What parents need to know about Education Reform


Dear Parent Friends,

For a while now you’ve been hearing me rant about the negative effects of high stakes testing in education. Most of you have offered polite nods of understanding-being kind because of our friendship. Perhaps you even agree with me, but feel that either you don’t have enough understanding of the issues, or because you quietly concede that while such testing practices are in fact harmful, there’s little you can do to change things. I write this letter to you to explain as best I can exactly how high stakes testing plays into what is called a “corporate-reform” model of education, how a corporate reform model works, and how it’s fucking our kids. And lastly, I’d like to suggest that in fact there is something we can do about it.

I think we can all agree on the simple basic facts about high stakes testing: It dumbs down the curriculum, it creates a narrow and often inaccurate portrayal of how our children are doing in school, it takes away time from genuine and more creative learning experiences, and just makes the kids stressed out. Race to the Top (RtTT) requires schools use the Common Core Curriculum (in spite of its many flaws), increase testing, and adopt new teacher evaluations that attach teacher’s jobs to their test scores. Legislation is being pushed across many states to increase school vouchers. But what does this have to with corporations? How exactly does that work?

Over the last 30 years, corporations (by which I mean the multinational giants) have developed a stranglehold on policy/legislation across many sectors including agriculture, energy, and health care. Their billions of dollars go into lobbying and “research” that force into law changes in regulations that serve their own interests. Having sucked the life’s blood out of the banking and housing industries in 2008, these same corporations have set their sights on education as the next way to make their profits at the expense of the public’s well-being.

I wondered at first why companies like State Farm, Walmart (via their “Walton Foundation”), Bill Gates, UBS AG, Eli Broad, GE, News Corp and RAND had any interest in throwing money at education. Of course there’s always the motive of the tax write-off for philanthropic giving. But wait. There’s more!

These are the same multinational corporations who spend billions of dollars in lobbying efforts and use their “non-profit” affiliations to sway legislators to write laws to their own benefit. The policy advisers (think-tanks and non-profits) driving education reform have direct and close ties to corporations and politicians who will benefit financially and in other ways from these education reforms. Nearly every single policy adviser, body of “research” and piece of legislation have the same agenda: Uniform standards of measurement and curriculum, increased funding to charter schools, teacher and school evaluations based on high stakes tests, dissolving teachers unions, and eliminating senior level teachers (replaced with younger teachers usually from Teach for America). These corporations are often members of the American Legislative Exchange Commission (ALEC), a secretive organization led by right wing CEO’s and politicians to sway government policy toward free market practices that benefit the top wealthiest 10% and erode legislation aimed at protecting our environment, the food we eat, the air we breath, and our rights to a secure job and health care. Exxon and Phillip Morris for example, are leaders in ALEC. However, the efforts to privatize public education are not categorically led by “right wingers”-they are led by corporatists. While corporatists are frequently of the right wing persuasion, many Independents and Tea Party activists are opposed to the corporate domination of our public sector as well.

But why are corporations interested in education? Because there is money to be made in education reform. Data is used to track teachers and children. Data is also used to close public schools and reopen them as charter (choice) schools. The city of Philadelphia is attempting to turn the entire Phillie public school system into a charter/private model. Bobby Jindal, (former consultant for the billionaire consulting firm McKinsey and honored by ALEC) and now Governor of Louisiana, is pushing to privatize public schools for the entire state of Louisiana. But even if your school isn’t in danger of being “foreclosed” on, there is still big money to be made from the testing and curriculum forced on public schools by this “model legislation.” Pearson makes billions of dollars off the new testing and curriculum reforms while most schools eliminate teaching positions and quality programs due to insufficient funds. Where did the money go? Ask Pearson. The testing also serves as a form of “surveillance” as Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, and the Department of Defense are all now acting as the keepers of your child’s private information and test scores from kindergarten through high school.

And who invests in these new charter schools? Hedge fund managers and free market venture corporations do. Billions of public tax dollars are funneled to subsidize school vouchers (which go to the corporations who opened these schools), to pay Pearson for providing the new rounds of tests, curriculum, and evaluation, and for per pupil funding that follows the kids to their new charter school replacements. In order to turn schools into private stocks for profit they need what McKinsey and Company (one of the world’s most powerful consulting companies and biggest backers of school reform) call “big data.” “Big data” can easily be provided by using a national Common Core Curriculum and standardized tests. “Think tank” consulting firms like McKinsey fund the lobbying to craft the legislation. Pearson, who has acquired partnerships with companies to deliver PARCC, MSA, SAT testing, GED testing, ACT testing, and the delivery of the National Common Core, receives state-wide contracts and receives billions of education dollars for their services. Then, Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates get paid to manage the data as a private third party once it’s collected. The same billionaires who lobbied against telling the public about the ill effects of smoking in the 1970’s and who now pay “experts” to tell us that climate change is a “hoax,” have their sights on massive PR and lobbying campaigns to harness public education to their own selfish ends. Don’t be fooled. No matter what you read or hear, absolutely none of these reforms have anything to do with providing your child with a quality education. In fact the opposite is true. They are destroying any chance for a quality education your child might have in the name of making billions of dollars for themselves. And those tests our children take, which by 2014-2015 will double, and begin in kindergarten in all subject areas, are the keys they need to create their kingdom. Our children are merely data sets, dollar signs, and blue chips in the stock exchange for them.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for a teacher testing my child. I am all for assessments aimed at determining my child’s needs and abilities. I am all for holding teachers accountable for excellence in their craft. But these high stakes tests being forced on schools and the Common Core Curriculum serve no benefit to children. The former does nothing to inform my child’s teacher about my kid’s abilities or needs, and the latter has been seriously challenged by teachers and teacher educators who have seen first-hand how the Common Core is not developmentally appropriate and robs our kids of many important experiences like exposure to fiction, creativity and the imagination.

There are a lot of times and places in our lives where we feel powerless to change the course of political policy. This should not be one of them. For once, we CAN do something. Tell your child’s school administrators that your child will not be taking the high stakes standardized tests. Opt out! Tell them why. Expect push back from them. But it’s your right as a parent to opt your child out. This will stop only and if we stop it. How long are we going to be willing to rob our schools of the funding they need, and to subsidize billions of our dollars to pay billionaire corporations for the opportunity to destroy our children’s education?

“Education-Corporate Reform 101”: What Parents Need to Know

How to make money off Education

From Tallahassee.com by Lisa Fingeroot

Charter schools were intended to be a public school option for children stuck in bad schools, but dollar signs have transformed them into big business commodities.

As the nation’s first charter school heads toward its 20th anniversary in Minnesota in September, some in Florida are asking how schools here came to be touted as commercial investment opportunities on developer websites, and when business people began to flip schools for a profit.

“What happened is over the years so many more people have gotten involved,” said Jackie Pons, Leon County Schools superintendent. “The for-profits have come in and are trying to make money off educating children.”

Proponents of charter schools suggest that tracking results is more important than following the money.

A spokesman for former Gov. Jeb Bush, who still yields great influence over Florida’s education policy, questions why people are offended by schools making a profit when they don’t question whether a textbook publisher makes a profit.

“This question of what makes some for-profits OK and some not OK is why focusing on outcomes is important,” said Bush spokesman Jaryn Emhof.”

Basing decisions on student results will take personal philosophy out of the equation, she added.

Charter schools are public schools that are allowed to operate a little differently than traditional public schools, but still receive public funding.

Simply explained, the big picture of for-profit charter schools is one where companies build a school and most times create a local board to govern that school. The hand-picked board then contracts with the company to manage the school for a fee, which becomes the company’s profit.

Many charter schools also have complicated business relationships between parent company, management company, and even finance companies created to borrow the money to construct a school that is then leased back to the school board for a profit.

Pons said it is nearly impossible to follow the family tree of individual for-profit charter school companies because of the number of intertwined corporations. “You go through layers and layers,” he said. “It can be very mind boggling.”

To read the rest of the article, and you really should, click this blog’s title or paste bleow into your browser. -cpg


Why won’t the Duval County School Board come out against the FCAT? (rough draft)

In case you have missed it, school board after school board throughout the state as well as the state PTA have joined a resolution calling for an end to the reliance on the FCAT and other high stakes tests. The movement didn’t begin overnight either and I am sure they have heard about it too. Following Rita Solonet’s lead three school board meetings ago both Chris Guerrieri and Casey Barnum encouraged the school board to say enough to the test, which has quite frankly hijacked our education system.

The Duval County school board however has remained silent. The question is why but I think I might have an answer.

The school board has subscribed to the Broad Foundation’s school of governance. This means they make many decisions in private, they don’t like to vote on controversial issues in front of the public and they believe in corporate reforms like high stakes testing, like the FCAT.

What started with a few bloggers writing about and a few parents and teachers questioning has snowballed into a full on movement, a movement that the DCPSBoard has thus far ignored.

It is way past time the School Board got on board or just admitted like several others have, Jeb Bush, Gerard Robinson, Gary Chartrand, that they believe the FCAT is the way to go.

Forida spends tens of millions to develop tests

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Erica Rodriguez

Heather Wright often meets people who are confused about exactly what she does for a living.

That’s not surprising. After all, how many psychometricians have you ever met?

Wright, an energetic former English teacher, is a leader in a little-known realm of education. Psychometrics is the intricate science behind measuring what people know.

Experts such as Wright work closely with teachers to help devise new standardized tests in niche subjects such as web design, creative writing and psychology. It’s an incredibly complex process that school districts are diving into as they rush to fulfill an unfunded state mandate tied to the merit-pay plan for teachers.

The merit-pay rule calls for half of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on students’ standardized-test scores. Districts have used mostly FCAT scores for that purpose, even for teachers who don’t teach FCAT-related subjects.

Because of the rule, districts are banding together and scrambling to create dozens of assessments to help grade teachers in subjects where no standardized test exists.

“You want to be evaluated on what you taught — not on whole school scores or on assessments that measure what students learned maybe a year or two before they were in your classroom,” said Wright, a psychometrician with the Lake County school district.

Wright is leading a group of teachers and other psychometricians who will be creating dozens of tests.

But the process isn’t easy — or cheap. Wright estimates the project will produce about 82 tests and cost as much as $603,000, which is paid for on the school district’s dime. The costs are in addition to the $52 million the state is already spending on plans for testing in subjects beyond the FCAT and end-of-course exams.

The state Department of Education is spending $20 million of federal Race to the Top money to pay for four districts to make tests for subjects such as art, music or physical education. The state also recently awarded Pearson, a national testing company, a $32 million contract to develop a test bank and software program that districts can use.

“Either way, whether you’re developing it yourself or buying it from another district, there is a considerable price tag,” said Ruth Melton, legislative director for the Florida School Boards Association.

The group recently adopted a resolution that calls for the state to fully fund its accountability system and criticizes the state’s “over-reliance” on “high-stakes” testing.

But teachers familiar with the process say being involved in test-making is helping them understand their subjects better and they’re happy to have a hand in making the tests that will eventually be a part of their personal rating.

“It’s giving teachers the opportunity to be a significant part of the assessments that are being created,” said Angel Teron, a teacher who is helping make rules for a creative-writing test. “And it’s not something that’s being delivered telling them, ‘This is what you have to teach.’ “

Others hope it can help teachers be more consistent from school to school, but critics say it’s just another flawed way of trying to measure teacher performance.

“They are being forced to create yet another yardstick to measure adults,” said Kathleen Oropeza, who heads the advocacy group Fund Education Now. “Our children are being used as test-taking minions to prove that adults are doing their job.”

Educators agree that the task of creating assessments for every subject a district offers by 2014 is daunting. Districts can have up to 1,000 courses that don’t currently have standardized tests, but some are hopeful these new assessments will help teachers diagnose students’ problems before it’s too late.

“The hope is that teachers and students will use this to determine where students are at over time — not just at the end of the course,” said Tod Clark, director of Race to the Top assessments.

It can easily take three years to make a test that’s valid and proven, a process that involves high-level statistics, the guidance of expert teachers and a psychometrician or two.

Teachers with special training have to break apart the state’s standards for, say, anatomy. Then they must decide what can actually be measured on a standardized test and what would better be measured in, perhaps, a small group.

Teachers then come up with rules for test writers that explain how complex to make questions or what not to ask students. Then teachers, with the help of experts such as Wright, make a test blueprint.

After more review by another team, students will take the test, but the results must be statistically analyzed before educators deem it scientifically sound. The results from those tests will then be used as a base to determine teacher effectiveness, which is where the controversy in education circles thrives.

As the testing push in Florida continues to be fueled by state and federal laws, Wright thinks school districts and parents will pay more attention to the science behind what she does.

“If you’re a parent and your student is in one teacher’s class, you would hope that your student is measured in the same way as in another teacher’s class,” Wright said. “You would want that equity.”

ericarodriguez@tribune.com or 352-742-5928


Why don’t we blame doctors for obesity?

From the Huffinton Post, by Davis Macaray

Blaming Teachers for Our Low Test Scores Is Like Blaming Doctors for Our National Obesity Epidemic

Two damaging misconceptions about labor unions: (1) Union members tend to be substandard workers (lazy, unreliable, surly, privileged), and (2) union members can’t be fired because their “masters” will always go to bat to protect them.

Where they got that first one from, the notion that union members are bad workers, is a mystery. After all, a quick look at the economics should tell us that union jobs — those, typically, with the highest wages, superior benefits and best and safest working conditions — are going to attract the best workers in a community. Why wouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t the best jobs in a community attract the best people?

And as widespread as this anti-union propaganda is, it’s especially virulent when it comes to public service unions. Apparently, everyone and their brother (including President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, et al.) just naturally assume that it’s the teachers’ union that prevents conscientious, well-meaning school administrators from firing bad teachers.

People like to believe that if incompetent teachers did not belong to a powerful labor union, if they did not have cadres of union lawyers standing by ready to defend them, the administrators would be free to do the right thing — to drain the swamp and rid our schools of those union-created monsters who are holding our students hostage and depriving them of a decent education. That may be a compelling narrative, but it’s total fiction.

The following statistics were taken from the anti-union website “Teachers’ Union Exposed.” The site’s most recent figures show that California school teachers are 87.5 percent unionized. Accordingly, the percentage of “experienced” California teachers that were fired was 2.03 percent, and the percentage of “probationary” teachers that were fired was 0.98 percent.

By comparison, North Carolina, which is 97.7 percent non-union, fired 0.6 percent of its experienced teachers, and 0.3 percent of its probationary teachers. In other words, California and its big, bad teachers’ union was “tougher” on its union teachers than North Carolina was on its non-union teachers. It’s puzzling. School administrators in non-unionized North Carolina are in the position to fire any teacher they choose, but they don’t do that. They don’t fire their teachers. And it’s not just North Carolina. It’s true all across the country.

And why don’t they? Why don’t these non-union schools fire more teachers? The answer is obvious. It’s because teachers — everywhere and anywhere, union and non-union — don’t deserve to be fired. And why would they? Why on earth would we expect our school teachers to be fired for general incompetence? Are our colleges, universities, and credentialing programs turning out such lousy, substandard candidates, we have no recourse but to get rid of them? That doesn’t even make sense.

Also, when you ask adults if they had gotten as much out of their school years as they could have, many will say they did not. And when you ask them why they didn’t, the overwhelming majority blame themselves. They will tell you it was because they didn’t apply themselves, that they didn’t buckle down and do the work. I have never heard one person blame their teachers. Not one person ever said, “My teachers were incompetent. They couldn’t teach me enough.”

We need to understand something. This move we’re witnessing against public schools and teachers’ unions is being orchestrated not by educational reformers interested in improving our schools, but by greedy entrepreneurs looking to privatize the whole shebang. Having millions of kids leave the public schools and enroll in privates or for-profit charters represents a potential bonanza.

So the next time someone tries to tell you that it’s the unions who are responsible for the problems our public schools are facing, take a moment to set them straight. Make it clear that this whole “union teacher vs. non-union teacher” dichotomy is a hoax. It’s a con game. Put it to them in the simplest possible terms. We’re being played for suckers.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net


Jason Fischer, candidate district 7, thinks I should run CSX

If you go to his website, he says: As a businessman and a concerned parent, I believe that I can provide the leadership necessary to transform our schools from failure into success.

First our schools aren’t failures, do they have issues, yes, are many struggling, yes, but failures, not even close and many of the issues our schools are experiencing are because of the policies of his backers, Bush, Thrasher and Wise but more on this in the future.

I am a teacher and have been on a train; maybe I should run CSX, where Mr. Fischer works. Or wait I have been to the doctor, maybe I could start performing surgeries. Instead of running for school board, maybe I should have run to be a judge, why not; I have seen a lot of Law and Order.

Education is the one field that people who have nothing or very little to do with think to themselves, hey I can run that or do that and it is partly because of this mindset we are in trouble.

The truth is we need people like Mr. Fischer to be involved, to donate their time and to give ideas but just like we wouldn’t want me running a hospital we don’t want people like Mr. Fischer running our schools.

Dual Enrollement in Florida on the way out

From the Orlando Sentinel, Lauren Ritchie,

Bang that gong

This summer, the target is dual enrollment.

The state Legislature in 2006 decreed that smart students with decent grades must be informed that they could simultaneously enroll for free in college courses while finishing high school. Students could get a high school diploma and an associate’s degree at the same time.

A stern memo from the state’s Office of Articulation (Office of Articulation? Is that a joke?) stated all the books would be free and costs waived for dual enrollment students. College classes should be taught at the high schools where possible. Local school districts should just make it happen, the memo ordered.

It happened, all right. Last year, some 50,000 students across Florida swarmed the community colleges, and the schools couldn’t collect a nickel from them.

Statewide, the cost of dual-enrollment students was $50 million for the 2010-11 school year, and the locals had to just suck it up. For the school year that just ended, the price tag was more than $11 million for public colleges in Orange, Seminole, Brevard, Lake and Volusia counties.

Let the whining commence.

“Basically we’re eating out of our hides so to speak,” said Dick Scott, vice president for business affairs atLake-Sumter Community Collegein Leesburg.

“There’s more demand for dual enrollment than we can possibly meet in our budget,” said Sandy Shugart, president of Valencia College in Orlando.

Hearing any clanging gongs yet?

On Tuesday,Lake-Sumter’s trustees considered whether to cap the number of classes that a dual-enrolled high school student can take. If the Lake school district won’t pony up some cash, trustees are likely in July to impose the cap.

That’s a maddening thought for Tavares High School senior Kallie Santos, a state champion speller who juggled two high-school classes, soccer and a full course load at Lake-Sumter last school year. She won’t get her associate degree next year if trustees cut back on the classes.

“Times are tough, but they shouldn’t penalize students who aim higher,” Kallie said.

Of course not. But leave it to the manipulative state Legislature to set up the tension and step back to watch: Officially, state education officials are slobbering all over dual-enrollment they love it so much. That leaves local school districts and colleges trying to eat each other’s young to pay for it. Nice strategy — for the elected types.

But how do you think that students will fare in this one? Conned. Count on it.

This is the annoying truth about a good education: It costs money. It’s a lesson that the state Legislature never learns. For years, Florida has cared little about students in general and even less about the brightest ones. Officials demonstrate their lack of concern by repeatedly creating such obviously unsustainable programs as dual enrollment, which are supposed to promote education and prove that Florida cares.

Oh, officials talk plenty about the importance of learning, imposing accountability and readying students for the job market. But when it comes to paying for it, they always do it on the cheap. It shows. It’s why the state of Mississippi, traditionally at the bottom of any nationwide education assessment, has come to love Florida.

Things have gotten to the point, unfortunately, where the motives of state officials are transparent to the likes of smart students like Kallie and to the teachers, parents and administrators who truly care about giving Florida students a boost in what has become a fiercely competitive global market.

Terry Geter, the mother of a Lake-Sumter dual-enrolled student, said it best in a letter to the college president, protesting the proposed cutbacks: “Thank you for leading the way in taking educational opportunities from great students.”



Maybe the Duval County School Board does listen on occasion

I sent the following to the school board after the last school board meeting: I appreciate you tackling discipline, it has been one of the things I have been writing about for years but I am concerned the changes you have made are just cosmetic.

You can put whatever you want in the code of conduct but it might as well be blank if you don’t have principals that back teachers up or principals that ignore discipline because they think it might affect their evaluations.

One way to help improve discipline is by stop tying principal’s evaluations to referrals and suspensions. Let me suggest creating A Chinese wall that shields these stats from the superintendent or at least this superintendent who has made decreasing numbers, even if it makes things worse, his priority.

I received the following from W.C. Gentry (sent from his phone so please read around his abbreviations)

Will also b changing evaluation to eliminate disincentive to discipline. Chris, the real world takes a little time but I do listen ( as do most of the other. Board members ) + we are dealing with the main problems while working w/I the parameters of our governing authority.

As you know I have a problem with the boards, “governance role”, to me it is them setting policy and then crossing their fingers and hoping things get carried out but at the same time I welcome and real commitment to improving discipline in our schools. And as I have written many times, severing a principal’s evaluation from referrals and suspensions is a good first step.

Reasons to be concerned about the FCAT

From the Orlando Sentinel, by Marion Brady

Gerard Robinson, Florida’s Education Commissioner, and Kathleen Shanahan, chair of the State Board of Education, want to “continue to talk about the FCAT” (“Raising standards: FCAT is a portal to a lifetime of success,” Orlando Sentinel, June 10).

Great. I have some concerns.

It worries me that the tests:

(1) can’t measure complex thought processes

(2) provide minimal to no useful feedback to classroom teachers,

(3) lead to the neglect of physical conditioning, music, art and other nonverbal ways of learning,

(4) give unfair advantage to those who can afford test preparation,

(5) penalize nonstandard thinkers,

(6) radically limit teacher ability to adapt to learner differences and

(7) give test manufacturers control of the curriculum. It worries me that the tests

(8) encourage use of threats, bribes and other extrinsic motivators,

(9) use subjectively set pass-fail cut scores,

(10) assume that what the young will need to know is already known,

(11) produce scores that can be (and are) manipulated for political purposes,

(12) emphasize minimum to the neglect of maximum performance,

(13) create unreasonable pressures to cheat and

(14) reduce teacher creativity.It worries me that the tests

(15) take inadequate account of ethnic, social class and regional differences,

(16) have no “success in life” predictive power,

(17) are open to scoring errors having life-changing consequences,

(18) are at odds with deep-seated American values about individuality,

(19) create negative attitudes toward schooling,

(20) perpetuate the artificial compartmentalizing of knowledge and

(21) waste taxpayer money.It worries me that the tests

(22) put corporate profit ahead of learner performance,

(23) ignore the creative potential of human variability,

(24) unduly reward mere short-term memory and

(25) undermine the democratic principle that those closest to problems are best positioned to deal with them.

My list isn’t complete, but it’s probably long enough to start a dialog. It may be relevant that the National Academy of Sciences was asked by Congress to study the issue, and the academy said that standardized tests “have not increased student achievement.”

Hmmm. Millions of dollars for nothing? Shouldn’t somebody be held accountable?

Everybody agrees that we’re in a hole. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to stop digging while we talk?


How school choice (privitization) is killing public schools

From the Diane Ravitch blog

A reader posted a comment that I think is profound. The more that people begin to see education as a consumer choice, the more they will be unwilling to pay for other people’s children. And if they have no children in school, then they have no reason to underwrite other people’s private choices.

The basic compact that public education creates is this: The public is responsible for the education of the children of the state, the district, the community. We all benefit when other people’s children are educated. It is our responsibility as citizens to support a high-quality public education, even if we don’t have children in the public schools.

But once the concept of private choice becomes dominant, then the sense of communal responsibility is dissolved. Each of us is then given permission to think of what is best for me, not what is best for we.

Here is what the reader wrote:

Parents have always been free to direct their personal funds to the private schools of their choice, for what they see as the additional private benefit of their own children.

But people pay taxes to support the public school system whether they are parents or not. If only parents are given a choice in the type of school system that tax dollars support, then only parents of school-age children should pay school taxes, and based on the number of children in school.

Private individuals are not entitled by any consideration of the common good to divert public funds for the sake of private corporate profit and personal religious preferences.

When people start seeing education as a private commodity that parents buy for their own children — just another personal choice, like whether to buy designer duds or that hot new toy — then we are going to see a taxpayer revolt like we have never seen before, and public-funded education will cease to exist.

How Choice May Kill Public Education