Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Civic Committee stabs Duncan in the back

He toiled faithfully on their plantation for 10 years before going to D.C. to serve as Obama's education chief. He did all their bidding without question, closing dozens of schools in under-served communities to make way for gentrification and privatizing much of the system.

But now the Chicago Civic Committee, the city's ruling elite, has turned on Arne Duncan and in a report released yesterday, titled "Still Left Behind," attacked the Duncan-led Chicago school reform as an "abysmal" failure. Ironically, it was the Civic Committee that designed and financed the Mayor's Renaissance 2010 plan--the very plan that Duncan was hired to implement and enforce.

A flabbergasted Duncan, who rode the myth of the Chicago turnaround miracle all the way to Washington, tried to defend his record. But, well, 8th grade test scores did rise by a few points, was the best he could do.

Crain's Chicago Business blogger Greg Hinz writes:
The report directly challenges widespread claims by current and former CPS officials that local students have shown substantial progress over the last decade on standardized tests. For instance, it notes a 2006 letter from then schools CEO Arne Duncan, now U.S. secretary of education, stating that the share of CPS students meeting or exceeding state standards had leapt 15 points in one year. In fact, it says, the change occurred because of a change in the test, not because of real educational gains.
The fallout from the Civic Committee's report will be felt way beyond the city limits. Duncan has been touting the Renaissance 2010 model on his current "listening tour" and has even been threatening districts who won't follow along, with loss of federal dollars.

There are two lessons I hope Arne Duncan will take away from all this: 1) Tell no lies and claim no easy victories, and 2) He who lies down with dogs, wakes up with fleas.

The Washington Post's Jay Mathews is a union-basher

He's also a self-admitted apologist for KIPP, the nation's largest chain of business-model charter schools and one noted for its high teacher turnover rates and for its efforts to drive up test scores by pushing out low-scoring kids.

In the past Mathews has admitted overlooking such critical data to "make KIPP sound like more than it is." Now he's doing it again. Only this time, it's at the expense of the very teachers who are responsible for whatever successes KIPP has had. He's even threatening them if they dare "mess with" KIPP

An example of his union bashing: In Monday's WaPO, "Don't Mess With Success at This High Achieving Charter Middle School," Mathews quotes KIPP founder Jason Botel who charges that an unnamed union member responded unsympathetically to Botel's scare tactics. Botel claimed that KIPP, the wealthiest charter operator in the nation, wouldn't be able to afford to pay teachers overtime for working their typical 16-hour day, if those teachers dared to unionize.

"That's not my problem," the unnamed official supposedly tells Botel. The president of the union denies that anyone said that. But Mathews puts it out there anyway.
"Such stories," writes Mathews, "heat the blood of union critics. It is, they contend, a sign of how unions dumb down public education by focusing on salaries, not learning."
This type of journalism is nothing new for Mathews. He's become an important part of a national campaign aimed at discouraging and defeating activist KIPP teachers, who are finally standing up to abuse from Botel and company and organizing for collective barganing rights.

KIPP-AMP teachers in New York, for example, are currently part of a new movement among charter school teachers, asking for the union recognition long denied them. They got a majority of KIPP teachers to sign union cards only to have their pro-union colleagues fired, threatened and intimidated by KIPP management. The teachers want an end to 16-hour teacher work days (which Mathews thinks are good for kids), lousy pay and benefits (while KIPP founders rake in millions), and firings of pro-union teachers.

Botel claims that KIPP can't afford to pay teachers properly. He claims that African-American kids learn better with overworked teachers who burn out in three years. A good journalist would question those claims. A good journalist would fact-check the "not my problem" quote, find out who supposedly said it, name them and ask them if they really said it. He would also do some investigation and ask for some evidence before drinking the KIPP kool-aid. But a good journalist wasn't writing the "don't mess" story.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Another brick...

Doug at Borderland responds to my Arne Duncan/"Ton 'O Bricks" posts with the classic Pink Floyd video, "Another Brick in the Wall."


My brother Fred says, "someone's missing" from National Journal's new panel of expert education bloggers. What else is new?


For any teacher, the city of Chicago is a great classroom. I held my class last night at the Harold Washington Library so students could hear Henry Louis "Skip" Gates holding forth on Lincoln's Bicentennial and other topics. My own focus is on reflective teaching practices and Gates really brings home the importance of personalization and story-telling, especially in his family-tree studies of African-Americans. Gates is the director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. But he calls Harvard, "an historically white university." Amen!

Special thanks to one of my heroes, Prof. Timuel Black, who dropped in to meet the students following the Gates talk. For those who couldn't make it, the Gates talk will soon be available on Chicago Amplified on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.

Latest on the Chicago schools 'miracle'

CPS losing half its teachers

Faster than Arne Duncan can speed-rap about his miracle turnaround in Chicago, comes piles of research showing that he's just been blowing smoke.

The latest comes out of the Univ. of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research. It shows Chicago public schools under the Duncan regime losing more than half of all their teachers within five years -- and about two-thirds of their new ones. As one would expect in this racially segregated school system, the 100 schools suffering the highest teacher turnover rates are those in predominantly African-American and high-poverty neighborhoods.
"I find that really disturbing,'' said Elaine Allensworth, lead author of the study. "I just see no way they can improve if they can't maintain a stable work force.'
The Small Schools connection

The study claims to show higher rates of attrition in smaller schools. But that's misleading because the study looks at turnover and stability percentages. Therefore the loss of a single teacher in a small school could represent a 10-20% loss of staff. More interesting is the high stability rate in small neighborhood schools like Telpochcalli which despite its small size has a low teacher turnover rate.

As the study points out, "the schools that retain their teachers at high rates are those with a strong sense of collaboration among teachers and the principal."

From the Sun-Times:

Although Chicago's Clemente High had its share of fights and gangs, that wasn't why teacher Dana Limberg left last year for Oak Park-River Forest High School. Limberg was disappointed in her principal's leadership -- another factor the consortium tied to teacher turnover.

Many teachers felt a new small-school program "was making a dramatic improvement and he didn't seem to respect it,'' Limberg said. Plus, she said, teachers suddenly had less input -- another turnover trigger.

Huberman: "No problem..."
Chicago Schools CEO Ron Huberman cautioned that Chicago's overall teacher turnover rate is around the national average, and "not all turnover is bad'' because for some, teaching may not be "a good fit.''
But Huberman has to play the good soldier, left to apologize for Daley/Duncan and clean up their mess and start some new teacher mentoring programs that Duncan should have put in place years ago.

Renaissance 2010

There's no mention of Charter schools or of Renaissance 2010 in the entire Consortium report. Why not? The authors say they were unable to get data on teacher turnover rates from the charters. Why not??? If charters were included one can only imagine how much higher the district's attrition rate would be.

Under Duncan/Daley's Renaissance 2010 plan, many schools in the black community were closed and teachers blamed for their "failure." Then they were replaced by privately-managed charter schools like KIPP and Civitas, staffed with inexperienced teachers who work cheap and work 16-hour days, but who generally burn out after three years.

Letter from the "moderates"

There's a new faction in the Senate that calls itself the Moderate Democrats Working Group (Is Joe Lieberman still a Democrat? I forget). Last week they wrote a letter to Obama, basically letting him know they were out there; that they supported charter schools (only the good ones, of course), merit pay for teachers, and the use of data (what courage!). All of which would surely rocket the U.S. past Finland, Poland, and Iceland, in the economic race to the top.
"...had the United States closed the gap in education achievement with better-performing nations like Finland, Iceland, and Poland, our GDP could have been up to $2.3 trillion higher last year."
Who knew?

Another look at Duncan's Chicago "model"

Arne Duncan continues his tour, touting over and over again, his own Chicago miracle and threatening to withhold badly needed Stim 2 dollars from districts that don't accept the model.

That model is built on top-down mayoral control of the schools, widespread and often arbitrary school closings, mainly in black neighborhoods, and replacement with replicable, privately-managed charter schools.

There is no data to support most of Duncan's wild claims, Chicago's test scores remained flat during his term as CEO. More importantly, despite the best efforts of teachers, parents and community members, the devastating effects of Duncan/Daley's education and social policies on community life don't speak well for the model.

  • CPS and Cook County lead the nation in reported cases of gonorrhea, and has the third highest number of Chlamydia cases. Teenagers account for more than 60 percent of new cases in Chicago. Only after these grim statistics were duly reported in the media did Duncan's replacement, Roh Huberman announce a 6-school "pilot program" aimed at testing and treating kids for STDs. Since the program runs at no cost to CPS, one can only wonder why it wasn't included in Duncan's model?
  • CPS also leads the nation in suspension rates of black, male students, a statistic that speaks for itself. Studies show a strong link between suspensions and dropouts.
Don't expect Duncan or Daley to take any responsibility for these numbers. You can't blame them, they will argue. How ironic, especially coming from Duncan who has now joined forces with the "no excuses" policy coalition that puts blame for low standardized test scores squarely on the shoulders of neighborhood schools.

To my way of thinking, if you want to judge or compare school systems, start with a look at the lives of the students and see how that system has helped improved the conditions of life for them--or not.

Turnarounds--more business for 'charter execs'

The turnaround model could be a road to greater growth for the charter-school movement which, after 16 years, comprises 1.4 million students in 4,600 schools — still only about 4% of all public schools. Charters, which are funded with public dollars but are typically free of school-district and teacher-union restrictions, have typically been regarded as labs of innovation (though a recent Stanford University study makes the case that charter-school quality can range greatly, from great to not so great). (Time)
A break from the past?

Obama has nominated Brenda Dann-Messier, the leader of a Rhode Island nonprofit who has a background in adult education, workforce, and literacy issues, to serve as his assistant secretary for vocational and adult education. Sean Cavanaugh at Curriculum Matters, calls Obama's pick, "something of a departure" from Bush administration policy on voc-ed.
Bush repeatedly tried to eliminate funding for the federal vocational program, arguing that it has not been successful in raising academic achievement and setting high expectations for students.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Met

Now that the Gates Foundation has abandoned the small schools movement, I'm thinking that maybe the movement can survive. One of my favorite small schools is The MET in Providence, R.I.. Creating individual learning plans for every student and putting its emphasis on learning outside the classroom, the ideas of MET founders Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor are opening some eyes in several urban districts, including Camden and Indianapolis.

Here's a piece from AP's Geoff Mulvihill on Camden's MetEast High School:

The schools are small and very different from traditional schools. MetEast has just over 100 students — less than one-tenth the enrollment at each of the city's comprehensive high schools. The educators are called "advisers," not teachers, and they advise the same group of students all four years. Classes are built around the idea that students will learn by following their passions. Students do internships. Graduation requirements include a senior project with the aim of doing some good for the community.
Ironically, the two Met-type (Big Picture) schools in Chicago were closed down, despite their high graduation rates, when they didn't conform to district curriculum mandates.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Broader, Bolder Report

As the battle around NCLB re-authorization heats up, the question remains of whether there will be substantial changes made in the old test-and-punish law or simply a cosmetic name change.

A new report from the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (BBA) Campaign makes a strong case for making substantial changes. For example, it calls for using multiple measures and better tests when it comes to assessing kids, teachers, and schools. BBA wants the feds to rely more on the an expanded National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) and test kids on a broader range of academic subjects, including the arts, physical health and fitness, citizenship habits, and other necessary knowledge and skills.

Barack Obama appears to generally favor the BBA line on testing--which would be a significant break from the Bush/NCLB era. At a town hall meeting in Green Bay earlier this month Obama reiterated his call from last year’s campaign:
“If all we're doing is testing and then teaching to the test, that doesn't assure that we're actually improving educational outcomes. We do need to have accountability, however. We do need to measure progress with our kids. Maybe it's just one standardized test, plus portfolios of work that kids are doing, plus observing the classroom.”
In another major break from the NCLB approach and from the line of the more conservative think tankers, BBA's report continues to make their case that schools alone, can't be expected to overcome the effects of poverty and historic racial discrimination on the so-called achievement gap.

Ironically, conservatives at the Fordham Institute claim they find the BBA approach, "eminently sensible". But Fordham's Mike Petrilli only tips his hat to the report after mistakenly claiming that BBA has moved away from its previous focus on economic and social equity issues. Writes Petrilli:

That's a big surprise, for in the past this coalition has appeared eager to refight old battles about whether schools can be expected to help poor kids reach high standards.

Petrilli had better read the report more carefully. BBA still appears to be fighting the "old battle" which the report's authors call the "fundamental challenge facing America's education policymakers." Amen!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Ton o' bricks"

Casey found it

A hat tip and an old Cohiba I brought back from Cuba in 2000 goes out to Leo Casey who found Arne Duncan's actual "ton of bricks quote." It turns out that the charter school lobbyist had it right. It's all about charters--fund 'em or feel the wrath of Duncan's mighty sword
So, charter schools should be funded like every other school. Where states are playing games and under-funding charters or whatever, we will come down like a ton of bricks on that. We are going to watch that very, very closely.

L.A.'s Cortines wants to be Supreme Leader

"It doesn't have to be me..."
What the system needs now, it doesn't have to be me, is a benevolent dictator, and it needs it for a period of time, probably 3 to 5 years and then you need to turn it back to the community.” (LA Magazine)
Latest from inside Chicago's school "Renaissance"
In Chicago, elementary schools and high schools are suspending and expelling students at alarming rates and African American male students are bearing the brunt of these punishments. (Catalyst)
No cigar for Russo

Russo thinks he found Duncan's exact "ton of bricks" quote. But he gets no cigar. The one he found is from March. I'm looking for the bricks he threw at last weekend's charter school conference in D.C. Anybody? Anybody?

Green Dot's takeover at Locke

Locke, which holds its graduation today, remains a troubled school, and Green Dot's strategy has relied on extra funds that may not be sustainable or readily replicable. But despite those caveats, a qualified turnaround appears to be emerging....

...Academic growth over the last year has been uneven, according to Green Dot data. And that has prompted concern. "My nightmare is that the state test scores come in and you're judged by that," said Green Dot founder Steve Barr. Leaders of traditional schools frequently complain about being evaluated mainly by test results; such concerns are often dismissed by charter school operators, including Green Dot. (L.A. Times)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"No confidence" in mayoral control of L.A. schools

Duncan is threatening to withhold stim dollars from school districts that don't implement top-down mayoral control of the schools. But where's the research or evidence to support mayoral control everywhere? In L.A., mayoral control appears to be a big flop.
Eight out of 10 schools delivered a "no confidence" vote, and we're talking landslides (84 to 17 at Santee Education Complex, 96 to 13 at Stevenson Middle School, 70 to 13 at Gompers Middle School, 61 to 8 at Markham Middle School and 184 to 15 at Roosevelt High, which the mayor himself once attended). (L.A. Times, "Mayor getting schooled")
A taste for the exotic

Gov. Sanford (SC) attacked Obama and said he would refuse to accept stimulus dollars to keep schools open and save jobs in his state. Instead he went the er... Appalachian Trail, er.. I mean to Argentina to look for a "more exotic" stimulus package.

Historic union/charter school contract in N.Y.

Days after a trend-setting union vote in Chicago, the UFT and Green Dot Charter Schools signed "an innovative and pioneering collective bargaining agreement in New York." The contract was approved by Green Dot's Board of Trustees on Monday, and ratified by the UFT Tuesday.

UFT V.P. Leo Casey:
The 29 page agreement breaks vital new ground, and not simply because it brings together leading forces in the ranks of the charter school movement and teacher unionism. Just as importantly, the contract embodies a new model of labor relations in education, based on a disarmingly simple proposition: that a school which respects, nurtures and supports teacher professionalism in all of its work will provide the best education for students.

Green Dot visits Chicago 16 Aug 2007
I moderated the panel which included Green Dot's Steve Barr, CTU Prez Marilyn Stewart, and the IEA's Jo Anderson. It was a little strange, I mean, a pro-union charter operator and two union leaders voicing support for Al Shanker's 1988 ...

Kette on Rhee's testing triage

Jennifer Jennings, alias Eduwonkette, is no longer blogging. But she's still got plenty to say in Edweek about Michelle Rhee's test score miracle in D.C.
The Saturday Scholars program was not designed to help the lowest-performing students in the district, those in the most dire circumstances academically. Rather, it unapologetically targeted students just missing the passing mark.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More bricks

After searching dozens of sites for the correct Duncan "bricks" quote, I'm still trying to answer the question: What do you have to do to have Arne Duncan drop his ton of bricks on you? If anyone out there has the correct quote, please send it and I will happily publish it. -- M.K.

From the Bellingham (WA) Herald:
If we see a state or district doing something wrong, “we’re going to come down like a ton of bricks,” Duncan said.
Russo's 299 Blog:
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has threatened to "come down like a ton of bricks" on anyone who defies the administration's plans to bring relief to states ...
PURE Online:
Duncan has said that he will “come down like a ton of bricks” on states which use this money and still make major school staff layoffs.
Stop the ACLU (Wingnut blog):
...that tough talkin’ Dunkin is going to “come down like a ton of bricks” on any state that “defies the administration’s plans to bring relief to states like California, where 26,500 teachers have gotten pink slips.”
Jay Greene's Blog (Long sentences):
Obviously, the important thing is how you challenge the status quo and provide better schools, and for decades we’ve been trying sound-bite-driven reform like Duncan offered the Post, and exhibited in his recent declaration that he will “come down like a ton of bricks” on any state that doesn’t use waste-rewarding “stimulus” money effectively.
Mike's E-News:
“Where we see a state or district operating in bad faith or doing something counter to the president’s intent, we’re going to come down like a ton of bricks,” Duncan said in a conference call with reporters.
If states and districts act in bad faith and fail to spend money with an eye toward reform and restoration of essential programs and staff, they'll forfeit the second round of funds, expected mid-summer. "We're going to come down like a ton of bricks," Duncan says.


The feng shui people...

DFER's Joe Williams brings his penetrating wisdom and deep knowledge of Eastern philosophy, combined with his sensibilities about product labeling, to the issue of NCLB re-authorization.
"It's like the new Coke. This is a rebranding effort," said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. "The feng shui people believe you need to take the roof off buildings to allow bad chi to escape. Let's hope this helps."
What does he mean by "many"?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan made a point of talking about unions in a speech Monday in Washington to a national charter school conference."Charters are not inherently anti-union," Duncan said. "Many charters today are unionized." That is true, but unions are rare in the nation's 4,600 charter schools, which make up about 3 percent of the nation's 132,000 public schools. (AP Wire)

Randi Weingarten...
"The promise of charter schools is that they are small incubators of experimentation, both in terms of instruction and labor relations," she said. "They shouldn't be separate systems." (AP Wire)
Steve Barr...
"I think it's the only way we're going to improve public education," Barr said. "I don't think you're going to change a public education system that's 100 percent unionized with nonunion labor."(AP Wire)
"There clearly are conflicts between some of the things teachers' unions do and some of the things we know make charter schools effective," said Andrew Rotherham, co-founder and publisher of the Washington-based Education Sector think tank. (AP Wire)

Duncan's "ton of bricks" quote

Did Supreme Leader Sec. of Education Arne Duncan really threaten to "come down like a ton of bricks and withhold the second round of funds from anyone who defies Obama's wishes" as reported in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Huffington?

The ton of bricks quote is all over the media. But no one seems to carry the exact quote beyond the words "ton of bricks." It would be nice to know what exactly we have to do before the bricks fall on us.

Charter school lobbyist Gary Naeyaert, tweets Duncan's threat from the floor of the national charter school conferences like this:
"We will come down like a ton of bricks on states that treat charter schools unfairly."
Chicago's WGN quotes Duncan this way:
Secretary Arne Duncan has threatened to "come down like a ton of bricks" on anyone who defies the administration's plans to bring relief to states who face layoffs because of budget cuts.
ASCD Smart Brief says the bricks are just for governors (whew!) :
Secretary Arne Duncan, who threatened to "come down like a ton of bricks" on governors who attempt to divert education stimulus funds.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Big foundations cut staffs

African-Americans & women, first to go
She said 65 percent of the staff members receiving the severance offer were African-American, of whom 58 percent were women. Seven percent of the offers went to managers, Ms. Tellado said, adding that the discrepancy between that number and the figure offered by the critics could have come from different definitions of who is a manager.(NYT)
Is Duncan listening?

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke in Chicago Friday, pushing charter schools and mayoral control at a breakfast hosted by Advance Illinois. But Lane Tech High School junior Marvin Guitierrez, wants Duncan to pay attention to conditions outside, as well as inside the classroom. (Hit button above to listen to Marvin's response or go to WBEZ Chicago Public Radio).

Duncan then moved on the D.C. and spoke, along with buddies Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, to the annual meeting of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Isn't it funny how they call themselves public charter schools when they aren't trying to stop their teachers from unionizing?

Duncan is obviously nervous about the latest wave of research findings, like the Stanford study, showing so many badly performing charters and that on average, charters are doing no better and often worse than the neighborhood schools they replace. Says Duncan:
“The charter movement is putting itself at risk by allowing too many second-rate and third-rate schools to exist.”

Friday, June 19, 2009

Historic victory in Chicago

No, I'm not talking about the Cubs coming back from 7 down to beat Cleveland.

It's all about teachers at Civitas Charter Schools voting 73-49 for their union. The vote represents a major breakthrough in the nationwide struggle by charter school teachers for previously-denied collective bargaining rights.

The teachers had to overcome some slick maneuvering by the for-profit charter company. They had their initial union card signing effort stalled when Civitas, a private subsidiary of Chicago International Charter Schools, went before the NLRB and claimed they were a "private employer" and therefore charter school teachers were not public employees like all other public school teachers and that their IFT bargaining unit shouldn't couldn't be recognized. The NLRB agreed and forced a secret-ballot election. The rest, as they say, is history. Congratulations, Civitas teachers.

Chicago's school reform "miracle" not for everyone
Mary Ann Pollett, principal of Moses Montefiore Special Elementary School, testified before the City Council's Committee on Education and Child Development that officials have discouraged teachers at her school from reporting students' disabilities because it is too expensive to deal with them. (Chi-Town Daily News)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why is a petition drive even necessary?

Duncan handed petition with 120,000 signatures for more art/music
The boxes of petitions were stacked high off the ground and towered over 7-foot-2 inch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the former Los Angeles Lakers center who said he appreciates what music does for children because his father was a jazz musician. (AP Wire)
Unionizing in cyber-space

Teachers at the PA Learners Online Regional Cyber Charter School have voted to be represented by the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

Caution, reformers ahead...
On NAEP data, the two biggie mayoral control cities show no change, and on graduation data, NYC shows some improvement, but Chicago shows none, even if we go by the city's data. If we look at the data in the recent RAND study, it confirms many others—charter schools do no better re. test scores than their comparable neighborhood schools—some better, some worse... School reformers perhaps should be required to publish “cautions” the way drugs do—if you do this, watch out because….(In bigger print, however.) (Deb Meier at Bridging Differences Blog).

Redefining charter schools

I am struck by the way that charter schools are currently being redefined, as private operators continue to take over their management nationally and desperately try and push back against unionization.

Originally, charters were defined as public schools, freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools, in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each school's charter.

But recently, in Georgia, for example, the new definition goes something like this: "Charter schools are public institutions that are run by private organizations or individuals."

You see, if charters are defined in this way, charter school teachers are no longer seen as public employees, with the same collective bargaining rights under NLRB rules, as regular public school teachers.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Duncan at the Govs' Conference

Arne Duncan had some interesting things to say at the National Governors Conference this past weekend. Lots of his usual business-model, testing/standards madness. But also lots of ambiguity and mixed messages. It's clear to me that this isn't simply a Bush/neocon rehash. Some things better. Some may even be worse. But Duncan's speech leaves some openings. Since many (including myself) have been focusing on the negatives--and there are plenty--I picked out a few areas where there appears to be a break from the past 8 years or where there's at least some room to struggle.

Here's a few:
  • I also appreciate that the primary focus of the Recovery Act is to save and create jobs and we're deeply grateful that states across America are helping save hundreds of thousands of teaching and other education-related jobs.
  • Nothing is more important than getting great teachers into our classrooms and great principals into our schools. And there are millions of hard-working, dedicated teachers in schools all across America.
  • I understand that teachers are concerned about the fairness of performance pay. I share those concerns – but I am confident that if we sit down with the unions – instead of forcing it on them -- we can find ways to reward excellence in the classroom.
  • But many of you have charter schools in your state that, frankly, are not getting the job done. If they are failing, they should close and the children should have another option.
  • I also think that we need to break through the dynamic that positions charters against unions.Albert Shanker, the legendary union leader, was an early advocate of charters. The AFT represents something like 70 charters and the NEA represents another 40. So we should stop fighting over charter caps and unite behind charter accountability.
  • Teachers scramble to cover everything – a little of this – a little of that – and not enough of what’s really important. They can’t dig deeper on a challenging subject that excites their students. And students can’t master material when they are racing through it. We must limit standards to the essential knowledge and skills our kids need so teachers can focus in depth on the most important things their kids should know.
  • This is a growth area for the testing industry, which may worry that assessments used across multiple states will be bad for business, even if it’s the right thing for kids. However, it’s not my job to worry about their business. My job is to worry about kids and I know that our kids not only need to be challenged but they want to be challenged.

Herb Kohl's open letter to Arne Duncan

Dear Arne Duncan,

In a recent interview with NEA Today you said of my book 36 Children, "I read [it] in high school … [and] … wrote about his book in one of my college essays, and I talked about the tremendous hope that I feel [and] the challenges that teachers in tough communities face. The book had a big impact on me..." (Read the rest in the latest issue of Rethinking Schools).

Music & Art Kaput?

Here's an example of what Herb is talking about:
Music and art instruction in American eighth-grade classrooms has remained flat over the last decade, according to a new survey by the Department of Education, and one official involved in the survey called student achievement in those subjects “mediocre.” (NYT)
Why Duncan will spend $350 million for more reading & math tests

Here's another one:
"Having real high standards is important, but behind that, I think in this country we have too many bad tests," Duncan said. (Washington Post)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bad news once again for the charter school lobby

While Arne Duncan continues to push charters as point number-one at the top of his reform agenda, even going so far as to threaten school districts with loss of stim dollars if they fail to comply, the evidence keeps pouring in showing charters nationwide, badly lagging behind or a best breaking even when compared to regular public schools.

The latest hard-to-swallow research pill for Duncan and the private charter lobbyists comes out of Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) in a study ironically paid for largely by pro-charter conservatives like the Walton and Dell Foundations.

Looking at 2,403 charter schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia, CREDO'S researchers found that students in more than 80 percent of charter schools either performed the same as—or worse than—students in traditional public schools on mathematics tests.
“If this study shows anything, it shows that we’ve got a two-to-one margin of bad charters to good charters,” said Margaret E. Raymond, the director of the center and the study’s lead author. “That’s a red flag.” (Edweek)
Making matters worse, the study found that African-American and Hispanic students, in other words, the very students who fill nearly all the the seats in most urban school districts, were found to do worse in charter schools.

Hundreds of N.Y. teachers were fired during '50s red scare

Yesterday's Times, "When Suspicion of Teachers Ran Unchecked in New York" tells the story of McCarthy-period witch hunts in the N.Y. City public school system"

Outside the written record, Ms. Harbatkin did discover unexpected moments of humanity. The Board of Education was often reluctant to oust a husband and wife when both were teachers, and her mother, who died in 2003, confided to her that after she told Mr. Moskoff she would never sleep again if she provided or verified the names of fellow teachers, he turned off his tape recorder “and told her to keep saying she didn’t remember the names.”

She was not charged and continued teaching into the 1970s.

Summer Quotables

How Steve Barr is spending his summer

"When I first wrote about Barr three years ago, he said he had no interest in taking Green Dot outside of Los Angeles. Last fall, however, he opened a new charter school in the Bronx, in partnership with New York City's teacher's union. Now, he says he's going to 'spend the summer' thinking about whether he'd want to become the administration's go-to guy on high school turnarounds and turn Green Dot into a national organization. 'It's Obama,' Barr said after the hearing. 'He's the reason I am even considering this.'" (Lesli Maxwell, Politics K-12)

Bloomberg's campaign manager?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan offered a stern warning that placing restrictions on mayoral control could “turn back the clock and halt progress” and have “profoundly negative consequences for New York City’s students.” (Gotham Schools)
Teaching social justice

Now that 8 years of neocon power have been replaced by Obama's people and virulent anti-democratic voices at the DOE have shrunk into the background, will new space open up for social justice teaching? The latest issue of Ed Leadership has an interesting piece by Laurel Schmidt, "Stirring Up Justice" which calls on teachers to promote "active, inquisitive citizenship."
So social justice is untidy, exhausting, discouraging, even dangerous work—which may be the reason why it's not on the top ten list of social studies projects in many schools. Better to have kids build a model of a rancho (a group of huts for housing ranch workers) or recreate a potlatch (a festival ceremony practiced by the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest) and be done with it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Recalling Obama's historic speech on race

It's Sunday morning and I am out by the beach in Lakeside getting in a much needed weekend of R & R before summer session teaching begins on Monday. I find myself listening to a rebroadcast, on my favorite public radio station (WMNF, Tampa), of Barack Obama's March 18, 2008 speech on race, "A More Pefect Union"--the one he made in response to Rev. Wright's widely publicized comments earlier that month. It will be remembered as one of the greatest ever and well worth another listen. His comments on education and the so-called "achievement gap" warrants special attention:
Segregated schools were and are inferior schools; we still haven't fixed them, 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education. And the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students... ...This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late '50s and early '60s, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way, for those like me who would come after them.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Summer's here and the time is right...

As the weather turns warm on this last week of school, two thoughts cross my mind. First, why do the school reformers hate summer so much? I mean, if kids really forget everything they've been taught all year, during their summer vacation, then what's going to happen when they graduate and have a whole lifetime to forget?

Then I'm thinking about the old rhyme kids used to chant as they were racing out of the schoolyard for the freedom of summer break: "No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers..." and wondering if this hasn't become the new mantra of the education budget cutters.

“Boring” a Common Complaint Among Dropouts

Kids aren’t searched when they enter Whitney Young, and this makes a big impression on Mykelle. They don’t have to wear uniforms either—there are no gangs here. Ninety-eight percent of Whitney Young kids graduate. (City Room, WBEZ)
Last day of school

Here's my brother doing what he does best, writing and thinking about teaching and learning. (Fred Klonsky's Blog)

Good Read

Just read a good, short critique of the new, save-the-world power philanthropists like Gates and Broad, " Just Another Emperor?: The Myths and Realities of Philanthrocapitalism", by Michael Edwards (Demos). He counterposes "market metrics" with "democratic accountability" as drivers of social change. You can download it for free, here or buy it like I did, for 12 bucks.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


From Ground Zero in L.A.
"There is a whole new generation of Latino teachers who are creating connections with their students, and we are being let go. The reality is that we need more teachers." (Teacher German Garrola, camping out in frot of LAUSD headquarters)
Duncan: 'Give pols cover'
A better alternative to the state-by-state approach, he says, is to “get away from each state doing its own thing. Let’s do one thing, and let’s hold ourselves accountable.” But raising the bar, he acknowledged, means “test scores are going to drop in some places precipitously. And what we have to do is we have to give those politicians cover for doing the right thing. So there is a real tricky balance that we have to work on here.” (CSMonitor) h/t Russo
The 'business model'
Performativity is forcing curriculum deliverers to focus on desired outputs among customers in managed learning environments (TimesOnLine).
Politics 'too hard' for Vallas

Paul Vallas on why he's not coming back to Chicago to run as a Republican for Cook County Board President: "I'm not going to be able to transition out of here and run....I've got too many things pending here," he said. "Our test scores took off here, but there's more to do. Politics would create too much of a hardship." (Carol Marin, Chicago News)

Backdoor attempt to kill LSC's

A coalition of Chicago school activists is holding a protest this morning at the Thompson Center. They're asking Gov. Quinn to veto Senate Bill 362 which lifted the cap on charter schools. The reason? It seems that the day before the bill was to come up for a vote, language was added which would eliminate elected Local School Councils from so-called "Turnaround Schools."

Chances for such a veto? Hard to say. Passage of the bill would undoubtedly lead to some law suits. Also, Quinn himself is a former LSC member. He sat on the first round of elected LSCs (along with my wife, Susan) at Sayre Language Academy and should have an appreciation of their importance.

The Huberman 16

Now we know why Daley brought Ron Huberman over from the CTA. He's an efficiency guy, not an educator. And he's "loyal." That's important with all these federal investigations going on in and around City Hall.

His job--fire thousands as a way out of the budget crisis. His first big administrative "shake-up" includes the naming of the "Huberman 16," to "cut waste."

According to the Trib:
The team is heavy on business background. Many have management and consulting experience. Four of them served at the Chicago Transit Authority when Huberman led the CTA for Mayor Richard Daley.
The first 1,000 heads rolling supposedly belong to non-teaching staff and administrators. But when the dust clears, you can be sure that the empty cubicles will belong mainly to those who take the CTA down town, take the calls and are school support staff--not those who drive a Lexus and make huge salaries to manage contending departments. Of course there is lots of waste down on Clark Street and out in the district. Getting rid of the AIOs is not bad. But that happens every few years and the school oversight structure is usually just given a new name while keeping the same top-down style of work. How about ramrods for the new ones?

And shouldn't we be thrilled at Huberman's creation of the new high-paid positions -- chief performance officer and deputy for performance management technology. New performance chief Sarah Kremsner was brought over from the CTA.

Please just don't tell us that "performance management" has anything to do with improving teaching/learning.

How many thousand teachers and principals are next on the chopping block. How high can class sizes grow? Stay tuned.