Education reform is for everybody

Education Reform Advocacy Is About Addition Not Subtraction, writes Martín Pérez on Education Post. That is, it takes a coalition.

In his Los Angeles barrio, the neighborhood schools were “dropout factories,” he writes.

My parents were only able to save up enough money to send one of us to a Jesuit high school. They chose me. My brother Ulysses had to stay behind in the public high school. Four years later, when at 18 I became the first in our family to be accepted to college, my brother was entering the Los Angeles County jail. Four years after that, as I walked across the stage as a graduate of University of California, Berkeley, my brother was entering the penitentiary system for the second time.

. . . I decided instead to become the teacher he never had, the one who would understand him, who would take the time to connect with him; the one who he would remember later in life thinking, “If not for this teacher, I would be in jail.”

A Berkeley graduate, Pérez joined Teach for America, became District Teacher of the Year in Phoenix’s Alhambra district and is now an education advocacy fellow at 50CAN. Education reform needs leaders who are “ideologically diverse and racially and socioeconomically diverse,” he concludes.

Isn’t this obvious. Nooooo. Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio kicked off the debate by writing that conservative education reformers feel marginalized by left-wing reformers. “There is an unmistakable and increasingly aggressive orthodoxy in mainstream education reform thought regarding issues of race, class, and gender. And it does not include conservative ideas.”

The reform movement needs both the market and equity perspectives, writes Derrell Bradford, executive director of NYCAN, on The 74.

I’ve been increasingly frustrated to see so many people I like and respect (from Marilyn Rhames to Justin Cohen, Chris Stewart and Jay Greene) take aim at one another.

. . . Does and should the conservative or “Market” perspective — one focused on choice, pluralism and opportunity as the prime drivers — continue to have a place in the education reform movement, effort, confab, or whatever you want to call it? The answer has three letters: yes. Competition and innovation are essential, and may be the best way to level the playing field for kids of color.

“Even as the education reform movement strives to become more ethnically diverse, it could also become less so ideologically,” warns Bradford. “We do not win with a smaller tent against a unified enemy that has created the conditions we battle against.”

Reformers on the “right” and “left” agree about many issues, writes Rick Hess. However, the “social justice warriors” are using “white privilege” to shut down dialogue.

Those on the left have all too often taken any disagreement on these issues as evidence that those of us who disagree with them are blinded by “white privilege.” If we weren’t blinded, we’d agree with them. If we don’t agree, it’s evidence that we’re blinded. This infuriating little catch-22 can leave even conciliation-minded conservatives thinking, “The hell with it.”

Progressives should care about what conservatives think — and not simply “out of tactical self-interest,” Hess concludes. “It’s because exploring these substantive differences is good, healthy, and important, and makes for smarter decisions about policy and practice.”

Clinton abandons ed reform

Hillary Clinton is abandoning education reform, writes Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

In New York’s affluent suburban districts, test-hating parents “have joined forces with teachers unions, who see standardized tests as a tool that subjects them to unwanted accountability,” he writes.

Facing Bernie Sanders in the state’s presidential primary, Clinton is courting the “opt-out” vote.

Giving a national test once a year makes no sense, said Bill Clinton last week. Instead, he called for  “investing the same amount of money in helping the teachers to be better teachers.”

How would we know whether teachers are getting better?

“Testing is an important tool to measure racial and economic equality,” writes Chait.

A report this year by Ulrich Boser and Catherine Brown at the Center for American Progress found that states that use standards-based reform have produced better outcomes for low-income children. . . .  Not surprisingly, civil-rights organizations representing African-Americans and Latinos have argued to keep in place annual national testing.

. . . Bill Clinton framed his wife’s position in remarkable terms: “She thinks [the tests] are just too much, that it’s national overreach,” he said, “and the most it could ever do is to help people at the very bottom levels of achievement.”

Is “helping people at the bottom . . .  so insignificant that it’s not worth doing?” asks Chait. “What a thing for a Democrat to say!”

“You can’t solve problems you don’t have information about,” says Derrell Bradford,  executive director at the New York Campaign for Achievement Now, in an Ed Week story on testing flip-flops. “Saying you don’t need test data to make decisions about how to improve schools is like saying we can solve wealth inequality without income data and job reports. It’s just not real.”

African-American parents are the strongest supporters of school testing, reports Education Post. Most think tests are “fair and necessary” and “should be used to help parents identify areas where their child needs extra help.”

If Diddy can do it . . . Start your own schools

Sean “Diddy” Combs, shown giving the commencement speech at Howard University in 2014, is helping start a college-prep charter school in Harlem.

Chris Stewart, who writes as Citizen Stewart, isn’t an education expert, he writes. A former school board member in Minneapolis and a father, he’s a “civilian” with “questions about the gulf between what black kids – including my own – are capable of achieving, and what they are currently achieving.”

He has a question for academics and teachers who oppose school reform.

Why aren’t they establishing their own schools to demonstrate all they have learned about learning? Where is the Pedro Noguera Academy of Teaching Black Boys To Read and Write? Where is the Julian Vasquez Helig School of Succeeding With Marginalized Children? What about the Diane Ravitch Center for Graduating Literate and Numerate Children of Color?

Those schools don’t exist.

Linda Darling Hammond and her Stanford colleagues did start a school in 2005, partnering with a low-income, all-minority district. Despite the university’s resources and expertise, it failed, writes Stewart.

“Maybe this demonstrates that schools alone cannot solve the very deep problems kids bring to school,” wrote Diane Ravitch when the school failed. “You cannot assume that schools alone can raise achievement scores without addressing the issues of poverty, of homelessness and shattered families.”

That’s “system-preserving, elitist nonsense,” writes Stewart. Then comes the rant:

It is one thing to speak from a vaulted perch where you are not responsible for a single kid, and preach the paleoliberal gospel of the one-best-system; to write missives against school reform as you cash under-the-table paychecks from reform funders; to sit on panels sponsored by education labor cartels and interrogate the motives of school reformers while never interrogating the motives of labor cartels; to put your own kids in private schools and then assail school choice as a misguided gift to the ignorant poor who won’t make decisions as well as you have; and to basically fill the world with useless pablum about thinking broader, bolder, more holistically, without focusing intensely on developing, administrating, delivering, and measuring the effectiveness of instruction and learning in the most important place, the classroom.

“The leaders of new schools . . . design, establish, and operate schools that fight the nihilistic, racist, and classist mantra that demography affixes melanated people without money to academic failure,” Stewart writes.

Hip hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs is helping start a New York City charter middle and high school. Capital Prep Harlem, which opens in the fall with sixth and seventh graders, will share a building with El Museo Del Barrio in East Harlem. The Museum of the City of New York is next door.

Steve Perry, who created Capital Prep Magnet in Hartford, Connecticut, will oversee the replication of his year-round, college-prep model.

California stops rating schools by proficiency

California is previewing the new education bill’s shift from federal to state accountability, writes Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. Thanks to a No Child Left Behind waiver granted in June, schools are graded on attendance, graduation rates (“inflated by the demise of the exit exam”) and test participation, rather than by English and math proficency. The pressure is off.

For more than a decade, the release of federal scores indicating California public school students’ progress — or lack of it — has incited alarm, anxiety and anguish among educators.

 But when those marks were ever so quietly posted this month, barely anyone noticed. And it seemed few cared. For the first time in years, California schools met federal standards — but only because the yardstick had been replaced with an easier-to-meet measurement.
Some schools were freed from “Program Improvement” status, despite low achievement scores.

Statewide, only 44 percent of California students tested proficient in English, and 33 percent proficient in math.

Program Improvement “doesn’t have the importance it once did,” said Dorothy Abreu-Coito, director of instructional services in the Sunnyvale School District. “We have to jump through a few hoops.”

Ironically, high-performing Palo Alto High failed because too many 11th graders refused to take state standardized tests.

“Some fear that without federally mandated high expectations and demands for transparency, schools will continue to fail poor and minority children, the intended beneficiaries of No Child Left Behind,” writes Noguchi.

“Much of the pushback to NCLB came because the law actually succeeded, in part, at doing what it was intended to do: identify and intervene in schools that were not helping students achieve overall, as well as those with large disparities in outcomes among different student subgroups, and bring urgency to the need to improve,” writes Melissa Tooley in The Atlantic.  “Under ESSA, it’s no more likely that schools will know how to improve.”

Did reform fail in Newark?

School reform failed in Newark, according to most reviewers of Dale Russakoff’s The Prize, writes David Steiner in Education Next. However, the “stubborn facts” in this “compellingly readable book . . . complicate this conclusion out of all recognition.”

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“The combination of an extraordinary (and perhaps extraordinarily naive) 2010 donation of $100 million from Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, the high-octane political antics of Mayor Cory Booker, and the very dedicated but consultant-reliant and at times tone-deaf district leadership of Cami Anderson converge to create an education drama of the first order,” writes Steiner, who is a John Hopkins education professor.

Five years later, Newark’s district-run schools had improved on some measures, but achievement scores were flat.

However, the city’s expanding charter schools proved to be a “success story,” Steiner writes. “Charter students in Newark gain an additional seven and a half months in reading and nine months in math” per year of schooling compared to similar students in district schools, concluded a 2012 CREDO report. Expanding the city’s charter sector helped many students.

Russakoff praises “public school teachers who kept their heads down and did wonderful work in their classroom,” writes Steiner.

(These teachers) took it upon themselves to glean many lessons from the city’s best charter schools, and found charter school leaders eager to help. They organized themselves as a nonprofit agency through which they raised private money to purchase the rigorous, early literacy program, developed at the University of Chicago for kindergarten through third grade, that was used in the two leading charter networks—the TEAM schools of the national KIPP organization and North Star Academy, a subsidiary of Uncommon Schools.

Ras Baraka, now mayor of Newark, opposed the reforms. But, as principal of a low-performing high school, he “mounted an aggressive turnaround strategy, using some of the instructional techniques pioneered by the reform movement.”

Newark schools have improved, writes Chris Cerf, who was state commissioner of education and is now superintendent of Newark Public Schools. Graduation rates are way up, he writes. “More students attend beating-the-odds schools.”

The Zuckerberg money made a huge difference in Newark, and continues to do so today. Yet The Prize has caused some philanthropists to question additional investments in public education, reading the book as a call to double down on charters since “districts are not fixable.”

School choice is the most powerful tool for change in Newark, writes Rashon Hasan, a school board member, in Education Post.

ESSA passes: Will states step up?

No Child Left Behind is no more. The Every Student Succeeds Act has passed the Senate and House by wide margins. President Obama signed the new education bill today.

Will every student succeed under the new education bill?

Will every student succeed under the new education bill?

ESSA guts the “strong accountability provisions that helped spur reforms that have helped more children attain high-quality education than at any other time in the history of American public education,” writes Sandy Kress, who helped write NCLB, on Dropout Nation.

Under ESSA, “schools that fail to lift student achievement or close achievement gaps” will face no federal consequences, he writes. States and districts will hold themselves accountable for serving all students. Or not.

As seen in TexasCalifornia, and even in strong reform-oriented states such as Indiana and New York, traditionalists have been successful in weakening standards for high school graduation, getting rid of accountability measures, and ditching tests that are key in observing how well schools are serving our children. Opponents of reform have been successful in getting more money for doing less for our students . . .

ESSA stands for Excusing States for Student Abandonment, writes Alan Singer on the Huffington Post.

The bill is “political posturing,” writes Conor Williams. “It combines a thin veneer of civil rights equity with excruciating complexity and uncertain accountability.”

Conservatives should oppose the bill’s “bizarre, unclear federal accountability mandates,” he argues. Progressives should not trust states to hold schools accountable for serving underprivileged and underserved kids.

Endless testing? High stakes? Not really

U.S. schools don’t test as much as people think and the stakes “aren’t really that high,” argues Kevin Huffman, a New America fellow, in a Washington Post commentary.

“In an apparent about-face from his administration’s education policy over the past seven years,” President Obama said last week he wants to “fix” over-testing, writes Huffman. The administration wants to limit testing to 2 percent of classroom time.

Testing averages 1.6 percent of class time, according to a Center for American Progress analysis. In Tennessee, where Huffman was education commissioner, state-mandated tests took seven to 10 hours per student per year, less than 1 percent of class time.

“Where students spend too much time taking tests, local schools and districts — not federal or state policies — tend to be the culprits,” he adds.

Due to federal pressure, more states now evaluate teachers based partially on their students’ test scores. All use “multiple measures” and “nearly all teachers perform at or above expectations.”

When schools are evaluated, “significant interventions” are targeted at the bottom 5 percent of campuses, he writes.

“Many schools spend too much time on mind-numbing test prep, sitting kids at their desks and going over endless multiple-choice questions,” Huffman concedes. There’s little evidence it improves scores.

Duncan will resign as ed secretary


Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Arne Duncan, a member of President Obama’s original Cabinet, will step down as Education secretary in December.

His deputy John B. King, Jr., will replace him.

John B. King, Jr. in April. Photo: Michael Nagle, New York Times

John B. King, Jr. in April. Photo: Michael Nagle, New York Times

As New York’s state education commissioner, King was a staunch defender of Common Core standards and tests. reported the New York Times. He was shouted down at public forums. The state teachers’ union called for his resignation.

The son of a former principal and a guidance counselor, King grew up in Brooklyn. Both parents died of illness when he was 12.

He was a fourth grader at Public School 276 in Canarsie the year his mother died of heart failure, he told the Times. “His teacher that year, Alan Osterweil, was dynamic and creative, encouraging him to read Shakespeare and memorize the leaders and capital of every country in the world. Later, Celestine DeSaussure, a social studies teacher whom the children called Miss D, made him the sportscaster in a fake Aztec newscast.”

King earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard, his master’s in teaching of social studies from Columbia, his law degree from Yale and his education doctorate from Columbia.

He taught social studies, co-founded the high-performing Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston and was a leader at Uncommon Schools, a charter network.

He is married and has two daughters.

Left-wing ‘fundies’ fight reform

Lefties have become education fundamentalists, writes Lynnell Mickelsen on Education Post.  She’s a lefty herself, but she values educating children more than protecting teachers’ unions.

Like the religious right, the teachers’ union and its allies frame issues as either-or, she writes.

Either you support every clause in the union contract or you’re trying to bust the union. Either you support teachers or you’re “bashing” them. Either you support public schools or you want their destruction because that apocalypse is always drawing nigh.

Fundamentalists demonize their opponents: “In the union narrative, ed reformers aren’t just wrong about educational policy,” they’re evil “corporatists” trying to “privatize” the schools.

Fundies reject evidence that challenges their world view, writes Mickelsen. Students in New Orleans’  post-Katrina “public charters have made remarkable gains in reading and math scores, high school graduation and college acceptance rates. Yet union leaders and their allies have gone out of their way to deny or dismiss this data.”

Just as right-wing fundamentalists “insist that Marriage Is Between a Man and A Woman . . . teachers’ unions basically insist that Public Schools Are Between A Union and Its District,” she writes.

Right now, the public schools that are getting the best results with low-income black and Latino children are mostly charters. But because charter schools are mostly non-union, the teachers’ unions are attempting to limit these schools—even though this would disenfranchise entire groups of children.

Both the teachers’ union and religious conservatives share the same message on racial disparities in achievement, Mickelsen concludes. “Our systems are fine. It’s the brown kids and their parents who are screwed up.”

It’s Time to Get Rid of Education’s Sacred Cows, writes Angela Minnici in Ed Week. These include the idea that “education is local,” that anyone who loves kids can be a good teacher and that U.S. schools traditionally have done well at educating all students.

New Orleans improves — with black teachers

A new generation of black teachers are part of New Orleans’ schools revival, writes Citizen (Chris) Stewart, who grew up in the city and attended neighborhood schools.

The Orleans Parish School Board — not “white school reformers” — put the city’s teachers on unpaid “disaster leave” because the schools were closed, he writes. That enabled teachers to collect unemployment benefits.

When schools reopened, the Recovery School District required that teacher candidates pass a basic skills test. “One third of the returning teachers failed that test,” writes Stewart.

“Veteran” and “experienced” don’t necessarily mean “quality,” he argues.

(Critics say) the fired black teachers “knew the kids” and “were the backbone of the black middle class.”

. . . The children of New Orleans deserve every shot at a good life we can proivde them. We can’t get there by viewing schools as a jobs program for the black bourgeoisie.

. . . Yes, some of the previous NOLA schools had many lovely, dedicated people working hard in a deeply dysfunctional system that blocked them from doing their best work.

At the same time, many others needed to go.

Today,  54 percent of NOLA teachers and 58 percent of RSD school leaders are black, writes Stewart. Blacks make up 59 percent of the city’s population.

“Great black school leaders and educators are working hard in a new system with many hopeful new possibilities,” he concludes. This time, growth of the black middle class is linked to “academic results for poor black children.”

Education Week‘s excellent series, The Re-Education of New Orleans, includes an interview with a veteran teacher who wasn’t rehired after Katrina.

Resurgence, by Public Impact and New Schools for New Orleans, analyzes what’s changed in NOLA.

74 Million’s Matt Barnum answers critics who downplay progress in NOLA schools.

Music is vital for community and culture, reports Ed Week.