Educate All Students, Support Public Education

November 10, 2011

Survey Shows Walker School “Reforms” Not Working, And Next Year Will Be Worse

Filed under: School Reform,Scott Walker — millerlf @ 10:52 am

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction New Release 11/10/11

Survey data shows effects of cuts to education

With 83 percent of school districts responding, survey data gathered this fall shows the vast majority of students are attending schools that cut staff, meaning there are fewer adults in Wisconsin public schools helping children learn.

Conducted this fall, the survey by the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA) found a net reduction of 3,368 kindergarten through 12th-grade staff members in responding districts. This figure matches a recent report by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development that estimated a loss of roughly 4,000 jobs in K-12 education. Half of responding school districts reported they buffered staffing cuts with one-time federal stimulus money through the federal Education Jobs Act, funding that will not be available next year. Two-thirds of responding districts said they expected to make the same or greater cuts next year.

“Budgets have consequences and the 2011-13 state budget made sweeping changes to funding for public schools,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “It’s no surprise that school districts balanced their budgets; they always do, even under 18 years of revenue limits. It is clear this year that districts had to cut staff, eliminate vital support services, and reduce course offerings, narrowing educational opportunities for Wisconsin’s school children.”

The WASDA data showed that

  • A much higher number of jobs were lost in the K-12 sector than under prior years of budget cuts. Wisconsin has 1,655 fewer teachers, 172 fewer administrators, 765 fewer aides, and 776 fewer support staff working in schools in districts responding to the survey. Net cuts were two to three times greater for the current school year than in 2010-11. The 2011-12 staffing cuts were double the combined cuts in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. Newly hired teachers and staff are younger and less experienced and have fewer veteran teachers to rely on due to retirements.
  • Four in 10 students attend a district with larger class sizes in grades K-6; 90 percent of students attend a district that had a net staff loss in one of the four categories surveyed. These cuts mean students have fewer opportunities to take career and technical education classes. Districts also are offering fewer art, music, physical education, Advanced Placement, and foreign language classes. Forty percent of students are in districts that eliminated sections or increased class size for the core subjects of English, mathematics, science, and social studies.
  • Essential support programs were cut, and roughly three in four students attend a district reducing at least one such program; one in five students attend a district that cut five or more of these programs. The biggest cuts were to special education programs (100 of responding districts), followed by library and media center staff, reading coordinators, programs for at-risk youth, and drug and alcohol abuse programs.

“The 2011-13 biennial budget has already had a profound effect on the services delivered to public school students,” said Miles Turner, WASDA executive director. “A majority of Wisconsin students attend a school district with fewer teachers, larger class sizes, fewer support programs, and fewer course offerings. Most districts expect next year’s budget will be worse.”

Additional information, including links to the survey and analysis of results, is available in the complete news release.

To see Walker’s spin on this report go to:

To see the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article go to:

June 9, 2011

Reformers, please listen to what parents want for schools

Filed under: School Reform,Testing Issues — millerlf @ 1:04 pm

By Helen Gym, Special to CNN June 8, 2011

Editor’s note: Helen Gym is a Philadelphia public school parent and writer and founder of Parents United for Public Education, which seeks classroom-centered investments in education budgets. She is a board member of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, where she contributes online commentary. She helped found the Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School in Philadelphia Chinatown and was named the Philadelphia Inquirer Citizen of the Year for 2007 for education activism.

Philadelphia (CNN) — Many of those who are driving education policy today are fixed on a certain set of numbers and measurements that we’re told are the way to gauge a quality school. But as a parent, that’s not really what matters to me about my daughter’s education.

I can’t tell you the number of her standardized test score from last year. I can’t tell you the name of the curriculum program her school uses for math and reading. I don’t know the pay scale of each of her teachers and whether that contributes to their malaise or enthusiasm in the classroom.

But here’s what I can tell you about my daughter’s education.

I can tell you the name of the history teacher who inspired her this year, the book that she loved and couldn’t stop talking about and the topic of the reflective essay she labored to write and rewrite.

I can tell you which teachers gave homework assignments that made some of our family evenings perfectly miserable and the community service projects that had our whole family out cleaning the streets or readying a garden.

I can tell you what it felt like when the principal of a school shrugged her shoulders after I complained my daughter had been pushed down the stairs (we left that school) and what it felt like when the new principal stood outside greeting children by name as they entered every morning.

I can tell you that my mother cried when my youngest daughter’s school choir sang “Arirang,” a traditional Korean song, and that I loved every squeak and clank of the school orchestra.

I can tell you all of these things because as a parent, the true meaning of a quality school lies in a strong child- and family-centered educational mission that recognizes education as a “process of living” and school life as “real and vital” to our children and families, as American philosopher John Dewey wrote more than half a century ago.

This is what matters to me, but it’s apparently not a priority when it comes to national debates about education reform. For many parents, the elements of what makes a quality school seem completely at odds with the national buzz about education reform:

— While parents talk about programs rich in the arts, sciences and history, politicians talk about covering the basics through a one-size-fits-all curricula.

— While we talk about building critical thinkers and creative problem-solvers for a complicated and dynamic world, they talk about hiring billion-dollar testing companies that infiltrate every aspect of teaching and learning, drilling the notion of knowledge down to a single test score.

— While we talk about smaller class sizes to help students and teachers build nurturing relationships with one another, they talk about maximizing capacity and “creating efficiencies.”

— While we talk about building an experienced, stable and professional teaching force where teachers are prepared with a depth of knowledge in their subject areas and are committed to the profession, others talk about relying on a temporary teaching force or focusing on education managers.

— While we talk about sustainable change based upon policies that have been proved to work, politicians and the private sector demand dramatic and disruptive changes that do little to significantly improve children’s educational experiences.

And in this lies the critical difference between what many parents see as their hopes for a quality school system and the politicians and billionaire venture philanthropists dominating the education reform landscape. The latter have become so enamored with the structure and management of education that they’ve forgotten about the substance and practice of it.

So if this is what’s meaningful to parents and families, how can policymakers help to support those goals?

They can start by listening to what parents around the country are saying we need our elected officials to do. Parents Across America, a national organization of parents, recently released its own blueprint for school reform.

Among the suggestions: Address the dramatic inequity in resources within and among school districts so we can maintain smaller class sizes and early childhood programs. Create strong, effective support for teachers, provide a rich well-rounded curriculum, and create multiple ways to evaluate teaching and learning. Make parental involvement meaningful and include roles for governance.

In her book “The Next American Revolution,” Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs decries a system of education that views children as passive receptacles of information that routinely passes as knowledge. Instead, she challenges us to give our children the kind of education that creates tomorrow’s leaders by unleashing their creative energy “to heal the Earth and build durable economies and communities,” “create a vibrant society” and a “democratic citizenry.”

This is the direction our nation should be moving in, with elected leaders working alongside parents and community members to truly transform our schools.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Helen Gym.

May 27, 2011

Teachers in Indiana, Paid By Gates Money to Lobby, Describe Themselves Simply as Local Teachers Who Favor School Reform

Filed under: School Reform — millerlf @ 12:32 pm

Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates

By SAM DILLON-NYTimes May 21, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS — A handful of outspoken teachers helped persuade state lawmakers this spring to eliminate seniority-based layoff policies. They testified before the legislature, wrote briefing papers and published an op-ed article in The Indianapolis Star.

They described themselves simply as local teachers who favored school reform — one sympathetic state representative, Mary Ann Sullivan, said, “They seemed like genuine, real people versus the teachers’ union lobbyists.” They were, but they were also recruits in a national organization, Teach Plus, financed significantly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

For years, Bill Gates focused his education philanthropy on overhauling large schools and opening small ones. His new strategy is more ambitious: overhauling the nation’s education policies. To that end, the foundation is financing educators to pose alternatives to union orthodoxies on issues like the seniority system and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.

In some cases, Mr. Gates is creating entirely new advocacy groups. The foundation is also paying Harvard-trained data specialists to work inside school districts, not only to crunch numbers but also to change practices. It is bankrolling many of the Washington analysts who interpret education issues for journalists and giving grants to some media organizations.


November 30, 2010

Mega Rich and Public Education

Lessons to Be Learned From Paulo Freire as Education Is Being Taken Over by the Mega Rich

Henry A. Giroux, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed Tuesday 23 November 2010

At a time when memory is being erased and the political relevance of education is dismissed in the language of measurement and quantification, it is all the more important to remember the legacy and work of Paulo Freire. Freire is one of the most important educators of the 20th century and is considered one of the most important theorists of “critical pedagogy” – the educational movement guided by both passion and principle to help students develop a consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, empower the imagination, connect knowledge and truth to power and learn to read both the word and the world as part of a broader struggle for agency, justice and democracy.

His groundbreaking book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” has sold more than a million copies and is deservedly being commemorated this year – the 40th anniversary of its appearance in English translation – after having exerted its influence over generations of teachers and intellectuals in the Americas and abroad.

Since the 1980s, there have been too few intellectuals on the North American educational scene who have matched Freire’s theoretical rigor, civic courage and sense of moral responsibility. And his example is more important now than ever before: with institutions of public and higher education increasingly under siege by a host of neoliberal and conservative forces, it is imperative for educators to acknowledge Freire’s understanding of the empowering and democratic potential of education. Critical pedagogy currently offers the very best, perhaps the only, chance for young people to develop and assert a sense of their rights and responsibilities to participate in governing, and not simply being governed by prevailing ideological and material forces.

When we survey the current state of education in the United States, we see that most universities are now dominated by instrumentalist and conservative ideologies, hooked on methods, slavishly wedded to accountability measures and run by administrators who often lack a broader vision of education as a force for strengthening civic imagination and expanding democratic public life. One consequence is that a concern with excellence has been removed from matters of equity, while higher education – once conceptualized as a fundamental public good – has been reduced to a private good, now available almost exclusively to those with the financial means.

Universities are increasingly defined through the corporate demand to provide the skills, knowledge and credentials in building a workforce that will enable the United States to compete against blockbuster growth in China and other southeast Asian markets, while maintaining its role as the major global economic and military power. There is little interest in understanding the pedagogical foundation of higher education as a deeply civic and political project that provides the conditions for individual autonomy and takes liberation and the practice of freedom as a collective goal.

Public education fares even worse. Dominated by pedagogies that are utterly instrumental, geared toward memorization, conformity and high-stakes test taking, public schools have become intellectual dead zones and punishment centers as far removed from teaching civic values and expanding the imaginations of students as one can imagine.

The profound disdain for public education is evident not only in Obama’s test-driven, privatized and charter school reform movement, but also in the hostile takeover of public education now taking place among the ultra-rich and hedge fund zombies, who get massive tax breaks from gaining control of charter schools. The public in education has now become the enemy of educational reform. How else can one explain the shameful appointment by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of Cathleen Black, the president of Hearst Magazine, as the next chancellor of the New York City public school system? Not only does she not have any experience in education and is totally unqualified for the job, but her background mimics the worst of elite arrogance and unaccountable power. Surely, one has to take note of the background of someone who should be a model for young people when such a background includes, as reported in The New York Times: “riding horses at a country club where blacks and Jews were not allowed …. lending a $47,000 bracelet to a Manhattan museum … and [refusing] interviews since her appointment.”(1) With friends like Rupert Murduch, it should come as no surprise that she once worked as a chief lobbyist for the newspaper industry in the 1990s “fighting a ban on tobacco advertising,”(2) which is often targeted toward the young. It seems that, when it comes to the elite of business culture, ignorance about education now ranks as a virtue.


October 16, 2010

Superintendent of Sacramento Schools Gives Different Reform View Than Superintendent’s “Reform Manifesto”

Filed under: Education Policy,Educational Practices,School Reform — millerlf @ 12:43 pm

October 13, 2010, Washington Post-The Answer Sheet

A different vision from a different superintendent

This open letter was written by Supt. Jonathan P. Raymond of the Sacramento City Unified School District. Dated Oct. 7, the message portrays a vision of how to improve schools that is far different from the one presented in the “reform manifesto” signed by 16 school superintendents and chancellors — including Washington D.C.’s Michelle Rhee and New York City’s Joel Klein — and published in The Washington Post. That document is large on rhetoric and empty of substance. Raymond’s vision is a whole lot clearer.
Dear Colleagues:
From magazine covers to movie screens to MSNBC’s Education Nation, public schools are a growing topic of national discourse. This interest is understandable. With economic recovery slow, unemployment high and a barrage of data about how American students stack up against their global counterparts, many across the country worry about the status of public education.

On Saturday, I attended a screening of the documentary “Waiting for Superman” and participated in a panel discussion that followed. The film tells the story of five families fed-up with low-performing schools in their neighborhoods and their attempts to enroll their children in higher-performing charters.

I came away from the movie with an overwhelming sense that we have to stop blaming teachers for problems that have multiple causes, ranging from poor administrative oversight and accountability to a lack of parent engagement. I know how hard teachers work to educate every child and challenge students at their ability level. We need to work equally hard to give our teachers the tools and supports they need to be successful. Let’s stop scapegoating and come together to find solutions that work.

The other takeaway, for me, in “Waiting for Superman,” is the idea that innovation is crucial to improving public schools. This is why charters can be an important part of a district portfolio: Charters have certain freedoms to innovate and those ideas can be borrowed and replicated.

But we have to remember that innovation isn’t exclusive to charter schools.

Last week, 80 educators from across Northern California gathered at Health Professions High School for a site visit and to observe a “salon” session, an innovative, teacher-organized, teacher-led approach to improving student learning.

During a salon, teachers work together to find best practice strategies that all faculty can then apply in their classrooms. At last Monday’s session, teachers collaboratively hammered out what an effective collegiate-level research paper should look like – a desired outcome that creates a standard for the school.

The educators who observed the salon in a fishbowl activity assumed that Health Professions, with its other ground-breaking approaches to high school curriculum, was a charter. In fact, when Health Professions was proposed there was discussion about whether to make it a charter.

It is not. Health Professions is a school at the edge of a federally funded housing project. It serves mostly low-income students (66 percent qualify for a free- or reduced-price lunch) and mostly underrepresented minorities (35 percent African American; 37 percent Latino). And it grew 24 points on the Academic Performance Index last year. Of its 2010 graduates, 100 percent are enrolled in college. Additionally, about a third of those students received a “diploma of excellence,” meaning they put in 100 hours of community service or more during their four years in high school.

If we want to counter the notion that only charters hold the key to the future of public education, we must be willing to embrace successful innovations and push ourselves to do better.

Finally, while charters are an option for some, the overwhelming majority of children in this district attend traditional public schools. These are the schools that serve foster kids and homeless kids, kids whose parents are in jail, kids who themselves have been in jail.

That’s not an excuse for failure. But that’s reality. Those are the kids that come through our doors. To quote one of our teachers, “the real Superman – and Superwoman — is the teacher who educates these kids.”

Waiting for Superman” gets its title from Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a 97-block area in New York City that includes two respected charter schools. As a kid in the Bronx, Canada was crushed the day he learned that Superman is fictional. Canada says: “I was crying because no one was coming with enough power to save us.”

There is no magic bullet to our problems, no easy answers. But collectively and collaboratively, I believe we have enough power to change the lives of the children we serve. And for that, we all deserve a cape.

Jonathan P. Raymond

October 13, 2010

What Will Happen to Michelle Rhee’s “Reforms”?

Filed under: Michelle Rhee,School Reform — millerlf @ 12:30 pm

Michelle Rhee will leave plenty of unfinished business in D.C.

By Bill Turque

Washington Post Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee often said that she viewed the overhaul of the D.C. public schools as a task that would stretch across two four-year mayoral terms and that she was prepared to see it through.

I’m a serial monogamist, not a job hopper,” she said over breakfast in June 2008, citing the 10 years she spent running the New Teacher Project, the nonprofit group she founded before coming to the District.

The defeat of Rhee’s political benefactor, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), abruptly curtailed that scenario. But embedded in planning documents, speeches and D.C. Council testimony is the unfinished business of the Fenty-Rhee era. Some of it remains obvious and beyond dispute.

Like Fenty and Rhee, presumptive mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray and interim chancellor Kaya Henderson want rising test scores, a narrowing achievement gap, improved teacher quality, expanding enrollment and higher graduation rates.

But some of the key strategies for reaching those goals are now in limbo. Whether Gray will allow Henderson – a top Rhee deputy – to pursue the unfinished business with complete fidelity remains to be seen.

Here are some key issues to watch:


Harlem Children Zone Schools Under the Microscope

Filed under: Charter Schools,Poverty,School Reform,Waiting for Superman — millerlf @ 12:17 pm

Lauded Harlem Schools Have Their Own Problems

By SHARON OTTERMAN Published: October 12, 2010Top of Form

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Canada, 58, who began putting his ideas into practice on a single block, on West 119th Street, in the mid-1990s, does not apologize for the cost of his model, saying his goals are wider than just fixing a school or two. His hope is to prove that if money is spent in a concentrated way to give poor children the things middle-class children take for granted — like high-quality schooling, a safe neighborhood, parents who read to them, and good medical care — they will not pass on the patterns of poverty to another generation.

“You could, in theory, figure out a less costly way of working with a small number of kids, and providing them with an education,” Mr. Canada said. “But that is not what we are attempting to do. We are attempting to save a community and its kids all at the same time.”

Few would deny that a middle-class renaissance is under way in the sections of Harlem where Mr. Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone have focused their efforts. The zone extends from 116th to 143rd Streets, between Madison Avenue and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

All children who live in the zone have access to many of its services, including after-school programs, asthma care, precollege advice and adult classes for expectant parents, called Baby College. The organization has placed young teaching assistants, known as peacemakers, in many of the elementary school classrooms in the area and poured money into organizing block associations, helping tenants buy buildings from the city, and refurbishing parks and playgrounds. By linking services, the program aims to improve on early-childhood programs like Head Start, whose impact has been shown to evaporate as children age.

Amid the facades of new condominiums that signal gentrification, however, deep poverty remains. So does low student performance in most of the neighborhood’s public schools, despite modest gains over the past decade and a growing number of better-performing charter schools, a development Mr. Canada helped pioneer.

Last month, the Obama administration awarded $10 million in grants to 21 neighborhood groups around the country to help them plan their own versions of the Harlem Children’s Zone, and the president is seeking $210 million for next year, although appropriations committees in the Senate and the House have earmarked only $20 million and $60 million, respectively.

But there has been some criticism. Grover J. Whitehurst, a co-author of a Brookings Institution analysis of the zone, said there was still too little evidence that its approach, of linking social services to promote student achievement, justified an investment of federal education dollars, and urged that a more rigorous study be conducted.

“My quarrel is not with an effort in Harlem funded largely by philanthropy, it’s with the federal approach to scaling this up,” Mr. Whitehurst said. “It just doesn’t rise to the level of evidence the president and the secretary of education said they were going to apply in determining their investments.”

In awarding the grants, Education Secretary Arne Duncan emphasized, the government hoped neighborhoods would coordinate and stretch their existing services, while asking the private sector to step up and match financing.

“The cost is going to vary community to community,” Mr. Duncan said, “but we think this is an absolute investment.”

In 2009, the Harlem Children’s Zone had assets of nearly $200 million, and the project’s operating budget this year is $84 million, two-thirds of it from private donations. Last month, the Goldman Sachs Foundation pledged $20 million toward constructing an additional school building. With two billionaires, Stanley Druckenmiller and Kenneth Langone, on the board, its access to capital is unusually strong.

Gary Cohn, the president of Goldman Sachs, who also sits on the children’s zone board, said that while test scores were important, so was treating Harlem’s childhood asthma crisis, which is a cause of absenteeism. “What it’s about to us is dealing with all of the issues these kids encounter,” Mr. Cohn said.

The zone’s two charter schools are open to all city children by lottery. Officially, the schools spend, per student, $12,443 in public money and $3,482 in private financing each year. But that does not include the costs of a 4 p.m.-to-6 p.m. after-school program, rewards for student performance, a chef who prepares healthy meals, central administration and most building costs, and the students’ free health and dental care, which comes out of the zone’s overall budget, said Marty Lipp, the zone’s communications director.

Regular public schools in New York City spend about $14,452 each year per general education student, less than half of which is generally for classroom instruction.

In the tiny high school of the zone’s Promise Academy I, which teaches 66 sophomores and 65 juniors (it grows by one grade per year), the average class size is under 15, generally with two licensed teachers in every room. There are three student advocates to provide guidance and advice, as well as a social worker, a guidance counselor and a college counselor, and one-on-one tutoring after school.

The school, which opened in 2004 in a gleaming new building on 125th Street, should have had a senior class by now, but the batch of students that started then, as sixth graders, was dismissed by the board en masse before reaching the ninth grade after it judged the students’ performance too weak to found a high school on. Mr. Canada called the dismissal “a tragedy.”

On a recent Thursday, the current high school students, neatly attired in blue and white uniforms, got special help in college note-taking skills, and chatted animatedly about velocity in an advanced physics class. Most were well below grade level when they first got to the school and took three or four years to catch up; many are now ahead.

“You really have to put money into personnel,” said Marquitta Speller, who has been the high school principal since January. “I don’t think you can experience the same level of success without the same level of resources.”

But most of the seventh graders, now starting their third year in the school, are still struggling. Just 15 percent passed the 2010 state English test, a number that Mr. Canada said was “unacceptably low” but not out of line with the school’s experience in lifting student performance over time. Several teachers have been fired as a result of the low scores, and others were reassigned, he said.

Giving administrators the ability to fire teachers for poor performance is one of the central suggestions of “Waiting for ‘Superman.’ ” Over all, 38 percent of Promise Academy I’s students in third through sixth grade passed the 2010 English test under the state’s new guidelines, placing it in the lower half of charter schools citywide, and below the city’s overall passing rate of 42 percent. In Harlem as a whole, just 29 percent of children passed.

Promise Academy II, an elementary school that occupies part of a public school building, did better, with 62 percent passing in English, among the top 10 percent of charters. But because it lost more ground than comparable schools, it got a C from the city on its annual A-to-F report card, and an F in the student progress category. Both schools continued to outperform the city in math, with 60 percent passing in one school and 81 percent in the other.

A few recent studies have broached the question of what was helping the zone’s students raise attendance and test scores: the interlocking social services, or what was going on in the classroom? But they were based on state test results in years when the exams were easier to pass, and they may now be less conclusive.

One study, by the Harvard researchers Will Dobbie and Roland G. Fryer Jr., found that while Promise Academy students who entered the sixth grade in 2005 had raised their test scores so much by the eighth grade that they had “reversed the black-white achievement gap in mathematics” and reduced it in English, there was “at best modest evidence” that the social programs were driving that success. In 2009, nearly all the students passed the math test.

“The challenge,” the researchers wrote, “is to find lower-cost ways to achieve similar results in regular public schools.”

Mr. Whitehurst’s 2010 Brookings analysis went further, noting that test performance at the two charter schools was only middling among charter schools in Manhattan and the Bronx, even though higher-performing schools, like those in the lauded KIPP network, had no comparable network of cradle-to-college services.

Dave Levin, a co-founder of KIPP, took issue with the study, noting that most of his schools already had counselors and college-advice programs, and all were expanding to serve kindergarten through grade 12, just like Mr. Canada’s. But KIPP schools do try to stick to the per-student spending of the surrounding district “to demonstrate what schools can do on the money that they have.”

“I think there are differences, but we are both deeply committed to meeting all of the children’s needs,” Mr. Levin said.

The Harlem Children’s Zone is not the only block-by-block effort to ease poverty, though it is unusual in its intensive focus on children. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, for example, is wrapping up projects in seven cities called Making Connections Neighborhoods that promoted a “two-generation approach” with job-training programs for parents. An effort that turned around the East Lake Meadows neighborhood in Atlanta used the construction of mixed-income housing and the renovation of a golf course as the fulcrum.

While it is still years away from confirming its broader theories about poverty, the Harlem Children’s Zone has already had some impact on thousands of children. Its after-school college advice office has helped place 650 students in college, and it supports them until they graduate. Its asthma initiative has drastically reduced emergency room visits and missed school days among its 1,000 participants. Preschool students have made bounds in kindergarten readiness. Parent satisfaction in the charter schools, as measured by city surveys, is high.

And Mr. Canada has achieved superhero status among those who admire him for his vision. Lisbeth B. Schorr, a senior fellow of the Center for the Study of Social Policy in Washington, said, “The fact that the impact has not been proven doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.”

October 9, 2010

In Baltimore, proof that school reform can be collaborative and effective

Filed under: Education Policy,Michelle Rhee,School Reform — millerlf @ 10:29 am

In Baltimore, proof that school reform can be collaborative and effective

ROBERT McCARTNEY Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 7, 2010

Michelle A. Rhee vs. Randi Weingarten. Heroic schools reformer vs. obstructionist union boss. In much of the media and the public mind, the national debate over education has been oversimplified into a grudge match between those two strong-willed women.

It’s not the whole story, and it’s self-defeating to think it is. That black-and-white caricature about the choices in education – recently highlighted in the celebrated documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” and on Oprah Winfrey’s television show – confuses and undermines the discussion of how to fix urban schools.

To get a clearer picture, you need look no farther than an hour’s drive north in Baltimore. There, schools chief Andres Alonso has achieved substantial educational progress through ambitious reform efforts similar to Rhee’s – but without alienating teachers and parents.

Moreover, Weingarten, who as head of the American Federation of Teachers helped oversee more than two years of contentious negotiations with Rhee over the new D.C. teachers contract, has just agreed with Alonso on a groundbreaking proposed contract in Baltimore that in some ways goes further than the historic pact approved this year in Washington. That adds fresh evidence that Weingarten, despite being cast as the Wicked Witch neglecting students on behalf of greedy teachers, is open to moving reform forward.

The success in Baltimore is important partly because it forces us to think differently about what’s special about Rhee, just as she’s probably on her way out of office after the landslide election loss of her patron, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

Rhee’s many supporters have defended her confrontational approach to school reform by saying it was the only way to break through decades of resistance from entrenched interests, particularly in the teachers unions.

She fired teachers abruptly and on vague grounds? Rhee’s backers say it was necessary to get rid of bad instructors. Closed schools with only limited discussion in the community? No time to wait. Posed with a broom in a classroom for a Time magazine cover? Got to show we’re serious about this.

There’s some truth in that argument. In my view, Rhee’s most valuable and durable accomplishment has been as a public agitator who blew up complacency. She raised awareness of the urgent need to improve poor city schools and focused attention on the unions’ role in creating obstacles to change.

However, Baltimore’s experience demonstrates that Rhee’s tactics aren’t the only ones that yield results. Some experts say a more collaborative, low-profile strategy is more successful in the long run because it preserves trust and confidence with teachers and the community.

“What Baltimore shows is that you can bring real change to urban schools without a lot of acrimony,” said Jack Jennings, president of the independent Center on Education Policy. “The national foundations and some reform groups have made [Rhee] into a poster girl because they just want change, and she’s a highly vocal advocate for change. But others have brought about just as much change as she has, and I would guess that their reforms would last longer.”

Alonso, like Rhee, has fired teachers for unsatisfactory performance. But he’s been clear about the grounds, having principals take time to do it through the existing evaluations process. Alonso has also closed many schools with low enrollments but added other options, including new grade 6-12 schools run by external operators. He’s improved communications with the city by expanding the office of community engagement.

Since Alonso took over as chief executive of Baltimore City Public Schools three years ago, test scores and enrollment are up, and dropout rates are down.


Manifesto From a Number of Urban Superintendents on “How to Fix Our Schools”

How to fix our schools: A manifesto by Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and other education leaders

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Joel Klein, chancellor, New York City Department of Education; Michelle Rhee, chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools; Peter C. Gorman, superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (N.C.); Ron Huberman, chief executive, Chicago Public Schools; Carol R. Johnson, superintendent, Boston Public Schools; Andrés A. Alonso, chief executive, Baltimore City Public Schools; Tom Boasberg, superintendent, Denver Public Schools; Arlene C. Ackerman, superintendent of schools, the School District of Philadelphia; William R. Hite Jr., superintendent, Prince George’s County Public Schools; Jean-Claude Brizard, superintendent of schools, Rochester City School District (N.Y.); José M. Torres, superintendent, Illinois School District U-46; J. Wm. Covington, superintendent, Kansas City, Missouri School District; Terry B. Grier, superintendent of schools, Houston Independent School District; Paul Vallas, superintendent, New Orleans Recovery School District; Eugene White, superintendent, Indianapolis Public Schools; LaVonne Sheffield, superintendent of Rockford Public Schools (Illinois)

As educators, superintendents, chief executives and chancellors responsible for educating nearly 2 1/2 million students in America, we know that the task of reforming the country’s public schools begins with us. It is our obligation to enhance the personal growth and academic achievement of our students, and we must be accountable for how our schools perform.

All of us have taken steps to move our students forward, and the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program has been the catalyst for more reforms than we have seen in decades. But those reforms are still outpaced and outsized by the crisis in public education.

Fortunately, the public, and our leaders in government, are finally paying attention. The “Waiting for ‘Superman’ “ documentary, the defeat of D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark’s public schools, and a tidal wave of media attention have helped spark a national debate and presented us with an extraordinary opportunity.

But the transformative changes needed to truly prepare our kids for the 21st-century global economy simply will not happen unless we first shed some of the entrenched practices that have held back our education system, practices that have long favored adults, not children. These practices are wrong, and they have to end now.

It’s time for all of the adults — superintendents, educators, elected officials, labor unions and parents alike — to start acting like we are responsible for the future of our children. Because right now, across the country, kids are stuck in failing schools, just waiting for us to do something.

So, where do we start? With the basics. As President Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher.

Yet, for too long, we have let teacher hiring and retention be determined by archaic rules involving seniority and academic credentials. The widespread policy of “last in, first out” (the teacher with the least seniority is the first to go when cuts have to be made) makes it harder to hold on to new, enthusiastic educators and ignores the one thing that should matter most: performance.

A 7-year-old girl won’t make it to college someday because her teacher has two decades of experience or a master’s degree — she will make it to college if her teacher is effective and engaging and compels her to reach for success. By contrast, a poorly performing teacher can hold back hundreds, maybe thousands, of students over the course of a career. Each day that we ignore this reality is precious time lost for children preparing for the challenges of adulthood.

The glacial process for removing an incompetent teacher — and our discomfort as a society with criticizing anyone who chooses this noble and difficult profession — has left our school districts impotent and, worse, has robbed millions of children of a real future.

There isn’t a business in America that would survive if it couldn’t make personnel decisions based on performance. That is why everything we use in assessing teachers must be linked to their effectiveness in the classroom and focused on increasing student achievement.

District leaders also need the authority to use financial incentives to attract and retain the best teachers. When teachers are highly effective — measured in significant part by how well students are doing academically — or are willing to take a job in a tough school or in a hard-to-staff subject area such as advanced math or science, we should be able to pay them more. Important initiatives, such as the federal Teacher Incentive Fund, are helping bring great educators to struggling communities, but we have to change the rules to professionalize teaching.

Let’s stop ignoring basic economic principles of supply and demand and focus on how we can establish a performance-driven culture in every American school — a culture that rewards excellence, elevates the status of teachers and is positioned to help as many students as possible beat the odds. We need the best teacher for every child, and the best principal for every school. Of course, we must also do a better job of providing meaningful training for teachers who seek to improve, but let’s stop pretending that everyone who goes into the classroom has the ability and temperament to lift our children to excellence.

Even the best teachers — those who possess such skills — face stiff challenges in meeting the diverse needs of their students. A single elementary- or middle-school classroom can contain, for instance, students who read on two or three different grade levels, and that range grows even wider as students move into high school. Is it reasonable to expect a teacher to address all the needs of 25 or 30 students when some are reading on a fourth-grade level and others are ready for Tolstoy? We must equip educators with the best technology available to make instruction more effective and efficient. By better using technology to collect data on student learning and shape individualized instruction, we can help transform our classrooms and lessen the burden on teachers’ time.

To make this transformation work, we must also eliminate arcane rules such as “seat time,” which requires a student to spend a specific amount of time in a classroom with a teacher rather than taking advantage of online lessons and other programs.

Just as we must give teachers and schools the capability and flexibility to meet the needs of students, we must give parents a better portfolio of school choices. That starts with having the courage to replace or substantially restructure persistently low-performing schools that continuously fail our students. Closing a neighborhood school — whether it’s in Southeast D.C., Harlem, Denver or Chicago — is a difficult decision that can be very emotional for a community. But no one ever said leadership is easy.

We also must make charter schools a truly viable option. If all of our neighborhood schools were great, we wouldn’t be facing this crisis. But our children need great schools now — whether district-run public schools or public charter schools serving all students — and we shouldn’t limit the numbers of one form at the expense of the other. Excellence must be our only criteria for evaluating our schools.

For the wealthiest among us, the crisis in public education may still seem like someone else’s problem, because those families can afford to choose something better for their kids. But it’s a problem for all of us — until we fix our schools, we will never fix the nation’s broader economic problems. Until we fix our schools, the gap between the haves and the have-nots will only grow wider and the United States will fall further behind the rest of the industrialized world in education, rendering the American dream a distant, elusive memory.

October 7, 2010

Henry Giroux on Attacks on Teachers

Filed under: Racism,School Reform,Tea Party — millerlf @ 7:49 am
When Generosity Hurts: Bill Gates, Public School Teachers and the Politics of Humiliation 

by: Henry A. Giroux, Tuesday 05 October 2010

Let’s begin by saying that we are living through a very dangerous time. Everyone … is in one way or another aware of that. We are in a revolutionary situation, no matter how unpopular that word has become in this country. The society in which we live is desperately menaced … from within. To any citizen of this country who figures himself as responsible – and particularly those of you who deal with the minds and hearts of young people – must be prepared to “go for broke.” Or to put it another way, you must understand that in the attempt to correct so many generations of bad faith and cruelty, when it is operating not only in the classroom but in society, you will meet the most fantastic, the most brutal, and the most determined resistance. There is no point in pretending that this won’t happen. -James Baldwin

Baldwin’s words offer a glimpse into a legacy of bad faith, culture of cruelty and politics of humiliation that seems to have gained momentum in American society since he spoke those words in 1963. His words reflect something of the all too evident brutish transformation of the revolutionary zeal that marked an earlier era’s investment in substantive democratization to that which piously and patriotically calls itself revolutionary some 50 years later, and seeks nothing less than the total destruction of the democratic potential of American education. Not only have such pernicious practices descended on America like a dreadful and punishing plague, but they are now ironically embraced in the name of an educational reform movement whose “revolutionary” pretension is antithetical to the civil rights revolution for which Baldwin was fighting. Once eager public servants in the fight for equality and justice, teachers are now forced to play with a severe handicap, as if assembled on a field blindfolded and gagged. The one constancy that runs through these last several decades, less obvious only because of its utter pervasiveness in public life, is summed up by Baldwin as the legacy of “bad faith and cruelty.” Bad faith and cruelty are now combined with a power-assisted politics of humiliation, all the more acute, because such commitments circulate continually as spectacle in a 24-hour media cycle universally assessable in a digital and commodified culture.

When I refer to a culture of cruelty and a discourse of humiliation, I am talking about the institutionalization and widespread adoption of a set of values, policies and symbolic practices that legitimate forms of organized violence against human beings increasingly considered disposable, and which lead inexorably to unnecessary hardship, suffering and despair. Such practices are increasingly accompanied by forms of humiliation in which the character, dignity and bodies of targeted individuals and groups are under attack. Its extreme form is evident in state-sanctioned torture practices such as those used by the regime of torture promoted by the Bush administration in Iraq and in the images of humiliation that emerged from the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib prison. The politics of humiliation also works through symbolic systems, diverse modes of address and varied framing mechanisms in which the targeted subjects are represented in terms that demonize them, strip them of their humanity and position them in ways that invite ridicule and sometimes violence. This is what the late Pierre Bourdieu called the symbolic dimension of power – that is the capacity of systems of meaning, signification and diverse modes of communication to shield, strengthen and normalize relations of domination through distortion, misrepresentation and the use of totalizing narratives.(1) The hidden order of such politics lies not just in its absences, but its appeal to common sense and its claim to being objective and apolitical. Culture in this sense becomes the site of the most powerful and persuasive forms of pedagogy precisely because it often denies its pedagogical function.


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