Thursday, January 31, 2013

Has testing reached a tipping point?

By Sam Chaltain 

It wasn’t that long ago that suggesting America’s schools had become test-obsessed was a lonely endeavor. Although organizations like FairTest and campaigns like Time Out From Testing have been decrying the flawed logic behind high-stakes tests for years, the reality is that for the past decade, many of us kept our complaints reserved for the privacy of the parking lot.
People vented. Policymakers nodded. And absent any real noise, the tests continued.
In 2008, however, the election of Barack Obama seemed to augur a new era. All along the campaign trail, the Illinois senator suggested a clear understanding of the ways a single measure of success can distort an entire system and narrow the learning opportunities for children. Then he made history by becoming the nation’s 44th president — and unveiling a series of education policies that further entrenched America’s reliance on reading and math scores as a proxy for whole-school evaluation.
Again, the people vented. But this time, policymakers have been unable to ignore a groundswell of noise and resistance, leading many to wonder: Has a tipping point been reached? Are we witnessing the early signs of a sea change in how we think about the best ways to measure student learning and growth?
Consider three separate data points as evidence: Maryland, where the superintendent of the state’s largest district of schools has called for a three-year moratorium on standardized tests; Washington, where one school’s decision to boycott its state tests has spread to other schools and communities; and Texas, where a proposed Senate bill would significantly reduce the number of state standardized tests students must pass to graduate.
In all three places — and many more across the country — what’s changed is a growing willingness to publicly acknowledge what FairTest has argued for years: that tests do not align well with the latest research into how people learn; that they prevent adults from measuring higher-level thinking in children; and, most importantly, that there are better ways to evaluate student learning and growth.
The breadth of these mini-rebellions — from the Pacific Northwest to the Lone Star State — suggests that the unwillingness of the Obama administration to plot a new course for the country has awakened a latent frustration among educators, who are desperate to see systems that value more than incremental academic growth. As Montgomery County Superintendent Joshua Starr put it, policymakers need to “stop the insanity” of evaluating teachers via a formula that is based on “bad science.” Starr’s critique was echoed by Seattle teacher Jesse Hagopian. “We’ve been raising our voices about this deeply flawed test for a long time,” he said. But now that the district is using it for evaluations, “we’ve drawn our line in the sand.” And then there’s Texas education commissioner Robert Scott, who has decried the ways student testing had become a “perversion of its original intent,” and promised he would do whatever he could to “reel it back” in the future.
To be sure, the American test obsession still has a firm hold on our collective psyche, and with common core assessments around the corner, we’re a long ways off from the Finnish model — in which there are no national tests and all student assessments are devised and administered locally by teachers. But what seems equally clear is that a new sort of idea virus is gaining strength in education circles. And as Malcolm Gladwell explained in “The Tipping Point,” “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do. When we’re trying to make an idea or attitude or product tip, we’re trying to change our audience in some small yet critical respect: we’re trying to infect them, sweep them up in our epidemic, convert them from hostility to acceptance.”
To convert their opponents from hostility to acceptance, educators will need to clarify more than what they’re against; they’ll also need to propose specific and realistic alternatives. Josh Starr is off to a good start: he proposes creating assessments for Common Core-aligned curriculum by crowdsourcing their development and letting teachers design them — rather than the private companies. And the good news is there are other big ideas out there, and other places where effective alternatives to standardized testing already exist.
Perhaps, then, 2013 will finally be the year that educators end a decade of test obsession — and bring the noise.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

School Board Members to Arne Duncan: Back Off

After four years in office, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan still hasn't won over local school board members.
But he keeps coming back, year after year, to tangle with members of the National School Boards Association during their federal meeting in Washington.
In remarks yesterday, he laid out the four tenets of his second-term agenda: more money to expand access to high-quality early education for disadvantaged children, reauthorizing No Child Left Behind (and following through on waivers), making good on President Obama's goal to lead the world in college completion by 2020, and passing gun control legislation in the wake of the Newtown shootings.
But for the most part, school board members didn't want to hear about his agenda. Instead, they sent a clear message: Your policies continue to overreach into our territory. (They voiced similar complaints about federal overreach last year, and fought with him over mayoral control of schools in 2010.)
Yesterday, a Pennsylvania school board member, who said "what's killing us is charter schools," wanted to know Duncan's position on these nontraditional schools. (He supports charters, of course.) Local school boards sometimes complain that charters reduce their enrollment and siphon money away from traditional public schools while operating without the same level of oversight.
One questioner made a point to ask all elected officials in the audience to stand (hundreds did), in a veiled reference to Duncan's un-elected status. (Of course, Duncan's boss is elected.) Duncan got a little prickly when he was asked how he will "support, and not undermine" local management of schools, and demanded specific examples. To which the crowd started getting a little hostile, offering up loud groans and even some heckles.
Interestingly, Duncan did not raise the prospect of district-level waivers under No Child Left Behind—which would have been an easy bone to throw to a relatively unfriendly crowd.
Perhaps to sum up a lot of the board members' grievances, another questioner wanted Duncan to reconsider his policy on competing out Race to the Top funds, handing out waivers with strings, and supporting charters.
"Ma'am, I'm not prepared to do that," he said specifically in reference to handing out waivers without strings, though that reply pretty much summed up most of his answers.
To further make their point, the NSBA is pushing legislation that would make it harder for the Education Department to do some of its business by, for example, establishing "several procedural steps" before the feds could initiate rules, grant requirements, and guidance documents. (There are others that might agree with this, given the outcry some have expressed over the Education Department's recent guidance on students with disabilities playing sports.)
"In recent years, the U.S. Department of Education has engaged in a variety of activities to reshape the educational delivery system," said Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA's executive director, in a statement. "All too often these activities have impacted local school district policy and programs in ways that have been beyond the specific legislative intent. School board leaders are simply asking that local flexibility and decision-making not be eroded through regulatory actions."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Asymmetric Information, Parental Choice, Vouchers, Charter Schools and Stiglitz

From the Journal of Education Finance,  Fall 2012
by Kern Alexander
The story goes that tuition voucher schools and charter schools are creatures of the spirit of capitalism1 and that public funding of them will increase competition, making all schools more efficient and academically better, especially public schools. For that theory to work it is hypothesized that parents as “rational people will make choices as to the education of their children in perfect markets.” In the realm of economics, this reasoning is called the “rational expectations hypothesis” or the “efficient markets hypothesis.”2

The “efficient markets” notion applied to schools via parental choice means that parents will, in their wisdom, utilize public money to send their children to private schools and that ipso facto the education level of the nation rises commensurate with the level and intensity of competition among parents in choosing private, clerical and/or corporate charter schools. For the education level to rise requires, of course, that parents will make rational decisions relative to quality education. Essential to the concept is that parents have the knowledge necessary to make informed educational choices. In a perfect market, information is presumed to “flow like water–faster than water,”3 and it is necessary that those things irrelevant to quality education, or even detrimental to it, are not present in parental decision making. If parental choice is not based on quality education and instead the school choices are rooted in race, religion, wealth, ethnicity, etc., then you will have “imperfect competition.” Imperfect competition would result in the overall decline in the quality of education.

In the economic marketplace, “rational expectations,” serve as the engine to improve the economy. At bottom, these expectations of individuals and corporations foster efficiency, production costs fall and profits increase. Improvement of educational quality via a scheme of parental choice, however, is much more complex. If the state seeks to drive its economic progress by means of the wisdom of parental choice, it must be sure that the parental choices add to some worthwhile store of knowledge for the next generation. That education in which public money is invested must be calibrated to the end of producing productive knowledge, the “training of intellect” is designed to “stimulate the mind of the individual to improve his present condition, and [that it] aids him in devising ways and means to do so.”4

Thus, the basic voucher and charter school theory is that the nation will improve its standard of living by having parents use public tax money to make choices of schools based on their own information, knowledge, and perceptions of educational reality. It assumes that parents know what constitutes quality education, and that they have rational expectations as to the quality of science programs, mathematics, reading, political thought, literature, and all the liberal arts.

However, unfortunately, experience indicates that parental choices are ensnared and limited by the parents’ own limited experiences, level of learning, ignorance, biases, and mythology on which they depend to make educational choices for their children and is, thus, in most cases, highly suspect.5 Such problems with rational choices are recognized by a school of economics known as “behavioral economics” that attempts to enter into the economic equation the actual motivations of individuals in the marketplace.

Parental choice is drawn into question by behavioral economic thought that reveals that standard economic theory relies on the misconception that individuals have well informed rational preferences in exercising choices. Yet, in fact, preferences may not be rational nor reasonable, but rather may be based on prior beliefs that influence the processing of the information on which choices rely. Information that is consistent with parental prior beliefs is deemed by them to be relevant to their choices and the information that is inconsistent with their prior beliefs is “ignored, discounted or forgotten.” Such fictions weigh heavily in skewing choices away from rationality.

Behaviorists also argue that the summation of individual choices, in totality, cannot be relied upon to ensure the progress of mankind and the enhancement of the public good. The aggregate does not necessarily produce rationality; rather, it is more likely to result in inefficiency and inequality.6 The behaviorists maintain that forces, riding the rationale of the grail of competition, tend to warp the public good causing both inefficiency and inequality. Put simply, the public good is more than the sum of individual preferences and choices. The public good is beyond the exercise of self-interests. It is a great misunderstanding, indeed, a fallacy, to assume that people acting individually in their own self-interest can achieve the public good.7 We have known this since it was explained to us by Rousseau in 1758, as a cornerstone of democratic thought, that “personal interest is always in inverse ratio” to the common interest.8 Thus, a system where parents take public money and indulge their self-interests is highly problematic for the education policy of a state or nation.

Joseph E. Stiglitz helps clarify why the “rational markets” theory is not likely to work efficiently in the marketplace of educational choice. Stiglitz was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Economic Science, 2001; formerly Chief Economist at the World Bank; Chairman of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors; and now Professor of Finance and Economics at Columbia University. Stiglitz documents in The Price of Inequality, 2012,9 how the theory of rational markets has produced an unequal and inefficient condition that is pervasive in the United States and cannot be easily remedied. He maintains that external political influences on government tend to cause ever increasing economic inefficiency and inequality. In the realm of education, inefficiency and inequality are exacerbated by rampant government stimulated exertion of self- interests via tuition vouchers and/or charter school mechanisms.

Stiglitz, in keeping with the reasoning of Muhammad Yunus, another Nobel Prize Laureate, avers that most inequality is not an unguided phenomenon; rather, Yunus says that “American inequality didn’t just happen. It was created.” Further, Stiglitz argues that while market forces help contribute to inequality, it is actually anti-egalitarian government policies that shape those “market forces.” “Much of the inequality that exists today is a result of government policy steered by the self-interest of private factions.”

Stiglitz’s primary contribution to economics was explaining why unregulated markets cannot be trusted to advance the economic and social interests of peoples and nations. His thesis is that regulation by governments is necessary because of “market imperfections” are created by “asymmetric information.” As expressed in his writings, it is a truism that markets are neither rational nor moral and are, in their freestanding state, economic manifestations of the selfish gene, exhibit a Hobbesian self-interest, and are, in the end, engines of predatory selection.

Stiglitz’s theory of “asymmetric information” and its effects on competition has pierced, with very large holes, the prevailing economic assumptions of Adam Smith, Hayek, Samuelson, and, of course, Milton Friedman. With regard to Friedman, Stiglitz renders Friedman’s parental choice and voucher stuff nonsensical because parents are generally poorly informed about the quality of schools and, worse, parents normally exercise a school choice based on information that has little or nothing to do with quality schooling. Rather, parental decisions regarding schools are usually based on racial bias, religious intolerance, ignorance, convenience, and a host of other perceptions unrelated to education. Thus, parental information is generally, by nature, imperfect and asymmetric. In his textbook, Economics of the Public Sector, he provides detail as to how “imperfect information” affects and, in many instances, negates the perceived benefits of competition in the marketplace. He indicates that this is particularly true in medical services and education. Asymmetrics of information
are obvious in medicine where the patients are largely in the dark when they buy a “doctor’s knowledge and/or information.” Patients cannot “effectively assess and evaluate a doctor’s advice.”10 Because of such consumer uncertainty, governments require doctors to be licensed and drugs to be regulated. These constraints in medicine are required of medical doctors whether they practice with public or private hospitals.11

Similar problems of quality and consumer protection exist in education. In education, as in medicine, imperfect information decreases and distorts the “effective degree of competition.”12 With education, the conditions of the marketplace do not exist. Parents are all, to a greater or lesser degree, ill informed about the qualifications of teachers, their expertise, certifications, and are usually poorly informed about the subject matter conveyed and the teaching techniques required. That is why states require public school teachers to follow strict and complex educational processes to be certified. Such, however, is not normally required of private voucher schools or charter schools.13 Therefore, parental choice and market competition in the realm of education, as in medicine, is uniquely suspect, and in the case of tuition vouchers and charter schools, is normally reduced to a condition of state subsidized legal segregation.

Concerning Friedman and his choice argument, Stiglitz recalls that he tried to explain in long discussions with Friedman the importance of the externalities of “asymmetric information” and the doubts that it cast upon rational choice and how it mitigates Friedman’s beloved and unregulated free market theory. Stiglitz remembers that “Friedman couldn’t or wouldn’t grasp” the concept. He says that Friedman, of course, “couldn’t refute them – (rather) (h)e simply knew” that the economic research on “information imperfections” had to be wrong.

In spite of Stiglitz’s decimation of Friedman’s choice theory, conservative politicians, parental choice advocates, parochial school champions, and for- profit charter school investors advance the quest for public funding under the guise of free market dogma, competition, and choice in order to advance their own largely unrelated special interests. The rubric of market efficiencies serves as their cover. Stiglitz clearly exposes a principal sophism in such parental choice fabrications in that parental choice contributes to the wide disparities in wealth and income in the United States and to some degree leads to degradation of the social fabric and contributes to economic inefficiencies that will eventually lower the standard of living of the nation.

Therefore, parental choice, in most instances, may have nothing to do with education, but rather merely reflects educationally irrelevant beliefs causing educational market distortion. Such beliefs are usually a priori biases based on race, gender, ethnicity, wealth, social status, and, of course, religion. Vouchers are supposed to work because Friedman and other conservative economists assume
that parents and their progeny are, in fact, “selfish, rational people interacting in a perfect” educational market. It is true in most circumstances that they are selfish, but they are not necessarily rational, in that they have no substantive idea as to what constitutes a good school. Parents’ choices are dominated by what Fox calls “noise”. Justin Fox, in his book, The Myth of the Rational Market, explains that “noise” in information muddles and misshapes choices of consumers. Without government intervention, markets are not rational; rather, they are to a great degree irrational or at least imperfect. This is true in both the microeconomic sense and the macroeconomic sense of the entire marketplace.14

With regard to parental choice this obscures rational preferences by parents in their choices of schools. That “noise” in parental choice is misapprehended information based on innate self interest, influenced by the aforementioned discriminatory impulses. The main “noise” that vouchers create in the marketplace, as Walzer says, is the “guarantee that children go to school with other children whose parents...were very much like their own.”15 The choice of like-minded parents with similar ideologies and biases is a far distance from parents who make school choices based on curriculum content, school environment and teacher quality.

Government funding of vouchers and charter schools would, if widespread, contribute to social disunity and inequality. The Wall Street desire to make significant privatization incursions into the areas of public goods, human needs, health, education and welfare, and to correspondingly avoid government regulation is a strong laissez faire profit motivation. To deregulate these normally governmental functions leaves Wall Street in the enviable position of near total discretion in raising “transaction costs” that assure profit maximization. Stiglitz observes how Enron is the banner child for such unbridled deregulation. CNBC’s “Squawk Box” each morning trumpets that government regulation is bad for business. Stiglitz points out that the private business sector even believes that “Regulations that prevent child labor are bad for business.” Stiglitz in emphasizing his point is on target. Historically, as we saw in the mid-19th Century, the principal opposition to child labor laws and compulsory school attendance was led by businesses, prelates and parents.

Stiglitz further views the consequences of vouchers by pointing to the federal and state higher education funding dilemma. One of his central thrusts has to do with the everlasting problem of the wealthy private sector controlling government and using regulation and deregulation to its economic advantage. The phenomenon is natural in that the Hobbesian self-interest applies to primary and secondary education and to the higher education student loan debacle. The federal government in 1971, in attempting to enhance the college going rate and at the same time aid private religious institutions, moved to provide federal aid via a tuition voucher system named after Claiborne Pell, a Senator from Rhode Island.16 The voucher system placed few meaningful regulatory limits on institutions that received the money. Private institutions voraciously consumed the Pell voucher money and correspondingly and methodically raised tuition with the result that Pell vouchers actually stimulated increases in tuition. As tuitions rose, students continued to suffer a financial burden gap. The federal government then later, at the behest of the banks who are always desirous of loaning money when there is no risk, lobbied Congress and achieved two crucial regulatory concessions. First, the federal government subsidized the interest on the loans, and, importantly, by law assured the banks that students who were unable to repay their loans could not escape their debt obligation to the banks by means of personal bankruptcy.

The result has been that the student loan non-regulation coupled with the assurances for banks was so lucrative that private for-profit entrepreneurs entered the market and began to take advantage of students with bogus educational programs aimed at making money with sham education. The deregulation had yet another effect; the Congress did not see fit to require states to maintain their tax effort for education and, as a result, state funding for higher education has declined dramatically during the past several years, shifting the burden to the student whose total debt now exceeds the total credit card debt in the United States. Stiglitz succinctly addresses the higher education funding fiasco and points out that the voucher/loan system fashioned by private, private for-profit schools and banks “eviscerates any incentives for banks, and the for- profit schools that they work with, to provide an education that will yield a return. Even if the education is worthless, the borrower is still on the hook.” Stiglitz has extensive endnotes to support his assertions. Second, he says that this deregulation, “a conspiracy between the for-profit schools (many owned by Wall Street firms) and the for-profit banks, the students are never warned . . . the reality is ‘Dissatisfaction is almost guaranteed...’” Stiglitz says that effectively the for-profits, in concert with Wall Street financiers, tell the victims “We exploit your dreams; we don’t deliver on our promise.” Third, to add to the problem, the government’s lack of regulation of these transactions is almost wholly financed by taxpayer money. The result is that in this non-regulated U.S. higher education voucher/loan system, the students and taxpayers are misused, deluded and beguiled while the private sector, private and private for-profit institutions, in concert with banks and the Wall Street investors reap huge fiscal rewards.

Today institutions of higher education, public and private, remain largely segregated by race, religion and economic condition. White colleges and universities remain primarily white, Black institutions remain primarily black, and denominational institutions remain even more religiously identifiable.

Such segregation is sanctified with tons of federal and state money in the forms of tuition vouchers, tax credits and government subsidized loans. The Obama administration has been largely foreclosed from remedying the situation for fear of offending powerful political forces representing the investors and private institutions. The higher education voucher/loan dilemma portends a probable scenario for the future of tuition vouchers and charter schools at the primary and secondary levels.

Stiglitz quotes Alexis de Tocqueville who said that the main element of the “peculiar genius of American society” is “self-interest properly understood.” The last two words, “properly understood,” are the key, says Stiglitz. According to Stiglitz, everyone possesses self-interest in the “narrow sense.” This “narrow sense” with regard to educational choice is usually exercised for reasons other than educational quality, the chief reasons being race, religion, economic and social status, and similarity with persons with comparable information, biases and prejudices. But Stiglitz interprets Tocqueville’s “properly understood” to mean a much broader and more desirable and moral objective, that of “appreciating” and paying attention to everyone else’s self-interest. In other words, the common welfare is, in fact, “a precondition for one’s own ultimate well being.”17 Such commonality in the advancement of the public good is lost by the narrow self-interest. School tuition vouchers and charter schools are the operational models for implementation of the “narrow self-interest.” It is easy to recognize, but difficult to justify.

1.Liah Greenfeld, The Spirit of Capitalism: Nationalism and Economic Growth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).
2. Justin Fox, The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street, (New York: Harper Business, 2001), p. 178.
3. Fox, op. cit., p. 182
4. See: Greenfeld,
op. cit. p. 355, quoting W.H. Campbell, Rutgers University. th
5. See: Kern Alexander and M. David Alexander, American Public School Law, 8 Edition,
(Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth/Cengage, 2012), pp. 284-327 and pp. 337-394.
6. Fox,
op cit, pp. 191-196.
7. Joseph E. Stiglitz,
Whither Socialism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), p. 179.
8. Jean-Jacques Rousseau,
A Discourse on Political Economy (1758), in The Social Contract and
Discourses, translation by G.D.H. Cole, (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1973), p. 133.
9. Joseph Stiglitz
, The Price of Inequality (New York, NY: W.W.Norton & Company, 2012)
10. Joseph E. Stiglitz
, Economics of the Public Sector, Third Edition (New York: W.W. Norton &
Company, 2000), p. 309. 11. Ibid.
12. Ibid., p. 434.
13. Ibid., p. 435.
14. Fox,
op. cit., p. 200-201.
15. Michael Walzer,
Spheres of Justice (New York: Basic Books, 1983), p. 218.
16. See also:
The Economics and Financing of Higher Education in the United States, Joint Economic
Committee, Congress of the United States, 91st Congress, 1st Session, 1969. 17. Stiglitz, op. cit., The Price of Inequality, p. 288. 

Local School Boards to Duncan: Back Off!

Local School Boards to Duncan: Back Off!

by Diane Ravitch

The U.S. Department of Education is not supposed to control U.S. education.
It was created to serve schools, protect the rights of the neediest children, and coordinate funding programs, not to tell schools what to do.
One prong of the corporate reform movement seeks to strip local school boards of their responsibility, because they don't like privatization.
The National School Boards Association listened to Secretary Duncan and a leading Republican member of Congress yesterday, then released this statement:
School Board Leaders Advocate for Less Intrusive Role of the U.S. Department of Education
Alexandria, Va. (Jan. 29, 2013) – More than 700 school board members and state school boards association leaders will be meeting with their members of Congress and urging them to co-sponsor legislation, developed by the National School Boards Association (NSBA), to protect local school district governance from unnecessary and counter-productive federal intrusion from the U.S. Department of Education.
School board leaders are in Washington D.C. to take part in NSBA’s 40th annual Federal Relations Network Conference, being held Jan. 27-29, 2013.
The proposed legislation would ensure that the Department of Education’s actions are consistent with the specific intent of federal law and are educationally, operationally, and financially supportable at the local level. This would also establish several procedural steps that the Department of Education would need to take prior to initiating regulations, rules, grant requirements, guidance documents, and other regulatory materials.
“In recent years, the U.S. Department of Education has engaged in a variety of activities to reshape the educational delivery system,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA’s Executive Director. “All too often these activities have impacted local school district policy and programs in ways that have been beyond the specific legislative intent. School board leaders are simply asking that local flexibility and decision-making not be eroded through regulatory actions.”
Additionally, this legislation is intended to provide the House of Representatives and Senate committees that oversee education with better information regarding the local impact of Department of Education’s activities. The legislation is also designed to more broadly underscore the role of Congress as the federal policy-maker in education and through its representative function.
“We must ensure that the decisions made at the federal level will best support the needs and goals of local school systems and the communities they serve,” said Gentzel. “Local school boards must have the ability to make on-the-ground decisions that serve the best interests of our school districts.”

NJ Parents and Educators on School Choice Week

by Diane Ravitch

New Jersey Save Our Schools reminds us that "school choice" was closely associated with resistance to court-ordered school desegregation in the South. Not only vouchers but segregation academies ("schools of choice") were havens for whites fleeing contact with blacks.
Save Our Schools NJ Statement on School Choice Week
This week, there will be a concerted national effort to use the idea of parental school choice to advance an entirely different agenda.
We want to remind our legislators and those marketing school choice that legitimate school choices:
Ensure every child has access to a high-quality public school education;
• Do not segregate or discriminate against our children on the basis of income, English proficiency, special needs, race, gender, religion or sexual preference;
• Are transparent in the sources and uses of their funding and in their educational outcomes;
• Are democratically controlled by local communities.
Unfortunately, what is being promoted by “choice” advocates does not come even close to meeting these standards.
Vouchers arose in Southern states during the 1960s, as a method of perpetuating segregation. To prevent children of color from attending their all-white schools, some districts actually closed those public schools and issued vouchers to parents that were only good at privately segregated schools, known as segregation academies.
The more recent history of voucher use in other states confirms that they continue to increase segregation.
Unfortunately, many charter schools have the same segregating effect.
For example, the recent Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) study of New Jersey charter schools found that New Jersey’s traditional public schools served four and a half times as many students with Limited English Proficiency and one and a half times as many special-needs students as did the charter schools. Rutgers Professor Bruce Baker has documented that this segregation also includes income, with charter schools serving a wealthier population of students than comparable traditional public schools.
New Jersey Department of Education statistics confirm that a number of New Jersey charter schools are also segregated by race and ethnicity.
Until school choice advocates can ensure that greater options for some parents do not equal more segregation for all of our children, their claims of looking out for the needy do not ring true.
Joining an all-white country club is also a choice, but not one that we would ever support.
Save Our Schools NJ is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of parents and other concerned residents whose more than 10,000 members believe that all NJ children should have access to a high quality public education.

Teach For America Corps Members’ Evaluation of the First Semester

So NOT Amazing! Teach For America Corps Members’ Evaluation of the First Semester of Their Teacher Preparation Program

by Heather CarterAudrey Amrein-Beardsley & Cory Cooper Hansen — 2011

Background: Much of the research related to Teach For America (TFA) is related to the concerns surrounding whether such teachers should assume primary teaching responsibility and whether alternatively certified teachers are effective in the classroom. This research study takes a different approach and moves the conversation into a new domain of evaluating the coursework that TFA teachers undertake to meet state-mandated certification requirements. Based on initial course evaluations at a college of education, TFA students rated their university courses and instructors more critically than did non-TFA students.

Purpose of Study: The purposes of this study were (1) to explore the aforementioned differences in quality ratings of courses and instructors and (2) to examine what items on the student evaluation instrument could be used to identify salient constructs that are most necessary to meet the needs of TFA students.

Setting: This research was conducted at a college of education at a Research I university involved with a TFA partnership through which TFA students earn master’s and certification while teaching in high-needs schools.
Participants: Participants in this study were TFA students who were teaching on an alternative teaching certificate, as compared with traditional students who were enrolled in the same methods courses with the same instructors. Both sets of students were enrolled in their first year of their teacher preparation program.

Research Design: The researchers analyzed the numerical differences between student evaluation scores posted for the same instructors by different groups of students (TFA and traditional students enrolled in the same methods coursework). The researchers also analyzed survey (Likert-type and open-ended) data to evidence and explain differences.

(1) TFA students did in fact rate their courses and instructors significantly lower than did their non-TFA peers; 
(2) TFA students, as practicing teachers in charge of real-time classrooms, were more critical consumers, critical in the sense that they needed—or, more appropriately, felt that they needed—coursework that provided just-in-time knowledge; and 
(3) TFA students did not feel as if they were treated like master’s students. They wanted instructors who modeled practical teaching strategies and did not dumb down course activities, many of which they believed were irrelevant and a waste of time given their immediate needs.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Issues related to certification coursework are highlighted, and included are specific and immediate course improvement recommendations and a call to reexamine educational policies related to alternative teacher certification.

Playtime’s over, kindergartners

Standards stressing kids out

  • Kindergarten has come a long way, baby — too far, some say.
Way beyond the ABCs, crayons and building blocks, the city Department of Education now wants 4- and 5-year-olds to write “informative/explanatory reports” and demonstrate “algebraic thinking.
Children who barely know how to write the alphabet or add 2 and 2 are expected to write topic sentences and use diagrams to illustrate math equations.
“For the most part, it’s way over their heads,” a Brooklyn teacher said. “It’s too much for them. They’re babies!”
In a kindergarten class in Red Hook, Brooklyn, three children broke down and sobbed on separate days last week, another teacher told The Post.
HITTING THE BOOKS: Kindergartner Courtland Coleman, 6, tackles an assignment in his class at PS 257 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Angel Chevrestt
HITTING THE BOOKS: Kindergartner Courtland Coleman, 6, tackles an assignment in his class at PS 257 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
When one girl cried, “I can’t do it,” classmates rubbed her back, telling her, “That’s OK.”
“This is causing a lot of anxiety,” the teacher said. “Kindergarten should be happy and playful. It should be art and dancing and singing and learning how to take turns. Instead, it’s frustrating and disheartening.”
The city has adopted national standards called the Common Core, which dramatically raise the bar on what kids in grades K through 12 should know.
The jargon is new, too. Teachers rate each student’s performance as “novice,” “apprentice,” “practitioner” or “expert.”
Kindergartners are introduced to “informational texts” read aloud, such as “Garden Helpers,” a National Geographic tale about useful pests.
After three weeks, kids have to “write a book about what they’ve learned,” with a drawing and sentences explaining the topic.
In math, kids tackle concepts like “tally chart,” “combination,” and “commutative property,” DOE records show.
The big test: “Miguel has two shelves. Miguel has six books . . . How many different ways can Miguel put books on the two shelves? Show and tell how you know.”
An “expert” would draw a diagram with a key, show all five combinations, write number sentences for each equation, and explain his or her conclusions using math terms, the DOE says.
“A child who’s an ‘expert’ is more like a second-grader,” said Cathleen Vecchione, a kindergarten teacher at PS 257 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
“At this point, we’re not ready for it,” she said, noting delays caused by Hurricane Sandy.
The class has learned counting by 10s and up to 50 -- but not yet gotten to addition.
“Miss Vee” asked her class to write the sentence, “I have a pet.” Kids struggled with putting letters on the line, spacing, and period placement. One wrote, ‘I. hav. a. pet.” Another wrote, “I wet. a pet.”
The “super challenging” demands leave less time for puzzles, coloring and games, she said.
DOE spokeswoman Erin Hughes said, “These are the types of activities and exercises that students need to work on to acquire the skills they need to be ready for middle school, high school, college and careers.”
But kindergarten, she added, should include a “wide range of activities, including free play.”

Charters Get Even MORE Brazen

by Jersey Jazzman
You think the story of the foul-mouthed Bay Area charter cheerleader Ben Chavis is bad? Wait until you hear what's going on in Albany!
The former chief financial officer for the Brighter Choice Foundation, which provides funding and support to 10 public charter schools in Albany, has been charged with embezzling $202,837 from the organization.

The arrest Wednesday of Ronald A. Racela marks the second time in four years that Racela has been charged with grand larceny. Two years ago, Racela admitted stealing $53,931 from KeyBank in Albany, where he was employed as a manager in the Community Development Lending Group, court records show. 
M. Christian Bender, executive director of Brighter Choice Foundation, said Brighter Choiceofficials were not aware of Racela's criminal history when he was hired as financial director of Brighter Choice Charter Schools in June 2010. Bender said Racela described his separation from KeyBank as "tense" but did not disclose he had been arrested for embezzlement eight months before he was hired by Brighter Choice. 

"I knew that it had not been a smooth separation, but obviously I had no idea that it involved criminal activity on his part," Bender said Friday. 

Still, a state Education Department spokesman said the agency sent written notice of Racela's criminal history to the charter school last March, when it denied the school's request to clear Racela for employment. The spokesman said the agency had first flagged an employment clearance request for Racela that was submitted by Brighter Choice in December 2011. By that time, Racela had already been working for Brighter Choice schools for about 18 months. [emphasis mine]
Wait a minute... "Brighter Choice"? This con man had been working for "Brighter Choice" since the summer of 2010? Where have I heard that name before? Thinking...
Wealthy investors and major banks have been making windfall profits by using a little-known federal tax break to finance new charter-school construction.
The program, the New Markets Tax Credit, is so lucrative that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years.
In Albany, which boasts the state's highest percentage of charter school enrollments, a nonprofit called the Brighter Choice Foundation has employed the New Markets Tax Credit to arrange private financing for five of the city's nine charter schools.
But many of those same schools are now straining to pay escalating rents, which are going toward the debt service that Brighter Choice incurred during construction.
The Henry Johnson Charter School, for example, saw the rent for its 31,000-square-foot building skyrocket from $170,000 in 2008 to $560,000 last year.
The Albany Community School's rent jumped from $195,000 to $350,000.
Green Tech High Charter School rents went from $443,000 to $487,000.
Meanwhile, all the Albany charter schools haven't achieved the enrollment levels their founders expected, even after recruiting hundreds of students from suburban school districts to fill their seats. 
The result has been less money in per-pupil state aid to pay operating costs, including those big rent bills.
Several charters have fallen into additional debt to the Brighter Choice Foundation.
This story, by Juan Gonzalez in the NY Daily News, dates back to May of 2010. That would be almost exactly when admitted criminal Ronald Racela starting working at Brighter Choice. You'd think that these people, in the wake of Gonzalez's report, would be scrutinizing their entire organization to make sure everything was above board. But it looks as if they were running exactly the type of operation that would attract a guy like Racela:
You'd think these financial problems would raise eyebrows among state regulators - or at least worry those charter school boards.
But the powerful charter lobby has so far successfully battled to prevent independent government audits of how its schools spend their state aid.
And key officers of Albany's charter school boards are themselves board members, employees or former employees of the Brighter Choice Foundation or its affiliates.
Christian Bender, for example, executive director of the foundation, is chairman or vice chairman of four of the Albany charters.
Tom Carroll, the foundation's vice chairman and one of the authors of the state's charter law when he was in the Pataki administration, was a founding board member of Albany Community Charter School and is currently chairman of two other charters, Brighter Choice School for Boys and Brighter Choice School for Girls.
Carroll also sits on the board of directors of NCB Capital Impact, a Virginia organization that used New Market Credits to pull together investors for all the Albany building loans.
A Brighter Choice official confirmed Thursday that the Virginia organization gets "a 3% originating and management fee" for all school construction deals that Brighter Choice arranges.
But it wasn't just Brighter Choice that was getting a cut:
Under the New Markets program, a bank or private equity firm that lends money to a nonprofit to build a charter school can receive a 39% federal tax credit over seven years.
The credit can even be piggybacked on other tax breaks for historic preservation or job creation.
By combining the various credits with the interest from the loan itself, a lender can almost double his investment over the seven-year period.
No wonder JPMorgan Chase announced this week it was creating a new $325 million pool to invest in charter schools and take advantage of the New Markets Tax Credit.
I gotta tell you, folks, I read this stuff and I think: "Who's pulling the bigger scam: criminals like Racela, or the banks financing these loans, and the charter operators who are working the scam in unbelievably brazen ways?"
They said charters would offer needed competition to community schools, but they didn’t say the competition would be about public dollars. Today’s Albany Times Union reports on the city’s Albany Leadership Charter High School for Girls “asking for $15 million in tax-free public financing to buy the brand-new charter high school for girls built by the Brighter Choice Foundation.”
Here’s the cute part. The nonprofit Brighter Choice Foundation, which runs all 11 charter schools in Albany and  erected the bulding at a cost of some $10.1 million, is directing its Charter Facilities Finance Fund to ask the city to back its selling tax-exempt bonds to investors so it can  buy the school building and — are you ready for this? — lease it back to Brighter Choice.
Forget about whether the deal sounds dodgy, because it does. If the deal also sounds a bit familiar, it may be because Thomas Carroll, the prime mover behind the Brighter Choice charter schools, has been profiting from a similarly questionable real estate tax loophole for the past several years, a story exposed earlier this year by Juan Gonzalez in the Daily News.
That story from EdWize dates to November of 2010; Racela was well-established at Brighter Choice by then. I'll bet he fit in like he had been there for years...

Oh, and let's not forget who else was in on the play:
Brighter Choice Chairman Chris Bender said the sale of the of the high school would replenish the [sic] a revolving line of credit Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic legacy of the founding family of Wal-Mart, that Brighter Choice uses pay for the construction of new schools.

That, however, could create another potentially controversial scenario in which Brighter Choice is essentially using the proceeds from the sale of tax-free bonds to bolster the account from which it builds new schools to compete with the city school district.
Even the reformy Waltons got in on the play! I am dying to know what the interest rate was on that line of credit Sam's clan, aren't you?

Seriously - how much longer does this need to go on? How many more stories of hustlers and con artists connected to charter schools do we need to hear? How many more charters that are strip clubs by night do we have to endure? How many more charters making thousands off of parents who have to pay "discipline fees"? How many more charters that can't do their taxes correctly? How many more failed cyber chartersFamily-run charter cash cows? Accused charter racketeers? Way overpaid charter administrators? Outrageous junkets? Sickening political back-room dealings?

How much longer are we going to accept this nonsense? When is this nation going to stand up and say: "Enough!" When are we going to stop the Halliburtonization of our public schools?

Soon, every school in America will look like this...

Monday, January 28, 2013

Favorite Quotes of Jack McKay

Some of my favorite quotes:
1. The public school is the greatest discovery made by man.  Horace Mann
2. Education is best provided in schools    embracing children of all religious, social, and ethnic backgrounds.    Horace Mann

3. A teacher who is attempting to teach 
without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron.     Horace Mann

4. Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step; only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find the right road.   Dag Hammarskjold 

5. You have never done enough, so long as it is still possible that you have something of value to contribute. Dag Hammarskjold.  

The following are quotes offered by school superintendents:

1.   Don't mistake the edge of the rut for the horizon.

2.You are only as good as your teaching staff.

3. Introducing myself by saying 'I am the current superintendent of ... 

4. Even if you can successfully swim against an angry tide as a school leader, you will be criticized for not walking on water.

5. All will be right with the world when the military has to hold bake sales to buy bombs and schools have all the money they need.

6. A (school) Board's perception of reality is reality; regardless of the facts. 
1st Corollary: The function of the superintendent is to make the real- ity and the facts fit as closely as possible. 
2nd Corollary: Any administrator/ s tenure in a district is directly related to how close the facts and reality correlate.

7. Being a superintendent is a fine line between leading a parade and being run out of town by an unhappy mob.

8. The key to leading a public school system is hiring great people and keeping everything that might prevent them from doing their job out of the way.

9. Don't tell me what you value, tell me what you do and I will tell you what you value.

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