Educate All Students, Support Public Education

August 24, 2010

10 Race to the Top Winners in Round 2

Filed under: Race to the Top — millerlf @ 2:32 pm

EdWeek August 24, 2010 Sean Cavanagh

The results are in, and the list of Race to the Top winners in Round Two includes an eclectic mix of 10 states that had put together very different kinds of applications in their funding bids for the $3.4 billion in remaining federal funds.

The winners in this second and final round announced by the U.S. Department of Education today: the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island. They join first-round winners Delaware and Tennessee.

A few common threads among the 10 victorious Round Two applicants include their promises to take bold approaches to turning around low-performing schools, and in evaluating teachers.


August 23, 2010

Joe Klein, NY Superintendent (Chancellor) Walks Out of Hearing When Parents Protest Low Test Results For New York Public Schools

Filed under: General — millerlf @ 9:02 am

As Parents Protest, Chancellor and Panel Leave

Angry parents protested a falloff in test scores at a meeting of a citywide education panel on Monday night, prompting its members and the schools chancellor to walk out.
Forty-five minutes into the hearing, as a crowd of about 100 people jeered and chanted slogans, the chancellor, Joel I. Klein, and the members of the Panel for Educational Policy left the stage. They did not return, choosing to reschedule the meeting, as parents marched the aisles of the auditorium at Murry Bergtraum High School in Lower Manhattan and took turns expressing their outrage over a bullhorn.
“This is a call to all those in charge at the Department of Education,” shouted Esperanza Vazquez of Morrisania. “Do your work for our children.” The upheaval began after Mr. Klein, among others on the stage, said that despite the drop in this year’s scores after the state recalibrated its standardized exams, students citywide were still making substantial progress, based on graduation rates and other data.
In response, a panelist, Patrick Sullivan, moved to open the floor to public comments about test scores. Though a second panelist, Anna Santos, seconded the motion, it was denied by the chairman, David C. Chang, who pointed out that time for comments had been allotted after scheduled business. With that, the crowd erupted into boos and chants of “Let the parents speak.” “Where is the accountability?” asked Evelyn Feliciano of West Tremont, in the Bronx, who said her son’s scores had dropped drastically.

New York City Progress on Racial Acheivement Gap Fading

Filed under: Educational Practices,Mayoral Control — millerlf @ 8:48 am
August 15, 2010

Triumph Fades on Racial Gap in City Schools

Two years ago, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, testified before Congress about the city’s impressive progress in closing the gulf in performance between minority and white children. The gains were historic, all but unheard of in recent decades.
“Over the past six years, we’ve done everything possible to narrow the achievement gap — and we have,” Mr. Bloomberg testified. “In some cases, we’ve reduced it by half.”
We are closing the shameful achievement gap faster than ever,” the mayor said again in 2009, as city reading scores — now acknowledged as the height of a test score bubble — showed nearly 70 percent of children had met state standards.
When results from the 2010 tests, which state officials said presented a more accurate portrayal of students’ abilities, were released last month, they came as a blow to the legacy of the mayor and the chancellor, as passing rates dropped by more than 25 percentage points on most tests. But the most painful part might well have been the evaporation of one of their signature accomplishments: the closing of the racial achievement gap.
Among the students in the city’s third through eighth grades, 40 percent of black students and 46 percent of Hispanic students met state standards in math, compared with 75 percent of white students and 82 percent of Asian students. In English, 33 percent of black students and 34 percent of Hispanic students are now proficient, compared with 64 percent among whites and Asians.
“The claims were based on some bad information,” said Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a research group that studies education policy. “On achievement, the story in New York City is of some modest progress, but not the miracle that the mayor and the chancellor would like to claim.”

August 21, 2010

Doyle Abandons MPS

Filed under: Race to the Top,School Finance — millerlf @ 7:15 am

Doyle Decision Costs MPS $59 Million Dollars

$59 million more in U.S. funds would have been allotted to district under distribution favoring needy students

By Jason Stein, Amy Hetzner and Erin Richards of the Journal Sentinel Aug. 20, 2010

Madison — Milwaukee Public Schools would have received $59 million more from a recent federal jobs bill for teachers under a distribution scheme passed over by Gov. Jim Doyle.

Doyle, a Democrat, chose to distribute $179 million in federal money to help save teacher jobs in Wisconsin by using the state’s general formula for divvying up aid to school districts, which will provide an estimated $14.4 million to MPS.

But an alternate formula not chosen by Doyle would have given priority to districts such as MPS with a big share of poor students and provided $73.4 million – or 41% of all the federal money – to the state’s largest school district, according to a report released Friday by the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office.

MPS Superintendent Greg Thornton, whose district laid off 482 teachers and has since recalled 224, said he was disappointed with the district’s final aid total.

“I had anticipated significantly more dollars,” Thornton said. “I was hopeful that not only would I return folks to teaching positions, but also jump-start some of our curriculum initiatives.”

The $14.4 million in federal aid accounts for about 100 of the 224 teacher recalls, Thornton said. Eighty-nine teachers were recalled in July, and another 35 were called back over the past few weeks.

Thornton said he didn’t intend to use all the jobs money right away because he wanted to be able to re-address staffing needs on the third Friday of September, when the district takes an official enrollment count in each school.

“I am confident I can get teachers back to work,” Thornton said. “I will go back and re-address staffing needs on the third Friday so we can mitigate any large class sizes.”

Two funding options

Congress approved the $10 billion Education Jobs Fund last week as part of a larger $26 billion bill to support state health programs and education jobs in the midst of the recession. Under the law, states have two options for distributing that money to school districts – the formulas that they normally use for general state aid or the so-called Title I formula normally used to distribute federal funds for low-income students to districts.


Ron Johnson Sees Sunspots

Filed under: Elections,Tea Party — millerlf @ 7:14 am

It is not too late for Ron Johnson to check in on the side of Ptolemy in the debate with Copernicus on whether the Earth moves around the Sun or vice versa.

Also it is not too late to side with the Catholic Church against Galileo.

GOP WI Sen. candidate Ron Johnson claims ‘sunspot activity’ is the cause of extreme weather trends.

Recently, Wisconsin businessman and U.S. Senate candidate for the Republican Party Ron Johnson gave a wide-ranging interview to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel. Johnson, a global warming skeptic, detailed his views on climate change and explained that he believes that extreme weather occurring across the globe — like record flooding in Pakistan and massive forest fires in Russia — may not be a result of man-made global warming, and that it’s “far more likely that it’s just sunspot activity”:

A global warming skeptic, Johnson said extreme weather phenomena were better explained by sunspots than an overload of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as many scientists believe. “I absolutely do not believe in the science of man-caused climate change,” Johnson said. “It’s not proven by any stretch of the imagination.” […]

“It’s far more likely that it’s just sunspot activity or just something in the geologic eons of time,” he said. Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere “gets sucked down by trees and helps the trees grow,” said Johnson. Average Earth temperatures were relatively warm during the Middle Ages, Johnson said, and “it’s not like there were tons of cars on the road.”

In fact, sunspots have been at a historic lows. As the Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson notes, “Severe weather fueled by global warming pollution is having an even more devastating impact around the world. … All of these disasters were predicted by climate scientists as a consequence of greenhouse gas pollution from burning fossil fuels.” Unfortunately, Johnson’s anti-science, anti-environment views aren’t limited to his bizarre theory about sunspots. Last June, he claimed that global warming saved Wisconsin from turning into a glacier, saying he was “glad there’s global warming … We’d be standing on top of a 200-foot thick glacier.” He has also told the press he is open to oil drilling in Wisconsin’s Great Lakes.

August 18, 2010

Drive By Reform Seen in Boston Schools

Filed under: Race to the Top — millerlf @ 1:11 pm

Lesson Plan in Boston Schools: Don’t Go It Alone

Kelvin Ma for The New York Times

Earlier this year Massachusetts enacted a law that allowed districts to remove at least half the teachers and the principal at their lowest-performing schools. The school turnaround legislation aligned the state with the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program incentives and a chance to collect a piece of the $3.4 billion in federal grant money.

From Washington this makes abundant good sense, a way to galvanize rapid and substantial change in schools for children who need it most.

In practice, on the ground, it is messy for the people most necessary for turning a school around — the teachers — and not always fair.

Often the decisions about which teachers will stay and which will go are made by new principals who may be very good, but don’t know the old staff. “We had several good teachers asked to leave,” said Heather Gorman, a fourth-grade teacher who will be staying at Blackstone Elementary here, where 38 of 50 teachers were removed. “Including my sister who’s been a special-ed teacher 22 years.”

And while tenured teachers who were removed all eventually found positions at other Boston schools, it’s unsettling. “Very upsetting,” said Ms. Gorman. “A lot of nervousness for teachers.”

Blackstone’s new principal, Stephen Zrike, who made the decisions, agrees. “I’d say definitely good teachers were let go,” Mr. Zrike said, explaining that a lot of his decisions were driven by particular skills he wanted for teams he was assembling. “I wouldn’t doubt a lot will be excellent in other places.”

And how much to blame are teachers for the abysmal test scores at Orchard Gardens, a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade turnaround school here, that’s had six principals since opening seven years ago?

The goal of the turnaround legislation is to get the best teachers into the schools with the neediest children, but often, experienced teachers get worn down by waves and waves of change and are reluctant to try again.

“You fear being pulled by the latest whim,” said Ana Vaisenstein, who has taught in Boston for 12 years.

“Sometimes in education, there are so many changes being made at once, the important things get lost,” said Courtney Johnson, a five-year veteran.


Many Chicago Charter Schools Run Deficits, Data Shows

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 9:00 am

August 13, 2010 By SARAH KARP

Even as the Obama administration promotes charter schools as a way to help raise the academic performance of the nation’s students, half of Chicago’s charter schools have been running deficits in recent years, an analysis of financial and budget documents shows, calling into question their financial viability.
On Monday, Chicago Public Schools released a bare-bones budget that included a cut of about 6 percent in per-pupil financing for charter schools — to $5,771 from $6,117 per pupil for elementary school students and to $7,213 from $7,647 per pupil for high school students. The cuts are a result of shrinking tax revenue and lagging support from the strapped state government. The city’s 71 charter schools, which enrolled 33,000 students last year and expect to enroll another 10,000 in the 2010-11 school year, stand to lose $15 million under the cuts.
It is difficult to compare the cuts with those that are being made at traditional schools because those schools do not receive money on a per-pupil basis, but district officials said they tried to make the amount of cuts comparable to those being made at traditional schools.
As a result, charters will become more dependent on private donors to provide the extras — more counselors, smaller classes, longer school days and up-to-date technology — that charter operators say set their schools apart from traditional public schools.
But even though Chicago’s charter schools brought in $21 million in private money from foundations, corporations and wealthy individuals in 2007 — the last year for which complete information is available — half have run an average of $700,000 in deficits in recent years, with some of the shortfalls reaching $4 million, according to an analysis of Chicago Public Schools data by Catalyst Chicago, an independent magazine on urban education.
The data showed that two-thirds of the schools could not cover core expenses, like salaries, facilities and overhead, without private money. A third needed private money to fill more than 20 percent of their budgets. A recent study by Ball State University found that Chicago’s charter schools depend far more on private financing than those in other big cities, including Boston, Miami and New York.
Robert Runcie, chief administrative officer for Chicago Public Schools, said the district needed to take a “serious look” at the fiscal health of charters and was developing a system for stricter oversight. Four Chicago charters have been shut down since the 1990s largely because of financial problems. Charter schools, which receive public money but are run by private for-profit and nonprofit organizations, were established to foster innovative educational practices by freeing the school from state and local regulations, for example, the requirement that all teachers be state-certified.
Chicago Public Schools officials and national education experts say that charters, to be considered fiscally sound, should be able to cover all their general operating costs with public money. If charters raise private cash, it should be just for additional programs, said Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
Advocates of charter schools say inequitable public financing is the root of the problem. Charters are forced to rely on private money because they receive less public money than traditional schools, said Larry Maloney of the Aspire Educational Consulting Company in Washington, D.C., one of the authors of the Ball State study.
“The question is, are we intentionally setting up charter schools to fail?” he said.
Opponents of charters blame the financial problems of the schools on the expense of extra bureaucracies. In addition to principals and assistant principals, the schools often have executive directors and financial officers on staff, all of which cost extra money. I think the charter school system was always built on a house of cards, and once the economy took a dive, it would crumble,” said Jackson Potter, staff coordinator for the Chicago Teachers Union and co-chairman of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, which now leads the union.
Union leaders have vigorously fought charter schools, which they consider privatization of public schools and a way for school districts to abandon their responsibility to children. Charter schools also have mostly nonunion teachers, although teachers at two charters in Chicago have recently formed unions.
President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a former Chicago schools chief, view charter schools as a way to spur innovation in public school systems that they say are too resistant to change. States that do not allow charters or restrict their replication jeopardize their chance to receive federal financing, Mr. Duncan said last year. “We want real autonomy for charters,” he said.
Mr. Duncan has also pressed charter operators to take over failing schools under the so-called “turnaround” strategy, which involves replacing the entire staff of existing schools.
Charter schools are a centerpiece of Chicago’s Renaissance 2010 strategy, which was started in 2004 by Mayor Richard M. Daley and Mr. Duncan, who was then the chief executive of Chicago Public Schools. The program’s goal is to close failing schools and replace them with new ones, including charters.
The initiative has been controversial from the start, and charter finances are not the only concern. New schools have been spread unevenly across the city, and half of the 25 neighborhoods considered most in need of better schools have yet to get them.
In addition, teacher turnover at charters is high: Catalyst Chicago’s analysis of charter teacher lists found that half of teachers left from 2008 to 2010, a rate comparable to that in many of the most troubled district-run schools.
Charter school operators say teacher turnover can be good if it means that bad teachers are being fired. But education experts say that high turnover is often a result of poor working conditions, and charter teachers typically work longer hours for less pay than teachers in traditional schools. Experts also say high turnover causes an unstable learning environment. Educators have said the real test of charters is whether they are driving improvement in public schools.
The Catalyst Chicago analysis showed that most charter schools in the city outperform traditional schools in their neighborhoods, but only eight have reached the higher state average for student achievement. A host of national studies have found that charter-school performance is mixed and, on the whole, no better than that of traditional public schools.
Charter operators say that there are other measures besides test scores. This year, a handful of the charter high schools called attention to the fact that almost all their students got into colleges. \
Around the Calumet campus of Perspectives Charter School on Chicago’s South Side are posters and murals with the motto “College For Certain.” To reach that goal, Perspectives has college counselors dedicated to taking students on college tours and helping them navigate the journey from poor South Side neighborhood to leafy college campus.
In May, the school celebrated its first graduation, with 70 percent of the class having been accepted to at least one college, the school reported.
But the 6 percent cut in Chicago Public Schools spending on charter schools is going to make it increasingly difficult to fulfill the promise of college, said Rhonda Hopps, chief executive of Perspectives, which operates five schools. The proposed cuts would mean $710,000 less, based on current enrollment, to hire the additional college counselors Perspectives had planned to add. Ms. Hopps said she would try to find volunteers to fill the gap. “I am worried about the direction of the cuts,” said Ms. Hopps, who joined Perspectives last spring as the school’s first chief executive. Her major task, she said, is to raise money.
Beth Purvis, the executive director of Chicago International Charter Schools, the city’s largest charter operator with 13 schools, said her board of directors believed that “public education should occur with public money.” Leaning on outside sources might work in the short term, while charters are still the toast of the philanthropic community, Mrs. Purvis said, but the strategy may not work in the long run. “We don’t want to just be in a community for 15 to 20 years,” she said. “We want to be in a community for 50 to 100 years.”

August 13, 2010

Help Retire Plale

Filed under: Elections — millerlf @ 10:05 am

Plale Must Go!

By Shepherd Express Staff

Let’s face it: State Sen. Jeff Plale has been wrong on just about every issue that moderate and progressive voters in his district care about. The pro-corporate Democrat consistently votes against the best interests of the residents of his district, which runs along the Lake Michigan shoreline from UW-Milwaukee through the East Side, the Third Ward, Walker’s Point, Bay View, St. Francis, Cudahy, South Milwaukee and Oak Creek.

Since being elected to the state Assembly in 1996 and the state Senate in 2003, Plale has voted against or undermined bills that would improve the environment and help Wisconsin’s businesses become more competitive in the global economy. He’s authored bills that weaken consumer protections and environmental standards while raising funds from the corporations that benefit from his bills.

Here’s just some of the damage Plale has done while in the state Legislature:  

  • Plale single-handedly blocked Senate debate on the Clean Energy Jobs Act, even after it was weakened to appease the deep-pocketed utilities that contribute to his campaigns
  • Plale was the driving force behind cable deregulation legislation that has seen cable rates actually increase, not decrease
  • Plale was one of two Democrats in the Senate who voted for a patient abandonment bill that would have allowed health care providers to deny services or information to patients or referrals to other health care professionals if the treatment goes against their personal religious beliefs
  • Plale co-sponsored a payday lending bill that favored the multimillion-dollar national industry at the expense of cash-strapped Wisconsin borrowers
  • Plale voted to impede stem cell research in the state by explaining that he was against “reproductive cloning,” which is quite different than stem cell research
  • Plale authored legislation to transfer the governance of the publicly owned and operated Mitchell International Airport—which generates millions of dollars in revenues for the county, helping to keep the property tax down—to a politically appointed board
  • Plale’s been a strong supporter of Milwaukee’s school voucher system, which uses taxpayer funds for private, religious schools at the expense of the city’s public school system
  • Plale introduced the Milwaukee Public Schools mayoral takeover legislation, which would have turned over the public school system to a politically appointed superintendent
  • Plale supports concealed carry and voted to override Gov. Jim Doyle’s veto of a concealed carry system in 2004  

Notice a pattern? Time and time again, Plale has voted in the interest of private corporations or conservative special interests—which also donate heavily to his campaigns—while standing in the way of legislation that would improve the quality of life of his constituents or even allow them to have a say in important matters like their public schools or their own health care decisions.

On Tuesday, Sept. 14, voters in the Democratic Primary can put an end to Plale’s disrespect for his Milwaukee County constituents.

 Terrible on the Environment

Plale has a history of managing to vote both ways on a single issue—like stem cell research, for example. Back in 2005 he introduced an amendment that attempted to improve an anti-stem cell research bill championed by conservative Republicans. But when his amendment failed, he then voted for the entire package of anti-stem cell legislation. That vote allows him to confuse voters by saying he’s a champion of stem cell research while actually voting to curb research.

But Plale’s actions in the latest legislative session truly angered many of his constituents. First there was the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA), which would have boosted Wisconsin’s clean energy businesses, improved energy conservation measures, created jobs and transitioned the state’s economy into the 21st-century “green” economy. Plale’s the chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Utilities, Energy and Rail, and he also was a member of the task force that studied the issue in depth and made recommendations that were added to the bill.

When the conservative faction of the business community initially complained that the bill was too costly, Plale helped to weaken the bill and craft a revised version that was more acceptable to the interests of the utilities and businesses.

But Plale didn’t even support that compromise. Instead of championing a bill he helped to develop and write, Plale single-handedly killed it. In a move smacking of extreme hubris, Plale blocked debate on the bill in the state Senate during the final days of the legislative session and the bill was never voted on. Years of study, effort, compromise and political capital were wasted to cement Plale’s relationships with his corporate donors.

But Plale’s misdeeds didn’t stop there. While he was busy killing CEJA he also found time to weaken the state’s requirements for clean energy sources.

For years, the state has required utilities to derive a portion of their energy from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.

But in the final hours of the legislative session, with no public debate, Plale slipped in an amendment to a little-noticed bill that expanded the definition of “renewable energy,” and that definition includes some questionable power sources. One of those energy sources now considered “renewable” according to Plale’s amendment is a process called “plasma gasification,” which turns garbage and hazardous waste into energy. Not surprisingly, there are serious concerns about how “clean” this technology is, since it would emit toxins like mercury, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide that would need to be disposed. If utilities use this technology—and a gasification plant is in the works on Milwaukee’s North Side—then they won’t have to rely as much on truly clean renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

Although this unproven waste-based energy technology has been blasted by environmental groups, Plale successfully persuaded his colleagues to add plasma gasification to the state’s renewable energy standards. In fact, it’s the only bill passed in this past legislative session that actually weakens Wisconsin’s environmental protections. That’s quite a feat.

Plale’s such a threat to the environment that the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters flunked him in its latest score card. Plale made the group’s “Conservation Dishonor Roll” because he “went the extra mile to jeopardize Wisconsin’s natural resources.”

 Favors for Campaign Contributors

So why does Plale continue to vote against the interests of his district? Perhaps it has to do with campaign contributions. Records show that there’s a tight connection between his bills and the special interests that contribute to his campaigns.

Take Plale’s work to deregulate the cable and telecom industries. An investigation by TheCapital Times in Madison found that huge phone companies like AT&T and TDS had helped Plale draft a bill that would have weakened regulation of their own companies.

Fortunately, that telecom deregulation bill didn’t pass. But Plale’s cable deregulation bill did, back in 2007. By the time the bill was passed in the Senate, Plale had taken in more than $40,000 over his legislative career from individuals and PACs that supported the bill, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. And although Plale promised that it would save consumers money, in reality the opposite happened. According to the state’s Legislative Audit Bureau, basic-cable customers are actually paying 21% more than they did before the bill passed.

And what about school vouchers? Plale has raked in thousands from ultraconservative, pro-school privatization interests from around the country, including the Walton family, the founders of Wal-Mart. Now, reports are surfacing that former Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen is raising pro-voucher money to support Plale in his campaign for re-election. That should trouble Plale’s constituents. And it’s why voters should retire Plale on Sept. 14.

Tea Party Racists Allowed to Present at Capitol in Madison

Filed under: Immigration — millerlf @ 6:46 am

Tea Party Coalition Promotes Racial Stereotypes Through Fear

August 12, 2010

Madison – Wisconsin Tea Party Coalition head Gary Meinert offered racial stereotypes during a presentation at the State Capitol Madison, as part of his group’s effort to generate hysteria in support of Arizona’s unconstitutional racial profiling law (SB 1070) and efforts to further militarize the U.S.-Mexico border.

Members of Voces de la Frontera, the state’s largest Latino membership organization, were on-hand to document the event’s extremism.

“I remember as a child hearing people make nasty comments about Italian immigrants all being tied to the Mafia. The latest attacks against Mexican immigrants during Gary Meinert’s diatribe at the state capitol from Tea Party extremists remind me of the kinds of stereotyping and bigotry endured over the decades by Italian Americans, Polish Americans, African Americans, Jewish people and Irish Catholics,” said Leila Pine, a humanitarian aid worker from Madison who spends half of each year working at the Arizona-Mexico border, and attending the Tea Party presentation today.

Pine was commenting on a lengthy slide show presented by Gary Meinert of the Wisconsin Tea Party Coalition at the State Capitol on Thursday. She was part of a group of protesters from Voces de la Frontera of Milwaukee and local immigrant rights activists who peacefully picketed the Tea Party presentation in the fourth floor of the Capitol. Only two state legislators attended the presentation.

The Tea Partiers refused to allow any discussion about the controversial issues, and Meinert cut off questions from the protesters by stating that “There will be no discussion” and calling one person who asked a question “an idiot”. One woman from the Tea Party told Pine that she couldn’t even be in the room where the presentation was being held, although it was a public space.

Pine works with the award-winning human rights group “No More Deaths” at the border to save lives and document human rights abuses by Border Patrol agents. She has had six years of experience dealing hands-on with immigrant border crossers, Border Patrol agents and vigilantes at the Arizona-Mexico border.

“The extremists, vigilantes and other white supremacists keep saying that the immigrants are committing crimes at the border and are involved in the drug traffic,” said Pine, “but the vast bulk of immigrants have nothing to do with the drug lords, and racist laws like SB1070 in Arizona only undermine police community relations that enhance public safety.”

According to Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Executive Director of Voces de la Frontera, “Building walls across the border is a waste of resources and ignores the root causes of forced migration; the need for reform of our trade laws, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, that has created mass unemployment in Mexico and forced migration to the US. It ignores the need for humane immigration reform that reunites families, protects all workers’ rights and enhances national security by bringing people out of the shadows.”

August 11, 2010

Inexperienced Companies Chase U.S. School Funds

Filed under: Charter Schools,Race to the Top,Uncategorized — millerlf @ 1:25 pm

Published: August 9, 2010 NY Times. SAM DILLON

With the Obama administration pouring billions into its nationwide campaign to overhaul failing schools, dozens of companies with little or no experience are portraying themselves as school turnaround experts as they compete for the money

A husband-and-wife team that has specialized in teaching communication skills but never led a single school overhaul is seeking contracts in Ohio and Virginia. A corporation that has run into trouble with parents or authorities in several states in its charter school management business has now opened a school turnaround subsidiary. Other companies seeking federal money include offshoots of textbook conglomerates and classroom technology vendors.

Many of the new companies seem unprepared for the challenge of making over a public school, yet neither federal nor many state governments are organized to offer effective oversight, said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a nonprofit group in Washington. “Many of these companies clearly just smell the money,” Mr. Jennings said.

Rudy Crew, a former New York City schools chancellor who has formed his own consulting company, said he was astonished to see so many untested groups peddling school improvement strategies.

“This is like the aftermath of the Civil War, with all the carpetbaggers and charlatans,” Dr. Crew said.

The Obama administration has dramatically increased federal financing for school turnarounds, to $3.5 billion this year, about 28 times as much as in 2007. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is pushing to overhaul 5,000 of the nation’s 100,000 public schools in the next few years.

New York is to receive more than $300 million and New Jersey about $67 million. Expenditures on each failing school are capped at $6 million over three years.

Under federal rules, school districts can hire companies or nonprofits to help, but do not require it, and Sandra Abrevaya, a spokeswoman, said the Department of Education did not know how many districts would do so.

“The department is in daily contact with states and districts to provide technical assistance so they can make smart decisions and select high-quality partners,” Ms. Abrevaya said.

Overhauling schools is challenging work, and experts say few attempts succeed. Breaking the cycle of failure in a school that has become a drop-out factory requires an “extreme reset,” said Tim Cawley, a managing director at the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a nonprofit group leading several turnaround efforts in Chicago. Usually that means installing a new principal and a newly committed teaching staff, invigorating the school’s culture with high expectations and a no-nonsense discipline, adopting a rigorous curriculum, and carrying out regular testing to determine what has been learned and what needs to be retaught,, Mr. Cawley said.

In contrast, many new groups seeking contracts are hoping merely to bring in a new curriculum or retrain some teachers, he said.

“We call that turnaround lite,” he Cawley said.

Bob and Megan Tschannen-Moran run one of the new groups. Their company, LifeTrek Inc., based in their home in Virginia, markets life and career coaching sessions to companies, churches and schools.

Ms. Tschannen-Moran is an education professor at the College of William & Mary, but the couple has never led a school overhaul, Mr. Tschannen-Moran said.

A few school districts have hired LifeTrek for strategic planning, he said.

The couple recently founded a Center for Evocative Coaching, and this spring, Ohio put the center on a list of approved school turnaround specialists. In July, the couple changed the name of the center’s Web site to The center can help schools by “facilitating new conversations through story listening, expressing empathy, appreciative inquiry and design thinking,” its Web site says. Much of the training can be done via conference call, he said.

Mr. Duncan helped trigger the stampede in a June 2009 speech, saying that only a handful of groups, nationwide, had any experience in school overhauls.

“We need everyone who cares about public education,” he said, “to get into the business of turning around our lowest-performing schools.

“That includes states, districts, nonprofits, for-profits, universities, unions and charter organizations.”

One company that said it had answered Mr. Duncan’s call was Mosaica Education, which operates charter schools in several states and overseas. Five of its 10 charter schools in Ohio are in academic emergency, and the company has become embroiled in disputes over its management of charters elsewhere. Its chief executive, Michael J. Connelly, said Mosaica had built a solid record of raising achievement.

In March, the company hired John Q. Porter, a former schools superintendent in Oklahoma City, to lead a new subsidiary, Mosaica Turnaround Partners. Mr. Porter said he attended a vendor fair at Ohio State University in June that had been organized to introduce dozens of new companies and nonprofits to districts preparing school turnarounds.

“It was like a cattle call,” Mr. Porter said. “No, actually it was more like speed dating.”

Pearson, the giant British publisher, also had representatives at the fair. With 36,000 employees worldwide, Pearson is known in education for textbook brands like Scott Foresman and Prentice Hall.

Last year, it formed the K-12 Solutions Group, and it is seeking school-turnaround contracts in at least eight states. Scott Drossos, the group’s president, said that in recent years Pearson had bought smaller companies that built Pearson’s capacity to train teachers and could draw on its testing, technology and other products to carry out a coherent school improvement effort.

In interviews last year, Mr. Duncan said he wanted high-quality, nonprofit charter school management groups, like the KIPP network, which operates 99 schools nationwide, to join the school overhaul work.

But Justin Cohen, a turnaround strategist at MassInsight, a Massachusetts nonprofit organization, said that most successful nonprofit charter operators preferred starting new schools to overhauling failing ones, and that few had accepted Mr. Duncan’s invitation.

“The vast majority of people getting into the field are not ready to do the work,” Mr. Cohen said.

Recognizing the risks facing school districts that sign contracts with untested groups, the American Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit conservative policy group, issued a report last month urging that districts require performance guarantees, under which contractors failing to meet achievement targets would forfeit payments.

Dr. Crew’s new company, Global Partnership Schools, which he formed with Manny Rivera, a former Rochester schools superintendent, has signed a contract with the Pueblo, Colo., district that is backed by a performance guarantee. It stipulates that the partnership will be paid its full fee only if it significantly raises student achievement, Dr. Rivera said. The partnership has also been awarded contracts with districts in Baltimore and Bridgeport, Conn., he said.

Dr. Rivera represented Global Partnership at the June 30 vendor fair in Ohio, tending a booth along with 50 other groups.

“It was just like you were selling pencils,” he said. “A lot of these companies don’t have a clue about how to change schools.”

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