This page is a compendium of items of interest - news stories, scurrilous rumors, links, academic papers, damnable prevarications, rants and amusing anecdotes - about LAUSD and/or public education that didn't - or haven't yet - made it into the "real" 4LAKids blog and weekly e-newsletter at http://www.4LAKids.blogspot.com . 4LAKidsNews will be updated at arbitrary random intervals.
#29: A rash of Astroturf groups appear claiming to represent “the community” or “parents” and all advocate for the exact same corporate ed reforms that your superintendent supports — merit pay, standardized testing, charter schools, alternative credentialing for teachers. Of course, none of these are genuine grassroots community organizations.
Demand a Reform Contract for All Students!
Join "Don't Hold Us Back"
Tomorrow, November 1st, at LAUSD.
Tomorrow is an important day for all of us who care about public education in Los Angeles. We'll find out if LAUSD and UTLA have reached agreement on a new teacher contract with common sense reforms that benefit all students, not just some.
We know how busy you are, but we're asking you to help in a few ways:
– Attend our rally tomorrow at 9 am outside LAUSD headquarters. Let the board know that the community will no longer accept the status quo.
– Call your school board member to let him or her know that you want a reform contract for your child and every child.
– Ask your friends, family and colleagues to sign the pledge at www.dontholdusbackorg. We're almost at our goal of getting 1,000 pledges signed in 2 weeks.
Attached you'll see our newest L.A. Times ad, which is an open letter to LAUSD and UTLA.
Thank you again for your commitment to this effort. Whatever happens tomorrow, we will not rest until Los Angeles has a contract that truly serves all of its students.
Communities for Teaching Excellence's Los Angeles Team &
Monday, Oct. 31, 2011 - 6:53 am -- School officials are on the edge of their seats.
In six weeks, they should know if they have to cut buses, shorten the school year, ask teachers to take furlough days, raid their reserves or cut programs.
That's when revised revenue projections are expected from the state. If revenues fall short, it could trigger up to $1.75 billion in cuts that would hit K-12 districts in February.
The state was $654 million short of its revenue projections at the beginning of October, but school officials aren't sure how much their districts will lose and what exactly they will do if the trigger is pulled.
"It's almost impossible (to know)," said Rhonda Crawford, chief financial officer for Folsom Cordova Unified. "We do the best we can with what we know and what we can anticipate."
Schools could lose 4 percent of their state revenue for student attendance if the trigger is pulled, as well $248 million in funds for bus transportation. The amount schools would lose depends on how close the state is to its revenue goal.
"The moving target continues to be the biggest challenge," said Gabe Ross, spokesman for Sacramento City Unified.
Meanwhile, Assembly Bill 114, passed in July, makes it difficult for districts to squirrel away money just in case. The bill says school officials must ignore the prospect of the trigger and maintain staffing and program levels at the same funding level as last year.
So most districts scuttled the "worst-case scenario" budgets they had prepared before the state's revised budget was approved and rehired many teachers and restored programs.
Now districts have fewer options, although state legislators have given districts permission to cut the school year by another seven days. Some districts have already cut the school year from the previous minimum of 180 to 175 days.
But cutting days must be negotiated with employee unions and, even if contracts are reopened, it isn't likely negotiations could be completed in two months.
"Because we've already closed our contracts for this school year, it would be difficult to get everyone back at the table," Crawford said.
There are exceptions. San Juan Unified's unions have agreed to take up to five furlough days if the trigger is pulled. And the Sacramento City Teachers Association contract allows both the union and the district opportunities to reopen the contract several times a year, Ross said.
With transportation funding, however, there is little flexibility. Most districts have eliminated all but the most rural routes and federally mandated busing for special needs students.
Ross of Sacramento City Unified said transportation is critical for kids living in urban areas. "We considered cutting transportation last year and luckily we didn't have to," he said. "Our preference would be not to look at it."
Officials from both Folsom Cordova and Natomas unified districts say they won't cut programs this school year, even if the state cuts funding. Folsom Cordova officials said they will rely on one-time federal stimulus dollars and other belt-tightening measures to save programs. Natomas Unified will be able to fall back on a $5 million cushion, said Walt Hanline, interim superintendent.
And, while district officials stopped short of saying they budgeted conservatively in case the trigger is pulled to comply with the new law, they do say they are analyzing district jobs and programs to find efficiencies.
They are concerned about how the faltering economy, state deferrals of school funds and budget cuts will affect their school districts over the next two years, they say.
Ron Bennet, president of School Services of California, which advises districts on fiscal matters, issued a report warning that economic indicators are pointing toward budget shortfalls for the next few years. He warns school districts to continue to negotiate with unions for concessions, to cut costs and to hold on to reserves.
"To even think we are going to have two more years of even further cuts then we've experienced, it boggles the mind," said Steven Ladd, superintendent of Elk Grove Unified.
Hanline said a trigger for the 2013-14 school year "becomes Armageddon" as teacher agreements sunset and districts run out of federal stimulus money aimed at creating jobs.
In preparation, he has turned to a committee of more than 50 community members and employees who are working on goals and objectives for the district to propose to the school board.
"We are going to make the cuts from the bottom of the priority list," he said.
Jestin Banks, left, Jacob Campo, and Marvin Garcia Jr., all 6, conduct an experiment with dry ice. They were learning about the states of matter at Alexander Science Center School in Los Angeles. (Francine Orr, Los Angeles Times / October 26, 2011)
October 31, 2011 - At some Los Angeles elementary schools, teachers have drastically cut time for science because of pressure to focus on reading and math. If they can incorporate science into class time, they say they mostly have to buy their own supplies.
And educators from the state's high-tech epicenter of Silicon Valley say some students come to high school having never once conducted an experiment in earlier grades.
California, known as a global symbol of scientific and technological excellence, is failing to invest enough time, money and training to teach science well, according to interviews and a new survey of more than 1,100 elementary school teachers and administrators.
Only 10% of elementary students regularly receive hands-on science lessons, the report found. Just one-third of elementary teachers said they feel prepared to teach science, and 85% said they have not received any training during the last three years, according to the survey conducted by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd, the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley, SRI International and others.
The squeeze on science instruction is reflected in predominantly low science test scores. On the most recent fourth-grade science exams compiled by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, California students ranked at the bottom level along with Arizona, Mississippi and Hawaii.
Federal, state and local education officials agree that science education must be improved — in California and nationwide. The Obama administration is calling for 100,000 new science and math teachers following bipartisan studies showing that the nation is losing its competitive technological edge. And even Elmo is getting into the act, with "Sesame Street" launching science segments on the popular public television show.
"I want to see a renaissance of science education in California, which has been slowly diminishing, and bring it to a new, higher level," said Tom Torlakson, the state Supt. of Public Instruction.
Torlakson said that students well-trained in science, technology, engineering and math — the disciplines known as STEM — are critical to the state's economic prosperity. Fifteen of every 20 new jobs in the state require such skills, he said.
Torlakson and others have launched a flurry of initiatives. They include plans to rewrite the state's 13-year-old science content standards to focus more on hands-on learning and a new statewide network of educators, scientists, philanthropists and business leaders to push STEM education. The California STEM Learning Network brought science instruction to 300 after-school programs this fall and plans to more than triple that number next year.
"There is a sense of alarm, particularly in the business community, over our low achievement scores in math and science," said Christopher Roe, head of the STEM network. "For a state that depends on science and technology as we do with Silicon Valley and Hollywood, we can't afford to be on the bottom. We have a history in years past as a leader, and we have to get there again."
Some educators are pushing to give science test scores greater weight alongside those for English and math in measuring a school's academic performance. The current Academic Performance Index, which is used to assess schools' progress in meeting state and federal achievement goals, currently gives science a weight of 5.9%.
At Los Angeles Elementary School, teachers J.C. Smyth and Maria Duarte say that pressures to prepare students for English and math tests have drastically encroached on science instruction. Smyth estimates that he's cut his fifth-grade science classes from three days a week to one over the last several years; Duarte's fourth-grade classes have gone from four days to two.
In addition, those educators and others said, money for science supplies and teacher training has dried up. Duarte, for instance, buys her own soil, marigold seeds and magnets for classroom projects and is no longer able to attend the many training workshops she once did. Statewide, the California Science Project's funding to train teachers has shrunk to $1.2 million from $9 million in 2002-03 — half of which were state funds.
But Smyth noted that the focus on math and reading has reaped its own rewards: the school, in the Harvard Heights neighborhood of largely low-income immigrant families, hit the state's API target of 800 for the first time this year.
"It's a moral quandary," Smyth said. "You see the improvement in math and reading scores but you also know the kids aren't getting what they should have in other subjects."
Not all is bleak. The elementary school report, funded by the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, also identified top quality science programs in various schools. Many of those use science to teach math and reading skills and tap outside partners to provide training and materials for hands-on lessons.
One model of such strategies is the Alexander Science Center School in Exposition Park. The charter elementary school is supported by its next door neighbor, the California Science Center Foundation.
Last week, first-graders learned about the states of matter — not from a textbook but by imitating them in dance and trying to capture carbon dioxide gas in bubbles.
In bright protective goggles, the children squirted detergent onto dry ice, added hot water and shrieked as the mixture began bubbling out of the bucket.
Their teacher, Jane Fung, and Gretchen Bazela from the science foundation's education department, peppered them with questions. What's happening? What's inside the bubbles? Does it smell? What's causing the sound?
In the fifth-grade classroom, teacher Jairo De La Torre spends four hours a week on science — integrating the lessons with reading, writing and math. His classroom walls are covered with writings about experiments that also reflect language arts standards, such as crafting multiparagraph essays.
"Kids are naturally curious and observant," De La Torre said, "and the science helps them become higher-level thinkers."
^LAUSD Facilities Accessibility Compliance Unit representative Ken Arrington measures a grab bar that is at the wrong height in the boys bathroom at Columbus Avenue Elementary School in Van Nuys on Friday, Oct. 28, 2011. (Andy Holzman/Daily News Staff Photographer)
10/30/2011 - At Columbus Avenue Elementary School in Van Nuys, the grab bars in the boys' restroom are slightly off, the stair handrails are half an inch too high, and the signs leading from the playground to the library aren't hung at the correct eye level.
For most people, the fixtures pose no problem. But for students in wheelchairs or parents who need help walking, a steep ramp or a high handrail can make the difference between moving around campus and getting stuck.
Yet, despite Los Angeles Unified School District spending some $20 billion on its new construction program, hundreds of repairs are needed at the 80 new schools built over the past decade - at an additional cost of $30 million - because of failure to meet federal handicapped accessibility standards.
<< LAUSD Facilities Accessibility Compliance Unit representative Geoffrey Straniere points out piping that should have protective sleeves in a boys bathroom at Columbus Avenue Elementary School in Van Nuys on Friday, Oct. 28, 2011. (Andy Holzman/Daily News Staff Photographer)
"It was a little disappointing that brand new schools were not built to (federal) compliance," said Jay Alleman, administrative coordinator and chief analyst for the Office of the Independent Monitor, which oversees the district's special education programs.
"It's more than just student accessibility. It's about public accessibility."
The LAUSD has been under federal scrutiny since 1996 to improve special education services. The district is under a modified consent decree for its failure to adhere to all federal special education mandates - including ensuring that schools are accessible to all.
Work on elementary, middle and high schools - 17 of them in the San Fernando Valley - will include everything from adjusting the height of ramps, hand rails and toilets, to restriping parking spaces, said Neil Gamble, the district's director of maintenance and operations.
"It's not new ramps or large systems missing," Gamble said.
The improvements will be done on buildings constructed before 2009, when the district's construction practices were more liberal, but still within industry standard.
District construction supervisors signed off on the buildings as compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, but an inspector with the Office of the Independent Monitor found that some of the rails, signs and other hardware were off by a half an inch or more. Because the district had signed off on the work, the contractors could not be held accountable.
"When you (have fixtures) for decorations it's not a big deal," said LAUSD board member Bennett Kayser, who has early stage Parkinson's disease.
"But for someone who is used to reaching out to grab a railing from a wheelchair, it makes a difference."
Kayser said proper fixture adjustments are not just about meeting ADA compliance; they are a quality of life issue.
Still, he regrets that so much money will be spent on repairs.
"That's $30 million that could have gone to the classrooms," he said.
●●smf: This is not good, it is $30 million that could’ve+should’ve been better spent and taxpayers should be grumpy.
However School Construction Bond Funds specifically earmarked for special needs access compliance are being spent for these repairs – not General Fund “classroom dollars”. The money could not have “gone to classrooms”.
Schools where repairs are needed include Northridge Academy High School, Panorama City Elementary School, Rosa Parks Learning Center and Vista Middle School, among others.
Big projects include fixing accessibility into football fields, locker rooms, or bathrooms, Alleman said.
Repairs on the schools are expected to begin early next year, Gamble said. The $30 million for the project is expected to come from bond program funds associated with the original school construction money, Gamble said.
Alleman blames a breakdown among the district's architects, the California Division of the State
LAUSD Facilities Accessibility Compliance Unit representative Ken Arrington shows that a urinal is at the improper height at Columbus Avenue Elementary School in Van Nuys on Friday, Oct. 28, 2011. At least 80 schools within the LAUSD do not come in compliance with the American Disabilty Act. About $30 million in repairs will be made to correct the problems. (Andy Holzman/Daily News Staff Photographer) >>
Architect, local inspectors and contractors. In some cases, ADA-compliant toilets or bars were purchased, but installed incorrectly.
But the oversight also could have occurred because of the size of the district and the rapid growth of new schools, said Barbara Thorpe, president of Disability Access Consultants, Inc., which assists business and public entities in complying with local, state and federal regulations. The firm has worked with the LAUSD.
"I work with hundreds of school districts in California and on average, Los Angeles appears to have the most noncompliant items," Thorpe said.
But the issue persists across the nation as well, and she applauded the district for going back and making the repairs.
<< LAUSD Facilities Accessibility Compliance Unit representatives Ken Arrington, left, and Geoffrey Straniere measure a hand rail this is at the wrong height during a tour of Columbus Avenue Elementary School in Van Nuys on Friday, Oct. 28, 2011. (Andy Holzman/Daily News Staff Photographer)
"What I like is that they're stepping back and analyzing what went wrong and what they can do to make sure it doesn't happen again," she said. "Some districts will wait until they are sued until they make the changes. The ADA is not about building standards. It's about civil rights."
To be fair, Alleman said, LAUSD officials are now better trained in spotting what modifications are needed before they sign off on a building.
"You want to get it right before you (open the building)," Alleman said. "You can hold the architect accountable, and the contractors accountable before you close off the building."
He called the LAUSD progressive compared to other large school districts and even hospitals, hotels and other places frequented by the public.
"The district now, in my opinion, is far more ahead than any other large urban district in the United States," he said. "I think the future is very good, provided the district doesn't shoot itself in the foot."
Gamble said buildings constructed during the 2009-2010 school year are much closer to meeting the ADA requirements under the consent decree.
"The District's trend analysis of its 22 schools (2010 new K-12 schools) has demonstrated considerable improvements in the reduction of areas of non-compliance at new schools," according to a report by the Office of Independent Monitor, submitted by the LAUSD facilities department.
"As we've built more schools, we've learned what our compliance requirements should be," Gamble said. "We're staying engaged, to make sure we are hitting those exact dimensions. Our inspections have gotten better."
30 Oct 2011 - In 1979, in my hometown of Riverside, my father came home one evening with news from the linen plant where he worked. A group of women whose job it was to wash, dry, iron and stack hospital linen had been taken away by immigration officials that day. They were undocumented workers from Mexico and would be deported.
I was 18 when I heard this, and I couldn't stop thinking about the likelihood that the deported women had left children behind. What if one had been forced to leave her children with a neighbor she didn't like or trust, just for that morning, because she had no one else? What if a 10-year-old had been left to watch younger siblings, and then the house grew dark, and still no one came home? What would happen to those children now?
That summer, I wrote 50 pages in a notebook imagining the life of a young Mexican woman who was taken in an immigration raid, leaving her California-born daughter to be raised by a foster mother. It was a scenario I knew, since my own mother had raised foster children for years, and I knew how, for many of them, "mother" was just a distant idea.
But I didn't really understand — nor could I finish the novel — until I had daughters of my own, and nearly lost one of them. Only then did I begin to understand the full complexity of the story and why mothers, and fathers, would take such huge risks for the possibility of helping their families.
In 1997, I journeyed to Oaxaca so that I could see the landscape and talk to people about making the decision to risk it all and travel illegally to a new country. My daughters, 7 and 5, were surrounded by Mexican women who cooed over their hair and eyes, and offered them sweets and tortillas. But the younger one soon became very ill with a bacterial infection she had apparently picked up before leaving California. A kind Oaxacan woman helped us find a doctor, and my husband carried our delirious, nearly unconscious child for blocks and blocks to the doctor's home. We then had to trust that the injection he gave her was the antibiotic she needed, and that he knew how to make her better.
I was horrified. This was my fault. I had wanted to write about a mother who would do anything to find the child she left behind in the United States, and I had ended up putting my own daughter at risk in the country my character would flee.
When the fever finally broke, I walked to the nearest church where a dozen women with shawls over their heads were praying in front of La Virgen de Soledad, patron saint of Oaxaca. I told them in Spanish what had happened, and they showed me how to offer my own life for that of my child, assuring me that God would hear my prayer. That's what they were doing, on their knees, in the dark, with photos of their children and offerings of candles and coins and flowers.
I joined them. And when I returned, her father said that he had offered the same prayer, but alone in the hotel room with no candles, only her breathing.
This is what I learned in Mexico: that parents will make any sacrifice for their children. Why do so many come across the border illegally? If you told me that one of my daughters would die young after stepping on a nail in a village without a doctor, or that my girls would have to leave school because they were needed to work and support the family, or that they would be in danger every day from drug cartels, I can promise you I would risk everything to give them a better life, especially if that life was available just across the border.
This fall, we are watching a different kind of migration, as undocumented immigrants flee Alabama in the wake of a draconian new law that involves schools, employers, landlords and police in a comprehensive immigration crackdown.
It's no wonder immigrant families are fleeing Alabama. But are they returning to their countries of origin? That's not likely — not as long as they can do better for their children in another state.
Alabama farmers and other employers are having difficulty filling jobs, and when they do, the new workers aren't as willing to work long hours doing difficult labor.
Moises Beneros rides on the shoulders of another marcher as they walk down Elkton Road in Athens, Ala., during a protest against Alabama's immigration law Oct. 16. (The Decatur Daily, Gary Cosby Jr. / AP Photo) October 30, 2011
Living only 100 miles from the Mexican border, I've seen wave after wave of immigration and a variety of laws intended to control it. I saw lives changed by Reagan's amnesty in the 1980s and by Clinton's Operation Gatekeeper in the 1990s. And through all the policy shifts, the migration has continued. We can't simply open the borders, of course. But we need to acknowledge the labor issues, and family realities, that have produced the situation and develop policy that acknowledges those complexities.
A teacher friend told me recently about her second-grade student whose father was killed in drug violence. An uncle helped the boy and his mother get to California, but then the uncle was killed. The boy has nightmares and never says a word in class, and his mother is desperate. But will she return to Mexico? Would you?
Susan Straight's novel "Highwire Moon" explores the lives of a mother and daughter separated by the mother's deportation. Her most recent book is "Take One Candle Light a Room."
October 26, 2011 - The revised No Child Left Behind Actthat passed out of the Senate education committee last week goes too far in relaxing state accountability and federal oversight of student achievement. The business community, civil rights groups and advocates of disabled children are rightly worried that the rewrite of the law would particularly hurt underprivileged children.
The bill’s main sponsors — Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat of Iowa, and Senator Mike Enzi, a Republican of Wyoming — should take the criticism to heart and go back to the drawing board.
The original No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 is far from perfect. The Obama administration recognized that in September when it said that it would waive some of the law’s requirements for states that agree to several reforms, like creating new programs to overhaul the worst schools and comprehensive teacher evaluation systems.
The waiver plan would allow states to be rated on student growth on math and reading tests instead of simply counting up the percentages of students who reach proficiency on those tests. It would also require states to set goals for all schools and plan for closing achievement gaps and end the pass-fail system under which high-performing schools are rated as needing improvement if one racial or economic subgroup fails to reach the achievement target.
The plan encourages states to embrace data-driven systems and teacher-evaluation systems that take student achievement into account. But it has not been well received in the Senate, where some lawmakers seem to feel as if it usurps legislative power.
The Harkin-Enzi bill lowers the bar for reform and reduces federal pressure on the states. It focuses only on the bottom 5 percent of schools, essentially allowing states to do as they please with the rest. It backs away from requiring states to have clear student achievement targets for all schools, and does not require most schools to evaluate teachers rigorously.
Lawmakers are right that No Child Left Behind needs to be overhauled. But Congress needs to do this carefully, without retreating from core provisions that require states to do better by children in return for federal aid.
10-28-2011 - State and federal school-testing programs do little to improve instruction. By themselves, they do nothing to enable schools, principals, teachers and parents to work smarter. This week’s reports show how current testing policies can make us less smart; high-stakes tests narrow the mission of schools and restrict students’ preparation for key sectors of their communities and the economy.
When there’s news of test scores improving, declining or reaching certain thresholds, it’s usually only about English language scores and math scores. Those scores can determine schools’ reputations and sometimes their survival, not to mention educators’ jobs and salaries. So when schools are struggling with budgets, it’s predictable that instructional time and resources would be drained from subjects that that don’t directly boost language and math scores. Quickest to depart the curriculum were courses often related to students’ health and well-being, such as driver’s ed, cooking, aerobics, etc. Next, the arts hit the chopping block: choral and instrumental music, art appreciation, drawing, etc. Then civics and social studies. And now, science and technology are endangered. Are these the newest educational frills?
As with most problems facing American schools, the effects of neglecting science and technology education are felt most deeply by minorities and poor students. The Boston Globe reported that although African Americans are roughly 11 percent of the population, they received just 4 percent of master’s degrees and 2 percent of the Ph.D.s in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in 2009.
Even when science courses are listed in the curriculum, teachers may lack the deep knowledge necessary to make learning meaningful and relevant to other topics—teaching students “to do investigations, to discover things, to ask research questions, to collect data, interpret the data and report it out,” said Patrick Shields, director of SRI International, who led the study (KPCC). Standardized tests don’t assess whether students are equipped and eager for many high-level 21st century careers. Of course, application-oriented, hands-on assessments are possible, but there’s little pay-off for these if the accountability structure doesn’t value the content. In calculating a school’s Academic Performance Index score, for example, English counts for 57 percent, whereas science is 6 percent (San Jose Mercury News).
It’s not as if American teachers can’t teach or their students can’t learn science, technology, engineering, and math: trained teachers—like those in the college-preparatory Exploring Computer Science program, a partnership between UCLA and LAUSD—are teaching students to make connections, develop problem-solving skills, learn web design and programming, use technology to analyze data, and more.
Teachers will get students excited enough to pursue the STEM fields as careers just as soon as society decides that they (the subjects and the students) are important enough.
October 29, 2011 - Jasmine Delgado is one of the lucky ones. With advice from an older sister, the Santa Monica College student developed a plan that has helped her enroll in the classes she needs to transfer next year to a four-year university.
But many California community college students lack the motivation, guidance and resources to reach that goal. So, for the past year, a statewide task force has been studying ways to help them get there.
The panel held its first town hall meeting this week at the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce, attracting a packed audience of educators, community members and students who were given an overview and the chance to comment on draft recommendations that will be presented to the California Community Colleges' Board of Governors.
the 22 points
Increase College and Career Readiness 1.1. Collaborate with K-12 to jointly develop common core standards for college and career readiness. Strengthen Support for Entering Students 2.1. Develop and implement common centralized diagnostic assessments. 2.2. Require students to participate in diagnostic assessment, orientation and the development of an educational plan. 2.3. Develop and use technology applications to better guide students in educational process. 2.4. Require students showing a lack of college readiness to participate in support resources. 2.5. Require students to declare a program of study early in their academic careers
Incentivize Successful Student Behaviors 3.1. Adopt system-wide enrollment priorities reflecting core mission of community colleges. 3.2. Require students receiving Board of Governors fee waivers to meet various conditions and requirements. 3.3. Provide students the opportunity to consider attending full time. 3.4. Require students to begin addressing Basic Skills deficiencies in their first year. Align Course Offering to Meet Student Needs 4.1. Focus course offerings and schedules on needs of students. Improve the Education of Basic Skills Students 5.1. Support the development of alternatives to traditional basic skills curriculum 5.2. Develop a comprehensive strategy for addressing basic skill education in California. Revitalize and Re-Envision Professional Development 6.1. Create a continuum of mandatory professional development opportunities. 6.2. Direct professional development resources toward improving basic skills instruction and support services. Enable Efficient Statewide Leadership & Increase Coordination Among Colleges 7.1. Develop and support a strong community college system office. 7.2. Set local student success goals consistent with statewide goals. 7.3. Implement a student success score card. 7.4. Develop and support a longitudinal student record system. Align Resources with Student Success Recommendations 8.1. Consolidate select categorical programs. 8.2. Invest in the new Student Support Initiative. 8.3. Promote flexibility and innovation in basic skills through alternative funding mechanism. 8.4. Do not implement outcome-based funding at this time.
The proposals are for sweeping reforms that would move toward rationing access to community colleges, compel students to take more responsibility for their education and prioritize the types of classes being offered.
Under the state's Master Plan for Higher Education, community colleges have long offered an open door for anyone who sought to benefit. But the task force suggests that after years of state funding cuts, community colleges can no longer be all things to all people.
"To participate fully in education without accountability is a wonderful ideal, but that's not the reality we're in," said task force chairman Peter MacDougall, a member of the colleges' board. "How do we use our limited resources? There have to be priorities and there has to be focusing."
The 22 recommendations seek to "reboot" the system by prioritizing registration and fee waivers for students who participate in assessment and orientation programs, and who have concrete goals, such as a degree, certificate or to transfer to a four-year college. The panel estimates that tightening the criteria for fee waivers could save about $89 million annually, which could fund new support services.
Course offerings and schedules would be aligned to students' needs, including focusing on basic skills and classes needed to transfer. More authority would be given to the California Community Colleges chancellor to implement reforms over the state's 72 college districts and 112 colleges.
Campuses would be required to publish a score card, detailing their performance in such areas as completion rates.
Reaction to the effort was mixed at Thursday's town hall.
"If students have access but are never going to get anything out of it, I don't think we should be applauding that," said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the nonprofit Campaign for College Opportunity. She said her group will use its resources to support the measures.
The Faculty Assn. of California Community Colleges said it has not yet developed a formal response to the report.
For students like Nick Avetisian, the greatest need is for more class offerings.
"There might be 40 students already registered and 100 more trying to add," said Avetisian, 20, a Los Angeles City College student studying finance. "I think the score card is a good idea and would help you figure out what kind of school you're going to."
Delgado, 18, vice president of student government at the Santa Monica campus, said she hopes the panel will get more student input before presenting its recommendations. She is particularly concerned that campuses maintain access for low-income and other disadvantaged students.
"The points they raise are relevant but there are a lot of policies restricting the kind of access we have now," she said.
TASK FORCE ON STUDENT SUCCESS: Realistic or Radical?
October 24, 2011 - 3:0 | 0am California’s community college system is among the most idealistic in American higher education, with a deep commitment to sharing resources equally among all its 2.6 million students. That may soon change, as a state task force has argued that students who demonstrate academic progress should get the most attention, as well as financial incentives and first dibs in enrolling.
The task force's draft recommendations, released last month, are described as a “reboot” for the system. They would set higher expectations for the state’s 112 two-year colleges, which enroll one-quarter of the nation's community college students, and for the students themselves.
If enacted, the proposals could move the system away from being fully open access.
"Is it enough to provide access to education without the policies and practices that ensure students succeed in meeting their educational goals?” the 73-page task force report asks. “The answer is simply that we can no longer be satisfied with providing students open access and limited success."
Colleges should be graded on publicly available score cards that measure completion rates and other “student success” metrics, the task force said. And students who declare their program of study early and follow an academic work plan should be given priority in registering for classes – a key advantage for a system that turned 130,000 students away last year after a $300 million budget cut.
In an ideal world, community colleges would grant equal opportunities to all students, regardless of their academic preparation, said David Rattray, a task force member and the senior vice president of education and workforce development at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
"In a real world," Rattray said, "it’s not working."
California’s Legislature passed a bill last year requiring the system’s Board of Governors to create the Task Force on Student Success. The board appointed 20 members, including community college administrators, faculty members, a city mayor and business leaders.
The task force is collecting public comments on the report, and members plan to present a final version to the board and Legislature in early 2012. The board has the authority to adopt many of the changes, but some would require legislative action.
The recommendations already face criticism from both sides of the state’s philosophical divide. Faculty unions say some proposals could harm students who need time to hit their academic stride, and that community colleges are already focused on student success. And state lawmakers, who created the task force as a compromise on an initiative that would have introduced performance-based funding for community colleges, are already asking why the group punted on that issue.
But perhaps the biggest challenge for the recommendations becoming reality is California’s miserable budget outlook. While the task force stressed that many of its suggestions will not lead to new spending, or even save money, others, like centralized and online student advising systems, will require funding.
“The document is highly aspirational,” said Jonathan Lightman, executive director of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, who cautioned that the state’s money woes should not be used as cover for radical change. "In the midst of a budget crisis you have to be very careful about what you do."
Eloy Oakley doesn’t agree. Oakley, president and superintendent of Long Beach City College, said the financial crunch is the "perfect time" for community colleges to refocus their priorities. He calls the report a welcome "narrowing of the mission."
For example, California’s funding formula typically allocates more money for enrollment growth, which Oakley said has long encouraged colleges to chase growth at the expense of quality. And various student enticements that are currently in place, like a tuition waiver for lower-income students, do not recognize academic progress.
"We’re rewarding the wrong types of behavior," Oakley said.
California’s community colleges will factor heavily in whether the “completion agenda” being pushed by President Obama and powerful foundations, several of which helped pay for the task force’s work, has any chance of succeeding.
The state’s storied Master Plan for Higher Education guarantees that all residents who have the capacity and motivation to benefit from higher education should be able to attend community college. That guarantee hasn’t been panning out lately, according to the task force report.
“Given the scarcity of resources currently available to the colleges, the reality is, the state has failed to live up to that commitment and we as a system are rationing access to education,” the task force wrote. "While we continue to admit all students [who] apply, not all admitted students are able to enroll in the courses needed to meet their educational goals."
About 47 percent of current students can’t enroll in needed classes, according to system officials. The colleges lag behind national averages on most student performance measures, spending 40 percent more in institutional funds per degree and certificate produced, according to a recently released report from Sacramento State University’s Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy. And while the system serves a strikingly diverse, lower-income population, it hasn’t made much progress on wide achievement gaps.
In the past, college leaders say the preferred strategy for coping with an economic downturn was to just wait for generous budgets to return – California is the quintessential boom and bust state. But this recession is different, observers say, and the state’s money woes are far from over. Complicating the challenge is the colleges’ rock bottom annual tuition for full-time students of $1,080, about one-third of the national average, and the state's strong commitment to low tuition rates.
As a result, the task force said its charge was to find solutions that "refocused" the system and didn’t cost much. At a state senate hearing last week, Erik Skinner, executive vice chancellor for the system, said the task force understood that it couldn’t tell lawmakers “give us a billion dollars and we’ll do a bang-up job.”
The draft recommendations seek to redirect money and other resources toward students who are more likely to earn a credential, giving preference to first-time students and continuing students who stick to an academic plan. One suggestion, for example, would prevent students who have earned more than 100 credits from keeping their enrollment priority.
“The thinking here is that it’s time to free up that slot for someone else,” said Skinner.
Those are fighting words in California. As Lightman said, many faculty members are unhappy that the task force report favors students who are more goal-oriented and academically prepared. “What about the student who takes more time with exploration,” he asked, “before they know what their talents are?”
The task force, however, argues that credential-focused students deserve priority status.
“Policies that enable students to wander around the curriculum, withdraw and repeat classes multiple times, avoid services that could steer them along a productive pathway, and accumulate an unlimited number of units are a disservice to enrolled students and to those who can’t get into the system for lack of available classes,” according to the task force.
The report includes a proposal to modify the system’s tuition waiver, which eliminates tuition and fee charges for low-income students. Unlike state and federal aid programs, the task force notes that waiver recipients are not required to demonstrate “satisfactory academic progress” and that the waiver can be used for an unlimited number of credits. That would change under the recommendations, which include student progress goals for eligibility and a waiver cap of 110 credits.
Changing the waiver rules would save an estimated $89 million annually, according to the task force – money that could be plowed into new student support and retention strategies. And foundations might also help pay for some of the task force’s suggestions, observers said. One task force member, however, said the proposals won’t come cheap.
“I’m certain that many of the recommendations will have costs, both fiscal and human,” Jane Patton, past president of the Academic Senate for Community Colleges of California, said during the hearing last week.
The Academic Senate is still considering the report, according to a written statement. But the faculty group had fought the inclusion of performance-based funding, and its leaders are no doubt pleased that the proposal didn’t make it into the draft report. The task force was “deeply divided” on the issue of performance-based funding, according to the report, with a “vocal minority” of members pushing some form of that approach.
Resistance to performance funding is understandable, said Nancy Shulock, a task force member and director of the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy, because many previous efforts have been poorly conceived and harmful to colleges. That's too bad, she said, because California need not duplicate those mistakes.
"Give us credit for being smarter than that,” said Shulock, arguing that there are plenty of examples of effective performance funding, that properly weight colleges’ proportion of lesser-prepared students and reward intermediate outcomes. “Most states are doing it well.”
Although performance funding died on the cutting floor, the task force said its recommendation for colleges to be rated on publicly available score cards could have a similar impact, by forcing community college leaders to focus more on student performance. The score cards should be "robust accountability reporting" on student outcomes, with breakout data for ethnic groups. Colleges should be required to participate and post their scores in order to receive student support funding.
Several observers said they were impressed with the draft report’s overall assertiveness. And while the proposals have plenty of critics, task force members said they have a good chance of getting many of them enacted.
“I’m kind of amazed by the strength of some of the recommendations,” Rattray said. “We need to stand up and really drive this thing."
The attached is being sent to you on behalf of Michelle King, Senior Deputy Superintendent, School Operations.
smf: This is so obvious (or oblivious) it’s not scary. But, belittling not-much, be afraid anyway…
Memos aren't generally printed and sent out in school mail anymore, so this isn't a waste of paper and ink and toner and distribution resources – but in this email age it may be a waste of pixels and bandwidth and phosphors and screen time.
But the chain-of-command/org chart/who-works-for-whom issue is weird. “The attached is being sent to you (by Superintendent John) on behalf of Michelle King, Senior Deputy Superintendent, School Operations?”
by Stan Karp - teacher of English and journalism in Paterson, N.J., Director of the Secondary Reform Project for New Jersey’s Education Law Center and an editor of Rethinking Schools magazine | http://bit.ly/uoi9a5
“Fighting Broad and Gates is like whack-a-mole. Their network is stronger than ours at this point, but our own efforts are building and resonating.”
About a year ago I was invited to Portland to give a talk about who was bashing teachers and public schools in the wake of the release of the pro-charter propaganda film Waiting for Stupidman. Since then, it's been a year from hell for many teachers; at times it seems the people making education policy have completely lost their minds, and the attacks on public schools and those who work in them or rely on them have morphed in ugly and sometimes dangerous ways.
But it's also been a year of pushback, heroic resistance, and movement building. There are cracks in the corporate reform movement, recently reflected in the collapse of the coalition that supported NCLB, and there are signs of resistance everywhere (e.g. recent Tacoma strike).
So today I want to take a closer look at the corporate school reform movement because I think it can help expose where that movement is vulnerable to the most hopeful development of the past year, and that's the steady growth of a deep, broad and at times quite militant pushback against corporate reform.
There's been some discussion about whether the phrase "corporate school reform" is the right label for a set of proposals coming from private foundations like Gates, Broad, and Walton and their well-funded partners in elite corporate, media, and political circles. Some call it "market reform" or "neo-liberal reform." Some call it "de-form" instead of "re-form." Some call it "Rhee-form" with an R-h-e-e for Michelle Rhee, one of its most high profile representatives. I think my own favorite term is "reforminess," a label borrowed from comedian Stephen Colbert's rightwing TV persona whose beliefs and ideas are strongly held but have only a tenuous connection to reality, a quality he calls "truthiness." [BTW, even though I'm a big Colbert fan, you may have noticed his show has a steady stream of "reformy" heroes as guests: Kopp/Canada/Rhee/Guggenheim. It's because one of Colbert's chief producers is the wife of the self-appointed education pundit and corporate reform cheerleader Jonathan Alter.]
The corporate reformers like to call themselves just the "reformers" and counterpose themselves to the "status quo." And there's no doubt that the corporate/foundation crowd has successfully captured the media label as "education reformers." If you support testing, charters, merit pay, the elimination of tenure and seniority, and control of school policy by corporate managers you're a "reformer." If you support increased school funding, collective bargaining, and control of school policy by educators, you're a "defender of the status quo."
This bears no resemblance to reality or to the substance of the issues under debate. As Seattle's own parent activist Sue Peters put it so well in a blog post a few months ago, "The current crowd of education reformers like to dismiss any of us who disagree with their agenda as 'defenders of the status quo.' Nothing could be further from the truth. I am not a defender of the status quo in public education because the status quo is currently a beleaguered, underfunded system [that] has been ravaged by damaging policies...pushed by those who want to privatize our public schools."
Now I've also spent a large part of my adult life criticizing the flawed institutions and policies of public education—as a teacher, an education activist, and a policy advocate. Rethinking Schools has been pressing for radical reform of public education since it was started 25 years ago. But with debate about education policy now sharply politicized and polarized, it's important to be specific about the policies we oppose and why, and the alternatives we need to address the very real problems our schools face.
So I'm going to use "corporate reform" to describe a specific set of specific policy proposals and political forces driving current education policy at the state and federal level. This corporate reform movement advocates the following:
Increased test-based evaluation of students, teachers, and schools of education.
Elimination or weakening of tenure and seniority rights.
An end to pay for experience or advanced degrees.
Closing schools deemed low performing and their replacement by publicly funded, but privately run charters.
Replacing governance by local school boards with various forms of mayoral and state takeover or private management.
Vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition.
Increases in class size, sometimes tied to the firing of 5-10% of the teaching staff.
Implementation of common core standards and something called "college and career readiness" as a standard for high school graduation.
These proposals are currently being promoted by reams of foundation reports, well-funded think tanks, a proliferation of Astroturf political groups and canned legislation from the rightwing American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC).
Together these strategies use the testing regime that is the main engine of corporate reform to extend the narrow standardization of curricula and scripted classroom practice that we've seen under NCLB, and to drill down even further into the fabric of schooling to transform the teaching profession and create a less experienced, less secure, less stable, and less expensive professional staff. Where NCLB used test scores to impose sanctions on schools and sometimes students (e.g., grade retention, diploma denial), increasingly test-based sanctions are targeted at teachers.
Alongside these efforts to change the way schools and classrooms function, a larger social/political goal is reflected in the attacks on collective bargaining rights, union rights, and the permanent crisis of school funding across the country. These policies replace with a market-based system that will do for schooling what the market has done for health care, housing, and the labor market, produce fabulous profits and give opportunities for a few and unequal outcomes and access for the many.
It's been stunning to see this play out in my home state of New Jersey where I was a high school teacher for 30 years before going to work for New Jersey's Education Law Center, one of the nation's most successful legal advocacy projects for funding equity. Since I left the classroom five years ago, I've worked at ELC on reform issues growing out of a landmark funding equity case called Abbott.
For those not familiar with Abbott, it's worth noting briefly that for ten years, roughly between 1998 and 2008, New Jersey's Abbott decisions produced the highest funding levels in the country for poor urban districts. Some 30 districts with about 350,000 schoolchildren received per-pupil parity with the richest districts in a state that ranked at or near the top in school spending. They also received extra funding for supplemental programs including full-day, high-quality pre-school for 3 and 4-year olds, reduced class size, extended school days and years, concentrated early literacy programs, a multi-billion program of school construction, and an unprecedented set of health and social service supports. The Abbott districts were the only place I know where the kind of wraparound supports now universally praised in Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children Zone, which gets two-thirds of its funding from private sources, were mandated for all high-needs students and sustained, at least for a while, with public dollars.
This funding helped lay the basis for progress that was described by Linda Darling Hammond in a chapter in her most recent book, The Flat World and Education. She described New Jersey's public education system as one that:
Ranked in the top 5 states in every grade and subject tested by the National Asessment of Educational Progress.
Was one of the few states that had significantly reduced achievement gaps as measured by test score terms.
Saw its African-American and Hispanic students outscore the average student in California.
Had the highest overall graduation rate in the country.
Had the #1 high school graduation rate for Hispanic students and the #2 rate for African-American students
Accomplished all this in a strong teacher union state where 45% of the public school population is comprised of students of color.
Yet almost none of this was any defense against a fierce corporate reform attack on teachers and public education over the past two years. Fueled by NCLB's test and punish accountability system, the mainstream conversation has been all about public school failure and the need to reduce the power of educators over school policy while increasing the power of corporate managers and political bureaucracies. The attack has been led by Governor Chris Christie, a Republican protégé of Karl Rove—who is to education reform what MTV's Jersey Shore is to culture—and more recently by Chris Cerf—former CEO of the private education management firm Edison Schools and deputy chancellor under Joel Klein in NYC—who is now Christie's Education Commissioner.
The corporate reform campaign in New Jersey at times has reached bizarre media circus levels. It has involved everyone from Oprah to Mark Zuckerberg to Newark Mayor Cory Booker and the entire cast of WfS. The campaign covers the whole range of bad ideas from privatized charters to vouchers to test-based merit pay to attacks on union bargaining rights to massive intervention by unaccountable private foundations in the design and implementation of public education policy.
Two things have been painfully clear throughout this sustained attack on public education in New Jersey:
Deep racial and class inequality remains the Achilles heel of public education. New Jersey has a better equity record than most states, but the race and class divisions remain stark and appalling; fourth most segregated, the best black/Latino high school graduation rates in the country are still 20-30 points below rates for whites. One decade of Abbott progress was not enough to erase huge gaps in achievement and opportunity created by decades of separate and unequal schooling and, for young people of color, the school-to-prison pipeline is still a far greater reality in their lives than the mostly hollow college for all rhetoric. This inequality is the entry point that allows the corporate reform virus to enter and attack the entire system.
This attack on New Jersey's public education system has been immeasurably strengthened and legitimized by the Obama/Duncan Administration. Last April, Secretary of Education Duncan came to New Jersey. [It was about two years after some of us dreamed that Linda Darling-Hammond might be named Secretary of Education after an election many of us were desperately hoping we had won]. Duncan came on the same day that the New Jersey Supreme Court heard ELC's challenge to Governor Christie's $1.6 billion in school aid cuts. He came to Newark to talk about education reform. But he failed to say a single word about the Governor's cuts, which were so drastic the New Jersey State Supreme Court ultimately ordered $500 million restored for urban schools. Instead, Duncan staged a photo op with Christie and embraced him as a "partner" in his education reform efforts. In response, Christie said, "Secretary Duncan and I have a lot of common views and interests on the school reform agenda. What he and the president are doing is making possible the kind of reforms that are happening in New Jersey, that are happening in other states."We've seen this again and again (Central Falls/Raleigh...Obama's broken picket promise...Ohio, Ill., Indiana, Colorado).
Like a lot of us here today, I suspect, I supported Obama in 2008 out of a desperate desire to see an end to the era of war, hate, lies, and greed that flourished under George Bush and Republican rule. And the fact that Obama's administration has a bigger achievement gap between its policies and its rhetoric than any public school you've ever seen has no doubt been a contributing factor to the political funk progressive forces have been in for the past few years. The only thing more demoralizing than losing is thinking you've won only to find out you haven't.
But anyone who has followed the development of NCLB and corporate education reform knows it has always been a bipartisan project. And the support that the Obama Administration has given to corporate reform has been a major factor in its ascendency. It has also greatly facilitated the attempt of the hedgehogs, private foundations and billionaires who are driving the corporate education reform movement to attach their agenda of union busting, privatization, and test-based accountability to the needs of poor communities who have been poorly served by the current system.
This fall, instead of WfS, we have Steven Brill's book Class Warfare, which pretty much is to reporting on education policy what WfS was to documentary film making: a well-crafted but deeply ideological and completely inaccurate framing of the problems facing public education. Like Guggenheim's film, Brill's book is more valuable for what it tells us about the aims and mythology of the corporate reform movement than what it has to say about our schools or our teachers. But it's a good barometer of where that movement currently is and where it may be headed.
The book includes a starry-eyed look at how a tight circle of wealthy, well-connected, self-styled education reformers, most of whom never attended a public school or taught in a classroom, staged a virtual coup, seized control of federal education policy and drove it off the rails.
Brill makes it clear that Barack Obama was in partnership with this effort early on. One of the key vehicles for advancing the corporate reform agenda has been the Democrats for Education Reform, or DFER, a political lobby initiated and funded by hedge fund superstar Whitney Tilson. According to Brill, then-Senator Obama was present at the founding meeting of DFER in 2005, which was sponsored by a group of financial and charter school entrepreneurs, some of whom would later become key figures in the coming financial meltdown. DFER was formed explicitly to drive a wedge between Democrats and the two large teacher unions, the NEA and AFT, and to cultivate political support and develop strategies to bring market reform to public education. The fact that Obama won the Democratic nomination by defeating Hillary Clinton, who initially had the backing of both national teachers unions, only strengthened Obama's ties to the hedge fund/DFER crowd. After Obama won, DFER produced a strategy paper memorably entitled "Bursting the Dam," in which it described Obama's election as creating "unprecedented political conditions" for "fundamental reform of public education."
Brill describes how former Clinton staffers who helped construct the test and punish regime that eventually produced NCLB, were hired to lead DFER and how they used insider beltway politicking and lobbying to advance what had previously been a mostly Republican agenda of school choice, charters, testing and union attacks inside the new administration. Some of you will remember the campaign to replace Linda Darling Hammond as Obama's spokesperson on education issues and potentially his Secretary of Education with his Chicago crony and schools CEO Arne Duncan. This was not only one of DFER's first major successes; it was also just a small part of a strategy to staff every key education position in the Department of Education and the White House with people from the corporate, foundation, and think tank worlds committed to the corporate reform agenda.
One of the more ironic quotes in Brill's book comes from hedge fund billionaire Whitney Tilson who wrote "The whole idea behind Democrats for Education Reform [is] it has to be an inside job."
Now, the irony isn't only in dressing up a straight up anti-union, pro-privatization Republican agenda as a Democratic plan for education reform. But some of you will no doubt recognize the the phrase "inside job" as the title of the documentary film about the fiscal crisis which mercifully beat out WfS as best documentary last year. Even if you haven't seen either film, it's worth considering the parallels they suggest between corporate prescriptions for school reform and the economy.
One of the common themes used by corporate reformers is their persistent calls for "accountability." Brill complains that teaching has become "an occupation where performance just doesn't count... There really isn't any other workplace in the United States where how well you do, how energetic you are, how much you care, how professional you are doesn't count."
Now this is a fantasy that discounts the 24/7 pressure most teachers I know feel every day to prepare for their students while coping with the bureaucratic screws tightening from above. But it's a good indication of the bubble these self-proclaimed education policy experts live in.
According to Brill and the corporate reformers, the key to imposing the kind of accountability schools need is test-based evaluation of teachers. Brill goes so far as to describe what he calls "the discovery" that "good teaching matters" and that it can be measured by standardized test scores as "the beginning of a flood of scholarly work," much of it "financed by a data-obsessed wonk named Bill Gates" that would "reframe the education debate" and provide "ammunition" for a "growing network of reformers."
Now the corporate reformers misrepresent almost every aspect of this topic from the reliability of test-based evaluation formulas, to the research on merit pay, to the comparative academic performance of US students, to the impact of poverty, to straw man arguments about supposed reluctance of teachers to consider student progress in evaluating schools and teachers. But before looking at some of these specifics, it's worth reminding ourselves that this is a society that generally does not do accountability well.
For example, the movie Inside Job—again not to be confused with Whitney Tilson's Trojan horse education reform lobby—reminded us that "the financial crisis of 2008 costs tens of millions of people their savings, their jobs, and their homes." Yet "the men who destroyed their own companies and plunged the world into crisis walked away from the wreckage with their fortunes intact." Architects of the crisis like Summers and Geitner remained in high policy-making positions. Nobody from Goldman Sachs went to jail. Corporate profits and executive bonuses are at the highest levels in the history of the country. Where's the accountability?
Some of these same members of the financial wrecking crew are now righteous education reformers. NYC union activist Leo Casey recently noted that of the 10 names on Forbes' list of the richest Americans, only one "is not engaged in active political warfare against public school teachers and teacher unions." The rest are investing their fabulous wealth in campaigns for vouchers, charter expansion, Astroturf political groups like Michelle Rhee's self-promoting Students First, and efforts to end seniority and tenure rights for teachers.
And much as Inside Job documented how the academic economists who designed and promoted the theories that deregulated the financial markets and allowed the looting of the private and public wealth to proceed profited directly from these policies, today virtually the entire official world of education research and policy analysis is on the payroll of the Gates Foundation.
My own favorite example of this crowd is David Tepper, who lives in New Jersey, a few towns over from me. Tepper manages something called the Appaloosa Hedge fund. In 2009, partly because of the massive taxpayer bailout of the financial sector, Tepper made $4 billion dollars as a hedge fund manager. This was equal to the salaries of 60% of the state's teachers who educate 850,000 students. But for two years in a row, Governor Christie vetoed a millionaire's tax and cut $1 billion out of the state school budget, so people like David Tepper would have lower taxes. So this past year, flush with more money than God, Tepper followed the example of your own local billionaire Bill Gates, and created an education reform group called Better Education for Kids. He hired the states' chief lobbyist for school vouchers to be his executive director and began pouring millions of dollars which should be going to the public treasury into slick campaigns to promote vouchers, expanded charters, eliminate tenure and seniority and attack the state teacher's union. This is how the creation of public policy is being privatized in state after state.
And the economy is far from the only area of social policy where accountability is virtually non-existent. George Bush systematically lied a nation into a war that killed hundreds of thousands of U.S. and foreign citizens. No accountability. Former VP Dick Cheney, who should be facing a war crimes tribunal for authorizing torture and other violations of the US Constitution, is instead on the book tour circuit. Where's BP's accountability for the Gulf oil spill? Who's being held responsible for the march to global climate change disaster?
This absence of accountability for major social crimes teaches some very different lessons about how our society deals with responsibility for various social outcomes. And frankly, it makes a mockery of most discussions of accountability in education.
The same people and politicians who accept no accountability for having created the most unequal distribution of wealth in the history of the planet, an economy that threatens the health and well being of hundreds of millions, want to hold you accountable for your students' test scores. And they even want to use similar instruments to do it.
Standardized tests have been disguising class and race privilege as merit for decades. Today they've become the credit default swaps of the education world. Few people understand how either really works. Both encourage a focus on short-term gains over long-term goals. And both drive bad behavior on the part of those in charge. Yet these deeply flawed standardized tests have become the primary policy instruments used to shrink public space, impose sanctions on teachers, and close or punish schools. And if the corporate reformers have their way, their schemes to evaluate teachers and the schools of education they came from on the basis of yet another new generation of standardized tests, it will make the testing plague unleashed by NCLB pale by comparison. Right now, New Jersey is getting ready to implement a so-called "growth model" developed in Colorado, where they are now giving first graders multiple choice questions about Picasso paintings and using the results to decide the compensation level and job security of teachers.
Or take the issue of poverty. Again, I have no doubt that the majority of us agree that poverty is no excuse for school failure or year after year of lousy school outcomes; and much of the work of the people in this room is about proving that the potential of our students and communities can be fulfilled when their needs are met and the reality of their lives is reflected in our schools and classrooms.
But the contradictions of trying to promote positive change amidst intolerable conditions are becoming sharper. And in the current education reform debates, saying poverty isn't an excuse has become an excuse for ignoring poverty.
The corporate reform plans now being put forward do nothing to reduce or disperse the concentrations of 70/80/90% poverty that remain the central problem in urban education. Instead what we're getting is disruptive reform that is increasing instability, especially in our more vulnerable communities, and creating new forms of collateral damage for students, teachers, schools, and families.
Let's look for a minute at what the corporate reform has actually accomplished:
First the corporate reformers over-reached and chose the wrong target. They didn't go after funding inequity or poverty, they didn't go after reform faddism or consultant profiteering or massive teacher turnover or politicized bureaucratic management or the overuse and misuse of testing.
Instead, they went after collective bargaining, teacher tenure, and seniority. And they went after the universal public and democratic character of public education.
Look again at the issues the corporate reformers have made prominent features of school reform efforts in every state: rapid expansion of charters, closing low performing schools, more testing, elimination of tenure and seniority for teachers, and test-based teacher evaluation. If every one of these policies was fully implemented in every state tomorrow, it would do absolutely nothing to close academic achievement gaps, increase high school graduation rates, or expand access to college. There is no evidence tying any of these proposals to better outcomes for large numbers of kids over time. The greatest gains in reducing gaps in achievement and opportunity have been made during those periods where concentrated poverty has been dispersed through efforts at integration or economic growth for the black middle class and other communities, or where significant new investments in school funding have been made.
Yet the recent financial meltdown reduced the median household wealth of Hispanics by two-thirds and by 50% for African Americans and Asians. Today, over 46 million people live in poverty, the highest total since they started keeping figures in 1959. Child poverty rate is a shameful 22%, twice that in many poor communities, by far the highest rate in the developed world. In the past three years, 300,000 teachers have been laid off. In New York City, supposedly one of the national models of corporate reform under Mayor Bloomberg and former Chancellor Joel Klein, (who's now a digital educational entrepreneur for Rupert Murdoch), class sizes are the largest they have been in a decade. Over 7000 classes are larger than contractual limits. Nationally, two-thirds of the districts who responded to one survey said they are raising class sizes this year. And both Secretary. Duncan and his friend Bill Gates are traveling the country recommending that districts save money by increasing class sizes and expanding virtual classrooms while they're shutting down real ones.
The only thing corporate education reform policies are doing successfully is bringing the anti-labor politics of class warfare to the public sector and to public schools in particular. In fact, by over-reaching, demonizing teachers and unions, and sharply polarizing the education debate, corporate reform is undermining serious efforts to improve schools. They've narrowed the common ground by eroding the broad public support a universal system of public education needs to survive.
For example, there's actually a lot of common ground on the need to improve teacher support and evaluation. There's widespread agreement among educators, parents, and even administrators on the following:
better preparation and evaluation before new teachers get tenure (or leave the profession, as 50% do within 5 years).
reasonable, timely procedures for resolving tenure hearings when they are initiated.
a credible intervention process to remediate and if necessary remove ineffective teachers, both tenured and non-tenured.
But the over-reaching by corporate reformers has actually undermined efforts to promote teacher quality. They have detached the issue of teacher quality from the conditions that shape it. Their proposals are staffing our most challenging schools with novices or Teach for America temps on their way to other careers after a couple of years of resume-building. They are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into data systems and tests designed to replace collaborative professional culture and experienced instructional leadership with a kind of psychometric astrology. These data-driven formulas lack both statistical credibility and a basic understanding of the human motivations and relationships that make good schooling possible. These attacks on the profession are driving experienced teachers into despair, retirement, or rage. Corporate reform isn't elevating the profession, it's dismantling it.
One of the most dishonest framings, that has become a favorite of the corporate crowd, is to counter-pose the interests of "adults" vs. the "children." Their rhetoric righteously pits the interests of teachers and their unions against those of children, and there are certainly times when those interests diverge and when our unions have not adequately defended the interests of the families and communities we serve. But this same rhetoric never questions the adult motives of the hedge fund privateers, consultants, the private foundations, pundits, or politicians who are suddenly the champions of the poor. Only in the US could a campaign of billionaires to privatize and dismantle what's probably the most inclusive democratic institution we have left be dressed up as a selfless campaign for civil rights.
The "disruptive reform," that corporate reformers claim is necessary to shake up the status quo is increasing pressure on 5000 schools serving the poorest communities at a time of unprecedented economic crisis and budget cutting. The latest waiver bailout for NCLB, announced last week by Secretary Duncan, may actually ratchet up that pressure. While it rolls back NCLB's absurd adequate yearly progress system just as it was about to self-destruct, the new guidelines require states that apply for waivers to identify up to 15% of their schools with the lowest scores for unproven "turnaround" interventions, "charterization" or closing. These policies are already wreaking havoc in areas with high concentrations of poverty, high-need student populations, and clusters of struggling schools.
Teachers and schools, who in many cases are day to day the strongest advocates and most stable support system struggling youth have, are instead being scapegoated for a society that is failing our children. As Linda Darling-Hammond put it at the SOS march last summer, "Our leaders seek to solve the problems of the poor by blaming the teachers and schools that seek to serve them." At the same time, they are giving parents triggers to blow up the schools they have, but no say and no guarantees about what will replace them.
So where's the hope; where's the way forward? If corporate reform is leading us in a Race Over the Cliff, how do we turn back and go a different way? Let me try to give you some possibilities.
First, it's important to remember that corporate reform rests on fundamentally false premises. The corporate reformers do not represent the interests of poor communities of color, or for that matter, working or middle class communities. And test-based reform, which is now the status quo in public education and has been for sometime, has been a colossal failure on its own test-score terms.
And because reality still counts—despite the bizarre Wizard of Oz-like character of our media and political systems—corporate reform rests on a very weak foundation of false claims and failed policies. For all its deep pockets and political influence, it's a movement that has absolutely no way to deliver on its promises of better education for all, and particularly for our poorest and most vulnerable schools and communities.
Even though the people making policy are drawing the wrong conclusions, the collapse of the NCLB coalition is still a victory for ten years of grassroots opposition and organizing that exposed its test-and-punish approach as a predictable failure. Recent reports have fully exposed the myth of "reformy" progress in key cities like Duncan's Chicago and Bloomberg/Klein's New York City. Twenty years of corporate reform have failed to narrow achievement gaps or succeed even on its own narrow test score terms. In the past few months, merit pay has met the cheating scandals, an intersection of bureaucratic pressure, corruption, and bad policy that is likely to be a growing obstacle to claims of future miracles while producing more scandals and lawsuits.
The corporate reformers have successfully used deeply rooted inequalities in our society to construct a misleading narrative of failure and introduce market reform into public education. But because they've overreached and promised results and choices they cannot deliver, we need to turn their accountability rhetoric back upon them. We need to demand evidence that their market reform policies produce better outcomes for the majority of kids, and when they can't, we need to use the absence of that evidence to press for the limitation or reversal of the "disruptive reforms" they seek. And when their policies fail in one place, we need to share those results in their next target.
There was a good example of that last spring when Newark was searching for a new Superintendent and Seattle's former Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson surfaced as a candidate. The great work Parents Across America had done exposing the role of the Broad Foundation in spreading the corporate reform agenda laid a foundation of connections that allowed activists in Seattle and New Jersey to share history and information that helped quickly derail her candidacy. I know she's probably surfaced somewhere else already. Fighting Broad and Gates is like whack-a-mole. Their network is stronger than ours at this point, but our own efforts are building and resonating.
Some of that work includes defending the very idea of public education as a common good against free market, everyone-for-themselves mythology. One of the hopeful developments of the past year has been the emergence of a strong counter-narrative to the dominant corporate line on reform. Led by Diane Ravitch's emergence as a prominent critic of the corporate reform agenda, there's been an explosion of progressive policy blogs, analysis, and social media pushback to the corporate crowd. Well-read teacher bloggers like Anthony Cody, Nancy Flanagan, and teacherken Bernstein produce a steady stream of accessible refutations of "reformy" nonsense, rooted in the experience of real teachers and schools. A recent listing of the most influential education tweeters was headed by Ravitch and included progressives like Alfie Kohn, Mike Klonsky, and Leonie Haimson in the top 12.
It's especially satisfying to see how effectively the social media activists can be in disrupting the official line. Last May, when Secretary Duncan wrote a condescending letter of support for US teachers, he was inundated with responses and counter-commentaries highlighting the contradictions between his lofty sentiments and his destructive policies.
A few months ago, in a moment of clueless arrogance, director Davis Guggenheim posted an invitation on the Huffington Post to "Teachers, to tell me what you think" (along with a discount offer to see his teacher-bashing film during Teacher Appreciation Week). In return, he received pages upon pages of scathing comments from educators and parents. Perhaps the best response came from a veteran early childhood teacher who said: "I felt personally offended by your film. Its oversimplified and antagonistic message has stirred me into becoming a whole education activist."
And of course, that's the key. Because democratic ideas are only as strong as the ability of people to organize movements to implement them. So let me end by offering a quick survey of some of the hopeful, tangible signs of organizing resistance and alternatives to the corporate reform agenda and then open it up for discussion about how corporate reform is affecting your schools and classrooms and how we might build the movement against it over the coming year.
In no particular order, let me mention 10 hopeful signs that the tide is turning against corporate reform:
I've already mentioned Parents Across America (PAA) which has linked experienced parent activists from Seattle to Chicago to New Orleans to New York, Florida, and elsewhere into a growing parent voice for better policies. The landscape is different in every city, but there is no more crucial work than building an alliance between parents and teachers to defend and improve public education. Even a small group of activists representing teachers, parents, and progressive academics can have a big influence on local reform debates if they work together. If you haven't connected to PAA already, do it.
The outpouring of critical response to Waiting for Superman last fall was when a lot of teachers discovered they were not alone. Rethinking Schools' "NOT Waiting for Superman" campaign drew tens of thousands of supportive responses and has created an archive of information and resources for countering corporate reform that's still growing. In New York City, the GEM produced a documentary response to the film entitled The Inconvenient Truths Behind Waiting for Superman that's served as a rallying point for organizing and discussion across the country.
The two large teacher unions, the AFT & the NEA, have had mostly weak and defensive responses to the policy attacks of the past few years. But they are being pressed by both their members and by reality to develop more effective responses. This includes on-the-ground efforts at reform and the election of activist teacher leaders like Karen Lewis in Chicago and Bob Peterson in Milwaukee. Years of failing to effectively mobilize their membership or develop effective responses to school failure in poor communities have taken a big toll on the ability of our unions to lead the charge in defending public education. But their role remains crucial and activists have begun to rebuild that power on the basis of new politics and new coalitions with the communities schools serve.
The heroic Wisconsin rebellion. More than a month of sustained large scale protests and organizing that's still targeting a recall effort for Gov. Scott Walker. Check out OneWisconsinNow.org for the latest.
In Ohio, outrage over another anti-labor bill, SB#5 helped over generate 1.3 million signatures to put a referendum on the ballot and the measure may be repealed this November by popular vote.
There's a growing national movement of parents and students to opt out of standardized testing. This effort has the potential to mobilize large numbers of parents and students in the fight against the testing plague. Check out Unitedoptout.com or Testing is Not Teaching.
The growth of locally-based teacher activist groups. There are now active Teachers for Social Justice groups with various names in Chicago, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Portland, New York City (where there are multiple groups), St. Louis, Atlanta, and New Jersey to name just the ones I can remember. If there's one in your town, join it. If not, start one.
Education for Liberation is a national network of educators, youth, and community activists, led by people of color, doing great work on school-to-prison pipeline, youth organizing, and other social justice issues. Their conference in Providence this summer was probably the biggest and most dynamic yet.
The Save Our Schools march and conference last July reflected both the growth and the as yet unfulfilled potential of a national teachers' voice in defense of public education and the teaching profession. Interestingly, the SOS project did not begin with radical political activists, but with impeccably well-credentialed national board certified teachers, who attempted to engage the Obama administration to discuss it's education policies and who were stunned by the arrogance and ignorance of the response. A project that began with Anthony Cody's Teachers Letters to Obama found itself pushed by the aggressive acceleration of corporate reform into a more political and activist response. The media offensive of last fall around Waiting for Superman and the state-by-state battles last winter and spring convinced many that a national mobilization was sorely needed. The well-credentialed, experienced teachers at the center of the project were able to attract a significant number of well-known, respected advocates for public education who threw their support behind the effort, including Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol, Linda Darling-Hammond, Pedro Noguera, Angela Valenzuela, Nancy-Carlsson Paige and others. Actor Matt Damon added media visibility and celebrity star power and Parents Across America broadened the project's base and outreach, as did savvy use of social media. The event had an impact far beyond the 8000 people who turned out for the rally, and while it remains to be seen whether SOS will be able to harvest what it started and sustain a national network, local and state groups are building on the grassroots energy that SOS helped set in motion.
And finally there's my own home base, Rethinking Schools, which has somewhat miraculously survived to this year celebrate its 25th anniversary as a voice for activist educators. Rethinking Schools has always tried to connect efforts to create classrooms that are places of hope and humanity with larger struggles for racial and social justice. It made me a better teacher in the classroom and a better activist outside it. I don't think it's ever been more important to fight on both fronts and I thank you for letting me be part of that effort today.