Thursday, December 31, 2009

Florida schools--Parallels to depression era

Good story from Lake Wales, Fl.

The economic challenges that followed the Florida real estate bust in 1926 and the devastating hurricanes of 1926 and 1928 (called the Forgotten Storm--M.K.) reveal state and national parallels with the Great Depression and the Great Recession of 2007-08.

In 1931, Florida ranked 43rd in average teacher pay and 39th in money spent annually per student. With a reduced state budget, the school year was shortened to six months and many small schools closed. The average teacher salary by the mid-1930s was only $1,039 per white teacher – about $16,000 in today’s purchasing power. Black teachers were at half that pay. In the late ’30s at our Miami Beach school, it was not unusual to have an out-of-date textbook with four or five names scratched through of students from earlier years. (Lake Wales News)

It's 2010, Mayor Daley

Do you know where your Renaissance is?
"We don't have a library, we don't have a school, so Mayor Daley, what do you want us to do? We don't want to rob, we don't want to steal, and we are tired of seeing teens get killed." (Chicago Tribune)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


'It's about relationships...'

Jay Steele, Nashville's high school superintendent, believes that smaller learning communities are the key to high school reform.
It's about relationships. Being a band teacher, you form relationships with kids that go beyond the classroom. You form relationships with the community — you're working with large groups of kids and parents, and you're providing experiences that will last a lifetime for a group of kids. It's the same concept in redesigning high schools. High school redesign is about creating positive experiences for kids that enrich their lives and establish relationships with nurturing adults. Once you have that in place, attendance increases; discipline problems decrease. The kids see relevance in why they're going to school. Then it's easy to raise the rigor of what's being taught. (
The Zero-Tolerance gap
The causes of over-disciplining reside at the intersection of family poverty, under-funded schools, inadequate teacher training and deeply-rooted cultural biases in the way administrators and students of color respond to each other. It explains why some students get a slap on the wrist for fighting while others get a ride to the police station (David Thigpen, "Rethinking School Discipline" at Huffington).
View from right field

Conservative Mike Petrilli has some valid points to make in his critique of "anti-intellectualism" embedded in Arne Duncan's Race To The Top reforms and a curriculum that focuses almost exclusively on easily testable reading and math. Of course all this didn't begin with the Obama regime and Petrilli's alternative seems just as bad to me--E.D. Hirsch's list of what every smart person should know. When you've run through the list, voila! You're smart.
Democratic reformers had better be careful. An obsessive focus on nothing but basic skills in reading and math, which can be chopped into little bits of data with which we can make all manner of decisions, will result in a generation of students who will make Palin sound like Socrates. (The Gadfly)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

WaPo unwraps Duncan's Chicago legacy

"We're proud to have made significant progress . . . and to really be a model of national reform."--Arne Duncan at his January confirmation hearing

First we had the so-called "Texas Miracle" back in 2000 when Texas Gov. George Bush and then-Houston Supt. Rod Paige rode the myth of zero high school dropouts all the way to the White House. A decade later Chicago Democrats followed suit and created the "Chicago Miracle," the myth of Arne Duncan's 7-year tenure as Mayor Daley's appointed school chief in Chicago. This myth has now been turned into an imposed top-down model for the whole country, including widespread school closings, staff firings, the expansion of privately-managed charter schools, back-to-basics curriculum, heavy reliance on standardized test scores, and mayoral control of the schools.

It took a better-late-than-never New York Times report in 2003 to tear the cover off of the miracle in Texas. Now, a year too late perhaps, Washington Post's Nick Anderson has taken a closer look at Duncan's tenure in Chicago.

Anderson's review of NAEP scores measuring Chicago students' progress over the past 6 years,"signal that Chicago is nowhere near the head of the pack in urban school improvement, even though Duncan often cites the successes of his tenure as he crusades to fix public education."

Anderson goes on to cite studies by the Civic Committee and the Consortium on Chicago School Research which show the Daley/Duncan reform to be "an abysmal failure" and "yielding little or no academic benefits."
Duncan's record is of more than historical interest. He wields considerable power through the combination of his Chicago connections, shared with President Obama, and his oversight of billions of dollars in reform funding.

Huberman's goofy plan

Yesterday Chicago Tonight ran this interview with Chicago schools CEO Huberman from October, where he explains his goofy $30-million violence prevention scheme. Predicting kids most likely to be shot. Give them part-time jobs. Huh?

It's the end of the year now and still no real violence prevention programs. Parents are irate. Storming the school board meetings. They want safe neighborhood schools--not Renaissance 2010 school closings, more elite selective-enrollment military schools or privately-managed charters for a few kids.

Monday, December 28, 2009

What would Paulo Freire do?

In the current issue of Rethinking Schools, Bob Peterson raises the question: "Big City Superintendents: Dictatorship or Democracy?"and draws on the experience and wisdom of social-justice educator and former school supt. himself, Paulo Freire for answers.
Popular participation in the creation of culture and education breaks with the tradition that only the elite is competent and knows what the needs and interests of the society are. The school should also be a center for the [illumination] of popular culture, at the service of the community, not to consume it but to create it.

Holiday quotables

The language of schooling

We seem trapped in a language of schooling that stresses economics, accountability and compliance. (Mike Rose, Why School?)

Harlem Children's Zone in Chicago?
"We've been programmed out, and we still have the same problems. We need a communitywide effort that includes the schools, the police, the hospitals, the politicians, the universities all working together."Bishop Arthur Brazier, longtime head of The Woodlawn Organization, is working with University of Chicago officials to craft a plan for the neighborhood. The city's education and crime woes call for a bold, comprehensive strategy, he said. (Chicago Tribune feature on Harlem Children's Zone)
More HCZ
President Barack Obama is so impressed with the early successes of the Harlem program that he's set aside $10 million for 20 communities to replicate it. Cities will compete next year for seed money to launch similar "Promise Neighborhoods" in low-income and crime-plagued areas. (Trib)
Me: $10 million? For the entire coutry? That's impressed? HCZ's budget alone in $48 million.

The "reconstitution" of L.A. Fremont High
L.A. Unified did so little to improve Fremont High School that eight years ago, the state took on decision-making authority over the school and nine others in L.A. Unified. Students were reading primary-grade picture books; dropout rates were legendary. The state was supposed to provide an improvement plan that would show results within 18 months; if that failed, it would take over the school entirely or impose other sanctions. But no sanctions were imposed, and here's where Fremont is now: 12% or so of students are proficient in reading and writing. About 2,000 students start out as freshmen; by senior year, there are proficient less than 600. (L.A. Times editorial)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dennis Brutus, anti-apartheid poet

Renowned South African poet and activist Dennis Brutus died in his sleep on December 26th in Cape Town. He was 85 years old.

Brutus was a leading opponent of the apartheid state. He helped secure South Africa’s suspension from the Olympics, eventually forcing the country to be expelled from the Games in 1970. Arrested in 1963, he was sentenced to eighteen months of hard labor on Robben Island, off Cape Town, with Nelson Mandela (Democracy Now).

With the opening of the film Invictus, it should be noted that Brutus was instrumental in liberating South African sports from the culture of apartheid. His writings and teachings were banned in the old South Africa.

Chicago can at least partially claim Dennis from his days as a political refugee and activist professor here at Northwestern University. R.I.P. Dennis

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bush's think-tank is making movies

Break out the popcorn

The new George W. Bush Institute describes itself as an "action-oriented think-tank." It's first action will be the production of a series of films. The first one (I guessed it. Did you?) is about "merit" pay for teachers.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Fix, don't close, 'failing' schools"

UFT Prez Mulgrew slams Bloomberg/Klein policies
Instead of pursuing this misguided policy, we should learn from other cities - where such aggressive school-closing strategies have failed. The Chicago school system used a similar approach between 2001 and 2006, closing 38 schools. A study by the University of Chicago showed that the majority of students displaced by this process ended up in schools that were no better - and in some cases worse - than the schools that they had left. (Daily News)
h/t Edwize & JD2718

What ever happened to Renaissance 2010?

I thought it was the "model"

Arne Duncan
rode the myth of Chicago's school "Renaissance" all the way to Washington. Designed in the office of the Civic Committee and embedded into Daley's last mayoral campaign, Renaissance 2010 was touted as the reform model for the whole country.

But now that Duncan departed for D.C., there seems to have been a deRenaissance-ing campaign in Chicago and the phrase Ren10 is hardly ever mentioned--shades of No Child Left Behind. A string of research reports (some initially suppressed), including one from the Civic Committee itself, found the Duncan/Daley reform initiative to be "an abysmal failure."

In the past few months, Ren10's school-closing policies have been met with sharp resistance from parents, especially in reaction to the surge in violence at schools like Fenger High School, that occurred as a result. In November, CEO Ron Huberman promised fewer new charter schools for Chicago and at last week's board meeting, Huberman backed away from several other Ren10 policies, even promising angry parents that no more high schools would be closed in the coming year. It doesn't appear that Huberman has even uttered the words "Renaissance 2010" in more than six months.

Who can blame him?

Looking back

It was one year ago this week that Duncan was named by president-elect Obama to be his Secretary of Education. Fox News ran this story, calling Duncan a "bona fide reformer" and then recounted this exchange between Duncan, Bill Ayers and myself, about Renaissance 2010:

Duncan is also a fervent supporter of "Renaissance 2010," a plan started by Daley in 2004 to close 500 failing schools permanently or to reopen them as reformed schools within six years. In 2006, Duncan went on the offensive about the plan, accusing former domestic terrorist Williams Ayers -- now an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an Obama supporter -- for "failing to embrace" the program.

Ayers and his co-author Michael Klonsky responded to Duncan in an article published in Phi Delta Kappan -- a professional journal for education -- describing him as "the brightest and most dedicated schools leader Chicago has had in memory," but one who began his article by "admonishing us for failing to 'embrace' the board's Renaissance 2010 policy and instructs us on our responsibility to be 'impartial.'"

"People in power desire nothing more than obedience and easy agreement, but this is not the proper role for either reformers or scholars," they wrote.

Duncan then responded to Ayers and Klonsky in a rebuttal article, writing, "Rather than embrace Chicago's ambitious Renaissance 2010 program as a vehicle to advance school reform and the small schools movement while integrating greater accountability into the system, William Ayers and Michael Klonsky, pioneers in small school development, attack the initiative with inaccurate, misleading statements.

As it turns out, everything we said about Ren10 back in 2006 turned out to be true, if anything, understated, and Duncan's model is no longer taken seriously, even by its authors, the Civic Committee, or Duncan successor.

Politics of disaster in Destroit

Teachers have to donate $10K/year to district

The new contract in Motown, engineered by district takeover chief, Robert Bobb, balances the school budget entirely on the backs of city teachers and school staff. Under the deal, teachers, school counselors and other staff had little choice but to defer $10,000 each in pay over the next two years to help the district pay its bills. (WSJ)

Without a major relief plan--better and bigger than the one in New Orleans--Detroit schools are headed the way of the auto industry. The city's unemployment rate is now up over 50%. The tax base for public education has withered. Administrators, politicians and the press feign shock at falling student test scores. This has made the city ripe for privately managed charters, school closings, union-busting and selling off public assets for quick cash.

Disaster Capitalism
"Most New orleans schools are in ruins as are the homes of the children who attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system."--Milton Friedman, "The Promise of Vouchers" Wall Street Journal, 12/5/2005.
Naomi Klein, in her book, Shock Doctrine, documents the imposition of top-down "reforms" including the erosion of public space and decision making, in times of crisis. The post 9/11 "war on terror" and New Orleans, post-Katrina school privatization were prime examples. The reorganization of post-industrial Detroit is another. Klein quotes the late free-market economist Milton Friedman who saw Katrina, not as a horrible disaster, but as an "opportunity."

Back in 1982, Friedman wrote: "Ideas are alternatives waiting on a crisis to serve as the catalyst for change." His model for eliminating public space and decision-making, according to Klein, was "to legitimize ideas, to make them bearable, and worth trying when the opportunity comes."

Now Edweek quotes Ed. Sec. Arne Duncan:
"When times are tough, you often have the kind of fundamental breakthroughs you need...You’ve seen some folks do some unbelievably creative things and really using the crisis as an opportunity."

Monday, December 21, 2009


Chasing Ayn Rand
"In K-12 education, we submit, greed can be good, albeit ugly." (Fordham's Finn and Hess)
9 good arguments against "merit" pay, including:
The best teachers are already working incredibly long hours, and there’s no evidence that extra pay will make them work harder or smarter—or that it will motivate mediocre teachers to improve. Quite the contrary: Merit pay will steer all too many teachers toward low-level test preparation. (Kim Marshall at Edweek)
Closing small Jersey schools
"I commute 1 1/2 hours one way every day, just to live in Fieldon where our son will one day be able to attend a small school," Braundmeier said.

"Not once have we said we were closing the schools," board member Angie Cory said. "It's very difficult for us to see you in tears or hear your children have come home crying because they heard their school was going to be closed. Looking at closing the schools was just one of the options under consideration." (Jerseyville Telegraph)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rifts in the Ownership Society

"Greed is good" at Fordham, but...

Why are Checker Finn, Rick Hess and the right-wing "greedheads" over at Fordham Institute suddenly railing against "self-promoters" and "snake-oil salesmen" out to make a buck off of Duncan's Race To The Top?

After all, admit the duo:
We're veteran champions of entrepreneurs, for-hyphen profits, out-sourcing, competition, deregulation, and kindred efforts to open public education to providers other than government and operators other than bureaucrats.We've served on boards on some of these organizations, advised them and generally supported them.
In short, according to the pair, "in K-12 education, we submit, greed can be good, albeit ugly."

But now, say the two Fordham think-tankers,
...the whole "Race To The Top" enterprise has become a red light district for lusty charlatans and randy peddlers. Big firms full of wealthy MBA types--people who earn in a quarter what teachers make in a year--have gobbled up the $250,000 per state that the Gates Foundation offered as part of its own generous consultant stimulus act," along with additional dollars that states have tossed into the kitty. In return, they're readying cool power points, nifty white papers, and jargon-littered plans, all geared to helping states persuade Secretary Duncan that yes, they are ready and eager to do his bidding.
Could it be that the conservative ed hustlers who made a killing at Bush's Reading First feeding trough are now being frozen out by this new group of politically aligned "greedheads?"

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The mercy of the court

CPS under Daley/Duncan, fought the courts for years to nullify the deseg agreement that held the district accountable for ending racial segregation. Now that they've won that battle, claiming they've done all they can do, current CEO Huberman tells the community that he's bound by the same courts from talking about race.

All this reminds me of the guy who murdered his parents and then threw himself on the mercy of the court claiming he was an orphan.

The worst part of Huberman's current retreat from school desegregation is his new admissions policies to the city's elite magnet schools, schools which were established with federal deseg funding specifically for deseg purposes. But angry community protests may force him to back away from his new plan.

Don Moore from the reform group Designs for Change, sums it up in a recent press release:
"The proposed policy will turn most of Chicago's magnet schools into neighborhood schools that are segregated by race and by income. Most schools
located in predominantly white neighborhoods are now racially diverse. They will become almost entirely white."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Reform metaphors

On vacation this week but still blogging occasionally

Lying on a beach somewhere, thinking of course about metaphors for school reform. Doesn't everyone?

Bush used the best one, No Child Left Behind, coopting the Children's Defense Fund slogan of Leave No Child Behind, and turning it into its opposite with a near decade of punitive testing madness. Now Arne Duncan comes along with a far worse Race to the Top metaphor--the very opposite of leaving no child behind. A race metaphor, after all, clearly envisions (necessitates) educational winners and losers.

It's like Duncan's people met one day and said, let's continue NCLB only without all that nonsense about not leaving kids behind. Here's Diane Ravitch at her best, dropping the hammer on what she calls the Race to Nowhere:

Public hearings are pro forma; no decision is ever reversed. Parents and teachers may protest 'til the cows come home, and they can't change a thing. Their school will be closed, the low-performing students will be dispersed, and either new small schools or charter schools will take over their building. Some of the schools that will close are, funnily enough, small schools that were opened by Bloomberg and Klein only a few years ago. Does anyone believe that this sorry game of musical chairs will improve education? Does anyone in Washington or at central headquarters grasp the pointlessness of the disruption needlessly inflicted on students, families, teachers, principals, and communities in the name of "reform"? Do these people have no shame?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mixed messages

A new study, reported in yesterday's S.F. Chronicle, pushes teacher ed programs to prepare new high school teachers to do more than lecture their students.
"The job of the high school teacher has changed," said Margaret Gaston, president and executive director of the Santa Cruz-based Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning. "They're having to deliver instruction in a new way."
To reduce the dropout rate and increase the number of students heading to college or the workforce, state reforms have pushed high schools to increase academic requirements, personalize and individualize the high school experience, and connect learning to the real world, according to the researchers.

The study encourages small schools, personalization, and project-based learning. Teachers knowing their subject matter is not enough, say the researchers. They need to be able to connect the curriculum with the lives of their students and with the world outside the classroom.

So once again we see the research pointing in the opposite direction from federal and state policies which increasingly mandate test-score-based merit pay and reward only, or mainly standardized test score results while encouraging rote learning. So much for data-based reform.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Inside Chicago's school Renaissance
"I've had people I've talked to for years whose voice will literally shake when I get hold of them, and they'll say, 'I can't say anything,'" says another Chicago reporter who frequently covers the schools. "They're laying off hundreds of people, especially at the central office, and job security is really high on people's list. As much as they might not agree with what Huberman's doing, they don't want to be out there trying to find a job." (Michael Miner, Chicago Reporter)
But isn't this what Duncan's pushing--Mayoral control?
"This is a shame. They're bringing City Hall tactics to the Board of Education." (Reporter's Ben Joravsky)
Need for a 'Peoples Agenda'
“Don't depend on our leaders to do what needs to be done. Because whenever the government has done anything to bring about change, it's done so only because it's been pushed and prodded by social movements, by ordinary people organizing." (Howard Zinn on Bill Moyers Journal)
Deb Meier at Bridging Differences
While K-12 education was made universal because it seemed important that every single potential citizen be well-educated if democracy was to flourish, we have substituted the idea of democracy with the idea of the "marketplace."

Friday, December 11, 2009

'The People Speak'

Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and a great array of actors perform a dramatic presentation of Howard Zinn's, A People's History of the United States.

View from right field

"Full throated support for the Bush doctrine."

Former House majority leader Newt Gingrich, who has become the biggest supporter of Arne Duncan's Race-To-The-Top education reform, told WNYC, Obama's Nobel Prize acceptance speech was "actually very good."

"He clearly understood that he had been given the prize prematurely, but he used it as an occasion to remind people, first of all, as he said: that there is evil in the world ... I thought in some ways it's a very historic speech."

In an interview with USA Today, former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin suggested the speech could have come from her mouth.
Palin praised President Obama for the speech he gave Thursday to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. She said the president's defense of war to combat evil could have been taken from the pages of her memoirs. Wow, that really sounded familiar," said Palin, a frequent Obama critic. "I talked, too, in my book about the fallen nature of man and why war is necessary at times."
A spokesperson for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) added,
"As President Reagan said, Republicans believe in peace through strength, and we were pleased that today President Obama addressed and defended our mission in Afghanistan, where success is the only option."
Erick Erickson, the conservative founder of, wrote,
"I was surprised by Obama's speech. Parts sounded like full throated support for the Bush doctrine."

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Dr. King's Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1964
So man's proneness to engage in war is still a fact. But wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the destructive power of modern weapons eliminated even the possibility that war may serve as a negative good. If we assume that life is worth living and that man has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war...So if modern man continues to flirt unhesitatingly with war, he will transform his earthly habitat into an inferno such as even the mind of Dante could not imagine.
Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech today: An homage to war
There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified...I begin with this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter what the cause. And at times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower... The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms...So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace.
Did they give it to the right guy?
As President Obama wrapped up his remarks at the acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize Thursday, it's easy to imagine the members of the Nobel Committee saying to themselves, "wait – we gave it to that guy?"(Political Hotsheet)

Bloomberg/Klein close Harlem's Boys Choir Academy High School

"No capacity for change" --Deputy chancellor

The school is one of 20 the city has over the last two weeks proposed closing, from large ones like Jamaica High School in Queens to small schools created under the Bloomberg administration. For Choir Academy students who have seen the institution through many trials, the news came hard. Some said they would try to fight the closing before the Panel for Educational Policy, a board controlled by the mayor, votes on it and the other closings on Jan. 26.
For some students, the news dealt another blow to the pride they once felt as part of one of the country’s pre-eminent youth choirs, one that sang for presidents and toured the world.
The closing comes even as the school, under new leadership, is making "overall progress" on its test scores. 8th-grade pass rates have tripled to 63 percent and a recent recent quality review in May rated the academy “proficient.” The new principal, A. Ellen Parris, is credited for “a radical change in the culture of the school in a short period.”

But Klein's bureaucrats still seem bent of closing, rather than helping the Academy continue on its path towards improvement.
“It is our belief that the school does not have the capacity to turn around,” said John White, the deputy schools chancellor for strategy."

Staff-replacement strategies have "unintended consequences"

Study: Reform needs to take local conditions into account

Wholesale staff replacement is the reform strategy that lies at the heart of Arne Duncan's Race to the Top. States unwilling to fire entire faculties and principals risk loss of badly-needed federal funds. But a recent study by the Center on Education Policy on improving low-performing schools, finds big problems and "unintended negative consequences" in many staff-replacement strategies.

The study, which examined five years of restructuring under NCLB, found that successful school improvement efforts at times included staff replacement. But those schools, "had a large pool of applicants as well as a plan or vision for the school that allowed it to overcome its past reputation as a “failing” school, support from the teachers' union to resolve any contractual issues, and effective hiring systems that did not rely on principals alone to recruit and interview applicants."

The study makes a case for reform strategies tailored to the specific needs and conditions in each school.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Diane Ravitch on "NCLB 2.0"
Charter school organizers and management companies must be licking their chops, waiting to scoop up the new federal dollars and new opportunities for market expansion. The charter movement began as an effort to strengthen public education, but it has turned into a movement to get rid of public sector unions and to turn public schools into private schools funded by public dollars. (Bridging Differences)
Philanthropy the right way
"We want kids to be aware of their global citizenship," said Nadine Zelle, a Waters music teacher who also received an Oppenheimer grant. Hers provides for students at all grade levels to study drumming traditions from different countries. (Tribune)
Latest from Chicago's school "Renaissance"

After hearing that the Daley/Duncan reforms in Chicago did nothing to improve student learning outcomes on the NAEP, CPS Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins called the progress "incremental" (Sun-Times). A CPS press statement called the news "heartening" (WBEZ). I guess that means: At least we're not Detroit.

Motown schools hit bottom on NAEP

A man-made economic, social, political & educational Katrina without the flood. Kids scores on NAEP, worst ever.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council on Great City Schools:
“There is no jurisdiction of any kind, at any level, at any time in the 30-year history of NAEP that has ever registered such low numbers.They are barely above what one would expect simply by chance, as if the kids simply guessed at the answers,” he said.
DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb:
The focus needs to be on educating children, and not on the usual debates, such as the merits of charter schools versus public schools, that take the focus off the students.
Free Press Editorial:
These results should be an alarm of desperation, no different from the poor, battered souls who cried out from the ravaged Superdome after Hurricane Katrina: "We need help -- now!"

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Terminators

Bloomberg/Klein are closing schools that they opened to replace schools that they closed.
Today’s proposed closures also include three schools that were opened by the current administration: New Day Academy and Global Enterprise Academy in the Bronx and Brooklyn’s MS 334, which opened in 2005 to replace a failing school in the same building that later closed. (Gotham Schools)
What fun! Poor kids.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rethinking school design

The Third Teacher

A new push to change schools and education is coming from an unlikely source. It’s not teachers, parents, or students. It’s coming from architects and designers. They hope to start a movement to rethink the design of schools and schoolyards, to improve teaching and learning. (Interview at City Room)


Tilson The Terminator

Hedge fund school reformer Whitney Tilson, whose best quotable ("There's a very fine line between what all of us do, and fraud") was reported here a few weeks ago, now advises Arne Duncan to ditch his turnaround plan. His single strategy for neighborhood public schools?
More hedge fund school reformers on the fashion page

This time its about Tilson's investment partner Ravenel Boykin Curry IV:
That hedge fund multimillionaires have embraced the charter movement may seem odd: their own children are unlikely ever to see the inside of a neighborhood school, and there are more traditional routes to social prominence through philanthropy, like support of hospitals and cultural institutions. But to those who know the sociology of Wall Street, it makes sense. Charter schools appeal to the maverick instincts of many who run hedge funds. (Fashion & Style section of New York Times)
The education business

Forget all that crap about instructional leadership. Duncan says principals need to be CEOs.
"We have to treat them as such, and we have to train them as such," he says in this new podcast, the second in a series of interviews with some of the nation's brightest leaders. (US News)
Not just preparation...
In the end, it is time to stop thinking of school as preparation for real life and instead show students that the time they spend in school can be a vital and enriching part of their very real and very important lives. (Chris Lehman in Principal Leadership)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Right-wing goes bananas over social-justice teaching

"They're even playing dominoes at Banana Kelly"

The two words that strike fear into hearts of right-wingers everywhere are SOCIAL JUSTICE. Right-wing think tanks like Manhattan, Fordham and the American Enterprise Institutes go ballistic every time they hear of a teacher raising issues of of racial injustice or gender equality in the classroom. Not to mention the growing number of small schools that focus on the social-justice theme as a way of tapping into student interest in social causes like the environment.

The latest diatribe against social-justice teaching comes from the filthy little tabloid, the N.Y. Post ("Crackpot schools--City lets ACORN, other radicals run wild"). Post writers use age-old red-baiting tactics to try and pin social-justice teachers to ACORN's philosophy of "reform and change" (I thought that was Mayor Bloomberg's campaign slogan. Maybe he needs some investigating). They even drag up my favorite witch-hunter Sol Stern, who's made a fair living hunting down S-J teachers.

In their never-ending search for evidence of S-J teaching, Post investigators actually find kids at Banana Kelly High School in the Bronx playing dominoes in the classroom, not to mention their use of "restorative justice techniques" to deal with discipline problems. At Bushwick Community High School, they even found "an illustration of Che Guevara wearing a graduation cap" (Che did graduate from medical school).

The Post diatribe was, as expected, picked up by the more respectable S-J hunters Mike Petrilli and Chester Finn at the Fordham Institute:
Then there’s the Vanguard High School in Manhattan that recently hosted a “radical math” conference--not to be confused, mind you, with “Social Justice Math.” That no-doubt enthralling confab included a session on “how to use the history of the Black Panther Party to fuel an algebraic curriculum.”

Side note: If you are interested in teaching math or literacy using dominoes, here are some good sites: Teaching Pre-K-8, Sen Teacher, Domino Theory, AAA Lab at Stanford.

And here's one of dozens of S-J teaching tip sites.

Ownership Society News

Rhee wants to sell off closed D.C. schools to condo developers

If you really want to know what lots of school closings are about, look no further than today's Washington Post. D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee, like Klein in N.Y. and Huberman in Chicago, have been on a school closing rampage. Many of the schools are closed for no obvious educational reasons. Arne Duncan says he wants to close 5,000. The plan in urban districts everywhere is to turn school operations over to privately-managed charter schools.

Tooday's Post tells the story of D.C. charters trying to find space inside these closed neighborhood schools. But they're running into heavy competition from condo developers who want to cash in on neighborhood gentrification. For example, charter operators are bidding for the closed Franklin School (Pictured).
"But to the developers also attending Thursday's open house, a hotel or condominiums might be more attractive, and it's likely they'll get their way."
Either way, whether public space is turned over to private charter operating companies or to condo/hotel developers, the real losers are kids, parents and communities, who have lost a valuable resource as well as a voice on how public space is utilized.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

New teacher-led small schools for L.A.

Deal lets teachers create new Pilot Schools

Local school officials and the teachers union have reached a tentative deal that would help groups of teachers bid for control of 30 campuses under a recently adopted school-reform plan.

The agreement, announced today, would allow the number of “pilot schools” in the Los Angeles Unified School District to increase from 10 to 30. Pilots are small schools where teachers, administrators and community members have broad latitude to establish the rules under which the school operates. Unlike charter schools, the pilots remain closely affiliated with the district, and employees retain their representation by district unions. (L.A. Times}


Better than Yogi Berra

"If you're going to do something, do it."

"I think there's a lot of scientific evidence that the status quo doesn't work."

"I just want to make this clear. We've never said charter schools are the magic answer."

"Frankly in education we're better at doing more things than we are stopping doing things." (Arne Duncan at Politics K-12)

I thought Groucho said it...
More than 50 percent of Americans wrongly attributed the quote, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” to George Washington, Thomas Paine, or President Barack Obama, when it is in fact a quote from Karl Marx, author of “The Communist Manifesto.” (American Revolution Center)
Ownership Society chutzpah
"Who are we to seriously be preaching [such] a crusade?" he asked. "We have a financial sector that is voraciously greedy and exploitative, to put it mildly. We have a Congress which is not immune to special interests. And we have an electoral system that is based largely on private donations which precipitate expectations of rewards. The notion of us going to the Afghans and preaching purity is comical... I think we should just quit that stuff." (Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski)

Reforming the reformers in N.Y.

The closing of FDAIII

Bloomberg/Klein continue their Big Apple school-closing madness.

Reading this morning's Times about the closing of four more city schools on top of the 91 already closed. The four include Frederick Douglass Academy III, a middle school within a larger school founded by education reform guru Lorraine Monroe back in 1991. The news had me looking up on my bookshelf for Monroe's inspirational 1997 book, Nothing's impossible.

Veterans of the small-schools movement will remember Monroe and her Monroe Doctrine on teaching and learning, as the highly-touted superstar principal, darling of the reformers and the big ed foundations in the early 90's. Monroe was one of the miracle makers, who claimed that she could, with the power of her personality, leadership skills, and doctrine, produce a "miracle" in Harlem. Douglass Academy was the forerunner of today's "no excuses" schools and Monroe paved the way for today's miracle makers who now run the charter-school chains with salaries that often compare with those of professional athletes and entertainers.

I myself was greatly impressed by Dr. Monroe and I took dozens of Chicago teachers to visit Douglass Academy during the 90s' heyday of the small-schools movement. I still admire her as someone who grew up in the community and dedicated her life to the education and betterment of Harlem's children. It's really the system of promoting superstar principals and gurus and miracle solutions that I'm pointing to here.

The cover intro to her book reads:
"In the fall of 1991, a magical seed was planted in the heart of New York's Harlem. It was the Frederick Douglass Academy, a public school that promised inner-city students a quality education comparable to that offered to an elite suburban school...Six years later, the academy and its students are thriving."
This morning's Times of course, tells a different story. The school never received the level of resources and support commonly found in rich, white suburban schools. Douglass has now received an F for progress on Klein's silly school grading system (it received a C grade overall) and it's not clear why they, or any of the other 3 schools, are being closed, rather than helped by the administration. It's not clear who's closing them either. The Times reports that the "latest closings must be approved by the Panel for Educational Policy, which is controlled by the mayor, virtually assuring that they will be adopted." But who is on this panel? What qualifies them to make decisions about neighborhood school closings?

Dr. Monroe is long gone from the school and I'm sure she is doing well in her consulting business, The Lorraine Monroe Leadership Institute ("Using the Monroe principles to create great leaders and exemplary schools"). As for the kids at FDAIII--not so well. As expected, there's no mention in the Times piece about where they and the students at the 3 other closed schools will attend school next year. Will their new schools be any better? Will their new schools be prepared to receive hundreds of new students? And what will be the cost to the four school communities in terms of lost resources and services in these difficult times?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Prince's 5th period course: Rape & Assassination

Blackwater's Erik Prince says he's stepping down as mercenary-in-chief. Too much heat and light for a war criminal who likes the darkness. Prince claims he's been "thrown under the bus." Funny, I don't see him down here.

OMG, just read the end of the story--he wants to become a HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER.

Bloomberg, small schools, testing

"They want to be bold, reformers..."

There's lots of great discussion and debate going on over at the SmallSchools Listserv, about N.Y. Mayor Bloomberg's school reform.

Multi-billionaire Bloomberg, who just spent $103 million to get re-elected, has his own version of small schools and charter schools. At issue: Are they being done at the expense of the majority of students in city schools? Despite their record of excluding lots of kids with disabilities and special needs as well as non-English speaking immigrants, some argue that there's still an overall benefit because the number of good small schools has increased. Sign on and join in.


There's no question about Bloomberg's love of standardized testing. He and Chancellor Joel Klein have taken the high-risk, standardized test to new absurd levels and have made testing their signature strategy.

Dan Brown,
author of The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle, nails it here on Huffington.
It's a shame that opposition to this regime has been demonized as a defense of a status quo. President Obama and Arne Duncan (with their Race to the Top testing-based incentives), and Michael Bloomberg have all bought into the idea that boldness and reform are synonymous with firing teachers based on test scores. They want to be bold, they want to be reformers. They're doing it the wrong way.

Bloomberg has now spent more than a quarter of a billion dollars of his own money in his three campaigns for City Hall, more, than anyone else in the United States.

Obama's speech

Maddow does a good job assessing Obama's incredible escalation of the war as an extension of the Bush Doctrine. Watch it here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The War on Kids

“They [surveillance cameras] don’t really prevent anything; they just take pictures of it,” says Jessica Botcher, a student at Columbine High School.

I haven't seen The War on Kids. But this New York Times reviewer says it, "likens our public school system to prison and its disciplinary methods to fascism." Either the reviewer or the film maker has never done time or been to Guantanamo or they wouldn't use such broad-brush hyperbole. Not that there aren't prison-like public schools or fascist-minded enforcers manning many of them.

The real targets here are Zero Tolerance policies and the militarization of our schools, ie. loading them up with spy cameras, metal detectors and highly-visible security guards. If this approach worked, prisons would be the safest places on earth. They aren't.

But there are hundreds of public schools, especially smaller learning communities, that have rejected ZT and rely on community-building tactics and good teaching to keep schools safe.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Philly follow-up

Hey Newt--Are they really teaching the "same kids"?

Readers might recall that two weeks ago I began looking into unsubstantiated claims made by Arne Duncan and his runnin' buddy, Newt Gingrich.

They both had claimed that Mastery Charter School in Philly had made spectacular gains in measurable student achievement, with "the same kids" as its "failed" predecessor, Shoemaker School. As I pointed out then, Mastery, for all its strengths and good metrics, wasn't operating under the same rules as neighborhood schools either in its admissions protocols or its reporting of student learning outcomes and therefore the two shouldn't be compared head-on.

Rather, whatever Mastery is doing well, ie. personalization, longer school day, etc... should be spread across the district wherever applicable.

Being a long-time small-schools advocate and an early supporter of charter schools, I wouldn't be dwelling on this point if it weren't for the way today's chains of privately-managed charter schools are currently being pitted against all neighborhood public schools and being misused politically by the likes of Gingrich who claims there's some magic in the charter format.There's no evidence, either in Philly or elsewhere to substantiate such claims.

Chris Satullo
at WHYY offers a more rational assessment:

It's not that charters can't work. It's that the movement harbors too many ideologues who will brook no criticism of their pet project; they seek to shield these PUBLIC schools from pesky questions about low test scores or misuse of public funds. To them the mere existence of charters is success enough. (Listen to the rest here)

Retired Philly teacher Edwin Smith takes on the claim about Mastery's "same kids" success, in an Inquirer opinion piece, concluding:
"The current charter school solution is producing an increasingly two-tiered educational system.
TWIE's John Thompson makes a similar point about another Duncan favorite, KIPP.
I do not understand how the first 123 students of Moon KIPP Academy could be mistaken for being "the same (501) students" who were "in the same building" the year before the neighborhood school was closed. Six years later and long after the demand for KIPP’s rigor has topped out, 215 KIPP students, with 11% on IEPs, get an excellent education - even though their turnover rate is 52%. This compares with the old school’s pattern of a 90 to 100% poverty rate with 24 to 33% of students on IEPs.

An Inquirer editorial, refers to Philadelphia's "50 percent dropout rate and abysmal test scores." But what it fails to mention is that these "abysmal" results come nearly a decade after Duncan's mentor, Paul Vallas came to Philly and presided over the nation's largest experiment in privatized management of schools, with the management of over 40 schools turned over to outside for-profits, nonprofits, and universities beginning in Fall 2002.


Louisiana teachers need help, not blame, says union head
"Our evaluation systems don't work," [AFT Pres. Randi] Weingarten said. She asked teachers how many of them had been subjected to so-called "drive-by" evaluations where someone comes in your room for 15 minutes with a checklist." Dozens of teachers raised their hands. (
L.A.'s bewildering web of "choice" schools
Parent Lisa Polydoros wasn't sure how charter schools work -- and no charter representative was on hand to clarify the matter. "I've been in the system all my life," she said, "and it's still confusing." (Howard Blume, L.A. Times)
If schools are now centers for social services...
"If basic needs are not met, children cannot learn," said Karen Thompson, a guidance counselor at Guilford Elementary School in Sterling. "If we have children coming to school hungry, that is our first concern. We also have to make sure they have shoes, warm clothing. Have they slept? Do they have a place to live?" (WaPo)
...what happens to poor communities when thousands are closed, Arne Ducan?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bloomberg gets my Stuffing-the-Bird Award

This year's winner

Speaking on podium with Arne Duncan, Mayor Bloomberg says his strategy for winning federal RTTT funds is firing teachers.

Duncan responds:
“If folks are just making changes to chase the money, that’s the wrong thing to do,” Duncan said today. “The money will last for two, three or four years. We want the kinds of changes that will last for two, three or four decades.” (Bloomberg)


Go Eagles!
We have a few college students online from college of Georgia Southern University and we love your blog postings, so well add your rss or news feed for them, Thanks and please post us and leave a comment back and well link to you. Thanks Jen , Blog Manager,

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Math literacy & social change

The Young People’s Project uses Math Literacy as a tool to develop young leaders and organizers.
In the same way that Ella Baker helped fashion a space for the students who sat-in to think and organize for themselves, the Algebra Project provided a space for YPP to grow and develop. Twelve years later, here we are. (Omo Moses, YPP Founder)


Did Ed Sector fudge Toch's research?

It looks that way. Here's a note FairTest's Monty Neill posted this morning on the North Dakota Study Group listserv:

EdSector CMO Report: Who Lost Tom Toch?

Thanks to a couple of eagle-eyed readers (including MDM) for pointing out that the much-delayed Education Sector report on charter management organizations lacks the name -- and apparently much of the content provided by -- its original author, writer and EdSector co-founder Tom Toch.

Asked about the situation, Toch said, "I removed my name from the report because a good deal of my analysis was removed and, as published, the report does not reflect my research findings on the current status and future prospects of charter management organizations."

Toch says he submitted the 20,000-word report in June, based on two years of investigation, but did not see anything further until a paper copy of the final report was shown to him this past weekend. A good deal of the candid commentary from those within the charter community "had been removed," according to Toch. And the report recommendations were added on by someone else.

Toch can't publish the original version of the report because of copyright issues but he points to several other pieces (in Education Week and the Kappan) that reflect his findings more completely, and notes that he will continue to write and speak on the issue.

No response yet from Education Sector.