I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, August 31, 2012

More Chris Matthews Foolishness On Education

Last night,  Chris "Tweety" Matthews (it's what his staff calls him) made a series of riduculous statements about education during MSNBC's coverage of the Republican convention. Here's the video (it's not embeddable, so I can show it here). I urge you to watch the entire thing, because - despite Matthews's embarrassing performance - I actually find it highly encouraging.

But before I say why, let me finish debunking Matthews. I've already dealt with his cluelessness about our educational standing in the world and its relationship to poverty. Bashing America's schools and students - and, yes, that's exactly what this is - is a favored trope of ignorant pundits; however, what they really love is beating down on unions:
How we deal with the teachers union is a problem - especially a problem for the Democratic party. I live in Washington, D.C., I have to say: Randi Weingarten has not done a good job for our city. We have got a mayor who is got [?] a good mayor, we lost the best superintendent we ever had of education, and I think the school teachers have to explain that.
How does one man pack so much illogic and ignorance into such a short statement?

Michelle Rhee was, of course, the superintendent Matthews was talking about. As Matt DiCarlo points out, Rhee's claims that her performance bonuses helped raise student achievement are contradicted by the fact that test score gains following the implementation of the bonuses were mostly flat.

Rhee has claimed many times that it is important to close the "achievement gap," but it actually widened during her tenure in Washington. And any gains in test scores are highly suspect anyway, as the district has been embroiled in a cheating scandal that hasn't been properly investigated.

None of that matters to pundits like Matthews. Rhee may be a phony and her group, StudentFirst, may be an astroturfering front for the corporate takeover of education. But that doesn't matter: she's a celebrity - like Chris!

It's how these people view the world; it's how they judge credibility. Screw actual performance; all you need is to do is get yourself on the cover of the right magazine, and you can count on Chris Matthews believing any fool thing that comes out of your yap.

Now, why would I be encouraged by all this? It's because of what happened next: Ed Schultz, Al Sharpton, and Chris Hayes managed to rebut Matthews with a series of arguments that come directly from the education blogosphere. Someone is listening to us.

Schultz is right that Scott Walker's attack on teachers in Wisconsin is typical of the Republican party. Matthews attempted to give back the tired answer that everyone loves teachers and wants to see them make more. Schultz, correctly, called that rhetoric; none of the Republican governors who were elected in 2010 have any plan to raise teacher pay.

I'd only add that this isn't just a Republican malady: Arne Duncan, current Secretary of Education, likes to make lots of noise about paying teachers more but has never proposed a serious plan to make it happen. Schultz is dead on when he says this professed love of teachers is nothing more than rhetoric.

Next, Sharpton made a statement I have to correct: he said that Randi Weingarten negotiated the tenure reform bill with Chris Christie. Look, I am a big supporter of AFT, both nationally and in New Jersey. But AFT's presence here is limited to Newark and a few other distrcits; the fact is that NJEA led the tenure reform debate over the last year. The final law is closer to NJEA's initial proposal than any other plan that was out there.

That's not to say AFT wasn't closely involved - they were. AFTNJ is a good group: they've been the only adults in the room during the Perth Amboy mess. But Christie's war has always been with NJEA first, and teachers unions in general second. The fact that NJEA got most of what they want in the tenure law shows that they still wield considerable power. And yet NJ is the #2 state in the nation for student achievement; gosh, could it be that maybe unions aren't the problem with education today?

Where Sharpton gets it right is to point out that the real agenda of the reformy movement is the privatization of public education and union busting. When Matthews pushed back with the next tired reformy point - that we have to give parents options so they can "save" their children - Sharpton made a great point:
Why do we have to select some children and leave others? Why don't we build a system that all children... government's job is not for some children to get out; it's to lift everybody up.
At this point, the evidence is clear: the charter/voucher movement cannot and will not serve all children. Diane Ravitch made a challenge point blank to the darlings of charterism, KIPP, to take on an entire district; they refused, and admitted they can't do it. If that's the case, people like Matthews have an obligation to be honest in their cheerleading for "choice" - it's only a choice for some students.

But, for me, the best moment in all this was Chris Hayes, who does as good a job succinctly encapsulating the education reform debate as I've heard:
What striking to me is this equality of opportunity rhetoric is what we hear about this, right? America offers equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. As equality of outcome expands massively - in America, right, inequality is growing - we put more and more pressure... we say the only institution in American life that is supposed to fix the inequality is the education system. And the inequality grows and grows and grows and we say to the education system: "Do more and more and more to fix it."  
If you are committed to equality of opportunity as Jeb Bush and the Republican party say they are, then how does cutting SCHIP, cutting Medicaid, cutting food stamps for kids, cutting the entire universe of redistributive services for those kids provide equality of opportunity?
It's a great point, brilliantly made - but it did not grow in a vacuum. Schultz and Sharpton and Hayes are making a case that has been built up on blogs and internet radio shows and even tweets for years.

Let me speak to my fellow education bloggers for a second. Folks, I know you, like me, often feel like you are out in the wildness, howling at the wind. It's easy to believe that we are simply talking to each other, and we're not breaking through to the larger discussion.

We must understand that this is a long, slow grind. Conservatives took years to build up a right-wing echo chamber that now serves to put the kookiest, craziest nonsense into the mainstream.  That echo chamber is perhaps the most potent force in American politics, and it's all based on conservatives talking to each other. When an idea gains resonance in the chamber, it can't help but spring out and dominate the conversation.

We have begun to build our own anti-reformy echo chamber. It is starting to project ideas out into the ears of Schultz and Sharpton and Hayes and others ready to listen. This is a good thing; this segment is proof that we are making some headway.

This will not be an easy slog, but we have one advantage over the reformy right: the truth. Charters are not replicable. Unions are not antithetical to student success. Teachers are important, but only one part of a much larger picture. Evidence for vouchers is weak. Test-based teacher evaluation is a train wreck. There are many who openly admit they want to make lots of money off of public education.

These are truths. We need to keep stating them over and over and over again. If we do, it will break through; we will be heard.

All hands on deck.

ADDING: There's only one cure for Matthews's cluelessness: Diane Ravitch needs to go on Hardball. Anyone up for a campaign?

ADDING MORE: I don't want to be misconstrued, so I'll say this again: yes, AFT was a player in the tenure law negotiations. But it was really NJEA's proposal that wound up becoming the final bill; I think that's critically important to understand now that Christie is running around the country claiming he was the one who drove the negotiations. He wasn't; the bill happened in spite of him, not because of him.

I'm an NJEA member, but AFTNJ is, again, a very good organization; I don't want anything I say to be misconstrued here as being critical of their role or of Randi Weingarten's in the tenure bill negotiations. I may not agree with everything AFT does (or the NJEA, for that matter), but I am a pro-union teacher, no matter which union we're talking about.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Chris Matthews: A Fool On Education

Tonight, Chris Matthews revealed himself to be a total ignoramus on education. So much nonsense came out of his big, yellow head that I can't address it all in one post. But I won't be able to sleep tonight until I get this first thing on the record (no embeddable video yet; watch here):
"It is an amazing challenge down here in Florida, Rachel. I've never seen such diversity. The classroom I was in had 200 kids from all over the world: South Asia, Latin America, everywhere. An amazing challenge... 
"I think it's where the left and the right can agree - and Condi Rice certainly rang the bell last night, I thought rather well - education is the civil rights issue of the future. We have to win this fight. The fact that we're so far down on the totem pole right now worldwide in terms of math and science and general education is the challenge I think. "
Wait a minute Chris: you were just in an American classroom where there were kids from all over the world. Even though you say we are at the bottom.

Are people immigrating to America to send their kids to our bad schools?

Or might it be that part of our challenge is to educate the most socially, racially, ethnically, and economically diverse student population in the developed world?

Which explains why, when you account for poverty, America is actually at the top of the world in education?

Matthews goes on to tell us that Michelle Rhee is the best superintendent Washington D.C. ever had. No, really, he did.

I'll take this nonsense on tomorrow. And I'll tell you why I think this segment may, in fact, be the best news I've seen about the fight against reforminess in a long, long time.

I tawt I taw Michelle Rhee!

"No Excuses": Race, Class, & Education

Last night, Condoleezza Rice stood in front of the Republican National Convention and declared that education was the "civil rights issue of our day." Diane Ravitch points out that it never occurs to these people that poverty should be the real civil rights issue, as poverty is the best predictor of school performance, health, longevity, happiness, and so on.

I'd add that we should also consider that "civil rights" might be the civil rights issue of our time, what with the massive, conservative-driven voter disenfranchisement that's going on in the country. That's closely linked to the destruction of local control of schools in the cities; and it begs a question of those, like Rice, who insist that education reforminess is the answer to endemic poverty:

Why are the corporate reformers creating schools for poor and/or minority children that engage in practices that affluent parents would never accept for their own kids?

Yes, this starts with the governance of schools: suburban parents demand a say in their district's supervision, and would never accept mayoral or state control at the expense of their ability to influence local education decision making. One of the reasons parents in the suburbs of New Jersey pushed back so hard against the expansion of charter schools was that they would have no say over how those schools were run; it would be, essentially, taxation without representation. Yet autocrats regularly insist - usually in coded language - that urban parents and taxpayers are incapable of running their own schools or their own districts, even when state or mayoral control has been a failure.

This notion of "separate but equal" also extends into the curriculum and culture of the urban charter schools that have become the standard-bearers of the reformy movement. This is, until now, a story that has been told by very few (Jonathan Kozol most prominently). But there is increasing evidence that the way children are being taught in a "no excuses" environment of the cities is radically different from the way affluent parents demand their children learn.

Which is why this post from Paul Thomas is so important. I urge you to read the entire thing, but here's a taste:

• Students are nearly silent in class (to quote this teacher) "mostly because they've been trained like dogs [emphasis added] to never speak -- I had to repeatedly tell one class that it was ok to talk to their group during GROUP discussion -- foreign concept for them." ["No excuses" schools confuse "training" with "learning."]

• The students have primarily been taught to be compliant; again to quote the teacher:
"They [the students] can't think for themselves, they have no concept of style and author's craft (they're skill drilled their 9th grade year), and they have a very prescriptive method for annotating texts to the point where the students are annotating in the margins so they won't get in trouble [emphasis added], but they're not making any meaning with the text. One student today asked me how many annotations per paragraph they needed, and when I told her she needed to note where she saw fit, she looked so confused and upset."
• Ironically, teachers have a great deal of support and autonomy, and are primarily themselves treated with respect and as professionals, but, as this teacher notes, that allows TFA recruits (without experience or expertise) to function with little supervision. [Note that increasingly charter schools are afforded autonomy while public schools suffer under impossible mandates.]
This is a description of urban "no excuses" education I'm hearing again and again and again, and you know what? No one in the affluent 'burbs would accept it for their own kids.

Yes, suburban parents demand discipline - but age-appropriate discipline that teaches children, rather than indoctrinates them. Yes, suburban parents want their children to learn when to be silent - but not all of the time; they understand a child must be given the chance to express her opinion if she is to grow. Yes, suburban parents want their children to be fluent in the mechanics of language and mathematical computation - but they want their children to be able to write creative and engaging essays and apply math skills to complex problems.

I've been going off for quite some time now about the predilection of reformyists like Bill Gates and Barack Obama and Chris Christie to play up destructive education policies in public schools that their own children won't have to endure, because these folks send their kids to private schools. Shame on them for their hypocrisy.

But this is worse. It is fundamentally anti-American to espouse one type of education for poor urban children and another type for affluent suburban children. If we really, truly cared about these most-neglected and most-deserving kids, we'd be working to make their lives as much like those of their suburban peers as possible - both in and out of the classroom.

That's the real civil rights issue of our time.

ADDING: Via Diane Ravitch, here's Michael Paul Goldenberg:
But perhaps at least as important is the TYPE of education KIPP provides, the kind of teaching TFA promotes, and what that means for students. On my view, KIPP is a very regressive philosophy. It’s “work hard, be nice” mantra sounds wonderful to many people, but to me, given that KIPP is working mostly with poor students of color, it sounds very much like “get back in your place. Don’t complain. Do what you’re told.” And given that there is so much emphasis on chanting, rote, and in general the sort of bunch o’ facts education that none of its wealthy backers and cheerleaders would EVER accept for themselves or their children, it feels racist, classist, and reactionary: designed to ensure that inner-city students of color and poverty are pacified with marginal and minimal skills that will not lead them to satisfying, challenging lives with competitive salaries. Frankly, I would scream if my son were in a KIPP-style school, and so would most educated parents. [emphasis mine]
Amen. Once again, here's George Carlin preaching the truth:

They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying -- lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want -- they want MORE for themselves and less for everybody else. But I'll tell you what they don't want. They DON'T want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don't want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They're not interested in that, that doesn't help them. That's against their interests. That's right. They don't want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they're getting ****** by system that threw them overboard 30 ******' years ago. They don't want that. You know what they want? They want OBEDIENT WORKERS. OBEDIENT WORKERS. People who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork, and just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly ******** jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime, and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

America, Now You Know What NJ Is Stuck With

So last night was the big debut on the national stage for Chris Christie. I'm actually surprised at the number of poor reviews - and not just from liberals:
Fox News host Chris Wallace had nothing but nice words for Ann Romney's speech at the GOP convention on Tuesday night, saying that it was "effective" and that "everyone afterward was buzzing" about it.
But New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) convention speech? Not so much.
"I have to say, personally, I thought it was one of the most off-key keynote speeches I ever heard," Wallace said.
He noted that Christie said the word "I" 37 times, "Romney" seven times, and "jobs" one time.
"[I]t seemed sometimes as if he was promoting his own candidacy more than he was Mitt Romney's," Wallce added. "People liked the speech, but not nearly the kind of intense reaction to it and intense listening to it that there was for Ann Romney.
Understand this about Chris Christie, folks: he is an egomaniac of the highest order. It's always about him and his "courage." Those of us stuck with him weren't surprised in the least that last night's speech was so self-congratulatory.

But aside from the politics of the speech (here's a transcript), there are a few things to note:
They said it was impossible to cut taxes in a state where taxes were raised 115 times in eight years. That it was impossible to balance a budget at the same time, with an $11 billion deficit. Three years later, we have three balanced budgets with lower taxes.
We did it.
Uh, no. You only balanced the budget because you skipped pension payments, and you pushed through a law (with plenty of Christiecrats in tow) that allows you to skip full payments for seven years. You also effectively raised taxes on the poor by slashing tax credit programs. And by shifting more of the burden away from the state and toward localities, Christie has overseen a huge hike in property taxes
They said it was impossible to touch the third rail of politics. To take on the public sector unions and to reform a pension and health benefit system that was headed to bankruptcy.
With bipartisan leadership we saved taxpayers $132 billion over 30 years and saved retirees their pension.
We did it.
Uh, no. You, Governor, were a blatant liar in the 2009 campaign when you told teachers you wouldn't touch their pensions. You remain a blatant liar when you deny what you knew about the impending pension crisis back in 2009. And you haven't saved the pension system at all: it's still a mess.
They said it was impossible to speak the truth to the teachers union. They were just too powerful. Real teacher tenure reform that demands accountability and ends the guarantee of a job for life regardless of performance would never happen.  
For the first time in 100 years with bipartisan support, we did it.

Uh, no. The tenure bill was closer to the proposal of the NJEA than any other draft plan out there - including yours. In fact, most of the proposals you floated over the last two years were removed from the final law.   
We believe that the majority of teachers in America know our system must be reformed to put students first so that America can compete. Teachers don't teach to become rich or famous. They teach because they love children.
We believe that we should honor and reward the good ones while doing what's best for our nation's future — demanding accountability, higher standards and the best teacher in every classroom.
Uh, no. You have misused the good will of teachers to create an argument in favor of cutting teacher compensation. Personally, I think it's probably one of the most damaging things you've done to education.
They believe the educational establishment will always put themselves ahead of children. That self-interest trumps common sense. They believe in pitting unions against teachers, educators against parents, and lobbyists against children.
They believe in teacher's unions.
We believe in teachers.
Uh, no - you clearly hate teachers. That's why you have insulted them - not teachers unions, but teachers - over and over again.

Egomaniac, liar, promise breaker, incompetent... no wonder the GOP picked him to be their standard bearer last night. Remember:

Reformy Alert! Booker Presents Dem Platform

This is not a good sign:
Newark Mayor Cory Booker will speak at the Democratic National Convention next month in Charlotte, N.C., President Obama’s campaign announced late Thursday night.
Booker, one of a dozen speakers the Obama campaign announced, will present the party platform to convention delegates on Sept. 4. He will be joined by Retired Army Lt. General Claudia Kennedy and Rep. Barbara Lee of California.
It is unclear what time Booker will speak, but so far, he is the only New Jersey Democrat who has been given a speaking role at the convention, which will be held Sept. 3-6. Booker co-chaired the party platform committee and his speech is an extension of that leadership role.
"We have a platform that will excite not just Democrats but the nation ... and ensure that Barack Obama will be re-elected," Booker said during a C-SPAN broadcast of committee deliberations.
Teachers, parents, and advocates for public education: we are in big trouble. We know the Republicans want to dismantle public schools; however, if Cory Booker is going to present the education plank of the Democratic Platform, it's a sign that the two parties aren't very far apart. As I wrote before:
Yes, folks, Supermayor will be helping to write the planks on education.

The guy who wants to do away with seniority for teachers.

The guy who welcomed Eli Broad's money into Newark to remake the public schools with a minimum of local input.

The guy who wants more charters and more vouchers, even if they lead to segregation by income, disability, or even race.

The guy who turned Zuck's bucks into a gravy train for his friends.

The guy who said of gutting tenure: "There is no greater urgency in my city," apparently unaware of his city's soaring murder rate.

The guy who got a paid consultant in his first mayoral campaign hired as the superintendent of schools; the same superintendent who overrides the will of the citizens elected by the people to ensure a system of charters replaces public schools in Newark.

The guy who endorsed a report that threw the teachers who serve the most difficult students to educate under a bus.

Yes, folks, that Cory Booker will be helping to write the planks on education. How do you think it will turn out?
Now he's more than just writing the platform; he's the face of Democratic policy. And he's massively funded by Andrew Tisch, one of the biggest corporate education privatizers in America.

I'll say it again: I'm not throwing my vote away. Romney can't be allowed to gain the White House under any circumstances.

But when folks like "Reformy" Cory Booker are guiding Democratic policy on education, we clearly have a lot of work to do after the election.

I'm here to save you teachers and parents from yourselves!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rosie Perez Embarrasses Herself Badly

So the stars of Won't Back Down are starting their press junkets. Let the embarrassment commence, starting with Rosie Perez on Good Morning, America (no embed code; you'll have to click through to watch).

Perez says, "We have the worst education system, K through 12." Leave aside how such a sweeping statement is absurd on its face; not once in her little TV visit does Perez bother to mention that we have almost the worst childhood poverty in the developed world. It's probably too much to expect Perez to know that when you control for poverty, American children are at the top of the world.

We get a clip of WBD next, with Perez's character complaining about another teacher's poor work. Obviously, the primary difference between the educational outcomes of students in and out of poverty is their teachers, right?

Perez then says teachers "should be paid so much money," and the audience and the hosts all applaud and cheer - whoo-hoo! Uh, where you gonna get the money, Rosie? Do you think that Philip Anschutz, Walden Media's owner and producer of WBD, is hot to see his taxes raised to pay teachers more?
Though deeply unfortunate, it is also unsurprising that “Won’t Back Down” is such a false and misleading depiction of teachers and unions. Anschutz’s business partner is on record saying that he intends to use Walden Media (which also produced the equally misleading “Waiting for ‘Superman’”), as way for him to promote their values.
A look at the organizations in which Anschutz invests makes those values crystal clear. He has funded 20 organizations, including ALEC, Americans for Prosperity and the National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation. All of these groups operate against the public interest in favor of corporate interests, and all of them actively oppose collective bargaining rights and other benefits for workers. Anschutz has also invested millions in anti-gay and extreme religious-right organizations such as the Promise Keepers, whose founder declared that “homosexuality is an abomination against almighty God,” and organizations affiliated with Focus on the Family. [emphasis mine]  
Wow - I wonder what Perez thinks about that?

So, Perez makes videos supporting marriage equity at the same time she takes money to appear in movies bankrolled by notorious anti-gay activists. Nice.

Perez wraps up her appearance by juggling bananas and talking about being naked on stage.

Your American education discourse, ladies and gentlemen. There's no doubt we are in for quite a bit more of this idiocy over the next month - hold tight.

Cokie's Law and Education Reforminess

Randi Weingarten does a nice job taking down Won't Back Down, the reformy, fictional film that ignorant pundits are already using to push an anti-union agenda. I particularly liked what Weingarten has to say here:
The film features the union leader sharing a quote that anti-public education ideologues and right-wing politicians often attribute to former AFT president Albert Shanker: “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.” Despite the frequency with which corporate interests claim Shanker said this, a review of news reports, speeches, and interviews with Shanker’s aides and biographers, and even an analysis by the Washington Post, failed to find any person or report that could corroborate the statement. [emphasis mine]
Digby calls this "Cokie's Law," named after uber-Washington insider and moral scold Cokie Roberts. See, kids, some time in the 1990's, this country's punditocracy lost its freaking mind and became obsessed with stains on blue dresses and inappropriate uses of cigars. As part of the madness, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton was pilloried for allegedly saying something about her husband's psyche that she never actually said.

Roberts, supposedly a journalist, made an interesting point that most of the Beltway elite seemed to agree with: it didn't really matter what Clinton had said; all that mattered was that it was "out there."
"At this point," said Roberts, "it doesn't much matter whether she said it or not because it's become part of the culture. I was at the beauty parlor yesterday and this was all anyone was talking about."
Cokie's Law is being used to great effect within refomy circles these days. Recall that NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf claimed Shanker supported charter school expansion; too bad his widow disagrees with that claim.

Michelle Rhee said the research shows that drill-and-kill doesn't lead to higher test scores, so we don't have to worry that high-stakes testing will narrow the curriculum. Too bad the research she cites says no such thing.

And we had Chris Christie's whine that union officials were putting out a call for members to pray for his death; that, of course, never happened.

But it doesn't matter. It feels right to believe these things; that's why they're "part of the culture." Don't worry whether they're actually true; they're truthy.

And isn't that all that matters?

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What About School Boards?

While commenting on New Jersey's new tenure law, a superintendent in Passaic County makes a very good point: 
William Petrick, superintendent for the Little Falls School District, and principal for School No. 3, said the bill promises no real change.
"The bill does very little to change any superintendent who is uninspired, unmotivated, and/or too weak to exercise the means that have always been within his or her authority to document cause for termination of a bad teacher or administrator, tenured or otherwise," Petrick explained. "And it promises no real change because it's a compromise bill that waters down the original intention of the governor. But that doesn't matter because no law, not matter how well-written and intended it might be, will ever be able to address the dysfunction that plagues public education, in my opinion." [emphasis mine]
Whoa! Nice to see an administrator say what's really on his mind for a change.

Despite the hyperbole about a plague of disfunction (I really don't have to point out all the evidence that New Jersey has great schools again, do I?), he makes a compelling point: superintendents have always had the power to document poor teaching practice. If they haven't done it up until now, why assume they will start? Where is their incentive?

(Or could it possibly be that there isn't as much poor teaching as some would like us to believe?)

Continuing directly:
Petrick also commented on the legislation's easing costs for districts when it came to blocking tenure.
"Yes, it has been a very challenging and costly endeavor in the past, however, it was already our job before the legislation passed, and more of us need to do it better, sooner and more often," he added. "And many of us would if the intention of this reform legislation addressed the real source of administrative authority in every school district across the state." Petrick also referred to training school boards in what he called "methods of competent, authoritative, appropriate oversight."
"Authoritative and appropriate oversight by a well-run board of education is, I believe, the only thing that could and would ultimately improve public education in our state, because it's the only thing that can consistently inspire and compel superintendents to live up to their charge," he remarked. "I've yet to see any initiative or legislation that directly addresses the dire need for improving the training of boards of education in New Jersey. It seems to me that they are being completely left out of the equation."
Sorry, but I wouldn't say that school boards are being left out: they are at the heart of the debate about local control. The fact is that both Governor Christie and Education Commissioner Cerf do not trust urban school boards to do their bidding, which is why they are taking away as much power away from them as they can. And even though they've run into more push-back in their suburban base than they counted on, they clearly want more influence over policies there.

Cerf is an autocrat; I think he sees school boards as little more than annoyances that must be dealt with on the way to a reformy utopia.

All that said, I still think Petrick is on to something: a fish rots from the head down, and the ultimate head of a school district is its board. But charter schools and state/mayoral control and parent triggers  are moving the power that used to rest with boards to new places: unelected bureaucrats, insulated charter school boards, and partisan politicians.

Can anyone make a compelling case that this will make administrators more accountable? Is there compelling evidence that giving up the governance of democratically elected school boards leads to better educational outcomes? If so, I haven't seen it.

I'm all for better school board training, and I'm all for boards holding superintendents accountable. Petrick is correct in saying that we've spent a lot time talking about better teachers and better principals and very little talking time talking about better school boards.

But maybe that's because the reformy plan is to supersede those boards anyway.

Wars Of Attrition

Diane Ravitch has been having a bit of a battle with the charter school cheerleaders at KIPP (a battle I've happily joined). At issue is not whether KIPP's schools are "successful"; the question is whether KIPP has found the "secret sauce" that makes their teaching methods replicable on a large scale. Paul ThomasBruce Baker, and Ed Fuller have much more on this.

See, it's much, much easier to teach kids when you only teach the ones who are compatible with your system. As Gerald Coles points out, there's now a great deal of evidence that KIPP does exactly this. No one should be surprised; Matt DiCarlo rightly makes the case that, in a climate of school "choice," it's inevitable that families will choose schools that are the right "fit" for their children. Why would anyone be surprised that many children aren't the right "fit" for KIPP?

The problem is that the KIPPsters seem willing to let themselves be used to make a larger argument: that poverty doesn't matter, and all students can learn. Coles points to this op-ed from Bill Carpenter:
These are “no excuses” schools which clearly show that when given the opportunity students living in poverty can achieve. While some will say that this performance is a result of “skimming” the best from this population, all objective assessments have shown this not to be the case. Rather, the differentiating characteristic tends to be a parent who is seeking an “alternative” to the existing public school option.  Given the state of inner city education, this is hardly a criterion for differentiation but rather admiration.
Well, if KIPP only admits children whose parents sign on to its system, isn't that a form of skimming? Or is Carpenter, like Joel Klein and Arne Duncan and Chris Cerf, using isolated examples of "success" to create a logical fallacy:

Ravitch addressed the issue with a simple thought exercise, posed as a challenge: KIPP should run an entire school district. If they can overcome the effects of poverty for more than just a self-selected handful of students, we could reasonably assume that poverty does not matter after all.

The fact that KIPP has backed away from Ravitch's dare should speak volumes. But too many people have too much invested in poverty-denial; they will not go away quietly.

Which brings us to the latest reformy soldier in the War Of Attrition: Dr. Daniel Musher, an apparently brilliant researcher of infectious diseases. I say "apparently" because I am in no way qualified to judge the man's medical work; I'm an educator, and I know my limitations. Dr. Musher, however, suffers from no such boundaries; he finds himself quite capable of judging Ravitch's scholarship, and even offers some of his own:
Despite her academic title, Ravitch has a long track record of selective referencing, and she tends to cite opinion pieces rather than data. Shown in the two figures and table below are results from a published study that had no corporate sponsors and that Ravitch will never cite (Musher KK, Musher DM, Graviss EA, Strudler RM. Can an Academically Intense Educational Experience for Self-selected Students Improve Academic Performance on Objective Tests? Results from One Charter School. The Educational Forum 69:352-66, 2005).
Students from the first two grades to enroll in KIPP Houston were tested at the time of enrollment (entering fifth grade), and again at the end of fifth, sixth and seventh grades. Four subtests of the Woodcock Johnson-Revised test were administerd to one group of children (upper graph) and six tests to another (lower graph). The data show that students began at or below grade level and, three years later, were at or well above grade level. The overall increase in achievement scores was about 5.3 years during three years of schooling. The differences were highly significant, as the reader can see by referring to the original paper. [emphasis mine]
Here's the paper; yes, the title directly references the fact that KIPP's students are "self-selcted." That ought to end this discussion by itself.

But I went a little deeper and quickly read through the work. Here's the comment I left at Ravitch's blog for Musher:

Dr. Musher, I looked (quickly) at your study here:

The attrition rate of the first cohort taking the WJ-R was 37% between 5th and 7th grade. The second cohort’s attrition rate was 30%.
Yet you dismiss this quite casually in the paper. As you are not an education researcher, you may not know that attrition is one of the most important issues in determining the “success” of charters like KIPP. See:
Dr. Ravitch has commended KIPP many times for its fine schools; that’s not the issue at hand.
The real question is whether the KIPP model is replicable on a large scale. I’m sorry, but your paper does little to shed any light on this.
I have to wonder: if Dr. Musher was doing a study on the efficacy of a new vaccine for Ebola virus, would he so casually dismiss the notion that there might be a problem with a trial that excluded nearly 40% of the treatment group in the final analysis? Wouldn't he want to know why those subjects were excluded? Would he be satisfied with the company that developed the drug simply saying, "Oh, we don't exclude anyone from our trials! See, look at all these healthy people over here! The vaccine obviously works!"

So goes our eduction debate.

ADDING: The Perimeter Primate speaks from the comments:
This effort to defend KIPP is — as my daughter might declare — an “epic fail.” What is not disclosed in Dr. Musher’s comment as well as in the 2005 article published by The Educational Forum is that coauthor Karol Musher has a long, long history with the sample school. She appears in Jay Mathews book as helping with KIPP’s Houston launch and has also been a board member for KIPP Inc. (the Houston branch) for many years. According to a 2008 Houston Chronicle profile, Mrs. Musher worked as a consultant for KIPP Academy from 1995-1997 (the first KIPP school in its Houston cluster), then served on the Houston KIPP board from 1997-2002. She also appears on KIPP Inc.’s 2005 & 2006 Form 990s as Emeritus Director, but is listed as an active director on 2008 & 2009 Form 990s (EIN 133875888; returns for 2010 & 2011 not yet publicly available). Mrs. Musher is currently listed on KIPP Houston’s website as a member of its executive board.
Oh, my.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What Is Going On at CNN?

This is just crazy: CNN does a hit interview on Diane Ravitch, and then appears to delete comments from critical viewers.
As readers of this blog know, CNN posted Randi Kaye’s August 18 interview with me a week after it aired.
I heard there were about 35 comments, and they were suddenly deleted.
People started posting comments again, possibly 20 or so, and then they too were deleted.
People went back for a third round and posted the following comments.
A reader (Teresa H from Oregon) copied the entire batch of them, on the off chance that they might also disappear.  (I copied and added the last three.)
Isn’t this ridiculous?
Why is the web editor at CNN deleting your comments?
Look at the comments: over and over, people claim their previous comments were deleted. Does CNN have a limit on comments, where they expire after a day or two? If so, I can't think of another news site that runs like that.

Or do they just delete things that are critical of their anchors?

Doug Criss is a web editor for CNN; his Twitter handle is @ATLnewsman.

Meredith Artley is Vice President and Managing Editor of CNN Digital; her Twitter handle is @MeredithA.

Perhaps you would like to share with them - politely, of course - how you feel about their commenting policy.