Thursday, December 30, 2010

China's test-crazy schools

The Chinese, who have a 10th of our wealth, are running a great education system.-- Bill Gates

In a recent Newsweek interview , Gates lauded China's school system for producing high math/science scores on an international standardized test. Arne Duncan, as one would expect, followed suit, calling the test results a "wake up call." Conservative think-tanker Chester Finn then chimed in with some cold-war rhetoric, likening the Chinese teenagers' test results to the 1957 Soviet launch of Sputnik.

It never ceases to amaze me how  intensely our so-called free-market leaders seem to despise China and its political system, while at the same time envying their centralized, bureaucratized and standardized educational system. It seems like Gates, Duncan and Co. love China's system more than the Chinese themselves do.

A story in Tuesday's New York Times, "Shanghai Schools’ Approach Pushes Students to Top of Tests,"
seems to bear me out on this. Educators in China are growing increasingly critical of their school system which they say is too test-oriented, stifles creativity and often deprives children of the joys of childhood.
“These are two sides of the same coin: Chinese schools are very good at preparing their students for standardized tests,” Jiang Xueqin, a deputy principal at Peking University High School in Beijing, wrote in an opinion article published in The Wall Street Journal shortly after the test results were announced. “For that reason, they fail to prepare them for higher education and the knowledge economy.” In an interview, Mr. Jiang said Chinese schools emphasized testing too much, and produced students who lacked curiosity and the ability to think critically or independently.“It creates very narrow-minded students,” he said. “But what China needs now is entrepreneurs and innovators.” 
China's school system is also marked by vast inequities. Schools in prosperous Shanghai are well-equipped while those in the rural areas suffer from lack of resources. As you might expect, this produces an "achievement gap" eerily familiar to educators here in the U.S.
While Shanghai schools are renowned for their test preparation skills, administrators here are trying to broaden the curriculums and extend more freedom to local districts. The Jing’An school, one of about 150 schools in Shanghai that took part in the international test, was created 12 years ago to raise standards in an area known for failing schools.The principal, Zhang Renli, created an experimental school that put less emphasis on math and allows children more free time to play and experiment. The school holds a weekly talent show, for example.
 So while Chinese educators push for more freedom and autonomy in schools and less testing and standardization, we in the U.S. are racing in the opposite direction.

The question is--what exactly is it that Mr. Gates, who calls himself an innovator, admires so much? Perhaps it's the idea that Chinese graduates will have acquired the basic skills needed to work for a company like Microsoft, be more compliant on the job, while working for less money. Perfect!

Also see "A True Wake-up Call for Arne Duncan: The Real Reason Behind Chinese Students Top PISA Performance" by Yong Zhao.

Is poverty just another excuse for low test scores?

It's as if we've returned to the Nixonian era of  "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps." 

Arne Duncan claims that poverty is being used as an "excuse" and threatens  he's lost patience with all those "bad teachers" and "failing schools" who tick off all the reasons why their poor or minority students can't score as high on standardized tests.. He assures us that "poverty is not destiny" and that new privately-run charter schools will overcome poverty's downward push on measurable learning outcomes, even while millions of children remain living under intolerable conditions of poverty and homelessness amidst great affluence. Sadly, this is what passes for leadership in the current administration's Department of Education. 

See my latest post at Huffington: "The Year They Began Calling Poverty and Homelessness an 'Excuse"

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Groups demand an end to mayoral control of Chicago schools

WHO: Jitu Brown (KOCO), Karen Lewis (Chicago Teachers Union), Margarite Jacobs (People for Community Recovery), Michelle Young (Action Now), Rico Gutstein (Teachers for Social Justice), CPS youth and parent representatives

WHAT: Press Conference

WHEN: December 29, 2010 at 10:30 a.m.

WHERE: Thompson Center lobby, 100 W. Randolph Street Chicago, IL 60601

WHY: The above groups, joined by teachers, students, parents and others directly impacted by Chicago education policy, launch a campaign today demanding an end to the 15-years of mayoral control of Chicago Public Schools and the mayor's appointed Board of Education comprised solely of business interests. This coalition will present a framework for establishing a representative, elected school board comprised of parents, students, teachers, community groups and education research experts charged to form education policy based on proven educational research, and conduct its business in a transparent manner accessible to all Chicago citizens.

Also--The Tribune has an excellent piece by Diane Rado and Tara Malone describing the dismal progress made under reform after 15 years of mayoral control--reason enough to end it. 
Like the menu at a potluck supper, Chicago Public Schools has a dizzying array of offerings, from classical, magnet, selective enrollment and gifted schools to charters and contract schools and career and military academies. The smorgasbord is a testament to Chicago's myriad attempts to fix broken schools and keep middle-class parents from fleeing to the suburbs. But 15 years after a historic shake-up put the city's mayor in charge of public education, the litany of reforms has not produced widespread success. Some 80 percent of the city's schools didn't meet federal testing targets this year, leaving Mayor Richard Daley's successor with a massive organization still plagued by academic failure as well as budget woes, high poverty and debilitating social conditions that make teaching and learning difficult.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Learning from Finland

Finland is one of the few nations that have accomplished both a high quality of learning and equity in learning at the same time. And Finnish children never take a standardized test. This according to Pasi Sahlberg, director general of the Center for International Mobility and Cooperation at Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture. (Boston Globe)

Gray's choices

Broom Lady gone from D.C. but mayor's new picks don't reflect any new thinking on ed reform.
In Chicago, Mahaley, 42, led Mayor Richard M. Daley's initiative to close low-performing schools and replace them with charter-like schools...Mahaley has most recently been an executive director at Wireless Generation, a Brooklyn-based education technology firm recently acquired by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. (Wapo)


He's dreaming of a white Christmas
"You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders." (Miss. Gov. and 2012 presidential candidate, Haley Barbour)
The spirit of giving
"From Gates, to Broad, to Bloomberg, edu-philanthropists have been pouring their time, talent and treasure into education. They tout themselves as education reformers, but, largely, their dollars are not simply good deeds. Instead, their gifts are thinly veiled attacks on our public education system. Edu-philanthropy is education's Trojan horse." (Julie Cavanagh: Education's Trojan Horse)
Heiress vs. the parents
If this charter is to remain open, if [Ross] is able to bully the education department, this will destroy the premise of charters - that students deserve the best educational choices. (Mona Davids, president of the New York Charter Parents Association)
 Who's watching the watchers?
"The video is sent to researchers off-site who will never speak with the teachers they are watching. Those analysts will scientifically code the steps that teachers like Davis use to reach their students." (NPR)
 War is theft
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." (Pres. Dwight Eisenhower, quoted by Kristof in NYT)
Ike might well have added, those who are uneducated.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Can the billionaire philanthropist and the president of the AFT find common ground?

"You know, a quarter of our teachers are very good. If you could make all the teachers as good as the top quarter, the U.S. would soar to the top of that comparison." -- Bill Gates

Someone should probably point out to Mr. Gates that his statistical approach to teacher evaluation doesn't allow for all teachers to be as good as the top quartile. If they were, there would still be a top and a bottom 25%.

Gates reveals more of his misunderstanding of the teaching profession and school reform in general in a Newsweek interview given jointly with AFT prez Randi Weingarten, in which he holds China up as his model for U.S. school reform. Gates appears envious of  China's highly centralized, low-budget, test-crazy, union-free school system.

Chinese students recently outperformed 15-year-old American students on standardized tests in math, reading, and science. This caused Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to call China's performance on the PISA exams a “wake-up call” and conservative think-tanker Chester Finn, who served in Reagan’s Department of Education, to liken it to “Sputnik,” the man-made satellite launched by the former Soviet Union in 1957 that shocked Cold War America.

Says Gates:
"The Chinese, who have a 10th of our wealth, are running a great education system. There are some things we can learn from other systems. They have a longer school day in most countries, and a longer school year in most countries. And some of them have elements of their personnel system that are worth learning from."
But Michigan State education professor Yong Zhao  notes the growing criticism of the system coming from within China itself--from students and parents who would certainly take issue with Gates, Duncan and Finn.
 I don’t know why this is such a big surprise to these well educated and smart people. Why should anyone be stunned? It is no news that the Chinese education system is excellent in preparing outstanding test takers, just like other education systems within the Confucian cultural circle—Singapore, Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong.
Yong refers to a  recent story in the Chinese media that has created quite a stir. 
The story, entitled A Helpless Mother Complains about Extra Classes Online, Students Say They Have Become Stupid Before Graduation, follows a mother’s online posting complaining about how her child’s school’s excessive academic load have caused serious physical and psychological damages.
The Newsweek interview has the world's second-richest man and the union's most influential leader finding common ground on many current school reform issues. They each place school reform in the context of global competition for world market share. They both admire countries with a single set of common national standards to drive curriculum and testing in every school. Neither pays much attention to the growing educational inequities inherent in our increasingly racially and economically bifurcated society. Instead, they each focus on ways to identify bad teachers, push them out of the profession, and revamp teacher evaluation, including use of video cameras in classrooms.
"Football teams do this all the time, says Weingarten. "They look at the tape after every game. Sometimes they do it during the game."
Gates and Weingarten disagree, however, when it comes to spending on public education--Randi wants more, Bill wants less. But what's a few hundred million among friends. Maybe they can split the difference.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What the new year will bring

Sociologists are worried about the Republican takeover of the House. They damn well ought to be. 
The new majority in the House believes that the election provided a mandate to change the course of policy from extending the Bush-era tax cuts, repealing health care reform, and cutting federal spending. Another concern is the capacity of the new majority to attack science it doesn’t like from climate change to social and behavioral research. 

Can someone please explain why it will "take months" for the Pentagon to implement the end of DADT?
Under the bill approved by a Senate vote of 65-31, the president and Pentagon must first certify that lifting the ban won't hurt troops' ability to fight. After that, the military will undergo a 60-day wait period before any changes are made.
Teacherken is well worth following at the Daily Kos. Check out his latest on "The Cost of War." 

We're spending $100 billion a year on a country that had a gross domestic product of a little more than $2 billion when we invaded in 2001. By 2014, this administration will have spent more than $700 billion on Afghanistan directly. Those are direct costs, the 2nd figure being what we are not getting because of the extension of the Bush tax cuts to the rich.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Horray for the ASA!

The American Sociological Assoc. (ASA) has moved its annual conference out of  Chicago's Hilton Palmer House. Good. Now I can attend.
“A very protracted labor dispute between the service workers of UNITE HERE Local 1 and Chicago hotels has been taking place and there is no end in sight,” said Sally T. Hillsman, ASA’s Executive Officer. “Without any sign of an imminent resolution, the ASA Council voted unanimously to move the meeting from Chicago because ASA cannot guarantee that the facilities and environment necessary for a successful meeting will be available.”

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chicago board president's suicide tied to City Hall/Olympics corruption

In the run-up to the Olympic Games, the mayor and school board president Michael Scott forced CPS principals, teachers, and students to turn out for rallies to support the mayor's failed campaign to make Chicago the Olympic City. Now we know why.

While serving as school board president, Scott negotiated key components of the $1.2 billion Olympic Village plan and had a long business relationship with developer Gerald Fogelson, who was vying to build the village. Scott served as a $10,000/month consultant on a condominium project near the proposed athletes village, a development that would increase in value if the city had won the Olympics. The city owns more than 750 properties in the immediate vicinity of two proposed Olympic venues, Douglas Park on the West Side and Washington Park on the South Side.

Scott lost a ton of money when his consulting fees from Fogelson were cut off after the bid failed. This combined with Scott's despondency over other failed business dealings is now being explained as a prime reason for his suicide.

Big questions still remain:

1. In January, when the Police Department initially released the reports of its investigation into Scott’s death in response to media's Freedom of Information Act requests, it blacked out much of the documents — including the previously undisclosed details of Scott’s consulting deal. The Better Government Assoc. later obtained  the same heavily redacted police reports. The BGA now argues that leaving out so much of the police findings violated state law, and the police ultimately agreed to release some of the previously withheld information. But why not all?  Is police superintendent Jody Weis looking out for the mayor's interests here?

2. Who else from the school board and other city agencies and departments had conflicts of interest around the Olympic Games campaign? Anybody currently on the board? Anyone currently campaigning for mayor? Just asking.

3. How long until we know results from other investigations of misconduct and mismanagement of school funds by Daley's hand-picked board of bankers and developers, including misuse of school board credit cards?

4. Is this the reason, or one of the reasons why Daley wants a business person rather than an educator in charge of the schools?

5.  Do we need a clearer example of why City Hall's corrupt politics and the administration of the public schools ought to be kept miles apart rather than all under the autocratic control of the mayor?


Linda Darling-Hammond
While students in the highest-achieving states and districts in the United States do as well as their peers in the high achieving nations, our continuing comfort with profound inequality is the Achilles' heel of American Education. ("Soaring Systems"--American Educator)
Bill Ayers
So join me in a resolution for 2011: Say goodbye to complacency in a heartless world, to deference, didacticism, ego and the need to always be right, goodbye to prisons and border guards and walls—whether in Palestine or in Texas—and goodbye to quarantines, deletions, and closures.  Goodbye to all that. (At the End of the Decade)
Jose Vilson
What hurt the most about the discussion around the DREAM Act is that this is as much an education bill as it is an immigration bill, and the implications for our country’s classroom ring loudly from coast to coast.  (DREAM Act: I Know God Has My Back)
Carlos Saavedra (United We Dream Network)
“We have woken up. We are going to go around the country letting everybody know who stands with us and who stood against us.” (Immigration Vote Leaves Obama’s Policy in Disarray--NYT)

Sunday, December 19, 2010


From Susan Oppenheimer

You may be aware that this fall just before the beginning of school over 1100 teachers were laid off, 50 of whom were National Board Certified Teachers and many other award winning teachers.  200 were tenured and the courts ordered CPS to reinstate them.  CPS appealed.  Current education 'reformers' rave about the importance of great teachers, but these firings reveal the 'reformers' true data driven agenda -- cut costs, hire inexperienced teachers and save money.  One of those fired teachers was our 2003 OPPY Winner, Francisco Mendoza.

Francisco has been teaching for 25 years and a drive down 19th Street reveals the beautiful work of his students where the Cooper School is covered in glass mosaic murals depicting Mexican history and culture.  In April Francisco was diagnosed with multiple-myolema.  His principal fired him and when his COBRA expires, he will no longer have health care insurance.

Ted and I have joined with artist teachers and members of the Pilsen community, including the National Museum of Mexican Art, to plan a fund raiser to help support Francisco.  A fiesta will be held at the Museum on Sunday, February 27 from 3:00 P.M. - 7:00 P.M.  There will be great food from area restaurants, entertainment and a unique silent auction.  Please SAVE THE DATE and spread the word.  We will send more information as it is available.

Meanwhile, if you want to see what is going on behind the scenes on this issue, click on to this link of a Chicago Teachers Union's press conference (which includes Ted).  The reports of three Congressmen are shocking and doubly so because NO ONE in the media picked up the story. 

Thanks for checking this out.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Teachers union hosts 3rd mayoral forum

M. Klonsky photo
It looked to me like about 600-700 (mostly teachers) packing the Operating Engineers union hall last night. I didn't hear much new from any of the five candidates who showed up--Miguel del Valle, Carol Moseley Braun, James Meeks, Gery Chico and William "Dock" Walls.

As expected, Rahm Emanuel didn't deem the crowd worthy of his presence (I wonder what's really in those 20 boxes he has hidden in that crawl space in his former house?). Congressman Danny Davis was also a no-show. He phoned in a brief statement from D.C. where he rushed to heed Obama's call to vote yes on the $858 billion tax-break-for-the-rich bill. How sad.

Lots of ed clichés tossed about. We learned that all kids can learn, we should leave no child behind, and that it takes a village, etc... Del Valle had some good stuff to say on teacher evaluation. All 5 were critical of test scores as the sole criteria used to evaluate teachers. But no one is going to sit in front of hundreds of teachers and tout the current test-score mania or "merit pay".

Meeks never even mentioned the V-word, even while coming from a press conference where he vowed to push school vouchers if elected. No one dared mention the D-word, as in Daley, either. The savvy Chico ducked an important question about appointing an educator vs. a business type to run the schools. At first he seemed to agree with the others, saying that he would appoint an educator. But then he slipped in the words, "to work alongside of a CEO," and deftly moved on--not failing to drop the names of a few African-American educators (Cozette Buckney, Blondean Davis and Barbara Eason-Watkins) he has known, to grab some cheap applause. Chicago hasn't had a chief education officer since last June.

Some good stuff said on TIFs. But overall, kind of a blah "we all agree" event.


An end to regulation?
Rep. Spencer Bachus (R., Ala.), the incoming chairman of the House Financial Services Committee (left) huddles with the current chairman, Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) at a hearing in September. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Spencer Bachus, the incoming G.O.P. chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told The Birmingham News that “in Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.” (WSJ)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Chicago candidates forum #2 on education

"Mayor Richard M. Daley should hang his head in shame," writes Catalyst's Sara Karp. On Wednesday night, the candidates who want to replace him gave the school system he spent 20 years reforming, somewhere between a C-minus and a D. "But that's politics, right?"

Rahm Emanuel was a no-show once again at this, the second candidates' forum in two days. Ironically even candidate Gery Chico, who served as Daley's hand picked school board prez, joined in the searing condemnation, giving the system under Daley low marks. But Chico was the only candidate who would not commit to hiring an educator to run the school district. In fact, he said he would bring back Paul Vallas, the CEO of CPS during the time Chico was school board president.

Once again it was Miguel del Valle staking out more progressive territory on school reform and offering strong critiques of the current mayor's corporate reform strategy. Progressive Danny Davis was a no-show. Carole Mosely Braun bumped heads with del Valle when she came out against  tax increases to help pay for public education and chastised schools for not "living within their means." Rev. James Meeks openly pushed for school vouchers.

A look back at Tuesday's Forum #1
Del Valle told the crowd, "The future development of the city has to be an agenda that is a neighborhood agenda -- not a downtown agenda, not a business agenda." (Progress Illinois)


Rhee's "turnaround" contractor gets the boot 

More than two years after Friends of Bedford,  a N.Y.-based private operator was hired by Michelle Rhee to run one of the city's most venerable schools, her replacement under new mayor Vincent Gray, has given them the boot. 
D.C. officials said Tuesday that Dunbar High remains plagued by a litany of troubles: Nearly half the senior class is not on track to graduate, more than 100 students are taking courses they've already passed and the campus is growing increasingly unsafe. (Bill Turque at WaPo)
New Chancellor Kaya Henderson said the school's record, as well as classroom observations and complaints from teachers and parents, led her to conclude that the environment at Dunbar had "deteriorated significantly" under Rhee's turnaround plan. Henderson, who was a top deputy under Rhee, said that because Bedford was given autonomy and a premium of about $1.2 million in the past year above usual funding levels, she expected more progress. Some of those funds also paid for the contractor to run Coolidge High School.

Money talks, Cheney walks

Halliburton is paying Nigeria a $250 million bribe to drop bribery charges against Dick Cheney. The move followed the intervention of ex-president George Bush Sr and former secretary of state James Baker, according to Nigerian press reports.

Running the schools, controlling the info flow

New York's billionaire Mayor and likely 2012 presidential candidate. Michael Bloomberg has made three giant moves to expand and consolidate his massive information/education/political empire. Last year, he bought Business Week. Now, he's building a huge D.C. operation, aptly called Bloomberg Government, that will sell information about government contracts to lobbyists. Next he  bought two big-name, politically connected editorial writers — James P. Rubin, a former assistant secretary of state under Bill Clinton, and David Shipley, editor of The New York Times Op-Ed page — to lead a push into the editorial market, which will be named Bloomberg View.
“Our aspiration is to be the most influential news organization in the world,” said Mike Riley, the managing editor of Bloomberg Government in Washington. “I think Bloomberg sees a great opportunity here, and they are wisely investing on the front end,” he added, declining to say exactly how much the company has spent building the service over the last nine months. “Suffice it to say, it’s not inexpensive.” 
Now his placing of Hearst publishing CEO Cathie Black atop the city's public school system and former chancellor Joel Klein's move over to Rupert Murdoch's media plantation begins to make sense. More reasons to put an end to mayoral control of the schools.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Miguel del Valle: "Agenda must be a neighborhood agenda."

New Chicago 2011 UIC Forum, December 14, 2010

Thousands turn out in the cold for Chicago mayoral forum

M. Klonsky photo
Rahm a no-show. Chico leaves early.

UIC's Forum was packed last night. Nearly 3,000 turned out, mainly from the city's community and social-service orgs, in the bitter cold, under the banner of New Chicago-201l. This poor frost-bitten soul was one of them. Big money candidate Rahm Emanuel wasn't, and his absence united the crowd with a round of boos.
The 2,800-strong crowd booed. They probably would have booed Emanuel if he had attended. The neighborhood groups were demanding a mayor who paid as much attention to Roseland and Little Village as the Loop. It wasn’t Rahm’s kind of room. (Ward Room).

That left "Slow" Eddie Burke's guy, Gery ("I have to leave early") Chico as the lone machine candidate and rightfully number-one target of the progressives in the audience and up on the stage--Carol Mosely Braun, Danny Davis, Miguel del Valle, and Patricia Watkins. Most interesting to me was that education reform became the hot-button issue that seemed to resonate with the crowd and cut through most of the usual campaign phrase-mongering. In particular it was the current administration's mass, arbitrary closing of neighborhood schools that drew their ire.

M. Klonsky photo
Former Senator Carol Mosely Braun started it off, hitting at Chico's record as Daley's hand-picked school board president during the Paul Vallas era. Chico came to the board after serving as the mayor's chief of staff.

Braun declared that no schools should be closed without involving parents and the community, then said, 
“Mr. Chico, you need to be responsible for some of the things happening in the Chicago schools.”

Chico returned fire at Braun, boasting, "We took over the schools in 1995, when they were in terrible shape. By the time I left in 2001, we were on the upswing. I built 65 new schools. We didn’t close schools. We built them.” 
But it was Miguel del Valle who got the biggest cheers of the night. He condemned the city’s “parallel system of public education. On one track, the magnet schools, on the other track, the neighborhood schools. We need to turn low-performance neighborhood schools into high-performance schools.”

When the subject turned to immigration, del Valle turned his fire on Emanuel's vacant chair.
“The man who was supposed to sit in this chair is the individual who is most responsible for blocking immigration reform as a congressman and White House chief of staff,” he shouted, to a standing ovation. “How can we expect him to protect the rights of immigrants in Chicago?”
Chico announced he had to leave early due to a previous engagement and exited the stage to another chorus of boos. 

Back out in the tundra, I felt a sparkle of hope that maybe Emanuel won't be able to just waltz onto the fifth floor of City Hall with his sense of entitlement intact. I also left feeling a longing for days when Harold Washington brought black and Latino communities together with progressive whites to end the reign of the old Daley machine. At times, I could feel that spirit of unity in the room last night but in current times it doesn't translate into a unified opposition anti-machine candidate.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Challenging New Trier's honoring of Rumsfeld

Teachers at wealthy north shore, suburban New Trier High School did a  great job of educating at least some of their students. The evidence? Not just the test scores that go with the territory at New Trier.

Senior class president Jeremy Levine-Drizin said he and a friend have begun circulating a petition among students and faculty calling for Donald Rumsfeld's removal from its honoree list, calling it a "moral issue."
"I felt I had a duty as a student of New Trier to try to get him off this list," Levine-Drizin said.
Jeremy is joined in the effort to get the NTHS board to withdraw its honor of the war-mongering Rumsfeld, by former trustee Buzz Graettinger. Rumsfeld's involvement with what turned out to be inaccurate assertions of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq make him unfit to receive an award, Graettinger said.

"Let the military, political, or business worlds venerate Rumsfeld, if they must. But New Trier owes him no such honor," wrote Michelle Komie, a 1993 New Trier graduate.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Can we get beyond polarization on charters?

Marv Hoffman is Associate Director of tthe Urban Teacher Education Program and Founding Director of Chicago's North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School. I enjoyed reading his recent call ( "Beyond Polarization: A Conversation About Charters and Turnarounds") for a less polemical debate on charters, which he maintains are "neither what’s wrong with CPS, nor are they the solution to the city’s educational problems.”

I agree with him on that, but take issue with the way he poses some of the alternatives; i.e., between incremental ("doing nothing") and drastic change (privately-run charters and massive school closings and teacher firings). Marv takes a thoughtful, balanced approach but clearly leans towards the latter.
There needs to be a more drastic change of school culture and that’s what charters, closings and turnarounds are attempting to address, again in sometimes crude ways, but also sometimes in ways that shine a light on what is possible. 
I appreciate Marv's call for balance. I also appreciate his bent towards social justice and his awareness of the impact of out-of-school conditions on schools and students. But I don't think there's anything less "incremental" about charters. As Marv himself points out, the percentage of Chicago public school students attending charters is only in the single digits, and for the foreseeable future, the vast majority of children in the city will continue to attend regular public schools.

If indeed we are going to have a real dialogue on charters, critical voices can't be demeaned as maintaining the status quo. That's been the tactic of the corporate school reformers as well as that of Arne Duncan.

The pace and scope of public school reform is not something that can be willed from the top by the reformers alone. Ultimately an engaged and organized school community will be the driving force for change. In the mean time, reformers would do well to follow Hippocrates' well-worn maxim, "above all, do no harm," if there is going to be anything public left to reform.


Sound familiar?
Lucas watched angrily. Before the election she had worked hard trying to persuade friends to back the Liberal Democrats. At 26, still paying off student debt, unable to get onto the housing ladder, she had thought the Lib Dems offered hope.  (U.K. Guardian, "Riots, fire, anger at tuition fees protest – and a defining political moment")
"Parent Trigger" triggers parent revolt
"They told me the petition was to beautify the school," said Karla Garcia, whose two children attend McKinley. "They are misinforming the parents, so I revoked my signature."  (L.A. Times)
Boehner says no deal
While expressing an interest in "common ground," Boehner refused to entertain the idea of compromise. "I reject the word," he said. (60 Minutes)
Duncan likes T-bagger Kline but Kline won't play nice

T-Party fave and new House Ed Committee Chairman John Kline, finds lots of areas of agreement with Arne Duncan. No surprise there. But John still won't play ball with Arne. He says Duncan's "Blueprint" for the rewrite of NCLB has been dumped in the circular file. He also threatens to hold hearings on how Mr. Duncan decided to give chunks of the $4 billion in Race To The Top $$$ to some states and not to others. 

“I’d like to have somebody come explain to me how that worked, because there are a lot of questions out there.” (NYT)

Nixon's genetic theories
“Bill Rogers has got — to his credit it’s a decent feeling — but somewhat sort of a blind spot on the black thing because he’s been in New York,” Nixon said. “He says well, ‘They are coming along, and that after all they are going to strengthen our country in the end because they are strong physically and some of them are smart.’ So forth and so on.

“My own view is I think he’s right if you’re talking in terms of 500 years,” he said. “I think it’s wrong if you’re talking in terms of 50 years. What has to happen is they have to be, frankly, inbred. And, you just, that’s the only thing that’s going to do it, Rose.” (Nixon Tapes, NYT)

Friday, December 10, 2010

A real provocation

I must admit, when I first read about the attack on the royal Roller, I was pissed that some provocateur or anarchistic crazy had managed to knock yesterday's London student marches out of the morning headlines (they didn't).

But now that I've had my morning decaf, I'm imagining Prince Charles & Duchess of Cornwall (where the hell is Cornwall anyway?), adorned in formal theatre wear, driving their bullet-proof Rolls into the heart of a mass student anti-tuition raise/anti-education cuts march. Well now, THAT'S a provocation. Like waving a red flag in front of the proverbial bull, I'd say. Just imagine the symbolism here, particularly after the royals just announced plans to spend $60 million on the wedding of Kate & William, while thousands of Brit students watch their futures being yanked away from them because they can no longer afford college tuition.

Compared to that, what's a little paint splattered on the Rolls? They'll probably run right out a buy a new one. And next time these high-maintenance feudal relics need to exit the palace on their way to the theatre, they should tell their driver, "Jeeves, let's take a more circuitous route this time. What say?"

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Emanuel blowing more smoke on Chicago school reform

Here's the latest Rahm bomb

He promises even more arbitrary school closings in black and Latino communities, turning them over to private management companies under the failed Race To The Top policies he helped engineer in Washington. 

The so-called "turnaround" process, handing neighborhood schools over to operators like Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), has only served to widen the city's achievement gap and expand the two-tier school system we have always known in the Windy City.

While Emanuel won't commit to sending his own children to any AUSL-run schools, or to any other public school period, he giddily promised, at a press conference on Tuesday, to "turnaround" and hand over to companies like AUSL 35 more  local public schools. Where did he get the number 35? Has he studied each school (he doesn't name them) to see what their specific needs are? Are they really "failing"? Does he know the impact the "turnaround" process will have on the surrounding community? Of course not.

Victims of the current "turnaround" process are mainly hundreds of teachers and students who fell victim to the ensuing instability and chaos. A study out of the University of Chicago's Consortium for Chicago School Research showed that for all but 6% of the displaced students, there were no significant learning gains. The other 94% ended up in some of the city's worst schools and made no measurable gains in learning.

Side story: The newspapers are still blaring headlines about the trial of the teens convicted in the beating death of Darrion Albert outside of Fenger High School. But there's little mention of the fact that Fenger was one of those schools where the entire teaching staff was swept out of their jobs under the Mayor's Renaissance 2010 "turnaround" and replaced by a new, inexperienced team that was taken by surprise by the violence which occurred outside their school,

In response to the damage done to local communities by arbitrary closings and "turnarounds,"  Rep. Cynthia Soto successfully pushed legislation to place a moritorium on former CEO Ron Huberman, keeping he from closing any more schools without first creating standards and providing a strong rationale for such extreme action.

Emanuel standing up at a press conference and promising to "turnaround" 35 schools, without explaining exactly which schools or why, should provide plenty of ammunition for his mayoral opponents.

All this shows once again that Rahm is an unqualified and unworthy schools boss and therefore, and unworthy mayor in city where the mayor has total power over the public schools.

Dream Act passes in the House

"Oh, my God, I don't know if I'm going to sleep tonight!" said Francisco Curiel, 18, an undocumented high school senior who left Mexico to join his mom in N.Y. three years ago.
It was the first time in the 10-year legislative history of the DREAM Act that the House has passed the bill. The vote was 216-198. But the Limbaugh Party vows to block Senate vote.

Student tuition protests rock Europe

As parliament votes on higher tuition fees thousands of students, part of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), are marching in London and Edinburgh.The Guardian is providing live coverage here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Quotable Cathie Black

Why she thinks she's ready to run N.Y. public schools
You know, I’ve been a public figure for a long time. This is different, certainly, but believe me, the early days of USA Today, when I had to go shareholder meetings and be surrounded by 30 Wall Street analysts — you know, “What’s going to happen next week? How’s the advertising? When is it going to be profitable?” That kind of thing toughens you up over a period time. That was back in 1983, so that was a long time ago. (NYT City Room)

Bloomberg's pick stirs new debate over mayoral control of schools

"Education Emperor"
N.Y. Mayor Bloomberg's pick of an inexperienced and unqualified corporate magazine exec to run the city's schools has ignited a firestorm of protest that isn't going away. L.A. Times'
"It's the culmination and apotheosis of all the worst parts of mayoral control," said Leonie Haimson, a longtime activist for smaller class size who is part of a movement to stop Black's appointment. "In the end it's one man who doesn't listen to anybody and makes decision based on whim. Would Bloomberg put a non-doctor to head the health department or someone with no experience to run the police? I don't think so."
My brother blogs that another wealthy friend of the mayor's wanted her own charter school. Bloomberg gave it to heiress Courtney Sale Ross. But now Ross Global Academy is scheduled for closing.
But the principals came and went. 40% of the teachers left each year and almost 80% left last year. It became a sad story, particularly for the teachers, parents and students, of what happens when you hand over schools as the playthings of the rich and richer.
Joining the latest assault on mayoral control in Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice who calls Bloomberg the Education Emperor

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Remember, it's all about the kids

Rhee's $1 billion comeback

Just days after announcing that she was going to work for Florida's T-Party Gov. Rick Scott, Michelle Rhee and her patrons used Oprah's show and a Newsweek cover story to announce the formation of her own shiny new school reform group. Remember how, in 2008 she kicked off her disastrous term as D.C.'s school boss with a Time cover story and the infamous broom picture?

She's named her new group, Students First, but a look at her website will tell you that it should have been called Rhee First. The kick-off is largely the work of her clout-heavy, tres expensive PR firm headed by former Obama white house staffer Anita Dunn working with former N.Y. Chancellor Joel Klein and Rhee's fiancé, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

The teacher-bashing star of Waiting for Superman ought to make a killing in the new open-market money pit of corporate school reform. Money-magnet Rhee claims the group will raise $1 billion from patrons Gates, Broad and other private corporate sources. That perked up the ears of ever-willing AFT prez Randi Weingarten who invited Rhee to "work with us."  It also led USA Today ed writer Greg Topo to Tweet, "So much for money not mattering." 
“If there’s anyone who can raise a billion for this, it’s going to be Michelle,” said Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, recalling that Ms. Rhee was greeted like a rock star at a political event his group hosted a couple of years ago in Denver.  (NYT)
But her main cheerleaders are the usual gaggle of union haters starting with American Enterprise Institute's Rick Hess--“She very explicitly is setting out to be a political answer to the unions”-- and Bellweather's (they know which way the wind's blowing) Andy Rotherham--"She’s a charismatic, high-profile national leader, and she’s unafraid to break a lot of china.”

Break china indeed. But remember, it's all about the kids.

New report: The right way to evaluate teachers

What is presently being pawned off by corporate reformers as a reform of teacher evaluation has little grounding in education research and makes for bad policy. This according to a policy brief, Getting Teacher Assessment Right: What Policymakers Can Learn From Research, being released today by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The Center's report says that teachers' effectiveness and quality can and should be evaluated, but sensible and useful evaluation depends on a balanced system where value-added models using student standardized test scores play only a limited role.

See my Huffington Post on the report, here

Monday, December 6, 2010

The latest school 'reformer'

Oh Lord. It looks like machine boss, IL House Speaker Mike Madigan wants a slice of the school reform pie.  He's creating panel to see about requiring teacher performance based on test scores, to be a factor in compensation. He also wants to make it simpler to fire teachers and link tenure to teacher performance. (Greg Hinz at Crain's).


It's war
Mr. President. There's A War Going On In This Country... A War Being Waged By Some Of The Wealthiest And Most Powerful People against the working families of the United States of America.  (Sen. Bernie Sanders)
From the 'barricades'
First, it is wrong to assert that students' poverty and family circumstances severely limit their educational potential... Public education is a service-delivery challenge, and it must be operated as such. (Joel Klein--"What I learned at the Education Barricades")
You don't know me
“Give me a chance,” New York's new chancellor, Cathie Black said in the interview, on WABC-TV. “Don’t judge someone that you haven’t even met.”
I hope Black will follow her own advice when it comes to teacher and school evaluation. Look beyond test scores as the sole criteria please, Ms. Black.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bits & Pieces

Out of the closet: Michelle Rhee dropped her Dem cover. The Waiting for Superman hero and Broad Academy grad has joined Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott's T-Party team.
Scott was elected last month to succeed Gov. Charlie Crist (I), who had quit the Republican Party to make an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate. Florida, with one of the nation's most closely watched school systems, won a $700 million Race to the Top grant from the Obama administration to improve education. Crist vetoed a bill this year that would have expanded teacher merit pay. (WaPo)

FairTest's Monty Neil posts an interesting response to the the Ravitch/Finn debate over at NDSG group.
For quite some time Checker Finn of Fordham Foundation has been one of if not the most important ideologue and strategist for neoliberal ed 'reform' (deform). In a reply to Diane Ravitch's Wall St Journal op ed of a few days ago, Finn redefines 'local control' as form of the market, a commercial exchange: parents purchase (with government $) a slot in a 'local' school. Read the rest here.
I'm not sure why Alexander Russo became so exasperated after watching the terrific PBS report [video] on Chicago's fledgling Austin Polytech High School.
According to PBS "Austin Polytech is the only CPS high school dedicated to teaching students manufacturing skills. Along with social studies and English, students here take three to four years of pre-engineering courses." OK, but what about the school's success rate -- are the kids staying in class, staying in school, and passing those NIMSs tests?  About that we aren't told very much, and that makes me a little bit crazy.
So I say to Russo, don't go crazy--even a little bit. Get off your duff and find out how this small, themed school is doing. I asked school founder Dan Swinney who reports: "We have 25 kids with NIMS credentials. Now with an instructor we expect 80 kids will get one credential, and 60 kids will get the NIMS CNC credential." 
Swinney also sent along a 12-page progress report, "Austin Polytech; Building the Road as We Travel.
which is available upon request from Dan at

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Duncan keynotes Jeb Bush's ed reform conference

The sponsors tell the story

Arne Duncan has long been a favorite of the neocon wing of the Republican Party. He played a big role in pumping new life into a largely discredited Newt Gingrich when he made Gingrich the centerpiece of his road tour. He's revived Bush's No Child Left Behind and yesterday, with the 2012 elections looming on the horizon, Duncan the necromancer did his best to resuscitate the political corpse of Jeb Bush by keynoting the former Florida gov's 2-day so-called, National Summit on Education Reform in D.C.

According to WaPo's Valerie Strauss:
Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave the keynote speech today; the Republican Bush led a standing ovation for the Democratic Duncan, showing that school reform is, indeed, a bipartisan effort, if not a monolithic one.
The Orlando Sentinel's Mike Thomas writes:
Actually, this isn’t a shock. While Jeb has called President Obama a big spending liberal, and “childish” for blaming George W. Bush “for everything,” he has embraced much of Obama’s education agenda. That’s because much of Obama’s education agenda is derived from the Jeb Bush education agenda, which promotes school choice and accountability through testing.
Duncan joined a parade of Waiting For Superman types at the podium, including the nation's new chief teacher union-basher, New Jersey Gov. Christie. The conference and Bush/Duncan press conference appeared to be a love fest, with only slight cracks appearing over the issue of vouchers.

Both Duncan and Bush called for the next Congress to quickly reauthorize No Child Left Behind. Duncan said he wants NCLB tweaked a bit, but not overhauled. Neither is very likely since at the very same time, down the road a piece, all 42 Republican senators were signing a pledge not to allow ANY legislation to pass except tax cuts for the rich.

As Strauss points out: "What tells the story of the convention best is the list of convention sponsors." She's so right. The list resembles a convergence of the power philanthropists and hogs nudging their way in to the DOE feeding trough.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The Broad Foundation
The Walton Family Foundation
Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
McGraw Hill Education
Apex Learning
Susan and Bill Oberndorf
The Foundation for Educational Choice
Barton Malow Design/Construction Services
Charter Schools USA
Bush's conference was also used as a springboard for the formation of a new "bipartisan" group of state school superintendents called, Chiefs for Change, headed by Louisiana Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek. The group, as you can imagine, is the embodiment of corporate reform and a new hammer against teacher unions.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dems, you can pull up your shorts now

Palin party vows to block all legislation except tax cuts for the rich.
(CBS/AP)  Senate Republicans intend to block action on virtually all Democratic-backed legislation unrelated to tax cuts and government spending in the current postelection session of Congress, officials said Tuesday, adding that the leadership has quietly collected signatures on a letter pledging to carry out the strategy.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Other messages starting to come through in mayor's race

A version of this post is on Huffington.--M.K.

For the past month in Chicago's media, it's been all Rahm, all the time. But this week, cracks began to appear in the wall protecting Emanuel. New, critical voices are coming through, making his cakewalk into the mayor's office a little more slippery. It's becoming obvious that not everyone, even in the city's business and political hierarchy is happy about the prospects of Emanuel taking over so easily.

Case in point--check out Greg Hinz' latest column in Crain's Chicago Business ("Miguel del Valle echoes Harold Washington in long-shot mayor's bid"). Hinz, probably more than any other journalist, has his finger on the pulse of the city's business community and del Valle is arguably the most progressive candidate in the mayoral field — similar, as Hinz points out to the late great Mayor Harold Washington, who also ran on a platform of economic justice and institutional change.

Del Valle is gaining credibility, in part because he brings an added dimension in that his candidacy is reflective of the great demographic shift with Latino's about to become the city's largest ethnic group. Immigration reform could prove to be a critical issue with del Valle coming out strong at yesterday's press conference. He landed a solid blow with his criticism of Emanuel's "lack of courage" on the issue.

But education remains key to this campaign because, for the past 15 years, the mayor has ruled the schools, appointed all board members and hand-picked the CEO. The current chaos and flat-lining of CPS's pulse can be directly attributed to Mayor Daley's autocratic rule and the failure of his corporate-style, top-down, reform named Renaissance 2010. Emanuel promises more of the same. Del Valle--not.

More from Hinz:
He [del Valle] was one of the fathers of the local school council model that largely was dumped during the Richard M. Daley years, and he'd clearly like to go back to some sort of system that spreads the wealth. "It's time to focus on the low-performing schools," he says. "We don't need a dual-track system."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rahm wants Chicago to be first with Common Core Standards

But he's blowing smoke

Rahm Emanuel says that if elected Mayor, he will impose a new math and English language curriculum on Chicago’s public schools by the end of his first term. I'm not sure that Rahm even knows what the word "curriculum" means. It's obvious that he has some of Arne Duncan's guys feeding him bits and pieces of education jargon to toss around during the campaign and to his credit, he's been first out of the gate on ed issues leaving all the other candidates to respond to him. Hopefully this will change in the coming months.

Here's 10 thoughts I had after reading the NYT piece:

1. Rahm is blowing smoke. He needs a real educator atop the system to help schools develop curriculum. But I wonder if any of the other candidates have the courage to really take him on on this.

2. Common Core is not Rahm's idea. It's part of the "blueprint" currently being pushed by Duncan around the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind. It comes out of meetings of the National Governors Assoc. and state ed chiefs. But it's been met with strong resistance because, among other reasons, it appears to be code language for more standardized testing. It also presages an unprecedented expansion of the DOE's power over local schools. So far, that power has been used mainly to test and punish.

3. Which standards does Rahm want to impose? How about the Texas curriculum standards that excluded teaching about Thomas Jefferson and any mention of the word slavery and pushed the theory of Intelligent Design over evolution.

4. Common Core is really a multi-billion-dollar bone thrown to the large textbook and testing companies.

5. Standards should be developed by educators and not demagogic politicians who know or care nothing about child development, teaching literacy or authentic learning and assessment.

6. Rahm's claim of being the first throws him into conflict with own his machine ally, Mayor Daley. What makes him think he can do in one year what Daley couldn't do in 15 years? Every time Rahm says anything about education he has to beg forgiveness from Daley whose endorsement he needs for a successful campaign.

7. Rahm is promising to impose a new curriculum in one year without any consultation with educators or the teachers union. This is a recipe for even more division, chaos and resistance in the schools. How is he planning to implement the new curriculum? He will have to re-train thousands of teachers to deliver and assess this new pre-packaged curriculum at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars plus thousands of hours of training and planning time away from the classroom. That should make his pals in the consulting business very happy but no one else.

8. Rahm's version of standard core curriculum means a total revision of all the state's standardized tests. Expensive plus no way to accurately compare progress with previous years.

9. The whole idea behind Common Core standards is to eliminate the unevenness nationally between states. For Rahm to boast that he will make Chicago "the first city" to adopt the curriculum and to claim that “no one else has taken on the initiative” misses the point. If Chicago is the only one, then its standards aren't "common." Are they? It's also not true. Several cities have launched Common Core Standards initiatives. I think Suwanee, GA. may have been the first.

10. Instead of promoting Common Core, our new mayor should call for a Chicago Education Summit in collaboration with the CTU and other stakeholders in public education. It should bring together teachers, parents, students, community organizations, foundations, local school coulcils and the business community to draft a new education plan. A major part of the summit should include panels of teachers to design the Chicago Curriculum with input from national experts in reading, math/science, the arts, etc... Former mayor Harold Washington's call in 1987 for an Education Summit could serve as a model.