Monday, August 30, 2010

"But she's not there..."

The Zombies, 1964
But it's too late to say you're sorry.
How would I know, why should I care?
Please, don't bother tryin' to find her,
she's not there. --Zombies

I didn't know why the words to this '60s pop tune kept playing in my head. Then I realized, it was all because of Nancy Joanne Vinicor, the teacher who wasn't there. Normally she would have been there, there being teaching 5th graders at Clover Avenue Elementary School in L.A. But instead, Vinicor tells the L.A. Times
"I was out of the country this past school year as a Fulbright Teacher, a prestigious program granted to exceptional teachers after a thorough application process."
But her absence didn't prevent the Times from evaluating her teaching, along with that of  6,000 other teachers, based solely on their students' standardized test scores and using a new but highly suspect value-added formula.
A team of very smart Times reporters compared Vinicor with other Los Angeles Unified teachers and ranked her:
  • More effective than average overall.
  • More effective than average in math. Students of teachers in this category, on average, gained about 4 percentile points on the California Standards Test compared with other students at their grade level.
  • Average in English. Students of teachers in this category, on average, did not gain or lose significantly on the California Standards Test compared with other students at their grade level.
All this while Vinicor was a thousand miles away, working on a Fulbright.

My teacher/brother Fred tweeted an intriguing question:
If not being there because you were on a Fulbright makes you average, what would being absent to accept a Nobel prize make you?

So far, no answer from the Times gang. The whole scene presents a problem, not only for the Times, which has published the names. pictures and rankings of thousands of  L.A. teachers; for the district, which is sharing that heretofore confidential information with the media; and for Arne Duncan as well. Duncan applauded the teacher-naming, not even waiting for the ink to dry. The problem is that it only takes one example like Vinicor's to cast doubt upon the entire process.

My question is: what data was used to so-called 'rate' me? Additionally, this rating is not a reflection of the scores or the learning of my students. My school (the last year I was there) had an API of 948. My students are high achieving and happy. The ceiling is a lot closer. A random viewer can now look at personal data that inaccurately labels my performance as a teacher and reach the conclusion that I am an 'average' teacher. It is misleading. The public will not necessarily see beyond this. I, personally, am not threatened by this label, but it is simplistic and unfair to so many dedicated and hard-working teachers.

I find this process unhelpful to everyone. How will this improve teaching practices? An education encompasses so much more than a numerical standardized score. Will this benefit anyone? Accountability is crucial in any profession, especially one with such a huge impact on the future of so many, but this is not accountability. This is witch-hunting in the guise of transparency.
I'm sure that somewhere in L.A. there's a group of hungry civil rights lawyers sitting at a planning meeting with the music playing in their heads.
"Well, let me tell you about the way she looked
The way she acted, the color of her hair ..."

Reformed out

"I appreciate how painful this may be for these...teachers, and I also appreciate the fact that even the best data systems won't tell the whole story."--Arne Duncan
I ran into a old friend yesterday, a (former) Chicago teacher. She is She was a veteran teacher at a large north side high school who has been a fine educator and a  leader in school reform efforts for two decades. She piloted the creation of one of the first teacher-led small learning communities in Chicago, an SLC that somehow survived the school's revolving door of principals and district leaders.

Visibly upset, she told me that last week, she received a paragraph-long notice from the board informing her that she has been "honorably separated" from CPS and that her long, distinguished teaching career is over. No notice. Just tossed out like an old coat. Plus, she and her family will lose her medical insurance coverage.

I'm sure there are thousands of stories just like hers. To Ron Huberman and his army of  former Transit Authority bureaucrats down on Clark St., she is just another saved salary in the middle of a deficit-heavy spread sheet, along with thousands of other riffed Chicago teachers. She's also just another sacrifice on the altar of Arne Duncan's Race To The Top--one that has so far gone unrewarded with any RTTT funding for our state.

But to me (and I have watched her teach), she is good, skillful teacher, close to retirement, at the top of her game, being pulled away from the very students who need her the most, students she knows personally and know she cares about them. She's one whose added value does not show up on a test-score-only evaluation sheet. Now there's one more mountain of instability that those students will have to surmount.

Here also is one fewer skilled mentor for the school's younger teachers and one fewer change agent in a school and a system badly in need of change. One less bread winner in a family. One less tax payer in a state badly in need of tax payers and consumers.

Such is the sordid nature of Arne Duncan's so-called "school reform."


Obama in New Orleans
The president called Katrina "a natural disaster but also a man-made catastrophe - a shameful breakdown in government that left countless men, women and children abandoned and alone." (WaP0)
Duncan quiet this time around
Obama’s administration has faced some criticism for its handling of the rebuilding effort. It ran into trouble earlier this year when Education Secretary Arne Duncan linked the hurricane and educational reforms in the city. In January, Duncan said Katrina was "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans" because it forced the city to revamp its low-performing public schools. He later apologized.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Duncan's phrasing was “wrong.” (The Hill)
Tale of two cities
New Orleans is, to steal from Charles Dickens, a tale of two cities. There is the French Quarter and St. Charles Avenue, which sparkle with the charm of a pre-Katrina, pre-flood New Orleans. And there is the 9th ward, and the 7th ward, and other residential areas that are still struggling to recover .(Tom Abrahams, ABC News)

7,000 school employees fired in wake of Katrina
But despite positive developments in the city's recovery, more than 100,000 New Orleanians received a one-way ticket out of town and still have received no help in coming back, and these voices are left out of most stories of the city. Many from this silenced population complain of post-Katrina decisions that placed obstacles in their path, such as the firing of 7,000 public school employees and canceling of their union contract shortly after the storm, or the tearing down of nearly 5,000 public housing units - two post-Katrina decisions that disproportionately affected Black residents. (Jordan Flaherty, Huffington)
The real death toll

John Mutter, a Columbia University professor, has been gathering personal testimonials and public records of those killed in Katrina for an effort he calls Katrinalist. Mutter estimates the true death toll will top 3,500 if those killed by the storm and by its many after-effects are accurately tallied. Mutter wonders whether initial government efforts to supply an accurate victims' list stalled because of the difficulties of the job - or because of a lack of interest in acknowledging the extent of the casualties.
"This is a mass fatality event - one that is more common in the Third World..."Why on earth did so many people die in 2005? The injustice of it is just amazing." (Houston Chronicle)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Racing to the cliché bar

Duncan sets national speed-rapping record for most ed clichés and "exceeds his wildest dreams" in just a 4-minute interview. "Raising the bar" tops. Count 'em.

Tiger's 'Action Plan' Curriculum

Conservative think-tankers and consultants like AEI's Hess & Tom VanderArk, were upset that more of Duncan's federal i3 "innovation" dollars didn't go to private sector providers. I agree. How about this one?

It's Tiger's Action Plan curriculum. Proof positive that you don't need to be an educator or have a Ph.D. and that even a golfer can design school curriculum.

One can only imagine what Tiger's "action plan" actually is.

"I felt more removed from teaching than I had in my 15 years on the job...."

In his recent Arkansas speech, Sec. Duncan crowed that,  "more than two thousand L.A. teachers have asked the Times for their scores." Here's one of them. She's Nation Board Certified teacher Kim Jones, who teaches at Ivanhoe Elementary School in Silver Lake. Kim's commentary appears in today's Times:
After reading the recent stories in this newspaper about "value added" evaluations, which look at whether individual teachers raise or lower their students' test scores, I requested a link that would allow me to look at my scores in advance of their publication. I had no idea where my ranking might fall. Heart pounding and palms sweating, I clicked on my name, and when I looked at the graph, I was relieved — momentarily. My scores were high. But almost immediately I felt terrible, like a fraud. I felt more removed from teaching than I had in my 15 years on the job. This was my value as a teacher? 
 To have my worth measured by a tool that I do not trust, and then to have that measurement published to show how I rank against my peers and colleagues, racks my nerves, and I am not one who rattles easily: Remember, I teach fifth grade. But I know how arbitrary those scores can be, and the idea that they alone can identify which teachers are most and least effective is absurd.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


FROM: Gary Rhoades, General Secretary, American Association of University Professors (AAUP)

October 7, 2010, has been designated a national day of action to defend public education and to protest its privatization. The AAUP supports these efforts. 

Privatization in higher education in recent decades has brought disproportionate increases in:
* non-educational, administrative expenditures;
* tuition/fees, with related proportional declines in state support;
* contingent faculty who are hired and fired at whim, with limited if any protections for being academically demanding (a few unhappy student “customers” can equal complaints and non-renewal), or for addressing controversial topics in their teaching and research (often on key public policy issues) in the full range of fields in academe, including science and engineering; &
* many costly ventures that too often fail for they are undertaken with too little consultation with the professionals who do the academy’s work.

Such patterns have compromised the provision of affordable, quality higher education for all who are qualified, the independent pursuit of knowledge in the public interest, the vitality of the academic profession as a national resource, and the ability and freedom of academics to fully engage students and to pursue knowledge. 

We encourage our members and chapters to organize and participate in activities on October 7, 2010, that call attention to the extraordinary costs of the current policy path.  In many ways, in many cases, and for many years privatization in higher education has largely failed, with the costs being passed on to students.  We must defend and invest in not-for-profit higher education to provide access and success for new generations of students to quality higher education at a reasonable cost, and to advance knowledge in the service of the common good. 

The strength of our nation’s higher education system is a function of the strength and academic freedom of its academics and professionals, and of their ability to exercise an independent voice in shared governance in shaping the path of the academy.  Both conditions are grounded in the broad provision of academic due process and peer review exemplified in the tenure system.  The founders of the AAUP understood and articulated that in their original declaration of principles.  We reaffirm that message today.  And we call on our members to exercise their collective voice on October 7, 2010, in defense of not-for-profit higher education.

Duncan: 'I feel your pain'

Speaking in Arkansas, Duncan offers his Race To The Top, replete with winners & losers, testing madness, union busting, and mass teacher firings, as part of a new "civil rights movement." But most civil rights groups are openly critical. And why not? They've been opposing two-tier funding of segregated public schools since they were created.

The sickest part of Duncan's speech, the part that is bound to breed the most cynicism, was about the L.A. Times recent publishing the names and pictures of district teachers with their supposed individual, value-added quotient attached. Duncan was the first to openly laud the publication.

Now he says: "I appreciate how painful this may be for these L.A. teachers, and I also appreciate the fact that even the best data systems won't tell the whole story." He feels their pain, sorta. But what the hell, let's stick it to 'em anyway.

Then comes the topper--AD says:
"We didn't publish this in a newspaper in Chicago and I don't advocate that approach for other districts -- but the fact that teachers did not have this information is ridiculous."
What? A mixed message? You don't advocate this approach for other districts? But why not?

Duncan knows full well that this public shaming and debasing of many excellent teachers who work under the most difficult conditions, with low-scoring kids, is not about sharing information with them.

But while he doesn't recommend it, he applauds it.


Habits of mind? Are you kidding?

On second thought, that wasn't the sickest part. The sickest part was this throw-away line:
We trust that high-quality teachers — rich in content knowledge, confident in their skills, and poised to teach habits of mind — are the people who will turn our students into autonomous learners."

Duncan's speech writer, Peter Cunningham must have been reading a little Ted Sizer. I'd love to see the look on Deb Meier's face when she reads that. I wonder where habits-of-mind show up in the Times' test score, value-added formula?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Love in the Ownership Society -- Part 3

I thought I was invited

This from Kevin: "Michelle and I have decided to change the date and location of our wedding. We greatly appreciate the well wishes from the community, and plan to have a private ceremony for our families in the near future. We apologize for any inconveniences we may have caused,"

No problem, Michelle. I don't take it personally.

I realize that you and  K.J.had to cut back on wedding invites after some rude bloggers began shouting, "conflict of interest" and the press picked up the story. Now you even have to change the date (I'm busy that day anyway) and the place of the wedding. 
The Sept. 4 wedding had been scheduled for Sacramento's St. John's Lutheran Church, followed by an "evening of dining and dancing" at the home of Sacramento developer Angelo Tsakopoulos. The plans raised eyebrows as a possible conflict of interest for Johnson because the well-connected Tsakopoulos has frequent business dealings with the city. Could that be the reason for the sudden shift? Johnson did not mention Tsakopoulos, saying only in an e-mail to invited guests that the former plans were "not what we had intended." (Reliable Source)

So thanks to you and Angelo for thinking of me and to let you know that I respect your "hope is to have a special and personal event that is respectful of the sanctity of marriage." And please, keep the wedding gift (the broom) as a small token of appreciation for all that you are doing to the D.C. schools and teachers.

Best wishes,
Mike Klonsky

P.S. Hope you don't mind, but I'm saving the invitation as a souvenir anyway. I've got one of the early ones. You know, the ones with T-S-A-K-O-P-O-U-L-O-S spelled wrong. 

Race to the Top: The Surge Phase II

Fallout from yesterday's grant announcements

Phase 2 of Race To The Top marks a new stage, and escalation, a surge (to borrow from past and current administration war rhetoric) in Arne Duncan's politically triangulated war on the schools. The early casualty reports are already trickling in.

It's clear now that last week's widely-criticized L.A. Times report, which published names and pictures of inner-city teachers and their supposed "value-added" test-score quotients, was no ill-considered aberration, but rather a calculated part of the surge. Duncan sat poised, press release at the ready, waiting to salute the Times board and dangle the prospect of Race To The Top funding if the public exposure of teachers continues. Of course, no RTTT money was forthcoming for bankrupt California. The Times' denigration of teachers and the teaching profession was not nearly enough to divert $700 million from politically hot-button states and the District of Columbia.

This morning's Times confirms all this with a follow-up by embedded hatchet-man/reporter Jason Song
The lack of public accountability in California's schools compared with those in some other states could have been a factor Tuesday in the state's failure to win any money in the federal government's competitive Race to the Top education grant program.

Duncan chimes in calling for more such public teacher exposures.
"The truth is always hard to swallow, but it can only make us better, stronger and smarter," according to remarks he plans to deliver in Little Rock, Ark. "That's what accountability is all about — facing the truth and taking responsibility."

The "truth" to Duncan is nothing more than a factoid--an equation--linking a child's standardized test score to an individual teacher. Hard-to-swallow? Sure, no credible researcher of educator buys into this crass, unethical, and probably illegal use of questionable school data.

One interesting sidelight in the Song piece: Gates Foundation implant, Deputy Supt. John Deasy, grabbing control of the district's rudder from Supt. Contines, voiced his support for value-added, albeit, a softer version than Duncan's. In a memo Tuesday to the Board of Education, Deasy said that a teacher's value-added score should NOT be reported publicly and that including it in a performance review "would shield it" from public disclosure. He also said the district had had "positive" preliminary talks with the unions on a new evaluation system. UTLA prez Duffy seems to confirm this, as well as his own willingness to comply with the surge.

Getting crass in D.C.

Speaking of crass, Duncan's election campaigning for D.C.'s Mayor Fenty, the morning of the grant announcement, followed up by a $75 million RTTT grant, has to raise more questions about granting process itself. The power-philanthropists underwriting Chancellor Rhee's crumbling teacher-bashing reforms, have threatened to pull the plug if Fenty loses in the upcoming elections.

Rhee used the grant award to make claims way beyond the award's scope:
"Winning this grant is a testament to the extraordinary progress we've made as a city," Rhee said in a statement issued early this afternoon. "The U.S. Department of Education clearly recognizes that students in Washington D.C. are progressing at an unprecedented pace, and that the reforms DCPS has instituted are working and should be expanded." (D.C. Schools Insider)

More fallout from the surge to follow. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

If anyone had any doubts...

Nothing subtle about this

Thanks to Turque at Wapo for pointing out the obvious:
If any doubt remained about where the Obama Administration's sympathies are in the District primary, they were eliminated at a morning photo op that preceded the official RTTT announcement by the Department of Education. Education Secretary Arne Duncan started his day with Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, leading a walk of children from Lincoln Park to Maury Elementary on Capital Hill to tout a federal initiative promoting safe routes to school. 
Broom Lady takes it from there:
"Winning this grant is a testament to the extraordinary progress we've made as a city," D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said. "The U.S. Department of Education clearly recognizes that students in Washington, D.C., are progressing at an unprecedented pace, and that the reforms DCPS has instituted are working and should be expanded."

L.A.'s mega-high school

$578 million, 4,200 kids

I guess the small-schools movement is dead in my old home town, where 3,000 teachers have been laid off and where class size in many city high schools is up to over 50 students.
With an eye-popping price tag of $578 million, it will mark the inauguration of the nation's most expensive public school ever. The K-12 complex to house 4,200 students has raised eyebrows across the country as the creme de la creme of "Taj Mahal" schools, $100 million-plus campuses boasting both architectural panache and deluxe amenities. (AP)
From the name, Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools (what community?) I assume that they will divide the monster into smaller learning communities of some sort. But still...

Don't get me wrong. I like the "panache" and "deluxe amenities." But L.A. continues it's huge school tradition with disastrous results--high dropout rates & school violence. Let's just hope the new Kennedy Complex isn't being built on a toxic site or earthquake fault, like L.A.'s last mega school, the Belmont Learning Center--now the Roybal Learning Center. .

Whose idea was this, Donald Trump? No. The Donald wanted to build the world's tallest building on the sight.

TFAers being used to replace thousands of experienced, laid-off teachers

WaPo reports that 4,500 Teach for America recruits will be placed, mainly in inner-city in public schools, this year after five weeks of summer preparation.They will take the place of thousands of riffed veteran teachers.

In an economy in which options have narrowed for new graduates, competition is intense....

"What's terrific about it is that it makes teaching sexy for a group of people for whom teaching would not ordinarily be sexy. And it attracts bright people," said Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University. But he said five weeks of training is not enough. Nor is it adequate, he said, to know the subject matter: Teachers also must know how to connect with children.

U.K. study: Kids do better if teachers are not fixated on test results

Pupils show greater motivation, are better behaved and are more likely to be independent and strategic thinkers when teachers are not obsessed by grades, the study by the Institute of Education found. But Brit gov't. policy increasingly mirrors U.S. No Child Left Behind testing madness. .
"Our preoccupation with exam performance could be a key element in explaining the ... underachievement in secondary schools in England," says the study's author, Chris Watkins. "If there is one new thing we need in our school system right now, it is a well-developed focus on learning."(Guardian)

Monday, August 23, 2010


Pres. Obama
"We can't allow the corporate takeover of our democracy." (Weekly Address)
Diane Ravitch responds
"What about our schools?" (Tweet)
Wapo's Jay Mathews
If Mayor Adrian M. Fenty loses the Democratic primary, Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee -- the most divisive D.C. educator in my 39 years at the Post -- will likely leave.(Class Struggle)
Deb Meier on Merrow's applause for L.A. Times
Shocking, awful, embarrassing–especially since I have long admired you both–Grant [Wiggins] and, John... Even when I fired people for far better reasons, I did it in ways that would cause the least hurt possible. Teachers who are unsuccessful are not criminals, or bad people, or deserving of being mistreated. It’s a blow against our common humanity–surely the most precious thing we have to pass on to our children. By our way of treating each other shall we be known. (Do you imagine the possibility of this being done to one of your own offspring??? In any field?) I presume you’d like us also to go back to the days when the kids scores are publicly posted too. Maybe we can add their families–to spread the “shame” as widely as we can. (Comment on Merrow's Taking Note blog)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pushing the so-called "charter model"

Be prepared for lots more stealth advertising and public promotion of the so-called "charter school model" and spinning the supposed superiority of privately-managed charters over all other public schools.Why? Duncan's DOE is doling out more than $250 million this year, going up to $310 million in 2011,  to state ed agencies to be used, in large part, to pay charter cheerleaders, lobbying groups and state charter associations for the dissemination of PR about the charter model.
The purpose of the Charter Schools Program is to increase financial support for the startup and expansion of these public schools, build a better national understanding of the public charter school model [my underline-M.K.], and increase the number of high-quality public charter schools across the nation. (
Questions for Duncan:

1) Is there really such a thing as a "charter school model"? Never mind, I'll answer--uh uh.
2) Isn't the public already being flooded with propaganda, paid for by mega-foundations like Broad, Gates, and Walton, aimed at undercutting most major studies showing that charters, as a group (some great charter schools not withstanding), fail to outperform other public schools, as a group?
3) Is it really the role of the DOE to divert millions of badly-needed public ed dollars, to promote privately-managed charters over other public schools and to pit one "model" over the other without any basis in research?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Am I a Luddite? No

I love my i-phone as much as the next guy. I've been Tweeting all morning, haven't I? And here I am at 6 a.m., on a perfectly good Thursday morning, tied by a thousand threads to the blogging machine. I hope I'm still around in 2020 when I'm sure all kid's will have tracking devices sown into their clothes (skulls?) like the elementary school kids in Contra Costa.

So why am I so unimpressed with all the latest chatter about "innovation" by the education experts over at the National Journal? It's not that I don't find it interesting. I do (wonder why I'm not on the invited list?). I'm especially interested in the tepid responses to Arne Duncan's i3 innovation grants which basically poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the pockets of long-established Duncan favorites like KIPP (are time-outs "I am a miscreant" signs around kids' necks, really innovations?), TFA, and New Leaders.

The problem I have with the whole discussion is that innovation is equated only with technology (Tom VanderArk is even selling ipads). Missing is the total absence of words like, "equity," "democracy," and "community."

Case in point: the early small-schools movement was a real driver of ed-innovation. Why no mention? Same could be said of the Mississippi Freedom Schools of the early 60s. It seems the experts are looking up, not down, for innovation.

No, I'm not a Luddite. I just think that technology and democratic education have to develop in harmony for real innovation to take place.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Even Hess had a problem with L.A. Times story

The right-wing think-tank's man at Edweek, Rick Hess, liked the L.A. Times' singular use of student standardized-test scores and value-added assessment, to rank teachers. But even Hess was somewhat critical.
I'm all for building and refining these systems and using them to evaluate, reward, and remove teachers. But I think it's a mistake to get in the business of publicly identifying individual teachers in this fashion.

Hess' criticisms makes me wonder, just how far to the right does one have to be to really get behind this latest Times debasement of city teachers?

Value added?

There was one part of Hess' post that gave me a chuckle. It was his comment on public transparency:  
"It typically doesn't entail reporting on how many traffic citations individual LAPD officers issued."
I'm laughing only because I'm reading the front-page story in the Sun-Times about a memo from Mayor Daley's office (the man with singular power over our public schools) ordering Chicago cops to write more tickets. It's accompanied by a sidebar story: "Commanders told to make lists of worst cops" which reads as follows:
"Over the last year, officers have undergone evaluations on everything from the number of tickets they write to the number of arrests they make. But they don't know the standards for winding up on a list of worst performers."
You should understand that in the past year, Daley, in full privatization mode of any bit of public space that isn't nailed down, sold the city's parking meters to a private firm. The resulting anger from Chicago masses have left Daley popularity ratings down in the dirt.

It sounds now like City Hall has taken Hess' counsel to heart -- it's a kind of L.A. Times value-added approach without the actual naming of names in the press. It shows that VAA works sometimes, depending of course on what it is you value. In this case writing more tickets and thereby generating for cash for the city's coffers. Or in the case of the schools, a singular focus on test scores as a new gold standard in teacher evaluation.



Before I could finish writing this post, Daley went ballistic in response to criticism from the S-T story. The mayor now claims he knew nothing about the City Hall ticket quota memo.
"Stupidity. Just stupid. Just stupid. Some bureaucrat sent that out. That's all it is." (WBEZ)
And guess what? Daley is calling for the name of the poor schmuck who wrote the memo. No value-added, .

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Duncan in hog heaven over L.A. Times story

He liked the mass firings of teachers at Central Falls. But that was nothing compared to this  L.A. Times story, posing as research. He loves it.
Spurred by the administration, school districts around the country have moved to adopt "value added" measures, a statistical approach that relies on standardized test scores to measure student learning. Critics, including many teachers unions and some policy experts, say the method is based on flawed tests that don't measure the more intangible benefits of good teaching and lead to a narrow curriculum. In Los Angeles, the teachers union has called public disclosure of the results "dangerous" and "irresponsible." 
Ah, perfect, says Duncan.


Exelon Corp.was in the news here in Chicago twice in one week. First as the parent company of Commonwealth Edison, the largest operator of the country's nuclear plants and then as a major supporter of charter schools.

At Exelon's Braidwood plant, neighbors were awakened Monday morning, by a thunderous noise. Steam was billowing from the plant after a malfunction of the cooling system and Tom Zimmer, who lives next door to the plant, says it sounded like a tornado or jet engine.
"It’s been up and down, real, real loud. I mean last night at 2:18 it woke me up. I thought the place was gonna blow. Matter of fact, the wife said she thought it was over with for us out here, you know." (City Room)

But Exelon execs as well as a guy from the NRC assured neighbors that it was only "low levels" of the radioactive isotope, Tritium, blowing into their living rooms and not to panic.
Tritium occurs naturally but is produced in greater concentration in nuclear reactors. The isotope can increase the risk of cancer but is considered one of the least dangerous radioactive substances because it leaves the body quickly, according to the U.S. Enivronmental Proctection Agency. This March, Exelon agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle lawsuits filed by Attorney General Lisa Madigan after the company allowed radioactive tritium to leak outside three nuclear power plants. (Tribune)

Exelon is also among a host of corporate giants, including names like Dell, Baxter, Walton, Pritzker and Gates, whose donations are the only thing keeping the mayor's favored charter schools alive. 

Interesting thing about all this, is that Exelon recently froze executive salaries because of the company's heavy losses in the recession. CEO John Rowe, after whom one of Chicago charters is named, saw his total compensation for 2009 fall 40 percent to $6.3 million. Now that's what I call merit pay. Donations to Mr. Rowe and his family can be sent here and I promise I will forward them on.

Keeping the 'private' in private philanthropy 

Richard Marker, an adviser to donors and a professor at New York University's Center on Philanthropy, tells the mega-foundations not to sign on to any "external standards" of helping the poor or racial/gender diversity. He's fears that philanthro-capitalism is loosing its independent edge.
Philanthropy, too, needs to be careful about caring too much about what's popular or what the majority thinks, he says. Efforts to push private philanthropy away from being so "private," by creating consensus measurements around societal needs, could be harmful, says Mr. Marker. (Journal of Philanthropy)
He needn't worry too much. The Gates Foundation has consistently rejected any and all such consideration when it comes to their investments.

WaPo's main profit center hit by ed scandal

The Washington Post Company said on Monday that its reliable profit center, the Kaplan Higher Education division, may come under serious pressure if new federal rules meant to rein in the for-profit college business go into effect. (NYT).
Among the incidents uncovered at the Pembroke Pines location, an admissions officer falsely told an applicant that the school had the same accreditation as Harvard and the University of Florida. The officer wouldn't let the applicant speak to a financial aid representative until she signed an enrollment contract. And he told her not to worry about repaying student loans because "tomorrow's never promised." (Sun-Sentinel)
The business model of "accountability." The real reason H.P. fired Hurd
The stand-up thing would have been to fire Mr. Hurd on the altogether legitimate grounds that the directors didn’t have faith in his leadership. But of course Wall Street would have had a conniption if the board had taken such a step. So instead, it ginned up a tabloid-ready scandal that only serves to bring shame, once again, on the H.P. board. (Joe Nocera, NYT Talking Business)
H.P. is a major player in ed philanthropy and current school reform and charter initiatives.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bracey's debate with William Sanders

In light of the current response/debate over the L.A. Times misuse of Value-Added Assessment of teachers, I am posting this 2007 Huffington column by the late Gerald Bracey, in full.--M.K.
Value Subtracted: A "Debate" with William Sanders
 I knew in advance that things would be weird at this debate, symposium, whatever with William Sanders. About three years ago in my Phi Delta Kappan research column, I summarized an article critical of Sanders' value-added assessment model. Sanders visited upon me a two-hour telephone explanation-harangue of why I was wrong. He visited upon the editors a lonnnggg letter. On learning that I would be the other principal speaker, Sanders insisted that he have the last word. Otherwise, he wouldn't come. Can you accept these terms, my host at North Carolina State wanted to know. I said I could.

Sanders made a presentation which had virtually nothing to do with anything that he is known for, which is using value-added assessment (VAA) to determine which teachers are effective. I had been less than enamored with this from the beginning since his first model used off-the-shelf items from McGraw-Hill's CTBS. Wait, you're using norm-referenced test items to pass judgments on teachers? Oh, please. In this talk, though, he did not consider the background knowledge of the listeners, most of whom were teachers hearing about value-added for the first time and one could almost see the bullets of jargon zipping past their ears.

A value-added model tests students at the beginning of the year and at the end. The change in test scores over the year is the "value" that has been added. The question then becomes: how much of this added value does the teacher account for (as opposed to what is added by parents, community, etc.)?

My points were these:

VAA makes more sense than the current successive-cohorts system for determining AYP. It makes more sense to follow kids over time, although if the goal remains 100% proficiency the whole operation remains nuts.

VAA is circular: it defines effective teachers as those who raise test scores, then uses test score gains to determine who's an effective teacher.

Aside from Sanders, those working in VAA (Henry Braun, Howard Wainer, Dan McCaffrey, Dale Ballou, J. R. Lockwood, Haggai Kupermintz, from all of whom I had quotes) acknowledge that it cannot permit causal inferences about individual teachers. At best, it is a beginning step to identify teachers who might need additional professional development.

It is regressive in that it reinforces the idea that schools have teachers in boxes with 25 kids. Sanders claims his technique can deal with team-taught classes, but even if that is true, and he offered no data, it misses the dynamic of schools. As Kupermintz put it, "The TVAAS model represents teacher effects as independent, additive and linear. Educational communities that value collaborations, team teaching, interdisciplinary curricula and promote student autonomy and active participation may find [it of little use]. It regards teachers as independent actors and students as passive recipients of teacher 'effects'..." In fact, as class size gets smaller, the TVAAS makes it harder for a teacher to look outstanding or ineffectual.

Sanders' model improperly assumes that educational tests form equal-interval scales, but they do not and no amount of finagling with item response theory will fix that. On a thermometer, a true equal interval scale, the amount of heat needed to go from 10 degrees to 11 is the same as that needed to go from 110 to 111. On a test, it might require very different amounts of "achievement" to get from one point to another on different parts of the scale. Sanders believes that using NCE's cures this (ha). It presumes that the teacher "effect" persists -- like a diamond, it lasts undiminished forever. I'd like to run that by a few cognitive psychologists. It presumes that academic achievement is unidimensional.

And, perhaps most crucially, it presumes that students and teachers are randomly assigned to classes and overlooks that they are not. Many people choose a school by choosing where to live and within districts they sometimes choose a school other than the neighborhood school. Teachers with seniority get to choose what school or what classes they teach. They don't usually choose hard-to-teach kids. And parents exert pressure--here, parents kill to get their kids into Pat Welsh's high school writing classes. Big changes in test scores might well reflect these deviations from randomness as much as anything teachers do in their classrooms. Value-added models typically act as if this isn't important. It is.

Worst, even ignoring its failures, value-added might not give stable results. An article by J. R. Lockwood and others in the Spring, 2007 issue of the Journal of Educational Measurement finds that, using a test that tests mathematical procedures, they could generate a list of effective teachers. Using a test of math problem solving they could generate a list of effective teachers. But they weren't the same lists!

Value-added is currently being oversold. At the Battelle for Children website, one read, "Combining value-added analysis and improved high school assessments will lead to improved high school graduation rates, increased rigor in academic content, high college going rates less college remediation and increased teacher accountability." And how many validity studies support these assertions?

Sanders' 15 minutes of last word was a rambling, illogical lecture of the type a father might visit on a prodigal. The sponsors were embarrassed, the audience was pissed. At the reception that followed, for a while Sanders sorta took over a group I was talking with and I concluded that Sanders has an extremely limited yet extremely rigid idea of how schools work (his doctorate is in biostatistics and he worked with the Atomic Energy Commission and in agriculture until the late 80's), rejects any conclusion counter to his own and, in spite of his age, somewhere around 75, is as defensive as any novice.
Posted: May 1, 2007 06:20 PM 


The LA Times in cahoots with Rand researchers, and the Hechinger Inst. ran an article Sunday that's the first in a series leading to the release of scores of teacher effectiveness based on a value-added model. If the point, as the Times claimed, was to show the importance of having top-notch teachers in classrooms, especially those classrooms with the neediest kids, I would have been okay with it.

But instead, I found the article to be simply another a vile piece of teacher-bashing by the notorious Tribune Company. It's the kind of crap we have become used to reading here in the Chicago Tribune. In this case, questionable research methods based on the so-called "value-added" model, were used to supposedly rate teachers' effectiveness based entirely on student test scores. The Times faux researchers claimed that they "controlled" for outside-of-school factors, such as the effects of poverty, family and community issues, racism, etc... Of course they didn't, couldn't in a purely statistical study. To make matters worse, teachers' names and pictures were posted along with possible career-ending assumption made about them without any chance for them to respond. Talk about bullying!

But on the positive side, the Times piece inspired lots of us researchers, educators, bloggers and tweeters to get off our asses and respond which created some good controversy--not just about the Times piece, but about the limitations and proper use of value-added assessment.. Hopefully some light will be shed on this important issue and some valid and more authentic approaches to teacher evaluation will emerge. I also hope that, in the end, the Times will pay the price for its callous disregard for ethical research standards and its disrespect for the teaching profession.

I've collected some good tweets and links in response:

Larry Ferlazzo Larryferlazzo
New blog post "L.A. Times Prints Cheap Shot At Teachers" 

Bruce Baker SchlFinance101 LA Times "analysis" assumes prior scores correct entirely for other background characteristics? No details provided?

Sherman Dorn  shermandorn
Re L.A. Times story: my wonkish thoughts on growth models 5 years ago:
Diane Ravitch DianeRavitch
Experts like Helen Ladd of Duke say that VAA is not ready for prime time, but LA Times doesn't care, ready to ruin careers.

leonie haimson leoniehaimson
dumb reductionist article at L.A Times using Value-added; admits should only be part of eval system but makes it all

LATimes publishes naïve analysis of teacher quality, with reporters as expert classroom observers=practicing educ research without a license 
New blog post "More On The L.A. Times Article"

New study by US Dept of Ed shows huge error rates when using VAA:  

I felt terrible for the LA teacher whose picture was in LATimes, id as ineffective by their measure. Why shd he be humiliated?  

Union leader calls on L.A. teachers to boycott LA Times for reporting failing teachers | The Daily Caller  

More to follow


The problem with billionaire philanthropists
A strong nonprofit sector, fueled by tax-deductible donations, is one of the great things about the United States and it's hardly new. What is unnerving is the scale of philanthropy today and the growing clout of super rich donors. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gives away six or seven times as much money every year as the Ford Foundation, which just a decade ago was the largest foundation in the United States. And there's plenty more where that came from: In 1982 the combined net worth of the richest 400 Americans represented 2.8 percent of GDP. Now that figure is around 10 percent. (David Callahan, Huffington)
Al Sharpton
Sharpton told the Daily News last week his National Action Network never got any of Bloomberg's money - "not that I know of."
CTU Prez Karen Lewis
Apparently the Tribune was unconcerned with the facts. Nor did the Tribune check its facts on the 241 teacher firings under Washington, D.C., schools chief Michelle Rhee, citing that 165 were "judged as the worst teachers in the system." It turns out only one-third of those dismissed teachers received poor ratings on a newly installed teacher evaluation system that has been proven neither valid nor reliable. But that would make the Tribune's persistent teacher-bashing, under the guise of protecting students, moot.

Can the editors truly make the next leap in their logic? That laying off 239 expert career teachers this year while Teach for America novices, 80 percent of whom will leave the classroom in fewer than three years, remain in classrooms, is in the best interest of students? (Letter to the Tribune)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Blowing away the Ren10 mythology

Some of the best analysis and reportage on Daley's mess at CPS is coming from Catalyst's Sarah Karp. 

In the current issue of Catalyst, Karp blows away much of the mythology around the Renaissance 2010 "miracle" in Chicago--the mythology that Arne Duncan rode all the way to Washington and is now imposing on school districts nationwide through his Race To The Top.

The inescapable conclusion after reading Karp's story: 15 years of mayoral control,  plus 7 years of Duncan's leadership, plus 6 years of Ren10, combined with an over-reliance on charter schools at the expense of neighborhood school reform, has only succeeded in reproducing and widening systemic inequality in the city's schools. 
Mayor Richard M. Daley and then-CEO Arne Duncan stressed that goal when they announced Renaissance in a packed hotel conference room in June 2004. The launch came on the heels of a 2003 report from the Civic Committee that argued for a market approach to education: Force neighborhood schools to improve through competition from more charters. But six years later, the initiative has not sparked widespread improvement or equity. Eleven of the 25 neighborhoods identified as most in need of better-performing schools have gotten none.

Karp's expose of charter schools' reliance on private financing made it all the way to the pages of today's New York Times via the new Chicago News Cooperative. She questions the viability of charter expansion, especially in the face of the current crisis in all of public school funding.

Congratulations Sarah.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

More Atlanta...

Authorities: Kids and dogs to blame for fiasco

From CNN:
But officials said crowd control became an issue after many families brought more than one member -- children, other relatives and even dogs in some cases, according to Kimberly Lemish, executive director of the East Point Housing Authority.

Teacher purge begins in Chicago's Little Village

 Little Village hunger strikers and supporters created the school

I'm sickened by a message I received this morning telling me that the Race To The Top teacher purge has begun in earnest in Chicago with mass firings at Little Village High School's Multicultural Arts School. Readers will recall that LVHS was created as a campus of four small schools,  by parents and community members in this mainly-Mexican community, following a 19-day hunger strike in 2001.

The message from a not-yet-fired LVHS staff person reads in part:
Patricia Gonzalez, the new principal at MAS, fired everyone. All but 4 have reported that they were notified, most by voicemail...She fired tenured founding teachers with superior evals. She must be using that Race To The Top crap that I hear created a loophole. 4 teachers with new babies... Do the hunger strikers know about this?
They do now.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Obama signs bill that could save 300,000 jobs

But 40 million Americans on food stamps may pay the price

Congrats to Pres. Obama, Pelosi and the Dems for passing the Edujobs Bill despite near total opposition of the Limbaugh Party. Doesn't it feel good to stand up for a change? The vote, as expected, was basically along party lines with Boehner and his boys calling the jobs bill, nothing but a "a payoff to union bosses and liberal special interests."
As the Wonk Room explained, this bill is deficit neutral, so there is no “tax hike” necessary. But more importantly, does Boehner really consider teachers, firefighters, and police officers “special interests”? Overall, the funding will save the jobs of about 300,000 workers, including about 140,000 school employees, and according to the Department of Education, 5,000 teaching jobs in Boehner’s home state of Ohio will be preserved. (Think Progress)

But the problem is that nearly half of the "deficit neutral" $26 billion temporary patch on the bleeding public school artery came largely at the expense of poor families who still put dinner on the table only with the aid of  food stamps. Currently, some 40 million people, or 1 in 8 Americans, receive food stamps. Nearly half (49.2%) of this country's children depend on food stamps, including 26.1% under the age of 5.
"The cutbacks in food stamps in the bill are plain wrong,'' said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, (D-WI).
Having won the edujobs battle, it's now up to the Dems to "find their spine," as my brother puts it, and come back with a bill to restore the food stamp cuts.

We also need to recognize that the bill remains a limited and temporary fix until some of the more fundamental and systemic issues are dealt with.
Despite those expenditures, the economy continues to struggle. The prospect of layoffs or tax increases by state officials who are almost uniformly required to balance their budgets remains a major worry. The package approved Tuesday represents less than a quarter of the $116 billion shortfall that states face over the next two years, according to the National Governors Association. "This isn't plugging the hole. This is helping to transition," said David Quam, NGA director of federal relations. (WaPo)

Where's the money going to come from? How about $2 billion/week going to the eternal war in Afghanistan, for starters.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Inside Chicago's School "Renaissance"

Whose idea was this?

Gage Park junior Kelly Greenan said "it was boiling" inside her classroom Monday.
(Brian Jackson/Sun-Times) 
Year-round school is the latest buzzword coming from the new reformers in Chicago. That's probably because Daley and Huberman sit in air-conditioned offices all day, during this brutal heat wave, and never set foot inside overheated and over-crowded classrooms in schools like Gage Park High.

Stifling hot, humid and sometimes crowded classrooms greeted some students at 10 Chicago public high schools that kicked off classes Monday under a year-round calendar. "Sweat-dripping-down-our-face hot," is how one student described her day. At that school, Gage Park High, the school year also started with a shooting. An 18-year-old senior was shot in the back as he exited a vehicle outside the school before classes began, officials said.

At TEAM Englewood, an air-conditioned high school, junior Shunnetta Brown didn't like her new larger class sizes of as many as 36 kids. Her art class had more kids than desks, Shunnetta said. "I just don't think that's a proper learning environment,'' Shunnetta said. (Sun-Times)

'Not the Change I Had in Mind' says George Wood

George Wood is a high school principal in Ohio and also serves as the director of the Forum for Education and Democracy. I received George's response to the firing of Vermont principal, Joyce Irvine this morning and am posting it here in full.-- M.K.

I am still not over the sadness and anger I feel over what happened to my colleague, Joyce Irvine.
Even though I have never met her, I call Ms. Irvine my colleague because of the way her work as principal of Wheeler Elementary School in Burlington, Vermont, has been described. As reported in the New York Times parents are grateful for her leadership, she knows all her students, she has begun innovative programs, her teachers and her superintendent give her high marks, even her U.S. Senator praises her work.
And she has been fired.

Yep, call it what you want (she has been transferred to a district administrative spot) but she has been fired because the children in her school, overwhelmingly poor and immigrant, did not get the test scores the federal government says they should have. And given the choices the district faces—pass up on federal stimulus money or take on one of the federally mandated ‘school turn around’ strategies—Joyce Irvine was removed from her job.

Recently, apparently feeling the sting of repeated criticisms of his administration’s education policies, President Obama said that part of the resistance to his Race to the Top initiative (which led to Ms. Irvine’s firing) “reflects a general resistance to change.”
Guess again.

What it reflects, in the case of many dedicated educators, is a resistance to change that does not have any basis in reality.
Many of us have been involved in the front lines of change in our schools since the time that the President was an undergraduate at Harvard. While not counted among the so-called education reformers today, these leaders such as the late Ted Sizer, Linda Darling-Hammond, James Comer, Gerry House, John Goodlad, Robert Moses, Deborah Meier, and others have demonstrated how to change schools so that all of our children can have more equitable educational opportunities and outcomes. There are lessons to be learned here, but they do not include firing principals who choose to work with those students whose test scores will never reflect the mandates of Washington.

As noted, some of the critiques of the current administration’s agenda seem to be getting through. At a recent speech Secretary Duncan admitted that the current ways we measure student progress are wrong and that the criticism of teacher’s unions and blanket praise of all things ‘charter’ are not useful or factual.

Perhaps this is in response to the recent critiques put forth by a network of civil rights groups. And maybe the Secretary will look at the alternatives to his current ‘turn around’ strategy found in the recent report put out by Communities for Excellent Public Schools.

But this comes too late for Joyce Irvine. As I have pointed out many times before, current federal policy has created at the local level all the wrong incentives. When rewarded or punished solely on test scores schools are encouraged to push out or not take students who will not score well, narrow the curriculum to basic skills, cut out enrichment and engagement activities, and narrow teaching to rote memorization drills. Joyce Irvine would not do any of that, and she is paying the price for it.

Federal policy works by creating incentives for particular actions. Funds are dangled before states or other entities if they will do what the feds want. We know this strategy can work—it desegregated schools and has opened up educational opportunities for groups of students excluded from public education. The problem with the current set of incentives is that they have things backwards. Rather than reward principals like Irvine for taking on students who are the least likely to do well on standardized tests, it punishes her for the work we all want to have done. Meanwhile, schools that work with the easiest to teach—through district boundaries or admission policies in some charter or similar schools that skim off the most motivated students and parents—get all the praise and rewards.

Over the next few weeks school will reopen, ushering in a school year in which ESEA may be reauthorized. Congress should heed what happened to Joyce Irvine and her school when they finally get around to overhauling NCLB. The Forum has, as have many front-line educational groups, issued our recommendations for change. But above all when Congress acts they should remember the physician’s admonition—first, do no harm.