released the employment figures before the official announcement and, in so doing, reinforced the notion that low unemployment rates are a sign of economic well-being. But, as Paul Constant wrote in Civic Skunk Works immediately after the release of the employment figures, that is not necessarily the case and, of late, has increasingly NOT been the case. Here’s the nub of his argument:

…if you just report on numbers, it’s very easy to fall into a Trump-friendly video-game mindset, in which larger numbers are an unalloyed good to be accrued at all costs…all these… journalists didn’t ask the most important question of all: we know the quantity of jobs. But what about the quality of those jobs?

Mr. Constant then produces reams of evidence that the quality of jobs in the “new economy” is awful:

As Derek Thompson argued at The Atlantic back in 2012, America’s postwar economy has shifted dramatically. Since the 1950s, he reports, “The manufacturing/agriculture economy shrunk from 33% to 12%, and the services economy grew from 24% to 50%.” And as most anyone who’s worked in the service economy knows, there are an awful lot of awful jobs—low-wage, part-time, no-benefit kinds of jobs—in service.

But this is not just about Walmart. Service jobs don’t have to suck—and many don’t. But I could sit here and list stats all weekend long proving that quality jobs in America are disappearing:

And on and on and on.

The fact is, sometimes in the 1970s America made the switch from high-quality, high-wage employment to low-quality, low-wage employment—and the shift is getting progressively worse.It’s gotten so bad that Axios recently revealed that CEOs openly admitted that the American worker isn’t getting a cut of the economic prosperity anytime soon: “executives of big U.S. companies suggest that the days of most people getting a pay raise are over, and that they also plan to reduce their work forces further.”

The report that Donald Trump touted today only counted the number of jobs created, not the quality of those jobs.

The truth is, this isn’t a jobs story at all. It’s an inequality story.

Mr. Constant concludes his essay with this compelling insight:

By blindly promoting economics numbers as though the highest score is all that matters, we as Americans are agreeing that the most important thing, above all else, is being employed. Never mind if you have to work two or three part-time gigs to pay the rent. Never mind if none of your employers provide health insurance. Never mind that workers are too tired and stretched too thin to find a new job, or to get training that might improve their conditions. Never mind that jobs which were once considered good careers are now paid a pittance.

When we blare the news of a great new jobs report—no matter which party is in power—we are advancing the narrative that as long as we hit our marks, nothing else matters. A job is a job is a job is a job.

Except that’s not true. Gradually, over the last half-decade, and without our consent, the deal has changed. Eventually, no amount of deft media manipulation will be able to hide that fact.

What does this have to do with public education policy? A paraphrase of that first paragraph answers that question:

By blindly promoting standardized test scores as though the highest score is all that matters, we as Americans are agreeing that the most important thing, above all else, is doing well on those tests. Never mind if you forfeit art, music, PE, and play for test preparation. Never mind if none of your school excludes students who score poorly on tests. Never mind that students are taught only what can be tested and fail to learn the soft skills that are needed in a well functioning democracy. Never mind that in the quest for high test scores we sacrifice childhood completely. 

Gradually, over the last decade-and-a-half we have made a decision to conflate good schools with high test scores and no amount to deft media manipulation can hide that fact.



Is “Reform” on the Ropes… or Getting Doctored in the Corner Before Coming Out For the KO?

May 10, 2018 Comments off

In the Rocky movies, Sly Stallone inevitably finds himself teetering on the brink of defeat after surprisingly setting his heavy-hitting opponent on his heels. When he wobbles back to the corner at the end of the 14th round, his “corner men” work to stem the bleeding in his facial cuts and encourage him to not give up. As he rises unsteadily on his feet, he looks at his faithful and beloved wife, Adrian, in the first row and is determined to finish the fight with a flourish.

In one of yesterday’s posts, Diane Ravitch draws on a post from Oklahoma teacher John Thompson to support her conclusion (and his) that reform is on its last legs. She opens the post with this:

In case you hadn’t noticed, corporate reform has failed. It is dying. Only money keeps it going. Its true believers know it is dead but they are paid handsomely to pretend there is still a pulse. If they flat out admitted that test-and-punish reform had failed, that privatization was a flop, the money train would go away.

John Thompson, teacher and historian in Oklahoma, reviews what reformers say to keep their spirits alive and their coffers overflowing.

And John Thompson’s post DOES illustrate the fact that many “reformers” acknowledge that despite their belief in the test-and-punish method of school improvement the test scores they insist on using as a metric have not moved at all. But are the reformers going to lose this fight… or will their corner men encourage them to get on their feet and win one for Adrian?

A Washington Post op ed article by Margaret Spelllings and Arne Duncan, two of the corner men for NCLB and RTTT, suggest that “reform” hasn’t failed! All schools need is more “vision… will… and political support”. This conclusion is not surprising given that these two “corner men” believe that children raised in poverty don’t suffer in school because they lack food, clothing or shelter…. they lack grit— the  determination to push ahead despite adversity. And in this op ed piece they call for the creation of a new national coalition to address the “failing” education system:

After decades of momentum across different administrations (sic), all of us believe we’re headed toward another round of unilateral disarmament. Federal education policy is rudderless and adrift.

What, today, is the national priority for K-12 schools? For higher education? What policy proposal exists today that can plausibly achieve the progress we need?

At a moment when students are marching in the streets for their right to a safe, quality education; when teachers across the country are demanding attention and investment from their political leaders; when every economic indicator confirms the growing importance of a sound education in forging a full, productive life, what is our shared national vision for our children?

From what I’ve seen, politicians prefer spending money to protect children from gun owners exercising their rights to acquire weapons designed for warfare to spending money on health care for those same children. They prefer giving tax cuts and tax incentives to corporations to giving living wages to the teachers or decent housing to those who cannot afford a roof over their heads.

But Ms. Spellings and Mr. Duncan don’t want to acknowledge that we have the money we need to improve our schools and we are spending that money on the wrong things. They would rather insist that our vision is warped, our will is weak, and our efforts are lacking… because their “Adrian”, the corporate sponsors of the political leadership, wants things to stay just the way they are in terms of “reform”.

Here’s hoping Apollo Creed wins this fight…


Reliance on Property Taxes Exacerbates Economic Divide, Opens the Door to Vouchers

April 3, 2018 1 comment

An extract from a post by Peter Greene included in Diane Ravitch’s blog post yesterday prompted me to realize that the ultimate driving force for privatization of public education is the revenue source. Mr. Greene’s blog post took aim at an op ed piece Arne Duncan wrote suggesting that test-based reform is succeeding. The one paragraph that summarized Mr. Greene’s point is this:

[His] notion that test-based accountability “revealed” achievement gaps is baloney. Educators knew where the gaps were. We’ve always known where the gaps were. We’ve screamed about the gaps. I don’t believe any teacher in this country picked up test results and said, “I’ll be damned! I had no idea these non-white, non-wealthy students were having trouble keeping up!” At best, test-based accountability was a tool to convince policy makers who would listen to data spreadsheets before they would listen to teachers. And even then, policy makers didn’t look at the data and say, “Well, we’d better help these schools out.” Instead, all the way up to Duncan’s office, they responded with, “Well, let’s target this school for closure or conversion or a growth opportunity for some charter operators.”

After quoting at length from Mr. Greene’s post, Ms. Ravitch writes (with my emphasis in bold red italics):

Charter schools are the gateway to vouchers. It is now widely understood that Arne Duncan and his friends paved the way for Betsy DeVos and her all-out war on  public schools. That is now widely recognized, even if Duncan doesn’t admit it.

Reform is failing, failing, failing. The public is wise to the reformers’ real goal, which is to privatize public schools and disparage teachers instead of confronting the real issues of poverty and segregation.

And nothing that Arne writes here changes that fact.

As I reflected on Ms. Ravitch’s conclusion, it struck me that the real gateway to vouchers is public education’s over-reliance on property taxes which has the effect of insulating thousands of students from the ravages of tax cuts or tax caps at the state and/or federal level.

When state legislatures impose deep cuts to public education or the federal government reduces funding, the school boards in affluent communities can increase their property taxes to ensure that the children in their community are insulated from the impact of cuts. Boards in less affluent communities do not have this option, and so their schools suffer. The result: the divide between rich and poor widens but the property tax burden increases in affluent towns as the funding is shifted downward.

In states where state legislatures impose property tax limitations WITH the possibility of local voter overrides— the voters in affluent districts consistently pass supplemental budgets. Thus, they protect their students and communities from the impact of budget cuts experienced in less affluent communities who do not have the tax base necessary to match the funding possible in wealthier districts. And in states where state legislatures impose property tax limitations WITHOUT the possibility of local voter overrides, school boards came up with fee-for-service models that replaced tax revenues with de facto “user fees”: children are assessed for busing, extra-curricular, and, in some cases, text books. In either case where tax caps were imposed, the schools in affluent districts did not experience the impact of limitations while the schools in less affluent districts suffered.

This ability of relatively affluent districts to raise funds to offset lost revenues through increases to property taxes or the institution of fees creates a situation where the parents and children in those districts never felt the impact of STATE tax cuts OR property tax caps. As a result, voters in those districts were indifferent to or, in some cases, fully supportive of test-driven reform because— to paraphrase Mr. Greene— their “white, relatively wealthy students WERE keeping up”. And since they were keeping up they never had to worry about doing poorly on state tests, they never had to worry about their schools being identified as “failing” and closing, and never had to replace their broad curricula with “focused” test preparation classwork.

This system of taxation is the gateway to vouchers because as long as property taxes and “user fees” are the primary source of funding, the voters in affluent districts will remain immune to the impact of STATE tax cuts and may even support them because they are already paying high local property taxes to keep their schools afloat. So when these state-tax-resistant voters in affluent districts hear that the State legislators have a means of helping “other children” in “failing schools” by giving their parents “choices”, a “solution” that requires NO increase in State taxes, they are open to supporting the idea…. And as readers of this blog realize, the privatizers are only too happy to feed them data to support the fantasy that “choice” is the silver bullet that can solve the problems of inequitable funding.

W. Edward Deming said “A bad system will beat a good person every time”… we have a bad system for school funding in place and it is, alas, beating many good people.

Diane Ravitch’s Criticism of Betsy DeVos Wrongheaded Ideology Overlooks a Practical Reality

February 7, 2018 Comments off

Yesterday Diane Ravitch wrote a post criticizing “Backpack”, a pilot new funding mechanism being launched by USDOE Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Ms. Ravitch described “Backpack” using a quote from Education Week as follows:

“DeVos and her team have been especially interested in the pilot, pretty much from the time they took office. That could be because, in theory, adopting a weighted student funding formula could make it easier for districts to operate school choice programs, since money would be tied to individual students and could therefore follow them to charter or virtual public schools. Importantly, though, districts that opt to participate in the pilot don’t necessarily have to use it to further school choice.”

While I concur with Ms. Ravitch’s insights roughly 95% of the time, occasionally she overlooks the fact that NEITHER political party has advocated for traditional public schools…. which led me to leave this comment:

Lest we forget, Mr. Duncan foisted VAM on the entire nation when he put RTTT together!

I’m not sure that either political party cares much about children. Instead they seek to replace locally elected school boards with for profit charter schools, to prove that “failing schools” can be fixed if you get rid of “bad teachers”, and to avoid any interventions that require additional funds… because “everyone knows” that throwing money at the problems in public education will not fix anything.

Had Hillary Clinton won the election in 2016 we wouldn’t have the blatant libertarianism of Betsy DeVos and her friends the Koch brothers… but I’m not at all certain we would be witnessing a renaissance in progressive learning or the abandonment of the use of standardized tests to measure success.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

In an Era Where Education Policy is Nationalized and Board Races are Funded by Outsiders, Politics and Education are Intertwined

December 29, 2017 Comments off

In a post she wrote yesterday, Diane Ravitch explained why she finds it necessary to be “political” in her blog on public education. She wrote this in response to her being named the most “overtly political thought leader” in public education in 2017:

If you don’t like bad policies, you have to become political.

If you want change, you have to become political.

If you don’t like decisions made by the U.S. Department of Education or your state legislature, you have to be political.

If you don’t like the idea of turning Title 1 and special education funding into a honey pot for vouchers, charters, and home schooling, you must be political.

If your governor and legislature want to privatize education and destroy the teaching profession, you must be political.

If you want to protect children, teachers, and public schools from profiteering predators, you must be political.

I confess.

I am overtly political.

It is a strange role for a scholar and a historian. I am supposed to observe.

But when you observe malfeasance, fraud, lies, propaganda, corruption, and error, you can’t stand by as a detached observer. You just can’t.

You have to get political, get up, act, raise your voice, fight for what you believe in.

That’s why I am political.

When I launched this blog six years ago, I intended to make it apolitical. My career as a public school Superintendent led me to be apolitical, largely because school board races in the states where I worked were non-partisan and political discourse was counterproductive to achieving the goals of the districts where I worked. Though I served on the legislative committees of my State professional organizations during my first 17 years (1981-1997), I seldom felt that out group was fighting against a national movement that opposed public schools. Indeed, the only “national” bills we opposed in that time frame tended to be ones that national Christian organizations attempted to introduce that would limit the ability of counselors to provide services to children, loosen home schooling regulations, and forbid the instruction of “secular humanism”. We tended to weigh in on financial issues, mandates that would expand our curricula without providing additional funds (i.e. teaching animal husbandry to elementary children; requiring all children to receive first aid training; mandating RNs in each school; etc.), and “local bills” that had potential State-wide ramifications. There was no dark money funding local board elections and no billionaires funding national initiatives like the Common Core… and no one in the White House who sought to nationalize assessments. In effect, despite President Reagan’s effort to politicize public education, despite President George H.W. Bush’s efforts to mobilize volunteers to help public schools perform more effectively, and despite Bill Clinton’s efforts to engage the nation in “reform” by passing Goals 2000, public education remained a local and State level issue.

All that changed with NCLB, which created a de facto national assessment for public schools and a de facto national rating system for public schools. As I came to the end of my career, I was appalled when the Obama administration reinforced the test-driven policies that were embedded in NCLB when he used millions in federal funds to launch RTTT, which required the use of tests as the primary metric for measuring school and teacher performance. As Superintendent in NH, wrote a White Paper on the issue that then Commissioner Ginny Barry shared with my colleagues as a basis for determining a response. After lengthy deliberations, NH decided to opt out of the original applications. Ultimately, NH was one of the last states to sign to RTTT, in large measure because school boards and administrators in our state place a high value on local control and are generally suspicious of any top-down mandates— particularly those that do not come with funding.

After retiring in 2011 I launched this blog intending to refrain from interjecting national political issues. But after reading Reign of Error, Diane Ravitch’s book on the movement to privatize public education, and reading extensively about the trends toward privatization, I found politics creeping into my writing. When Mr. Trump was elected, though, all bets were off… particularly when our current Governor, Chris Sununu, replaced the widely respected Ginny Barry with Frank Edelblut, a businessman-turned-politician with no experience overseeing public schools, no children who attended public schools, and a public record that expressed nothing but disdain for teachers and public education.

I DO find political activism to be frustrating, however. My local State legislators, local House member, and both local Senators are wholly supportive of the letters I write and the positions I take… but they are now foreclosed from having any voice as the GOP drafts legislation behind closed doors. I will persist in being political, though, because to do otherwise is to accept the direction our country is headed… and democracy depends on forcing the doors open when legislation is being written, depends on having one’s voice be heard, and depends on engagement when doors are slammed, ears are closed, and dissent is unwelcome.

Alternet Article Reports Confirms This Blogger’s Belief: “Ed Reform” is a Bipartisan Affair

December 16, 2017 Comments off

I read Jake Jacobs December 2 Alternet article on leaks from the Clinton campaign with disgust, dismay… and affirmation. Titled “Leaks Show How Super-Wealthy School Privatizers Sought to Influence Hillary in Lead up to Campaign”, Mr. Jacobs’ article describes how the billionaire donors affected not only the Clinton campaign, but also the Obama administration and the DNC policy. Many who supported Ms. Clinton, including the two major teachers unions, did so on the belief that she would be open to moving away from the test-centric policies put forth by President Bush in NCLB and reinforced by President Obama in Race to the Top. But had they taken their direction from the mantra of Woodward and Bernstein and followed the money, they could have seen that their donations paled in comparison to the hundreds of thousands that the billionaire “reformers” might contribute. And had Ms Clinton not accepted the donations of the billionaire privatizers on the principle that it eroded democracy and efforts to provide equal opportunities for all children she might have created a distinct difference in philosophy between her party and the Republicans.

I am disgusted and dismayed that both major political parties have merged their thinking on public education, using “talking points” thoughtfully provided by “thought leaders” who advise both parties and provide large campaign contributions to ensure that their ideas are incorporated in the party platforms. As Mr. Jacobs writes:

“Donors want to hear where she stands” John Petry, a founder of both Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and Success Academy, New York’s largest network of charter schools, told the New York Times.  Petry was explicit, declaring that he and his billionaire associates would instead put money into congressional, state and local races, behind candidates who favored a “more businesslike approach” to education, and tying teacher tenure to standardized test scores.

Clinton’s advisors warned her that wealthy donors like Petry, Whitney Tilson, or Eli Broad could walk if she didn’t support charter schools. Broad would indeed threaten to withhold funding from Clinton when she criticized charter schools for excluding difficult students. John Podesta and Ann O’Leary would publicly correct Clinton, reaffirming her commitment to charters.

The revolving door was also in full swing, with top Clinton and Obama administration officials working for “non-profits” run by Powell Jobs and Tom Steyer. In the end, the influence of the various well-connected “experts” advising Clinton could be felt in an official education platform that endorsed a test-centric approach that was becoming unpopular with parents, students and educators.

And in the end, the notion of running schools in a business-like fashion is a dominant idea in both parties, and the billionaires who advised Ms. Clinton to stay the course on “ed reform” are on their feet and providing “thought leadership” to the Trump administration:

The same cadre of billionaires that tried to steer Clinton towards unpopular pro-testing policies and controversial school privatization schemes are hard at work today. Powell Jobs, for example, has sought greater influence, funding a lavish and high-profile effort to “rethink high school” and acquiring a majority stake in The Atlantic. In July, Powell Jobs was reportedly contacted by Ivanka Trump on behalf of the administration, seeking “advice on shaping funding approaches” for STEM education in public schools.

While Eli Broad may have stepped down from his foundation, his post-disaster playbook of taking advantage of local government paralysis remains alive and well. Efforts to replicate New Orleans’ “amazing story” appear to be thriving in Puerto Rico, where schools were devastated by Hurricane Maria.

The 2014 policy book reveals some essential lessons about how education policy is crafted: in secret, with the input and influence of billionaire donors seeking more school privatization and testing—regardless of what party is in power. Even as the backlash against testing and the Common Core grew, Clinton’s advisors pushed her to embrace them. Clinton vacillated, then fell silent on K-12 policy, and as a result, education issues were largely left out of the election debate. Today, under Trump, privatization marches on worse than ever.

Until and unless the Democratic Party abandons the “businesslike approach” to public education we will perpetuate the poverty that is passed from generation-to-generation and the economic divide will continue to grow.

Kindergarten Assessments May Impact Instruction… but Inequality Matters Even More

October 15, 2017 Comments off

In an unsurprising finding that will, sadly, have a limited impact on policy, a study by Economic Policy Institute researchers Emma Garcia and Elaine Weiss found that “…children who start behind stay behind—they are rarely able to make up the lost ground.”  The study, which tracked the performance of  two academic cohorts, the kindergarten classes of 1998 and 2010, on both cognitive and noncognitive skills found that:

…large performance gaps exist between children in the lowest and highest socioeconomic-status (SES) quintiles and that these gaps have persisted from the 1998 cohort to the 2010 cohort. The positive news is that the gaps have not grown, even as economic inequalities between these two groups of students have grown. The negative news is that the gaps have not narrowed, despite the fact that low-SES parents have substantially increased their engagement in their children’s early education.

Mss. Garcia and Weiss note that this persistent gap in cognitive and non-cognitive performance denies those in the lower SES quintiles the same kinds of opportunities as those in the top quintile. The authors conclude:

The undeniable relationship between economic inequalities and education inequalities represents a societal failure that betrays the ideal of the “American dream.”

But the finding and the conclusion are nothing new. This conclusion led to the War on Poverty in the 60s, a War that was ultimately lust because of underfunding. It was initially underfunded because we needed to divert money to the misbegotten war in Viet Nam, was subsequently underfunded because of various austerity measures, and eventually fell prey to the Reagan mantra that “Government is the Problem”. Mss. Garcia and Weiss offer a cogent but naive solution to the problem:

Greater investments in pre-K programs can narrow the gaps between students at the start of school. And to ensure that these early gains are maintained, districts can provide continued comprehensive academic, health, nutrition, and emotional support for children through their academic years, including meaningful engagement of parents and communities. Such strategies have been successfully implemented in districts around the country, as described in this report, and can serve to mitigate the impact of economic inequalities on children’s educational achievement and improve their future life and work prospects.

Since “greater investments” inevitably means “more revenue” which ultimately requires “higher taxes” the chances of these recommendations being followed by the GOP led Congress and DeVos led USDOE are minuscule at best and most likely impossible. One would hope that their grounding in research would be persuasive, but again, given the GOP led Congress and DeVos led USDOE any research-based findings are unlikely to gain traction. Indeed, in the eight years of Democratic Party leadership we witnessed little to no movement toward either “greater investments in pre-K programs” or an emphasis on “comprehensive academic, health, nutrition, and emotional support for children through their academic years”. Instead. like their like-minded GOP legislators, the Duncan-led USDOE advocated market based solutions to inequality, believing that offering choices and charters was preferable to providing the funding needed to invest in Pre-K or provide “…comprehensive academic, health, nutrition, and emotional support for children through their academic years.”

Until we acknowledge that more funding is needed for the kinds of programs and services advocated by Mss. Garcia and Weiss the inequities they observed will persist indefinitely… and the betrayal of the ideal of the “American dream” will persist as well.