Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Invasion of the Public School Snatchers

Public schools are in danger. The public school, that long-standing symbol and foundation of democracy, is threatened by people who either sincerely believe that our public schools are failures (they are not) and that "school choice" is the answer (it is not), or who are deeply entwined with the privatizing forces that hope to make a profit by their demise. It is my belief that most of those carrying the "school choice" mantra forward, are in the latter group, because evidence exists that school choice is not the solution for the problems besetting urban schools. Betsy Devos is certainly one of those rabid reformers who cares little for results, wants no transparency for the charter schools she supports, and would love nothing more than to take tax dollars away from public schools and transfer them to unregulated charters or religious schools.

Betsy DeVos has long shown us that she is an advocate for corporate welfare, not social welfare. She married into the Amway fortune, worth an estimated $5.1 billion. The company cons those who are hopeful of developing their own lucrative business into investing in nothing less than a pyramid scheme. Investigations have shown that 99% of those who become Amway distributors lose money. Most of the money lost goes right into the pockets of the DeVos family, as they charge expensive fees for seminars, motivational books, and materials. A case prosecuted in Wisconsin in the 80's showed that the top 1% of Amway distributors in the state showed a net income of minus $900. This did not stop the DeVos clan from continuing to internationally capitalize on what is clearly a scam that targets and defrauds those who are desperate for additional income to support their families.

Through her brother, Erik Prince, Betsy is also connected to the Blackwater USA (now known as Academi) mercenary group. Four Blackwater operators were sentenced to prison for ordering their forces to open fire on unarmed civilians in Iraq in 2007, killing 14. They have made their fortune by privatizing war, and as in all privatization schemes, unnecessary casualties are to be expected. It appears that Betsy DeVos and her family see loss of investments, and even loss of life, as merely the cost of doing business.

Where Betsy has truly been busy, however, is in pushing the debacle of school choice and vouchers upon her home state of Michigan, with absolutely no accountability or oversight to make sure that those schools are serving the best interests of children. The New York Times states it would be "difficult to find anyone more passionate about the idea of steering public dollars away from traditional public schools than Betsy DeVos."  For at least three decades, she has pushed her privatization agenda while attacking teacher unions and public schools. She is what is known as a "disruptor," someone who creates "churn" in public schools by transferring their tax dollars and resources to private schools.

To better understand the devastation that the DeVos model of school "reform" creates, we can look at what has happened to education in Detroit. The New York Times calls the situation in Detroit "a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States." DeVos "advocacy" has unleashed too many unregulated charters, leading to a dog-eat-dog climate in which no school can thrive. The corporate competition has created a situation where tax dollars are stretched too thin, leaving limited resources for all schools. Forget churn, this city sees its education dollars sucked into a bottomless whirlpool. The claim of reformers that choice will improve all education has been firmly disproven as half of Detroit charters perform only as well as (which does not say much) or even worse than, the city's public schools. 

DeVos has been heavily involved in the Detroit debacle. She established the Great Lakes Education Project to fight for and protect the city's charter schools. She fought back against a cap on charter growth that would have prevented failing charter schools from opening new faciliites, and made sure that the state would have no authority to monitor their performance. A system was created in which the institutions who are charged with granting new charters receive as much as one-third of the tax dollars that go to the charters. Charters therefore have no difficulty finding institutions to approve their often faulty business plans. 

Other difficulties with the choice model - which can also be found in other places such as New York City - is that it allows for cherry-picking of students, preventing those with disabilities or behavior problems from obtaining a slot. They also can expel troublesome or needy students once the "count day" has passed. After "count day," students can be sent back to the public school while their state funding remains with the charter.

DeVos has campaigned for vouchers that serve to transfer public tax dollars to charters, religious schools, and home schools. Gifting state vouchers to students to pay part of private school tuition will not help the most needy, who cannot afford the remainder of tuition on their own. It is nothing less than another financial subsidy to the wealthy. In Wisconsin, 75% of students who applied for vouchers were already enrolled in private schools. State legislator Gordon Hintz said that the program has "created a system in which taxpayers are paying for private education." 

Voucher schemes also violate the constitutional separation of church and state, one of the principles our country was founded on. Politico recently reported that DeVos gave a speech in which she claimed that education reform will "advance God's kingdom." In states like Georgia, Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Florida when voucher measures have been legislated, taxpayer funds went to schools that taught creationism, racist intolerance, homophobia, and/or science denial curriculum. Education activist and scholar Jonathan Kozol called vouchers "the single worst, most dangerous idea to have entered education discourse in my adult life."

Whatever side of the political spectrum people land on, I do not understand how anyone could advocate for transferring public school resources paid for by our tax dollars, over to privately held, for-profit corporations. I know that many people are against Common Core and federal intrusion into our schools, yet see nothing wrong with school choice. Some of them have had negative experience with their inner-city school, and would like to throw the baby out with the bath water because they don't see a way to "fix" the problem. They are more than ready to believe the privatizer message that school choice and vouchers are the answer for inner-city children who are stuck in schools located in impoverished communities without resources. How will taking more money away from those schools help the problems? How will diverting students to a multitude of privately run charters that are not accountable to the state nor to local school boards, create anything but an opportunity for fraud and misuse of tax dollars? We know that inequity in funding exists. Increasing that inequity will only serve the wealthy, increase segregation, and create a "caste system" in education. We cannot allow this to happen.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Pearson Stranglehold

“I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.” 
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Teachers College professor Celia Oyler recently posted a column that was critical of Pearson's PARCC exams that had been written by a teacher who felt the need to remain anonymous. She was soon threatened with legal action by PARCC's CEO, who claimed copyright infringement. Other education activists, including Leonie Haimson, had tweets that linked to the post removed. Pearson and PARCC rely on gagging teachers and secrecy to keep the true nature of their horrible tests from becoming public knowledge. The tests are developmentally inappropriate and designed to fail students, but if we cannot share specifics about the test, it is just our word against theirs. As an act of civil disobedience, Haimson asks that bloggers reprint the original post, and I am more than happy to comply. Here it is:

The PARCC Test: Exposed

The author of this blog posting is a public school teacher who will remain anonymous.

I will not reveal my district or my role due to the intense legal ramifications for exercising my Constitutional First Amendment rights in a public forum. I was compelled to sign a security form that stated I would not be “Revealing or discussing passages or test items with anyone, including students and school staff, through verbal exchange, email, social media, or any other form of communication” as this would be considered a “Security Breach.” In response to this demand, I can only ask—whom are we protecting?

There are layers of not-so-subtle issues that need to be aired as a result of national and state testing policies that are dominating children’s lives in America. As any well prepared educator knows, curriculum planning and teaching requires knowing how you will assess your students and planning backwards from that knowledge. If teachers are unable to examine and discuss the summative assessment for their students, how can they plan their instruction? Yet, that very question assumes that this test is something worth planning for. The fact is that schools that try to plan their curriculum exclusively to prepare students for this test are ignoring the body of educational research that tells us how children learn, and how to create developmentally appropriate activities to engage students in the act of learning. This article will attempt to provide evidence for these claims as a snapshot of what is happening as a result of current policies.

The PARCC test is developmentally inappropriate

In order to discuss the claim that the PARCC test is “developmentally inappropriate,” examine three of the most recent PARCC 4th grade items.

A book leveling system, designed by Fountas and Pinnell, was made “more rigorous” in order to match the Common Core State Standards. These newly updated benchmarks state that 4th Graders should be reading at a Level S by the end of the year in order to be considered reading “on grade level.” [Celia’s note: I do not endorse leveling books or readers, nor do I think it appropriate that all 9 year olds should be reading a Level S book to be thought of as making good progress.]

The PARCC, which is supposedly a test of the Common Core State Standards, appears to have taken liberties with regard to grade level texts. For example, on the Spring 2016 PARCC for 4th Graders, students were expected to read an excerpt from Shark Life: True Stories about Sharks and the Sea by Peter Benchley and Karen Wojtyla. According to Scholastic, this text is at an interest level for Grades 9-12, and at a 7th Grade reading level. The Lexile measure is 1020L, which is most often found in texts that are written for middle school, and according to Scholastic’s own conversion chart would be equivalent to a 6th grade benchmark around W, X, or Y (using the same Fountas and Pinnell scale).
Even by the reform movement’s own standards, according to MetaMetrics’ reference material on Text Complexity Grade Bands and Lexile Bands, the newly CCSS aligned “Stretch” lexile level of 1020 falls in the 6-8 grade range. This begs the question, what is the purpose of standardizing text complexity bands if testing companies do not have to adhere to them? Also, what is the purpose of a standardized test that surpasses agreed-upon lexile levels?

So, right out of the gate, 4th graders are being asked to read and respond to texts that are two grade levels above the recommended benchmark. After they struggle through difficult texts with advanced vocabulary and nuanced sentence structures, they then have to answer multiple choice questions that are, by design, intended to distract students with answers that appear to be correct except for some technicality.

Finally, students must synthesize two or three of these advanced texts and compose an original essay. The ELA portion of the PARCC takes three days, and each day includes a new essay prompt based on multiple texts. These are the prompts from the 2016 Spring PARCC exam for 4th Graders along with my analysis of why these prompts do not reflect the true intention of the Common Core State Standards.

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #1

Refer to the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” and the poem “Mountains.” Then answer question 7.
  1. Think about how the structural elements in the passage from “Emergency on the Mountain” differ from the structural elements in the poem “Mountains.”
Write an essay that explains the differences in the structural elements between the passage and the poem. Be sure to include specific examples from both texts to support your response.
The above prompt probably attempts to assess the Common Core standard RL.4.5: “Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.”

However, the Common Core State Standards for writing do not require students to write essays comparing the text structures of different genres. The Grade 4 CCSS for writing about reading demand that students write about characters, settings, and events in literature, or that they write about how authors support their points in informational texts. Nowhere in the standards are students asked to write comparative essays on the structures of writing. The reading standards ask students to “explain” structural elements, but not in writing. There is a huge developmental leap between explaining something and writing an analytical essay about it. [Celia’s note: The entire enterprise of analyzing text structures in elementary school – a 1940’s and 50’s college English approach called “New Criticism” — is ridiculous for 9 year olds anyway.]

The PARCC does not assess what it attempts to assess

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #2
Refer to the passages from “Great White Shark” and Face the Sharks. Then answer question 20.
 Using details and images in the passages from “Great White Sharks” and Face to Face with Sharks, write an essay that describes the characteristics of white sharks.

It would be a stretch to say that this question assesses CCSS W.4.9.B: “Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.”

In fact, this prompt assesses a student’s ability to research a topic across sources and write a research-based essay that synthesizes facts from both articles. Even CCSS W.4.7, “Conduct research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic,” does not demand that students compile information from different sources to create an essay. The closest the standards come to demanding this sort of work is in the reading standards; CCSS RI.4.9 says: “Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.” Fine. One could argue that this PARCC prompt assesses CCSS RI.4.9.
However, the fact that the texts presented for students to “use” for the essay are at a middle school reading level automatically disqualifies this essay prompt from being able to assess what it attempts to assess. (It is like trying to assess children’s math computational skills by embedding them in a word problem with words that the child cannot read.)

ELA 4th Grade Prompt #3
  1. In “Sadako’s Secret,” the narrator reveals Sadako’s thoughts and feelings while telling the story. The narrator also includes dialogue and actions between Sadako and her family. Using these details, write a story about what happens next year when Sadako tries out for the junior high track team. Include not only Sadako’s actions and feelings but also her family’s reaction and feelings in your story.
Nowhere, and I mean nowhere in the Common Core State Standards is there a demand for students to read a narrative and then use the details from that text to write a new story based on a prompt. That is a new pseudo-genre called “Prose Constructed Response” by the PARCC creators, and it is 100% not aligned to the CCSS. Not to mention, why are 4th Graders being asked to write about trying out for the junior high track team? This demand defies their experiences and asks them to imagine a scenario that is well beyond their scope.

Clearly, these questions are poorly designed assessments of 4th graders CCSS learning. (We are setting aside the disagreements we have with those standards in the first place, and simply assessing the PARCC on its utility for measuring what it was intended to measure.)

Rather than debate the CCSS we instead want to expose the tragic reality of the countless public schools organizing their entire instruction around trying to raise students’ PARCC scores.

Without naming any names, I can tell you that schools are disregarding research-proven methods of literacy learning. The “wisdom” coming “down the pipeline” is that children need to be exposed to more complex texts because that is what PARCC demands of them. So children are being denied independent and guided reading time with texts of high interest and potential access and instead are handed texts that are much too hard (frustration level) all year long without ever being given the chance to grow as readers in their Zone of Proximal Development (pardon my reference to those pesky educational researchers like Vygotsky.)

So not only are students who are reading “on grade level” going to be frustrated by these so-called “complex texts,” but newcomers to the U.S. and English Language Learners and any student reading below the proficiency line will never learn the foundational skills they need, will never know the enjoyment of reading and writing from intrinsic motivation, and will, sadly, be denied the opportunity to become a critical reader and writer of media. Critical literacies are foundational for active participation in a democracy.

We can look carefully at one sample to examine the health of the entire system– such as testing a drop of water to assess the ocean. So too, we can use these three PARCC prompts to glimpse how the high stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States.

In this sample, the system is pathetically failing a generation of children who deserve better, and when they are adults, they may not have the skills needed to engage as citizens and problem-solvers. So it is up to us, those of us who remember a better way and can imagine a way out, to make the case for stopping standardized tests like PARCC from corrupting the educational opportunities of so many of our children.

Friday, April 22, 2016

What Happened to the Vote in New York?

Without fair voting, we have no democracy. Without a fair democracy, we see special interests ruling our political establishment, and we have an oligarchy. We have witnessed this firsthand as billionaires use their money and influence to push untested Common Core curriculum on our children, to push forward an education reform agenda that threatens to fire teachers and close schools, to push us closer and closer to going over the cliff and destroying public schools in favor of a privatized system that will be the next great profit market for the 1%. We have hope that our votes will matter, that we will be able to elect representatives who will listen to our voices. This is why each and every election, each and every vote, matters and we must zealously guard against those who would rob us of this constitutional right. 

I have voted in New York State for more years than I'd like to admit.  Never have I seen the irregularities that occurred during the recent presidential primary. What was most striking to me, is that the problems were not confined to a single type of error, but that there were multiple levels, different types, of errors that had the apparent singular effect of vote suppression.Yet when people discuss the events of April 19, comments are usually focused on the purging of voter rolls in Brooklyn and miss the bigger picture. Here is why I believe this to be a larger pattern of vote manipulation and suppression:
  • Voter purges were widespread and not limited to Brooklyn, though that is where the largest number of voters were wiped from all records, with reports of entire buildings and city blocks being erased. Media reports try to placate us with the public shaming and possible firing of the person held responsible. Diane Haslett-Rudiano, the Brooklyn Board of Election's Chief Clerk, apparently "skipped a step" in cleaning the rolls of those who had died or moved, leading to a "chain reaction" and wiping out 102,717 active voters. I do hope someone is investigating her financials to see if she has received any unexplained windfalls recently, because she has had this job for a number of years and it is hard for me to believe she could make such an egregious error without noticing her folly. News reports also tell us that this is "the only county that lost voters," in an apparent attempt to have us disregard the scattered reports coming from other areas. A friend of mine in Queens tweeted that her 90-year old Democratic mother, who votes regularly, had been purged from the rolls. One of my friends in White Plain witnessed a woman, who had proof of her registration with her, being denied the chance to vote and also being denied an affidavit ballot.
  • There were widespread reports coming from throughout the state, of voters whose party had been changed without their knowledge, including those who upon investigation discovered a forged signature on the form making the change. A friend of mine in Albany witnessed her neighbor being turned away because her registration had been changed without her consent. This is the same pattern of election fraud that occurred in Arizona, and my prediction is that this will continue to be a problem in all states with closed primaries (the only states where such a change would matter). How could this happen, and how could it be a pattern carried on from one state to another? How could forged signatures appear on forms that are filed with the Board of Elections? From these reports we can deduce that someone is hacking our political databases, doesn't that demand an immediate all-out FBI investigation? What political candidate or party benefits from these changes? Is there a way to track the hack? Are our voter records vulnerable? We know that in December 2015 a whitehat hacker discovered 191 million voter registration records on the internet, left open to anyone. An estimated 300GB of nationwide voter data that included name, address, phone number and party affiliation would have made it very convenient for those who wish to orchestrate a targeted attack on voter registrations. 
  • New York's archaic voting laws require people who wish to change their party to vote in the primary to have done so in October, six whole months before the primary date. That means that if in March you discovered, as so many did, that your party had been changed without your knowledge - you were out of luck pressing for a correction. This was partly the basis for a lawsuit filed by Election Justice USA on behalf of New York voters.
  • As if the voter registration/records problem is not enough, there are also reports of polling places in Queens and Brooklyn that were still not open HOURS after their 6 am opening time. Those who had to vote before work were out of luck. There were reports (at least two) of polling sites in Queens that had NO WORKING VOTING MACHINES, and one where there WERE NO MACHINES AT ALL. At these sites people were forced to make out a paper ballot and put them in a box, hoping someone would be honest enough to eventually feed them into a scanner in the right way and without tampering with the vote. There were also reports of people being notified of the wrong polling location. The locations of several polling places on the upper West side were changed.
  • Mailers that went out in March from the Brooklyn Board of Elections told people that the primary date was in September.
  • Election officials at the polling places gave out incorrect information. Some were told they did not have to vote for delegates. Erroneous information on the ballot in some locations told voters to select six delegates, when Bernie Sanders only had five. This would have persuaded voters to vote for one of the Clinton delegates.
As we have been told over and over, when voter turnout is high, progressive candidates have a better chance of winning. Voter suppression works in the interest of the status quo establishment, whether you are a Democrat, or a Republican. Though there were admittedly some issues with Republican voters, the majority of problems seem to have occurred in those who identified themselves as Democrats, and from the reports posted on the internet, many of those voters were Bernie Sanders supporters. Brooklyn, where most of these problems were centered, was Bernie's home ground and a place where he had overwhelming support. 28,000 people gathered at Prospect Park in Brooklyn to see Bernie speak, with a reported additional 20,000+ overflow. Don't tell me that voter suppression did not have something to do with the outcome of the race, at least in Brooklyn and perhaps in Queens as well. If you truly believe that, I've got a Brooklyn bridge I can sell you.

UPDATE April 24 2016: Regarding my comment that someone should investigate the financials of Diane Haslett-Rudiano: I was intrigued by internet reports that in 2014 she sold an upper West side property to Dana Lowey Luttway, the daughter of Representative Nita Lowey. Lowey is a Democrat and also a superdelegate pledged to Clinton. I did some light investigating and found some troubling things that deserve to be thoroughly investigated (Preet Bharara where are you?). First of all, the property, on 118 West 76th Street, stood abandoned for decades and was an eyesore that the neighbors called "the rat house." Secondly, according to Zillow the average price for similar housing (that are not rat houses) in that area is $4.7 million. Yet, Haslett-Rudiano sold this one for $6.6 million!  

Another puzzling piece. Haslett-Rudiano was involved as owner of another property, at 44 West 73rd Street. The property was reportedly sold to Kojo Global Property Developers. The ownership records are very confusing. Haslett-Rudiano bought the building, which was close to foreclosure, in 1975. A local blog gave an apparently erroneous report not too long ago that Haslett-Rudiano was seeking $5 million for the building, but others said she no longer owned it. The history of this property is very murky and confusing, with various owners and corporations claiming to own it and apparently two deeds created - one for the land and one for the building. John Kojo Zi was indicted on June 18, 2015 for deed transfer fraud. Apparently his MO is to go in and steal abandoned properties right out from under the legal owner, register it in someone else's name, and then buy the property from the new owner of record. Something else to investigate...

Friday, April 15, 2016

Eli Broad, Disruptor of Public Ed: His Ties to Hillary Clinton

Aren't you sick and tired of seeing students, teachers, and their schools bashed by billionaires who spend their money to attack public education?  Of all the deformer villains, Eli Broad belongs at the top of the list as one who purposefully plans and executes the destruction of public schools.  He brags of investing over $600 million in a "disruptive force" in schools that consists of reorganizations, firings, and other experimentation.  Broad superintendents and principals are trained to create chaos and subsequent "churn," attacking and firing teachers and their supervisors so they can be replaced with lower-paid and less qualified Teach For America interns or nonunion teachers, and inserting Broad-trained administrators who have aligned themselves with Broad's objectives. Those objectives include national one-size-fits all standards, deprofessionalization of teachers, the growth of for-profit charters that invasively weaken and take over public schools (with no financial accountability), and teacher accountability (i.e. designed-to-fail high-stakes tests). The result across America has been the firing of teachers, a narrowed Common Core testing curriculum, weakened schools (with some going into bankruptcy), closed schools, and destabilized communities.  

Broad's end game is the same as that of other deformers: Privatization of public education and advancement of neoliberal education policies that will benefit the 1%. His reach is extensive, with Broad followers "currently running dozens of state departments of education, large urban school districts, charter management organizations, and state-led education systems" (Broad Foundation 2013/2014 Report).  Former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan served on Broad's Education Division Board of Directors until February 2009.  

After Obama was elected, the Broad Foundation Report of 2009/2010 crowed that the election "marked the pinnacle of hope for our work in education reform.  In many ways, we feel the stars have finally aligned...with an agenda that echoes our decade of investments -- charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time, and national standards -- the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted." The same report also claimed that Duncan had no less than five Broad alumni working with him in the U.S. Department of Education.

Broad's program includes the Broad Superintendents Academy, which is not accredited, and has no printed curriculum or public description of the policies that are taught.  Fellows are trained in Broad's theories of management, and given access to published guides that help them to orchestrate school closings and removal of teachers.  Broad fellows, known as "Broadies" or "Toadies" to school activists, have wreaked havoc across the nation.

Recently, Broad made a move to enroll half of Los Angeles Unified School District students into charter schools over an eight-year period. Widespread criticism coming from the community and teacher unions convinced him to tone down his aspirations and his contributions. Now the plan is to provide seed money, not only for new charters, but also for "good" public school districts as well.

Broad does not hesitate to use his money to line the pockets of politicians, nor does he resist the temptation to use his enormous wealth to promote the candidate he believes would be most helpful to his agenda. His ties to the Clintons are especially troubling. The Clintons have been "great friends" with the Broads since 1983.  Broad was co-founder of the "Ready for Hillary 2016" Super PAC that has now dissolved.  He also endorsed Hillary in 2008, and he has donated over a million dollars to the Clinton Foundation.

In 2007 the Clinton Foundation website lauded Broad's charter schools agenda, stating it would have a "far-reaching impact" in Los Angeles and would create "a tipping point" to "improve the educational opportunities for all children."

In November 2015 Clinton appeared to have a change of heart regarding the charter schools she had always favored.  During an interview while campaigning in SC, she stated that "most charter schools, they don't take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don't keep them." The swat-down from Broad came fast and furious when he rejected a request for a donation to the Clinton Super PAC Correct the Record. Hillary's media people quickly pumped out press releases that softened the remark, while Bill Clinton and campaign manager John Podesta contacted Broad. Whatever was promised, Broad came out of the discussions reassured that Hillary would support the expansion of charter schools and test-based teacher evaluations. The  Broad cash spigot once more began to flow Hillary's way. Broad's direct quote was, "I think when push comes to shove, she'll be more like Bill Clinton and perhaps Arne Duncan than we think right now." 

Hillary has ties to others who use their money to reform education and push charter schools while weakening public schools and teacher unions. Bill and Melinda Gates are the Clinton Foundation's largest donors and also have contributed heavily to Hillary's presidential campaigns. She was also on the Walmart Board of Directors, and was somehow able to ignore the fact that Walmart employees are paid subsistence wages that are so low they must supplement their income with food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing. The Waltons have also pushed their voucher plans and charter takeovers across the nation, but most forcefully in Arkansas. The Walton family gives copious donations to both the Clinton Foundation and Hillary's political campaigns.  

In today's pay to play political environment, Mrs. Clinton and her foundation have been paid generously by education deformers. Hillary seems to be playing both sides and where she finally lands may just be up for grabs to the highest bidder.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Who's Behind the High Achievement NY Curtain?

Education reform group High Achievement NY is at it again, spending hundreds of thousands on a media campaign that includes robocalls to New York State parents, advising them that state assessments are "crucial" for their children's future. They are pushing for "consistent assessments and unified standards." I will move past the distorted facts in their sales pitch, except to mention that they believe tests "fix" the fact that "two-thirds of our students graduate from high school without being ready for college or a career." Really? Two-thirds. Explain to us then please, HANY, why in 2010 nearly 70% of NYS high school graduates went straight into college. Hmm. Add to that the number who take a year off and go to college at a later time. Add to that students like my own son, who got a job straight out of high school but are now going to school nights to get that degree. NY also had four out of the top ten high schools with the highest SAT/ACT scores in the nation. But I diverge...

The purpose of this post is to pull back the curtain and let you know who is funding this massive campaign that aims to fix our "broken" system. Because, you know, it's all for the children. Let's start with their coalition members, beginning with Arva Rice, President and CEO of the New York Urban League, who previously was affiliated with Paul Tudor Jones (yes the hedge fund guy) and his Robin Hood Foundation. 

Then there is New York Campaign for Achievement Now (NYCAN), part of the larger 50-state education reform group. The funding stream for 50CAN includes Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bush Foundation, JP Morgan Chase, and the Walton Foundation, among others. A veritable who's-who of big money in the education reform game. The NY chapter adds more money from Gates, along with Bloomberg Philanthrophies, Kenneth M. Hirsch and William E. Simon. 

Include Association for a Better New York, founded by real estate tycoon Bill Rudin. Their self-stated goal is to "promote neighborhood revitalization." AKA gentrification. AKA keeping their fingers on the real estate prize in NY.

Coalition member Parents for Excellence in Bethlehem has bought the Common Core Gates funded spin. Co-President Kim Namkoong is a parent, also a mathematician and computer programmer. She is a face for the "How is My Kid Doing?" campaign that is funded by - you guessed it - the Council for a Strong America folks and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Bethlehem Parents for Excellence has a lackluster website (a surprise considering Namkoong's stated occupation) that does not list its donors. They advocate for common core and testing.

Membership includes reformy groups Educators4Excellence and StudentsFirstNY. Educators4Excellence, also funded by the Gates Foundation, is comprised of anti-union young teachers, many of whom are alumni of Teach For America.  See ed blogger Jonathan Pelto's research on the group here. StudentsFirstNY is that pro-charter, pro-voucher group that shares its physical address with New York Charter queen Eva Moskowitz' organization. NYS Families for Excellent Schools also shares that same address and is a hedge-funded PAC for education reforms. See Mercedes Schneider's detailed analysis of other HANY funding here.

HANY would not disclose specific information about their finances (shhh) but in 2014 said the bulk of the campaign money was going to come from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Helmsley Charitable Trust. Gates and Helmsley have both donated millions to promoting the core. 

All this leaves me asking, why are so many corporate, business, hedge fund, pro-charter groups spending mega-money on a media campaign to promote the Core and the tests? Why do they care "so much" about other people's children? The business and money aspect, the fact that they are investors and market manipulators, gives us a clue. They want a share of the education market, the golden apple of opportunity that our children give them. Mega-money to be made by investing in charter schools, testing corporations, and publishers. Mega-money to be made by data-mining our children and manipulating their desires. Does that sound Orwellian to you? Why yes,yes it does. We cannot let big money have our children. Education policy should be promoted and created by educators, not businessmen. Spread the word.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

No, Commissioner Elia, We Don't Trust You

NYS Education Commissioner Elia made a concerted effort to "stamp out" the opt-out movement with her "tool kit" to schools, letters to editors of media, and visits to schools statewide.  In spite of her pleas, all indications as of the first day of ELA testing show that parental refusals either stayed the same statewide, or may have even increased overall.  

For a second year, a small group of activists, including myself and four other educators and parents, crowdsourced a fundraiser to pay for a robocall to NYS parents that was sent on April 3. William Cala, former superintendent of Fairport Schools and an education advocate, recorded the calls in English.  Aixa Rodriguez, an educator, recorded the calls in Spanish

The robocall group raised $5,000 in a week, from over 200 donations, in order to pay for the calls. This year's call was sent to 234,000 parent households.  The message is clear, nothing has changed in the harm that developmentally inappropriate tests is doing to our children.  


Commissioner Elia is misguided in asking NYS parents and educators to “trust her.” She is blind to the fact that “education reforms” have been proven a failure, and that parents overwhelmingly say no to high-stakes tests. She is also tone deaf to changes from the Regents, specifically new Chancellor Betty Rosa who said “I would absolutely opt (my children) out of the tests.”

Elia says: “The tests are shorter.” The reality is that students are facing tests that are designed to take nine hours. Students with IEP/504 extended time accommodations may be facing twice that length. In addition, Elia has made the tests “untimed,” meaning that students could potentially test for the entire school day...for six days. These are not substantive changes, and do nothing to protect children from the stress or loss of academic self-confidence.

Elia says: “We have a new test vendor.” But Pearson’s NYS contract remains in full force until June 2016. All questions on this year’s test are Pearson questions, meaning that students can expect the same confusing equally plausible answer choices, the same developmentally inappropriate reading levels (as high as 9th grade on a 3rd grade test), and the same head-scratching stories such as the “sleeveless pineapple.”

Elia says that there are no consequences for teachers or principals but the reality is that test scores are being used to rank schools and push them into receivership, removing local control. The end result of the receivership process for many schools is turnover to a for-profit charter corporation of the resources we have paid for with our tax dollars.

Elia says, “This year’s test was reviewed by 22 NY state educators.” Twenty-two educators from the entire state is a tiny sampling. But more importantly, at least one of the teachers on the panel expressed disappointment. It appears that the selected educators were not allowed to make changes, suggest improvements, or write alternate questions. They were simply asked to rubber stamp the test questions that were already written.

Elia says that tests help teachers plan and are an “essential part of student experience” Teachers are still being forced to focus on test prep while play, art, music, science, social studies, physical education and even recess take a back seat. As for planning, every teacher uses their own assessments for that task. They do not need state test scores that have no validity, are not received for months, and have many questions that teachers never see.

Elia says tests are the only objective measure to compare student progress. A measurement is only as good as the tool being used for the measurement. These tests have been proven to be flawed, hence the results cannot be used objectively for any comparison.

Elia says that the concerns of parents who opted out of the tests last spring have been addressed. But changes are not substantive, and her words are misleading. Trust her? I don’t think so. The reality is that nothing has changed. Opt out is the one message that NY legislators are hearing loud and clear. If we as parents want real change, we need to continue to send that message - and OPT OUT.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Testimony on Common Core

It has taken me a while to post my testimony to the NYS Common Core Forums last summer. Life gets busy sometimes. Better late than never, so here it is:

I am a retired teacher, also a grandparent.  I am an education activist, committed to ending the disastrous Common Core that threatens the future of our children.

When I first began teaching, we helped students discover the joy of learning, so they would become lifelong learners. We kept in mind that the learning styles and development of children were different. Now all students are expected to learn at the same time and at the same pace. Now we have scripted lessons, dry Engage NY modules, and a de-emphasis of individualized, creative teaching. Common Core, high stakes tests, and VAM have been proven to be the real failure. Yet there is nothing done by those in power to address this failure. This leads me to the conclusion that our education policy is being railroaded to advance the political agenda of hedge fund investors and charter operators. Our children are the pawns, the “sacrifice zone” for the projected profits that can be made.  

Common core standards for young children ask them to use abstract reasoning that does not develop until about the age of 11. Kindergarten children like my grandson are forced to sit and write, complete worksheets, and learn by rote memorization.Young children learn best by play and through instruction that connects to their background knowledge and has real-world connections to their lives. It takes time to develop background knowledge in children. It takes time to let a mind discover, to engage in Socratic dialogue. But today, humanities, music, art, and yes even science are crowded out to make room for English and Math, the only two subjects that matter on the almighty tests. We are not developing thinkers who understand and appreciate their world.

Tests are impossibly hard, with cut scores calibrated to a 1630 on the SAT. Even our governor acknowledged this, and put a moratorium on using the scores for students, but not for our teachers. We face the prospect of losing a large percentage of our teaching force within the next two years. When Michelle Rhee instituted a similar weight of testing into teacher evaluations, DC lost 83% of its teachers. If we lose even a quarter of that percentage we are in trouble, because student enrollments at teacher preparation programs in NYS are down 20-50%. So where are our teachers going to come from to replace those we lose to a faulty evaluation system?

I ask for a return to state standards that were developed by educators, to state testing in (only) grades 4 and 8, to tests that were transparent and informed instruction. I ask for an end to test and VAM-based APPR. I ask that you provide resources and help for schools that are struggling, instead of receivership and criteria that does not allow them to demonstrate success. I ask for respect for all of our students, including special needs and ELL students. I ask for you to return the joyful learning that best provides a successful future for our children.