Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Lois Weiner on Champions and Losers

Getting rid of the losers, like teachers who are “old and costly” and kids who are not “champions”

Lois Weiner
April 8, 2015

  A headline in a recent news story about Los Angeles teachers, calling the district’s teaching force “old and costly,” is a companion piece to the New York Times front page article about the Success Academy chain headed by Eva Moskowitz. Taken together these explain why teachers unions are being attacked so viciously and why the unions need to change gears and direction now. Once again, the Chicago Teachers Union leads the way in its new contract demands.

The Right and many liberals insist that improving teacher quality is the best way to end poverty. This line of reasoning is based on the assumption that governments are powerless - or ought not - interfere with the “right” to make profit in any way possible, including or especially in situations of dire emergency and human disaster, as Naomi Klein explains. Having succeeded in firing all of New Orlean’s teachers, mainly African American, after Katrina, to create the first all-charter school district in the nation, education “reformers” in both parties have gone after career teachers elsewhere. The aim, as this news article shows, is to eliminate experienced teachers who cost more. In so doing teaching is destroyed as a career and profession. To make that happen in a way that is seemingly objective, the project to marketize education, uses scores from standardized tests to evaluate teachers, tweaked to allow for differences in students’ characteristics in what is called “value added measures.”

We should have no illusions that these reforms will help all students achieve, the rhetoric that’s used to defend marketization and testing. In fact, the goal is to “blow up” (Chester Finn’s term) the system of public education created at the turn of the last century. From neoliberalism’s stand point, the system was not sufficiently Darwinian because of increased economic competition. The sorting of those who deserve good jobs and those who don’t has to begin in kindergarten. Parents who are desperate to make sure that their children will be among “the haves” with access to the rapidly diminishing number of good jobs the global economy offers submit their children to many practices that advantaged parents may not be willing to permit.

I want to caution that how kids learn and should be taught is not universal. I think that some white progressives are too quick to dismiss differences in teaching and learning that are related to cultural expectations, and I urge that we acknowledge that good teachers and parents can disagree about what works for kids, as older kids will disagree among themselves. There are, however, certain ground rules we have to insist upon, like behaviors that show we respect one another. As a teacher and teacher educator I think that respect is clearly missing in Success Academy’s practice of shaming low achievers by posting their scores to be seen by classmates and making their lives “misery.” I would urge parents not to send their children to a school that uses these practices. Respect is also missing in classrooms making poor kids of color obedient to teachers’ control of every bodily function, as occurs in prisons - preparation for what awaits students who don’t respond positively enough to the tactics of “champion” teachers who follow this prescription for good teaching.

Older teachers are often not considered “champions” because they have ideas borne of experience and education about how schools should operate, how they and students should be supported. They want wages sufficient to support a family and working conditions that allow them to spend time with their own children. They are “costly” not only in salary but in their potential, in their unions, collectively to challenge the authoritarianism that pervades schools.

An essential aspect of persuading parents to see alternatives to the dog-eat-dog competition to which they are told they must submit their children is for unions to do as the Chicago Teachers Union has in its latest contract proposals. The union is using the contract talks to challenge the school district and city about conditions in schools, administrative demands that rob kids of teachers' time, class size, as well as broader political issues of funding and fair taxation. In so doing the union supports parents and the public to see - and join with them in fighting for - a different vision of education, one in which we don’t have schools create a select group of “champions” and toss out the rest as disposable. The union has arrived at these demands through a bottom-up process and brings them to negotiations in a representative team of 50 members. In so doing, it models the democratic relations we need in schools and what teachers unions throughout this country need to do, pronto.

You can follow me on twitter and Facebook. If you haven't already, you may want to read my book aboutThe Future of Our Schools. If you’re in Chicago April 17-20, you can join researchers looking at what’s happening in teacher unionism. Info on the offerings are in the online program at, including two panels in which I am participating.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Aimee Sabo: G & T Kids With IEPs - Where Can They Be Placed?

Is there a place for G&T 

kids with IEPs?

by Aimee Sabo
There is no Integrated Co-Teaching class at Brooklyn School for Inquiry although most classrooms have at least two adults.
As the May 10 deadline for parents to rank gifted and talented applications approaches, one Insideschools message board became a hotbed of anxiety. “Do you know what G&T is supposed to do with kids who get accepted to a G&T school but have IEP's requiring ICT placement?” asked one parent. My son also has an IEP and is in ICT and is G&T. No place for him....” echoed another. The questions about inclusive gifted classes didn’t stop.
Parents want it, educators applaud it, and the DOE supports the idea—at least in theory. But a year after special education reform, there is still not a single combined G&T/ICT class in the city. No one seems to understand why.
"Twice exceptional” or "2e" kids are cognitively gifted children who also struggle with learning and attention disorders. Many of these students' Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) call for an Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) class, which has two teachers, one of whom is trained in special education. The special education reform rolled out in all schools last year is meant to allow students to attend their school of choice and still receive needed special services, including these team-taught classes.  
Like many administrators we spoke to, Assistant Principal Nicole Nelson of the progressive citywide G&T school Brooklyn School of Inquiry, was surprised but intrigued by the idea of a combination G&T/ICT class, though she didn’t see it happening any time soon. “Once a child is with us we stick with them,” she said of students needing learning support. “We hope to change their environment to make it work and if that involved an ICT and we had enough kids we would do it.” Principal Donna Taylor agrees. "If there were [ICT/G&T classes], I'd be first in line,” she said, pointing out that the admissions process doesn't enable grouping children with similar needs; first kids have to pass the G&T test and then they have to be chosen in the lottery.
But according to the Department of Education, there is no minimum number of special education students required for the creation of an ICT class. Just one is enough. Still, many schools do not want to pay for an extra teacher merely to satisfy a handful of IEPs.
Lack of direction from the DOE and plain old inertia contribute to the limited options for 2e kids, say some parents. Miriam*, the mother of a kindergartner at the G&T program at PS 32 in District 15 says the social worker at her son’s Turning 5 meeting insisted she had to remove the ICT requirement from her son’s IEP after he qualified for the gifted program last spring—misinformation that she believes is common. Many gifted schools counsel parents to change their child’s IEP to require a full-time paraprofessional instead of an ICT class, a practice that Principal Donny Lopez of PS 163 on the Upper West Side confirms is prevalent. "Schools will do the best to support what the IEP states, but if someone has the need for an ICT, sometimes these needs can be met by a one-to-one para. Schools will make accommodations." 
Another obstacle to the reform may be parent resistance, or at least the perception of it. “I could see parents having concerns,” said James Lark, a social worker at PS 166 in District 3. “G&T parents worship our program. I don’t know how amenable they would be in terms of an ICT program in conjunction with G&T.” For some incoming families the fear of prejudice toward their 2e kids is enough to forgo applying to gifted programs altogether.
Marci Shaw, the parent coordinator at The Anderson School, one of five citywide gifted schools, is not surprised by rumors of intolerance for special needs children at her school. As the mother of two Anderson graduates herself, one of whom struggled with learning issues, she denies these rumors adamantly. “Lots of kids here need extended time or have problems like dysgraphia. We don’t have a large number of kids with significant issues, but according to law, if someone has an IEP we are required to deal with it.”
Part of the problem, she said, is a lack of resources. Anderson doesn't have even a part-time special ed staff. “We’re really strapped,” she said. “When someone comes in with an IEP, between now and September it’s a scramble to find the money to hire therapists.”
Although the special education reforms have been in place for a year, administrators may need some time to catch up. How efficiently schools support 2e kids going forward will have a strong impact on their overall well-being, Dr. Daniela Montalto, a neuropsychologist at NYU’s Child Study Center, wrote via email. She explained that many 2e children lose confidence and have trouble making friends without adequate support. “These students are bright enough to know that something is impeding their abilities and often feel frustrated, angry or confused by their inability to show all that they know.” She added that the DOE should consider providing ICT classes for gifted children.
Sarah,* the mother of two elementary students at NEST+M (both with IEPs), has seen her son’s self-confidence suffer. She describes her 5th-grader as having high grades and being at the top of his class in math, although he needs a full-time paraprofessional to manage his behavior. “My son puts so much effort into his behavior and he has made progress. It’s not for lack of wanting to improve.” Still, she says the school tried to counsel him out before the recent special ed reforms were put in place. Administrators at NEST+M could not be reached to comment.
The effort of advocating for her son has taken a toll, emotionally and financially. “It’s one of the reasons I’m not working,” says Sarah, who makes a habit of attending citywide special education meetings, posting on2e message boards and speaking with DOE officials. Her tenacity with Deputy Chancellor Corinne Rello-Anselmi paid off when the DOE granted her son a behaviorist to work with him in school, a rare occurrence that she said was life changing while it lasted. The specialist has since quit.
When asked about the possibility of combination G&T/ICT classes, Rello-Anselmi’s office issued this statement: We are working to build the capacity of G&T programs to create programs to meet student needs, including ICT. The DOE encourages the participation of students with disabilities in our gifted and talented programs. All of our schools, including those with G&T programs, work to meet the needs of students with IEPs in the least restrictive environment appropriate for them. We are committed to promoting student achievement by ensuring that students have the supports they need to succeed.”
For many 2e parents, this isn’t enough.
“I’ve formed the opinion that to really get G&T/ICT classes to work, the DOE should probably start a couple in several central schools that currently have both G&T classes and ICT classes. So the administration has expertise delivering both,” said Sarah, adding that these schools could serve as models for other programs. “I think one thing hindering the reform is that parents don’t want their kids to be guinea pigs.”
Evie Rabeck, parent of a 3rd-grader with an IEP at the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, agrees. “I always thought what my kid needed would have been a G&T/ICT class.” Although Rabeck has been pleased with her son’s progress at the school, which she says has been welcoming and supportive from the start, she says it’s up to parents to make things happen. “The system does not support these kids. Every parent has to be a noisy, loud, obnoxious super-advocate for what their child needs. It’s a fight. I’m a little tired of fighting, but it’s a fight."
Parents who would like to learn more about their rights and what the DOE is doing to advocate for 2e children, should email Deputy Chancellor Corinne Rello-Anselmi’s office Parents may also wish to contact the advocacy group Resources for Children with Special Needs or post their comments here.
*Parent requested that her real name not be used to protect anonymity.

Special Education TeacherSupport ServicesIndependent Provider Registry 

"Dark Money" and Access To Power

Secretly Buying Access to a Governor

Addicted to each other’s power and money, the political parties and their corporate donors are constantly trying to enlarge their relationship out of sight of the American public. An accidental Internet disclosure last month showed that the stealthy form of political corruption known as “dark money” now fully permeates governor’s offices around the country, allowing corporations to push past legal barriers and gather enormous influence.

This has been going on nationally for several years, of course, after wealthy interests claimed that a series of legal decisions allowed them to give unlimited and undisclosed amounts to “social welfare” groups that pretended not to engage in politics. (The tax code prohibits these groups from having politics as a primary purpose.) Now it turns out that both the Republican and Democratic governors’ associations have also set up social welfare groups — known in the tax code as 501(c)(4) associations — with the purpose of raising secret political money.

Thanks to the computer slip, discovered by the liberal group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, we now know some of the people and corporations that secretly contributed to the Republican organization, known as the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee. The names are familiar and include executives of the Southern Company, the big utility; the Edison Electric Institute, which represents power companies; Aetna, WellPoint and several Blue Cross affiliates, all large health insurers; Amplify, Rupert Murdoch’s education sales division; and multiple lobbyists.

In exchange for their private donations, “members” of this group were invited to a symposium last year on energy, education, health care, the environment and other issues at the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif. There they were allowed to meet with (and lobby) some of the highest-ranking officials and regulators in states with Republican governors — the people who make big decisions on regulating utilities, setting environmental standards, and determining education policies.

Executives who made public donations to the Republican Governors Association (which is not a social welfare group and has to disclose its contributors) also were allowed to attend. Companies that gave at the highest level (more than $250,000) included Exxon Mobil, the

Corrections Corporation of America, Pfizer and the Koch companies. The documents say big donors are given “the greatest opportunity possible to meet and talk informally with the Republican governors and their key staff members.”

The Democratic Governors Association does exactly the same thing, regularly providing accessto top state executives in exchange for large contributions. It remains unclear, however, who is giving money to the Democratic association’s secret money group, which is camouflaged as the Center for Innovative Policy. (Not to be confused with the Center for Policy Innovation, which is run by the Heritage Foundation.)

There’s absolutely no legal justification for any political party to have a social welfare group, which exists solely as a vehicle for nervous donors who want to stay in the shadows. But whether the money is secret or disclosed, both parties are routinely selling access to the nation’s governors and their staffs to those with the most resources. Those without a checkbook can stay in the back of the line.

Sarah Henderson on Laughter and Learning

Sarah Henderson: Laughter and Learning: Humor Boosts Retention

Sarah Henderson

E.B. White famously quipped, "Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process." At the risk of committing some sort of "humor-cide," a type of scientific dissection must take place if teachers are to consider harnessing the powerful effects of humor, not only to increase joy and enhance the classroom environment, but also to improve learner outcomes.

The Funny Bone Is Connected to the Sense of Wonder

Teachers understand that humor is inherently social. How many times have you heard that same "Orange who?" knock-knock joke spread through your classroom? The contagious nature of humor naturally builds a sense of community (PDF, 731KB) by lowering defenses and bringing individuals together. If the brain is faced with an inconsistency, then laughter is the response when it is resolved in an unexpected way. This sentence, "Memorization is what we resort to when what we are learning makes no sense," may make us smile as our brains resolve its inconsistency.
Essentially, humor activates our sense of wonder, which is where learning begins, so it seems logical that humor could enhance retention. A Pew Research poll showed that viewers of humorous news shows such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report exhibited higher retention of news facts than those who got their news from newspapers, CNN, Fox News, or network stations. When Stephen Colbert demands, "If we don't cut expensive things like Head Start, child nutritionprograms, and teachers, what sort of future are we leaving for our children?", viewers laugh and also retain the knowledge of that specific budget issue.
A substantial body of research explains why we remember things that make us laugh, such as our favorite, hilarious high school moment or the details of that funny movie we saw last weekend. Neuroscience research reveals that humor systematically activates the brain's dopamine reward system, and cognitive studies show that dopamine is important for both goal-oriented motivation and long-term memory, whileeducational research indicates that correctly-used humor can be an effective intervention to improve retention in students from kindergarten through college.

Foolishness as a Tool

What does "correctly used" mean? Let’s take a closer look at some of the classroom research to find out. In one study, researchers asked nearly 400 college students to document their teachers' appropriate or inappropriate use of humor, their effectiveness as teachers, and how students perceived the humor. The results of this study showed that related, appropriate humor resulted in increased retention, while inappropriate, cruel, or unrelated humor did not. The study also discovered that humor can be perceived and appreciated without improving retention -- essentially, the student can think a teacher is "funny" but not show an improvement in retention. So, just being silly may get your students' attention, but may not lead to better retention. These researchers concluded that for improved retention, appropriate, topic-related instructional humor is most effective.
"According to recent surveys, 51 percent of the people are in the majority.” Did that statistics joke make you smile? Statistics may not be the first field that comes to mind when you think of content-related humor, but researchers wondered if humor could increase retention even in typically "dry"courses. In this study, college students listened to statistics lectures with and without content-related humor. They were then tested over the material and completed surveys regarding their enjoyment of the lectures. The test and survey results showed that retention was strongest in the lectures with content-related humor, and that students reported more enjoyment in the experience.

Age-Appropriate Humor

What about using humor with adolescents? If the idea of using humor in front of a classroom of judgmental teenagers makes you more nervous than a rookie teacher in his or her first parent-teacher conference, consider the researchshowing that adolescents tend to release more dopamine and have more dopamine receptors than adults. Because of their hyper-responsive dopamine reward system, adolescents may be uniquely primed to react positively to educational humor. Try telling a funny story or allowing your students to come up with humorous examples in their projects or discussions.Teach Like a Pirate has some great ideas for enhancing the humor in a high school classroom.
The children's TV show Sesame Street has harnessed the power of humor for decades. If you were asked to recall something from watching Sesame Street as a child, could you? Most likely, yes. You may remember Grover's silly antics, Mr. Noodles' constant confusion, or Big Bird struggling to get his friends to believe Mr. Snuffleupagus was real. That's why researchers chose Sesame Street episodes to test the impact of humor on retention and engagement in young children. Kindergarten and first grade students watched either a humorous or non-humorous Sesame Streetsegment. When content was tested, the children who watched the humorous segments scored higher and showed better engagement than the control group. Their engagement transferred even to the non-humorous portions of the lessons, resulting in improved retention throughout.
Here are some research-supported tips for using humor to increase retention:


  • Use humor to enhance classroom joy
  • Use humor to develop a sense of community
  • Use content-related humor
  • Use age-appropriate humor
  • "Sandwich" humor between instruction and repetition.


  • Sarcasm
  • Cruel or inappropriate humor
  • Forced humor
  • Off-topic humor
  • Too much humor.

About That Frog. . .

To sum up, we can turn to a meta-analysis of 40 years of educational humor research indicating that humor increases the strength of human connections, and that non-aggressive, relevant, appropriate humor appears to be a helpful learning tool. It seems to be particularly useful to sandwich humor between instruction and repetition. The authors of this meta-analysis caution that not everyone is naturally humorous, so educators shouldn't force it. Watching someone struggle to be funny is a very awkward experience and can defeat the purpose. Developmental differences must also be considered, as younger students may find irony, sarcasm, and exaggeration difficult to understand.
Although we may have slaughtered the proverbial frog in this analysis, these studies indicate that the use of appropriate, content-specific humor to reinforce concepts can be a positive tool to improve retention. Educators can utilize humor's systematic activation of the dopamine reward system to reinforce the brain's pathways to new knowledge.
Have you noticed humor-enhanced retention in your classroom?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Zero Tolerance as a School Disciplinary Policy is Not Effective

The Opinion Pages | EDITORIAL

Backing Away From Zero Tolerance

Students entering their Chicago high school
Schools across the country are rightly backing away from “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies under which children are suspended for minor misbehavior that once would have been dealt with by the principal and the child’s parents or with a modest punishment like detention. The schools are being pushed in this direction by studies showing: that suspensions do nothing to improve the school climate; that children who are thrown out are at greater risk of low achievement and becoming entangled with the juvenile justice system; and that minority children are disproportionately singled out for the harshest, most damaging disciplinary measures.
A new study of Chicago public schools by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research shows that the trend is beginning to take hold there as well. Beginning in 2009, the district started using policies that were intended to cut down on suspensions and expulsions by solving garden-variety disciplinary problems within the school walls. Among these was the Culture of Calm initiative through which high schools stepped up counseling and introduced a peer-driven system for student juries to mediate disputes that might otherwise have led to fights and suspensions.
Judging from suspension data, the initiatives seem to be working. In the 2013-14 school year, for example, 16 percent of high school students received an out-of-school suspension, down from 23 percent in 2008-9. Over the same period, both high school students and high school teachers have reported in surveys that their schools felt much safer, less disruptive and more orderly.
While these data are promising, out-of-school-suspension rates in the district are still too high, particularly for at-risk students. For example, 24 percent of high school students with a disability and 27 percent of the lowest-performing high school students received out-of-school suspensions in 2013-14. Suspension rates for African-American boys were unacceptably high, with a third of them receiving at least one out-of-school suspension that year.
Principals and teachers are clearly doing a better job of resolving disciplinary problems without excluding children from school. But schools serving the highest-risk students clearly need more support services and training to help those children as well.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Peggy Noonan: Hillary Clinton And Emailgate. Again

Stuck in Scandal Land

As long as she is in public life, Hillary will protect and serve herself.

Doesn’t the latest Hillary Clinton scandal make you want to throw up your hands and say:Do we really have to do this again? Do we have to go back there? People assume she is our next president. We are defining political deviancy down.
The scandal this week is that we have belatedly found out, more than two years after she left the office of secretary of state, that throughout Mrs. Clinton’s four-year tenure she did not conduct official business through the State Department email system. She had her own private email addresses and her own private Internet domain, on her own private server at one of her own private homes, in Chappaqua, N.Y. Which means she had, and has, complete control of the emails. If a journalist filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking to see emails of the secretary of state, the State Department had nothing to show. If Congress asked to see them, State could say there was nothing to see. (Two months ago, on the request of State, Mrs. Clinton turned over a reported 55,000 pages of her emails. She and her private aides apparently got to pick which ones.)
Is it too much to imagine that Mrs. Clinton wanted to conceal the record of her communications as America’s top diplomat because she might have been doing a great deal of interesting work in those emails, not only with respect to immediate and unfolding international events but with respect to those who would like to make a positive impression on the American secretary of state by making contributions to the Clinton Foundation, which not only funds many noble causes but is the seat of operations of Clinton Inc. and its numerous offices, operatives, hangers-on and campaign-in-waiting?
What a low and embarrassing question. It is prompted by last week’s scandal—that the Clinton Foundation accepted foreign contributions during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. It is uncomfortable to ask such questions, but that’s the thing with the Clintons, they always make you go there.
The mainstream press is all over the story now that it has blown. It’s odd that it took so long. Everyone at State, the White House, and the rest of the government who received an email from the secretary of state would have seen where it was coming from—a nongovernmental address. You’d think someone would have noticed.
With the exception of the moment Wednesday when a hardy reporter from TMZ actually went to an airport and shouted a query at Mrs. Clinton—it was just like the old days of journalism, with a stakeout and shouted queries—Mrs. Clinton hasn’t been subjected to any questions from the press. She’ll slide, she’ll glide, she’ll skate. (With TMZ she just walked on, smiling.)
Opinion Journal Video
Best of the Web Today Columnist James Taranto on the news that Hillary Clinton used a personal email account to conduct State Department business. Photo credit: Getty Images.
Why would she ignore regulations to opt out of the State email system? We probably see the answer in a video clip posted this week on Buzzfeed. Mrs. Clinton, chatting with a supporter at a fundraiser for her 2000 Senate campaign, said: “As much as I’ve been investigated and all of that, you know, why would I . . . ever want to do email?”
But when you’re secretary of state you have to. So she did it her way, with complete control. It will make it harder, if not impossible, for investigators.
The press is painting all this as a story about how Mrs. Clinton, in her love for secrecy and control, has given ammunition to her enemies. But that’s not the story. The story is that this is what she does, and always has. The rules apply to others, not her. She’s special, entitled, exempt from the rules—the rules under which, as the Federalist reports, the State Department in 2012 forced the resignation of a U.S. ambassador, “in part for setting up an unsanctioned private e-mail system.”
Why doesn’t the legacy press swarm her on this? Because she is political royalty. They are used to seeing her as a regal, queenly figure. They’ve been habituated to understand that Mrs. Clinton is not to be harried, not to be subjected to gotcha questions or impertinent grilling. She is a Democrat, a star, not some grubby Republican governor from nowhere. And they don’t want to be muscled by her spokesmen. The wildly belligerent Philippe Reines sends reporters insulting, demeaning emails if they get out of line. He did it again this week. It is effective in two ways. One is that it diverts attention from his boss, makes Mr. Reines the story, and in the process makes her look comparatively sane. The other is that reporters don’t want a hissing match with someone who implies he will damage them. They can’t afford to be frozen out. She’s probably the next president: Their careers depend on access.
But how will such smash-mouth tactics play the next four, five years?
Back to the questions at the top of the column.
Sixteen years ago, when she was first running for the Senate, I wrote a book called “The Case Against Hillary Clinton.” I waded through it all—cattle futures, Travelgate, the lost Rose law firm records, women slimed as bimbos, foreign campaign cash, the stealth and secrecy that marked the creation of the health-care plan, Monica, the vast right-wing conspiracy. As I researched I remembered why, four years into the Clinton administration, the New York Times columnist William Safire called Hillary “a congenital liar . . . compelled to mislead, and to ensnare her subordinates and friends in a web of deceit.”
Do we have to go through all that again?
In 1992 the Clintons were new and golden. Now, so many years later, their reputation for rule breaking and corruption is so deep, so assumed, that it really has become old news. And old news isn’t news.
An aspect of the story goes beyond criticism of Mrs. Clinton and gets to criticism of us. A generation or two ago, a person so encrusted in a reputation for scandal would not be considered a possible presidential contender. She would be ineligible. Now she is inevitable.
What happened? Why is her party so in her thrall?
She’s famous? The run itself makes you famous. America didn’t know who Jack Kennedy was in 1959; in 1961 he was king of the world. The same for Obama in ’08.
Money? Sure she’s the superblitz shock-and-awe queen of fundraising, but pretty much any Democrat in a 50/50 country would be able to raise what needs to be raised.
She’s a woman? There are other women in the Democratic Party.
She’s inevitable? She was inevitable in 2008. Then, suddenly, she was evitable.
Her talent is for survival. This on its own terms is admirable and takes grit. But others have grit. As for leadership, she has a sharp tactical sense but no vision, no overall strategic sense of where we are and where we must go.
What is freezing the Democrats is her mystique. But mystique can be broken. A nobody called Obama broke hers in 2008.
Do we really have to return to Scandal Land? It’s what she brings wherever she goes. And it’s not going to stop.

There are 1381 comments.
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Anthony Swenson
Anthony Swenson2 hours ago
No one is going to pay $200,000 for a 15-minute canned speech or buy 100,000 copies of her book and send two to every library in the country unless they think they're buying access to the next POTUS. Hillary! will keep the myth alive as long as she can to claim one last Big Payday, but it's telling that this supposedly tough and experienced politician avoids the Media like the plague and can only appear in carefully controlled venues.

Up close and personal she has all the charm of a pit viper and it sounds like she has quite a drinking problem as well.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Teachers of Conscience: Reforms and the "Thinking Curriculum"

Teachers of Conscience Position Paper

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Reforms and the “Thinking Curriculum”

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
- Paulo Friere, Pedagogy Of The Oppressed
We have patiently taught under the policies of market-based education reforms and have long since concluded that they constitute a subversion of the democratic ideals of public education. Policymakers have adopted the reforms of business leaders and economists without consideration for the diverse stakeholders whose participation is necessary for true democratic reform. We have neglected an important debate on the purpose and promise of public education while students have been subjected to years of experimental and shifting high-stakes tests with no proven correlation between those tests and future academic success. The tests have been routinely flawed in design and scoring, and do not meaningfully inform classroom instruction. Test scores have also been misapplied to the evaluation of teachers and schools, creating a climate of sanctions that is misguided and unsupportive.
In your first speech as Chancellor, you spoke of the importance of critical thinking, or a “thinking curriculum” in education. We know you to be a proponent of critical pedagogy, part of the progressive education tradition. As teachers, we hold critical thinking and critical literacies in highest regard. As professionals, we resolve to not be passive consumers of education marketing or unthinking implementers of unproven policy reforms. We believe critical thinking, artistry, and democracy to be among the cornerstones of public education. We want creative, “thinking” students who are equipped to be the problem solvers of today and tomorrow; equipped to tackle our most vexing public problems: racial and economic disparity, discrimination, homelessness, hunger, violence, environmental degradation, public health, and all other problems foreseen and unforeseen. We want students to love learning and to be insatiable in their inquiries. However, it is a basic truism of classroom life and sound pedagogy that institutional policies should reflect the values and habits of mind we intend to impart on our students. It becomes incongruous, therefore, to charge our students to think critically and question, while burdening our schools with policies that frustrate teachers’ efforts to implement a “thinking curriculum,” perpetuating historic inequalities in public education.

The “Crisis of Education” and a Crisis of Pedagogy

Business leaders and economists have used reductive arguments to identify a “crisis of education” while branding educational success words such as achievement, effectiveness, and performance as synonymous with standardized test scores. The majority of education policy decisions are now guided by test scores, making standardized tests an indispensable product. Market-based reforms have been an excellent model of corporate demand creation–branding the disease and selling the cure. Stanford education professor Linda-Darling Hammond described policymakers’ mistaken reliance on standardized tests when she wrote, “There is a saying that American students are the most tested, and the least examined, of any in the world. We test students in the U.S. far more than any other nation, in the mistaken belief that testing produces greater learning.”
The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

For-Profit Standardized Tests as Snake Oil

The keystone of market-based reforms–highly dependent on the mining and misuse of quantifiable data–has been the outsourcing of standardized test production to for-profit education corporations. In New York State, a single British-based corporation, Pearson PLC, manages standardized testing for grades 3-8, gifted and talented testing, college-based exams for prospective teachers, and New York State teacher certification exams. Contracts currently held by Pearson include: $32.1 million five-year contract, which began in 2011, for the creation of English Language Arts and Math assessments; $6.2 million three-year contract in 2012 to create an online education data portal; $1 million five-year contract, which began in 2010, to create and administer field tests; $200,000 contract through the Office of General Services for books and materials.
Pearson’s management of testing in New York has resulted in a series of high-profile errors. In 2012, questions pertaining to an 8th grade ELA passage about a pineapple and a hare had to be thrown out after they were found to be nonsensical. It was also discovered that test questions had been previously used by Pearson in other state exams. In total, 29 questions had to be eliminated from the tests that year, prompting New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch to comment, “The mistakes that have been revealed are really disturbing. What happens here as a result of these mistakes is that it makes the public at large question the efficacy of the state testing system.” That same year, 7,000 elementary and middle school students were banned from their graduation ceremonies after they were mistakenly recorded as having failed their state tests.
In 2013, a version of the ELA state test for eighth graders contained a reading passage that was included in test prep materials published by Pearson, giving schools that had purchased those materials an unfair advantage. The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project established a website following the 2013 ELA tests to solicit feedback from teachers. Teachers widely criticized Pearson’s interpretation of Common Core standards for the close reading of nonfiction texts. Teachers also cited many instances of poorly worded, confusing, and unanswerable questions as well as widespread reports of students running out of time. Also, in 2013, Pearson made three errors in scoring tests for gifted and talented programs resulting in 2,700 students being mistakenly told that they were ineligible. A month later, a second errorwas found, qualifying an additional 300 students for seats.
Aside from testing errors, Pearson has been accused of violating state law. In December, Pearson reached a $7.7 million settlement with the New York State Attorney General’s office after it was revealed that its charity, the Pearson Foundation, was used to seek an endorsements and donations from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a series of courses based on Common Core Learning Standards. Pearson intended to sell the courses commercially, profiting from the endorsements.

Standardization and the Privatization of Public Education

The blurring of foundation and corporate purposes has been quite common in the era of market-based education reform. The Broad, Walton, and Bill & Melinda Gates foundations are often cited as the super-funders of the reforms. The Gates Foundation was the primary underwriter for the development of the Common Core State Standards. National standardization is a primary goal of the reforms because it creates an incentive for private investment. The diversity of the American system of education creates disparate markets and reformers are well-aware of the problems it poses for investment.
Educational disparity, not standardization, has been a distinguishing characteristic of the American Education system along with the enduring effects of school segregation and inequality. Standards and learning objectives have varied widely by state and even school district. The educational philosophies and specializations of individual schools are similarly diverse, as are the instructional practices of teachers. There is potential strength in a diverse school system that is also able to provide equitable resources and reconcile the ills of school segregation–a school system that can adapt to the diverse needs of communities at a local level and innovate. But educational diversity makes the widespread adoption of standardized products infeasible. From their inception, Common Core Learning Standards have been heralded as an opportunity for privatization and the standardization of educational products. Bill Gates offered thisexplanation to the National Conference of State Legislatures in 2009:
When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better. Imagine having the people who create electrifying video games applying their intelligence to online tools that pull kids in and make algebra fun.
In a 2011 Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled The Steve Jobs Model For Education Reform, Rupert Murdoch presented a similar perspective:
Everything we need to do is possible now. But the investments the private sector needs to make will not happen until we have a clear answer to a basic question: What is the core body of knowledge our children need to know?
I don’t pretend to be an expert on academic standards. But as a business leader, I do know something about how common standards unlock investment and unleash innovation. For example, once we established standards for MP3 and Wi-Fi, innovators had every incentive to invest their brains and capital in building the very best products compatible with those standards.
In all, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core standards. Such sweeping national alignment on standardization is unprecedented in an educational system built on state and local control. Federal law prohibits the federal government from prescribing curriculum, so it is uncommon that federal policies would succeed in influencing national standardization and curriculum. However, states eagerly adopted the “voluntary” Common Core standards along with test-centric policies to compete for $4.35 billion in “Race to the Top” federal funding. New York state was awarded the largest portion of the funding at $700 million. Considering that New York City’s annual education budget alone is $24.8 billion, the one-time award of $700 million was a small price for the federal government to pay in order to enshrine Common Core standards, data systems, “value-added” teacher evaluations, and test-centric curriculum in our state education laws.

Unlocking Investment: Public Tax Dollars and Private Vendors

With Common Core standards “voluntarily” endorsed by a large market of 45 states, education corporations are “investing” as foretold by Gates and Murdoch. New York State recently spent $28 million in Race To The Top federal taxpayer dollars to have four companies develop Math and English Language Arts curriculum. $14 million of the $28 million was awarded to a company called Common Core Inc. to develop Common Core aligned math curriculum. The curriculum was incomplete at the start of the 2013-2014 school year. Although the curriculum was designed for New York, its Common Core-based content is applicable to all states that have adopted the standards, making it possible for the company to resell its content to other states.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has taken further steps to make public education, and education tax dollars, accessible to corporations by mining student data. The Gates foundation, with co-sponsorship from the Carnegie foundation, spent $100 million to create InBloom, a cloud database to store student’s private data with the hope that it would become the clearinghouse for mining data across Common Core invested states. Nine states, including New York, originally agreed to participate, but amid privacy concerns, all of the states except New York have withdrawn. In November, twelve public school parents filed a lawsuit seeking a restraining order to prevent student data from being uploaded. The State Superior Court heard the case on January 10, 2014.

Common Core Reforms and Skirting Democracy

Common Core is a privately funded and privately managed initiative, despite being branded as a “state-led effort” involving “content experts, teachers, researchers and others.” The design and the adoption of the standards lacked adequate public involvement and was not subjected to legislative oversight. Despite claims of college and career readiness, the standards remain experimental–there is no guarantee of future success. The most significant flaw in the design process was the exclusion of early childhood education experts. Edward Miller and Nancy Carlsson-Paige reviewed the committees formed to write and review the Common Core standards and found that not a single early childhood teacher or expert was involved. They also noted that public comments on the standards were redacted and do not reflect strong objections from early childhood educators and researchers. For example, in 2010, more than 500 early childhood professionals signed the Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals, which stated:
We have grave concerns about the core standards for young children now being written by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The draft standards made public in January conflict with compelling new research in cognitive science, neuroscience, child development, and early childhood education about how young children learn, what they need to learn, and how best to teach them in kindergarten and the early grades.
The statement raised concerns that Common Core would lead to a new series of standardized tests for younger grades, which they characterized as “unreliable and inappropriate.” At the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, parents at Castle Bridge Elementary school in Washington Heights refused to have their children subjected to a series of new standardized tests based on the Common Core. Parents wrote, “To the city and state Departments of Education: testing K–2 children is not acceptable and developmentally inappropriate, excessive, and destructive.”
Castle Bridge’s act of civil disobedience is a logical response to a state Education Department that has proven obstinate to dissenting opinion while, themselves, pursuing policies that skirt the democratic process. Letters have been written, petitions signed, and forums held, but there have been few signs of democratic representation. In reference to a dissent-laden listening tour, State Commission John King concluded, “I think the debate about whether we need higher standards is a settled debate. It is really a question of how do we continue to support people through the implementation.” In other words, the state’s adoption of Common Core along with its accompanying tests and curriculum–the Board of Regent’s choice package of “higher” albeit untested standards–is a settled debate, and teachers are expected to be dutiful implementers.

The Voices of Dissent

In April of 2013, Veteran teacher Gerald J. Conti, a social studies teacher at Westhill High School in Syracuse, New York, became fed up with playing the role of dutiful implementer and submitted his letter of resignation. In the letter, he cited Common Core and incessant high-stakes testing as creating an “atmosphere of distrust” and a “dramatic and rapid decaying of morale.” He concluded, “After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists.” In a letter to her 8th grade students, veteran 8th grade teacher, Ruth Ann Dandrea, described the 2012 New York State ELA test as “a test you need to fail.” In characterizing the pedagogical dilemma teachers find themselves in as test administrators, she addressed her students directly: “Continue to question. I applaud you, sample writer: When asked the either/or question, you began your response, “Honestly, I think it is both.” You were right, and you were brave, and the test you were taking was neither.”
Another educator, Carol Burris, has been consistent in her dissent from market-based reforms. She is Principal of Southside High School in the Rockville Centre School District and was named Educator of the Year in 2010 and High School Principal of the Year in 2013 by the School Administrators Association of New York State. In response to the outcomes of the 2013 state tests, she and seven of her colleagues wrote an open letter to parents and children of New York State that was co-signed by 545 principals and 3,000 additional supporters. The authors wrote candidly about what is known and unknown about the state testing program.
Please know that we, your school principals, care about your children and will continue to do everything in our power to fill their school days with learning that is creative, engaging, challenging, rewarding and joyous. We encourage you to dialogue with your child’s teachers so that you have real knowledge of his skills and abilities across all areas. If your child scored poorly on the test, please make sure that he does not internalize feelings of failure. We believe that the failure was not on the part of our children, but rather with the officials of the New York State Education Department. These are the individuals who chose to recklessly implement numerous major initiatives without proper dialogue, public engagement or capacity building. They are the individuals who have failed.
That same coalition of principals wrote a scathing critique of the Annual Professional Performance Review legislation (APPR), which based principal and teacher evaluations on student’s test scores using value-added modeling. The letter was signed by 1,539 principals, over one third of all principals in New York State, along with over 6,100 supporters.
We, Principals of New York State schools, concluded that the proposed APPR process is an unproven system that is wasteful of increasingly limited resource. More importantly, it will prove to be deeply demoralizing to educators and harmful to children in our care. Our students are more than the sum of their tests scores, and an overemphasis on test scores will not result in better learning.
A group of eight “Teachers of The Year” in New York wrote a separate letter to the Board of Regents, voicing similar concerns:
It is with sadness, pain and frustration that we write this letter. We, the undersigned New York State Teachers of the Year, are deeply concerned about recent changes to the State Education Department’s Annual Professional Performance Review system. These changes, while politically popular, will neither improve schools nor increase student learning; rather, they will cause tangible harm to students and teachers alike.
Carol Burris initiated a petition to Governor Cuomo and the state legislature calling for a moratorium on high-stakes testing. The letter received 14,100 signatures.
We, the undersigned, support higher standards that are reasonably designed, implemented with care, and accompanied by the resources schools need to achieve them. The New York State testing program has undermined the implementation of higher standards, by creating a test-driven environment that does not serve our children well. High stakes testing continues to waste precious taxpayer dollars and student learning time. It is time to say, “no more”.
Many educational researches have been highly critical of market-based education reforms. Distinguished education professor Linda Darling-Hammond has authored numerous articles pointing to the harm that reforms have done to the teaching profession, including “Value Added Evaluation Hurts Teaching.” She cited studies from the National Research Council, the RAND Corporation, and the Educational Testing Service that recommend against using standardized test scores in the form of value-added modeling to make high-stakes decisions about students, teachers, and principals. In April 2013, The Economic Policy Institute released a report titled “Market-oriented education reforms’ rhetoric trumps reality,” which examined reforms in Washington D.C., New York, and Chicago. The authors concluded that reformers in those cities had made false claims regarding rising test scores and had failed to deliver on promises to close the widening achievement gap. They concluded that the practical impact of reforms had, in some cases, undermined stated objectives.
As discussed in this report, increasing the science, technology, and engineering components of STEM education to produce more engineers and computer programmers is difficult when raising reading and math scores assume such high priority, and thus crowd out other subjects. The same is true of other higher-order critical thinking and creativity required to forge productive workers and good citizens; attaching high stakes to tests that assess basic skills all but guarantees that more complex learning falls by the wayside.
The report’s authors wrote that market-oriented reforms are “no match for the complex, poverty-related problems they seek to solve.” They explained that the reforms have harmed students that have historically been marginalized in publics education.
It is students in under-resourced schools, who have lost literature and poetry to vocabulary drills and seen their curricula stripped of art, music, and physical education to make room for increased test preparation, who are most likely to see their schools shuttered when their test scores do not rise quickly enough.
The Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago studied the effects of school closures on displaced students. One of the underlying beliefs of market-based reform is that test scores will spur competition among schools and that subsequent under-enrollment and under-performance will justify school closures. Students in under-performing schools will have the “choice” to attend higher-performing schools. Researchers found that, of the schools closed in Chicago between 2001 and 2006, only 6 percent of displaced students were able to attend schools that had test scores in the top quartile. In addition, researchers found that student’s test scores dropped with the announcement of school closings and that the effects on their learning in subsequent years was neither negative nor positive. In 2013, Chicago slated 54 schools for closure, the largest group of schools to be shut down in recent history.
In the February 2012, distinguished education historian Diane Ravitch expressed her indignation at New York State’s decision to release teachers’ value-added ratings by writing an article titled “How To Demoralize Teachers”:
No one will be a better teacher because of these actions. Some will leave this disrespected profession—which is daily losing the trappings of professionalism, the autonomy requisite to be considered a profession. Some will think twice about becoming a teacher. And children will lose the good teachers, the confident teachers, the energetic and creative teachers, they need.
Diane Ravitch was one of 1,100 professors to sign an open letter to the New York State Board of Regents calling for an end to the state’s over reliance on high-stakes testing.
As lifelong educators and researchers, from across the State of New York, we strongly oppose New York State’s continued reliance on high stakes standardized testing in public schools as the primary criterion for assessing student achievement, evaluating teacher effectiveness, and determining school quality.
In October, 121 children’s book authors and illustrators sent a letter to President Obama expressing their concern over high-stakes testing. Among them, Maya Angelou, Judy Blume, and Jane Yolen:
We the undersigned children’s book authors and illustrators write to express our concern for our readers, their parents and teachers. We are alarmed at the negative impact of excessive school testing mandates, including your Administration’s own initiatives, on children’s love of reading and literature. Recent policy changes by your Administration have not lowered the stakes. On the contrary, requirements to evaluate teachers based on student test scores impose more standardized exams and crowd out exploration.

Education Doublespeak and the Marketing of Common Core Reforms

We have included a few examples of the efforts of parents, teachers, principals, researchers, and authors to enter into a democratic debate on market-based reforms. Appointed education leaders who have traveled the revolving door of private foundations, charter school initiatives, and corporate consultancies, have stifled democratic debate by marketing their reforms with the same tenacity that they have used to divert public funds to the corporate vendors and monied circles that they owe their positions to. The marketing is grounded in doublespeak. Words like success, achievement, rigor, and 21st Century Learning are touted so often by reformers that their substance becomes obscured. In the paradigm of market-based reform, students’ achievement on for-profit bubble tests is the only metric for claiming success. The pathway to so-called “success” is so narrow, therefore, that policymakers, parents, teachers, and principals have been lulled into compliance.
Policymakers who invest in the data sheets of testing corporations are heralded as paving the way for “21st Century Learning.” Principals who organize their school’s curriculum around testing data will be labeled “bold school leaders” and escape sanctions. Teachers who implement pre-packaged test-centric curriculum and view children through the lens of testing data will keep their jobs. Parents who accept corporations as educational gatekeepers will comply with testing to preserve their child’s chances of promotion or a desired school placement. In such a system, high-stakes tests become a deity of manufactured educational opportunity rather than a tool for fostering teaching, learning, and human development. It is a system dependent on compliance, measured predictability, and public tax dollars for private profit.

The Consequences of a School System That Devalues Teachers

We are acting on our conscience, built on years of experience teaching young people. In reaction to this position paper it is likely that some will characterize our choices as a betrayal of high standards, an endorsement of “watered-down” curricula, or cynically as an attempt to escape teacher evaluations and “accountability.” In a different national climate, the character and credibility of individuals who leveled those charges would be questioned. Regrettably, the denigration of teachers has become commonplace among proponents of market-based reforms, with little forethought as to the regrettable consequences that come to a school system that devalues its teachers. Teachers are motivated and guided daily by students, which is a type of accountability that is seldom understood by policymakers who have not devoted their careers to teaching. We are skilled curriculum developers and it is our ability to create curriculum that is standards based, yet responsive to our students, that distinguishes us as professionals.
Critics may view us as irresponsible for dismissing Common Core tests without proposing an “alternative” to take its place. Parents may ask, ‘But don’t we need a way to know how our students measure up?’ Historically, the use of standardized tests for the purpose of ranking and sorting students has acted to reproduce and normalize inequality rather than challenge it. Standardized testing depends on a reductionist logic that falsely attributes test scores to innate ability or merit on a “level playing field.” The claim that standardized tests can act as a tool or benchmark for addressing inequality contradicts its theoretical underpinnings and historical applications. Nicholas Lemann, Dean of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, aptly stated, “Tests tend to reproduce, not upend, social hierarchies. Everybody is always looking for the test on which people from different races and classes do the same, but it doesn’t exist.”
Teachers assess students daily to inform instruction and curriculum design. Without assessment, teachers would be adrift in their relationships with students. There are numerous, more refined assessment tools and observation techniques at our disposal. Some schools use collectively designed Performance Based Assessment Tasks, portfolio-based assessments, roundtable presentations of student work to a panel of judges, or various long-term interdisciplinary assessments to measure students’ strengths, weaknesses, and growth. Schools that use these methods of assessment typically point to their flexibility, authenticity, real-world applicability, and to the high level of student and community buy-in and engagement they elicit as benefits. These types of assessment are particularly valuable in more accurately assessing English Language Learners, students with disabilities, and students with “test anxiety.” It is through flexibility in assessment and our strong relationships with students that we come to know them as learners. The possibility for diverse assessment tools will not diminish with the exclusion of unrefined and misapplied for-profit Common Core tests. In the end, this is not a debate over whether or not students will be assessed, but rather whom policymakers trust with knowing students and planning for their learning. Policymakers can choose to outsource that responsibility to the inept data-factories of education corporations, or support teachers in assessing students in authentic ways and developing quality curricula. Teachers are by no means a panacea for the societal ills that we have outlined in this position paper, but when faced with a classroom of creative and inquisitive minds, one cannot help but feel hopeful that some measure of societal change is possible.

A Call to Preserve Public Education

We have observed a groundswell of teachers fighting to preserve the dignity of their profession from the damage done by market-based reforms. We now turn to you, Chancellor FariƱa, to see what you are willing to stand for. We have observed a tendency on the part of school leaders and policymakers sympathetic to our position to decry an “obsession with high-stakes testing” yet accept for-profit testing as an inevitability of schooling. We find that position to be unsettling and counterproductive because it denies educators agency in shaping education policy. We are often cautioned to wait, that education fads come and go, and that the “pendulum” will swing the other way. We understand you to be a student of history and as such you know that it is people’s actions rather than the passage of time that brings about change. You were quoted as saying “Life is a series of tests in many ways,” and we believe that the most transformative of those tests will be the ones that test moral courage. We make it our profession to prepare students for those moments that will require them to think critically and take bold action. Maxine Greene defined freedom as “the capacity to surpass the given and look at things as if they could be otherwise.” We are asking you to critically evaluate the given and consider whether or not you will join us in seeing it otherwise.