Excerpt From an Open Letter to Arne Duncan from Herb Kohl
We have come far from that time in the '60s. Now the mantra is high expectations and high standards. Yet, with all that zeal to produce measurable learning outcomes we have lost sight of the essential motivations to learn that moved my students. Recently I asked a number of elementary school students what they were learning about and the reactions were consistently, "We are learning how to do good on the tests." They did not say they were learning to read.
It is hard for me to understand how educators can claim that they are creating high standards when the substance and content of learning is reduced to the mechanical task of getting a correct answer on a manufactured test." (Summer 2009)
Laurie, in response to R. Weingartner, On Point, 1/26/10
Merit pay is an issue that is closely associated with charter schools and is a reiteration of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Basically, it requires that teachers pay be based on how well their students perform on standardized tests. For our students, it could be the new MAP test. With the No Child Left Behind Act, teachers and staff were pressured to teach much of the class work to the standardized tests. With so much focus on the test, many other parts of knowledge building, creativity and understanding of subjects and their synthesis with other knowledge had to take a back seat. For many students, teaching to a test meant that they were not able to reach their full potential which would have been far beyond the level of the tests.
No one wins in this situation.
Part of the fallout also is that if a teacher's pay is based on how well their students test, many teachers will want to teach in a school where they know that the students will perform well. Those schools are, for the most part, not the schools that are predominately minority in population.
Some students do not perform well on standardized tests for many different reasons and yet a teacher's pay can be tied to that student's performance. High stakes testing also puts pressure and stress on the students who become burdened with the thought that they need to perform well on one test. The test becomes a focus with little opportunity to explore and have fun learning, creating and synthesizing new thoughts and ideas.
Update: The Governor of Texas has decided to opt out of the Race to the Top funding because of the ineffectiveness of the merit pay program that was in effect for three years inthe state.
Update: March 8, 2010 Principal to be removed from school in Wasington State due to low WASL scores.
What Is a Charter School?
A charter school can expel any student that it doesn't believe fits within its standards or meets its level of expectation in terms of test scores. If the student is dropped off the rolls of the charter school, the money that was allotted for that student may or may not be returned to the district at the beginning of the next year. That is dependent upon the contract that is established by each district.
Also, according to a recent (June 15, 2009) study by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), charter schools do not necessarily perform any better than public schools. In fact, 37 percent performed worse. Forty-six percent demonstrated "no significant difference" from public schools. Only 17 percent of charter schools performed better than public schools.
The Broad Foundation
The Broad Foundation claims to be a philanthropic organization, created by billionaire Eli Broad.
The Broad Foundation supports privately run charter schools and actively develops a system of charter schools in urban areas.
Broad claims it engages in "venture philanthropy":
"Our Approach to Investing: Venture Philanthropy. We take an untraditional approach to giving. We don't simply write checks to charities. Instead we practice 'venture philanthropy.' And we expect a return on our investment."
Many of us have discovered the Broad Foundation's presence within SPS and are requesting an explanation for why it is here and what its' objectives are.
Seattle has three "Broad Residents", and two Broad graduates now working within SPS. One of them is our superintendent who is a graduate of the Broad Academy which trains superintendents, and is also on the Broad's Board of Directors.
Another Broad graduate and a onetime Broad resident in SPS, Brad Bernatek, is now Director of REA, Research, Evaluation and Assessment within SPS. That department is responsible for student statistics including enrollment, demographics, evaluation and standardized testing.
The Broad Foundation provided Dr. Payzant, also a Broad graduate, to be a part of our superintendent’s yearly review in 2009.
Broad recently gave SPS a $1M "gift." That money is now in the hands of the Alliance for Education and no one knows how the money is being spent.
All in all the Broad Foundation has been quite generous to the Seattle Public School system and as Eli Broad states himself, he expects a return on his investment.
Broad also supports and actively promotes mayoral control of school districts. Eli Broad's preferred model of mayoral control means that the mayor selects the school board members and superintendent who are therefore unelected and are beholden only to the mayor, not the people of the city. It then becomes a school district that is run by one person, the mayor, with heavy influence by the Broad Foundation through developed relationships with that individual.
Update: A Detroit School District employee found accepting money from the Broad Foundation.
"Let the games begin: Detroit Teachers vote to unanimously join the current Detroit Public School District in their suit against Robert Bobb".
Update: The Broad - Rhode Island connection.
Rhode Island has had the dubious distinction of making national news recently for the draconian firing/scapegoating of an entire school of teachers. Is it a coincidence that the new education commissioner for R.I., who is pushing the state to do whatever it takes to qualify for federal "Race to the Top" dollars, is a "Broad Superintendents Academy" graduate, Deborah Gist?
Dollars and Sense
What the Gates Foundation Is Doing: The MAP Test
The Gates Foundation supports, and pays for, high stakes testing which is tied to merit pay.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given Seattle Public Schools a total of $9M this year for additional testing. We have not been able to find out the details of this testing yet. We don't know what the test is, what the test is to determine, who is administering the test and how the results of the tests are to be used.
UPDATE: We have heard that the Gates "gift" is funding the new computerized, standardized "MAP" tests the district is administering this year to all students, from as young as kindergarten to grade 9. MAP stands for "Measures of Academic Progress™" (yes, it is a trademarked product) and will be administered to the kids three times during the school year. The test can take as much as two hours each session, according to the district's official announcement letter.
A number of questions come to mind: Is this the best use of the students' school time? Is it appropriate to make children as young as five who can't read take a standardized test on a computer? Is this the best use of such funds? Or would parents, students and teachers prefer to see money channeled more directly to the classroom, to create smaller class sizes, more enrichment opportunities, or to purchase new textbooks?
A SIDE NOTE: Another interesting connection is that our superintendent, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, is on the Board of Directors for the company that has created and distributes the MAP test. There is $4.3M in the levy to pay for additional use of this MAP test in Seattle.
Regarding Arne Duncan's Renaissance 2010
Most of the new experimental schools have eliminated the teacher union. The Commercial Club hired corporate consulting firm A.T. Kearney to write Ren2010, which called for the closing of 100 public schools and the reopening of privatized charter schools, contract schools (more charters to circumvent state limits) and "performance" schools.
Kearney's web site is unapologetic about its business-oriented notion of leadership, one that John Dewey thought should be avoided at all costs. It states, 'Drawing on our program-management skills and our knowledge of best practices used across industries, we provided a private-sector perspective on how to address many of the complex issues that challenge other large urban education transformations.'
Duncan's advocacy of the Renaissance 2010 plan alone should have immediately disqualified him for the Obama appointment."
Henry Giroux & Kenneth Saltman,
Obama's Betrayal of Public Education?
Alternative Schools in Seattle
At this time, the alternative and nontraditional schools in Seattle are basically under siege. Many schools have been closed, marginalized or split apart, including the Accelerated Progress Program (APP) for highly gifted kids, the Center School, Nova, Summit, the African American Academy, SBOC and AS-1. There is also a plan for an Alternative School Audit by SPS in October, 2009.
We see these alternative programs as viable options to the traditional school approach to education. For this reason many of us believe that with the support of these programs, there is no need for privatized charter schools.
Governor Gregoire and our state representatives are speaking to Arne Duncan about our alternative schools and that they meet the requirement of charter schools and should be considered in providing Race to the Top funds to our state.
Meg Diaz, a parent, did a brilliant presentation to the school board in January regarding the school closures, the demographics of Seattle and why it didn't make sense to close the schools.
Unfortunately, the school board paid no attention to Ms. Diaz or their own reports and instead chose to believe the numbers presented by the superintendent's CFO, Don Kennedy who previously worked with our superintendent in Charleston, and Brad Bernatek our Broad graduate and Director of REA, Research, Evaluation and Assessment who also handles the demographic data for SPS.
Two schools were closed that, per their own report, would see an increase in school aged children of anywhere between 31%-100% between 2008 and 2012. See page 11 of the DeJong report titled "Seattle Public Schools: Enrollment Projections Report". Those two schools were TT Minor Elementary School and Meany Middle School.
After the closures, Ms. Diaz decided to investigate the administrative cost within the Stanford Center and came up with surprising results. While the superintendet was rifing teaches and staff and closing schools, staff was growing within the Stanford Center and particularly in our superintendent's office where yet another Broad graduate was hired as one of the superintendent's administrative assistants.
Posted on October 6, 2009: The new assignment plan just came out and the proposal is to re-open five school buildings. Between closing five school buildings, shuffling students to different schools and now proposing the re-opening of five buildings within a year's time speaks volumns about the lack of competency of our superintendent and her chosen staff.
We have now wasted money closing five schools, moving students, equipment and materials around just to re-open five school buildings.
The cost of re-opening five of these buildings is as follows:
Sand Point: $7M
Old Hay: $7.5M
Mc Donald$: $14.9M
Rainier View: $7.4M
Total so far: $47.8
The superintendent, along with the school board, plan to take the next capitol levy money, BEX III, to be voted on in 2010 that was to go to the maintenance and seismic upgrades of our school buildings, which would make them safer, and instead use the money to re-open these previously closed buildings.
The decision to close schools last year and close or relocate programs came down from our superintendent's office quickly and there was little time for debate or understanding of what the ramifications would be. It is my opinion that again, we need to have time to evaluate what cost can wait and how these cost can be phased so that we can not only make our existing buildings safer but also provide adequate space for all of our students.
There is also stimulus money that other school dristricts have been able to acquire to upgrade their school buildings through FEMA grants. These grants, part of a Disaster Mitigation Fund, are being used to make school buildings safer. I had presented this information to the school board and superintendent but no action was taken at the time.
I will provide updates on the effort to once again get SPS to pay attention to this opportunity.
Please send comments or ideas to us or share your opinions below. We want to hear from you. All positive and constructive input is of value.
Priscilla Gutierrez, Huffington Post comment
In the current national discussion about education reform, the loudest voices are not necessarily those of the people who are directly affected by what happens in our schools – the students, parents, teachers and school communities themselves.
We are parents with children in public schools. These are our kids, their teachers, our schools. And we would like to be heard.
What’s more, the message coming from the current league of reformers is largely negative, much talk about what’s wrong with our schools, but little discussion of what public schools and teachers are doing right, and what they could do even better if given full support.
Can our public schools be improved? Absolutely. But that begins with fully funding our schools and believing they can work.
We believe they can, when given the chance.
We also believe that too many of the latest proposed education reforms are too punitive and are not changes for the better.We believe there are valuable aspects of public education worth preserving and supporting, beginning with the very principle itself – free public education for every child in the country. We believe this has always been a noble goal and one that we’re not willing to give up on.
So we have created a Declaration of Support for Public Schools.
We invite others across the nation who share our vision for public education to sign on to our statement, to send a message to the president, education secretary and school district officials throughout the country.
The message is simple:
Let’s fix what’s broken, but don’t break what isn’t.
And do not impose detrimental changes on our schools and children in the name of “reform.”
Sue Peters, Dora Taylor
Seattle Public Schools parents
Thursday, July 15, 2010
I came across a Seattle magazine article from 2008 the other day called “Hot Button: Math Problems.” It said that Seattle Public Schools math teachers are being forced to exactly replicate what someone in Japan has deemed a “perfect lesson” right down to where they must stand in the classroom.
“The district is also trying to improve teaching methodology. [Seattle Public Schools’ K-12 math program manager Rosalind] Wise wants her math teachers to take advantage of all the new information about how to teach. For example, next year in every middle school, one math teacher will work with a “math coach” to develop a monthly “perfect math lesson,” in which everything, from the concept to where the teacher stands, is planned. Then this lesson will be taught in front of all the other math teachers in a “studio classroom,” so they can see it and copy it. This approach has been adopted from a Japanese model with the idea of standardizing instruction and giving teachers a precise and well-thought-out plan for teaching.” – Bob Geballe, Seattle Magazine
The fact that this lesson comes from Japan which recently unveiled the first fully automated robot teacher might make one wonder if teach-bots might well be the ideal of certain “education reformers” who seem to have such disdain for living and breathing teachers and, indeed, call them “human capital” instead of human beings. Robots aren’t likely to form unions, ask for fair working conditions and rights, will never need to take a leave of absence for illness or a sick child, and they can surely be programmed to stand wherever anyone wants them to all day long if need be!
Such authoritarian micromanaging of a professional individual is pretty bizarre.
It’s also laughable.
Sure, there is some pedagogical, experiential wisdom applicable to teaching, but so much of what goes into good teaching is not so readily measurable -- and certainly not determined by where a teachers stands in the classroom.
Teaching demands a great deal of a person -- heart, mind, theatrics, management skills, quick thinking, a love of children, a love of knowledge, structure to keep things in order and a degree of predictability, as well as flexibility when a changing situation merits it, creativity and the ability to provide guidance that does not stifle the creativity of a child.
Teaching is not a profession one enters if one wishes to be rich or lazy. Most public school teachers work long hours, buy supplies out of their own money and are not paid as well as people in other fields.
Yet there are some who are taking aim at our teachers right now. Ganging up on them, in fact, in the guise of “education reform.” Though they have no teaching experience themselves, these powerful or wealthy individuals and their allied organizations are telling teachers what to teach, how to teach, even where to stand in the classroom. They want to test students every chance they get and measure teachers' worth by those standardized, computerized tests. They want to tie teachers' pay to these test scores, regardless of whether the child is learning in ways that can’t be measured by tests, and punish teachers financially if children don’t test well, regardless of what else may factor into a child’s test scores.
I guarantee that this approach will stifle the very magic and soul of teaching.
And it will fail.
Here’s why: Teaching is an art – not a computer app. The so-called “reformers” apparently do not understand that simple yet profound fact. By art, I mean it is a mastery that comes from a deft weaving of multiple skills that cannot be summarized in bullet points or PowerPoints or measured by computerized tests.
How, for example, do you measure that “Aha!” moment when a child understands something for the first time? It will never show up in on an SAT or WASL – or the new MAP (trademarked) tests that all Seattle public schools kids are being forced to take, even in kindergarten. But those moments are the real measure of successful teaching.
Here in Seattle, a Washington DC-based enterprise that calls itself “the National Council on Teacher Quality” issued a “report” late last year allegedly assessing Seattle’s public schools’ 3,300 teachers. They were invited here quietly by the Alliance for Education, a local enterprise which claims to be a fundraiser for Seattle’s public schools, but clearly is involved in much more of the school district’s workings than benign gift-giving (as some local parents have figured out).
In fact, it is not clear why the Alliance invited this politically connected, privately funded operation to bring its services to our district. Surely the $14,000 price tag of this report is money that could have been better spent in the classrooms. A number of Seattle parents made this very point in the blogs and on the Seattle Times’ site.
Might this report have something to do with influencing the teachers’ contract that is up for renewal this year?
The NCTQ’s claim that this "report" was done on behalf of the 46,000 kids of SPS is quite plainly false. No children asked NCTQ to turn its hypocritical inquisition lamp on their teachers.
They claimed that they are here to tell the district how to manage its “human capital’’ –i.e. its teachers. “Human capital”? That’s a very revealing statement about how operations like NCTQ view teachers.
NCTQ recently wrote a report for Colorado public schools with advice on how that state could qualify for federal "Race to the Top" funds. Unfortunately President Obama’s Education Secretary and hoops buddy, Arne Duncan, has a very mixed record from his tenure as "CEO" of Chicago's public schools, but is pushing two main demands on states—charter schools and merit pay for teachers.
One of these demands is to allow privatization of our public schools via charters. Another is to force “merit pay.” What does that mean? Someone will decide that some teachers should be paid more than others most likely based on student test scores. Who is going to want to teach the struggling students, the students with dyslexia or A.D.D., the underprivileged kids, the ones whose abilities won’t register on a standardized computerized test? Who will want to or be able to teach children with their heart and soul if the only thing that will matter and keep their job is a test score? They will teach to the test and the magic will be gone.
Which brings me to the NCTQ “report.”
Of all the issues and concerns facing my kids in Seattle Public Schools, whether my kids’ teachers take a Monday or Friday off for sick leave is not one of them.
And yet, in its so-called “report,” NCTQ goes to great lengths to outline and graph which teachers in which schools took sick leave, and how, for some reason, sick leave is bad and, by the way, shouldn’t be allowed on Mondays or Fridays. I guess a Seattle Public Schools teacher who has a child who contracts Swine Flu on Monday or Friday, is out of luck.
The presumption underlying much of this “report” is that these professionals are a bunch of lazy, untrustworthy cheats who need to be badgered and punished.
Higher on the list of my — and many parents’-- concerns are: Class size. My child is one of 29 this year. We have a superintendent who has cited some unnamed study that says class size don’t matter, all you need is a brilliant teacher.
First, show me the study. Actually, forget the study; any parent would rather have their child receive 1/20th of their teacher’s attention rather than 1/29th of it. It’s plain common sense and one of the chief reasons some families choose private schools over public – smaller class sizes and greater individual attention. (And perhaps the reason Seattle's School Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson chose to send her own child to the highest funded school in the system, which touts smaller class sizes.) It’s a no-brainer. In fact, I’ll counter with another study that shows that class sizes do matter: “Smaller is Better : First-hand Reports of Early Grade Class Size Reduction in New York City Public Schools” (Also see: Class Size Matters)
So why did Seattle’s school superintendent lay off over 165 teachers last year when enrollment is up 1,200? Why does Seattle have larger classes when voters voted for funds to create smaller class sizes?
Also on the list: Everyday Math – where to begin? It’s quite clear that schools and teachers are trying their best to work through and around this poor unclear textbook and its idiotic “spiraling” sequence. WASL math scores are down since the district adopted EDM, so why are we continuing on this path to failure? (Last year the district voted to adopt the controversial high school textbook in the same problematic series, Discovering Math, and is being taken to court for it.) And where are the resources to teach Singapore Math, which the district also voted to adopt but has neglected?
Why are our children being sent to learn in seismically unsafe buildings that the district has failed to maintain? Why don’t ALL schools in the district offer the same amount of enrichment? How can Seattle’s proposed new student assignment plan be equitable when not all the schools are equitable? Why does Seattle have one of the largest central administration budgets and staff in the entire state of Washington? (See SPS parent and analyst Meg Diaz’s report on the district’s budgetary shell-game: “Central Administration Efficiency in Seattle Public Schools”) How can we protect Seattle’s many strong schools and programs against the corrosive influences of privatization?
I’m very concerned to read in the Diaz Report that Seattle School District has one of the largest, overstaffed central administration offices in the state. A state audit last year found SPS 39% overstaffed. Why can’t we parents demand an instant cut there, and tell them to bring back our teachers?
Those are the sorts of educational concerns on my mind.
Yet the so-called “education reformers” would have us all believe that the only issue that matters, the one cause for all that ails public schools is not chronic underfunding or district mismanagement, but teachers. They would have you believe they are the number one reason a child may be failing in school. (See “Gates Foundation gives $335M for teacher quality” by Donna Gordon Blankinship. Although Gates really ought to read the recent analysis by Vanderbilt University's National Center on Performance Incentives that found that merit pay doesn't work, before he throws more money at this dubious "reform." See: Study: Texas' teacher merit pay program hasn't boosted student performance, Dallas Morning News, Nov. 9, 2009)
In the process of fomenting their case, the reformers tend to humiliate and demonize teachers and try to rally parents to do the same. (I’ve witnessed ‘pro-reform’ local elected officials shamefully do this in Seattle). And their end goal is clear: they want to weaken the teacher’s union, exert more control over teachers, hire cheaper, younger teachers (Teach for America style), and then open privately run charters in our public school systems, diverting public funds into private hands. They may claim they want to “close the achievement” gap, but their solutions are not accomplishing that. A teacher’s union that advocates for fair pay, non-capricious treatment of teachers and job security is an obstacle to the education reformers’ agenda.
They reveal their bizarre corporatist – and dehumanizing – bias when they use terms like “human capital” to describe our children’s teachers. I guess we should expect no less from this group of reformers who also refer to our children as “customers.” (A closer look at their schemes would indicate that they actually think of our kids as “products.”)
The reformers claim to be focused on “closing the achievement gap.” But what causes the gap is far more complicated than what their “solutions” address.
Are any of these other factors being addressed by the likes of NCTQ?:
Socio-economics? Parental involvement? Inept or corrupt school district? Bad curriculum? Hunger? Poverty?
No, none of these matter, according to the “National Council on Teaching Quality” along with the Broad Foundation and the Gates Foundation and all the other “philanthropists” with an agenda.
“Education reform” as it is currently being defined should be filed alongside “Welfare Reform.” i.e. a punitive curtailing of rights and assistance to the most needy amongst us pursued by people in political power with an agenda disguised as an effort (by mostly privileged people of non-color) to help the underprivileged. It is a misleading term, to say the least.
“Education reform” as defined by Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Eli Broad and co, leads to excessive standardized computerized testing, uniformity of curriculum that quashes creativity, and a punitive approach to learning.
Seattle Public Schools’ motto under the current (Broad Foundation boardmember) superintendent: "Excellence for all. Everyone achieving. Everyone accountable. No excuses.”
Is it a coincidence that a particularly disciplinarian model of private charter schools, Mastery Charters shares this motto: “Excellence. No excuses.”
Who is making up excuses?
You can see where their expectations are. They expect our children and teachers to shirk their duties and make up excuses. Our teachers, one of the most hard-working and underpaid group of professionals in the country. Our children, who will live up to whatever expectations we give them if nurtured properly.
Something is terribly askew here.
The funny thing is, reformites like Gates and Broad et al (a number of whom have never attended nor sent their children to public schools) are so clearly clueless about what goes into teaching and what makes a good teacher. It is a collaborative, cooperative profession -- not one that will produce good results if the focus is merely test scores and getting more money than the teacher in the next room.
I believe such "reforms" will ultimately fail because of this lack of intuitive knowledge of the teaching profession. But they may do some serious damage along the way. Which is why Washington State and Seattle should not capitulate to the demands of Race to the Top nor heed the questionable and purchased “analysis” of politically motivated operations like NCTQ.