Standardized testing has crippled education

From NPR

by Diane Ravitch

Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch was once an early advocate of No Child Left Behind, school vouchers and charter schools.

In 2005, she wrote, “We should thank President George W. Bush and Congress for passing the No Child Left Behind Act. … All this attention and focus is paying off for younger students, who are reading and solving mathematics problems better than their parents’ generation.”

But four years later, Ravitch changed her mind.

“I came to the conclusion … that No Child Left Behind has turned into a timetable for the destruction of American public education,” she tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “I had never imagined that the test would someday be turned into a blunt instrument to close schools — or to say whether teachers are good teachers or not — because I always knew children’s test scores are far more complicated than the way they’re being received today.”

No Child Left Behind required schools to administer yearly state standardized tests. Student progress on those tests was measured to see if the schools met their Adequate Yearly Progress goals. or AYP. Schools missing those goals for several years in a row could be restructured, replaced or shut down.

“The whole purpose of federal law and state law should be to help schools improve, not to come in and close them down and say, ‘We’re going to start with a clean slate,’ because there’s no guarantee that the clean slate’s going to be better than the old slate,” says Ravitch. “Most of the schools that will be closed are in poor or minority communities where large numbers of children are very poor and large numbers of children don’t speak English. They have high needs. They come from all kinds of difficult circumstances and they need help — they don’t need their school closed.”

In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch criticizes the emphasis on standardized testing and closing schools as well as the practice to replace public schools with charter schools. One reason, she says, is the increasing emphasis on privatization.

“What has happened … is that [charter schools have] become an enormous entrepreneurial activity and the private sector has moved in,” she says. “So there are now charter chains where the heads are paying themselves $300,000, $400,000, $500,000 a year. They compete with regular public schools. They do not see themselves as collaborators with public schools but business competitors and in some cases, they actually want to take away the public school space and take away the public school business.”

Ravitch says that charter schools undercut the opportunities for public schools, making public school students feel like “second-class citizens.”

“Regular public school parents are angry because they no longer have an art room, they no longer have a computer room — whatever space they had for extra activities gets given to the charters and then they have better facilities. They have a lot of philanthropic money behind them — Wall Street hedge fund managers have made this their favorite cause. So at least in [New York City] they are better-funded … so they have better everything.”

But change in the public schools is possible, says Ravitch, if parents work together.

“In the neighborhood where I live in Brooklyn, there was a school that was considered a bad public school and it enrolled many children from a local public housing project,” she says. “But parents in the neighborhood who were middle-class parents and were educated people banded together and decided, ‘Well, if we all send our child to the local public school, it will get better.’ And it did get better and it’s now one of the best schools in the city. So yes, you can change the neighborhood school. … But school officials have a particular responsibility to make sure there’s a good school in every neighborhood. And handing the schools in low-income neighborhoods over to entrepreneurs does not, in itself, improve them. It’s simply a way of avoiding the public responsibility to provide good education.”

On the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program

“Race to the Top is an extension of No Child Left Behind. It contains all of the punitive features. It encourages states to have more charter schools. It said, when it invited proposals from states, that you needed to have more charter schools, you needed to have merit pay — which is a terrible idea — you needed to judge teachers by test scores, which is even a worse idea. And you need to be prepared to turn around low-performing schools. So this is what many state legislators adopted hoping to get money from Race to the Top. Only 11 states and the District of Columbia did get that money. These were all bad ideas. They were terrible ideas that won’t help schools. They’re all schools that work on the free-market model that with more incentives and competition, schools will somehow get better. And the turnaround idea is a particularly noxious idea because it usually means close the school, fire the principal, fire the staff, and then it sets off a game of musical chairs where teachers from one low-performing school are hired at another low-performing school.”

On teachers unions

“They’re not the problem. The state with the highest scores on the national test, that state is Massachusetts — which is 100 percent union. The nation with the highest scores in the world is Finland, which is 100 percent union. Management and labor can always work together around the needs of children if they’re willing to. I think what’s happening in Wisconsin and Ohio and Florida and Indiana is very, very conservative right-wing governors want to break the unions because the unions provide support to the Democratic Party. But the unions really aren’t the problem in education.”

On the film Waiting for Superman

“Waiting for Superman is a pro-privatization propaganda film. I reviewed it in The New York Review of Books and its statistics were wrong, its charges were wrong, it made claims that were unsustainable. One of the charter schools it featured as being a miracle school has an attrition rate of 75 percent. And it made the claim that 70 percent of American eighth-graders read below grade level and that’s simply false. … And the producers of the film are very supportive of vouchers and free-market strategies and everything else. So I think that film has to be taken not just with a grain of salt, but understood to be a pro-privatization film.”

Florida the land of incivility, where we balance the budget on the backs of the poor, old, disabled, sick and children

From the Orlando Sentinel

by Scott Maxwell

A lot to talk about in today’s edition of Friday files, starting with the latest group of people getting hosed by Tallahassee — the mentally ill.

To be fair, it was probably their turn.

Florida politicians have already gone after the disabled, seniors, veterans and the poor.

And they weren’t about to cut costs on things like their taxpayer-subsidized health-care plans — a sweetheart deal with $2-a-week premiums that’s one of the most generous political plans in America.

Nor did they want to curb the multitudes of tax breaks for high-end yachts, bottled water or sports-stadium skyboxes. After all, that would upset the powerful lobbyists.Instead, they continue to do what they do best — target the disadvantaged.

They buffer these attacks with a warped sort of “nanny state” war cry, as if paraplegics and schizophrenics are lazy leeches who want luxuries … like wheelchairs and medication.

The truth, of course, is that this state and nation has long kept a balanced budget and managed to care for its most vulnerable residents.

Jeb Bush certainly did. Most civilized societies do.

But Florida’s new breed of talk-radio inspired Republicans worships at the altar of goodies for Big Business and special interests and perks for themselves.

Right now, legislators pay about $8.34 a month for their own health care.

Somebody obviously has to pay for that.

The latest budget plan would cut $180 million in mental-health money. That’s in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts for the disabled, elderly and medically needy that we’ve already reported.

These cuts for mental health are bad for more than just humanitarian reasons. There are major fiscal issues at stake as well. Because cuts at the state level now trickle down to local taxpayers later.

Do you know who Orange County’s single-biggest provider of mental health services is?

The jail.

That’s where those suffering from mental problems often end up. They don’t get the help they need there.. So they get out … and go back in … and we pay for it over and over.

Fiscal conservatism indeed.

There’s a chance legislators may rethink this. Apparently Speaker Dean Cannon and his colleagues in the House have a budget that won’t cut as much for mental-health care.

Hopefully, the Senate will follow suit.

And maybe one day, the politicians who loved to preach about “shared sacrifice” will start asking some of the more powerful members of society to share as well … including themselves.

The rest of the stories

•Did you see where Appliance Direct filed for bankruptcy protection? One strange thing about this company: It used to keep State Sen. Mike Haridopolos on its payroll. Yep, some of the undisclosed income for which Haridopolos recently got into ethics trouble involved more than $180,000 that Appliance Direct’s advertising arm paid Haridopolos’ one-man consulting firm. Considering the big price tag — and recent bankruptcy news — I think it’s safe you say: Appliance Direct, you paid too much!

•Speaking of Haridopolos, kudos to him and his peers in the Senate for unanimously passing the suspect-identification bill, which clamps down on hanky-panky when it comes to investigators steering witnesses toward desired suspects. Concrete standards — like non-leading questions and independent lineup administrators — are key to solid convictions. The motives of anyone trying to water down these standards are questionable. That’s why Speaker Cannon and the House should join their Senate colleagues in passing a clean bill that leads to above-board witness IDs.

•And finally, a plug for constituent activism. One of my favorite reader activists is Orlando Republican Phil Fettig. Phil’s a Navy vet — and a real pit bull about letting his elected officials know what he thinks. Phil, for instance, has expressed his beefs with State Rep. Eric Eisnaugle R-Orlando, for everything from school cuts to schools to corporate giveaways. Phil is informed, polite and relentless. But what really makes this story unique is that, most every time Phil writes Eisnaugle, Eisnaugle writes Phil back. The responses are personal and polite. In a world full of apathetic voters and form-letter politicians, I like both sides of that equation. Here’s the kicker: After all those exchanges, Phil wrote this week to say of Eisnaugle: “While I will never agree with all his positions, I’m actually starting to like him!” There is something other pols could learn from that. or 407-420-6141,0,1446147.column

In Florida insurance companies win, property owners lose, more hidden taxes on the middle class

From the St. Petersburg Times the Buzz.

by Janet Zink

The Senate voted 25 to 12 in favor of a sweeping property insurance bill that would free private insurers from having to offer comprehensive sinkhole insurance. Instead, they would have to offer only coverage in cases about catastrophic ground cover collapse, which represents about 1 percent of sinkhole claims. To address concerns that SB 408 would mean people whose banks require that they have such coverage in the lurch, the bill requires the state-run Citizens Property Insurance to offer comprehensive sinkhole coverage.

“This is an economic disaster waiting to happen,” said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who read a letter sent from a constituent’s bank saying they must have sinkhole insurance. “There will be more foreclosures. More forced insurance on homeowners.” Forced insurance, he said, means more people will end up unregulated surplus lines for insurance coverage.

But bill sponsor Garrett Richter, R-Naples, and his supporters have argued that the private sector will continue to offer comprehensive sinkhole coverage if they believe they can make money on those products.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said it’s not fair to force insurers to offer a product and then tell them how much they can charge for it.

“I don’t think that’s the American way. It’s not the capitalist way,” he said.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, took exception to that, noting that she’s a “free-market person” who has run a business with her husband for 30 years. But the insurance industry, she said, is not really a free market.

“People are forced to buy homeowners insurance as a condition of having a home. So it is a hyper regulated market already. It is not the same as every other free market principle,” she said. “I believe people will lose their homes.”

Storms characterized the bill as a gift to the insurance industry as a gift to the insurance industry by cutting them loose from sinkhole claims so they can shore up profits.

“I don’t’ mind for insurance companies to make a living,” Storms said. “I do mind for them to make a kiling. And I think this bill allows for them to make a killing.”

But J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, noted that just as it’s difficult to insure property on naturally vulnerable coastlines, it’s difficult to insure property sitting on a sinkhole-pocked state.

“We all live on top of Swiss cheese that’s below us. There’s a sinkhole sitting beneath every single house in this state,” he said. “As a consequence, there are issues.”

But he said requiring coverage only for damage caused by a sinkhole that leads to catastrophic groundcover collapse is sufficient. As it is now, trial attorneys encourage homeowners to file sinkhole claims for hairline cracks in a driveway, and claimants take payouts and use the money to pay off mortgages instead of making repairs. That’s an expensive proposition for insurers, he said.

“You get enough losses in these insurance companies it will eventually perk up in two ways. Either your rates are going to go up, or they’re gong to leave,” he said. “A competitive market ultimately will deliver the most cost effective goods and services in the world.”

Richter disagreed with Fasano’s assessment that the bill was one of the most anti-consumer measures of the legislative session.

“This bill is very consumer friendly,” he said. “It attacks cost drivers. It attacks fraud. It promotes competition.” All of those things, he said, will lower costs for consumers.

Are cuts that the middle class has to make up really taxes? The assult on higher education continues.

A disguised tax on the middle class. -cpg

From the Miami Herald’s Naked politics

The House and Senate tonight came to an agreement on proposed higher education spending.

The negotiated deal would hike base tuition by 8 percent at colleges and universities and reduce Bright Future scholarships by roughly 20 percent. Universities would likely seek another 7 percent increase from the Board of Governors.

The two sides agreed to keep H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center funded at $9.6 million for its doctor training program. The Senate had originally cut that amount to $5.4 million.

The deal could always be undone by House and Senate leaders but for, now, higher education spending is one of the few areas close to being ready for a full vote of the legislature.

Read more:

House Speaker Dean Cannon’s insidious plan to steal the judicial system

From Post on

by John Kennedy

House Speaker Dean Cannon’s landmark — and personal — push to revamp the Florida Supreme Court drew some harsh questioning, but is teed-up for an eventual Senate vote.

The Winter Park Republican effectively put budget talks on ice until Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander earlier this week put the court overhaul in play.

The measure would expand the seven-member Supreme Court by adding three justices, divide it into civil and criminal divisions, give the governor authority to appoint chief justices, and the Senate power to confirm new justices.

Cannon’s proposal emerged after the court last summer declared unconstitutional three ballot proposals approved by the Legislature — including one argued personally before justices by the speaker.

“Those who have put together the package of reform believe there is a problem,” said Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, sponsor of the measure (CS/SJR 2084).

But Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, argued the rewrite would leave Florida with the largest Supreme Court in the nation. He also suggested there was no backlog in court cases that demanded the dramatic overhaul.

Before the measure goes to voters — where it would need 60 percent support to become law — it must first draw 60 percent support from senators, a tall order.

While the measure sailed through Cannon’s House, senators are mixed on the idea.

But getting a deal on the state budget also is likely hinged on Cannon getting his court proposal before voters.

In an apparent signal to fellow senators, Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, gave the proposal veiled support, pointing out that legislators in the past have put ballot measures forward — only to later openly campaign against them.

A final vote is not likely until the waning hours of the session, when Cannon cannot do political damage to Senate priorities that now hang in the balance.

Charter schools in Florida, more about greed less about education…

For profit charter schools, does nobody see a problem with that picture?

From the Miami Herald

A provision tucked into a Florida House charter schools bill has prompted South Miami officials to cry foul on a state lawmaker.

By Patricia Mazzei and Christina Veiga

TALLAHASSEE — State Rep. Erik Fresen, who sits on several education committees in the Florida House, is again raising eyebrows for his family ties to a prominent Miami-Dade charter school company.

Fresen’s sister and brother-in-law run Academica, a for-profit company that manages dozens of charter schools.

Last week, Fresen slipped language into a bill that would prohibit cities from imposing stricter zoning and building restrictions on charter schools than on traditional public schools. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run.

The provision is aimed in part at South Miami, which recently approved charter school regulations that could directly affect Academica. The company, city Mayor Philip Stoddard said, may be looking to expand Somerset Academy at SoMi, where Fresen’s twin sons go to school. And Academica has expressed interest in building a school in Palmetto Bay.

Fresen scoffed at the idea that he put forth the provision to benefit his family. His brother-in-law, Fernando Zulueta, runs Academica with Fresen’s sister, Maggie. And Fresen is a land-use consultant for Civica, an architectural firm that has designed several Academica schools.

“There’s nothing you can do up here to specifically benefit anyone,” he said. “What you’re really talking about is the entire industry of charter schools.”

State law requires legislators to disclose within 15 days if a vote could benefit them or a relative or business associate. Fresen, who voted for HB 7195 in committee, said he has never had to abstain from a vote because of a conflict of interest with his family’s business.

Lawmakers employed by school districts, he pointed out, still vote on the state education budget: “Those, I think, are more direct conflicts, since you’re voting for the budget of the people that pay you,” Fresen said.

So far, the provision is not in the Senate version of the charter schools bill, SB 1546. Both chambers are expected to vote on the legislation this week.

Fresen’s provision was added by Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, to a wide-ranging bill she is sponsoring that would make it easier for charter schools to expand. Fresen said he suggested the language because he is concerned about a “trend” among municipalities, including South Miami and Palmetto Bay, of passing ordinances he called “illegal.”

Florida law already states that charter schools are public schools — and they should be treated as such, without additional requirements, Fresen said.

But while school districts must meet certain criteria to expand or build a new, traditional public school — such as hold public hearings — charter schools are often exempt. The new provision would prevent cities and counties from setting some of those rules at the municipal level, said Tucker Gibbs, a Miami land-use attorney who is fighting a proposed Academica school in Coral Gables.

“They’re getting the best of both worlds,” he said of charter schools.

Last year, residents who opposed the Coral Gables K-8 school at University Baptist Church, which is in Fresen’s House district, criticized the Miami Republican’s family connections to Academica.

South Miami recently adopted more stringent zoning rules for charter schools, after Academica’s Somerset Academy at SoMi opened its doors in an industrial district in the city. The school has clogged traffic and created a safety problem, Mayor Stoddard said.

“We feel an obligation to protect the neighborhood. We’re not against charter school or private schools,” Stoddard said.

Stoddard thinks the state representative took notice of his city’s ordinance because of his family ties to the school, and because he thinks SoMi Academy has plans to grow.

“He’s got money in the fight. His family stands to lose a profit based on the creation of charter schools in South Miami,” Stoddard said. “There’s no question that he’s serving his personal interests with this legislation.”

Lynn Norman-Teck, a spokeswoman for Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools, said she was unaware of any immediate plans for expansion at the South Miami school.

“I know they’re always looking for facilities. Are they looking across the street? I don’t know,” she said.

Norman-Teck admitted the consortium lobbied for Fresen’s provision — not because of the South Miami ordinance, but because charter schools have faced pushback from cities across the state.

“What we’re asking for is clarification of that language,” Norman-Teck said.

Herald/Times staff writers Steve Bousquet, Marc Caputo and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report. Patricia Mazzei can be reached at

Read more:

Education or oil?


As Americans continue to struggle with outrageous, unstable gas prices, oil companies continue to benefit from them.

BP announced Wednesday a first-quarter profit of $7.1 billion, a 16% increase from last year. ConocoPhilips reported a 44% increase, to $3 billion. Exxon and Chevron are expected to report today $15 billion in first quarter earnings, also an increase of more than 40%.1 In all, the five largest oil companies have reaped nearly $1 trillion in profits in the last 10 years.

But more outrageous than jaw-dropping oil company profits, is the fact that our government actually rewards these companies with even more of our money for maintaining this disastrous system – to the tune of $4 billion a year in tax credits and subsidies. It’s time for that to end.

Tell Congress: End oil subsidies.

It is a testament to the influence of polluters, and the power of the money they shower upon Congress, that so many of our leaders have continued to defend these senseless subsidies.

As recently as this March, House Republicans – while simultaneously pleading poverty and fighting for crippling budget cuts elsewhere – voted unanimously against repealing these oil subsidies, at a total cost to us of 45 billion over 10 years.

But in the face of these huge budget cuts, painful gas prices and shocking oil company profits, it is becoming harder and harder for Republicans to defend this policy.

In a surprising move, Speaker John Boehner said Monday that repealing oil subsidies “is certainly something we ought to be looking at” and that oil companies “ought to be paying their fair share.”2 While his statement was quickly walked back the next day by an aide who said Boehner was simply trying not to “fall into the trap of defending ‘Big Oil’ companies”3 it’s clear that cracks are beginning to show in the Republicans’ brazen defense of senseless oil handouts.

On Wednesday, President Obama sent a letter to congressional leaders asking them to end oil subsidies, and Nancy Pelosi also sent a letter to Speaker Boehner asking him to schedule a House vote next week. Harry Reid announced he will hold a vote in the Senate as soon as possible.

Momentum is building. This is a key moment to keep the pressure on, and force every member of congress to choose: Americans, or the oil companies?

Tell Congress: End oil subsidies.

Between the ruining of our gulf, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events brought on by climate change, and now – once again – astronomical oil company profits and oil prices that literally threaten our economy, we don’t need any more reminders that it’s time to end our reliance on oil.

Yet we’re handing oil companies billions as we slash funding for the investments in clean energy and transit we need to break oil’s grip on our lives.

This must end. And if we raise our voices, we can finally end it.

Tell Congress: End oil subsidies.

Education reformers, not big fans of facts

Steve Wise, Jeb Bush and John Thrasher hate them. -cpg

From the Washington Posts Answer Sheet

by Diane Ravitch

One of the most interesting books I have read in recent months is Dan Ariely’s “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions .” I was particularly interested in Chapter 5, where he explains the difference between social norms—where people act because they are motivated by a sense of idealism or purpose, and market norms—where people act because they are motivated by a desire for more money.

As I read his words, I realized that the goal of the corporate education reform movement is to push market norms into education.

The corporate reformers assume that teachers aren’t working hard enough and will work harder if they have the lure of more money and if they compete with one another. Ariely’s studies say this is wrong, and it won’t work.

Last fall, the POINT study from the National Center for Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University also showed that merit pay based on test scores did not produce higher test scores. Curiously, the corporate reform movement likes to talk about data-driven decisions, but reformers ignore any data that doesn’t support what they want to do. For example, when the Vanderbilt study of merit pay was published, the U.S. Department of Education immediately released nearly $500 million for—what else—more merit-pay programs, and promised that another $500 million would be forthcoming.

Data mean nothing when your mind is made up.

Similarly, when data from Milwaukee showed that vouchers don’t improve test scores in either public schools or voucher schools, the corporate reformers didn’t care. When the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, data for Milwaukee showed that African-American public school students there—after 21 years of vouchers—scored below African-American students in the Deep South, the corporate reformers didn’t care.

Our education system is relentlessly pursuing higher test scores, and everyone feels the pressure. When USA Today produced evidence of widespread cheating, the corporate reformers refused to recognize that their policies encourage the pressures that lead to cheating. When the cheating scandal focused on test scores in Washington, D.C., the corporate reformers brought out their heavy guns to argue that it wasn’t true, it couldn’t be true, and even if it were true, it didn’t matter. When the eminent National Research Council said that it was inappropriate to judge the progress of a school district by test scores, the corporate reformers scoffed.

I get letters every day from teachers, principals, superintendents, and parents lamenting how federal policy is ruining their schools, damaging children’s lives, and demoralizing teachers. This one came today from a superintendent: “]My district] borders the Navajo Reservation. Twenty-nine percent of our students are Native American and 29 percent are Hispanic. We have high poverty, mobility, and many single-parent families, and [we] truly struggle to meet the needs of our students. [Average Yearly Progress] ratings discourage our staff. Media blames the schools, and budgets keep going down.”

What do the corporate reformers have to say to this superintendent? Will they fire her and half her staff and send in Harvard and Princeton graduates for two years? Will they close her school or turn it over to a charter chain? Will they do this to thousands of schools? Do they have any ideas that might keep her and her staff from losing hope?

If we drive out those who are motivated by social norms, who will teach? How can we hope to have a stable education profession if we lose those who want to make education their career knowing full well that they will never get rich?

This superintendent and her teachers did not go into teaching to compete with the school in the next county or to fight one another for dollars. They entered what they thought was a profession where they could make a difference in the lives of children. They, and hundreds of thousands of educators like them, don’t understand how they became Public Enemy No. 1.

Perhaps the best letter that I received about the clash between federal policy and the realities in the schools was written by California teacher Paul Karrer. (The letter first appeared in Education Week’s Commentary section.) I and many others posted it on the Internet, because it so poignantly expressed what so many teachers experience. Please read and share it.

Many years from now, when No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top have long been forgotten or remembered only by historians as a disgraceful chapter in the history of American education, people like the superintendent who contacted me and her staff will still be struggling to meet the multiple needs of the forgotten children of our society.

Someday, after this dark era has fallen into the dustbin of history, into that place where ignoble ideas go, I hope we will learn from our mistakes. If we are wise, we will have better ideas about improving our schools. Instead of the risky schemes now so popular among certain economists — like firing 5 to 10 percent of the teachers every year; or the punishments associated with NCLB and the Race to the Top, like firing staff and closing schools — we will hopefully have an education system where those who give their lives to the education of children get the respect and honor they deserve. And where parents, educators, and policymakers alike understand the difference between higher test scores and genuine education.

Synonyms, snake oil and school reform

It’s nationwide folks. -cpg


by Tony Lux

New legislation under consideration this year by the Indiana Legislature is nothing more than snake oil intended to create the illusion of school reform without any verifiable degree of probability that school reform actually will be achieved.

The true target of school reform is getting the bottom 20 to 25 percent of the state’s schoolchildren to grade level and eliminating achievement gaps. The state “school reform” plan, however, is nothing more than flight from, and financial abandonment of, public schools without any verifiable degree of probability that the bottom 25 percent of students will do better because of it.

The illusions started with the notion that since some public schools are doing poorly, then all public schools basically are inadequate. The reality is that eight out of 10 academic indicators, including state test results, attendance rates and graduation rates, are at or near the highest levels ever.

The next illusion was that school choice — i.e. charter schools — and tax vouchers for private schools will result in closing achievement gaps. The reality is that nationally, only 17 percent of charter schools are even as successful as the average public school.

Regarding private school vouchers, the reality is that private schools have entrance criteria that are very selective, and for the prices private schools charge, they are not going to allow low-achieving students of different religions in their schools. Even charter schools that start with low-performing students can and will send any uncooperative and special needs student back to public school.

The third illusion has been that schools do not need additional funding. In fact, small public schools are told to consolidate to save money.

Despite universal acknowledgment that mandatory funding for kindergarten, full-day kindergarten, summer school and preschool is needed (and provided in most other states), low state revenue cannot cover them, and cuts are unavoidable.

The reality is that the proliferation of hundreds of charter schools creates more financial loss to public schools, as well as inefficient spending due to more staffing and profit-taking sponsors. The reality also is that millions of state tax dollars that could go to new education programs would not be collected because of private school vouchers.

The fourth illusion is there are too many ineffective teachers and not enough highly effective teachers. The reality is that the disadvantages some students have are so great that only significantly more time for instruction will make up for being two or more years below grade level. On a related note, where is the proliferation of charter schools going to find highly qualified teachers?

The fifth illusion is merit pay. Teachers and administrators supposedly will work harder if they get individual financial rewards for better student performance. Opposing this conclusion are the results of a major study in Nashville, Tenn., where $10,000 financial incentives were promised and awarded. There was no difference in student achievement between teachers getting financial incentives and those not getting financial incentives.

Snake oil salesmen, like the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City, don’t want anyone looking behind the curtain to see their illusion. They also want to be out of town before the pubic realizes the illusion.

New charter schools will have five to seven years to prove they aren’t any better, if not worse, than public schools. Plenty of time to get out of town. The public needs to look behind the “school reform” curtain of illusion in this state before it’s too late.

Tony Lux is superintendent of Merrillville Community School

Some help for the Duval Partners for Excellence

What was originally created to help fund raise and find mentors for our four most struggling schools, Duval Partners for excellence has now been changed into an education management organization. Since none of the hand picked cronies, sycophants and quite frankly out of their depth board members have been in a modern public school I thought maybe they could use some suggestions how to turn those schools around if it comes to it.

The first thing they should do is start a come home campaign. At a recent school board meeting Becki Couch said there were over 3000 students who could be attending those schools but had chosen to go elsewhere. I would try and get those kids back and I would do so by convincing them and their families that those schools would become academically rigorous and safe schools to attend.

The next thing is to make those schools safe and academically rigorous schools to attend.

They should tell the teachers that they were trusted and no longer would there be an arbitrary percentage of students they could not fail. I would have them teach the material and make it rigorous, which would mean that if somebody passed a class it was because they earned it and not because a teacher gave them a grade or pushed them through. I would tell the teachers they could go as slow as they felt their kids needed, they could reteach if necessary and that the pacing guide was a suggestion and that nobody was going to get in trouble for being more than five days behind. After a few weeks I would move kids around and have groups that were quickly moving through the material and groups that needed extra time.

Then at the same time the board should make sure the teachers and students had good learning environments. Rudeness, disrespect and violations of the code of conduct would not be tolerated and consequences would be swift and strict. If you came to learn you would have nothing to be afraid of. If you came to cut up or steal learning time from your peers or teachers then you would have a tough time. The adults not the children would be running the schools.

I don’t think they should dismantle the staffs but everybody should be teaching. Academic coaches would have nearly full loads and even assistant principals would be expected to teach a class or two. It would be all hands on deck and this would stop admins and psuedo admins from losing touch with the jobs that teachers do. It would also help keep classes smaller and hopefully allow us for some electives. If kids have fun classes or classes to look forward to then they would do better; we can’t make schools dreary places and expect them to do well.

They should tell the teachers to be prepared to work long hours but not to be worried about volumes of data notebooks, two-page lesson plans and complicated board configurations. Put up a daily agenda and then go. Spend the time you have been doing those things the last few years figuring out how to connect with the kids and keeping their families involved. I would want my principals and A.P.s in the classrooms looking for quality instruction not word walls.

Then the principals can’t be afraid to upset parents. If they are doing what is right and the kids aren’t and suffer consequences (failing, suspensions etc.) for it, well that’s okay.

Finally not only would I instruct my teachers not to teach to the F-Cat but I would tell them not to even mention it. About a week before it was taken the principals could have an assembly to discuss its importance and that would be it.

That is how I would turn around those schools. Not splitting the schools into two theme schools each or having a board of I am sure concerned but I can’t see how they are qualified, take over. Hey look Jacksonville we (the school board) haven’t been able to fix those schools, so we are going to hand pick some of our friends to do it. Why am I not optimistic?

If the school board had tried the ideas above we probably wouldn’t be in this mess now.

Chris Guerrieri