Misinformation in education reform hits new heights

With a nod to Mike Klonsky’s small talk blog

NEPC announces it annual Bunkum Awards
For Immediate Release Thursday, May 31, 2012
Contact: Jamie Horwitz (202) 549-492, jhdcpr@starpower.net


Grand Prize Winner Compares Charters Schools to Cancer – Where Cancer is a Good Thing

National Education Policy Center for the First Time Awards a “Get a Life(time) Achievement Award” to an Individual – Dr. Matthew Ladner, an Advisor to Jeb Bush’s Advocacy Organization

Boulder, Colo. — The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder, has announced via online video the winners of the 2011 Bunkum Awards –presented for the most compellingly lousy educational research for the past year. The video is now available for viewing at http://nepc.colorado.edu/think-tank/bunkum-awards/2011.

The 2011 Bunkum Grand Prize goes to the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), which received the “Cancer is Under-Rated Award” for Going Exponential: Growing the Charter School Sector’s Best. In its report, which advocated the rapid expansion of preferred charter schools, PPI compared those charters to viruses and cancers.

PPI says that it “conducted research about when and how exponential growth occurs in the natural world, specifically examining mold, algae, cancer, crystals and viruses. We used these findings…to fuel our thinking about fresh directions for the charter sector.”

“The Progressive Policy Institute deserves our top award for combining a weak analysis, agenda-driven recommendations, and the most bizarre analogy we’ve seen in a long time,” stated Kevin Welner, director of NEPC. “This report spoke to us in ways matched by no other publication.”

Welner and the NEPC recognized the report for its almost complete lack of acceptable scientific evidence or original research supporting the policy suggestions, as well as its failure to make the case that its suggestions are relevant to school improvement. To view the NEPC review of this report, and for a link to the report itself, visit http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-going-exponential.

The NEPC also awarded its “Get a Life(time) Achievement Award” to Dr. Matthew Ladner, senior advisor of policy and research for Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. This is the first time NEPC bestowed an individual with a Bunkum Award.

“We’ve never before found someone with an individual record of Bunkum-worthy accomplishments that just cries out for recognition,” stated Welner. “Dr. Ladner’s body of Bunk-work is focused on his shameless hawking of what he and the Governor call the ‘Florida Formula’ for educational success.”

Specifically, Ladner argues that because Florida’s test scores had increased during a time period when Florida policy included things like school choice and grade retention, these policies must be responsible for the scores. Yet decades of evidence link grade retention practices to increased dropout rates, not to improved achievement.

Moreover, Florida’s recent test score results are notably unimpressive, but Ladner continues to promote his favored policies, blaming the scores on a slide in home prices and other factors he says are “impossible” to determine. Learn more at http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/learning-from-florida.

NEPC’s other 2011 Bunkums (full descriptions are available at http://nepc.colorado.edu/think-tank/bunkum-awards/2011):

“Mirror Image Award (What You Read is Reversed),” to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for Learning About Teaching (2011 First Runner-Up). Although the Foundation touted the report as “some of the strongest evidence to date of the validity of ‘value-added’ analysis,” showing that “teachers’ effectiveness can be reliably estimated by gauging their students’ progress on standardized tests,” the actual data show only a modest correlation between teachers’ effectiveness and students’ test scores. http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-learning-about-teaching

“If Bernie Madoff Worked in School Finance Award,” to ConnCAN for Spend Smart: Fix Our Broken School Funding System. This report promotes a “money follows the child” funding system that would have the effect of making funding even more inequitable by shifting funding away from students in poverty and those learning English. http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-spend-smart

“If Political Propaganda Counted as Research Award,” to the Center for American Progress and the Broad Foundation, for Charting New Territory: Tapping Charter Schools to Turn around the Nation’s Dropout Factories. Drawing on mysterious backwards-engineering techniques, the authors of this report build a foundation for their findings and conclusions that mimics real evidence. http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-charting-new-territory

“Discovering the Obvious While Obscuring the Important Award,” to Third Way for Incomplete: How Middle Class Schools Aren’t Making the Grade. Mixing and matching data sources and units of analysis to such an extent that it’s almost impossible for readers to figure out which analyses go with which data, the report attempts to convince its readers that middle-class schools are doing a lot worse than we think. In fact, the results show the results of middle class schools to be … in the middle. http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-middle-class

The word Bunkum comes from Buncombe County in North Carolina. Buncombe County produced a Congressman, Representative Felix Walker, who gained infamy back in 1820 for delivering a particularly meaningless, irrelevant and seemingly endless speech. Thus, bunkum became a term for long-winded nonsense of the kind often seen in politics, and today in education.

The National Education Policy Center unites a diverse group of interdisciplinary scholars from across the United States. The Center is guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. To learn more about NEPC, please visit http://nepc.colorado.edu/.

Jeb Bush crony called out for compellingly lousy educational research

From the Florida Times Union, by Teresa Stepzinski

He likely won’t be showcasing the award in his office.

But Matthew Ladner, a senior advisor of policy and research for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, has received inaugural “Get a Life(time) Achievement Award” for bunkum from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The NEPC Bunkum Awards are “presented for the most compellingly lousy educational research for the past year,” according to the center.

A video of the Bunkum Awards ceremony is available online at http://nepc.colorado.edu/think-tank/bunkum-awards/2011.

The nonprofit center describes its mission as producing and disseminating high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions.

It presents the annual Bunkam Awards to highlight what it deems as “nonsensical, confusing and disingenuous education reports produced by think tanks: marvels of multi-colored packaging garnished with impressive-looking footnotes, charts and appendices, advocacy pieces cloaked in research panoply.”

The award winners “are the think tank experts reports judged to have the most egregiously undermined informed discussion and sound policy making in 2011”

This is the first time NEPC bestowed an individual with a Bunkum Award.

“We’ve never before found someone with an individual record of Bunkum-worthy accomplishments that just cries out for recognition,” said Kevin Welner, center director. “Dr. Ladner’s body of Bunk-work is focused on his shameless hawking of what he and the Governor call the ‘Florida Formula’ for educational success.”

Specifically, Ladner argues that because Florida’s test scores had increased during a time period when Florida policy included things like school choice and grade retention, these policies must be responsible for the scores. Yet decades of evidence link grade retention practices to increased dropout rates, not to improved achievement, according to Welner

Welner also said that Florida’s recent test score results are notably unimpressive, but Ladner continues to promote his favored policies, blaming the scores on a slide in home prices and other factors he says are “impossible” to determine.


Make no mistake; education in Florida has become big business.

Make no mistake; education in Florida has become big business. Whether it’s Pearson, College Board or one of the other companies involved with data collection and test making and scoring or charter and private schools that don’t play by the same rules as their public school counterparts, somebody is getting rich. Sadly this more than what is best or the states students and teachers is what’s driving our leaders’ policies.

I would have more faith in the education reforms the powers-that-be are proposing if most did not involve short changing students and teachers. Florida has long underfunded education and many of these new or considered reforms are designed to continue to do so.

Take the class size amendment for example. For all of time smaller classes were thought to be better then suddenly when it came time to pay for smaller classes the legislature balked. The same legislature by the way which has doubled the homestead exemption, allowed owners of multiple houses to have exemptions on each property and given huge tax breaks to bottled water companies and luxury yacht makers among others. The legislature has many friends, sadly however, public education is not among them.

Then there are the changes that they are attempting to make to how teachers are paid. Teachers with advanced degrees get paid more; suddenly advanced degrees are no longer important. Teachers who have been teaching longer get paid more, now all of a sudden experience doesn’t matter either. Now I don’t think having a masters or Doctorate degree makes you automatically a better teacher. Teaching is a profession where you have it or you don’t, but it certainly doesn’t hurt, to work on and/or improve your craft through further education, but think about this, in the field of education suddenly education no longer matters. The lack of experience argument however is very disingenuous. Yes sometimes you will have a wunderkind teacher hit the ground running but more often than not the first few years of teaching is just as much about teaching as it is about surviving. These two reforms will enable districts to get teachers on the cheap.

Even the reform that the anti-teacher movement hails will be a boon to teachers, performance pay is unreliable. There are so many factors that can determine success or not, who is deserving or not, but among them are very few quantifiable numbers that can point to who is high performing or not. Yet certain people, most of who were never teachers, seem to think this is the panacea that will save teaching. The fact that teachers as a group neither asked for nor wanted merit pay should speak volumes.

After that there are vouchers. I think a parent has to look out for their child and I wouldn’t fault one for wanting to send their child to a school they thought was better but at the same time this does take money away from cash starved public schools. Shouldn’t the answer be first to make public schools better, before we tried other things out. I also see vouchers becoming welfare for the well off. With the way things are going, how long will it be before any kid from any neighborhood, regardless of how much their family makes, be able to get a voucher? That by the way is mitt Romney’s plan. Furthermore shouldn’t these schools have to play by the same rules public schools do and have the same accountability measures that public schools do, to get public money?

Furthermore a lot of these vouchers go to for profit private schools, private schools by the way, that like their charter counter parts have not proven to be any more effective than public schools. An article in the Times Union about a local charter schools a few years back reported the principal was making over 150 thousand dollars and that several of her immediate family members were making considerably high salaries too. Florida is legion with charter school failures and scandals but still they are the darling of the Florida legislature. I wonder how much their two lobbyist organizations contributed to that? Once again private and charter schools don’t have the same oversight as public schools and where I am all for everybody making as much as they can, I just don’t think they should make it on the backs of our children.

Next there is the data collection and high stakes testing which has become the tent poles of the blame the teacher education reformers, tent poles that are making some parties very rich. Friends, Pearson has contracts nationwide bringing them in over a billion dollars, of which 320 million dollars will have come from Florida. Pearson by the way is the Halliburton of the education world, the make and score the test but then they also provide remediation services to the kids who do poorly. I read their business plan also involves charter schools which makes me think there may be a few conflicts of interests.

Think about this, if the state of Florida said, you know what, we’re done with Pearson and the FCAT and we’re going to sink the money we spend annually on that and hired more teachers instead roughly a thousand more statewide. Which do you think would be more beneficial? The FCAT or a thousand more boots on the ground providing instruction and services.

Finally let’s talk about the unions which are bearing the brunt of the ire caused by the blame the teacher crowd. Despite the fact we have unions, teachers here in Florida are some of the lowest paid, most over worked professionals in the country. Can you imagine how many teachers would flee the profession if they lost the little cover provided by the unions? Also I have never heard of our local union protecting bad teachers, just making sure all teachers get due process and they work with the district so much and so closely that many of us rank and file teachers think the line between them sometimes gets blurred.

Five years ago in good times we were recruiting in Canada, India and the business world because we couldn’t find enough teachers. Sadly the crippling economy has caused many people to think, hey, I’ll try that but what’s going to happen when the economy turns around? We can’t cripple the profession and expect good results.

I would also like to remind you that teacher’s unions, don’t hire or fire teachers, develop programs, fund schools, appoint administrators or any of the other things that people often attribute to them.

Many of these reforms seemed designed to save money and why? Is it so the legislature can reward their friends and remember make no mistake the legislature is not a friend of education, or to make their friends at the education companies rich. Furthermore more than a dozen or their family members have vested interests in charter schools. Sadly all of this is done on the backs of our children and those dedicated men and woman who teach them.

Where are the realistic reforms that add to public schools?

The last one before it was vilified (the class size amendment) seems to have had some success. Where are more career academies because not every kid is going to go to college and that is okay, the arts because we can’t make education drudgery and expect kids to do well or the additional social workers and counselors our schools desperately need because quite often why a kid acts up or does poorly in school has nothing to do with school. Where is the money for summer school because a lot of our kids need more time to learn and less time to lose what they learned.

The answer is nowhere because they cost money.

Those seeking to steer the course of education reform in Florida would have the public believe several falsehoods.

Those seeking to steer the course of education reform in Florida, which includes the Governor, Jeb Bush and ed comish Gerard Robinson, among many others who have a tenuous relationship at best with public schools would have the public believe several falsehoods.

Poverty is just an excuse. The truth is poverty is a huge issue. Kids that come from homes with absentee parents, where a lack of food and violence are constant factors often perform poorly in school. Quite frankly they have more serious issues to deal with than learning the capital of Alaska and dividing two digit numbers. It is also the number one quantifiable statistic when looking at achievement in school. Those kids that live in it as a group do a lot worse than those that don’t.

Class size doesn’t matter: Class size is extremely important. It allows students to gain more valuable face time with their teachers and fewer kids get lost in the crowd. The Heritage Foundation (Jeb Bush’s education think tank) recently touted all of the great progress that Florida’s schools have experienced over the last decade but completely ignored the fact that most of the progress has occurred since 2003 when the class size amendment began to be phased in.

Test scores are the way to measure student learning. Test scores should be a component of education not the end all be all that they have become. Some kids don’t test well, some kids have bad days, and no kid should be tested all at once time over a whole year, or several years’ worth of material. Regardless the FCAT is just a punitive test that can cause teachers to lose their jobs, kids to fail grades and schools to be close. Instead we need a test that helps, something that is given at the beginning of the year to see what kids need and then at the end to see if kids got it.

Reform MUST be driven by external measures such as comprehensive tests. Assessments are most useful and reliable when they are closely connected to classroom instruction. Furthermore just who is going to get rich creating and scoring these tests? The Bush family profited greatly from the FCAT and No Child Left Behind.

Classroom experience doesn’t matter. Most teachers don’t hit their stride, where they are most effective, till they are several years in. Unfortunately about half of all teachers do not last five years.
Tenure provides teachers with lifetime jobs. Teachers do not have “jobs for life”; they have due process and what’s wrong with allowing professionals who sacrifice so much having at least that.

Charter schools are deserving of public funds and support. Actually, charters have not been shown to have better test scores, on average, than regular public schools, their teachers aren’t certified and they pick and choose who they allow in and retain and despite all these advantages they don’t do any better.

Data must drive our children’s education. How about having a child’s ability, aptitude and desire drive their education; that might prove more effective.

Vouchers give parents choice. Vouchers also provide welfare for the well off and take much needed resources from cash starved public schools. The answer at least in the short term should be to improve public schools, not further erode them by siphoning off resources to schools that play by different rules and don’t have the same accountability.

Performance Pay for the most deserving teachers. This sounds great in a vacuum, unfortunately when put in practice it is arbitrary and hard to quantify. Somebody way smarter than me would have to come up with a way for this to be done fairly if it is to be both effective and meaningful. Also teachers didn’t ask for it.

Dismissal of sincere parental concerns about testing sends a troubling message.

From the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet, By Carol Corbett Burris

The politicians who believe in using tests to judge schools and teachers will tell you that their efforts are designed to help our nation’s children. How odd it is, then, that they never ask parents what they think. While testing expands like a balloon in the lives or our youngest students, there is no curiosity about what cannot be recorded on the scantron sheet.

In order to find out what was on our parents’ minds, a group of New York principals created a short survey to give parents and teachers an opportunity to share their opinions. Over the course of two weeks, we were astounded by the results.

Over 8,000 parents across New York State responded to our online survey regarding their children’s experiences with the recent New York State 3-8 Assessments in English Language Arts and mathematics. Over 6,000 teachers of students in Grades 3-8 weighed in on our teacher survey, as well. Although these surveys were informal, it would be a mistake to ignore what we learned.

The New York State parents who responded expressed serious concerns regarding the impact that tests have had on their children’s health and their learning. Of the 8,000 responding parents:

* 75% reported their child was more anxious in the month before the test

* Nearly 80% reported that test prep prevented their child from engaging in meaningful school activities.

* 87% reported that the current amount of time devoted to standardized testing is not a good use of their child’s school time.

* 95% were opposed to increasing the number and length of tests

* 91% were opposed to standardized tests for K-2

* 65% reported that too much time is devoted to test prep

In addition to responses to questions, nearly 4,000 of the respondents left comments and short anecdotes.

Parents reported that their children displayed physical symptoms caused by test anxiety, including tics, asthma attacks, digestive problems and vomiting. Parents also wrote anecdotes that reported:

* Sleep disruption, crying

* Refusal to go to school

* Feelings of failure, increasing as the tests progressed

* Complaints of boredom and restlessness from students who finished early and were required to sit still for the full 90 minutes of each test.

Teachers echoed many of the same concerns.

* 65% of over 6000 responding teachers said that their students did not have enough time for independent reading, project-based learning and critical thinking

* 89% of teachers reported that their students became more anxious in the month prior to testing and during testing itself

* 88% said that test prep had impacted the time spent on non-tested subjects such as science and art

* Fewer than 3% believed that their students’ learning had increased because of testing.

Teachers, like parents, reported that students were anxious, stressed, nervous, exhausted, overwhelmed and suffered from headaches and stomach pains.

Parents and teachers are not alone in their testing concerns. Even the cautious and conservative New York State School Boards Association ran a story about the principals’ concerns with testing and carefully annotated Principal Sharon Fougner’s letter to Commissioner John King, documenting the reasoning and examples she provided.

In June, some parents in New York will be standing up and fighting back. They are organizing a boycott of yet another round of testing, the field tests for future Pearson exams. When the Wall Street Journal asked New York State Education Commissioner King about the impending boycott of the field tests, he opined that parents were missing a larger point and that “adults need to set a positive tone for students around assessment as a natural part [of education].”

Dismissal of sincere parental concerns about testing sends a troubling message. As a parent of an eight year old recently told me, “If my son takes a test, what is learned should be about helping him and nothing else. My child should not be a guinea pig for some adult evaluation experiment nor should he have to take tests to try out the next story about a talking pineapple. His oldest sister wasn’t tested for days at time in third grade. Every day he is tested is a day he does not learn.”

In anecdote after anecdote provided by parents to our survey we heard the same message — when it comes to testing, parents have had enough.

Those who believe in driving school improvement by test data would be wise to take heed. As they search for solutions in the data, they are losing the confidence of our nation’s parents.


The Jebucation of Florida

From State Impact, By John O’Connor

President Obama praised former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s education leadership at a Miami school last year. Nationally, both Republicans and Democrats are listening to Bush’s education ideas.

Indiana education superintendent Tony Bennett was new to office and looking to make dramatic changes to his state’s schools. The biggest: require third graders pass a state reading test or get held back.

But the state lawmakers were hesitant.

So Bennett and Gov. Mitch Daniels, both Republican, called in some help: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. He pioneered the third grade reading requirement a decade ago.

“Jeb Bush has a big, a big mind and a big heart for education reform,” Bennett said. “I believed in my heart that he had a great blueprint.”
Jeb Bush Taking Florida Education Ideas NationwideListen to the story which aired on All Things ConsideredDownload

Bush helped convince lawmakers to approve the plan. For the first time this year, Indiana third graders must pass a reading test to advance to fourth grade.

That’s just one example of Bush’s continuing influence in education, even though he no longer holds public office.

Here’s another big one: Bush wrote the foreword to Mitt Romney’s education plan. Bush’s ideas serve as the basis for much of Romney’s plan. Romney even thanked Bush by name in his speech outlining the plan.

Jeb Bush: The Once and Future Reformer

And it’s not just Republicans heaping on the praise. President Obama lauded Bush’s education leadership during a trip to a Miami school last year.

But as his influence has grown, many also blame Bush for shortcomings in the national effort to overhaul U.S. schools.

In Texas, Florida and other states, local school boards are revolting against standardized tests — the backbone of Bush’s data-driven student measurement.

Critics say he’s attempting to privatize public education, They point out his ties to companies that profit from education contracts.

Some superintendents and school board leaders say Bush is moving too fast. They say his non-profit, The Foundation for Florida’s Future, has pushed too hard to raise testing standards.

But those criticisms don’t faze Bennett, He’s seen Florida’s young students post improving scores on national tests — especially black and Hispanic students.

Bush helped Bennett and other like-minded education superintendents launch Chiefs for Change. It advocates for many of Bush’s policies:
1.Setting high standards for students
2.Holding teachers and schools accountable
3.Expanding both public and private school choices.

Bush hasn’t held office for more than five years. But when Bush is talking about schools, Bennett said, he has as much clout as ever.

“Jeb Bush in my opinion may very well be the leading voice in the United States on education reform,” he said.


Jeb Bush with his wife, Columba.

It isn’t complicated to get Jeb Bush’s help if you need it: Just e-mail him.

Bush said he’s willing to travel anywhere and talk to anyone to build support for these ideas.

“We’ve developed a network, we’re part of a network of reform around the country,” Bush said. “Florida’s gains as it relates to reading and math…have become pretty well-known, and so people seek us out. They know we’re engaged in this.”

Bennett knew he needed help in Indiana. Daniels had worked as budget director for former President George W. Bush, and reached out to his brother, Jeb.

“We brought him in to speak to our legislators…and I would tell you that we were very glad that he accepted the invitation,” Bennett said.

Thanks in part to Bush’s intervention, Indiana lawmakers approved the law. More than 11,700 Indiana third graders — 16 percent – failed the third grade reading test, according to results released earlier this month.

Though the third grade reading requirement is now well-established in Florida, the first results in 2003 caused an uproar. More than 30 percent of Florida’s third graders were at risk of being held back.

“It was a pretty traumatic time,” Bush said. “And what happened was the system changed. It really did require that you teach children differently so that they could learn how to read.”

Within two years the number of third graders at risk of being held back was cut in half. The rate remained constant until this year, when the state raised the requirements to pass.

And Florida’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have improved faster than the national average.

Since the state approved the third grade reading requirement in 2002, fourth grade NAEP reading scores have increased by 11 points — the equivalent of a year’s worth of improvement. Florida scores now exceed the national average.

Using these results as his sales pitch, Bush has traveled to Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and elsewhere to push the third grade reading requirement and other ideas.

Orlando moms and neighbors Kathleen Oropeza, Christine Bramuchi and Linda Kobert founded Fund Education Now.

Bush said the results justify the disruption.

“This experience leads me to suggest, look, be tough, but also put resources into the classrooms to allow teachers to teach different strategies to assure students learn,” Bush said.

“The idea of reform is not to be harsh or to hurt people,” he added. “It is to assure that kids that are on one track that dooms them for failure for the rest of their life get a chance to be able to dream big dreams and have the capacity to fulfill them.”

Bush views his policies as tough love. But Orlando’s Linda Kobert has another name for it: Jebucation.

Kobert founded the non-profit group Fund Education Now with her neighbors, Christine Bramuchi and Kathleen Oropeza.

The moms say they are organizing the French Resistance against Bush’s policies in his home state through e-mail and social media such as Twitter.

They cite research from Arizona State University and others which shows students who are held back are more likely to drop out of school.

The moms argue Bush’s policies have created the impression that Florida schools are failing. The goal is to reduce public funding for schools and increase the number of private companies operating schools and providing online classes, curriculum, books and other services, they said.

They note that former Bush colleagues are now spread throughout the education world. Brother Neil founded an online education company, Ignite! Learning.

Former deputies run large charter school companies, sit on Florida’s board of education and work for the federal department of education.

Bush is using the network and political muscle he developed while governor to push Florida lawmakers to try new ideas. Once tested in Florida, the ideas are shipped to other states.

“If it’s your playground and you have a chance to play in it, why not?” Oropeza said. So that’s what he’s doing.

“The problem is he’s using Florida as a Petri dish.”


Even in Florida, where lawmakers still invoke his name often in the state Capitol, the French Resistance is encouraging dissent in the Legislative ranks.

Exhibit number one: the parent trigger bill.

It would allow a majority of parents in failing schools to vote to choose how to restructure their child’s school.

The options included converting the school into a charter schools. Fund Education Now was appalled that a publicly funded school and its facilities could be turned over to a privately run charter management firm.

“We were spectators for a long time ourselves,” Bramuchi said, “but when it affected our own personal children, that’s we got involved and then saw the bigger picture.”

The moms ducked chores, arranged child care and spent hours driving to hearings on the parent trigger bill in Tallahassee this winter.

The bill was supported by the Foundation for Florida’s Future and Republican legislative leadership.

Bramuchi said they met one-on-one with lawmakers, and like-minded people hounded their offices with e-mails and phone calls.

“We would walk into these senators’ offices and listen to their aides go through voicemail after voicemail” from Florida parents opposed to the bill, Bramuchi said. “And the aides would frequently tell us ‘Can you just make them stop calling?’”

The parent trigger bill came down to the final day of the legislative session. Both sides were calling lawmakers to gather the needed votes.

When the bill failed by one vote you could hear a gasp from the Senate chambers.

Bush personally called one lawmaker to try to flip his vote – and failed.

The Orlando moms believe the parent trigger defeat signals a Bush backlash in Florida.

More recently, Bush and the Foundation for Florida’s Future were criticized for pushing the state board to education to raise passing scores on the state reading test.

When the percentage of fourth grade students passing the test plunged to 27 percent from 81 percent, the state board of education was forced to call an emergency meeting to lower the passing score.

E-mails show the Foundation for Florida’s Future helped the state deal with the public relations campaign in response, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel.

Bush is not deterred. He says the parent trigger will be back in 2013.

“Those kinds of things scare people, I guess, so maybe I’m criticized for that,” he said.

“I don’t get a lot of direct criticism though – maybe I’m not watching. And frankly, I don’t really care either.”

Bush says it’s an exciting time for education, with both Democrats and Republicans backing many of the concepts he supports. He says it’s because those ideas are showing results.

Jeb Bush Taking Florida Education Ideas Nationwide

The upside of the high stakes testing industry

From the Huffington Post, by Todd Farley

Like the maddeningly successful author Diane Ravitch, I, too, have changed my mind about No Child Left Behind. Unlike the estimable Ravitch, however — whose recent bestseller argues in exhausting detail against the very accountability measures that Ravitch long championed — in the great testing debate I’ve gone from “con” to “pro.”

Since 1994, when I first got hired as a lowly temp for measly wages to spend mere seconds glancing at and scoring standardized tests, until the release of my non‐bestselling book last fall, I had steadfastly believed that large‐scale assessment was a lame measure of student learning that really only benefitted the multi‐national corporations paid millions upon millions upon millions of dollars to write and score the tests. I began to see the error of my ways last Thanksgiving, however, just as soon as my huge son popped from his mother’s womb, keening and wailing, demanding massive amounts of food, a closet full of clothing, and the assistance of various costly household staff (baby‐sitter, music teacher, test‐prep tutor, etc.). Only then, as my little boy first began his mantra of “more, more, more,” did I finally see standardized testing for what it really is: a growth industry. In these times of economic recession, it was a lesson I didn’t need to learn twice.

Since that educational epiphany, the benefits of standardized testing have become embarrassingly obvious to me, starting with the fact the industry has proven to be a jobs program virtually unmatched since FDR’s WPA. There’s pretty much no one who can’t get a job in testing, whether it’s as one of the tens of thousands of temps hired each year to score student responses to tests or as one of the teacher/ex‐teacher/once‐knew‐a‐teachers hired to write them. Because of the massive influx of money swamping the testing industry due to President Obama’s Race to the Top, anyone who taught school or went to school or even drove past a school is eligible for work in the business.

Consider that in the last year I’ve seen people hired back to testing companies who had been run off in shame not long before. I’ve watched people fired from one testing company immediately getting rehired by another. I’ve witnessed tiny, Mom & Pop test‐development vendors celebrating their first contract by immediately posting job listings on Craigslist, hoping to find someone, anyone, out there on the great, big Internets that might be able to help them write “rigorous,” national tests. Even me — a guy who a year ago was spouting virulent anti‐testing rhetoric on NPR and whose “down‐with‐standardized‐testing!” editorials were gracing the pages of the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Education Week, etc… has been offered absolution, and today I earn fat paychecks from more than one of the industry’s stalwart companies. (No, I have no shame.)

Forgiveness, obviously, is one of the industry’s strengths, and once hired testing industry employees and companies both enjoy the sort of tenure that would make a teachers’ union proud — those jobs and those contracts pretty much can’t be lost. For instance, in the last year I’ve seen a test development company fired for poor quality work nearly immediately rehired with a contract four times as large. I’ve watched multinational corporations like Pearson Education get dressed down in U.S. Department of Education audits and fined by their customers for shoddy work and then be awarded contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. I’ve witnessed a state like Tennessee win a half a billion dollars in federal education money even after another audit pointed out scoring inequities on that state’s tests. Yup, the testing industry today is like that Cole Porter song “Anything Goes,” which is just what an economy as troubled as our desperately needs.

Standardized testing’s other most redeeming characteristic may be a surprising one, but the industry has proven to be really good at recycling. Just as an employee found wanting at one company can simply get a job at another (or can start his/her own lucrative consulting company), so can test questions and/or whole tests be used again and again and again. Test questions good enough to be used on a Chicago test can be used again on a New York City test, just as a complete test sold for use in California can be sold again for use in Texas.

It’s happening even with the exalted Common Core Standards, those educational benchmarks that many people (Messieurs Obama and Duncan included) believe will save this country’s sorry educational system: Just the other day I saw a testing company advertising for people on Craigslist to re‐align the company’s millions of existing test questions to those almighty new standards. Even though those millions of test questions in the company’s database had been written to apparently crappy and definitely passé state standards, that innovative testing company was making them magically new simply by draping them in new clothes, linking those items — absolutely unchanged — to the CCS. That clever company was saving an immeasurable amount of time and effort by recycling those old items instead of writing new ones, just the sort of reuse of materials that I’m sure would make Al Gore proud (not to mention Gore’s minion, Davis Guggenheim).

While my many previous concerns about the efficacy of standardized testing have not gone away, the primacy of those concerns has been supplanted by the fact my son has an enormous appetite. In my view, today the standardized testing industry is like one of those phone booths filled with whirling Race to the Top millions, and the only smart thing for me to do as a husband and father is to grab as much as I can. Like Diane Ravitch, I’ve seen how wrong I used to be.

I am reformer! Hear me roar.


Jeb Bush’s stunning display of hubris

From Scathing Purple Musings, by Bob Sykes

The media is not as fawning as it one was for Jeb Bush and his years as the nation’s most influential education reformer. He used to draw solo pieces. But not in today’s State Impact article by John O’Connor. The former Florida governor had to share the page with three Florida moms who played a big part in defeating him on a key charter school initiative he wanted this spring. Linda Kobert, Christine Bramuchi and Kathleen Oropeza founded Fund Education Now in 2009 to oppose Florida legislative spending cuts.

Bush says this and more about the defeat of Parent Trigger:

Bush is not deterred. He says the parent trigger will be back in 2013.

“Those kinds of things scare people, I guess, so maybe I’m criticized for that,” he said.

“I don’t get a lot of direct criticism though – maybe I’m not watching. And frankly, I don’t really care either.”

For someone who has used the theme of choice to advance his agenda, this is a remarkably arrogant statement. Bush doesn’t care what parents like the three moms say about his plans – parents he and his two foundations presume to represent with their policies. This stunning display of hubris will shock even his most loyal followers.

Bush’s foundations are involved in the state’s PR campaign to defend against outrage against FCAT. He uses his power and the millions he gets from corporations to impose his will. Maybe Floridians are realizing his reform is limited to tests, charters and shaky voucher schemes that sends poor kids to private school where they don’t even take his tests. Bush has never had to face the idea that he doesn’s have the market cornered on caring. Let alone be right.


How Romney and Obama are selling out our schools

From Salon, By David Sirota

Here in the industrialized world’s most economically unequal nation, public education is still held up as the great equalizer — if not of outcome, then of opportunity. Schools are expected to be machines that overcome poverty, low wages, urban decay and budget cuts while somehow singlehandedly leveling the playing field for the next generation. And if they don’t fully level the playing field, they are at least supposed to act as a counter-force against both racial and economic inequality.

That vision, however, is now under assault by both political parties in America. On the Republican side, the Washington Post reports Mitt Romney just unveiled “a pro-choice, pro-voucher, pro-states-rights education program that seems certain to hasten the privatization of the public education system” completely. On the other side, Wall Street titans in the Democratic Party with zero experience in education policy are marshaling tens of millions of dollars to do much of what Romney aims to do as president – and they often have a willing partner in President Barack “Race to the Top” Obama and various Democratic governors.

Funded by corporate interests who naturally despise organized labor, both sides have demonized teachers’ unions as the primary problem in education — somehow ignoring the fact that most of the best-performing public school systems in America and in the rest of the world are, in fact, unionized. (Are we never supposed to ask how, if unions are the primary problem, so many unionized schools in America and abroad do so well?) Not surprisingly, these politicians and activists insist they are driven solely by their regard for the nation’s children — and they expect us to ignore the massive amount of money their benefactors (and even the activists personally) stand to make by transforming public education into yet another private profit center. Worse, they ask us also to forget that in the last few years of aggressive “reform” (read: evisceration) of public education, the education gap has actually gotten far worse, with the most highly touted policies put in place now turning the schoolhouse into yet another catalyst of crushing inequality.

Here are the five most prominent of those policies — and how they threaten to make this country even more economically unequal and racially segregated than ever before.

1. Unequal Funding Formulas

A half-century of social science research confirms that factors outside the school — and specifically, poverty — are far more determinative in student achievement than anything that happens inside the school. This is why, as both New York University’s Diane Ravitch and Dissent magazine’s Joanne Barkan note, public schools in America’s wealthiest enclaves consistently rank among the highest achieving in the world.

Knowing that, it stands to reason that schools in the lowest-income areas should receive disproportionately more education funding than schools in high-income areas so that they can combat the systemic out-of-classroom factors that schools in wealthy neighborhoods don’t face. With this extra money, they might be able to fund the so-called “wraparound” services that even reformers like Geoffrey Canada admit are crucial to the success of public schools in high-poverty locales.

Yet, it’s the other way around. As a 2011 U.S. Department of Education report documented, “many high-poverty schools receive less than their fair share of state and local funding” leaving “students in high-poverty schools with fewer resources than schools attended by their wealthier peers.” This inequity is further exacerbated by local property-tax-based education funding formulas that often generate far more resources for wealthy high-property-value school districts than for destitute low-property-value enclaves. Inequality also is intensified by devious new taxpayer-subsidized scholarship programs that, according to the New York Times, “have been twisted to benefit private schools at the expense of the neediest children” in traditional public schools.

Policy-wise, changing such funding formulas to make sure schools in poor areas get more funding than schools in wealthy neighborhoods is fairly straightforward. But, then, the commonsense idea threatens the gated-community ethos of the wealthy and powerful who control our politics. It also fundamentally challenges the core principles of a nation that still likens spreading the wealth to confiscatory socialism. Thus, the idea remains off the table — and consequently the increasingly unequal funding of education now effectively subsidizes a system that is cementing inequality for the long haul.

In practice, that means schools in low-income areas continue to receive comparatively less funding to recruit teachers, upgrade classrooms, reduce class sizes and sustain all the other basics of a good education.

2. Vouchers and Charter Schools

In national politics, private education profiteers and anti-government ideologues have successfully manufactured a debate over privately administered charter schools and private-school vouchers, insisting that, if created all over the nation, they will improve educational achievement. “Manufactured,” though, is the key word — because when it comes to results, there is no debate over what the data show.

Stanford University’s landmark study of charters found that while “17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts” — meaning that, in total, charters actually harm overall student achievement. (Those results were corroborated by the Education Department’s National Center on Education Statistics.) Likewise, data from the nation’s largest voucher system prove that voucher-subsidized students do not systemically outperform students in traditional public school systems.

These facts, unfortunately, have little — if any — impact on the political rhetoric about education. But, then, at least there’s an ongoing discussion about the academic effectiveness of charters and vouchers. The same cannot be said for how those charter and voucher programs threaten to severely exacerbate racial and socioeconomic inequality.

When it comes to charter schools, Businessweek’s headline says it best: “Segregated Charter Schools Evoke Separate But Equal Era in U.S.” Here’s what we know, as I recounted in a recent newspaper column:

According to a new report from the National Education Policy Center, however, charters “tend to be more racially segregated than traditional public schools” – and in lots of places, they seem to be openly hostile to children who are poor, who are from minority communities or who have special education needs.

A smattering of headlines from across the country tells that story. “Nashville Charter Schools Blasted Over Racial Imbalance,” blared a recent headline in the Tennessean. “Charter Schools Face Discrimination Complaints,” read The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “Colorado Charter Schools Enroll Fewer With Needs,” screamed the Denver Post. “Charter Schools Enrolling Low Number of Poor Students,” reported the Miami Herald. The list goes on and on.

When it comes to vouchers, we can expect much the same if current pro-voucher efforts and a new Romney Administration successfully expand the idea nationwide. We know we can expect this because that’s exactly what happened in the nation that most recently went to a voucher system.

As University of Texas researchers documented in their study of Chile’s national voucher program:

Private-voucher schools have not only not reduced educational inequality, but also … have increased segmentation of the educational system according to (socioeconomic status) of students. Thus, the low and medium-low classes attend public schools, medium and medium-high classes study in private-vouchers, and the elite are educated in private-paid schools.

Why do vouchers increase inequality? Because they typically do not fund the entire private-school tuition bill, nor do they typically force private schools to accept the voucher as the sum total tuition. Not surprisingly, then, the wealthy are able to fill in the tuition gap with their own disposable income, while lower-income families can’t. Consequently, the voucher becomes a taxpayer handout to already middle- and upper-class parents to subsidize their children’s private school education, leaving economically disadvantaged kids in a newly defunded public school. Indeed, as the Texas researchers say, “Chilean parents from medium and medium-high classes were able to pay the additional money required, whereas the poorest parents did not have this choice.”

This very dynamic is already prevalent in the crypto-voucher programs being pioneered in states throughout the country. As the New York Times recently documented, conservative lawmakers have set up scholarship programs that pretend to be charitable endeavors but instead are designed as a tax subsidy for wealthy parents to finance their kids’ private school education. Because poorer families can’t afford those tuitions, even with the tax subsidy, low-income kids often remain in public education systems. Thanks to the way the scholarships divert public money into private schools, those public education systems are further depleted of resources, thus creating yet more educational inequality.

3. The Fee-Based Public School

For public education to be the great social equalizer it is supposed to be, it must limit economic barriers to entry. It must, in other words, be as close to free as possible. That’s why the new move to fee-based public schools is so troubling — it further turns public education into yet another instrument of economic stratification.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, schools across the country are “imposing or boosting fees for everything from enrolling in honors English to riding the bus.”

The fees run the gamut. In Kansas, for instance, one school district has created a $90 across-the-board “participation fee” for all students in order to fund extracurricular activities. In Maryland, it’s special fees for Advanced Placement biology courses. And perhaps worst of all, in Colorado’s largest school district, administrators are throwing kids off school buses until their parents pay a stiff transportation fee.

The move to such regressive fees has been prompted by the conservative movement’s success in draining government revenues, anti-tax politicians’ unwillingness to embrace new levies, and communities’ refusal to embrace measures to make up for budget shortfalls. Left without resources, local school administrators have thus resorted to fees. As one Maryland school official put it: “The reality is that the money has to come from somewhere.”

In the process, the new system is creating a whole new meaning for educational inequality. No longer is the inequity only between poor and rich school districts, it’s now between poor and rich kids within individual schools, themselves. Indeed, if high-income parents can pay the fees, their kids can have access to basic educational services — but when low-income parents can’t pay those fees, their kids are denied those same services.

4. Higher-Education Tuition Increases

For much the same reason, K-12 school administrators are moving their schools to fee-based models, and public universities have been jacking up tuition rates at a pace that far outstrips inflation. In just the last year, for example, tuition at these institutions rose a whopping 8.3 percent as universities sought to make up for legislatures’ huge reductions in higher-education funding.

At the same time, the New York Times reports that both private and public college scholarships have been cut. Additionally, as both Mitt Romney’s Wall Street-centric student loan initiative and Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget prove, federal loans and grants would only become more anemic in a Republican-dominated Washington.

The aggregate result of all this is to make access to higher education even more driven by economic privilege than it has been in the past. If your parents are wealthy and can pay ever higher tuition, you will have access to higher education, which gives you a better chance of higher wages. But if your parents aren’t wealthy and therefore can’t follow Mitt Romney’s request to lend you money, you either can’t go to college and will miss out on those opportunities for career advancement, or you are forced to assume crushing student debt. (No doubt, free college in other industrialized nations is a big part of why those other nations have higher rates of social mobility and lower rates of economic inequality than the United States.)

While it’s certainly true that economic status has always played a role in higher education in America, the key difference today is that economic status now increasingly affects access to public universities, not just private ones. That’s a major shift because those public universities were set up specifically to expand access — and mitigate economic obstacles — to higher education. Now, with financial barriers so high, they are becoming just another instrument of inequality.

5. Differential Tuition Rates Based on Majors

In 21st century America, math, science and business majors often make more money in the job market than their peers in other majors. In that sense, majoring in such subjects can be a means of moving up the economic ladder.

Unfortunately, more and more public universities are instituting regressive fees on those students who want to pursue those majors. As USA Today recently reported:

A growing number of public universities are charging higher tuition for math, science and business programs …

More than 140 public universities now use “differential tuition” plans, up 19% since 2006, according to research from Cornell’s Higher Education Research Institute. That number is increasing as states cut higher-education spending and schools try to pay for expensive technical programs

Some worry that higher tuition will put off low-income students.

“The fear in all of this is will it lead to people being rationed out of classes?” said Ronald Ehrenberg, the Cornell researcher behind the tuition study.

That fear is legitimate. Already facing high tuition and massive debt, lower-income students are naturally more sensitive to add-on fees than wealthy students. The fees, then, serve to create a powerful deterrent to low-income students to major in precisely the fields that typically generate higher post-college incomes.

Ultimately, just like K-12 fees transform economic inequality into a factor inside individual schools, so to do “differential tuition” rates. In this case, low-income students face not just barriers to a given set of more expensive private schools, they now face new economic barriers to particular studies within the schools they somehow manage to afford. And because of that, low-income students will have an even harder time than rich kids in getting a post-college job that pays a good wage.

David Sirota is a best-selling author of the new book “Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now.” He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado. E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.