No credential, no job for Vallas

Once superintendent in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, reformer Paul Vallas is unqualified to lead the Bridgeport, Connecticut school district, because he lacks an administrative credential, a Superior Court judge ruled. She said Vallas can’t stay in the job while appealing.

The state board of education created an independent study program for Vallas to meet the credential requirements, which normally require 13 months of study at a Connecticut college or university. The judge rejected the board’s alternative.

Like a number of urban superintendents, Vallas isn’t a professional educator. “A longtime state legislative aide and budget director for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, he took over the job of running the Chicago schools in 1997 after the state put them under Daley’s control,” notes Governing. Narrowly defeated in the Democratic primary for governor of Illinois in 2002,” he was hired to run Philadelphia schools after Pennsylvania took them over. Then he went to New Orleans to run the Recovery School District.

“I think it’s bizarre that we’d allow paper credentials from programs with lackluster reputations disqualify a candidate with an extensive track record,” writes Rick Hess. “Seems to me like it makes a lot more sense to just judge Vallas on what he’s done, his skills, and his temperament. I think Vallas is an impressive guy and that it’d be a bad thing if he were actually pushed out of office.”

Normally hostile to reformers, Diane Ravitch published a defense of Vallas by a commenter who worked for him in Chicago.

Private and public parents

Ed reformer Michelle Rhee, who described herself as a “public school parent,” is also a private school parent:  One of her two daughters, who live with her ex-husband in Tennessee, goes to private school. (When Rhee ran Washington D.C. schools, she sent her daughters to public school in the city.)

Anti-reformer Diane Ravitch criticized Rhee for not admitting that one of her kids goes to private school till she was outed, apparently by the American Federation of Teachers.

In New York City, Leonie Haimson, founder of  the NYC Public School Parents blog and Class Size Matters and a Ravitch ally, also turns out to be a private school parent, Gotham Schools revealed.

A fierce critic of education reformers, charter schools, testing and Mayor Bloomberg, Haimson chose private school for her daughter and son for the small classes she wants for all students, she wrote on the NYC Public School Parents blog.

Haimson criticized “Rhee and President Barack Obama for sending their children to private schools with small class sizes while not pushing for the same priorities for public schools,” notes the Wall Street Journal.

“Leonie has to do what is best for her kids,” said Joe Williams, who as head of advocacy group Democrats for Education Reform has often clashed with Ms. Haimson. “The only problem is that she keeps choosing to defend the same awful schools she would never allow her kids to attend.”

At Dropout Nation, RiShawn Biddle backs school choice for all parents, from   Haimson to low-income parents. Those who can’t afford private school tuition rely on “school choice — from charters to vouchers to tax credit programs to Parent Trigger laws to online learning options”  to free their children from dropout factories, writes Biddle.

If public figures choose private school for their own kids are they obliged to support school choice? If they oppose public school reforms, are they obliged to send their kids to public schools?

Ravitch launches anti-reform group

Education historian Diane Ravitch has launched the Network for Public Education to back political candidates who oppose education reforms such as high-stakes testing, school closures and “privatizing” public schools, reports Ed Week.

NPE promises to “give voice to the millions of parents, educators, and other citizens who are fed up with corporate-style reform.”

“Wealthy individuals are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into state and local school board races,” a press release charges. Ravitch told Ed Week her group will endorse candidates and urge others to donate, but won’t raise money itself to give to candidates.

“What we want to do is be the kind of glue and use the social media to create a powerful national movement.”

And while there are powerful teachers’ unions that have a similar agenda and a lot of money and influence, she said the Network for Public Education will also be a home for those who don’t belong to unions—including parents and teachers in nonunion states.

Two California school board races in Los Angeles and West Sacramento — drew large donations as reformers and anti-reformers fought it out.

Needed: More ideologues, less kumbaya

“Can’t we all just get along?” asked Rodney King. No, answers Matt Barnum on Dropout Nation. School reformers and traditionalists have different ideas on “what’s best for kids.”  Ideas matter.

A Teach for America alum, he criticizes TFA President Wendy Kopp for writing, “We have to stop thinking of ourselves as locked in an ideological battle and focus on doing everything in our power to give students today the education they deserve.”

. . . Kopp seems to create a dichotomy between ideologues –those “locked in an ideological battle” – on the one hand, and those who want to do what’s best for kids, on the other. In actuality, ideologues not only want what’s best for kids, they actually have ideas – some good, some bad – for how to achieve results. Reformers emphasize school choice, parental empowerment, and teacher quality; traditionalists focus on class size, early-childhood education, and wrap-around services.

It seems to me that part of the problem in education is not too many, but rather, too few ideologues.

Traditionalist Diane Ravitch and union leader Karen Lewis have engaged in increasingly vicious attacks, writes Barnum. Reformers have employed “harmful and distasteful rhetoric.”  He favors “discussing ideas over demeaning people.”

At times, compromise may be necessary Barnum concedes. But not always. An “uncompromising, ideological vision of change to our education system may, in fact, be what’s best for kids.”

Teachers refuse to give ‘useless’ tests

Teachers at a Seattle high school are refusing to give a district-mandated exam, saying it’s a waste of time, reports NPR. Measures of Academic Progress is given up to three times a year from kindergarten through at least ninth grade, in addition to state exams.

Garfield High’s academic dean, Kris McBride, MAP doesn’t seem to align with district or state curricula. Teachers can’t see the test, so they don’t know why their students did well or poorly. (MAP adapts to students’ performance levels, giving easier or harder questions depending on how well they do, so there is no one exam for all students.)

Portfolios of students’ work could replace MAP, writes teacher Jesse Hagopian in a Seattle Times op-ed.

Seattle’s ninth- and 10th-grade students already take five state-required standardized tests . . . Seattle Public Schools staff admitted to a Garfield teacher the MAP test is not valid at the high-school level, because the margin of error is greater than expected gains.

. . . Students don’t take the MAP seriously because they know their scores don’t factor into their grades or graduation status. They approach it less seriously each time they take it, so their scores decline. Our district uses MAP scores in teacher evaluations, even though the MAP company recommends against using it to evaluate teacher effectiveness and it’s not mandated in our union contract.

Eleven teachers at ORCA K-8, a Seattle alternative school, have joined the boycott.

More than 60 educators and researchers have signed a statement supporting the test boycott, including Jonathan Kozol, Diane Ravitch and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.

Ravitch vs. reform

Once an education reformer, Diane Ravitch has become the leader of the resistance movement, writes David Denby in the New Yorker.

Ravitch argues that the reform movement is driven by an exaggerated negative critique of the schools, and that it is mistakenly imposing a free-market ethos of competition on an institution that, if it is to function well, requires coöperation, sharing, and mentoring.

“I think the crisis in American education is that there is a concerted effort to destroy it,” Ravitch told The American Prospect. Here’s part two of the interview.

Ravitch: Field test new standards

Common Core Standards, now adopted by 45 states, should be field tested by teachers, writes Diane Ravitch, who helped draft standards in California, Georgia and Texas.

When the words on paper are brought to life in classrooms by real teachers teaching real students, we learn a lot. We find out that some expectations are too high for that grade; some expectations are too low. And some make no sense.

We learn what is developmentally appropriate. We learn what is realistic. We learn what works. Teachers know because they do the work of bringing the words to life. If the words don’t come to life, they know that too.

Ravitch is “agnostic” about the new standards. Maybe they’ll raise achievement, she writes. Maybe not. “How will we know unless we run trials to find out?”

Standards are goals that teachers will implement in different ways, writes Kathleen Porter-Magee on Flypaper. “They are nothing more or less than a simple list of knowledge and skills that students should learn at particular grade levels. You can’t ‘field test’ what a state should expect its students should learn.”

Wall Street and Charter Schools

Diane Ravitch has an illuminating, if somewhat overwrought piece up today on Bridging Differences that has an assertion and a question.

The assertion is that the charter school movement is dependent on, tied up with, and owes much of its success to the involvement of hedge-fund managers in New York City.   The question is what will happen when the money leaves?

Ravitch’s piece is implicitly hostile to the modern charter school movement, and sometimes explicitly critical:

Now the charter industry has become a means of privatizing public education. They tout the virtues of competition, not collaboration. The sector has many for-profit corporations, eagerly trolling for new business opportunities and larger enrollments. Some charters skim the top students in the poorest neighborhoods; some accept very small proportions of students who have disabilities or don’t speak English; some quietly push out those with low scores or behavior problems (the Indianapolis public schools recently complained about this practice by local charters).

Still, even putting side this sort of criticism (and one should always be careful with criticisms that rely too much on the word “some”), the question of finance for the charter school movement is an interesting one.  I wasn’t really aware of the close ties to Wall Street Finance that exist in the charter movement (and I’m still skeptical; Ravitch may be overstating the case).

And Ravitch is right to ask, will the cash go on forever?

It probably won’t if the goal is to create a better system of schools; charter schools don’t quite seem to be meeting that goal (for whatever reason).  Ravitch seems to think this is the case:

Wall Street understands success and failure. When companies fail, investors bail out. As studies continue to show that charters on average don’t get better test scores than public schools, will Wall Street continue to be bullish about charters? Will they support only the ones that skim and exclude? When will they cut their losses?

But the money might continue, though, if the goal is the destruction of certain aspects of public education, or the working of systemic sorts of changes.  The question is whether the charter schools are supposed to be the end (as Ravitch thinks) or the means to some other end.

In other words, in trying to guess at the behavior of hedge fund managers, it really matters what it is those hedge fund managers are trying to do in the first place.

N.B. – I know, I know.  I said the c-word.  I’ll say it again: “CHARTER SCHOOLS!”  Please be civil to each other in the comments.

Ravitch: Duncan deserves an F

Since Arne Duncan supports evaluating educators, Diane Ravitch grades his performance as education secretary:  F.  He fails respecting the federal government’s limited role in education and following the law, which bans the department from establishing a national curriculum.  And there’s more.

Have the policies promulgated by Duncan been good for the children of the United States?

No. Most parents and teachers and even President Obama (and sometimes Duncan himself) agree that “teaching to the test” makes school boring and robs classrooms of time for the imaginative instruction and activities that enliven learning. The standardized tests that are now ubiquitous are inherently boring. As President Obama said in his State of the Union address, teachers should teach with “creativity and passion,” but they can’t do that when tests matter so much. Spending hours preparing to take pick-the-bubble tests depresses student interest and motivation. This is not good for children. Yet Duncan’s policies—which use test scores to evaluate teachers and to decide which schools to close and which teachers to pay bonuses to—intensively promote teaching to the test. This is not good for students. Grade: F.

Do Duncan’s policies encourage teachers and inspire good teaching?

No. Duncan’s policies demean the teaching profession by treating student test scores as a proxy for teacher quality. A test that a student takes on one day of the year cannot possibly measure the quality of a teacher. (Officially, the administration suggests that test scores are supposed to be only one of multiple measures of teacher quality, but invariably the scores outweigh every other component of any evaluation program, as they did in New York City’s recent release of the teacher ratings.) Nor do most teachers want to compete with one another for merit pay.

Ravitch ends by flunking just about everyone. “It is hard to find any leader of either party who stands forthrightly today as a champion of students, teachers, public schools, and good education.”

Just ‘another liberal hack’

Hoping for a thoughtful discussion, Darren went to hear Diane Ravitch speak in Sacramento. Ravitch fed red meat to her fans, he writes on Right on the Left Coast.

. . . she said that the only crisis in American education is that it’s under attack . . .  by “right wingers”  . . . whose hidden purpose is to privatize public schools.

In an interview with an alternative newspaper Ravitch talked about why she opposes No Child Left Behind. But her speech was pure zealotry, writes Darren. “Bottom line, she’s just another liberal hack.”