Latest News and Comment from Education

Monday, May 30, 2016

When “doing God’s work” means firing half a school’s teachers |

When “doing God’s work” means firing half a school’s teachers |:

When “doing God’s work” means firing half a school’s teachers

Marion P. Thomas Charter School--out with the old.
Marion P. Thomas Charter School–teachers are to blame for poor PARCC test scores.

The administrators of the Newark charter school that fired half of its teaching staff have blamed the instructors they hired for poor test scores and all but told worried parents to butt out of their decision-making–even when, as they concede, the decisions are “painful” and “drastic.”

Dr. Karen P. Thomas, CEO and Superintendent of the Marion P. Thomas Charter School
Dr. Karen P. Thomas, CEO and Superintendent of the Marion P. Thomas Charter School

Karen Thomas, who refers to herself as  chief executive officer and supeirntendent of the Marion P. Thomas charter school (MPTCS), responded to protests from parents and teachers (and some students) by insisting it was doing the right thing by kicking to the sidewalk 37 of its 79 teaching staff members–men and women her administration hired and, presumably, trained and evaluated over the last five years. Men and women who were just given raises.
Scores registered by Marion P. Thomas students on the state-required PARCC tests were especially poor–and Karen Thomas is blaming that on the teachers. Indeed, she even states the student scores were the teachers’ scores:
“The 2014 PARCC test scores for MPTCS students and teachers  documented that more than half of our scholars are not achieving at the required levels of proficiency,” Thomas wrote in a letter to school parents. (Emphasis mine).
Note that the school, publicly funded but privately operated,  considers these scores the scores of the teachers. That’s quite a leap–although it fits right in with the teaching of Chris Christie, the Great White Hope of charter schools who argues that “selfish” public school teachers are to blame for the failures of schools that are When “doing God’s work” means firing half a school’s teachers |:

Ms. Katie's Ramblings: The Limits of Social Justice Curriculum

Ms. Katie's Ramblings: The Limits of Social Justice Curriculum:

The Limits of Social Justice Curriculum

For a number of decades now, the topic of social justice curriculum has dominated the progressive wing of education. Teaching culturally-relevant curricula, reading diverse books, focusing on social justice inside our classrooms is immensely important work. There are many great organizations that have centered that work such as Teaching for Change, Rethinking Schools, Teaching Tolerance, or Teachers for Social Justice here in Chicago. There are still a number of teacher prep programs and university-based educators who push for social justice curriculum in schools, although like everything else in neoliberal higher education, those programs are under attack.

However, I want to write today about the limitations of this kind of work in truly pushing for the liberatory change we need.

The Rise of Social Justice Curriculum Under Neoliberalism

First of all, let's be clear that the reason this form of social justice curriculum came into vogue was because of decades of attacks on working people and the repression of the uprisings we saw in the 60s and early 70s. The focus on the individual classroom experience for students outside the fight for systemic change-or even as a proxy for collective action-came about precisely because those movements of the 60s and 70s were being viciously beaten back. The collective had failed so so-called liberatory educators turned their focus to individuals. This shift happened throughout academica as neoliberalism took hold. The idea that became popular was if only students were exposed to histories that were relevant and told the often misrepresented or completely erased histories/herstories of people of color, working people, women, indigenous peoples, LGTBQ, or any other oppressed groups, students would learn more deeply and become advocates for change themselves.

Now I want to stop here to say, clearly and loudly, that I applaud the call for this type of full and culturally-relevant teaching. Learning about our world from outside the 
Ms. Katie's Ramblings: The Limits of Social Justice Curriculum:

California: The Charter Game is Rigged | Diane Ravitch's blog

California: The Charter Game is Rigged | Diane Ravitch's blog:

California: The Charter Game is Rigged

This article provides an inside view of the charter racket in California.
If local districts oppose charter schools, it doesn’t matter. No matter what they say or how well the community organizes, the die is cast. State officials will approve the charter application, regardless of its flaws.
Rocketship charter chain wanted to move into the Mt. Diablo district. It had a federal grant to expand, and the chain wouldn’t let community opposition stand in its way. The district did not want Rocketship’s computer-based approach. It did not want a corporate chain whose headquarters was sixty miles away. Neither did the county board of education, which rejected Rocketship.
“This is the opposite of local control,” said Nellie Meyer, the superintendent of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, who called the proposal deeply flawed and was followed by MDUSD’s general counsel, Deborah Cooksey, who said Rocketship had collected its petition signatures “under false pretenses,” by telling people—including parents who were non-English speakers—their kids could get kicked out of school if they didn’t sign.
“This is going to be something that will divide our community,” said Gloria Rios, who has lived in the Monument Corridor near the northeastern Bay Area city of Concord for 20 years and has three children in the district’s public schools. “Our children will suffer the consequences, and these funds can be used for the schools we already have.”
Rejected by the local community and the county board of education, Rocketship went to the State Board of Education.
Slam dunk.
“The first indication that the proceedings were tilted to Rocketship came when Cindy Chan, who oversees the California Education Department’s charter school program, summarized Rocketship’s petition and, using the same legal terms that the Mt. Diablo and Contra Costa County Boards used to reject Rocketship, concluded the opposite. Rocketship’s prograns were “sound” and they “will implement it,” she said.
“Rocketship’s Cheye Calvo, its chief growth and county engagement officer, then led the board through a powerpoint presentation filled with all the buzzwords of the charter school movement. He talked of closing the “achievement gap.” He said that most “Rocketeers” learn more than one year’s worth of studies every school year. He said the school collected 1,100 petition signatures from district residents. He said the computer labs were “personalized learning,” saying they were “no California: The Charter Game is Rigged | Diane Ravitch's blog:
How Goldilocks Opened a Charter School That Nobody Wanted

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Big Education Ape: Washington Charter Schools Find Another Source Of Public Money | KUOW News and Information

Seattle Schools Community Forum: PARCC Get an "F" So What about the SBAC?

Seattle Schools Community Forum: PARCC Get an "F" So What about the SBAC?:

PARCC Get an "F" So What about the SBAC?

Update: read this blog thread below from Wait What and then appreciate that the Seattle School Board recently passed a resolution, 5-1 (with Director Blanford voting no and Director Geary not at the meeting), to ask the state to allow districts to be able to select/create an alternative summative assessment framework to show academic mastery.  (Their discussion is in Part Two of the video of the board meeting. Here's the cue-up from the Seattle Education blog.)

end of update

From the Wait What? blog by Connecticut writer, Jonanthan Pelto with Wendy Lecker, news that PARCC is not as advertised.   (bold his)

In the most significant academic study to date, the answer appears to be that the PARCC version the massive and expensive test is that it is an utter failure.
William Mathis, Managing Director of the National Education Policy Center and member of the Vermont State Board of Education, has just published an astonishing piece in the Washington Post. (Alice in PARCCland: Does ‘validity study’ really prove the Common Core test is valid? In it, Mathis demonstrates that the PARCC test, one of two national common core tests (the other being the SBAC), cannot predict college readiness; and that a study commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Education demonstrated the PARCC’s lack of validity.

This revelation is huge and needs to be repeated. PARCC, the common core standardized test sold as predicting college-readiness, cannot predict college readiness. The foundation upon which the Common Core and its standardized tests were imposed on this nation has just been revealed to be an artifice.

(Dr. Mathis’ entire piece is a must-read. Alice in PARCCland: Does ‘validity study’ really prove the Common Core test is valid?)
Who is William Mathis?

Dr. Mathis is not an anti-testing advocate. He was Deputy Assistant Commissioner for the state of New Jersey, Director of its Educational Assessment program, a design consultant for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and for six Seattle Schools Community Forum: PARCC Get an "F" So What about the SBAC?:

Letter: Hedge fund billionaires 'endanger' world finances - NonDoc

Letter: Hedge fund billionaires 'endanger' world finances - NonDoc:

Letter: Hedge fund billionaires ‘endanger’ world finances

Hedge funds
(Editor’s Note: NonDoc believes in creating a responsible forum for the rational and respectful discussion of topics and ideas. As such, we run Letters to the Editors of 300 words and reserve the right to edit lightly for style and grammar. To submit a letter for publication, please write to We simply require your name, the town in which you live and your contact information.)
To the editors,
Hedge funds are one of many types of speculative trading that endanger the worldwide financial system.
A hedge fund is a private-investment vehicle, operating as a limited partnership, that invests in debt, complex derivatives, stocks, bonds, options and commodities.
Hedge fund managers often enjoy astonishing payouts, some in excess of a billion dollars in a year.
But just how much is a billion dollars, and does this investment practice have an undesirable effect on our society?
One billion expressed numerically is 1,000,000,000. A billion is one thousand times larger than a million.
We can factor the product of one billion into two interesting numbers that, when multiplied together, make one billion.
Fifty-thousand times 20,000 equals 1 billion (or 50,000 X 20,000 = 1,000,000,000).
If we put a dollar sign on the 50,000, it equals about the average annual salary in the U.S. We can now see that 20,000 workers making $50,000 per year make a total of $1 billion, an amount similar to the yearly take of some hedge fund managers.
In 2015, some actual hedge fund managers made the amounts shown in the table below. As a group in 2015, the top-25 hedge fund managers made a total of $12.94 billion!

2015 hedge fund managers’ earnings

1Ken GriffinCitadel$1.7B34,000
1James SimonsRenaissance Technologies$1.7B34,000
3Raymond DalioBridgewater Associates$1.4B28,000
3David TepperAppaloosa Management$1.4B28,000
5Israel EnglanderMillennium Management$1.1523,000
——————Top 25 Hedge Fund Managers$12.94B258,800
(*”Jobs” defined as making $50,000 per year and adding value with a useful product or service. “Equivalent number of jobs” per year calculated by dividing 2015 hedge fund earnings above by $50,000; source)
The table illustrates how these kinds of financial transactions can take a heavy toll on overall Letter: Hedge fund billionaires 'endanger' world finances - NonDoc:

Image result for big education ape  hedge funds

What One District's Data Mining Did For Chronic Absence : NPR Ed : NPR

What One District's Data Mining Did For Chronic Absence : NPR Ed : NPR:

What One District's Data Mining Did For Chronic Absence

Mel Atkins grew up in Grand Rapids and worked as a teacher and principal in the western Michigan city. He's now the  executive director of community and students for the Grand Rapids Public Schools.
Mel Atkins grew up in Grand Rapids and worked as a teacher and principal in the western Michigan city. He's now the executive director of community and students for the Grand Rapids Public Schools.
Brittney Lohmiller for NPR

Mel Atkins has spent most of his life with Grand Rapids Public Schools in Michigan. He graduated from Ottawa Hills High, where he played baseball. But his real love was bowling. He says he's bowled 22 perfect games.
He's been a teacher and principal in the city's public schools. And now he works for the district, overseeing just about everything related to students.
One more thing you need to know about him: Mel Atkins is a number-cruncher.
Three years ago, the superintendent came to him with a question: Does Grand Rapids have an issue with chronic absenteeism?
"I don't think I'd even heard of the definition at the time," Atkins recalls. He looked it up.
Chronic absence is defined as a student missing more than 10 percent of the school year — which works out to just two days a month.
Research shows that such students are way more likely to fall behind and, eventually, drop out. In other words, you can't teach kids when they don't show up for school.
Chronic absence is not just skipping school — it's more likely a mix of truancy entangled with illnesses and family problems. And it's a big problem in the U.S.: It's estimated that more than 5 million students a year are chronically absent.
"It was pretty apparent, once we put our data in, that yes, there is a problem," says Atkins.
A big problem. Of 17,000 kids in the district, nearly 7,000 were missing a month or What One District's Data Mining Did For Chronic Absence : NPR Ed : NPR:

CURMUDGUCATION: HYH: Student Voices and Lawrence, Mass

CURMUDGUCATION: HYH: Student Voices and Lawrence, Mass:

HYH: Student Voices and Lawrence, Mass

The fourth episode of the podcast Have You Heard has been out for a while, and as usual I am way behind because I can read or type under almost any circumstances, but listening is a Whole Other Thing. So here we go, theoretically better late than never.

The episode features Jennifer Berkshire and Aaron French on their first road trip, for which they head to Lawrence, Massachusetts. Berkshire notes that while the ed debates are "all about the kids," it's rare that the kids' voices are actually heard. And Lawrence makes an interesting destination because the state took over the schools about five years ago.

We find our intrepid podcasters in the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence, surrounded by students who are writing responses to the question, "What is education?"

But what they're really talking about is finding a voice, and expressing that voice through writing. "I was angry about a lot of things," says one student, in particular noting "decisions that were made for me" without ever involving her in the process. This is a student-run workshop, even though there are some adults present.

"You don't get many opportunities to experience something bigger than yourself," says one writer in reference to an open-mic night at a local spot, and that really hits me as I listen, because school really ought to provide many of the Bigger Than Yourself opportunities. This is one of the less-often-mentioned aspects of test-driven standards-centered ed reform-- the whole education process has been shrunk down from the business of finding things in the world that are bigger than yourself to a tiny, cramped activity that isn't bigger than anybody.

I'm also struck by how specific this is. Students are largely Dominican immigrants who find CURMUDGUCATION: HYH: Student Voices and Lawrence, Mass:

Education Policy's Roost (On Social Justice Warriors) | The Jose Vilson

Education Policy's Roost (On Social Justice Warriors) | The Jose Vilson:

Education Policy’s Roost (On Social Justice Warriors)

Less than a year ago, I was in a heated conversation (we’ll call it that) where a few folks who disagreed on education policy brought their frustrations to full display. Unbeknownst to the folks who I agreed with, the conservative dissenters are encouraged to engage with, start sh*t, and frustrate folks like us. At one point, after one of the folks in “my” group decided she couldn’t take the direction of the conversation, a dissenter promptly called her a Nazi. Observers from afar thought that the argument between the two groups would have cut across color lines, but not necessarily. At the point where one dissenter called one of my people a Nazi, no one in the dissenter clique decided to call him in, even the people of color. In fact, they cheered the use of Nazi actively, flooding her mentions and getting favorites and retweets for engaging in kind.
It reminded me of two lessons: 1) not all my skinfolk are kinfolk and 2) sometimes, to many people, the side of the debate you’re on is stronger than the principle of social justice you supposedly espouse.
After I rebuked this dissenter for analogizing simple disagreement with outright fascism, I too found myself in a conundrum. For those who follow me on social media and beyond, they’ve seen my Education Policy's Roost (On Social Justice Warriors) | The Jose Vilson: