Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christie Taps New Education Chief

HUGE news from New Jersey!  Chris Cerf is an ed reform WARRIOR and the combination of him and Gov. Christie (and, as it relates to Newark, Mayor Booker) will be very powerful:

·         December 16, 2010, 8:03 PM ET

Christie Taps New Education Chief


By Lisa Fleisher

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has selected former New York City schools official Christopher Cerf to be his next commissioner of education, two sources close to the administration said.

Cerf will be nominated to lead a department that has been adrift since the sacking of its former commissioner, Bret Schundler, in the wake of the state's loss in a federal education grant. A spokeswoman for the governor would not confirm the selection.

Christie has spent the past year cutting school funding, tangling with teachers and superintendents, and trying to make New Jersey's schools do more with less. He has pointed to Newark and other cities as examples of school systems where more money has not led to education gains, leaving children "trapped" in failing schools.

Joel Klein, the outgoing chancellor of New York City schools, where Cerf served as a deputy chancellor until 2009, called Cerf "a man of enormous intellect, talent and deep understanding of K-12 education and would be a terrific leader."

Klein, who recruited the former Supreme Court law clerk to the New York City Department of Education, credits Cerf with moving the system of 1,600 schools and 1.1 million children toward greater accountability from school leaders and teachers. During his time, Cerf helped push principals to scrutinize the work of teachers that were up for tenure and to deny or delay tenure if teachers weren't up to snuff, he said.

Cerf, of Montclair, N.J., was also a senior campaign adviser on education to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to information from the website of Sangari Global Education, where he is chief executive.

If confirmed by the state Senate, Cerf would be tasked with implementing Christie's schools policy, which has included a push toward merit pay for teachers, the promotion of charter schools and increased school choice for parents.

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Huge fire guts Atlanta charter school

I was saddened to hear about a fire at KIPP WAYS school in Atlanta.  Thankfully nobody was hurt, but it's a big setback (and financial hit) for the school.  I was just down there two weeks ago and KIPP Atlanta (now three schools) is rocking!  You can watch a local TV report at: www.11alive.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=167640&catid=40.  You can donate to the school at: www.kippmetroatlanta.org/support.asp (I just donated $100).  Here's an excerpt from an article about it:


SaDarria Veasey sobbed for hours Friday when she learned that fire had gutted KIPP Ways Academy, the Atlanta middle school that is her second home.


KIPP Ways is a special school. Three hundred twenty children, most of them living in poverty, attend rigorous classes from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, on two Saturdays a month and during the summer. Teachers and administrators make home visits to meet the parents of every child. The eighth grade has a 100 percent pass rate on math and reading standardized tests.


Their classrooms burned on Friday. Atlanta Fire Department officials said Friday evening that the heating and air conditioning system on the school's roof was the cause of the fire -- and that it was accidental. Although no one was injured, hundreds of kids and parents suffered an acute loss, just a few days before Christmas break was to begin.


"I feel devastated," said Veasey, 14, whose mother is a founding staff member of the school. "I cried for a good four hours. It may feel like all of our hard work is down the drain, but we know the building is not who we are."


The academy now littered with ashes and overturned desks was ranked as Atlanta's top-performing "No Excuses" middle school by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation for its success at educating kids in poverty. It is a public school founded by parents and an Atlanta teacher that trains fifth- through eighth-graders for higher education and bright futures.


Huge fire guts Atlanta charter school


By D. Aileen Dodd and Mike Morris

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

9:55 p.m. Friday, December 10, 2010


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A plea for peace among petulant pundits

Jay Mathews calls on Diane Ravitch and me to tone down the vitriol:

I thought about this as I read a long and erudite assault on the views of historian and author Diane Ravitch by investor and charter school advocate Whitney Tilson. I know both Ravitch and Tilson. They are among my favorite commentators. For the sake of the schoolchildren we all care about, I wish they were more willing to give credit to ideological adversaries for the good sense and good works on all sides of the debate.

Tilson attacks Ravitch's latest book, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System," as well as some of her recent magazine articles and speeches. Like many who read the book, Tilson believes it is a refutation of Ravitch's long support for more testing, higher standards, more charter schools and more parent choice. Tilson correctly identifies several instances in which Ravitch criticizes nonexistent straw men, painting a distorted picture of what people like Tilson believe.

In a speech in Houston, for instance, she urges the Teach For America organization, which recruits and trains recent college graduates to teach in low-income communities, to "stop claiming that TFA will close the achievement gap. That may be a nice slogan but nobody can teach for two or three years and close the achievement gap." This is in contrast to what the Teach For America Web site actually says: The organization is "working to eliminate educational inequity."

That's a big difference. They are not promising to close the gap. They are trying to do so, like nearly everyone in the education field, including Ravitch.

In her book and speeches, Ravitch castigates innovators who, she insists, say charter schools are the silver bullet that will save inner city schools. In her book she says a 2009 pro-charter study "suggested to editorialists at the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and other national media that charter schools were the silver bullet that could finally solve the most deep-seated problems of urban education."

The Washington Post editorial she referred to says nothing of the sort. Here is its wording: "The desperation of poor parents whose children are stuck on waiting lists for charter schools is well-founded."

Ravitch is a brilliant analyst. Her book and other recent pieces point out the failure of the charter school movement to make much headway nationally in raising student achievement. Her review of the hit documentary "Waiting For 'Superman,' " [bias alert -- I am in it] notes that the film went overboard in making teacher unions the villain and charter schools the hero of our national educational drama. So why does she have to stretch the facts when taking on what she considers unhealthy trends?

I understand what Mathews is saying, but don't plan to change my approach.  While some of what I write might sound like an off-the-cuff rant, every word I write about her is carefully thought out.  I don't lightly accuse her of bias, lies and distortions – and I'm careful to back it up with concrete example after concrete example. 


Most people DO tone it down when critiquing Ravitch – to be polite or because they aren't in a position to write and speak the truth, so I'm happy to be the bomb-throwing truth-teller who says the empress has no clothes.


I have no intention of toning it down, as long as she keeps up her lies/distortions, and simply tears down others' efforts rather than offering any positive ideas.


Regarding the email Ravitch sent to Mathews:

Tilson is one of the most energetic and generous supporters of the KIPP charter schools in the New York City area. He was offended by Ravitch's comments that charters like KIPP are robbing regular schools of their best parents and are too hyped by the press. He would feel better if he saw the e-mail Ravitch sent me a few weeks ago from Houston.

Mike Feinberg, the co-founder of KIPP, was showing her KIPP schools in Texas. They looked great to her, she said. She hasn't given up on any of the reforms Tilson is devoted to. She just wants them to do better. We should all, particularly we pundits prone to oversimplification and demonization, pursue the same goal.

I have no doubt what Ravitch's email says -- even she can't crap on KIPP -- but I don't care what she says in private to someone to smart and informed to be fooled.  What I care about is what she says and writes in public, which is hostile to ALL charter schools (she was the key speaker at Bill Perkins's show trial in NYC earlier this year, for example).


I'll tone it down when she changes what she says and writes.  For example, rather than waging a jihad against all charter schools, why doesn't she acknowledge what we all know is right: let's set the bar high to get (and keep) a charter and shut down lousy charter schools -- AND, of course, district schools as well.


The ONLY thing I care about is the maximum number of kids getting a good education, not whether it's at a district, charter or private/parochial school.


A plea for peace among petulant pundits

By Jay Mathews


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New Schools No. 2 Wants More and Better Testing

A nice cover story in the NYT about Shael Polakow-Suransky, the new #2 in NYC.  I find is fascinating that someone who comes from a far-left-wing family and educational background (like myself) has embraced testing and accountability (like myself) (much better testing to be sure).  That's what happens to smart, intellectually honest people encounter the reality of big-city school systems:

Mr. Polakow-Suransky acknowledges that the tests are imperfect, but says they are a necessary measurement tool. "To put it very simply," he said, "how do you know that the kids are learning?"

So why does SPS get it, but Ravitch doesn't?  I suspect that, like Linda Darling-Hammond and others, she spends her time in ivory towers rather than in the trenches and therefore never sees how disconnected from reality her ideas are.


New Schools No. 2 Wants More and Better Testing

Published: December 13, 2010


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Is the Golden Age of Education Spending Over?

Andy Rotherham with some sobering (and spot on) points:

As America starts to grapple with its out-of-control spending habits, we as a nation really should reckon with our education costs. Few federal education programs were targeted by President Obama's deficit-reduction commission, but that's because most school funding comes from the state and local levels. And that's where the big-time money problem is. According to a report issued jointly last week by the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers, when federal stimulus funds run out in 2011, states — and, by extension, schools — will tumble off a fiscal cliff, and even an economic upturn won't bring state funding back up to where it was a few years ago.

The problem, however, is not just the struggling economy. In 1970 America spent about $228 billion in today's dollars on public schools. In 2007 that figure was $583 billion. True, some of the increase can be traced back to growing enrollments, better programs, and improved services for special-education and other students, but much of the increase is just a lot of spending without a lot to show for it. And given all the various pressures on state budgets (including our aging population, health care costs and the substantial obligations states and school districts owe for pensions and benefits), the golden age of school spending is likely coming to an end.


School of Thought

Is the Golden Age of Education Spending Over?

By Andrew J. Rotherham Thursday, Dec. 09, 2010


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Teachers' $500 Billion (and Growing) Pension Problem

Rotherham with an earlier column on this topic:

Teacher pensions may not sound like a sexy or even high-profile issue, but keep reading: they're threatening the fiscal health of many states and could cost you — yes, you — thousands of dollars. And like the savings and loan crisis at the end of 1980s or the current housing-market mess, insiders see big trouble ahead in the next few years and are starting to sound warnings.

Today there is an almost $500 billion shortfall for funding teacher pensions, and that gap is growing. Why should you care? Because ultimately taxpayers are on the hook for that money. But the problem doesn't just end there. The way teacher pensions operate is badly suited to today's teacher workforce, where 30-year careers are no longer the norm. The current set-up penalizes teachers who move between states, switch to private or public charter schools that do not participate in the pension system or leave teaching altogether. Meanwhile, it becomes financial suicide for teachers to change careers after a certain point even if they no longer want to teach or are not good at it.

But first, let's talk about the money. Teacher pensions are part of a larger set of benefits that states and cities offer public employees, including health care and pension programs for cops, garbage men and other public employees. The Pew Center on the States puts the total shortfall for these benefits at $1 trillion. You read that right: trillion with a T. Obviously, these are important benefits to offer, but the costs are out of hand.


School of Thought

Teachers' $500 Billion (and Growing) Pension Problem

By Andrew J. Rotherham Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010


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National Education Association leaders living large

Keep this in mind the next time you hear the unions criticizing some of the salaries in the reform sector:


Last summer, as the National Education Association was demanding that Congress pass a $10 billion taxpayer bailout to save teaching jobs across the nation, the union's leadership was enjoying another banner year, with 35 individuals earning at least $200,000. 


     The poor economy has cost thousands of teachers their jobs, which is reflected in NEA's membership, which decreased by 30,690 members during fiscal 2009-10, according to the union's annual financial statement filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. For teachers who remained in the classroom, many were asked to accept wage and benefit concessions. 


     But it's a different story at NEA headquarters. During the 2009-10 fiscal year, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel raked in $397,721, while Vice President Lily Eskelsen earned $326,563 and Secretary/Treasurer Rebecca Pringle made $340,845. In additional, the union had 32 union other employees who made more than $200,000.


     On top of all those heavy paydays, there well over 200 other NEA employees who earned six-figure salaries during the same period.



National Education Association leaders living large, despite dramatic decline in membership

As teachers across the nation are asked to accept wage freezes, contract concessions, union leaders' robust salaries, lavish conferences are out of touch

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Parents Embrace Documentary on Pressures of School

I think Race to Nowhere is a very relevant movie for 1-2% of U.S. schoolkids – but it's completely wrong for the rest.  The big problem in this country is NOT overstressed, overworked, overachieving kids – it's completely the opposite: we're demanding FAR too little, have dumbed things down, and the average 8-18 year old in the country is spending 4 ½ hours per DAY watching TV, 2 ½ listening to music, 1 ½ playing on a computer, 1:13 playing video games, and a mere 38 minutes reading any printed material (like a book)!  (See page 19 of my school reform presentation, posted at http://www.arightdenied.org/presentation-slides):

With no advertising and little news media attention, "Race to Nowhere" has become a must-see movie in communities where the kindergarten-to-Harvard steeplechase is most competitive.

More than 1,100 attended a screening last week at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill. About 500 saw it at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan in November. It has been shown to a roomful of fathers at Pixar during lunch hour and twice to employees at the Silicon Valley headquarters of Google.

All 325 seats in the auditorium of New Canaan Country School in Connecticut were filled during a screening for parents last Thursday night. Francie Irvine, the assistant head of school, said, "Our parents' association president called me and said, 'My sister just saw this in California and we have to, have to, have to have it here.' "

The film portrays the pressures when schools pile on hours of homework and coaches turn sports into year-round obligations. Left somewhat unexamined is the role of parents whose high expectations contribute the most pressure of all.

"Everyone expects us to be superheroes," one high school senior in the film says.

Another tells of borrowing her friends' prescription for Adderall to juggle her many commitments. "It's hard to be the vice president of your class, play on the soccer team and do homework," she says.

The movie introduces boys who drop out of high school from the pressure, girls who suffer stress-induced insomnia and worse, and students for whom "cheating has become another course," as one puts it.

"When success is defined by high grades, test scores, trophies,"' a child psychologist says in the film, "we know that we end up with unprepared, disengaged, exhausted and ultimately unhealthy kids."


Parents Embrace Documentary on Pressures of School

Published: December 8, 2010


It isn't often that a third of a movie audience sticks around to discuss its message, but that is the effect of "Race to Nowhere," a look at the downside of childhoods spent on résumé-building.

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College, Jobs and Inequality

An interesting NYT editorial:


December 13, 2010


College, Jobs and Inequality

Searching for solace in bleak unemployment numbers, policy makers and commentators often cite the relatively low joblessness among college graduates, which is currently 5.1 percent compared with 10 percent for high school graduates and an overall jobless rate of 9.8 percent. Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, cited the data recently on "60 Minutes" to make the point that "educational differences" are a root cause of income inequality.

A college education is better than no college education and correlates with higher pay. But as a cure for unemployment or as a way to narrow the chasm between the rich and everyone else, "more college" is a too-easy answer. Over the past year, for example, the unemployment rate for college grads under age 25 has averaged 9.2 percent, up from 8.8 percent a year earlier and 5.8 percent in the first year of the recession that began in December 2007. That means recent grads have about the same level of unemployment as the general population. It also suggests that many employed recent grads may be doing work that doesn't require a college degree.

Even more disturbing, there is no guarantee that unemployed or underemployed college grads will move into much better jobs as conditions improve. Early bouts of joblessness, or starting in a lower-level job with lower pay, can mean lower levels of career attainment and earnings over a lifetime.Graduates who have been out of work or underemployed in the downturn may also find themselves at a competitive disadvantage with freshly minted college graduates as the economy improves.

When it comes to income inequality, college-educated workers make more than noncollege-educated ones. But higher pay for college grads cannot explain the profound inequality in the United States. The latest installment of the groundbreaking work on income inequality by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez shows that the richest 1 percent of American households — those making more than $370,000 a year — received 21 percent of total income in 2008. That was slightly below the highs of the bubble years but still among the highest percentages since the Roaring Twenties.

The top 10 percent — those making more than $110,000 — received 48 percent of total income, leaving 52 percent for the bottom 90 percent. Where are college-educated workers? Their median pay has basically stagnated for the past 10 years, at roughly $72,000 a year for men and $52,000 a year for women.

A big reason for the huge gains at the top is the outsize pay of executives, bankers and traders. Lower on the income ladder, workers have not fared well, in part because health care has consumed an ever-larger share of compensation and bargaining power has diminished with the decline in labor unions.

College is still the path to higher-paying professions. But without a concerted effort to develop new industries, the weakened economy will be hard pressed to create enough better-paid positions to absorb all graduates.

And to combat inequality, the drive for more college and more jobs must coincide with efforts to preserve and improve the policies, programs and institutions that have fostered shared prosperity and broad opportunity — Social Security, Medicare, public schools, progressive taxation, unions, affirmative action, regulation of financial markets and enforcement of labor laws.

College is not a cure-all, but it will certainly take the best and brightest minds to confront those challenges.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

At California School, Parents Force an Overhaul

I don't dare do another STOP THE PRESSES, but two BIG pieces of news from California: the first, about the first school ever to activate the parent trigger (which I've written about in the past: http://edreform.blogspot.com/2010/12/parent-trigger.html) is HUGE!

By Marlene Romero's count, her son has had just one effective teacher in his five years at McKinley Elementary School here. Most of the time, she said, he has merely shuffled through classrooms, struggling in math without ever getting extra help.

So when an organizer came knocking at her door promising that if she signed a petition, her son's school could radically improve, Ms. Romero immediately pledged her support.

Now, she is one of more than 250 parents in Compton who are using a new state law to force the failing school to be taken over by a charter school operator, the first such move in the country.

Voicing enormous frustration with the existing school, the parents handed over the petition on Tuesday to district officials. "We are completely fed up," Ms. Romero said. "We've been told to wait every year and nothing changes."

When Ms. Romero attended Compton schools in the 1990s, she said, nobody seemed to notice or care when she skipped school for days at a time. She dropped out at the age of 16. "I want my children to be able to have what I didn't," she said.

For the last several months, Ms. Romero has helped gather petitions for the school takeover, which is expected to face legal challenges from the school board and teachers' union, which strongly opposed the new law.

Under the law, if 51 percent of parents at a school sign a petition, it "triggers" one of four actions, including takeover by a charter school. In this case, 61 percent of the parents signed the petition. When the State Legislature approved the measure in January, union officials referred to it as a "lynch mob provision."

The move in Compton will likely be watched by educators and political leaders all over the country, as many advocates try to exert more pressure on teachers' unions. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is supporting the effort and Rahm Emanuel has promised to introduce similar regulations in Chicago if he wins his bid for mayor there.

In many ways, the parent trigger is a nightmare situation for unions, threatening to pit teachers against parents, particularly in poor neighborhoods where schools have struggled for years. In essence, it is a union for parents.

"We've never seen anything like this before," said Marion Orr, a professor of public policy at Brown University. "It really pushed to the edges of a strong democracy and could create real challenges for public officials who believe they know best how to run school districts."


At California School, Parents Force an Overhaul

Published: December 7, 2010


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Villaraigosa breaks with unions

The second piece of big news from CA is that LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was once the legislative advocate for the California Teachers Association and a union organizer for United Teachers of Los Angeles, broke with the unions in a MAJOR way:

Over the past five years, while partnering with students, parents and non-profits, business groups, higher education, charter organizations, school district leadership, elected board members and teachers, there has been one, unwavering roadblock to reform: UTLA union leadership.

While not the biggest problem facing our schools, they have consistently been the most powerful defenders of the status quo. I do not say this because of any animus towards unions. I deeply believe that teachers' unions can and must be part of our efforts to transform our schools. Regrettably, they have yet to join us as we have forged ahead with a reform agenda.

The full speech is below and here's one commentary on it:


Villaraigosa's game-changing speech

By Joe Mathews

Journalist and Irvine senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He is co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010).

Wed, December 8th, 2010


The most significant speech given by a California politician this year was LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's address to a PPIC conference in Sacramento on Tuesday.

Villaraigosa is a former employee of two giant California teachers' unions. He is one of the state most important Democratic politicians, and certainly its most prominent Latino one -- in a state that is Democratic politically and increasingly Latino. And despite all of that, he gave a speech calling out teachers' unions as the strongest obstacles to education reform.

This one is worth clipping and saving. It could be a career ender for Villaraigosa. Or it could launch him to statewide office later this decade. Either way, you'll be hearing about this speech again. The full text of Villaraigosa's speech is below.

And here's an editorial in the Sacramento Bee:

Ally of teachers sends union a strong message

Published: Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010 - 12:00 am | Page 16A


California's about to turn a page, perhaps, with new leadership in state government.

A major indicator of a new direction, or business-as-usual, will be education, the state's No. 1 constitutional responsibility.

At a Tuesday gathering of 300 political leaders and policy experts on California's future, hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California, the first panel aptly was titled, "Education: The Future Starts Here."

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa set the tone of urgency. This gathering came on the same day the state announced that one in every four students drops out. As Villaraigosa observed, we have to ask "whether we are actively creating a second class of citizens."

His speech, above all, was a call to action.

"What is stopping us from changing direction?" he asked. "Why, for so long, have we allowed denial and indifference to defeat action?"

His answer: "There has been one, unwavering roadblock to reform." Leaders in the teachers unions have "consistently been the most powerful defenders of the status quo."

This comes from a man who was the legislative advocate for the California Teachers Association and a union organizer for United Teachers of Los Angeles.

It is a sign that the landscape may be changing. As Villaraigosa put it, "union leaders need to take notice that it is their friends, the very people who have supported them and the people whom they have supported, who are carrying the torch of education reform and crying out for the unions to join them."

Let's set something straight. The unions may have clout, but legislators and the governor vote and sign legislation. Their task is to take on two big issues: "our unsound, unstable and insufficient school finance system," in Villaraigosa's words, and teacher effectiveness.

People have talked for years about simplifying school finance so that the state provides a base level for each child, plus additional funding for students with special or high needs. OK, do it. Get beyond the sacred cow of Proposition 98, which is not working. Its complexity alone is a deep flaw.

And let's stop tiptoeing around teacher effectiveness. Villaraigosa laid out the challenge to the state: Start measuring performance meaningfully – including growth in student performance from the beginning of a school year to the end. Stop making decisions about assignments, transfers and layoffs based solely on seniority. With "last in, first out" policies, we're losing too many excellent young teachers.

He directly challenged teachers. "Work with us," he said in a Wednesday interview, "or tenure and seniority will be eliminated."

Villaraigosa believes that if any state can "turn indifference into action, it is California." Well, maybe. A tightly focused education agenda will take heavy lifting – from parents, local civic leaders and local elected officials who know that education is the key to California's future prosperity and quality of life.

It will take courageous teachers stepping forward who know, in their hearts, that simply defending the status quo is not a solution.

Above all, real change will take leadership from incoming Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers. The new year and the opportunity for a new political start are upon us.

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Colorado tenure law considered at N.J. hearing

Big news yesterday in NJ as well, where DFER-NJ helped organize a hearing that could lead to NJ implementing Colorado's ground-breaking teacher evaluation/tenure law:


Colorado tenure law considered at N.J. hearing

Thursday, December 9, 2010
Last updated: Thursday December 9, 2010, 6:12 PM



A Colorado state senator told New Jersey lawmakers considering ways to fix tenure Thursday about a new law he pushed to make such job protection a "badge of honor."

Mike Johnston gave the Senate education committee details of a law passed in spring that requires teachers to get three consecutive years of effective evaluations before they earn tenure, called non-probationary status there. If they have two consecutive years of poor evaluations, they go back on probation. Those teachers can get help to improve and might eventually earn back tenure. If they don't, a district can dismiss them.

Having tenure in Colorado will mean, "Wow, this person is really one of the great practitioners in the field," Johnston said. "Too often it is viewed as something that protects low performers."

Johnston, a former teacher and principal from a mostly poor section of Denver, was among a parade of speakers at a hearing called by committee chairwoman Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, who is drafting a bill to fix tenure. Critics charge that the current system makes it too expensive to weed out bad teachers and does nothing to reward the best.

The crowded event at the State House annex marked lawmakers' efforts to weigh in on an issue that has been dominated by the noisy, bitter battle between Governor Christie and the state's largest teachers union.

Colorado's new system won't be rolled out fully until 2013. Now a 15-member council is spending months on the thorny task of defining effectiveness and determining how to assess it for teachers and principals. Just as Christie seeks for New Jersey, half of each Colorado educator's evaluation must be based on student growth, reflected by test scores and other measures.

Although Christie did not appoint union officials to his nine-member committee to improve evaluations, the Colorado council has representatives from the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. The AFT supported Colorado's new law but the larger NEA opposed it.

"We thought when you do a process like this you want all the stakeholders involved," Johnston said in an interview. The unions "bring a much needed perspective. … The NEA did more to improve this bill than anyone else" by raising questions from the trenches, such as how to judge teachers facing students with special needs and migrant children who switch schools often.

The NJEA agrees that test scores can be one of multiple measures used to judge teachers, but says computer models that attempt to grade teachers by student data are too flawed to be a big part of high-stakes personnel decisions.

Dan Weisberg, a leader of the New Teacher Project, which helps districts recruit and develop talented teachers, said these statistical models were not perfect but it was important to use objective evidence in evaluations.

"If what we're looking for is a perfect system that guarantees us there will never be an unfair result for teachers we should give up," he said. "Batting averages don't give you a perfect look at the performance of a player, but they give you a generally reasonable, reliable picture."

Weisberg told lawmakers that without more rigorous, data-driven evaluations, virtually all educators get high marks. He showed the committee research arguing that removing the lowest-performing teachers would boost achievement and put the average American student near the top of the developed world.

A spokesman for Democrats for Education Reform, which advocates for charter schools and choice, said her group helped pay for the Colorado senator's trip.

Johnston said the Colorado law also ties principals' evaluations to teachers' effectiveness, so school leaders have extra incentive to develop faculty. "Now there is an incentive in state law for principals to do the most important work, which is to be in classrooms supporting teachers to improve their practice," Johnston said. "For too long people have been able to be a good principal because they show up at football games or break up fights in hallways or know all the parents. Those are good things but not as important as supporting teachers."

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Educator Is Said to Have Rejected Chancellor Job

Interesting news in today's NYT:

In defending his selection for schools chancellor, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has called Cathleen P. Black, a publishing executive with no education experience, "exactly the right person for the job" and suggested that her skills as a manager were unrivaled.

Ms. Black, however, was not the first person the mayor asked to take the position. Mr. Bloomberg tried to persuade Geoffrey Canada, the prominent Harlem education leader and a friend of the mayor, to be chancellor, but Mr. Canada turned it down, according to two people with direct knowledge of the discussions.


Educator Is Said to Have Rejected Chancellor Job

Published: December 9, 2010


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Next generation workforce: Outperformed in math and science

A great interview in Fortune with Intel's former CEO, Craig Barrett:

The problem is our overall expectations have been set so low that it's pathetic. Mainly because we haven't had good teachers who can do more than stay 30 minutes ahead of the kids in the classroom on these topics.

The quality of education depends on three things and three things only. The quality of the teachers. The expectation levels that you set. And … a bit of tension or a feedback loop. The feedback loop helps struggling students, it helps struggling teachers, it pays for performance. It's a little bit of tension to make the system really run. You have to have those three things or you get the U.S. system.

What do you think is keeping the U.S. education system from achieving these three things?

One of the biggest challenges is just saying you will no longer tolerate mediocre performance. Arizona where I reside has an exit examination to get out of high school. It's called the AIMS test. It started out with great intentions as a test which would raise standards by being a difficult test.

When they first tried to introduce it, they found nobody could pass it, so they dumbed it down so that everybody could pass. And that is the lack of political will on the system to say we mean it when we're going to raise our standards.

Do you think major corporations like Intel will eventually just move elsewhere on the basis of finding talent?

They already are. International corporations aren't dumb. And if the talent is not in the U.S., they'll follow the talent. They have to to survive. And this is what has not permeated the U.S. discussion.

When our leaders, Republican or Democrat, get in front of the audience and say, "The U.S. is at its best in a time of crisis. We will rise above all of this. We will show the world that nobody can compete with our workforce," I'm sitting there scratching my head.

Why is it that no one else can compete with us? Okay, we're entrepreneurial. Other countries are getting more entrepreneurial.

On the basics of education, preparation for the workforce, we're in the bottom quartile. What makes us special? What makes us think we're special?

Recruiting top talent in any industry comes at a significant cost. How do you convince students coming out of top schools, likely with loans to pay off, to go into teaching?

How does Wendy Kopp do it from Teach for America? Why is she oversubscribed … for the positions she has?

These are kids coming out of the top schools. They have loans just like everybody else. Come up with a program. Start forgiving loans for the number of years you spend teaching.

I think there is a great capability to attract smart kids if you don't say to the kid, "If you want to be a teacher, you have to go through the mind-numbing experience of four years at a school of education as opposed to being a content expert in some topic and we'll make you a teacher later."


Next generation workforce: Outperformed in math and science

Posted by Fortune Editors

December 8, 2010 3:41 pm


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Colleges That Recruit Veterans Garner Profits and Scrutiny

There was an in-depth story on the front page of yesterday's NYT about how for-profit colleges (many of which we are shorting in the hedge funds I manage) have profited immensely from the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill – in some cases, genuinely helping vets, but FAR too often exploiting them with high-pressure sales pitches, leaving them with few benefits and huge debts.  The last part is really the key: community colleges that serve similar students are pretty lousy overall, so the for-profit ed industry likes to trumpet that its results are slightly less bad (what a sales pitch: "We suck less!"), but what it never mentions is that the tuition charged by for-profit schools is MASSIVELY higher so students end up with significantly higher debt and thus have a much tougher row to hoe to earn enough to pay off the debt.  For example, in 2009, the average student at a non-profit school received $3,744 in Pell grants and loans vs. $13,247 (3.5x higher) at for-profit schools.  Multiply this by many years of study and the difference is enormous.


Why is the tuition at for-profit institutions so much higher?  It's not because they're spending more to provide a better education; rather, it's necessary to cover huge marketing expenditures, salaries, and profit margins.  Here is the data for 2009 for Apollo Group (which we're short), which receives 89% of its revenues from Title IV loans and grants (up from 48% in 2001): "Instructional costs and services" were a mere 40.3% of revenue, while "Selling and promotional" expenses were nearly $1 BILLION, equal to 24.2% of revenues, resulting in operating profit equal to 26.2% of revenues.  Plus the top five executives at Apollo had total comp of $72 MILLION in only three years from 2007-09.  What a business!  (For managers/owners anyway – not so much for students and taxpayers.)


Hedge fund manager Steve Eisman (who is also shorting the sector) had it right in his 6/24/10 Congressional testimony (http://help.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Eisman.pdf; here's a link to the slides he presented a month earlier: www.marketfolly.com/2010/05/steve-eisman-frontpoint-partners-ira.html):


One major reason why the industry has taken an ever increasing share of government

dollars is that it has turned the typical education model on its head. And here is where

the subprime analogy becomes very clear.


There is a traditional relationship between matching means and cost in education.

Typically, families of lesser financial means seek lower cost institutions in order to

maximize the available Title IV loans and grants – thereby getting the most out of every

dollar and minimizing debt burdens. Families with greater financial resources often seek

higher cost institutions because they can afford it more easily.


The for-profit model seeks to recruit those with the greatest financial need and put them

in high cost institutions. This formula maximizes the amount of Title IV loans and grants

that these students receive.


With billboards lining the poorest neighborhoods in America and recruiters trolling

casinos and homeless shelters (and I mean that literally), the for-profits have become

increasingly adept at pitching the dream of a better life and higher earnings to the most

vulnerable of society.


But if the industry in fact educated its students and got them good jobs that enabled them

to receive higher incomes and to pay off their student loans, everything I've just said

would be irrelevant.


So the key question to ask is – what do these students get for their education? In many

cases, NOT much, not much at all.


…The bottom line is that as long as the government continues to flood the for profit

education industry with loan dollars AND the risk for these loans is borne solely by the

students and the government, THEN the industry has every incentive to grow at all costs,

compensate employees based on enrollment, influence key regulatory bodies and

manipulate reported statistics – ALL TO MAINTAIN ACCESS TO THE



In a sense, these companies are marketing machines masquerading as universities. And

when the Bush administration eliminated almost all the restrictions on how the industry is

allowed to market, the machine went into overdrive.


…Let me end by driving the subprime analogy to its ultimate conclusion. By late 2004, it

was clear to me and my partners that the mortgage industry had lost its mind and a

society-wide calamity was going to occur. It was like watching a train wreck with no

ability to stop it. Who could you complain to? -- The rating agencies? – they were part

of the machine. Alan Greenspan? – he was busy making speeches that every American

should take out an ARM mortgage loan. The OCC? -- its chairman, John Dugan, was

busy suing state attorney generals, preventing them from even investigating the subprime

mortgage industry.


Are we going to do this all over again? We just loaded up one generation of Americans

with mortgage debt they can't afford to pay back. Are we going to load up a new

generation with student loan debt they can never afford to pay back. The industry is now

25% of Title IV money on its way to 40%. If its growth is stopped now and it is policed,

the problem can be stopped. It is my hope that this Administration sees the nature of the

problem and begins to act now.


But if nothing is done, then we are on the cusp of a new social disaster. If present trends

continue, over the next ten years almost $500 billion of Title IV loans will have been

funneled to this industry. We estimate total defaults of $275 billion, and because of fees

associated with defaults, for-profit students will owe $330 billion on defaulted loans over

the next 10 years.


Colleges That Recruit Veterans Garner Profits and Scrutiny

for-profit institutions that seek out veterans.
Published: December 8, 2010


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Ravitch debate on Twitter

Kudos to Fordham's Mike Petrilli, who debated Ravitch on Twitter (no joke!):

In which I debate Diane Ravitch in 140 characters or less

Perhaps you've noticed, but I haven't been blogging as much as usual lately. That's because I've started tweeting, by which I mean I've started wasting untold hours following thousands of mini-messages on Twitter every day, along with sending dozens of my own. Michelle Rhee's new initiative is great, but if we really want to hamper the teachers unions, we should introduce their leaders to Twitter.

But it did produce this nifty little debate between my friend Diane Ravitch and me, on the topic of school budget cuts. I thought I'd share.

DianeRavitch NYC class sizes going up and up as budgets cut. Many kids poor, special needs, ELL.

MichaelPetrilli That's because Joel and Randi agreed to unaffordable raises and pension deals for teachers. How would you cut costs?

DianeRavitch Then cut massive bureaucracy

MichaelPetrilli Yes, let's cut bureaucracy. But with 85% of the money in teacher salaries and benefits, we have to let class sizes rise, too.

DianeRavitch Easy to let class sizes rise for other people's children.

MichaelPetrilli That's a great line, Diane, but it doesn't solve the problem. The money is gone. We have to help schools cut smart.

DianeRavitch Folks on the right are a tad too gleeful about cutting school budgets

MichaelPetrilli No, gleeful to get rid of policies like last hired first fired which are bad for kids. The $ crisis is an opportunity to do so

DianeRavitch When you go to hospital, do you want to be treated by an intern or a doctor? Newbies need help of seasoned vets. Kids too.

MichaelPetrilli I sure don't want to be treated by an ineffective or burned out doctor, regardless of how many years he's been on the job.

DianeRavitch Why do you assume that experienced teachers are burned out or ineffective? Why the contempt?

MichaelPetrilli I'm sure most veteran teachers are great. But let's assume that 5 or 10% are not. Those are the ones who should be let go.

DianeRavitch I just don't understand idea that we need to fire x% of teachers: No evaluations, no effort to improve, just fire people. Tabloid think.

MichaelPetrilli Of course we should do evaluations, etc. But right now districts must lay off teachers. If not the bad ones, then who?

Who says Web 2.0 is superficial?

-Mike Petrilli

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Gray quietly takes first step in creating charter school funding equity

An interesting tidbit from DC.  Let's cross our fingers and hope Mayor Gray ends up being better than many fear on solidifying and expanding the reforms initiated under Fenty and Rhee:

Gray quietly takes first step in creating charter school funding equity

·         December 8th, 2010 5:00 am ET

The Washington Post's Tim Craig reports today on moves the D.C. Council has taken to close a $188 million shortfall in this fiscal year's budget.  The exercise revealed two bold moves by the incoming Mayor.  First, Mr. Gray added on to a proposal by Mr. Fenty to reduce welfare payments by 20 percent to anyone who has been in the program for more than 5 years.  Mr. Gray increased that number to 40 percent in fiscal 2012 and 60 percent in fiscal 2013.

Next, Mr. Gray placed in reserve $31 million in funding for DCPS until the school system can prove it needs the money.  According to Mr. Craig, "Gray said his approach is a sign that he wants to 'scrub' the school budget for potential savings in the coming years."

Coincidentally, this is almost exactly the amount of money it would take to bring the charter school per pupil facility fund payment from the current $3,000 to $3,100 per child, back to the level it was at before Mr. Fenty reduced it to $2,800 last year.  The facility allotment working group that Tom Nida headed about 12 months ago estimated that the traditional schools receive $3,200 a student for buildings.  If the dollars that have been put aside make it over to charters it would be an extremely important first step in equitable resource allocation between the two public school systems, a goal Mr. Gray committed to during the campaign.

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Gates Foundation new initiative

Kudos to the Gates Foundation for funding this important initiative:


Communities, School Districts, Traditional Public Schools, and Charters Join Together to Learn from Each Other and Help All Students Succeed

Denver – Leaders in nine communities across the U.S. have signed on to a District-Charter Collaboration Compact, an initiative to highlight new ways that public charter schools and traditional public schools are working to provide high-quality education for all students. Cities committed to the Compact include Baltimore, Denver, Hartford, Conn., Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, New York City, and Rochester, N.Y.

In response to requests by school districts and charter school leaders for such a collaboration, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has supported the development of public agreements in cities where the traditional district schools and public charter schools are eager to work together to share best practices and provide all children in their communities with a public school education that prepares them with the skills and knowledge to succeed in college and the workforce.

"Traditional public schools and public charter schools share a common goal of preparing all students for future success," said Vicki L. Phillips, director of Education, College Ready, at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Too often, issues not tied to academic outcomes can make it difficult for schools and teachers to have the opportunity to learn from each other and build upon successful practices, whether those practices are found in district-run or charter-run schools. We hope this Compact helps to fill a void for these cities and will lead the way for a committed partnership to work together to improve all schools."

Through the District-Charter Collaboration Compact, districts will commit to replicating high-performing models of traditional and charter public schools while improving or closing down schools that are not serving students well. Additionally, each city Compact addresses contentious and persistent tensions between district and charter schools, and identifies specific opportunities for the two groups to leverage each others' strengths in pursuit of a common mission. 

The Compacts address equity issues that often lead to tensions between district and charter schools, such as whether both district and public charter school students have access to necessary funding and facilities, and whether charter schools are open to all students, including those with special needs and English Language Learners. Several cities' Compacts also include commitments among district and charter partners to jointly develop a shared approach to school enrollment, co-develop measures of effective teaching, align the district's curriculum to the Common Core State Standards, and share access to school data systems.

Each city Compact is signed by the district superintendent and multiple charter school leaders, with support from other partners in the city, such as the city's mayor, local teachers' unions, and school board members. Each of these cities will be eligible for a modest investment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to advance the work outlined in the Compact.

"Leading cities in the country are already working on many of these issues," said Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. "The Compacts create a formal collaboration to help put the difficult issues on the table and to recognize a group of leading cities that are demonstrating what cross-sector collaboration should look like in every city."

"The Compacts provide common ground for districts and charters to share best practices and scale up what's working," said Chris Gibbons, CEO of West Denver Prep, a high-performing charter operator in Denver. "We have so much we can learn from each other to raise the achievement of all students in our communities, and we're excited to be part of this collaborative effort."

The District-Charter Collaboration Compact is part of an ongoing dialogue between traditional public schools and charter schools. In addition, a second cohort of cities that are developing District-Charter Collaboration Compacts will be announced in April 2011. In the coming months, cities that have developed Compacts will be eligible to compete for a larger, multi-million dollar grant to work collaboratively to accelerate student achievement across their cities.

The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington will publish annual reports to measure the overall progress of the participating cities and outline the steps being taken to ensure proper implementation.

To learn more about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's education strategy, please visit www.gatesfoundation.org/education.

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Speech by Steve Barr at PopTech in 2009

Here's a link to an 18-minute speech Steve Barr gave at PopTech in 2009: www.poptech.org/stevebarr

PopTech 2009

In the words of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Steve Barr seems to have "cracked the code." In 1999 Barr took his experience on the frontlines of campaign politics and founded Green Dot Public Schools, an organization devoted to increasing access to quality secondary education in distressed urban areas. He opened his first charter school in Lennox, a depressed area not far from LAX airport.

Since 2000, Green Dot has transformed the Los Angeles educational landscape by creating 17 high-performing charter high schools, and their numbers speak for themselves: schools that saw 75% of incoming freshmen drop out have been transformed into institutions that send nearly 80% of students to college. In 2008, Green Dot took over Alain LeRoy Locke High School in Watts, an incredible story that was documented in The New Yorker last May.

Barr's efforts to enlarge and liven democratic processes did not start with Green Dot, however. He co-founded Rock the Vote in 1990, and also led efforts to pass the Motor Voter Bill, signed into law in 1994 by President Clinton. He hosted Clinton's National Service Inaugural event, which led to the creation of Americorps, and has served as a Democratic Party finance chair.

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