Educate All Students, Support Public Education

October 29, 2010

Rethinking Schools on Michelle Rhee

Filed under: Michelle Rhee — millerlf @ 3:52 pm

Proving Grounds • School “Rheeform” in Washington, D.C.

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Fall 2010By Leigh Dingerson

Washington, D.C., is leading the transformation of urban public education across the country—at least according to Time magazine, which featured D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee on its cover, wearing black and holding a broom. Or perhaps you read it in Newsweek or heard it from Oprah, who named Rhee to her “power list” of “remarkable visionaries.”

But there’s nothing remarkably visionary going on in Washington. The model of school reform that’s being implemented here is popping up around the country, heavily promoted by the same network of conservative think tanks and philanthropists like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walton Family Foundation that has been driving the school reform debate for the past decade. It is reform based on the corporate practices of Wall Street, not on education research or theory. Indications so far are that, on top of the upheaval and distress Rhee leaves in her wake, the persistent racial gaps that plague D.C. student outcomes are only increasing.

Chancellor Rhee helicoptered into Washington in 2007 promising to change the culture of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). Many cheered. But we weren’t counting on the new culture coming straight out of Goldman Sachs. Suddenly, decisions were being made at the top and carried out with atomic force. Parents have been treated like consumers—informed about options and outcomes but denied a seat at the table. The district’s teachers have been insulted in the national media, fired or laid off in record numbers, and replaced by less credentialed and less experienced newcomers. The model views teachers as a delivery system, not as professionals. High turnover is not just the result—it’s the goal. Principals, too, are isolated and expendable. The district lauds the educational mavericks—principals whose “crusades” are described as “relentless” and “methodical”—those who see themselves as an army of one. We are becoming a district where the frontline workers are demoralized, people are looking out for themselves, and trust is all but gone.


Alfie Kohn on Reform

Filed under: Education Policy — millerlf @ 3:44 pm

Kohn: The pretend reformers

October 22, 2010.This was written by Alfie Kohn, the author of 12 books about education and human behavior, including “The Schools Our Children Deserve,” “The Homework Myth,” and the forthcoming “Feel-Bad Education . . . And Other Contrarian Essays on Children & Schooling.” He lives (actually) in the Boston area and (virtually) at www.alfiekohn. This post appeared on Kohn’s Huffington Post page.
By Alfie Kohn
If you somehow neglected to renew your subscription to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, you may have missed a couple of interesting articles last year. A series of studies conducted by two independent groups of researchers (published in the September and November 2009 issues, respectively) added to an already substantial collection of evidence showing that “people are motivated to perceive existing social arrangements as just and legitimate.”
As is common with social psych studies, all the subjects were college students, so extrapolate to every other member of our species at your peril. Still, in a variety of different experiments, everything from the formula used by a university for funding its departments to unequal gender arrangements in business or politics was likely to be regarded as fair simply because, well, that’s how things are already being done. Subjects also tended to prefer the taste of a beverage if they were told it was an established brand than if they were told it was new.
If possession is nine-tenths of the law, then existence apparently is nine-tenths of rightness. At the same time, though, we seem to enjoy the smell of fresh paint (as Sartre put it). There’s something undeniably alluring about the new-and-improved version of whatever product we’re used to buying — as long as the product itself hasn’t changed too much. We may be seized by an urge to throw the bums out every other November, but don’t ask us to question the two-party system itself. After all, if that’s how things are done, it must be for good reason.
For a shrewd policy maker, then, the ideal formula would seem to be to let people enjoy the invigorating experience of demanding reform without having to give up whatever they’re used to. And that’s precisely what both liberals and conservatives manage to do: Advertise as a daring departure from the status quo what is actually just a slightly new twist on it.
But conservatives have gone a step further. They’ve figured out how to take policies that actually represent an intensification of the status quo and dress them up as something that’s long overdue. In many cases the values and practices they endorse have already been accepted, but they try to convince us they’ve lost so they can win even more.

Teachers Beware: Planning, Testing, Pacing, Differentiation, Collaborating, Insanity

Filed under: Education Policy,Teaching — millerlf @ 3:38 pm
Here is an amusing but scary video that shows two toy figures in a conversation that tells you everything you need to know about what is driving school reform today: a nonsensical obsession with assessment and data that has brought a rigidity to classes that makes real teaching and learning impossible. To see in full go to:
Following is some of the dialogue:
Male figure: Let’s begin today’s collaborative planning meeting with successes and challenges. Who would like to volunteer some successes? You are all required to volunteer successes.
Female voice: My students are not understanding verse structure. We have been working on it for three days….
Male voice: That is not a success. You need to mention a success for this week.
Female voice: There have not been any this week. Today is Tuesday and Monday was a holiday.
Male voice: See, it was not hard to find a success. Stop being so negative and we can get more done. Does anyone have a challenge to volunteer?
Female voice: I have a challenge. My students are not understanding verse structure.
Male voice: How do you know that they don’t understand? Where is your test data?
Female voice: I haven’t given the test yet but i know they don’t understand the material.
Male voice: Then how do you know they don’t understand?
Female voice: They told me.
Male voice: But if you don’t give the assessment how can you know where your students are?
Female voice: They told me they don’t understand what I am talking about. The students raised their hands said we do not understand verse structure. They also presented a notarized petition and held a press conference. They compared last night’s homework to translating the Bhagavad Gītā into Klingon from its native Sanskrit then translated a passage in front of me to show it is less difficult…
Male voice: But if you don’t give the assessment how can you know where your students are?
Female voice: Fine. I gave a test. They scored a negative 38 percent.

Male voice: That is a low score. They definitely don’t understand verse structure. Have you taught verse structure?…..

The real effect of teachers union contracts

Filed under: Unions — millerlf @ 3:19 pm

Washington Post, October 25, 2010 By Matthew Di Carlo

Teachers unions are a big target today of some school reformers who view these organizations as the biggest obstacle to improving student achievement. The film “Waiting for Superman” certainly did. So why are states without binding teacher contracts among the lowest-performing in the nation? Matthew Di Carlo, senior fellow at the non-profit Albert Shanker Institute, located in Washington, D.C., looks at this issue. A version of this post originally appeared on the institute’s blog. A follow-up to this post presented a supplemental analysis of the data.

For years, some people have been determined to blame teachers’ unions for all that ails public education in America. This issue has been around a long time (see here and here), but, given the tenor of the current debate, it seems to bear rehashing. According to this view, teachers unions negatively affect student achievement primarily through the mechanism of the collective bargaining agreement, or contract. These contracts are thought to include “harmful” provisions, such as seniority-based layoffs and unified salary schedules that give raises based on experience and education rather than performance.

But a fairly large proportion of public school teachers are not covered under legally binding contracts. In fact, there are some 10 states in which there are virtually no legally binding K-12 teacher contracts at all (there are none in AL, AZ, GA, MS, NC, SC, TX, and VA; there is only one district with a contract in LA, and two in AR). Districts in a few of these states have entered into what are called “meet and confer” agreements about salary, benefits, and other working conditions, but administrators have the right to break these agreements at will. For all intents and purposes, these states are largely free of many of the alleged “negative union effects.”

Here’s a simple proposition: If teacher union contracts are the main problem, then we should expect to see at least somewhat higher achievement outcomes in the 10 states where there are basically no binding contracts.So, let’s take a quick look at how states with no contracts compare with the states that have them.

Average 2009 NAEP Score By State Teacher Contract Laws

States with binding teacher contracts
4th grade: Math 240.0 Reading 220.7
8th grade: Math 282.1 Reading 263.7

States without binding teacher contracts
4th grade: Math 237.7 Reading 217.5
8th grade: Math 281.2 Reading 259.5
In states where there are binding contracts, there is some variation in coverage (the percentage of teachers covered under contracts). In most of them (34, plus Washington D.C.), districts are required to bargain with unionized teachers, and coverage in these states is very high. There are a few other states in which contracts are binding once they’re finished, but districts are not required to bargain (Louisiana also technically falls into this category, but since Katrina, there is only one contract in force). The results for these states are virtually identical to those for the bargaining states.


In the table below, using data from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), I present average scale scores for states that currently have binding teacher contracts and those that don’t. The averages are weighted by grade-level enrollment, and they include only public non-charter schools (since most charters in all states have no contracts).

Average Rank Across 4 NAEP Tests

Next to each state is its average rank

Virginia……. 16.6
Texas……… 27.3
N. Carolina.. 27.5
S. Carolina…38.9

As the rankings show, the states in which there are no teachers covered under binding agreements score lower than the states that have them. Moreover, even though they appear small, all but one of these (8th grade math) are rather large differences.

To give an idea of the size, I ranked each state (plus Washington D.C.) by order of its performance —its average score on each of the four NAEP exams – and then averaged the four ranks. The table below presents the average rank for the non-contract states.

Out of these 10 states, only one (Virginia) has an average rank above the median, while four are in the bottom 10, and seven are in the bottom 15. These data make it very clear that states without binding teacher contracts are not doing better, and the majority are actually among the lowest performers in the nation.


In contrast, nine of the 10 states with the highest average ranks are high coverage states, including Massachusetts, which has the highest average score on all four tests.

If anything, it seems that the presence of teacher contracts in a state has a positive effect on achievement.

Now, some may object to this conclusion. They might argue that I can’t possibly say that teacher contracts alone caused the higher scores in these states. They might say that there are dozens of other observed and unobserved factors that influence achievement, such as state laws, lack of resources, income, parents’ education, and curriculum, and that these factors are responsible for the lower scores in the 10 non-contract states.

My response: Exactly.

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In Defense of Public School Teachers

Filed under: Teaching — millerlf @ 3:10 pm

In Defense of Public School Teachers

Dr Mark Naison Fordham University

There are few jobs in this country more challenging than that of a public school teacher. In a country with one of the highest rates of poverty in the industrialized world, with almost no social safety net to help struggling families, our teachers have to create a positive learning atmosphere in classrooms with filled with young people under stress. The teacher not only has to be someone who can transmit knowledge and skills, he or she has to be a diplomat, a counselor, a surrogate parent and occasionally a police officer.  And those skills don’t just extend to the students. The parents and caretakers ( because many of working class and poor children live with grandparents or foster parents) are a challenge all by themselves as many of them are under extreme stress and act out as almost as much as their children. And then there  are the local school boards, and state authorities, who are putting teachers under pressure to have their students pass standardized tests and are looking to discipline them and fire teachers if they do not produced the desired results.  A teacher today faces a complex variety of tasks that few people confront on their jobs- tasks that required intellect, creativity, patience, and imagination and if all those fail, sheer stubbornness and courage.

You would think, given the difficulty of the task that teachers confront, the incredibly long hours they spend preparing lessons and grading assignments, as well as the tremendous time and expense they put into decorating their classrooms, that teachers would be revered and respected by the American public.  But in fact the contrary is true.  Americans, more than any people on the globe, seem to resent and even hate teachers!

How else to explain the propensity of people on all sides of the political spectrum to blame teachers for the persistence of poverty in the United States, for the failure of the United States to be economically competitive with other nations, and for disappointing test scores and graduation rates among racial minorities.. We have the spectacle of the President of the United States praising the mass firing of teachers in a town in a working class town in Rhode Island where test scores were low; a School Chancellor in the nation’s largest city demanding the publication of confidential, and often misleading, teacher rating data in the press;  and  a mass market film about the power of teachers that focuses exclusively on privately funded charter schools  conveniently leaving out the thousands of dedicated, often brilliant public school teachers working in the nation’s high poverty districts

As the child of two New York City public schools teachers, who each spent more than thirty years in the system, and as someone who spends a good deal of time interacting with teachers in Bronx schools through a community history project I direct, I find this hostility to teachers totally misguided. I invite anyone who thinks teachers are to blame for poverty and inequality to come with me on some of my trips to Bronx public schools and see the extraordinary efforts teachers and principals make to create learning environments for children that are filled with excitement,  stimulation even beauty.  Look at the way classrooms and hallways are decorated. See the incredible projects teachers do with their students. See the plays and musical performances that the schools put on.  And talk to the teachers and principals about what their students are up against. I will never forget the closed door meeting I had with a Bronx principal, whose school served three meals a day, where he described how many of his children started crying on Friday because they were afraid they wouldn’t eat until they came back to school on Monday.  Or talk to a teacher who is working in a class where half the students don’t live with their biological parents, and get a sense of the desperate need these children have for love and affection.

I would like to see how well Secretary of Education Arne Duncan or NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein would do prepping students for tests if they taught in a Bronx middle school or high schools where half the students are on the verge of dropping out because of family pressures or problems reading and writing in English.   The teachers who come to these schools and give students love as well as instruction are not cynically collecting their paychecks, they are taking responsibility for all the problems our society has neglected and for the family and community services it fails to provide

In a society without adequate day care, health care and recreation for working class families, where people have to work two or three jobs to stay in their apartments or share those apartments with multiple strangers; where young people face violence and stress in their living quarters as well as on the streets; where sports programs and music programs are only available for those who can pay; our public school teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the society

They deserve respect and support, not contempt.  They are among America’s true heroes.

Mark D Naison

October 25, 2010

October 25, 2010

The (Howard) Zinn Education Project Teaching Guide: The Most Dangerous Man in America- Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Filed under: Curriculum and Instruction,Journalism — millerlf @ 2:59 pm

The Zinn Education Project (is pleased to release a 94-page teaching guide on the film The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. (The Zinn Education Project is coordinated by Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.) The teaching guide offers eight lessons on the Vietnam War, Daniel Ellsberg, whistleblowing, the Pentagon Papers and more — for U.S. history, government, and language arts classrooms. The Most Dangerous Man in America Teaching Guide offers a “people’s history” approach to learning about the U.S. war in Vietnam and engages students in thinking deeply about their own responsibility as truth-tellers and peacemakers. The guide uses a variety of teaching strategies, including role play, critical reading, discussion, mock trial, small group imaginative writing, and personal narrative. Developed by the Zinn Education Project in collaboration with The Most Dangerous Man in America filmmakers Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith, the teaching guide is available for free download at the Zinn Education Project website. View The Most Dangerous Man in America for free online at POV through October 27:

October 24, 2010

New York City delays plan to release ratings of teachers based on test scores

Filed under: Education Policy — millerlf @ 11:13 am

New York City delays plan to release ratings of teachers based on test scores

By Nick Anderson

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010; 9:29 PM

A battle that erupted in Los Angeles this summer over the public release of teacher ratings is flaring in New York this week and could become prominent in the debate over school reform efforts nationwide.

On Wednesday, New York City education officials announced plans to provide news organizations ratings on teachers that are derived from calculations on how much year-to-year progress their students make on standardized tests.

But on Thursday, a city education spokeswoman said, officials put that plan on hold for several weeks while a state court considers a teachers union petition to block the release.

At issue is disclosure of records that include the names of thousands of teachers.


More on Harlem Children’s Zone and Geoffrey Canada

Filed under: Poverty,Privatization,Waiting for Superman — millerlf @ 10:53 am

Lauded Harlem Schools Have Their Own Problems

By SHARON OTTERMAN Published: October 12, 2010 NYTimes

President Obama created a grant program to copy his block-by-block approach to ending poverty. The British government praised his charter schools as a model. And a new documentary opening across the country revolves around him: Geoffrey Canada, the magnetic Harlem Children’s Zone leader with strong ideas about how American education should be fixed.

Last week, Mr. Canada was in Birmingham, England, addressing Prime Minister David Cameron and members of his Conservative Party about improving schools.

But back home and out of the spotlight, Mr. Canada and his charter schools have struggled with the same difficulties faced by other urban schools, even as they outspend them. After a rocky start several years ago typical of many new schools, Mr. Canada’s two charter schools, featured as unqualified successes in “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” the new documentary, again hit choppy waters this summer, when New York State made its exams harder to pass.

A drop-off occurred, in spite of private donations that keep class sizes small, allow for an extended school day and an 11-month school year, and offer students incentives for good performance like trips to the Galápagos Islands or Disney World.

The parent organization of the schools, the Harlem Children’s Zone, enjoys substantial largess, much of it from Wall Street. While its cradle-to-college approach, which seeks to break the cycle of poverty for all 10,000 children in a 97-block zone of Harlem, may be breathtaking in scope, the jury is still out on its overall impact. And the cost of its charter schools — around $16,000 per student in the classroom each year, as well as thousands of dollars in out-of-class spending — has raised questions about their utility as a nationwide model.


October 21, 2010

Month Long Sit-In: Chicago Elementary School Families Show the Way for All of Us in the Fight for Public Education

Filed under: Fightback — millerlf @ 3:07 pm

See today’s report on DemocracyNow at:

Also read the following 10-21-10 Chicago Tribune article.

Whittier Sit-In: Parents, CPS Reach Compromise Over Field House

10-21-10 Chicago Tribune

Protesting parents at a Pilsen elementary school have reached a deal with the city after a month-long standoff.

The group of mothers that has staged a 36-day sit-in at Whittier Dual Language Elementary School met with Chicago Public Schools officials Wednesday, and appear to have emerged victorious.

The district will not destroy Whittier’s field house, the building the mothers have been occupying. And it will finance the construction of a library inside the school.

“Everything started because we were frustrated with them giving us the runaround,” said Araceli Gonzalez, one of the long-time protesters, according to the Chicago Tribune. “We want to be heard.”

CPS had planned to raze the field house at Whittier and replace it with an athletic field. The small building has a damaged roof, poor heating and is not up to code.

But parents, frustrated by the lack of services at the school, began occupying the building in mid-September. They demanded that the district instead refurbish the field house and use it as a library.

It has been a dramatic and tense month at the small school, and the even smaller building now known as “La Casita.” Two weeks ago, CPS shut off the heat to the field house, supposedly in preparation for its demolition — even as parents and children were staying in the building, with overnight temperatures falling into the 40s. Supporters brought blankets and electric heaters to

Now, it appears that the district is conceding to most of the parents’ demands. The field house will be leased to the mothers for $1 per year, to do with as they see fit. Tax-increment financing (TIF) dollars that would have been spent on the athletic field — $1.3 million — will instead go to fixing up La Casita. And a library will be built inside the main building at Whittier.

All is not completely resolved. Where a library will be built in the already-cramped school remains a contentious issue. And the Pilsen mothers are not leaving the field house until October 27, when the full school board votes to approve the compromise.

Still, as 163 other schools in the district remain without a library, the high-profile activism at Whittier has paid off for students and parents alike.

Follow the Money:Who’s Behind the Movie “Waiting for Superman”

Filed under: Education Policy,Poverty,Privatization,Waiting for Superman — millerlf @ 1:31 pm

In the article “Ultimate $uperpower: Supersized dollars drive Waiting for Superman agenda,” investigative journalist Barbara Miner looks at the money behind the movie, its promoters and those who will benefit from the movie.  She writes, “In education, as in so many other aspects of society, money is being used to squeeze out democracy.” After examining the role of hedge funds, foundations and other players, she asks, “Should the American people put their faith in a white billionaires boys club to lead the revolution on behalf of poor people of color?”

To view the article and/or to obtain a downloadable PDF go to

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