Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Where the Bar Ought to Be

STOP THE PRESSES!!!  It's REALLY important when one of the most respected and widely read columnists from the far left, the NYT's Bob Herbert, dedicates an entire column to a network on highly effective charter schools – in this case, Harlem Village Academies, run by my friend Deborah Kenny (who was on MSNBC with John Legend recently:

"We've created a culture that brings out the passion of the teachers and they bring out the passion of the kids."

Charter schools, of course, can fire teachers for poor performance. "Obviously, none of us should be allowed to be in front of children if we're not doing a good job," Ms. Kenny said. "But the threat of being fired if you don't do a good job is not what makes a teacher great."

Ms. Kenny has established two middle schools and one high school and is in the process of creating three elementary schools. Her track record has been extraordinary.

The majority of the youngsters come into the middle schools performing at three to four years behind their grade levels. Within a very short time, they are on the fast track toward college. In 2008, when the math and science test scores came in, Ms. Kenny's eighth graders had achieved 100 percent proficiency. It was not a fluke.

What's ironic is that the teachers are doing everything but teaching to the tests. Ms. Kenny's goals for the youngsters in her schools are the same as those that she had for her own three children, who grew up in a comfortable suburban environment and are now in college. Merely passing a standardized test was hardly something to aspire to.

"I had five core things in mind for my kids, and that's what I want for our students," she said. "I wanted them to be wholesome in character. I wanted them to be compassionate and to see life as a responsibility to give something to the world. I wanted them to have a sophisticated intellect. I wanted them to be avid readers, the kind of person who always has trouble putting a book down. And I raised them to be independent thinkers, to lead reflective and meaningful lives."

It never crossed Ms. Kenny's mind that a rich and abiding intellectual life was out of the reach of kids growing up in a tough urban environment.


February 23, 2010

Op-Ed Columnist

Where the Bar Ought to Be


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A Right Denied: The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform

 I will be presenting an abbreviated version of my presentation, A Right Denied: The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform, at a lunch in Manhattan on Tuesday, March 2nd for TEAM Schools, the KIPP network in Newark.  Joining me will be Ryan Hill, TEAM's superstar founder, who will be talking about TEAM's plans for growth and impact in Newark – specifically its plan to double the college graduation rate.  It's a really impressive look at how a growing network of high-performing charter schools can have a major influence on the educational outlook for an entire city.  I hope you can join us – it will be a great event.  Here are the details:


WHERE: Deutsche Bank Securities, 60 Wall Street, Floor 47, Room G, NYC


WHEN: Tuesday, March 2nd, noon - 1:30pm


RSVP to Natasha DiMare | | 973.705.8326 x1021

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NYC Charter Schools Blog

The NYC Charter Center's James Merriman with a great article on the union's hypocrisy, building on the Fordham report (


Given the UFT's present obsession with precise demographic balancing between charter schools and district schools, one might suppose that the union would have spoken out about this phenomenon. After all, UFT President Michael Mulgrew and his loyal coterie of advocacy organizations enthusiastically trumpeted a report that (1) acknowledged that charter school students were overwhelming poor but (2) based on their data, slightly less poor on average than students in nearby district managed schools. 

Even these minor differences merited a press conference, numerous TV appearances, and a report whose title is meant to invoke the educational apartheid sanctioned by Plessy v. Ferguson

So one would think that the UFT and its friends would be outraged to know that:

• PS 234 in TriBeCa had a whopping 6 percent of students are eligible for free lunch, the union's preferred metric for poverty (as opposed to free/reduced).

• PS 6, cozily ensconced on the Upper East Side, also boasts a free-lunch rate of 6 percent.

• And then there's Staten Island, President Mulgrew's stomping grounds, where one elementary school enrolled only 9 African American students (1%) and only 17 percent free-lunch eligible students.

By contrast, the UFT's charter report calculated that 86 percent of students in South Bronx schools are eligible for free lunch. Eighty-six percent. True, their stats show that those schools enroll slightly more of the very poorest kids than in neighboring charter schools. But it's also true that the South Bronx has more than 15 times more of the poorest students than in certain public schools in Manhattan.

So when is the press conference in TriBeCa? When is the protest rally in Douglaston? When will we see a UFT report on the "separate and unequal" conditions between the Upper East Side and East New York? Equally, when will the UFT call for a moratorium on building new schools in wealthy areas until every child in the South Bronx is in a new school building? When will it call for demographic balancing as it did for charter schools?  When will it demand that these reforms be part of a Race to the Top application?

After all, in President Mulgrew's ringing words: the "first rule of public schools [is] to provide equal opportunity for all children." And yet with all that, so far not a word, not a whisper from the UFT or other like-minded advocacy groups.

I puzzled and puzzled over this seeming inconsistency: slight imbalance in charter v district demographics = very bad; huge imbalances intra- and inter-district = not a problem.  But then I finally got it. Maybe, while ordinary people think equal opportunity means giving all children a first-rate education, what the union really means is only this:  All children must be given the equal opportunity to be taught by one of their dues-paying members.

Now when you think of it this way, there's no inconsistency at all.


NYC Charter Schools Blog

Circle 8, Trench 5

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Speaking on the AFT, Mike Antonucci at the Education Intelligence Agency has some trenchant observations:


The Education Intelligence Agency

COMMUNIQUÉ – February 22, 2010

On the Web at


1) How Much Attention Should We Pay to AFT? The American Federation of Teachers is often treated as an also-ran when it comes to national school labor issues, even on these pages. Its professed membership of 1.4 million leaves it less than half the size of NEA, but even those numbers tell less than half the story.


The legacy of Al Shanker and some reform-minded statements by current AFT President Randi Weingarten have lent the smaller union a reputation for being less hidebound than NEA. Whether that is actually the case I'll leave for others to debate, but AFT's message benefits from having almost all of its major locals in large cities and media centers: New York City, Chicago, DC, Philadelphia, Houston, Boston, Miami, Detroit, Dallas, Baltimore, and a share of Los Angeles and San Francisco with NEA. In all those places, when AFT speaks, the press listens. What isn't widely known is the union is virtually non-existent outside of those cities - except in New York State.


The U.S. Department of Labor disclosure reports for AFT and its affiliate, the New York State United Teachers, reveal some surprising figures. The national union lists seven different membership categories that total only 889,347 members. Since even this number includes non-voting members, where the other 500,000 claimed members come from is anyone's guess.


NYSUT's report lists four different membership categories that total 587,297 (including almost 173,000 retirees). So if these figures have any meaning at all, they indicate that two-thirds of AFT members reside in a single state - New York.


With such a situation, it was inevitable that in places other than New York AFT's structure would place most power in the hands of its locals. It also means national AFT has a lot less power, relative to NEA, to influence events and policies in its locals. For better or worse, the ideas Weingarten espouses as AFT president have fewer practical implications than when she espoused them as president of New York City's United Federation of Teachers.


There is an exception. When AFT's locals have financial or other internal problems, the national union has the means to exert its authority. The Detroit Federation of Teachers, for example, is a mess, and owes AFT $681,000 in back dues that are more than six months overdue. But there is little evidence that AFT has the stomach for advancing a national agenda (whatever it might be) through internal pressure on its locals.


The lesson of Miami is instructive. It is now almost seven years since the FBI raided the offices of the United Teachers of Dade, leading to the ouster of Pat Tornillo, the establishment of an AFT administratorship and the eventual election of a new slate of local officers. The gross corruption ended, but the petty infighting continued. UTD still owes its state affiliate and AFT more than $6 million in back dues and loans stemming from Tornillo's days. And no one is accusing UTD of being excessively collaborative.


After such a scandal, AFT had unprecedented power and authority to create any kind of local it wanted in Miami - and it created one virtually indistinguishable from the rest.


Well, you might say, maybe that's the kind of local the Miami members wanted. Exactly. So why does it matter what Weingarten wants?


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House Committee to Hold Hearings on New ESEA

Hearings on the renewal of NCLB begin this week.  Here's an EdWeek article that quotes DFER's Charles Barone:

Congress plans to kick-start the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act this week with the first in a series of hearings in a key House committee, where members pledge a "bipartisan, open, and transparent" process in rewriting the version of the law enacted under President George W. Bush.

The finish line remains a long way off in a Congress bitterly divided over issues such as health care, hurtling toward the 2010 midterm elections, and still without a specific proposal from the Obama administration about how it would revise the ESEA, currently called the No Child Left Behind Act.

Still, in announcing the hearings last week, leading Democrats and Republicans on the House Education and Labor Committee declared that the NCLB act is "a law that we all agree is in need of major reform," and that the panel would "work to ensure an excellent education is available to every student in America."

The statement was issued by Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the committee; John Kline of Minnesota, its ranking Republican; Dale E. Kildee, D-Mich., the chairman of the subcommittee on elementary and secondary education; and Michael N. Castle of Delaware, the senior Republican on that subcommittee.

…"Once you get outside the Beltway, you have Democratic and Republican governors, as well as Democratic and Republican state lawmakers, who've embraced the [Obama administration] agenda," said Charles Barone, the director of federal legislation for Democrats for Education Reform, a New York City-based political action committee. "It's clearly bipartisan, but it's just not clear that the agreement on policy will trump the politics in Washington."


House Committee to Hold Hearings on New ESEA

House Hearings Mark Start of Reauthorization Process

By Michele McNeil

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Students at Charter High Schools More to Likely to Graduate College

An important study on the positive effect of charter schools on high school graduation rates:

Late last week, Education Next reported on findings that followed groups of eighth graders in Florida and Chicago as they moved to high school and beyond. The study, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., Florida State University, Michigan State University and RAND, found that "students who attend a charter high school are seven to 15 percentage points more likely to earn a standard diploma than students who attend a traditional public high school. Similarly, those attending a charter high school are eight to 10 percentage points more likely to attend college." (Kevin Booker, Tim R. Sass, Brian Gill and Ron Zimmer, "The Unknown World of Charter Schools," Education Next, Spring, 2010/ VOL 10, NO2.)

The study's exacting protocols and specifically designed control groups militate against all the unusual critics leery of charter school accomplishments.

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Grading teachers- Value-added test is indispensable

There's GREAT, really important stuff going on in Houston (see my earlier post at:  Joel Klein wrote this editorial supporting the reforms there, rooted in value-added testing:

Grading teachers

Value-added test is indispensable


Feb. 20, 2010, 7:44PM

Both research and experience tell us that teachers matter. In fact, they matter more than any other factor that we can control in a student's education — more than dollars spent per student, class size or the type and quality of textbooks. No reform is more critical to closing the nation's shameful achievement gap than boosting the quality of teachers in high-poverty schools. "The single most important factor in determining [student] achievement is not the color of their skin or where they come from," says President Barack Obama. "It's not who their parents are or how much money they have — it's who their teacher is." Without "the right people standing in front of the classroom," the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution concludes, "school reform is a futile exercise."

The Houston Independent School District is taking a critical step to ensure that all its students are taught by top-notch teachers. Superintendent Terry Grier — who has long been a true warrior in the national fight to close the achievement gap — is making an important move by recommending that the teacher evaluation process include an examination of student achievement data. The data will look at how much learning a student gains over one year. This type of data is called "value-added," meaning that it analyzes only the change across one year relative to where a student begins, a leveling of the playing field that allows us to isolate teacher impact. Value-added data will be one element in a set of criteria that are used to gauge a teacher's effectiveness in the classroom.

To be sure, value-added analysis is still a work in progress, and methodological challenges remain. Yet for all its imperfections, value-added analysis is a vast improvement on the existing system, which fails to address the one question that really matters: Compared to other educators with similar students and facing similar challenges, how well are a given teacher's students actually acquiring the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life? While experts debate the finer points of the value-added model, it is now clear that, at minimum, it is a fair way to identify those teachers who are truly failing our students. Value-added data should never be the only metric by which we assess teachers, but honestly, how can it not be in the mix?

In Houston, parents should commend the insistent and persistent Grier for his effort to close the racial and ethnic achievement gap by ensuring that every child is taught by an effective teacher. Grier is a signatory of the Education Equality Project (, a bipartisan advocacy organization of elected officials, civil rights activists, educators and other leaders who believe eliminating this gap is the most pressing civil rights issue of our generation. And Houston is among a handful of cities leading the nation in closing the achievement gap.

Klein is chancellor of New York City public schools and co-chair of the Education Equality Project.

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No (Tenured) Teacher Left Behind

This WSJ editorial today nails the problem – and how some needed changes are happening in a few places:

School reformers generally agree that the most important education resource is the teacher. But one of the biggest obstacles to putting a good instructor in every classroom is a tenure system that forces principals to hire and retain teachers based on seniority instead of performance.

…This means that large numbers of ineffective teachers wind up with ironclad job protection. When low-performing teachers can't be fired, it's the students who suffer.

…Nevertheless, teachers unions do everything in their power to preserve this tenure status quo. In 2005, when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger backed a proposal to extend the probationary period for new teachers to five years, the California Teachers Association spent more than $50 million to defeat it. In New York, a union-supported law that bans the use of student data in making tenure decisions helped disqualify the state for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Race to the Top grants.

Even when bad schools close, which happens all too rarely, teachers from those schools take jobs at replacement schools or are sent to work at other schools in the system. And union contracts typically allow those with seniority to bump younger colleagues from other schools, even if the younger teachers are getting better classroom results.

…The good news is that school reformers are making progress in some areas. Charlotte, North Carolina, allows teachers to be fired for poor performance. Chicago limits the amount of time a teacher without a job can continue receiving pay and benefits. Starting next year, teachers in Houston can lose their jobs if students fall short on standardized tests. Florida and Louisiana have moved to strike last-in, first-out provisions from collective-bargaining agreements.

The Obama Administration has made teacher accountability a major theme of its education agenda. Let's hope its Race to the Top selections reward school districts that are actively working to reform the teacher corps and change a tenure system that puts job protection ahead of learning.


No (Tenured) Teacher Left Behind

The consequences of putting job protection ahead of learning.

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See the Rewarding Achievement Scholarship Challenge (REACH) program in action

If you'd like to see the Rewarding Achievement Scholarship Challenge (REACH) program in action, please join me this coming Saturday, February 27th from 12-2pm at Baruch College (55 Lexington Ave., x24th St) – just RSVP to Cori Okabayashi at  The invite is at the end of this email.

Entering its third year of operation in New York City, REACH has supported the work of over 10,000 students and their teachers at 28 participating NYC inner-city high schools.  It's the largest scholarship program of its kind and is really working: last year, the number of AP exams passed at our schools rose 19%, driven by a 26% gain by black and Latino students.

REACH Scholar Awards are the core of the program: for each AP exam they pass, students at participating high schools receive $300, $400 or $500 in cash for each passing score of 3, 4 or 5, respectively.  But REACH is more than just financial incentives for students: we provide professional development for over 100 AP teachers and make cash grants to classrooms based on student performance.  We also help students pass AP exams via a program called Learn, Earn, Win!, which is three full days of intensive workshops (all Saturdays in the spring; 21 hours of total instruction), taught by AP experts from around the country, for each of 15 AP exams.  Last year, 70% of eligible students participated and they passed at a 39% rate vs. only 17% among those who didn't.

I've posted a slide presentation about REACH at:

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Guest Teacher at Frederick Douglass Academy

Jane Viau, the rock star AP Statistics and Microeconomics teacher (see at the Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem (7th avenue and 149th street), invited me to be a guest teacher for two three-hour classes, which I taught in mid-January and again last week.  It was my first time teaching young people (I've done a TON of teaching of adults) and had a blast, giving them an overview of the financial industry, teaching them the difference between debt and equity, what stocks are, how businesses are financed, what value investing is, and how to understand and analyze an income statement.  What an incredible group of students – so interested, curious and engaged – and even though they were on vacation last week, the ENTIRE class showed up!   (some pictures Jane took are posted at:

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Response from Linday Sturman

My friend Linday Sturman, one of the founders of the Larchmont Schools in LA (see, responded to my last email:


RE: the public private schools article.

Our state and federal school funding, in my opinion, does nothing to encourage diverse, mixed income (mixed SES) schools.  Most funding for low income kids does not follow them to an affluent school, so schools have no incentive to recruit a diverse population.  Most programs for to serve low income students are only open to schools that are 40%, 50%, 70% low income (which in our country often means non-white). 

If all these funding streams followed the child, then affluent schools would have an incentive to recruit kids, who would bring more money.

As it stands, schools that are diverse are the MOST penalized by the system -- they aren't eligible for most funding, but they also have a smaller fundraising base to make up the difference. 

I would reverse it -- and reward schools for serving an ethnically and economically diverse student body.

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Disadvantaged Students Continue AP Climb

It's great to see more low income and minority students nationwide taking and passing AP exams:

Continuing a pattern from recent years, more students from low-income families are taking—and earning what is considered a passing score on—at least one Advanced Placement exam, a new analysis of results for the public high school graduating class of 2009 shows.

At the same time, significant gaps persist in preparation and access across "traditionally underserved students," the analysis released today by the College Board suggests, especially for African-American students.

For instance, although black students represented 14.5 percent of the 2009 graduating class, they were just 3.7 percent of those who passed at least one AP test. That was a slight improvement from the class of 2008, in which African-Americans were 3.5 percent of the students who did so, and 3.3 percent the year before that.

The results for Hispanic students, who represent a fairly comparable percentage of the class of 2009, about 16 percent, were far stronger than for African-Americans. Of those who passed at least one AP exam, 14.3 percent were Hispanic students. Those categorized as American Indians and Alaska Natives represented 1.2 percent of the 2009 graduating class, and 0.4 percent of those who passed one or more AP test.

The sixth annual "AP Report to the Nation" finds that 18.9 percent of the AP test-takers in the class of 2009 were low-income students, up from 17 percent for the class of 2008 and 13.7 percent for the class of 2004. Meanwhile, such students made up 14.7 percent of those in the class of 2009 who earned a score of at least 3 on one or more AP tests, compared with 13.4 percent for the class of 2008. The tests are graded on a scale of 1 to 5, the highest score.

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Education reform, one classroom at a time

Melinda Gates with a nice op ed in the Washington Post:

Congress established strong guidelines to guarantee that states spend Race to the Top money on audacious reforms. Many states responded with equal fortitude, submitting proposals to radically improve how they use data or to adopt college- and career-ready standards -- concepts that used to be considered third rails in the world of education. Never before has this country had such an opportunity to remake the way we teach young people.

One reason I am so optimistic about these developments is because, after decades of diffuse reform efforts, they all zero in on the most important ingredient of a great education: effective teachers. The key to helping students learn is making sure that every child has an effective teacher every single year.

Teachers are at the center of our strategy at the Gates Foundation. Since my husband and I started investing in education 10 years ago, our foundation has partnered with more than 1,000 high schools. Our grantmaking wasn't always oriented around effective teaching, but gradually we noticed that the schools with the biggest gains were those doing revolutionary work inside the classroom.

Bill and I see evidence of this every time we visit a school. The 82 schools across the country that have implemented the Knowledge Is Power Program invariably get excellent results from the very same low-income students who tend to struggle at traditional high schools. Last year, we traveled to KIPP Houston High, where 90 percent of the students graduate, compared with 65 percent for the city as a whole, even though KIPP's students are poorer than their peers in Houston's public school system.


Education reform, one classroom at a time

By Melinda French Gates

Friday, February 19, 2010

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A New School Hopes to Learn From the Charters

Let's hope Columbia's Teachers College REALLY adopts the lessons from high-performing charter schools (which will require abandoning much of the foolishness that goes on there; see: from a former student there):

One of the main arguments for charter schools is that they will improve the school system as a whole by introducing innovations that traditional schools then adopt. But charter school critics charge that this is not happening — and they say that charters on the whole are weakening the schools around them by siphoning off their resources.

A new primary school proposed by Teachers College at Columbia University aims to address this issue head-on. The school's goal, its founders say, is to transfer some of the best charter school features to a school run by the Department of Education, while showing how a primary school can benefit from a close affiliation with a college.

Called the Teachers College Community School, it is likely to open in September 2011 in northern Manhattan


February 19, 2010, 4:09 pm

A New School Hopes to Learn From the Charters


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Skills Test an Obstacle for Hundreds of Would-be Teachers

So CT adopts what sounds like a pretty straightforward test that prospective new teachers must pass – and ONE THIRD failed it! (But 93% of TFAers passed).  Sadly this is probably a pretty good measure of the caliber of people graduating from our teachers colleges...

She enjoys student teaching, carries a perfect 4.0 grade point average and expects to complete her master's degree in the summer, but Stephanie Salafia's dream of becoming a public school teacher is on hold.

She is one of hundreds of prospective elementary and preschool teachers in Connecticut who have failed a required exam testing their knowledge of how to teach children to read.

About one in three test-takers in teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities across the state have failed the exam since the state began using it last year as a licensing requirement.

"I've taken reading courses. I studied for a solid month" for the test, said Salafia, a 27-year-old graduate student at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. Unless she passes the Foundations in Reading test when it is given again in March, "it will hold me back from getting a job in the fall," she said.

Failure rates exceeded 40 percent at some of the state's largest teacher preparation programs, including the campuses of the Connecticut State University system.

"I'm rightly alarmed," said state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan. "It's clear to me there hasn't been enough attention to the science" of teaching reading, he said. "You can't teach something well that you don't know."

At McQuillan's urging, the state Board of Education imposed the new certification requirement for elementary and preschool teachers because of concern over disappointing reading performance in Connecticut's elementary schools, particularly among low-income and minority children.


Skills Test an Obstacle for Hundreds of Would-be Teachers

By Robert A. Frahm

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Helping Nonprofits Raise Money Like Goldman Does

Kudos to Chuck Harris and the great work he's doing post-Goldman at SeaChange Capital:

In two test cases of what would become SeaChange's model, Harris helped raise tens of millions for College Summit, which tries to improve enrollment rates, and Teach for America, which recruits college grads to teach in public schools.

With those two pilots completed, SeaChange—which got funding from Goldman, the Gates and Hewlett foundations, and others—set out to create a network of donors willing to make multiyear, six-figure commitments. At the same time, SeaChange started scouting for education-focused organizations on the point of expansion.

The first two nonprofits that SeaChange is working with, out of more than 100 it considered, are Uncommon Schools, which runs charter schools in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Newark, N.J., and New Teacher Center, which trains educators to work in inner-city schools.


Helping Nonprofits Raise Money Like Goldman Does

Retired Goldman Sachs banker Chuck Harris is bringing Wall Street capital-raising methods to the nonprofit world

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Policy Advice to President Obama

Last Saturday at Renaissance Weekend I was given two minutes to address all 350 people, and the topic was policy advice to President Obama.  Here's what I said:


I believe the most pressing domestic issue we face is fixing our K-12 public schools.  Our failure in this area is captured by the twin achievement gaps. 


Achievement gap #1 is the gap between us and our economic competitors.  In 1975, we spent $5,000/student in today's dollars and 40% of our students eventually received a two-year Associate's degree or higher vs. 15-20% for our economic competitors.  Today, 35 years later, we spend $10,000/student, yet we're still stuck at 40%.  We've flat-lined for the past 35 years, but our economic competitors haven't: they're now at 40-50%.  Our educational advantage over the rest of the world, which drove our incredible prosperity after WW II, has now disappeared.


Achievement gap #2 is the gap between low-income, minority children and their better-off peers.  The average black and Latino child enters kindergarten one year below grade level, and this entire gap can be explained by a handful of demographic factors.  Then, every year for the next 13 years, the gap widens until the average black and Latino 12th grader is reading and doing math at the same level as white 8th graders, a four-year achievement gap.  There are many reasons for this, but I believe the main reason is that the color of your skin and your zip code are entirely determinative of the quality of public school this nation provides.


There's good news from a policy perspective, however, because education reform is the only major issue where the Obama administration is largely in agreement with the Republicans.  President Obama is becoming to education reform what President Clinton was to welfare reform.  Specifically, there's a big opportunity to restart bipartisanship through the renewal of a deeply unpopular piece of legislation, No Child Left Behind, which needs to be fixed and strengthened, not watered down. 


There are a million details, but in general we need to reverse the current situation in which the states set the standards and the feds try to micromanage.  Organizations and systems, like children, will live up to – or live down to – whatever expectations are set for them, so the feds need to set the bar high, with national, internationally benchmarked standards, and then let the states innovate to achieve them.


Thank you.

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Lawmakers to launch bipartisan effort to rewrite No Child Left Behind

Speaking of which, here's an article are the steps being taken to renew NCLB, led by ed reform warrior George Miller (sadly, it's not often I say that about a Dem politician, especially in Congress!):

in a joint statement, Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.), Dale E. Kildee (D-Mich.), John Kline (R-Minn.) and Michael N. Castle (R-Del.) pledged "a bipartisan, open and transparent effort to rewrite No Child Left Behind -- a law that we all agree is in need of major reform. It will start with a series of hearings in the coming weeks to explore the challenges and opportunities ahead as we work to ensure an excellent education is available to every student in America."

Miller is chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, Kline is the ranking Republican, and Kildee and Castle are senior members. Miller said that forces are aligning this year for significant school reform. He said the administration's $4 billion Race to the Top competition for states has opened a national conversation about how to improve teaching and learning through better use of data on student performance.

"This is the best opportunity we have had to have really substantial change in how we meet the educational needs of our kids," Miller said in an interview. "Congress would love to go home and say, 'We fixed No Child Left Behind.' "


Lawmakers to launch bipartisan effort to rewrite No Child Left Behind

By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2010; A02

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One of the few other Dem pols in Congress who’s good on this issue is Jared Polis of CO

Rep. Jared Polis' All-STAR Act (H.R. 4330) Applauded by National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

December 16, 2009

Washington, DC - National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President and CEO Nelson Smith issued the following statement on the introduction of the bi-partisan supported All Students Achieving through Reform (All-STAR) Act:

"The Alliance commends Congressman Jared Polis (D-2nd CO) and the 15 original Co-Sponsors (Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-1st NV), Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao (R-2nd LA), Rep. Diana DeGette (D-1st CO), Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-3rd MI), Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th CT), Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-15th TX), Rep. Rush Holt (D-12th NJ), Rep. Ron Klein (D-22nd FL), Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-24th FL), Rep. Chris Murphy (D-5th CT), Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-8th PA), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D- DC), Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-3rd MN), Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-7th CO), and Rep. Tom Perriello (D-5th VA)) for introducing this dramatic new proposal in support of high-quality public charter schools, the All Students Achieving through Reform (All-STAR) Act.

"All-STAR will create an invaluable new competitive grant program supporting the expansion and replication of America's best public charter schools while also driving the next generation of state policies around quality and accountability for all parties involved in the chartering process. Public charter schools have demonstrated real power to close achievement gaps and this legislation will help prepare a generation of students for citizenship and successful participation in the 21st century economy. In addition, it will produce immediate effects in Main Streets across the country as charter schools hire new teachers, finance new facilities, and serve as high quality anchors in economic redevelopment.

"Since replicating a proven model is different from starting a new school, All-STAR establishes a new competitive grant program that will encourage the replication and expansion of our most successful public charters. With this new program and its new resources comes increased accountability -- not just for charter schools, but for all parties involved in the process, including charter school authorizers and for the States that oversee them. By extending the principles of accountability in this way, Rep. Polis has created a new approach that will reinforce quality chartering principles and practices across all levels of government while affording American children new high quality public school options.

"As work around the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 continues to pick up speed, the National Alliance and the entire charter school movement look forward to working with Rep. Polis and his 15 additional original Co-Sponsors in their efforts to ensure this proposal becomes part of the reauthorized law."

To read more about the All Students Achieving through Reform Act, click here.

Read the National Alliance's Letter of Support for All-STAR, please click here.

Please show your support for All-STAR by emailing your Congressional Representatives today in support of the bill by clicking here.


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Sadly, the dance of the lemons infects the entire educational system.

 Here's a friend with some important points:


Don't be fooled about other government jobs.  The civil service laws in NYC provide music for some lemon dancing as well.  I am a manger within the DOE, and we wrestle often with trying to rid ourselves of low-performing central employees who have "permanent" status as civil servants (they passed an 80-question multiple choice test).  Every time Joel Klein or some other city agency announces a head count reduction, the music starts up as "provisional" employees get cut, and permanent employees get bounced around from department to department and sometimes into other city agencies.  It is certainly not as crippling as the teacher lemon dance, but it is a real problem that will only grow worse as the city moves to enforce the Long Beach ruling that extends the civil service rules into the upper levels of management for all city agencies.


Please don't attribute to me, but feel free to share. Hundreds of people were required to sit for civil service exams today, and I am at risk of losing some of my best people if a permanent staff member passes the promotional exam.  It's really crazy.

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Schools need to guarantee kids’ education — not teachers’ jobs

This is an AMAZING editorial in the Houston Chronicle:

It seems only reasonable to hold teachers responsible for teaching — for making sure that their kids make progress. But in the ossified world of public education, HISD's new policy counts as a major reform.

A little over 400 teachers, or about 3 percent of HISD's teaching staff, are said to be at risk. Given the high stakes, it's not surprising that hundreds of pro-union teachers packed last week's board meeting. But we were surprised that the teacher-heavy crowd booed some speakers so loudly that one board member had to plead for civility. ("Wow," said Harvin Moore, looking stunned. "What we teach children by the examples that we set!")

Notably, all the parents who addressed that angry union crowd favored the change — as did representatives of business and community groups. We strongly agree with the parents' argument: Schools aren't about guaranteeing teachers their jobs; they're about guaranteeing kids an education.

At the meeting, as elsewhere, some teachers argued that they shouldn't be held accountable for the low scores of the hardest-to-reach kids. "We deal with children in poverty," pleaded one teacher. "We deal with lack of parental support. We do the best we can." We feel for her, and we know that her job is extremely hard. But we also think that at-risk kids are precisely the ones who need strong teachers the most. Those kids can't afford to lose ground.


Tests and teachers

Schools need to guarantee kids' education — not teachers' jobs


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What Mike must get from teachers

Carol Kellerman with a brilliant Op Ed in the NY Post about what needs to be changed in NYC.  I had no idea that the layoffs-by-seniority system was systemwide – what an outrage!

* Kill the "last in, first out" rule -- which requires, in the case of layoffs, that the most recently hired teachers, no matter how good, be laid off first. It makes no sense to spend time and resources recruiting new teachers and then require that the newest teachers be fired first, without regard to merit, in tough economic times.

There is a broad consensus that the worst-performing schools should be closed. But when school closings mean the loss of teaching jobs, state law requires that layoffs take place on a "last in, first out" basis systemwide. In other words, teachers at other schools with less seniority must be laid off before teachers in the poorest-performing schools.

This means that teachers in the worst schools would be retained if they have sufficient seniority and added to the "Absent Teacher Reserve." From there they might find other teaching jobs within the system. If not, they'd be paid at taxpayer expense for the rest of their careers. Meanwhile, schools that are working well would have to lose some of their newer teachers.

It's a mind-boggling system -- designed to protect the worst-performing teachers, rather than the students and taxpayers.

Teachers should be judged on the basis of their performance, just as are other workers across the nation. The school system should be designed to provide the best education possible for its students -- not to put job security ahead of education.

It's time for the United Federation of Teachers and the Legislature to support these needed reforms. And taxpayers should remember that, if the mayor has to resort to layoffs, the current rules mean it won't be the worst teachers who get laid off but the newest teachers -- and some of the worst-performing teachers will be taking their jobs.


What Mike must get from teachers

Last Updated: 2:32 PM, February 4, 2010

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Getting back in the race

NY state ed commissioner David Steiner on what NY must do to improve its schools (and win RttT money):

New York's application is rooted in the idea that we should not place a teacher in a classroom, nor a principal in a school, before each has demonstrated the capacity to be effective -- including the ability to raise the achievement of all children who make up New York's richly diverse student population. Our application would shift teacher preparation away from academic theory and toward a more clinically-based practice that centers on -- and then assesses -- the key teaching skills and content knowledge that actually make a difference in the classroom.

Our plan would create new incentives to bring effective teachers -- particularly in math and science -- into our neediest schools and to encourage more teachers to teach English-language learners and children with special needs. Because preparation and accountability for effective educators can't stop once they are certified, our application supports new induction programs and professional development tied to curriculum content.

To ensure that every student is well taught, the evaluation of teachers must be concrete, transparent, fair and demanding. New York's application proposes a program to encourage teachers unions and district administrators to use new, performance-based teacher evaluations -- incorporating student growth among multiple measures -- for professional advancement and employment decisions.

Finally, because certain schools have failed too many of our students for too many years, we endorsed a turnaround list of our least effective schools, requiring action plans that could include major re-structuring or school closures.

Our application also commits New York to building stronger assessments -- not only rigorous tests, but formative assessments too -- that fully capture the skills and knowledge we expect our students to master.

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NYSUT takes on charter schools

The NY state teachers union is making a big push to unionize charter school teachers – while simultaneously trying to kill charter schools.  Talk about a conflict of interest and speaking out of both sides of your mouth!  Great quotes from Sam Hoyt and Peter Murphy:

Amid fierce controversy, New York State United Teachers slowly is making headway in unionizing charter school teachers.

The outcome will depend in considerable measure on NYSUT's ability to convince charter school teachers that it can stand up for their interests while representing teachers in practically all of the state's roughly 700 traditional public school districts.

More broadly, the unionization effort will go a long way toward defining wages and job protection for charter school teachers, and ultimately determining just how charter schools will differ from traditional public schools.

Statewide, 21 of about 140 charter schools have unionized.

…Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, a Buffalo Democrat, said NYSUT faces the dilemma of representing a growing number of charter school teachers after backing actions or proposals on funding, licensing and growth that were harmful to charter schools.

"They're in an awkward position," he said. "Do they throw a growing number of their members under the bus, or do they morph into a position that's more tolerant and more moderate, and be willing to work with charter schools?"

…Murphy, of the State Charter Schools Association, said NYSUT's high-powered organizing effort is illustrated by a Public Employment Relations Board ruling it obtained directing that Niagara Charter School allow NYSUT to represent its teachers. That order was based on a state law mandating union representation at charter schools with initial student enrollments of more than 250 students.

"You have a union that's forcing itself on a faculty that doesn't want it or need it," Murphy charged.

He said he objects to NYSUT's organizing efforts because "they're peddling pure fiction" to teachers. But he insists he's not opposed to unionization in general.

"That is purely up to the teachers," Murphy said. "It's a right of teachers to decide to do it or not to do it. It's been a very gradual process. Where it ends up is anybody's guess."


NYSUT takes on charter schools

Union intensifies push to represent teachers

By Peter Simon

News Staff Reporter

Updated: February 09, 2010, 12:07 am / 79 comments

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Charter schools in Virginia

The Washington Post editorial page continues to be amazing in supporting all forms of school choice:


WITHIN HOURS of Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's announcement that he wants the state to be more welcoming to charter schools, there was expected pushback from critics who say Virginia already has some of the best schools in the country. They're right -- but that's no reason to limit school innovation or to deny parents options for their children. Mr. McDonnell's ambitious goals make sense for Virginia students, and the General Assembly should support them.


Charter schools in Virginia

Washington Post Editorial

Monday, February 15, 2010; A16

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KIPP TEAM in Newark is profiled at the beginning of this video:

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Sayda Morales video-

Some may recall that I sent around a poem written and performed by Sayda Morales, an alum of the original KIPP Academy in the Bronx who was then a 10th grader at my daughters' school.  It was one of the most powerful things I'd ever heard – she is UNBELIEVABLY talented, both in what she writes and how she performs it – but unfortunately I didn't video it so instead I could only send around the words (which are also very powerful; see:; Sayda also wrote a poem about what KIPP is all about and what it means to her that's 45 seconds of KIPP's national Welcome Video:; it begins 37 seconds into it).


Last night, Sayda did it again, this time performing two poems: the first is entitled "I Am From" ( and the second is a tribute to her mother (who was in the audience), Para Ti Mi Hija ("For you, my daughter") (  I videoed them and am sharing them with her permission (she wrote: "Thank you so very much for supporting me every step of the way! The videos were amazing and my family loved them! Feel free to post them to your blog; I support what you are doing by bring forth topics of discussion and controversy.").  Each is 3 minutes and I promise that this will be 6 minutes of your life well spent.  Enjoy!


(Note that 54 seconds into the first video, she gives a tribute to KIPP, saying, "I am from a team and a family helping me climb the mountain to college".)

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Students stand up for Central Falls school chief

Speaking of amazing young people, when was the last time you heard of students – yes, STUDENTS! – standing up the unions that, over and over again, throw them under the bus?  Watch the 3-min video at: and check out the message board comments about the article at:

Students stand up for Central Falls school chief

4:09 PM Wed, Feb 17, 2010 | Permalink
Linda Borg

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A student-run group called Young Voices rallied in front of the Rhode Island Department of Education at noontime on Wednesday to support Central Falls Supt. Frances Gallo, who plans on firing all of the city's high school teachers as part of a state-ordered reform initiative.

Some 20 students from Providence gathered to speak on behalf of students in Central Falls, who were not invited to the rally because Young Voices was worried about the possibility of reprisals from the Central Falls' teachers.

According to Karen Feldman, one of the co-directors of Young Voices, Central Falls youth said that teachers have been telling their students that they might lose their houses if they are fired. According to Young Voices, students have said that their teachers are using the classroom as a bully pulpit to express their outrage with Gallo's decision.

Young Voices, which includes students in most of the state's urban districts, held a press conference for several reasons: to support Gallo's efforts to reform the high school; to correct some misinformation about the teacher firings and to represent the concerns of Central Falls' students.

"I am speaking because students are the most important and central part of this issue," said Amanda Perreira, a Classical High School student and member of Young Voices. "I am asking that for once, money, power and ambitions are put aside and that we remember the students and place their needs at the forefront of these decisions."

Perreira said she wants to correct misperceptions that the students at Central Falls High School are not interested in success. This is a systemic problem, she said, that won't be solved by saying that students are lazy.

"Young Voices is a statewide movement," said Amber Johnson, another Classical student. "We recognize our position to be able to speak for other youth, to give youth a voice for those who aren't always heard."

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Monday Hearing for Harlem Success Academy

Speaking of standing up to the union on behalf of kids, nobody has done so more consistently than Eva Moskowitz, so please come out and show your support on Monday evening at 6pm at the public hearing for one of her Harlem Success Academy schools to share space with a public school.  No doubt the union will really pull out all the stops to create as much commotion as possible for reasons that I explained in an email last month (


For those of you not familiar with the history of Eva Moskowitz and Randi Weingarten, you might wonder why the union is targeting not only one of the best schools in Harlem, but one of the best in the entire country.  You'd think they'd target a crappy charter school, right? (Sadly, there are more than a few, though in NY, there are fewer than in many other states that have weak charter laws/authorizers.)  The reason is that Harlem Success is run by Eva.  Randi has a long-standing, vicious, personal vendetta against Eva because when she was head of the Education Committee of the NY City Council, Eva courageously held hearings on the union contract (which, of course, highlighted the insanity of it and underscored how it screwed kids in countless ways).  Ever since, Randi has done everything in her power to hurt Eva and anyone and anything she's associated with.  It's thuggery, plain and simple.   SHAME ON YOU, RANDI!  This is Exhibit A on why I compare the teachers unions to the longshoreman's union.  (Full disclosure: Eva is a good friend and one of my heroes -- not only for what she did as a City Councilor, but also for building four of the most kick-ass schools in the country.)


Here are the details of the hearing:


Date:        February 22, 2010


Place:        M030, 144-176 East 128th Street, New York, NY


Time:        6:00 p.m. (5:30 – 6:15 p.m. speaker registration)


Purpose:    Pursuant to New York Education Law subdivision 2853(3), the purpose of the State University of New York Board of Trustees Public Hearing

                   is to receive testimony and statements from concerned individuals about locating the Harlem Success Academy Charter School 2 in part of the

                  M030 building at 144-176 East 128th Street, New York, NY, which is owned or controlled by the New York City Department of Education.  

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No Exaggeration-

Some folks who are new to this email list may think I'm exaggerating when I talk about how the unions (and, to be fair, the system overall) throw kids under the bus, but believe me, I'm not.  One of my readers, who taught alongside one of the notoriously bad teachers highlighted (exposed?) in the article I sent around in my last email about "LAUSD's Dance of the Lemons" (, notes that there were "a handful of teachers far, far worse than him" at the school!


Wow – I taught at one of the schools in this article – Nimitz Middle School – from 2002-2005, when Mr. Mars was there.  The sad thing is, he was under the radar and there were a handful of teachers far, far worse than him who Frank Vasquez couldn't get rid of until students were physically injured in their classes!


I honestly think it's hard to exaggerate the horrors of the worst, say, 5% of public schools in this country.

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Professor Engel and Melinda Hamilton

It turns out that I wasn't the only person to exchange emails with Professor Susan Engel, who wrote the Op Ed in the NYT of which I was so critical (see  Melinda Hamilton, Vice-Chair of the board of Elm City College Prep and Elm City Elementary, two Achievement First schools in New Haven, shared this with me this email she sent to Prof. Engel (and gave me permission to share it):


Susan --


After reading your op ed piece a number of times, I can only plead with you to come visit the Achievement First schools in New Haven.  We are at a critical juncture in education reform in our country, and we need to do everything we can to bring about positive change.  I don't think you are that far apart from the best education reformers, but I think your article is demonstrates a misunderstanding of where we are trying to go.  I think it is also misleading, and at worst damaging to efforts to close the achievement gap.


Consider the following points:


1.  I think you would like the curricula in our schools.  In the middle school, for instance, our scholars spend 3.5 hours a day reading -- aloud and to themselves, fiction and non-fiction, books and stories that are relevant to their lives. They spend more time (I'm not sure of the length of time) writing -- stories about their lives, journals, poetry, reports, and letters.  They spend again more time learning the basics of mathematics and applying them to their science experiments, their environment, and their daily lives.  Along the way, they build relationships with their teachers, have their teachers cell phone numbers for 24 hour access, have pizza parties and take local trips.  They go on field trips to museums, colleges and universities, and in the case of the last Presidential election, to the Inauguration.  Our schools work hard on what they call the "J" factor in their culture, the joy of learning.  For the first time in their lives, many of our scholars learn that it's fun, even cool, to be smart.  These things sound just like what you are promoting in your article as good educational practices.


2.  None of this gets in the way of the seriousness with which our teachers and scholars approach their work.  Our schools will show you that accountability, in the form of the testing you so dislike, works well within a curriculum like I've just described.  We test, using Interim Assessments every six weeks.  Those assessments are used to understand how well the scholars have absorbed what they have been taught in the previous period.  They are also used to understand how well the teachers have done their jobs.  Following every Interim Assessment is a full day dedicated to improving our teaching, from individual concepts to overall skills, in a deeply thought out professional development program.


3.  And here's why it's important.  To say that America's public schools have let down our urban youth is a gross understatement.  Those schools have been allowed to operate without standards, in an environment in which poor teachers and ineffective administrators languish.  The current state of urban education threatens the civil rights of our youth, the safety of our citizens, and the economy of our state and our country.  We can't afford to screw around with this any longer.  In order to effect change, we need to establish standards, accountability, common goals, and agreed-upon methods.  These things can be done without stifling either the effectiveness or the joy of our children's learning.  To suggest that they can't only gives nay-sayers and the status quo fodder not to change.


Please come visit our schools, watch our scholars learn, watch our teachers teach, and absorb an environment in which learning is joyful, serious, and celebrated.


Melinda Hamilton


Melinda wrote to me that "Ms. Engel responded to me that she is puzzled by the criticism of her article, that she is not opposed to developing shared standards and goals, and that she would like to visit our schools.  We're setting a date for a May visit, and I'm hopeful that she will come to better understand the achievement gap challenge and (publicly?) support great teaching for all."

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