Friday, December 25, 2015

Hillary's Faux Pas

There have been numerous friends insisting that Hillary Clinton’s comments this week about closing any schools performing below average were nothing more than a case of misspeaking and letting hyperbole get away from her.  Mmmm, probably not.
Clinton is walking a tightrope between well established long-time friends at DFER and major donors, on the one side, and the highly energized grassroots movement which has suddenly arisen and grown in opposition to Test Based Reform over the last 3 years on the other side. These new actual real voter groups of parents/teachers are making education an inconveniently complex issue for the campaign, but one that is being consciously managed.
Clinton was firmly in the standardize & privatize-through-testing & charters group for many years. She counts among her major donors, Eli Broad, the Waltons, and Goldman Sachs-- all also major supporters of full implementation of charters and privatization. She and her daughter seem from all outward statements to be deep admirers of the Gateses, who have persistently funded the standardized testing movement for fifteen years.
It would be foolhardy for teachers and parents to assume that Mrs. Clinton has experienced a philosophical conversion to fully supporting public schools, and anyone who observed her in the Benghazi hearings should be hard pressed to believe this is a woman whose message got away from her. She hasn’t haphazardly spoken since commenting on baking cookies in 1992, and one could argue even that was considered speech.
She is a highly skilled and experienced lawyer, politician, and diplomat trying to walk the middle between two sides, both of whom she needs to achieve her goal of becoming president.
Reduced turn out or peel off from rank and file voters disillusioned with the party’s Ed policies has the potential to cost her the election, but she will need the big dollars from her mega donors to avoid being overwhelmed by the Republican ad campaigns.
She was very deliberate to very publicly clinch both the teachers’ unions’ endorsements very early through a carefully crafted series of messages that promised little or nothing, freeing her to comfort and reassure her traditional backers.
She will not, of course, close half of schools when/if she becomes president; mostly because it would be illegal to. Would she implement policies that would enable states to close them? That’s a much more likely proposition, and the new ESSA law gives her the perfect tools to do it.
But teachers and parents, unionized or otherwise, should be savvy enough to understand; this was no faux pas. It was a clear and deliberate message to her financial backers. It could be paraphrased, “When I accidentally speak my mind, (Woops! Wink, Wink!) I still agree with you. Bear with me while I placate this audience of frustrated parents and teachers!"
Does that make Sanders or O’Malley a better choice on Education issues? Unfortunately, no. Sanders posted a pro-testing vote on the Murphy Amendment only recently and helped make sure annual testing stayed in the new Ed law, and O’Malley cheerfully ushered in high stakes testing as governor of Maryland.
Because Republicans are dedicated to starving schools and profitizing them as an expression of neo-capitalism, and Democrats claim the same reform policies under the flag of neo-liberalism, those interested in what really happens to children of all economic classes and ethnicities during their school days are left with no viable candidate; and don’t think Hillary, the billionaires, the charter industry, and the other Ed policy elite don’t know it.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

On Being the Loyal Opposition

As a member of both NEA and the Badass Teachers Association, I have watched over the last two plus years as BATs have collectively tried to navigate being both change agents and Union supporters.  

The BAT leadership has carefully stood firmly behind the Unions conceptually and as activists; yet simultaneously, there has been a strong strain of frustration among rank-and-file union members across the country and among BATs on the page.

It’s easy to blame the politicians, and policy makers, the pseudo-education experts, the billionaire edu-dabblers, the test purveyors, the untrained teacher corps, and charter school vendors for the coordinated acts of vandalism against public schools and all our children-- and absolutely, they are to blame for attempting to deconstruct the greatest school system of all time.  

The dilemma becomes harder when confronting people you rally with, teach alongside, and whom you know are giving what they believe is their all for children and fellow teachers.  

Yet, honesty requires coming to grips with the fact that the drops in union membership and existence of the multitude of resistance organizations-- BATs, NPE, Opt-Out, Lace to the Top,  and so many others that have burst onto the scene-- is at least in part because the states and national Union leadership of the last fifteen years have not found a way to address the attacks against teachers and public schools more effectively.

Difficult as it is to admit, we BATs exist because of a failure of our Unions to meet the challenges we all face. Even as we recognize the magnitude of the challenges they/we have faced, it has become imperative that our unions recognize:

The policy of appeasement used for years with our enemies has not worked.

BATs’ very existence is a symptom of the need for a course change for both NEA and AFT-- if we are to be successful in saving the greatest institution on the planet-- our public schools.

The most recent manifestation of the “loyal opposition”  dilemma is the recent controversies over early endorsement of Presidential candidates.  Once again the leadership are moving or have moved in both AFT and NEA to endorse when no candidate has committed to real substantive changes from terribly damaging Reform movement policies. (And make no mistake, nice speeches about pre-K and college tuition are important, but are side-bars to the comprehensive policy problems in K-12 created by the Reformists that candidates are skirting and refusing to address). And, as we have learned with President Obama, unless changes are explicitly agreed to before the deal, what comes after the election is a bloodbath for poor children, poor school systems, and all teachers and communities.

Conceptually, BATs are dedicated to the idea of Unions.  Without collective participation by workers in the conditions of their jobs, and the directions of their institutions, our communities are left to be run by those who see their mission as to get the most work for the least pay and benefits, and to control the input of the various stakeholders for the sake of streamlined management.  

Unions are not just an important part of a balanced society, they are necessary to it. Otherwise the ordinary working people have no voice, and the actual community members are completely disenfranchised from the important decisions about their workplaces and community institutions. Unions are critical to a functioning democracy and quality of life for all citizens.

So how do we navigate between the devil and the deep blue sea of being deeply committed to our Unions and being deeply disconcerted by the the Union leaderships’ choices? How do we change what’s going on in the greater world when we have to change our Union leaders’ minds first? How do we protect the children, not only from the malevolent decisions of profiteers, but from the well-intended appeasement of those profiteers by our own elected and paid staffs?

So is the dilemma of the committed and faithful Unionist these days. At this point our pleas for change can no longer remain internal. There is not enough time to spend years gradually developing internal change.

So I’m here to proclaim publicly-- I still believe in my Union! I still am here paying my dues and working events, and volunteering, but ---We’ve got to alter course! Dear leaders, you’ve got to change your hearts and minds, not just a few sentences in your speeches, because the present path and in part Your choices have led us to this chaotic, disastrous present and the possibility of even more inequity and educationally impoverished futures for America’s children.

  • We can no longer accept money from our enemies and allow them to indoctrinate our membership against our own best interests.
  • We can no longer allow think tanks, pseudo- education experts, and media to commit slander against us in the public forums and then invite them and sit with them on the conference dais nodding and smiling.
  • We can no longer give candidates who offer only the most cosmetic and easy issues but withhold on other devastating funding-testing-accountability policies, the credibility, boots on the ground, and voting booth numbers for election.

Please, we implore you-- Insist on more for your members, our schools, and for the children.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Virginia SOLs 2015, An Overview

We have tended in Virginia to be in denial about standards, testing, and privatization; and the impact of reform on our schools. Afterall, We aren't like those other states,

but an overview reveals more danger and crisis than we might wish to acknowledge.

When SOLs came into being in 1998, "standards" and "backward design" were the up and coming thing, the seminal efforts at pushing instruction into second place behind assessment and accountability. They were about improving outcomes-- Never mind that the only public meetings slated for Northern Virginia were changed 24 hours before they were scheduled, and moved miles further south to limit parental input, and the SOL committee was stacked with home schooling members whose goals were vouchers. But, the unions went along; teachers were committed to improving instruction, not just improving working conditions and pay. The first year scores were a disaster, as might be expected, but each year all but the poorest schools managed to raise scores, and Virginia, like Massachusetts, gained a reputation of being "the best in the country" based on the "rigor" of our tests and our scores.  

By 2008 too many students were passing, and oddly enough, about the same time the rest of country was getting Common Core. So, the SOLs underwent a retooling that created a 15 point average drop in scores statewide in 2011-12 and 2012-13, the first years of the new SOL tests. The new tests also included some fairly questionable practices such as multiple concepts tested on a single question, and technology enhanced questions that could be missed through lack of technology practice rather than by lack of content knowledge. The scoring process also changed to include more complex and less transparent scoring practices which created occasions when students could pass the same number of questions, but receive different composite scores.  The privacy rules became extreme (teachers required not to look at the screen, not to speak to students at all when escorting them to the bathroom, or ask if students had completed the test before exiting them from the exam.)

At this point, (2015) the central State DOE testing budget is about $47 million a year, and the cost in instructional time for most schools is between 4 and 5 weeks of the school year, not counting the weeks needed for review and pre-test prep, and not counting local test spending. Control of content of the tests, and supervision of Pearson's grading practices is somewhat limited, and technology failures from Pearson and infrastructure strain are commonplace. Retakes for new students, second language learners, and special needs students have become the stuff of Stephen King movies.  

Yet, we Virginians have felt protected by our reputation and the Virginia Constitution which has limited the avalanche of TFA (temp teachers) and school takeovers suffered by other states, but those factors have not prevented the pressure on our poorer communities in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach region, Richmond, and our small far western rural communities from being under threat.  Testing has also drained the dollars that might have been used for supporting those poorer districts.

Even in our suburban Northern Virginia districts the state system of school grading created another whole level of data collection for School Improvement Goals and has instituted a second level of quarterly testing that infringes on the quality of instruction all year. SOL Pacing guides have established a rigid set of expectations about what will be covered each year, and now truly converts the standards into a complete mandated curriculum, regardless of needs for differentiation.  
Unfortunately, the SOL Innovation Committee has only reduced the load from 22 to 17 tests (amazingly, the number still expected to be required under the new ESEA if it passes) and has left high schoolers having to take 12 SOLs, in spite of overwhelming evidence that standardized testing as a learning indicator is severely flawed and detrimental. ALEC representatives in the Virginia House are continuing attempts to change the Constitution which would open the option for the State to force more takeovers and require localities to accept a state selected charter company regardless of local wishes. (Notable, is that the Charter industry openly demanded this of the legislative reps at Governor McDonnell's last education summit, maintaining they were tired of dealing with local school boards).

Even more concerning is that in an effort to off-load pensions the state legislature has created a Pension Crisis that would force privatization of teacher pensions. What does that have to do with testing? The pension crisis is creating a massive funding liability for local school districts across the state, which will limit funding for any instruction outside the basic test prep the state has mandated. The pension crisis is perfectly suited to be the back door method for not only forcing total pension privatization, but for pushing local districts into accepting the privatization of their schools, which was arguably the goal of the SOLs to begin with.

Finally, the policy makers currently in control of both the state DOE and legislative choices continues to be those aligned back in 1998 and 2008 with the SOLs to begin with. Because the vested reputations of our former governors and current legislators were built on testing and privatization as a Great Idea, they are unlikely to have much of an epiphany about testing, or be willing to address the created pension crisis, and will continue to probably only make the smallest cosmetic changes possible.

So. What. Us Worry?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Standardized Testing: A Civil Right?

Standardized Testing: A Civil Right?

For the last decade or so testing and accountability advocates have promoted among the halls of power that
standardized curriculum,
standardized tests,
and a parallel system of “choice” schools (not held to the same standards and tests)
are the most effective means to creating the “best” school systems.  This reform platform has been a popular theme promoted heavily in the mainstream media and among policy makers via hand placed reportage paired with ad money and donations to key non-profits since before Bush’s No Child Left Behind.

When middle-class neighborhoods grew rebellious about the intrusive, punishing, and destructive effects of these policies on their schools, promoters needed an ace in the hole to trump all arguments, so they utilized the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  (a single umbrella group whose members are civil rights organizations) to mount a campaign promoting Testing as a Civil Right, thus making it impossible for politicians to vote against testing and standardization  without being labeled anti-minority and anti-civil rights.

Game. Point. Match.

There’s only 4 problems with this scenario.
First, Standardization has never been possible with children.  Standardization to the detailed and minutiae level proposed by reform advocates has never worked with children, or for that matter any humans, because there are too many variables at play in the human developmental, motivational, and learning systems to come up with a “one size fits all” set of expectations and  methods. This dilemma has been the bane of social scientists since the beginning of the field.  Standardization in the face of infinite variables (even with google’s and facebook’s algorithms) is virtually impossible, especially in this age of inter-ethnic neighborhoods and multi-cultural communities.

Secondly, Standardized tests do not work to measure the effectiveness of learning.  From the beginning of standardized testing, experts have known that even the best standardized tests:

  • do not measure many of the most important aspects of learning, (problem-solving, inter-personal skills, and self-management to name a few)
  • at best give a really grainy black and white snapshot of test taking skills on single day, unless you had the flu or people next door were arguing loudly all night.
  • do not predict success in higher education or life, (see Einstein who flunked his math entrance exam)  and are both minority and class biased, creating a false failure read we would find completely unacceptable in any other field of endeavor, such as medicine or engineering.

-And that is the old-fashioned Good ones.  Current, quickly thrown together and unvalidated, S-tests which are created in secrecy, implemented in secrecy, and scored by untrained craigs-list subscribers, without research, quality controls, or peer review are no better than throwing chicken bones in a dirt yard, and those who have had even a basic course in educational assessment or statistics know it.

Thirdly, achievement gaps on a collective scale (when measured by multiple variables, not just S-tests) are almost invariably traceable to the failures of economics. Schools are funded predominantly by local dollars drawn from local tax bases, which make schools in poor neighborhoods unable to provide the same resources for children in those neighborhoods. Coupled with the inherent deprivations children in poor households experience (fewer books, just to name one); lack of money creates a double whammy of deprivation for schools in poorer communities that cannot be answered within the schools, but must be solved by equitable resources.  Unfortunately, our state and federal government have not taken seriously the effect this is having on the fabric of our nation’s “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.” Their failure to address these economic inequities is a much more effective place to look for solutions than in the quality of a particular neighborhood school.  

Lastly, minority communities were the first to be targeted with this standardization and accountability model- in New Orleans, New York, Newark,  Memphis, Atlanta, Chicago and DC.  And in all those places the results of the test and punish strategies have been disastrous for the communities where they have been implemented.   Among the results have been:

  • No real increase in the meaningless scores so sought after (most score increases have been created via manipulated cut scores or secretly changed formulas)
  • A flood of displaced or retiring minority teachers, stripping their schools of both the content and cultural knowledge bases to make improvements if given resources, and replacing them with predominantly preppie, untrained two-year Teach For America recruits.
  • Further labeling of poor neighborhoods, clearing the way for gentrification and displacement of working class and minority citizens for more affluent and less diverse populations.
  • Cheating scandals as school managers and teachers threatened with closing or complete takeover of their communities unless their children pass a test set up to be as unpassable as a 50’s voter registration test, have resorted to trying to beat a system stacked against their students and themselves. 
  • A  rash outbreak of fraudulent “choice” schools (both pseudo-public and private) which have stolen money, offered inferior educational environments, closed mid-year, and in general defrauded communities and disrupted the lives of children in those neighborhoods.
As we move into the reconciliation of ECAA (ESEA re-write) and into the 2016 Presidential elections, it is important that individual candidates, policy makers, and civil rights leaders understand what is at stake.  The inequity and problems in our education systems are real, and we must find a way to provide equal opportunity for all our children, on that we should all agree.  

What we cannot accept is an elitist driven group of solutions that propose changing minority teachers for younger white ones, offers profiteers yet another opportunity to make a buck off poor communities, and assumes only the 1% know what’s best.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Declaration for Education

A Declaration for Education

To:   The Education Policy makers, Corporate Reformers, Governors, Mayors,  National and State Legislators on both sides of the Aisles, Venture Philanthropists, Opportunist Investors, Non-Educator Think Tank Theorists, and those who back them,
from the very top Government Officials and Venture Philanthropists to every paid employee who serves them.

We the People, have let you know through e-mails, posts, tweets, phone calls, marches, rallies, and Opting Out that:

  • The tests that you are insisting measure our children are statistically invalid, have no instructional value and are draining money away from real learning.
            • Yet you continue

  • The Standards which you have been sold are developmentally inappropriate and are stripping our children’s lives of the things children need most: active learning, color, music, play and wide ranging curiosity.
            • Yet you continue

  • Forcing children, some of them with language issues, learning disabilities, and developmental delays, to sit and look at walls, waiting for a test that is deliberately only used to label them failing is child abuse.
            • Yet you continue

  • The data you collect on our children is neither a reflection of who they are, nor does it belong to you for mining, manipulation, or misuse.
            • Yet you continue

  • Manipulating test data through floating cut scores, arbitrary formulas, and random selection of measures for the sake of creating a market is neither capitalism nor democracy, but fraud at the cost of children.
            • Yet you continue
  • Refusing our schools funding unless we agree to your egregious practices is theft of tax dollars already paid, and corruption of the worst kind.
            • Yet you continue

  • Draining billions of dollars from classrooms and schools into global corporate testing companies who neither provide appropriately constructed tests, nor quality scoring, nor reliable test delivery is financial malfeasance.
            • Yet you continue

  • Filling our schools with untrained temp teachers, from non-profit in name only companies, temps who are unable to deliver an orderly classroom, much less high quality instruction, stunts our children’s academic growth.
            • Yet you continue

  • Every school you starve through underfunding and then close disrupts our communities and destroys the fabric of our society.
            • Yet you continue

  • Every building you confiscate to give to your donors for publicly funded but private use is graft and corruption of the most unethical kind and deprives our communities of needed spaces for services and education.
            • Yet you continue

  • Every group of teachers of experience, color, ethnic diversity, or youthful enthusiasm that you rif, lay-off, or drive from the profession deprives our communities of the skilled and committed mentors and learning our children need.
            • Yet you continue

  • Every local board in poor communities you strip of democratic control is an act of biased dictatorship.
            • Yet you continue

  • Funneling ever more money into paid PR campaigns, and crony-ist media to defend these indefensible actions and to discredit the voice of parents, teachers, and local citizens is propaganda and disinformation of the most dishonest kind.
            • Yet you continue

  • The goal of turning our children into obedient low-wage workers, willing to carry out your pre-determined goals and increase profits to your companies is not an acceptable model of education for our children or our nation’s future.
            • Yet you continue
You must Stop this Malevolent Attack on our children and their schools. We insist that you cease and desist your aristocratic-style management of our local and personal lives, and that you drop the egregious Corporate Education Reform actions that you have been implementing. You may not practice Noblesse Oblige as though it were Democracy.

We are not plebians, or peons, or peasants, or serfs. We walked and sailed thousands of miles to come here in order for our children and grandchildren to have a better life with a meaningful education and fulfilling work. We fought a revolution to declare our independence and freedom.  We built a nation through paid and unpaid labor. We established a society and culture that became a model for all time, and have established our schools to prevent our children from ever becoming the huddled and disenfranchised masses again.  We educated ourselves to higher levels every generation in order to become worthy citizens, and created the greatest public education system ever known to humanity in order to make sure ALL our children receive the best possible education, and that our society might ever become a better environment in which to live.

You may not treat us as the peasant class. Your access to elite circles and money does not grant you that privilege because We are the People.  

It is Our Government, and Our Schools.  You may not have them.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Why Howard Dean and the Democratic Party owe Teachers and Parents anApology

On  February 2  Howard Dean came out with an article in Salon supporting Teach for America and insisting that the current controversies over Education Reform  were no more than false dichotomies perpetrated by oppositional groups and individuals.

However, a closer look at the issues he addresses and the policies he supports reveals a very different picture than the one he paints.

The reason Howard Dean considers Teach For America and Education Reform a noble endeavor is at least partially because his son and daughter-in-law are Teach for America alums now involved in becoming charter school entrepreneurs. And, regardless of Mr. Dean's assertion that 1 in three entering TFAers are 1st generation college grads, his family are much closer to the 2 out of 3 TFA profile.

Dean's son Paul and his wife are summa cum laude graduates of Yale, son of a Presidential candidate/former head of the National Democratic Party, and daughter of a Vice President over the Credit Card division at JP Morgan/Chase. They are the privileged children of the nouveau-aristocracy -- exactly the type of ivy league graduates TFA sets out to recruit and give a leg up into the halls of power they were destined for to begin with.

Also, contrary to Mr. Dean's characterization of TFA as a benevolent endeavor meant to increase the number of  lifetime teachers and serve poor children with no connection to corporate takeover of the public schools, Wendy Kopp,  the founder, has stated that she came up with the idea after reading an article in Forbes discussing corporations as ready to enter into school reform.  In interviews, she has openly said from her 33rd floor Radio City office that she completely envisioned things as they currently are.  One must assume that includes visioning her $416,000 salary and access to the highest halls of political power.  One must also wonder if her imaginings went as far as the constant disruption of student's lives due to revolving door charters,  her designed 2 year teacher turnover, and the substantial loss of jobs for teachers of color that her noble cause would create.

As for progressives' confusion, which he attributes to the oppositionals, he might look more closely to home within the Democratic party for the source of discontent among public school supporters who have traditionally been progressive themselves.  Using verifiably bogus data as an excuse, Democratic officials across the nation have waged openly destructive battles against their own public schools and local districts.

 In New York, Andrew Cuomo has openly declared war on teachers and public schools. With John King (who is now going to Washington), he created a test meant to fail students and then created arbitrary cut scores that would make it appear 70% of New York students had failed the state test. Dean might look to Secretary Arne Duncan who, when confronted with the backlash, declared suburban moms to be delusional about the intellect of their children.

In Chicago Rahm Emanuel has closed 60 schools and laid off thousands of  public school employees while selling off public school property to real estate friends, funding sports stadiums with the surplus taken, and increasing the TFA contract to $1.6 million in order to replace minority teachers.

Arne Duncan has punished states and localities that refused constant testing, and worked hand in glove with Bill Gates, who it is well-documented funded reform and compares students to shipping containers and electrical outlets, in order to implement destructive school reform policies.

Democratic governors have been just as adamant in implementing the poorly constructed and badly executed Common Core standards as have Republican ones, avidly punishing districts which refused to comply and appointing pro-privatization education officials.

The Democratic party has long taken teachers, public school employees, and public school supporters for granted  because though teachers have never had the money to buy candidates, they have been a golden goose for local, state, and national elections as boots on the ground, and a source of high voter turnout.

Before this last election, the Democratic party had numerous warning signs that teacher allegiance, both individually and organizationally, was no longer a given. The party's support of high stakes testing, school closures and take overs, punitive and invalid evaluation systems, and privatization had driven many away. The Democratic party did not heed the warning signs.

Dean is right that this is an issue that will harden across the Presidential election if something does not change.  It will harden even more if the Democratic party continues to alienate its traditional constituencies by holding to policies that are destroying what may well be the nation's greatest institution. They have almost choked the golden goose until it can no longer lay the golden eggs the party depended on.

Dean is right that it does not have to be either/or choices. Rank and file teachers went along with the changes, year after year until the changes became so destructive to their students that they could no longer acquiesce. Teachers and pro-public school voters have been forced into a no-win situation by the Democratic party itself.  They have no desire to vote for various anti-poor, anti-healthcare, anti-women, anti-local business  Republican policies, but neither can they feel comfortable voting for current Democratic educational policies which they feel are bad for the children of America.

The way out of the electoral disaster that looms is for the Democratic party to acknowledge its mistakes, mend its ways, and change the policies that have created the current problem.

And in the process, they should apologize to the hard working teachers, students, and parents

  • who have created a public school system that when adjusted for poverty scores among the highest in the world. (Not that standardized tests actually measure much other than poverty), 
  • and who have contributed substantially to enabling the US to become the greatest nation in the history of the world. 
He and the Democratic party owe them one.