Educate All Students, Support Public Education

March 31, 2014

Diane Ravitch on Charters in New York City

Filed under: Charter Schools,Ravitch — millerlf @ 10:45 am

New York Schools: The Roar of the Charters
Diane Ravitch March 27, 2014

In his speech at Riverside Church last Sunday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to end weeks of attacks on his schools policies by striking a conciliatory tone toward the city’s privately managed charter schools. He used the charter sector’s own rhetoric of “crisis” and “failure” to describe the school system that he inherited from Mayor Bloomberg. He spoke of parents eager to escape failing schools and condemned the “status quo” without noting that it was Bloomberg’s status quo. He opposed the idea that public schools and charter schools are competing and called for a new era “in which our charter schools help to uplift our traditional schools.” According to The New York Times, he called some of the financial leaders on Wall Street, the billionaires who have paid millions of dollars for the ads attacking him, to plead for a truce.

De Blasio decided he could not win this war. The other side had too much money and proved it could drive down his poll numbers. He said that the charter schools could help public schools, but in reality, charter schools could learn a few things from the public schools, like how to teach children with disabilities and second-language English learners. Contrary to popular myth, the charter schools are more racially segregated than public schools and have performed no better than the public schools on the most recent state tests. But what they have behind them is vast resources, and de Blasio capitulated.

The underlying question remains: How did a privately managed school franchise that serves a tiny portion of New York’s students manage to hijack the education reforms of a new mayor with a huge popular mandate?

When Bill de Blasio was running for mayor of New York City last year, he set out an ambitious plan for reforming education. After twelve years of Mayor Bloomberg’s obsession with testing, the public was eager for a fresh approach, one that was focused more on helping students than on closing their schools. Bloomberg’s haughty indifference to public opinion did not endear him to parents. He displaced tens of thousands of students from their public schools, with never a show of remorse, as he opened hundreds of new small public schools and nearly two hundred privately managed charter schools. Bloomberg’s preference for small public schools came at a price; they were unable to offer the full array of advanced courses in math and science, electives, and the choice of foreign languages that larger schools offered. He appointed three chancellors who were not professional educators, one of whom—a publisher—lasted all of ninety days before he removed her. He showed preferential treatment to the hundreds of small public schools that his administration opened, granting them extra resources and allowing them to exclude the neediest students. And he boasted about the explosion of privately managed charter schools, which now enroll 6 percent of the city’s children, on whose boards sit titans of Wall Street, the hedge fund managers who belong to Bloomberg’s social set.

During the campaign, de Blasio wanted to change the subject from Bloomberg’s boutique ideas to a larger vision. He wanted to address the needs of the vast majority of New York City’s 1.1 million students. His big idea was to provide universal access to pre-kindergarten, a research-based program that would give a better start to the city’s neediest children, and after-school activities for adolescents in middle schools. During the campaign, the public widely supported de Blasio’s plans, while Bloomberg’s education policies usually registered about 25 percent approval.

When asked about charter schools, de Blasio made clear that he felt they had gotten far too much media attention, considering that they serve a small fraction of the population. He pledged that he would charge them rent for use of public space and would not allow any more co-locations—the practice of inserting a new school into a building with an existing school—without community hearings. Co-location happens when a charter school is offered shared space in a building with a public school; it also happens when large schools are divided into four, five, or six small schools operating under the same roof. Public school parents strongly oppose these arrangements. The host public school is often forced to give up its art room, its dance room, its computer room, every room used for any purpose other than classroom instruction, to make way for the unwelcome newcomer. The co-located schools must negotiate over access to the library, the auditorium, the playground. Co-locations cause overcrowding, as well as a competition for space and resources among students and multiple administrators within a single building.

De Blasio’s skeptical campaign comments about charter schools unleashed the wrath of New York City’s most outspoken charter school leader, Eva Moskowitz. Her Success Academy chain of twenty-two charter schools now enrolls 6,700 students. Because she doesn’t have to follow the public school regulations forbidding political activities on school time, she can turn her students and their parents out on short notice for political demonstrations and legislative hearings, dressed in matching t-shirts, carrying posters and banners. A few weeks before last fall’s mayoral election, she closed her schools and led a march of students and parents across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest de Blasio’s criticism of charter schools. She was accompanied by de Blasio’s Republican opponent, Joe Lhota. Voters were unconvinced, however, and de Blasio won in a landslide.

After coming to office, the newly elected mayor focused his energies on trying to persuade Governor Cuomo and the legislature to enact a new tax in New York City to pay for his goal of universal pre-kindergarten. De Blasio called for a modest tax increase for those who earn over $500,000 a year. It would cost each of them, he said, about $1,000 a year, or less than a cup of soy latte every day at Starbucks. The billionaires were not amused. Nor was Governor Cuomo, who wants to be perceived as a conservative, pro-business Democrat who does not raise taxes.

While de Blasio was pressing for universal pre-kindergarten (or UPK, as it is known), he was faced with a decision about how to handle the dozens of proposals for co-locations and new charter schools that had been hurriedly endorsed by Bloomberg’s Panel on Education Policy in the last months of his term. The panel had approved forty-five new schools, seventeen of which were charters. De Blasio decided to approve thirty-six, including fourteen of the seventeen charter school proposals. He did not hold community hearings, as he had promised, so he managed to enrage public school parents whose schools would now suffer the unwanted entry of a new school into their building and, in many cases, an overcrowded building.

The three charter proposals the mayor rejected were part of the Moskowitz charter chain. She had asked for eight new schools—more than any other single applicant—and de Blasio gave her five. Most school leaders would be thrilled to win five new schools. But Eva cried foul and publicly accused the mayor of “evicting” her students. This was despite the fact that two of the three rejected schools did not exist, so no students were affected. The third was Moskowitz’s request to expand her elementary school that was already co-located with P.S. 149 in Harlem; Moskowitz wanted to add a middle school. But adding a middle school meant kicking out students with disabilities in P.S. 149, which de Blasio refused to do.

Moskowitz was ready. Her friends on Wall Street and the far-right Walton Family Foundation paid out nearly $5 million for television ads attacking Mayor de Blasio as a heartless, ruthless, possibly racist politician who was at war with charter schools and their needy students. The ads showed the faces of adorable children, all of them being kicked out of “their” school by a vengeful Mayor who hates charter schools. The ads never acknowledged that the Mayor had approved fourteen out of seventeen charter proposals. Moskowitz, whose charter chain pays more than $500,000 a year for the services of for SDK Knickerbocker, a high-powered D.C. public relations firm, also made the rounds of television talk shows, where she got free air time to lash out at de Blasio for allegedly “evicting” her needy students from “the highest performing school in New York state.” Meanwhile, the Murdoch-owned media—not only The New York Post but also The Wall Street Journal and Fox News—kept up a steady barrage of hostile stories echoing Moskowitz’s claims against de Blasio.

None of the talking heads checked the facts. None knew or acknowledged that approving the middle school Moskowitz was denied would have meant the actual eviction of the most needy students of all—students at P.S. 149 with special needs. Or that her own existing school in that building has no students with high levels of disability, in contrast with Harlem’s neighborhood public schools, where such students account for 14 percent of the school population. Or that Moskowitz’s school has half as many students who are English learners as the neighborhood public schools. Or that her school is not the highest performing school in the state or the city. (In English language arts, Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy 4 ranked eighty-first in the city, with 55 percent of its students passing the latest state test; in math, the school was thirteenth in the city, with 83 percent of students passing the state test.) Or that nearly half her students leave within a few years. Or that her schools spend $2,000 more per student than the neighboring schools. Or that Moskowitz is paid $485,000 a year to oversee fewer than seven thousand students.

All of these facts were known by the de Blasio administration. But the new mayor seemed helpless. Somehow this man who had run a brilliant campaign to change the city was left speechless by the charter lobby. His poll numbers took a steep dive. He never called a press conference to explain his criteria for approving or rejecting charter schools, each of which made sense: for example, he would not approve a charter if it displaced students with disabilities; if it placed elementary students in a building with high school students; if it required heavy construction; or if it had fewer than 250 students. Reasonable though his criteria were, they were not enough for the charter lobby. His speech at Riverside Church offered an olive branch, all but conceding that the charter lobby had beaten him. He followed up his conciliatory remarks by creating a committee to review the space needs of the city’s schools and appointed to it representatives of the charter sector, which remains hungry for more free space from the Mayor.
Meanwhile, Moskowitz began using political leverage as well. On the same day that de Blasio organized a rally in Albany on behalf of raising taxes on the rich to pay for UPK, she closed her schools and bused thousands of students and parents to Albany for a pro-charter school rally. Governor Andrew Cuomo stood by her side, pledging to “save” charter schools and to protect them from paying rent; his ardent devotion to the charter cause may have been abetted by the $800,000 in campaign contributions he received from charter advocates in the financial industry.

For its part, the Republican-dominated State Senate demonstrated loyalty to Eva Moskowitz by passing a budget resolution with language forbidding the mayor from displacing a co-located charter school and forbidding him from charging rent to a private corporation (a charter school) using public space. Not only had Moskwitz cleverly portrayed herself as a victim; she had managed to make her narrow cause more important than universal pre-kindergarten and after-school programs for teens. She demonstrated that she was more powerful than the mayor or his schools chancellor. She won the battle of the moment.

But Moskowitz unknowingly taught the public a different lesson, which may be important in the future. Her schools do not operate like public schools. They are owned and managed by a private corporation with a government contract. They make their own rules. They choose their own students, kick out those they don’t want, and answer to no one. No public school would be allowed to close its doors and take its students on a political march across the Brooklyn Bridge or bus them to Albany to lobby the statehouse; the principal would be fired instantly.

Consider the court battle initiated by Moskowitz that played out in the midst of the confrontation with the mayor: a judge in New York’s State Supreme Court ruled, as Moskowitz hoped, that the State Comptroller has no power to audit her schools, because they are “not a unit of the state.” Put another way, her schools are not public schools. And, as the public begins to understand what that means, that lesson may ultimately be the undoing of this stealth effort to transfer public funds to support a small number of privately managed schools, amply endowed by billionaires and foundations, that refuse to pay rent and are devoted to competing with, not helping, the general school population.

What will it mean for New York City to have two school systems, both supported with public money, with one free to choose and remove its students and the other required to accept all students? A recent study found that New York State has the most segregated schools in the nation, and that the charters are even more segregated than the public schools. In 2014, the year that we remember the sixtieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, it is passing strange to find that New York City—and school districts across the nation—are embarked on the re-creation of a dual school system.


March 28, 2014

Spend an evening with Diane Ravitch

Filed under: Ravitch — millerlf @ 8:38 am

Spend an evening with Diane Ravitch, author of Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

MATC Cooley Auditorium, 700 W. State, Milwaukee

Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Presentation at 6:30 p.m.

Drawing on her over 40 years of research and experience, Diane Ravitch has become a champion for public schools across the country. Ravitch takes sharp aim at the mythology of so-called educational reformers and makes the case for real changes that will mean equitable, high quality public education for all children.

Presenting Sponsors: Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, Wisconsin Education Association Council, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, AFT Local 212.

Community Sponsors: Southeast United Educators, UWM Urban Studies, MATC Latino Student Organization. Sponsoring Friends: Parents for Public Schools, Opt Out Milwaukee, Wisconsin Jobs Now, American Civil Liberties Union, Educators Network for Social Justice, Leigh Wallace, Racine Education Association, Schools and Communities United, Administrators’ and Supervisors’ Council.

Tickets: $5 in advance; $8 at the door.

Tickets can be purchased through MTEA (414-259-1990), AFT Local 212 (414-765-0910) and other sponsors.

March 24, 2014

Attend April 1st Forum on MPS and Urban Education

Filed under: MPS — millerlf @ 7:35 pm

College of Education Co-Sponsors Event: Lessons from Elsewhere. What Milwaukee Can Learn from Work on Improving Urban Education Systems Nationwide
With Milwaukee facing a fresh search for a public schools superintendent, continuing debate over what should be done with low-performing schools, and little overall progress for high-needs students, what paths should be pursued? At this morning-long conference, national experts will offer their thoughts on what is working elsewhere and what might be considered in Milwaukee.
Lessons from Elsewhere. What Milwaukee Can Learn from Work on Improving Urban Education Systems Nationwide
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
8 a.m. to Noon
Marquette Law School, Eckstein Hall
Limited on site parking available
Reserve your spot. The event is complimentary; however, registration is required.

To reserve a spot got to:

This event is cosponsored by Marquette Law School and the Marquette College of Education.
• 8 a.m. Registration and light breakfast
• 8:30 a.m. Introduction
• 8:40 a.m. A conversation with Michael Casserly, long-time executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a peer organization of leaders of the nation’s largest school districts. Casserly is a respected authority on characteristics of urban school systems that have had above-average success.
• 9:35 a.m. A conversation with Paul Hill, founder of the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell. Hill developed the “portfolio school district management” idea being used in some cities. A leading figure in thought on urban school reform, Hill chaired the National Charter School Research Project and the Brookings National Working Commission on Choice in K-12 Education.
• 10:30 a.m. Break
• 10:45 a.m. Panel discussion – ideas and thoughts on what Milwaukee should pursue. Participants: Reuben Jacobson, senior associate for research and strategy, the Coalition for Community Schools of the Institute for Educational Leadership, Washington, D.C.; Nata Abbott, GE Healthcare, Community Relations Director;Kole Knueppel, co-founder and managing director, Schools That Can Milwaukee;and Larry Miller, member of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors.
• 12 Noon. Adjourn


American Schools Are STILL Racist, Government Report Finds

Filed under: Racism — millerlf @ 1:06 pm

Huffington Post Posted: 03/21/2014 Joy Resmovits
Public school students of color get more punishment and less access to veteran teachers than their white peers, according to surveys released Friday by the U.S. Education Department that include data from every U.S. school district.
Black students are suspended or expelled at triple the rate of their white peers, according to the U.S. Education Department’s 2011-2012 Civil Rights Data Collection, a survey conducted every two years. Five percent of white students were suspended annually, compared with 16 percent of black students, according to the report. Black girls were suspended at a rate of 12 percent — far greater than girls of other ethnicities and most categories of boys.
At the same time, minority students have less access to experienced teachers. Most minority students and English language learners are stuck in schools with the most new teachers. Seven percent of black students attend schools where as many as 20 percent of teachers fail to meet license and certification requirements. And one in four school districts pay teachers in less-diverse high schools $5,000 more than teachers in schools with higher black and Latino student enrollment.
Such discrimination lowers academic performance for minority students and puts them at greater risk of dropping out of school, according to previous research. The new research also shows the shortcomings of decades of legal and political moves to ensure equal rights to education. The Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling banned school segregation and affirmed the right to quality education for all children. The 1964 Civil Rights Act guaranteed equal access to education.
“This data collection shines a clear, unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. “In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed.”
Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder plan to announce the survey results on Friday. The information, part of an ongoing survey by the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, highlights longstanding inequities in how schools leave minority students and students with disabilities at a disadvantage. For the first time since 2000, the new version of the survey includes results from all 16,500 American school districts, representing 49 million students.
“Unfortunately, too many children don’t have equitable access to experienced and fully licensed teachers, as has again been proven by the data in this report,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union. “This is a problem that can and must be addressed.”
Daria Hall, K-12 policy director at the Education Trust, an advocacy group, also called for action. “The report shines a new light on something that research and experience have long told us — that students of color get less than their fair share of access to the in-school factors that matter for achievement,” she said. “Students of color get less access to high level courses. Black students in particular get less instructional time because they’re far more likely to receive out of school suspensions or expulsions. And students of color get less access to teachers who’ve had at least a year on the job and who have at least basic certification. Of course, it’s not enough to just shine a light on the problem. We have to fix it.”
Though 16 percent of America’s public school students are black, they represent 27 percent of students referred by schools to law enforcement, and 31 percent of students arrested for an offense committed in school, according to the survey.
Students with disabilities make up one-fourth of students referred to law enforcement or arrested, although they represent 13 percent of the student population. Students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended out of school than peers, with 13 percent of such students being sent home for misbehaving. One of four boy students of color who have disabilities and one in five girl students of color who have disabilities were suspended. Students of color include all non-white ethnic groups except Latino and Asian-American.
These numbers will likely add pressure to dismantle the so-called school-to-prison pipeline, which feeds troubled students into the justice system. The push to ease discipline sometimes causes tension with schools’ efforts to beef up security after school mass shootings, like the one in Newtown, Conn. Last week, a set of reports 26 academics pointed to a few local studies that found that disparate discipline outcomes did not happen as a result of certain ethnic groups acting out more than others.
According to the new data, disparities begin as early as preschool. Black students make up 18 percent of preschool enrollment, but they comprise 48 percent of preschool students receiving more than one suspension out of school. White students, representing 43 percent of preschool students, only receive 26 percent of out-of-school suspensions more than once.
Randi Weingarten, who heads the American Federation of Teachers union, noted that despite a recent Education Department Equity and Excellence Commission report calling for measures to remedy discrimination, little has been done. “It is shameful that not a single recommendation has been implemented,” Weingarten said. “We don’t need more data to tell us we need action.”
Education News Zero Tolerance Policy Racist Schools School to Prison Pipeline Civil Rights Data Office of Civil Rights Education Data Office of Civil Rights Civil Rights Data Education Report Video Civil Rights Data Education Report 2014 School to Prison Civil Rights Data Collection Discrimination in Education American Schools Are Still Racist Politics News

March 19, 2014

Listen to John Kuhn, a Superintendent That Stands Up for Public Education and Our Kids

Filed under: Public Education — millerlf @ 3:08 pm

John Kuhn is Superintendent of  the Texas Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District. He is the author of Fear And Learning In America: Bad Data, Good Teachers, And The Attack On Public Education.

He calls for the end to teacher bashing, the testing craze, privatization and attacks on public education.

John Kuhn spoke alongside Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, at the recent conference in Austin Texas calling for the defense of public education.

To hear John Kuhn, along with Karen Lewis,  go to:

Public School Defenders Launch Movement in Austin

Filed under: Public Education — millerlf @ 2:36 pm

The Progressive March 2014

Deep in the heart of Texas, in the very center of what public-school advocate Diane Ravitch called the “education-industrial complex,” public-school activists from every corner of the United States met last weekend to launch a nationwide movement to defend public education against corporate takeover and phony, test-driven “reform.”

The Network for Public Education:

founded by Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody, met for the first time in Austin on March 1 and 2 to sound the alarm about high-stakes testing, mass school closures, and the corporate take-over of public education, and to rally a nationwide movement to resist.

Karen Lewis, the dynamic president of the Chicago Teachers Union joined Texas school superintendent John Kuhn on stage at the Lyndon Johnson museum at the University of Texas, to give a barn-burning joint keynote address:

“There could not be two more different people on the planet,” Lewis said. “John Kuhn is a white male. I am a black woman. John Kuhn has worked as a Christian missionary, and I am a recently bat mitzvahed Jew. John Kuhn is management. Karen Lewis is labor. But I am going to tell you that what we have in common are the values [that] make this country great.”

Those values, Kuhn said, are what led the Chicago teachers out on strike to fight not for themselves or even for their schools, but “to keep the fading light of democracy burning, and to fend off a new generation of robber barons.”

School closings, a “test-and-punish” model of education reform that labels high-poverty districts as “failing” and invites their takeover by private companies, and the replacement of democratically elected school boards with “CEO’s” are among the threats to the basic, democratic institution of public education, Kuhn and Lewis pointed out.

“Where do we go for redress of our grievances once we’ve surrendered our elected school boards and our constitutional guarantees?” Kuhn asked. “Do we march into the board room of a charter management group or some foundation?”

“School reform, the way it’s being presented, is only backed by the assurances and sweet words of the American corporate elite and their spokespeople,” Kuhn added. “But the public education system is backed by the full faith and credit of us, the people of each state.”

“Public education is our trust fund,” Kuhn said. “It’s our nest egg. It belongs to us and our kids and our kids’ kids.”

“They can’t take it away from us without a fight,” he added, “because we love our kids more than they love their portfolios.”

Local pro-public-school activists from Seattle to Newark, from New Orleans, Providence, and Milwaukee, and many other communities, compared notes on their battles to save their local schools from privatization, over-testing, and closure.

California teacher and author Anthony Cody, who, along with Diane Ravitch, founded the Network, invoked the civil rights movement in his opening address. “We fought for public education to fulfill its promise,” Cody said. “We can’t let it die on our watch.”

“Let’s not fool ourselves. When we go along with what’s happening, there’s a point at which we’re doing serious harm to children,” said Deborah Meier, longtime teacher and education scholar (and the person who persuaded Diane Ravitch to rethink her position as a No Child Left Behind advocate when she was assistant secretary of education under George W. Bush.)

Bob Peterson, the head of the Milwaukee teacher’s union, gave a rollicking description of the Wisconsin protests of 2011, after Governor Scott Walker’s assault on teachers and other public employees’ collective bargaining rights. The walk-out by teachers and students, and the massive marches that included cops, firefighters, and middle-class Wisconsinites from all over the state, showed how ready people are to defend democracy, the public schools, and the American middle class, Peterson said.

“We need to build schoolhouses that are centers of resistance and renaissance for our communities,” said Peterson.

Katie Osgood, a Chicago teacher, described her realization that school policy in Chicago was “deliberately sabotaging our schools.”

Teachers are resisting school closings in Chicago, as well as a stripped-down, test-based curriculum, Osgood said, because “we know the kids who are affected by these policies by name.”

“We are used, as teachers, to being the ones who follow directions,” Karen Lewis said. But in this case, “the directions are unethical.”

Teacher-bashing, and tying teacher performance to standardized tests, has created a climate of fear Lewis said teachers, parents, and community members must band together to resist.

“It is hard to organize people who are living in fear,” she said.

But Lewis and her comrades in Chicago have done just that.

Mike Klonsky, the education scholar and blogger in Chicago, pointed out that, in polls “parents support the teachers union 3-to-1 over Rahm Emanuel.”

Jitu Brown, a neighborhood organizer and activist on the South Side, described the passionate community commitment to the struggle to save neighborhood schools, including one family that sat in at a Chicago school building slated for closure, even when the police came and sat on top of them.

“A movement is built by people who feel like that,” he said.

“When your baby or grandbaby goes out the door with that bookbag on, and you kiss that baby–at that moment we’re all the same,” said Brown.

But the current package of education “reforms” exacerbates inequality, Kuhn pointed out, calling it “the relentless campaign to increase expectations while reducing resources.”

“The corporate elite plan a wonderful, creative education system for their own children, and a militaristic, stripped-down schools for other people’s children.” said Lewis. And then they have the temerity to call this system “the civil-rights issue of our time,” she added, looking incredulous.

Diane Ravitch closed out the conference with a call to arms.

“I’m angry to see powerful billionaires beat up on teachers who make less than their secretary,” she said.

“I’m furious the Democratic Party has merged with the Republican Party around the Republican Party’s agenda for education,” she added.

“We are, through charter schools, rolling back the Brown decision,” Ravitch added. “That’s wrong.”

Instead of creating a segregated, two-tier education system that allows private companies to cash in on public education funds, “every dollar from the taxpayer should go to public schools,” Ravitch said. “For-profit schools should be banned.”

Ravitch thanked the students, parents, administrators, teachers, investigative reporters and education researchers all over they country who are building a new movement of resistance to the corporate raid on schools.

The list went on and on. Among the 500 attendees at the conference, the variety of ages, races, and accents were testimony to the broad-based movement Ravitch described taking shape.

“We will win,” Ravitch said, “because we are many and they are few.”

“We will win,” she said, “because they are going to get bored and go back to their yachts and polo ponies. They’re hedge fund managers. They hate losing.”

“Call them losers every chance you get,” Ravitch said wickedly. “They hate that.”

March 16, 2014

What would Einstein say about VAM: the Value Added Measurement for Evaluating Teachers?

Filed under: teacher evaluation — millerlf @ 10:55 am

 By Larry Miller 3/16/14

Albert Einstein had a sign hanging in his office at Princeton that read, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”  While Einstein created a revolution using the scientific method of research, he cautioned against over-simplification of the use of data in assessing human behavior.

The world of teaching and learning is mired in debate over teacher evaluation and subsequently “merit” pay. States and school districts have devised policies employing what’s known as VAM, Value Added Measurement, to determine a teacher’s worth largely based on standardized test scores. VAM models (also referred to as student growth models) use research methods, through computer-based procedural computations (algorithms), to attempt to measure and evaluate the contributions over time that teachers make to student learning and achievement.

Despite strong research disclaiming the validity of VAM, a number of states and school districts are moving forward with programs that rely on it. One model called VARC, the creation of the Value Added Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is currently being utilized by state departments of education in Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. VARC is also contracting with many large school districts in cities from Atlanta to Los Angeles.

VARC claims to take into account up to 30 variables including race, gender, ethnicity, levels of poverty, students’ levels of English language proficiency, and special education statuses. VARC also uses other variables when available including, for example, student attendance, suspension, and retention records.

I wonder how someone factors in a “variable” such as race to determine intellectual progress. What variance is used to distinguish between a black student and a white student?

How about trauma? Can VARC take into account a student’s experience with violence or an event that occurred on the way to school or dissonance due to psychological discord?

Although research tells us that teacher quality has an effect on test scores, this does not mean that a specific teacher is responsible for how a specific student performs on any given standardized test. Nor does it mean we can equate effective teaching (or actual learning) with higher test scores.

A long list of researchers have verified that significant statistical error rates occur with VAM when comparing tests scores over years. They have shown that test scores of students taught by the same teacher fluctuate significantly from year to year. A one-time, randomly occurring factor on the day of a test can significantly affect a student’s results. Also, the complexities of learning and the cognitive transfer of skills that students learn across different subjects cannot be correlated to an individual teacher. We can never be certain which class and which teacher contributed to a given student’s test performance in any given subject. In Florida art teachers are being evaluated based on test scores while art is not on the test.

In addition, out-of-school factors such as inadequate access to health care, food insecurity, and poverty-related stress, among others, negatively impact the in-school achievement of students so profoundly that they severely limit what schools and teachers can do on their own.

According to a U.S. Department of Education report, “More than 90 percent of the variation in student gain scores is due to the variation in student-level factors that are not under control of the teacher.” Yet that has not mattered to the states hopping on the VAM band wagon.

The leaders of these states are not listening to the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, which stated that “VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness should not be used to make operational decisions because such estimates are far too unstable to be considered fair or reliable.”

In Tennessee, Florida and Ohio all districts must use value-added ratings as part of a teacher’s total evaluation score. In New York the new teacher evaluation framework must use value-added ratings.

Education should not model business algorithms where the “bottom-line” and market forces drive outcomes. Education should be child-centered and collaborative, taking into account the individual knowledge and skill set of each child. No algorithm or computer program can replace a teacher’s running record of a student’s progress in learning to read. No algorithm or computer program can read an essay or evaluate a debate.

Only teachers knowing and being vested in their students can lead to an outcome that serves a democratic society and confronts the present status quo of inequality and injustice. Imprecise “science” should not determine high stakes education outcomes, instruction quality or teacher compensation.

I hear Einstein weighing in on this debate. “Technological progress,” he wrote, “is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.”


We Can’t Grow the Income Gap Away

Filed under: Inequality — millerlf @ 10:48 am

NY Times 3/15/14 Charles Blow

The shocking level of income inequality in this country has set off alarms that grow louder by the day, but little seems to be underway to reverse the trend.

As a January International Monetary Fund paper that was officially released on Thursday points out:

“In the United States, the share of market income captured by the richest 10 percent surged from around 30 percent in 1980 to 48 percent by 2012, while the share of the richest 1 percent increased from 8 percent to 19 percent. Even more striking is the fourfold increase in the income share of the richest 0.1 percent, from 2.6 percent to 10.4 percent.”

In fact, a study published last year in The Journal of Economic Perspectives found that the share of income going to the top 1 percent in America was higher than in other developed countries.

At the same time, the plight of the poor has grown worse and has become stubbornly resistant to improvement.

The rate of poverty in America remains stuck at the untenably high level of 15 percent. Among children, the rate is 22 percent.

We are reminded ad nauseam about the record number of Americans receiving food assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. What we hear far less about is that a record high percentage of poor families with children are not receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the federal government’s primary welfare program. In 1997, only 36 percent of such families received no TANF benefits; that number in 2012 climbed to 74 percent.

It stands to reason, then, that food insecurity in this country remains alarming high. The United States Department of Agriculture reported in September that 14.5 percent of the country, or 17.6 million American households, “had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources” in 2012.

This widening gap between the hardscrabble and the high rollers is unseemly and unsustainable.

A January poll by the Pew Research Center and USA Today found that “65 percent believe the gap between the rich and everyone else has increased in the last 10 years.”

A February poll by CNN/ORC International found that “more than six in 10 Americans strongly or somewhat agree that the government should work to narrow that gap, compared to 30 percent who believe it should not.”

The president has called rising income inequality and lack of economic mobility “the defining challenge of our time.” And he has been pushing an economic agenda aimed at making a dent in inequality, including raising the minimum wage, extending emergency unemployment benefits and, this week, moving to expand overtime pay.

While these moves would help, they are not nearly enough.

Addressing this issue is not about ensuring an even redistribution of wealth while disregarding great ideas and hard work. Imbalance is built into a capitalistic economy. But the degree to which that imbalance has grown in this country is not only alarming; it could prove deleterious to our economic health.

There are some who suggest that the solution to this inequality problem — if indeed they concede that it is a problem — is simply to grow the economy.

A February I.M.F. paper pointed out the folly of such a tactic: “It would still be a mistake to focus on growth and let inequality take care of itself, not only because inequality may be ethically undesirable but also because the resulting growth may be low and unsustainable.”

Furthermore, as the I.M.F. pointed out in its January paper, inequality could, in fact, be an impediment to growth: “There is growing evidence that high income inequality can be detrimental to achieving macroeconomic stability and growth.”

A December survey of several dozen economists by The Associated Press found that most believe that growing income inequality is hurting our economy.

We can’t grow our way out of this obscenity. It’s a barrier to growth. We must forthrightly address the issue with policy prescriptions. The I.M.F.’s list includes things like means-testing benefit programs, improving access to higher education and health care for the less well off, and “implementing progressive personal income tax rate structures” while “reducing regressive tax exemptions.”

Surely we can figure out how to fix this. We just don’t have the political will to do so.

U.S. Inequality by Region

Filed under: Inequality — millerlf @ 10:37 am

NY Times 3/16/14

Fairfax County, Va., and McDowell County, W.Va., are separated by 350 miles, about a half-day’s drive. Traveling west from Fairfax County, the gated communities and bland architecture of military contractors give way to exurbs, then to farmland and eventually to McDowell’s coal mines and the forested slopes of the Appalachians. Perhaps the greatest distance between the two counties is this: Fairfax is a place of the haves, and McDowell of the have-nots. Just outside of Washington, fat government contracts and a growing technology sector buoy the median household income in Fairfax County up to $107,000, one of the highest in the nation. McDowell, with the decline of coal, has little in the way of industry. Unemployment is high. Drug abuse is rampant. Median household income is about one-fifth that of Fairfax.

One of the starkest consequences of that divide is seen in the life expectancies of the people there. Residents of Fairfax County are among the longest-lived in the country: Men have an average life expectancy of 82 years and women, 85, about the same as in Sweden. In McDowell, the averages are 64 and 73, about the same as in Iraq.

There have long been stark economic differences between Fairfax County and McDowell. But as their fortunes have diverged even further over the past generation, their life expectancies have diverged, too. In McDowell, women’s life expectancy has actually fallen by two years since 1985; it grew five years in Fairfax.

“Poverty is a thief,” said Michael Reisch, a professor of social justice at the University of Maryland, testifying before a Senate panel on the issue. “Poverty not only diminishes a person’s life chances, it steals years from one’s life.”

That reality is playing out across the country. For the upper half of the income spectrum, men who reach the age of 65 are living about six years longer than they did in the late 1970s. Men in the lower half are living just 1.3 years longer.

This life-expectancy gap has started to surface in discussions among researchers, public health officials and Washington policy makers. The general trend is for Americans to live longer, and as lawmakers contemplate changes to government programs — like nudging up the Social Security retirement age or changing its cost-of-living adjustment — they are confronted with the potential unfairness to those who die considerably earlier.

The link between income and longevity has been clearly established. Poor people are likelier to smoke. They have less access to the health care system. They tend to weigh more. And their bodies suffer the debilitating effects of more intense and more constant stress. Everywhere, and across time, the poor tend to live shorter lives than the rich, whether researchers compare the Bangladeshis with the Dutch or minimum-wage workers with millionaires.

But is widening income inequality behind the divergence in longevity over the last three decades? Would an economy with a narrower gap between the haves and the have-nots lead to stronger life-expectancy gains, from the richest to the poorest? Might the expansion of insurance through the Affordable Care Act help close the gap? And might the policies that Congress is contemplating to ameliorate poverty — like raising the minimum wage — have a further effect on life spans, too?

Those are questions that researchers armed with reams of data on mortality, poverty, health, social spending and income are struggling to answer.

Continue reading the main story

“The gaps continue to widen between the communities with the highest life expectancy and the lowest,” said Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, which produces the county-level life-expectancy figures. “There is nothing in sight that suggests that the 25-year trend is going to stop.”

“Would that be different if the income inequality were reduced?” he added. “If you took a 30-year view, then yes. There does seem to be that long-run relationship between community income and these life-expectancy outcomes.”

Living in Fairfax is different than living in McDowell.

In Fairfax, there are ample doctors, hospitals, recreation centers, shops, restaurants, grocery stores, nursing homes and day care centers, with public and private entities providing cradle-to-grave services to prosperous communities.

The federal government, especially security and military contracting, drives the economy. While cutbacks — through sequestration and reduced military spending — have slowed the rate of growth in recent years, the government nonetheless provides a steady base on which the region has flourished over the last decades. Currently, the local unemployment rate is just 3.6 percent; the national rate is 6.7 percent.

“We aren’t like Beverly Hills or some other place with lots of multimillionaires,” said Stephen S. Fuller, the director for the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, in Fairfax County. “But we have more workers per household than just about any metro area in the country. We have more people working, and more people working in every age cohort.”

The jobs tend to be good jobs, providing health insurance and pensions, even if there is a growing low-wage work force of health aides, janitors, fast-food workers and the like. “It’s a knowledge-based work force,” Mr. Fuller said. “And we have an economy built on services, technology-intensive services.”

Social services — judged against those of poorer counties — are stellar, too. The local government, which runs some of the best public schools in the country, also offers its older citizens services as varied as rides to senior centers and “care and enrichment consultations” for those looking to adopt a pet rabbit.

A retired home-health nurse, Tena Bluhm, heads the local Commission on Aging. “We were seeing a big change in demographics,” she said, “with the boomers aging and a trend where folks, as they aged, wanted to stay in this area.”

On a cool weekday morning, John McGinnis, 57, emerged stiffly from a shallow pool at a public indoor facility, where there were also gleaming squash courts, a golf course and three bored-looking lifeguards. A water-exercise instructor had led him and nine others through a series of gentle movements with pool noodles.

“I’ve had six back surgeries,” he said, shuffling toward an oversized hot tub after the class. “This is a lifesaver.”

On a sunny weekend afternoon, 350 miles away, Chea Lockwood, a registered nurse with the Commission on Aging in McDowell County, visited Melissa Courtner, 38, who lives in one of McDowell’s few high-rises, a bare-bones facility for disabled and elderly residents.

Coal miners still dig into and blast off the tops of steep Appalachian hills. But the industry that once provided thousands of jobs is slowly disappearing, and the region’s entrenched poverty has persisted. The unemployment rate is 8.8 percent, down from more than 13 percent in the worst of the recession. The current number would be even higher if more residents hadn’t simply given up looking for work.

Government assistance accounts for half of the income of county residents. Social workers described shortages of teachers, nurses, doctors, surgeons, mental health professionals and addiction-treatment workers. There is next to no public transportation. Winding two-lane roads, sometimes impassable in snow and ice, connect the small population centers of trailers, small homes and the occasional minimart. “It’ll take you an hour to drive 15 miles,” Ms. Lockwood said.

Ms. Lockwood has lived in McDowell County long enough to be widowed twice, and on this morning she first checked on two older patients in the housing project, cheerfully going through a checklist of questions. “Is your health aide on time?” “Do you need help washing that pretty hair of yours?”

She checked in on Ms. Courtner, whom she had seen for her first evaluation earlier in the week. “I’m going to steal your man,” Ms. Courtner said with a whoop as Ms. Lockwood entered the room.

“You can’t have him!” Ms. Lockwood said, reaching down to hug Ms. Courtner in her wheelchair before sitting down on a coffee table to talk.

Ms. Courtner’s medical problems started early. She dropped out of high school and started smoking and drinking at 16. She had a stroke at 21, leaving her with partial paralysis. She has multiple sclerosis and bipolar disorder. A fistula, only partially repaired, makes a colostomy bag necessary.

She is unable to work, she said, so she manages with disability payments and food stamps. Before moving into her housing unit, she lived in a shed without plumbing or electricity on the property of her parents, who are also disabled.

Many people have similar stories. Ms. Lockwood notes that other residents have multiple woes: “Diabetes. Obesity. Congestive heart failure. Drug use. Kidney problems. Lung conditions from the mines.” Problems often start young and often result in shorter lives, she said. Earlier that day, she handed me a list of recent funerals with about half highlighted in yellow; they signified that the deceased was under 50.

Since the 1980s, “socioeconomic status has become an even more important indicator of life expectancy.” That was the finding of a 2008 report by the Congressional Budget Office. But dollars in a bank account have never added a day to anyone’s life, researchers stress. Instead, those dollars are at work in a thousand daily-life decisions — about jobs, medical care, housing, food and exercise — with a cumulative effect on longevity.

“Why might income have an effect on morbidity or mortality?” said David Kindig, an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and an expert in longevity issues. “We have these causal pathways, through better jobs, better health insurance, better choice of behaviors, he added. On top of that, “there’s the stress effects of poverty and low educational status.”

As such, the health statistics for Fairfax and McDowell are as striking as their income data. In Fairfax, the adult obesity rate is about 24 percent and one in eight residents smokes. In McDowell, the adult obesity rate is more than 30 percent and one in three adults smokes. And the disability rate is about five times higher in McDowell.

In both counties, food availability matters. There are only two full-size grocery stores in McDowell; minimarts and fast-food restaurants are major sources of nutrition. “We don’t have gyms or fitness centers,” said Pamela McPeak, who grew up in McDowell getting creek water to flush her family’s toilet. “It’s cheaper to buy Cheetos rather than apples.” She now runs a nonprofit program that provides tutoring and helps high school students get into college.

Education is also correlated with longevity, as it is with income and employment. Educated individuals are much more likely to work, and much more likely to have higher incomes. In McDowell, about one in 18 adults has a college degree; in Fairfax, the share is 60 percent.

Finally, and perhaps most powerfully, researchers say that a life in poverty is a life of stress that accumulates in a person’s very cells. Being poor is hard in a way that can mean worse sleep, more cortisol in the blood, a greater risk of hypertension and, ultimately, a shorter life.

As southern West Virginia has foundered, northern Virginia has flourished. But do the two counties’ diverging life expectancies relate to their diverging economic fortunes? And might that be true across the country?

It is hard to prove causality with the available information. County-level data is the most detailed available, but it is not perfect. People move, and that is a confounding factor. McDowell’s population has dropped by more than half since the late 1970s, whereas Fairfax’s has roughly doubled. Perhaps more educated and healthier people have been relocating from places like McDowell to places like Fairfax. In that case, life expectancy would not have changed; how Americans arrange themselves geographically would have.

“These things are not nearly as clear as they seem, or as clear as epidemiologists seem to think,” said Angus Deaton, an economist at Princeton.

Further, there is nothing to suggest that, for a given individual, getting a raise in pay or moving between counties would mean outliving her peers.

“The statistical term is the ecological fallacy,” Mr. Kindig said. “We can’t apply aggregate data to an individual, and that’s underappreciated when you’re looking at these numbers.” But, “having said that, I still think that the averages and the variation across counties tells us a lot,” he added. “We don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good here.”

Despite the statistical murk, many epidemiologists, economists and other researchers say that rising income inequality may be playing into the rising disparity in health and longevity. “We can’t say that there is no effect, just because we don’t have clear methods to test the effect,” said Hui Zheng, a sociologist at Ohio State University.

In particular, changes in smoking and obesity rates may help explain the connection between bigger bank accounts and longer lives. “Richer people and richer communities smoke less, and that gap is growing,” said Dr. Murray at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Mr. Zheng has also posited that inequality, by socially disenfranchising certain groups and making them distrustful of public systems, may have a long-range effect on health.

To some extent, the broad expansion of health insurance to low-income communities, as called for under Obamacare, may help to mitigate this stark divide, experts say. And it is encouraging that both Republicans and Democrats have recently elevated the issues of poverty, economic mobility and inequality, But the contrast between McDowell and Fairfax shows just how deeply entrenched these trends are, with consequences reaching all the way from people’s pocketbooks to their graves.


March 6, 2014

Common Core, Gov. Scott Walker and Tony Evers

Filed under: Common Core Standards — millerlf @ 2:23 pm

In a recent article, Dominique Noth describes the most recent attacks from Scott Walker on education in Wisconsin. In the article Noth describes that the gloves are off with the State Superintendent Tony Evers fighting the new Common Core legislation supported by Walker. 


Noth says, “He (Evers) is now taking full advantage of his bully pulpit status through video, speeches and interviews to sound the alarm, reveal the sham, fight for the children and discuss the dangers of elected officials running wild on the whims of political fortune to control academic progress.”

To read the full article go to Dominique Paul Noth’s blog at:

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