(This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.)
Conditions in the School District of Philadelphia have hit a new low after four record breaking years of state disinvestment in education and years of meager improvements in school performance. That situation is poised to change for the better if the new governor and legislature heed the voter sentiment expressed in the historic ousting of a sitting governor largely because of his sweeping education funding cuts. Unfortunately, while the new players in Harrisburg are still unpacking their boxes, the School Reform Commission must decide whether to approve new charter schools and what cuts to impose on traditional schools to pay for charter expansion.
While there are thousands of families who have good reason to love their local schools and teachers, the share of satisfied families is shrinking, as each year goes by. But there is also no question that most schools need urgent attention. Families who have lived in Philadelphia for generations are rightfully frustrated and impatient with the slow pace of improvement. The same goes for the recent influx of young families, who have neither the income nor the inclination to send their children to private school.
Meanwhile, the growing chorus behind expansion of charters makes the pathway to progress sound simple: authorize additional charter schools and families will stay and our students will do better. Thirty-nine charter operators have lined up for approval from the District to expand charter enrollment to 51 percent of the district’s students and potentially balloon annual charter payments to a billion dollars. Unfortunately the facts don’t support the charter silver bullet theory. Our recently released report on the challenges of authorizing new charters found:
Many of the applicants for new charters are proposed by charter school operators that already run charter schools that are not preforming as well as the traditional public schools in the city.
Nearly 60 percent of the applicants educate a student population from families that are more affluent than those attending traditional public schools, which could mean that as they expand they will be unprepared for the rigors of classrooms of mostly very poor students. In fact, some of the strongest performing charters might have better results than the traditional public schools only because they have a more ready student body than the students who attend the average District school, where the official poverty rate is 84 percent.
Finally, there is the reality of money. For every student that enrolls in a charter school the District must pay the charter operator around $10,000. While the district avoids some costs when a student transfers to a charter, most of the overhead of operating the district schools remains the same. As a result, according to the Boston Consulting Group every new charter student ends up costing the district about $7,000 per child. Given the District’s dire fiscal straights, unless the state or the city were to ante up more money, the District will have to pay the cost of new charters by making deeper cuts to already starving traditional public schools.
If the commission is seriously entertaining the possibility of new charters, it would mean that it has essentially decided that it can find new funds for school improvement. If that’s the case, it raises the possibility that additional funds could be invested in struggling traditional public schools that lack books, teachers and counselors instead of new charter school seats. Are there really two policy options backed by new resources on the table for improving student
Charlotte Hitchcock, NPS counsel, tried to shoo students from Anderson’s office. The students set up their broadcast center.
A small group of Newark high school students Tuesday night seized the office of state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson in a protest timed to coincide with her imminent re-appointment to another year, her fifth, as head of the state’s largest school district. The action, which is continuing through the night, stands in stark contrast to the failure of Anderson’s older–and, theoretically, more powerful–critics to do anything to dislodge her from her post.
The operation was executed with an efficiency that has eluded Anderson’s control of the district. The dozen students and a few adult advisers pulled off the occupation of the suite of offices on the eighth floor while a public school board meeting droned on two floors above on the tenth floor. The students had attended the meeting and some spoke, hinting broadly they were about to do something, and then left in a group–but they weren’t going home to do their homework.
The dozen or so students crammed into an elevator and pushed the 8th floor button, then sprinted to Anderson’s office, expecting all the while to be met with resistance from security officers. Instead, the office site was wide open and empty except for a puzzled janitor who, while mopping the floors, cautioned the students not to slip Newark students seize Cami Anderson’s office | Bob Braun's Ledger:
It is no secret that Tennessee's Achievement School District (ASD) is modeled after the Recovery School District (RSD) of Louisiana. The original intent of both the ASD and RSD was to take failing schools and, without the rules & regulations of public schools, turn those failing schools into successful schools of "choice." Competition between schools, it was believed, would breed excellence and innovation for every child.
Well, it has been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the RSD took over public schools. There are no public schools left in New Orleans today. Sadly, what is left in place is not quality, equitable education for every child but a patchwork of uncertainty, churning, and failure. It has been 2 years since the ASD took over schools in Memphis, and even the ASD's professional PR team can't hide that the ASD's TCAP scores are lower now than they were as public schools 2 years ago. Even harder to ignore, entire communities in Memphis and Nashville are irate over their public schools being taken from them and given to out-of-state charter operators.
Only a fool would call this "recovery," "achievement," or "success."
The Louisiana Department of Education may be able to manipulate cut scores on their own state's tests, but they can't do so for the National ACT test. Since they couldn't manipulate the truth, Louisiana simply didn't release the state-wide ACT results to the public as they normally have. They kept the ACT scores a secret. A big ugly secret... until a high school teacher in New Orleans found out the truth.
Mercedes Schneider is a high-school teacher by day and a ruthless researcher & writer by night. She holds a phD in statistics and isn't afraid to dive into data that the average person would have no clue about. She's published books and knows her stuff. She'd requested the ACT information from her state, which normally should be a simple process to request information, but to no avail. Then, she got a break from an anonymous source who works for a college in Louisiana.
Schneider found out why it was no wonder that Louisiana hid the ACT test results! After 10 years of "reform," the results were undeniably awful. Scores were dropping. Students in New Orleans weren't anywhere near ready for college and career. Schneider writes, "The RSD Class of 2014 was in third grade when Katrina hit. The state has been in charge of their education since then, and this is what they have to show for their test-score-driven, charter-friendly, Teach-for-America-friendly, so-called 'education.' Nothing remotely touching 'college ready.' A sham."
Why is this information about Louisiana important to Tennessee? Well, 400 miles north of New Orleans in Memphis, TN, the ASD is following in the RSD's footsteps and using the RSD's game-plan. 300 more miles away to the east, the more profitable public schools of Nashville are the next targeted prize for the ASD. This is important for legislators and the public to understand. Tennessee if following a failing plan.
Also important to know: Louisiana has vouchers. They are a dismal failure there. Read Mercedes Schneider's article about how their state can't get private schools to accept them. Their state is literally bribing schools and parents to use the unwanted voucher system. What a mess. What a waste.
Tennessee is following a failing plan. We should learn from their mistakes.
Educate yourself on what is happening. Watch these short videos on "The Perfect Storm" and see for yourself what reality is like in New Orleans now after 10 years of recovery, reform, vouchers, and charters:
If you only have time to watch 1 video, watch this one to see how the RSD has negatively impacted students and communities in New Orleans:
NOTE: TN House Bill 508 filed by Representative Mitchell last week is a great start to eliminate the wastefulness, churn, and failure of the TN ASD. It would abolish the ASD after 2015-16 and return local control to communities. Thank you, Representative Bo Mitchell and Senator Thelma Harper!
A Perfect Storm: The Takeover of New Orleans Public Schools is a series of short videos, that reveals the real story behind the creation of the nation’s first all charter school district.
For the past nine years, state education officials and corporate school reformers have touted the dramatic turnaround of New Orleans public schools. National media outlets have published numerous articles and TV news stories of the miracle in New Orleans citing unprecedented academic achievement where parents finally had School Choice.
The first Perfect Storm video focuses on the illegal takeover and the academic failure of the Recovery School District. Part 2 explores the reality of an all charter district where parents no longer have neighborhood schools.
The film features interviews with community members and leaders in the New Orleans education who were faced with the daunting task of reopening schools immediately following Hurricane Katrina.
TEACHERS CAN BE THE FIRST TO IDENTIFY TEEN DEPRESSION
The sad death of comedian Robin Williams has reminded me of the many times in my professional life where it was up to me to help parents and students find help in dealing with teen depression that often was masked with self-medication by chemical abuse.
Of the 16 years that I was in the public school classroom, 6 were spent in alternative ed. During those years, as well as in a traditional classroom, I had to learn a lot about identifying drug addiction. Often, drug addiction was a sign of deeper issues of depression.
Here is a good definition of depression from the Mayo Clinic web site:
Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depression, major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if life isn’t worth living.
Self-medication is the most common form of “treatment” for students when overly busy parents or overworked single parents miss the signs of depression and students start trying to cope in any way that they can find available to them.
When that happens it is often up to a teacher to identify growing problems and raise a careful, professional alarm to our principal and counselors.
Oklahoma veteran reporter Gerry Bonds did a whole episode of her great news program The Living Room where she interviews several people who have struggled with their own children having depression struggles and an advocate for increased mental health care in Oklahoma. It is an excellent starting resource for any teacher who wants to grow professionally in their understanding.
Teacher — not counselor
Teaching itself takes all of our creative and even physical energy. And we wouldn’t be good teachers if we didn’t deeply care for and about our students. But, we are fooling ourselves to believe that we can also be our students’ counselors.
During my years as a high school public school teacher I did not hesitate to call in targeted professional help. I had learned to do that in my 17 years as a United Methodist pastor before going into teaching. It was the best and most effective thing that I learned post-seminary.
The pastor or teacher is focused on engineering huge processes in their respective institutions that demand all of their time and energy. It is too much to engage in the extra full-time task of counseling someone who is depressed. To effectively do that, there must be focus, discipline, training, and most importantly, peer review.
Join Tanaisa Brown and the Newark Student Union as they Occupy the Office of Cami Anderson. These students are brave and really know how to take on the elusive Cami.
CALL TO ACTION: ALL NEWARK STUDENTS, TEACHERS, PARENTS, AND FELLOW COMMUNITY MEMBERS THAT STAND IN SOLIDARITY WITH US AGAINST THE PRIVATIZATION OF OUR SCHOOL SYSTEM… COME OUT TOMORROW MORNING TO 2 CEDAR STREET. WE ASK THAT THE COMMUNITY COMES OUT AND WELCOMES CAMI ANDERSON WITH OPEN ARMS!
THERE WILL BE A PRESS CONFERENCE AS WELL (TIME NOT SPECIFIED YET). LETS SHOW THE REST OF THE WORLD THAT NEWARK IS UNITED AND STANDING STRONGER THAN EVER!
STUDENTS: GET YOUR FRIENDS! PARENTS: STAND WITH YOUR CHILDREN! TEACHERS: THIS IS YOUR FIGHT TOO!
The national media is now finally paying attention to the debate about the value of high-stakes testing. This morning, The Diane Rehm Show hosted an hour long discussion with,
Anya Kamenetz education reporter for NPR and author of “The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed with Standardized Testing – But You Don’t Have to Be”
Elaine Weiss national coordinator of the Broader Bolder Approach to Education
Matthew Chingos senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and research director of its Brown Center on Education Policy
Chanelle Hardy senior vice president for policy and executive director of the National Urban League Washington Bureau
Anya and Weiss thoughtfully critiqued our current system of high-stakes testing required by No Child Left Behind.
Some “reformers” often want us to ignore effects/results/reality poverty in public policy and more specifically education policy…but…
Hardy (a former Teach For America corps member— I had a gut feeling that this was the case after listening to her comments and a quick Google confirmed this. Ever notice TFA corps members are everywhere but the classroom? To me how they choose to use their TFA-given power and platform after they leave the classroom is very important. Some use it for ill and some for good) and Chingos basically said lets keep high-stakes testing. I didn’t really hear any alternatives to the current top-down testing structure in their conversation. In fact Hardy, offered the common refrain that if we don’t “desegregate testing data” it will suddenly be a mystery which schools and students are The Test: Bad News (civil rights facade) and Good News (local accountability) | Cloaking Inequity:
CALLING ALL NEWARKERS!!! EMERGENCY RALLY TONIGHT AT 5PM AT 2 CEDAR STREET!!!
THE COMMUNITY MATTERS – SOLIDARITY WILL WIN! Come to Newark Public Schools headquarters today at 5pm and show your LOVE & SUPPORT for the brave young people who are staging a sit-in at Cami Anderson’s office. 1.The immediate removal of Cami Anderson and a democratically elected superintendent that faces the community, works in the best interest of the community and can have a genuine discussion stripped away of the State's political and corporate agendas.
2. A confirmation made to the Newark Students Union by Cami Anderson to attend the upcoming Board meeting on the 24th of this month. WE WILL NOT LEAVE UNTIL A CONFIRMATION IS MADE. Face the community, stop lying to the media.. you have YET to present yourself and engage in a honest process.
Fund us so that we can continue to build our union and be able to fully address the needs and issues that students in Newark go through on a daily basis.
OUR DEMANDS ARE:
1.The immediate removal of Cami Anderson and a democratically elected superintendent that faces the community, works in the best interest of the community and can have a genuine discussion stripped away of the State's political and corporate agendas.
2. A confirmation made to the Newark Students Union by Cami Anderson to attend the upcoming Board meeting on the 24th of this month. WE WILL NOT LEAVE UNTIL A CONFIRMATION IS MADE. Face the community, stop lying to the media.. you have YET to present yourself and engage in a honest process. #ournewark
The Newark Students Union is an organization founded by and for Newark students with the goals of protecting student rights, ensuring we receive a quality education, and empowering the student voice in the political process.
We the students of the NPS, in order to establish and protect or rights, form student unity, voice our concerns and grievances, promote active participation in the policy making process, and to secure the integrity of our education for ourselves and for future students do establish the Newark Students Union.
For too long, the policies that have been put into effect or are in being proposed have or plan to do nothing to fully address the needs and issues that students in Newark go through on a daily basis. For too long we as students are just being told to let the system solve its problems but at the same time, the same problems they try to solve are the same ones we're being forced to endure for the sake of a better education. If we as students are supposed to reach our highest potential, then we as students should have the right to have a form of representation so we can truly achieve our fullest potential and be the next leaders of the world, and that is why we are staring the Newark Students Union. The revolution starts now!!! Newark Students Union by Newark Students Union - GoFundMe:
Other current reforms such as evaluating teachers on the basis of test scores, ending tenure and seniority, calling principals CEOs, and children learning to code will be like tissue-paper reforms of the past (e.g., zero-based budgeting, right- and left-brain teaching) that have been crumpled up and tossed away.
Consistent with the insights of other contributors to the AEI conference, Cuban explained:
Like most educational policymakers, donors have largely lived in their own world where idées fixes about school problems—better schooling strengthens the economy, schools are like businesses, and successful business practices can fix any problems schools have—dominate their thinking. These shared ideas spurred grants for reforming structures, allocating ample resources, and scaling up successful ventures. And the world that practitioners live in—a world of different idées fixes and behaviors—is crucial for policies to turn into classroom practices, but donors have largely ignored it.
So, I can’t believe I’m quarreling with one of Cuban’s points. He takes a long term view of education history as he rejects the term “corporate reform.” It supposedly implies “absolute certainty about reformers’ motives,” along with implying “a smell of conspiratorial decision-making.” The label is used in conjunction with “much of the back-and-forth about who is and who is not a ‘corporate reformer,’” and it “thrives on venomous personal attacks.”
Not wanting to use the term in a way that Larry Cuban might read as “hyperbole,” I’ve gone back and forth, wondering if I should use “corporate reform.” I’ve never fully understood why the label offends reformers so much; I’d think the word “elite” is more harsh and both names seem so mild in comparison to the charges (I’d say slanders) that reformers routinely hurl at teachers who disagree with them. But, since reading Cuban’s position, I’ve often edited the term from my blogging – even though I’ve sometimes reinserted the words because they seemed to be the best name for what I was describing.
At least for now, I stopped playing Hamlet with the words after reading “The Backlash Against Reform Philanthropy,” by Michael McShane and Jenn Hatfield. McShane and Hatfield investigate the liberal, moderate, and conservative critics of edu-philanthropy who “oppose education philanthropy because of what philanthropists are pushing, who is pushing it, why they are pushing it, and how they are pushing it.”
McShane and Hatfield find:
All of our respondents had some form of concern about standardized testing. Interestingly, their criticisms struck a common chord. They believed that tests were not an accurate measurement of everything they want children to know, and that the more reliant accountability systems are on tests, the more education becomes homogenized.
According to Russo’s astute article, the lessons of this new generation of philanthropy are:
1. Policy and advocacy are great tools—to a point.
2. New approaches complicate measurement/evaluation issues.
3. Newly-created organizations bring focus and fidelity but can lack credibility and engagement.
4. “Strategic” philanthropy is a powerful way to narrow priorities—unless it’s applied too rigidly.
5. Setting clear metrics helps—until you take them too far.
6. Fail fast—but don’t overreact to bad news, either.
7. Don’t forget/underplay “the grind.”
8. Little more coordination, please (but not too much!)
In a rational world, this witty and insightful call for balance would contribute to better policy-making. In contrast to the statements made by other insiders to the other contributors, however, I fear that the several elites interviewed by Russo are concluding that, yes, we lose credibility with each of our risky policy gambles -- but we will make it up on volume.
I catch a lot of flack from fellow teachers for my repeated mistake of seeing the glass as half full. Reading the AEI discussion, I repeatedly jumped the conclusion that venture philanthropists must be ready to heed the wisdom of the Ford Foundation’s Jeannie Oakes. For instance, the way that strategic philanthropy drove the change in teachers evaluation laws was anti-democratic, and those laws haven’t produced measurable improvements.
Oakes makes the most reality-based of the observations in Russo’s article. For instance, she recognizes that, “Program officers don't have much time to read anything besides proposals or write anything down except strategic plans.” I would add my skepticism that they have time to listen to teachers, much less visit classrooms for anything more than a Potemkin Village-type dog and pony show.
One possibly discouraging comment came from former Gates and USDOE official Joanne Weiss in response to Lesson #2, New approaches complicate measurement/evaluation issues. Russo writes that "it’s especially difficult to evaluate policy and advocacy efforts that don’t involve concrete services or products being delivered may unfold messily over time." Weiss, the head the Obama administration’s hurried Race to the Top program, responds with a seeming defense of the rush to reform. Weiss replies, "If the charter issue hadn’t been raised to such a level [through foundation-funded advocacy and policy initiatives], would it have been somehow stopped in its tracks?" My interpretation of her words is that the question of whether policies, ranging from choice to test-driven accountability, actually work is less important than whether their agenda keeps moving forward.