Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Broad and loud opposition to DeVos' voucher plans


Trump's Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos is determined to use the Dept. of Education's federal grant program as a weapon against public education. DeVos' stated number-one priority for the program is to “maximize” “educational choice". This means taking billions of dollars away from public school classrooms to promote school vouchers and privately run charters.

States that adopt her program, will be heavily rewarded, while those that don't will be punished. I should note that Obama's former Ed Secs, Arne Duncan and John King also used their $5B grant program to push charters and punish states that wouldn't adopt their failed "Race to the Top" program which included massive school closings and teacher firings. But DeVos' plan is Duncan squared with vouchers and "scholarships" for private schools put at the top of the list.

DeVos' Proposed Supplemental Priorities and Definitions for Discretionary Grant Programs has been met with loud opposition from a coalition of 50 school, community and civil rights organizations. The National Coalition for Public Education which includes both national teachers' unions, AASA: The School Superintendents Association, the National PTA, disability rights groups, the NAACP, and others is dead set against DeVos's priorities.

Their statement reads in part:
The Department should not reward states for adopting voucher programs that do not serve all students, fail to improve academic achievement, undermine public education funding, harm religious freedom and lack critical accountability for taxpayers. Instead, the Department of Education’s first priority should be funding, supporting, and strengthening our public schools, where 90% of our students attend.
It's a strong statement on vouchers, but unfortunately makes no mention of privately-run charter schools, the second leg of the destructive, right-wing Trump/DeVos "choice" initiative. While some groups within the coalition, like the NAACP, have been highly critical of charters, others haven't. So I'm assuming that the anti-voucher statement was the best possible without splitting the group.

In any regard, I doubt that DeVos (if she remains in power) will pay much attention to the statement unless it is backed up with protests in the streets and at schools.

Side note on charters...

Charter school operators who stand to gain from Trump/DeVos initiatives as well as from the biggest private foundations, have put their stamp of approval on DeVos' "choice" priorities. However, they do have one small criticism. They want the word "quality" put in front of "charter schools".

Quality is NACSA code language to signify that only the largest and richest charter school chains get the grants and that small, teacher-run, unionized, or "mom & pops" charters are eliminated.

Monday, November 20, 2017

WEEKEND QUOTABLES

Harold died 30 years ago. 
To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men. -- Ella Wheeler Wilcox ("Protest" 1914 poem)

 Forrest Claypool (Doing his best Jeff Sessions)
“However differently I recalled my past conversation, the documents you shared with me this week make it clear I did do that." -- Sun-Times
Diane McWhorter, author of Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution
...noted the city’s history as the industrial centre of the south and the related rise of trade unionism. “What made Alabama different from other deep south states is that it did have this pesky progressive tradition."
For the state to have gone through so much agony and now be in this position is “deeply heartbreaking”, McWhorter added, describing Alabama as something of a bellwether for the nation. “Looking back at George Wallace, we thought he was a fading and terrible relic, but he’s now in the White House, effectively. After Trump, we’re all Alabamans now.” -- The Guardian
Rev. Dr. William Barber
This is not Christianity. Rather, it is an extreme Republican religionism that stands by party and regressive policy no matter what. It's not the gospel of Christ, but a gospel of greed. It is the religion of racism and lies, not the religion of redemption and love. -- NBC News 
Fritz Kaegi
Fritz Kaegi
Within Chicago, we have a lot of cynicism ("Oh, this is just the way the system is and that's the way it's always been") but people in the rest of the country who see what we see, they see an anomaly. They see a problem. They can't quite believe it's like this. And it's become a national story. -- Hitting Left
Joshua Tepfer, attorney for victims of Chicago police corruption
“This group of police officers led by Sgt. Watts had been doing this for 10 years; corruption on this scale is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s truly astounding. This represents great hope for the future of our county.” -- Sneed
 David Figlio, economist at Northwestern University
"I think the best evidence from the best recent research ... if anything, it looks like that maybe kids going to private school on voucher programs might do worse in reading and math than they do in public [schools]," -- Edweek


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Fact-checking the checkers on miraculous CPS test score bump

Stanford researcher Sean Reardon conflated test scores with learning. 
I don't trust meteoric rises in student test scores or graduation rates. I didn't buy George Bush'"Texas Miracle" or Arne Duncan's "Chicago Miracle". I don't want to bust anyone's bubble, but there is no "magic sauce" leading to such miraculous gains. If there was, everyone would be eating it.

Neither do I accept the idea that student learning can be accurately or usefully measured by high-stakes standardized testing. More on that later.

Chicago's Better Government Association (BGA) just fact-checked the claim that “CPS students are learning and growing faster than 96% of students in the United States.” I'm glad somebody checked. But unfortunately the BGA got it only partly right and ended up joining CPS in conflating test score gains with learning.

Thank you,BGA, for pointing out that CPS leaders were cherry-picking the results of a recent Stanford study  reporting miraculous test score gains. Unfortunately, they confined their fact-checking to the study's own limited, narrow use of test data and therefore missed the forest (no Claypool pun intended) for the trees.

BGA fact checkers missed the forest for the trees.
The Stanford study shows CPS students making the fastest academic progress of the 100 largest school districts in the country. But even the researchers aren't quite sure how or why that happened or what to make of it all. For one thing, the gains are uneven across the grades. For another, they are percentage gains, and use a metric that can be interpreted in many ways.

Let me use a baseball analogy to explain. A batter strikes out his first 8 times at bat. Then he gets two hits, thereby raising his pitiful batting average from zero to .200, a 200-point increase in just one game. It's the fastest rise of any of his teammates. But at the end of the day, he's still a weak .200 hitter and will likely soon be sent down to the minors to work on his batting stroke.

In other words, rapid percentage increases often mean that the counting began and ended in a very low place. That's the most credible interpretation of the Stanford/CPS study.

According to the BGA:
CPS’ fast-paced gains were assessed in a report prepared recently by Sean Reardon, a professor of education inequality at Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis.
By comparing Chicago Public Schools students’ scores on standardized tests to those of students nationally, Reardon found that the scores of CPS students in grades three through eight improved more from 2009-14 than did the average scores of all U.S. students during that time.
But, asks the BGA,
Improvement aside, how does CPS’ overall academic performance stack up against the rest of the country? Here, the picture was not as rosy. Third- through eighth-graders in the nation’s third-largest district still perform at roughly one half to one-and-a-half grade levels below the national average, which the report describes as a “significant concern.” 
In short, CPS test scores started low, may have improved rapidly, but remain subpar. District leaders, however, were jubilant about the report, even though earlier in the week, the state released scores from the PARCC test it has administered for the past few years, showing that barely more than one in four CPS elementary students can read, write and do math at grade level. CPS officials have refused many requests to discuss those scores.

But I will.

By looking only at standardized test scores, Reardon's study is limited in the insights it can offer as to  whether or not real progress is taking place at CPS. Dramatic increases or sudden drops in test scores could be the result of many things, completely unrelated to any change in district policies or anything new going on in the classroom. For example, they could be driven by a dangerous overemphasis on test prep or a dramatic loss of student population.

Reardon's team never set foot in a CPS classroom.

CPS' student population has decreased by nearly a hundred thousand as more than a quarter-million mostly-black Chicagoans left the city over the past few decades. Many of these children in the out-migration were likely among CPS' poorest and most academically challenged students. This alone could account for the increase in scores, since standardized test scores have been shown to more closely align with parent incomes that with any district policies or professional development strategies.

Stanford researcher Reardon doesn't believe this is the case since
"...the consistency across race as well as similar growth on a nationally administered no-stakes NAEP test convinced him that CPS’ growth was real and not from a demographic shift in students or from holding lots of kids back a grade."
It may have convinced him, but not me. Test score growth may be real. But what does it really show?

As for consistency across race, CPS remains 93% students of color going to mostly segregated schools. Even if test scores increase across race, the gap across race and class remains intact. Inequality is merely reproduced. Not exactly a recipe for increased learning or for educational equity. As for the similar gains in the more highly-regarded NAEP exam, they could also be connected to changes in demographics.

CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson attributes the gains to staffers now "using data to guide instruction", and principals being "empowered to lead schools." You'd think she would have at least tossed a bone to the district's classroom teachers, especially those in special ed, who have been working overtime, with reduced staff and severe district program cuts.

Stovall & Radinsky
Even if the test-score gains are real, this doesn't mean that authentic student learning has improved. As UIC prof and CReATE researcher David Stovall put in on our Hitting Left show Friday,
"We're conflating test taking with learning and if you remove thousands of the poorest students who are are struggling, why wouldn't you have an increase (in CPS test scores)?
 HL guest Josh Radinsky, another CReATE researcher, called all the focus on test scores a "dangerous discourse." The danger being how you generate higher test scores in Chicago Public Schools by minimizing subject areas that aren't tested. There's also danger in the way these reported test score increases are used to justify bad school reform policy.

Says Radinsky:
We have been trying to get reading and math scores pumped up by artificially stimulating student performance on these bubble tests...Walk into any school in Chicago and ask, what are you doing in social studies right now. Social studies has been eviscerated by the focus on test scores. This is one example among many and we can talk about music and art. Teachers who love their kids and teach their hearts out every day are put into this straitjacket of test prep. 
I'm going to save my last point for a future post. But here it is in short. If in fact, dramatically rising test scores show that Rahm/Claypool/Jackson reform policies are working and that increased student learning has brought CPS to number-one in the race to the top, then why did the mayor support the recently-passed voucher bill to grease the exit of students from public to private schools?


Meanwhile in the burbs...While parents and students in mainly white, wealthy, high-scoring suburban districts decry the debilitating pressure resulting from high-stakes testing, CPS continues to mandate more and more testing along with more time spent on test prep.

The Tribune reports:
Parents are sending their kids to therapeutic day schools at hospitals that treat adolescent mental health issues. Teachers are changing their curriculum to factor in students' anxiety and stress. And kids are facing what they say is a constant, grinding strain throughout their academic careers. 
"There is a double-edged sword. We want kids to challenge themselves, but not at the expense of their mental well-being," said Emily Polacek, a social studies teacher at Hinsdale South High School in west suburban Darien.

Monday, November 13, 2017

WEEKEND QUOTABLES


UIC Prof. Josh Radinsky 
"We're getting the (CReATE) band back together... Vouchers or vouchers by any other name is just onc way of minimizing choices. They call it 'school choice' but it's actually forced choice and lack of choices." -- Hitting Left
UIC Prof. David Stovall
"We're conflating test taking with learning and if you remove thousands of the poorest students who are are struggling, why wouldn't you have an increase (in CPS test scores)? -- Hitting Left
Gloria Ladson-Billings, new president of the National Academy of Education
 "For kids, it's the 'so what' question, and we typically don't have good answers for them. Our answer typically is, 'You're going to need this next year,' and kids figure out by 4th or 5th grade that we're lying." -- EdWeek  
Judge Roy Moore tells Hannity
I don't remember ever dating any girl without the permission of her mother. -- Real Clear Politics
Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler
“Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.” -- ShareBlue Media 
Report...
 “Our wealthiest 400 now have more wealth combined than the bottom 64% of the US population, an estimated 80m households or 204 million people,” the report says. “That’s more people than the population of Canada and Mexico combined.” -- Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett are wealthier than poorest half of US
Letter: Say no to vouchers
Not only does it allow individuals to take money meant for public funding and put it in their private little piggy bank, but it will ultimately put a greater burden on the rest of us to come up with more money to fund our school system. -- Wayne Fuller, Concord Monitor 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A web of political intrigue involving the schools

Flynn (top left), Gulen, Prince & DeVos. 
Education is too important to be left solely to educators. -- Francis Keppel, U.S. Commissioner of Education (1962–1965)
One of the central themes running through this blog over the past 15 years has been the nexus between education and politics. It's been impossible to understand or make sense of schooling apart from the social and political environments in which it takes place. Trying to "take the politics out of education," as some have suggested to me, is like trying to teach in a dark room with the shades pulled down.

A web of intrigue... 

Two examples of this nexus appeared in the news recently. The first is the web of intrigue surrounding Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her brother Erik Prince, who is apparently considering a run for senator in Wyoming. DeVos was appointed to run the DOE and its budget, because education was too important a political piece to be left to educators, parents and community members.

Prince, the founder of the Blackwater mercenary group, will likely challenge John Barrasso, a senior member of the Senate Republican leadership. Prince has been urged to run next year by "alt-right" founder Steve Bannon, who is currently leading an attack on the Republican leadership with financial backing from the New York hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer.

Prince was an avid supporter of Trump. After the Republican convention, he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s campaign, the national party and a pro-Trump super-PAC led by GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, in a likely deal to have his sister appointed as ed secretary.

Then we learned that the United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Prince and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin, as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump.


***********

The second story of intrigue involves charter schools and disgraced Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn. It seems that Flynn, Trump's first appointed national security advisor, who now admits working as as an agent for the fascist Erdogan regime in Turkey, was involved in a possible conspiracy. Its objective: to "extract" reclusive Turkish billionaire Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, one of the largest charter school operators in the U.S., from his fortified retreat in Pennsylvania, and to turn Gulen over to the regime in Turkey.

According to the Wall Street Journal
The discussion... involved ideas about how to get Fethullah Gulen, a cleric whom Turkey has accused of orchestrating last summer’s failed military coup, to Turkey without going through the U.S. extradition legal process, according to [former CIA director] Mr. Woolsey and those who were briefed.
Without getting into the internals of Turkish politics, it does seem strange that states and school districts would continue to grant charters to Gulen. Those include the Des Plaines-based Concept Schools network here in Illinois.

Look no further than the perks and junkets Gulen hands out to U.S. politicians. Gulen's Niagara Foundation hosted dozens of trips to Turkey for elected officials including Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and other Springfield lawmakers in recent years. Madigan also recorded a video testimonial for a Concept school.

Following the failed coup attempt in Turkey and the ensuing repression, things were bound to get more complicated,with hundreds of schools and thousands of students' futures hanging in the balance.

Now comes word that DeVos may resign, since her very presence brings the schools into the middle of all this.

If trying to make sense out of the Gulen-Prince-Bannon-charter school web of intrigue makes your head spin,welcome to the club. But one thing should be clear to all of us. There's more than one game being played out here, and the schools and school reform are a small part of a much larger agenda.

Monday, November 6, 2017

WEEKEND QUOTABLES

Juanita Irizarry, director of Friends of the Park on Hitting Left. Listen to podcast n iTunes. 
Donna Brazile
“I want to talk about the arrogance and isolation of the Clinton campaign and the cult of Robby Mook, who felt fresh but turned up stale, in a campaign haunted by ghosts and lacking in enthusiasm, focus, and heart....Three titanic egos – Barack, Hillary, and Debbie – had stripped the party to a shell for their own purposes.” -- Hacks
Mark H. Haefele, Chief Investment Officer at UBS
“Investors have never felt less secure, even though we are eight years into a bull market." -- New York Times 
Bernie Sanders
 I can’t tell any one person what to do, but I will say this: despair is not an option. Now more than ever, we need you to fight back. -- Boston Review
Mehdi Hasan
We bomb them, they bomb us. They bomb us, we bomb them. Will it ever end? -- The Intercept 
Donald Trump
 According to the Japan Times, diplomatic sources confirm that with a Monday meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looming, our very lucid leader has set low expectations with complaints that “he could not understand why a country of samurai warriors did not shoot down the missiles.” -- Gizmodo

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Behind Randi Weingarten's secret meeting with Steve Bannon


The Washington Post reports that neo-fascist, white supremacist Steve Bannon, Pres. Trump’s former chief strategist (replacing the recently-indicted Paul Manafort) secretly met with AFT leader Randi Weingarten in April to talk about "education issues".

The meeting was set up by right-wing media mogul and Trump ally, Chris Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax Media Inc. who, according to the Post, "is a friend of both Trump and Weingarten". Ruddy approached Weingarten about the secret meeting because Trump “likes her” and supported opening a conversation to see whether there was common ground", says Ruddy.
The idea for a conversation between the White House and Weingarten developed, Ruddy said, when he was talking to the president about education and mentioned he knew Weingarten. Trump also knew her — both were prominent figures in New York in their own fields.
“The president knows her and likes her,” Ruddy said. “He obviously knows her from the New York world. . . . So I mentioned this to the president as an opening to communications with her. Steve [Bannon] was excited about that. I set up a meeting and they had a private meeting outside the White House.”
Actually, Trump's rationale for the meeting is much clearer than Weingarten's. Trump had already been successful in driving a wedge in the labor movement through meetings with Teamsters President Jim Hoffa and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. Each applauded Trump for pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and threatening other international trade agreements. Trumka even took a seat on Trump's manufacturing council (which never met) and supported Trump's plan to build the oil pipeline through the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota.

Also, around the same time as the Bannon/Weingarten meeting, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was holding his own closed-door meeting with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Nobody knows what went on behind those doors. But within weeks, a voucher bill was passed in IL by a majority Democratic legislature, without any resistance from Emanuel.

Weingarten however, offers no strategic or tactical rationale for her consenting to hold the secret (from her own membership) meeting. When she tries, she sounds like someone who has drunk the  populist kool-aid.
She says, she thought Bannon sought the meeting [she thought? m.k.] because he believed there was common ground; she and her union have been critical of the power of hedge fund managers and “crony capitalists,” as has Bannon. 
Bannon, an enemy of the hedge-funders???

No, no, no. Not true... Bannon's rise to power has been largely underwritten by hedge funders and crony capitalists like billionaire Robert Mercer, a long-time Trump crony who up until this week ran Renaissance Technologies and it's crown jewel, the Medallion Fund, which, according to Bloomberg, is perhaps the world's greatest money-making machine. Medallion is open only to Renaissance's roughly 300 employees, about 90 of whom are Ph.D.s, as well as a select few individuals with deep-rooted connections to the firm. The fabled fund, known for its intense secrecy, has produced about $55 billion in profit over the last 28 years.  

Weingarten tells the Intercept:
“Look, I will meet with virtually anyone to make our case, and particularly in that moment, I was very, very concerned about the budget that would decimate public education,” Weingarten said. “I wanted it to be a real meeting, I didn’t want it to be a photo-op, so I insisted that the meeting didn’t happen at the White House.”
Weingarten didn’t take notes at the meeting, which was held at a Washington restaurant, but told The Intercept she and Bannon talked about “education, infrastructure, immigrants, bigotry and hate, budget cuts … [and] about a lot of different things.”
Her takeaway: Bannon is no Martin Luther King. Really?
The [Martin Luther] King philosophy of jobs and justice is not the Bannon philosophy, let’s put it that way.”
But on the other hand, she did buy some of his faux working-class populism.
“I think he sees the world as working people versus elites. And on some level, he’s thought about educators as working-class folks."
Lots of questions here... Why did it take seven months for this meeting to be revealed, and only then by a Bannon friend? Why, with the AFT and the labor movement in general in a state of crisis, bleeding members and money, would Weingarten look to Bannon for common ground?

I'm not saying or implying that Weingarten cut a back-room deal with Bannon. I'm not sure that either of them had the power to make any kind of deal. I think this was more of a feel-out meeting that was intended to be kept secret on all sides.

Weingarten and the union leadership seem lost at sea with no real sense of direction. She has nothing to deal. Her first instinct seems to be to scramble for her own personal seat at the table. Or as she puts it...
“If you are the president of the union and you’re fighting fiercely to get budget restorations and to not have a dismantlement of public education or of higher education and the administration asks to – or it’s made clear to you that they want to meet – you meet,” she said. “You don’t not meet. You meet.”
 At the same time she was secretly not not meeting with Bannon, she was also asking DeVos to do joint school tours with her. This even while DeVos was being picketed by parents and teachers at local public schools.

But her meetings with Bannon and DeVos did nothing to get adequate funding for public ed. Since the meetings, the federal public school budget has been slashed to pieces and billions of dollars shifted over from public schools to privately-run charters and school vouchers.

Meeting with Elites... Intercept explains:
Hearing Bannon attack elites, including the types of hedge fund Democrats who fund the charter school movement, in the same way she would, was surreal. “He hates crony capitalism,” Weingarten said. “The same kinds of things [we say], you could hear out of his mouth, and that’s why it’s so — you sit there in a surreal way, saying, ‘How can you sit right next to all these elites?'
That would be a great question for Weingarten herself to answer.

No, this is not a time for secret meetings with fascist demagogues. It is a time for organizing and mobilizing rank-and-file resistance.