Friday, January 30, 2015

School closings were great, 'thoughtful', 'coordinated', 'strategic' says BBB.

DATA-DRIVEN... EdWeek's headline reads: Chicago's Closures Drove Most Students to Better-Rated Schools. But dig down in into the story and you learn that Univ. of Chicago researchers found "a higher-than-expected percentage of students enrolled in schools that were rated as Level 3, the district's designation for the lowest-performing schools" and that "only 21% attended Level 1 schools."

They found that the majority of students who enrolled in schools other than their assigned replacement wound up in lower-performing schools. The U. of C. study also found that the district's criteria for what constitutes a good school were often different from those of families considering where to enroll and that for most parents, higher test scores weren't their top consideration when deciding which school their children would attend. Safety was.

The study also indicated there simply weren't enough available seats for displaced students in higher-rated schools.
"I think the main takeaway for us, or for me at least, is nearly all the displaced students attended schools that were higher performing than the closed ones. But those schools were not substantially better than the ones that closed," said Marisa de la Torre, one of the study's authors.
 "The things that keep coming back again and again are these issues of safety and transportation and not enough good options near where the families live."
Then there's schools chief Byrd-Bennett's take-away:
...the report "demonstrates that we kept our promises and upheld our commitments to our students and school communities... These results are based on the strategic, thoughtful, coordinated approach we took to managing the transition process."
Are we looking at the same study?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Duncan goes to war with Chicago over PARCC testing delay

Arne Duncan gives his more-testing announcement at Seaton Elementary School in Washington, D.C.
Sometimes the news is so bizarre that I can't believe what I'm reading. Case in point -- the latest on Chicago testing madness. First Arne Duncan gives his more-and-earlier testing speech to the nation. The speech is an attempt to pacify the testing industry and its backers and somehow push a new version of No Child Left Behind through a Republican controlled congress.

Then, just as Duncan is trying to work something out with Republican Lamar Alexander, the new head of the Senate Education Committee, Chicago school chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett announces a one-year moratorium on administering the PARCC test because of a "lack of computers" (hold your laughter, please). BBB says the test will only be given this year to about 10% of CPS' 600 schools. The decision to postpone the test is made of course, not by BBB, but by Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked board and comes in the face of growing parent and teacher protest against Common Core over-testing and a burgeoning opt-out movement. It also comes weeks before the mayoral election.

POLITICO's Stephanie Simon sez:
Chicago’s stance could well inspire copycat insurrections in other districts, analysts said — and that could undermine not just the Common Core, but more than a decade of public policy that relies on standardized tests to hold schools and teachers accountable for helping kids learn.
BBB might have pulled it off if she hadn't joined a growing chorus of IL district superintendents openly attacking PARCC testing. She calls the test “unproven” and complains that adding such a long exam to a year already crammed with standardized tests would be overwhelming to students, teachers and principals. The PARCC test takes nine to 11 hours, depending on a student’s grade level.
Here comes the topper. Just as Pres. Obama is recording his endorsement ads supporting Rahm's re-election campaign, Duncan goes off on Rahm/Byrd Bennett and threatens to cut off potentially $1.2 billion in state aid unless CPS backs off and gives the test. The threat comes in a previously unpublicized letter to Illinois Schools Superintendent Christopher Koch from Duncan's deputy, Deborah Delisle.

Meeks freaks
Meeks freaks over possible billion-dollar loss of federal funds.  "We are greatly concerned about it," the Rev. James MeeksGov. Rauner's new chairman of the state school board, tells Greg Hinz at Crain's.

Hinz writes:
Her [BBB's] defiance was striking in a district that has long been viewed as a national leader in test-based accountability. It was also rich in symbolism because Chicago public schools were once run by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a huge cheerleader for both the Common Core and the new exams, developed with $370 million in federal funds.
Politically, the problem is that, given national wrangling over school standards, Duncan cannot be seen as being easy on Chicago, said one source close to the center of the flap. That doesn't mean Illinois would lose all of the money, but a sizable hit is likely.
So, the question is: Is all this just a show? Or is Obama's Dept. of Education really going to war with Rahm Emanuel over testing on the eve of Chicago's mayoral election?

Monday, January 26, 2015


Supt. Trish Kocanda
This time it comes from the leader of one of the nation's wealthiest and most progressive districts. Supt. Trish Kocanda of Winnetka Public Schools has written a "warning letter" to parents,  community members, and staff about the PARCC Common Core exam scheduled for March and May.

Kocanda's letter is published in today's Washington Post:
As we learn more about the assessment, we grow wary. We are concerned about the amount of instructional time it will displace, the impact this will have on students, and the usefulness of the results.
The Post's Valerie Strauss writes:
Winnetka, just north of Chicago, is one of the most affluent communities in the country. The Winnetka Public Schools district Web site says that the system has “led the nation in progressive education and served as model for educators who value the development of the whole child.” There are about 2,000 students in the system’s schools, all of whom leave the eighth grade and attend nationally recognized New Trier Township High School.
Kocanda's letter comes on the heels of Ed Sec. Arne Duncan's call for even more and earlier high stakes standardized testing.

Back in November, the superintendent of neighboring Evanston Township launched a blistering attack on PARCC testing.
“Students taking both PARCC mathematics and reading language arts tests will spend more time taking PARCC tests than aspiring lawyers will spend sitting for the Bar Exam with no payoff,” said Pete Bavis, District 202 assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Last week Chicago Public Schools delayed most PARCC testing for a year, with Supt. Byrd-Bennett claiming that that not enough computers were in place to administer the tests to more than 10% of CPS students. She made no critique of Common Core testing but was obviously worried about possible results and fallout from the tests.

But you can bet Winnetka's blast at Duncan's testing madness won't be the last.

Florida Blues?

F. Klonsky pic

I can think of worse things than being stuck down here in Sarasota while the east coast is buried in snow. I'm flying back to Chicago and trying to get there before my class starts on Wednesday evening. I'm  wondering if the chain reaction from backed-up N.Y. flights will affect airports here. But not panicked either way. Although the sun's glare on the windshield makes driving down the coast difficult and the price of sunscreen hasn't gone down with the fall in oil prices.

In the meantime, I'm getting a close-up view of ed "reform"Florida-style where Tea Party Gov. Rick Scott wants to take $100 million from the state's public schools and hand it over to private-run charters and their operating companies. That's a $25 million increase from the current year.

According to the Bradenton Herald, "charter schools and traditional public schools have been battling over facilities funding since the economic downturn, when the state's school construction fund began drying up".

Gov. Scott & Michelle Rhee
Scott is privatization crazed and even tried to privatize FL's health-care system as well as the state's prisons.  According to the Center for Media and Democracy, prison privatization has resulted in a record number of inmate deaths.

Before becoming governor, he made millions in the privatized health care industry. In 1987, at age 34, he co-founded Columbia Hospital Corporation with two business partners; this merged with Hospital Corporation of America in 1989 to form Columbia/HCA and eventually became the largest private for-profit health care company in the U.S.

He resigned as Chief Executive of Columbia/HCA in 1997 amid a controversy over the company's business and Medicare billing practices; the company ultimately admitted to fourteen felonies and agreed to pay the federal government over $600 million, which was the largest fraud settlement in US history.

Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention Scott's right-hand education adviser -- Michelle Rhee.


Rahm Emanuel
...said Saturday that nonbinding referendums calling for an elected school board on next month's mayoral ballot are a politically inspired effort to "trick" voters at the polls because the concept is going nowhere in Springfield
"You know, the governor said he's not for it. The legislature said that they're not for it and I don't think we should actually convince (or) trick people by having a political campaign issue as a way to fixing our schools." -- Tribune 
Bob Fioretti
... said conflict of interest issues were "running amok" within the current school board and that "we all ought to be embarrassed by what we see at CPS at this point."
He said an elected school board should represent "the diversity of our city so that we have the people that matter most in making those decisions — teachers, our parents, our students." -- Tribune  
Chuy Garcia
"Putting it into the hands of voters and the people as the rest of the state does is a good practice," he told the forum. "We need to try something else." --Tribune 

Linda Darling-Hammond
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. middle school teachers work in schools where more than 30 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. This is by far the highest rate in the world… The next countries in line after the United States are Malaysia and Chile. -- Want to Close the Achievement Gap?
More LDH
Now we have international evidence about something that has a greater effect on learning than testing: teaching. 
Tom Loveless, at the Brookings Institution on NY test scores
“If New York schools are in a state of crisis, they’ve been in a state of crisis for 20 years.” -- New York Times

Friday, January 23, 2015

Col. Tyrrell jumps ship, goes over the hill…

If timing is everything, Col. Tyrrell's sucks. Today is his last day as CPS school-closings chief.

Just as the latest study of disastrous CPS school closings hits the streets, the military man Rahm brought in to engineer the assault on the city's black community,  jumps ship and goes over the hill (sorry, those are the only military metaphors I can come up with this early in the morning), leaving the mayor, a month before the election, to deal with the fallout from the report.

The colonel, who became the district's chief operating officer, was hired in 2012, with no background in education, to run the school closings operation. He had already been through the wars, but nothing like this. He cut his teeth on the prisoner exchange operation after the war in Kosovo -- talk about bad metaphors for "welcoming schools" and "safe passage". He then went on to work as Chief Operating Officer for the Intrepid Sea*Air*Space Museum in New York City, "helping instill in young people some of the virtues" of the military.

Tyrrell explained his Kosovo-style battle plan to the Sun-Times in 2013:
“I’m not saying it looks similar to now, but there was great distrust to the process on both sides but there was a lot of chaos and stress,” Tyrrell said at the time, laying out plans with Byrd-Bennett to transition children into new schools. What was similar, he continued: “It requires you to plow through the noise and get the planning done and get it done in detail, and then be flexible enough to adapt as the plan unfolds.”
Then he told WBEZ,
There are obvious differences between closing 50 schools and starting a new country or fighting terrorism. But there are also similarities. "Surge teams are available." 
Bloody but not bowed after 40,000 angry parents and community members turned out at neighborhood meetings to protest the closings, sending his boss's ratings in the black community into the dumper, Col. Tyrrell, courageously took on his next big assignments -- moving furniture from Clark Street over to CPS' new headquarters and then trying to sell-off Rahm's abandoned, shuttered school buildings. Neither project has won him any medals.

Tyrell walks
The Tribune reports that conclusions in the Consortium report, "echo the most stinging rebukes from school closing opponents — many of which are being aired frequently in the runup to next month's city election."

For example, Only 21% of displaced students attended schools that had a top rating under a now-retired CPS assessment model, the study said, slightly lower than what would have resulted if all students enrolled in their designated school in fall 2013.

But the report doesn't even scratch the surface of the damage the closings have done to suffering families living in further blighted and poverty-stricken communities. 80% of the children and parents impacted by the closings were black.

So Col. Tyrrell is toast but the CPS battle-wagons (caissons?) keep rolling along.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Injecting a 'little democracy' (but not too much) into schools

Monday's King Day rally at PUSH for an elected school board.
Our schools teach kids about the wonders of democracy. If it’s good enough for the classroom, it’s good enough for the school board. -- Sun-Times
Pathetic... A S-T editorial calls for "injecting a little democracy" into Chicago schools -- a little, but not too much lest they piss-off the Little Emperor.

Chicago remains the only district in the state without an elected school board. There's a growing resistance movement across the city, calling for an elected school board. There's also a non-binding but likely to pass referendum in 37 wards on the Feb. 24 ballot, and support from a majority of aldermanic candidates.

So the S-T board gives up a little to hide a lot.
Recent boards have tilted heavily toward the affluent and the powerful and have not included teachers and few or no current parents. It is a rare day when the board rejects or even tempers the mayor’s recommended policies.
Then they try their best to give Rahm a way to cover his left cheek by calling for the election of a few school board members while leaving the majority to be appointed by the mayor, including the schools C.E.O.

When I was back in high school, they used to call this, "sandbox politics" or pretend democracy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Chuy says, 'Enough charter mania'!

Today at the City Club, in response to a question from the UNO charter hustlers, Chuy Garcia called for a "pause" in charter expansion. NBC reporter Mary Ann Ahern Tweets:
Chuy also says he's willing to use TIF money if necessary, pending the court's decision, and "scour the earth" for new revenue to help solve the pension crisis. Finally, a politician who sees the pension problem as a revenue issue rather than a how-to-rob-the-elderly issue.

Nobody came.
WHAT IF NOBODY CAME?... Rahm promised a big showing of community groups at today's major policy address on Public Safety. Uh oh. Less than 20 people showed up. I guess people are fed up with his bragging about crime numbers that nobody in the neighborhoods believe. Plus no Q & A allowed. Can't blame him. Once voters start asking hard questions...

CUBA... IL Sen. Dick Durbin is back from Cuba. Says the trip was "very productive."
"Re-establishing travel and trade relations will mean real benefits for people in Illinois and across the country, from farmers to small businesses to working families. But this policy change is about more than just travel and trade — it's about opening Cuba to new ideas, new values, and improved human rights that our 50-year-old policy of exclusion could not achieve."
He's right of course. But I hope that works both ways -- opening to new ideas, values and improved human rights, that is. After all, Michigan has a higher incarceration rate than Cuba. More educator exchanges, like the one I organized back in 2000 would benefit schools in both countries. Diane Ravitch went in 2013 and had this to say:
The old world is passing, dissolving, and a new world is beginning, shoots of grass breaking through the concrete. The embargo seems as antique as the now ancient slogans.The sooner the embargo is lifted, the sooner there will be normal relations between our countries.

TESTING MADNESS ... The AFT together with the liberal group Center for American Progress, are calling on Congress to end the use of annual tests for high-stakes consequences. And so am I.

The difference being, the teacher unions and some liberal groups, for reasons most educators can't fathom, still support Arne Duncan's call for even more standardized testing, beginning even earlier. To argue that you just want the mandated testing without the high-stakes consequences or arguing for Common Core without Pearson testing profiteers, is to deny reality. That's not leadership.

Monday, January 19, 2015


Still whistling Dixie in AR
Dr. Martin Luther King
The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. -- The Purpose Of Education
Andrew Wilkes on "Pentecostal piety"
 The civil rights movement saw black folks (and non-black folks) consecrate the American dream by way of the prophetic Baptist theology of Reverend Dr Martin Luther King, yes. But it also involved the anointed agnosticism of Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s founding executive director and the generative force of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating committee, Ella Baker. The radical Quaker vision of a Bayard Rustin next to the ethical humanism of an Asa Phillip Randolph were also blended in. And also in the mix was the subtle, yet significant tradition of faith-filled lay activists like Fannie Lou Hamer and Marian Wright Edelman. -- The Guardian
Detroit hip-hop artist Mic Write
What does it mean for our community for there to be this vacant space where there used to be a life? Where have those people gone? What is left for them?" -- Mother Jones
Morris Dees, Founder, Southern Poverty Law Center
We've seen the results: voter suppression, corporate hegemony in Washington, a shrinking social safety net, and mass incarceration. Our schools are increasingly segregated, and the headlines this past week tell us that the majority of our public school students now live in poverty. -- Huff Post
Prof. Charles Payne, author of "I've Got The Light of Freedom"
The movement managed to ameliorate the most blatant features of white supremacy; it didn’t end it. Given that the net wealth of white households is 13 times that of black ones, given that too many black children are coming to maturity in life-limiting ghettos — and the notion that the black ghetto and the ethnic ghettos of the past can be equated is simply a lie — given unprecedented levels of incarceration, given that James Baldwin’s comment about the police in black neighborhoods being regarded as an occupying army still has too much truth, given that blacks and other non-whites are treated superficially in the curricula of most schools, if they are present at all, the last thing we need is a new movement. We need to finish the old one. 
The struggle continues. -- New York Times

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Majority of U.S. students now living in poverty even while economy improves

“When they first come in my door in the morning, the first thing I do is an inventory of immediate needs: Did you eat? Are you clean? A big part of my job is making them feel safe,” said Sonya Romero-Smith, a veteran teacher at Lew Wallace Elementary School in Albuquerque. Fourteen of her 18 kindergartners are eligible for free lunches.
The Washington Post's Lyndsey Layton reports that for the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students live in poverty, This according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has "profound implications for the nation".

Yes, the very idea that the majority of our school children are living below the poverty line in this, the world's wealthiest country, especially at a time when the overall economy is improving, should make educators and policy makers sit up and take notice.
“A lot of people at the top are doing much better", says Michael A. Rebell [remind me to steal his name] of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University. "But the people at the bottom are not doing better at all. Those are the people who have the most children and send their children to public school.”
 More from Layton:
Schools, already under intense pressure to deliver better test results and meet more rigorous standards, face the doubly difficult task of trying to raise the achievement of poor children so that they approach the same level as their more affluent peers.
Current destabilizing school reform policies which punish and close high-poverty schools, call for more unfunded school seat time, new standards attached to high-stakes testing, and school privatization, not only miss the point but are actually intensifying the trend towards concentrated poverty.

The growing income gap, combined with the lack of adequate investment in schools and communities, pose the greatest threat to national security and don't bode well either for the future of our schools or for a democratic society.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Pulling the trigger on public schools

The Parent Trigger law (Parent Empowerment Act of 2010) is possibly the most anti-democratic piece of education legislation passed in California in the last 100 years. The law, which turns parent against parent in a community, gives a temporary majority, who are willing (often cajoled) to sign a petition, the power to hand their public school over to a private company. That company can then fire the principal and all the teachers as well as abrogate the district's collective bargaining agreement. It doesn't matter if next week, or next year, the majority shifts. The school can be privatized and there's little district parents and taxpayers can do about it.

This week a group of parents at "low performing" Palm Elementary School in Anaheim were able to do just that with the help of former State Sen. Gloria Romero's nonprofit consulting group. the California Center for Parent Empowerment. Romero, a Democrat, has become the darling of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch Bros. and receives funding from Walton, Broad and other powerful anti-union, pro-privatization foundations. She was once with the union-busting group Parent Revolution, which originally pushed the trigger law. After breaking with them, she joined up with the former pro-charter, pro-voucher organization DFER. But last year she broke with them to start her own parent trigger group.

While Romero likes to brag about her East L.A. origins and her former community activism, Diane Ravitch has been clear about her move to the right. "She's working for Wall Street hedge fund managers. That's where her interest lies."

GREASY DEASY... The latest on former scandal-ridden L.A. Supt. John Deasy is that he's hooked up with the Broad Foundation and now has joined Parent Trigger founder Ben Austin on the board of Students Matter. They're the anti-teacher, anti-union group, headed up by Silicon Valley billionaire David Welchm that brought us the Vegara anti-teacher-tenure suit.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

AFT leaders go along with Duncan's testing madness

Look who showed up at the CTU's annual Dr. ML King celebration. Welcome back Karen Lewis.
ARNE DUNCAN'S call Monday, to dump NCLB but keep its testing madness has found a loyal echo in AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten. She does her best to keep her seat at the Democratic Party dinner table even while her own union members are being served up as the main course.

Randi deftly tries to cover all her bases with this disclaimer:
 “Annual tests, if they are reliable and diagnostic, provide important information for students, parents, teachers and schools."
But she knows as well as Duncan that the current K-12 testing regimen is neither reliable nor diagnostic. It's high stakes and used mainly to punish teachers and public schools that have high concentrations of kids from low-income, black and Latino families. Duncan's push for more high-stakes testing is also driving a test-prep curriculum. The net result is the gradual disintegration of public schooling under Duncan's Race To The Top and its replacement with networks of privately-managed charter schools. An approach hardly distinguishable from the Republican's version of school reform.

AFT leaders insist that they only support Duncan's call for more testing, so long as the tests are but "one component of a robust system of multiple measures.” Even throwing in the word "robust" doesn't change the fact that it's the tests -- even if they count 30 or 40% of the evaluation process --  that count.

I may turn out to be wrong on this, but...While NEA leaders have also jumped on Duncan's testing band wagon, I still have hope for newly-elected NEA Pres. Lily Eskelsen García. She doesn't appear to be playing Arne Duncan's puppy dog on testing and she's definitely not Rand Paul's (or Arne Duncan's) on "education choice, school choice, vouchers, charter schools, you name it.”‘

GOOD TWEET from Chicago teacher and CTU activist Sarah Chambers.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Duncan: 'The fierce urgency of whatchamacallit'

For some reason, I've gotten into the habit of watching the Today Show for morning "news" and weather. I usually resist being turned into to a total airhead and remind myself that I am still alive by muttering back snarky, bitter comments at Matt Lauer (and these days at Al Roker).

But, lo and behold, this morning there was actually a report that was worth a listen. Many Florida schools are increasingly cutting out recess in elementary schools to allow for more test-prep time for 5-year-olds. Outrageous? Viewers thought so. The show's polling of its viewers showed 99% of more that 13,000 views favoring recess and only 1% opposing, leaving one of the hosts wondering who the 1% are?
At the center of the issue in Florida are Common Core exams, mandatory standardized tests in math, language arts and literacy, where the students' performance often dictates teachers' pay and sometimes their jobs. Many teachers are using that extra 20 minutes that would have been spent on the playground at recess in order to teach the test.  "Because so much of the money is tied to the schools' scores and their grades, everybody's pressured,'' Diana Moore, president of the Orange Count Classroom Teachers Association, told TODAY. 
I almost fell off my chair when Savannah Guthrie chimed in at the end with this:
"There are a lot of studies now which show the importance of play for cognitive development and all that stuff." 
All that stuff, indeed.

For those who want to read more on the topic of the importance of play in early learning, I recommend Playing for Keeps: Life and Learning on a Public School Playground by Deborah Meier,  Brenda Engel and Beth Taylor (Teachers College Press).

'Dump NCLB but keep the tests'
The story comes on the heels of Arne Duncan's speech on Monday, where he called, in bizarro-world fashion, for dumping No Child Left Behind but keeping its tests. I do have to credit Arne, the king of cliches, for coming up with this one:
"This country can't afford to replace 'the fierce urgency of now' with the soft bigotry of 'It's optional.' "
He forgot to mention, the hidden legacy of whatchamacallit.

THOUGHTFUL...Arthur Camins posting on WaPo's Answer Sheet poses the questionFederal overreach or reaching for the wrong things?

Arthur's answer --
In the absence of a broadly based, values-driven movement for a more just and equitable society, the diminution of a federal role in education is likely to undermine efforts to support the nation-wide, democratically governed public education system that is essential to successfully prepare all students for life, work and citizenship.
 A shift in who wields power and in what location does not necessarily mean better policies. It is more likely that a shift away from federal authority in education will increase the influence those with power and money, rather than enhancing democratic participation of average citizens.
He goes on to spell out the role federal government should have as "the guarantor of justice and equity."

As I Tweeted to Arthur -- Federal power in education has now become nearly synonymous with corporate power and increasing the influence of "those with power and money".

A "shift in who wields power" could only help.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Run out of L.A. under a cloud, Deasy lands a job with Eli Broad.

I knew John Deasy would land on his feet after being run out of  L.A.U.S.D. under a cloud of suspicion.

He usually stays one step ahead of the law by running to the Gates Foundation for cover. But The Man From Gates is now the Man From Broad. Deasy has landed a job at billionaire Eli Broad's Center for the Management of School Systems, where he will serve as a consultant and superintendent-in-residence for the Broad Academy, the center's training and coaching program for urban public education leaders.

Lord help the school district that hires any of his mentees.

His attempt to put iPads in the hands of all 650,000 students under what was once a $1-billion plan is currently being investigated by the FBI. Agents last month subpoenaed records pertaining to the process that picked Apple to supply devices and Pearson to create educational software. The documents are to be reviewed by a federal grand jury. And L.A. Unified's inspector general is completing an assessment of the bidding process at the request of the Board of Education.

Deasy leaves behind a computer system, MiSiS, which continues to cause problems for the fiscally strapped school system. Fixing the program, which bumbled records and put students in the wrong classes when it launched in August, threatens to cost four times more than its original price tag of $25 million.

Monday, January 12, 2015

WEEKEND QUOTABLES: Duncan wants more NCLB testing madness

NCLB Redux: Duncan wants more and more testing. 
Arne Duncan...said Monday that testing U.S. schoolchildren annually in math and reading is critical for measuring their educational progress, setting the stage for what is likely to be a contentious Capitol Hill debate on the federal role in education.
 "That means all students need to take annual, statewide assessments that are aligned with their teacher's classroom instruction in reading and math in grades 3-8, and once in high school." -- Star-Tribune
Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust
" Kids who are not tested end up not counting." -- ABC News
Lily Eskelsen Garcia
NEA Pres. Lily Eskelsen García
If he truly wants to build a legacy, Obama ought to drop the testing mandate and lead “us out of the dry, awful desert of No Child Left Untested”. -- Politico
Conservative think-tanker Michael Petrilli
 “We don’t really give a damn what the administration thinks. Congress is driving this train.” -- Politco
 Photographer/Author Teju Cole 
Witch burnings, heresy trials, and the untiring work of the Inquisition shaped Europe, and these ideas extended into American history as well and took on American modes, from the breaking of slaves to the censuring of critics of Operation Iraqi Freedom. -- New Yorker

Friday, January 9, 2015

Look what they've done to the GED. Aligned with Common Core and handed over to Pearson

Back in the '80s I got my start in adult education, teaching GED classes in a little classroom in the back of the public library on North and Pulaski. My students were mostly dropouts from Clemente, looking to finish high school so they could go to a community college or apply for a decent job. Most were good students, capable, thoughtful and curious. Many had dropped out because of the gang situation at Clemente or for personal reasons -- they needed to work to support their families.

The curriculum was geared to the test and involved mainly basic math and literacy. But I did my best to get to know my students and learn as much as possible about their previous schooling and out-of-school learning experiences. We managed to turn the classes into much more than an exercise in test preparation and most of my students passed the test and got excited again about learning.

Now I'm hearing that the GED exam has been overhauled, aligned with the Common Core and handed over to Pearson, the giant British testing and textbook corporation in order to supposedly prepare students for 21st-Century jobs. The new test is now much harder. The test prep classes are given on-line. No more personalization. It's also become much more expensive in order to build in a big profit margin for Pearson, making it less accessible to the kinds of students I was teaching back in the day. The changes have caused thousands to drop out and give up.

NPR reports there's been sizable decrease in  the number of people who took and passed the test, according to local and state educators and the organization that runs it. In addition, at least 16 states have begun offering or plan to offer new, alternative tests.

What effect did all of these changes have on test takers?
"Our number of graduates for this last calendar year has dropped about 85 percent," says Myles Newman, who helps coordinate GED preparation for one school district in Lexington County, S.C. States including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Colorado are reporting large drops as well.
"Teachers are telling us that the new test is virtually impossible for students to pass," says David Spring, who with his wife, Elizabeth Hanson, runs the website Restore GED Fairness in Washington state. Both are educators who have spent years helping people prepare for the GED.
Here's some hard numbers:
--- In 2012, a total of 401,388 people passed the GED test.
--- In 2014, only 58,524.
What a disaster!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Rahm's Super PAC goes after my alderman

LAUGHABLE...Rahm's puppy dog in the 32nd Ward race is someone named Elise Doody-Jones. She's running against our progressive Alderman Scott Waguespack, Scott was one of only 4 aldermen with enough ganas to vote no on the mayor's rotten budget.

Doody-Jones, who doesn't even live in the ward, is the beneficiary of a big chunk of that $2M pot of gold from the mayor's Super PAC. "Chicago Forward" is run by his former CPS Liar-in-Chief Becky Carrol -- not the brightest bulb on the tree.

Case in point, this slick propaganda piece that came in the mail yesterday attacking Waguespack for supposedly voting against $10M to fix the city's potholes. Yes, it's true that hundreds of pot holes remain unfilled from last winter's storms --that's right, a year later-- and every driver whose car smashed through one has been heard screaming, "Fu*k you, Rahm Emanuel" at the top of their lungs (me included).

But the expensive card-stock  mailer tries to take the heat off the most-hated mayor in the country by blaming our alderman for the city's failure to fix the streets, even though Rahm's budget, including the pothole money, was passed easily by a gaggle of boot-licking city councilman. The flier even has a picture of a still-unfilled pothole at Racine and Wrightwood -- not even in Waguespack's ward -- to remind us how much we disdain this mayor.

Actually, Scott's ward ranks among the highest in seeking pothole work. He even sponsored a separate bill to boost spending.  But the way the machine works is that the mayor can punish an opponent's ward by denying them city services. Cutting back on services in black wards on the city's west and south side has become a habit with the machine bosses. Thus Rahm's single-digit approval rating in the city's African-American community.

Now Rahm is using the same tactic to punish members of the Progressive Caucus.

And that was also the theme behind the mayor's budget -- feed the wealthy downtown neighborhoods at the expense of the resource-starved ones. Scott was right-on in voting no and had the guts to do it in the face of adversity and Rahm's threats to punish him at election time.

But Becky Carrol's flier is the work of a rank amateur. It never even mentions Doody-Jones (can't really blame 'em for that). So readers aren't told who to vote for. We only see a picture of Scott with his name emblazoned in the headline. It reminds me of the kind of silly crap we used to get every day in the mail from the disastrous Toni Berrios campaign when she lost her state rep race to progressive Will Guzzardi despite the machine (Madigan and machine boss, "Big Daddy" Berrios) spending a ton of money on junk mailers that usually ended up in voters hallway trash cans and never even made it into the house.

I can't imagine that the good folks in our ward will fall for this crap.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

For Rahm, education is just another profit center

"Chuy" Garcia
Mayoral candidate "Chuy" Garcia accused Rahm of treating education "as a profit center for people with powerful connections." He couldn't be more right. Latest case in point is the mayor's defense of his hand-picked board member, Deborah Quazzo, who uses her board seat to protect her ed-biz investments.

Of course, Rahm's pay-to-play style extends well beyond school board contracts. There's good reasons for clout heavy companies to be over-filling his campaign war-chest.

Foulkes & Waguespack
He's using an outrageous sum of $2 million from his “Chicago Forward” super PAC to go after two members of the City Council's  Progressive Caucus -- Alderman Toni Foulkes (15th) and my Alderman, Scott Waguespack (32nd). Scott was one of only 4 aldermen with spine enough to vote against the mayor's budget, which fed downtown at the expense of the neighborhoods. We can't let Rahm take them out.

PENSION THEFT...The pension theft bill, signed by outgoing Gov. Quinn is likely to be declared unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court. But with pension-grabbing billionaire Bruce Rauner replacing Quinn, the battle on behalf of teachers and other public employee retirees is just heating up.

Rick Pearson reports today on Clout Street:
Unions pumped millions of dollars into the campaign in an effort to stop Rauner, who peppered his Republican primary campaign rhetoric with harsh anti-labor attacks before softening them in the later stage of his general election campaign against Quinn.
It's not that the unions were pleased with Quinn. They had little love for him after he signed into law the major pension measure that vastly changed retiree benefits and extended retirement ages in an effort to ameliorate the state's pension debt over 30 years.
 Quinn is going away, but the fate of the law he signed is in serious legal jeopardy. With Rauner taking over, the pension debt remains unsettled.
What still amazes me is how little weight supposedly pro-teacher progressives place on the pension-theft issue. It remains virtually ignored at most progressive-ed conferences, including a couple coming up here in the next few months. Plus many progressives turned the Quinn campaign into a (losing) religious crusade which sucked up union money like a massive vacuum cleaner, leaving little behind for the current battle to unseat Rahm in the mayor's race. Quinn got off without being punished by union leadership but the rank-and-file stayed home.

Quinn leaves office wringing his hands and shedding crocodile tears over his pension "reform" failure, a mission he claims he was "put on earth" to carry out.

God cringes.

P.S... I wish Quinn well, hoping that once he's out of the State House and not hanging out with the wrong crowd, he will be able to return to the independent progressive values he had back when we knew him as a Local School Council member at our neighborhood school. Sometimes it works that way. But not often.

THE SMELL OF BLOOD... Elsewhere it's the same story. In Arizona, even former Enron trader and Texas billionaire John Arnold (why is he still at large?) has jumped on the pension-busting wagon, donating more than $1 million to a November 2014 initiative to reform the public pension system in Phoenix. Arnold’s donation to Proposition 487, also known as the Phoenix Pension Reform Act, constituted close to 75 percent of total donations for the ballot measure, which failed. Had it passed, it would have moved new state employees from a defined benefit plan into a less generous (and less expensive) defined contribution plan such as a 401(k).

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Rahm's school administrators cooked the books on dropouts

“The annual OIG report is a testament of our cooperation and demonstrates we do not tolerate any wrongdoing, and CPS has either addressed or is addressing all the issues in the report.” -- CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey
CPS I.G. Nicholas Schuler
Ooooh that smell...While Rahm and BBB scrambled for media coverage about supposed record grad rates, CPS School administrators were busy "misclassifying" dropouts to make their schools look better. This according to the annual report from Rahm's own appointed schools I.G. Nicholas Schuler.

At one school alone, nearly 300 dropouts were wiped off the books since 2009. At another high school officials did the same thing for 18 students.

I don't necessarily blame U of C's Consortium on Chicago School Research for running with the numbers they get from CPS. I just think they should be cautious in how they spin those numbers. I guess I'm still pissed at the Consortium's lead author of it's report on grad rates, calling for a "celebration" of the reported 4% bump.

I also don't know if Rahm/BBB are actively pushing administrators to cook reported dropout rates (remember Bush's Texas "Miracle") or if they acted on their own. But bureaucrats know full well what numbers they're expected to produce if they are going to survive in a high-stakes "data-driven" system where the mayor runs the schools autocratically.

I doubt that Schuler's report, which may be giving up a little to hide a lot, will go anywhere except Rahm's circular file. The CPS I.G. can only make recommendations and has no power to force system-wide changes. Also, I'm pretty sure Schuler got the nod from Rahm's people before releasing the report, which mentions among other things,
  • Nearly $900,000 stolen from two Chicago high schools.
  • Lying CPS employees who skirted the system to get their own kids into the best schools.
  • And a CPS administrator who “engaged in questionable conduct” when a nearly $100 million contract was in the process of being awarded.
With the election only weeks away, it's always better to get the dirt out yourself before your opponents do it. Then you can prime your troops with prepared media hokum, like the statement above from CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey.

Not on Duncan's VIP list?...One thing you can probably count on is punishment of those teacher/parents who allegedly "skirted the system" to get their own kids into elite selective enrollment schools. I mean, who do they think they are, Gov. Rauner?

Monday, January 5, 2015


John Goodlad (1920-2014)
John Goodlad on social justice
“It is my expectation that Teacher Education for Democracy and Social Justice will become a rich resource for continuing this multi-layered conversation-from democratic belief to democratic action-that is the hallmark of educational renewal.” -- Forward to Teacher Education for Democracy and Social Justice,
...On more schooling
However, a need to expand the length and breadth of schooling does not necessarily follow from well-founded arguments regarding the critical importance of education. As I have said repeatedly, schooling and education are not synonymous. -- A Place Called School 
...On test & punish
In our system, we receive test scores without having the faintest idea under what conditions students worked. For instance, we heard a lot about how the U.S. ranked so poorly in international tests. Why didn't we go study British Columbia, which is so much like us, and find out what students did to score better than we did? But we just blame the teachers and the schools; we have always used the villain theory. -- Ed Leadership
...On curriculum
 “The division into subjects and periods encourages a segmented rather than an integrated view of knowledge.  Consequently, what students are asked to relate to in schooling becomes increasingly artificial, cut off from the human experiences subject matter is supposed to reflect.” -- A Place Called School (Marian Brady in WaPo)
Prof. Roger Soder 
"John always argued strenuously against test scores as a serious measure of whether we had good schooling. He said what we really needed to talk about was the relationship between schooling and what it takes to maintain a free society." -- L.A. Times
Valerie Strauss, WaPo education writer
Dr. Goodlad’s research and teaching focused in part on curriculum and the “hows” of school teaching and management. But there was always a deeper issue. Teaching is an ethical act, Dr. Goodlad argued, and a critical part of being ethical is having a good sense of who you are. -- "The Passing of a Giant in Education

Friday, January 2, 2015

China's testing factories. Duncan's fantasy.

The fact is that we are falling further behind our international competitors educationally. We should recognize that as an urgent wake-up call. But we are sleeping through the alarm. In the U.S., we are still just talking about the steps many leading countries are actually taking to prepare their students for a competitive global economy. Falling behind educationally now will hurt our country economically for generations. -- Ed Secretary, Arne Duncan
Duncan's "wake-up call" is a nightmare for schools and educators. His dream and vision is indicative, among other things, of our growing fear and jealousy of China's remarkable industrial and technological growth. According to the latest reports from the IMF, the U.S. is no longer the largest economy in the world. China has become number one. Duncan, along with the current batch of corporate school reformers are blaming the schools for this supposed decline in America's competitive position in the race for global hemony. They desperately want to make our schools more like China's with a single-minded focus on testing.

In her review of Yong Zhao's bookWho’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World, Diane Ravitch writes:
Policymakers and legislators are convinced that the best way to raise test scores is to administer more standardized tests and to make them harder to pass. This love affair with testing had its origins in 1983, when a national commission on education released a report called “A Nation at Risk.”
I hope that they (and everyone) will read NYT Magazine's amazing account of China's "testing factories", schools where thousands of students and teachers essentially live or die by the standardized test (the gaokao). 
China’s treadmill of standardized tests has produced, along with high levels of literacy and government control, some of the world’s most scarily proficient test-takers. Shanghai high-school students have dominated the last two cycles of the Program for International Student Assessment exam, leading more than one U.S. official to connect this to a broader “Sputnik moment” of coming Chinese superiority. Yet even as American educators try to divine the secret of China’s test-taking prowess, the gaokao is coming under fire in China as an anachronism that stifles innovative thought and puts excessive pressure on students. Teenage suicide rates tend to rise as the gaokao nears. Two years ago, a student posted a shocking photograph online: a public high-school classroom full of students hunched over books, all hooked up to intravenous drips to give them the strength to keep studying.
What irony! Just as China is trying to move away from its own testing madness, we are rushing towards it at full speed.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Civil Rights Movement Rebirth in 2014-15

Today makes it 6 years since Oscar Grant was killed at the Fruitvale Bart Station. 
The Fannie Lou Hamer-Ella Baker model...There's been a rebirth of Civil Rights Movement in 2014-15, says Politico. Thousands of youth and community activists have been energized, politicized. I'm wondering why few political candidates (including progressives) are addressing issues it's raised?
This re-energized millennial movement, which will make itself felt all the more in 2015, differs from its half-century-old civil rights-era forebear in a number of important ways. One, it is driven far more by social media and hashtags than marches and open-air rallies. Indeed, if you wanted a megaphone for a movement spearheaded by young people of color, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one than Twitter, whose users skew younger and browner than the general public.
Ella Baker
According to Politico,
...the young activists are inclined to the “Fannie Lou Hamer-Ella Baker model”—an approach that embraces the grass roots and in which agency is widely diffused. Indeed, many of the activists name-checked Baker, a lesser-known but enormously influential strategist of the civil rights era. She helped found Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference but became deeply skeptical of the cult of personality that she felt had formed around him. And she vocally disagreed with the notion that power in the movement should be concentrated among a few leaders, who tended to be men with bases of power that lay in the church. “My theory is, strong people don’t need strong leaders,” she said.
Don't miss this excellent summary of 2014 corporate-style school reform and charter hustling, posted by Jeff Bryant at Salon.
In 2014, charter schools, which had always been marketed for a legendary ability to deliver promising new innovations for education, became known primarily for their ability to concoct innovative new scams.
Forecasts about what 2015 will bring to the education landscape frequently foresee more charter schools as charter-friendly lawmakers continue to act witlessly to proliferate these schools. But make no mistake, the charter school scandals of 2014 forever altered the narrative about what these institutions really bring to the populace.
Rahm wants all the credit for this pitifully weak Chicago minimum-wage law. This, even though he undercut the effort by the Progressive Caucus to push for a $15/hr. minimum, like Seattle, Tacoma, and San Francisco have. Instead he responded to massive protests and demonstrations and tried to outflank the Caucus by settling for a $13 increase over 4 years. Hardly a livable wage.
Jesus "Chuy" Garcia's spokesman Monica Trevino says "raising the minimum wage was not a tough choice, as the mayor likes to say. It was an easy one that he should have made his first year in office."
"Mayor Emanuel took only two weeks to put out a TV commercial after the increase passed, and it should be clear to everyone that Mayor Emanuel only makes hard choices ... when they personally benefit him," Trevino added.