Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Diane Ravitch in Detroit - She's All Over the Place- Superwoman

From Teacher Magazine - Education Week's Blog, Teacher in a Strange Land, Saturday, September 25, 2010. See
Diane Defends Detroit
By Nancy Flanagan
Last night, I went to hear Diane Ravitch speak, at Wayne State University []. In the heart of Detroit, on the Cass Corridor, a neighborhood in a once-proud city that is now ground zero for post-industrial unemployment.

Ravitch's speech was dynamic. It's gratifying to witness someone preach the truth, without notes, for about 75 minutes, on a comprehensive range of educational topics and passions. The audience was jammed with urban educators. Ravitch's remarks were punctuated with church-revival murmurs and exclamations ("Say it, sister!").

Ravitch pulled no punches. She spoke eloquently of what happens when corporate--and often white-- outsiders think they know how to "fix" the schools that serve poor children: "efficiency," cutting back to narrow "basic" curricula, credentials over substance, patronizing the educators who have been faithfully serving until the private-manager cavalry arrived.
At one point, Ravitch asked how many in the auditorium (perhaps 500 people) were teachers. A forest of hands went up. She applauded, and the audience joined in. Then she said--it's a good thing you're applauding for yourself, because the media is conspiring to make you look greedy and incompetent, beginning with your unions and your due process guarantees.

The Q & A was marked by angry Detroit teachers looking for an audience. On behalf of Teachers' Letters to Obama [], I asked Ravitch how teachers can organize to preach our own experienced truth, if our unions have been rendered toothless and the media juggernaut has overwhelmed reason and research.

Oh--never stop, she said. Teachers need to build their own networks of social capital. Form and join groups. Read good books to arm yourself with information. (She recommended Richard Rothstein, Daniel Koretz and Linda Darling-Hammond.) [see ] Know that the struggle will last for a long time. Refer to other high-achieving nations as models--countries that have systemically designed their public schools and their teaching profession as long-term investments in civic excellence. It can be done. So don't give up.

I raved to teacher buddies about the evening. A friend in Los Angeles (where Diane was appearing, the next day) noted that while she was now saying "the right things" and had "joined our side," he was taking a pass on going to see her speak. He compared her to those who participate in the architecture of destruction, but profess to be appalled when the damage occurs.

My response: There are those who would argue that Diane Ravitch used to say the right things, but now she is wrong--gone to the dark side of teachers, unions and "the status quo." Ravitch addressed this in Detroit. She talked about ideas that have been her constant beliefs about education (a full, rich curriculum for all children in public schools) and ideas where research has changed her mind (the free-market model). She has been consistently scholarly, pursuing the evidence relentlessly.

Ravitch was adamant: "I do not embrace the status quo. The status quo is terrible. I changed my mind, because the evidence showed me I was wrong."

I believe that admission is very, very powerful. It requires personal humility. At this point--given the recent flood of evidence-- I'd love to see a little personal humility on the part of the people currently running the policy show. Perhaps it's time to stop dividing people into "our side" and "their side" and start the hard work of deconstructing popular policies and media-driven narratives. It's not about winning. It's about making better public schools for all kids.

Go see her, I told my friend in L.A. I guarantee that you will appreciate what she has to say about kids and teachers in "failing" schools, the inhumane and counterproductive turnaround strategies that started in Chicago and have become bait for more funding, nationally.

Visiting Detroit--arguably the most challenged public system in the nation--Ravitch explained that reconstituting schools destroys communities in poverty and the fragile social capital they have laboriously built. She championed the teachers who teach there, and called out those who built careers destroying school communities for political gain.

I reminded my friend of Emerson's take on staying the intellectual course: Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds ... [ ]

Marginalization and disengagement of a strong, well-informed teaching profession is the strategy of those who believe free public education is a drain on the growth of capitalism. If they shoot more holes in the great ship of the American Common School, eventually the noble idea that everyone deserves genuine opportunity will drain away.
In education policy, we are witnessing a power grab of epic proportion; the very folks we hoped would lead us toward equity and opportunity have decided that it's easier to rely on the market. Oh well. Never give up. Never give up.
Nancy Flanagan is an education writer and consultant focusing on teacher leadership. She spent 30 years in a K-12 music classroom in Hartland, Mich, and was named Michigan Teacher of the Year in 1993. She is National Board-certified, and a member of the Teacher Leaders Network. She welcomes feedback on her sharp-eyed perspectives on the inconsistencies and inspirations, the incomprehensible, immoral and imaginative, in American education. Her work is also featured on the Web site Teachers Lead.

Breaking Down "Waiting for Superman"

What ‘Superman’ got wrong, point by point

By Rick Ayers
While the education filmWaiting For Superman has moving profiles of students struggling to succeed under difficult circumstances, it puts forward a sometimes misleading and other times dishonest account of the roots of the problem and possible solutions.
The amped-up rhetoric of crisis and failure everywhere is being used to promote business-model reforms that are destabilizing even in successful schools and districts. A panel at NBC’s Education Nation Summit, taking place in New York today and tomorrow, was originally titled "Does Education Need a Katrina?" Such disgraceful rhetoric undermines reasonable debate.
Let’s examine these issues, one by one:
*Waiting for Superman says that lack of money is not the problem in education.
Yet the exclusive charter schools featured in the film receive large private subsidies. Two-thirds of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone funding comes from private sources, effectively making the charter school he runs in the zone a highly resourced private school. Promise Academy is in many ways an excellent school, but it is dishonest for the filmmakers to say nothing about the funds it took to create it and the extensive social supports including free medical care and counseling provided by the zone.
In New Jersey, where court decisions mandated similar programs, such as high quality pre-kindergarten classes and extended school days and social services in the poorest urban districts, achievement and graduation rates increased while gaps started to close. But public funding for those programs is now being cut and progress is being eroded. Money matters! Of course, money will not solve all problems (because the problems are more systemic than the resources of any given school) – but the off-handed rejection of a discussion of resources is misleading.
*Waiting for Superman implies that standardized testing is a reasonable way to assess student progress.
The debate of “how to raise test scores” strangles and distorts strong education. Most test score differences stubbornly continue to reflect parental income and neighborhood/zip codes, not what schools do. As opportunity, health and family wealth increase, so do test scores.
This is not the fault of schools but the inaccuracy, and the internal bias, in the tests themselves.
Moreover, the tests are too narrow (on only certain subjects with only certain measurement tools). When schools focus exclusively on boosting scores on standardized tests, they reduce teachers to test-prep clerks, ignore important subject areas and critical thinking skills, dumb down the curriculum and leave children less prepared for the future. We need much more authentic assessment to know if schools are doing well and to help them improve.
*Waiting for Superman ignores overall problems of poverty.
Schools must be made into sites of opportunity, not places for the rejection and failure of millions of African American, Chicano Latino, Native American, and immigrant students. But schools and teachers take the blame for huge social inequities in housing, health care, and income.
Income disparities between the richest and poorest in U.S.society have reached record levels between 1970 and today. Poor communities suffer extensive traumas and dislocations. Homelessness, the exploitation of immigrants, and the closing of community health and counseling clinics, are all factors that penetrate our school communities. Solutions that punish schools without addressing these conditions only increase the marginalization of poor children.
*Waiting for Superman says teachers’ unions are the problem. 
Of course unions need to be improved – more transparent, more accountable, more democratic and participatory – but before teachers unionized, the disparity in pay between men and women was disgraceful and the arbitrary power of school boards to dismiss teachers or raise class size without any resistance was endemic.
Unions have historically played leading roles in improving public education, and most nations with strong public educational systems have strong teacher unions.
According to this piece in The Nation, "In the Finnish education system, much cited in the film as the best in the world, teachers are – gasp! – unionized and granted tenure, and families benefit from a cradle-to-grave social welfare system that includes universal daycare, preschool and health care, all of which are proven to help children achieve better results in school."
In fact, even student teachers have a union in Finland and, overall, nearly 90% of the Finnish labor force is unionized.
The demonization of unions ignores the real evidence.
*Waiting for Superman says teacher education is useless.
The movie touts the benefits of fast track and direct entry to teaching programs such as Teach for America, but the country with the highest achieving students, Finland, also has highly educated teachers.
A 1970 reform of Finland’s education system mandated that all teachers above the kindergarten level have at least a master’s degree. Today that country’s students have the highest math and science literacy, as measured by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), of all the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD) member countries.
*Waiting for Superman decries tenure as a drag on teacher improvement. 
Tenured teachers cannot be fired without due process and a good reason: they can’t be fired because the boss wants to hire his cousin, or because the teacher is gay (or black or…), or because they take an unpopular position on a public issue outside of school.
A recent survey found that most principals agreed that they had the authority to fire a teacher if they needed to take such action. It is interesting to note that when teachers are evaluated through a union-sanctioned peer process, more teachers are put into retraining programs and dismissed than through administration-only review programs. Overwhelmingly teachers want students to have outstanding and positive experiences in schools.
*Waiting for Superman says charter schools allow choice and better educational innovation. 
Charters were first proposed by the teachers’ unions to allow committed parents and teachers to create schools that were free of administrative bureaucracy and open to experimentation and innovation, and some excellent charters have set examples. But thousands of hustlers and snake oil salesmen have also jumped in.
While teacher unions are vilified in the film, there is no mention of charter corruption or profiteering. A recent national study by CREDO, The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, concludes that only 17% of charter schools have better test scores than traditional public schools, 46% had gains that were no different than their public counterparts, and 37% were significantly worse.
While a better measure of school success is needed, even by their own measure, the project has not succeeded. A recent Mathematica Policy Research study came to similar conclusions. And the Education Report,"The Evaluation of Charter School Impacts, concludes, “On average, charter middle schools that hold lotteries are neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement, behavior, and school progress.”
Some fantastic education is happening in charter schools, especially those initiated by communities and led by teachers and community members. But the use of charters as a battering ram for those who would outsource and privatize education in the name of “reform” is sheer political opportunism.
*Waiting for Superman glorifies lotteries for admission to highly selective and subsidized charter schools as evidence of the need for more of them.
If we understand education as a civil right, even a human right as defined by the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, we know it can’t be distributed by a lottery.
We must guarantee all students access to high quality early education, highly effective teachers, college and work-preparatory curricula and equitable instructional resources like good school libraries and small classes. A right without a clear map of what that right protects is an empty statement.
It is not a sustainable public policy to allow more and more public school funding to be diverted to privately subsidized charters while public schools become the schools of last resort for children with the greatest educational needs. In Waiting for Superman, families are cruelly paraded in front of the cameras as they wait for an admission lottery in an auditorium where the winners’ names are pulled from a hat and read aloud, while the losing families trudge out in tears with cameras looming in their faces – in what amounts to family and child abuse.
*Waiting for Superman says competition is the best way to improve learning.
Too many people involved in education policy are dazzled by the idea of “market forces” improving schools. By setting up systems of competition, Social Darwinist struggles between students, between teachers, and between schools, these education policy wonks are distorting the educational process.
Teachers will be motivated to gather the most promising students, to hide curriculum strategies from peers, and to cheat; principals have already been caught cheating in a desperate attempt to boost test scores. And children are worn out in a sink-or-swim atmosphere that threatens them with dire life outcomes if they are not climbing to the top of the heap.
In spite of the many millions of dollars poured into expounding the theory of paying teachers for higher student test scores (sometimes mislabeled as ‘merit pay’), a new study by Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives found that the use of merit pay for teachers in the Nashville school district produced no difference even according to their measure, test outcomes for students.
*Waiting for Superman says good teachers are key to successful education. We agree. But Waiting for Superman only contributes to the teacher-bashing culture which discourages talented college graduates from considering teaching and drives people out of the profession.
According to the Department of Education, the country will need 1.6 million new teachers in the next five years. Retention of talented teachers is one key. Good teaching is about making connections to students, about connecting what they learn to the world in which they live, and this only happens if teachers have history and roots in the communities where they teach.
But a recent report by the nonprofit National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future says that “approximately a third of America’s new teachers leave teaching sometime during their first three years of teaching; almost half leave during the first five years. In many cases, keeping our schools supplied with qualified teachers is comparable to trying to fill a bucket with a huge hole in the bottom.”
Check out the reasons teachers are being driven out in Katy Farber’s book, "Why Great Teachers Quit: And How We Might Stop the Exodus," (Corwin Press).

*Waiting for Superman says “we’re not producing large numbers of scientists and doctors in this country anymore. . . This means we are not only less educated, but also less economically competitive.”
But Business Week (10/28/09) reported that “U.S. colleges and universities are graduating as many scientists and engineers as ever,” yet “the highest performing students are choosing careers in other fields.” In particular, the study found, “many of the top students have been lured to careers in finance and consulting.” It’s the market, and the disproportionately high salaries paid to finance specialists, that is misdirecting human resources, not schools.
*Waiting for Superman promotes a nutty theory of learning which claims that teaching is a matter of pouring information into children’s heads.
In one of its many little cartoon segments, the film purports to show how kids learn. The top of a child’s head is cut open and a jumble of factoids is poured in. Ouch! Oh, and then the evil teacher union and regulations stop this productive pouring project.
The film-makers betray a lack of understanding of how people actually learn, the active and engaged participation of students in the learning process. They ignore the social construction of knowledge, the difference between deep learning and rote memorization.
The movie would have done a service by showing us what excellent teaching looks like, and addressing the valuable role that teacher education plays in preparing educators to practice the kind of targeted teaching that reaches all students. It should have let teachers’ voices be heard.
*Waiting for Superman promotes the idea that we are in a dire war for US dominance in the world.
The poster advertising the film shows a nightmarish battlefield in stark gray, with a little white girl sitting at a desk in the midst of it. The text: “The fate of our country won’t be decided on a battlefield. It will be determined in a classroom.”
This is a common theme of the so-called reformers: We are at war with India and China and we have to out-math them and crush them so that we can remain rich and they can stay in the sweatshops.
But really, who declared this war? When did I as a teacher sign up as an officer in this war? And when did that 4th grade girl become a soldier in it? Instead of this new educational Cold War, perhaps we should be helping kids imagine a world of global cooperation, sustainable economies, and equity.
*Waiting for Superman says federal “Race to the Top” education funds are being focused to support students who are not being served in other ways.
According to a study by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., and others, Race to the Top funds are benefiting affluent or well-to-do, white, and“abled” students. So the outcome of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top has been more funding for schools that are doing well and more discipline and narrow test-preparation for the poorest schools.
*Waiting for Superman suggests that teacher improvement is a matter of increased control and discipline over teachers.
Dan Brown, a teacher in the SEED charter school featured in the film, points out that successful schools involve teachers in strong collegial conversations. Teachers need to be accountable to a strong educational plan, without being terrorized. Good teachers, which is the vast majority of them, are seeking this kind of support from their leaders.
*Waiting for Superman proposes a reform “solution” that exploits the feminization of the field of teaching; it proposes that teachers just need a few good men with hedge funds (plus D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee with a broom) to come to the rescue. 
Teaching has been historically devalued – teachers are less well compensated and have less control of their working conditions than other professionals – because of its associations with women.
For example, 97% of preschool and kindergarten teachers are women, and this is also the least well-compensated sector of teaching; in 2009, the lowest 10% earned $30,970 to $34,280; the top 10% earned $75,190 to $80,970. () By comparison the top 25 hedge fund managers took in $25 billion in 2009, enough to hire 658,000 new teachers.
Waiting for Superman could and should have been an inspiring call for improvement in education, a call we desperately need to mobilize behind.
That’s why it is so shocking that the message was hijacked by a narrow agenda that undermines strong education. It is stuck in a framework that says that reform and leadership means doing things, like firing a bunch of people (Rhee) or “turning around” schools (Education Secretary Arne Duncan) despite the fact that there’s no research to suggest that these would have worked, and there’s now evidence to show that they haven’t.
Reform must be guided by community empowerment and strong evidence, not by ideological warriors or romanticized images of leaders acting like they’re doing something, anything. Waiting for Superman has ignored deep historical and systemic problems in education such as segregation, property-tax based funding formulas, centralized textbook production, lack of local autonomy and shared governance, de-professionalization, inadequate special education supports, differential discipline patterns, and the list goes on and on.
People seeing Waiting for Superman should be mobilized to improve education. They just need to be willing to think outside of the narrow box that the film-makers have constructed to define what needs to be done.
Thanks for ideas and some content from many teacher publications, and especially from Monty Neill, Jim Horn Lisa Guisbond, Stan Karp, Erica Meiners, Kevin Kumashiro, Ilene Abrams, Bill Ayers, and Therese Quinn.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Our Kryptonite

Monday, September 27, 2010

Our Kryptonite

In response to Oprah's recent special, the Education Nation special on MSNBC, and the premiere of the controversial documentary Waiting for Superman, I feel it is important to say this. I am a teacher, not Superman. We don't need superheroes to fix the problems in education. We need less kryptonite. What's the kryptonite, you might ask? This is a start:

Inequality in school funding. I'll never forget visiting an elementary school in Topeka, Kansas as part of the Kansas Teacher of the Year team. The band practiced in the school foyer and the speech pathologist conducted her speech sessions with students in the school elevator, with a chair propping the door open. Ten miles down the road, we visited another elementary school, the building straight out of a Willy Wonka fantasy, with billowing clouds as ceiling tiles, colored houses as grade-level team homes, and floors so clean you could eat off of them. In the United States of America, our schools should be palaces. They should represent, literally and symbolically, that we believe education is the cornerstone of our society. When the welcome centers at our state borders have cleaner and nicer bathrooms than the ones our students use on a daily basis, there's a problem.

Unrealistic mandated expectations. Do all teachers believe that 100% of students can read at grade-level? Yes. Of course, we don't want to leave children `behind'. However, it takes time. Schools are not factories. Children are not robots. Some students take more time than others because each child arrives to school with a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and abilities. To put arbitrary timelines on the student's learning without recognizing the GROWTH the student makes over that period of time does nothing to encourage steady and substantial literacy learning. It encourages teachers to teach to the test. Additionally, when the span of reading levels in one given 8th grade class ranges from the first grade level to the college level, it's not difficult to see where a teacher's focus and energy needs to go. When focusing on the students that need the teacher the most, consequently, the teacher is neglecting the students who have achieved grade level and need to be challenged.

Everyone knows how to do it better. When my husband was battling leukemia and under the care of a team of doctors and medical experts, I never considered for a moment to tell them `how `to do their work because I've been under the care of a doctor before. And yet, because most adults completed K-12 school, they've experienced being a learner in a variety of settings and whether good or bad, feel they know what good teaching should look like. Teacher education programs are not all crayons and construction paper. Teachers know a great deal about assessment, psychology, pedagogy, theory, and research.

One-shot assessments. Three days before the starting date of state reading assessments, a battalion of soldiers deployed from our local army post. Of my 120 students, more than half of their dads (and sometimes moms) were deployed at that stage in the war on terrorism, some for the second and third times. Students carry the weight of the world with them sometimes, and certainly these real life events became a distraction when faced with THE multiple-choice test. Poor timing, perhaps…but when we neglect to consider all the intricacies of a student's world, including how their out-of-school lives impact their lives in school, we are all set up to fail. Students should have multiple opportunities to prove their proficiency.

Negative teacher portrayal. There are times I turn down the volume watching Jay Leno's nightly monologue, as he sometimes jokes about bad teachers and their actions. It's a shame, as 99% of the teaching profession is ethical, moral, and beyond reproach. Popular culture focuses too much attention on the other 1%.

NY Times Great Article on Real Reform

4,100 Students Prove ‘Small Is Better’ Rule Wrong

BROCKTON, Mass. — A decade ago, Brockton High School was a case study in failure. Teachers and administrators often voiced the unofficial school motto in hallway chitchat: students have a right to fail if they want. And many of them did — only a quarter of the students passed statewide exams. One in three dropped out.
Then Susan Szachowicz and a handful of fellow teachers decided to take action. They persuaded administrators to let them organize a schoolwide campaign that involved reading and writing lessons into every class in all subjects, including gym.
Their efforts paid off quickly. In 2001 testing, more students passed the state tests after failing the year before than at any other school in Massachusetts. The gains continued. This year and last, Brockton outperformed 90 percent of Massachusetts high schools. And its turnaround is getting new attention in a report, “How High Schools Become Exemplary,” published last month by Ronald F. Ferguson, an economist at Harvard who researches the minority achievement gap.
What makes Brockton High’s story surprising is that, with 4,100 students, it is an exception to what has become received wisdom in many educational circles — that small is almost always better.
That is why the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade breaking down big schools into small academies (it has since switched strategies, focusing more on instruction).
The small-is-better orthodoxy remains powerful. A new movie, “Waiting for Superman,” for example, portrays five charter schools in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere — most with only a few hundred students — as the way forward for American schooling.
Brockton, by contrast, is the largest public school in Massachusetts, and one of the largest in the nation.
At education conferences, Dr. Szachowicz — who became Brockton’s principal in 2004 — still gets approached by small-school advocates who tell her they are skeptical that a 4,100-student school could offer a decent education.
“I tell them we’re a big school that works,“ said Dr. Szachowicz, whose booming voice makes her seem taller than 5-foot-6 as she walks the hallways, greeting students, walkie-talkie in hand.
She and other teachers took action in part because academic catastrophe seemed to be looming, Dr. Szachowicz and several of her colleagues said in interviews here. Massachusetts had instituted a new high school exit exam in 1993, and passing it would be required to graduate a decade later. Unless the school’s culture improved, some 750 seniors would be denied a diploma each year, starting in 2003.
Dr. Szachowicz and Paul Laurino, then the head of the English department — he has since retired — began meeting on Saturdays with any colleagues they could pull together to brainstorm strategies for improving the school.
Shame was an early motivator, especially after the release of the 1999 test scores.
“They were horrible,” Dr. Szachowicz recalled. She painted them in bold letters on poster paper in the group’s Saturday meeting room.
“Is this the best we can be?” she wrote underneath.
The group eventually became known as the school restructuring committee, and the administration did not stand in the way. The principal “just let it happen,” the Harvard report says.
The committee’s first big step was to go back to basics, and deem that reading, writing, speaking and reasoning were the most important skills to teach. They set out to recruit every educator in the building — not just English, but math, science, even guidance counselors — to teach those skills to students.
The committee put together a rubric to help teachers understand what good writing looks like, and began devoting faculty meetings to teaching department heads how to use it. The school’s 300 teachers were then trained in small groups.
Writing exercises took many forms, but encouraged students to think methodically. A science teacher, for example, had her students write out, step by step, how to make a sandwich, starting with opening the cupboard to fetch the peanut butter, through washing the knife once the sandwich was made. Other writing exercises, of course, were much more sophisticated.
Some teachers dragged their feet. Michael Thomas, now the district’s operations director but who led the school’s physical education department at the time, recalled that several of his teachers told him, “This is gym; we shouldn’t have to teach writing.” Mr. Thomas said he replied, “If you want to work at Brockton High, it’s your job.”
Fear held some teachers back — fear of wasting time on what could be just another faddish reform, fear of a heavier workload — and committee members tried to help them surmount it.
“Let me help you,” was a response committee members said they often offered to reluctant colleagues who argued that some requests were too difficult.
The first big boost came with the results of the spring 2001 tests. Although Brockton’s scores were still unacceptably low, they had risen sharply. The state education commissioner, David P. Driscoll, traveled to Brockton to congratulate the school’s cheering students and faculty.
“It had become dogma that smaller was better, but there was no evidence,” said Mr. Driscoll, who since 2007 has headed the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees federal testing. “In schools, no matter the size — and Brockton is one of the biggest — what matters is uniting people behind a common purpose, setting high expectations, and sticking with it.”
After that early triumph, remaining resistance among the faculty gave way, Dr. Szachowicz said. Overnight, the restructuring committee gained enormous credibility, and scores of once-reluctant teachers wanted to start attending its Saturday meetings, which continue today.
Brockton never fired large numbers of teachers, in contrast with current federal policy, which encourages failing schools to consider replacing at least half of all teachers to reinvigorate instruction.
But Dr. Szachowicz and her colleagues did make some teachers uncomfortable, and at least one teacher who refused to participate in the turnaround was eventually dismissed after due process hearings.
Teachers unions have resisted turnaround efforts at many schools. But at Brockton, the union never became a serious adversary, in part because most committee members were unionized teachers, and the committee scrupulously honored the union contract.
An example: the contract set aside two hours per month for teacher meetings, previously used to discuss mundane school business. The committee began dedicating those to teacher training, and made sure they never lasted a minute beyond the time allotted.
“Dr. Szachowicz takes the contract seriously, and we’ve worked together within its parameters,” said Tim Sullivan, who was president of the local teachers union through much of the last decade.
The committee changed many rules and policies.
The school had an elaborate tracking system, for instance, that channeled students into one of five academic paths. It was largely eliminated because the “basic” courses set low expectations for poor-performing students.
The committee worked to boost the aspirations of students, 69 percent of whom qualify for free lunches because of their families’ low incomes. Teachers were urged to make sure students heard the phrase, “When you go to college ...” in every class, every day.
When the school began receiving academic awards, they were made into banners and displayed prominently.
Athletics had traditionally been valued above academic success, and coaches had routinely pressured teachers to raise the grades of star players to maintain their eligibility. Dr. Szachowicz said she put an end to any exceptions.
But the school retained all varsity sports, as well as its several bands and choruses, extensive drama program and scores of student clubs.
Many students consider the school’s size — as big as many small colleges — and its diverse student body (mostly minority), to be points in its favor, rather than problems.
“You meet a new person every day,” said Johanne Alexandre, a senior whose mother is Haitian. “Somebody with a new story, a new culture. I have Pakistani friends, Brazilians, Haitians, Asians, Cape Verdeans. There are Africans, Guatemalans.”
“There’s a couple of Americans, too!” Tercia Mota, a senior born in Brazil, offered. “But there aren’t cliques. Take a look at the lunch table.”
“You can’t say, those are the jocks, those are the preppy cheerleaders, those are the geeks,” Ms. Mota said. “Everything is blended, everybody’s friends with everyone.”
Over the years, Brockton has refined its literacy curriculum. Bob Perkins, the math department chairman, used a writing lesson last week in his Introduction to Algebra II class. He wrote “3 + 72 - 6 x 3 - 11” on the board, then asked students to solve the problem in their workbooks and to explain their reasoning, step by step, in simple sentences.
“I did the exponents first and squared the 7,” wrote Sharon Peterson, a junior. “I multiplied 6 x 3. I added 3 + 49, and combined 18 and 11, because they were both negatives. I ended up with 52-29. The final answer was 23.”
Some students had more trouble, and the lesson seemed to drag a bit.
“This is taking longer than I expected, but it’s not wasted time,” Mr. Perkins said. “They’re learning math, but they’re also learning to write.”
Brockton’s performance is not as stellar in math as in English language arts, and the committee has hired an outside consultant to help develop strategies for improving math instruction, Mr. Perkins said.
Dr. Ferguson said Brockton High first “jumped out of the data” for him early last year. He was examining Massachusetts’ 2008 test scores in his office in Cambridge, and noticed that Brockton had done a better job than 90 percent of the state’s 350 high schools helping its students to improve their language arts scores.
Since then, he has visited Brockton intermittently and invited some of its faculty to the Harvard campus for interviews. The report he wrote with four other Harvard researchers includes an analysis of exemplary performance not only at Brockton, but also at 14 other schools in five states.
The report noted one characteristic shared by all: “Achievement rose when leadership teams focused thoughtfully and relentlessly on improving the quality of instruction.”
Brockton was by far the largest, but only five of the exemplary schools had fewer than 1,000 students, while six had more than 1,700 and two in Illinois had more than 3,000.
“I never bought into the dogma that a huge school can’t be great,” Dr. Ferguson said.

Behind the drumbeat for charter schools

Behind the drumbeat for charter schools

Share126   19

Sun Sep 26, 2010 at 07:00:05 PM PDT

Let's say you have an existing product that needs improvement. You come up with a replacement you're really excited about. After more than a decade (PDF), the replacement product is better than the original 17% of the time. It's worse 37% of the time.
At this point, if you choose to plow forward with the new product without stepping back and sincerely trying to figure out what lessons can be learned from the respective successes of each product, you're proving one of two things about yourself. Either you're really, really stupid, or you have a motivation separate from the question of quality.
That's where the question of school reform stands now -- charter schools, of course, are the new product that is worse more than twice as often as it's better. And yet they are the favored approach of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a large cadre of super-wealthy donors, and many influential reporters. They're touted in the new film Waiting for Superman (which I haven't seen, won't pay to see, and about which I'd refer you to Dana Goldstein's excellent article in The Nation). They're everywhere -- and as Nicholas Lemann writes in the New Yorker:
It should raise questions when an enormous, complicated realm of life takes on the characteristics of a stock drama.
The issue is not whether schools should be improved. Under almost any circumstances the answer would be yes; under current circumstances in the US the answer is definitely. The issue is how improvement should be carried out. Of course there are fantastic charter schools out there, and ones that are doing excellent work serving specific populations. There are lessons to learn from those schools. Then, there are also lessons to learn from many public schools, but somehow we hear a lot less about that. We also tend not to hear enough about how many of the most successful charter schools are benefiting both from large infusions of money that public schools don't get and from extremely motivated students and parents.
Unfortunately, by now the forces arrayed behind charter schools as the answer are so great that before we can even embark on the project of real improvement, we have to identify the ideology (and the funding) underpinning the charter schools-or-bust movement and make sure the facts are known.
First of all, charter schools are big business, and they're often extremely sketchy business. The charter schools that get the publicity are often the ones started by an educator with a vision, run by a small group of true believers. Those schools exist, and for the students who have access to them, they are a wonderful thing. But evidence suggests they're outnumbered by schools like these:
City Controller Alan Butkovitz yesterday blasted the Philadelphia School District's Charter School Office for failing "to monitor charter schools," which spend millions in taxpayers' dollars.
Butkovitz released a scathing report citing financial mismanagement, excessive executive salaries and "opportunities for possible fraud" at 13 charter schools his office investigated over the last 14 months.
"Many charter schools, through leasing agreements and associated nonprofits, are transferring taxpayer-funded assets to nonprofits that are not accountable to the school district," the report said in one of its key findings.
Imagine Schools runs 71 charter schools in 11 states and Washington DC.
But regulators in some states have found that Imagine has elbowed the charter holders out of virtually all school decision making — hiring and firing principals and staff members, controlling and profiting from school real estate, and retaining fees under contracts that often guarantee Imagine’s management in perpetuity.
The arrangements, they say, allow Imagine to use public money with little oversight. "Under either charter law or traditional nonprofit law, there really is no way an entity should end up on both sides of business transactions," said Marc Dean Millot, publisher of the report K-12 Leads and a former president of the National Charter Schools Alliance, a trade association, now defunct, for the charter school movement.
"Imagine works to dominate the board of the charter holder, and then it does a deal with the board it dominates — and that cannot be an arm’s length transaction," he said.
The lack of status as a federally approved nonprofit group is proving to be one of Imagine’s biggest challenges. So it often gets involved with schools at their inception, recruiting board members or hitching its wagon to nonprofit groups that can obtain a charter, as it did in Las Vegas, where it teamed with 100 Black Men of Las Vegas to open an elementary school, the 100 Academy of Excellence. The school opened in 2006, and the county school board soon began documenting problems. It found the school’s bookkeeping under Imagine to be lax, and it said that the school lacked enough licensed teachers.
The school has had three principals in four years, two of whom were pressured to resign after complaining that there was not enough money for essentials like textbooks and a school nurse. The state said that by paying Imagine for necessities like furniture and computers, the school had violated regulations requiring competitive bidding. It further violated state law by running a deficit, which left it in debt to Imagine.
(Read more about Imagine here.)
Expanding this system will make a few people rich, but that's not what the public education system is supposed to do. Yet when you look at the people pushing for charter schools broadly as a system, it's money every which way, and somehow we're supposed to overlook that. Heaven knows lots of major media organizations do:
Consider, for example, arecent article in the New York Times depicting the battle in three New York state Senate primary races.  On the one hand were hedge fund managers and supporters of non-unionized charter schools who were identified as favoring "education reform" on four occasions, "school reform" on another, and simply "reform" on yet another.  Opponents of charter schools were never given that label, even though teacher unions and others who don’t think the track record of charter schools is very good in fact favor lots of reforms – such as teacher peer review to weed out bad educators; rigorous national standards; expanded pre-K programs; reducing economic and racial isolation in schools, and on and on.

What’s particularly galling in the Times story is that in any other context, it is doubtful that the paper would have employed the good-guy "reformer" label to a group of extremely wealthy hedge fund managers who wrote enormous checks to influence the political process, while withholding any positive label from a grass roots effort by workers to resist change that they thought would be harmful to both them and their clients (schoolchildren.) 
That, of course, is one of the central things going on here: big money going after yet another union, this time in the name of what's good for kids. Even when the evidence suggests it isn't what's best for kids, and while much is made of the waiting lists at some charter schools, many parents don't seem to think much of this so-called reform either.
Which brings us to elections. Even as the New York Times and the Washington Post and Arne Duncan and hedge fund managers are all about charter schools -- not just the 17% of charter schools that are outperforming traditional public schools, either -- charter school and other education "reform" advocates were recently dealt some losses at the polls in the Washington DC mayoral primary and the three New York state senate primaries mentioned above. Again, it's portrayed as "reformers" vs. teachers unions. But, as Diane Ravitch writes of the DC mayoral race:
The election was widely viewed as a referendum on Rhee, who attained a national reputation in her role as schools' chancellor. Her allies considered her bold and combative; her opponents considered her divisive and mean-spirited. In the closing days of the Fenty campaign, she went to the districts where Fenty had his strongest support—the largely white districts in the city's Northwest section—to rally voters.
When the results came in, Fenty was trounced in largely black districts. In Wards 7 and 8, his opponent, Vincent Gray, won 82 percent of the vote. In Northwest Washington, where white voters predominate, Fenty won 76 percent of the vote. Fenty decisively lost the black vote and decisively won the white vote. D.C. public schools are about 5 percent white, so it is a reasonable supposition that the anti-Fenty vote was fueled to a large degree by parents of children in the public schools. Gray won handily, 53 percent to 46 percent.
Journalists attributed Fenty's loss to the power of the teachers' union, but such an explanation implies that black voters, even in the privacy of the voting booth, lack the capacity to make an informed choice. When the Tea Party wins a race, journalists don't write about who controlled their vote, but about a voter revolt; they acknowledge that those who turned out to vote had made a conscious decision. Yet when black voters, by large margins, chose Vincent Gray over Adrian Fenty, journalists found it difficult to accept that the voters were acting on their own, not as puppets of the teachers' union.
It's probably too much to hope that we could have a discussion about education that puts the things most responsible for academic performance on the table and tries to deal with root causes like poverty and inequality. But it's at least time for a discussion about education that deals honestly with the evidence, that doesn't put billions of dollars behind a predetermined yet deeply flawed choice, that takes lessons from traditional public schools as willingly as from elsewhere, that does not actively seek to lay problems at the feet of teachers and their unions. And it's time to lay bare the ideology underpinning the relentless push for charter schools. Unless we're willing to buy that these people are just that stupid.

Monday, September 27, 2010

NYC Teacher Brian Jones: What I want to say on NBC today: Stop scapegoating teachers

Answer No. 1: Stop scapegoating teachers

As part of its "Education Nation" summit, NBC invited New York City teacher Brian Jones to participate in a panel discussion on the future of the teaching profession. Joining him on the panel are Michelle Rhee, the Schools Chancellor of Washington, D.C.; Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone Project, a network of charter schools; Allan Golston, president of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association; and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
The title of the panel is "Good Apples: How do we keep good teachers, throw out bad ones and put a new shine on the profession?" The discussion will stream live at today at 4:45 p.m. (Eastern time).
First, though, Brian has a few thoughts to share before the bell rings.
I DON'T know how much time I'll actually have to say what I need to say. So what follows is what I would like to say--if I get the chance--this afternoon.
Brian JonesBrian Jones is a teacher, actor and activist in New York City. His commentary and writing have been featured on GritTV, and theInternational Socialist Review. Jones has also lent his voice to several audiobooks, including Howard Zinn's one-man playMarx in Soho, Wallace Shawn's Essaysand Noam Chomsky's Hopes and Prospects: Globalization and Imperialism(forthcoming from Haymarket Books).
Cue fireworks.
How do we keep the good teachers?
The first thing we need to do is to stop vilifying teachers. Much of what passes for "reform" nowadays is really just a way to attack teachers. Even the blurb I received about the discussion on NBC begins with the following claims:
Research and school-based evidence around the country now confirms that the most important variable affecting the success of the student is the effectiveness of the teacher, and the second most important variable is the effectiveness of the principal. Those two factors far outweigh the socioeconomic status, the impact of parental involvement or class size.
Really? Teacher effectiveness outweighs socioeconomic status? Behind words that sound like they praise teachers and extol our importance lies a line of argument that essentially scapegoats teachers.
Hunger and homelessness are less important than the quality of the teacher? We're living in a moment of mass immiseration. Millions are unemployed. Millions are facing foreclosure. Whole blocks and neighborhoods and communities are being destroyed.
Watch the NBC News panel discussion including Brian Jones when it streams live at the Web site on September 27 at 4:45 p.m. (Eastern time).
Yet the very people who created this mess--the speculators, the bankers, the hedge fund managers--are the very people who, we're led to believe, are to be the saviors of education! And instead of talking about creating jobs or lifting people out of poverty, they want us to believe that teachers should accomplish those tasks. It's hardly fair. But I digress.
So: How do we keep good teachers?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
LET'S START by acknowledging that we should keep teachers. By my count, at least three of our panelists today represent the view that schools are best staffed by a perpetually rotating crop of new teachers.
From a business perspective, this makes perfect sense. After all, newer teachers are cheaper teachers. But this logic spells disaster for education.
As education historian Diane Ravitch put it to me: "Would you want to be treated at a hospital staffed entirely by interns and residents?" Of course not. Rather than make teaching into a job that you do for two or three years on the way to law school--or becoming chancellor--I think our kids are worth the expense that is necessary to retain experienced teachers, especially in schools where the need is greatest.
To develop and promote great teaching, we should look at models where great teaching is going on. I think that means, by and large, that we should not be looking at charter schools. For one thing, nationwide, charter schools have a 132 percent higher teacher turnover rate than public schools--that's according to a study performed by Columbia University's Teachers College. Charter schools, by and large, are not training master teachers.
The second reason is that the vast majority of charter schools are not outperforming public schools. I know most people would find that shocking to learn, if it would ever get reported. The most comprehensive and rigorous studies--I'm thinking here of several performed by Stanford University--show that only a small percentage of charter schools outperform public schools.
But charter schools have a hype machine that is greatly disproportionate to their actual merits. We've seen that with the new film Waiting for Superman, which portrays all public schools as failures and all charter schools as successful. The idea that's been created in the public mind is that children who couldn't get a decent education in public school are moving to charter schools, where teachers are turning their lives around.
In my experience, however, the reality is exactly the opposite. The students who are the most successful in the public schools are moving to the charter schools, and those who have the hardest time in school--either because of behavior problems or because they are just slower learners--tend to be "counseled out" of charter schools and wind up back at a public school.
My school, PS 30 in New York City, receives such children from charter schools every year. They often arrive in the middle of winter--right before it's time to take the standardized tests by which we all increasingly live and die.
I spoke to one parent who transferred her child to PS 30 after she got the feeling that her child wasn't welcome in a charter school. This lovely child is not a behavior problem, just a slow learner. "I think they were looking for a particular type of kid," she told me. "A gifted and talented type."
This parent explained that she was really excited about the charter school at first, but when there were so many new teachers--and even new administrators--year after year, she became discouraged and eventually stopped counting.
Waiting for Superman follows four students who leave the public school system and enter a lottery for charter schools. But what about the kids who win the lottery and then lose it? What about those who are encouraged to leave charter schools? Are they waiting for Batman?
No, by and large, the people who are working to turn around the lives of the kids who are having the hardest time are teachers in the public schools. Those who are seeing the most success at that work need to be sought out and studied.
We never hear the question asked: What makes great public schools great?
I have a friend who is an excellent teacher. He used to work with me in East Harlem, and now teaches in Scarsdale, which is a wealthy suburb. He really feels like he's growing as an educator, and when I ask him why, he says it's because of the support he receives.
He doesn't face merit pay schemes of any type. In case you missed it, a comprehensive study by Vanderbilt University released this week demonstrated that merit pay has no effect on student test scores.
Rather, my friend is incentivized to develop himself as an educator. He has great financial incentive to take more classes, get more education and seek out more professional development. So the school system is making a long-term investment in him. Furthermore, he has a beautiful campus, and an abundance of resources at his disposal.
I should mention that he also has tenure and is a member of a union.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
WHICH BRINGS me to the next point--how to "get rid of the bad apples."
First off, I want to say that in the current context, this question is really a red herring. Despite what Oprah might think, teachers do not have a "job for life." Tenure means we have due process. It means we can't just be fired at a whim.
And despite what you may have heard, the fact is that not everybody gets tenure. That's another myth. Getting rid of so-called "bad teachers" is hardly the problem. Consider the fact that nearly 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within their first five years. The real issue is that we're not doing enough to keep great teachers.
The whole clamor about "bad teachers" is really about attacking teachers' unions and creating a view in the public mind that these unions are themselves the source of the problem. It creates an atmosphere in which teachers feel targeted, not encouraged.
My teacher friend from Scarsdale agrees. "It should be about encouraging and inspiring people," he told me, "not trying to get rid of them. You would never do that with a child." Unless, that is, you're a charter school...
Of course, teachers aren't children. But we are human beings. That means we're greatly influenced by our environment and by the conditions in which we live and work.
And of course, there are some people who really don't belong in a classroom. But that's a very tiny number of people. And it doesn't make sense to blame the union for their presence--that's a question of administration. Who hired this person? Who gave them tenure? It wasn't the union that did either.
I think unions are duty bound to insist that every employee receive due process if there's a question of competence. Frankly, I think everyone should have such due process at every job. No one should be able to be fired at the whim of a supervisor or employer.
It's quite noticeable that we don't have the same tough talk about the people at the top of the school systems. When it was revealed recently that test scores across New York City were actually dramatically lower than originally thought, there was little discussion of even the idea that the school chancellor should be held accountable.
We can have all the high-minded talk about the importance of education all day, but the bottom line here is that people in charge of running the education system are employers. Therefore, as employers, they are going to be more enthusiastic about certain proposals for reform and less enthusiastic about others. If a reform strengthens their position as employers, then it's going to be cheered. If it strengthens the position of the employee, then it's going to be dismissed.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
THIS PANEL is framed by the idea that reforms like decreasing class sizes don't matter. But that's nonsense. Of course, class size matters. At my school, we have a teacher who was temporarily assigned to our building after being "excessed" from hers. In the local lingo, she's an "ATR." For lack of another position, she wound up in my classroom.
I have eight years experience teaching, and so does she. But I also have one student who can't read. He spent last year in another country, and we suspect he didn't attend school during that time at all. He knows the alphabet, and that's it. But this excessed teacher sits with him all day, and because of her, he's learning to read. When kids are reading aloud to the class, he wants to join in.
When this teacher gets a permanent assignment and has to leave our class, I'm going to try to continue to help this student, but there's no way I can do for him what she's doing without neglecting my duty to the other students.
From a business perspective, the current setup in my classroom is very expensive. Two teachers in a general education classroom, each with eight years of experience? Unheard of. But it's very effective. It's making a huge difference, and I think we should spend the money to have that kind of setup all over the city. We really could transform kids' lives with a reform like that.
But that would mean more union members, and a stronger union, so that reform can't be considered.
Instead, New York City is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to set up merit pay schemes in just some schools. Again, these schemes are proven to have no effect on student achievement. But that doesn't matter, because merit pay is a reform that greatly strengthens the position of the employer over the employee.
Similarly, the "value-added" model, which claimed to be able to quantify the effect of a teacher on test scores, has basically been debunked as far too unsound to form the basis of any kind of policy. Yet this unproven, unscientific model for rating teachers is touted as the next great thing in education.
There's a racial dimension to these questions that can't be ignored, either. It irks me to no end to hear hedge fund managers refer to the charter school cause as the "civil rights movement of our generation." Education Secretary Arne Duncan says that Waiting for Superman is a "Rosa Parks moment."
Interestingly, Black voters in Washington, D.C. and in Harlem recently--and overwhelmingly--rejected pro-charter school candidates. That's why I think it's more appropriate to call this a Glenn Beck moment. That is, a moment when we should realize that these people are wrapping themselves in the mantle of a movement to which they bear no relation.
Dr. King once said, "The forces that are anti-Negro are by and large anti-labor." Apparently, Black voters are beginning to think that the reverse is also true.
But folks from the business world have an extremely hard time shaking off their faith in free-market principles and their hostility to unions. Evidence and research be damned.
There is more than a slight element of hypocrisy here. To hear the billionaire school reformers tell it, class size doesn't matter, resources don't matter, and experienced teachers are standing in the way of success. But when these same people spend five figures to send their kids to private schools, what do they insist on? Small classes, excellent resources and experienced teachers.
How can we make every public school a great school? Those three things--the things that the wealthy demand for their children--would be a perfect place to start.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Teacher Quality Manifesto by Deborah Kenny

See the bogus BS of Deborah Kenny in today's WSJ; the woman has more chutpah and lies in her than Eva M.:

Is that why Harlem Village Academy reportedly opened this year with only 4 full time teachers returning, a turnover of more than 75% of her staff?

I heard from someone who used to work  there that the woman is a monster."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ravitch on Why Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty Lost


Why Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty Lost

By Diane Ravitch on September 21, 2010 8:40 AM | 1 Comment | Recommend
Dear Deborah, 

On the afternoon of Sept. 14, I attended a private screening of "Waiting for Superman," the film in which Michelle Rhee is portrayed as one of the true heroes of today's school reform movement. That evening, Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty—who appointed Rhee and gave her free rein over the city's long-troubled public schools—lost his bid for re-election. The election was widely viewed as a referendum on Rhee, who attained a national reputation in her role as schools' chancellor. Her allies considered her bold and combative; her opponents considered her divisive and mean-spirited. In the closing days of the Fenty campaign, she went to the districts where Fenty had his strongest support—the largely white districts in the city's Northwest section—to rally voters. 

When the results came in, Fenty was trounced in largely black districts. In Wards 7 and 8, his opponent, Vincent Gray, won 82 percent of the vote. In Northwest Washington, where white voters predominate, Fenty won 76 percent of the vote. Fenty decisively lost the black vote and decisively won the white vote. D.C. public schools are about 5 percent white, so it is a reasonable supposition that the anti-Fenty vote was fueled to a large degree by parents of children in the public schools. Gray won handily, 53 percent to 46 percent.

Journalists attributed Fenty's loss to the power of the teachers' union, but such an explanation implies that black voters, even in the privacy of the voting booth, lack the capacity to make an informed choice. When the Tea Party wins a race, journalists don't write about who controlled their vote, but about a voter revolt; they acknowledge that those who turned out to vote had made a conscious decision. Yet when black voters, by large margins, chose Vincent Gray over Adrian Fenty, journalists found it difficult to accept that the voters were acting on their own, not as puppets of the teachers' union.

In the post-election analyses, the most common complaint about Fenty was that he was arrogant and out-of-touch with black voters. Rhee spoke about her failure to communicate, though it is hard to think of any figure in the world of American education who had as much media attention as she has had over the past three years. Certainly, she did not lack for opportunities to communicate. Her critics say that her fundamental flaw was arrogance and an indifference to the views of parents and teachers.

Rhee believed that mayoral control gave her the power to work her will and to ignore dissenters or brush them off as defenders of the status quo. Mayoral control bred arrogance and indifference to dialogue. She didn't need to listen to anyone because she had the mayor's unquestioning support. Mayoral control made democratic engagement with parents and teachers unnecessary. It became easy for her to disparage them and for the media to treat them as self-interested troublemakers.

Mayoral control of schools short-circuits democratic processes by concentrating all decision-making in the hands of one elected official, who need not consult with anyone else. If D.C. had had an independent school board, Rhee would have had to explain her ideas, defend them, and practice the democratic arts of persuasion, conciliation, and consensus-building . We now have an "education reform" movement which believes that democracy is too slow and too often wrong, and their reforms are so important, so self-evident that they cannot be delayed by discussion and debate. So self-assured are the so-called reformers that they can't be bothered to review the research and evidence on merit pay or evaluating teachers by test scores or the effects of high-stakes testing. If they can find one study or even a report by a friendly think tank, that's evidence enough for them. Mayoral control gives them the mechanism they need to push ahead, without regard to other views or collateral damage.

The trouble with this anti-democratic approach to school reform is that it alienates the very people whose votes are needed by the mayor to continue what he started. Although one can find exceptions, it is usually the case that voters don't like autocracy. They expect to be treated with respect, not condescension. They expect democratic institutions to operate with democratic processes. They expect their leaders to explain and discuss their decisions before they are final and to change course when they are wrong. The very behaviors that schools are supposed to teach—how to think, how to participate, how to reason with others, how to find common ground—are the same behaviors that we expect to encounter in public life.

In other contests, the pro-charter lobby took a beating in Democratic primaries in New York City. There, the pro-charter group Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) targeted three African-American state legislators for defeat because they questioned the expansion of charters in their communities. DFER raised huge sums for the challengers (Google "DFER Watch"). The highest-profile race was in Harlem, which has more charters than any other neighborhood in the city. Hedge-fund managers and other friends of DFER poured more than $100,000 into the campaign to defeat Bill Perkins, who gained their enmity by seeking public audits of charters. The New York Times, the New York Post, and the New York Daily News ran numerous articles and editorials vilifying Perkins and endorsing his opponent, Basil Smikle. Smikle was supported by New York Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. On Sept. 14, the three state senators opposed by DFER were re-elected by large margins. DFER's main enemy, Bill Perkins, collected 76 percent of the vote. The media referred to the re-election of these state senators as victories for the teachers' union, denying the possibility that black voters exercise personal agency when they cast their ballots.

These electoral losses and the recent Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll suggest that the "reform" movement led by the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, DFER, hedge-fund managers, and the Obama administration lacks a base of popular support. But now begins the next phase of the movement, as its public relations campaign goes into high gear with the release this week of "Waiting for Superman." Now, the public will be immersed in the "reform" narrative: Our public schools are rotten; low test scores are caused by bad teachers; high-stakes testing works; merit pay works; charters work; the unions that represent teachers are the main obstacle to "reform."


Thursday, September 16, 2010

NY Law School Ban on Taping

Hi Nancy,

I understand your decision is final. I just hope in the future NY Law School will consider why academic discussions shouldn't be able to reach a wider audience, who may not have the luxury of attending a mid-day event (that is open to the public). Policies like this only serve to reinforce an Ivory Tower reputation. I am also surprised because I've been welcomed (and in fact encouraged - often when I don't have the time in my schedule) to cover academic discussions relevant to K-12 education at Columbia, NYU, Teachers College, Barnard, the New School, CUNY schools and SUNY schools. If it seemed like I was being pushy, it's only because the policy seemed to make so little sense. Are you also barring print reporters?

Lindsey Christ
Education Reporter
NY1 News
75 Ninth Avenue

From: Guida, Nancy <>
To: Leonie Haimson <>; Christ, Lindsey; <>
Cc: Suransky Shael <>; JAC <>
Sent: Wed Sep 15 10:10:12 2010
Subject: RE: No Child Left Behind Event
New York Law School is not allowing this event to be taped. I understand Lindsey approached you directly. Any interview/taping you choose to do would have to take place outside of the event. The event is meant to be an academic discussion.

Nancy Guida/VP, Marketing and Communications/New York Law School/185 West Broadway/New York, NY 10013-2921/212.431.2325

Find us on facebook and twitter.

From: Leonie Haimson []
Sent: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 9:55 AM
To: 'Christ, Lindsey';
Cc: Guida, Nancy; 'Suransky Shael'; JAC
Subject: RE: No Child Left Behind Event

Hey Nancy, Lindsey forwarded me your response. 

You have my permission to tape and I’m sure Shael would be fine w/ that as well.

Many people have asked if this will be available on video, and as I’m sure you and other at NYLS would agree, transparency and educating the public on these issues is very important!


Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011

Follow me on twitter @leoniehaimson

Make a tax-deductible contribution to Class Size Matters now!
Subscribe to Class Size Matters news by emailing
Subscribe to the NYC education news by emailing

From: Guida, Nancy <>
To: Christ, Lindsey
Sent: Wed Sep 15 07:39:01 2010
Subject: Re: No Child Left Behind Event
Hello Lindsey, I have confirmed that videotaping and audiotaping will not be allowed at the event at all. Please do not approach the participants at the event. Thanks, Nancy

From: Christ, Lindsey <>
To: Guida, Nancy
Sent: Tue Sep 14 19:35:53 2010
Subject: Re: No Child Left Behind Event
I'd be videotaping. I know both participants and tape them often. Do you mind if email Leonie and Shael and ask them if I can tape? I'll forward any response on to you, of course!
Lindsey Christ
Education Reporter
NY1 News
75 Ninth Avenue

From: Guida, Nancy <>
To: Christ, Lindsey
Sent: Tue Sep 14 19:28:34 2010
Subject: RE: No Child Left Behind Event
Are you filming or taking stills? We don’t do any videotaping without permission from the participants, which we don’t have, so we can allow video taping. Still should be fine though.

Nancy Guida/VP, Marketing and Communications/New York Law School/185 West Broadway/New York, NY 10013-2921/212.431.2325

Find us on facebook and twitter.

From: Christ, Lindsey []
Sent: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 7:26 PM
To: Guida, Nancy
Subject: Re: No Child Left Behind Event

Hi Nancy! Thanks for emailing. I wasn't planning on bringing a crew - just the small camera I bring everywhere with me. What kind of waivers would you need? Can I just ask Leonie and Shael? They're both used to being filmed by me.

Lindsey Christ
Education Reporter
NY1 News
75 Ninth Avenue

From: Guida, Nancy <>
To: Christ, Lindsey
Sent: Tue Sep 14 19:07:48 2010
Subject: No Child Left Behind Event
Dear Lindsey,

Thank you for your rsvp. We look forward to seeing you tomorrow. I wanted to let you know that we do not have waivers allowing filming of the event. I wasn’t sure if you were planning on bringing a camera crew and wanted to let you know that we cannot have it taped.


Nancy Guida/VP, Marketing and Communications/New York Law School/185 West Broadway/New York, NY 10013-2921/212.431.2325