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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Michael J. Petrilli: The Evaluation Obsession

All or nothing on teacher accountability

Someday, when they write the history of the education-reform movement, future scholars will tug their chins in puzzlement as they ponder today’s obsession with high-stakes teacher evaluations. But not for all the usual reasons that people raise concerns: the worry about whether we’ve got good measures of teacher performance, especially for instructors in subjects other than reading and math; the likelihood that tying achievement to evaluations will spur teaching to the test in ways that warp instruction and curriculum; the futility of trying to “principal-proof” our schools by forcing formulaic, one-size-fits-all evaluation models upon all K–12 campuses; the terrible timing of introducing new evaluation systems at the same time that educators are working to implement the Common Core.
No, future historians are far likelier to wonder about the motivation behind the evaluation obsession. Was this a policy designed to identify, and remove, America’s least effective teachers? Or was it a kinder-and-gentler effort to provide critical feedback to instructors so they could improve their craft?
If the latter, as some reformers now claim, historians will wonder why we were so insistent on attaching high stakes to these evaluations—determined to “make human-resource decisions” based on the results, as the parlance goes.
And if the former, historians will ask: What the heck were they thinking? Did they really believe that teacher evaluations alone would be enough to push bad instructors out of the classroom?
Consider, for instance, the Obama Administration’s decision to place three states on “high risk status” because they have fallen behind on their promises to implement statewide teacher-evaluation systems (a condition—of dubious legality—of their ESEA waivers). One of those states—Washington—has fallen behind because its legislature hasn’t passed a bill enabling such an evaluation system.
Reformers in Washington State are gleeful, believing that the Administration’s actions may finally push their lawmakers to act. But then what? Even if the Evergreen State develops a well-designed system, will principals there be willing to give low marks to ineffective teachers? And will school leaders be able to push those instructors out of the classroom?
Doubtful. Washington’s teacher-tenure protections will remain in place, as will collective bargaining agreements, both of which guarantee extensive “due process” rights. And regardless of Arne Duncan’s exhortations, there’s no way that labor-friendly Washington is going to make it significantly easier to fire bad teachers (at least those who have already earned tenure).
Here’s a prediction: Whatever Olympia policymakers come up with, most teachers will continue to receive positive ratings and nearly all will cling to their jobs. Why? Why not. If you’re a school principal, why give a teacher a bad rating if you know you still can’t remove her from the classroom? All you’ve done is create an enemy—or set yourself up for a lawsuit. Smart principals know better and will do what they’ve always done, which is find a way to play the “dance of the lemons,” sending their bad teachers to another school.
Schools are hardly the only place this happens. Arne Duncan might take a look at the ratings for his own Department of Education employees. I bet he’ll find very few negative reviews—because federal employees more or less enjoy lifelong tenure from day one. Managers learn that negative ratings are futile, indeed hurtful of morale and esprit, so they don’t give them. Yet nobody thinks all 5,000 Department of Education employees are hitting it out of the park.
The lesson is this: When it comes to high-stakes evaluations, it’s all or nothing. Either policymakers need to combine evaluation systems with reforms that make it plausible to fire ineffective employees, or they shouldn’t bother with high stakes at all.
A few states have been willing to go the distance and in time perhaps others will. Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett combined teacher-evaluation reforms in Indiana with tenure and collective bargaining overhauls. Colorado’s Senate Bill 191 redefined tenure to align with evaluation results. And Tennessee, just last week, connected “re-licensure” with teachers’ contributions to student achievement.
But let’s be honest: America’s bluer states aren’t likely to go this far anytime soon—states like Illinois, whose ESEA waiver request is languishing because of the teacher-evaluation issue. Or New York, where the evaluation issue turned into an all-out food fight between policymakers and the unions—and where nobody is talking about reining tenure in for veteran teachers.
Some reformers think enacting evaluation systems is a “win” anyway—it “moves the needle” in the right direction. I disagree. There are significant costs in terms of dampening teacher morale, provoking a parent backlash, and over-encouraging teaching to the test. Maybe it’s worth it if we can identify and remove the worst teachers. But if that’s not going to happen, it’s a loss, not a victory.
And if the goal is simply to provide feedback to teachers, in order to help them improve their craft, then let’s just do that. Don’t even call it “evaluation.” Don’t attach any stakes. Just provide the data to teachers and principals—and continue to train the latter on how to conduct high-quality teacher observations—and call it a day.
The stakes are high—not just for teachers, but for the reform movement. As, I suspect, history will show.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Katie Osgood: Teach For America Recruits in Chicago Should Refuse Placement In City's Neediest Schools

An Open Letter to New Teach for America Recruits

Dear New TFA Recruits,
It is summertime, which for those of you newly accepted into Teach for America, means you are enduring the long hard days of Institute.  I congratulate you on being accepted into this prestigious program.  You clearly have demonstrated intelligence, passion, and leadership in order to make it this far.
And now I am asking you to quit.
Exacerbating Inequalities
Teach for America likely enticed you into the program with the call for ending education inequality.  That is a beautiful and noble mission.  I applaud you on being moved by the chance to help children, of being a part of creating equality in our schools, of ending poverty once and for all.
However, the actual practice of Teach for America does the exact opposite of its noble mission.  TFA claims to fight to end educational inequality and yet ends up exacerbating one of the greatest inequalities in education today:  that low-income children of color are much more likely to be given inexperienced, uncertified teachers.  TFA’s five weeks of Institute are simply not enough time to prepare anyone, no matter how dedicated or intelligent, to have the skills necessary to help our neediest children.  This fall, on that first day of school, you will be alone with kids who need so much more.  You will represent one more inequality in our education system denying kids from low-income backgrounds equitable educational opportunities.
Many of you no doubt believe you are joining a progressive education justice movement, that is the message TFA sells so well.   But I want you to understand clearly, TFA is not progressive. The kind of limited data-driven pedagogy, the fast-track preparation, the union-busting, the forced exploitation of your labor, the deep-pocketed affiliation with corporate education Walmartreform are all very conservative, very anti-progressive ideas.  Look no further than TFA’s list of supporters/donors.  The largest donations are from groups likethe Walton Foundation, of Walmart fortune, which has a vested interest in the status quo of inequality, breaking unions, and keeping wages low and workers oppressed.  Or notice the many partnerships with JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America, the very institutions which caused the financial collapse and threw millions of Americans-including your future students’ families-into foreclosure, bankruptcy, and deeper poverty.  These organizations choose to donate to TFA because TFA supports their agendas. If TFA was truly pushing back on the status quo of educational inequality, these types of donors would not only refuse financial support, they would be attacking a group which threatens their earning potential.
Ask yourself honestly, since when did billionaires, financial giants, or hedge fund managers on Wall St begin to care about the education of poor black and brown children in America?  If you follow the money, you will see the potential for mass profit through privatization, new construction, union-busting, and various educational service industries.  Why would a group dedicated to educational justice partner with these forces?
A Broken Model
In places like my city of Chicago, TFA has come to represent a gross injustice from the very first day of training.  TFA places up to five trainees at a time in our summer school classrooms.  Please understand that in Chicago, summer school is for children who failed courses during the school year.  These are the children most in need of expert teaching and support, many may have or eventually may need special education services.  Instead, TFA partners with certain schools where students are used as practice tools the entire day as novices have their very first experiences working with a group of children.  Last year, a phenomenal teacher friend of mine described his experience of having TFA forced upon his classroom, “They are using my kids as guinea pigs,” he lamented.  This powerful, experienced teacher was told to sit silently in the back of his classroom, and watch-not allowed to even give feedback-as five novice TFAers fumbled their way through lessons for four whole weeks of a five week summer term.   Those kids will never get that time back.
The sad thing is that TFA will tell you over and over again that you will be offering something “better” than our traditionally-trained teachers can provide.  I want you all to understand what even first-year teachers from traditional teacher prep programs are offering.  Pre-service teachers are slowly introduced into teaching, beginning with hundreds of hours of observation in multiple settings, with much discussion, reflection, and study of pedagogy and child development along the way.  We slowly step up our practice to individual tutoring, small group instruction, and short whole group lesson plans before moving on to student teaching placements for many months.  This model of teacher prep minimizes the effect on children, and creates safe spaces for new teachers to practice under the watchful eye of a mentor.  Compare that to TFA’s model of novices taking turns teaching one single group of students for only four weeks then being placed in classrooms by themselves.  Where is the time for observation and practice in many different settings/age groups/subject matters/ability levels? How can anyone even argue that the two types of training are comparable? And, if TFA truly offered higher-quality prep, why aren’t schools serving upper-income students demanding first year TFA teachers?  The idea of course is preposterous.  Upper-income parents would never, ever, allow uncertified, unprepared novices teach their own children.  So why should Chicago’s low-income students endure this type of injustice?
Students Resist
Luckily, more Chicago students are speaking out against Teach for America.  Here is a spoken word piece from a former Chicago student Rachel Smith who powerfully says,
“Only see them for 2 years because we’re just a
stepping stone so they can get to their
prep schools…
It’s time we refute these self-proclaimed saviors and
put our faith into the true educators,
who demand Masters Degrees and double majors,
and not the ones trying to do the black community
a couple favors.”
Here is what another Chicago high school student wrote recently on his facebook page: “I’m walking out of school and I run into a group of college students. They greet me and ask me if I go to this school. I say yes, I just graduated and I’m here because we’re facing massive budget cuts. I ask them if they are with an organization. They say, yes we’re from Teach For America. I told them ‘that program is no good, get away from my school.’”
Understand The Pushback
And fundamentally, this is what you must understand.  Most corps members are being thrown into highly contested, politically unstable education environments.  Here in Chicago, there is a massive grassroots battle underway led by parents, teachers, students, and community members to save public education.  This past year alone has seen mass protests, acts of civil disobedience, and a successful teachers’ strike all to protest devastating corporate education reforms being forced on our schools. Despite this mass movement, 50 schools were closed by our appointed Board of Education, hundreds of teachers laid off, and school budgets were slashed.  Tens of thousands of parents have come out to plead for the their neighborhood schools, to beg for more funding, to demand an end to excessive high-stakes testing, to speak out for their beloved teachers, and each time our Mayor’s Board of Education turned a deaf ear to the needs’ of the people.
As a result, we have thousands of displaced teachers looking for jobs, we have dozens of quality schools of education producing certified teacher candidates-many from the neighborhoods they hope to teach in-all looking for work in Chicago and other urban centers around the country.  Just yesterday, I spoke with a fully-qualified new teacher who reported that she will likely have to take substitute positions or do after-school tutoring as there are no full-time jobs being offered in the Chicago Public Schools.   Like so many other cities (New York City, Detroit, and Philadelphia to name a few) we have no teacher shortages.  We have teacher surpluses.  And yet, TFA is still placing first year novice corps members in places like Chicago. To put it bluntly, the last thing our students undergoing mass school closings, budget cuts, and chaotic school policy need is short-term, poorly-trained novices.  Teach for America is not needed in Chicago.  Teach for America is not needed in most places.
TFA Practices Disaster Capitalism
But, instead of responding to community need, TFA has instead decided to partner with the very people causing the destructive, divisive, cruel chaos of current education reform policy.  While school budgets are being slashed around the country, TFA has fundraisers raising millions of dollars in a single night, partners with corporate brands like J Crew or JC Penny to raise yet more money.  And sTeach for America T-shirttill TFA requires districts to hand over thousands of dollars per recruit and pay a full, first-year teacher salary.  TFA also lobbies state governments to give up millions in precious funding and convinced the Federal Department of Education to give up tens of millions to this organization.  With over 250 million dollars in reserves, TFA still never offers to pay CM salaries to help struggling districts or waive “finder’s fees” for a vast majority of placements.   Luckily, some states are finally pushing back.
In addition, TFA has developed a very cozy, very troubling relationship with the very people implementing these horrible policies.  Here in Chicago, TFA recently invited Chicago Board of Education member Andrea Zopp to speak at the Chicago Induction ceremonies. As far as I know, Zopp never bothered to come out to the hundreds of public hearings to listen to the thousands of parents who begged to save their schools before casting her vote to permanently shutter 50 schools, the largest single school-closing action in US history. The newest Mayor Emanuel-appointed Chicago board member is a woman named Deborah Quazzo, a millionaire business woman, who once sat on the Chicago Board of Teach for America.  These ties represent massive conflicts of interests as the policies being pasted by The Board are benefiting TFA directly or indirectly.  TFA has even pushed alums to get elected to Local School Councils (LSCs), democratic bodies designed to give voice to parents, teachers, and community members, and instead is using LSCs to promote their TFA-friendly corporate reform agenda. 
What’s even sicker is that TFA is poised to benefit greatly from the horrible policies happening to children and teachers here in Chicago.   As I describe in the post “Teach for America Has Gone Too Far”, TFA plans to expand into the very neighborhoods experiencing schools closings, the neighborhoods which by definition have more teachers than they do positions.  Teach for America has truly crossed a line when closing schools and slashing budgets-policies detrimental to children-become the avenue for expansion.  Also, the new “per-pupil budgeting” pushed by the BOE and Mayor Emanuel, means principals now must pay more for experienced teachers.  In the past, teacher positions were opened based on the number of students and principals were free to hire any qualified teacher, regardless of salary as that salary did not come out of the individual school budgets. Under this new formula, principals are given a lump sum for every student enrolled and therefore are incentivized to hire less-experienced, cheaper teachers in order to save money (all the more necessary as budgets are experiencing the largest cuts in living memory.)  I suspect that TFA quietly helped push this new budgeting policy into place.
Here in Chicago, as in many placement areas, TFA is closely tied to the charter school movement, as most CMs are placed in charters in this city.  Charter schools are highly controversial and have beenproven to exclude students with disabilities, students who are still learning English, and students with behavior problems.  I have written extensively about how charters, along with the broader corporate education reform movement, are making educational opportunity worse for my high-needs students.  Charter schools also tend to be non-unionized which leads to teacher exploitation and arbitrary firings with no recourse for staff.  Charter schools have also come under fire for scandals involving misuse of public funds, nepotism, and corruption, such as the large, TFA-heavy, UNO Charter chain which experienced a massive scandal and has growing debt. However, due to political connections, UNO will suffer no long-term repercussions from their mismanagement.
Neighborhood and Charter Schools
Why You Must Say ‘No’
What I describe above is just the tip of the iceberg of the assault on teachers and public education and TFA’s role in it.   As people new to the world of education, you must understand the context that you are stepping into.  Read what other TFA alums have already written eloquently on describing why they no longer support the organization such as here or here.   Do research about the realities of Teach for Americaits effect on education, and the shoddy research they use to support their practices.  Understand why a number of TFA alums and education activists are organizing against TFA this summer in Chicago.  Know why groups of educators and parents boo and hiss when the name “Teach for America” is spoken.  You must understand the pushbackand that it has nothing to do with you personally.  There have been multiple abuses already endured in the cities you are entering and which TFA exploits.   How else are stakeholders supposed to respond as TFA takes precious resources from districts and states in budgetary crisis?  Or watch as TFA steals jobs from beloved experienced teachers and qualified, fully-credentialed teacher candidates?  As TFA undermines a noble, and importantly female-dominated, profession with false claims that teachers need little preparation?  Or as TFA increases inequality by giving our neediest students–students living in poverty, students with disabilities, students still learning English–the least qualified teachers.  And what about when TFA partners with the very wealthy and politically-connected forces wreaking havoc on our schools against the will of communities?
You new recruits did not create this current situation.  But by participating in TFA you will become a part of the problem.
A Chance to Do What’s Right
If you truly want to help children through teaching, give those future students the greatest chance possible by doing a full preparation program in advance of being left alone in that classroom.  Those of us in the teaching profession will welcome bright young beginning teachers with open arms. And if you are not sure teaching is for you, volunteer in a school, tutor, participate in after-school programs.  Whatever you do, do not allow TFA to let you learn how to teach on the backs of our neediest children, children living in poverty, children with disabilities, children who are still learning English, children living under oppression, racism, and savage inequalities.  All children deserve a fully-prepared teacher for every day of their educational careers.  Please do not participate in denying them that right.
And please do not become a foot solider for the Education Reform movement.  Do not partner with the very people trying to destroy public education for their own personal gain.
You have a choice to make.  TFA may ultimately benefit you personally, it may open doors to lucrative careers, help you get into prestigious law and graduate degrees, even give you direct paths into high-paid jobs in the worlds of education, business, or politics.  It may even make you feel really good.  But are you willing to participate in the destruction of the common good of public education, destroy the teaching profession, and deny needy children experienced long-term educators who would gladly take jobs filled by these TFA novices? Are you willing to do great harm to children and communities for your own personal gain?
Please make the right choice. And then join those of us on the ground fighting for REAL reform.  We need your passion and drive.  But we absolutely do not need you, without proper preparation, in our neediest classrooms.
Katie Osgood
Special Education teacher in Chicago
**UPDATE**  Just read this article detailing how our appointed Board of Education in Chicago just renewed and EXPANDED Teach for America’s contract with CPS at last week’s Board meeting:  In the middle of a supposed “budget crisis” where 50 schools were viciously closed down and hundreds of teachers and staff laid off, CPS has increased the funding to TFA from $600,000 to $1,587,500.  In addition, the number of TFA first year novices went from 245 to 325 ( ).
Chicago TFA first year teachers, you MUST refuse these placements.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Beth Fertig: U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan Says NY is Leading The Country By Adopting Common Core

Beth Fertig is WNYC’s Contributing Editor for Education.  She previously covered politics, which included City Hall during the Giuliani administration, and the U.S. Senate campaigns of Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton. She also covered transportation and infrastructure.

Obama Official Gives Cover to New York Ahead of Test Score Release

Tuesday, August 06, 2013 - 04:11 PM

With anxiety mounting before the release on Wednesday of results of New York's tougher new math and reading tests, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged parents and educators to put the scores into context by seeing them as a new "baseline" from which to build.
In a conference call with New York State Education Commissioner John King, Duncan said New York is leading the country by adopting more challenging math and reading standards known as the Common Core. He said many states had fooled people into believing students were doing better than they really were by using tests that were too easy.

"What's the goal here? Is the goal to look good on paper or to help students be successful?" he asked. "I think the only way you improve is to tell the truth, and sometimes that's a brutal truth, but to have a very honest conversation and then to move from there."

He added, "There's simply too much at stake to retreat," noting the need for students to participate in democracy, and for the U.S. to compete with other nations.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia signed on to the new standards. King said the tests were designed to reflect their demands.
"They required students to write more and to think more, to read more challenging texts, to apply their math problem-solving skills. And that is because those are the very skills that they need to develop in order to succeed in college and careers," he said.

In 2012 Kentucky was the first state to use Common Core tests. The percentage of students considered proficient was nearly cut in half.

Educators are bracing for similar results in New York. Even though the results will not be released publicly until Wednesday, some teachers and others close to the schoolshave said it appears the city was accurate when it estimated a steep drop in proficiency, by as much as 30 percentage points. Last year, about 50 percent of city students were proficient on their state elementary and middle school  English tests, and 60 percent were proficient in math.

Many teachers and principals have complained that the system was stacked against them because the state brought in new tests before choosing new curricula. The president of the American Federation of Teachers has called on states to adopt a moratorium on Common Core tests until teachers are better prepared.
But Commissioner King said it made no sense for the state to keep the old exams while encouraging teachers to begin using Common Core standards. And Duncan agreed.

"As a country we've had low standards for decades, so to act like we should stay at low standards longer is frankly nonsensical to me. So it is the right thing to move forward, it takes courage."
The Bloomberg administration, which has made education one of its top priorities, took a defensive posture before the test scores were publicized. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott released a timeline of the Department of Education's progress since 2010 in implementing the new standards, which included thousands of training opportunities for teachers and making materials available online. The city chose new curricula in February and books are now beginning to arrive in the schools.
On Tuesday, Walcott said he's been warning New Yorkers for the past year that he expects to see a "pretty significant" drop in scores. He said students would benefit from the state's decision to raise the bar.
"I want to be very clear to the parents it doesn't mean that your child is doing worse," he said, of the expected drop in scores. "It just means that your child is now being measured to a higher standard and our goals are to make sure the child reaches that higher standard."
The city said parents can expect to see their child's test scores by the end of August.
But many teachers have said the training was not thorough enough to prepare them or their students for the new exams. The English tests were considered especially difficult. The United Federation of Teachers criticized the mayor late last week, before the scores had even been released, prompting Walcott to accuse the union of playing politics.
On Tuesday, some of the Democratic mayoral candidates chimed in by claiming a drop in scores would provide evidence that the Bloomberg administration did not make as much progress in education as it frequently claims.
"Unfortunately, our students haven't been learning the tools they need to succeed," said former city comptroller Bill Thompson. "Our teachers haven't been allowed to teach and teach content. They've been having to drill our students in test prep."
John Liu, the current comptroller, said the "reportedly dismal results on the new state tests sent a clear message: Mayor Bloomberg and his Tweed cronies have been cooking the books on student test scores for 12 years."
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, meanwhile, called for more early literacy programs and a "Parent University" to engage families with their local schools. She also called for putting less emphasis on high stakes tests.
With reporting by Jeannie Choi

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bill Keller: War On The Core

By , NY Times


I respect, really I do, the efforts by political scientists and pundits to make sense of the current Republican Party. There is intellectual virtue in the search for historical antecedents and philosophical underpinnings.

I understand the urge to take what looks to a layman like nothing more than a mean spirit or a mess of contradictions and brand it. (The New Libertarianism! Burkean Revivalists!) But more and more, I think Gov. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s Republican rising star, had it right when he said his party was in danger of becoming simply “the stupid party.”

A case in point is the burgeoning movement to kill what is arguably the most serious educational reform of our lifetime. I’m talking about the Common Core, a project by a consortium of states to raise public school standards nationwide.

The Common Core, a grade-by-grade outline of what children should know to be ready for college and careers, made its debut in 2010, endorsed by 45 states. It is to be followed in the 2014-15 school year by new standardized tests that seek to measure more than the ability to cram facts or master test-taking tricks. (Some states, including New York, introduced early versions of the tougher tests this year.)

This is an ambitious undertaking, and there is plenty of room for debate about precisely how these standards are translated into classrooms. But the Common Core was created with a broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators, convinced that after decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education, the country had to come together on a way to hold our public schools accountable. Come together it did — for a while.

The backlash began with a few of the usual right-wing suspects. Glenn Beck warned that under “this insidious menace to our children and to our families” students would be “indoctrinated with extreme leftist ideology.”

(Beck also appears to believe that the plan calls for children to be fitted with bio-wristbands and little cameras so they can be monitored at all times for corporate exploitation.)

Beck’s soul mate Michelle Malkin warned that the Common Core was “about top-down control engineered through government-administered tests and left-wing textbook monopolies.” Before long, FreedomWorks — the love child of Koch brothers cash and Tea Party passion — and the American Principles Project, a religious-right lobby, had joined the cause. Opponents have mobilized Tea Partyers to barnstorm in state capitals and boiled this complex issue down to an obvious slogan, “ObamaCore!”

There are Common Core 
critics on the left as well, who argue that the accountability movement makes teachers scapegoats for problems caused mainly by poverty. As one educator put it, less than half in jest, “The problem with national testing is that the conservatives hate national and the liberals hate testing.” Discomfort with the Core may grow when states discover, as New York did this month, that the tougher tests make their schools look bad. But overwhelmingly the animus against the standards comes from the right.

Some of this was inevitable. Local control of public schools, including the sacred right to keep them impoverished and ineffectual, is a fundamental tenet of the conservative canon. In an earlier day, more thoughtful Republicans — people who had actually read the Common Core standards and understood that the notion of a federal usurpation was a boogeyman — would have held the high ground against the noisy fringe.

Such conservatives still exist. William Bennett, President Reagan’s secretary of education and now a stalwart of right-wing radio, has 
defended the Common Core. So has Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who is a favorite of religious conservatives. Several Republican governors (including Jindal, though he seems to be wobbling) have stood by the Common Core. Conservative-leaning think tanks like the Manhattan Institute and the Fordham Institute have published sober, sensible arguments for the standards.

But today’s Republican Party lives in terror of its so-called base, the very loud, often paranoid, if-that-Kenyan-socialist-in-the-White-House-is-for-it-I’m-against-it crowd. In April the Republican National Committee surrendered to the fringe and urged states to renounce Common Core. The presidential aspirant Marco Rubio, trying to appease conservatives angry at his moderate stance on immigration, last month
abandoned his support for the standards. And state by red state, the effort to disavow or defund is under way. Indiana has put the Common Core on hold. Michigan’s legislature cut off money for implementing the standards and is now contemplating pulling out altogether. Last month, Georgia withdrew from a 22-state consortium, one of two groups designing tests pegged to the new standards, ostensibly because of the costs. (The new tests are expected to cost about $29 per student; grading them is more labor-intensive because in addition to multiple-choice questions they include written essays and show-your-work math problems that will be graded by actual humans. “You’re talking about 30 bucks a kid, in an education system that now spends upwards of $9,000 or $10,000 per student per year,” said Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute.)

The Common Core is imperiled in Oklahoma, Utah, Alabama and Pennsylvania. All of the retreat, you will notice, has been in Republican-controlled states.

“The experts in education have been wrong before and have forced all kinds of bad ideas on local schools,” Petrilli concedes. “So I have some sympathy for people who say, Uh-oh, here we go again. But I think in this case the standards happen to be very good.”

“Even conservatives, evangelicals,” he said. “when they look at the standards, they tend to come away impressed.”

So let’s take a look at this fiendish federal plot to brainwash our children.

First, it is not federal. President Obama has used Race to the Top money to encourage states to embrace higher standards, but the Common Core was written under the auspices of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, an effort that began in 2007, before Obama was elected. Some advocates of Common Core have actually implored Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, just to stop talking about it, because their endorsement feeds the myth that this is a federal takeover.

Second, there is no national curriculum. The standards, which you can read 
here, describe a reasonable progression of learning from grade to grade, but leave it to state and local school officials to get there. The Common

Core is not an attempt to pack kids’ heads with an officially sanctioned list of facts, but to assure that they are able to read a complicated text and understand it, to recognize a problem and know how to solve it.

So, to pick an example at random, the Common Core says a third grader should be able to “describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.” By eighth grade the student should be able to “analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character or provoke a decision.”

The Common Core does not dictate what stories these kids will be reading or what textbooks schools should use and does not prescribe reading lists, except for a few obvious essentials, including America’s founding documents and a bit of Shakespeare.

Third, the Common Core is not some new and untried pedagogical experiment. Much of it leans on traditional methods that have proved themselves over time. Kids are taught phonics in the early grades. They learn times tables and memorize the formulas for areas and volumes.

The standards encourage more use of informational texts and literary nonfiction to build background knowledge and vocabulary that will be useful in the real world. But the Common Core does not stint on literature. By the end of high school, nonfiction would account for 70 percent of the total reading material in all subjects. That still leaves a lot of room for the classics.

The Core does call for schools across the states to deliver their lessons in the same sequence. Does it really matter if children in Alabama and New Jersey start algebra in the same grade? It matters a lot to a kid who moves from Alabama to New Jersey. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 13 percent of children under 18 move each year, and the numbers are much higher for low-income, military and immigrant families.

Many of them lose their place in the educational order and never recover.

There is, in fact, an important national discussion to be had as the Common Core takes effect and schools begin reckoning with the results of tougher tests. What’s the right cutoff score for a passing grade? Do schools get credit for progress, even if they are performing below grade level? Should there be an opt-out provision for schools that are more experimental or that already have high college placement rates? How do the test results figure in evaluating individual teachers?

E. D. Hirsch, an advocate of the Common Core whose Core Knowledge Foundation distributes a widely used curriculum, warned in an interview that if the standards were not carefully implemented, schools could still end up emphasizing “mindless test prep” over substance.

“The Tea Party’s worried about the federal government,” he told me. “What they should be worried about is the education school professors and the so-called experts.”

But — as with that other demonic federal plot, Obamacare — the Republicans aren’t interested in making reform work. They just want it dead.

“Conservatives used to be in favor of holding students to high standards and an academic curriculum based on great works of Western civilization and the American republic,” two education scholars, Kathleen Porter-Magee and Sol Stern, wrote in National Review Online. “Aren’t they still?”

Good question.

Diane Ravitch on Calhoun Headmaster Steve Nelson's Dislike of Common Core


by dianerav
What does it take to be a hero educator? It takes brains, courage, integrity, and a deep understanding of education and children.
Steve Nelson, headmaster of the Calhoun School in Manhattan, is a hero educator because he has all these qualities. He wrote a brilliant article about why the Common Core won't work.
He knows that David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core, now heads the College Board. He knows that Coleman wants to align the SAT to the Common Core, so no one can escape his handiwork, not even students in prestigious private schools.
Here is a sample of Nelson's article.
"Actual children, as opposed to the abstraction of children as seen in policy debate, are not "standard." Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of child development knows that children learn in different ways and different times. Some children "read" (meaning a very limited ability to recognize symbols) at age 3 or 4. I have known many students who did not read well until 8, 9 or, rarely, later. The potential (or ultimate achievement levels) of these children does not correlate with the date of reading onset.
"It is rather like walking. Children who walk at 9 months do not become better runners than children who walk at 15 months. "Standardizing" the expectation of reading, and setting curricula and tests around this expectation, is like expecting a child to walk on her first birthday. If she doesn't, shall we get our national knickers in a knot, develop a set of walking tests, prescribe walking remediation, and, perhaps inadvertently, make her feel desperately inadequate? In the current climate, Pearson is ready to design walking curriculum and its companion tests. The Gates and Broad Foundations will 
create complementary instructional videos."
And he also writes:
"If policy makers and test writers had even rudimentary knowledge of rich individual differences, they would know that any standard test is unfair and, ultimately, useless. Just as children learn in very different ways, they express mastery in many different ways. The Common Core tests (and I've suffered the experience of wading through the many samples provided in the media) assume that all its takers process information in the same way, have the identical mix of cognitive and sensory abilities, and can, therefore, "compete" on level ground. This is nonsensical and damaging. Some of the most brilliant people I know would grind to a suffocating halt after trying to parse the arcane nonsense in a small handful of these questions. Even the math questions assume a homogeneous ability to understand the questions and a precisely common capacity for reasoning and concluding.
"I could go on: Stress inhibits learning, so we design stressful expectations; dopamine (from pleasurable activities) enhances learning, so we remove joy from schools; homework has very limited usefulness with negative returns after an hour or so (for elementary age kids), so we demand more hours of work; the importance of exercise in brain development is inarguable, so we eliminate recess and gym; the arts are central to human understanding, but we don't have time.
"I have been accused of complaining but not offering solutions, so here's a solution: Properly fund schools and allow good teachers to select the materials and pedagogy that serve the actual students in their care. The rest will take care of itself.
"And we can take the billions we're wasting on NCLB, RTTT, Common Core and other nonsense and spend it to improve the lives of the shameful number of children who live in poverty in the "richest nation on Earth."
Steve Nelson, welcome to the honor roll as a hero of American education.
Please someone, anyone: send this article to Bill Keller and Paul Krugman at the New York Times.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Robert Freeman: How To Destroy Education While Making A Trillion Dollars

Robert Freeman
Robert Freeman teaches history at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA.  He is the founder of One Dollar For Life, a non-profit that helps American schools build schools in the developing world through student donations of one dollar.  Email him at

How to Destroy Education While Making a Trillion Dollars

The Vietnam War produced more than its share of iconic idiocies. Perhaps the most revelatory was the psychotic assertion of an army major explaining the U.S. bombing of the provincial hamlet of Ben Tre: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” If only such self-extinguishing claims for intelligence were confined to military war.
The U.S is ratcheting up a societal-level war on public education. At issue is whether we are going to make it better — build it into something estimable, a social asset that undergirds a noble and prosperous society — or whether we’re going to tear it down so that private investors can get their hands on the almost $1 trillion we spend on it every year. The tear-it-down option is the civilian equivalent of Ben Tre, but on a vastly larger scale and with incomparably greater stakes: we must destroy public education in order to save it. It’s still early in the game, but right now the momentum is with the wreckers because that’s where the money is. Whether they succeed or not will be up to you.
Here’s a three-step recipe for how to destroy education. It maps perfectly to how to make a prodigious profit by privatizing it. It is the essential game plan of the big money boys.
First, lower the costs so you can jack up the profits. Since the overwhelming cost in education is the salaries of the teachers, this means firing the experienced teachers, for they are the most expensive. Replace them with “teachers” who are young, inexperienced, and inexpensive. Better yet, waive requirements that they have to have any training, that is to say, that they be credentialed. That way, you can get the absolute cheapest workers available. Roll them over frequently so they don’t develop any expectation that they’ll ever make a career out of it.
Second, make the curriculum as narrow, rote, and regimented as you can. This makes it possible for low-skilled “teachers” to “teach.” All they need do is maintain order while drilling students in mindless memorization and robotic repetition. By all means avoid messy things like context, nuance, values, complexity, reflection, depth, ambiguity—all the things that actually make for true intelligence. It’s too hard to teach those things and, besides, you need intelligent, experienced people to be able to do it. Stick with the model: Profitable equals simplistic and formulaic. Go with it.
Finally, rinse and repeat five thousand times. Proliferate franchised, chartered McSchools with each classroom in each McSchool teaching the same thing on the same day in exactly the same way. So, for the math lesson on the formula of a line, you only need develop it once. But you download it in Power Point on the assigned day so the room monitors, i.e., the “teachers,” know what bullets to read. Now repeat this for every lesson in every course in every school, every day. In biology, chemistry, geometry, history, English, Spanish, indeed, all of a K-12 curriculum. Develop the lesson literally once, but distribute and reuse it thousands of times with low-cost proctors doing the supervision. The cost is infinitesimal making the profit potential astronomical.
This is the essential charter school model and the money is all the rationale its promoters need. Think about it. There’s a trillion dollars a year spent on public education in the U.S. and enterprising investors want to get their meat hooks on it. Where else in the world can you find a $1 trillion opportunity that is essentially untouched? Not in automobiles. Not in health care. Not in weapons, computers, banking, telecommunications, agriculture, entertainment, retail, manufacturing, housing. Nowhere.
Oh, to be sure, you have to soften up the public with a decades-long PR campaign bashing teachers, vilifying their unions, trashing schools, and condemning public education in general, all the while promising the sun, moon, and stars for privatization, which is the ultimate charter goal. Voila! You’ve got your chance.
But to really make a killing, you need not just revenues, but profits. That’s why the low cost delivery and “build it once but resell it millions of times” model is so key. It was that very model that made Bill Gates the richest man in the world. It is what earned Microsoft 13 TIMES the rate of profit of the average Fortune 500 company in the 1990s and persuaded the Justice Department to declare it a “felony monopolist”. Gates recognizes the model very well, which is why his foundation is pouring tens of millions of dollars into charters. And you thought it was his altruism.
Of course, anybody who actually knows education, indeed, anybody who is simply intelligent, knows that intelligence does not come from rote repetition or parroting Power Point slides at the regimented direction of a room monitor, no matter how perky or well intended. It comes from an agonizingly complex, intricate, sustained set of challenges to the mind that are exquisitely choreographed over the better part of two decades, all intimately tailored to the specific needs of an individual, inquisitive, aspiring student.
That is what real teachers do. And it is precisely what a cookie-cutter, low-content, low-cost, high-turnover, high-profit money mill cannot do. Because it’s not intended to do that. It’s intended to produce profits. Real education, real intelligence, real character are agonizingly slow, dazzlingly complex, maddeningly difficult things to create. You can’t make a profit off of it, unless you destroy it in the process. That is why not one of the nations of the world that surpass the U.S. in education performance operate charter-based or privatized educational systems.
If America wants better education, it needs to fix the greatest force undermining education, which is poverty. The single most powerful predictor of student performance is the average income of the zip code in which they live. But one out of four American students now live in poverty, and the numbers are growing. One out of two will live in poverty sometime during their lives. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps. Is it any wonder American school performance is faltering?
But poverty is a hard and expensive problem to fix. We prefer easy, painless fixes, or even better, vapid clichés about the “magic of the market” and such. Why, look what we got from the deregulation of the banking system: the greatest economic collapse of the last 80 years and the greatest plunder of the public treasury in the history of the world.
This is the essential neo-liberal agenda which Obama enthusiastically supports: privatize and deregulate everything, especially public services, so that the money spent on them can be transferred to private hands. This is how Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education, earned his bureaucratic bonafides: he converted more than 100 of Chicago’s public schools to charters while the city’s school superintendent. It’s unbelievable how credulous we are but obviously, propaganda works. That’s why the likes of the Gates Foundation keep pouring money into the cause.
The problem with charter schools is that they simply don’t work, at least not for delivering high quality education. Of course, given their formula, how could they? The most thorough research on charter schools, by Stanford University, shows that while charters do better than public schools in 17% of cases, they actually do worse in 37%, a more than 2-to-1 bad-to-good ratio!
If your doctor injured two patients for every one he cured, would you go to him? If your mechanic wrecked two cars for every one he fixed, would you go to him? Yet that is literally the proposition that charter school operators are peddling. And that 2-to-1 failure rate is after charters have skimmed off the better students and run what can only be called ethnically cleansed schools, counseling out poor performers, special needs cases, and “undesirable” minorities, leaving them for the public schools to deal with. For the data show they do that as well.
The irony of all this, indeed, the hypocrisy, is that America is at least nominally a capitalist county. You would think it would be ok to be honest about your intentions to make money by pillaging children’s futures while looting the public purse. God knows the weapons makers, the banks, the oil companies, the pharmaceutical companies, agribusiness and others aren’t bashful about it. But that doesn’t seem to be true here, in education.
Here, it’s all about “the children,” about “streamlining” education, boosting scores, uplifting minorities, making America competitive, and just about every other infantile fairy tale they can invoke to convince the country to hand over the loot. For that’s what it’s really about. The trillion dollars a year to be made by turning “the children” into intellectually impotent dullards but profit producing zombies? Well, that’s just a lavishly fortunate coincidence. Right?
Remember, you can’t save something by destroying it. Which isn’t to say that swashbuckling entrepreneurs aren’t willing to try. All they need is the liberating impetus of that essential American ethic: “I’m getting mine, screw you.” But the cost of this plunder will be incalculable, for it will ripple through the economy for decades. And the damage will be irreversible for, while public education is the most powerful democratizing institution in the world, it only works when the schools work. When they cease to work, it’s over.
So watch out. A destroyed educational system, a desiccated economy, and a debauched democracy are coming soon to a school district near you.