Friday, September 28, 2007

Mayor Takes On School Critics

More kudos to ConnCAN for stirring up a hornet's nest -- and then not backing down from this unwarranted attack by the pathetic mayor (DeStephano) and school super (Reggie Mayo) of New Haven (where I was born, by the way).  Mayo is the worst kind of super (unfortunately, his type is all too common) -- a don't-rock-the-boat enemy of reform, yet politically savvy and barely competent enough to avoid getting fired.  He's also a thug, as I've highlighted in three previous emails:, and

The exchange is the latest chapter in ongoing tensions growing out of criticism of the city's school system by a New Haven-based advocacy group called Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN). Mayor DeStefano accuses the group of being basically a front for charter schools. The group calls itself a constructive independent voice for closing the achievement gap through better-performing schools of all kinds.

For more on Mayo and New Haven, see this article in the Yale Daily News:

Mayor Takes On School Critics
by Paul Bass | September 24, 2007 2:22 PM
New Haven Register <>

Who should meet with whom? That's one unresolved question in a testy exchange of letters between local education reformers and the mayor and schools superintendent.
The exchange is the latest chapter in ongoing tensions growing out of criticism of the city's school system by a New Haven-based advocacy group called Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now.  Mayor DeStefano accuses the group of being basically a front for charter schools. The group calls itself a constructive independent voice for closing the achievement gap through better-performing schools of all kinds.

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Money for Nothing

A great WSJ editorial yesterday about the disgrace in Connecticut, which is spending money like crazy yet has the widest achievement gap in the nation.  Its solution -- SURPRISE! -- is to spend even more money, rather than fixing how it's spending the money.  Kudos to ConnCAN for its work on this:

Some Connecticut lawmakers, egged on by the teachers unions,  will doubtless use these results to argue for throwing still more tax dollars at education. Earlier this year, Republican Governor Jodi Rell pushed  (unsuccessfully) for a 10% personal income tax rate hike, which she said was necessary to fund additional school spending. But here's a better idea: Try  focusing on how money is spent instead of merely how much.
Public charter schools in Connecticut regularly outperform traditional public schools, and do so on significantly smaller budgets.  Hartford's lone charter school, Jumoke Academy, receives $8,000 per student  from the state, while surrounding public schools receive $13,600 per kid. On  the most recent state assessment test, 60% of Jumoke's students scored proficient in math, 70% scored proficient in reading and 95% scored proficient in writing. The corresponding results for the surrounding public schools were  22%, 30% and 27%.
Connecticut has only 16 charter schools operating today, thanks to political limits imposed in Hartford. Governor Rell's high job-approval ratings put her in a position to push for creating more, but she's been  unwilling to take on the unions that oppose school choice for the underprivileged.
"The politicians are much freer with financial capital than with political capital," says Marc Porter Magee of ConnCan, an education  reform group based in New Haven that has called for more charter schools.  "They'll spend as much money as they can get through, but they won't take on the tough reforms when push comes to shove." The biggest losers from Ms. Rell's lack of political courage are the poorest kids in the state.


Money for Nothing
September 27, 2007; Page A16

If any state has taken to heart the claim that more money is the key to improving public education for low-income students, it's Connecticut. The Nutmeg State, which ranks first in per capita income ($47,800), also leads the way in average teacher salary ($58,700) and is third in per-pupil spending ($11,000). Yet according to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress released this week, Connecticut has the nation's largest achievement gap between poor and non-poor students.

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A Law Best Left Behind

This Op Ed in today's WSJ is largely spot-on in identifying NCLB's weaknesses, how the US DOE has failed to enforce some of its key provisions, and the flaws/loopholes in Miller's proposed renewal, but then reaches the bizarre and nonsensical conclusion that the entire law should be scrapped.  It should be fixed and enforced!

With its focus on testing, achievement, accountability and transparency,  the No Child Left Behind Act has undoubtedly altered the terms of the education debate in the U.S. But the law, which is set to expire this year, remains seriously flawed, and the Bush administration's weak enforcement of its best provisions argues against renewal.

A Law Best Left Behind
September 28, 2007; Page A14

With its focus on testing, achievement, accountability and transparency, the No Child Left Behind Act has undoubtedly altered the terms of the education debate in the U.S. But the law, which is set to expire this year, remains seriously flawed, and the Bush administration's weak enforcement of its best provisions argues against renewal.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Reading, writing, and rebellion

Another article about Kozol's (hopefully lonely) crusade against NCLB.  It's so pathetic and ironic to see such passion and caring for low-income, minority kids be spent trying to kill the most important legislation that helps these kids!

No Child Left Behind, Kozol believes, has plunged urban education back to  the dark ages before desegregation. Under the law, schools whose test scores don't improve each year could eventually be shut down, a specter hanging over a disproportionate number of city schools that educate mostly poor, minority children.
"We have apartheid schools, and MCAS has unwittingly introduced an  apartheid curriculum," said Kozol during an interview, likening inner-city classrooms to test prep factories. "I'm determined to mobilize teachers and  parents to fight this bill aggressively and bombard Senator Kennedy with a very clear message: If he fails to introduce dramatic revisions to No Child Left Behind, it will be devastating to the enormous faith we've had in him all these years."
Kennedy, chairman of the Education Committee, said in a statement yesterday that he hopes to introduce the reauthorization bill to his panel later this month or in early October after he reviews the ideas and recommendations of  parents, students, and educators, including Kozol.
"No Child Left Behind advanced the commitment first made during the Great Society, the promise that every child counts, regardless of race, background, or disability," Kennedy said. "We must renew our commitment to its noble purposes, but also make the common-sense changes needed to ensure that it works better for our students and our schools."
Kozol said he has considered Kennedy a friend for more than 40 years. As a young senator, Kennedy defended Kozol after he was fired from the Boston Public Schools in 1965 for "curriculum deviation" for teaching a Langston Hughes poem to his fourth-grade class. Kozol chronicled his harrowing year teaching under deplorable conditions in a mostly black Dorchester elementary school in his first book, "Death At An Early Age."
But, according to Kozol, the senator has thrown up a "cold, stone wall" to his repeated attempts to meet with him this summer about No Child Left Behind.  Before the Senate recessed in July, Kozol said, Kennedy's staff offered to squeeze him in for a few minutes.
"At that point, I just threw up my hands, because there's no way of presenting a thoughtful argument in five to seven minutes," Kozol said.
During his lecture at Harvard this week, Kozol likened No Child Left Behind to a "shaming ritual" in which the federal government holds up "impossible  demands without money to pay for it." Against this backdrop, it's no wonder that half of urban teachers quit within their first three years, he said.
"Wonderful teachers should never let themselves be drill sergeants for the state," he said, peering at the crowd through gold wire-rimmed glasses. "I don't want them to quit. I want them to stay. But I want them to stay and not  lose their souls."


Reading, writing, and rebellion

Activist Jonathan Kozol spoke out against the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act
By Tracy Jan, Globe Staff  |  September 21, 2007

CAMBRIDGE - Jonathan Kozol appeared shrunken in his chair at Harvard's Memorial Church, his blazer tossed aside, the sleeves of his pinstriped shirt rolled up to the elbows to expose bony arms. His thin ankles, swathed in black socks, disappeared into his signature navy blue Keds.

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A Tamer of Schools Has Plan in New Orleans

Speaking of huge challenges -- and a great person to tackle them -- here's an article about Paul Vallas and New Orleans:

Mr. Vallas, a newcomer with an unblinkered eye, has a plan. It  is not exactly like the plans he had for Chicago and Philadelphia, cities where as superintendent he was credited with making sizable dents in the troubles of dysfunctional school systems. He raised test scores, for instance, with the help of after-school programs, and he improved math proficiency and  opened new schools.
In New Orleans, the strategy cannot be the same, for a simple  reason: “There’s much deeper poverty here,” Mr. Vallas said. “So you take deep poverty and then you compound that by the aftermath of the hurricane, by the physical, psychological, emotional damage inflicted by the hurricane. It’s  ike the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
His plan is to have the schools be more than schools. They have to be substitute families, an idea that has been tried elsewhere, though rarely to this extent, and which remains a new concept in New Orleans.
Children are arriving at the schools here hungry, Mr. Vallas said, and they are going to bed hungry. In the summer, children broke into one school to raid a vending machine, they were so hungry. More than 90 percent of his 12,000-odd students in the Recovery School District, now run by the state,  are in poverty, and the vast majority are being raised by single parents. Many are not being brought up by their biological parents, Mr. Vallas said, and some are not even living with guardians.
Under these circumstances, he said, focusing on the classroom is not enough. “You begin to provide the type of services you would normally expect to be provided at home,” Mr. Vallas said. That means giving the students three meals a day, including hot lunch and dinner. It means providing dental care and eye care.
He intends to tighten up in class as well: a smaller  student-teacher ratio, more uniform instruction, new textbooks and technology,  partnerships with universities and industry. He has replaced all but one of last year’s high school principals.


A Tamer of Schools Has Plan in New Orleans
Published: September 24, 2007 <>

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 23 — The schools here have fresh paint, the bathroom stalls have doors, the library at the largest high school has books again and the angry demonstrations that met last school year’s chaotic opening have not been repeated.


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Carl Icahn Charter School honored

Kudos to NY's Carl Icahn Charter School for being one of seven charter schools nationwide recognized in this US DOE report, K–8 Charter Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap. (FYI, Sy Fiegel is on the board of this school.)  
To read about and download the report, see:  
The specific report on the Carl Icahn Charter School is at:, which begins:

Mission and Founding

Known as a "turnaround" principal, Jeffrey Litt has been working in the same five-mile radius of the South Bronx for most of his 38  ears in education. "I won’t take an easy assignment," he says. "I always work  with the population that most people run from." Given the opportunity to build a charter school from scratch, Litt jumped at the chance and has created a new elementary school based on E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum, which focuses on key concepts of western civilization in mathematics, language, science, history, music, art, and more. With the financial backing of billionaire Carl C. Icahn, the eponymous school received its charter in March  2001 and opened in September 2001 with grades K–2.

Constructed in three months out of modular portables on an empty lot, the Carl C. Icahn Charter School has outgrown its original space.  As of 2006–07, the child care and K–1 classrooms were located across the  street in the Icahn Homeless Shelter* while the school was completing building  an $11 million, five-story facility that will accommodate eight classrooms, a  library, and multipurpose rooms. Once this building is finished, the school will be able to expand from a K–7 to a K–8 school.

* This shelter also is funded by Carl C. Icahn but as a separate entity from the school.

The school’s portable buildings are protected by a locked metal fence with curled barbed wire at the top. A television monitor in Litt’s office enables him to view the entire campus at any time. Understanding that, as he puts it, "A reputation is everything in the inner city," Litt has worked tirelessly to ensure that the school has a good reputation and commands  respect. Prior to opening the school, Litt walked floor to floor in neighboring high-rise housing projects to introduce himself, spread the word  about Icahn Charter School, and encourage parents to send their children to  the new school.

Litt sets high expectations for school and students alike. The  school’s mission is to prepare its 278 students to be productive citizens through rigorous academics. As Icahn Charter School board member Seymour  Fliegel, president of the Center for Educational Innovation, underscores, the school is dedicated to giving kids from the South Bronx the chance to succeed at high levels: "Carl C. Icahn has a big thing for poor kids," Fliegel  explains. "He cares about the leadership of the school."

Based on Litt’s previous positive experience with the Core Knowledge program at another school, he selected it as the path to implementing the school’s mission. Visiting a model Core Knowledge program in Florida, Litt was told the curriculum would not work in the Bronx because "the  kids are too poor." Undaunted, Litt listened and learned, ultimately choosing to use the curriculum, but to make some adaptations that would render it more  accessible to his particular inner-city students. For example, Litt made sure to emphasize minority history and culture and connect those areas to mathematics and science. In addition, Litt decided to extend both the school day and the school year (September through July) to increase teachers’ opportunity to teach necessary skills and instill a love of learning in students.

As the school looks forward to initiating an eighth grade, it intends to prepare students for the New York City high school admissions tests  for selective public schools, as well as for applications to prestigious boarding schools, such as Connecticut’s Choate Rosemary Hall. Students accepted to Choate may apply to become an Icahn Scholar, thus receiving full  scholarship.

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Rhee airs frustration with school system in YouTube video


    I posted excerpts from Michelle Rhee's remarks at the Dems for Ed Reform launch event last Monday on YouTube at:
         <>  (part 1) and :  <>  (part 2).  The video has been getting a lot of traffic and the
         Washington Examiner wrote an article about it (below), which begins:

        A YouTube video circulating on the Internet provides some of the most candid confessions to date from D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee about the frustrations she’s
       faced in trying to weed out poor-performing school staff and in getting communities to understand just how troubled the schools are.
       Rhee, speaking to the Democrats for Education Reform a week ago, asks the group and other like-minded agencies to support her in the likely uphill battle to pass legislation          
       allowing for the firings of hundreds of weak central office members.

Kudos to her for speaking frankly about the enormous challenges she faces and her plan for addressing them.  Watching the video, one can't help but think two things: a) What an     
         unbelievable cesspool she's trying to clean up; and b) If anyone can do it, she can!


Rhee airs frustration with school system in YouTube video
Washington Examiner, 9/24/07
WASHINGTON -- A YouTube video circulating on the Internet provides some of the most candid confessions to date from D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee about the frustrations she’s faced in trying to weed out poor-performing school staff and in getting communities to understand just how troubled the schools are.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

DFER launch

USA Today education writer Richard Whitmire covered DFER's launch on his blog (see below).  Here's an excerpt:

With the Democratic front  runners courting the liberal-liberals who are the big players in the  primaries, it's easy to overlook the basics of educating kids from low-income  schools, says former reporter and author Joe Williams ("Cheating our Kids: How  Politics and Greed Ruin Education"), who now runs the organization.
It's  time, said Williams last night, "to stand up for the little guy again" (as in, stand up to the National Education Association). In primary season, that's a tall order for Democrats. Who's going to spurn the most reliable liberal foot  soldiers to be found?
The message last night, from Rhee and Chicago Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., was in-your-face civil rights rhetoric: "Children are deserving of a more perfect education," said Jackson. To him, charters are the  bright option: "We need more competition in the system."

Monday, September 17, 2007
Democrats for Education Reform

The surprise star at last night's launch of the Democrats For Education Reform was Michelle Rhee, the new DC schools chancellor. With her humor and spunk very much intact in spite of smacking repeatedly against what may be the worst-run school central office in the entire country, Rhee regaled a crowd of about 100 national education reformers at the Hotel Washington across from the U.S. Treasury Department with fresh stories from close quarters bureaucratic combat.

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Alternative Certification Isn't Alternative

Alternative certification's Pyrrhic victory

At first glance, the explosive growth of  ''alternative'' teacher certification--which is supposed to allow able  individuals to teach in public schools without first lingering in a college of  education -- appears to be one of the great success stories of modern education reform. From negligible numbers twenty years ago, alternatively-prepared candidates now account for almost one in five new teachers nationwide.
As longtime supporters of alternative certification, we should be popping  champagne, declaring victory, and plotting our next big win, right? Not so  fast. As the cliché says, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Alternative Certification Isn't Alternative <;cmd=track&amp;j=163632089&amp;u=1616353> , a  new report authored by Kate Walsh and Sandi Jacobs of the National Council on  Teacher Quality and published jointly with Fordham, finds that most  alternative certification programs, contrary to their original mission, do  not, in fact, provide a true substitute for traditional education schools. In  many ways, they represent a setback for education reform and its boosters.
We've suspected as much for years. Just as we came to understand that few  charter schools are as estimable as KIPP, so too did we come to wonder whether  ''typical'' alternative certification programs are as strong as the best of  their number--''teaching fellows'' programs run by The New Teacher Project,  for example.
This study confirms our fears and suspicions. Two-thirds of the programs  that the analysts surveyed accept half or more of their applicants.  One-quarter accept virtually everyone who applies. Only four in ten  programs require a college GPA of 2.75 or above--no lofty standard in this age  of grade inflation. So much for recruiting the best and brightest.
Meanwhile, about a third of the programs for elementary teachers require at  least 30 hours of education school courses--the same amount needed  for a master's degree. So much for streamlining the pathway into teaching. As  for intensive mentoring by an experienced teacher or administrator--long  considered the hallmark of great alternate routes--only one-third of surveyed  programs report providing it at least once a week during a rookie teacher's  first semester.
In other words, typical alternative certification programs have come to  mimic standard-issue pre-service ed-school programs. This shouldn't be a  surprise, however: fully 69 percent of the programs in the report's sample are  run by education schools, roughly the same proportion as for  alternate route programs as a whole.
This is an old story in the world of monopoly power, told and retold in  many industries. Consider the organic foods movement. For decades, a small  cadre of smallish companies provided organic products for a niche market. But  in recent years, Whole Foods and a few other chains demonstrated (and created)  growing demand for these goods, at scale, among affluent shoppers. The annual  growth rate of organic food and drink is now in the double digits, while the  grocery business as a whole stagnates. Mainstream stores, such as Safeway and  Wal-Mart, see a threat to their bottom line, but also an opportunity. So do  food suppliers like Kraft and General Mills. So they are starting to offer  organic products of their own.
That's the way competition is supposed to work, you may say, prodding  entities to offer consumers what they want. But there's a downside, too:  industry insiders and food experts accuse these big companies of quietly  watering down the meaning of ''organic.'' Consider the Aurora Organic Dairy,  described in a 2005 New York Times article <;cmd=track&amp;j=163632089&amp;u=1616354>  as ''an offshoot of what was once the  country's largest conventional dairy company.'' It resisted a move by the  National Organic Standards Board to define ''organic'' milk as coming from  dairy cows that have access to pasture. For good reason. ''On a recent visit  to Aurora's farm,'' the Times reported, ''thousands of Holsteins were  seen confined to grassless, dirt-lined pens.'' Aurora's ''organic'' milk,  however, sells for twice the price of regular.
On balance, cooptation is easier--and less risky, less expensive, more  profitable--than true competition. As in the food industry, so, too, in  teacher preparation. It's infinitely simpler, cheaper, and safer for education  schools to repackage their regular programs into something called  ''alternative'' than to embrace--much less succumb to--wholesale change. So  they offer candidates a choice: either take their regular, cumbersome programs  before teaching, or take their ''alternative,'' cumbersome programs  while teaching.
There's nothing inherently wrong with this. Just as ''sorta'' organic milk  at Wal-Mart is finding a market, so too is the ''sorta'' alternative  certification offered by ed schools (and similar programs offered by some  districts and non-profits). The thousands of teachers coming through these  programs must be finding something they prefer, certainly including the chance  to earn a salary while paying tuition instead of paying first and earning  later. But here's the difference: Shoppers who want ''true'' organic foods can  still find them at Whole Foods, crunchy co-ops, and other stores. Aspiring  teachers who want ''true'' alternative certification are mostly out of  luck--because the ed school cartel is working overtime to regulate them out of business.
Consider the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence  (ABCTE). Candidates who pass its exacting test of subject matter and  professional knowledge gain entry into the public-school classroom, where they  receive ongoing mentoring. It's unadulterated alternative certification and,  to date, seven states have adopted some version of it.
The ed school cartel, however, has struck back with blistering attacks on  ABCTE, keeping it out of most states by lobbing all the usual arguments  against the program. (It ''trivializes the profession'' is the National  Education Association's standard line.) To this they've added another talking  point: we don't really need ABCTE, because we already have alternative  certification.

No, ABCTE isn't the only answer. Plenty of other promising models exist.  But policymakers, reform advocates, and philanthropists who think they have  ''won'' the battle in favor of alternative certification should think again.  Twenty-five years later, concerns about the quality of education schools  remain--as does the need for bona fide alternatives: swifter, better, surer,  cheaper ways to address teaching aspirations on the one hand and workforce  quality and quantity problems on the other. So put away the champagne and roll  up your sleeves. Much heavy lifting lies ahead.


Alternative  Certification Isn't AlternativA new report from the  Thomas B. Fordham Institute  * *  *

Click here <;cmd=track&amp;j=163121237&amp;u=1609682>   
to read the "In A Nutshell" summary of "Alternative Certification  Isn't Alternative."
Click here <;cmd=track&amp;j=163121237&amp;u=1609683>   to view the full report. * *  *   

At  first glance, the explosive growth of "alternative" teacher  certification--which is supposed to allow able individuals to teach  in public schools without first passing through a college of  education--appears to be one of the great success stories of modern  education reform. From negligible numbers twenty years ago,  alternatively prepared candidates now account for almost one in five  new teachers nationwide. That's a "market share" of nearly 20  percent. As longtime supporters of alternative certification, we  should be popping champagne, declaring victory, and plotting our  next big win, right? Not so fast. As the old cliché says, if it  looks too good to be true, it probably is. "Alternative Certification Isn't  Alternative" reveals that alternative certification programs,  contrary to their original mission, have not provided a real  alternative to traditional education schools. In fact, they  represent a significant setback for education reform  advocates. Here are the report's main  points:

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More Gadfly highlights

More good stuff from the Gadfly (to subscribe, which I highly recommend: either email thegadfly:  <>  with "subscribe gadfly" in the text of the message or sign up at <;cmd=track&amp;j=163632089&amp;u=1616398> ):

Achievement Trap: How America is Failing Millions of  High-Achieving Students from Lower-Income Families
Joshua S.  Wyner, John M. Bridgeland, and John J. Dilulio, Jr.
Jack Kent Cooke  Foundation and Civic Enterprises
September 2007
It isn't only struggling students who have been left behind: 3.4 million high-ability but low-income  pupils aren't receiving the educations they deserve, either. Case in point:  almost half of low-income youngsters who scored in the top quartile on reading  tests as first graders were no longer scoring in the top quartile as fifth  graders. Of low-income eighth graders who scored in the top quartile on math  tests, only 25 percent were still hitting that mark in twelfth grade.  Academically talented poor students are, it seems, still lumped in with their lower-achieving classmates and not given challenging material or held to high  expectations. This report makes clear that low-performing schools -- often in rural and urban areas -- are bringing down their high-achievers rather than pushing them up. While schools focus on bringing low-achieving pupils to a  ''proficient'' level, talented kids with the potential to be ''advanced'' slide to mediocrity (or worse). Find the report here <;cmd=track&amp;j=163632089&amp;u=1616387> .


Just say no

When it comes to merit pay, Florida's teachers are about as ill-tempered as a gator buzzed by an Everglades airboat.  The state legislature launched the STAR (Special Teachers are Rewarded)  program in 2006, which gave 25 percent of public-school teachers five-percent bonuses, based primarily on student scores on the Sunshine State's standardized assessment. Educators growled, claiming that STAR encouraged an  unhealthy competition for limited funds. The legislature responded, in March  replacing STAR with MAP (Merit Awards Program). The initial response from  teachers? NOPE (No merit-pay Options will Placate our Educators). But of late  the tide is turning (see here <;cmd=track&amp;j=163632089&amp;u=1616364>  and here <;cmd=track&amp;j=163632089&amp;u=1616365> ) and those who still flat-out reject teacher-pay  reform are starting to look like a surly lot who simply refuse to compromise.  As we see it, the performance-pay train is leaving the station, and the ''just  say no'' crowd can either jump on or eventually get left in the  dust.
''Teachers Slap 'F' on Bonus Pay Plan <;cmd=track&amp;j=163632089&amp;u=1616366> ,'' by Bill  Kaczor, Associated Press, September 16, 2007

And (I'd heard good things about Bennet, which makes it especially bizarre that the union is on the right side of this issue and he's not...):

When progression is  regression

The Denver teachers union has proposed to end social promotion in Mile High City schools and instead to tie students' progress to their scores on standardized tests in third, fifth, and eighth  grades. Opponents of the plan worry that it will harm the self-esteem of students who are held back and could encourage those youngsters to drop out.  ''Unless you've got a very serious set of interventions in place, all retaining kids does is drive the dropout rate up,'' says Denver Superintendent Michael Bennet. The union agrees, which is why its plan calls for extra services for students with low test grades and reading scores. And what's the  alternative? Allowing students to progress through the grades without, say, being able to do basic math? If you want to talk about a blow to self-esteem, talk about the seventh grader who reads at a third-grade level. There may be  more to this story: the union and district are embroiled in contentious contract negotiations. But on this issue, regardless of the politics that may be involved, we're taking union's side.
''Teachers want more red lights <;cmd=track&amp;j=163632089&amp;u=1616374> ,'' by Jeremy P. Meyer,  Denver Post, September 16, 2007



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Tuscaloosa spin

The Fordham Foundation's Education Gadfly with a more nuanced view of the Tuscaloosa rezoning covered by the NYT (accompanied by breathless outrage in a previous email by yours truly ;-)...

 It's no small thing to ascribe racist motivations to public officials.  New York Times reporter Sam Dillon, generally a model of careful education journalism, came close to doing just that in a
front-page story <;cmd=track&amp;j=163632089&amp;u=1616359>  on the rezoning of students in  Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Dillon's first sentence: "After white parents in this racially mixed city complained about school overcrowding, school authorities set out to draw up a sweeping rezoning plan." He continues in this vein, focusing on race, even noting (in case you forgot) that George Wallace once stood in Tuscaloosa, in a University of Alabama doorway, to stop the college from integrating.
Controversial, sexy leads and images of a racist South are proven ways to transform news into front-page material. But they're lousy ways to tell a complicated story such as this one.


Tuscaloosa spin

It's no small thing to ascribe racist motivations to public officials. New York Times reporter Sam Dillon, generally a model of careful education journalism, came close to doing just that in a front-page story <;cmd=track&amp;j=163632089&amp;u=1616359>  on the rezoning of students in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

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Will conservative black voters remain cemented to Democratic Party?

I suspect this poll of African-Americans in South Carolina is quite respresentative of the national picture.  If there's one issue Republicans should be able to make headway on, it's school reform (though I hope they don't -- instead, I hope DFER is successful in moving the Democratic Party).  Most African-Americans know that their children are, in general, being screwed by the crappiest schools our nation has to offer and that the Democratic Party, taking their votes for granted, is too often defending the educational indefensible status quo.

To be fair, Republicans have made attempts, both nationally and at the state level, to recruit black voters. In 2002, the S.C. Republican Party appointed an Outreach Committee to spread the party’s philosophy and try to  combat the feeling among blacks that the party is just for wealthy whites. I  doubted that it could be effective. But the poll suggests it at least made an  impression on black people. Still, few joined the Republican ranks.
We mustn’t overlook the fact that well over half of those who responded to  the Winthrop-ETV poll said they feel the Democratic Party takes black voters for granted. By and large, Democrats consider the black vote a lock. As a  result, they don’t always give black voters their just due. Their ears are most open to black people — and their visits are most frequent — at election  time.
Black voters have good reason to question their relationship with the Democrats. I’m seeing more do just that. While some have migrated to the  Republican Party, most have dubbed themselves independents. That’s especially  rue among the younger generation, which is more independent-thinking.
I’ve always felt African-Americans should be represented in both parties to  raise their political effectiveness. Without the diversity, it’s easy for one  party to dismiss certain sectors of voters.
Don’t expect large numbers of African-Americans to join the Republican  ranks any time soon.
But with one in five in the poll considering themselves independent, expect  that list to grow.
Who knows? That could prompt Democrats to consider their ways and  Republicans to ponder the opportunities.

Will conservative black voters remain cemented to Democratic Party?
By WARREN BOLTON - Associate Editor <>

A STRONG strand of conservatism runs through African-American culture and politics in South Carolina.

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No Guile Left Behind in Reauthorization Debate

Mike Antonucci on the NCLB dust-up and unusual splits and alliances:

No Guile Left Behind  in Reauthorization Debate. I applaud the fortitude of those commentators who waded into the midst of the Congressional hearings on  reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act while they were going on.  Instant analysis in such situations is dangerous waters, and I opted to stay  on dry land.
As I write this, I have in  front of me some three dozen different news stories, op-eds, blog posts, and  other documents from last week. These are just the ones I printed out of the hundred or so I read. I've divided them into three categories, none of which  really have anything to do with the substance of the law, but which highlight  NCLB's unique status in today's American national political debate.
Liberal Democrats vs. Liberal  Democrats – Splits in the Democratic Party tend to be along the  moderate/liberal fault line, even on Iraq. But on NCLB, you have liberals on  both sides, moderates on both sides, and conservatives on both sides. In a  political atmosphere where you can easily predict which group will support what position, I find this refreshing, if a bit weird.
Miller vs. NEA – The newswires and the  blogosphere lit up when Rep. George Miller and NEA President Reg Weaver had a  testy exchange <>  over the inclusion of a performance  pay proposal in the reauthorization discussion draft, with Miller saying, "You  can dance around all you want. You approved the language."
This was followed by an  exchange of letters, first from Weaver to  Miller <> , then Miller to  Weaver <> . Then we had op-eds and press releases galore.
It's easy to make too much of  this. Few remember that NEA and Sen. Ted Kennedy went at it hammer and tongs  (in private) during the run-up to the original NCLB. But Miller, Kennedy and the mobs of Democrats who voted for NCLB have constituencies other than NEA to please, which makes this one rare education law.
On the other hand, Rep. Miller  (like Sen. Obama in July <> ) failed to recognize NEA's  internal imperatives. I don't know what conversations NEA and Miller had about performance pay when discussing the TEACH Act of 2005, but Miller should have  known that putting the same provision in an NCLB reauthorization bill was a different kettle of fish.
NEA has red meat issues.  Vouchers, seniority, tenure and merit pay are just a few. The union holds the  positions it does on these issues not only because it is in its interest to do so, but because it also serves a greater organizational purpose. Many people  have commented on the NEA presence at the hearings and its series of action alerts before the bill has even been introduced. Could the union generate that  kind of participation, enthusiasm and activism if the purpose was to cut a  deal on performance pay?
A union officer would much rather tell the members, "We oppose this bill because it contains merit pay"  than tell them, "We support this bill because it contains many good things for  us, despite the merit pay."
In short, you can't give a  rousing battlefield speech and then join the other side without angering your  troops.
NEA vs. CTA – This was the oddest  angle of the entire week. For the better part of a day, some commentators thought there had been a split between NEA and the California Teachers Association over the Miller-McKeon discussion draft.  As it turned out, it was a misunderstanding because CTA announced its opposition to the draft at a press conference <>  on September 10, which made news a  lot more quickly and prominently than NEA's  own press release <>  announcing its opposition to the draft  language.
What made it more confusing is  that CTA is more militant about  NCLB than NEA is (yes, really!). There is a significant faction in the  California union that wants the law entirely scrapped. However, the hypothesis that CTA could publicly oppose such a high-profile bill that NEA supported demonstrates a poor knowledge of NEA governance. If for no other reason, a  state or local affiliate's annual UniServ grants from NEA require active support of "national program priorities."
Don't expect to see much NEA  movement on any provision of NCLB. They've invested in a zero-sum game and  they'll be the last to fold.

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DFER launch

Democrats for Education Reform had a great launch event in DC on Monday, highlighted by amazing remarks by Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. (I've posted the video at ) and new DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee (DFER Chairman Kevin Chavous also spoke -- see:
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Michelle Rhee ROCKS!  Don't let the fact that she's charming and friendly fool you: she has an iron will and is taking no prisoners when it comes to cleaning up the disgraceful cesspool that the Washington DC public school system has become.  Kudos to Mayor Adrian Fenty for giving her total 100% support!  It's remarkable what can happen when you combine mayoral control with a strong mayor and chancellor team who get it and have guts -- another good example is NYC (and, I hope, in the near future, Newark).


Monday, September 17, 2007
Democrats for Education Reform

The surprise star at last night's launch of the Democrats For Education Reform was Michelle Rhee, the new DC schools chancellor. With her humor and spunk very much intact in spite of smacking repeatedly against what may be the worst-run school central office in the entire country, Rhee regaled a crowd of about 100 national education reformers at the Hotel Washington across from the U.S. Treasury Department with fresh stories from close quarters bureaucratic combat.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Thousands Protest Arrests of 6 Blacks in Jena, La.

If Jesse Jackson and President Bush agree on this, you know there's been a serious miscarriage of justice.  It's great to see that the Internet, text messaging and black talk radio have drawn so much attention to this.

“That’s not prosecution, that’s persecution,” the Rev.  Jesse Jackson, founder of the Operation PUSH/Rainbow Coalition and one of the organizers of the demonstration, told a  crowd in front of the LaSalle Parish Courthouse here. “We will not stop  marching until justice runs down like waters.”
The teenagers, who have come to be known as the Jena Six, are part of a court case that began in December 2006 when they were accused of beating a white classmate, and a local prosecutor charged them with attempted murder. The beating was preceded by of a series of racially charged incidents  at the school, including the hanging of nooses from the branch of a tree which some students felt was for white students only.
One of the accused students, Mychal Bell, 17, was convicted in  June of aggravated battery and conspiracy. Those charges were tossed out by two different appeals courts, most recently last Friday, but Mr. Bell has not been released from jail. Even as demonstrators were continuing to march through Jena, which is about 85 percent white, a state appellate court ordered an emergency hearing to determine why Mr. Bell has not yet been released.
So far, Mr. Bell is the only one of the Jena Six to be tried,  but amid pressure from critics, prosecutors have gradually scaled back many of the charges against the five other defendants.
Although the incident that brought about the case occurred about a year ago, the story of the Jena teenagers has been slow to become part of the national conversation. After Mr. Bell’s conviction, though, the story spread quickly and carried beyond Jena on the currents of the Internet, text messaging and black talk radio until it became part of a nationwide civil  rights campaign.
The matter has even drawn the attention of President Bush, who told reporters in Washington today: “Events in Louisiana have saddened  me.”


September 21, 2007
Thousands Protest Arrests of 6 Blacks in Jena, La.

JENA, La., Sept. 20 — In a slow-moving march that filled streets, spilled onto sidewalks and stretched for miles, more than 10,000 demonstrators rallied in this small central Louisiana town today to protest the treatment of six black teenagers who were arrested in the beating of a white schoolmate last year.

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NYT buries the Broad Prize story

Typical of the NY Times: it buried news of NYC winning the premier education prize in the country on page B6 and was sure to include plenty of snarky comments, without a single positive comment from anyone in NYC.  Shame, shame!

Although the prize will give the city a boost of attention, it is not quieting critics of the mayor and Mr. Klein. Before the award was announced, dozens of parents signed a letter to the foundation asking it not to give the  prize to New York. The letter said that the administration was “scornful” about parents’ concerns...
But back in New York City, David M. Quintana, a Queens parent who was consulted by officials judging the system,  said he was “disappointed” that the city had received the award.
“They were asking how our voices were heard,” Mr. Quintana said, “and across the board we told them that the city didn’t listen to our views.”
And Betsy Gotbaum, the city’s public advocate, who has been a vocal critic of Mr. Klein, said the award ignored many problems. “If we are No. 1 in terms of  achievement, it’s pretty sad news for the rest of the nation,” Ms. Gotbaum said in a statement.


September 19, 2007
New York Schools Win Award for Improvement

New York City’s public school system, the largest in the country, yesterday won the Broad Prize, given each year to an urban school district that has made great improvements in student achievement, particularly in closing gaps between white and minority students.

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hilarious student analogies

Gotta love our students!


Every year, English teachers from across the USA can submit their
collections of actual similes and metaphors found in high school
essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusement  of
teachers across the country. Here are last year's winners.

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides
gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances
like underpants in a dryer without Cling  Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a
guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one  of
those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the  country
speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar  eclipse
without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew  on him like she was a colony of E. coli, and he was
room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes
just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated
because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge
at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a
bowling ball wouldn't.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag
filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an
eerie, surreal quality, like when  you're on vacation in another city
and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when
you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across
the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having
left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka
at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences
that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.

16. John and Mary had  never met. They were like two hummingbirds who
had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was
the East River.

18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap,
only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted  shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are won't to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil,
this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not
eating for a while.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck,
either, but a real duck that was actually lame,  maybe from stepping on a
land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender
leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around
with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love.  When she spoke, he thought he heard bells,
as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

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More comments on Randi's oncologist-teacher analogy

Here's a comment from another friend:

Randi  gave a speech to incoming TFA corps members this summer during which she also used the cancer doctor analogy.  Arguments by analogy are dubious by definition, but this one really takes the cake.  I sat in on a small group debrief of Randi's speech to the corps members and everyone there was  extremely confused.  Of course strange analogies, confusing logic, and stonewalling are all key components of the union's arsenal.  It  would be interesting if someone wrote an article comparing the union's use of logic, critical thinking, and transparency to the basic lessons on logic, critical thinking, and rhetoric that are taught in middle school and high school English and Social Studies classes.

And a final comment from a retired NYC principal:

Everything you stated  today is right on the money. The UFT and its leader have non-harmonious objectives. As teachers they want to be treated and respected as professionals. As unionists they are concerned with workplace issues of more pay and less work. There can never be congruity between these goals.  Unfortunately, as an elected leadership with the need to respond to membership to stay in their jobs, the tendency is to focus more on the union needs.  However, to the union’s credit, the UFT has a first-rate professional development program headed by Aminda Gentile.
Rather than take the stand that "Teachers know what children need," it would help all to make their conflicting dichotomy more visible and public.

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Comments on oncologist-teacher analogy, UFT

Mike Goldstein, founder of MATCH charter school in Boston, shares some spot-on thoughts on Randi Weingarten's oncologist-teacher analogy:

Whitney, there's another strand of the medical analogy. My  wife is an oncologist. She likes her job a lot.
Each day, she's put in a position to succeed. If she does what she's been trained to do on nuts-and-bolts medical issues, she gets to do the  "art" -- which for her is helping families deal with the intersection of health and emotion.
At No Excuses charter schools, teachers are put in a position to succeed, too. If a No Excuses teacher does what she's been trained to do --  phone parents to build relationships; start the class with a written do-now;  handle disruptions in a prescribed manner; etc etc -- he/she gets to do the "art"  of teaching, which is to make science or math or English "come  alive."
At many traditional urban schools, teachers are put in a position to fail. That's in part because teachers are taught in Ed School,  then again by the union, to FIGHT any school-wide methodology on how to handle nuts-and-bolts classroom culture issues.
While a doctor accepts that she will learn EXACTLY what to do on many matters (the science), before dealing with the nuance (the art),  teachers are taught that this means "their professional judgment, and  autonomy, is being questioned."
Funny, my wife pores over journals which tell her EXACTLY what  to do in a million different situations, and never feels her professional judgment under siege. (She only feels that way when insurers block her  preventive medicine efforts, particularly Medicaid/Medicare).
This dynamic gets exacerbated because traditional school leaders, when they do assert control, do it over the wrong thing -- curriculum. That's precisely BACKWARDS, the worst of both worlds.
Now teachers who are frustrated by behavior issues (since nobody is telling them to sacrifice their autonomy to follow a schoolwide approach) are getting curriculum that, no matter how "good" in theory, will necessarily be ineffective b/c the class will still be chaotic.
Many No Excuses schools go the other direction. They prescribe in great detail how teachers must develop and maintain classroom culture, then decentralize some/many curriculum decisions to individual teachers or small  groups of them.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Central Kings students wear pink to send bullies a message

I love this story!

Two students at Central  Kings Rural High School fought back against bullying recently, unleashing a sea of pink after a new student was harassed and threatened when he showed up  wearing a pink shirt.
The Grade 9 student arrived for the first day of school last  Wednesday and was set upon by a group of six to 10 older students who mocked him, called him a homosexual for  wearing pink and threatened to beat him  up.

The next day, Grade 12 students David Shepherd and Travis Price decided something had to be done about bullying.
"It’s my last year. I’ve stood around too long and I wanted to  do something," said David.
They used the Internet to encourage people to wear pink and bought 75 pink tank tops for male students to wear. They handed out the shirts in the lobby before class last Friday — even the bullied student had  one.


Central Kings students wear pink to send bullies a message
By IAN FAIRCLOUGH Valley Bureau | 6:06 PM <>

CAMBRIDGE — Two students at Central Kings Rural High School fought back against bullying recently, unleashing a sea of pink after a new student was harassed and threatened when he showed up wearing a pink shirt.

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Alabama Plan Brings Out Cry of Resegregation

What a total disgrace!  You'd think blatant, transparent plans to kick black kids out of higher-performing, somewhat-integrated schools into failing, virtually completely segregated schools wouldn't happen in America today -- but you'd be wrong...

Months later, the school board commissioned a demographic study to draft the rezoning plan. J. Russell Gibson III, the board’s lawyer, said the plan drawn up used school buildings more efficiently, freeing classroom space equivalent to an entire elementary school and saving potential construction costs of $10 million to $14 million. “That’s a significant  savings,” Mr. Gibson said, “and we relieved overcrowding and placed most students in a school near their home. That’s been lost in all the  rhetoric.”
Others see the matter differently. Gerald Rosiek, an education professor at the University of Alabama, studied the Tuscaloosa school district’s recent evolution. “This is a case study in resegregation,” said Dr.  Rosiek, now at the University of Oregon.
In his research, he said, he found disappointment among some white parents that Northridge, the high school created in the northern enclave, was a majority-black school, and he said he believed the rezoning was in part an attempt to reduce its black enrollment.
The district projected last spring that the plan would move some 880 students citywide, and Dr. Levey said that remained the best estimate available. The plan redrew school boundaries in ways that, among other changes, required students from black neighborhoods and from a low-income housing project who had been attending the more-integrated schools in the northern zone to leave them for nearly all-black schools in the west  end.

Alabama Plan Brings Out Cry of Resegregation
Dave Martin for The New York Times
September 17, 2007 <>

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After white parents in this racially mixed city complained about school overcrowding, school authorities set out to draw up a sweeping rezoning plan. The results: all but a handful of the hundreds of students required to move this fall were black — and many were sent to virtually all-black, low-performing schools.


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Kudos to MATCH (and a tale of the MATCH lottery)

Kudos to the MATCH charter school in Boston! From the Center for Education Reform Newswire:
MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN. The MATCH Charter Public High School is reaching new heights, which says something, considering the school has already been recognized by Newswire's parent organization as a charter school of the year and its founder Michael Goldstein has been named one of "13 leaders who perform." The school's students are number 1 out of 35 open-admission schools in Boston in which 100 percent of the students passed both reading and math standardized tests. On top of that, 83 percent of the students were advanced or proficient in English and, for the first time, 100 percent were advanced or proficient in math.
I visited MATCH (and Roxbury Prep) in Boston earlier this year -- for my comments, see: And here's a heart-breaking story from a friend at MATCH about the school's lottery, in which 500 or so students are turned away, forced back into utterly failing schools -- Here's an excerpt:
I am not over-stating this when I say that 65 students' lives were changed tonight. 65 students are going to come to the MATCH School and be pushed harder than they ever have in their life to do work that they never thought they could do. If they stick with us, they will be accepted to college, and they will graduate prepared to go to college.

They very well may be the first in their family to graduate from college, and they may be the person to break a cycle of nter-generational poverty, drug use, alcohol addiction, or other such problem that has plagued their relatives.

As far as the 500+ students who do not have this option, I don't know what will happen to them. Some will be accepted to other charter schools (some of these students enter multiple lotteries, although the Match ottery far exceeds other charter schools for number of applicants), some may get into exam schools, but most will probably end up at their local Boston public high school. The parents know this. That is why they cry when their child's name is called. That is why some parents stayed long after any hope of their child being accepted to Match had ended; they were just hoping that another alternative to this situation would present itself.

This is a crime. Flat-out. Our educational system is pitiful. In this city, parents are screaming for other options for their children.

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Nonsense in Ohio

 This story from Ohio perfectly captures the dilemma of Democrats.  I cheered when Dems took over the governor's office and other key positions in this critical swing state, yet look at what these status-quo-lackeys are doing to charter schools.  To be clear, Ohio's charter school law is weak and there are a lot of bad operators and schools that need to be shut down, but that's not what Strickland and Dann are doing...  Here's the Center for Education Reform Newswire on the story:

A PERSONAL WAR. Ohio's current leadership, in office less than a year, continue their assault on school choice. First it was Governor Ted Strickland's promise to rid the state of charters, an action stopped thanks to  the grassroots efforts of families and legislators who support school choice.  Now, Attorney General Marc Dann is suing to close two charter schools. Dann, who has had a rough start of his own  thanks to multiple hiring and procedural gaffes (including hiring and subsequently firing his deputy security director when it was revealed the man was a convicted killer), is suing to close the two schools under the state's charitable trust laws, as he has no other authority to close down schools.  Dann, who aspires to be governor and might potentially be running against current Speaker of the House Jon Husted, a school choice champion, apparently didn't read the new charter school accountability laws the state adopted under Husted's leadership, which would have forced the schools to close next year anyway. But rather than let that happen lawfully, and allow the parents to address where to send their children next, Dann wants to force those students back into conventional public schools which are also in academic emergency --  as are 72 other low performing district schools in the state that Dann apparently didn't find reason to go after. Interesting that the schools he did target are in Husted's district. We're waiting for the day he files suit  against all failing public schools.

And here's what the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools says:

Mr. Dann's Star Chamber

14 Sep 2007

Running roughshod over charter authorizers, the state  superintendent of education, and the state legislature, Ohio's attorney  general Marc Dann is suing to shut two (soon three) charter schools by revoking their 501c3 status, saying they've strayed from their charitable  mission.
Look, this is not about whether lousy charters should be  closed. They should, and we called for that, loud and clear, a year ago. In  December the Ohio legislature responded by deciding to shut any charter on "academic emergency" three years running. Dann wants to jump the gun, ignoring clear legislative intent that gave the AG's office no role in the process.  (It's a helluva precedent when an AG tries to overrule legislated due process.)

The Ohio Gadfly nails it: "Right Struggle, Wrong Tactics".  And the Ohio  Alliance for Public Charter Schools comes out  swinging with a timely demand for disclosure of links  between the AG and the Ohio teachers' union.

Oh, by the way, there's no  evidence that Mr. Dann has any plans to shut any traditional schools. Fordham  says there are about 183,000 Ohio kids in district-run "academic emergency"  schools. But apparently they're not failing in their "charitable purpose,"  just screwing up kids' lives.

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Videos from the Broad Prize event

I've posted my videos from the Broad Prize event yesterday:
a) Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announces NYC as the winner, followed by Joel Klein's remarks:
b) Mayor Bloomberg: part 1:;    part 2:
c) Randi Weingarten:
d) Ted Kennedy:
e) George Miller:
f) Colin Powell's remarks over lunch: part 1:    
 part 2:

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My thoughts on Randi and teachers unions

I met Randi for the first time last month and saw her again yesterday at the Broad event in DC. As I've said before, I think she's one of the most forward-thinking teacher union leaders in the country (not to damn her with faint praise), as evidenced by embracing Green Dot among other things. She's smart, very effective at her job, and I think she really cares about what's best for children -- but the interests of her union and the interests of children often do not intersect, which puts her in terribly difficult positions.

For more on my views of Randi and teacher unions, see:

a) Excerpt:

When she advocates something that I don’t think is in the best interests of children, I blast her for it, but it’s not personal -- she’s just doing her job!

Many school reformers become outraged when this happens, but this is an unreasonable expectation. Just like any other union, they exist to fight for the interests of their members – things like higher pay, better benefits, shorter work hours and greater job protection – and they have been extraordinarily effective at achieving these aims. Does anyone get angry when the head of the longshoreman’s union fights for work rules that create more jobs, hours, benefits, job protection and privileges for his members, at the expense of the efficient and cost-effective operation of the port? Of course not – he’s just doing his job!

There is, however, one HUGE difference: no-one thinks that the longshoreman’s union cares one iota about the efficient and cost-effective operation of the port, yet the general public, media and politicians tend to suffer from the delusion that the teachers unions represent the interests of children!

b) Excerpt:

I'm a Democrat and I believe in the importance of unions in protecting workers, helping level the playing field with management and ensuring that workers receive fair pay and benefits and have job protections against unreasonable dismissals, retaliation, etc.

But where the teacher unions have developed a great deal of power -- especially large cities -- they have gone far beyond this role and frequently start behaving like the longshoreman's union, trying to intimidate or blacklist perceived enemies (just ask Eva Moskowitz), etc. Worst of all, when it comes to what's best for children, they -- like many unions -- seem to think it's part of their duty to protect the very worst teachers.

c) Excerpt:

... to the extent that teachers have a negative image, it's due primarily to two things: a) the behavior of the union, which much more closely resembles that of, say, the longshoreman's union rather than a professional association like the American Bar Association (if Randi wants teachers to be treated and paid like professionals, a good start would be for the teachers union to start ACTING like a professional organization!); and b) every sensible person knows that there are WAY too many lousy teachers, which reflects badly on ALL teachers -- and especially the union that fights fiercely to protect even the very worst teachers. If Randi really wants to improve the negative image of teachers, then she should EMBRACE the new reforms (which will happen on the day pigs fly and hell freezes over)...

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A Unique Partnership for a New School Year

Speaking of Randi, here's her monthly paid column in the NY Times, in which she celebrates her union's partnership with Green Dot to bring a Green Dot charter school to the South Bronx.  I'm a fan of Steve Barr and Green Dot and am delighted that they're coming to NYC, so kudos to Randi for helping make this happen -- it's in marked contrast to the teacher union in LA, which has done everything possible to undermine Green Dot.

    Anyone who has ever had a job knows that being actively engaged in what happens in your workplace — being valued and empowered — makes you feel invested and willing to go the extra mile to get  results. Teaching is
    no different. It is why professionalism and respect are  so critical to those in the classroom. And it is precisely why Green Dot  Public Schools — a unique charter school operator based in Los Angeles — caught the eye of
    our union, the United  Federation of Teachers, and why we decided to partner with them to bring a  Green Dot school to the South Bronx.

That being said, there are a number of assertions Randi makes in this column that I take issue with, most notably this: "before the charter school movement became so politicized and anti-teacher."  HA!  It's the unions that are massively politicized, with armies of lobbyists, picketers and phone bank volunteers, giving millions of dollars to politicians at all levels, etc.  Charter schools are getting crushed by this political machine, which is one of my pet peeves (and one of the reasons we created DFER, so that in the general school reform debate in the Democratic Party it's David vs. Goliath rather than an ant vs. Goliath).  
As for charter schools being anti-teacher, nothing could be further from the truth, as every charter school I'm aware of recognizes that talented, motivated teachers are the key to a successful school and therefore does everything possible to recruit and retain them.  Randi is failing to distinguish between teachers and teacher unions -- this is 100% deliberate, of course, as the unions are extremely clever in twisting anything they don't like into an attack on teachers themselves (or, is possible, children).  Teachers should rightly be celebrated (most of them anyway), whereas their unions often behave reprehensibly.  

It is indeed true that most charter school operators choose not to be unionized, but that's simply because most teacher unions and their contracts (in big cities anyway) are a total nightmare, standing in the way of obvious, common-sense things that are necessary to run a good school and educate children properly, like being able to reward great teachers, pay more for math and science teachers, fire ineffective teachers, etc.


A Unique Partnership for a New School Year
Randi Weingarten, NYT, 9/16/07

One of the reasons that the beginning of the school year is such a hopeful time is that it represents a fresh start. The classes are new and there is energy and a sense of purpose in the air. And the spirit of co-operation is at its most evident. Unfortunately, for students and teachers alike, as the year wears on, much of the hopefulness we feel at the beginning of school wanes. Typically, we get pushed into the familiar bureaucratic routines, usually by someone in an office who has forgotten what it’s like to be a student and has never had to hold the attention of a classroom full of kids.

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Randi Weingarten, M.D.

In an interview last weekend, Randi used the flawed analogy that holding teachers accountable for student performance would be as unfair as holding oncologists accountable for the mortality rate of their cancer patients.  She is correct that teachers are not solely (or even primarily) responsible for where children end up in life -- that's principally the job of parents -- but they absolutely should be held accountable for the gain in student learning while in their classrooms.  The NY Sun editorialized about this on Monday:

No one would suggest the doctors be fired for each death, but certainly  they should be, and are, held accountable for performance. This is the role of  hospital internships, strict board examinations, and discriminating patients.  Would that teachers were held to such standards as exist in the oncology ward.

I also wrote something about it in response to a letter to the editor in March ( [The] analogy of "blaming doctors for the cancer  rate" is SO wrong! The proper analogy would be if a patient showed up  at a hospital with symptoms of early-stage cancer and then the doctors: a)  failed to do the proper tests to determine what was wrong; and b) once  determining it was cancer, failed to treat it quickly and properly, allowing it to metastasize into something fatal. If this type of criminal negligence  were being practiced in our hospitals, resulting in uncared-for patients dying left and right, there would be a justifiable hue and cry, yet this is precisely what is happening to millions of children in our school RIGHT  NOW!

Randi Weingarten, M.D.
New York Sun Staff Editorial
September 17, 2007

Randi Weingarten certainly set tongues wagging around the education department when she fell into a discussion with Jay DeDapper on News Forum, a Sunday morning talk show, and compared the membership of the teachers union to medical doctors. "A lot of people don't know about schools but a lot of people do know about doctors and disease," she said. Mr. DeDapper had asked Ms. Weingarten where teachers fit into Mayor Bloomberg's new school accountability model. Ms. Weingarten was explaining why teachers find shouldering accountability for their students' academic performance unfair. "When people say to me, you know, well, why shouldn't teachers be, you know, judged on the test scores of their kids? I say to them…would you want your oncologist, or your mom or dad's oncologist to be graded on the survival rates of his or her patients?"

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