Calling It As It Is

It is refreshing to see more balanced reporting about education in The New York Times. For years, the paper has portrayed an infatuation with charter schools and has incorporated the rhetoric of misnamed education “reformers” in its reporting. Several recent articles in The New York Times demonstrate a more open approach and a recognition that those “reformers” are actually privatizers and profiteers. An example is this piece by the highly esteemed writer, Gail Collins. In it, she is critical of those privatizers and profiteers as she writes about how unqualified Betsy DeVos is to head the U.S. Department of Education.

Demagogue Alert

This is the sign I carried at the Sister March in Hartford, Connecticut on January 21, 2017.

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The events of the first days of the Trump administration reinforced for me that, indeed, we do need to be on alert.

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor and current professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley in this 2 minute 41 second video explains how Donald Trump’s treatment of the media gives us reason to fear for the loss of our democracy.

Everything we deeply care about- equity, civil rights, the environment, health care, education, the economy, national security, and, most of all, our children- depends on us maintaining a democracy.

End the oligarchy we have had. Don’t let a demagogue take hold.

Let’s get busy. Let’s get political.

Clear And Present Danger

What I learned from watching three hours of the Senate confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education:

1. Betsy DeVos demonstrated a lack of any understanding about student assessment.

2. Betsy DeVos said that permitting guns in schools is a decision that should be left up to individual schools.

3. Betsy DeVos did not commit to preschool for all children.

4. Betsy DeVos said that educating children with special needs and disabilities is up to individual schools and districts, and she did not commit to upholding existing federal mandates regarding the education of special needs children and children with disabilities.

5. Betsy DeVos said that she does not support equal accountability for all schools that receive taxpayer funds. Charter schools, funded with taxes, will not have the same accountability and transparency as traditional public schools.

6. Betsy DeVos said that charter schools, funded with public taxes, do not have to adhere to the same policies as traditional public schools in regard to regulations about student bullying and student suspensions.

7. Betsy DeVos did not commit to the enforcement of existing federal laws addressing waste, fraud, and abuse in for-profit colleges.

8. Betsy DeVos did not commit to the enforcement of existing federal laws which address sexual assault on college campuses.

9. Betsy DeVos will take money from traditional public schools to privatize public education.

10. Betsy DeVos, although questioned directly about the civil rights of LGBT students, gave no statement in direct support of LGBT students.

11. Lamar Alexander, the chair of the committee, did not allow appropriate questioning of Betsy DeVos. He did not honor the requests of his Senate colleagues for more time for additional questions. There is a precedent for that courtesy being extended to Senate colleagues who request additional time for questions. 

What I didn’t learn from what was said at the three hours of testimony but could tell from the obsequiousness of the Republican senators and by the restriction on the questioning of Betsy DeVos by the Republican chair of the committee:

According to Education Week, Betsy DeVos and her family have given nearly $1 million directly to 21 Republican senators over past election cycles. In addition, the analysis found ten senators on the Senate education committee have received donations from a political action committee controlled by the DeVos family, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, the committee chairman.

Where do we go from here?

  1. Recognize that what Bernie Sanders has pointed out about our political system as a whole is true about education in particular as well: We are an oligarchy. Money talks. Money wins. Citizens lose. Children lose. 

      2. That oligarchy in education is not new. It has existed during the past two presidencies with the privatization of public education through the public funding of charter schools, the dominance of the standardized testing industry, and education standards determined by the man with the most money,  but that oligarchy was hidden under the misnomer of “education reform”. No reform happened. All that happened was the very rich gained control of the agenda, and those aspiring-to-be-rich-through-privatizing-a-public-institution became rich. Now the oligarchy is crystal clear. Now the danger to our republic is clear. Now the danger to our kids is right before us. 

         3. Be grateful for the clarity.

         4. Fight like crazy.

Relay Is A Very Bad Joke-One That Hurts Kids

The Relay Graduate School of Education recently applied to be a graduate school of education in Pennsylvania, California, and Connecticut. That application was denied in Pennsylvania and California. That application was approved in Connecticut.

What is the Relay Graduate School of Education? Daniel Katz, Director of Secondary Education and Secondary Special Education Teacher Preparation at Seton Hall University sums it up like this:

It is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First… Relay’s “curriculum” mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the “no excuses” brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.

Pennsylvania and California made worthy decisions  in rejecting the Relay Graduate School of Education. So how did it get approved in Connecticut?

On November 2, 2016, the Connecticut State Board of Education held a hearing to listen to testimony about whether Relay should be approved or not. More than 30 people testified. The overwhelming majority of those who testified strongly recommended denying Relay’s application. Some cited research about Relay and its ineffectiveness and its lack of quality . Some cited their own experience as teacher educators. Some cited their experiences in being trained as teachers. Some cited ways to bring people of color into the teaching profession in Connecticut without lowering standards and expectations for them. Only those already enrolled in or employed by Relay and two paid advocates forConnecticut charter schools spoke in favor of approving Relay.

Astoundingly, within minutes after the hearing, the Connecticut State Board of Education approved Relay as a valid program for certifying teachers in Connecticut.

The political fix was in.

Connecticut children, particularly those most in need of a good education lost. Again.

Below is my statement at that hearing:

Testimony to the Connecticut State Board of Education on November 2, 2016

My name is Ann Policelli Cronin. I have been recognized as Connecticut’s Distinguished English Teacher of the Year. I have been a district level administrator responsible for English education for 23 years and in that role have supervised and evaluated hundreds of teachers and both created and implemented innovative, state-of-the-art programs, which have won national awards for excellence. I have taught graduate level teacher education courses for 10 years. And, most recently, I have been a consultant in inner city schools identified as “failing schools”. I also recently was an advisor to a Connecticut university seeking accreditation for its teacher preparation program.

Therefore, I know what good teaching is. I know how to prepare prospective teachers to be good teachers and how to help in-service teachers to grow and develop. And I know what kind of accreditation is necessary for a teacher preparation program.

Based on that deep and broad experience as an educator, I can tell you that the Relay Graduate School of Education is a totally inadequate teacher education program.

It offers its students the mentoring of “amazing teachers” instead of academic course work. In fact, the spokespersons for Relay shun the academic work of established teacher preparation programs. I have been and, in fact, still am one of those “amazing teachers”. I have mentored teachers and taught them my skills. There are teachers around the state who could tell you how they benefited from that mentoring. But mentoring is absolutely, definitely not enough.

Teaching is complex. Teachers need more than a “how”; they need a ”why”. Brain surgeons in training certainly benefit greatly by doing their surgical rotation with expert surgeons, but when they are on their own as licensed surgeons, they must have a depth of knowledge to deal with all of the possible complexities that could occur in any surgery. So too with teaching.

Prospective English teachers need to know how cognition and intellectual engagement develop in children and adolescents because it is that understanding that dictates curriculum. They need to know the research from the past 45 years regarding the teaching of writing because, without that knowledge, they will not be able to teach their students to become effective writers. They need to know literary theory because it is that theory that dictates all pedagogy for the teaching of reading and the teaching of literature. They need to know the grammar and conventions of our language and what research says about effective ways to teach that grammar and those conventions to students. They need to know the research about learning being a social endeavor and know how to create the kind of classroom that incorporates that research, the kind of classroom that is a true community of readers, writers, and thinkers. For all of that, a teacher education program requires academic course work. Mentoring is not enough.

The accreditation process has standards to insure that graduates of teacher preparation programs have a deep knowledge of their field and a deep knowledge of child and adolescent growth and development. To be accredited, a teacher education program must also require its prospective teachers to have specified experiences of being mentored by amazing teachers. All prospective teachers need both academic course work and mentoring. Relay denies its students an essential element of teacher preparation, the element that is the foundation of all else.

Relay has been promoted both as a way to bring people of color into the teaching profession and as a fast track to let the teachers of the children of color become certified or earn Master’s degrees. How demeaning is that claim! Demeaning to both the adults of color and the children of color. Prospective teachers of color are capable of the same academic challenges as their white counterparts in accredited teacher preparation programs. And children of color in our cities, whom these teachers in the Relay program are being trained to serve, are entitled to the same appropriately trained teachers as their counterparts in the affluent suburbs.

To permit Relay to prepare teachers in Connecticut is to perpetuate the same gap between the haves and the have-nots in Connecticut that we already have. It is racist and classist. We, as state, cannot endorse that. We must give our children better care. If not us, who? If not you as the State Board of Education, who?

Teachers You Know

Here is a 3 minute, 39 second video featuring the kind of teachers you and I both know. Please watch.

I have worked in Connecticut’s most affluent suburbs and most distressed cities with public school teachers just like these. They are everywhere. They are legion.

Teachers are the solution. They help our kids to love to learn and to develop the skills they need for their future.

Don’t believe those who regard privatizing education as a slam-dunk, personal money maker.

Don’t believe those who take money from public schools to set up charter schools which lack financial transparency and have no better results for students.

Don’t believe those who take advantage of those in poverty.

Don’t believe those who have never taught for one day or influenced one student.

Instead………

Let’s celebrate the good work and the good learning that happens every day in Connecticut public schools.

Call To Action: Support NAACP

As  I sat at the meeting of the education committee of the Connecticut General Assembly in early spring and heard the CEO of the charter school advocacy group, ConnCAN, say that Connecticut needed more seats in charter schools in order to save students from “being trapped in failing schools”, I had questions.

First of all,  if thousands of children are suffering, why is the concern with just helping a handful of them? Only 1.5% of Connecticut’s public school students are in charter schools. What about the other 98.5%?  Do we have a lifeboat mentality in which a few are rescued and the rest go down with what charter school advocates are happy to call a sinking ship? How is that fair?

Secondly, what happened to Sheff vs. O’Neill, the court  case which set clear goals for integrating schools in Connecticut? All of the charter school students accompanying the CEO of ConnCAN to the legislative hearing were children of color. Clearly, the enrollment of Connecticut’s charter schools mirrors the national figures as reported by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, which states: “Charter schools are more racially isolated than traditional public schools 1n virtually every state and every metropolitan area in the nation.” The report points out that 70% of charter school students are in schools in which 90-100% of the students are students of color, which is double the number of students  segregated in that way in traditional public schools.

Thirdly, how do we know which schools are “failing” and which are not?  Nationally, about 50% of charter schools perform the same as their traditional public school counterparts although the charter school student population is more selective and has fewer special education students and fewer students with English as a second language. The other 50% of charter schools are about equally divided between some doing better than traditional public schools and others doing worse than traditional public schools. Clearly, being a charter school does not exempt a school from being a “failing school”. If charter schools offered an education  that is innovative and exciting, then surely the suburban parents would clamor for them to be in their communities.

Fourthly, how can a school build a good curriculum and sound pedagogy when the staff has a high rate of turnover? Charter schools have a 20-45% teacher turnover rate with young, uncertified teachers who have no teaching experience coming in each year and staying for an average of 2.3 years.  High teacher turnover affects the quality of the education because it impedes the development of instructional cohesion within the school.

Fifthly,  what about the high suspension rates in charter schools? For example, last year, 23.78 % of the children were suspended at a charter elementary school in New Haven (Achievement First’s Amistad Academy), 58.6% of the students at one charter high school (Elm City College Prep) and 53.5% of students at another high school (Bridgeport Achievement First) were suspended as compared to 25 % of high school students suspended from schools identified by the state as the lowest performing schools in the state. The average suspension rate for all of Connecticut’s high schools is 12.3%. Currently, Achievement First Hartford , which has elementary grades through high school, is on probation after an audit criticized the school for a high rate of suspensions as well as for having too many uncertified teachers.

In addition, what about the governance of charter schools which take taxpayer money but deny taxpayer oversight and refuse transparency? Their boards are comprised largely of wealthy entrepreneurs and hedge fund managers from outside of the school’s community rather than comprised of parents and citizens of the community?

And lastly, if charter schools  are about good education, why are they not in suburban communities? Are charter schools done to impoverished communities of color more than  for impoverished communities of color?  Is the charter school movement part of what Rupert Murdoch calls a  profit-making  “$500 billion sector in the US alone” and  violated on the unsuspecting parents who are earnestly searching for the best for their children?  Are charter schools windfalls for enterprising entrepreneurs?

I left the meeting concerned.

Then I later became dismayed. The result of the hearing was that in June the  Governor gave the legislature an ultimatum: 401 new charter school seats must be funded. That resulted in an increase of 4.1 million  allocated  for charter schools and a decrease of 51.7 million for traditional public schools and a decrease of 15.4 million for magnet schools. Connecticut is in a financial crisis; everything is being trimmed. The only way to account for the increasing of the budget allocation for charter schools is to recognize the role of campaign financing. The Governor’s chief campaign contributor, a wealthy entrepreneur,  sits on the boards of charter schools and is a lead advocator for charter schools in Connecticut.

Politics. Profits for entrepreneurs. Racism. Inadequate learning experiences for students. What hope is there for all the children?

But then came the summer and the good news…….

The NAACP is doing something for all of the children.. They have taken a firm stand. At their national convention in July, the NAACP passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools.  The NAACP criticized charter schools for lack of public governance, the targeting of low income communities of color, increased segregation, inadequate teaching staffs, and harsh disciplinary practices. The organization that has long been in the forefront of highlighting  civil rights violations has taken the lead. More than 50 African American social advocacy groups, including the  Black Lives Matter movement has joined the NAACP, stating that charter schools represent a “systemic  attack” on communities of color.

The resolution for a moratorium on charter school expansion requires ratification  by the Board of Directors of the NAACP at a board meeting in the fall. The charter school industry, with the unlimited money of  Bill and Melinda Gates, the Broad Foundation, and the Walton family are marshaling forces to overturn the NAACP resolution. A PAC called  Democrats for Education Reform, whose board is composed largely of hedge fund managers who seem to regard  privatizing education through charters schools as a  way to  turn a small amount of capital into a large amount of capital, are engaged in fierce opposition to the NAACP resolution.

You can be a voice in this controversy. If you believe that the NAACP has taken a positive  step forward with their call for a moratorium on new charter schools,  please join me by clicking on the this link to state your support of the NAACP for their wise and courageous resolution. 

Sure we have a lot to do to improve education: fund universal Pre-K, reduce class size in K-12, improve supportive services,  get rid of the damaging Common Core, and replace standardized tests with effective assessments. But first we must say loudly and firmly that those improvements are for ALL children. We, as a nation, must stop  privatizing public education with profit-making, racial profiling charter schools for SOME of our children and, instead, focus on ALL of our children. Our democracy demands it.

NOTE: PRESS RELEASE

October 15, 2016

CINCINNATI – Members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Board of Directors ratified a resolution Saturday adopted by delegates at its 2016 107th National Convention calling for a moratorium on charter school expansion and for the strengthening of oversight in governance and practice.

“The NAACP has been in the forefront of the struggle for and a staunch advocate of free, high-quality, fully and equitably-funded public education for all children,” said Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman of the National NAACP Board of Directors. “We are dedicated to eliminating the severe racial inequities that continue to plague the education system.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accountability 101

 

The most primitive response for a social problem is to find a scapegoat. It accomplishes nothing. It is destructive.  But scapegoating relieves the society from having to deal with the complexity of a problem. Steven Singer describes how scapegoating teachers harms our students and does not address the complex and challenging problems in our society that are played out in our public schools.  Read here or read on https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/high-stakes-testing-holds-the-most-powerful-the-least-accountable/

High Stakes Testing Does Not Hold Schools Accountable. It Ensures That Those Most Responsible Escape Accountability

People should be accountable for their actions.

If you make a mess, you should have to clean it up. If you decide how things run, you should be responsible if it fails.

So why do we allow those most responsible for our public school system to escape from accountability? Why do we instead blame everything on teachers and students?

Public school policy at the federal, state and local level has been dominated by high stakes testing for the last 15 years. It has not improved educational outcomes for students. In fact, just the opposite. But we are doing NOTHING to change it.

It’s called test and punish. We give students standardized tests and if enough of them fail over time, we close their schools and/or fire their teachers. We force them to move to a new school or a charter school where they continue to struggle without a single additional resource to help them succeed.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) installed most of these policies in 2001. This year we revised the federal law that governs K-12 schools into the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). It does little more than continue these same policies while rearranging the deck chairs on our sinking system.

Kids aren’t failing because they’re lazy or dumb. Their teachers aren’t shirking their duties. Instead we have a nationwide epidemic of child poverty. And the effects of that lifestyle make it extremely hard to achieve academically. Kids aren’t focused on book learning when they’re physically and emotionally exhausted, experiencing post-traumatic stress and undernourished.

Why has nothing been done to help them?

The answer is accountability.

Not real accountability. Not holding people accountable for things under their control. Not going up to the people and institutions that actually cause the errors and malfeasance. Instead we push all the blame onto teachers and students and call that “Accountability.”

Make no mistake. When politicians and policymakers talk about “accountability” this is what they mean – scapegoating educators and children for things well beyond their control.

An education system is made up of a complex interplay of several interconnected factors that include parents, the community, the economy, culture, media, and local, state and federal governments. Students and teachers are only two such factors.

High stakes testing ensures that ONLY teachers and students are held accountable. They are responsible for the entire education system but have control of very little of it.

For instance, do students and teachers decide how much funding their schools get? No.

Do students and teachers decide which education policies are enacted? No.

So why are they being held responsible for these things?

When schools without adequate funding can’t provide the necessary resources for students to succeed, we pretend like it’s the teachers and students fault. When academic policies handed down by non-educators fail to help kids learn, we pretend like it’s the students and teachers fault.

It’s not.

As New York University Education Professor Pedro Noguera said:

“We’ve designed an accountability system that holds those with the most power the least accountable. The governors are not accountable, the state legislature is not accountable… You can’t hold kids and teachers accountable and not hold the people in control in the first place.”

It’s not a difficult concept – we test the kids and punish the teachers if they fail. And since the focus is firmly on only those two factors, all others become invisible. No one’s holding lawmakers accountable for providing equitable funding. No one’s holding policymakers and think tanks accountable for forcing inadequate and untested Common Core academic standards down our throats. No one’s holding billionaire philanthropists accountable for using our schools as their private playgrounds for whatever social engineering scheme they thought up in the Jacuzzi. No one’s holding privately run charter schools accountable for – just about anything – instead of letting them operate behind a curtain of deniability and unending profit.

This would be impossible without standardized testing. It frames the question. It defines the debate. It assumes that only teachers and students are relevant. Therefore, it ensures that none of the obscured factors will have to do anything to help the system improve. And so it ensures that our education system will fail many of our students – especially those most in need.

This is the irony of modern education policy. The apparatus that allegedly ensures accountability makes that very thing impossible.

That’s how the system is designed. And policymakers are terrified you’ll notice. So they have developed a scapegoat for their own failures – the public school teacher.

Students may score badly – and they’ll have to pay for that when their school is closed or charterized as a result – but it is the teachers who are the true enemy. After all, if teachers did a better job, pundits claim, students wouldn’t fail.

The idea goes like this:

Children won’t learn unless we force teachers to educate them.

Teachers don’t get into that profession because they care about children. They just want an easy job with summers off where they don’t have much to do but collect huge salaries.

This is the great lie, the diversion, smoke and mirrors to get you to stop paying attention to lawmakers, policy wonks, environmental and other factors. Instead look only to those lazy/evil teachers and their satanic labor unions.

THAT’S why they say we need standardized testing!

If we remove the testing, they say, no one will be responsible for making sure kids learn. After all, why would teachers teach unless we threaten their jobs first?

As if teachers can heroically control all the factors involved in student learning. (Spoiler alert: they can’t.) As if teachers get into their profession because they don’t want to practice it. (Spoiler alert: teachers become teachers because they want to teach!) As if earning a middle class income for providing a valuable societal resource were unreasonable. (Spoiler alert: it isn’t.) As if due process meant you can’t be fired for cause. (Spoiler alert: unionized teachers are fired for cause every day.) As if teachers were paid for summers off. (Spoiler alert: they aren’t though some have their salaries earned during 9 months paid out over 12.)

If we really wanted to improve public education, we’d look at ALL the factors involved. We’d throw back the assumptions that have mired us in this quagmire.

And the first assumption that has to go is that standardized testing is a valuable assessment tool.

Standardized tests are terrible assessments. We’ve known that for almost a century. Invariably they narrow the curriculum. They suck up countless hours of class time that could be better spent. They measure more the circumstances kids live in than any academic ability. They’re culturally, racially and economically biased.

But we keep giving them with no end in sight – not because they make teachers do a better job, but because they give cover to those actually responsible for harming our children’s education.

There is such a thing as accountability without standardized tests. It is possible to examine all the factors involved and make changes accordingly.

We can, for instance, make sure all schools receive the same basic services. We can make sure all classrooms are equipped with up-to-date books, materials, desks, etc. We can make sure no schools go without heat, have crumbling infrastructure and/or suffer from infestation of vermin, mold and filth. We can make sure all children have access to healthy food. We can make sure no children are drinking water poisoned with lead.

We can look at parental involvement. An overwhelming amount of research shows this is vital to academic success, but in our poorest neighborhoods parents are often the least involved in their children’s schooling. Why is that? Many of them are working three or more minimum wage jobs just to feed and clothe their children. There’s little time to help with homework when you’re working the night shift. So countermeasures such as raising the minimum wage and increasing the frequency, access and training for well-paying jobs would actually improve education as well as the economy.

We can look at school climate. What are the rates of suspensions and expulsions? What are the root causes? How can we improve student discipline without being overly punitive? How can we increase student engagement? How do we improve student attendance and graduation rates?

We can update our broken system of student assessment. This may come as a surprise to our policymakers, but there are many ways to assess student learning that have nothing to do with standardized tests. For example, we can institute performance or portfolio-based assessments. Instead of evaluating students based on a snapshot of their performance on a given day or week, we can base it on a grading period or even an entire school year. Assessments can include projects, individual and group presentations, reports and papers and portfolios of work collected over time. You don’t have to be an education expert to realize these would be better measurements of academic achievement than multiple choice tests – BUT IT HELPS! And we can do this without resorting to stealth assessments like competency based education.

Does this mean that teachers should escape accountability? Absolutely not. But we can ensure they’re evaluated fairly. Don’t judge them based on factors beyond their control. Judge them based on what they actually do. As the old adage goes, you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Evaluate teachers on whether they’ve brought their little ponies to water. Did they engage in best practices? Are they engaged in professional development? How do they treat their students? Are they grading fairly? In almost every profession, workers are evaluated based on observation from their superiors. Teaching should be no different.

It’s shocking that no one on the national stage is talking about this. Pundits and policymakers shake their heads at standardized test scores, they point their fingers and cry crocodile tears for the children. But hardly anyone is doing a thing to make positive change.

Our schools have been transformed into factories. We’ve let them become resegregated based on race and wealth. We’ve let the rich schools get Cadillac funding while the poor ones struggle to survive on the leftovers. We’ve let non-educators set the standards and curriculum. We’ve let the testing industry co-opt and bribe our lawmakers and social institutions. We’ve opened the door wide for privitizers to steal as much of the shrinking funding pie as possible and funnel it into their own bank accounts without producing any quality for the students they’re supposed to be serving.

In short, we’ve let those responsible for setting our public schools aflame get away scot-free!

They’re laughing all the way to the bank. And the tool that lets them get away with it is standardized testing.

Throw back the curtain and show them for what they truly are.

Fight back. Refuse the tests for your children. Join United Opt Out and the Network for Public Education. Write your legislators. Write to the newspapers. Take to the streets. Make some noise.

Hold them accountable.