Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Race to the Top winners announced:

STOP THE PRESSES!!!  It is pure genius for Duncan to only select two states as first round RTTT winners, as 20+ states will now scramble to implement reforms like these two. 

Regarding the two states that won, both of which had strong union support, my initial reaction was, "Ugh! This empowers the unions to block reforms." But I was wrong: yes, it gives them veto power, but if they use it to water down reforms, their state won't win, and they will rightly be blamed, so it really puts HUGE pressure on them. Brilliant!

Sure, some state and city unions are very militant and won't budge – but not all of them are, so RTTT creates a counter-weight to their internal politics (which is usually very focused on job security above all else, even protecting horrible teachers) and thus real change will likely happen in many states (sadly, I suspect not DC or NY).  

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Here’s DFER’s press release:

Now That's A Race!

With the selection of only 2 states – Delaware and Tennessee – today as first round winners, the U.S. Department of Education removed any lingering doubt as to whether the Race to the Top would be about real and fundamental education reform.

Or as Vice President Joe Biden might say, this is a big F-ing deal!

No one can question that these two states were among only handful that passed laws, implemented new regulations, and built strong grass roots coalitions in support of their efforts.

 "This is a landmark day in federal education policy, no doubt about it," " said Charles Barone, Director of Federal Policy.

"None of us was completely sure that policy would triumph over politics, that the interests of students would trump those of adults," Barone said. "By keeping the bar high, and by resisting enormous political pressure to spread race to the top funds around, the Administration has sent a clear message that adults will have to put the interests of children first if they want federal school reform funds."

Democrats for Education Reform has made no secret that we consider Tennessee and Delaware to be among our favorites as Race the Top worthy applicants (see our widely-read RTTT summaries over the last year at

Tennessee held two special legislative sessions, first in June to remover its charter schools caps, and next in January to pass into law a rigorous teacher evaluation system that makes student achievement count for at least 50%, and to take decisive action in low performing schools.

Delaware came in with a strong reform coalition and a record as one of the states with the most success in closing achievement gaps over the last decade. Its application took its reforms to the next level by requiring teachers and principals to show growth in student achievement as a condition for being evaluated as "effective," and requiring states to implement "Partnership Zones" to intervene decisively in chronically failing schools.

There are at least three lessons for those states that did not compete successfully this round. In states like Florida and Louisiana, which had incredibly strong applications with bold reforms, but weak stakeholder support, the message is primarily to special interests: you are what stands between the good ideas your state put forward, and real change coupled with real resources in your state. Join in that effort, or at the very least, get out of the way.

For states with promising applications that need work, the message is this: you are going to have to redouble your efforts and respond to the areas that raters felt fell short.

And, finally, if there was any doubt, whether you applied or not, that you might be able to do the bare minimum and still get hefty package of federal school reform funds, the message couldn't be clearer: time to suit up, get in shape, and hit the ground running for Round 2. It's not enough to fake it. You're going have to make it.

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Local Buy-In Helps Two States Win Race to Top

Here's a lengthy Ed Week article about it, with a nice quote from DFER's Charles Barone:

Putting so much money up for grabs in round two "sets up the best possible dynamics for states," said Charles Barone, the director of federal legislation for the New York City-based political action committee Democrats for Education Reform. He noted that states now have the added benefit of seeing peer reviewers' comments, which will provide a road map for winning in round two.


Local Buy-In Helps Two States Win Race to Top

By Michele McNeil and Lesli A. Maxwell, Ed Week

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Delaware, Tennessee 'win' educational grants

Barone is also quoted in this USA Today article:

"There's been more action, real action, in the last year than in any time I can remember," says Charlie Barone of Democrats for Education Reform. The two winning states have done "all the things that people say you should do that aren't sexy."


Delaware, Tennessee 'win' educational grants


By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

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Here’s a web site to pressure NY to step up on RTTT:

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Repeat: Put children first

A great Washington Post editorial:

Repeat: Put children first

Monday, March 29, 2010

AN AGREEMENT has been reached that will allow a high-performing charter school to continue its critical work in Baltimore. But the good news -- that the teachers union softened its demands -- raises the question of why this ever was allowed to become an issue. How come Maryland gives special interests the power to undermine student interests? And isn't it time lawmakers change a policy that makes it hard for charter schools to be effective?

The KIPP Ujima Village Academy, the most successful public middle school in Baltimore, had to cut back its hours this year and lay off some staff because it couldn't afford union demands that it pay teachers an extra 33 percent for working more hours than other city teachers. KIPP officials threatened to pull out of the city, because the longer hours and Saturday academies that were key to the school's success in lifting the performance of inner-city children had become targets of the outlandish demands of the Baltimore Teachers Union.

That threat got national attention and, to the credit of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, the two sides ended up at the bargaining table. The agreement announced this month provides for extra pay to teachers of 20.5 percent, a figure more in keeping with what other KIPP schools provide. The union's concessions are commendable. But we can't help but lament the valuable instruction time that has been lost this year or wonder what happens in a year when -- outside the glare of publicity -- the agreement must be renegotiated.

The real problem is the law requiring charter school teachers to belong to the union in their school districts and be subject to local contracts. Maryland is one of the few states with such an unreasonable requirement, and the result is the loss of autonomy that is central to the ability of charters to design environments that support student needs. It's clear from the timid education initiatives of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), and from their further dilution by the General Assembly, that the state's dominant Democrats are not inclined to do anything to rile organized labor in an election year. That means Maryland will continue to have one of America's worst charter school regimes.

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Calling Andy Stern

A must-read post by James Merriman:

Calling Andy Stern

by James Merriman on March 29, 2010

On Friday afternoon, unionized teachers, staff and leaders at The Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights took a long subway ride after school let out to picket and march.  No story there—union members are no stranger to collective action.  The twist here is that they marched in front of UFT headquarters at 52 Broadway, protesting the UFT's anti-charter school policies. Union members marching against their own union is a rare sight indeed, particularly when it is a group of teachers and staff who deeply and profoundly believe in the ideals of unionism. 

The Renaissance teachers have been betrayed by their own union. Despite paying dues—and maybe even more importantly, embodying the very essence of teacher voice deployed in the furtherance of student achievement (and not just their own paychecks) that the UFT always talks about—the UFT has more or less told Renaissance's teachers to eat cake:  the UFT backed last year's unfair, disproportionate double cut funding freeze on charter schools; and despite promises from its former President, it refuses to advocate on these teachers' behalf this year.  Moreover, the UFT has been the prime impetus behind ensuring that charter schools do not access public space and that charter school growth is limited so as not to threaten the union's political power.  This, despite the fact that the funding freeze will hurt the schools that are unionized far more immediately and grievously.

It's not that the UFT hates its unionized members.  It doesn't—at least as long as they are quiescent and willing to take one for the team.  Rather, it's a simple matter of numbers and political clout.  Michael Mulgrew gets elected by the hundreds of thousands of members who either dislike or don't care about charter schools; Renaissance and other unionized teachers in charters can't match those numbers. And elections are nothing if not numbers games.  As that old saying goes:  "It's just business." Or, as Michael Mulgrew has consoled them—no worries, they can always raise private funds.

As I have watched the teachers unions ignore their members, here and upstate, it occurs to me that maybe the UFT and NYSUT need a little competition to remember why they exist.  No better man for the job exists than Andy Stern, a visionary and energetic national labor leader of the SEIU, someone who unlike AFT and NEA leaders, is actually welcome at the White House.

Word is that Stern and Weingarten have a kind of mutual non-aggression pact when it comes to New York State.  But given that the UFT has turned its back on its members (while skillfully deploying a knife in theirs), maybe it's time for Mr. Stern to reconsider and come calling.  I have no doubt that he has some passionate, courageous, wonderfully professional teachers who would be happy to meet with him.

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The Boys Have Fallen Behind

Kristof with alarming data on how boys in the U.S. (especially minorities) are falling behind:

Around the globe, it's mostly girls who lack educational opportunities. Even in the United States, many people still associate the educational "gender gap" with girls left behind in math.

Yet these days, the opposite problem has sneaked up on us: In the United States and other Western countries alike, it is mostly boys who are faltering in school. The latest surveys show that American girls on average have roughly achieved parity with boys in math. Meanwhile, girls are well ahead of boys in verbal skills, and they just seem to try harder.

The National Honor Society says that 64 percent of its members — outstanding high school students — are girls. Some colleges give special help to male applicants — yes, that's affirmative action for white males — to avoid skewed sex ratios.

A new report just issued by the Center on Education Policy, an independent research organization, confirms that boys have fallen behind in reading in every single state.


The Boys Have Fallen Behind


Published: March 27, 2010

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Women in science: The news isn't bad

Even in math and science, girls are catching up:

But don't break out the sackcloth and ashes just yet. For if you look beyond the report's gloomy title and its call for a jihad against "stereotypes, bias, and other cultural beliefs," you discover a determined effort to miss a forest of good news in order to rail against some atypical trees.

The AAUW report acknowledges, for instance, that "today girls are doing as well as boys in math." In high school, not only are girls earning math and science credits at the same rate as boys, but their grades tend to be slightly higher. Though boys continue to predominate among the most gifted math students, their lead has shrunk severely. Since 1980, the ratio of boys to girls among students scoring above 700 on the math SAT has dwindled from an overwhelming 13:1 to just 3:1.


Women in science: The news isn't bad

by Jeff Jacoby

The Boston Globe

March 28, 2010

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The Sandra Bullock Trade

Fascinating and important findings:

For example, the relationship between happiness and income is complicated, and after a point, tenuous. It is true that poor nations become happier as they become middle-class nations. But once the basic necessities have been achieved, future income is lightly connected to well-being. Growing countries are slightly less happy than countries with slower growth rates, according to Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution and Eduardo Lora. The United States is much richer than it was 50 years ago, but this has produced no measurable increase in overall happiness. On the other hand, it has become a much more unequal country, but this inequality doesn't seem to have reduced national happiness.

On a personal scale, winning the lottery doesn't seem to produce lasting gains in well-being. People aren't happiest during the years when they are winning the most promotions. Instead, people are happy in their 20's, dip in middle age and then, on average, hit peak happiness just after retirement at age 65.

People get slightly happier as they climb the income scale, but this depends on how they experience growth. Does wealth inflame unrealistic expectations? Does it destabilize settled relationships? Or does it flow from a virtuous cycle in which an interesting job produces hard work that in turn leads to more interesting opportunities?

If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not.


The Sandra Bullock Trade


Published: March 29, 2010

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Judge Halts New York City's Plan to Close 19 Schools

What a HUGE disappointment this ruling is.  In a city in which HUNDREDS of schools need to be closed for chronic educational malpractice, a judge has thrown a wrench in the process of closing a mere 19.  I read the entire decision ( and it's clear that the DOE didn't cross some t's and dot some i's, but the judge shouldn't have stopped the closure.  Hopefully it will be quickly overturned:

A judge on Friday halted a plan to close 19 New York City schools, a ruling that could place New York state in an unflattering light as it competes for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Race to the Top funding.

…"It's very unfortunate that in order to protect jobs, the union is trying to force kids to go to what are clearly failing schools," said Mr. Klein. "I think it goes against the clear thrust" of what the Obama administration has been advocating—to close "the bottom 5% of schools, the dropout factories."

…"It's clear now that the mayor and the chancellor don't have as much control over what happens in their schools as they thought they did," said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, which advocates closing persistently low-performing schools.


Judge Halts New York City's Plan to Close 19 Schools


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Recent debate: Don’t blame teachers unions for our failing schools

The lawsuit seeking to block the closure of 19 failing schools was filed by (surprise!) the union, which once again put the interests of its members ahead of what's best for kids.  No wonder the crowd turned on Randi and her two colleagues after Terry Moe, Larry Sand and Rod Paige revealed the truth about the union's behavior at the recent debate.  I read the entire transcript ( and there's some great stuff.  Here's Terry Moe's opening statement:


Thank you very much. It's great to be here. I want to thank Intelligence Squared for

arranging this event and for putting the spotlight on what, in my view, is the most

important issue in American education today, the power of the teachers unions. I should

be clear that our team is not saying that the teachers unions are responsible for every

problem of the public schools. What we are saying is that the unions are and have long

been major obstacles to real reform in the system. And we're hardly alone in saying this.

If you read "Newsweek," "Time Magazine," the "Washington Post," lots of other well-respected

publications, they're all saying the same thing: that the teachers unions are

standing in the way of progress.


So look. Let me start with an obvious example. The

teachers unions have fought for all sorts of protections in labor contracts and in state laws

that make it virtually impossible to get bad teachers out of the classroom. On average, it

takes two years, $200,000, and 15% of the principal's total time to get one bad teacher out

of the classroom. As a result, principals don't even try. They give 99% of teachers -- no

joke -- satisfactory evaluations. The bad teachers just stay in the classroom. Well, if we

figure that maybe 5% of the teachers, that's a conservative estimate, are bad teachers

nationwide, that means that 2.5 million kids are stuck in classrooms with teachers who

aren't teaching them anything. This is devastating. And the unions are largely

responsible for that.


They're also responsible for seniority provisions in these labor

contracts that among other things often allow senior teachers to stake a claim to desirable

jobs, even if they're not good teachers and even if they're a bad fit for that school. The

seniority rules often require districts to lay off junior people before senior people. It's

happening all around the country now. And some of these junior people are some of the

best teachers in the district. And some of the senior people that are being saved are the

worst. Okay. So just ask yourself, would anyone in his right mind organize schools in

this way, if all they cared about was what's best for kids? And the answer is no. But this

is the way our schools are actually organized. And it's due largely to the power of the

unions. Now, these organizational issues are really important, but they're just part of a

larger set of problems. Our nation has been trying to reform the schools since the early

1980s. And the whole time the teachers' unions have used their extraordinary power in

the political process to try to block reform and make sure that real reform just never



Consider charter schools. There are many kids around this country who are

stuck in schools that just aren't teaching them. They need new options. Well, charter

schools can provide them with those options. But charter schools are a threat to teachers'

unions. If you give kids choice and they can leave regular public schools, then they take

money and they take jobs with them. And that's what the teachers' unions want to stop.

So what they've done is they've used their power in the political process to put a ceiling

on the numbers of charter schools. As a result in this country today, we have 4,600

charter schools. There are like well over 90,000 public schools. So this is a drop in the

bucket. And mean time charter schools have huge waiting lists of people who are

desperate to get in. In Harlem, for example, the charter schools there got 11,000

applications for 2,000 slots recently.


So just to give you an idea of about how the politics

of this works out, in Detroit a few years ago, a benefactor came forth and said he was

willing to donate $200 million to set up additional charter schools for the kids in Detroit

who obviously need it. What did the union do? The union went ballistic. They shut

down the schools, went to Lansing, demonstrated in the state capitol and got the

politicians to turn down the $200 million for those kids. This is good for kids? I don't

think so. This is about protecting jobs.


The same kind of logic applies with

accountability. Accountability is just common sense. We obviously need to hold schools

and teachers accountability for teaching kids what they're supposed to know. But the

teachers' unions find this threatening. They say they support accountability but they don't

want teachers held accountable. Any sensible effort to hold teachers accountable, they

brand as scapegoating teachers. They don't even want teachers performance to be

measured. Right here in New York City, Joel Klein indicated a while ago that he was

going to use student test scores as one factor in evaluating teachers for tenure. What did

the union do? Now, this is something that Obama supports, that Arne Duncan supports.

It's unbelievable. What the union did is they went to Albany and they got their friends in

the legislature to pass a law making it illegal to use student test scores in evaluating

teachers for tenure anywhere in the state of New York. It's just outrageous. And makes

no sense from the standpoint of what's best for kids. The "New York Times" called it

absurd. This is how the unions approach accountability.


Okay, well, I don't have a

whole lot of time left here. So let me just quickly say our opponents are going to say

tonight, and Randi has already said, there is really no conflict between standing up for the

jobs of teachers and doing what's best for kids. But the thing is there is a conflict. And

that's why we can't get bad teachers out of the classroom, because they protect them.

That's why the schools have totally perverse organizations imposed on them, and that's

why totally sensible reforms are seriously resisted in the political process. Now, what

you're going to hear, I'm sure, throughout the evening is that union leaders and unions

around the country, they're actually reformers too. They want to get bad teachers out of

the classroom. They say they're for charter schools; they're all in favor of accountability.

Well, not really. Talk is cheap. What counts is what they actually do. And what they do

is to oppose reform. This is the reality. Thank you.


And here's Larry Sand's closing statement:


Okay, thank you, John. And thank you, Mr. Rosenkranz, I think this is a wonderful

forum, and I'm very appreciative to be a part of it. Yesterday, March 15th was a day of

reckoning for many teachers across the country. In a bad economy, that's when the letters

of possible layoffs also known as RIFs, reduction in force notices, go out to all teachers --

go out to teachers who might be losing their job. In my school's retirement lunch last

June -- there were more than retirees saying goodbye. We lost several of the hardest

working, most effective and popular young teachers on campus. Several teachers -- we

all know who they are. The kids know, the parents know, the teachers know -- should

have been the ones saying goodbye. But because of the union mandated seniority rules,

they weren't. As a parent, a grandparent or just a fair-minded person, don't you want your

child, any child, to be taught by the best teacher, not the longest employed teacher? Of

course you do. But that is not what happened in my school and other schools around the



Yes, the teachers unions are not the only problems with public education today,

but the extent of the damage they have caused cannot be exaggerated. In closing, to show

you how the twisted the situation really is, what could be more preposterous than this:

They go to great lengths to keep the misdirected and other sexual predators in the

classroom. The union hounded Jaime Escalante, one of the greatest teachers of our time,

out of the classroom and more recently destroyed the hopes and dreams of thousands of

poor children in Washington, D.C. Please join us in sending the teachers unions a

resounding message and vote no on your ballot. Thank you.


Finally, here's Terry Moe's closing statement:


Well, I think it's important here at the end to just focus on the big picture. And the big

picture is very simple, and it's very devastating. Here is what it comes down to. The

teachers unions are by far the most powerful groups in American education. And they

use their power mainly to protect jobs. And what they say is that there is really no

conflict between protecting jobs and doing what's best for kids. But there are conflicts,

lots of them, and as a result we can't get bad teachers out of the classroom, the schools

are burdened with truly perverse organizations, and fundamental reforms, good reforms

that make sense for kids, are resisted and undermined and weakened. So these are just

basic facts. Our opponents say that they want reforms too, that they want to get bad

teachers out of the classroom. We've heard that several times that they want choice, that

they want accountability, and my response is, "Hey, it's 2010. Where've you been? If

you wanted to get bad teachers out of the classroom, why didn't you do it 30 years ago?

Why do we have all these protections and state laws? Why weren't they aggressive about

it 30 years ago? Why are we even talking about it now?" Same thing with choice and

accountability, they could have been aggressive in supporting these things, pushing for

more choice, pushing for accountability. The reason we don't have them is that they've

been opposing them. So again, what counts is not what you say, it's what you do. So

here's the bottom line. You have an opportunity to show tonight where you stand, and so

you can send a message about this issue to the unions and you can send a message to the

nation as a whole. So please do that. Please vote, "No," on this proposal. It's important.

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In trying to kill all charter schools, the union is screwing some of its own members – those who work at unionized charter schools – and they are fighting back:


Members Say UFT has Turned Back on Charter School Teachers and Students  

On Friday, March 26th at 4 p.m. a group of UFT members that teach at New York City charter schools will be protesting against their own union charging that the UFT has turned its back on charter school teachers and students.  
By supporting and actively pushing for a double cut to charter school funding, the UFT is calling for cuts to the pay and job-security of unionized teachers at charter schools across New York City.  The group of UFT member charter school teachers believes the UFT is undermining the livelihoods of the very members its supposed to represent and hurting the very children they claim it is their mission to serve.
The protest and rally will take place outside UFT Headquarters at 50 Broadway in lower Manhattan.  
WHO: UFT members and charter school teachers, parents and students.
WHAT: UFT charter school teachers protest and rally against UFT for turning its back on charter school teachers and students.
WHERE: UFT Headquarters – 50 Broadway, NY, NY
WHEN: Friday, March 26th at 4 p.m. 

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Reading scores stalled under 'No Child' law, report finds D.C. fourth-graders a bright spot in disappointing 2009 data

The NAEP reading scores came out recently and showed no progress over the past two years.  Critics like Ravitch will point to this and say it's evidence that NCLB (and all efforts at reform) have failed – but they're exactly wrong.  What it shows is that watered-down reforms – like NCLB's fatal flow of allowing states to set their own bar, resulting in nearly all of them engaging in a race to the bottom – need to be MUCH stronger:

A report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that fourth-grade scores for the nation's public schools stagnated after the law took effect in 2002, rose modestly in 2007 and remained unchanged last year. By contrast, the long-troubled D.C. schools have made steady advances since 2003, although their scores remain far below the national average.

The national picture for eighth-grade reading was largely the same: a slight uptick in performance since 2007, but no gain in the seven years when President George W. Bush's program for school reform was in high gear. The District's eighth-grade reading scores showed meager growth in that time.

When Bush signed the law, hopes were high for a revolution in reading. Billions of dollars were spent, especially in early grades, to build fluency, vocabulary, comprehension and a love of books that would propel students in all subjects. The goal was to eliminate racial and ethnic achievement gaps. But Wednesday's report shows no great leaps for the nation and stubborn disparities in performance between white and black students, among others.


Reading scores stalled under 'No Child' law, report finds D.C. fourth-graders a bright spot in disappointing 2009 data

By Nick Anderson and Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 25, 2010; A01

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Reading scores a bore, but help Rhee

As evidence for what REAL reform can do, check out Washington DC's continued amazing gains under Michelle Rhee:

The 5-point jump in fourth grade reading scores in D.C. was more interesting, if for no other reason than Rhee's approval ratings have been falling in surveys of D.C. residents. Some people thought Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) might dump her to get reelected this year, or might himself lose the election because of that growing unhappiness with her aggressive management style. But a 5-point score jump at a time when the national scores are flat is more than enough to keep Rhee safe for another year or two at least, if she wants to keep the job, which she says she does.


Reading scores a bore, but help Rhee

Jay Mathews 

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Improve education, fire bad teachers

A great article about how important it is to lay off teachers by merit, not seniority:


Across the country, tight state budgets are forcing dramatic cuts in education. Some districts have laid off hundreds of teachers. Others have shut down schools. Last week, for example, California issued pink slips to almost 22,000 teachers. But states and districts could take a smarter, more effective approach in trimming education budgets, particularly when it comes to teacher layoffs. Most use a "last hired, first fired" approach that does not look at teacher effectiveness. The result is that many schools could end up pushing out some of their highest-performing teachers while keeping their least effective ones.

This problem is much deeper than the issue of teacher layoffs. Far too few schools and districts focus their reform efforts on improving teacher effectiveness.

According to a new report by the Center for American Progress, many teachers essentially have jobs for life because of the tremendous challenges of removing ineffective teachers. Indeed, most districts fire only about 1 percent of tenured teachers a year for poor performance.

But we know some teachers should not be teaching. While most educators work to meet student needs, a recent survey of teachers found that almost 60 percent said there were educators in their schools who failed to do good work and were just going through the motions.



Improve education, fire bad teachers
By: Ulrich Boser and Robin Chait
March 23, 2010 05:18 AM EDT

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Escaping From Poverty

Kristof with some good points:

Here's a peek at some of the interventions that seem to make a difference (and there are many more):

• High-quality early childhood programs, before kids get behind. Much-studied examples include the Perry Preschool program in Michigan in the 1960s and the Abecedarian Project in North Carolina in the 1970s. Both worked with impoverished children who had much better outcomes than control groups. For example, those who had been through the Perry program were — as adults, decades later — only half as likely to go on welfare and much less likely to be arrested.

• Intensive efforts in the ninth grade (which is well known as education's Bermuda triangle, swallowing up poor students). A program called Talent Development in Philadelphia gave ninth graders a double dose of math and English and reduced absenteeism and significantly improved performance for at least the next couple of years. Tentative results suggest it is also improving high school graduation rates.

Career academies. These keep students engaged in high school by teaching around career themes and partnering with local employers to give kids work experience. Eight years of follow-up research suggests that graduates are more likely to hold jobs and earn more money.

• Jobs programs. One of the most successful is the "jobs-plus" demonstration, which trains people living in public housing to get jobs and gives them extra incentives to keep them. Participants thrive — and the gains continue even years later, after the program ends.

The two most important interventions seem to be education and jobs. Schooling programs pay off from early childhood all the way through community college.


March 25, 2010

Op-Ed Columnist

Escaping From Poverty


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How VIPs lobbied schools: Duncan's office tracked politicians and others

Sadly, this expose by the Chicago Tribune about favoritism toward the politically connected in Chicago is, I hear, true in many, many cities.  It's a travesty that someone with political connections can get their kid out of a bad school and into a good school.  But if a kid in a bad school wants to transfer out under the transfer provisions of NCLB, they're usually told they can't because there are no seats in good schools – this leads to the worst kind of sorting.  It reminds me of the story I heard from a KIPP school leader (not in NYC): that the day after the lottery, he gets calls from politicians asking him to break the law and get the politician's child/niece/nephew into the school – and in a truly ironic twist, it's often the very politicians who oppose charters and are trying to KILL his school!  Ya simply can't make up hypocrisy of this magnitude…

While many Chicago parents took formal routes to land their children in the best schools, the well-connected also sought help through a shadowy appeals system created in recent years under former schools chief Arne Duncan.

Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city's premier schools based on whom their parents know. But a list maintained over several years in Duncan's office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges. Duncan is now secretary of education under President Barack Obama.

The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan's tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley's office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

Non-connected parents, such as those who sought spots for their special-needs child or who were new to the city, also appear on the log. But the politically connected make up about three-quarters of those making requests in the documents obtained by the Tribune.


How VIPs lobbied schools

Duncan's office tracked politicians and others

Rod Blagojevich

Walter Payton


Human Accomplishments


Desirée Rogers

Barack Obama

Ron Huberman

Chicago Public Schools

White House


Arne Duncan

Michael Madigan

Richard M. Daley

8:21 a.m. CDT, March 23, 2010,0,189690,full.story

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When A Stands for Average:Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

This pretty well captures ed schools, 70% of which can't be fixed and should be shut down according to Arthur Levine, the former president of Columbia Teachers College (see; for more on ed schools, see and

When A Stands for Average: Students at the UW-Madison School of Education Receive Sky-High Grades. How Smart is That?

Marc Eisen:

Lake Wobegon has nothing on the UW-Madison School of Education. All of the children in Garrison Keillor's fictional Minnesota town are "above average." Well, in the School of Education they're all A students.

The 1,400 or so kids in the teacher-training department soared to a dizzying 3.91 grade point average on a four-point scale in the spring 2009 semester.

This was par for the course, so to speak. The eight departments in Education (see below) had an aggregate 3.69 grade point average, next to Pharmacy the highest among the UW's schools. Scrolling through the Registrar's online grade records is a discombobulating experience, if you hold to an old-school belief that average kids get C's and only the really high performers score A's.

Much like a modern-day middle school honors assembly, everybody's a winner at the UW School of Education. In its Department of Curriculum and Instruction (that's the teacher-training program), 96% of the undergraduates who received letter grades collected A's and a handful of A/B's. No fluke, another survey taken 12 years ago found almost exactly the same percentage.

A host of questions are prompted by the appearance of such brilliance. Can all these apprentice teachers really be that smart? Is there no difference in their abilities? Why do the grades of education majors far outstrip the grades of students in the physical sciences and mathematics? (Take a look at the chart below.)

The UW-Madison School of Education has no small amount of influence on the Madison School District. Posted by Jim Zellmer at March 22, 2010 1:22 PM

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Some amazing statistics (and a call to action) from Wendy Kopp:

Dear friends:

A few weeks ago, I shared some recent developments regarding Teach For America's federal funding for 2011, which is critical to our work. Now I'm writing with a short update on our progress to date and to share some additional ways for you to get involved.

We've just finished reading the applications to Teach For America this year, and they represent an extraordinary and diverse group of people-nearly 47,000 people, including 20 percent of Spelman seniors, 10 percent of Morehouse seniors, 7 percent of seniors from Michigan, 12 percent of all Ivy league seniors, and 25 and 20 percent of all African American and Latino Ivy League seniors, respectively. We won't be able to accept many of the incredible people who we would have accepted any other year-people who we all want and need teaching children next year.

In this context, the main limitation we're facing to expanding our impact is financial. Securing a reliable stream of federal funding is critical to our growth. Decisions made in D.C. this spring will determine the scale and scope of our impact in 2011 and beyond.

Earlier this month, with help from supporters like you, our executive directors and Government Affairs team connected directly with dozens of Members of Congress to build support for a $50 million federal appropriation for Teach For America in FY11. At the same time, nearly 1,000 people called their Members of Congress to ask them to support our budget request. In the end, 71 Representatives signed a letter of support, and there was a direct positive relationship between the number of calls a Representative received and the likelihood that he or she signed our letter. The results were inspiring and encouraging-but there is more work to do.

Now our campaign moves to the Senate. Again, we'd like your help connecting directly with Senators, particularly relevant appropriators. You can also participate in and help promote our grassroots campaign, which now includes the ability to directly e-mail your Senators to ask for their support.

Thanks for all you have done to support this crucial campaign, and for all you do to support our corps members and alumni in their work to expand educational opportunity in communities nationwide. Please drop me a note anytime with any questions.



Key Members of Congress


LHHS Subcommittee 
Tom Harkin, IA (chairman)
Daniel Inouye, HI
Herb Kohl, WI
Patty Murray, WA
Mary Landrieu, LA
Richard Durbin, IL
Jack Reed, RI
Mark Pryor, AR
Arlen Specter, PA

Thad Cochran, MS (ranking member)
Judd Gregg, NH
Kay Bailey Hutchison, TX
Richard Shelby, AL
Lamar Alexander, TN  

Leadership and Other Key Members 
Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Chair
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), Republican Senate Campaign Committee Chair
Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY), Ranking Member, HELP Committee

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Health care for kids

From my friend and ed-warrior James Forman (answer to your question: yes, there are TONS of education reforms opposed to this bill, even though it's undeniably great for low-income kids, because of cost, etc.):
Whitney, I'm on the board of the Children's Defense Fund.  This just came in from Marian Wright Edelman.  It shows why health care reform matters so much for kids--the same ones that are in all of our schools, whose overall well-being is so important to us.  Are any education reformers opposed to this bill?  (other than the Wall St. Journal editorial page).  If so, I just don't get that.
I've just had the deeply moving experience of joining the President, the Cabinet, members of Congress and outside advocacy groups at the signing of the landmark Health Reform Bill which your work and support helped make possible.  It will:
  • Provide access to health coverage for at least 32 million people, including over 95% of children in America;
  • Provide the greatest extension in Medicaid coverage to the poor since Medicaid's enactment.  At least 16 million children, parents and single adults with incomes below 133% FPL ($29,400 for a family of four) will be eligible for Medicaid and 1.6 million currently eligible CHIP children will go on Medicaid and get its guaranteed and comprehensive benefits;
  • Maintain CHIP until 2019 giving us time to determine whether the new state health insurance exchanges are safe places for children and will provide them comparable or better benefit and cost protections to what they currently receive.
  • Fund CHIP through 2015 – doubling the number of eligible CHIP children that can be served from 7 to 14 million;
  • Prevent insurance companies from unjustly denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions or imposing annual or lifetime limits. Elimination of pre-existing conditions for children will take effect immediately;
  • Extend coverage for foster care children and young adults with private insurance to age 26;
  • Provide new investments in prevention without cost sharing.  Insurance companies will be required to cover screenings and benefits recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics; and
  • Make new investments in home visiting programs for at risk families.

The next phase of very hard work now begins – that of enrolling all those who are eligible through every possible means at the federal, state and local levels.  But today we bask in a huge step forward after a very hard fought series of battles. You helped make it possible and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Millions of children will be better off because what you did.

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Florida Senate kills teacher tenure pay system; raises tied to student success

If this bill in FL passes, it will ROCK the ed world – I just hope it's written in a way that evaluates teachers fairly.  Nobody is a bigger champion than I of using student test scores to evaluate teachers (and principals, schools, ed schools, etc.), but tests alone are a very crude tool (especially when the tests are poorly designed).  There needs to a balanced, robust teacher evaluation system in place.
In a major shift, the salaries of Florida's 167,000 teachers could soon be tied to student test scores, rather than seniority and education level.

The state Senate on Wednesday approved a controversial bill by a 21-17 vote to dismantle teacher tenure, a decades-old system in which educators' pay is based on years of experience and whether they earn upper-level degrees.

New teachers hired after July 1 would work on one-year contracts and face dismissal if their students did not show learning gains on end-of-year exams for two years in any five-year period. For them, job security would be based soley on two factors: standardized scores and job reviews by principals. Existing teachers would have future pay raises tied to student scores and reviews but would keep their current job security.
Florida Senate kills teacher tenure pay system; raises tied to student success
By Josh Hafenbrack,0,3262837.story

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Speaking of exciting developments in Florida, here’s an email from ed-warrior John Kirtley:

Dear Friends,
Today 5,500 low income parents and children travelled to the distant Florida capitol of Tallahassee to show their support of parental choice, and their support of our bill to dramatically expand the tax credit scholarship program for low income children.  Some of them took buses all night long to attend our rally, and their numbers set a national record for a parental choice rally. We conducted a headcount as they stepped off ninety eight 55-passenger buses this morning, and the total was 5,115. Another 406 arrived in cars for a grand total of 5,500.
Here is one picture of the march, which doesn't even capture the full crowd:
But the numbers weren't the only story. The lineup of speakers who endorsed our the bill included the acting president of the national Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights organization founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Also endorsing the bill was the President of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and a group of South Florida Hispanic public school teachers. This is far from the typical story line for a rally supporting parental choice, and shows that in Florida this learning option for low-income students has achieved critical levels of bipartisan support.
I am attaching our press release. Also attached is a text of the remarks delivered by the President of the SCLC and a statement by the Hispanic public school teachers.
Just before this march occurred, our Florida Senate approved our bill by a 27-11 margin. One quarter of the Democrats voted yes. We will get half the Democrats in the House. We will get a majority of the Black Caucus and all of the Hispanic Caucus. The bill will clear the House in two weeks.
I hope this day here brings courage to legislators in New Jersey and Maryland.
Thank you,
John Kirtley

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Is Education on the Wrong Track? Nelson Smith responds to Ravitch

Nelson Smith, President of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, responds to Ravitch's misguided critique of charter schools in her book:
Your main contention is that charters "have never done better than regular public schools" on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). As someone who used to head the research and improvement office at the U.S. Department of Education, you must know that NAEP is the wrong barometer for this kind of evaluation. And, as someone who rails against evaluating teachers on the basis of a single test, it's ironic that you return repeatedly to this one measure.
NAEP is a snapshot. It doesn't follow students over time. That's of small consequence when the assessment is used as intended, to paint a broad picture of national progress. But it's not calibrated for a small group of schools--just 175 charters out of nearly 4,000 were sampled in 2007, spread across 40 states. Since charters typically enroll kids who are behind their peers academically (well-documented by RAND and other outfits), it's almost inevitable that, in any given year, charters will do worse, on a comparison of national averages, than district schools.
National NAEP results are also swayed by the larger samples of charter schools in big states. As Andrew Rotherham notes, chartering is powerfully influenced by state policy and regulation--and some of those big states in the NAEP sample have terrible laws and negligent authorizers, which can skew national outcomes.
Looking at NAEP's state-level results, however, you can hardly maintain that charters have "never done better." In 2007 (the most recent year for reading results), in states where sufficient numbers of charter schools were surveyed, charters outperformed other public schools in eight of 13 states at the fourth-grade level, and in ten of twelve states at the eight-grade level. In the 2009 math results, charters outperformed other public schools in ten of 18 states in the eighth grade, and eight of 18 states in the fourth grade. Remember, also, that charters are usually clustered in cities--and for urban schools to compete even this well against statewide results is an accomplishment.
Your book cites the 2009 CREDO report and its adverse national findings about charters, but, given its limitations (including a charter sample dominated by first-year test-takers), a sharper lens is needed. In 2008, researchers Julian Betts and Emily Tang at the University of California at San Diego analyzed a set of charter studies using only the most sophisticated methodologies. They wrote: "Despite considerable variation among charter schools, the overall evidence suggests that charter schools more often outperform than underperform their traditional public school counterparts." We would love to see serious new funding that could broaden such local and statewide apples-to-apples studies to the national level.
In your passion to rethink, you've apparently decided that the book on charters is already closed --although after 18 years, we're just in the opening chapters. Let's remember that the real question is not whether an average of charters works, or whether a group of charters happens to work, but whether the charter model itself can work—allowing variation at the outset, ensuring high accountability for outcomes, and cycling upward with the strongest performers in the lead. As with any innovation, there have been hits and misses. We've learned what kind of laws help produce strong charters, and seen the consequences when oversight is lax. Now we're putting these lessons to work, fueled by new federal funding for expansion and replication of the most effective charter models, and by our own determination to replace the weak performers. (In fact, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, large authorizers who oversee most charters are already refusing renew to about 15 percent of charters annually, and revoking a smaller number in mid-course.)
Is Education on the Wrong Track?
A TNR Symposium.
Nelson Smith
March 21, 2010 | 5:50 pm
From: Nelson Smith
To: Diane Ravitch
Subject: Public charter schools are community schools, providing a model of success that we know can work. They deserve more credit than Ravitch gives them.

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