Category Archives: Weekly Roundup

Weekly Roundup 10/25

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This week in education, we see more bad news for educators and students. Much of the bad news is because politicians and organizations are pushing their own agendas, rather than focusing on the real problems at hand.

Monday, October 27, the Philadelphia School District will give schools access to $15 million. On the surface, this sounds positive. The problem is, the money is part of the $44 million the district expects to save from canceling the contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. This is the same money that is tied up in the court system after the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas granted the union’s request for an injunction; the injunction should have halted the district’s plans to begin forcing teachers to contribute more toward their health care premiums. The district effectively will hand out money that legally is not theirs, a move that PFT president Jerry Jordan says is a “public relations campaign to try to make it appear that it’s the PFT’s fault that the schools don’t have what they should have.” Read the full article to see how teachers are being victimized and villainized once again.

Arne Duncan reportedly wants to raise the stakes for schools of education, driving “bad” schools out of business with new federal regulations governing those schools. This seems like the same old tune from Duncan, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how he will determine which schools of education are “bad.” Diane Ravitch gives a quick response to the Politico.com report and wonders whether Duncan will “grade these colleges by the test scores of students taught by graduates of schools of education,” which “will certainly make the stakes even higher for high-stakes testing.”

Both Arne Duncan and President Obama are supporting efforts to study the use of standardized tests and to weed out the “bad” ones. Their official statements followed announcements by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools stating that too many tests are poorly designed, take too much time, and can be eliminated. Patrick O’Donnell’s article offers both Duncan and Obama’s statements in their entirety, and teachers should read them. Then, teachers should think about what the statements do not say. They never mention the Common Core. How can we have a conversation about testing and not mention the driving force behind the latest round of testing insanity? Our leaders still don’t get it, as evidenced by their own words.

Would you believe, after reading the previous articles, that there is a steep decline in the number of enrollments in teacher prep programs? Teachers have been predicting the decreasing numbers of new teachers for quite some time; it’s difficult to imagine why anyone would want to enter this profession, with all of the bureaucracy, bashing, and blame flying around these days. A report in Education Week details the decline and points to “supply concerns” in California and other large states. The article fails to mention one thing: practicing teachers are leaving the profession in droves, too.

The real issues in education should focus on the students. Poverty and hunger are two critical components in student performance, but politicians, mainstream media, and education reformers don’t talk about it. An article in the New York Daily News reports on the heartbreaking number of homeless students. While the fights rage on over public schools and charter schools in the city, as the governor’s race heats up, and as teachers come under fire for failing schools, the homeless students are being overlooked in the discussion. We cannot fix education until we fix the problems of our students.

Weekly Roundup 10/17

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Another week, and another round of attacks on public education. Surprises in the news include lawmakers targeting remedial and developmental education and Massachusetts halting new charter schools. We are happy to report some good news out of New York and Philadelphia, even as teachers in those states are embroiled in conflicts and protests. One thing became clear this week: we need to stand in solidarity as more stories about the war on teachers and public education emerge.

There’s a new war waging in education, and this time it’s affecting students and educators at all levels, even post-secondary. In Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Connecticut, and other states, lawmakers believe the answer to students needing extra time and support in college is taking it away from them. For these lawmakers, it makes perfect sense that remedial education is failing and the best way to make lower-achieving students more successful is to remove their access to remedial classes. States are implementing their own solutions to the “remediation problem,” from making remedial or development courses optional to restricting students to a single semester of non-credit remedial coursework. It’s probably not a surprise that the opponents of remedial or developmental education are a political advocacy group called College Completion America, despite the fact that a 2006 study showed students taking remediation are more likely to graduate than equivalent students who don’t. Read the NEA Today article to get the whole story.

Oh, New Jersey. We feel for you, too. One Newark seemed to have fallen off the education news radar for awhile, but it came back on the scene in a big way this week, when Superintendent Cami Anderson stated the district plans to expand some of the changes made under the plan. As reported by Naomi Nix, one of the changes includes instituting private pre-K providers as part of its universal enrollment system. Anderson talks a good game, but parents, teachers, and Newark residents have been protesting One Newark since its inception. The opponents include Newark mayor Ras Baraka, who has been speaking out against the reorganization of schools and who now is appealing to President Barack Obama to intervene in the “‘disruptive and illegal education reforms'” taking place in the school district. Read the article about Baraka’s stance, plus his entire letter to President Obama here.

In the aftermath of the State University of New York’s (SUNY) board of directors approving the creation of 17 new charter schools last week, angry parents demanded an audit of SUNY and their charter schools, Success Academy. In an interview with City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Jess Berry of the Brooklyn Downtown Star reports that Stringer is planning to come up with a protocol for the audits and then audit the charter schools. This is big news, as more and more parents, teachers, union leaders, and others concerned about the lack of oversight in charters are calling for more regulations. In New York, this is particularly promising news for outraged parents who say that the Success Academy schools already in existence are “grossly under-enrolled.” Read Berry’s article that also gives a history of the conflicts between charters, parents, and other citizens of NY.

While New York seems to be adding charters as fast as they can, an October 14 report in the Boston Globe states that new charter schools are unlikely in Massachusetts, as the state halted plans for new charter schools in Brockton and Fitchburg. This decision came on the heels of the Massachusetts Senate “overwhelmingly” rejecting an increase in the number of charters that may operate in low-performing districts. One thing is for sure, with the private groups pushing for the charters in Massachusetts, this debate is far from over. Read the Boston Globe article and decide for yourself.

Pennsylvania education secretary Carolyn Dumaresq petitioned the Commonwealth Court to dismiss a case filed by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia on behalf of 7 parents and the advocacy group Parents United for Public Education pushing for the PA Department of Education to investigate the more than 800 complaints filed by parents in the Philadelphia school district last year. Dumaresq claims that a state investigation is not required because the complaints are not curricular, but the attorney representing the parents argues that many of the complaints focus on insufficient offerings in state mandates regarding foreign language, physical education, and programs for gifted students. This feels like one more way that the state is tying the hands of public school students, parents, and teachers in Philadelphia. Read the NewsWorks article to get the full story.

If you’ve been following our blog and Facebook page this week, you’ve seen quite a lot of content about the atrocities being carried out against the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) by the School Reform Commission (SRC). The SRC’s action to cancel teacher contracts has far-reaching implications, and it is important to stay up-to-date with everything that is happening. Last night (10/16), nearly 3,000 people showed up prior to the SRC meeting and shut down Broad Street to protest the SRC and stand up for the PFT. This report from The Examiner details the events of the meeting, including speakers’ comments and the ways in which various attendees called for an apology and resignation from Sylvia Simms, the SRC member who lashed out at Philadelphia Student Union members when they effectively protested the viewing of the anti-union film We Won’t Back Down during Parent/Family Appreciation Month. Simms reportedly mentioned “failing schools” and “jail” in her comments to students.

It’s very interesting that this week brought about two statements, one from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and one from NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, regarding the amount of time students spend taking and preparing for standardized assessments, yet neither mentions the Common Core. Not once. At first glance, educators and parents may be encouraged by these statements; let’s face it, they both essentially admit that the sheer volume of testing needs to decrease. But, it is impossible in this day and age to call for less testing and never mention the monster behind it all. Is this a maneuver to placate teachers and parents for awhile? Be careful of wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Weekly Roundup 10/10

WeeklyRoundup7After a hiatus from the Weekly Roundup last week because of a planned vacation, we bring you a list of 8 of the top stories from this week in education. Teacher evaluations, charter schools, the push to privatize and reform public education, student assessments, money, and solidarity dominate this week’s picks.

New York has been in the spotlight of education news for some time, and it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. We have been wishing for better news for public educators, students, and parents out of the Empire State, but we have been unsuccessful in finding any. In fact, Diane Ravitch points out that the state appears to want to take away districts’ decision-making powers when it comes to keeping or terminating teachers. When school leaders in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley commissioned a study to review the state’s teacher evaluation system, it concluded that “‘it was irreparably flawed.'” Ravitch explains, “the state apparently wants a system that gives many teachers low scores so they can be fired…. The state is trying to take that authority away from schools and districts by creating a mechanical formula. The formula doesn’t work, and no such formula works anywhere in the country.” We see this as one more way education reformers and the government are trying to standardize education, including evaluating teachers who deserve better. Read Diane’s take on the situation in her blog post.

We’ve all heard about how much time is lost to assessing students, but it’s another thing to see the numbers in print and analyze them from a logistical standpoint for each district. In her Answer Sheet blog, Valerie Strauss breaks down the numbers of hours students taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams can expect to be sitting in their chairs. For third grade, 9 ¾ hours; for grades 4-5, 10 hours; for grades 6-8, 10 ¾ hours; for grades 9-12, 11 – 11 ¼ hours. The amount of time spent is in PARCC’s newly released guidance to schools, which also recommends PARCC tests be given to students twice a year, once three-quarters of the way through the school year, and the other near the end of the school year. No matter how you look at it, too much time is being spent on assessing kids instead of teaching them. Read the entire blog post and see how one teacher envisions the testing in his school will go.

It’s no wonder, with all of the time students are losing to assessments, that parents are beginning to push back against the standardized testing. In Florida, parents are hosting webinars explaining how to skip the tests, convincing school boards to eliminated district exams, creating anti-testing networks, and more. Unfortunately, as the parents and their efforts gain steam, a Florida lawmaker says unraveling the testing system would have “significant negative consequences on student learning, education funding, and, ultimately, a graduate’s ability to find a job in today’s global marketplace.” Read the Miami Herald article to see how parents and other lawmakers are combatting this type of thinking.

Charters are just one of the issues causing problems with funding of public education and local school districts. With all of the chatter about charter schools saving money and saving students, this report from EdTraveler takes a long, hard look at charter school funding formulas and the “savings” of enrolling students in charters. The blog post also points out studies that have shown charter schools result in a decrease in student achievement as well as a draining of funds from public education. Read the post in full to get more informed about charters, since they are dominating the news of late.

So, if charter schools are getting funds from public schools, why would they want more money? Peter Greene, one of our favorite education bloggers, explores this issue in a recent post on his Curmudgucation blog. In both New York and Washington, DC, charter schools are suing for more money; both suits were filed by a coalition of charter schools behind the premise of charter parents claiming that charters are underfunded and their students are being denied their constitutional right to “sound basic education.” Read the blog post to see how Peter details the age-old bait and switch of charter schools.

In a week that saw Arne Duncan give more than $40 million to charter schools, we are curious about how Duncan’s policies have affected public schools. Diane Ravitch points to his record and a New York Times article by Motoko Rich that details the ways in which even schools showing “dramatic improvement in recent years are now declared failures.” Rich and Ravitch make no bones about the “destructive force” of Arne Duncan. Both the article and blog post are worth a read.

Jefferson County, Colorado students and school board members have been in the news for the past few weeks, and we’ve been sharing up-to-date information about the fight over the AP US History curriculum on our Facebook page and in our Weekly Roundups. This week, it became clear that the Jefferson Country School Board is going to face an ongoing fight with students, parents, and teachers who continue to unite to fight the radical board policies in school walkout, rallies, protests, and overflowing school board meetings. Now, Governor John Hickenlooper has voiced his opposition to the board’s proposal. The latest Education Votes article about the situation gives a thorough overview of the situation and is an important read during this time of increased civil disobedience in support of public education across the nation.

Another story we’ve been following for some time is the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, teachers’ strike. The strike ended yesterday (Oct. 9), as teachers overwhelmingly voted to approve the tentative agreement between the Reynoldsburg Education Associatoin and the school board. We are encouraged by the way in which teachers, parents, students, and community members joined in solidarity to stand for reduced class sizes. Read the Education Votes article to get the details of the agreement and to see how teachers are planning to move on from the strike.

Weekly Roundup 9/26

Roundup6This week’s education news has an underlying theme of students, teachers, parents, and community members coming together to stand up for public education. It’s always nice to be able to bring good education news, for a change, and this good news is due to people having the courage to speak out and stand up for themselves and their schools. We hope this week provides a little inspiration for all of you.

York City Schools are being run by a state-appointed chief recovery officer, who is pressuring the school board to allow a corporate takeover of the district by one of two out-of-state private charter companies. Each school in the district, in turn, would be converted to a for-profit charter school. Pro-public education advocates, from students, to parents, to community leaders are standing with teachers and education support professionals to rally against the corporate takeover. The district has to make the decision by November, which conveniently is the same month of the gubernatorial election; current governor Tom Corbett supports the corporate takeover of schools, but he is not slated to beat Democratic opponent Tom Wolf, who has publicly denounced the corporate takeover. Read the Education Votes article to see just how York parents and teachers are working together to take a stand for public education, and to learn more about the abysmal charter school record in Pennsylvania and around the country.

As the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, teachers strike for smaller class sizes, fair labor practices, and other common-sense demands, their district leaders have hired Huffmaster Inc. to supply “replacement employees” to educate students. The company is notorious for making millions while aiding ailing school systems: they are “the company that raked in over a million dollars from the Strongsville school system last year during their teacher strike. Those fees included a ‘$48,000 hotel bill’ for the replacement teachers, and ‘more than $47,000 in rented vehicles, $50,000 in flight reimbursements and $12,000 in gas and mileage payments,’ according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  Astonishingly, Huffmaster is already slated to make more than that from Reynoldsburg, which spent nearly $400,000 the first day of the strike, as the school system is contracting for “strike management” consultants who bill more per hour than the superintendent and “strike security” guards. A video clearly shows the security personnel are attempting “to intimidate local parents, children and TV film crews and to prevent them from sharing the truth.” Read the article and watch the video, and then decide if you think it’s time to stand up for teachers and the TRUTH about the current state of education in this country.

The Educationalchemy blog stands for democracy and public education, as well as the power of imagination, and looks to fight corporate greed. In a post this week, the author explores the problems with standards-based education and asks very important questions, such as “Who defines them?” and “What purpose do they serve?” There are some very important points made about the standards and how they currently are being used in education, and the blogger points to some very insightful words from pro-public education writers. This is worth a read, to put the standards back into perspective as the fight about Common Core rages on.

In a lesson in irony, hundreds of Colorado students staged a walkout to protest a “conservative-led school board proposal to focus history education on topics that promote citizenship, patriotism and respect for authority.” Students don’t believe the school board should adopt the proposal, which “calls for instructional materials that present positive aspects of the nation and its heritage… and don’t ‘encourage or condone civil disorder, social strike or disregard of the law.'” Read the article to see what the students had to say about the proposal while they staged their peaceful protest.

In news related to United Opt Out, a testing boycott in New York City has resulted in the City of New York dropping the tests for the entire school system. Last year, teachers boycotted the mandated test at the International High School of Prospect Heights in Brooklyn. As a result, the Measure of English Language Arts Performance Assessment that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards  has been eliminated for 2014-2015. Read the announcement and a related blog post to get the full story.

We’ve been keeping you up to date on the Lee County, Florida, school district that voted to opt out of the Common Core, only to revisit the vote and reverse its decision after being threatened with a $240 million funding cut from the state. This week, Lee County is back in the news because its school board has decided to lessen the testing load for grades K-5 by eliminating the district’s 68 assessments; the 68 tests “were created by the district rather than teachers” and “did not have high-stakes consequences and were used for district progress monitoring.” The decision puts “assessment decisions back in teachers’ hands.” Read the full News-Press article.

Wisconsin has been in education news a great deal because its current governor, Scott Walker, is not a friend of public education and has proposed a voucher expansion that would cost nearly $200 million annually. Walker already “expanded vouchers by $300 million, made possible by cutting $1.6 billion from public education, the largest cuts to education spending in Wisconsin history.” Gubernatorial candidate and Walker opponent Mary Burke is saying voucher expansion is wrong and acknowledges public schools can’t afford it. Burke held a roundtable discussion with NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia, and both women explain that voucher supporters use a “choice” narrative when discussing the benefits of vouchers, but point out that the choice that parents want is “to have choices within their neighborhood schools,” which vouchers remove. Read the Education Votes article to see the other ways Eskelsen Garcia and Burke are advocating for students and public schools.

Poverty and hunger are two of the biggest challenges facing public school students today, but it is not an issue that is making national headlines in the same way that the Common Core and ed reform are. This week, Huffington Post highlighted a New Mexico first-grade etcher who has seen too many students coming to school hungry. He starts class each morning by asking which students had not had breakfast and either sends them to the cafeteria or gives them a snack from his supply, which he pays for out of his own pocket. He worked with other school personnel to begin a backpack program to send kids home with food each weekend. Read about Marvin Callahan and all of the things he is doing to help students in the HuffPost article.

Weekly Roundup 9/19

Newsletter5Wow! What a week! It seems as though every time we saw a news story about education, new questions and debates were raging about teacher tenure, the Common Core, and now AP U.S. History. There was some really encouraging news this week, in terms of support for teachers and public education and an increase in opposition to testing, standardization, and evaluating teachers using test scores. With all of the noise out there about education, don’t let these ten stories pass you by:

The fight against teacher tenure laws in New York (as championed by Campbell Brown) never was meant just for New York, as confirmed by David Boies, the superlawyer who is now the chairman of the Partnership for Educational Justice. The interesting thing about Boies, besides the fact that he is not a teacher any more than Campbell Brown is, is that he helped lead a legal team that already won a Supreme Court battle to legalize same-sex marriages in California. Even more fascinating is the fact that he worked with Ted Olson and Ted Boutrous on that Supreme Court Case; and recently, Olson and Boutrous challenged and won a case against California’s tenure laws, because “the judge found that tenure laws violate students’ civil rights under the state constitution.” In an interview with the Washington Post, Boies said he is “crafting a state-by-state strategy regarding teacher tenure because many state constitutions explicitly require the provision of an equal education to all public schools.” Boies claims that arguments in state court can help get a case to the Supreme Court, and, given his continued association with Olson and Boutrous, that’s probably going to happen. But, Boies has his hands even deeper into ed reform than that. He is on the board of StudentsFirstNY, part of the national organization founded by Michelle Rhee, and he supports Teach for America. Read the full Washington Post article.

When Florida teacher Susan Bowles announced on Facebook that she would be refusing to administer the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading (FAIR) to her kindergarten students, she was not sure if she would be fired or not. But, she took a stand for her students and her beliefs as an educator. The good news is that not only was she not fired, but the superintendent of Alachua County schools, where Bowles teaches, sent a letter to Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart declaring that he decided not to require FAIR testing for any students in grades K-2. In response, Stwart has decided not to require FAIR testing for any students in grades K-2. Read the full article and view the letter from superintendent Dr. Owen Roberts to Alachua County parents and families in Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet blog.

There just doesn’t seem to be a happy medium in Florida regarding high-stakes assessments. While we celebrate Susan Bowles’ victory in Alachua, we feel for the Broward County students and teachers who face up to possibly 1,500 new tests because of Florida’s requirement for end-of-course tests to evaluate the state’s teachers and determine their merit pay. A school district spokeswoman tried to soften the blow by saying the number is more likely around 800 as opposed to 1,500. The discussion surrounding the number of new tests is rich, and brings to light the fact that Governor Rick Scott signed merit pay into law years ago but recently called for a “thorough investigation” of all testing in Florida schools. Read the Sun Sentinel article and see what parents, educators, and board members have to say.

Peter Greene and his Curmudgucation blog is one of our favorites around here, and his latest post poses an excellent question: “Is Standardization a Virtue?” In this era of national standards and the push to measure education and its success, Greene worries that we are making too many compromises and losing sight of demanding excellence. In the name of standardization, maybe all we get is mediocrity. Read the post and see where you fall in the debate over standards.

Here’s an idea: Let kids choose what they read in school, and they will read what they enjoy, so they will read more. But, with the standards being ushered in, schools in large part no longer give students any choice in what they read. In a post to Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet blog, one-time Principal of the Year in Wisconsin and past president of the National Council of Teachers of English, Joanne Yatvin explains the problem with no longer allowing students to choose the materials they read. Yatvin also describes the challenges facing schools in implementing independent reading time, as well as some of the failed attempts at SSR in past years, but points out that schools feel the pressure of cutting independent reading time because of the standards and testing. Yatvin does offer suggestions for giving students choice in reading materials and points out that independent reading is going to do more good than direct instruction and the Common Core because we won’t be “boring kids to death or persuading them that they’re dumb.” We highly suggest that you choose to read the full post to get the complete case that Yatvin makes for reading choice.

We are technically cheating with this one, because it is a Roundup itself, but Diane Ravitch is putting out a weekly Fairtest report on the nation’s progress in rolling back high-stakes testing. The school year may be in its infancy, but some progress is being made. The post also includes some commentary and editorials supporting a rollback of testing, as well as questions to ask school districts in regards to testing. Check out the report for some good news, and keep in mind just how much more work needs to be done.

Typically, we see stories about teachers readying to strike and hear about the community backlash, complete with the old “They’re overworked, underpaid” mantra being thrown about. This time, things are different in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. As the teachers issued notice that they will strike beginning today, the community is rallying behind them. Teachers are hoping to limit class sizes and stop a merit pay plan that bases teacher evaluations largely on student performance on a single standardized test. The teachers also cite “an exodus of teachers because of the board’s heavy-handed tactics and the hiring and highly visible presence at schools of Huffmaster, a firm that specializes in providing temporary staff during strikes.” Notably, the board’s tactics are being questioned by more than the parents, teachers, and community members; “last week, the State Employees Review Board ruled that the school board and superintendent have engaged in unfair labor practices by ‘posting details regarding bargaining proposals concerning insurance and compensation on its website during ongoing negotiations.’” Community members and parents have been holding rallies, attending school board meetings in record numbers, seeing the superintendent during open office hours, and spreading their message on social media. With more than 1,400 yard signs distributed, people wearing T-shirts supporting the teachers, and local businesses adding their support, Reynoldsburg teachers are so fortunate to have the support they do, as they face their strike. We stand with them, too. Read the full article and consider following the Facebook pages mentioned to show your support, too.

It’s nice to receive some validation from the public that they don’t want to see teacher evaluations based on test scores, either. We’ve seen it in Ohio and some other places where community members and parents are rallying around teachers, but a new PDK/Gallup poll released Tuesday confirms that the public is rejecting the push to evaluate teachers using student test scores. Only 38% of the public – and only 31% of parents – support using the scores for evaluations. This study also confirms a PDK poll from August that showed the public was becoming more “fed up with high-stakes testing’s impact on how and what students learn.” Interestingly, the poll also shows the public wants to see new ways of improving teacher recruitment and preparation. One other key finding that we found interesting was that 87% agree that high school students should receive more education about possible career choices, but less than 50% say a college education is very important. Read the article to get a full picture of just how much the public and parents support what is happening in public schools today.

Texas is once again forging the way with its own curriculum and tossing national testing aside (Texas still has not adopted the Common Core, either). The Texas Board of Education has approved “a measure declaring that the history curriculum its members set trumps that covered by the AP U.S. history course created for classrooms nationwide.” The board decided Wednesday to require its high school students to learn state-mandated curriculum, rather than be taught to the national test. Opponents of the revamped AP history course’s framework and test claim that it contains liberal themes and focuses too much on the negative aspects of U.S. history. The board’s decision means that students taking the course will still take the end-of-course exam, but they will prepare for it using the Texas-sanctioned curriculum. Read the article to see the full debate.

Two school districts in Pennsylvania – Wilmington Area School District and West Jefferson Hills School District – have publicly opposed the Common Core Standards. Also, Haverford Township’s school district publicly opposed the testing and curriculum associated with the Common Core. Wilmington’s resolution “states the private groups, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, spent millions of dollars advocating the new academic standards which were developed through a process ‘not subject to any freedom of information acts or other sunshine laws.” The district also is concerned about  the collection of student data under the Common Core for non-educational purposes. Read the full New Castle News article.

Weekly Roundup 9/12/14

“Why so many seemingly rational people want to believe that Common Core’s standards and the tests based on them are worth keeping is a subject for an in-depth psychological study,” says Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Professor Emerita at the University of Arkansas, in an article on Breitbart.com. More on that later, but we couldn’t pass up a perfect way to summarize a selection of news that has left us reeling this week. With such strong feelings on both sides of this equation, and such a massive volume of misinformation in the media, it’s no wonder parents are confused about Weekly Roundup 4what the heck is going on with our educational system. (And they thought they were confused by their children’s math homework!)

This week, we have news related to all the key points in this ongoing debate: teacher tenure, privatization, high-stakes testing, opting out, and more. Here are our top 10 picks for the week.

There’s much to be said for authentic, person-to-person interaction that occurs in teacher-student relationships, but in all the discussion about assessments, reform, and accountability, we’re losing sight of that. Robert E. Slavin addresses this concern in an article at the Huffington Post, which reflects on a recent piece by David Kirp for The New York Times. Read The New York Times story here, and then take a look at Slavin’s take at HuffPost.

You’ve heard the argument that teacher tenure protects incompetent teachers. But it’s just not true. Well, the Wonkblog spoke with Jesse Rothstein, a former Obama administration economist and, according to Wonkblog, an expert on the quality of instruction in public schools. And according to Rothstein, the hubbub around tenure is pointless because it has little to do with student achievement and, perhaps even more importantly, getting rid of tenure could make it even more difficult to get high-quality teachers in classrooms. Read a full transcript of the interview at the Wonkblog.

Privatization of education is already happening in communities across the U.S. In Camden, NJ, a lawsuit has been filed by a group of 25 parents against the New Jersey Department of Education in response to the recent approval of two Renaissance schools, which are being funded by money that was formerly said to be unavailable. What’s more concerning, though, is that students were left crying at the loss of many of their favorite teachers — “the best ones,” as described by one student — and classrooms are left without licensed teachers or, in some cases, even long-term substitute arrangements. Read a speech read by Camden parent Carmen Crespo at a press conference announcing the lawsuit on Stephen Danley’s blog at Rutgers.

There appears to be a sudden change of heart in several governors who previously championed the Common Core, with Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Pat McCrory of North Carolina, Bobby Jindal of Lousiana, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Gary Herbert of Utah, and now Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania among the ranks. The news isn’t good for opponents of the Core, though, as many of these politicians are up for reelection, are the subject of lower approval ratings in their, or may be hopeful contenders for more powerful political offices. Once again, politics is trumping our students and education, and we need to be wary of these politicians who may just be wolves in sheep’s clothing. Read the article and decide for yourself.

Is Bill Gates using some sneaky tactics to make it appear as though state governors are giving up on the Common Core? “Instead of developing stronger alternative standards in place of Common Core’s misbegotten standards, some elected and appointed officials have deliberately played a trick on all of them by keeping Common Core’s tentacles in place while they use less toxic labels to describe the octopus strangling the education system,” says Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Professor Emerita at the University of Arkansas, on Breitbart.com. State officials are calling for reevaluations and reviews of the Common Core standards in their respective states, but all is not what it seems. It all appears to be designed as a clever plot that will, ultimately, further the Gates agenda. Read the full article here.

Tom Corbett appears to be playing right into Gates’ hand, with a recent announcement calling for a “continued public review of Pennsylvania-specific academic content in English language arts and mathematics standards from Kindergarten through 12th grade.” According to the press release, “This is the final phase in his nearly three year effort to permanently roll back the national Common Core plan implemented by his predecessor, Gov. Ed Rendell.” State Senator Andy Dinniman has a few things to say in response to Corbett’s seemingly sudden change of heart about standards which he has not objected to in years, conveniently timed leading up to the upcoming election. Read the response here.

Florida is making headlines again this week in terms of opting out of high-stakes testing. This time, it comes in the form of a teacher taking a stand and refusing to give the standardized test. As reported Tuesday, Susan Bowles is a teacher with 26 years of experience and currently teaches kindergarten. She has jumped through the testing hoops but drew a line in the sand this year, as the FAIR (a diagnostic test that predicts students’ success in reading) moves from a paper-pencil test to an online format. This means it is necessary for teachers of young students to administer the test one-on-one. The article outlines all of the problems with this system, but Bowles’ main issue was the amount of instructional time being lost to administering the tests – a total of six weeks. Read the article to see all of the issues and to see what has happened to Bowles as a result of her decision. You may just be surprised!

What’s the real deal with the opt-out statistics? We’ve talked about districts opting out and even parents opting their kids out of high-stakes testing, but we’ve also emphasized the importance of everyone taking a stand together as a unified force. The Center for Integrated Education takes a look at the rising numbers of students opting-out of high stakes testing in NYC, and while the numbers may be statistically insignificant, they sure are growing. “About 4,700 city students did not take this year’s English tests and 15,470 students didn’t take the math exams, according to an updated tally released by the State Education Department and the city Department of Education. The totals include 1,925 students whose protesting parents opted their children out of taking the tests, a 450 percent increase over last year,” according to the article. Still think opt-out figures aren’t significant? Read the full story at CITE.

This infographic is must-see material. “The Gates Foundation Education Reform Hype Machine and Bizarre Inequality Theory” highlights some revealing information about Bill Gates’ involvement in public education – every step of the way. Check it out at Truth-Out.org.

Peter Greene (if his name sounds familiar, you probably know him as the genius blogger behind Curmudgucation) takes a real look at whether we’re ready for a new conversation about Common Core, and education reform as whole, at the Huffington Post. “Reformsters have yet to answer some fundamental questions about themselves and their Common Core based reforms,” Greene points out. “Who are you (and your financial backers), and why should we be listening to your ideas about education? What is the basis for your ideas, and why should we take them seriously?” Until these fundamental questions are answered, Greene says he struggles to envision how to start a useful conversation surrounding education reform. Read the full story here.

Weekly Roundup 9/5/14

Roundup3A short school week, thanks to Labor Day weekend, didn’t mean a lack of education news. The Common Core, big business, and leadership are the main topics of our picks for the week. With our Weekly Roundup, we bring to you the good, the bad, and the ugly of education-related news stories that grab our attention. This week’s 10 articles are listed below, in no particular order.
*FYI – Newsletter subscribers have the advantage of receiving our top news picks sooner than they will appear in the Weekly Roundup.*

All eyes were on the new NEA president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, as she took the reins on Labor Day. She claims her top priority is to “roll back standardized testing before it does more damage than good,” and NEA has been critical of the Obama administration’s support of using test scores to evaluate teachers. After her visit with Obama over the weekend, Garcia spoke with NPR Ed about that meeting and her other concerns regarding education. Read the compete NPR Q&A and get to know the new president.

Now that September is here, all eyes are on the November elections. Never before has an election ever been as high stakes for students, parents, and education as it is right now. The seats of 36 governors, 6,048 legislators, 31 state attorney generals, and 468 members of the U.S. Congress are up for election. Let’s face it: education voters did not do well in the 2010 midterm elections, which allowed too many candidates who put corporations and CEOs ahead of students to be elected. And, governors like Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, and Kansas’ Sam Brownback slashed education budgets after they entered office; unfortunately, “similar scenarios played out across the country after the 2010 elections.” Education voters, teachers, parents, and everyone else who cares more about the state of public education than lining wealthy business’ pockets must vote for the right candidates this fall. The Education Votes article explains exactly what is at stake if we don’t.

If you read the Education Votes article listed above, you may be interested in seeing how your state compares to those mentioned. Now you can, because earlier this week, the Huffington Post put out an overview of how the Common Core is playing out across the US. Each state is briefly described, and most descriptions include information about the governors and other legislators who are influencing the discussion. It’s very interesting to see how the states are reacting to the “national” standards.

Fred Klonsky is a retired public school teacher who blogs about testing data and education-related issues. Klonsky frequently has Bev Johns, a special education advocate and activist, serve as a guest blogger, and her latest post is magnificent. Remember when NCLB required all students to be proficient on state tests by 2014?  Well, it’s 2014. Nobody expected this dream to become a reality, and the failure of public schools to reach that goal has been translated to the failure of public education as a whole. However, Arne Duncan is perpetuating the nonsense by seeking “to require ALL students with disabilities to demonstrate proficiency or advanced mastery of challenging subject matter on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.” Johns, of course, is concerned about what this means for the future of special education because regular education students have not been close to achieving Duncan’s goal. Will this mean that special ed will also be “deemed an utter failure”? Johns especially is concerned that RTI/MTSS and full inclusion for all will be the result. Included in the post are portions of a 3-page letter from all 8 Republicans on the U.S. Senate education committee to Duncan, detailing questions about his special ed and Results Driven Accountability. Read the entire blog post and consider Johns’ points and questions for yourself.

Monday, we published a blog post warning teachers and parents not to allow school districts to “sell” your kids as news on the hearings for Ohio House Bill 597 heated up to the point that a businessman with Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce was quoted as saying “students are the educational product … going through the education system so that they can be an attractive product for business to consume…” Basically, ed reformers/businesses hope to get even wealthier at the expense of our children and America’s public schools. As the fight to repeal the Common Core standards gets more interesting in Ohio, Republican Rep. Andy Thompson says it’s kind of “creepy the way this whole thing landed in Ohio with all the things prepackaged.” An AP article by Kimberly Hefling offers a wonderful overview of the fight in Ohio, with comments like the one from Thompson, as well as those from parents and educators, and describes how other states are pushing back against the standards as well. Read the full article here.

While some government leaders and citizens starting to see exactly how big businesses and ed reformers are attempting to take over education, other organizations are clearly showing just how strong the push is to privatize our public schools. A new report from GEMS Education Solutions, an education consulting firm, released its “Efficiency Index” and an accompanying report Thursday. Basically, they ranked the return on investment for 30 different nations’ education budgets: according to the report, the index “treats the educational system as if it were a company which attempts to obtain an output.” That statement, in itself, should be enough to send up everyone’s red flags. As soon as we talk about return on investment and output, we are talking about a BUSINESS. We start looking at students as cogs on an assembly line and teachers as factory workers. Even more disturbing? The report says that in order for the U.S. to become more efficient, we would “need to increase class sizes and reduce teacher salaries.” If you haven’t yet seen the writing on the wall about the state of education in this country, read the full article.

Continuing with our business theme, this article explains how Peter Cunningham, “the former communications guru for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan” is leading an organization that has received initial grants totaling $12 million from the Broad Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Walton Family Foundation, and an anonymous donor to “encourage a more ‘respectful’ and fact-based national discussion about the challenges of public education, and possible solutions.” On its face, Education Post’s mission sounds delightful. Delve a little deeper, and you see that one of its originators, Bruce Reed (president of the Broad Foundation) wants to “help spread information about what works both inside the field and outside” but says “administrators, school leaders and teachers have papers to grade, schools to run, and they don’t have time to get out and talk about this.” Really? Teachers are exactly the ones who should be talking about this, because we are the ones who know the truth about what’s happening to education. Don’t be fooled. This is just one more way for businessmen to take the educators out of the discussion on education. No thanks, Education Post. We aren’t buying. Read the entire Washington Post article to decide for yourself.

On August 26, we wrote a blog post about the call for later school start times after a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics determined that kids, especially teens, need more sleep. A September 2 Chicago Tribune article describes exactly just how much sleep teens aren’t getting, despite the report’s suggestion to push back school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later. According to the article, though, only about 15% of U.S. high schools have an opening bell at 8:30 a.m. or later. Hearing just how an early school day affects students, from falling asleep in class, to relying on caffeine and stimulants, makes the issue all too real. Read the students’ comments in the full article.

Sometimes, articles fall into our laps at just the right time, and this is the case with the newly updated NCTE Position Statement on Students’ Right to Write. We’ve been making the case for TRUE writing on our website within the past week, and the NCTE Position Statement falls right in line with what we’ve been saying: students’ right to write must be protected. One of our favorite “beliefs” from the Position Statement is “teachers should avoid scripted writing that discourages individual creativity, voice, or expression of ideas.” Yes! Break out of the formula writing and allow students to write to learn and explore and express. Read the entire NCTE Position Statement here.

Why does America hate teachers? Noah Berlatsky, a contributing writer for The Atlantic, admits that while that is not exactly the premise of Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars, the book does trend toward answering that question with an account of 200 years of education policy. Worth noting here is one of Berlatsky’s takeaways from the book: “Education reform, as so often before, seemed to be less about aiding students than about targeting teachers.” This is nothing new for teachers to hear, but it is nice to hear that an “outsider” gets it. Another one of Berlatsky’s gems, “The focus on testing to evaluate teachers, then, is not based on a rational look at the research. Instead, one could argue, it’s based on the logic of the moral panic, and the created identity of teachers,” gets at one of Goldstein’s main points: “discussions of education in the U.S. have repeatedly been framed in terms of moral panics.” This is an intriguing article about an even more intriguing book: read Berlatsky’s entire article from The Atlantic.

Weekly Roundup 8/29/14

Weekly Roundup2As students and teachers begin to settle back into the school routine, the education news this week has been anything but routine. From a governor filing a lawsuit against the Common Core, to a parent group convincing a Florida school board to opt out of all high-stakes, standardized testing, the news of the week has been interesting, to say the least. We will bring you the good, the bad, and the ugly of education-related news stories that grab our attention each week, in our Weekly Roundup. This week’s 8 articles are listed below, in no particular order.
*FYI – Newsletter subscribers have the advantage of receiving our top news picks sooner than they will appear in the Weekly Roundup.*

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has filed a lawsuit against the federal government, “accusing it of illegally manipulating federal grant money and regulations to force states to adopt the Common Core education standards,” according to a report from NBC San Diego. This is an interesting scenario, as some are pegging the move as politically-driven given Jindal’s likely 2016 presidential bid. The filing follows Jindal’s botched attempt to repeal the Common Core education standards in his state. Read the full story at NBC San Diego.

Everyone is talking about how much classroom instruction is being eaten away by testing, but Valerie Strauss, who covers education for The Washington Post and runs The Answer Sheet blog, has gone one step further by publishing the 2014-2015 standardized testing schedule for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Florida has been a hotbed of standardized testing since Jeb Bush was at the helm as governor more than 10 years ago, but this year looks to be especially taxing on educators and students as of a statute goes into effect requiring end-of-course exams for every subject, including music and phys ed and kindergarten. If this schedule doesn’t prove just how out of control the testing craze in America has become, we don’t know what does. See the published schedule for yourself, if you have the stomach for it.

The Lee County School Board in Fort Myers, Florida, made history Wednesday, Aug. 27 by becoming the first in Florida to opt out of Common Core testing. In fact, the Lee Schools have opted out of “all statewide, standardized tests.” With a decision of 3-2, the board received boisterous cheers and applause from the auditorium full of opt-out supporters wearing red in a sign of solidarity. Superintendent Nancy Graham responded: “This will hurt children. There is no way around it.” She was met with boos. Had we been there, we would have booed, too. Read the article and watch the video of the moment the decision was made.

The news out of Florida isn’t all good. In 2011, the Florida legislature approved a statute to go into effect this school year “requiring that school districts develop and/or administer seven or more end-of-course assessments to all students.” The statute did not exclude kindergarten. The result is that six year olds will take seven potentially high-stakes tests, and in Florida, the results of end-of-course exams do affect teachers’ pay and evaluations. Read the full Washington Post article.

In an article/book review, Sara Mosle gives an in-depth analysis of what teachers in America need in order to be better teachers, and she arrives at a conclusion that should not surprise many of those in the profession: time to collaborate with peers and mentors to hone their craft. She discusses the hours that teachers spend putting together lessons, grading papers, calling parents, attending meetings, and everything else that entails being a teacher. She calls out the author of Building a Better Teacher, Elizabeth Green (co-founder of Gotham Schools, a news web site originally devoted to covering NYC schools that recently has expanded to other cities and been renamed Chalkbeat) for her exploration of the idea that teaching is not a “mystical talent” but a set of best practices acquired through hands-on coaching, self-scrutiny, and collaboration by saying that “her account suggests that implementing this vision may entail a bigger transformation than she quite realizes.” The article is thought provoking and at times maddening; we recommend you read the entire Atlantic article to the end.

In a recent post, the blogger at WagTheDog posed a question, “Common Core: Growing Pains or Growing Awareness?” and points to a recent survey that indicates teacher support for the Common Core has sharply declined. Common Core supporters almost all seem to think teachers are bucking the Common Core because it is something new that requires change and more work, but the blogger points out four well-documented reasons for the drop off in teacher support. We couldn’t agree with the blogger more, and we encourage you to read his post and check out the links within it.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is no friend of public education, and Colleen Flaherty discusses exactly how Walker’s $1.6 billion cuts to public education are affecting students as they enter schools after summer break this year. Spanish teacher John Havlicek has 20 years of experience teaching in Wisconsin public schools and explains how Walker’s cuts are affecting the students in his school. Havlicek’s first-hand account details just how devastating the cuts are, especially in his school, where approximately 50% of students receive free or reduced lunch. Read the Education Votes/NEA article to see how governors like Walker are hurting not just the education system, but the students that it is supposed to serve.

The New York State Education Department released a report highlighting the results of the state’s 2014 Common Core State Standards-aligned exams…but interestingly, the data reported makes it difficult to really interpret the results. Carol Burris summarizes some key findings for The Washington Post. Read the full story here.

Weekly Roundup: 8/22/14

With teachers and students heading back to school (already) or in the next couple of weeks, education seems to be in the news more now than usual. Each week, we are going to bring you the good, the bad, and the ugly of the education-related news stories that grabbed our attention, listed in no particular order. *FYI – Newsletter subscribers have the advantage of receiving our top news picks sooner than they will appear in the Weekly Roundup.*

  • Award-winning high school English teacher Ian Altman’s list of seven things reformers should stop saying to teachers perfectly captures the anger and frustration teachers feel when they are being attacked by the public and reformers. Altman curated the list after speaking with educators across the country, and one thing is clear: it is time for teachers to stand up and take back their profession. Check out the full article from the Washington Post.
  • Arne Duncan decided this week that states may delay using test results in teacher-performance ratings for one more year, citing teachers’ need for more time to adapt to the new CCSS and tests. His tone was noticeably changed in his blog post: “I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools.” Some states are choosing to continue to use test results in teacher evaluations, while Vermont’s state board of education recently decided against using test scores in teacher evaluations. Check out the full article from The New York Times.
  •  With all of the hype surrounding test scores and the very real and serious ways in which those scores affect teachers (not to mention students!), it is interesting, to say the least, that New York state officials “reportedly” lowered the number of correct answers needed to pass half the exams. Testing giant Pearson is the state’s testing vendor, and they, along with the state, determined that six tests were harder and four easier this year than in 2013. This all begs the question: how valid are the results that everyone relies on for so much in education? And, why are we relying on these tests in the first place?  Check out the full article from the New York Post.
  • Education reform is “A National Delusion,” according to Steve Nelson, Head of the Calhoun School in Manhattan, in an article contributed to The Huffington Post. We’re hearing about online education programs, charter schools, Common Core, testing, testing, and more testing, and a whole lot of blame placed on unions, tenure, and of course, teachers. “None of the things on the partial list above will have the slightest effect on the so-called achievement gap or the supposed decline in America’s international education rankings,” Nelson says. And we couldn’t agree more. Check out the full article.
  • Veteran teacher Arnold Pulda brilliantly describes teacher tenure at a time when so many public figures are getting it all wrong. He also craftily describes how his experience makes him a better, not worse, teacher and why it is so important to have veteran teachers in classrooms across the country, especially at a time when teachers are the target of blatant disrespect. Check out the full article from telegram.com.
  • Reynoldsburg, Ohio, is becoming a hotbed of grassroots political action as parents are increasingly supporting teachers after they failed to reach a contract agreement with the district even with the help of a federal mediator: the current contract expired July 31. 20% of the district’s teachers have left since January, and the community members, parents, and teachers are uniting to tell the school board to come up with a new proposal that addresses steady increases in class size, the teacher exodus, and merit pay based on a single high-stakes test. Check out the full article from NEA’s EdVotes.org.
  • Things just keep getting worse for the state of education in Pennsylvania, under the governance of Tom Corbett. As if slashing the education budget weren’t reason enough, Corbett is under fire because his former Education Secretary Ron Tomalis may have been a ghost employee as a “special adviser” to Corbett. Now, multiple people are calling for an investigation into whether Tomalis actually worked for his $139,542 salary and whether Corbett named him an adviser simply to boost Tomaslis’ annual pension by nearly $7,000. Check out the full article from PennLive.com.
  • With the push for big data being used in every facet of education, it will be interesting to see how education reformers will spin the latest polling data that shows significant opposition to the Common Core. The polls, one by Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup and one by Harvard researchers for Education Next, both found public support diminishing for the standards. Check out the full article from The Atlantic.
  • It became very apparent this week that the war on public education and teachers is in full swing, as the Michigan Education Department approved the Detroit Public Schools’ plan to cut teachers’ pay by 10% and close 24 schools; the district found itself in trouble when voters failed to pass a county-wide tax millage that they had counted on for revenue. The DPS is $127 million in debt and has a five-year deficit elimination plan that includes the pay cuts and school closures, which result in larger class sizes for DPS students among other serious challenges.  The Detroit Teachers Union is vowing to fight the cuts. Check out the full article from CBS Detroit.
  • Another useful set of data was released this week to demonstrate the failure of NCLB and Race to the Top. ACT scores are proving to be flat from 2010-2014 even as billions of dollars have been spent on testing, test-based teacher evaluations, and teacher merit pay that education reformers think boost college readiness. Additionally, scores are stagnant on the federal government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the SAT college admissions test. It appears as though the data proves that focusing on standardized testing has backfired; it is time to create better learning experiences for our students. Check out the full article from Diane Ravitch’s blog.
  • But we are living in a Golden Age of Education! That is, one in which we place the appearance of teaching our children well above the actual quality of said education. “Never before have so many dedicated hard-toiling bureaucrats in the education industry done so much to ensure the quality of the veneer of education,” author James Hanley says, in a post at Ordinary Times. Read the full story here. 
  • Are American parents to blame for messing up their kids’ education? While there’s ample discussion on this topic to spark a debate spanning decades, an article in The Statesman Journal takes a look at how the shifting mindset, entitlement mentality, and general tendency to make everything a high-stakes initiative is actually leading kids to believe that they’ve either got it or they don’t. And if they don’t, there’s no point in trying. It turns out, there’s value in making mistakes, in being less than the best, and — gasp — even sub-par performance. Get the full story from The Statesman Journal. 
  • Education reform relies on cold, impersonal measures to pit schools against one another and create stiff, rigorous testing environments in pursuit of the goal of “closing the achievement gap.” But how do we measure and account for the value of the human relationship that is “at the core of education,” according to Berkeley professor David Kirp in The New York Times (finally!). Natalie Wexler reflects on the human element and whether caring is enough in an article at Greater Greater Washington.
  • The Washington Post has an interesting piece regarding the positioning of education reform efforts in the media, and what opponents of high-stakes testing must do in response to successfully win the battle. A set of nine values/ goals are presented which paint a picture of a lovely ideal, but as a few commenters point out, fail to get down to the nitty-gritty of strategic efforts needed to actually get there. Still, it’s an intriguing read and there are some insightful responses in the comments that are worth a look. Check it out at The Washington Post.

What have you been reading this week? Share your favorite picks with us, or sound off with your reactions in the comments below.