Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bill Raden and Gary Cohn: The End of Tenure in California Brings Financial Benefits To A Select Few

Bonanza! Silicon Valley Sees Gold in Corporate-Driven School Reforms

July 17, 2014 in California Expose
When Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down the tenure rights of the state’s public school teachers last month in Vergara v. California, his decision was hailed by Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., lead attorney for the plaintiffs, as “a terrific, wonderful day for California students and for the California education system.”
The lawsuit, which had been brought on behalf of nine California schoolchildren, argued that the retention of “grossly ineffective” teachers through five due-process statutes violated the students’ civil rights.
Vergara lawsuit backer David Welch
Vergara lawsuit backer David Welch
The suit and its accompanying public relations blitz had been bought and paid for by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch under the umbrella of Students Matter, Welch’s personal Menlo Park education reform nonprofit. Welch made his fortune designing large-capacity fiber optic transmission systems for the global service-provider market.
“I have not devoted my career to education policy,” Welch admitted when launching the  Vergara campaign last summer, “but I do believe I’m an expert on what you need in an environment to get the most out of people.”
Welch’s obsession with restructuring public education hardly marks him as an outlier among Silicon Valley tycoons. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, sits on the boards of Microsoft, KIPP and CalCharters (the California Charter School Association), and is a founding funder of Green Dot and a co-founder of, Aspire Public Schools and Hastings summed up his vision for transforming education last March, when the newly minted billionaire called for the end of locally elected school boards and announced a goal of moving 90 percent of America’s public school kids into charter schools over the next 30 years. That’s a tall order, especially in light of a 2009 Stanford University study showing that when averaged across all schools, the impact of attending a charter has a slight — but statistically significant — negative impact on both math and reading gains.
Netflix's Reed Hastings
Netflix’s Reed Hastings
Judge Treu’s decision not only marked a significant legal victory against teachers and their unions. It was also an important public affirmation for Welch, Hastings and other well-heeled Silicon Valleyites and their revisionist narrative of progressive public education. By placing the blame on teachers for poor student outcomes, the Vergara ruling ignored decades of research establishing families’ socioeconomic background as the predominant factor affecting how children perform in school — research that also singles out small class size and experienced teachers as being directly beneficial to learning.
The reasons why tech titans like Welch and Hastings have decided that they know how public education can best be “fixed,” and why they are backing those hunches with big money, have been a matter of some speculation. In celebrating Vergara’s nullification of public school teacher job protections, however, Los Angeles schools superintendent John Deasy may have inadvertently dropped a clue when he declared, “Every day that these laws remain in effect represent an opportunity denied.”
The precise nature of that opportunity was immediately grasped by those who stand to gain the most from Vergara. In an ecstatic, post-verdict op-ed piece published on TechCrunch, the online news site that serves Silicon Valley’s tech-startup community, writer Danny Crichton gloated over what he described as “a key opening for startups to begin thinking about grade school in a post-tenure world” now that teachers were out of the way.
When they speak to the general media, Silicon Valley ed reformers sound much like Welch, talking altruistically about the underserved and the right of the state’s children to a quality education. But when they speak to each other they are more apt to talk in the language of money – that is, about the potential gold rush represented by the $638 billion spent on K-12 education between 2009 and 2010 by American taxpayers.
The stakes are high. For Silicon Valley venture capitalists and “ed tech” prospectors, mining the high-grade ore of the U.S. public education market is only the beginning, a test bed to develop a tech-based education model capable of tapping the real mother lode  — the emerging middle classes of China, India and Africa. That’s a global ed tech market, estimates venture capitalist Jon Sakoda of New Enterprise Associates, currently worth $4-6 trillion.
Ground zero for this ed tech bonanza may well be Oakland’s NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit venture capital fund known for its financing of both ed tech startups and charter school management organizations (CMOs), including Aspire Public Schools, KIPP and Redwood City-based Rocketship Education. The fund has drawn money from high-profile foundations created by Eli Broad, Bill Gates and the Walton family, as well asfrom Welch’s own David & Heidi Welch Foundation and Reed Hastings’ Hastings/Quillin Fund.
Rocketship co-founder John Danner
Rocketship co-founder John Danner
In its 2012 annual report, NewSchools speaks of its mission as investing “in education entrepreneurs who can transform public education in America.” What that murky intersection of entrepreneurship and altruism looks like in action might best be exemplified by Rocketship Education. The smart money began pouring into “blended learning” charters — whose classroom time is split between traditional teachers and online learning — earlier this century. By the late aughts, blended learning’s rising star was the K-5 Rocketship Education.
Co-founded in 2006 by online ad-surfing mogul John Danner, Rocketship quickly rose to national prominence by claiming stellar test scores from poor and immigrant students in San Jose through its near-exclusive focus on reading and math, and a model that replaces teachers with online learning and digital applications for a significant portion of the day. Danner also announced aggressive plans to expand Rocketship into a national online school district with an ambitious goal of enrolling one million students in 50 cities — rivaling New York City’s public school system, the nation’s largest. (Rocketship did not respond to requests for comments for this article.)
Reed Hastings was impressed enough with Rocketship to put his money down on both the nonprofit and on the for-profit ed tech company, DreamBox Learning, which supplies Rocketship’s computer labs with their “adaptive learning” math games.
Brett Bymaster is a Silicon Valley electrical engineer who, through his website Stop Rocketship Education Now!, has been fighting Rocketship’s planned 30-school expansion into San Jose’s low-income neighborhoods.
“One of the things that’s going on behind the scenes,” Bymaster explains, “is that it’s getting harder and harder to get [new] big-growth businesses in Silicon Valley. It’s getting harder and harder to get the big wins that [investors] need. And [these] people are starting to look towards [public] education, because there’s a tremendous amount of money to made in education, but it’s all locked up in teachers. The districts are spending85 percent of their budget on teachers.”
According to Bymaster, the big secret to making charters profitable is reducing teacher costs. “If you’re going to break that market open,” he says, “you have to run a high student-teacher ratio. And so if you look at the Rocketship model, it’s completely built around this 40-to-one student-teacher ratio. And they want to increase it. They wanted to take it to 50-to-one. The ugly side of that is that it’s really clear that these high student-teacher ratio models are not good for kids.”
Rocketship CEO Preston Smith
Rocketship CEO Preston Smith
Alicia Serrano was a San Jose Unified School District veteran when Rocketship co-founder (and now CEO) Preston Smith recruited her as a first grade math teacher for Rocketship #1 for the 2007-08 school year.
“This was something that was full of innovation,” Serrano recalls. “It was different. It was thinking outside of the box and it was exciting to be a part of that.”
Her excitement was short-lived. By the following year, as Danner put his expansion plans into overdrive, what began as a modest laboratory for innovation had changed.
“It started becoming a monster that I could not connect with on a personal or professional level,” says Serrano. “And I started to see things that just did not square with who I am as a person and what is right for children.”
What Serrano found was that Rocketship’s rigidly test-focused culture had eliminated the “human part” of education.
“Preston or the principals,” says Serrano, “would stop kids randomly [and ask] ‘What’s your test score? What did you get on test? What did you get on your benchmark test?’ Instead of connecting with the child in terms of, ‘What did you do yesterday when you got home from school?” or ‘What sports do you like to play?’ or ‘What do you do with your family on Sunday afternoon?’ or any other question to get to know kids. It was all about the number. It was all about the test score.”
The pressure to produce scores was felt by both students and teachers, whose salaries are directly tied to test scores. “I would see so many young teachers,” Serrano remembers, “even some that were TFA [Teach for America] teachers — and this was their second year — that were just crying in their classrooms. It wasn’t a happy place.”
Those indications that the Rocketship edifice might be unsound were confirmed last month when Smith announced that due to plummeting test scores, Rocketship would be scaling back its expansion. “We didn’t deliver,” the CEO admitted.
John Danner had already jumped Rocketship last year to devote himself full-time to his latest venture, which this time sidesteps teachers entirely — a smartphone ed-app startup based in Palo Alto called Zeal, which Danner’s Twitter site describes as “putting school on a phone.”
But if blended learning suffered a black eye, Bymaster cautions that the model of pairing large-scale CMO nonprofits with the for-profit companies that supply them with their education software and lease them their classrooms is not about to go away.
“People need to understand,” he says, “that there’s tons of money in nonprofits, first of all. Second, nonprofits can kind of become containers for for-profit organizations . . . and a lot of that is tax money going into rich people’s pockets.”

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Jack Schneider: 10 Reform Claims That Teachers Should Know How To Challenge


Jack Schneider’s Ten Reform Claims That Teachers Should Know How to Challenge provides a powerful framework for educators to mobilize our much needed roles as teachers for the wider public.
In this post, I repeat his ten claims as a basis for including evidence that supports teachers (or anyone) anticipating and then challenging the flawed claims and policies coming from the reform movement, primarily driven by political leadership and advocacy without experience or expertise in education. [Each claim is posted below verbatim from Schneider.]
Claim 1: American teachers need more incentive to work hard.
Claim 2: Schools need disruptive innovation. The status quo is unacceptable.
Claim 3: The public schools are in crisis.
Claim 4: It should be easier to fire bad teachers. Tenure is a problem.
Claim 5: Schools need to teach more technology.
Claim 6: Teachers should be paid for results.
Claim 7: We need more charter schools.
Claim 8: We’re falling behind the rest of the world.
Claim 9: Teacher preparation is a sham.
Claim 10: Teachers only work nine months a year.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Melinda Anderson: Why Are The Black Teachers Disappearing - Again?

Sixty Years After Brown V. Board,
Black Teachers Are Disappearing---Again

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Sixty years ago Saturdaythe Supreme Court issued its landmark Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka ruling. In a unanimous decision, the Court struck down the concept of “separate but equal” in the nation’s public schools. It was a catalyst that invigorated the Civil Rights Movement and its quest to end the inequality of Jim Crow laws, affecting everything from lunch counters to buses. 

With the Brown case pending, Black teachers waited anxiously for the ruling on school segregation, with thoughts fixed firmly on their Black students. Would the case solve the wide racial disparities in facilities, funding and resources? Would Black students’ sense of ethnic identity and cultural solidarity suffer from desegregation? And lingering in the back of Black teachers’ minds: Would they be the collateral damage in the battle to integrate schools?

A hint of this suspicion is found in the excerpt from an oral history conducted in 1991 with a former teacher in a segregated school: 

“…we were under such a terrible strain because when they wanted integration they never considered the effect that it would have on the Black teacher who was very qualified. Practically all of them [Black teachers] had their masters...they put such a terrible strain on the Black teachers.”
Dr. Alfred Roberts remembers this period well. He taught at segregated Pearl C. Anderson Middle School in Dallas and weathered the transition during desegregation. But the path was not so smooth for Black teachers throughout the state.

“I’m from a small town near College Station named Somerville,” said Roberts, co-founder of the Texas chapter of the National Association of Black School Educators.  “The high school had grades 1-12 in one building. When they combined the schools, they sent all of the high school students to the White school, and they made the high school an elementary school. In your smaller cities, I’m quite sure there were a lot of [Black] teachers displaced.”

The data bears this out, revealing a widespread practice across the South. In 1954, there were 82,000 Black teachers. In the 11 years following the Brown decision, the ranks of Black teachers plummeted: more than 38,000 Black teachers and administrators in 17 Southern states were out of a job. Black teachers were suddenly expendable due to all-Black schools shutting down and newly integrated schools shutting the door in their face. 

Charles Bolton in The Hardest Deal of All: The Battle Over School Integration in Mississippi documents the systematic firing of Black teachers in one of the last states to desegregate after the Brown decision. Between 1970 and 1973, the number of white public school teachers in Mississippi increased by almost nine percent, while Black teachers fell by almost 12 percent. White administrators weeded them out as “poorly qualified” – even with impeccable credentials – and moved to rid their districts of Black teachers who supported the civil rights movement.

The displacement and dismissal of Black educators post-Brown is well-researched, supported by evidence, and would be a footnote in history except for the fact that like the resegregation of America’s schools, everything old is new again.

In the country’s largest urban districts, mass school closings are the education policy du jour. From New York and Chicago to New Orleans and Philadelphia, school leaders are targeting schools that disproportionately serve Black students. Startling data from the U.S. Department of Education shows a consistent trend. While 43 percent of Chicago students are Black, they accounted for 87 percent of affected students in schools marked for closure. The same pattern is seen in Philadelphia and New York City, and in every case Black teachers are caught in the crossfire, as they tend to be heavily concentrated in schools with predominately Black student bodies.  

In Chicago, three Black teachers sued for discrimination, citing the disparate impact on Black staff from the district’s school closure plan. Like students, a marked difference was evident. Black teachers made up less than one-third of the tenured staff in Chicago Public Schools yet represented more than half of tenured teachers pushed out by closures and turnarounds. 

The loss of Black schook staff in urban centers is impossible to ignore, though the decline of Black teachers can’t be blamed solely on this course of action. Approaching the Brown anniversary there’s renewed interest in closing the large and growing diversity gap between public school students and teachers.

Conventional wisdom holds that the answer is filling the pipeline – even as data show that efforts to recruit more minority teachers and place them in disadvantaged schools are working. Recruitment has been very successful, but it’s only half of the equation. 

Richard M. Ingersoll, professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading expert on teacher turnover, points to the culprit: Black teachers fleeing the poor working conditions that prevail in their schools. Simply filling the bucket isn’t the answer, says Ingersoll. The real challenge is to plug the leaks. “We’re hiring more minority teachers but also losing more of them,” he told Pacific Standard magazine. “…minority teachers are not more likely than white teachers to stay in those tough places. They’re more likely to get jobs there, but when it comes to the decision to leave, the demographics seem to be a nonfactor. What’s really driving the turnover is that these are jobs with problems.” 

Whether it’s too little support and too much testing, or Black teachers feeling underpaid and overworked, the result is the same. Committed and effective teachers are leaving the classroom, frustrated and discouraged. The problem is compounded by issues of seniority in layoffs and the system of “last hired, first fired” negotiated by many districts and teachers unions. Retaining teachers of color, regardless of how many years they’ve worked in the school system, would mean foregoing the traditional system – a high but not insurmountable hurdle. 

Sixty years after Brown v. Board, the loss of Black teachers remains a failure of will, not a failure of means. It’s an unforgivable failure because race matters in the classroom

“It matters because the curriculum is usually so focused on white people that children (of all colors) get the impression that the stories that matter, and education as a whole, are not for children of color,” explains José Vilson, a New York City middle school teacher, writer and author. “Having a person of color in front of the classroom says the curriculum they're learning is for everyone.”

Black-Latino male teachers are rare. In his new memoirThis Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, Vilson shares his journey to the classroom and goes deeper into why Black and Latino children need teachers that look like him:
We have high expectations for the children sitting in front of us because we were once them. We can tell the difference between a kid not knowing how to add fractions and not knowing how to say the word “fraction,” because many of us were once English language learners. We don’t take “Yo, what up, teacher?” or “Hey, miss!” to be a sign of illiteracy, but a sign that they want to connect with us as human beings. Our importance as teachers of color stems from this dire need for kids of all races and backgrounds to see people of color as multidimensional and intelligent, different in culture but the same in capability and humanity.
Melinda D. Anderson is an education writer and activist for educational equity. Follow her  at @mdawriter.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

David Bloomfield: Vergara Decision Starts a Healthy Debate on Teacher Tenure

Vergara's Shaky Significance

by David C. Bloomfield, Jun 15, 2014
A June 10th lower court decision in Vergara v. California found that five California teacher employment statutes violate the State Constitution's Equal Protection Clause by disproportionately maintaining "grossly ineffective schools serving predominantly low-income and minority students."
Speculation immediately turned to Vergara-type suits in other states with the aim of eliminating or weakening teacher tenure and other job protections across the country.
Not so fast.
The ink is hardly dry on Vergara and a lengthy appeals process awaits. Meanwhile the contested statutes remain on the books. Final victory for plaintiffs is hardly inevitable since the trial court decision shows scant evidence proving that the statutes themselves, rather than feckless administrators' failure to initiate required evaluation and termination proceedings, were the cause of plaintiffs' alleged educational injury. In addition, the court's high bar requiring the state to show a compelling interest in preserving each of the current statutes is wide open to appellate attack.
On the other hand, there is little legal traction to arguments that Vergara is over-dependent on suspect test score data and predictions that teacher quality will fall without the statutes' job security guarantees. Not that those aren't good points - but they are not legal arguments. As the court took pains to address, this case will be won or lost on legal principles of equal protection based on California precedents and facts established at trial, not policy pronouncements about the best system of teacher evaluation and due process rights for optimal educational quality. Judge Treu made clear that he believes the judicial system is too crude an instrument to decide those matters and that, under our system of separation of powers, curtailing the evidentiary parade of horribles that he said "shock the conscience" requires legislative remedies.
Which is why Vergara is more an opening for public debate - likely the main intention of the lawsuit - than it is a catalyst to directly bring about substantial changes in state or national education law. For example, Judge Treu found that California's two year probationary period prior to tenure was too short to adequately evaluate teacher quality, disproportionately penalizing poor and minority students. What if, in response, the state legislature changes that period to three years, which Vergara looks upon favorably? New fact, new case! Any or all of the statutes in question can be tweaked - cynically or not - to meet legal requirements surviving appeal.
Similarly, beyond California, any attempt to nationalize Vergara faces a tortuous path, much like the school finance battles that ensued late in the twentieth century and continue today. Each state, assuming the presence of equal protection, will have its own precedential scheme for interpreting those laws. Each will have its own constellation of teachers' employment rights. Each will have different statistical profiles of the presence or absence of incompetent teachers based on differing measures. In short, each years-long case will need to be financed and litigated individually, an extremely tall order, especially when legislative responses after any wins will have the potential to undo plaintiffs' initial expectation of educational improvement.
Remember, too, that teachers' working conditions are not generally statutory but bargained with school districts. It's even a little weird that tenure is a statutory right at all, treated as a public good rather than a private benefit. Teacher unions have been particularly successful in selling that idea so that they do not have to subject tenure, first-in-first-out, and other job protections to the give-and-take of cyclic contract negotiations.
But surely, if the Vergara plaintiffs ultimately succeed at total elimination of tenure, FIFO, etc. at the state level, the fight will just move to districts where school boards will vie with one another to offer sweet deals on job security and due process to attract the best teachers. Like white flight after Brown v. Board of Education, invoked by Judge Treu in the first line of Vergara more as a benediction than a precedent, any state-level evisceration of teacher job protections will have a negative checker-board effect on districts.
I support teacher tenure since it allows teachers uniquely necessary opportunities for classroom freedom and student advocacy that would otherwise be threatened by supervisors or public disapproval. But, with varied experience as a teacher union organizer, New York City Board of Education General Counsel, and expert witness for school districts in termination proceedings, I have too often seen procedural protections used as a sword to preserve ineptitude rather than, as intended, to shield professionalism.
Healthy debate is necessary over these policies and practices, including the crying need for administrators to vigorously exercise their supervisory duties toward probationary and tenured teachers alike. As a catalyst for this debate, Vergara serves a useful purpose even if, as legal mandate, it stands on shaky ground.
David C. Bloomfield is Professor of Education at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of American Public Education Law, 2nd ed. and many other works, including an earlier column, Teacher Tenure Tantrum.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mark Naison: Why Teacher Tenure And Due Process Are Important

Brian Jones and Mark Naison
Why Teachers Need Tenure and Due Process:
Teaching is an incredibly "political" profession. The content of curriculum, as well as school budgets and hiring policies are the subject of intense debate from local school districts through legislators. Public officials, given a chance, will use schools as centers of patronage or places where they build political machines, and they will attempt to make teachers serve those ends if teachers do not have basic job protections. Then there are the parents. Some parents see all the needs of all children as foremost. Others will do anything to get special treatment for their child. If they are powerful, they will use that power to try to bend teachers to their will. I have seen this in action in schools I have worked in ( as well as sports leagues). Teachers need basic job protection to defend them from those parents, who exist, sometimes in small numbers, sometimes in large numbers in every school. Finally, teachers need protection from abusive administrators who are, thankfully, a minority, but do exist in every school district in the country. And these job protections, which protect teachers from abuse, intimidation, bribery, insider dealing and special influence, also protect children, because if teachers are bent to the will of powerful politicians, helicopter parents and abusive administrators, children will suffer. That is whey every society in the world with good schools has the kind of employment protections people here are challenging. And by the way, every single thing I have described above I have seen operating first hand

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Being Black At Stuyvesant High School

By Tabitha Wilson

“You’re so white,” “Oh my god, you’re such a white girl,” and “You talk so white,” are a few phrases used by my peers and even by my friends. I am not white: I’m one of the few black students at Stuyvesant High School. I don’t follow the stereotypical mold for a black girl—I don’t live in a dangerous neighborhood or have an illegitimate child. That doesn’t make me white; that makes me a normal person! Most blacks that you will meet, to the surprise of most, do not follow these ridiculous stereotypes.

At Stuyvesant, my race barely crosses my mind—I don’t see myself as the minority that I know I am. Frankly, we at Stuyvesant have a lot more similarities than we have differences: I obsess over grades and worry about college just as much as my peers; I’m just as competitive as my white or Asian counterparts. During my school career I have always been a minority in gifted programs I took part in, going as far back as elementary school. By now, I am used to being one of the few black students in all of my classes.

However, at Stuyvesant there is quite a different reality of being black. I have never been in an institution (as opposed to a single class) that is only about 1.5 percent black.

I genuinely believe that no one at Stuyvesant is trying to be racist, because I believe that our generation is making progress at getting past that hatred. I know that my friends and those I associate with would never try to hurt me intentionally; my friends love and accept me for who I am, regardless of my race. I feel that most of the student body is composed of decent and good people who do not wish to hurt anyone. But there is such a disconnect here from Black American culture, and it makes for an “us” and “them” discussion.

At Stuyvesant there really isn’t anyone to inform the student body regarding these race issues, and it is difficult to realize that this is necessary with the black population being so minute. During this past February, which happens to be Black History Month, I overheard two Asian students questioning why there should even be a month attributed to blacks. This offended me—someone who has taken Unites States history or knows anything about it should realize that blacks and members of every other race deserve to be celebrated. At a school with a higher black population, I doubt I would hear something like that; I doubt that at Stuyvesant, students would question Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which is this month of May. When slavery is mentioned during any of my classes I can always feel the sideways glances in my direction. It’s a blatant truth that some of my ancestors were slaves; some of them were also white slave owners, Cherokee Native Americans, Caribbeans, Indians, Jews— the list can go on. My lineage is diverse but that’s hard for people to realize when they are so caught up on the color of my skin.

This year’s SING! led to some heated discussion on whether or not Junior SING! was racist due to the fact that one of the characters playing a subservient role was black. During the performance I was not offended, unlike my mother, who was sitting in the audience beside me. Afterwards, she said that it took her nearly half of the show to stop being upset. My mother, as well as her parents, experienced severe racism in her youth in South Carolina under Jim Crow laws. I recognized that subservient roles such as these were meant to be outwardly racist and hurtful up until the late 20th century. They were established to keep blacks “in their place,” showing that blacks were always less than whites.

It appeared that the cast of Junior SING! was completely unaware of this. Therein lies the problem at Stuyvesant; the disconnect between races can potentially lead to something hurtful. While reading the never-ending discussion on Facebook, I saw my other black peers concede that the show wasn’t racist without realizing the history behind the role, which surprised me.

After questioning the black students that I know, I concluded that most blacks at Stuyvesant are either ethnically West Indian or African. As a result of this, even black students at Stuyvesant are disconnected from historical racism, especially students with parents or grandparents who are immigrants. Moving ahead at Stuyvesant, we should be more conscious when it comes to racial issues, for every race. Laughing at racial jokes is fine—I do so myself—but we as a school need to establish what’s funny and what’s offensive. An open discussion about race, ethnicity and gender should be established. We need to learn more about our peers. This isn’t simply so as not to offend the few black students at Stuyvesant, but, instead, to create a better and more knowledgeable community from which everyone can benefit. When we leave Stuyvesant, we will no longer be placed in an environment with mostly two races, which is why we, the student body, should do all that we can to acknowledge and respect others, regardless of their ethnicity, lineage, or skin color.