Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Smartest Kid in the World Reviews

STOP THE PRESSES!  I just finished reading Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way and it is an absolute must read

The book covers a lot of ground, but mainly focuses on three American high school students who spend a year at regular public schools in Finland, Poland and South Korea – all countries that, unlike the US, have made great progress educationally and now score well above us (despite, needless to say, spending a ton less per pupil than us). Each country has lessons for us:

· Finland is the model we should aspire to, especially the way they recruit and train fantastic teachers – and then give them great autonomy. It’s the way EVERY successful school (and school system) I’ve seen works, rooted in what Charlie Munger calls “a seamless web of deserved trust” (he was referring to how one of the largest companies in the world, Berkshire Hathaway (of which he is Vice Chair to Warren Buffett), with nearly 300,000 employees, operates with only a couple of dozen people at headquarters).
· I’d never heard anything about Poland’s educational system, but we could learn a lot from their first phase of reform in which the country re-set the bar to a rigorous, high level and outlined a standard national curriculum – but then gave schools and teachers freedom in how to meet the goals (Poland’s next phase is upgrading teacher quality).
· South Korea has a laser-like focus on education – to an obsessive, insane degree, including private cram schools calledhagwons – that could never be fully replicated here, but if we took education even half as seriously as they do, it would make a HUGE difference.

To summarize the book in three points:

1. Set up a system to get only top-caliber people into teaching and then train (and retain) them well (like we do with doctors, for example).
2. Set a high bar and demand hard work and critical thinking. “Nine out of ten international students reported that school in America was easier than school back home. Seven out of ten American students agreed with them.” Ripley’s research confirms that what I’ve long said is true worldwide: young people, like big organizations, will like up – or live down – to whatever expectations you set for them.
3. There needs to be a national ethos regarding the importance of education (as opposed to, say, high school football).

As I write these points, I’m realizing that there’s another reason this book might be very powerful: it focuses on things that folks like Ravitch and me might (I hope you’re sitting down) actually agree on.

So much of the book is a must-read and I underlined and starred so many pages that I had trouble narrowing down what to share. I scanned 27 pairs of pages and posted them here 
Here’s a rough table of contents (using my page numbers since the book’s page numbers were cut off by my scanner):

a)      Page 1: a chart that shows how different countries have done on the PISA test since the 1960s – note the US stagnation, Korea and Finland soaring (and, lest you think all rich, homogeneous countries do well, Norway crashing).
b)      Pages 2-3: Korea rising from the ashes of the Korean War
c)      Page 4: our startling (and horrifying) math deficiency
d)     Pages 5-11: if you read anything, read this section, called A Tale of Two Teachers, which compares how Finland and the US recruit and train teachers.
e)      Page 12: Finnish students answer the American student’s question: “Why do you guys care [about school] so much?”
f)       Pages 12-13: A Finnish student comes to the US and can’t believe how dumbed down our standards and expectations are.
g)      Pages 14-15: traits of good parents (authoritarian vs. authoritative; cheerleader vs. coach)
h)      Page 16: Summary of what top countries are doing (“everything was more demanding”)
i)        Page 17: Our glorification of sports (at the expense of academics)
j)        Pages 18-20: The Poland case study
k)      Page 21: Inequalities in our system (but not in top countries)
l)        Page 22: The complaints and obstacles to change are similar around the world
m)    Page 23: How we make excuses for poor kids – but top countries don’t. (A Finnish teacher said: “Wealth doesn’t mean a thing. It’s your brain that counts. These kids know that from very young. We are all the same.”)
n)      Page 24: The one test in the U.S. that’s highly rigorous, which schools and students treat seriously: the Presidential Fitness Test.
o)      Pages 24-25: Summary of what top countries are doing.
p)      Page 26: A top teacher in a low-performing DC public school “discovers the airless void where the rigor should have been.”
q)      Page 27: Summary of what good parents should be doing.

Here’s a 5-min video of Ripley presenting her work at a Stand for Children event.

Here’s a great review of the book in the NYT:

This is the first hint of how Finland does it: rather than “trying to reverse engineer a high-performance teaching culture through dazzlingly complex performance evaluations and value-added data analysis,” as we do, they ensure high-quality teaching from the beginning, allowing only top students to enroll in teacher-training programs, which are themselves far more demanding than such programs in America. A virtuous cycle is thus initiated: better-prepared, better-trained teachers can be given more autonomy, leading to more satisfied teachers who are also more likely to stay on.

Kim soon notices something else that’s different about her school in Pietarsaari, and one day she works up the courage to ask her classmates about it. “Why do you guys care so much?” Kim inquires of two Finnish girls. “I mean, what makes you work hard in school?” The students look baffled by her question. “It’s school,” one of them says. “How else will I graduate and go to university and get a good job?” It’s the only sensible answer, of course, but its irrefutable logic still eludes many American students, a quarter of whom fail to graduate from high school. Ripley explains why: Historically, Americans “hadn’t needed a very rigorous education, and they hadn’t gotten it. Wealth had made rigor optional.” But now, she points out, “everything had changed. In an automated, global economy, kids needed to be driven; they need to know how to adapt, since they would be doing it all their lives. They needed a culture of rigor.”

Dana Goldstein’s review:

Ripley believes that compared with their counterparts abroad, too many American educators rely on poverty as an excuse for poor student achievement. Indeed, a large body of research shows that teachers who hold high expectations for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic background, get better results. At a Finnish school, Ripley interviews a teacher who articulates this way of thinking. “I don’t want to have too much empathy for them,” he says of his immigrant students, “because I have to teach. If I thought about all of this too much, I would give better marks to them for worse work. I’d think, ‘Oh you poor kid. Oh, well, what can I do?’ That would make my job too easy.”

…Yet Ripley’s policy recommendations are sensible and strong. High-performing nations have shut down sub-par teacher training programs at non-elite colleges, and there is little doubt the United States should do the same—especially because we are producing an over-supply of teachers. Academically, American schools are too easy, with surveys of students showing pervasive boredom and low expectations. Our curriculum needs a booster shot, and not just in reading and math, the two subjects covered by the new Common Core national standards, but in every area, including technical and career education. Standardized testing is a blunt instrument, although every nation uses it to some degree. The real improvement happens when great teachers are given the autonomy to create engaging lessons. And we should stop throwing tax dollars at school sports programs and at gadgets like interactive white boards and iPads for every child. International comparisons show that the best schools are usually low-tech and focused on academics.

The American school reform debate has been desperately in need of such no-nonsense advice, which firmly puts matters of the intellect back at the center of education where they belong.

Ripley’s own thoughts:

They agreed on a surprising number of things. Nine out of ten international students, for example, reported that school in America was easier than school back home. Seven out of ten American students agreed with them.

Individually, Eric, Kim, and Tom each noticed how much more seriously students seemed to take school in their host countries. The kids themselves were similar to American kids in every other way, but they seemed to connect the dots between what they were doing in school—and how interesting their lives would be.

There are many reasons why kids were connecting the dots, but one was fairly simple: Kids took school more seriously because it was more serious. Students were expected to be capable of working hard on advanced material, especially in Korea. The teachers were seriously trained, with only the best educated allowed to even attempt the process. In Finland, there were fewer standardized tests and homework assignments, but the ones that existed required students to write, reason, and think for themselves.

Kids pick up on those signals. They know and care if school is a joke—or not. "My Finnish school fostered a great deal of respect for the institution and faculty in the students," one American exchange student to Finland reported. "This can be partly explained by the academic rigors that teachers had to endure. The students were well aware of how accomplished their teachers were."

Stand for Children’s Jonah Edelman’s review:

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way is a gripping new book by Amanda Ripley that answers the question, "what exactly is happening in classrooms in the countries that out-perform the U.S. academically?" Ripley investigates this question by spending time where the action is: in classrooms abroad, specifically in Poland, South Korea, and Finland. Her "informants" are American high school students who chose to study in those countries, and foreign students who come to the U.S. to study.

I literally couldn't put The Smartest Kids in the World down. Ripley's characters are fascinating, her writing style is accessible, and her observations are fresh. There's no hint of tired education talking points or polarizing rhetoric. Ripley lets facts and firsthand observations guide her conclusions, not the other way around.

The first "aha" moment in The Smartest Kids is this: The performance of students in other countries has changed dramatically over time. In some countries, such as Poland and Finland, it has improved markedly; in others, such as Norway, which has a homogeneous population, low poverty rate, and generous social safety net, it has gotten significantly worse . The U.S. is actually the exception, not the norm, in that we have plodded along at the same level for decades as other countries pass us by.

The fact that student achievement levels across the world are so dynamic is an enormously hopeful fact. If other countries have steadily improved their performance, we can, too.
But how? What gives in the countries that have already surpassed the U.S. or are heading that direction?

Ripley’s chapter on the “The $4 Million Teacher” in Korea got a lot of attention (it was published by The Wall Street Journal, which I blogged about here) and triggered this thoughtful, insightful essay by Bruce Smith, one of the teachers at Locke HS in LA who, earlier in his career, taught in Korea. Here’s the beginning:

Last weekend Amanda Ripley had a much discussed article, “The $4 Million Teacher”, published by The Wall Street Journal. It is adapted from a book, The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, which will be published this week. I definitely look forward to reading her book, having been a student of comparative education well before I travelled to South Korea in 1992 to teach in that country; but a deeper acquaintance than Ms. Ripley’s with South Korean education raises a concern that many readers will draw the wrong lessons from her article.

Ms. Ripley’s readers might guess that South Korean students succeed because of the excellence of South Korean teachers; but one wonders, if that were true, why they would go to such exorbitant lengths to supplement the education they receive for free in their public schools, and why so many Korean families spend so heavily to help their children escape their national school system. And while she is praising public school teacher preparation programs in South Korea near the end of her article, the reader must ask if she remembered, while writing that praise, her earlier paragraph (18) which shows that Korean students rate their cram school (hagwon) teachers more highly than their day school teachers, and that the cram school teachers do not have to be licensed by the state?

Although the source of South Korea’s success is more readily found in its cram schools than its regular public schools, the former are no solution to America’s crying problem of educational inequality of opportunity, but instead, when introduced here, worsen the problem by recreating East Asia’s “bidding war for education, delivering the best services to the richest families.” I should know: I was one such tutor myself, for seven years, in the 1990s. Although I began working in South Korea in a hagwon, and was quickly rented out to four more, I made the majority of my money in the last six years there through privately tutoring the children of relatively wealthy (middle class by American standards, upper class by Korean) families who had lived abroad and wanted their children to be able to continue to strengthen their English skills, something that could not be provided by regular Korean schools at that time (or now), largely because there were almost no trained, professional teachers in the country who were also fluent speakers of English. I do not know if Kim Ki-hoon, the “$4 million teacher” of the article’s title, is such another pseudo-expert as those I learned of while I was in that country; but I do know that I had students who were studying with those reputed to be the highest paid English teachers in that country at that time, one of whom once had to write a letter of recommendation so that a student we shared could get accepted to an American private school: this teacher, famous (and better paid than I was, though I was at the top of the scale for foreign teachers in South Korea) for his grammatical lectures, wrote a two-page letter in which every single sentence but one had a grammatical mistake requiring correction; and all of the dozens of Korean English teachers I met were more competent in their grammatical knowledge than in their ability to speak or otherwise communicate in English. In spite of colossal spending, and in contrast to its comparative scores in mathematics and other subjects, South Korea has never had a high average TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score, and is notorious for having to send students abroad in order to have them effectively learn our language, in spite of devoting the highest percentage of household income to after-school lessons of any country on earth; so any argument that we should learn from the excellent example being set by Korea’s famous, highly paid English teachers is laughable on its face to anyone with more than an educational researcher’s passing acquaintance with the country, and bitterly ironic to the Korean families being so poorly served while bearing such a heavy burden.

Nonetheless, the theme of Ms. Ripley’s article, and very likely its related book, is vital: “there are lessons to be learned” about “how to adapt to a changing world”; and perhaps the most important one is that the current strategy of the United States Department of Education, which focuses on improving the bottom 20 percent (and, most intensely, the bottom 5 percent) of American schools, will not solve America’s problem of global competitiveness.

One of the most critical take-aways from the book (as I’ve been saying for years) is that we need to COMPLETELY overhaul our system of recruiting, training, supporting, paying, retaining, and removing teachers, starting with our ed schools. There are a few traditional ed schools in which good things are happening (like Hunter College under David Steiner), but the two most exciting models I’m aware of are the Relay Graduate School of Education (originally started in conjunction with Hunter thanks to Steiner) in NY (and now Newark and New Orleans) and the Match Teacher Residency in Boston.

Below is an in-depth article about Relay which appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of Education Next. The team at Relay shared a few updates since the article was written:
  • We are accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (November 2012).
  • We have campuses in NYC and in Newark, NJ, we launched in New Orleans this summer, and we hope to start small campuses in Houston and Chicago in Fall 2014.
  • We piloted a year-long national training program focused on instructional leadership in July 2013 for 150 principals and principal managers from district and charter schools around the country.
  • All total, this coming school year, we’ll serve nearly 1000 educators in our programs across the country.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

I was observing a class called Designing Assessments at the new Relay Graduate School of Education when a student asked if it was OK to rework questions from a teachers’ guide to fit the English lesson she was teaching in a Brooklyn middle school that week. Sure, said Mayme Hostetter, Relay’s dean: “No need to totally invent the wheel. Just make the wheel amazing.”
Hostetter might just as surely have been talking about Relay, which aims to transform teacher education to fit the needs of urban schools. The amazing—or at least attention-getting—improvement on the wheel is that New York–based Relay is linking the success of its students to the success of their students.

During their second year in Relay’s two-year masters-degree program, elementary-school teachers are asked to show that their own students averaged a full year’s reading growth during the school year. They must also set a reading goal for each child, perhaps two years’ growth for a child who is three years behind, for example. Students can earn credit toward an honors degree if 80 percent of the children they teach meet their individual reading goals.

To earn their degrees, elementary-school teachers are also asked to show that their students earned, on average, 70 percent mastery on a year’s worth of state or Common Core Standards in another subject, usually math. In other words, a math class would meet the goal if students’ individual mastery scores, when averaged, were 70 percent or better. Middle-school teachers use the same yardstick, but only in their specialized subject.

Relay’s cofounder and president, Norman Atkins, talks movingly about the crisis in inner-city teaching and the need to “grow a pipeline of effective teachers who can make an immediate difference.” But the true value of Relay’s model may go beyond potentially improving the teaching in the classrooms where Relay’s graduates work. Robert Pianta, dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, explained that Relay is creating a “feedback loop,” using child-level data to measure the outcomes of its teacher-training program, and using those measures to make decisions about program design. “This is how systems get better,” he told me.
Spreading accountability from the teacher back to the education school is an idea the Obama administration is also promoting in its efforts to remake teacher training. This spring, a federal panel looking at teacher-preparation programs debated, among other things, rating ed schools based on how much their teachers add to student learning. That possibility riles ed school deans, among others, but “individual accountability is coming down the pike,” says Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and advocacy group.

The Education Action Group wrote a nice article about the Match Teacher Residency, starting with a good description of a typical ed school program:

It all began in 2008, when Match officials opened a two-year teacher training program for graduate students, known as Match Teacher Residency (MTR).

The MTR program only recently graduated its fifth group of students, but it already has a reputation among school leaders for producing the best and most effective first-year teachers in the nation.

“Their teachers are the best from any graduate school of education in America,” says Scott Given, CEO of Unlocking Potential, an organization dedicated to turning around failing schools. “When we have teacher resumes from the grad schools at Harvard, Stanford and Match, we move fastest to consider the Match candidate. It’s not even a close call.”
Other education leaders apparently share Given’s enthusiasm for Match-trained teachers. According to Match officials, all MTR graduates get hired by a high-performing school (usually a charter school) immediately after they complete the program.

School leaders seek out MTR graduates not only because they’re well-prepared for the classroom, but because they’re likely to stay there. Of the 110 individuals who have completed the MTR program, 90 percent of them are still in the classroom.

That’s a stunning accomplishment – especially in light of new National Council on Teacher Quality analysis that concludes most teacher colleges constitute “an industry of mediocrity” that cranks out thousands of graduates unprepared for the classroom.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Rebutting Ravitch

Back to my favorite activity, rebutting Ravitch (so much so that I have a web site dedicated to it). Let’s start with an article by Peter Cunningham, Former Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach at the US DOE, who takes issue with her recent, outrageous “maybe they don’t need to go to college” comment:

Over the years, her criticism of the administration became more and more strident. It was increasingly clear that she was not interested in a genuine conversation with us but rather was interested in driving her anti-administration message, even if it meant resorting to tactics that are beneath someone of her stature: ad hominem attacks on the secretary, cherry-picking data, setting up straw man arguments, taking language out of context and distorting its meaning, and ignoring sound evidence that conflicts with her point of view. At a certain point, I made the decision that, rather than engage with her, we would ignore her and, for the most part, we did.

Now that I have left government, I continue to track the national dialogue on-line. For example, I read the other day that Dr. Ravitch's blog has just received its six millionth page view. I extend my congratulations to her. She clearly has a following and with tens of thousands of tweets and thousands of blog posts behind her, she has earned it. However, I was taken aback to read the following passage in Friday's New York Times in anarticle about the new assessment in New York aligned with Common Core standards:

Some critics say the new standards are simply unrealistic. "We're using a very inappropriate standard that's way too high," said Diane Ravitch, an education historian who served in President George W. Bush's Education Department but has since become an outspoken critic of many education initiatives. "I think there are a lot of kids who are being told that if they don't go to college that it will ruin their life," she said. "But maybe they don't need to go to college."

When Dr. Ravitch says, "But maybe they don't need to go to college," who exactly is she referring to? It's certainly not rich white kids. It's definitely not the children of middle class parents, who view college for the kids as one of the core pillars of the American Dream. That leaves low-income and minority children. It includes the children of immigrants who come here with an 8th grade education and desperately want their kids to do better than them -- the kind of parents you meet at a graduation who speak little English and can't stop crying for joy.

I fully understand that all young people are not going to college.

Here’s another response from Grant Newman, a TFA alum who taught for 4 years at Achievement First in Brooklyn:

In today's NY Times, Diane Ravich was quoted on the rigor of the Common Core: 

“We’re using a very inappropriate standard that’s way too high,” said Diane Ravitch, an education historian who served in President George W. Bush’s Education Department but has since become an outspoken critic of many education initiatives. “I think there are a lot of kids who are being told that if they don’t go to college that it will ruin their life,” she said. “But maybe they don’t need to go to college.”

Her line of thinking perfectly demonstrates the out-of-touch mentality of anti-reformers, who because of privilege (race, class, educational opportunity, health, etc) can make statements that demean the capabilities of all students without any retribution or questioning. Dr. Ravitch's notion that "they don't need college" speaks volumes about what she will never understand--teachers CAN and ARE capable of dramatically impacting the lives of their students.

 The sad irony however is that the students Dr. Ravitch writes off as possibly not having the potential to reach college are exactly the students who need that opportunity for any chance at upward mobility. Rich kids from Scarsdale can do fine in life through connections and experiences that grant them solid jobs and clear options.

 My students in Bushwick, Brooklyn have little chance of reaching the same success as that peer from Scarsdale unless they get the most extraordinary education to somehow level the playing field. While she consistently says she is a supporter of teachers and students, it is clear that she actually doesn't think either group can do much and instead should settle for maintaining the current state of affairs. 

Here’s a balanced review in The Atlantic of her new book, Reign of Error (what a great title that would be for a book about HER!), which mentions DFER and quotes me pointing out her “thuggery”…

The survival of the school-reform movement, as it’s known to champions and detractors alike, is no longer assured. Even a couple years ago, few would have predicted this turn of events for a crusade that began with the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983, gathered momentum as charter schools and Teach for America took off in the 1990s, and surged into the spotlight with No Child Left Behind in 2001. As a schoolteacher, I know I didn’t anticipate this altered landscape. If one person can be credited—or blamed—for the reform movement’s sudden vulnerability, it’s a fiercely articulate historian, now in her 70s, named Diane Ravitch.
That Ravitch helped conceive the movement she now condemns makes her current role even more unexpected.

…A decade later, No Child Left Behind’s bipartisan push for federally mandated assessments brought Ravitch’s favored prescriptions into the mainstream. A growing cadre of social entrepreneurs—including Teach for America’s founder, Wendy Kopp, and many former TFAers, among them the creators of the KIPP charter schools—focused more intently on improving teacher quality. This was the key, they argued, to boosting achievement among disadvantaged students. They attracted generous backers, not least the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Executives from Silicon Valley and Wall Street hedge funds joined the cause, financing new organizations, such as Democrats for Education Reform, to push for more innovation. Soon the movement commanded allegiance from Democrats and Republicans in Congress, secretaries of education from both parties, and several big-city mayors and school superintendents. Ravitch, for her part, briefly advised George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign. The only figures conspicuously absent from this burgeoning coalition seemed to be traditional teachers and their unions, whom many reformers judged a primary obstacle to necessary change.

…Ravitch and her book instead further polarized an already strident debate. Movement crusaders denounced her as a doomsayer with no constructive answers. Although the reformist camp was more diverse than Ravitch acknowledged, its more hard-line proponents circled the wagons. They declined to scrutinize even the obvious excesses of their movement: the zealotry of D.C.’s superintendent of schools, Michelle Rhee, who soon found herself linked to a cheating scandal; the shady for-profit charters and so-called cyber schools with no record of serving disadvantaged children; the hastily adopted and unproven teacher-assessment schemes; a pricey new bureaucracy of McKinsey-style reform consultants, deployed even as classroom budgets were gutted.

Ravitch had taken to social media with the fervor of a teenager, and she responded to critics with fire-hose blasts of tweets and blog posts. Plainly thrilling to the role of polemicist, she accused one “loathsome” reformer of having “ruined the life” of a career educator “for filthy lucre.” Her opponents gave as good as they got. Whitney Tilson, a financier renowned for circulating pro-reform e‑mails, denounced Ravitch’s “thuggery.”

Ravitch was no longer engaging with her critics. She was rallying a base that grew rapidly as anti-testing fervor spread. This spring, she helped found the Network for Public Education to fight high-stakes testing and what she calls the privatization of public schools. (Meanwhile, Ravitch’s ideological adversaries have poured money into school-board and congressional races.) In less than three years, she has become the public face of a counterrevolution that shows no signs of abating, as many educators and parents now balk at the Common Core State Standards, a newly ambitious set of academic guidelines and accompanying assessments.
Ravitch presents Reign of Error as an overture to dialogue with opponents, but her subtitle suggests otherwise: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. Her tour of the research is littered with bumper-sticker slogans—she indicts, for example, the “Walmartization of American education”—likely to put off the unconverted. The book reads like a campaign manual against “corporate reformers.” The first half challenges the claims of their movement; the second offers Ravitch’s alternative agenda. Her prescriptions include universal pre-K, smaller class sizes, better teacher training, and more measures to reduce poverty and school segregation.

These are worthy goals—and not one of them is necessarily incompatible with many reformers’ own aims. Yet Ravitch doesn’t address competing priorities or painful trade-offs. Further reducing class size in better-off suburban districts, for example, may leave less money for more urgently needed early-childhood programs in poorer communities.

…For her part, Ravitch might lead her own followers to recognize that the desire to improve teacher quality isn’t tantamount to teacher-bashing.

“If my child were in a school where he was not learning,” Ravitch wrote in the not-too-distant past, “I would not wait for a gathering of social scientists to tell me whether it was okay for me to put him in another school.” A reform movement convulsed by extremism shouldn’t hinder parents, or children, either. If only Ravitch, too, would dedicate her zeal to a less divisive vision.

To get a sense of Ravitch’s daily nonsense, check out this post in which she writes that TFA alums/reformers are “using their power to promote privatization of public education and to attack the teaching profession” and “At some point, TFA will be recognized as a crucial cog in the rightwing effort to destroy public education and dismantle the teaching profession”. In my book, when someone stands up and says “white is black, up is down, and the sun circles the earth”, we can safely say that this is a delusional crackpot…:

Teach for America has always said that its long-term goal
was to train future leaders who would take a significant role in
shaping education policy. That is happening. Such alumni as
Michelle Rhee, Kevin Huffman (state commissioner in Tennessee),
John White (state commissioner in Louisiana), and Eric Guckian
(education advisor to the extremist Governor of North Carolina) are
using their power to promote privatization of public education and
to attack the teaching profession. In Atlanta, four
TFA alumni are running for school board
 and have a good
chance of winning. “Incumbent Courtney English (at-large Seat 7) is
a TFA alum. So is Matt Westmoreland, who is running unopposed for
the District 3 seat being vacated by Cecily Harsch-Kinnane. “So is
Eshe Collins, who is running for the District 6 seat being vacated
by Yolanda Johnson; as well as Jason Esteves, who is running for
the at-large Seat 9 being vacated by Emmett Johnson. However,
neither Collins nor Esteves mention TFA in their extensive campaign
biographies which appear on their respective websites. “Overall,
the four are a largely pro-charter school group. If all four are
elected, TFA alumni will constitute a near-majority voting bloc on
the BOE.” The linked article suggests that the four will advance a
pro-privatization agenda. At some point, TFA will be recognized as
a crucial cog in the rightwing effort to destroy public education
and dismantle the teaching profession.

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Support for Mark Riley

Speaking of the Atlanta School Board, in addition to Courtney English (whom I blogged about here), I’m also asking you to support Mark Riley, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the KIPP School Summit earlier this month (I just donated $100 at here):

Dear All,
I wanted to let you know that after a lot of study of how this Fall’s elections are likely to shape up, I have decided to run to regain my seat on the Atlanta School Board.
This is a watershed moment for our school system. This election and the new superintendent we hire in 2014 may be the most important decisions we make as a community this decade. We have the opportunity to set a new course for our schools and ensure they are providing the world class education we all want for our children. There are some fundamental changes that need to be made in how our school system operates in order to live up to these expectations. These reform measures are working in other cities around the country - Denver, Nashville, New Orleans - and we need to bring them here.

I have been involved in public education in Atlanta since the early 1990’s when I took part in a community wide coalition to improve the then dysfunctional Atlanta School Board. I was elected to the Atlanta School Board in 2002 and served two four-year terms in a city wide role. For 15 years I have led the Sartain Lanier Family Foundation, a major Atlanta based grant making organization that focuses on educational organizations and reform. Through this work I have studied educational reform efforts both locally and nationally. I have been exposed to cutting edge thought leadership on education reform and how our children can benefit, particularly those without many opportunities.

Now is the time to enact real reform in our schools. Now is the time to provide real opportunity for all of our children, regardless of the neighborhood in which they live. 
This is our moment. We must take advantage of it to enact real change in our schools. With your help, I'm ready to move forward. I hope you'll join me.


PS - Our new campaign website is and you can find the campaign Facebook page here. Please like and help spread the message with your friends.

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Graduation Rate Rise in Bloomberg's Schools

Great to see – and more evidence that Bloomberg and Klein’s reforms are making a difference for NYC schoolkids:

The new, smaller schools at the center of Mayor Bloomberg’s education reforms have boosted students’ chances of graduating on time, research to be released Monday shows.

The small schools’ students — admitted by lottery and not on the basis of previous academic attainment — fared better than kids who were turned away in the lotteries and attended other city schools.

“I think it provides reliable evidence that large-scale transformation is not only possible but that it can succeed,” said Gordon Berlin, president of the research group MDRC, which conducted the study and plans to continue tracking the students through college and careers.

Since 2002, the Bloomberg administration has pushed to improve graduation rates by shuttering struggling large schools and replacing them with the smaller ones.

The research found that 70% of students from small schools graduated on time, while just 61% of the students who were turned away managed to earn diplomas in four years.

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Kathleen Daniel and Christopher Banks for City Council

Speaking of NY, two candidates for City Council need our support (my wife and I just each donated $175 to each candidate, which is matched 6:1; you can donate quick and easily to both here).

First, Kathleen Daniel – here’s what a friend wrote:


Kathleen Daniel still needs our help urgently in her Brooklyn City Council race!
If you've met her, you've heard about the desperation with which Kathleen searched for a great school for her daughter, only finding relief once her daughter–her son attends Excellence Boys–was called off the Leadership Prep Ocean Hill waitlist.

In her four years as an Excellence Boys mom, Kathleen has advocated for charter schools to elected officials in Brooklyn and Albany. Two years ago, when an NAACP/UFT lawsuit threatened our schools' growth, she debated the head of the NAACP on TV on our behalf.

We know how Kathleen would stand up for great schools and help ensure space for the successful schools that are educating low-income students and sending them to college. What’s more, she has vowed as a City Council member to work to devise ways for district schools and charter schools to get beyond any space wars and instead work together to adopt the best practices that are clearly working for the students in the highest-performing schools.
Out of 51 Council members, only 3 are pro-charter. But many more are uninformed, and with strong leaders like Kathleen in the Council, we can change that. While the mayor's race garners the most headlines—some Brooklyn city council districts, where dozens of schools are located, are in many ways as important as who the next mayor will be.
If you are a city resident, an investment of just $175 into a campaign means $1,225 for the campaign to spend, because of the city’s matching program.
Kathleen needs your help in getting her story out there to fight against the name recognition of the incumbent, which newspapers say has one of the worst attendance records on the Council.

Brooklyn kids and their families deserve a leader who will fight for great schools, but Kathleen needs funds to get her message across and turn out her vote. If you are able to contribute a maximum of $2,750 to her campaign (which becomes $3,800 due to matching), it will go an incredibly long way though again, a small donation of $175 means a much larger $1,225.
Please contribute and take a moment to think of any spouses, friends or family who might want to support education reform in this way. If you haven't contributed yet, please go online to contribute to Kathleen Daniel here: It’s really easy to contribute, takes just a few minutes with a credit card, and can make all the difference to a campaign. 

Second, Christopher Banks (you can donate here):

Christopher Banks in District 42 (East New York) is facing off against Inez Barron, probably the most demagogic anti-reform member of the State Assembly.  Running to replace her husband Charles, Barron has called the reform movement an attempt to "gentrify the public school system" that hurts African-American students.  She was a member of the UFT for 18 years.  

Banks, supported by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, is a young and dynamic community leader.  He is part of a broader movement to replace the failed leadership in the City's poorest, most crime-ridden and worst educated neighborhood.  With no money or support, he won 46% of the vote against Barron in 2012, when he challenged her for Assembly.  Here’s a link to a recent Daily News profile of the race:

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Merit Pay-Plan Begins for Teachers in Newark

More good news in Newark (from today’s WSJ). It’s beyond me why EVERY school system doesn’t pay more to a) the best teachers; b) teachers willing to work in the toughest schools; and c) teachers in hard-to-staff subjects:

Newark, in a first for a large New Jersey public-school system, has given out bonuses of up to $12,500 to its highest-rated teachers, inaugurating a controversial merit-pay program being watched across the nation.

A group of 190 Newark teachers learned last week they would receive bonuses, paid for through the foundation started by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. About $1.4 million in bonuses were given out to teachers: $5,000 for being rated highly effective, another $5,000 for working at a poorly performing school and another $2,500 for teaching a hard-to-staff subject. Those included certain math, science and language subjects.

About 5% of the 3,200-member teaching force got the money, one of the more contentious parts of the contract approved in November by the Newark Teachers Union. Eleven teachers received the top bonus of $12,500.

"We believe that great teachers get much better outcomes for kids, and this type of system will help us recruit great teachers—and also retain them," Cami Anderson, Newark schools superintendent, said in an interview.

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Arne Duncan Calls for Better Education Law

Arne Duncan with an op ed in today’s Washington Post calling on Congress to renew ESEA/NCLB:

The nation’s most sweeping education law — the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, better known as No Child Left Behind — is outmoded and broken. Congress has gone home for its summer recess without passing a responsible replacement.

That’s too bad. America deserves a better law.

At the heart of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a promise: to set a high bar for all students and to protect the most vulnerable. Success in that effort will be measured in the opportunities for our nation’s children, in a time when a solid education is the surest path to a middle-class life. Tight global economic competition means that jobs will go where the skills are. Raising student performance could not be more urgent.

No Child Left Behind has given the country transparency about the progress of at-risk students. But its inflexible accountability provisions have become an obstacle to progress and have focused schools too much on a single test score. NCLB is six years overdue for an update, and nearly all agree that it should be replaced with a law that gives systems and educators greater freedom while continuing to fulfill the law’s original promise.

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Obama Blocks LA's Voucher Program

I give the Obama administration high marks for its courage and bold action on ed reform, but one glaring weakness has been the unwillingness to embrace carefully targeted voucher programs like the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The administration has given itself a further black eye in this area by filing suit to block Louisiana’s voucher program, which is benefitting thousands of students, 86% of whom are black. Below is an excellent article by ed warrior John Kirtley, who writes: “On the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s great speech, a black U.S. attorney general working for the nation’s first black president filed a lawsuit to halt a program that is helping low-income black families in Louisiana choose a better school for their children.” Here’s a blurb from the LA Federation for Children:

Baton Rouge, La. (Aug. 24, 2013) – The American Federation for Children, the nation's voice for educational choice and its state affiliate, the Louisiana Federation for Children, today strongly condemned President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for seeking to limit educational options for the children of Louisiana. A motion filed by the U.S. Dept. of Justice seeks to prevent the state of Louisiana from offering school vouchers to children in school districts with existing desegregation orders for the 2014-15 school year unless the state receives otherwise authorization from the federal court overseeing the desegregation case.

“President Obama's assault on educational options is unprecedented and directly impacts low-income families who have the right to high-quality educational options," said Kevin P. Chavous, executive counsel to the American Federation for Children. "We remain committed to fighting for children and ensuring those trapped in failing schools are not left behind."

A 2013 survey from the Louisiana Federation for Children and Black Alliance for Educational Options showed that nearly 93 percent of parents are happy with their child’s scholarship school. In addition, the Louisiana Scholarship Program has both the strongest and most transparent financial andacademic accountability standards among scholarship programs in the nation.

Continue Reading...

And here are past articles on this topic by Kevin Chavous (1, 2, 3)

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Ed Reform Under Mayor Gray

For those of us rightly concerned about the future of ed reform in NYC after Bloomberg, look at DC and take heart – as Conor Williams notes, reform has continued under Mayor Gray and Kaya Henderson:

Years after former D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty (D) and his schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, left office, your feelings on their tenure likely still serve as a suitable proxy for finding your place in the country’s “education wars.” Since District students just posted substantial gains on their annual standardized assessment, these debates are fresher than ever. Rhee’s and Fenty’s backers see the scores as justification for their heroes’ hard-charging approach. But that’s not the only view. Recently, Rhee biographer Richard Whitmire begrudgingly credited current Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) for sticking with reforms he ran against during the 2010 campaign.
Gray has stayed the course. Kaya Henderson , Rhee’s successor, has done a masterful job of balancing competing groups’ interests while continuing with the serious reforms that D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) sorely needs.

But Gray’s truly unparalleled educational legacy is much bigger than serving as caretaker for his predecessor’s accomplishments. As Fenty’s and Rhee’s battles with the Washington Teachers Union attracted national attention, then-D.C. Council chairman Gray quietly led the charge to establishuniversal public pre-K in the District. This was — and is — a staggering achievement.

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Parents Support Standardized Testing

Good to see that parents have common sense when it comes to tests:

Often criticized as too prescriptive and all-consuming, standardized tests have support among parents, who view them as a useful way to measure both students' and schools' performances, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.

Most parents also say their own children are given about the right number of standardized tests, according to the AP-NORC poll.

They'd like to see student performance on statewide exams used in evaluating teachers, and almost three-quarters said they favored changes that would make it easier for schools to fire poorly performing teachers.

"The tests are good because they show us where students are at, if they need help with anything," said Vicky Nevarez, whose son Jesse just graduated from high school in Murrieta, Calif. "His teachers were great and if there were problems, the tests let me know."
The polling results are good news for states looking to implement increased accountability standards and for those who want to hold teachers responsible for students' slipping standing against other countries' scores. Teachers' unions have objected to linking educators' evaluations to student performance.

As students prepare to return to classrooms, the AP-NORC Center surveyed parents of students at all grade levels and found:

— Sixty-one percent of parents think their children take an appropriate number of standardized tests and 26 percent think their children take too many tests.

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Mexican Teachers Protest Ed Reform

Boy, if you think education and teachers unions are bad in the US, check out Mexico!

Mexico’s highly anticipated education overhaul program — intended to weed out poorly performing teachers, establish professional hiring standards and weaken the powerful teachers’ union — is buckling under the tried-and-true tactic of huge street protests, throwing the heart of the capital into chaos.

A radical teachers’ group mobilized thousands of members in Mexico City last week, chasing lawmakers from their chambers, occupying the city’s historic central square, blocking access to hotels and the international airport, and threatening to bring an already congested city to a halt in the coming days.

These mobilizations, analysts said, suggest how difficult it may be for President Enrique Peña Nieto to get through this and other changes he has pushed since taking office in December, including an energy and telecommunications overhaul deemed vital to revving up the economy.
Already, lawmakers, who passed the principal outlines of the education program in December and are negotiating additional legislation needed to carry it out, have shelved one of the bill’s most vital provisions, an evaluation requirement aimed at halting the common practice of buying and selling teaching jobs and establishing mechanisms to fire poorly performing instructors.

“What has happened is very grave,” said Sergio Aguayo, a political analyst at the Colegio de México. “A kidnapped city and a dismantled reform.”

Mr. Peña Nieto had focused on the public education system because he and analysts have called it vital to moving more people into the middle class.

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