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The Story You Haven’t Heard on the Adelanto Parent Trigger Situation

The NEA (National Education Association) has an excellent video and web-commentary regarding the Parent Trigger Law that was activated in the Adelanto School District.

I have read and blogged on the Parent Trigger Law many times, and I have read many articles on the topic without having a really good picture of what took place.  It seemed unrealistic to me that a group of parents in this little desert town would begin a signature drive on their own to replace their public school.  Well, I was right.  Listen to the parent in the video below and how she describes being ‘approached’ by outside groups with a lot of money to get her to sign the petition.

The Parent Trigger Law is another corporate take-over scam put forth by the privatize education – reform set.  It is designed specifically to overthrow a school, displace its staff, and replace the school with a for-profit charter school.  It IS that simple – this is what the law was designed to do, don’t fall for it.

Watch the below 4 minute video, link to it, pass it around, people need to know that this is just ONE MORE way that public education is being attacked in this country.


The video tells the story of Adelanto, California, where a well-funded, outside group, “Parent Revolution,” came to town and tricked parents with false promises, while bitterly dividing the community and disrupting the education of young children.

“The video makes clear that that parent trigger laws, pending in 14 states, are not a magic wand that improves education — there is no magic wand,” said Roger Hickey of the Education Opportunity Network. “Schools need better resources, engaged parents, good teachers and a supportive community. What schools do not need is divisive campaigns that mislead and disappoint parents,” he said.

The Education Opportunity Network is part of a new movement that is building in America aimed at assuring that all children and youth have the opportunity to learn. The Education Opportunity Network is a project of the Institute for America’s Future, in partnership with the Opportunity to Learn Campaign.

“We need to work together for student success. Let’s give our teachers and students the tools and resources they need to succeed,” said Jeff Bryant — education writer and editor of the Education Opportunity Network. “We also need to invest in the priorities that build the foundation for student learning: small classes, early childhood education, up-to-date textbooks and computers, and classes like history, art, PE and music,” he said.

“Parent Trigger laws are about pitting parents against each other instead of everyone in the community working together on real solutions for educating all children,” said Bryant.

Demoralizing Teachers

Here is an excellent article from Frank Breslin, a high-school teacher with 40 years experience.  Mr. Breslin talks about evaluating teachers while ignoring other factors which also contribute to how or if a child is learning and growing academically.  I have highlighted these other factors in paragraph 2 and they are spot-on and out of a teacher’s control.

My hat is off to Mr. Breslin, this is one of the best Opinion pieces in a newspaper that I have read in a long time!  It is full of truths that teachers face on a daily basis.  A fantastic read!

Governor Chris Christie signs Bill S-1455: Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey Act at Von E. Mauger Middle School in Middlesex. State Senator Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), second from right, was the primary sponsor of the bill.

Evaluating teachers on their students’ performance has elicited much public comment of late. In essence, this view assumes that if students aren’t learning, the fault lies squarely with their teachers. Well, perhaps. But not necessarily. While the logic of this view seems compelling at first, a moment’s reflection shows that it ignores several factors over which teachers have no control.

These factors include: the home life of children; the social dislocations of our time; America’s Gospel of Instant Gratification; commercial TV; school sports; the restlessness of American society and its ingrained anti-intellectualism and ambivalence toward knowledge; youth’s distrust of the adult world and the school; youth culture and its rejection of tradition; the Millennial Generation and its outlook on life; technology’s negative impact on learning; Facebook; the eclipse of reading, and our youth’s literal-mindedness, lack of intellectual curiosity, inability to ask significant questions and disinclination to cultivate a critical mind. These are far more relevant factors that affect student learning, and an article could be written on each of them.

The issue of teacher responsibility for student learning must be placed within the broader context of what has been happening in American society for more than a generation outside the classroom. Only in this way will the discussion of the crisis within public education become more realistic, and honest, in confronting what has been occurring for decades, and why singling out teachers distorts the true nature of both the problem and its solution.

When there are too few teachers in a school, and those few are overwhelmed by large classes and find they have no time to provide individualized attention for students — many of whom come to school deeply troubled and alienated with all sorts of problems having nothing whatsoever to do with the school — is it any wonder that students find it hard to learn?

The emotional, familial and social problems of too many inner-city students are often so deeply embedded and, in many cases, treatable only by professional help, that the paltry resources of the school cannot even begin to address them. As if that weren’t enough, insult is added to injury when cash-strapped schools are then routinely accused of academically “failing their students,” when they should rather be praised for courageously carrying on in the face of such impossible odds.

But what makes matters worse is that these same schools are now set up for additional failure by being denied vitally needed funding now diverted to charter schools as part of a cleverly devised right-wing strategy of privatizing public education across the country to reward political cronies and contributors.

Rather than blaming these schools for “failing” their children, consider the war zone within which many of these schools are located: decaying neighborhoods, virtual armed camps where students must live amidst gang wars, homicides, drugs, alcoholism, unemployment, poverty, despair and hopelessness. These youngsters are defeated even before they arrive at school!

More to the point, consider the historical reasons that caused this blight: decades-old neglect that simply wrote off the inner cities to die on the vine, as state and federal funding were diverted to facilitating “white flight” to the suburbs. Blaming the “failure of schools,” as suggested by the film “Waiting for Superman,” is a willful distortion of the facts.

That sentimentalized polemic against America’s public schools is a barefaced lie that conceals the real reason for the “failure” of these schools: the deep and ingrained class and racial divisions in our nation’s history. How much easier to wax moralistic and blame the schools as the villains, the helpless victims of this enduring legacy of generations of social injustice. Much better to blame the schools, the victims of racist policies, rather than the policies themselves — or even to change them!

But what politician would dare take this on? That would mean real leadership and reform, not the crowd-pleasing pseudo-reform quick fix of demonizing teachers, blaming them for the responsibility that government abdicated decades ago. Instead of hectoring teachers to do more and more with less and less, genuine reform will only begin when government redirects its resources to address our educational infrastructure at home rather than adventures abroad. But, then again, it’s always more profitable to Haliburtonize the world than our inner cities!

Until that happens, talk of reform will be dismissed by teachers as empty, self-serving political bombast, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing but sound bites designed for the six o’clock news, launching pads for those who aspire to higher political office, even the White House.

Those who sit at the Table of the Mighty in this country have always known the answer to these seemingly intractable problems. What is wanting is simply the political will.

Until those in power dare to show true leadership by helping the poor rather than protecting the rich, until they use the power of their office to effect real change rather than scapegoating teachers and schools that are working against hopeless odds to do the impossible, rather than waiting for Superman, we’ll be waiting for Godot.

Frank Breslin is a high-school teacher with 40 years of experience. He has taught Latin and social studies and currently teaches English and German.

All Teachers Need to Join Diane Ravitch’s New Group…

Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody, Leonie Haimson, and others have launched a new education advocacy group aimed at supporting public education, which at the same time means, going against the Reform Movement funded by billionaires with no education background or teaching experience.

This is a major deal, I joined immediately!  I suggest you do to.  I also think you should pass around the link to the Network for Public Education, it is an idea whose time has come, I am also going to donate to the cause and there is a link there to do that as well!

Diane Ravitch Launches New Education Advocacy Counterforce

By Michele McNeil on March 7, 2013 1:10 PM

Education historian Diane Ravitch, a fierce critic of current education reform trends, is launching a new advocacy organization that will support political candidates who oppose high-stakes testing, mass school closures, and what her group calls the “privatizing” of public schools.

The new Network for Public Education is meant to counter state-level forces such as Democrats for Education ReformStand for Children, and Students First—all of which are promoting their own vision of education reform and supporting candidates for office, including with donations. That agenda backs things such as charter schools and teacher evaluations tied to student growth. Other powerful outside groups are also pushing such an agenda, though without the political donations, including former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education and Chiefs for Change.

In a news release, the Network for Public Education notes that “wealthy individuals are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into state and local school board races, often into places where they do not reside, to elect candidates intent on undermining and privatizing our public schools.”

Indeed, my colleague Lesli Maxwell just wrote about the big donations that poured into the Los Angeles school board race, and another one in West Sacramento, Calif.

In the release, Ravitch said her new network “will give voice to the millions of parents, educators, and other citizens who are fed up with corporate-style reform.”

The one thing the group won’t have is money to donate. Ravitch told me in an interview that her group will focus on branding people with the education-equivalent of the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” and directing other groups to donate money to those candidates.

Ravitch said they want to harness the power of social media—something that doesn’t cost anything.

What’s more, she said the network will distinguish itself from other like-minded groups (thinkSave our Schools and Parents Across America.)

“There are all of these disparate groups, and they’re not connected,” she said. “What we want to do is be the kind of glue and use the social media to create a powerful national movement.”

And while there are powerful teachers’ unions that have a similar agenda and a lot of money and influence, she said the Network for Public Education will also be a home for those who don’t belong to unions—including parents and teachers in nonunion states.

Diane Ravitch at the Save Texas Schools Rally

Diane Ravitch is the BEST advocate for public education in this country!  She is the BEST by far!  She understand teachers, our issues, and even more than that she was once closely aligned with the “reformers” before they were “reformers.”  She understands the powerful forces which are lined up to siphon off public education dollars to private education testing and charter school industries.

Please watch her, digest what she is saying, and forward this video to ALL your teacher friends!


Jeb Bush and Florida’s Education Miracle Or, Lack Thereof

I have read about Jeb Bush’s “Florida Miracle” more times than I desire to count.  I have also read of the deplorable conditions for Florida’s teachers and students and the wholesale ‘outsourcing’ of public dollars into private charters and testing companies.

This editorial speaks to JB’s record on education, and if you are a teacher or a concerned parent, it isn’t something you would want to brag about.  I thank Mr. Versteeg for publishing this editorial in the Palm Beach Post.

Editorial: Florida needs no advice from Jeb Bush on education policy

By Jac Versteeg

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Former Gov. Jeb Bush has an undeserved reputation as an education reformer. Florida’s recent education progress has come not from implementing Mr. Bush’s policies but from cleaning up after them.

Mr. Bush has been visiting legislators in Tallahassee to talk about education policy. Get out the mops and buckets. Taxpayers also should reach for their wallets, since the former governor’s new big ideas involve transferring more public dollars to the for-profit companies behind him.

Mr. Bush’s biggest idea, enacted immediately after taking office in 1999, was to give each school an A-to-F grade based on student scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. That misuse of the the FCAT continues. The test’s many shortcomings were even more serious when Gov. Bush initiated FCAT tyranny. The test covered only a few subjects, students took it long before the end of the school year, and half of elementary and high-school students didn’t even take it. Yet the entire school received a grade, on which parents, students and Realtors fixated.

Gov. Bush also instituted one voucher program the courts ruled unconstitutional and another “corporate voucher” program that, ironically, lets low-income students avoid taking the FCAT.

The Legislature gradually is replacing the FCAT with end-of-course exams. In yet another revision to the grading formula Gov. Bush perversely and prematurely treated as infallible, Florida made FCAT scores count less in some school grades. Still, Florida in 2011 also required teachers to be evaluated based on FCAT scores, even if a teacher had no students who took the FCAT.

This is not “creative destruction.” It’s harassment, and it has created enormous ill will. Gov. Rick Scott’s frantic reversals in preparation for a reelection run — he has called for teacher raises not linked to the FCAT — show how unpopular Mr. Bush’s education legacy is.

With the FCAT writing test looming this week, a Palm Beach County school board member spoke for many educators when she lamented that “this is one test on one day that means more than it should.” But urging students and parents not to stress out is futile. Failing the FCAT still has out-sized consequences — such as no diploma.

Mr. Bush’s fans note that Florida’s education rankings and results have improved. The dubious rankings give Florida credit simply for having “accountability,” systems even if those systems are bogus. Improving test results and graduation rates are incremental and could have been achieved — and surpassed — more quickly without the turmoil Mr. Bush inflicted.

Now Mr. Bush heads several foundations pushing for a rapid expansion of charter schools and virtual schools. His Foundation for Excellence in Education accepts donations from private companies that would profit from lax new laws that Florida and other states are rushing to enact. The sort of careless “reform” Jeb Bush advocates will end up with taxpayers fleeced and students and parents cheated. He has a reputation for reform. He has a record of making messes.

Jac Wilder VerSteeg

Superintendent John Kuhn

This is one of the best speeches I have heard about teachers!  I have written about Superintendent John Kuhn before, this guy is so on-point for why many teachers feel demoralized on a daily basis.  Please watch the video and pass it around, it is THAT good!!!

Thank you John Kuhn!!!

John Kuhn’s Rally Speech
By John Kuhn – Supt 
Mar 1, 2013, 08:39

Are there any teachers in this crowd?

I want to say something to teachers that our lawmakers should have said long ago: Thank You! Thank you for keeping our children safe. Thank you for drying their tears when they scrape their knees, for cheering on our junior high basketball players, for going up to your room on Sundays to get ready to teach my kids on Monday. Gracias por cuidarlos! As a dad, I thank you.

Coaches, thank you for fixing little girls’ softball swings and for showing our boys how to tie their ties. Thank you for getting our children safely home on the yellow dog after late ballgames, marching contests, and one-act plays.

Thank you for buying all those raffle tickets, hams, pies, discount cards, Girl Scout cookies, insulated mugs and pumpkin rolls, for buying more playoff shirts than any one person could possibly need and on top of all that spending your own money on pencils and prizes and supplies for your classroom.

There are those poor deluded souls who say you take more than you give, and I disagree with them with everything I am. Don’t let them get you down. They wouldn’t last a day in your classroom. You are NOT a drain on this economy; you are a bubbling spring of tomorrow’s prosperity. You’re a fountain of opportunity for other people’s children. As educational attainment goes up, crime, teen pregnancy, unemployment, and prison rates all go down. Squalor and ignorance retreat. Social wounds begin to heal. Our state progresses; our tomorrow brightens. What you do, teacher, is priceless. You don’t create jobs. You create job creators.

Some people don’t understand why you do what you do. They think merit pay will make you work harder, as if you’re holding back. They don’t understand what motivates you. They think the threat of being labeled “unacceptable” will inspire you to care about the quality of your instruction, as if the knowledge that you hold the future in your hands on a daily basis is not incentive enough.

Maybe these sticks and carrots work for bad teachers, but they only demoralize the great ones, and there are thousands and thousands and thousands of great teachers in our public school classrooms today.

Some people have forgotten that good teachers actually exist. They spend so much time and effort weeding out the bad ones that they’ve forgotten to take care of the good ones. This bitter accountability pesticide is over-spraying the weeds and wilting the entire garden.

You stand on the front lines of poverty and plenty, on the front lines of our social stratification. You are the people who shove their fingers into gushing wounds of inequality that our leaders won’t even talk about, and you aren’t afraid. You’re the last of the Good Samaritans, and you aren’t afraid, even as they condemn you for trying but failing to save every last kid in your classroom. You aren’t afraid, and you keep trying, and you haven’t faltered. You deserve to be saluted, not despised. You deserve to be acclaimed. You deserve so much more than the ugly scapegoating that privatizers peddle in the media and our halls of government.

Teacher, bus driver, coach, lunch lady, custodian, maintenance man, business manager, aide, secretary, principal, and, yes, even you superintendents out there trying to hold it all together—you serve your state with skill and honor and dignity, and I’m sorry that no one in power has the guts to say that these days. History will recognize that the epithets they applied to your schools said more about leaders who refused to confront child poverty than the teachers who tried valiantly to overcome it. History will recognize that teachers in these bleak years stood in desperate need of public policy help that never came. Advocacy for hurting children was ripped from our lips with a shush of “no excuses.” These hateful labels should be hung around the necks of those who have allowed inequitable school funding to persist for decades, those who refuse to tend to the basic needs of our poorest children so that they may come to school ready to learn.

They say 100,000 kids are on a waiting list for charter schools. Let me tell you about another waiting list. There are 5 million kids waiting for this Legislature to keep our forefathers’ promises. There are 5 million children, and three of them live with me, and they’re all waiting for somebody in Austin, Texas, to stand up for them and uphold the constitution. There’s a waiting list of 5 million kids and this government says they can just keep waiting. How long must they wait?

If you support public schools I want to tell you about a new website. Go to and add your child’s name to the public school waiting list, the list of kids waiting for this government to provide adequate school funding. That’s

Our forefathers’ promises must be kept. We want fair and adequate resources in our kids’ schools. We want leaders who don’t have to be dragged to court to do right by our children.

It’s not okay to default on constitutional promises. It’s not okay to neglect schools until they break, to deliberately undermine our public school. These traditional institutions have honorably served their communities for generations. It’s not okay to privatize a public school system that strong and generous people built and left to us; it’s not okay for Austin to confiscate buildings built by local taxpayers and give them away to cronies and speculators.

These buildings aren’t just schools, they’re touchstones. They’re testaments to our local values. The Friday night lights that have illuminated our skies for decades, the school gyms that have echoed with play since the Greatest Generation was young—these aren’t monuments to sports. They’re monuments to community. They’re beacons of our local control, of the togetherness we cherish in our hometowns and city neighborhoods. We don’t want education fads imposed on us by Austin or, even worse, out-of-state billionaires.

What we want is simple, tried, and true. We want what this state promised in 1876. And to those who want to take away that promise, I know some moms and trustees and local business people who will say what brave Texans have said before: “Come and take it.”

Two years ago I asked state leaders to come to our aid; they responded by cutting school funding by billions. But help did come: it came from you. The people of Texas are the cavalry that will save Texas schools. Two years ago may have been the Alamo; but this year may well be our San Jacinto.

I will end by saying this to the advocates who are bravely defending public education: thank you. And one more thing: do not go gently into that good night. Stand and fight, and save our schools.

Thank you.


Editorial: High-Stakes Tests Are Killing Our Schools

I have written many, many times about high-stakes testing and the harm that it is causing to our schools.  It appears that I am not alone, actually, I am FAR from alone in having that sentiment.

The juggernaut of high-stakes testing has, in and of itself, become like a massive snowball rolling downhill.  It started with the disastrous No Child Left Behind law under George W. Bush…at that time it was simply a small little ball of closely packed snow…and it had yet to start on its downward trajectory.  It has since exploded in size and gravitas as it has made its way downhill, but it is no longer pure and white, it is dirty and stained with the carcasses of schools and countless thousands of dedicated teachers whom have been steamrollered by it.

Join me in reading this excellent editorial about how high-stakes testing is killing our schools:

If the absence of outrage in response to the standardized scores released Monday puzzles you, consider the absence of any serious, break-the-mold reforms in the ways we educate our kids.

Comedian Jon Stewart wasn’t far off when, during an interview with Michelle Rhee last week, the son of a teacher quipped there has been “no real innovation in education since John Dewey,” the philosopher credited for reforms implemented more than a century ago.

Rhee, you may remember, pioneered new teacher evaluation systems as chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools from 2007 to 2010. The system relied heavily on standardized test scores, and Rhee was ultimately forced out for her heavy-handed — and unsuccessful — tactics. Today, Rhee is peddling her new memoir, “Radical,” while her successor tries to implement a modified version of Rhee’s accountability system.

It won’t work, of course. Neither will the threat of a state takeover of local schools that fail to bring their MEAP scores up, nor even the push for STEM curriculum such as that at Battle Creek Public’s Dudley elementary.

We have monumental problems in our schools, and testing kids more and blaming teachers when they fail won’t help us solve any of them. Indeed, it will likely make them worse.

High-stakes testing may be the ultimate expression of what’s wrong with education in America, a system that’s been in steady decline for the past four decades, a period that roughly coincides with the rise of standardized testing.

Politicians, statisticians, test-writers and maybe even some educators are enchanted by the idea of an objective measure of a teacher or school’s success, but they seem uninterested in any objective analysis of whether those tests yield any reliable data about what’s happening in the classroom. Instead, repeated failures seem only to fuel the pursuit for a better test.

The irony is that what is happening is really no mystery. The deprivation of financial resources coupled with a regimented, dispassionate approach to measuring outcomes will by design sort out winners and losers. It’s a system that preordains kids to failure, and those who fail most often come from poor communities where “teaching to the test” is turning out generations of people ill-equipped to adapt in a rapidly changing world.

Our schools are processing kids rather than teaching them, and human brains and experiences are far too complex to fit neatly into assembly line-inspired matrices.

The monumental challenge that our educators face is to rethink how everything is taught, to apply rigor to how they evaluate their successes and failures, and to ask critical, uncomfortable questions about the very purpose of their work.

Do students see what they learn as a tool for understanding and thriving in the world as they know it? How much energy is spent on engaging children in the life of their communities? How welcoming are our schools and classrooms to parents and other adults? Do our teachers and administrators model democratic values, or do they exemplify conformity and blind allegiance to a zero-sum paradigm where somebody has to fail?

So long as standardized tests are coupled with punitive consequences for schools, teachers and ultimately children, the decline of our schools will continue.

Our leadership, our parents and our educators should be demanding something better. Our kids deserve better.

Charter Schools: Not Public Education Because Not All of the Public Has Access!

Stephanie Simon @ Reuters has done an excellent investigative and eye-opening report on Charter Schools and how they ‘selectively’ admit students.  I suggest that if you are involved in the world of public education you take a look at this piece.

You see, charters are billed as ‘open to all’ – which, to those of us in education is Utter Nonsense!  I have personal experience with this at one of the schools where I worked.  At my middle school, we would get a deluge of students from nearby charter school around November of each of the two years I worked at this particular school.  I wondered what was happening and I asked a veteran teacher who opened my eyes to the games that charters play.

The charter would admit students, even special needs students, and then as the year progressed and after they received their funding per child, they would make attempts to jettison and force out any students who didn’t perform well, or had behavioral challenges.  Who was there to pick up the pieces?  Traditional public schools of course.

In this article you see the barriers that some charters put in place for students to get in.  Basically what they are doing is taking some of the top performing students academically and siphoning them out of the public school system which, by law, MUST take ALL students.  When this happens, test scores go up for those charters who utilize this practice, and the public schools suffer.  It is a travesty!  The charter school industrial complex needs oversight to make sure that they comply with THE LAW to allow all students access, only this will level the playing field with public schools.

Below is just a snippet of this important story by Stephanie Simon, I recommend clicking through and reading the whole thing.

Teresa Villanueva (L) and her 11-year-old daughter Laritza receive help on their charter school application from Barrio Logan College Institute counselor Jennifer Pena (R) in San Diego, California, February 7, 2013. REUTERS-Mike Blake

By Stephanie Simon

Fri Feb 15, 2013 8:42am EST

(Reuters) – Getting in can be grueling.

Students may be asked to submit a 15-page typed research paper, an original short story, or a handwritten essay on the historical figure they would most like to meet. There are interviews. Exams. And pages of questions for parents to answer, including: How do you intend to help this school if we admit your son or daughter?

These aren’t college applications. They’re applications for seats at charter schools.

Charters are public schools, funded by taxpayers and widely promoted as open to all. But Reuters has found that across the United States, charters aggressively screen student applicants, assessing their academic records, parental support, disciplinary history, motivation, special needs and even their citizenship, sometimes in violation of state and federal law.

“I didn’t get the sense that was what charter schools were all about – we’ll pick the students who are the most motivated? Who are going to make our test scores look good?” said Michelle Newman, whose 8-year-old son lost his seat in an Ohio charter school last fall after he did poorly on an admissions test. “It left a bad taste in my mouth.”

Set up as alternatives to traditional public schools, charter schools typically operate under private management and often boast small class sizes, innovative teaching styles or a particular academic focus. They’re booming: There are now more than 6,000 in the United States, up from 2,500 a decade ago, educating a record 2.3 million children.

In cities and suburbs from Pennsylvania to Colorado to Arizona, charters and traditional public schools are locked in fierce competition – for students, for funding and for their very survival, with outcomes often hinging on student test scores.

Charter advocates say it’s a fair fight because both types of schools are free and open to all. “That’s a bedrock principle of our movement,” said Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association. And indeed, many states require charter schools to award seats by random lottery.

But as Reuters has found, it’s not that simple. Thousands of charter schools don’t provide subsidized lunches, putting them out of reach for families in poverty. Hundreds mandate that parents spend hours doing “volunteer” work for the school or risk losing their child’s seat. In one extreme example the Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove, Illinois, mandates that each student’s family invest in the company that built the school – a practice the state said it would investigate after inquiries from Reuters.


And from New Hampshire to California, charter schools large and small, honored and obscure, have developed complex application processes that can make it tough for students who struggle with disability, limited English skills, academic deficits or chaotic family lives to even get into the lottery.

Among the barriers that Reuters documented:

* Applications that are made available just a few hours a year.

* Lengthy application forms, often printed only in English, that require student and parent essays, report cards, test scores, disciplinary records, teacher recommendations and medical records.

* Demands that students present Social Security cards and birth certificates for their applications to be considered, even though such documents cannot be required under federal law.

* Mandatory family interviews.

* Assessment exams.

* Academic prerequisites.

* Requirements that applicants document any disabilities or special needs. The U.S. Department of Education considers this practice illegal on the college level but has not addressed the issue for K-12 schools.

Many charters, backed by state law, specialize in serving low-income and minority children. Some of the best-known charter networks, such as KIPP, Yes Prep, Green Dot and Success Academy, use simple application forms that ask little more than name, grade and contact information, and actively seek out disadvantaged families. Most for-profit charter school chains also keep applications brief.

But stand-alone charters, which account for more than half the total in the United States, make up their own admissions policies. Regulations are often vague, oversight is often lax – and principals can get quite creative.

When Philadelphia officials examined 25 charter schools last spring, they found 18 imposed “significant barriers,” including a requirement from one school that students produce a character reference from a religious or community leader.

At Northland Preparatory Academy in Flagstaff, Arizona, application forms are available just four and a half hours a year. Parents must attend one of three information sessions to pick up a form; late arrivals can’t get in. “It’s kind of like a time share (pitch),” said Bob Lombardi, the superintendent. “You have to come and listen.”

Traditional public schools have their own built-in barriers to admission, starting with zip code: You don’t have to write an essay to get into a high-performing suburban school, but you do have to belong to a household with the means to buy or rent in that neighborhood. Many districts also operate magnet or exam schools for gifted students, some of which admit disproportionately fewer low-income and minority students.

Yet most of the charter schools that screen do not set themselves up as elite academies for the gifted. They bill themselves as open to all. For two decades, that promise of accessibility and equity has been the mantra of the charter school movement. It’s proved a potent political argument as well, as advocates have pressed to expand the number of charters and their share of public funding.

Zombie Ideas in Education

This article by Arthur Camins is from last November, it talks about Zombie ideas in education and couples them with a discussion of the film the Fog of War (which incidentally I think everyone should see) in which Robert McNamara discusses how we got into the Vietnam War and how it escalated.  Basically the leaders in our country NEVER looked at the evidence that was staring them in the face about the Vietnamese, and just went ahead pursuing their incorrect ideological agenda.  Does this sound familiar with regard to education reformers?  It should.

Take a few minutes to read this excellent article and the 4 points below (myths really) about the current public school system.  I highly recommend this article as a read, nice work Mr. Camins.

 By Arthur H. Camins

With the election behind us, it is time for the Obama administration to step back from its education policy and access whether its foundation is sound and supported by evidence. It is a moment to summon the courage to change course.

 We have had wars on drugs, poverty and terrorism. Now, depending on perspective, we have a war either for or on education. Certainly, many educators feel under siege. Popular slogans like, “Whatever it takes,” sound like battle cries.  This brings to mind the documentary film, “The Fog of War,” as a metaphor for education reform.

In the hopeful 1960s, the nation’s focus on poverty was undone by a president fearful of accusations of being weak on defense and soft on communism and trapped by unexamined cold war logic. Lyndon Johnson failed to heed President Eisenhower’s prescient warning to beware of the influence of the military industrial complex.  As many presidents who succeeded him, Johnson permitted the defense industry to have undue influence in the making of foreign policy.

In the “Fog of War,” an aged and surprisingly reflective war architect, Robert McNamara, makes a compelling case that once the United States found itself enmeshed in war, an intellectual shroud clouded the ability of policy makers to see the evidence in front of them.  Vietnam War-era policy makers understood North Vietnam as a tile in a row of falling dominoes that would lead to the worldwide communist domination.  While it was readily apparent that their assumptions about the motivations of the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong were entirely mistaken, Johnson and his advisers could not recognize or admit that they were wrong. Nor could they summon the courage to change course.  Such is the distorting power of unexamined ideology.

I think many of the powerful supporters of market–driven education reforms are caught in the fog of their self-made education war.  In classic ends-justifies-means thinking, they dismiss the negative impact of over-testing on students learning and the injustice of using  imprecise value-added modeling for teacher evaluation and dismissal.

During the Vietnam War many people used evidence to show that the United States government did not understand its declared “enemy” and that the war was counterproductive though Johnson, McNamara and those in the defense industry who profited from the war were not persuaded.  Listening to McNamara’s telling of the tale, it is not clear whether their failure to change course was because no one inside the decision circle was willing to challenge the conventional thinking, or because there was an unwillingness to admit defeat and cede power or influence to their perceived internal enemies. By the time McNamara voiced any doubts, the course of action was too deeply set. 

 Similarly, I have been trying to understand the persistence of education reformers, especially those in federal and state government, in the light of so much contrary, well-articulated evidence.  I have been trying to understand how teachers who oppose charter schools and merit pay, or who make the case that schools alone can’t undo the effects of poverty, have come to be defined by education reformers as the enemy  –  supporters of and apologists for the status quo.  Somehow, educators who do not support the reformers’ ill-conceived version of disruptive innovation, but who have proposed myriad significant improvement, have been cast as defenders of bad teachers who supposedly believe poverty is destiny. Reformers have become so enamored by their own ideology and so invested in their own course of action that they are unable to recognize the evidence that challenges their policies and unable to recognize the damage it is causing to students.

 I conclude that, as with the Vietnam War, eventually some combination of unrelenting organized opposition and the weight of the failure of the policy itself will eventually bring the folly to an end… but not before inflicting considerable damage on students and their teachers.  President Obama, what education legacy do you want to leave?

In a recent interview for NBC’s “Education Nation” President Obama said, “You know, I’m a big proponent of charter schools, for example. I think that pay-for-performance makes sense in some situations.” Later in the interview, he said,  “What we have to do is combine creativity and evidence-based approaches. So let’s not use ideology, let’s figure out what works, and figure out how we scale it up.”

 I want to believe the president’s statement about ideology.  But, frankly, I am not reassured. What logic and evidence is behind his support for scaling-up charter schools, merit pay, or for sanctions that require the firing of administrators at struggling schools typically inhabited by poverty-stricken students?  Mr. President, are you open to the possibility that maybe your assumptions are wrong?

 Following are several big ideas behind current education reform.  Each of them is either not supported by evidence or is inapplicable to education.

 Failing School Systems: The popular myth is that K-12 education in the United States has not changed much for the last hundred years and that we have made only incremental improvements in outcomes. We certainly do not yet have the outcomes we want, but in reality, NAEP reading and math scores are at their highest levels as are graduation rates. In fact, many of the effective teaching strategies that lead to deeper learning and are common in high-scoring countries such as Finland are also found in many U.S. classrooms.  Powerful professional learning strategies such as lesson study, common in Japan, have become more widespread in the United States.  What limits the spread of these practices is not educator resistance, but insufficient funding and an overemphasis on test scores as the central outcome goal.

 What separates education in the United States from so-called competitor counties is that on average, socioeconomic status explains far more of the variation in test scores in the United States than in other industrialized countries.  But, as many researchers have pointed out, it is not the presence of unions, tenure, or collective bargaining that explains that difference.  A more plausible explanation is that the more successfully scoring countries have far more substantial social support systems to mediate the negative effects of poverty.  A far stronger argument can be made that we need to change our focus — especially in struggling schools — from the drudgery of high consequence driven test-prep to engaging students to be critical thinkers and active investigators in meaningful subject matter. Or, even better, from spending millions on testing to spending millions on support services.  In addition, the evidence is mounting that schools can also teach essential non-cognitive competencies, such as persistence, ethics, empathy and collaboration. Since the latter are not easily subject to measurement, the continued focus on testing narrow, more easily measured subject matter diverts important attention from their development.

 Disruptive Innovation:  Innovative companies such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Apple have rapidly revolutionized how we all communicate.  Their success is not just the result of invention, but rather in designing the integration of multiple technical and process innovations, as well as successful marketing to the public.  Their transformative power is measured not only in winning over customers from rivals, but in changing the entire landscape so that their rivals must change what they offer and how they operate in order to survive. The thinking of market-based reformers is that we need to make similar rapid and dramatic change in how we educate students.  The need for dramatic improvement, especially for children from low-income families, is assailable. But, for every new private sector idea that was transformative, there were thousands generated that were not. In addition, not every idea that is transformative is necessarily good for society.   For example, market-supported product and process innovations in the fast food industry have transformed how and what families eat.  Consumers “choose” MacDonald’s.  Is this a healthy desirable outcome? Ideas rise and fall, as do the fortunes of their developers and investors. This is, I think what reformers have in mind when they push for increasing the “market share” of charter schools that will need to compete for enrollees.  Customers decide whether they want to buy an iPhone or a Blackberry.  As a result, Apple stocks flourish and RIM’s plummet. For reformers, schools are just another market choice. However, is this the best way to decide on the form and content of schools for children in a democracy?  What happens to kids when schools open and close?  Instability in the restaurant marketplace may be acceptable, but disruption in schools and teachers is a disaster for students whose lives are already too chaotic.

 There is no evidence in the United States or anywhere in the world that market-driven choice among competing charter schools is a successful systemic strategy to improve learning for all students — not anywhere! Arguably, the likely result of charter school proliferation is that some students will get to go quality schools, while many others will not.  This is hardly transformative.  It is a replication of what we have now. In addition, rather than mediating current geographic segregation patterns through more integrated schools, it will exacerbate racial and socioeconomic isolation.

The Sword of Damocles: In a recent New York Times column, David Brooks argued that it was the absence of the proverbial sword hanging by a thread over the heads of teachers that explained presumed lack of innovation in schools.  Is there evidence to support the notion that private sector innovation in product quality – not short-term profit — is advanced by fear?  Is there evidence that fear and competition will spur more effective teaching?  If anything, the evidence suggests the opposite.  There is no credible evidence to support the reformers’ theory of action that merit pay and of the threat of firing of presumably low-performing teachers will drive systemic improvement.  It is pure unsubstantiated ideology. 

 In his popular book, “Drive,” Daniel Pink summarizes the research regarding motivation.  Extrinsic rewards are only effective to improve performance for short-term, simplistic tasks.  Performance and learning with respect to complex tasks (teaching, for example) is undermined by reward systems.  In addition, research shows that once a threshold of “fair pay” is reached, rewards for performance provide no benefit and may be counterproductive. Arguably, the result of reward systems – especially with untrusted metrics – is ethical lapses. We have known all of this for a long time, yet the reformers keep insisting on it as policy in the name of innovation. This is yet another case in the fog of the education war in which ideology trumps evidence.          

Fire the Bottom 10 percentAnother pillar of current education reform, made famous by Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, is that annual firing of the lowest performing 10 percent of managers drives improvement. Presumably, this is what is behind the push to annually rank teachers across four or five normative performance categories. The charge is that tenure, inadequate teacher and principal evaluation systems, the absence of clear outcome-based performance metrics and lack of competition makes educators complacent about making needed change. By this way of thinking, the relatively low percentage of teacher firings and persistent poor student performance are prima facie evidence to support this strategy.  This appears to be the justification for firing 50 percent of the teachers and the principal as a turn-around strategy in Title 1 schools. However, except with reference to anecdotal outliers, there is no evidence to support this idea. 

 In addition, firing as a systemic strategy fails the logic test.  There is no substantial evidence that there are so many ineffective teachers or that this is the principle cause of low student performance. Unless it is inexplicably assumed that there is a pool of more effective teachers just waiting to be hired, replacement can only work for a minority of schools. GE might beat out Frigidaire for best refrigerator engineers, but that is only a winning strategy for GE’s bottom line, not the consumers. Once again, applied to schools, this is unexamined ideology driving policy.

 I hope it will not take decades to see our way out of the fog of the education war.   I hope some inside government official will not wait as long as McNamara to speak up. However, reasoned argument is not enough. Without massive organized opposition these policies are unlikely to change.

Students in Rhode Island Protest Testing

I expect that as time moves on, and as students, teachers, parents, principals, and superintendents in this nation get more and more fed up with testing and testing pressures, something will give.

I am not sure yet what exactly will give, or how it will happen, but the pressure is building.  Any change to existing laws will have to be a compromise because the testing industrial complex has a strangle-hold on our law makers today via their well paid lobbyists in Washington.

Parents, teachers, and students are the under-dogs in this altercation.  All the more reason we need to stick together and get the message out.

Here is a video of students in Providence, Rhode Island taking it upon themselves to protest their standardized test…


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