Sunday, February 24, 2013

NYC Public School Parents: The case of LA: why an elected school board doesn'...

NYC Public School Parents: The case of LA: why an elected school board doesn'...: Here in NYC, as is well known,  since 2002 we have have a school board called the Panel for Educational Policy,   with a  super-majority of mayoral appointees that always rubberstamps any damaging school closing, destructive charter co-location or corrupt contract the mayor wants, even when hundreds or even thousands of parents, teachers, advocates and local elected officials speak out in opposition. 

Some of us have expressed a yearning for an elected school board as exists in the rest of New York state and the country, with the thought that it would yield more democracy and more fairly take into account the real needs of our children and the priorities of stakeholders.  But take a look at what is happening right now in Los Angeles for another perspective:

On March 5 there will be an election for three candidates for the LAUSD school board, which will probably determine whether their current Superintendent John Deasy remains in office.  Deasy was appointed straight from the Gates Foundationand predictably follows the corporate line: he supports the expansion of charters, the weakening of teacher tenure and basing teacher evaluation on student test scores; . Monica Garcia, the incumbent school board president, Kate Anderson, and Antonio Sanchez all support the renewal of Deasy’s contract, and are running under the slate of the Coalition for School Reform.   
Kate Anderson is campaigning to unseat incumbent Steve Zimmer, a former teacher and TFAer, who is an independent thinker and not a rubberstamp for Deasy. Despite the fact that individual contributions are apparently limited to $1000 per person, the pro-Deasy candidates have raised many times their opponents in donations from wealthy hedge-funders, Hollywood producers and the like; with Garcia outraising her opponents more than 10-1, and the other two more than 3-1.

Moreover, "independent expenditures" for these three candidates has gone through the roof with nearly $3 million raised through February 16.  Among the biggest donors are Mayor Bloomberg  ($1 million), Eli Broad and Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst (each $250K), Reed Hastings of Netflix, Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell, entertainment executive Casey Wasserman, investors Marc and Jane Nathanson, (each $100K), film producers Jeffrey Katzenberg and Frank Marshall (both $50K), and Joel Klein, now working for Rupert Murdoch ($25K). These independent expenditures include deceptive attack mailers, an expensive “ground game” and plenty of TV ads and glossy flyers. (Anyone who has lived in NYC through the last three mayoral elections knows the queasy experience of opening up your mailbox, stuffed with multiple huge mailers paid for by the Bloomberg campaign, touting his great record and/or attacking his opponents.)

There also seems to be a lot of shady and unethical politicking going on in Los Angeles. The LA Fund for Public Education is a charitable non-profit, a 501C3started in 2011 by Superintendent Deasy, apparently modeled after NYC’s Fund for Public Schools, founded by Joel Klein.  The LA Fund paid for several billboards featuring Garcia as a supporter of the arts in January and February of this year, just a few weeks before the election, until angry protests made them take the billboards down.  As a 501C3, this organization is absolutely prohibited from any partisan political activity. 
(Some of us may recall how the NYC Fund for Public Schools ran expensive campaigns in 2008-9, with million dollar donations from the Broad, Gates, and Robertson foundations,including television, radio, and subway ads touting the great “progress” made by the schools under Bloomberg, with the tagline “keep it going”.  These took place  during the months leading up to the vote over whether mayoral control would be renewed, and whether Mayor Bloomberg would be re-elected for a third term.)

In addition, the United Way of LA, another 501C3, is holding an “Education Summit” on February 27, with a panel featuring Superintendent Deasy, Casey Wasserman, Eli Broad and school board president and incumbent Monica Garcia, just one week before the election. Why is this questionable?

Again, if an organization is a 501C3 and receives tax-deductible donations, it is strictly prohibited from holding events promoting one candidate for office so close to an election without inviting his or her rivals.  Oh yes, in the morning there is a panel featuring The Education Mayors [sic]”: Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago and Antonio Villaraigosa, current but term-limited Mayor of Los Angeles, privatizers all.  (United Way also was involved in the promotion, parent outreach, and screenings of the charter porn film, Waiting for Superman, funded by Gates Foundation and others.)

On February 14, the United Way held a school board candidate forum, right after news of the Bloomberg $1 million donation broke, in which Monica Garcia and other candidates were present. [Video here.] Among the questions asked: “What would you do if you were head of the UTLA (the LA teachers union), which is a rather strange question considering the candidates were running for the school board instead.  Also, according to the LA Times,

“…organizers did not choose to ask a question about Bloomberg’s largesse or the fund to which he donated, which is called the Coalition for School Reform. But moderator Marqueece Harris-Dawson did ask candidates to address money given by the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, which also is expected to spend big in the campaign.”

(Union officials have said they can’t match the coalition’s resources and will compensate instead by sending teachers out into the field.)

“We don’t have millions,” asserted Diaz, referring to the union. “We are broke.” Then he went back on the offensive: “Look at what happened with the New York mayor…That’s a red flag. Corporations are not citizens, but they are taking control of our public schools…We need money in the schools, not the campaigns.”

And what about that Bloomberg hefty donation?  On the day the contribution was announced,  the LA Times quoted Dan Schnur's commentary:

 "Michael Bloomberg threw down the gauntlet today," said Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "He's obviously very serious about changing education in America, and Los Angeles is now ground zero for that effort." He added: "This is a game changer."

Game changer, huh?  Dan Schnur was also quoted in an article a few days later in the LA Daily News this time, about the potential impact of the Bloomberg donation, and he framed the election as a fight between the union and the “reformers”, who if they won, would make LA a “leader on education reform”:

"This is not the first time that reformers and the unions have gone head to head, but the stakes have never been this high," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. "This fight isn't about John Deasy the person, but what he represents - an aggressive approach to reform that raises a lot of very high passions on both sides of the debate.

"These elections represent what it's going to take to make LA's public schools better….LA has not historically been a leader on education reform but that could very well be about to change," he said.

Who is Dan Schnur, besides the director of an Institute at USC and a former adviser to Sen. John McKean? 

He’s also the brother of Jon Schnur, a prominent corporate reformer.  Jon is the founder of New Leaders of New Schools, currently head of American Achieves and an adviser to Bloomberg on how to spend his personal fortune.  
Unfortunately, neither of these articles mentioned that connection when quoting Dan Schnur as a supposed independent expert on the impact of the million dollar donation.  Given that his brother probably advised Bloomberg to give the contribution to the LA school board race in the first place, it might be considered relevant to how independent and objective his brother’s views should be considered, that the donation is a “game changer” that will determine whether Los Angeles will be a “leader on education reform.”

Lesson: even an elected school board is not necessarily going to give us more accountability and democracy here in NYC, unless there are strict limits on contributions, restrictions on independent expenditures, and restraints imposed on foundations and non-profits from influencing the outcome.  The media must also do their job and report the underlying connections between all these forces. And no one should be surprised if Bloomberg and his wealthy allies in the corporate reform movement use the same sort of tactics during the NYC mayoral elections taking place later this year.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Common Core + Danielson Framework = Dangerous Educational Experimentation?

Two dimensions are destroying teachers' working conditions and students' learning conditions-- the Common Core, as noted in a post linked earlier this week, and the Danielson Framework as noted in a recent issue of Counterpunch.
The author's eugenics metaphor is harsh. But then consider how reckless and unconscionable this mass experimentation on children's education this is.

Educational Eugenics
February 18, 2013
The Corporate Reform of Public Schools: Educational Eugenics

Teachers and students are having a rough time in the United States—and not just because they are in danger of being murdered in their classrooms. Public education itself is under attack, fueled by foundation dollars, government policies and media hype. The problem isn’t international rankings, teacher pensions, or outdated theories. These are smokescreens. The enemies of American education hate it because it is public-powered, union-friendly, and people-centered. Public education doesn’t exist to churn out cheap crap so someone can make a buck. At its best, it teaches tolerance, promotes democratic values, and invests in the potential of each and every one of its students. And that’s its main problem. That’s why Democrats and Republicans alike are hell-bent on transforming our schools into a tyrannical instrument of corporate power through increased standardization of curricula, instruction, and assessments. Their goal is to manufacture “proficient” students and “distinguished” teachers—an educational master race judged by objective and scientific criteria. The end result of such technocratic pedagogy is nothing less than a eugenics of the mind.

The current mechanistic view of teaching and learning follows a model invented by Frederick Winslow Taylor in the early twentieth century. Mirroring the worldview of his big-business clientele, Taylor viewed working people with contempt. “The science of handling pig-iron is so great,” he told a Congressional committee, “that the man who is … physically able to handle pig-iron and is sufficiently phlegmatic and stupid to choose this for his occupation is rarely able to comprehend the science of handling pig-iron.” His “scientific management” theory turned once-independent workers into cogs in a machine by creating an industrial hierarchy where workers performed strictly mechanical tasks. Their managerial taskmasters, on the other hand, made all the creative decisions and gave all the orders. Efficiency became the sole standard by which workers would be evaluated—quantity became quality.

Taylor’s dehumanizing, disempowering system became widely adopted as a corporate model. We can see its results in third world sweatshops. But it also had political uses. Zygmunt Baumann in his book Modernity and the Holocaust called the genocidal policies of the Nazis, “a textbook of scientific management.” The way the Nazis saw it, the Holocaust wasn’t destructive but productive. They were creating a master race through their own psychopathic form of quality control. Ford automobile plants operated on the same principles. A common destination links assembly-line murder and manufacture: a utopian drive toward standardization.

Eugenicists want an end to difference and plurality. They crave the uniform. Sameness implies security—from self-doubt and from the conflicts that not only allow for personal growth but also for a true democracy. The educational system they’re creating resembles Taylorism in every way except it manages more than labor—it engineers the sense of mind and self. The way to save the public schools—which politicians insist need to be saved while simultaneously defunding public education at every opportunity—is to make sure everyone is teaching and learning the same things the same way. Our ultimate goal as human beings should be to think like everybody else.

In the eyes of many education policymakers, school has come to be nothing more than job training. Rather than provide young citizens with the cognitive abilities required to become empowered members of a democracy, educators must simply help students “succeed” in the “real world” by giving them marketable skills. What we think about, then, is what the market wants us to think about. Anything that lies outside the interests of the market at any given moment should be cut or marginalized out of the mainstream curriculum.

They call this efficiency. But it’s not education. It’s a system that doesn’t look at children as human beings that need to be nurtured—that have individual voices and learning styles. Eugenics of the mind seeks to recreate individual people into a master race of cheerful robots, managed and programmed with the right amount of information to make them efficient and docile enough for their future masters.

One of the first things they teach you in college education classes is Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences: the linguistic, the mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal, and so on. People do not learn the same way and the various kinds of intelligence are not evenly distributed in most students. Nevertheless, this educational system defines intelligence in the narrowest way—and then demands that everyone “master” often arbitrary accumulations of facts and skills by scoring a certain percentage on a test. If they don’t, federal funding will be withheld.

Why students need to be examined in some things and not in others remains mysterious. It’s not simply to provide students with marketable skills. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce has predicted that only 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra in the next decade. Yet students in Pennsylvania must pass an algebra exam for graduation.

What makes algebra attractive is not its usefulness to students but rather that one’s knowledge of it can be easily quantified on an exam. That’s the rotten core of our common standards [Valerie Strauss, "Eight problems with Common Core Standards," "Washington Post] —education based on rote-memory computations that can be easily evaluated. Look carefully and you will find little encouragement to teach critical thinking, debate, or creativity. You can’t fit that on a bubble sheet—and that’s where the money is.

The test-creating/scoring industry generates profits of 2.7 billion dollars a year. Of course the claims of test-makers and policymakers that tests give us reliable information about student learning are highly questionable. Just ask students some questions from last year’s exams and see how much they’ve forgotten. These tests don’t prove someone has learned something but simply reflect one’s ability to do well on a particular test at that moment.

As if in answer to this objection, “assessment instruments” like the SAT as well as state graduation exams have begun to include sections devoted to student writing. Recently the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania spent two hundred million dollars developing its new Keystone Exams, a requirement for graduation. The money went into the pocket of Minnesota’s Data Recognition Corporation. It’s clear from recent press about DRC that exams are anything but objectively and scientifically scored there. Instead, an army of 20-something temps with no teaching or writing experience haphazardly evaluates the exams, using absurdly vague rubrics like: “a good essay includes good focus, good organization, good language skills, good grammar,” and so forth. Naturally the scorers cannot seem to agree on how one defines “good.” Former scorers report they were pressured to average out the numbers by arbitrarily assigning low or high scores in order to generate a nice bell curve.

Educational eugenicists also apply such “scientific” precision to assessing teachers, in an attempt to deskill and disempower educators, and limit their ability to teach for change. Instead of being inquisitive and imaginative agents of intellectual and social growth, teachers are compelled to submit themselves, like the students, to the gods of standardization and efficiency. Obama and Duncan demand that states wishing to pick up sparse federal funds must evaluate teachers in new ways—you guessed it: scientifically and objectively. Enter Charlotte Danielson and her Framework for Teaching (FFT), the darling of the Gates Foundation and many a state department of education. The FFT depicts teaching as a mechanical method of ensuring students “learn the standards.” All educators are evaluated by the same method, despite their often widely varying tasks, student constituencies, subject matter, and funding. What teachers know about their profession counts as nothing. Ms. Danielson, the ex-economist from Princeton with only nebulous teaching credentials, has decided (in keeping with the best principles of scientific management) that experts with no long-standing classroom experience know better than the teachers who do the educating.

At best, some of her teacher standards are self-evident to anyone who’s lasted for more than two or three years (“Teachers should provide clear explanations of content”). At worst some are possibly illegal (her inclusion of volunteering as a criterion of teacher performance most likely violates the Fair Labor Standards Act). The rest are laughably subjective or ridiculously unrealistic. The rubric states a distinguished teacher “makes a thoughtful and accurate assessment of a lesson’s effectiveness.” It does not clarify, however, what “thoughtful” and “accurate” mean. Other standards are equally murky. One of Danielson’s criteria for “distinguished” educators states that: “All students are cognitively engaged.” Another: “Students appear to have internalized these expectations.” What Ms. Danielson does not explain, however, is how exactly does an administrator attain objective information about students’ states of consciousness? And if they are not cognitively engaged, the rubric implies, it must be the teacher’s fault, not students’ own willingness to be distracted. In the FFT students have no independent will of their own. Even when they take the initiative the “distinguished” teacher gets the credit. Kids apparently play no part in the process of their own education. But that’s the point of educational eugenics. The system creates “superior” students in its own likeness—shallow, narrowly focused, distracted, competitive, amoral, and eager to appease authority. Likewise teachers follow the authoritative standards, jettison spontaneity, and submerge their individual teaching styles in order to conform to a common core. This is the master race of minds currently being engineered by the forces of corporate reform.

We must not forget that the sole purpose of machines is to make somebody’s life easier through unending servitude. It is time to not just rage against “teaching to the test” in faculty rooms but defy it openly by continuing (as many teachers do) to encourage and enact real education—showing children how to think creatively, critically and divergently, helping them to make meaning of their lives, and enabling them to problem-solve in a world that desperately needs compassionate and innovative questions and answers. The power belongs in the hands of teachers and learners, not corporations. The time to take it back is now.

Mark Graham is a high school teacher in the Lehigh Valley. He’s books include: How Islam Created the Modern World and Afghanistan in the Cinema.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ohanian on Common Core: Whoo-Hoo! Occupy the Schools / Data Analysis in Pre-K? -Update re Diane Ravitch

(Click to February 20, 2013's post, "A Debate About Little Children and the Common Core," at Diane Ravitch's blog. The comments themselves are revealing some serious issues in the Common Core that parents and teachers are observing.)

Whoo-Hoo! Occupy the Schools

Susan Ohanian, writing at Daily Censored nails it, on how the Common Core State [sic] Standards are part and parcel actively destroying the spirit and soul of American education.

In response to a poverty rate that tops 90% in many urban and rural schools –and 1.6 million homeless children—many in schools with no libraries–education reformers at the White House, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the National Governors Association call for a radical, untried curriculum overhaul and two versions of nonstop national testing to measure whether teachers are producing workers for the Global Economy.

They call this upheaval the Common Core State (sic) Standards (CCSS) and there are two things to remember: The Common Core did not originate with the states and it is speculative and experimental–in a word, cuckoo. I use the (sic) in its title because putting the word “state” in there is a political move, a public relations ploy. Learning from President Bill Clinton’s failure to get the national test he wanted, corporate leaders and their political allies try to keep this school remake as distant from the White House as possible, insisting over and over that it’s a “grassroots initiative” –what the people asked for. Every time they say this, the press repeats it. The Common Core reality is about as far from Mom and apple pie as a zombie invasion.

Writing in Bloomberg Businessweek, Pulitzer Prize winner Daniel Golden was one of the few journalists to acknowledge the closeness of the White House to the Common Core: “Today, the Gates Foundation and Education Secretary Duncan move in apparent lockstep.”

School reform rhetoric about the “failure” of public schools draws on the notoriously deceptive and fear-mongering A Nation at Risk–pushed by entities ranging from the Business Roundtable and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the U. S. Department of Education. This rhetoric is bi-partisan. Both Republicans and Democrats like to bash schools—as a diversionary tactic to avoid accepting responsibility for the Wall Street and banking debacles. School reform solutions are also bi-partisan–exponentially increasing the number of standardized tests children take, tying teacher salaries to those test scores, dismissing whole school staffs, and shutting down neighborhood schools.

This latest corporate reform plan, the Common Core State (sic) Standards (CCSS), eliminates community-based planning, destroys personal response to literature, and, instead of fostering education for individual need and the common good, puts children on a treadmill to becoming scared, obedient workers for the global economy. The constant exhortation to teachers and students is “You’re not good enough for the market economy!” When the ruling class screams about people not measuring up, over time the besieged are trained to blame themselves for the lack of jobs, lack of benefits, lack of a safety net. Blame themselves and not the politicos, hedgefunders, bankers, and cronies whose own greed has put our entire system in peril. According to an Associated Press 2012 analysis, the typical CEO took home $9.6 million.

The Common Core State (sic) Standards are the result of hundreds of millions of dollars disbursed in carefully distributed grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation accompanied by the threat from U. S. Secretary Arne Duncan to withhold federal funds if individual states did not sign on the dotted line. I looked at two months worth of press citations praising the CCSS –August and September, 2012–and then looked up the Gates money given to those who come to praise CCSS. The list ranges from the American Federation of Teachers ($1,000,000) to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction ($823,637), from the neo-liberal Center for American Progress ($2,998,809) to the neo-conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute ($5,711,462). The PTA got money ($2,005,000); so did the National Writing Project ($2,645,593). And so on and so on. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and with money in their pockets, many are eager to sing the Common Core song and eat the funeral meats.

Although these groups all play a cheerleading role, here are the significant players in deforming school curriculum and testing and their Gates haul.

• Achieve, Inc.: $25,787,051
• The Council of Chief State School Officers: $71,302,833
• National Governors Association Center for Best Practices: $30,679,116

Chief architects of the literacy content for the Common Core content are a lawyer and David Coleman, an education entrepreneur. Coleman gained the most notoriety as he barnstormed the country preaching the importance of nonfiction and a bastardized form of New Criticism, a literary theory abandoned long ago by just about everybody except Mr. Coleman. In his presentation at the New York State Education Building in April 2011, Coleman declared that teachers must tell students: “When you grow up in this world you realize people don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.” Student Achievement Partners, an outfit Coleman co-founded is now churning out Common Core curriculum. They’re bankrolled by $6,533,350 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and $18,000,000 from the General Electric Foundation. Coleman has moved on to head the College Board ($31,178,497 in Gates funds).

My state education department in Vermont urged every teacher to watch a video produced by the Council of Great City Schools ($8,496,854 from Gates) in which Coleman offers advice to the student who reads several grade levels below the complex text assigned to his class: “You’re going to practice it again and again and again and again. . . so there’s a chance you can finally do that level of work.” It sounds like a very bizarre application of Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule. Coleman decries offering students with learning problems alternate resources, insisting that repetition will clear up difficulties with the mandatory complex text. And teachers are told kids must start early with complexity. The New York Post ran a piece–Playtime’s Over, Kindergartners: Standards stressing kids out–explaining that the New York City Department of Education wants 4- and 5-year-olds to forgo building blocks and crayons and get busy writing “informative/explanatory reports.” This includes writing a topic sentence. Teachers report such complexity makes kids cry, but the corporate imperative doesn’t stop for tears. In rebuttal, Kurt Schwengel, a 15-year Santa Monica kindergarten teacher, insists, “They’re going to have to pry the crayons out of my cold, dead hands.”

A February 2013 New York Times story reads like satire–third graders doing one-arm pushups while performing mathematics tasks with Legos while the teacher recites an important vocabulary word for them to learn (and switch arms when they hear it). I wrote the reporter that I predict a big lawsuit when an 8-year-old engaged in a one-arm pushup while doing Legos gets distracted by vocabulary study, falls, and breaks off his front teeth. I wonder why the people pushing this integrated curriculum leave out The Arts. They could have those third graders singing “Dixie” as they do their one-arm pushups, et al. A teacher friend suggested they could put math facts and vocabulary drill on the toilet paper, and I’d be willing to bet some schools are already doing that. Teachers are feeling the pressure of getting in all the skills, and a lot of readers praised this “integration of mind and body” as a way for kids to learn all they have to learn in our brave new Common Core world. Bad things happen to scared people–and the children in their care.

When I received a note from a desperate Oregon mom telling me the only school available to her family wanted to make her son repeat kindergarten because he didn’t measure up on the federally-required DIBELS phonics test, I asked, “Is there any way you can homeschool?” When I tried to tell this story as an invited speaker at the Chicago AFT Progressive Caucus, I was hooted off the podium as soon as I mentioned the homeschool recommendation. I’ve spent my life working for public school for the common good–and I’m not about to stop–but if I wouldn’t allow a school to destroy a six-year-old I loved, then I can’t allow it to happen to anybody else’s child either. In Finland, lauded for its lead on international tests, they don’t even start teaching reading skills until the kids are 7, and then, children in grade school have a play break every 45 minutes, and don’t take any standardized tests until they’re ready to graduate from high school. I just bought a T-Shirt: Occupy Kindergarten!

I scream about the topic sentence requirement in kindergarten and assigning As I Lay Dying, with its 15 narrators, in 11th grade; I mock the notion of such “informational text” as “Invasive Plant Inventory” and Euclid’s Elements (listed in Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, Appendix B) supplanting To Kill a Mockingbird and “Macbeth” as vehicles for conveying to students the world knowledge Common Core thugs insist is necessary to compete as workers in the Global Economy. And I’d scream just as loudly if every required text was a book I loved. All this arguing about the percentage of fiction allowed and what that fiction should be is a deliberate distraction thrown up by the power brokers. They do it with school reform; they do it with social issues. They want us to wage battle with each other–over the content of national standards–so we’ll have no breath left over to ask Who decides? Who’s in charge of public schools? And for whose benefit do they operate?

Make no mistake about it: current school reform is destroying the lives of children. Here in Vermont, my so-called progressive governor, Peter Shumlin, eager to show his chops to the National Governors Association, cheerfully laps up their Kool-Aid. He’s pushing algebra and geometry as requirements for a high school diploma. Longtime public school superintendent and now managing director of the National Education Policy Center, William Mathis calls the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) crisis the new urban legend. In reality, for some Vermont kids, lumberjack skills are much more important than algebra and before we proclaim algebra more important than music and the arts, we must again ask, Important for whom? Mathis points out that there are more STEM-qualified workers than jobs available and of the nation’s nine million people with STEM degrees, only about three million work in STEM fields.

In his second inaugural address Governor Shumlin put Vermont’s economic future on the backs of teachers and children, saying that “to ensure our success, we must embrace change in the way we both view and deliver education. The rapid change that is required of us is not optional; it will define our success or deliver our failure.” No options. Note how the governor defines education as a delivery system. His emphasis on “rapid change” is both disingenuous and dangerous. Teaching is much more like watching what Whitman called the “trickling sap of maple,” which matures and intensifies slowly, than about delivering rigor to kindergartners—or high schoolers. As Wendell Berry points out, “Good teaching is an investment in the minds of the young, as obscure in result, as remote from immediate proof as planting a chestnut seedling.” One of my third grade students, a deaf child in public school for the first time, recently found me on FaceBook to tell me what Amelia Bedelia meant to her thirty years ago. I think of this as teacher wait time.

Lots of school watchers believe the sole purpose of the Common Core State (sic) Standards is to drive the national test which has been on the corporate agenda for more than two decades. Although the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation paid for the CCSS, the new, super-duper assessments traveling with those standards are funded by you and me. The U. S. Department of Education gave $335 million to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium to develop computer-based tests for grades 3-12. They both plan a lot of testing, and costs of hardware and software requirements, of rewiring school buildings and buying computers that meet the specifications are on the backs of local taxpayers. The Florida state department of education recently announced an infusion of nearly half a billion dollars to develop the necessary technology infrastructure capable of delivering the tests. New York City estimates the same amount.

Although hubris seems to drive Bill Gates’ education reform ideology, it is no surprise that his foundation would find the Common Core’s huge reliance on technology attractive. Technology and the desire to put schools under the oversight and domination of a national test also motivated education reformers in September 1989, when President George H.W. Bush convened a meeting in Charlottesville, Va., for the first-ever National Education Summit. Teachers were also absent from that meeting, Instead, IBM CEO Lou Gerstner joined hands with Arkansas governor Bill Clinton to lead the effort. Gerstner and his Business Roundtable cronies got to name the problem and define the solution, which was a relabeled Business Roundtable plan calling for school choice, competition, and a massive infusion of technology. It was signed into federal law as America 2000. When it morphed into Goals 2000, President Clinton was foiled in his attempt to add a national test. Then came No Child Left Behind under President Bush the Younger and Race to the Top and the Common Core under President Obama. With each residency change at the White House, the name of ed reform has changed and the content has become more destructive to the needs of public schools and the children in them.

Resistance There is resistance. A national movement of parents opting their children out of standardized testing started when Professor Tim Slekar and his wife went with their son Luke to a school conference to learn why Luke’s grades were slipping. The teacher showed them a sample paper, with a test-prep writing prompt: Write about the two most exciting times you have had with your family. Luke’s response, started, “Whoo-hoo! Let me tell you about my great family vacation trip to the Adirondacks.”

The teacher stopped Luke and asked him to explain to his parents why this opening was unacceptable. “Whoo-hoo! isn’t a sentence,” he acknowledged, adding that the first sentence to a writing prompt must begin by restating the prompt. The teacher said that according to standards, Luke’s response would have been scored a zero, and her obligation was to prepare children to pass the state test. Feeling that education shouldn’t be about preparing students to write answers in a format low-paid temp workers can score, the Slekars decided to opt Luke out of future standardized testing. “We would not allow our son to provide data to a system that was designed to prove that he, the teacher, the system, and the community were failing.” Tim found people of like mind– Peggy Robertson, Morna McDermmott, Ceresta Smith, Shaun Johnson and Laurie Murphy–and together they founded United Opt Out, a national movement to opt students out of standardized testing. Its endorsers include John Kuhn, an outspoken Texas school superintendent, who says, “Parents and students have the power to say when enough is enough.”

Teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle recently demonstrated that teachers also have this power. Despite intense administrative pressure, the whole faculty refused to administer a standardized test there. When a retired Florida kindergarten teacher heard about Garfield High, she called a Seattle pizza shop and ordered five large pizzas with two toppings to be sent to the school. Other expressions of support have poured in from across the country. School watchers are now hopeful that a revolution may be at hand.

Whoo-hoo! Occupy the schools!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

How different are the mayoral candidates from Bloomberg on education, actually? | Capital New York

How different are the mayoral candidates from Bloomberg on education, actually? | Capital New York
February 8, 2013, By Dana Rubinstein
Have 11 years under Mayor Michael Bloomberg improved education in New York City?

That was the last question posed to five mayoral candidates during 90-minute forum on education last week. The answer from two of them, current and former comptrollers John Liu and Bill Thompson, was a fairly emphatic no.

The answer from one of them, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, was a hedge: Bloomberg did well in the first term, followed by two terms in which the system "slid hugely backwards."

Only two of the five would-be mayors gave an answer that in any way approximated a yes.

One of those was media executive Tom Allon, a former Stuyvesant teacher who's mounting a longshot bid as a Republican and who said Bloomberg had perhaps improved education a little bit, though not "enough."

The other yes came from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, whose mission from now until September (or thereabouts) is to appeal to Democratic primary voters without squandering the tacit backing of Bloomberg and the city's business establishment that she’s worked so hard to secure.

”I think we have a lot further to go," said Quinn. "But yes, I do think we’ve made progress under Mayor Bloomberg, but not progress which I am satisfied with ...”

The crowd seated in Baruch College’s Mason Hall, most of them members of a union that sponsored the event, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, booed and hissed. But she pressed on.

“Remember, we now have mayoral control, which is a great foundation to build off of," Quinn said. "But we’re not there.”

It sounded like she was saying the opposite of the other Democrats on the stage, who had said Bloomberg's education legacy was a flop. But in terms of the substance, she might as well have been speaking for all of them.

Every candidate on that stage—including Thompson, de Blasio and Liu, all of whom had faulted Bloomberg's work on education—likes and plans to keep mayoral control of public schools, which was a product of a 2002 legislative victory by which Bloomberg wrested direction of the city's schools and education policy from the old Board of Education.

It's that very mayoral control that raises the stakes this year, in what will be the first open mayoral election in decades in which the winner will exert near-supreme control over education policy in New York City.

Notwithstanding a perennial effort by some particularly close allies of the teachers union to reinstitute the old board model, that debate is effectively over.

“What’s funny is they might disagree with Michael Bloomberg’s version of mayoral control, but they’re not gonna give that up,” said Liz Willen, the editor of the Hechinger Report, who was one of the two moderators of last week’s forum.

The litmus-test issues on education for Bloomberg's would-be successors are, broadly speaking, charter schools and their co-location in buildings with district schools, teacher evaluations, student testing, and school closures.

Here, too, the policy prescriptions, at least on the Democratic side, are broadly similar: a diminution of the privileges accorded charter schools under the Bloomberg administration and a closer alliance with the teachers union, a less-pronounced reliance on standardized testing for students and teachers, fewer school closures, a more expansive pre-K program and a greater emphasis on public feedback in the formation of policy. (The word "collaborate," in its various forms, got thrown around quite a bit during last week's forum.)

The early consensus among the candidates, as Columbia political science and education professor Jeffrey Henig described it, is that New York City needs “a kinder, gentler mayoral control of schools.”

The differences among the Democratic candidates are mostly a matter of degree, with Quinn generally the least inclined to make major changes to Bloomberg's policies.

The top-polling Republican candidate, Joe Lhota, hasn't spoken extensively about education, but seems inclined to follow the Bloomberg model.

(Lhota described himself in a previous interview with Capital as "very pro-charter." He also said that co-locations aren't ideal but that he has "no problem with them," and that standardized tests are a "very, very important" metric but shouldn't be the "sole criteria" by which teachers and schools are judged, which is what pretty much everyone thinks. Also, like Quinn, he supports the idea of giving students tablets instead of textbooks. It's an idea Sol Stern, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, calls "trivial.")

The five mayoral candidates at last week's forum sat in sober colors on gray chairs, beneath a proscenium engraved with the proverb, "He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul/He that keepeth understanding shall find good.”

Bloomberg came into office with the laudable notion of becoming the education mayor, to fix New York's public school system or fall short, and be held accountable in either case.

He was returned to office twice, but the consensus among his would-be successors seemed to be that his victories came despite the state of the city's public schools, not because of it.

“I simply cannot accept the status quo of our school system today,” said de Blasio, a graduate of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a public school in Cambridge, Mass., and the father of two public school-educated children.

De Blasio has proposed a program of universal pre-K education, to be paid for by a new tax on high earners.

Bloomberg’s “overemphasis on numbers, on statistics” is all wrong, said Liu, a Bronx Science alumnus who lives in Queens and drives his son to a Manhattan public school each day.

“It seems like we’ve come to a place where closing schools has become the goal, almost as if it’s a good thing,” said Quinn, a graduate of Holy Child Academy, a Catholic school on Long Island. “That shouldn’t be the case at all.”

Thompson, de Blasio and Liu all support a moratorium on the mayor’s aggressive school closures policy—schools that receive poor grades from the city multiple times may be shuttered or radically restructured—while Quinn thinks the practice should be used only in rare circumstances.

Thompson, a Midwood High School alum, says that instead of closing schools, the city should resurrect an old initiative by Giuliani-era city schools chancellor Rudy Crew, in which the administration aggregated all the failing schools into one "district" and supervised them extra-closely.

Thompson, de Blasio and Liu all said, too, that they would appoint chancellors who were professional educators, unlike Bloomberg's first two appointees, Joel Klein and the short-lived Cathie Black (who gave way to the more traditionally qualified Dennis Walcott).

On that point, Quinn equivocated.

“Given the complexity of the job, you want someone who has a lot of educational experience,” she said. “That can be somebody who was a teacher, it can be somebody who has run a not-for-profit.”

Thompson, de Blasio, Liu and Quinn all think there needs to be less reliance on standardized testing, and less reliance on such test results to grade teachers and schools.

Every Democrat on stage except for Quinn thought the Bloomberg administration’s handling of negotiations with the teacher’s union has been an abject failure.

On that point, as on others, Quinn's said words that didn't amount to a position, critical or otherwise, on how Bloomberg had done.

“The first thing is everybody needs to get back in the room, lock themselves in the room if they have to, we have to have a system,” she said.

All of the Democratic candidates support charter schools in theory, if not in practice: none of them support their rapid expansion, as Bloomberg has (in the name of school choice), not even Quinn, who recently described the current number of charters as "at a good level."

And all of the Democratic candidates think the way in which the city has housed charter schools with district schools has been clumsy.

“I support charter schools,” said Thompson. “However, what we are seeing across the city of New York, in co-location, are, in one side of the school it’s bright, there’s technology, it’s airy ... it looks good, and on the other side of the school, it as if the children are in a different city. They are being treated as second-class citizens.”

De Blasio name-checked former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, who runs the Success Academy Charter Schools and has combatively lobbied for and defended co-locations in the face of hostility from the teachers union and parents of children in public schools that have been required to share facilities with new charters.

“Another thing that has to change starting in January is that Eva Moskowitz cannot continue to have the run ...,” de Blasio said, at which point loud cheers obscured the rest of his sentence.

* * *
De Blasio and Thompson last spring on mayoral control, as reported by Capital New York.
November 19, 2012, in Schoolbook, the candidates on mayoral control.