NEA tells Duncan to resign

Arne Duncan should resign, said National Education Association delegates at the teachers’ union’s annual convention.

A tipping point for some members was Duncan’s statement last month in support of a California judge’s ruling that struck down tenure and other job protections for the state’s public school teachers. In harsh wording, the judge said such laws harm particularly low-income students by saddling them with bad teachers who are almost impossible to fire.

Even before that, teachers’ unions have clashed with the administration over other issues ranging from its support of charter schools to its push to use student test scores as part of evaluating teachers.

“I always try to stay out of local union politics,” responded Duncan. “I think most teachers do too.”

Education reform pioneers’ story

Education Reform: Before It Was Cool looks at the pioneers of the modern reform movement. The anthology was edited by Jeanne Allen, founder of the Center for Education Reform.

Just like old times at Ridgemont High

RealClearEducation fondly recalls Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a “ridiculous and also a dead-on encapsulation of high school angst.”

High schools are “long overdue for more customization,” writes RCE. Technology can help via “badging and competency-based education” — if  policymakers and educators accept that “there is nothing sacred about the four-year traditional high school experience.”

We’re supposed to reinvent ourselves, as Jeff Spicoli said:

 What Jefferson was saying was, Hey! You know, we left this England place ’cause it was bogus; so if we don’t get some cool rules ourselves – pronto – we’ll just be bogus too! Get it?

What can Fast Times tell us about high school reform? asks Eduwonk.

Two union bosses tell the truth

“We are at war with the reformers,” New York City teacher union leader Michael Mulgrew told union activists last week. Charter schools are trying to “destroy education in our country,” he added.

His candor is refreshing, writes Larry Sand in A Tale of Two Union Bosses. Sand, a former teacher who now runs the California Teachers Empowerment Network, also admires the honesty of George Parker, a former president of the Washington Teachers Union who joined Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst.

Needless to say, he was roundly excoriated by all the usual suspects – branded a “whore” and worse – for hooking up with the dreaded “corporate reformer” Rhee.

In a speech at a policy summit last year, Parker said his change of heart was triggered by a third grader who asked him about his job. He said one of his responsibilities was getting her the best teachers. The girl hugged him om gratitude. “You care about us,” she said. “And you said that you make sure we get the best teachers.”

Driving back home, Parker . . .  he realized that he had lied to the little girl. He had just spent $10,000 of the union’s money on an arbitration case that put a bad teacher back in the classroom. . . . he wouldn’t let his own 4 year-old grandchild sit in a classroom with that teacher. The inevitable next thought was, so why is it okay for other people’s kids to be taught by an incompetent?

Parker goes on to say he told African-American parents that charter schools empower whites and take advantage of blacks. The real reason he was knocking charters, Parker says in the speech, is that  their existence hurts the union’s bottom line.

Newark backlash: ‘Raheem still can’t read’

Cory Booker, Chris Christie, and Mark Zuckerberg Had a Plan to Reform Newark’s Schools, writes Dale Russakoff in the New Yorker. They Got an Education.

Zuckerberg put $100 million into transforming Newark’s failing public schools.

Almost four years later, Newark has new principals, new schools and a new teachers’ contract that ties pay to performance, writes Russakoff. It doesn’t have higher test scores.

And people are angry about plans to move students to new schools and lay off teachers and support staff.

Newark’s public schools have been “a source of patronage jobs and sweetheart deals for the connected and the lucky,” writes Russakoff.

As Ross Danis, of the nonprofit Newark Trust for Education, put it, in 2010, “The Newark schools are like a candy store that’s a front for a gambling operation. When a threat materializes, everyone takes his position and sells candy. When it recedes, they go back to gambling.”

The ratio of administrators to students—one to six—was almost twice the state average. Clerks made up thirty per cent of the central bureaucracy—about four times the ratio in comparable cities. Even some clerks had clerks, yet payroll checks and student data were habitually late and inaccurate.

Elected mayor in 2006, Booker raised money from philanthropists to open charter schools, which drew students “in wards with the highest concentrations of low-income and black residents.”

“Charter schools received less public money per pupil, but, with leaner bureaucracies, more dollars reached the classroom,” writes Russakoff. Achievement rose significantly.

Zuckerberg’s $100 million — matched by another $100 million in donations — was supposed to help the district-run schools. In two years more than $20 million was spent on consultants.

Vivian Cox Fraser, the president of the Urban League of Essex County, observed, “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”

Superintendent Cami Anderson “gave principals more flexibility and introduced new curricula aligned to the Common Core standards.” She closed low-performing schools and created “renew schools.” She let principals hire and fire teachers, added math and literacy coaches, bought smart boards and paid “renew” teachers to work a longer day and two extra weeks in the summer.

However, her plans created a massive backlash in Newark.

Booker thinks Newark could be a national model of urban education in two or three years, but he isn’t there to fight for the reforms. He was elected to the U.S. Senate.

The city is voting today on a new mayor. The mayor’s race pits radical Councilman Ras Baraka, who was principal of low-performing Central High, against Shavar Jeffries, a former assistant state attorney general who helped start a successful charter school.

The Newark backlash could have been avoided, says Jeffries. Too often, he said, “education reform . . . comes across as colonial to people who’ve been here for decades. It’s very missionary, imposed, done to people rather than in coöperation with people.” Reformers “have to build coalitions and educate and advocate,” says Jeffries. “You have to persuade people.”

Baraka won the election.

Waltons fund — surprise! — charter schools

The Walmart heirs have put a lot of their donations into charter schools for low-income students, reports the New York Times. The foundation also supports Teach for America.

It’s not exactly hot news. The Gates Foundation spends much more, focuses on changing education policy and is very, very influential.

The Times signals its left-wing bias, notes Ira Stoll on Reason. The Walton Foundation has “many tentacles” and funds “divisive” ideas, reports the Times. 

“Walton’s Mr. Sternberg, who started his career in Teach for America and founded the Bronx Lab School, a public school in New York City, does not apologize for Walton’s commitment to charter schools and vouchers.”

“Why would he apologize?” asks Stoll. He’s “helping to make schools better.”

The New York Times Company and its foundation support P.S. 111, the Adolph S. Ochs School in Manhattan, named after the family patriarch, reports Stoll. The school earned a grade of “D” for its school environment. A quality review observes “the principal acknowledges that teachers have not received written feedback this year.” Only 19 percent of the school’s sixth graders pass the state English test and only 24 percent of the school’s fifth graders pass the state math test.

No silver bullet for remedial woes

Reformers are transforming — sometimes eliminating — remedial education at community colleges, but fixing remedial ed will be “vastly more complex” than they think, argues Hunter R. Boylan, who runs the National Center for Developmental Education.

Virginia’s community college system raised success rates for unprepared students by lowering math demands for non-STEM majors. Carnegie’s Pathways reforms focus on statistics and quantitative reasoning rather than advanced algebra.

A ‘teacher hater’ confesses

Conor Williams has a (sarcastic) “confession” to make on Talking Points Memo.

I am a “teacher hater.” I’m also bent on “undermining public education” in service of my “corporate overlords.”

Not really. But “that’s what my inbox tells me every time I write something about charter schools, Teach For America, or education politics in general.”

Williams writes about American public education for the New America Foundation. He “cares profoundly” about inequality and social mobility, he writes.

When people tell me that the “education reform” movement is a corporate enterprise run by wealthy adults who scorn teachers, I’m genuinely confused. I consider myself part of the education reform movement because I know the dire state of American public school instruction. I know the difference that great teaching can make—because it was so rare in my schooling. Those outstanding few were my heroes.

Inspired by “great educators,” he became a first-grade  teacher in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Of course, I often hear that I am not REALLY a former teacher, since I entered the classroom through Teach For America. During a school visit recently, an administrator snapped that my “teaching as internship experience” gave me no right to call myself a former teacher.

Williams left after two years because he was mugged outside the school, leaving physical and psychological scars.

He and his wife are sending their son to their neighborhood D.C. public school in the fall.

“While I’m open to the possibility that some of the education reforms that make sense to me may not actually work as well I hope, I’m tired of being told that I have no standing in these debates, or that I hate teachers, Williams writes. “You want to have a debate on the merits? Fine. But don’t accuse me of being disingenuous.”

Why Common Core is doomed to fail

Common Core standards are doomed, writes Jay P. Greene. The political backlash “will undo or neuter Common Core.”

With the U.S. Education Department, D.C.-based reform groups and state school chiefs on board, Common Core supporters thought they’d won a “clear and total victory.” (He compares it to the early victories by opponents of gay marriage.)

(They) failed to consider how the more than 10,000 school districts, more than 3 million teachers, and the parents of almost 50 million students would react.  For standards to actually change practice, you need a lot of these folks on board. Otherwise Common Core, like most past standards, will just be a bunch of empty words in a document.

It’s too late for supporters to convince the public and to “love” the core, Greene writes. Reforms like the Common Core have a fatal flaw.

Trying to change the content and practice of the entire nation’s school system requires a top-down, direct, and definitive victory to get adopted.  If input and deliberation are sought, or decisions are truly decentralized, then it is too easy to block standards reforms, like Common Core.  

But the brute force and directness required for adopting national standards makes its effective implementation in a diverse, decentralized and democratic country impossible.

Common Core didn’t need to start as national standards. It’s a shame the feds got involved instead of letting the standards truly be voluntary. I think some states will drop the core, weaken the standards or fudge the tests. But if half-a-dozen states implement the standards  and tests well, that will be educational.

The Federalist Debate features Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and Heartland’s Joy Pullman discussing  the Common Core standards – without getting nasty.

From Teacher of the Year to NEA president

Twenty-five years after she was named Utah’s Teacher of the Year, Lily Eskelsen García is president-in-waiting of the National Education Association (NEA), reports Richard Lee Colvin. Eskelsen García, 58, left full-time teaching a year after winning the honor to fight for higher salaries and smaller class sizes. (Utah ranks 50th in both categories.)
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Now an NEA vice president, she’s running unopposed to replace Dennis Van Roekel.

Born Lilia Laura Pace in Texas in 1955, Eskelsen García did not plan to go to college. Her father worked for the U.S. Army. Her Panamanian mother had left school after 8th grade. 

She married Ruel Eskelsen right after graduating from high school. He enlisted in the Army.  She got a job in a school cafeteria. A kindergarten teacher “noticed how well she connected with the students and urged her to go to college to become a teacher,” writes Colvin.

“After her husband got out of the Army, they both enrolled at the University of Utah, supporting themselves with help from the GI Bill, loans, financial aid, and money they earned singing, accompanied by Eskelsen García on the guitar.”

She was graduated magna cum laude with a degree in elementary education and later earned a master’s degree in instructional technology. She began teaching at Orchard Elementary School outside of Salt Lake City in 1980.

Teachers worked as a team, sharing ideas and taking on additional duties to allow a colleague to spend more time with a group of kids producing a play or exploring a topic such as the civil rights movement in greater depth. Her love of music found its way into many of her lessons— she taught her students to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution by singing it, for example.

Eskelsen García supports Common Core standards, saying the authors heeded input from expert teachers.

“Every time I turned the page I thought, my God, this is how I teach, it really was,” she says. “Critical thinking skills, collaborate on problem solving, create, design, give me evidence of, give me your opinion and tell me why I should believe you, and organize a project.”

But she fears that standardized tests will not include those skills and that they’ll be eliminated from the curriculum.

. . . “If you see that there is no change in high-stakes testing; no change in obsessive test prep; no change in labeling students, teachers, and schools by that standardized test score, you’ll know that they don’t really care about higher-level, critical thinking skills, and that it was all just a PR ploy.”

Tests should be used to guide instruction rather than to judge performance, she tells Colvin.

She’s campaigned against “GERM,” which she says stands for “global education reform movement.”