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Tag: "education"

ITT Is No More

[ 52 ] September 6, 2016 |


One of the Obama’s administration’s signature late achievements is going after for-profit colleges.

Embattled for-profit college company ITT Educational Services, Inc. is officially shutting down its academic services, the company announced on Tuesday. Most of the 8,000 employees working for the company’s for-profit college, ITT Technical Institutes — which has about 40,000 students attending around 130 campuses in 38 states — will lose their jobs.

The shuttering of the college comes as no surprise. Last week, ITT Tech stopped enrolling students at all of its campuses after the U.S. Department of Education prohibited the company from enrolling students who rely on federal student aid. And although this was the final nail in the coffin, ITT has been dealing with increasing scrutiny of its operations for years.

Last year, the department put ITT on the heightened cash monitoring list for filing its financial information late and the Securities and Exchange Commission announced fraud charges against two ITT executives. The SEC’s director of its division of enforcement, Andrew Ceresney, claimed that the executives “made numerous material misstatements and omissions in its disclosures to cover up the subpar performance of student loans programs that ITT created and guaranteed.”

In 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued ITT for predatory student lending, arguing that the college encouraged students to take out expensive private loans that they would most likely default on. And this year, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued ITT for misleading job placement rates.

Good riddance. I feel terrible for all the people without the cultural capital to know better think that this was a good option for them and took out loans to do so.


NAACP and Charter Schools

[ 17 ] August 30, 2016 |


Above: Charter school hacks

Glad to see the NAACP come out against charter schools and the fraud that they offer African-Americans a better education.

With charter schools educating as many as half the students in some American cities, they have been championed as a lifeline for poor black children stuck in failing traditional public schools.

But now the nation’s oldest and newest black civil rights organizations are calling for a moratorium on charter schools.

Their demands, and the outcry that has ensued, expose a divide among blacks that goes well beyond the now-familiar complaints about charters’ diverting money and attention from traditional public schools.

In separate conventions over the past month, the N.A.A.C.P. and the Movement for Black Lives, a group of 50 organizations assembled by Black Lives Matter, passed resolutions declaring that charter schools have exacerbated segregation, especially in the way they select and discipline students.

They portray charters as the pet project of foundations financed by white billionaires, and argue that the closing of traditional schools as students migrate to charters has disproportionately disrupted black communities.

There’s also the many problems with how charter schools operate:

Although charters are supposed to admit students by lottery, some effectively skim the best students from the pool, with enrollment procedures that discourage all but the most motivated parents to apply. Some charters have been known to nudge out their most troubled students.

That, the groups supporting a moratorium say, concentrates the poorest students in public schools that are struggling for resources.

Charter schools “are allowed to get away with a lot more,” said Hiram Rivera, an author of the Black Lives platform and the executive director of the Philadelphia Student Union.

Charters are slightly more likely to suspend students than traditional public schools, according to an analysis of federal data this year. And black students in charter schools are four times as likely to be suspended as their white peers, according to the data analysis, putting them in what Mr. Brooks calls the “preschool to prison pipeline.”

Another platform author, Jonathan Stith, the national coordinator for the Alliance for Educational Justice, chose a charter school in Washington for one of his children because it promised an Afrocentric curriculum. But he began to see the school driving out students. It was difficult, he said, for parents to push back against the private boards that run the schools.

“Where you see the charters providing an avenue of escape for some, it hasn’t been for the majority,” he said.

Mr. Stith came to think the money would be better spent on fixing the traditional public school system.

Once again, the problem of education is the problems of poverty and inequality. If you want to improve public education, you don’t give over public monies and responsibility to private entities. You work to fix poverty. But where’s the money for that? Plus if you fixed poverty there might be room for teachers’ unions and we couldn’t have that now, could we. After all, who is more concerned about a child’s education, a Silicon Valley investor or a teacher trying to reach out to a children and pay her mortgage at the same time?

The Senate Will Really Miss Its Modern Cato

[ 92 ] August 20, 2016 |


Ron Johnson has some ideas about history education.

JOHNSON: We’ve got the internet ― you have so much information available. Why do you have to keep paying differently lecturers to teach the same course? You get one solid lecturer and put it up online and have everybody available to that knowledge for a whole lot cheaper? But that doesn’t play very well to tenured professors in the higher education cartel. So again, we need destructive technology for our higher education system.

WISPOLITICS: But online education is missing some facet of a good ―

JOHNSON: Of course, it’s a combination, but prior to my doing this crazy thing [of being in the Senate] … I was really involved on a volunteer basis in an education system in Oshkosh. And one of things we did in the Catholic school system was we had something called the “academic excellence initiative.” How do you teach more, better, easier?

One of the examples I always used ― if you want to teach the Civil War across the country, are you better off having, I don’t know, tens of thousands of history teachers that kind of know the subject, or would you be better off popping in 14 hours of Ken Burns Civil War tape and then have those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done? You keep duplicating that over all these different subject areas.

We shouldn’t have art in schools anyway because that’s for queers and communists, but if we do, let’s just show Bob Ross shows.

The Senate is really going to go downhill when Russ Feingold replaces Johnson.

Does Rheeism Work? No, Except for Crushing Unions

[ 199 ] June 3, 2016 |


Jonathan Chait wasn’t happy with my response to him last week, where I talked of his hackish Rheeist beliefs in destroying teacher unions and replacing them with charter schools. Of course, supporting these policies pays for his house since his wife is a charter school advocate, which he admitted for once.

For teacher unions and their supporters, Rhee remains the premier antagonist, where her name remains a curse word. Erik Loomis laments that the Obama administration still “believes in Rheeism.” Casey Quinlan, writing for ThinkProgress, castigates the Obama administration for citing D.C. reforms as a model. Bruce Vail has a whole article for In These Times lamenting the fact that Rhee’s successor, Kaya Henderson, has continued her policies (quotes from union sources: “[Rhee] is still here, but in the form of Kaya Henderson”; “It’s Rheeism without Rhee,” etc.)

But here is an odd thing that none of these sources mention: Rhee’s policies have worked. Studies have found that Rhee’s teacher-evaluation system has indeed increased student learning. What’s more, the overall performance of D.C. public school students on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) has risen dramatically and outpaced the rest of the country. And if you suspect cheating or “teaching to the test” is the cause, bear in mind NAEP tests are not the ones used in teacher evaluations; it’s a test used to assess national trends, with no incentive to cheat. (My wife works for a D.C. charter school.)

Does Rheeism work? Despite what Chait suggests, the evidence largely does not suggest that it does. Many studies suggest charter school students do no better or worse than public school students on standardized tests. At best, it’s probably a draw. But that’s not the only measure of whether a school is working. Like it or not, schools do more than just educate students. They also socialize and shape them over a period of thirteen years, counting kindergarten. And they really fail by those measures. These charter schools that Chait claim work so well suspend black and disabled students at rates higher than public schools. These schools have no tolerance for behavior that comes out of difficult home lives or disability and so they resource to punitive discipline. Instead, they talk about successful students having “grit,” naturalizing the problems that poor students face instead of facing the real problems students face. This is not an education system that works.

Let us also remember how often the pro-Rheeist studies prove to be methodologically flawed and influenced by the results the charter school advocates desire. Allow me to quote from my Boston Review piece on charter schools in New Orleans:

Time and again, test score fraud and false research has put the lie to many such claims about the benefits of charter schools. The Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives, Cowen’s post-presidency lobbying group that aims to turn New Orleans into a giant experiment for charters, released a 2014 report lauding its success. However, the institute soon had to completely repudiate its own report for its flawed methodology. Despite well-funded charter industry “studies” claiming improved test scores, the nonpartisan Spencer Foundation and Public Agenda has found, “There is very little evidence that charter and traditional public schools differ meaningfully in their average impact on students’ standardized test performance.” On New Orleans schools specifically, the Investigative Fund has written, “seventy-nine percent of [New Orleans] charters are still rated D or F by the Louisiana Department of Education.” Moreover, it has chronicled how the emphasis on test scores and college preparation has led charter schools to eject low-performing students who would require additional help to overcome the tremendous class and race-based barriers that impede their educational success.

Let us also remember why Michelle Rhee left her job in Washington. Her tenure as a unionbuster shoving her agenda down the throats of parents and the community was so controversial that it cost the Washington mayor his job, forcing her to resign. I guess firing principles on national television makes Rhee look tough and independent and people like Chait love that, but that is a horrible and capricious managerial style that is disastrous in the real world.

What galls me in the end is the idea that bad teachers, or more specifically, teachers unions protecting bad teachers from being fired, is the primary reason for problems in education. This just makes no sense. First, teacher unions don’t want bad teachers either. What they want is for school districts to go through contractually negotiated processes for disciplining and then firing teachers. This is to protect teachers from capricious and tyrannical management practices. And that drives privatizers nuts because their own anti-union mentality simply can’t abide that workers would have any power. Second, the problem with public schools is the intertwined curses of poverty and racism. If you want better public schools, crushing unions does nothing to help these kids. What helps them is money, both in terms of jobs for their parents and in terms of more money in their schools. Suburbanization, white flight, and now gentrification have all contributed to these problems. Anything charter schools might provide these kids is just window dressing covering up the structural issues at the heart of the problem.

Third, I fail to see the justification in the entire testing regime at the heart of the privatizers and charter school advocates. The idea that teachers primary means of evaluation should be the test scores of their students has enormous implications for both teachers and students. First, it drives good teachers out of poor schools. Why would they stay in these schools when their jobs depend on bringing kids with difficult lives up to a certain standard when they could teach in the suburbs and get there easily? Second, it means that first graders are doing test prep classes when they could be at recess, fourth graders are doing test prep when they could be in art, sixth graders are doing test prep when they could be in band. But like the anti-liberal arts bias that now pervades higher education, these reformers don’t care about recess or art or band. They want test scores. This hurts children’s lives.

And if Jonathan Chait isn’t a unionbuster, he will be totally fine with charter school teachers unionizing. If he’s not, then fundamentally his goal is unionbusting.

Chait Hates Teachers’ Unions! To the Fainting Couch!

[ 194 ] May 26, 2016 |


There must have been some future teachers in activist groups at the University of Michigan 25 years ago, because Chait is taking ill-informed and gratuitous shots at teachers’ unions, blaming them for opposing an Obama administration plan:

The policy fight in question is an Obama administration proposal to require school districts to use Title I funds to help their poorest schools more than their richest ones. (Even within a school districts, more affluent schools often spend more per child than poorer schools.) Not surprisingly, organizations like the NAACP, the Children’s Defense Fund, and the National Council of La Raza support this idea. Also unsurprisingly, Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee, opposes it. What may be surprising to some is who has joined Alexander: the two giant teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, who have signed a letter supporting Alexander.

Why would the unions oppose a plan to shift resources to poor public schools? Because one of the reasons for the disparity in funding between rich and poor schools is the structure of teacher contracts, which tie compensation to length of tenure. As Kevin Carey explains, imposing federal requirements on how districts spend money can be “disruptive” to these existing contracts. What’s more, unions have grown deeply opposed to a stronger federal role in public education. The Obama administration has used federal education funding as a lever to drive evidence-based reforms in education. And those reforms have often changed policies unions would like to keep in place — especially the longstanding practice of teacher tenure, which pays teachers on the basis of years served (rather than how well they teach), makes replacing ineffective teachers nearly impossible, and requires that layoffs be conducted on a last-in-first-out basis.

And so unions have increasingly defined their agenda as a defense of “local control” against — though they’re too delicate to use the term — big government. Diane Ravitch, the pro-teacher union activist, has written Wall Street Journal editorials repeating the “local control” mantra, and urging Republicans to roll back Obama’s reforms. On her blog, you can find Ravitch cheering on Alexander’s challenge to Obama’s education secretary, John King and hosting columns with titles like “The Federal Government Is the Enemy of Public Schools.” If they were not being made on behalf of a union, nobody would mistake these ideas for anything other than conservatism.

Chait might cry about Diane Ravitch saying mean things about Obama’s terrible education policy, but he evidently never got past the title, which is about the disaster of charter schools and No Child Left Behind. In this case, the federal government is indeed the enemy of public schools.

To say the least, Chait is misconstruing the arguments of the teachers’ unions. The argument about protecting their own contracts is not what Chait makes it out to be. It’s not as if the teachers’ unions have negotiated massively better contracts in rich school districts than in poor ones. Note where Chait plays around to make it look like the argument is about money:

Because one of the reasons for the disparity in funding between rich and poor schools is the structure of teacher contracts, which tie compensation to length of tenure. As Kevin Carey explains, imposing federal requirements on how districts spend money can be “disruptive” to these existing contracts.

This is disingenuous. If you link on the Carey piece, here’s what he writes:

Marguerite Roza, a Georgetown University scholar, has found that many districts spend up to a third less per pupil in poor schools compared with others. This can happen for various reasons: because wealthy parents unduly influence budget allocations, for example. It can also happen because most teachers are paid using collectively bargained salary schedules that reward longevity. Senior teachers tend to cluster in wealthy schools, while schools where many children are poor often churn through large numbers of novice, badly paid teachers.

But fixing such funding inequities can be expensive, as well as disruptive to longstanding arrangements of which teachers get to be in which schools. That’s why the unions, districts and state leaders wrote the letter urging Mr. King to “refrain from defining terms and aspects of the new law” — the essence of regulation — “especially as it relates to the ‘supplement, not supplant’ provision.”

This has nothing to do with money. It has a lot to do with two things Chait does not address. First, it’s about working conditions. The reality is that it’s easier for teachers to work in wealthier school districts or, more relevantly given how teacher employment works, in wealthier schools within the same district. I’m not saying it’s a good thing that experienced teachers leave poor schools for this reason, but on a personal level, who doesn’t understand this? Second, it has to do with the growing connections between test scores and employment. I and others have talked about how tying test scores to employment gives teachers additional incentive to get out of poor schools. Yet Chait doesn’t mention this at all, a policy he supports and castigates teacher unions for opposing.

It’s fine if you want to oppose the teachers’ unions on the policy question here. It’s really complicated. What needs to happen in education policy is that the pie needs to be larger, with the extra money going to poor schools. But that’s not going to happen. Chait admits the other issue, and in fact the only thing that is actually going to create equality of opportunity in education: fighting poverty.

Defenders of the status quo do have arguments, sort of. For instance, Laura Moser argued recently that teacher-tenure rules may be bad, but “the fight over teacher tenure is something of a red herring if you believe, as I tend to, that the real scourge of public schools isn’t bad teaching, but poverty and (re)segregation.” It is true that eliminating poverty, and finding a way to get rich and poor families to live side-by-side would do a great deal of good for the public-education system. But, on the off chance that this doesn’t get accomplished in the near term, the choice is to use the government to help poor students as effectively as possible in an unequal society, or leave them at the mercy of a system that is failing them.

Yes, actually, alleviating poverty is far and away the most important piece of the solution to school inequality. If Chait spent more time attacking Republicans for their many pro-poverty policies, this would be a lot more useful. Instead, he goes after unions, who are doing what unions are supposed to do, which is protect their own members. Right now, their members have some leeway to choose the school where they work. Why would they give that back in exchange for nothing but more testing and more firings for working in poor schools? I’m sure some 22 year old Teach for America kid straight out of Brown with no training can just replace those teachers!

When reading people like Chait, the question that comes to mind is, “How does he think liberal change actually takes place?” He and so many other nominally left-of-center pundits routinely define themselves as taking the most possibly left position and attacking anyone to the left of that. That’s because, I think, they have dreams of setting policy from nice offices in Washington, creating the Great Society without talking to any of the people this will affect, all no doubt while wearing great suits the likes of which they saw Don Draper wear. But if you want to create liberal policy, and if you look at the history of successful liberal policy making, what has to happen is on the ground activism. That means people in the streets, it means having buy-in from affected people, it means making deals with labor unions or even encouraging unions to take leading roles. The Social Security Act didn’t happen because FDR and Frances Perkins thought it was the right thing. The same with the National Labor Relations Act. LBJ didn’t push for the Civil Rights Act because he thought it was just good policy making. All of these things take social and political pressure from below. And people like Jonathan Chait hate the thought of that because activists can be intense and sometimes say mean things and yell a lot and might oppose you when you are a good smart college newspaper writer.

It’s not as if the teacher unions oppose better schools for poor kids. They think the Obama administration’s ideas are bad for their members. They want more money for poor schools. They don’t want to get fired for teaching in conditions that are out of their control. They reject the testing regime that is failing our students, forcing first graders to spend hours doing test-taking exercises where they once had recess and art. This is a disaster. Teachers’ unions oppose it. I think the Obama administration’s approach here is bad, as it has been on public education through its entire tenure. I think there could be compromises here–providing financial incentives for good teachers to teach in poor districts, disconnecting test scores from employment, etc. But of course, that’s not going to happen because the administration believes in Rheeism. So does Chait. They are both wrong.

Why We Need the Liberal Arts

[ 295 ] May 25, 2016 |


Danielle Allen has a long essay on the attack on civic education by proponents of vocational education who think STEM fields are the only legitimate fields. There are of course an endless number of problems with STEM-only education. One of them is that it undermines political participation and an understanding of the world in which we all live together. That’s one of the most powerful parts of the essay.

To make judgments about the course of human events and our government’s role in them, we need history, anthropology, cultural studies, economics, political science, sociology, and psychology, not to mention math—especially the statistical reasoning necessary for probabilistic judgment—and science, as governmental policy naturally intersects with scientific questions. If we are to decide on the core principles that should orient our judgments about what will bring about safety and happiness, surely we need philosophy, literature, and religion or its history. Then, since the democratic citizen does not make or execute judgments alone, we need the arts of conversation, eloquence, and prophetic speech. Preparing ourselves to exercise these arts takes us again to literature and to the visual arts, film, and music.

In other words, we need the liberal arts. They were called the free person’s arts for a reason.

To say that we need all these disciplines in order to cultivate participatory readiness is not to say that we need precisely the versions of these disciplines that existed in the late eighteenth century. To the contrary, it is the job of today’s scholars and teachers, learning from the successes and errors of our predecessors, to build the most powerful intellectual tools we can. Where their versions of the tools were compatible with preserving patriarchy, enslaving black Africans, and committing genocide against indigenous peoples, ours must not be. This revision of the liberal arts curriculum is controversial but necessary, for we want to retain the purposes and intellectual methods of the liberal arts, if not all of its content. We still need to cultivate capacities for social diagnosis, ethical reasoning, cause-and-effect analysis, and persuasive argumentation.

Given that the liberal arts are especially useful for training citizens, it should come as little surprise that attainment in the humanities and social sciences appears to correlate with increased engagement in politics. There is a statistically significant difference between the rates of political participation among humanities and STEM graduates. Data from the Department of Education reveal that, among 2008 college graduates, 92.8 percent of humanities majors have voted at least once since finishing school. Among STEM majors, that number is 83.5 percent. And, within ten years of graduation, 44.1 percent of 1993 humanities graduates had written to public officials, compared to 30.1 percent of STEM majors. As college graduates, the students are generally of similar socioeconomic backgrounds, suggesting that other distinctions must account for the difference in political engagement.

Of course, the self-selection of students into the humanities and STEM majors may mean that these data reflect only underlying features of the students rather than the effects of teaching they receive. Yet the same pattern appears in a study by political scientist Sunshine Hillygus, which controls for students’ preexisting levels of interest in politics.

Hillygus also finds that the differences in political engagement among college graduates are mirrored in K–12 education. High SAT verbal scores correlate with increased likelihood of political participation, while high SAT math scores correlate with decreased likelihood of participation. Again, since socioeconomic effects on SAT scores move both verbal and math scores in the same direction, this difference between how high verbal and high math scores affect the likelihood of participation must be telling us something about the relationship between attainment in specific subject domains and participatory readiness. Moreover, the SAT effect endures even when college-level curricular choices are controlled for. Just as Glaeser, Ponzetto, and Shleifer conclude, it is attainment in the verbal domain that correlates with participatory readiness.

Of course, there are probably zero non-STEM professors who argue that we don’t need engineers and chemists and biologists and computer scientists. We definitely need all of these people. However, a society that trains people only for these sorts of professions is a barren society, devoid of generations of human knowledge and understanding, one with real consequences for our politics and society.

Ban Devices in Classrooms

[ 145 ] May 24, 2016 |

Computers and Lecture

I routinely ban laptops in the classroom because the majority of the students aren’t going to pay attention to the lecture if they have the option to upload photos to Snapchat. I know this to be true, as if I have to attend a boring and pointless campus meeting, I am probably going to be on Twitter or reading the Times or something so that I don’t have to pay attention. But in the classroom, that option then undermines learning.

Now there is an answer, thanks to a big, new experiment from economists at West Point, who randomly banned computers from some sections of a popular economics course this past year at the military academy. One-third of the sections could use laptops or tablets to take notes during lecture; one-third could use tablets, but only to look at class materials; and one-third were prohibited from using any technology.

Unsurprisingly, the students who were allowed to use laptops — and 80 percent of them did — scored worse on the final exam. What’s interesting is that the smartest students seemed to be harmed the most.

Among students with high ACT scores, those in the laptop-friendly sections performed significantly worse than their counterparts in the no-technology sections. In contrast, there wasn’t much of a difference between students with low ACT scores — those who were allowed to use laptops did just as well as those who couldn’t. (The same pattern held true when researchers looked at students with high and low GPAs.)

These results are a bit strange. We might have expected the smartest students to have used their laptops prudently. Instead, they became technology’s biggest victims. Perhaps hubris played a role. The smarter students may have overestimated their ability to multitask. Or the top students might have had the most to gain by paying attention in class.

Of course this is just one study and I don’t really know why the smartest students would flop the most. Perhaps an overconfidence in their own abilities. But there’s no question that playing on devices in class means students aren’t learning as much. The phone issue is much harder to police, but what can you do.

Texas Education

[ 35 ] May 12, 2016 |


I didn’t really mean this to be “pick on Texas” day, but don’t blame me, blame Texas.

Remember those nice Texas history standards from a few years back that decided that slavery was a “side issue to the Civil War” and mandated that McCarthyism be portrayed in a positive light?

Well, one of the former state Board of Education members who pushed through these standards is now contributing to what seems to be the only acceptable book on Mexican-Americans on the state level, although the state did allow school districts to choose their own books. It naturally enough claims that the Chicano movement “adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.” Here’s some more nice things about it:

The former BOE member:

Cynthia Dunbar was a member of the SBOE from 2007 to 2010, in the thick of the debate over social studies standards that cemented the board’s stoogish reputation and steeped yet another generation of Texas schoolchildren in a retrograde sense of history. “No one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses,” she said in 2010, during her opening prayer for a board meeting. Dunbar’s appointee to a panel of expert reviewers recommended removing Cesar Chavez from the standards altogether.

So, it’s fair to say that Dunbar’s time on the board did not reflect a great interest in Mexican-American history. She did have some notable publishing experience on the board, though. Her 2008 volume One Nation Under God — which was released while she was on the State Board of Education — called public schooling a “tyrannical” and a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion.” The book’s back cover bears a call to action: “America needs people who know the truth, speak the truth and stand for the truth. Unfortunately, many of us are simply not aware of the clear constitutional and biblical principles that initiated and governed the course of this union.”

And the content:

What’s most notable about the text, on first glance, is how little attention is given to the history of Mexican-American people, and how much is rote retelling of the separate histories of the United States and Mexico. In a 500-page book, only the last few chapters confront civil and labor rights issues. Most is subject matter you’d expect in any U.S. history book — the Declaration of Independence, the Kennedy assassination, the Cold War.

“Every year, Mexican-American festivals feature mariachi bands and traditional Spanish dancing,” one passage reads, before going on to mention the not-quite-so-Mexican salsa, tango and rumba. “Latino celebrities in general are considered to be full of talent, drama, and appeal,” it reads. A passage on “Latin Literature” features the beloved Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez — who at least lived in Mexico — along with the Chilean-American Isabel Allende and the Brazilian Pablo Coelho, who wrote in Portuguese.

Really, they’re all the same, amiright?

Hedge Funds and Charter Schools

[ 37 ] May 11, 2016 |


This is an excellent report on how hedge fund managers have been behind the charter school movement since the very beginning. Now they are buying school board seats by overwhelming cities with campaign donations that competitors who oppose charter schools can’t begin to match. From the very beginning, the hedge fund managers have seen Barack Obama has an ally. He has definitely confirmed their faith in him.

The hedge fund industry and the charter movement are almost inextricably entangled. Executives see charter-school expansion as vital to the future of public education, relying on a model of competition. They see testing as essential to accountability. And they often look at teacher unions with unvarnished distaste. Several hedge fund managers have launched their own charter-school chains. You’d be hard-pressed to find a hedge fund guy who doesn’t sit on a charter-school board.

Consider Whitney Tilson. Straight out of Harvard, Tilson deferred a consulting job in Boston to become one of Teach For America’s first employees in 1989. Ten years later, he started his own hedge fund in New York. Soon after that, Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp took him on a visit to a charter school in the South Bronx. It was an electrifying experience for him. “It was so clearly different and so impactful,” Tilson says. “Such a place of joy, but also rigor.”

The school was one of two original Knowledge Is Power Program schools—better known as KIPP—which has since grown into a prominent charter network with nearly 200 schools in 20 states plus the District of Columbia, serving almost 70,000 students, predominately low-income and of color.

But back then, charter schools were still a rather unfamiliar novelty to most people. Tilson, however, was convinced that they were the future of education. He started dragging all his friends, most of whom were hedge fund investors, from Wall Street up to the South Bronx to see the KIPP school. “KIPP was used as a converter for hedge fund guys,” Tilson says. “It went viral.”

Many critics of the corporate education-reform movement are quick to accuse proponents of seeking to cash in on the privatization of one of the United States’ last public goods. And while there certainly are those in ed-reform circles who stand to benefit from a windfall of new education technology, testing, and curriculum services, hedge funders by and large do not fit that stereotype. Theirs is more of an ideological and philanthropic crusade, rather than a crude profit-seeking venture.

As Tilson explains it, hedge fund managers almost exclusively come from well-off backgrounds and got the best educations in the world. “I personally never knew what the situation was like for families forced to attend their local school in the South Bronx, or Brooklyn,” Tilson says. “I didn’t know of anyone who dropped out of high school or college—much less that there were high schools where half the students dropped off.”

And of course rather than blame poverty, he blamed unions, which the charter school movement has declared war upon.

Common Core Problems

[ 81 ] May 7, 2016 |


Because it is so despised by right-wingers, there’s a temptation to defend Common Core education standards. But as with so much of the education reformers’ agenda, in practice it is deeply problematic, although not usually for the reasons wingnuts have. One of the major problems is the combined issue of testing and privatization. Unfortunately, and I think this might be about to change to some extent, education this century has become about an endless cycle of testing and test-prep, to the detriment of independent thinking, real education, and fun. But who is going to grade all of these tests. Often this is contracted out to private education companies like Pearson. But do you think a corporation wants to employ a bunch of humans to do this grading? Of course not. So how are they grading writing? Through computer program. But computers are a terrible way to evaluate writing.

Here, Pearson appears to be suggesting that the robust marketplace in data-mining computer apps supplied with artificial intelligence will lead to a proliferation of jobs for ed tech entrepreneurs and computer coders, to make up for the proportional loss of jobs for teachers. This seems to be further evidence that their ultimate goal — as well of that of their allies in the foundation and corporate worlds — is to maximize the mechanization of education and minimize the personal interaction between teachers and students, as well as students with each other, in classrooms throughout the United States and abroad.

Well, the ultimate goal is profit, both personal and corporate. This is just a means to that end. But while a computer program can count big words or key words or whatever, it can’t evaluate for meaning, subtlety, originality, argument, or much of anything that actually makes up good writing. Terrible idea.

Another problem with Common Core is that it undermines good education programs that already existed in the country. Take for example Common Core and Massachusetts literature standards.

Until recently, classic literature and poetry saturated the commonwealth’s K-12 English standards. Between 2005 and 2013, Massachusetts bested every other state on the reading portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, called “the nation’s report card.” Great fiction and poetry contributed to Massachusetts’ success on virtually every K-12 reading test known to the English-speaking world.

But in 2010, Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration succumbed to the temptation of $250 million in one-time federal grant money, killing off our edifying English standards in favor of inferior nationalized benchmarks known as Common Core. These national standards – an educational gooney bird – cut enduring fiction and poetry by 60 percent and replaced it with “informational texts.”

“We could find no research to support the assertion that substituting informational texts for literature will improve students’ college readiness,” scholars Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky said in 2012. “In fact, experience suggests that exactly the opposite is likely to happen.”

By 2015, the commonwealth tied for second in the country on the eighth-grade NAEP reading test, and SAT scores were down 20 points, especially in the writing portion. Students don’t learn to write well by reading Common Core’s soul-deadening “informational texts.”

This is an irresponsible descent from established academic excellence.

“For much of the 20th century, British literature held the center of high school English and … college courses in composition, English, history, (and) linguistics …,” Bauerlein and Stotsky continue. “We find no explanation for Common Core dispensing with it.”

But again, the pushback is on the way:

For Massachusetts students, the Patrick administration and Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s legacy of shooting down better English standards in favor of Common Core has been an albatross around everyone’s necks.

Recent WBZ News-UMass polling finds that Bay State voters, by a margin of 53 percent to 22 percent, support a statewide ballot initiative to restore our previous, higher-quality K-12 academic standards.

Nationally, Common Core backer and failed Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush called the standards “poisonous,” while Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton recently said Common Core’s implementation has been “disastrous.”

As Common Core has seeped into America’s classrooms, Brookings Institution researcher Tom Loveless observed last month, “The dominance of fiction is waning. … Teachers in 2015 were less likely to embrace the superiority of fiction in reading instruction than in the past, and the change is evident in both fourth and eighth grades after 2011.”

I suppose the argument is that all states aren’t Massachusetts and so the Bay State can sacrifice some while the standards helps Alabama students achieve more. But the standards are largely terrible, corporate, and designed not for students but to serve an ideological and financial agenda. Unfortunately, politicians of both parties, especially Barack Obama, are really susceptible to this line of thinking. As I’ve said many times, the single worst part of Obama’s legacy is his awful education policy.

Teach For America Applications Declining

[ 37 ] April 30, 2016 |


Seems as if young people are starting to realize that Teach for America is a scam that puts them in educational settings for which they have no preparation in order to bust teachers’ unions, a position that might not make sense to some who want to become full-time teachers.

Applications to Teach for America fell by 16 percent in 2016, marking the third consecutive year in which the organization — which places college graduates in some of the nation’s toughest classrooms — has seen its applicant pool shrink.

Elisa Villanueva Beard, TFA’s chief executive, announced the figures in an online letter to supporters Tuesday morning, describing the steps that the organization is taking to stoke interest and reverse the trend.

“Our sober assessment is that these are the toughest recruitment conditions we’ve faced in more than two decades,” she wrote. “And they call on us all to reconsider and strengthen our efforts to attract the best and most diverse leaders our country has to offer.”

TFA received 37,000 applications in 2016, down from 57,000 in 2013 — a 35 percent dive in three years. It’s a sharp reversal for an organization that grew quickly during much of its 25-year history, becoming a stalwart in education reform circles and a favorite among philanthropists.

Teach for America now boasts 50,000 corps members and alumni; some have stayed in the classroom and others have gone on to work in education in other ways, joining nonprofits, running for office and leading charter schools. Its alumni include some of most recognized names in public education, including D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and her predecessor, Michelle Rhee.

But as Teach for America’s influence has grown, so has resistance to it. The organization — which trains prospective teachers for five weeks and demands just a two-year commitment — has drawn criticism for creating instability in troubled schools that could benefit from sustained efforts with more experienced educators.

She blamed the decline on a number of factors that are driving enrollment drops in many teacher-preparation programs, including the improving economy, which offers young college graduates more options than they had during the recession. In addition, she wrote, the public debate about education is polarized and “toxic,” driving away talented people from a profession that needs them.

“Anyone concerned with the future of our nation should be alarmed by the staggering decline in enrollment we’re seeing across the country in teacher preparation programs,” she wrote.

She tacitly acknowledged that some of the recruitment problems are due to increasingly vocal critics of TFA, including some alumni. “The toxic debate surrounding education — and attacks on organizations that seek to bring more people to the field — is undeniably pushing future leaders away from considering education as a space where they can have real impact,” she wrote.

What Will We Do to Actually Desegregate Our Schools?

[ 78 ] April 20, 2016 |


I know the answer to the above question will be “nothing.” People who can, largely white people, will continue to move to the suburbs or send their kids to private schools while people of color will attend tax-starved public schools, continuing the long cycle of racial discrimination in this country. Every white person benefits from this today and many of us contribute to it, even unintentionally. But the problem is real and more people are articulating responses to it. Matt Delmont has a new book out on the busing controversies in the North and notes how much of the busing controversy was created by the media, who reported on southern civil rights problems as a moral issue but sided with whites on northern civil rights issues. Jake Blumgart interviewed Delmont.

Q: Do you think part of the reason Northern racism was harder to expose was that it was subtler and less dramatic? There’s this whole edifice of tightly drawn school district lines where residents are able to pull down the portcullis behind them with zoning regulations. Segregation in the North relies on incredibly complex policies that were just harder to make interesting and accessible.

A: The way racism functioned in the North was much subtler. In the South it’s easy to picture how racism operated—colored drinking fountains and white drinking fountains. The system of Jim Crow segregation was so visible. It was still incredibly difficult to overturn that system, but it was easier to visualize. For Northern white citizens and white politicians, the way their schools and neighborhoods were structured was just normal, they didn’t know or chose not to understand that it wasn’t just a matter of white families choosing to live in white neighborhoods and black families in black neighborhoods. There was a whole history of mortgage redlining, zoning decisions, public housing discrimination, and real estate discrimination that created those separate neighborhoods. But the subtlety of that allowed white people to just see it as common sense, just how our neighborhood and schools should be.

It’s easier for them to say, and mean, well, these are our neighborhood schools, this is our property, and we want to protect those things and lobby for zoning restrictions that reflect that. It made it easier because it they believed it to be an innocent thing that just happened and it gave them a language to be able to argue against school desegregation that resonated powerfully and didn’t seem racist.

Delmont concludes:

One of the goals in my book is to get people to think about the fact that schools are still segregated many decades after Brown v. Board because of intentional choices that politicians and parents and school officials made. In regards to school zoning, school financing, and student assignment, those were intentional things that happened. If we want to have a different set of outcomes in the future and have meaningful school integration in terms of race and socioeconomic status we have to make different choices. It wasn’t inevitable that Brown was going fail as it did and it wasn’t inevitable that schools were going to be segregated the way they are now. Those were choices that people made and continue to make. To have different outcomes, we need to have different choices.

We do have to make different choices. One of those choices may well mean committing to contributing to the solution of de facto segregation and then acting on it. Another solution may be a return to busing. That’s what Sean Riley, who was a bused student as a child and now teaches in the Seattle public schools calls for in response to the growing segregation of the city’s schools. He notes that busing worked in many ways, even though white people of course took advantage of it to dominate it for their own purposes. It led to better test scores for minority students, created a more inclusive city, and spawned a greater desire for integration throughout other facets of urban life. But that era ended, Seattle got rich, and the age of testing took over. That’s helped destroy what was good about diversified education in Seattle.

We must prioritize getting different kinds of young people working and learning together again. Therefore, we must prioritize reintegration.

First off, the Seattle Public School District—a district that currently disciplines black kids four times more often than whites—must immediately increase professional development around culturally responsive and socially just instruction. When schools resegregate, staff stagnate. We must ensure that classrooms use all students’ identities and knowledge as entry points. It takes incredible skill and openness to develop these abilities, and Seattle needs to commit serious resources to the work.

Seattle teachers should also blaze the trail on creating cross-district and inter-district collaborations. There is evidence, from groups such as Narrative 4 in New York City, that writing projects between disparate groups of students generate radical empathy, develop cultural flexibility, and nurture authentic writing skills. Writers in the Schools (WITS) and I are currently developing a collaborative writing project between Blaine and South End middle schools. As Seattle continues to segregate, these projects should extend beyond our district’s borders. Seattle Public Schools should look into applying for federal grant money to facilitate this work.

In the long-term, I propose something called the Seattle Civics Academy. Pulling students from all over the district, this would be a semester-long program that all Seattle high-school students would participate in at some point in their school careers. They would get to choose when, but no student could opt out—the overwhelming flaw in Seattle’s integration plan. Five days a week, all day long, students from across the city would attend completely inclusive classes that examine race, class, and gender through the lenses of math, language arts, and other disciplines. Teachers highly trained in socially just and culturally responsive teaching would emphasize and promote communicating across differences and fighting for a more just city and society. Each semester’s cohort would create an activism project to improve the city and its citizens’ lives. Such work would break down isolation, facilitate access to power, and promote harmony and empathy. Frankly, I also believe it would be fucking awesome.

Of course, Riley also understands the class dimensions of this–that Seattle can talk all it wants to about racial inclusiveness and support bringing in Syrian refugees but they will all end up in south King County because they can’t afford to live in Seattle. But we have to move forward to creating more integrated schools in very real ways. When wealthy people move to the suburbs or stay in the cities and find ways to put their kids in all (or almost) white private schools or push black students out of their schools because their parents can’t afford to live in a gentrified city any longer, they contribute to racial discrimination. This may not be intentional, but that’s how white privilege works. White privilege must be fought, including and especially by ensuring that all students have equality of opportunity at school. Separate but “equal” is a terrible thing, whether that is the de jure schools of 1954 the de facto schools of 2016.

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