Monday, August 29, 2011

Education Texas Style

Published on Thursday, August 25, 2011 by the Austin American Statesman

What Did You Learn in School Today? (The Texas Version)

Millions of Texas students head back to school this week confronted by a dramatically altered, state-mandated social studies curriculum.
The contentious hearings of the Texas State Board of Education received considerable attention in the spring of 2010, but seem to have fallen out of the public consciousness as the new school year begins. The new curriculum, officially called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, deserves renewed attention, as it will undoubtedly surprise most Texans.
The fiercest battle during the board's hearings was fought over the 11th-grade history curriculum, which in Texas is "United States History since 1877." The exception to that timeline is the new state-mandated "Celebrate Freedom Week," during which students will learn about our founding fathers. That sounds simple enough, except that the only founding fathers included in the curriculum are Benjamin Rush, John Hancock, John Jay, John Witherspoon, John Peter Muhlenberg, Charles Carroll and Jonathan Trumbull Sr. What about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or John Adams? They are nowhere to be found in the new high school TEKS. Students apparently learned everything they need to know about them in eighth grade.
As part of the board's effort to emphasize the positives in American history, students will no longer learn about "American imperialism." Instead students will discuss "American expansionism" and come to understand how "missionaries moved the United States into the position of a world power." The board eliminated mention of our government's use of propaganda during World War I, and instead of analyzing Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II, students will now analyze the development of the bomb. Additionally, students will now "evaluate efforts by international organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty." The board included Estee Lauder in the state curriculum, but not George Washington.
Perhaps you have heard something about a labor movement in the 20th century? No longer will your children. The only reference to a 20th-century labor movement will come when learning about Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. No mention of the Fair Labor Standards Act or the National Labor Relations Act. No mention of strikes or any labor dispute. The words "labor movement" were taken out of the TEKS. Perhaps there is not enough time because students must now "understand how the free enterprise system drives technological innovation ... such as cell phones, inexpensive personal computers and global positioning products."
Students will learn about the contributions of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. Maybe the students will read Falwell's claim that feminists and homosexuals were partially responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Phyllis Schlafly, the Heritage Foundation and the NRA are all included. Students will also be required to "discuss the meaning of ‘In God We Trust.' "
History in Texas classrooms will be decidedly different from when we were students. I never learned "both the positive and negative impacts of ... country and western music" in my high school history class. Where would you rate Estée Lauder in terms of historical importance to our country? If you think she is one of the 68 most important historical figures, you agree with the board. Yes, the board included her in the state curriculum, but not George Washington.
I also never learned that the findings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities were confirmed, perhaps because it is not true. It puts teachers in an awkward position by asking them to teach something that is historically inaccurate. I will not have to deal with that issue in some of my classes because my Advanced Placement U.S. History classes are not required to follow the state curriculum. I am guessing that the Texas Education Agency realizes that students could never pass national exams while learning the state-mandated curriculum.
During the next decade, we should not be surprised when university professors lament that Texas students are not prepared for college. Malcolm X once said, "Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today." You might remember a historical figure named Malcolm X, but your children won't. Malcolm X is not in the social studies curriculum in Texas. Now if you will excuse me, I have to do some research on Estée Lauder. She was not mentioned in any of my graduate history courses, either.
© 2011
Craig Studer is a public school teacher in Austin, TX. He has a master's degree in curriculum and instruction and a master's degree in U.S. history.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Randi Weingarten/AFT Forgets Class Size

The American Federation of Teachers’ Quality Education Agenda
American public schools have a responsibility to prepare all students for the opportunities and challenges that await them, and in so doing, to develop an educated citizenry that strengthens our country. Our aspirations for our children are inseparable from our societal imperatives.
Every day, in classrooms across the country, teachers help move us toward those goals. But our schools are not organized or supported in a way to provide all children with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life and career. By and large, our education system, public and private, has not been affected by the knowledge-driven revolutions that have transformed so many other sectors—technology, medicine, manufacturing and communications, to name a few. As a result, too many American schools are not equipped to prepare students for pursuits in these areas, or in others yet to emerge or be imagined.
Many American education policies reinforce the inadequacies of our approach to education: the misuse of standardized testing, the narrowing of the curriculum, the emphasis on competition over collaboration, and other top-down reforms that have divested parents and teachers of input and have led to inadequate support and difficult conditions—all producing rampant teacher turnover. Add to that the deep, harmful and ongoing cuts to education, and it’s little wonder that the United States falls below many other countries on international education comparisons. (It should be noted, however, that if we control for our higher rate of child poverty, U.S. students perform as well as or better than all our competitors. This speaks volumes about the necessity to address children’s poverty issues with healthcare, social services and after-school programs.)
Such an approach to education will not get our children, our communities or our country where we need to go. Test-taking skills must take a back seat to developing students’ ability to analyze and apply knowledge. Memorization must give way to true mastery of concepts. Narrowed curricula must be broadened to give students the breadth and depth of knowledge they need to be truly well-educated individuals. The education we provide our children—all our children—must help develop their capacity to problem-solve, think critically and approach challenges with ingenuity. And in order for children to do all this, their teachers must be well trained, supported and developed throughout their careers; given true voice in their work; and treated as professionals.
American public education must change; that much is beyond dispute. But how to change it is a matter of great debate, with two main theories emerging.
Those who describe themselves as education “reformers” advocate top-down overhauling of systems, using standardized testing in math and English as the primary measure of student and teacher performance and success, and using competition to leverage change, although neither approach has been shown to improve student achievement. Their tactics are intentionally disruptive and invite instability: frequently opening and closing entire schools rather than fostering stable, successful neighborhood schools; and cycling through a procession of short-term teachers, seeking to fire, instead of develop, large numbers of teachers. They require teachers to implement policies made without their input, yet in effect shift responsibility for school outcomes solely onto teachers. They use international comparisons to denigrate American schools, but pursue practices that are antithetical to the successful strategies employed in high-achieving countries.
This stands in stark contrast to the approach to educational improvement supported by the American Federation of Teachers and other advocates for systemic, effective education reform. In a speech shortly after becoming president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten said that, when it comes to education reform (with the exception of vouchers), “Everything should be on the table, provided it is good for kids and fair to teachers.” Since that time, the AFT has pursued a quality education agenda focused on evidence (to ensure quality, efficiency and effectiveness), equity (to provide a great education to all children), scalability (to make success systemic, not isolated) and sustainability (so that the reforms outlast changes in school, district and union leadership; don’t fall prey to budget cycles; and aren’t buffeted about by political shifts). And the AFT and our affiliates have sought to achieve this through collaborative efforts and shared responsibility.
The AFT’s quality education agenda is based on best practices in American public school systems as well as in high-achieving countries. In this theory of education reform, teachers and teachers unions are partners in reform—not impediments.
The American Federation of Teachers’ Quality Education Agenda:
The major proposals the AFT has developed and implemented are serious and comprehensive. They focus on the two primary linchpins of educational attainment—what students need to succeed, and what their teachers need to facilitate success. And they include the societal support necessary to foster the conditions to achieve all this.
Teacher Development and Evaluation
With few exceptions, the best teachers, the ones who make a difference in children’s lives year after year, are made, not born. That is why an ongoing teacher development program, closely aligned with teacher evaluation and due process, is crucial to reform that lasts. When we started this work in April 2009, teacher evaluations (with few exceptions) were broken—brief, isolated classroom visits providing often meaningless snapshots.
The AFT set about to design a better way. We convened leading independent teacher evaluation experts, as well as educators and teachers union leaders, to develop a teacher development and evaluation framework that overhauls the way most teachers currently are evaluated. This framework is rigorous, objective and in-depth. It provides a foundation for teacher evaluation to be a supporting exercise, not simply a sorting exercise.
The AFT is helping to put into place development and evaluation systems that help new and struggling teachers improve, help good teachers become great, and accurately identify teachers who do not belong in the profession. These systems focus on improving the vast majority of teachers, not just removing a small minority, in order to ensure that all kids are taught by the excellent teachers they deserve.
Since we announced this framework in January 2010, more than 100 school districts have started working with the AFT to adopt this more effective way of evaluating teachers and developing their skills. And in July 2011, the American Association of School Administrators joined us as a partner in implementing the framework in school systems across the country.
Our focus on developing great teachers once they are in the classroom is not intended to ignore or minimize the issue of teacher preparation. Pipeline issues must be addressed to ensure that our nation’s schools of education properly prepare and train future teachers, and that new teachers receive mentoring and other support through induction programs to reduce high turnover rates.
Some officials seem to believe you can fire your way to good teaching. Not only is such an approach disruptive to learning, it defies both common sense and voluminous research showing that teachers improve over time and with support.
In addition, trying to fire your way to good teaching is very costly, making it untenable in this difficult fiscal environment. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future found that teacher turnover costs the nation $7.34 billion each year. That figure includes the amount of money it takes annually to recruit, hire, process and train new teachers. This approach is not just bad education policy, it’s bad economic policy.
The AFT also has proposed a process for aligning teacher evaluations to due process. Our proposal begins with implementing a comprehensive teacher development and evaluation system, such as the one outlined above. In cases where teachers are deemed to be unsatisfactory, it triggers an improvement and support process that can last no longer than one year. At the conclusion of the support and assistance period, an administrator judges whether the teacher is now performing up to the standards. The school district decides whether to retain or remove a teacher, a decision that can be reviewed by a neutral third party. The entire hearing process can take no longer than 100 days, and in many cases would be much faster.
Students need great curricula, delivered within an environment that eliminates barriers to success. Our children won’t have the opportunity to become the thinkers, innovators and leaders of tomorrow if they have been taught only the subjects tested. Curricula should ground students in areas ranging from foreign languages to physical education, civics to the sciences, history to health, as well as literature, mathematics and the arts.
A curriculum does what academic content standards can’t do. It provides teachers with a detailed road map for helping students reach the standards. It is the how-to guide for teachers. The curriculum provides information to teachers about the content, instructional strategies and expectations for student performance levels necessary to meet the standards. A curriculum must be comprehensive without being restrictive; it must provide examples and allow for flexibility; and it must establish the broad parameters within which teachers apply their professional knowledge and judgment.
Curricula do not work in isolation and must be a part of the entire system—including reading materials, textbooks and software; information on instructional strategies to help teach the standards in a variety of ways; professional development; and assessment. Curricula and these supports must be aligned with the academic standards and standards-based assessments that students are expected to master, including the Common Core standards for reading and math. And teachers must have access to high-quality, ongoing professional development to help them use the curricula to differentiate their instruction to ensure all students succeed. Right now, such curricula aren’t routinely in place, and many teachers are forced to make it up every day.
 Community Schools—Schools as the hub of a neighborhood
While good teaching is crucial to student learning, there are factors in every child’s life that are beyond the teacher’s control and may deeply affect the child’s ability to perform well in school. In fact, decades of research have shown that out-of-school factors account for up to two-thirds of student achievement results. Sadly, there are more impediments to learning in the lives of poor children than there are in the lives of children from more advantaged circumstances. If we are to close the achievement gap, we must address the factors that impede learning. This is especially important now, when the struggling economy has increased the pressures on families.
The most direct and effective solution is to provide accessible services right in the school. Schools can coordinate with local providers—medical providers, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other local nonprofits, for example—to provide services where families can readily access them. The community schools model has proven successful in a number of school systems, and it should be replicated more widely.
Community schools typically are open beyond regular school hours to provide access to tutoring, homework assistance and recreational activities, as well as medical, dental and mental health services. Families and other community residents also may benefit from legal advice, immigration assistance, employment counseling, housing help and English-language or GED instruction, depending on needs. These services can alleviate family crises and stresses that interfere with children’s schooling.
Teachers are a critical focal point for coordinating the services that each child needs and ensuring that academic services are connected with what children are learning in school. Community schools have been supported by numerous AFT affiliates, including the successful programs in Syracuse, N.Y., where Say Yes to Education, a nonprofit foundation, links students and their families to needed services, including a guarantee of tuition to a state university or college for high school graduates. And in Cincinnati, Community Learning Centers provide access to health and social services, as well as enrichment, tutoring and adult education programs. Among the benefits have been higher student test scores, and better attendance and parent involvement rates. In addition, the AFT Innovation Fund is supporting the expansion of community schools in Philadelphia and West Virginia.
Top-down, dictatorial mandates are a prescription for failure in public education, as in most other sectors. As a theory of action, collaboration—in other words, teamwork or working together—has boundless potential. Collaboration based on shared responsibility means that parties are willing to solve problems, confront challenges and innovate in a system that promotes trust and that values involvement in decision-making. Collaboration is not an end in itself, and it cannot be done in isolation. It is used in service of a mission—in this case, improving student success.
Collaborative work—interest-based bargaining, finding the solution instead of winning and losing—is something that too few school systems have enough experience with. Collaborative reform leads administrators, teachers and parents to work together toward goals on which they all agree, using methods they all accept. Collaboration by itself won’t create systemic change. But it is the vehicle that creates trust, that enables risk, and that fosters shared responsibility. Given the complex work we do in education, it only makes sense to draw broadly on people’s knowledge and to join forces to improve outcomes.
Many school districts have moved collaboration from theory to practice. In Lowell, Mass., the partnership between the United Teachers of Lowell and the superintendent laid the foundation for changes that have greatly improved student outcomes in the district. The former superintendent and union president worked in concert: visiting every school in the district together, sharing student achievement data and goals, listening to teachers’ concerns and soliciting their suggestions. Lowell has a new superintendent, but collaboration has been key to the district’s success, and the expectation is that it will be the hallmark of labor-management relations in the district going forward.
The ABC Unified School District in southeastern Los Angeles County once was mired in labor-management conflict and unacceptable conditions for teaching and learning. The resolution of a divisive strike and the arrival of a new superintendent provided an opportunity to wipe the slate clean. The teachers union and the new superintendent jointly developed an intensive reading program targeted to assist struggling schools in the district. The success of that partnership led to further collaborative efforts around curriculum, the use of data to improve student achievement, and an innovative program to mentor new teachers. The union and district have been awarded an AFT Innovation Fund grant to extend administration-union partnerships to 10 schools through projects tied to student achievement. And the superintendent and union president—both of whom are successors to those who seeded this collaboration—regularly present their approach to other districts and education observers, in hopes of expanding it to many more school systems. While the superintendent and union president positions are now both held by new people, the culture of collaboration has lasted.
In Charlotte County, Fla., school management and union leaders created Partnership and Performance Councils in their 2004 collective bargaining agreement, allowing for teachers and staff to provide input on decisions affecting teaching and learning. The collaboration and joint professional development academies have been credited for increases in student achievement and graduation rates.
America’s public schools truly are the public’s schools—given the responsibility of educating all children; imparting the knowledge, values and skills required for full civic participation; and dependent upon (and reflective of) the support and involvement of the communities in which they are located.
The AFT is committed to strengthening the ties between public schools and their communities for the benefit of all. This commitment is evident in our work and priorities at the national level—through initiatives such as Faith in Action, which brings together leaders from the Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Protestant communities, along with AFT leaders and staff, to work on areas of common concern. The AFT has also actively supported efforts such as the One Nation march, a major event last fall backed by community and civil rights groups, faith leaders and labor unions to build support for an agenda promoting secure jobs, high-quality schools and equal opportunity.
Many AFT affiliates are focusing on connecting with their communities too. The Cleveland Teachers Union, for example, is involved in ongoing efforts with local business leaders, educators, clergy and parents to strengthen Cleveland’s public schools and communities. In Detroit, the AFT and the Detroit Federation of Teachers are engaging the community in developing a reform agenda for the city’s public schools, listening to community groups and asking them to partner with the union on school improvement efforts.
New York City’s United Federation of Teachers has worked tirelessly over the past decade to partner with parents, community leaders and faith-based institutions to maintain and improve relations between the union and the community. For example, the union hired parent and community liaisons to promote parent advocacy and sponsor regional parent conferences. It also maintains a popular Dial-a-Teacher homework assistance program. For the 2011 school year, the UFT’s Albert Shanker scholarship fund provided scholarships to 250 low-income public high school seniors, totaling more than $1 million. And the UFT’s latest outreach efforts involve developing ongoing partnerships with the faith community.
The interconnectedness between community values and the goals of America’s labor movement was made clear recently in Wisconsin. There, the governor sought legislation to strip public workers of bargaining rights and voice on the job. Rather than seeing this as affecting only union members, the people of Wisconsin railed against what they saw as an attack on democracy and fairness that would adversely affect the quality of their lives. The groundswell of opposition to the governor’s efforts included farmers, teachers, parents, religious communities, union members and nonunion members alike.
Similarly, in Ohio, nearly 1.3 million people signed petitions to allow voters in the state to vote this fall on whether to repeal legislation curtailing union rights. If the petition had been signed by every union member in the state but not a single additional person, it would have fallen short. Instead, widespread community mobilization secured five times the number of signatures necessary to put the measure on the ballot.

Two ATR Job Fairs This Week

Dear Teacher, 


The summer is winding down but there are still opportunities for you to
meet face-to-face with principals who are looking to staff their
vacancies with quality experienced teachers!  You are invited to
register for two upcoming Citywide Teacher Recruitment Fairs taking
place next week on Tuesday, August 30, 2011 and Thursday, September 1,
2011.  We strongly encourage you to attend both in order to increase
your ability to network directly with principals.  You will receive
another email with instructions to pre-register online to speed up your
check-in process at the event.  However, pre-registration is not


The first citywide fair will be held on Tuesday, August 30, 2011, 2 pm
at the Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY. Due to West
Indian Day parade activities, museum parking is not available.  For
subway directions, we recommend you utilize  


The second citywide fair will be held on Thursday, September 1, 2011, 2
pm at the Armory Foundation located at 216 Fort Washington Ave, New
York, NY. We recommend you utilize the subway as there is limited street
parking available. For subway directions, we recommend you utilize  


Both of these events are for teachers interested in meeting with
principals who will be looking for quality, experienced educators to
fill their vacancies.  With over 1,600 schools and programs throughout
the city, the students that need you most may be in another district.
We encourage you to network with principals in multiple districts.  We
strongly encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity as this is
an important chance for you to connect directly with principals to find
a new teaching position before the school year begins.



Important reminders related to your status as a teacher in excess:


1)      Be proactive in your job search.  As a reminder you should make
every effort to find a new position before September 6, 2011.  Take
advantage of these remaining summer weeks to seek out a new position.
Now is the time when the widest range of positions are available.  Also
remember, that if you do not secure a position for the school year you
may be assigned to a different school each week as a member of the
Absent Teacher Reserve.

2)      Use the Excess Staff Selection System (ESSS).  In addition to
attending recruitment fairs, you can use the Excessed Staff Selection
System to search and apply for vacancies at  We
recommend you check back often as new vacancies are created throughout
the summer.  If you registered with the Open Market Hiring System (OMT)
during the transfer period, you do not need to register again.  As of
August 10, OMT has reopened as ESSS, in which only teachers in excess
will be able to view and apply for vacancies.  Being registered in ESSS
is necessary to obtain your assignment for the first day of school if
you do not secure a position prior to that time. 

3)      Visit the Teacher Hiring Support Center (THSC) website at to find a host of resources such as sample
teacher interview questions and templates to support you in finding your
next position. 


Questions.  If you have any difficulties with online pre-registration
for the recruitment fair or questions about THSC's services please
contact us at (718) 935-5280. If you have questions about your status as
a teacher in excess you should contact your school. You can also call HR
Connect at (718) 935-4000.


We look forward to helping you to find and be selected for a new
teaching position for the coming school year.   If you have any
questions about any of our events, please contact us at or (718) 935-5280. 





Teacher Hiring Support Center

NYC Department of Education

Friday, August 19, 2011

NY Times: Negative review of Steven Brill's book

Steve Brill’s Report Card on School Reform

Published: August 18, 2011

Steven Brill is a graduate of Yale Law School and the founder of Court TV, and in his new book, “Class Warfare,” he brings a sharp legal mind to the world of education reform. Like a dogged prosecutor, he mounts a zealous case against America’s teachers’ unions. From more than 200 interviews, he collects the testimony of idealistic educators, charter school founders, policy gurus, crusading school superintendents and billionaire philanthropists. Through their vivid vignettes, which he pieces together in short chapters with titles like “ ‘Colorado Says Half of You Won’t Graduate’ ” and “A Shriek on Park Avenue,” Brill conveys the epiphanies, setbacks and triumphs of a national reform movement.
Some of his subjects, like Wendy Kopp of Teach for America, are by now household names; others, like Jon Schnur, an adviser to the Clinton and Obama administrations, are more obscure. But in Brill’s telling, they have all come, over some two decades, to distrust or denounce the unions and to promote the same small set of reforms: increasing the number of charter schools and evaluating and improving teacher quality through merit pay and other measures that rely heavily on student test scores.
Throughout, Brill reminds us he’s just an objective reporter. Disinterested, however, is not how he comes across. He recounts an educator’s motto to “teach like your hair’s on fire.” For most of the book, Brill writes like his hair is on fire. His sympathies clearly lie with the unions’ most adamant critics, like Michelle Rhee, the controversial former superintendent of the District of Columbia public schools, and Joel Klein, the combative ex-chancellor of the New York City system.
I say this as someone whom Brill might pick for a jury pool. I taught for three years in New York as a charter member of Teach for America and had my own run-ins with the union. (An article I wrote, which praised Kopp’s then-­fledgling organization and made some of the same criticisms Brill does, angered my union representative.) This fall, my daughter will be attending public school, and I’ll be teaching at a private, reform-­minded urban academy in New Jersey.
Yet, after reading “Class Warfare,” I can’t convict — not least of all because in the book’s final chapter, Brill undercuts much of his witnesses’ prior testimony in an abrupt and jarring about-face. This chapter isn’t wrong. But it underscores a truth Brill spends most of the book trying to avoid: his case is not airtight, and reasonable doubts remain about his subjects’ prescriptions for reform.
Brill’s book grew out of a 2009 New Yorker article about New York’s “rubber rooms,” where some 600 teachers facing disciplinary review had languished, for three years on average, collecting full salaries and accruing pension benefits as their cases snaked through the labyrinthine, contractually mandated system for terminating employees. Although these men and women represented a minuscule fraction of the city’s 89,000 teachers (and the rubber rooms have since been closed), Brill rightly argues in “Class Warfare” that rules for dismissing ineffective or even grossly negligent teachers are sometimes absurdly onerous, time consuming and costly to many schools. As he notes, even Albert Shanker, for decades the renowned president of the American Federation of Teachers, used to argue that unions had a vested interest in ridding their ranks of incompetence. Still, until the country’s recent economic collapse, New York’s problem wasn’t just getting rid of teachers; it was also retaining them. Roughly 20 percent quit after their first year alone, and 40 percent after just three years in the system.
Yet Brill wants us to believe that unions are the primary — even sole — cause of failing public schools. But hard evidence for this is scarce. Many of the nation’s worst-performing schools (according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress) are concentrated in Southern and Western right-to-work states, where public sector unions are weakest and collective bargaining enjoys little or no protection. Also, if unions are the primary cause of bad schools, why isn’t labor’s pernicious effect similarly felt in many middle-­class suburbs, like Pelham, N.Y., or Montclair, N.J., which have good schools — and strong unions?
More problematic for Brill’s thesis, charter schools, which are typically freed from union rules, haven’t succeeded in the ways their champions once hoped. A small percentage are undeniably superb. But most are not. One particularly rigorous 2009 study, which surveyed approximately half of all charters nationwide and was financed by the pro-­charter Walton Family and Michael and Susan Dell Foundations, found that more than 80 percent either do no better, or actually perform substantially worse, than traditional public schools, a dismal record. The study concluded that “tremendous variation in academic quality among charters is the norm, not the exception.”
Brill obliquely refers to such research in half a sentence. He then counters that other studies have shown better results for charters, without clearly indicating what these studies are or explaining why they should trump a comprehensive, national study. He then points to the “central evidentiary value” of the Knowledge is Power Program, KIPP, the chain of roughly 100 charter schools, founded by two Teach for America alumni, that has produced consistently high student test scores and become a media darling. Yet such exceptions to the rule still don’t explain why, if unions are the crucial variable, a vast majority of charters haven’t equally thrived.
At the heart of Brill’s book is a belief that “truly effective teaching” can “overcome student indifference, parental disengagement and poverty.” For too long, Brill’s reformers argue, union leaders have used such factors to excuse failing teachers protected by tenure. Certainly many adults, not just those in unions, have written off economically disadvantaged or minority students far too readily.
Brill cites policy advocates who argue that students who have top quartile teachers several years in a row could (at least theoretically) make remarkable gains. Absent other proven criteria for determining the most effective teachers, these reformers conclude that schools should base hiring, firing and promotion decisions, at least in substantial part, on teachers’ ability to generate year-to-year gains on their students’ test scores.
Brill, however, glosses over an important qualifier to such research. Teacher quality may be the most important variable within schools, but mountains of data, going back decades, demonstrates that most of the variation in student performance is explained by nonschool factors: not just poverty, but also parental literacy (and whether parents read to their children), student health, frequent relocations, crime-­related stress and the like.
Brill extols the recent documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” which argues that better teachers are the key to boosting achievement. But surprisingly, what we see in the movie aren’t so much good teachers as academically effective parents: mothers and fathers who, despite difficult circumstances, read with their children, push them to do their homework and actively seek out exceptional charters, which (unlike the mediocre or failing ones) are oversubscribed and thus rely on lotteries with long odds for admission.
Yet to Brill and the filmmakers, these parents’ love, sweat and tears must be irrelevant, because what really matters is the quality of a child’s teacher. To prove the point, Brill cites one study that shows that students who won the lottery subsequently performed better in school than those who lost. “Same demographics, same motivation, different result,” he concludes.
But this argument ignores the aggregate effect of student and parental attitudes. Children who don’t win a coveted spot at a program like KIPP don’t just miss the charter’s arguably better teachers; they also lose out on the self-­reinforcing atmosphere of success and striving that comes from attending a school where everyone — or at least most students and parents — has demonstrated an especially deep commitment to learning. At KIPP, for example, students go to school longer each day, each year, and also attend classes on alternating Saturdays and in the summers. Families that don’t embrace this ethos leave or can be asked to leave, an option not available to regular public schools.
If you don’t believe me, believe Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone, who is featured in “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” and whom Brill lionizes. In Paul Tough’s laudatory book “Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America” (2008), Canada decries KIPP’s approach as a kind of reverse “quarantine, walling off the most promising kids from a sick neighborhood’s contagion,” in Tough’s paraphrase. In fact, though Brill and the filmmakers never acknowledge it, Canada’s philosophy is actually diametrically opposed to KIPP’s. Canada insists such charters can’t succeed, at least not with all inner-city children, including those who may be disaffected from school, without substantially increased investments in wraparound social services, which Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone provides.
Brill, however, insists that only “union critics of charter schools” believe successful charters “ ‘skim’ from the community’s most intelligent students and committed families,” adding, “None of the actual data supports this.” But in fact, according to Tough, KIPP’s own “internal statistics” show that its students in the South Bronx “arrived scoring better on average on tests than typical children in their neighborhoods.” And not just a little better: on reading tests prior to entering KIPP, Tough writes, “students often scored above the average for the entire city.”
KIPP then builds on this sturdy foundation — and far more successfully than most charters, for which it deserves praise and keen attention to its methods. But KIPP and other successful charters have not yet shown they can succeed with every kind of student within a single school district, or even, for that matter, a single neighborhood. If we can’t make such distinctions, how will we ever help all children achieve?
Brill adeptly shows how ideas can become a movement. Many of his subjects met in Teach for America, went on to promote one another’s hiring or research and are now being financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But what Brill regards as the groundswell of a welcome revolution begins to sound worryingly like an echo chamber, with everyone talking to the same few people and reading the same e-mail blasts.
Thanks to these reformers’ coordinated push, their agenda is now driving President Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiative. As Brill reports, educators supporting different, equally plausible reforms were discouraged from competing for the contest’s unprecedented $4.35 billion in funding. By design, judges could award points only to those proposals that advanced charters (despite their mixed record) and used student test scores to evaluate teacher performance (in a still-unproven intervention).
This unwillingness to entertain other reforms, I think, is partly what has animated some of the movement’s critics, like the education historian Diane Ravitch, who recently reversed her longstanding support for high-stakes testing and charters (and whom Brill dismisses in just four pages, much of which he devotes not to the substance of her arguments but to distracting questions about whether she has ever accepted speaking fees from unions). The problem isn’t just that the hard evidence, looked at dispassionately, doesn’t always support reformers’ claims. It’s that the insurgents are in danger of becoming the very thing they once (rightly) rose up against: subject to groupthink, reluctant to hear opposing views or to work with anyone perceived to be on the other side.
At times, I couldn’t help wishing Brill had concentrated less on his reformers’ similarities than on their differences. According to him, Eli Broad, the billionaire philanthropist who has helped bankroll Teach for America, regards Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, with admirable pragmatism, as someone he can work with. Bill Gates decided not to back Michelle Rhee’s reforms in Washington because he regarded her as too much of a “bomb thrower.” Gates also expresses wise frustration that none of Brill’s favorite data crunchers can actually explain what an effective teacher looks like. (Toward this end, Doug Lemov of the Uncommon Schools charter network has promisingly begun videotaping and analyzing top teachers to identify concrete tools educators can use to improve.)
By book’s end, even Brill begins to feel the cognitive dissonance. He quotes a KIPP founder who concedes that the program relies on superhuman talent that can never be duplicated in large numbers. And sure enough, an educator whom Brill has held up the entire book as a model of reform unexpectedly quits, citing burnout and an unsustainable workload at her Harlem charter. Then another reform-­minded teacher at the same school confesses she can’t possibly keep up the pace. “This model just cannot scale,” she declares flatly. After relentlessly criticizing Weingarten, Brill suddenly suggests, in a “Nixon-to-China” move, that she become New York’s next schools chancellor. “The lesson,” Brill belatedly discovers, is that reformers need to collaborate with unions, if only because they are “the organizational link to enable school improvement to expand beyond the ability of the extraordinary people to work extraordinary hours.” But isn’t this merely what the reform movement’s more thoughtful critics have been saying all along?
Brill likens the battle over the nation’s schools to “warfare,” but the better analogy may be to the war on cancer. For years, scientists hoped a magic pill would cure this ravaging disease. But increasingly, doctors have recognized that they will have to fight a multifronted war, as cancers (like failing schools) aren’t all alike. Each comes with its own complex etiology. Improving teacher quality and working to create better schools, like charters, are part of the arsenal. But such efforts, alone, are unlikely to boost long-term survival rates without a continual, dispassionate look at the incoming data, no matter how counterintuitive, and a willingness to revise tactics midtreatment as we pursue multiple paths in a race for the cure. Although Brill doesn’t say so until the book’s last few pages, he finally acknowledges just how much we still have to learn.
A version of this review appeared in print on August 21, 2011, on page BR1 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Report Card.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jeb Bush’s Privatization Plan for Indiana Public Schools

Please forward and tweet! Great research here to connect all the dots.

Edison’s charter here in NYC got the lowest scores of any CMO/EMO.

Jeb Bush’s Privatization Plan for Indiana Public Schools

By: Doug Martin Tuesday August 16, 2011 8:28 am
"Privatization Will Benefit Only WallStreet"
"Privatization Will Benefit Only WallStreet" by sagesnow on flickr
This piece is cross-posted at B-Town Errant, Indiana’s new and most progressive anti-corporate magazine. Please check it out.
A few weeks after I criticized EdisonLearning’s invitation to Indiana, Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and Mitch Daniels have welcomed yet another Jeb Bush crony, Jonathan Hage, CEO of Florida-based for-profit education management company Charter Schools USA (CS USA), to possibly administrate our so-called “failing schools.” Although IDOE’s Dale Chu testifies that plenty of “drilling” took place in selecting the turnaround companies which have landed on the final list, Jeb Bush’s DNA is embedded in the deals.
Jeb Bush has hyped his anti-public school operations in Indiana for years now. In 2009, he spoke at the Bill Gates-Fordham Foundation sponsored Indiana Education Roundtable, whose representatives include Carol D’Amico, a former George W. Bush-appointed National Board for Education Sciences board member. This year, Jeb picked Tony Bennett to boss his D.C.-based corporate school reform group, Chiefs for Change, alongside former Edison Schools’ Chris Cerf (now New Jersey’s commissioner of education) who profited handsomely when the then-Florida governor bought out the company’s failing stock with teachers’ retirement funding, a maneuver sticking state pensioners to this day with a $182 million investment in a company out to destroy public education and unions.
And Jeb even endorsed Mitch Daniels for president.
Like Daniels (who followed George H.W. Bush to Eli Lilly), CS USA’s Jonathan Hage pals around with the Bush family. Hage speech-wrote for George H. W. Bush’s 1992 presidential campaign, later joining the 2004 Bush/Cheney National Steering Committee as an educational talking head. A former defense agent for the right-wing Heritage Foundation and past director of research for Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future, Hage helped develop Liberty City Charter School, the first charter in Florida, which was sponsored by Jeb and Miami Urban League’s T. Willard Fair. At Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education’s D.C. summit, Hage—the once-Green Beret officer—paneled “The War on Charter Schools: Combating the Emerging Threats to Public School Choice,” while Tony Bennett sat on the “Top Gun Teachers” panel with touters for anti-teacher seniority groups like Teach for America and Troops for Teachers.
The messaging at the conference was appropriate, since the Bush family knows a thing or two about profiting from war and bogus school reform slogans like the “International Education Arms Race.” After paying George H.W. to promote its defense, energy, and security industries, the Carlyle Group, a private equity investment firm, has branched out into the for-profit education business, funding SchoolNet, a data-driven decision software outfit recently acquired by Pearson, the educational mega-company, to offer services in Indiana and elsewhere. Pearson has made a killing off of grading standardized tests since NCLB was passed, and brother Neil Bush’s Ignite! Learning computer/projector educational company was handed almost $1 million from the Department of Education.
Since CS USA and/or EdisonLearning will be transforming Indiana’s “takeover schools” into drill camps for standardized testing, as National Education Policy Center’s (NEPC) Bill Mathis recently told the IndyStar, Pearson will profit, along with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi who owns a $453 million stake in Pearson. And so will CTB McGraw-Hill, the Indiana ISTEP+ test grader who hired pizza delivery boys and hair stylists to grade Jeb Bush’s FCAT test for Florida students. In fact, the Bush family-McGraw-Hill cartel goes back to the 1930s.
Thanks to Jeb, CS USA operates most of its schools in Florida. At one point, the outfit was busy lassoing students in then-Governor George W. Bush’s Texas, but now has no charter schools left in the state. Little surprise Jeb is counting on Daniels and Bennett to sign off on Hage’s plan to profit from poor kids in Indianapolis and Gary, even though the NEPC found that only 37% of CS USA-managed schools in 2009 met adequate yearly progress.
CS USA, in fact, has “no experience in turning around low performing schools,” says Karen Miller, a longtime public school researcher and advocate, “and has focused on elementary charters,” not high schools, as the Indiana takeover plan calls for.
And don’t count on EdisonLearning pulling any miracles, either. The outfit has topped in scandals, schemes, and corruptions, and despite Edison’s ill-famed disposals of challenging students, the test scores at their schools have been embarrassingly low.
Journalist and activist Caroline Grannan notes that EdisonLearning was so unsuccessful at running schools, despite its grandiose promises, that the company’s “name is no longer mentioned when ‘school reform’ supporters talk about solutions for public education.”
Parents Across America and Class Size Matters’ Leonie Haimson echoes this sentiment. “Given the consistently poor results of its schools elsewhere in the country, it is astonishing that Edison Learning has been selected [for consideration] to operate schools in Indiana,” Haimson says. “The only plausible explanation is that the company was selected not on the basis of its record, but because of its political connections.”
With the state’s excessive cronyism, it’s a marvel the Indy-based GEO Foundation, too, didn’t make the list. Co-leader Nina Rees helped draft the Bush-Cheney transition team’s NCLB blueprint, led the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education when Daniels was Bush’s tax “slasher,” and once worked with the pro-voucher Institute for Justice now fighting for Daniels’ voucher scheme in court.
For Daniels and Bennett, though, it appears one Bush (and two for-profit school management companies) in the hand is enough in this round of plowing down Indiana public education. Expect more hands and handouts to come after Bennett announces, at month’s end, how many Indiana schools Edison and/or CS USA will steal in their competition with the Indy-based EdPower.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Verizon Scam and DOE $60 Million Contract

On heels of Verizon scam, $60 million VZ contract to hook up New York City schools hotly protested

BY Rachel Monahan and Ben Chapman
Monday, August 15th 2011, 4:00 AM
Verizon education consultant Willard Lanham, charged with stealing $3.6M from city schools, being served this April.
Stephen Barcelo for News
Verizon education consultant Willard Lanham, charged with stealing $3.6M from city schools, being served this April.
Education officials will vote this week on a controversial deal with Verizon that has been blasted as wasteful and ineffective.
The Mayor's Panel for Educational Policy will meet Wednesday night to approve a $60 million contract for the firm to provide phone and Internet service at city schools.
The deal has come under fire because Verizon has been implicated in a city probe of a consultant accused of stealing $3.6 million.
Willard Lanham was tapped by the city to wire public schools for high-speed Internet in 2000. He was arrested in April and is accused of overbilling the city for millions.
Verizon was in on the scheme, according to Schools Special Investigator Richard Condon's office.
The new contract will ensure that schools receive needed technology, Education Department spokeswoman Deidrea Miller said.
"This contract provides day-to-day telephone and Internet services for 1,600 public schools," said Miller.
The arrangement has met with opposition from some members of the panel who believe deals with Verizon should be delayed until the Lanham case is settled.
"It doesn't make any sense to approve this contract," said Patrick Sullivan, the panel's Manhattan representative.
Meanwhile, education officials have postponed a vote on another controversial contract to recover payments from Medicaid for students with disabilities.
Critics say the city's proposed $18 million deal with Public Consulting Group duplicates functions already assigned to an existing program.
The deal is still under consideration, officials said.

The Real Score on the 2011 Test Scores

Will the PEP Confront the Numbers? 

By Zakiyah Ansari
Next, Wednesday, August 17th is the next Panel for Education Policy (PEP) meeting at Murry Bergtraum High School, and on the agenda are contracts and the budget. Does anyone besides me notice a glaring omission from the agenda? What about the educational crisis surrounding the recently released test scores?
As a parent, I am frustrated and angered by the lack of accountability of the Department of Education and, ultimately, the Mayor. This is all too familiar! It was the same time last year when New York State re-calibrated the test scores, and there was no mention of scores on the August PEP agenda. If the Department of Education doesn’t acknowledge that our schools are in an educational crisis and open a public dialogue about it, how will we ever be able to address the problem? Will the PEP learn its lesson and confront the issue this year?
In case you haven’t heard, NYC students’ scores on the ELA test barely budged this year, and only one-third of Black and Latino children can read and write at state standards. In total, more than 234,000 NYC students failed to meet state standards in English Language Arts (ELA) – more students than are in the entire Philadelphia school district. And in the midst of all the emphasis on getting students ready for college and careers, 8th grade scores actually fell.
In the 100 lowest-performing schools, the ELA scores were completely stagnant. This year, as last year, only 15% of students in those schools met state standards in ELA. If 15% is not sobering enough, that means that out of the 27,726 children in those 100 schools, only 4,235 are proficient in reading and writing. And the racial achievement gap has actually grown.
This is not about being for or against testing; it is about acknowledging that our children and schools are currently being judged by test scores, yet the administration does nothing to offer supports to the most struggling schools time and time again.
Some of the lowest-performing districts – like districts 7, 9 and 12 in the Bronx, where only 1 in 4 students are meeting standards – showed some of the least progress this year. And in these districts, boys are having the most trouble. In district 9, for example, only 10% of 8th grade boys can read and write at state standards.  How ironic that the Mayor is willing to put in millions of his personal money for job-training initiatives for Black and Latino boys; but if the Mayor’s Department of Education was doing a better job educating Black and Latino boys, then Bloomberg wouldn’t have to use his money.
Are we in an educational crisis in NYC? What should we be doing to help our children? Read some of the facts on the 2011 test scores below.
Few Students Are Meeting State Academic Standards
  • 44% of NYC students met state standards in English Language Arts (ELA) this year, up just 1.5 points from last year
    • 35% of Black and Latino students met state standards, compared to 66% of White students
  • 57% of NYC students met state standards in Math this year, up just 3 points from last year
    • Just 44% of Black students and 49% of Latino students met state standards, compared to 78% of White students
  • Average scale scores (the average number of points that a student actually scores on the test) in ELA and Math stayed basically the same across the city this year
Racial Achievement Gap Has Grown
  • In 2006, the Black-White gap in ELA was 30.5 points; today, it is 31.2 points
  • In 2006, the Latino-White gap in ELA was 29.4 points; today, it is 31.3 points
  • In 2006, the Black-White gap in Math was 30.7 points; today, it is 33.7 points
  • In 2006, the Latino-White gap in Math was 27.5 points; now, its is 28.7 points
The Eye of the Storm
  • In 202 schools – one in every five elementary and middle schools – more than three-quarters of students did not meet state standards in ELA
  • In 68 schools, more than 85% of students did not meet state standards in ELA. This is more schools at this level of failure than last year.
  • The three lowest-performing districts in NYC – districts 7, 9 and 12 in the Bronx -- made some of the least progress. District 12 scores declined, district 9 scores stayed exactly the same, and district 7 scores increased less than half a point.
  • ELA scores in the lowest-performing 100 schools were completely stagnant. This year, as last year, only 15% of students in those schools met state standards in ELA.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Perry vs Obama on Education - Shoot Me

Posted at 11:48 AM ET, 08/14/2011

The Perry-Obama education fight

No U.S. governor has been at public odds with President Obama’s education policies over the past few years more than Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), and it is a safe bet that tensions between Texas and the U.S. Education Department are only going to escalate now that Perry has joined the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Even as other Republicans around the country gave bipartisan approval to Obama’s education agenda, Perry has repeatedly fought with the Education Department, even accusing it of attempting a “federal takeover of public schools” with the Race to the Top competition.

Perry, who won election to his third term as Texas governor last year, trashed the administration’s signature education initiative, Race to the Top, and rejected the administration-backed Common Core State Standards effort (which all but six states, including Texas, have agreed to adopt). Perry also fought with the Obama administration over more than $800 million in federal funds that U.S. officials said could go to Texas if the money was spent on education; the Texas governor said he couldn't accept any conditions on use of the money.
In a Jan. 13, 2010 letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Perry wrote, “I will not commit Texas taxpayers to unfunded federal obligations or to the adoption of unproven, cost-prohibitive national curriculum standards and tests.... We believe that education policy, curriculum and standards should be determined in Texas, not in Washington D.C.”
Standing with Perry during a press conference on that same day was Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, and Jeri Stone , executive director of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, both union leaders who backed Perry’s decision on Race to the Top.
A few days later, Obama personally chastised Perry for opting out of Race to the Top.
Perry’s rejection of deepening federal involvement in education policy is, of course, also a slap at No Child Left Behind, the chief education initiative of Perry’s predecessor as Texas governor, former president George W. Bush. NCLB greatly increased federal say over K-12 education, and the Obama administration has further increased that involvement through Race to the Top.
The latest example is Duncan’s decision to unilaterally grant waivers that would exempt states from key provisions of No Child Left Behind. There is a catch, though: Duncan has made clear that only states pursuing education reform — meaning the kind approved by the administration — will be granted a waiver.
Details of the waivers will be released soon, but an Education Department source said it s possible that there will be different levels of waivers offered to states depending on the state and intentions of their reform programs.
Given that Texas doesn’t do a whole that the administration supports, it isn’t hard to envision a clash over the granting of a waiver for NCLB. As the campaign battle between Obama and Perry heats us, expect education to be part of the fight.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ohanian Links - Aug. 9, 2011

Murdoch: Replace Teachers With Computers Yes, he really said it:
Jersey Jazzman

Here's a teacher manifesto --given  under the declaration of Rupert Murdoch that he has a way to cut number of teachers  in half.

Professors Cede Grading Power to Outsiders—Even Computers
Jeffrey R. Young
Chronicle of Higher Education

The best way to eliminate grade inflation is to take professors out of the grading process: Replace them with professional evaluators who never meet the students, and who don't worry that students will punish harsh grades with poor reviews. Or so some say.

Journalist Kicked Out of ALEC Conference, Threatened With Arrest
Eric Carlson

 I admit it: I enjoy any bashing of ALEC.

Donors Urged School Ouster
Shelly Banjo
Wall Street Journal

 Here's another example of the hedge-fund version of the Midas Touch: Everything they touch eliminates the public voice.

Reverence in Classroom Teaching
Jim Garrison & A. G. Rud


The authors state that their goal in this article and those to follow is to restore reverence to its rightful place in the ordinary daily activities of teachers in relation to administrators, students, and parents in school and in the community.

To the editor
Nancy Carlsson-Paige
Boston Globe

One can hope newspaper decision-makers might feel some shame over this.

Dear Governor Martinez and Secretary of Education-Designate Skandera,
Francesca Blueher
Governor's  and Secretary Education offices

Here is an on-the-mark letter from an Albuquerque teacher with a very long history with the school district. I'm not talking age here; I'm talking family heritage. This is the kind of person Albuquerque policy makers should be talking to. What are the chances that they will?

Secretive Corporate-Legislative ALEC Meets to Rewrite State Laws
Amy Goodman
Democracy Now!

Another in a series of reports on ALEC, the folks who secretly draft pro-corporate legislation.

Why states should refuse Duncan’s NCLB waivers
Monty Neill
Washington Post Answer Sheet

As introduction, I provide info on what heads of education committees are doing. I wish states would follow Monty Neill's advice and call Duncan's bluff.

Segregation: New studies show Philly has nation's most separate and unequal schools, neighborhoods. Chicago, New York, Cleveland, Detroit close behind
Posted by Daniel Denvir
Naked City

Research shows that the problem is segregation and cannot be solved by pathologizing non-white schools and the people (say, teachers) who work there.

The Decade of Lost Children
Charles M. Blow
New York Times

The NY Times actually let readers comment on this strong column. Reader comments are even stronger, and some of them get it.

Matt Damon, Diane Ravitch, and scapegoating teachers
Lois Weiner

Let's move forward. We need to start talking about why this is happening. Teachers need to understand that they are part of the larger corporate assault on workers--and they need to know why.

MEDIA WATCH: All you need to 'close the achievement gap' are a bunch of upper middle class white boys and girls, a few weeks of TFA 'Boot Camp', and lots of belief... Teach for America gets plugs from
Robin Robinson, with comment by George Schmidt
Fox News and Substance

The Chicago Public Schools dump at least 2,300 teachers while hiring 400 new Teach for America recruits.

Life is Good: Playmakers
Life is Good
Project Joy

Watch this short film about the importance of play. Pass it on.

Kindergarten teacher details ‘lunacy’ of standardized tests for kids
Nancy Creech
Washington Post Answer Sheet

A kindergarten teacher reports on the 27,575 pieces of assessment data produced by her students she is required to record.

Letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
Carol Corbett Burris and Kevin G. Welner

 The letter was invited by Secretary Duncan during a phone conversation with Dr. Burris. It offers concrete guiding principles for evaluation of educators and suggestions for a way forward.

Wheels finally falling off 'No Child Left Behind'
Jim Broadway
State School News Service

It was launched like a jumbo jet with no landing gear.

Shoreham family rallies for education in D.C.
Ian Trombulak
Addison Independent

A Vermont family of educators talk with a reporter about why SOS was important.

Breaking News! Kids Set to Firebomb Teachers in Tennessee!
Anthony Dallmann-Jones

Tennessee kids have figured out that under the Gates assessment plan, they can firebomb teachers they don't like.

Matt Damon, Diane Ravitch, and scapegoating teachers - Lois Weiner
Let's move forward. We need to start talking about why this is happening. Teachers need to understand that they are part of the larger corporate assault on workers--and they need to know why.

Teachers need to stop focusing on celebrities--and join with other workers.

by Lois Weiner

Several thousand teachers and their supporters rallied in Washington July 30, for the SOS (Save Our Schools) march, a grassroots effort organized by an Oakland CA science teacher. I was out of the country and couldn’t attend but most reports have agreed that the the rally was spirited, and disappointingly small, given how hard the organizers worked at building it, and the amount of “celebrity” power behind it, including Diane Ravitch in a starring political role and Matt Damon in a starring role. Both the AFT and NEA endorsed the march and gave a token contribution, $25,000- probably not even as much as they spent on rubber bands and paper clips at national headquarters last year. Even if you don’t look closely at the AFT's Facebook page coverage of its involvement in the march, it’s clear from the pathetic photos that it had a very small presence. If the AFT and NEA had put even one-quarter of the effort organizing for this march as they did the get-out-the-vote for Obama, the march would have had tens of thousands of teachers. Post-march critiques that I’ve read have been split. On one side are the folks who essentially say "Matt Damon was great! It was a fine start and it's a beginning on which we have to build." On the other side are postings analyzing the political shortcomings of the march demands and speeches, like Susan Ohanian's blog and Alan Singer's piece on Huffington.

From the start the march organizers had great energy, high hopes, and lots of naivete. The underlying political message was that Obama's heart is in the right place -- and we just have to let him know that he has his facts wrong. Diane Ravitch was an articulate spokesperson for the march, a fact that's been taken up by the supporters of multicultural education who (rightly) remember her long-time opposition to scholarship or curricula even faintly suggestive of systemic racism or sexism in US society. I won't repeat my analysis of what's right and wrong with Ravitch's current political work and writing, but I think it's important to acknowledge that she has, essentially, substituted herself for what labor/liberals and the AFT and NEA national leadership should be doing and saying. I suggest we view Ravitch as our frenemy in the struggle to save public education. The problem is not Ravitch, but progressives, and especially the teachers unions, which have bowed to Obama and the Billionaire Boys Club in a way Ravitch has not.

What the SOS march didn't get at was why the neoliberal reforms have been accepted so readily. Granted, the Billionaire Boys Club has control of the popular media and lots of money to throw at the "problem" of teachers standing up for the dignity of their profession. (Do see the real "indy" film about education, The inconvenient truth behind waiting for superman.) We have to understand that the ideological success of the neoliberal project in education also comes from its exploitation of US education's historic inequalities in education. Minority parents and communities can’t be won away from charter schools and privatization unless we acknowledge the sad complicity of teachers, their unions, and the education establishment in supporting a status quo of educational inequality. We need credibility when we ask for parent support and explain how Walmart's funding of charter schools and "fast track" teacher certification programs relates to its anti-union, sexist, and racist employment policies.

Still, we can't be too hard on the march organizers because their unwillingness to identify the politics behind the assault on teachers unions (and public education) has characterized most of the liberals in the education establishment, like the Opportunity to Learn Campaign. Even more disappointing has been The Nation's analysis, or rather, lack of it. A recent story about "teacher quality" is typical of The Nation's refusal to take note of Obama’s buy-in of policies advanced by Democrats for Education Reform, who are indistinguishable from the neoliberal American Enterprise Institute. Jane McAlevey's fine piece about labor's capitulation to Obama's policies was an exception to The Nation's failure to get at the deep problem we face in the bipartisan drive to refashion public education and destroy teachers unions. Another solid piece, by Pedro Noguera and Michelle Fine, explaining the politics of scapegoating teachers, is worth reading in The Progressive.

The SOS march proved how much a movement to turn back these terrible changes to public education needs transformed teachers unions. The unions are being attacked so viciously because the Right understands the unions’ potential power, alas, better than do most teachers and progressives. Transforming the unions requires much more than replacing the faces at the top, though the head honchos in Washington certainly have to go. We need union democracy. And we need to shout out that schools can’t improve the economy and can’t create jobs. What schools, teachers, and their unions can do is stand up for the right of all children to have their full human potential respected.
— Lois Weiner


Murdoch: Replace Teachers With Computers Yes, he really said it:

Ohanian Comment: Because I worry about quotes that are too delicious to be true, I verified the Murdoch quote on LexusNexus:

In conversation; Rupert Murdoch spoke to James Harding about his plans to take on the education establishment and empower pupils. David Wighton reports

BYLINE: David Wighton


LENGTH: 656 words

Rupert Murdoch and Michael Gove are both making big bets on education. Mr Murdoch is betting that News Corporation, parent company of The Times, can become a major force in digital education.

Mr Gove, the Education Secretary, is betting that digital technology can help Britain to regain some of the ground it has lost in the international education league tables. Both believe that technology can improve the quality of Britain's human capital and so spur economic growth.

"The digital age opens up a tremendous opportunity in education," said Mr Murdoch, whose single policy recommendation to the Summit was to put a tablet or personal computer in the hands of every child.Technology could transform the quality of education in Britain and America, he said. "And I don't think it need cost any money." With the aid of technology, schools could use only the finest teachers in every course, in every subject, at every grade -- and make them available to every child.

"You can get by with half as many teachers. The teachers can be a lot better and a lot better paid." As well as cutting back on teacher numbers, there would be a big reduction in textbook budgets.

Mr Murdoch joked that he hoped to put textbook publishers out of business.
The Times, June 22, 2011

by Jersey Jazzman

Last year, News Corp purchased Wireless Generation, a company which makes teaching assistance software, and hired former New York schools Chancellor Joel Klein to head it up. In a June interview with the Times, Murdoch seemed almost giddy at the prospects made available by his new acquisition:

"You can get by with half as many teachers. The teachers can be a lot better and a lot better paid." As well as cutting back on teacher numbers, there would be a big reduction in textbook budgets. Mr. Murdoch joked that he hoped to put textbook publishers out of business.

As we reported in last month, Wireless Generation was awarded multi-million dollar no-bid contracts to provide these very systems to the New York school system. Interestingly, almost as soon as Gove had taken over the Department for Education, the government announced the abolition of BECTA – the quango which oversaw IT procurement in schools.

I don't see any reason why Murdoch's threat to end textbook publishing should be taken as a joke.

But since he obviously doesn't know the first thing about schools or teaching: I present to you, Rupert, a list of all of things a computer can't do that a teacher can:

  • Listen.

  • Give a hug to a five-year-old who scraped her knee.

  • Give notes to a 17-year-old who slept through the last lecture class because he was up all night working to support his family.

  • Care.

  • Coach the JV girls basketball team to a 3-14 season, but make the #12 girl on the squad feel like she was the deciding factor in those three wins.

  • Direct the seventh grade talent show, and watch as the other kids' jaws drop when that shy girl who always wears her hair in her face belts out a show-stopper.

  • Take the high road when, during a call about a seven-year-old's behavior problems, a parent breaks into an obscenity-filled tirade that ends in tears.

  • Teach a third grade class that putting away materials properly is the most important job an artist has.

  • Find a way for a kid with cerebral palsy to play kickball.

  • Command respect.

  • Counsel and console a first-year colleague who swore she'd never raise her voice in her classroom, but just did.

  • Volunteer to lead yet another committee on yet another state-wide initiative with yet another professional-development goal.

  • Bag everybody's jacket, hat, backpack, and mittens separately to prevent another outbreak of head lice.

  • Break up a fight before it starts between two two-hundred-and-twenty-pound football players over something so stupid that neither can remember exactly what it was.

  • Stand on conviction.

  • Share in the pride an eighth-grader feels when she finally figures out what "x" is.

  • Make pain au chocolat sound so good that it's worth learning French just to order it.

  • Help a 15-year-old see that he has something in common with Hamlet.

  • Move a class of six-year-olds around a mound of puke and out the door.

  • Listen.

  • This may be hard for a dried-out, soulless, money-grubbing bastard like Rupert Murdoch to understand, but:

    Everything in the list above is important -- even if it can't be measured by a bubble test.