Saturday, October 31, 2015

R.I. P. Alex Poinsett

I'm deeply saddened by news of the passing of old friend and renowned journalist/author, Alex Poinsett at age 89.

Poinsett spent three decades as Ebony Magazine's senior editor. He was author of five books: “Black Power Gary Style: The Making of Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher,” and “Walking with Presidents:  Louis Martin and the Rise of Political Power.” He received the 1999 University of Michigan Book Award for his work.

He also wrote extensively about Chicago's inner-city schools and communities.

I met Alex back 1996 when he interviewed me for some stories he was writing about the small schools movement. Later we traveled together to South Africa to look at schools and the emerging post-apartheid educational system.

Here's a piece Alex wrote for Catalyst in 1996 about DuSable High School's attempt to restructure into small schools.
DuSable’s 8-year journey toward small schools
February 1, 1996
By Alex Poinsett  
Eight years ago, Charles E. Mingo made a crucial career move. Leaving prestigious Whitney Young Magnet High School, where he was assistant principal and then district administrator, he became principal of DuSable High School, one of the nation's worst schools. 
Roughly 80 percent of DuSable's students resided in the Robert Taylor Homes, located in one of the nation's three most poverty-stricken communities. Many were and still are poorly prepared, poorly motivated and poorly informed about the potential of education to empower them. Over the years, no more than 65 percent have attended school regularly.
Clearly, the veteran, politically astute administrator was challenged to salvage the seemingly unsalvagable by raising academic achievement while reducing truancy and dropout rates. Eventually, he would reinvent DuSable by sub-dividing it into smaller schools. But first he had to complete several housekeeping preliminaries.
Early on, the principal bought alarm clocks for some students, sent emissaries knocking on doors to rouse others, even visited homes himself. "He's in the bed," one mother told him.
"Well, you get him to come," the principal pleaded.
"I'm tired!" the mother responded...
Read the entire article here (It's mis-dated 2005, in the Catalyst archive). 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Saying 'No' to Nobel charter expansion

A few of the many Catalyst alums (including me) with Linda Lenz
Congratulations again to Catalyst on its 25th anniversary and to friend and departing Catalyst founder and publisher Linda Lenz,

Tuesday night's party for Linda at the House of Blues was great fun. It brought together the whole gang from the first wave of Chicago school reform. Back in the day -- pre-Gates, pre-mayoral control of the schools -- there was room at the reform table for a broad range of activists from corporate reformers to black community activists to the CTU. Never again shall that twain meet, except of course, at Linda's farewell party. Cautious hugs and hand shakes. Very funny to this participant/observer.

Here's Linda's retrospective on Chicago school reform.

Teacher/Principal Retention Rates are a strong indicator of school quality. This finding is based on data just released by the State Board [Warning: You should take all data coming from ISBE with a grain of salt]. The best schools generally have highest retention rates and the lowest rates of teacher attrition. Those schools serving the district's poorest kids have the lowest retention rates. Charters are generally the worst when it comes to keeping their faculties intact.

The Sun-Times reports:
As for the city's growing charter sector, ISBE couldn't say how many staffers have cycled through each school, because in many cases, the numbers were not broken out by campus.
Urban Prep's [charter school] chief academic officer Lionel Allen couldn't believe his three campuses showed, for a second year, zero teachers remaining, saying, "We continue to be frustrated by the incorrect data that are reported for our schools and the lack of transparency around how these metrics are calculated."

Me too, Mr. Allen. Me too.

Lindblom students protest charter expansion.
A SmallTalk Salute goes out to Lindblom H.S. students who, along with some teachers, marched in protest over the Board's awarding Noble Network a competing charter school in the Brighton Park neighborhood. They marched to the Bank of America and then to Ald. Raymond Lopez's office to let them know their dissatisfaction.

They may not have known that Ald. Lopez has been openly opposed to the Noble charter in his area. Maybe he should invite the students over for lunch and let them know that he stands with them on this issue.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Aldermen hand Rahm a big win. Biggest property tax increase in history hits hardest on poor.

Parents and community groups carry anti-privatization signs as they gather in front of Ald. Will Burns (4th) office Tuesday morning, demanding that Burns be replaced as Education Committee chair with someone who will not stifle fair community representation.
Remember how Rahm got elected? Along with buying $30 million worth of votes with bankster pals' money, he savaged Chuy Garcia during the campaign debate with lies about him voting for "the largest property tax increase in history"? During the first of five mayoral debates, Emanuel pulled the property tax charge out of his pocket like a trump card.
“You increased property taxes to the largest amount ever with your vote,” he told Garcia.
Today compliant aldermen will vote for Rahm's own $720 million property tax increase, truly the largest ever. The largest previous hike was Mayor Daley's which amounted to $83.4M.

The biggest payment will be due in August of next year and will hit hardest at low-income property owners, those on fixed incomes and renters. It will also include a new garbage collection fee, something Chicago has never had before.  The fee will be tacked onto water bills. So if homeowners can't or won't pay it, the city can threaten to shut off their water as they did in Detroit.

Hundreds of Southwest Side Chicagoans and students rallied Monday afternoon outside local Ald. Ed Burke's (14th) office against charter school expansion proposed for their community.
Rahm is also getting a $45M tax levy to pay mainly for new privately-run charter and selective enrollment schools.Yesterday Rahm proposed a scheme to have schools borrow money from the banks with interest paid, until the tax levy money comes through.

Rahm's brother Ari's company, Uber will be a big winner. During this morning's hearings, lots of racist comments coming from the Uber section of the gallery aimed at immigrant cabbies who were testifying against the Uber deal.

Rahm's hand-picked school board will also vote today to approve Noble charter network's plan for a new charter high school on the Southwest Side. This despite ongoing protests from neighborhood parents and community groups. Noble's original plan was to build three high schools, but they were forced to retreat after parents successfully railed against a North Side campuses proposal.

This morning, Kelly High School students walked out in protest against the new Noble charter.

Charter expansion is in full swing even though Rahm has closed 50 neighborhood schools and many charters, including Noble, are unable to fill the seats they have. Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy High School, for example, has only 13 registered 9th graders. Chicago International Charter School’s Larry Hawkins campus in Altgeld Gardens registered only 37 freshmen.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The flip side of testing madness. 'You will test only 2% of the time'

Duncan and Casserly making the media rounds... Last night on the PBS News Hour, no matter what Gwen Ifill asked about the administration's supposed shift on testing. Duncan responded with his stock answers. Michael Casserly, Director-For-Life, it seems, of the Council of Great City Schools, came off like the ultimate bureaucrat. He sounds reluctant, but willing to go along with the charade. "It's complicated" he says. Let's have lots more departmental and cross-state discussions and meetings. He's been 40 years atop the organization that could be funded to facilitate just such meetings and conferences.

Was it just me or did they both sound like they were defending rather than reassessing current testing policies? It seemed like they're already warning us against the impending perils of "too little testing."

Duncan actually claimed that he had been on this track all along and that the new line on testing was an affirmation of his own long-standing views.

He tells Ifill:
Well, I think we have embraced this idea for a while. What’s different now is we actually have data. And I have been talking about this, as you know, for a while, and the president has. But what we had were lots of anecdotes. And we knew we needed to get to a better spot, but no one had ever surveyed the nation.
Call it chutzpah.

Funny, the words Race To The Top were never mentioned. Have they been erased from official memory?

Ifill gets right to the point:

GWEN IFILL: In the meantime, there has been a huge, I would say, explosion of a business model which is based on testing. Don’t you anticipate pushback from those companies who have been behind a lot of these tests?

MICHAEL CASSERLY: oh, I think the answer to that is, yes, of course we do. We’re not naive about this and we certainly don’t think that just because we put out some data about how much testing it is that all of a sudden the test publishers are going to go, oh, gee, heavens, I never knew, we should stop selling these tests.

It took me so long to find out (Day Tripper)... With elections coming up and with tens of thousands of angry opt-out parents refusing to have their kids take the test, Obama and Duncan have finally concluded that we're "too obsessed with testing" and that schools and teachers are spending way too much time on it. My goodness, it's taken them nearly 7 years to figure this out. That, even with all those Duncan listening tours?

I guess the tours didn't include listening to those angry parents who Duncan referred to as "white suburban moms" with not-so-brilliant kids. After all, their tales of the effects of the administration's testing madness on their own children was merely "anecdotal" -- not real "data".

Maybe Duncan suddenly remembered that they also vote and in large numbers. That's not anecdotal. It's data.

It's just the flip side of DOE testing mandates. Only now it's how many minutes to spend.

The implication here is that it's our own fault. It's OUR obsession -- all of us. Remember the President's scolding of teachers last year, for "teaching to the test"? Now comes Duncan's faux self-criticism that, "we have ALL [my emphasis] supported policies that have contributed to the problem..."

But when the state of Washington moved to de-emphasize testing, Duncan yanked their NCLB waiver, leaving the state's schools open to the DOE's failed system of test-based rewards and punishments under Race To The Top.

When districts like ours in Chicago tried to simply limit or delay the PARCC exam this year, we were threatened with a similar beat-down and forced to test even when the district admitted they weren't prepared to administer them properly. 

Obama now says he will ask schools to limit testing to only 2% of class time. I can't wait to hear how they're going to monitor that, especially with Common Core now driving instruction.

And how in the world did they come up with the 2% number. I mean, why not 1%? Or 4%? Do they mean to tell us that 2% is the optimal number of minutes to spend on testing? Did Duncan suck this number out of his...thumb? Please show me the non-anecdotal "data" behind this new metric.

Neither Duncan nor Casserly spoke to the high stakes behind the testing madness. They still call it "holding teachers accountable." No mention either, of the influence of corporate-style reformers, power philanthropies and the giant testing and technology companies who contribute heavily to political campaigns and sit atop several of Obama's advisory boards.

Reducing the number of tests or even improving the "quality" of the tests won't lessen the stakes on teacher evaluation or college entrance based on student test results.

Monday, October 26, 2015


Comey is "confused"
FBI Director James Comey
 “To speak of mass incarceration, I believe, is confusing and can obscure reality.” -- Sun-Times
Pres. Obama
"Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble. So we're going to work with states, school districts, teachers, and parents to make sure that we're not obsessing about testing." -- Fox News
Arnie Duncan
“It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves. At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation." -- New York Times
Dean Leslie Fenwick
Howard Univ. Dean, Leslie Fenwick
The lie is that schemes like Teach For America, charter schools backed by venture capitalists, education management organizations (EMOs), and Broad Foundation-prepared superintendents address black parents concerns about the quality of public schools for their children. -- Washington Post
Delmarie Cobb
Barbara Byrd Bennett didn’t betray us by herself. She had help. She was not alone in the room. -- Bean Soup Times

Saturday, October 24, 2015

CPS enrollment down by design. Black students being 'reformed' out.

Now comes the "stunning" news that CPS enrollment is down by 4,400 students this year. The district reports that student enrollment on the 20th day of school was at 392,285, falling below 400,000 for the first time in over 20 years. As a result, the district will lose millions more in state and federal funds on top of the already major budget cuts slated for public education.

But why should anyone be surprised by the numbers? Or by the fact that most of the decline was seen on the city's south and west sides among mainly African American students? Or by the fact that the decline was seen primarily in district-run schools while privately-run, publicly-funded charters schools grew slightly (3%)?

Wasn't this exactly Rahm Emanuel and Barbara Byrd-Bennett's plan when they closed 50 schools on the south and west sides, replacing them with dozens of new privately-run charters and selective-enrollment schools on the north side?

Now, despite the drop in enrollment, the board is planning to open dozens of new Noble and other charter schools even while existing charters can't fill the seats they've got. In one of his last acts before resigning as ed secretary, Arne Duncan sent another $42.2 million in federal dollars into Chicago, explicitly for charter expansion with the lion's share going to Noble and Lawndale Educational and Regional Network..

No one knows for certain how many of the 11,000 students impacted by the 2013 school closings actually left the district. The University of Chicago reported that a third of them ended up in lower-rated schools than they were previously attending. Only 21% reportedly ended up in significantly better academic surroundings. Thousands of others have dropped out since the 2013 closings. Many others remain unaccounted for.

Nearly a quarter million African Americans have left Chicago in the wake of factory closings, the destruction of public housing, rising gun violence, police brutality and blighting and under-resourcing of their neighborhoods. Massive school closings and loss of social services represent a major part of this dramatic demographic shift.

What we're seeing, then, is not just a drop in CPS student enrollment, but the steady erosion of public space, urban removal of the poor, black students being reformed out, and a city that is whitenizing by plan and policy.

No one should be surprised by this latest reported drop in school enrollment.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Chicago's two-tier school system bad for the city.

Ald. Pawar (47th)
Ald. Ameya Pawar's (47th) got a point. 
"I think selective enrollment and magnets and [charters] strip the connection between the community and their neighborhood school," Pawar said, adding that in his North Center area there's a "churn" in new parents buying into the area with its relative wealth in elementary schools, then leaving as their children approach high school and the entire uncertain process of qualifying for a selective-enrollment school or not.
"You build a school system from K-12," Pawar said. "That's the stability that I think every family is seeking out in the City of Chicago.
The whole CPS rating system, which labels schools as Level 1-5, has more to do with gentrification and segregation than it does with the quality of neighborhood public schools and their teachers.

It's a system that's being used to market real estate, gentrify neighborhoods and steer parents into privately-run charters, which despite exaggerated claims, have proven to be no better academically, than the public schools they are trying to replace. Nor are they, as a group, any more innovative. This despite charters being given more money and resources and allowed to push out or exclude low-scoring students, English language learners, and those with disabilities.

And when there's leadership from local pols and community activists, parents and students buy in. That's why there's growing support for neighborhood high schools and a revolt against attempts by Noble and other charter chains to invade the north side.

Other alders, besides Pawar, have joined the revolt.

Ald. Hairston (5th)
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) says she will vote against the mayor's proposed budget which allots millions for new charter and selective enrollment school construction.
“There should be some type of explanation as to how CPS rolls out the capital improvement plans so we know what we’re voting on. I would not want to vote on a capital improvement plan that does nothing but build charter schools in other neighborhoods.”
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) says:
“In my neighborhood, people don’t trust CPS. You’re asking basically to increase their property taxes by 20 percent. You’ve now decreased the police strength in my district by 20 percent. And we do not have a high school we can send our children to unless they win the lottery for selective enrollment.” 
This is not to say that all charter schools are bad. Like public schools, many are great. Some not. That's not the point. The point is that current policies of shuttering neighborhood schools, mainly in black and Latino communities, while uncapping charter expansion is a recipe for more blighted neighborhoods, a two-tier system of education, and widening inequality. In other words, it's bad for the city.

Be sure and read Ben Joravsky's latest Reader column: Mary Pattillo's charter school research shows south-side students don't really have a choice.
But in the end, few parents were satisfied with the school choice process.
"Even the Charter Parents told me that they were glad they won the lottery," Pattillo said. "But they were beleaguered by the process. I don't take the waiting list at charters as evidence that they want more charters. What they want is more high-quality schools."
I'm not sure even Patillo or Joravsky know this but much of we're told about charter school "waiting lists" is also bogus. This according to a report from Raise Your Hand.
RYH found last year that there are over 12,000 open seats in charters across Chicago. How and why are taxpayers expected to fund eight new schools when there are plenty of open seats in Noble schools right now?
Good question.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Obama's choice of King, the worst possible [Updated]

3,000 N.Y. teacher union delegates give King "no confidence" vote. 
“Throughout his term in New York, John King was notorious for his complete disconnect from parents, teachers, and school officials. Our only hope is that this bizarre move by the White House will have the same effect across the country, spreading the Opt Out movement to every corner of the nation.” -- NYSAPE
Pres. Obama's choice of John King to succeed Ed Sec. Arne Duncan, couldn't have been worse. Why did he do it? It's hard to find a more reactionary and divisive thinker or a practitioner in all Obama's realm than King.

As N.Y.'s Education Commissioner, King's top-down imposition of corporate-style reform policies, including Common Core testing mania, has led to a revolt among parents and teachers. If anyone deserves major credit for sparking the growing parent opt-out movement which has spread now nationwide and represents the biggest single threat to Obama's own ed policies, it is King.

The size and militancy of the opt-out movement, with national elections on the horizon, has forced a self-critical re-assessment of administration testing policy. Obama now admits that his own testing push "has gone to far." But the King appointment further damages his credibility on that issue.

King's push for teacher evaluations based mainly on student test scores even has usually compliant union leaders up in arms. He received a vote of "no confidence" from the nearly 3,000 delegates to the state teachers convention, last year.

Could Obama have made a more divisive choice at a time when there's even the slightest opportunity for congress to adopt a new national education bill to finally replace NCLB? No.

King, who attended elite private schools, Phillips Andover and Harvard, has a bias towards privately-run charter schools over public, which exceeds that of Duncan himself. Like Duncan, he's sending his own children to a private school, where they were shielded from state tests.

In 1999, he co-founded one of Boston’s first charter schools, Roxbury Prep, a so-called “no-excuses” charter.

Pedro Noguera, who directed the Metropolitan Center at New York University (now at UCLA), recalls a visit to Roxbury Prep.
“I walked through that school and saw kids walking in silence, having lunch in silence. I told John I’d never seen middle-class white children treated that way. And he said, ‘This is the model that works for our kids.’ "
“I asked him, ‘Are you preparing these kids to be leaders, or followers? Because leaders get to walk and talk in the hallways.’ ”
Why, with educators and parents across the political spectrum demanding a major shift in ed policy, did Obama choose a Duncan clone to run the DOE for the duration of his term? Is it all about shoring up his legacy and "staying the course" in the face of attacks from the right and from Hillary Clinton?

If so, shame on him.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Spinning his own legacy while feathering his own nest. Get ready for another Duncan 'miracle'.

Just as Arne Duncan was announcing his retirement and his plans to return to Chicago to "spend more time with his family," he dropped another $8M in fed dollars on pal Mike Milkie's Noble charter school chain. This on top of another $42.2M coming to IL with the lion's share going to Noble and Lawndale Educational and Regional Network.

Milkie says Noble (which I lovingly call the Billionaires; Charter Network) needs the money in order to open 8 new schools to meet the growing demand and shorten its "waitlist." But the Raise Your Hand parents group just made a few phone calls and found out that at least 5 Noble schools can't fill the seats they have. They wonder, "Where's the waitlist?"

RYH asks some great questions:
Why is the charter community rallying for more schools when there are plenty of openings in existing charter schools across Chicago, including Noble, and CPS’ enrollment has been declining for years, down roughly 14,000 students just since 2012? RYH found last year that there are over 12,000 open seats in charters across Chicago. How and why are taxpayers expected to fund eight new schools when there are plenty of open seats in Noble schools right now?
The only answer I can come up with is that AD is feathering his own nest. Let's see where he lands upon his return to ChiTown.

Feathering his charter school nest.
Aside from preparing a soft landing, he's also taking care of his legacy. No, there won't be a Duncan Library on Chicago park district land. Maybe a Noble charter named for him, which seems to be the key to Milkie's fund-raising success. Think Rauner, Rowe/Clark, Pritzker, Muchin...

No, he and his successor John King are already juking the stats (with plenty of help from the good folks at Edweek) in order to paint a glowing picture of Duncan's 7 years in Obama's DOE.

Edweek's Klein and Ujifusa write:
High school graduation rates, which most recently stood at 81 percent nationally, appear to be on track to rise for the third year in a row. The department won't know for sure that graduation rates ticked up again until early next year. 
All this assumes, of course, that we have some agreement on what graduation rates and dropout rates actually mean. Remember George Bush's Texas Miracle? We were told that dropout rates in TX were down to zero.

Here in Chicago we find, for example, that when a student leaves a charter school after the 9th grade and later graduates from neighborhood public school, the charter is credited with having graduated that student.

More from Edweek:
Twenty-eight states saw the gap between black and white students close between those years, and a whopping 32 states saw it close between white and Hispanic students. "It looks like the nation will take another step in the right direction," Duncan said at a roundtable for reporters Monday.
Wait a minute, Arne. Even if you believe those figures (which I don't), they mean that in 18 states, the gap is widening or staying the same. As for "whopping" (C'mon Alyson & Andrew. Try a little journalistic restraint), did grad rates "tick up" (your words) or whop? From my own look at the numbers, I'd say slight-tick up. And the gap between white students and students of color is still vast.

As your own colleagues point out:
Unlike heart rate or height, high school graduation rates are deceptively difficult to measure, with different methods producing contrasting and sometimes contradictory results.
Yes, grad rates appear to be on the rise, but as Arizona State Prof. Sherman Dorn puts it:
"Whether or not it's actually more persistent increases, we'll have to wait a couple years [to see]."
Retired teachers protest in California. 
Because of constant changes in the way the rates have been computed, it's difficult to assess how much progress has been made over years past or how much, if any, credit for the rise belongs to Duncan. That's worth asking since most of the data was collected for school years 2010-11 and could be a result of changes made in pre-Duncan years or have little or nothing to do with DOE policies.

It's also worth asking because AD has a track record for this kind of legacy spinning. Remember when he left Chicago for D.C.? He was self-credited for the so-called Chicago Miracle which was his Renaissance 2010 "reform" consisting of school closings and charter openings.

It wasn't until a year later that Duncan's own patrons at the Civic Committee were calling school reform under Duncan "an abysmal failure." Too late. The horse had left the barn and AD was safely in D.C.

Monday, October 19, 2015


Laura Washington
Black Chicago must be suffering from a bad case of buyer’s remorse...We can’t get fooled again. -- Sun-Times
No respect for democracy
Carol Burris
Bill and Melinda Gates do not understand teaching and learning, yet they comfortably assume an air of expertise... The first couple of reform neither appreciate nor respect the role democracy plays in the governance public schools. -- The Answer Sheet
Joel Shatzky
WE just might find a way to establish a new cultural norm: "values economy" in which a cooperative form of economy functions through valuing what people freely give to one another rather than what they buy from one another. -- Huffington: Educating for Democracy: Something of value 
Emanuel campaign strategist Pete Giangreco
“The mayor spent what was necessary to win. It’s not uncommon for campaigns to go into a little bit of debt." -- Politico: Emanuel campaign fund underwater

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Vouchers for private schools: This is what passes for 'school reform' in D.C.

D.O.E.-- The Education Pentagon in D.C.

Posting from D.C. --Remember back in 2010 when Michelle Rhee was ruling the roost in D.C.? Rhee, with plenty of back-up from Arne Duncan and the Gates Foundation, became one of the superstars of the Waiting For Superman set, and D.C. was touted as the model for corporate-style, urban school reform. Duncan even used his position as Secretary of Education to stump for Rhee's patron, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty.

How the mighty have fallen. Rhee has left the world of corporate reform to go to work for a fertilizer company. After she was booted out of Washington came the revelations about her role in a major test-cheating scandal.

Spending this past week in the D.C. area has given me a closer look at Rhee's school reform legacy which goes hand-in-hand with the whitenizing of the District. In 2011, Washington’s black population slipped below 50% for the first time in over 50 years.
Not only is the city’s African American population shrinking — almost half of the District’s 650,000 residents are white — but it’s getting harder to be black in the nation’s capital. -- Washington Post
Neighborhoods like Petworth are losing their public schools, as gentrifiers increasingly choose other options, like privately-run, publicly-financed charter schools. MacFarland, the only public middle school in Petworth, was one of 15 Washington public schools closed in 2013.

Vouchers...Congress seems to have a weird obsession with D.C. school vouchers, writes Valerie Strauss at WaPo.
Congress created what is formally known as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program in 2004 as the only federally funded program that uses public money to pay for private school tuition, though the public has no say in how the schools are run or what is taught.
The D.C. voucher program has become the pet project of House Speaker John Boehner, who recently announced he is soon leaving Congress. Boehner this month introduced legislation to reauthorize the voucher program for an additional five years, and a bipartisan group of senators filed a companion bill to extend the program through 2025. (Pro-voucher Democrats also include two former mayors of D.C. Tony Williams and Fenty.)

In 2008, Rhee declared herself neutral on school vouchers But in 2011, she endorsed vouchers, saying that she supported "giving poor families access to publicly funded scholarships to attend private schools." Then again in a February 2011 speech before Georgia's legislature, she openly supported the D.C. voucher program as a supplement to the expansion of privately-run charter schools. She said that if a parent did not win the lottery to get a child into a charter school, then "who am I to deny them a $7,500 voucher to send their child to a great Catholic school."

This, even though a Washington Post review in 2012 found that hundreds of students use their voucher dollars to attend schools that are unaccredited. A previous report in 2007 found that some students in the program were attending private schools that had unsuitable learning environments and teachers without bachelor’s degrees.

The D.O.E.'s own evaluation of the voucher program found that it did nothing to raise measurable student learning outcomes.

The GAO reported that the local agency that administers the program lacks the “financial systems, controls, policies, and procedures” to ensure that federal funds are being spent legally. It also says the U.S. Education Department has not exercised its oversight responsibilities well enough.

Such is the state of what passes for D.C. school reform.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sorry kids. We lost your tests.

I'm in D.C. this week, planning the next Educator's Trip to Cuba in February. If you are interested in coming, let me know soon.

Here's the latest on ed stuff here in the seat (no pun intended) of power.
More testing madness... This time, in post-Rhee D.C. it's not about a cheating scandal.

It's about: ACT: Hey kids, we lost your tests (Capital Gazette)

WaPo reports:
On a mid-September Saturday morning, 296 students converged on Southern High School in Anne Arundel County for a grueling ritual that college-bound teenagers nationwide know all too well: The ACT college admission test. These students probably assumed the tough part was over when the proctor called time and collected their answer sheets.
But 88 of those answer sheets got lost in the mail after they were sent for scoring, leaving 88 Maryland students without anything to show for hours of toil and parents fuming about whether the foul-up will cause their children to miss deadlines for college or scholarship applications.
In Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, as well as many states in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, the SAT college admission test remains more widely used. But the ACT in recent years has gained market share in the Washington region and elsewhere. Its usage has grown significantly in Maryland and Virginia.

But #LostInMail should become ACT's new tag line.

About 1.92 million students in the class of 2015 took the ACT, the most widely used admission test in the country. About 1.7 million took the SAT, including some from overseas.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Great Non-debate. Dems and CNN avoided hot-button ed issues

From her tweet this morning, one might surmise that Randi doesn't think education is one of those issues. CNN anchors didn't ask the candidates a single question about education. It makes me wonder, what issues really moved her?

"We need to save capitalism from itself."
Maybe it was Hillary on the need to "save capitalism from itself".  Or her pointing out that, "We're not Denmark." Thus prompting Brother Fred on FB:
Got it. Lesson learned. We are not Denmark. I momentarily thought I was in Denmark. Had that cheese danish the other day. Love a good cheese danish. As for saving capitalism from itself? Eh? Why bother?
Yes, why bother even watching such a boring, staged and over-prepped "debate"? Not even as funny or entertaining as Trump and the Republicans, was what I heard from most of the folks of surveyed here in D.C. this morning.

Blogger Steven Singer wonders if CNN would have felt more pressure to ask even a single token education question, "if the largest national teachers unions hadn’t already endorsed Clinton"?

Both the American Federation of Teachers representing 1.5 million members and the National Education Association representing 3 million members have backed Clinton minus any real debate involving rank-and-file teachers.

So without any union pressure of the candidates, Sanders and Clinton were able to skate by last night with only a few general references to schools when asked about other issues.

I think the real problem Dems have on the education front is that they can't speak to issues like testing, Common Core, the expansion of privately-run charter schools, etc… without directly confronting the policies and practices of the Obama administration and Arne Duncan's D.O.E.

I guess they are willing to leave those hot-button issues issues to Trump, Bush and the Republicans. It's the same problem Republicans had over Bush's war in Iraq.

Good that Bernie spoke to Black Lives Matter.

Hillary described herself as a "progressive".

Union basher Peter Cunningham and union prez Randi Weingarten both tweeted that Hillary won the debate.

Univ. of San Francisco's ed school dean Kevin Kumashiro has no such qualms about speaking directly to the testing issues when asked to give a grade to Duncan and White House ed policies.

Chicagoans will remember Kevin from his work at UIC and as the funder of the CReATE research group. Glad to see he's still at it.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Vallas' shadow hangs over Chicago's SUPES/Byrd-Bennett scandal

Disgraced Chicago former schools CEO, Barbara Byrd-Bennett pled guilty to corruption charges today as protesters rallied across the street from the courthouse demanding an elected school board and an end to mayoral control of the schools

For the past few months I have been pointing to the Paul Vallas connection with the Chicago SUPES scandal. So far, the Chicago media has completely missed or glossed over this connection even though Vallas, who just ran a losing race for Lt. Governor, was Gary Somomon's former partner in Synesi Associates. Synesi is one of the indicted companies that hired Byrd-Bennett as a consultant, allegedly in return for her support in obtaining millions of dollars in CPS no-bid contracts.

Today I am posting a piece written by blogger supreme, Jonathan Pelto, which delves more deeply into the Vallas connection. Jonathan ran for governor of Connecticut as a write-in candidate in opposition to Gov. Malloy's corporate-style school reform policies. His exposés of corrupt corporate "reform" practices ultimately helped lead to Vallas' firing as Bridgeport's schools chief. .
Jonathan Pelto
Prior to being hand-picked by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to run Chicago’s Public Schools, Byrd-Bennett worked as a consultant and lead teacher for The Supes Academy, worked as a consultant for Synesi Associates and was listed as a part of the management team at PROACT Search.

While many key actors in the Corporate Education Reform Industry have been involved with Gary Solomon and his companies, one of the most prominent names on Solomon’s list of close colleagues is the Great Paul Vallas, the Education Reform Guru and former CEO of the Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans public school systems.

More recently, Democratic Governor and education reform disciple Dannel Malloy brought Vallas to Bridgeport, Connecticut and then twisted Connecticut law in knots so that Vallas could stay for two years until local residents had finally had enough and forced Vallas to leave the job and return to Illinois.

As for the situation in Chicago, it could certainly be said that Gary Solomon’s ability to build such a “successful” corporate education reform company is due, in no small part, to his close relationship with Paul Vallas.

Vallas not only hired Solomon and his companies when he worked in Philadelphia, but brought Solomon with him to New Orleans.

And Vallas worked to bring other business to Solomon and his companies as well.

While Vallas has publicly claimed that he has no financial interest in any of Solomon’s consulting activities, in Vallas’ Philadelphia days Solomon’s consulting company advertised that it had “the exclusive rights to Paul Vallas’ model of education reform.”

Solomon’s Synesi Associates went on to brag on its website that it had played a leadership role in, “‘the successful implementation’ of Vallas’ plans when Vallas was heading up the Louisiana Recovery School District.”

The close relationship between Vallas and Solomon was explored in a detailed expose published on Philadelphia’s education website, The Notebook, in April 2005. In an article entitled Cashing in on ‘The Vallas model’ the Notebook laid out the story as follows;

Even with all the private company entrepreneurship revolving around Philadelphia School District initiatives lately, local observers expressed surprise at signs that District CEO Paul Vallas himself was appearing to be in on the action.
Evidence of a business initiative involving the use of Vallas’ name and reform approach recently surfaced on the websites of two related Chicago-based businesses. Information about the venture on one website was apparently pulled from the web minutes after Notebook inquiries. The other website disappeared the next day. (Images of several of the removed pages referenced in this story were saved by The Notebook, and are linked to in this story).
Solomon Consulting Services Inc. (SCS), a new for-profit enterprise that counts among its team a number of prominent administrators and leaders who’ve worked under or with Vallas, had obtained exclusive rights to “The Vallas Model,” according to the website of SCS’s partner and online marketing firm.
Vallas categorically denies any such deal. But questions linger about how a website devoted to marketing Paul Vallas’ accomplishments and approach came into being and what will become of the enterprise that created it.
Through a District spokesperson, Vallas said he has no commercial relationship with Solomon Consulting, adding that SCS had not been authorized to use his name or sell his reform model.
Spokesperson Cecelia Cummings said Vallas has acknowledged awareness of a number of his associates forming an enterprise. Cummings said the District had threatened legal action over the SCS website, which implied that the School District was a client of SCS.
SCS’s team list names Phil Hansen, a former Chicago chief accountability officer who served on Vallas’ Philadelphia transition team and who now works for Princeton Review; Cozette Buckney, Chicago’s chief education officer under Vallas and a member of Vallas’ Philadelphia transition team; Sue Gamm, chief specialized services officer in Chicago during Vallas’ tenure, who also served as a consultant to Vallas during his transition…
[…], disappeared from the web April 28, one day after the interview with Solomon. [Solomon had told the Notebook that a newly designed site was to be posted soon. A new SolomonConsulting was posted Saturday, April 30, with no references to Vallas and no list of personnel].
Vallas on ticket with Quinn, was soundly defeated in his race for Lt. governor
When Solomon’s website reappeared there was also no mention that Gary Solomon had also served as assistant vice president of educational partnerships with the Princeton Review, but….

On April 20, the School Reform Commission approved a resolution for $2.6 million in categorical/grant funds for Princeton Review to provide curriculum, educational materials and professional development for the District’s summer program. Other Princeton review contracts this school year have been for $600,000 for consulting for four transitional high schools – Lamberton, Sayre, Vaux and Parkway Gamma High, and $750,000 for PSSA test prep materials, support and professional development.
During the interview, Solomon initially said he no longer worked with Princeton Review. However, in a Notebook phone call to Princeton Review’s New York office, an operator responded that the company did indeed have a listing for Gary Solomon. When the call was transferred, Solomon answered, and explained, “They’re a client of mine.”
And, has been repeatedly reported, the close bond between Vallas and Solomon was just beginning.

When Paul Vallas moved on to New Orleans to head the Louisiana Recovery School District, Solomon picked up even more lucrative contracts.

But it is a story out of Illinois that provides a true snap-shot and insider’s view into how Vallas and the Corporate Education Reform Industry works;

While Gary Solomon and his companies profited greatly via Vallas in Philadelphia and New Orleans, it is the somewhat more hidden story surrounding the Rockford School District (PSD 150) in Illinois the provides telling evidence about how Vallas and the Corporate Education Reform Industry works.

BBB, Rahm, Vallas & Soloman
The December 13, 2007 headline in the Rockford Star newspaper proclaimed, Vallas will ‘assess and evaluate’ District 150 – for free. The story read,

School reform trailblazer Paul Vallas is willing to assess the educational program at District 150 and develop a “vision” to effectuate change, all for free.
“My role would not only be to assess and evaluate but also to lay out a comprehensive vision for the district. … Given the fact that I would do it for free, there’s certainly no loss of investment,” the New Orleans superintendent said Wednesday.
But the question remains: Will District 150 take advantage of his services or hire consultants he has recommended to assist the district in reform efforts?
Vallas met with district leaders in November, and he and consultants offered educational services to the district. The consultants are Gary Solomon and Phil Hansen, of Synesi Associates.
Vallas is willing to help for free, but the consultants have a cost. School Board President David Gorenz said Synesi has quoted the cost of its consulting services at $600,000.
Vallas, the former head of schools in Philadelphia and Chicago, emphasized Wednesday that he is not affiliated with the consultants and doesn’t benefit financially from their services. They are, however, among a group of people he recommended be part of a successful school reform process.
“Should they decide that they want my help and should they decide that they want me to recommend a full team to come in and do the job … I will be very specific in identifying the people I feel (are) some of the best people out there to come in,” Vallas said.
The superintendent of Recovery School District in New Orleans said he’s inclined to help districts when he can. Plus, he has always enjoyed Peoria, and the city is close to his permanent home — his wife still lives in Chicago.
Days later, on December 22, 2007, the paper expanded its coverage reporting Vallas will meet with Peoria District 150 officials after Christmas,

Noted education leader Paul Vallas was in town Friday talking to local business leaders about school reform, and he plans to meet with District 150 officials sometime after Christmas.
Vallas has offered to help the district reform its educational system and bring in consultants to help implement changes. He first made the offer to district officials in November, after being asked to come to town by Mayor Jim Ardis.
The superintendent of Recovery School District in New Orleans stopped by Peoria on his way home to Chicago for the holidays. He spoke at a meeting of the CEO Roundtable Friday morning and met with the Journal Star editorial board afterward.
“All I’m going to do is try to tell them what I think works and what doesn’t work and to try to provide them with some guidance. The rest is going to be up to them,” Vallas told the editorial board.
Vallas is willing to help for free, but the consultants that he would recommend would have a cost. School Board President David Gorenz has said that a consulting firm that was represented at the November meeting quoted the cost of its services at $600,000
And while Vallas said he would work for free … who were the consultants that District 150 would need to hire?

The consulting firm that is in contact with District 150 is Synesi Associates. Company officials Gary Solomon and Phil Hansen were both at the November meeting. But Vallas said there are multiple people he is willing to bring to District 150, people he referred to as “the best seasoned educators around.”
As the Chicago Scandal played out in the news this year, the Chicago Tribune reported that,

“No contract was ever signed in Peoria and Vallas disputed the assertion that he had pitched work specifically for Solomon’s firm.”
But there is often more to these types of situations then meets the eye.

Earlier this summer, Paul Vallas and his relationship to Illinois Public School District 150 surfaced yet again. The local PJ Star newspaper reported, Efforts for independent review of District 150 continue despite rejections,

PEORIA – … the current School Board already had rejected at least two attempts at outside evaluations orchestrated by Mayor Jim Ardis, with help from his recently retired education adviser Bill Collier and Peoria County Regional Superintendent of Schools Beth Derry.
The Illinois State Board of Education apparently declined to get involved in a request made by Collier, according to Freedom of Information Act requests. Derry backed off after the school district attorney questioned the legality of her office’s involvement.
But Ardis and Collier haven’t given up on getting the board to agree to an independent review. The School Board’s make-up will change Wednesday with the seating of two new members who support the idea. Either the board or Superintendent Grenita Lathan could have a change of heart, Ardis said last week.
“Support has started to build,” Collier added. “It’s really for altruistic reasons.”
Local business leaders would have donated about $60,000 for a third-party evaluation conducted by a team led by nationally-known, but controversial, education reformer Paul Vallas, who has been school superintendent in Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Bridgeport, Conn.
According to Vallas, he met with Derry and the teachers’ union leadership, all of whom were supportive. Ardis and Collier presented the proposal to school officials.
Board members were wary of the motives behind what Ardis, Collier and Derry say were sincere efforts to gain an unbiased analysis of District 150’s strengths and weaknesses.
“It was presented as a fait accompli,” said District 150 Chief Legal Officer Rick Rettberg. “The consultant had already been chosen, the scope of the review had already been decided and there was no disclosure of who was paying for it.”
By April, Derry was planning to incorporate the Vallas team’s evaluation into the standard compliance review her office conducts for all Peoria County school districts every four years. That plan was dropped after Rettberg pointed out an expanded compliance review was beyond the scope of her authority.
“What you are proposing in your letter is both extraordinary and problematic,” Rettberg wrote to Derry, reminding her the ROE’s office does not have authority to conduct a quality review, much less delegate it to a private consultant.
The letters between Rettberg, Lathan and Derry were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The letters show the district filed its own FOIA request to obtain copies of a contract and correspondence between the ROE’s office and Developmental Specialists Inc., or DSI, the consulting firm Vallas recently joined.
Vallas emphasized he was providing his services for free, a favor he has done for Ardis in the past…
The $60,000 cost would go to the four-person team he assembled to conduct the review.
So while the federal government was closing in on the contract and kickback scheme involving Chicago School CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Gary Solomon this summer, Paul Vallas was a few miles up the road telling local officials in Illinois’ Public School 150 that he was willing to, once again, work for free. All local taxpayers had to do was pay a hand-picked company selected by Vallas.

But this time Vallas was instructing them that they would have to pay a company that he had publically joined about sixty days earlier.

…READ Jonathan Pelto's piece in its entirety, here.

Monday, October 12, 2015


Thousands at 'Justice or Else' Rally in D.C. on 20th anniversary of Million Man March
David Nakamura and Hamil R. Harris
The peaceful rally was a reminder that seven years after the election of the nation’s first black president, enormous frustration remains among segments of the African American community about progress on civil rights. -- Washington Post
Charles Pierce
"And when the history of the Obama Administration is written, its willingness to go along with charter-school grifters at the behest of Arne Duncan is going to be a very big debit on the ledger."  -- New York Magazine
Duncan's charter scandal. 
Jeff Bryant
 Why would a secretary so often accused of leading an unprecedented overreach of federal intrusion in state education policy suddenly become so nonchalant about oversight of charter schools?  -- The ugly charter school scandal Arne Duncan is leaving behind (Salon)
Carol Marin
In Chicago, the mayor runs the schools. Always has. But not ultimately responsible? C’mon. Own it, mayor. Own it. -- Sun-Times
 Schiff Hardin Attorney Ron Safer
“We view it as semi-pro bono work. This is not a unique case". -- CPS approves more legal spending for Byrd-Bennett aides