Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

October 7, 2016

Wisconsin DPI Proposes Summer School Flexibility

Filed under: Education Policy — millerlf @ 2:31 pm

Evers, DPI Propose Increased Summer School Flexibility

by Dan Rossmiller

Giving a “mini-preview” of the biennial budget request he will submit to the governor next month, State Superintendent Tony Evers this week announced a set of proposed administrative rule changes intended to expand high-quality summer learning opportunities for kids and slow the so-called “summer learning slide” that occurs when students are our of school for an extended period of time.

The new proposed rules will give school districts new funding flexibility by clarifying that federal funds can be used to support summer learning and allowing open enrollment students to be counted in summer school membership.

In addition, under the proposed rules, academic field trips, musical performances, and agricultural and other scholastic competitions would become eligible activities for summer instruction, just as they are during the regular school year. The proposed rules also would eliminate several barriers to collaborative programs developed by local schools that serve young people through community and business partners.

Evers also announced that DPI’s budget request to the governor for the 2017-19 biennium will include several initiatives to increase state support for summer school and summer learning. These include:  Read more of this post

October 24, 2015

How MPS Changed School Expulsions

Filed under: Education Policy — millerlf @ 8:09 am

Echoing national trends, school board has moved away from “zero tolerance.” Here’s why.
Terry Falk Oct 23, 2015

Zero-tolerance hasn’t worked. Both liberal and conservatives agree on that. We have filled our prisons with low level offenders through minimum sentences, three-strikes-and-you’re-out legislation. Today, Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate for black men in the nation, but the streets of Milwaukee and other Wisconsin cities are no safer.
Educators have come to the same conclusion with discipline in our schools. Zero tolerance in schools meant that expulsion had to be considered in every instance where a weapon or drugs were found. School fights, which were once handled by school officials, now meant a call to the police. Just a few years ago, Milwaukee was ranked at the top of school systems that suspended students, but such suspensions added little order to our schools.
Last summer the U.S. Department of Education launched “Rethinking Discipline” to come up with alternatives to the zero-tolerance school practices.

A few years earlier, Milwaukee School Superintendent Gregory Thornton took on the issue of suspensions in an effort to drive down those numbers. Suspending a student might get the student out of the hair of the school staff for a day or two. But often the students just sat at home watching Scooby Doo and eating Froot Loops. When they came back, no behavior had changed.

Recently, as a school board member, I pushed for changes in the MPS expulsion policy. Previously the system would expel a student without any educational services. It is unlikely that a student expelled for selling drugs would sit at home and contemplate the errors of his ways. Most likely the student would just learn to become a better drug dealer. Today MPS still expels students but the system offers alternative educational services while on expulsion.
But a group of “no-nonsense” charter schools have not rethought their discipline policies. Both U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan railed against excessive discipline practices by these schools.
“Too often, so-called zero-tolerance policies, however well intentioned they might be, make students unwelcome in their own schools; they disrupt the learning process,” said Holder in a Washington Post article last year.

The poster child in the Washington Post article was Roxbury Prep in Boston, that had one of the highest suspension rates in Massachusetts. Nearly 60 percent of its students had been suspended at one time or another in the previous year. While Roxbury touted the fact that students exceeded the state in achievement on state academic tests, critics of Roxbury pointed to the school’s high turnover rate. Their high standing was not based upon what they did with the students they had; rather it was a product of sorting through students keeping the most successful students and “counseling out” students who didn’t meet its standards.

Roxbury had an extensive waiting list of students who wanted in, and parents were thrilled when their children were accepted, but often parents changed their mind about the school when their children were ushered out the door.
This is why the Milwaukee school board had so much trouble in approving a new charter school, Milwaukee Excellence. This school followed the no-nonsense concept, directly referring to Roxbury Prep as its model. Ultimately the school board would approve its charter only after the school made changes to it discipline policy and its suspension and student turnover rate were added to its evaluation.

But this is hardly the end of the story.
Recently Secretary Duncan announced that he was leaving the Department of Education and his replacement is undersecretary, John King, none other than the man known as one of Roxbury Prep’s founding members.

Immediately the internet lit up. “The King of Suspensions” was the headline of several blogs. Conservative-turned-liberal education expert, Diane Ravitch, echoed the same concerns. And it doesn’t help that King not only has butted heads with teacher unions, but also had a poor reputation for listening to parent concerns when he was New York state education commissioner as he pushed for more testing along with his support for Common Core.

Ironically, as a youth, John King was kicked out of a private prep school and gives much credit for his success to the teachers who cared for him in traditional public schools. How he came to believe in no-nonsense schools is something of a mystery.

Will Secretary King reverse the “Rethinking Discipline” fostered under Arne Duncan? That is unlikely. And it may be too much ask that he repudiate the no-nonsense discipline policies he once supported for Roxbury Prep.
However he acts, people on both sides of the educational divide will be watching.

Terry Falk has served as a Milwaukee School Board member since 2007.

June 4, 2015

SOS: A distress signal to parents of Wisconsin public school kids

Filed under: Education Policy,Vouchers,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 9:13 am

SOS: A distress signal to parents of Wisconsin public school kids
By Mary Young, Special to OnMilwaukee.com
Published June 3, 2015
Support Our Schools (SOS) Wauwatosa was formed in opposition to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed public education cuts.

For years, many of we suburban moms and dads have viewed the voucher school versus public school funding debate from the outside looking in.

After all, in Wauwatosa, none of our leaders ran on a platform to siphon money away from Wauwatosa public schools and instead route it to private schools. Our Wauwatosa schools are some of the best in the state – and the nation – so it seemed impossible that our leaders would try to “fix” something that isn’t broken.

We still cannot believe what actually happened.

Despite the clear call from thousands of parents statewide – 3,000 from Wauwatosa alone – to fully-fund our public schools and remove policy items from the budget, the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) did the exact opposite.

On May 20, 2015, the JFC voted on education spending for the 2015-2017 biennium. After the vote, Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa), a JFC member, said the JFC went “above and beyond restoring funds to K-12 education.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Sen. Vukmir and her JFC colleagues – including Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), who also represents Wauwatosa – reneged on their promises to support public education:

The JFC claims to have restored Gov. Walker’s $127 million cut in public school funding. This is not true. Much of this funding will pay for an expansion of the state’s funding of private and religious schools, siphoning away money from our kids’ classrooms.

The JFC also increased per-pupil payments for charter and voucher schools. This, too, will reduce general aid to public schools – and even merely “restoring” Gov. Walker’s cut to public education would have meant a decrease, once inflation is taken into account.

The JFC inserted a provision requiring public school districts to allow charter, voucher and home-schooled students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities sponsored by the public schools – at the expense of the public school districts.

Based on applications received, 2,613 more students will be eligible for the statewide voucher program in 2015-16. Of those students, 81 percent already attend private schools.

The JFC also increased the enrollment cap on the statewide voucher program in 2016-17. The cap will increase annually for 10 years, when it will be eliminated entirely.

If enacted, the JFC’s actions will result in an overall reduction of $600 million to $800 million in state support to public education – and represents a $600 to $800 million increase in taxpayer funding for private schools.

Over the last several months, Wauwatosa parents have joined parents across Wisconsin – Republicans, Democrats and independents – to oppose Gov. Walker’s proposed cuts to public education. We formed Support Our Schools (SOS) Wauwatosa, knocked on doors, forwarded thousands of letters, made telephone calls, sent e-mails and attended legislative hearings inside and outside of our city, all in support of our public schools.

Sen. Vukmir and Rep. Kooyenga repeatedly assured SOS Wauwatosa that public school funding would not be cut and that the JFC’s work would “surpass our expectations.” They have broken their promises. After telling us that “public schools are our top priority,” they have shown that they favor private schools. No legislator in any party ran for election on such a platform. But these public officials are creating a system that prioritizes private schools over public schools.

A recent Marquette University Law School poll showed that 78% of Wisconsinites support full funding for our public schools. Yet, for the first time ever, per-pupil funding for public education in Wisconsin will be below the national average. Wisconsin’s legislators are not listening.

National media outlets are taking notice, with the Washington Post asking, “What the heck is going on with Wisconsin public education?” They ask – and we ask – because it doesn’t benefit our kids, schools or parents.

Wisconsin created its charter and voucher programs to address perceived failings in some of Milwaukee’s public schools. Whether true or not, this perception does not justify expanding the charter and voucher programs and depriving high-achieving public schools of their funding.

Studies consistently show that businesses prefer to locate where educational achievement is high. Wisconsin’s public schools are some of the country’s highest-achieving schools and provide state businesses with high-quality workers. Underfunding public schools, which educate the vast majority of the state’s residents, will damage Wisconsin’s ability to compete with other states.

Our children are our future. They deserve the quality of public education for which Wisconsin has always been known. No matter how good private schools are, they do not represent Wauwatosa – or Wausau, Eau Claire or Lake Mills. Our public schools are the bedrock of Wisconsin’s communities, and weakening our public schools will weaken our communities.

In the short term, SOS Wauwatosa and other parents’ groups across the state will advocate for changes in the JFC’s budget proposals. In the long term, we will continue our fight for adequate funding for public schools beyond the 2015-17 biennium. We are sending an “SOS” to all parents to urge legislators to do what is right for our kids, our schools and our communities.

SOS Wauwatosa commits to remaining an active, permanent nonpartisan community organization that will educate and engage the public in decisions that affect our public schools.

Response: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Op-ed

MPS is changing the status quo
By Larry Miller June 3, 2015 MJS Op-ed

Charles J. Szafir’s May 31 opinion piece contains a glaring factual error that undercuts his entire piece — and it repeats the often-used but false claim that Milwaukee Public Schools leaders believe the “status quo” is acceptable (“At MPS, the status quo is unacceptable,” Crossroads). Both claims are just plain wrong. A clear reading of the piece also calls into question the credibility of a recovery district plan that does not include some of the city’s lowest-performing schools.

First, Szafir falsely tied an analysis showing low test results in reading among schools whose students are mostly African-American and low-income to MPS when it in fact represents results from voucher and charter schools as well, as PolitiFact Wisconsin has noted.

When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel took a closer look at data for such schools, it found that seven of the 10 lowest-performing schools in the group were, in fact, voucher schools. Of the five lowest-performing schools — schools where no students were proficient in reading — three are voucher schools.

If Szafir and his allies in the state Legislature are concerned about improving all of the low-performing schools in Milwaukee, why doesn’t their plan address low-performing voucher schools, as those schools have results that are the same or worse than those in MPS’ lowest-performing schools?

Put another way: Why is the status quo at voucher schools apparently acceptable to them?

Milwaukee Public Schools is already implementing its plans to accelerate student achievement growth, and the district is seeing early signs of success, a fact that Szafir failed to note. Specifically:
■MPS’ Commitment Schools effort to transform underperforming schools is accelerating reading and math achievement enough to narrow achievement gaps in most grades K-8.
■MPS’ GE Foundation Schools are seeing similar gains.
■MPS’ 5-in-1 collaboration at Carver Academy is improving school climate and academic outcomes.
■MPS’ work with Milwaukee Succeeds on a foundational reading pilot is seeing some encouraging early results.
■MPS’ four-year graduation rate is up slightly to 60.9% and five- and six-year rates (68.7% and 72.9%, respectively) show that significant numbers of MPS students are willing to take additional time, if necessary, to graduate.
■MPS’ eight strategic objectives — created with input from students, staff and the community — are in place to further accelerate improvement.

Szafir also plays fast and loose with facts about MPS buildings. He falsely claims that Bradley Tech High School is “operating well below capacity,” when its 2014-’15 enrollment of 889 puts it at about 95% of its capacity of 931 as identified in the district’s facilities master plan. He made a point of identifying the number of buildings his organization considers underutilized while failing to note that by his organization’s own standards, MPS has substantially more buildings that are at 100% capacity or above than are underutilized.

MPS has utilized buildings strategically to expand successful schools with waiting lists — such as Golda Meir School and Ronald Reagan College Preparatory High School — and it will continue to do so, which helps address the overcapacity issue identified above.

Of the remaining MPS school buildings not currently in use, four already have been specifically identified as sites for expansion of sought-after programs, including international baccalaureate education, language immersion and a charter school. Another nine have been declared surplus by the Milwaukee Board of School Directors and transferred to the city for redevelopment. Yet another is being redeveloped into housing.

The efforts MPS is undertaking to improve outcomes for students may not have the “flash” of plans to strip local control of schools, to transfer public buildings to private entities or to fire teachers en masse. But they are far from the “status quo” and they have the benefit of being strongly rooted in what has worked and is working to improve achievement for students in Milwaukee.

Larry Miller is vice president of the Milwaukee School Board.

May 29, 2015

Nation Watching Wisconsin’s Education Debacle

Filed under: ALEC,Education Policy,Republicans — millerlf @ 10:57 am

Valerie Strauss Washington Post Education Blog May 28,2015

What is the Wisconsin Legislature trying to do to public education in Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s state?

State Superintendent Tony Evers has gone on record accusing lawmakers of moving toward new legislation “that erodes the basic foundation of Wisconsin’s public school system.” How? By legislature efforts that include refusing to spend more money on public education for the first time in more than 20 years while while giving millions of dollars more to expand a private voucher program, slashing higher education funding, and weakening licensing rules for teachers.

Evers said in a statement:
“Wisconsin is nationally renowned for its quality public schools. We are a leader among the states in graduation rates, Advanced Placement participation, and ACT scores because of our highly trained educators and the support of families and local communities. The citizens of Wisconsin — measured by budget hearings, local advocacy, and recent polls — voiced their overwhelming support for our public schools and increasing funding in this budget.

“I am troubled that the Joint Finance Committee spent its time and effort designing a plan that erodes the basic foundation of Wisconsin’s public school system. If we want all students to achieve, we cannot continue to ask our public schools to do more with less. The eventual outcome of that exercise will be two systems of public schools: those in local communities that can afford to provide a quality education through referendum and those that cannot.”

Education proposals by the Joint Committee on Finance largely reflect the broad agenda set by Walker, who is considered a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Lawmakers have expanded on some of the more general language in his budget proposal (such as by spelling out how teacher licensure should be changed) and added a few things of their own.

Walker, in fact, had proposed a $127 million cut in K-12 funding and lawmakers restored the cut in their proposal — though they are not giving more money to public school districts for the first time in more than 20 years next year while at the same time spending millions more to expand to expand a school voucher program that uses public money to fund private education. The plan includes a voucher program for special-needs students, which critics say would reduce resources that public schools have for special-needs students.

It is worth noting that for the current school year, 75 percent of the applications to the voucher program were already in private school, according to the education department, and for the 2015-16 school year, 79.9 percent. Doesn’t that sound like a subsidy for the private school population?

There’s more: Lawmakers are pushing for budget cuts in the University of Wisconsin higher education system — possibly $150 million for each of the next two years. That makes Wisconsin one of only six states that have approved or are considering reducing higher education funding for the next fiscal year, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The paper notes that Wisconsin now spends less on higher education than all of its neighbors: Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.

[Wisconsin Gov. Walker sued for withholding public documents on secret bid to change university’s mission]

What is on the education agenda of the Joint Committee on Finance of the state legislature?
From the Department of Public Instruction:
•For the first time ever, there is no increase in state imposed revenue limits over the next two school years, while voucher and independent charter school payments are increased in each year.
•State general equalization aid to public schools is cut in the first year to pay for voucher expansion and increased independent charter school payments. This leaves public schools with less state general aid than in 2010.
•Continues the freeze on state special education aid for what will be the eighth consecutive year, covering roughly a quarter of district special education costs while creating a new voucher program that drains funds from public schools.
•Essentially eliminates teacher licensing standards by allowing public and private schools to hire anyone to teach, even those without a bachelor’s degree, planting Wisconsin at the bottom nationally, below states with the lowest student achievement levels.
•Imposes a new state test on today’s 10th-graders in all public schools and private school students receiving vouchers that they must pass to graduate in two years.

Here’s part of a May 27 news release from the department on proposed changes to he way teachers are licensed:

Major changes to teacher licensing voted into the 2015-17 state budget, without a hearing, puts Wisconsin on a path toward the bottom, compared to the nation, for standards required of those who teach at the middle and high school level.

Adopted as a K-12 omnibus motion by the Joint Committee on Finance (JFC), the education package deregulates licensing standards for middle and high school teachers across the state. The legislation being rolled into the biennial budget would require the Department of Public Instruction to license anyone with a bachelor’s degree in any subject to teach English, social studies, mathematics, and science. The only requirement is that a public school or school district or a private choice school determines that the individual is proficient and has relevant experience in each subject they teach. Traditional licensure requires educators in middle and high school to have a bachelor’s degree and a major or minor in the subject they teach, plus completion of intensive training on skills required to be a teacher, and successful passage of skills and subject content assessments.

That’s not all. The proposal would require the education department to issue a teaching permit to people who have not — repeat have not — earned a bachelor’s degree, or potentially a high school diploma, to teach in any subject area, excluding the core subjects of mathematics, English, science, and social studies. “The only requirement would be that the public school or district or private voucher school determines that the individual is proficient and has relevant experience in the subject they intend to teach. And, the department would not be permitted to add requirements.

Evers is quoted as saying:
“We are sliding toward the bottom in standards for those who teach our students. It doesn’t make sense. We have spent years developing licensing standards to improve the quality of the teacher in the classroom, which is the most important school-based factor in improving student achievement. Now we’re throwing out those standards.”

Meanwhile, Walker hasn’t said anything publicly that would make anyone think he doesn’t agree with the education path on which the legislature has embarked.

Walker was recently sued by a nonprofit watchdog group alleging that he is refusing to make public documents relating to an effort by his office to change the mission of the University of Wisconsin that is embedded in state law. Earlier this year, Walker submitted a budget proposal that included language that would have changed the century-old mission of the University of Wisconsin system — known as the “Wisconsin Idea” and embedded in the state code — by removing words that commanded the university to “search for truth” and “improve the human condition” and replacing them with “meet the state’s workforce needs.”

If the language had become law, it would have created a fundamental change in the University of Wisconsin. The traditional mission is to broadly educate students to be active, productive citizens in the U.S. democracy, while Walker’s language would have turned the school into more of a training ground for workers to populate the American work force. Walker failed to mention the suggested change in a speech he gave about the budget, but after it was discovered by the nonprofit Madison- -based Center for Media and Democracy, the governor withdrew the language and said it was a “drafting error.” The center tried to get documents related to the episode under the Freedom of Information Act and sued when Walker’s administration refused to release some of them, claiming they are protected by “deliberative process privilege.”
(Correction: The Center for Media and Democracy is based in Madison, not Washington, as an earlier version said.)

January 25, 2015

Who should lead K12 school improvement? Venture capitalists or communities and educators

Filed under: Charter Schools,Education Policy,Privatization,Public Education — millerlf @ 12:54 pm

According to the NewSchools Venture Fund it should be venture capitalists.

What is NewSchools Venture Fund?

This is an investment organization that has an all-white, 10 member board of directors, whose combined portfolio reaches deep into U.S. corporate and entrepreneurial investment endeavors.

Their stated purpose opens with– “Our mission is to transform public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs…” Of course what they don’t openly say is that this work will lead to profit for investors, their companies and the individual portfolios of many entrepreneurs.

What they seek is public money to be diverted from public schools leading to investment gains in technology, real estate, curriculum, corporate charters, high paid “non-profit” charter managers and the growing education “consulting” industry.

In education, they are connected to much of the school “reform” industry. If you look at their strategies in individual cities, they are not about educating all kids.

The description of the Board members of New School Venture Fund reads as follows:

Venture capital investor in the medical, healthcare and biotechnology sectors.

Sponsor of a series of investments including Compaq, Cypress, Intuit, Netscape, Lotus, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, S3, Sun Microsystems, Amazon.com, Symantec and Google.

Founder and CEO of Silicon Compilers and currently serves on the Board of Directors of Google.

Founder of LAUNCH Media Inc. in 1994, which delivered music and music-related content online, and he led the company through its acquisition by Yahoo! in 2001.

Managing Director of Endeavor Catalyst which is is leading the formation and capital raise of the fund supporting high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets and a partner at Soda Rock Partners LLC, supporting entrepreneurs to build leading high-growth companies and organizations.

Has served on the board of more than 25 venture-backed companies across a broad range of industries including Danger Inc (Acquired Nasdaq: MSFT), Sabrix (Acquired NYSE: TWX), Quinstreet (IPO Nasdaq: QNST), Stonyfield Farms (Acquired Groupe Danone), Account Now (Private), Mirra (Acquired NYSE: STX), Posit Science (Private), Post Communications (Acquired Nasdaq: NCNT). She also served on the Board of the National Venture Capital Association (“NVCA), the Coppola Companies (Francis Ford Coppola), and as Chairman of the USA for Madrid-based FON.

Managing Partner in North Bay Associates and Kokino LLC, and a co-founder of TRQ Management Company, all investment management businesses.

Past president and remains active with Cheyenne Petroleum Company, an oil and gas exploration and production company, and he was a co-founder of Soundview Real Estate Partners, a real estate investment company. In addition, he serves on the boards of various companies in the pharmaceutical industry.

Focuses on investments in the financial-services sector and in emerging software technologies. Has been called a “serial entrepreneur.” Founding CEO of Good Technology (acquired by Motorola); co-founder of Drugstore.com (DSCM) and general manager and president of Optical Engineering, Inc. Has worked at Netscape, Hewlett Packard and Bain.

For the complete description of the Board, see below. You can also learn more from their website at:
http://www.newschools.org/team

Their Milwaukee connection is through Deborah McGriff, a “Team” member, who served as a deputy Superintendent for Milwaukee Public Schools.

At the 2014 conference Howard Fuller gave opening comments. They can be seen at:

Full descriptions of NewSchool Venture Fund Board:
• Brook Byers, Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
• John Doerr, Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
• Chris Gabrieli, Co-Founder and Chairman, Massachusetts 2020
• Dave Goldberg, Chief Executive Officer, SurveyMonkey
• Laurene Powell Jobs, Founder and Chair of the Board, Emerson Collective
• Joanna Rees, Founder and Managing Partner, VSP Capital
• Jon Sackler, Managing Partner, North Bay Associates and Kokino LLC
• Kim Smith, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Pahara Institute
• Rob Stavis, Partner, Bessemer Venture Partners
• Dave Whorton, Managing Director, Tugboat Ventures

(more…)

August 18, 2014

Business Model of Education Reform Exposed

Filed under: Corporate Domination,Education Policy — millerlf @ 8:27 am

Teaching Is Not a Business
By DAVID L. KIRP AUG. 16, 2014

TODAY’S education reformers believe that schools are broken and that business can supply the remedy. Some place their faith in the idea of competition. Others embrace disruptive innovation, mainly through online learning. Both camps share the belief that the solution resides in the impersonal, whether it’s the invisible hand of the market or the transformative power of technology.

Neither strategy has lived up to its hype, and with good reason. It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.

Marketplace mantras dominate policy discussions. High-stakes reading and math tests are treated as the single metric of success, the counterpart to the business bottom line. Teachers whose students do poorly on those tests get pink slips, while those whose students excel receive merit pay, much as businesses pay bonuses to their star performers and fire the laggards. Just as companies shut stores that aren’t meeting their sales quotas, opening new ones in more promising territory, failing schools are closed and so-called turnaround model schools, with new teachers and administrators, take their place.

This approach might sound plausible in a think tank, but in practice it has been a flop. Firing teachers, rather than giving them the coaching they need, undermines morale. In some cases it may well discourage undergraduates from pursuing careers in teaching, and with a looming teacher shortage as baby boomers retire, that’s a recipe for disaster. Merit pay invites rivalries among teachers, when what’s needed is collaboration. Closing schools treats everyone there as guilty of causing low test scores, ignoring the difficult lives of the children in these schools — “no excuses,” say the reformers, as if poverty were an excuse.

Charter schools have been promoted as improving education by creating competition. But charter students do about the same, over all, as their public school counterparts, and the worst charters, like the online K-12 schools that have proliferated in several states, don’t deserve to be called schools. Vouchers are also supposed to increase competition by giving parents direct say over the schools their children attend, but the students haven’t benefited. For the past generation, Milwaukee has run a voucher experiment, with much-debated outcomes that to me show no real academic improvement.
While these reformers talk a lot about markets and competition, the essence of a good education — bringing together talented teachers, engaged students and a challenging curriculum — goes undiscussed.

Business does have something to teach educators, but it’s neither the saving power of competition nor flashy ideas like disruptive innovation. Instead, what works are time-tested strategies.

“Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service”: That’s the gospel the management guru W. Edwards Deming preached for half a century. After World War II, Japanese firms embraced the “plan, do, check, act” approach, and many Fortune 500 companies profited from paying attention. Meanwhile, the Harvard Business School historian and Pulitzer Prize-winner Alfred D. Chandler Jr. demonstrated that firms prospered by developing “organizational capabilities,” putting effective systems in place and encouraging learning inside the organization. Building such a culture took time, Chandler emphasized, and could be derailed by executives seduced by faddishness.
Every successful educational initiative of which I’m aware aims at strengthening personal bonds by building strong systems of support in the schools. The best preschools create intimate worlds where students become explorers and attentive adults are close at hand.
In the Success for All model — a reading and math program that, for a quarter-century, has been used to good effect in 48 states and in some of the nation’s toughest schools — students learn from a team of teachers, bringing more adults into their lives. Diplomas Now love-bombs middle school students who are prime candidates for dropping out. They receive one-on-one mentoring, while those who have deeper problems are matched with professionals.
An extensive study of Chicago’s public schools, Organizing Schools for Improvement, identified 100 elementary schools that had substantially improved and 100 that had not. The presence or absence of social trust among students, teachers, parents and school leaders was a key explanation.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the nationwide mentoring organization, has had a substantial impact on millions of adolescents. The explanation isn’t what adolescents and their “big sibling” mentors do together, whether it’s mountaineering or museum-going. What counts, the research shows, is the forging of a relationship based on mutual respect and caring.
Over the past 25 years, YouthBuild has given solid work experience and classroom tutoring to hundreds of thousands of high school dropouts. Seventy-one percent of those youngsters, on whom the schools have given up, earn a G.E.D. — close to the national high school graduation rate. The YouthBuild students say they’re motivated to get an education because their teachers “have our backs.”
The same message — that the personal touch is crucial — comes from community college students who have participated in the City University of New York’s anti-dropout initiative, which has doubled graduation rates.
Even as these programs, and many others with a similar philosophy, have proven their worth, public schools have been spending billions of dollars on technology which they envision as the wave of the future. Despite the hyped claims, the results have been disappointing. “The data is pretty weak,” said Tom Vander Ark, the former executive director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an investor in educational technology companies. “When it comes to showing results, we better put up or shut up.”
While technology can be put to good use by talented teachers, they, and not the futurists, must take the lead. The process of teaching and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets can hope to replicate. Small wonder, then, that the business model hasn’t worked in reforming the schools — there is simply no substitute for the personal element.
David L. Kirp is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools.”

December 31, 2013

Yes Magazine:10 Hopeful Things That Happened in 2013 to Get You Inspired for What’s to Come

Beyond the headlines of conflict and catastrophe, this year’s top stories offered us some powerful proof that the world can still change—for the better.

There was something almost apocalyptic about 2013. Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines, the strongest storm ever recorded on land. It killed more than 6,000 people and affected millions. But it was just one of the 39 weather-related disasters costing $1 billion or more in 2013.

 

In Australia, record high temperatures forced mapmakers to create a new color on the weather map. Massive wildfires swept through California, historic flooding took out bridges and roadways in Colorado, and tornadoes swept through the Midwest, destroying towns like Moore, Okla. Millions of people are on the move, seeking to escape the effects of climate-related disasters.

 

CO2 concentrations passed 400 parts per million for the first time this year, and yet governments have done little to curb emissions. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars—much of it from secret sources—flow to climate-denier think tanks and advocacy groups.

 

Pop culture often explores a change before politicians do, and 2013 saw a rash of post-apocalyptic movies—from World War Z to Oblivion—and zombie apocalypse role-playing games.

 

Much happened that was hopeful this year—a new pope focused on inequality, successful minimum wage campaigns spread across the country, and the number of states allowing gay marriage doubled.

 

But responses to the threat of the climate crisis lead off this year’s top stories as we look at seeds sown this year that could make 2014 transformational.

 

1. We saw surprising new leadership on the climate issue

 

In northeast Nebraska, Native Americans and local ranchers formed a new alliance to resist the Keystone XL pipeline. Seven thousand activists gathered in Pittsburgh to press for action on a wide range of environmental justice issues. Students across North America persuaded nine colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuel companies. Hundreds of climate activists walked out of the COP19 climate talks in Poland to hold their own climate talks.

 

The governors of California, Oregon, Washington, and the Canadian province of British Columbia have committed to taking action on the climate crisis. But Congress remains deadlocked and in denial, and climate scientists—when they let down their careful professional demeanor—express astonishment that world governments have failed to act on what is fast becoming a global emergency.

 

A new potential ally is coming from an unexpected source. Some investors are beginning to worry that fossil fuel companies may not be a good bet. Investors worry about a “carbon bubble.”

 

The reserves of oil, gas, and coal counted as assets by the big energy corporations would be enormously destructive to life on Earth if they were allowed to burn. Many believe that new regulation or pricing will keep a large portion of those reserves safely in the ground.

 

If that happens, the companies’ reserves, and thus their stock, may be worth far less than believed. Savvy investors are placing their bets elsewhere: Warren Buffett, for example, is investing $1 billion in wind energy, which, along with solar energy, is looking better all the time.

 

2. Native peoples took the lead in the fossil fuel fight

 

In response to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attempt to ramp up fossil fuel extraction on Native lands, Idle No More blossomed across Canada this year. First Nations people held flash mob round dances, blockaded roads, and appealed to government at all levels to protect land and water.

 

And it’s not just Canada. In Washington state, the Lummi Tribe is among those resisting massive new coal transport infrastructure, which would make exported coal cheap to burn in Asia.

 

In Nebraska, the Ponca Tribe is teaming up with local ranchers to resist construction of the Keystone tar sands pipeline. Indigenous peoples in the Amazon, the Andes, Malaysia, the Niger Delta, and elsewhere are also at the front lines of resistance to yet more dangerous fossil fuel extraction. Many are turning to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples and the new Rights of Nature movement for support.

 

Indigenous peoples developed ways of life that could sustain human life and the natural environment over thousands of years. The rest of the world is starting to recognize the critical importance of these perspectives, and there is growing willingness to listen to the perspectives of indigenous peoples.

 

3. The middle and lower classes fought for economic justice

 

Income inequality is reaching levels not seen since the Roaring Twenties. People stuck in long-term unemployment are running out of options, and those who do find work often can’t cover basic living expenses. The issue is now getting attention from mainstream media, becoming one of the defining issues of our time, as President Obama said.

 

Now a movement is building to create a new economy that can work for all. Voters this year passed minimum wage laws in SeaTac, Wash., ($15 an hour) and the state of New Jersey. An overwhelming majority favors raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Domestic workers won the right to a minimum wage after years of organizing.

 

The message was also clear in the election of Bill de Blasio, a founder of the Working Families Party, as mayor of New York City. Inequality is a top plank of his platform and his public record. At the national level, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s defense of the rights of student borrowers and her proposal to strengthen Social Security (instead of weaken it, as leaders in both party are discussing) is winning widespread support. There is even talk of drafting Warren to run for president.

 

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4. A new economy is in the making

 

At the grassroots, National People’s Action and the New Economy Institute are leading new conversations about what it takes to build an economy that works for all and can function in harmony with the environment. Thousands of people are taking part.

 

And a growing cooperatives movement is linking up with unions and social movements. Some are working with large “anchor” institutions, like hospitals and universities, that can provide a steady market for their products and services. Credit unions, too, are proving their value as they keep lending to local businesses and homeowners as Wall Street-owned banks pulled back.

 

And a new DIY sharing economy is taking off, as people do peer-to-peer car-sharing, fundraising, and skill-sharing, and bring open-source technology to new levels.

 

5. U.S. military strikes didn’t happen

 

The big news of the year may be the two wars the United States refused to instigate.

 

The United States did continue its drone strikes, and the civilian casualties are causing an international uproar, with some calling for an outright ban on drones. And military spending continues to devastate the country’s budget. (The United States spent more on the military in 2013 than China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy, and Brazil combined.) Few dared to call for the same fiscal discipline from the military and its many contractors as they expect from schools and services for the poor.

 

On the other hand, the United States stepped back from the brink of military strikes against Syria and Iran—a step in the right direction.

 

6. Pope Francis called for care and justice for the poor …

 

…and for an end to the idolatry of money and consumerism. He also criticized “ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”

 

In his “Evangelii Gaudium” he says: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”

 

This call is provoking outrage from Rush Limbaugh and Fox News commentators, but elsewhere, it’s leading to a new questioning of the moral foundation for a system that concentrates wealth and power while causing widespread poverty.

 

7. Gays and lesbians got some respect

 

On June 26, the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Today, married gay couples are entitled to federal benefits once reserved for straight couples. The year saw a doubling of the number of states allowing gay marriages, and a third of all Americans now live in such states.

 

Support for gay marriage has flipped from a slight majority opposing it to a majority now supporting the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry. As a wider range of gender identities has become acceptable, men and women, gay and straight, are freer to shed gender stereotypes without fear of bullying and humiliation.

 

8. There were new openings for a third party

 

Just 26 percent of Americans believe the Democratic and Republican parties are doing “an adequate job,” according to an October Gallup poll; 60 percent say a third party is needed. Eighty-five percent disapprove of the job Congress is doing. Even cockroaches (along with zombies, hemorrhoids, and Wall Street) have a higher approval rating according to a recent poll by Public Policy Polling.

 

But it’s not the Tea Party that Americans are looking to as the alternative. Support for the Tea Party has fallen: In an October NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 21 percent of respondents had a favorable view of the party.

 

New space has opened for independent political work. The Working Family Party (see #3 above) is an especially interesting model.

 

9. Alternatives to Obamacare are in the works

 

Democratic leadership believed that the big profits the Affordable Care Act guaranteed to private insurance companies would make the act popular with conservatives.

 

But the resulting system, with all its complications and expenses—and requirements—is frustrating millions. There are features that benefit ordinary people, but it compares poorly to the simpler and more cost-effective systems that exists in most of the developed world. Canadian-style single-payer health care, for example, had the support of a majority of Americans. Some jurisdictions are still looking for alternatives. Cooperative health insurance is available in some states and others are working to establish statewide single-payer healthcare.

 

10. An education uprising began

 

The momentum behind the education reform agendas of Presidents Bush (No Child Left Behind) and Obama (Race to the Top) is stalling. The combination of austerity budgets, an ethic of blame directed at teachers, high-stakes testing, and private charter schools has stressed teachers and students—but it has not resulted in improved performance.

 

Peaceful Uprising photo by David Newkirk
Get Apocalyptic: Why Radical Is the New Normal

 

Seattle’s Garfield High School teachers, students, and parents launched an open rebellion last spring, joining a handful of others in refusing to administer required standardized tests. The movement is spreading around the country, with more rebellions expected in the spring of 2014 (stay tuned for an in-depth report in the Spring issue of YES!)

 

We live in interesting times, indeed. The growing climate emergency could eclipse all the other issues, and the sooner we get on it, the more we can use the transition for innovations that have other positive spin-offs.

 

There’s not a moment to lose.

April 11, 2013

Texas Considers Backtracking on Testing

Filed under: Education Policy,Testing Issues — millerlf @ 5:52 am
By April 10, 2013 NYTimes

AUSTIN, Tex. — In this state that spawned test-based accountability in public schools and spearheaded one of the nation’s toughest high school curriculums, lawmakers are now considering a reversal that would cut back both graduation requirements and standardized testing.

The actions in Texas are being closely watched across the country as many states move to raise curriculum standards to meet the increasing demands of employers while grappling with critics who say testing has spun out of control.

The Texas House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill this month that would reduce the number of exams students must pass to earn a high school diploma to 5, from 15. Legislators also proposed a change that would reduce the required years of math and science to three, from four. The State Senate is expected to take up a similar bill as early as this week.

The proposed changes have opened up a debate in the state and beyond. Proponents say teachers will be able to be more creative in the classroom while students will have more flexibility to pursue vocational or technically oriented courses of study.

But critics warn that the changes could result in the tracking of children from poor and minority families into classes that are less likely to prepare them for four-year colleges, and, ultimately, higher-paying careers.

“What we all know is when you leave it up to kids and schools, the poor kids and kids of color will be disproportionately not in the curriculum that could make the most difference for them,” said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for racial minorities and low-income children.

Texas is currently an outlier in both the number of exit exams it requires students to pass and the number of courses its default high school curriculum prescribes.

Legislators raised the number of high school exit exams to 15 from 4 in 2007, a year after they passed a law to automatically enroll all high school students in a curriculum that mandates four years of English, science, social studies and math, including an advanced algebra class. (Students may enroll in a less rigorous course of study with the permission of their parents.)

Texas now requires more than double the number of end-of-course exams used in any of the eight states that currently mandate that students pass such exams, according to the Education Commission of the States. And only two other states and the District of Columbia set similar graduation requirements, according to Achieve, a nonprofit organization that works to upgrade graduation criteria.

Here in Texas, the backlash has been fiercest among parents and educators who believe testing has become excessive, particularly after a period when the state cut its budget for education.

On a recent afternoon, Joanne Salazar pulled out a copy of a testing calendar for the school in Austin where her daughter is a sophomore. “Of the last 12 weeks of school, 9 are impacted by testing,” Ms. Salazar said. “It has really started to control the schedule.”

Test critics also argue that standardized tests stifle experimentation in the classroom. “It turns our schools into these cookie-cutter manufacturing plants,” said Dineen Majcher, president of Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, a grass-roots group.

Some educators say the tests do not account for students who learn at different paces. “We expect every student to perform at certain levels with the same amount of time,” said H.D. Chambers, superintendent of the Alief Independent School District west of Houston. “That’s fundamentally flawed.”

But at a time when about half of the students who enroll in community colleges in Texas require remedial math classes, Michael L. Williams, the state’s commissioner of education, called the proposed changes “an unfortunate retreat.”

“What gets tested gets taught,” Mr. Williams said. “What we treasure, we measure.”

Champions of more stringent graduation requirements say they also help push students — particularly those who do not come from families in which college attendance is assumed — to achieve at levels they might not have considered on their own.

Since the tougher recommended curriculum was signed into law, the proportion of Texas high school graduates taking at least one Advanced Placement exam who were from low income backgrounds rose to 45.3 percent in 2012, from 30.5 percent in 2007.

But some argue that the current recommended curriculum could drive more students to drop out if they struggle with advanced courses. (The graduation rate in Texas actually rose from 63 percent in 2007 to 72 percent in 2011, the most recent year for which state education agency data is available.)

Defenders of the current curriculum come from “the elitist in our society who devalue blue-collar work and believe every student must get a four-year college degree,” said Daniel Patrick, a Republican senator from Houston who has sponsored Senate versions of the education bill.

Representative Jimmie Don Aycock, the Republican from Killeen who sponsored the House bill (which passed 147 to 2), said the revised curriculum would give students more options, including community colleges or technical schools. “I don’t want them to have to choose up or choose down,” Mr. Aycock said, “but choose what’s right for them.”

Some business leaders say that without advanced requirements, students will not be prepared for the kinds of jobs employers need to fill. “The jobs of today require higher level skills,” said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Business Association.

Josh Havens, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry, said the governor favored a curriculum that required four years of math and science and “does not support efforts that lessen the accountability and academic rigor that prepares our students for career and college.”

Senator Leticia R. Van de Putte, a Democrat from San Antonio, said she was proposing an amendment that would require four years of math and science, although allow students to substitute more applied courses for advanced algebra or subjects like physics. “This allows for relevance and flexibility while maintaining high rigor,” she said.

But some principals and guidance counselors, along with civil rights groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens, fear that low-income and minority students could slip through the cracks.

“It puts more of the onus on the school to make sure that kids are taking the most rigorous courses possible,” said Daniel Girard, principal of Akins High School in Austin. With large class sizes and shrinking budgets for guidance counseling, he said, “some adults may not push kids on the potential that is there when it’s not required by the state as a graduation plan.”

One morning last week, several high school seniors, all from low-income families, gathered in the Akins guidance office beneath dozens of college pennants hanging from the ceiling.

Nathaniel Buescher, 18, is considering offers from Columbia, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Texas and Yale. His mother immigrated to the United States from Mexico without a high school diploma, and his father never attended college. But his elder sister and brother both advised him to “take the hardest classes that are available.”

Proponents of the changes in the default curriculum say students can continue to select the most advanced classes. But those who want to take math or writing classes geared toward technical careers will be able to do so.

“There is a fundamental policy disagreement between those that think kids can’t make choices and will take the easy way out,” said Hector L. Rivero, president of the Texas Chemical Council and a member of Jobs for Texas, a coalition of employers and industry trade groups, “and those of us who believe that kids can make the right choices given the right support and direction.”

Even some students say, though, that standards help guide their choices.

“If they are allowed the option to not take a harder math class, of course they’re not going to do that,” said Anthony Tomkins, 18, a senior at Akins who plans to attend Texas A&M. “So forcing it upon us in the long run is actually a good thing.”

April 18, 2012

Report on New York City School District: “A Rotting Apple: Education Redlining in New York City”

Filed under: Civil Rights Movement Today,Education Policy — millerlf @ 8:29 am

Schott Foundation report April 2012

The New York City public school system is the largest in the country, with responsibility for educat­ing more than 1 million children.

The ability of the New York City public schools to meet that responsibility holds national signifi­cance. The high national profile of the city’s education reforms in recent years, and the much-echoed calls for replication in other cities, offer strong evidence of this.

Unfortunately, the city’s public school system is failing to meet its responsibilities for most of its stu­dents — particularly for Black and Latino students, and for students from low-income families. While New York will claim increases in graduation rates, yet less than 18 percent of black and brown students are proficient in reading on the National Assessment test and over two-thirds of those who graduate must pay thousands of dollars in higher education classes because they are need of remediation.

America’s urban hubs must ensure that all students have a fair and substantive opportunity to learn and achieve at high levels. In New York, few Black, Latino and impoverished students have that op­portunity.

The lack of opportunity that is at the root of this failure is tragic for hundreds of thousands of New York students and is a major contributor to the persistent failures of other school systems across the state and nation.

A Rotting Apple: Education Redlining in New York City is one of a series of Opportunity to Learn reports from the Schott Foundation. This report compiles and analyzes data for New York City and highlights existing intra-district inequities. It is useful to parents, youth, teachers, researchers, political leaders, media and other advocates interested in educational opportunity — specifically in New York City’s schools.

To view the executive summary go to:

NY Schools Redlining Report-exec-summary April 2012

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