Monday, January 31, 2011

Blob/union thuggery at its worst

Just when I think I've seen Blob/union thuggery at its worst…  In LA, low-income, Latino parents are being disenfranchised in one of the slimiest, most despicable things I've ever encountered.


Here's the background: As I've covered in previous emails ( and, California's parent trigger, which allows a majority vote by a school's parents to trigger an overhaul of the school, is a potential game-changer (it was passed largely due to the efforts of former State Senator Gloria Romero, who is now head of DFER-CA).  The Blob/unions know it – they're DEATHLY afraid of parents having the power to force change at failing schools – and are pulling out all the stops to block it.  One step is to get new Gov. Jerry Brown to sack the State Board of Education (see below), and another is to fight to prevent its implementation at the first school to try to use the parent trigger, McKinley Elementary School, which according to a NYT article last month (below) "is one of the lowest performing on state tests, with less than 25 percent of fifth-grade pupils at grade level in math and reading."  No wonder 87% of the parents who were given the opportunity to sign the Parent Trigger petition did so (see data below).


So what is the Blob/union doing to fight this?  Though there is no provision for this in the legislation, the Compton Unified School District sent a letter to all parents requiring them to come to the school – giving them only two windows on a single day – to "verify your signature on the Petition" and, worse yet, the letter says (in bold, underlined letters): "Please make sure to bring official photo identification (such as a California driver's license", as you will be asked to show identification before being provided a signature verification form."


The district is doing this to try to disenfranchise the mostly poor, Latino parents, many of which it knows work long hours and might not be able to take the time off, or might not have "official photo identification", or might feel intimidated about showing up. 


This reminds me of the racist literacy tests that were used in the Deep South to prevent blacks from voting ("Most African-Americans in the south were effectively disenfranchised from the 1890s until the 1960s.";  Here's a "joke" I heard long ago about it:  A black man courageously shows up to vote.  The racist white poll monitor asks, "What's the capital of North Dakota?"  The man answers, "Bismark."  "What's pi?"  Answer: "3.14159265."  Finally, the poll monitor pulls out a copy of the History of the Peloponnesian War, written in the original ancient Greek, points to a sentence, and asks the man if he can read it.  "Sure," he replies.  Amazed, the poll monitor asks what it says.  Answer: "This is one black man who isn't going to vote today."


For full coverage of this disgrace, see the web site of Parent Revolution at: (its Executive Director is Ben Austin, one of the people Gov. Brown just sacked – see below).


Here's the actual letter that was sent to parents:

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At California School, Parents Force an Overhaul

Here's an excerpt from a NYT article last month about the parents' vote:

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

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

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

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

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


At California School, Parents Force an Overhaul

Published: December 7, 2010

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Understanding the state of play at McKinley Elementary

Here's the data on the parents' vote, showing the overwhelming support for the parent trigger:


Understanding the state of play at McKinley Elementary


The graph below details where the Parent Trigger campaign at McKinley Elementary stands as of Thursday, January 20.  Additional parents are signing the petition or rescinding their "rescissions" by the day. As a result, we will be updating these numbers as necessary. 


As you can see from the difference between the first and second columns, parents representing only 318 of the 438 students enrolled at McKinley (73%) have even been given the option of signing the Parent Trigger petition.  This is a function of parent organizers not having the list of parents and relatively weak social ties in Compton that prevent parents from knowing all the other parents at their school. 


Of the parents that have been asked, 87% of them – representing a total of 276 students – have signed a Parent Trigger petition and submitted it to the district.  The last column on the right hand side details where the entire universe of parents of McKinley students stands as of January 20.   Of the 276 original signatures, 242 remain unequivocally supportive of the Parent Trigger petition they have signed.  This represents 55% of the total school and 76% of those who have ever been asked by parent organizers. This also includes parents of 16 students who initial signed the district's "rescission" petition but have since reaffirmed their support for the petition (these are represented by the red "RofR" key).  Parents representing 34 students have apparently signed a "rescission" petition as part of the district's "rescission" campaign and have not reaffirmed their support for the petition at this time. 


In summary, even when taking into account parents who have signed Compton Unified's "rescission" petition, the Parent Trigger petition still have support from over 55% of the school (not to mention 76% of parents who have ever had the option of signing), well above the 50% minimum required under the Parent Trigger law.

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Parent Revolution’s press release

Here's an excerpt from Parent Revolution's press release (full text at link below):


On Wednesday, January 19, Compton Unified School District (CUSD) outlined an unprecedented and illegal process to "verify" the over 270 Parent Trigger signatures at McKinley Elementary school.


After six weeks of silence and inaction, Compton Unified has finally decided that rather than actually verifying whether sufficient valid petitions have been submitted as required by law, essentially shredding the petitions and inventing a whole new law. Every parent who wants change at McKinley must now show up at the school on either Wednesday or Thursday of next week, endure a mysterious five-minute interview with district employees, and declare their support in this interview for change. In addition, they must present photo identification at this interview, a requirement that even supersedes the requirements to participate in state and federal elections in California and would undoubtedly have a chilling effect on a community of people of color and immigrants.


Any parent who is unable or unwilling to complete this process for any reason — such as being sick or unable to get out of work on such short notice — will no longer be able to count towards the 61% of parents who have demanded change under the Parent Trigger law, regardless of whether they have already met the legal requirements to do so under the Parent Trigger and the State Board emergency regulations that are already in place.  Parent Revolution and McKinley Parents for Change denounced this tactic as an unethical, illegal tactic that discards the entire Parent Trigger process and months of parent organizing.


"I'm not going to waste my time," Ismenia Guzman, a parent at McKinley Elementary said. "I signed my petition, and that's what I want, and there's nothing they can do.  This is clearly not about 'verifying' anything – it is about the district making up new rules to try to throw away the petitions that we have already submitted.  Every part of this process – the late notice, the narrow window of time, and the requirement for photo identification – indicate that the primary purpose is simply to take away our rights, and we will not stand for it."


…Background: The Parent Trigger Law was passed last year in California and states that if a majority of parents at a failing school signs a petition, they are able to change the school's administration, shut down the school, or have the school replaced by a charter school. On December 7, 2010, McKinley Elementary parents presented the Parent Trigger petition that included over 260 (61%) signatures to CUSD. Since then, five weeks passed without any response from CUSD board members or representatives, despite repeated requests for meetings from McKinley Elementary parents. During this time, CUSD employees have been accused of harassment and intimidation. These complaints were filed with CUSD who have, to date, never acknowledged or responded to the complaints.


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Parent Trigger Gets Gibson Law Firm

Kudos to the law firms that have volunteered to fight this:

If the Parent Trigger battle in Compton gets much uglier, attorneys for Compton Unified School District will face two powerhouse law firms in court: Kirkland & Ellis and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which American Lawyer magazine named 2010 Litigation Department of the Year, jumped into the fray this week, agreeing to work pro bono for Parent Revolution, which organized Compton parents to gather enough signatures to take over McKinley Elementary School under a new California law.

Kirkland & Ellis, one of the largest law firms in the U.S., also is lending its considerable power to the reformers' side, agreeing to work pro bono for McKinley Parents for Change, a group of parents who signed the Parent Trigger petition. Those parents are furious that Compton officials are challenging their signatures and trying to stop them from launching a makeover at substandard McKinley Elementary.

The parents have opted to turn McKinley into a charter school. Compton officials vociferously oppose charters, and no charter has ever been allowed inside Compton.

Jay Lefkowitz, senior partner at Kirkland & Ellis, says the firm decided to represent McKinley Parents for Change because "this is a historic moment in American education reform. ... This is about giving parents the power to fight for their children for a better education."

The two firms join other seasoned political figures who are taking on the Compton school leaders. "We're ready to go all the way to the [California] Supreme Court," says Parent Revolution Executive Director Ben Austin, a former aide to President Bill Clinton.


Parent Trigger Gets Gibson Law Firm

Powerful firms offer parents free help taking over a Compton School

By Patrick Range McDonald Thursday, Jan 27 2011

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Decision Time for Governor Brown

Moving on to other ways that the Blob/union engages in thuggery to thwart reform: a favorite tactic is getting politicians to sack reformers in positions of power, which is exactly what happened in California under new Gov. Jerry Brown, who has proven himself (like most Democrats, sadly) to be a gutless weasel when forced to choose between kids and the teachers union.


Here's Parent Revolution Exec Dir Ben Austin, a Democrat who served in the Clinton White House, appealing to Gov. Brown moments before he was sacked:


I have tried to use my tenure on the (California) State Board as a proof point that this false-ideological choice (pro-charter vs. pro-teachers union) has lead us to the precipice of today's failed status quo. It is time for a new paradigm: kids-first reform.  Make every decision based on what is best for kids.  Period.  End of sentence…


…Parents are already organizing throughout California to take back and transform their children's failing schools, and they will not rest until they succeed.  The kids-first change we seek is infinitely more likely to come from a small band of determined parents in Compton, fighting for the future of their own children, than from the dais of a board room in Sacramento…


…The Governor-elect has shown himself to be a reformer and an independent thinker throughout his political career.  I supported him for governor because he pioneered cutting-edge environmental and labor policy as governor, because of his strong education reform record as mayor of Oakland, and because of his intellect, which I think may be his most appealing quality. Politics in this day and age has devolved into a cacophony of cable news hyperbole that has lost much of its intrinsic meaning. Jerry Brown has a long history of challenging the status quo, questioning long-held assumptions, and standing up for social justice. That's why I think Jerry Brown will make a great governor.
I hope Governor Brown stands with parents and kids and supports me and the other reformers on the State Board.


Decision Time for Governor Brown

Ben Austin

Posted: January 3, 2011 03:35 PM

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Statement from Ben Austin regarding his removal from the State Board

Here's Austin's statement two days later, after he was sacked.  How true (and how sad): "Unfortunately, in the Governor's first full day in office, he chose to stand with the state's most powerful interest group that spent millions to elect him, rather than the parents and children of California."


Statement from Ben Austin regarding his removal from the State Board



Just one month ago, California Federation of Teachers President Marty Hittleman – the same man who called the Parent Trigger the "lynch mob provision" – confidently predicted to the media that Governor Brown would immediately remove me from the State Board because I had used my position to advocate for radical kids-first change, ominously stating that I would not be serving on the State Board "in a month or so."  It turns out he was right.  Unfortunately, in the Governor's first full day in office, he chose to stand with the state's most powerful interest group that spent millions to elect him, rather than the parents and children of California.


I am proud to stand with Michelle Rhee, Gloria Romero and other courageous kids-first reformers who lost their jobs because a kids-first agenda is the most radical political agenda in America.  The honor is not to serve on the State Board of Education — the honor is to serve the parents and children of California, and that is what I did.


From the day I was appointed to the State Board of Education, I endeavored to cast every single vote as if it would literally affect my two daughters, Fiona and Eloise.  Sometimes that meant standing with charter advocates, sometimes it meant standing with teachers unions.  But it always meant standing with parents and children.  I knew a kids-first agenda was radical, and that it would anger the most powerful interest groups in California.  But I also knew that the false choices inherent in the current debate — charters vs. district schools, unions vs. reformers — have lead us to the precipice of today's failed status quo. Nine months later, and working alongside other reform-minded board members, I used that kids-first philosophy to begin to shift the paradigm.  I fought to transform teacher evaluations and include cutting-edge "value added" data, so that teachers can be evaluated at least in part based on how much their students ultimately learn.  As a parent, of course I want to know whether or not my daughters' teachers are effective based on common sense, fair evaluations, so I stood up for change.  I strongly supported President Obama's revolutionary Common Core standards, so that our children can have access to the best curricula and assessments — moving us past the days of multiple choice standardized tests, and into the 21st century where critical thinking skills will trump rote memorization.


And to the surprise of many, I took the lead on charter school accountability, authoring groundbreaking regulations to increase accountability and ultimately shut down our state's lowest performing charter schools.  On individual votes, I supported good charter schools and voted against bad ones, even when sometimes under immense political pressure to do the opposite.  A failing school is bad for children no matter what label we give it, and we should not tolerate failing schools of any type for our children.


However, if I've learned one thing from my time on the State Board, it is that the type of kids-first change we seek is never going to come from inside the system.  Thanks to our state's historic Parent Trigger law, parents no longer have to sit around and wait for someone else to do it for them.  They can do it themselves. If half the parents at any failing school sign a petition, the parents can turn their school into a high-performing charter school, or they can keep it a district school but bring in new leadership and a new staff. For the first time in American history, parents now have real power over the education of their own children.


Parents are already organizing throughout California to take back and transform their children's failing schools, and they will not rest until they succeed.  The kids-first change we seek is infinitely more likely to come from a small band of determined parents in Compton, fighting for the future of their own children, than from the dais of a board room in Sacramento.


Parents can't wait. They can't freeze-dry their kids. They operate on a different clock than district bureaucrats and politicians. They get one shot to give their kids the education they need and the future they deserve. And they are going to take back their schools for their kids and their future by any means necessary — whether I'm a member of the State Board of Education or not.

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Here's a summary of what happened from the Education Action Group:



Education Action Group, 1/13/11


     As some may not know, California's new governor, Jerry Brown, is also the state's old Gov. Brown. He left office back in the '80s and has been bumping around as mayor of Oakland and state attorney general since then.

     But now he's back, and he's trying to bring the '80s back with him. This is definitely not a good thing.

     Brown got huge support in his election campaign from the California Teachers Association, and he wasted no time on paybacks. One of his first official acts was to fire 7 of the 11 members of the state Board of Education, including four members with strong education reform backgrounds.

     One of the replacements is a former lobbyist for the teachers union, while the others are suspected of being protectors of the status quo.

    Good going, Gov. Brown. You've just dealt a huge blow to the growing movement for quality education in California. And real reform was just starting to take root in the Golden State.

    As we noted in a press release earlier this week, California recently made national headlines by enacting the "parent trigger" law, which allows a simple majority of local parents to unite and reinvent failing schools. The Los Angeles Board of Education is trying to make student test scores a vital component of teacher evaluations. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who once worked for the teachers unions, recently blasted his former employers for standing in the way of reform efforts.

     But for old timers like Brown, old-time politics are obviously more important than quality education. The unions scratched Brown's back during the election cycle and now he's scratching back.

     "No doubt about it, this is in part looking at the November election first and foremost, and then of course upcoming elections," said state Sen. Gloria Romero, a Democrat who supports reform and is angry with Brown for his move.

     We just hope this isn't a sign of things to come. We hope Brown doesn't join the union in an effort to force children to attend their local public schools, regardless of the quality of education available. We hope he doesn't fight efforts to hold teachers more accountable for student learning, or efforts to make it easier to fire bad teachers.

     But we're not holding our breaths. Gov. Brown is the product of an era when the unions ran public education in virtually every state, and their "wisdom" regarding all things school-related went unquestioned.

     It's obviously going to be very hard to teach this old dog a few new tricks.

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New Calif. Gov. Shakes Up Education Policy

Here's an EdWeek story:

Against the backdrop of another smothering budget crisis, California Gov. Jerry Brown has quickly moved to put his stamp on the state's public schools by shaking up the state board of education and entrusting its members with more power.

In some of his first moves, the newly elected Democrat eliminated the position of education secretary—an advisory post separate from the state's elected schools chief—and canned seven members of the state board, replacing them with former school superintendents, a teachers' union activist, and a well-known Stanford University education professor.

Mr. Brown, who served as governor for two terms starting in 1976, replaced, among others, Ted Mitchell, the president of NewSchools Venture Fund; and Johnathan Xavier Williams, the founder of a charter school organization in Los Angeles. Also jettisoned was Ben Austin, a director at a Los Angeles-based nonprofit called Parent Revolution. That group is helping parents take advantage of a new state "parent trigger" law that gives them unprecedented power to turn around their own failing schools. ("'Parent Trigger' Law's Use in California Draws Controversy, National Attention," Jan. 12, 2011.)

Critics charge that the governor swapped members who were strong on teacher accountability and charter school growth in favor of school practitioners and teachers' union supporters.


New Calif. Gov. Shakes Up Education Policy

By Michele McNeil

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California Dreams RIP: Foxes Now Guarding Educational Hen House

Finally, here is blogger Anthony Krinsky's spot-on take:


Just announced was the ouster of Parents' Union founder Ben Austin and his replacement by current Teachers' Union (CTA) Legislative Advocate Patty Rucker. The irony could not be greater. Parents' Union out. Teachers' Union in. California wades deeper into the education back-water hall of fame.

The rest of the slate is a "who's who" of the folks who got us into this mess in the first place and others who will be putty in teacher union hands. We can look forward to nothing but heavily massaged lies about how California cares deeply about our childrens' futures while systematically repealing pro-child initiatives and replacing them with pro-union provisions like wiping out non-union charter schools, watering down testing, strengthening tenure for incompetent teachers, and increasing local (read: union) political governance. Union controlled school boards will be forbidden from liquidating failing schools but given the power to raise taxes. We can look forward to additional obfuscation of the costs of teacher pensions and many, many, devious, union-crafted proposals to pull the wool over our eyes. And according to press-releases from Sacramento, it will be done "for the kids" (to borrow a phrase from the campaign manifesto of LAUSD school board candidate and UTLA water-boy, Dr. John Fernandez).

Unfortunately, Ben Austin's hopes and dreams for Jerry Brown to stand up for poor children and families -- denied of their rights for a quality education by the current establishment for generations -- seem to have been misplaced. California's teacher unions wanted peace on their terms (they have never stood down to any pro-child reforms) and Jerry Brown is giving it to them.

The foxes are smiling widely today as they overlook the hen houses they continue to plunder. May Florida make up for our woes! I hope that Rick Scott swings that state wildly in the direction of children and families -- and may all sensible Californians who like sunshine and aren't otherwise tied down (like me), fly their families to educational freedom in the pan-handle. California seems prepared to guarantee one thing of its government run schools: they will continue to waste more and more tax-payer money every year, plunging our state further into financial and educational insolvency. God help us.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

California Dreams RIP: Foxes Now Guarding Educational Hen House

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Records Request by Union

And if all this weren't enough, the union has started a campaign to harass charter schools in LA by sending them document requests for massive amounts of information.  Here are comments by Inner City Education Foundation CEO Caprice Young:  


UTLA has sent this fishing Public Records Act to a huge number of charters in Los Angeles.  It provides interesting insights into the direction the national unions (who have recently become very active in LA) may be headed in terms of issues.


UTLA has sent a PRA request to several charter schools/organizations that asks for rather extensive and intrusive items related to Special Ed, finances, attendance, teacher turnover, etc.

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Union force opposes real education

A good summary of the titanic struggle taking place:


Union force opposes real education

STEVEN GREeNHUT >> Greenhut is the editor of www .calwatchdog .com. Reach him at sgreenhut@ calwatchdog .com.

January 06, 2011 6:00 AM


SACRAMENTO Democrats soon will have to decide whether they are the party of the idle rich — i.e., the party of retired government employees, many of whom spend 30 or more years receiving pensions that are the equivalent of millions of dollars in savings — or the party of the poor, the downtrodden and the working class.

Fortunately, there are some Democrats who are serious about all that "helping the little guy" rhetoric, especially in the area of public education. In a recent article titled "Democratic schism opens on fixing schools," the Sacramento Bee detailed the "growing chorus [of Democrats] arguing the party must move away from its traditional allegiance with teachers unions in order to improve chronically low-performing schools."

We all know that many of California's larger school districts operate as efficiently as Soviet-era bureaucracies, and their educational product is the equivalent of the former Soviet Union's consumer goods. There's a reason for those dropout rates of 20 percent to 50 percent, a human tragedy when you consider the typical futures of the students who are cast aside by the current system.

This isn't a slam on the many fine public schoolteachers, but it's clear what happens when unaccountable bureaucracies, protected from competition and reliant on taxes rather than the free choice of consumers, produce things. Unions make it nearly impossible to fire the worst employees and create work rules that stymie innovation and reform.

The late Albert Shanker, longtime leader of national teachers unions, once famously said, "When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of schoolchildren." Shanker was just being truthful about the purpose of unions. The rest of us need to be just as forthright about the need to tame those unions if we're seriously interested in improving education rather than simply in seeking more taxpayer money to prop up the same-old failed, bureaucratic system.

The story in the Bee profiled former state Sen. Gloria Romero, who last year lost her bid to become state superintendent of public instruction to a union ally, Tom Torlakson, but who now heads the California chapter of a political action committee called Democrats for Education Reform. Romero is a tried-and-true liberal who understands that union dominance undermines traditional liberal values. Several years back, she was one of only a handful of state senators from either party to take on the police unions over their unconscionable protection of abusive officers.

It's beyond me how Democrats can claim to be for education yet align themselves with those forces that oppose every serious reform that would help poor kids, just as I could never understand how Democrats could claim to stand for civil liberties even as they stifled open-government rules that would shine a light on police officers who abused people's rights.


Democrats for Education Reform released a report in October, "Busting the Dam," which succinctly captures the nature of the problem: "It is no secret that most of the efforts to reform K-12 public education systems in the last quarter century have been stymied by political gridlock. Although education pioneers like Teach For America and KIPP have demonstrated the tremendous potential impact of innovation, special interests (primarily but not limited to teachers unions) have built up symbiotic relationships with elected officials to the point that they are able to assert de facto veto power over the kinds of changes which could fundamentally alter the way education is delivered in our communities."

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A Chance to Make History, Wendy Kopp's new book

Wendy Kopp's new book, A Chance to Make History (, is out and it's GREAT!  A companion website and video is at:  Here's what Wendy sent me:


My hope is that the book will help convey to a broader audience our shared sense of possibility about the solvability of educational inequity and that it will advance the public discussion about what it will take to realize this goal.  Hopefully, it will help people understand the importance of embracing the complexities of the issues and the hard work that is required to build a viable solution while avoiding the temptation to lurch after quick fixes.  


About A Chance to Make History


With inspiring stories, novel insights, and a clear vision of the future of education reform, A Chance to Make History charts a path to the fulfillment of our nation's most fundamental ideals of freedom and equality. Kopp shows us that we can provide children in low-income urban and rural communities with an education that transforms their life prospects, if we engage in the hard work entailed in achieving extraordinary outcomes in any endeavor - through establishing ambitious visions for success, developing capable teams to pursue the vision; building strong cultures of achievement and management systems that foster continuous improvement; and ultimately, doing whatever it takes to achieve the desired outcomes.


Drawing on what she has learned in her twenty years at the center of a growing movement to end educational inequity in America, Kopp calls for moving beyond the temptation of overly simplistic answers that can distract time and energy from the core of the solution and instead investing the energy and exerting the discipline that is producing results in growing numbers of classrooms, schools, and systems.


Here's what Wendy wrote about DFER on page 164:


In the tradition of the most aggressive political action committees in the country (entities more often associated with narrow special interests), we must create powerful organizations that shape, choose, and support candidates with the most potential.


Democrats for Education Reform offers a relatively new example of this model. Led by former award-winning education journalist Joe Williams, Democrats for Education Reform bundles resources and support for local and national candidates who are willing to stand up for reforming education. Sometimes these stances challenge entrenched interests within the Democratic Party, and this organization offers political backing for challenging the status quo.

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$100 Million for Teach For America

Speaking of TFA, here's great news:


Teach For America Attracts $100-Million to Start an Endowment

January 27, 2011, 11:36 am


Teach for America, the fast-growing organization that places young college graduates as teachers in struggling public schools, is getting $100-million from four wealthy donors to start an endowment, the Associated Press reports.


The idea to start an endowment originated with the philanthropist Eli Broad, the news service says. He pledged $25-million from his Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and enlisted other donors to join him.


Three more wealthy couples joined by providing $25-million from their foundations or in direct gifts: the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Robertson Foundation (headed by the financier Julian Robertson) and the philanthropists Steve and Sue Mandel.


The endowment will produce only about 2 percent of Teach For America's $200-million budget at first, but Wendy Kopp, who founded the group 20 years ago, said she hopes the endowment will grow into a bigger source of support.


Ms. Kopp said she hopes the endowment revenue allows the organization to double the number of teachers serving two-year terms to 15,000 and increase the communities they reach from 39 to 60.

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To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test

Some VERY important research on the benefits – yes, BENEFITS! – of test taking:

Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques.

The research, published online Thursday in the journal Science, found that students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods.

One of those methods — repeatedly studying the material — is familiar to legions of students who cram before exams. The other — having students draw detailed diagrams documenting what they are learning — is prized by many teachers because it forces students to make connections among facts.

These other methods not only are popular, the researchers reported; they also seem to give students the illusion that they know material better than they do.


January 20, 2011

To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test


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Feinberg Recommendations for Handling Teacher Misconduct Casesw

Ken Feinberg is a great American (among many other things, he handled the 9/11 victims compensation fund and is doing the same for Gulf Coast residents and businesses impacted by last summer's oil spill), but I think he got in over his head and got taken for a ride by the AFT in this report he authored on how to streamline teacher misconduct cases (attached and at  Sure, his recommendations, if implemented, would be better than the status quo, but they don't go nearly far enough and therefore could do harm if adopted because everyone will think the problem is fixed.


The worst part of it is that it only addresses teacher misconduct, not incompetence!  The latter is the real problem.  Nearly all of the harm being done to children by terrible teachers isn't in the form of beatings, sexual harassment and the like – the only things covered in Feinberg's report – it's teachers who are unwilling or unable to impart knowledge to children, who are barely literate themselves, who tear children down rather than inspire them, who have low/no expectations rather than setting the bar high, etc.


My second big problem with Feinberg's report is that sets a 100-day limit for teacher misconduct processes.  What a sad statement on the Alice-in-Wonderland world of our schools that anyone would hail this as progress!  2-3 days would be more appropriate.


You know the report is weak when the AFT praises it:

We believe that Mr. Feinberg has produced a thoughtful and commonsense approach for addressing accusations of teacher wrongdoing. It attempts to ensure fairness and due process, as well as transparency and expediency. The proposal establishes a path for an informal resolution within 20 days, and ensures that, if a formal hearing is necessary, the final judgment will be made in 100 days. Under Mr. Feinberg's proposal, there will be no more "rubber rooms." Cases of teacher wrongdoing will no longer languish for months or years before they are resolved.


To:             Interested Parties

From:        Michael Powell, Assistant to the President for Communications

Date:         January 21, 2011

Subject:    Feinberg Recommendations for Handling Teacher Misconduct Cases

The Feinberg report.

A related recent New York Times article.

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Let's reform teaching for students

Charles Barone, DFER's Director of Federal Policy, with a column based on DFER's report, Ticket to Teach (attached):

Despite all the talk about how to fix education, reform is likely to fall far short of expectations if we don't fundamentally change the way we recruit, prepare and retain good teachers.

We need to attract the best and brightest, provide the highest-quality preparation and reward them commensurate with our higher expectations.

A nationwide "Ticket to Teach" effort aimed at these goals that is deliberate, sustained and relentless is one good place to start. As we saw with Race to the Top, a relatively small amount of funding spurred dozens of states toward significant reform. Something on the same scale could happen with the teacher-prep sector if we make better use of the monies and policies we have — and provide additional, targeted investments.

First, we must create motivators that drive interest in teaching, pair high expectations with high rewards and attract top college students before they even choose a career. This is already being done in high-achieving countries like Singapore and Finland.

Several woefully underused and poorly publicized federal programs could aid these efforts.


Let's reform teaching for students

By CHARLES BARONE | 1/14/11 4:41 AM EST 

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Maverick teachers' group bucking UFT

Kudos to E4E!

A powerful group of teachers more concerned with kids' futures than with the fine print of their labor contract is making leaders of their union very nervous.

The nonprofit Educators 4 Excellence -- which just doubled is membership to some 1,300 after landing a $160,000 grant from the influential Gates Foundation -- has become such a force that UFT President Michael Mulgrew was spurred to meet its members last night.

The group favors several proposed changes that have made labor leaders gag, including:

* Awarding merit pay to individual teachers, rather than all teachers in schools that improved their performance.

* Toughening the requirements for tenure -- so the lifetime job guarantee doesn't go to educators who hang on for years doing the minimum to avoid being fired.

* Getting rid of the seniority system -- so layoffs can be based on teachers' effectiveness rather than on how long they've been working.


Maverick teachers' group bucking UFT

Last Updated: 1:21 PM, January 26, 2011

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Students Score Poorly on Science Test

Not that any more evidence is needed about the dismal state of our educational system, but here's the latest evidence:

Results from a national exam revealed that fewer than one-third of elementary- and high-school students have a solid grasp of science, triggering anxiety about U.S. competitiveness in science and technology.

The scores from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, released Tuesday, come just a few weeks after an international science test showed U.S. students trailing their counterparts in many European and Asian countries. On that exam, called the Program for International Student Assessment, students in Hong Kong and Shanghai dominated their counterparts in the U.S. and most other countries.


  • JANUARY 26, 2011

Students Score Poorly on Science Test


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Record Level of Stress Found in College Freshmen

I have mixed feelings about this study, showing record levels of stress among college freshmen.  Of course there is bad stress that can lead to depression or suicide, for example, but stress can also be a GOOD thing if it means that students are being pushed to work their hardest and excel.  Given the statistics I cite on page 19 of my school reform presentation ( – that our youth are spending an average of 4 ½ hours per day watching TV and 7 ½ hours/day in front of a screen of some sort, and that college students are only doing 14 hours/week of homework, 42% less than the 24  hours/week they were doing in 1960 – I think that, overall, our youth need MORE, not less stress in their lives.


Here's an excerpt from the article:

The emotional health of college freshmen — who feel buffeted by the recession and stressed by the pressures of high school — has declined to the lowest level since an annual survey of incoming students started collecting data 25 years ago.

In the survey, "The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010," involving more than 200,000 incoming full-time students at four-year colleges, the percentage of students rating themselves as "below average" in emotional health rose. Meanwhile, the percentage of students who said their emotional health was above average fell to 52 percent. It was 64 percent in 1985.

Every year, women had a less positive view of their emotional health than men, and that gap has widened.

Campus counselors say the survey results are the latest evidence of what they see every day in their offices — students who are depressed, under stress and using psychiatric medication, prescribed even before they came to college.

The economy has only added to the stress, not just because of financial pressures on their parents but also because the students are worried about their own college debt and job prospects when they graduate.


January 26, 2011

Record Level of Stress Found in College Freshmen


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A "Rosa Parks" figure emerges in Ohio

STOP THE PRESSES!!!  This story is getting national attention, as it should.  A low-income, black, single mom, fed up with crappy schools in the only place she could afford to live, snuck her two daughters into a much better school (serving, of course, wealthy, white students) and, for trying to do what's right for her kids, was SENTENCED TO PRISON.  This is an outrage!  Here's hoping that this becomes a rallying cry – a Rosa Parks moment – for education reform in general, and parental choice in particular.


Here's the spot-on response from the Black Alliance for Educational Options:


BAEO Responds to Imprisonment of Ohio Mother

January 26, 2011


We are writing to express outrage at the circumstances that led to the prosecution and conviction of Kelley Williams-Bolar. As reported in the Akron Beacon Journal, Williams-Bolar was found guilty and sentenced severely for an act that defied the strict letter of the law but does not defy reason. She sent her daughters to schools outside her district of residence.

Ohio law says that if you live in Akron, you must send your children to your neighborhood school, even if it is a failing school and regardless of whether you feel your child would get a better education and stand a better chance of success elsewhere. The law says you're stuck-unless you're wealthy enough to opt out or fortunate enough to get into a high-performing charter school or to get selected for one of only 14,000 EdChoice scholarships available state-wide.

Williams-Bolar is not wealthy, so paying private school tuition for her two children was not an option, nor could she afford to move out of public housing and into a district with better schools. To be fair, Ohio has done more than most states in terms of providing options for parents whose children need better educational opportunities.  But clearly, more could and should be done.  In far too many states, however, these parents have no choice at all.  It is high time we change the laws that force low-income and working-class families to choose between playing by the rules and doing what's best for their children.   

Earlier this month, our nation honored the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., and this week, BAEO joins families, educators, and advocacy groups coast to coast in celebrating National School Choice Week. The Williams-Bolar case is a sober reminder that Dr. King's dream remains unrealized, and parental choice is the most pressing civil rights issue of our time. Every child deserves access to a quality education, and as Dr. King said, we must act with the fierce urgency of now.

Today, Kelley Williams-Bolar is serving a jail sentence for pursuing a better educational option for her daughters. Meanwhile, her children must-like thousands of other low-income students of color-endure a sentence of their own: consignment to unsafe, underperforming schools in close proximity to their homes, year after year. There is no justice here.


Below is a longer article from the Education Action Group:


The folks in charge of National School Choice Week are calling Kelley Williams-Bolar the "Rosa Parks of education."

     Her story illustrates their message perfectly, and it couldn't have hit the front pages at a more opportune time.

     Williams-Bolar is a single mother of two daughters who lives in Akron, Ohio. Four years ago she decided she wanted her kids to have a quality education, so she enrolled them in the neighboring Copley-Fairlawn school district, which presumably offers a better program and safer environment than Akron Public Schools.

     Unfortunately her kids were not qualified to attend Copley-Fairlawn unless Williams-Bolar paid tuition. School officials finally figured out that she did not live in the district, and her children did not live with her father, who resides in the Copley-Fairlawn district.

     They asked Williams-Bolar to pay $30,000 in back tuition. When she failed to produce that sort of money, the courts got involved.

     She was sentenced to 10 days in jail, two years of probation and community service for falsifying public school records.

     To make matters worse, Williams-Bolar, a university student preparing to become a teacher, will not be able to get a job in her field in Ohio, because convicted felons are banned from teaching positions.

     Williams-Bolar went to jail, and perhaps crippled her professional future, for sending her kids to the school of her choice. And all of this happened in the middle of National School Choice Week.

     "I did this for them, so there it is," she was quoted as saying about her kids. "I did this for them."


January 27, 2011


A "Rosa Parks" figure emerges in Ohio during National School Choice Week

Ohio mom jailed for sending her two daughters to the school of her choice


By Steve Gunn

EAG Communications

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On Upper West Side, Hurdles for Charter School

I was expecting a hatchet job, but this cover story in last week's NYT about the Success Charter Network opening a new school on the Upper West Side was surprisingly balanced:

The school intends to open with 188 spots in kindergarten and first grade, eventually growing to about 480 students through the fifth grade. There are already 600 applicants for the fall, so seats will be distributed through a lottery. Priority will go to children zoned for District 3 schools that received a D or F on the student-performance portion of their report cards — a criterion that applies to all but 4 of the district's 11 elementary schools. The highest number of applicants have come from the zone of Public School 75, one of the priority schools, followed by the P.S. 199 zone. The applications do not ask about race or ethnicity.

Ms. Moskowitz, a type-A-plus personality whose schools score well on standardized tests — one was featured in the documentary "Waiting for Superman" — said "our vision is for a neighborhood school serving families on the Upper West Side." Posters promoting the school line bus stops along Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway, and some people say they have gotten more than 10 fliers in the mail, several proclaiming the charter school as "the public-school solution to private-school tuition."

"Why is it that people who can't afford it have to send their kids to a bad school, if that's what they're zoned for?" said Bianca Strul, 35, who hosted the party at her apartment, in a building with a gym, playroom and private theater, and where the cost of apartments average $1,300 a square foot.

Ms. Strul, a freelance television producer, is zoned for Public School 163, which got a C in its report card and yet is so crowded that, for 10 years, two kindergarten classes have been held in trailers behind the school. Her daughter, Zoe, is 2 and will enter kindergarten in 2013.

For Jose Santiago, 44, an information technology director at Columbia University, the situation is more urgent. His son, Quinn, who is 4, is set to enter kindergarten in the fall, and Mr. Santiago said he did not want him to go to the school he is zoned for, Public School 165, where 69 percent of students failed English tests last year, placing the school in the bottom-25th percentile citywide.

"My wife and I researched it — the test scores, the extra-curricular activities — and it isn't really ideal," he said. "We can't afford $30,000 a year for private school, so we're really nervous about what's going to happen. We're looking at all our options."


On Upper West Side, Hurdles for Charter School

Published: January 21, 2011

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Reform and the Teachers’ Unions

A great NYT editorial:


January 23, 2011

NYT editorial

Reform and the Teachers' Unions

Education officials across the country are increasingly focused on the two critical reform tasks: developing more effective teacher evaluation systems and speeding up the glacial pace of disciplinary hearings for teachers charged with misconduct. The American Federation of Teachers, the country's second-largest teachers' union, has wisely chosen to work with state legislatures and local school districts to help shape these new systems rather than try to block them.

Last week the union's president, Randi Weingarten, released a plan for speeding up disciplinary hearings that is a good starting point for more discussion. Developed by Kenneth Feinberg, the arbitration specialist, the plan calls for strictly limiting the process — from complaint to resolution — to 100 days. Right now a hearing can drag on for months or years, with the attendant stiff legal fees.

In many districts, teachers can now be investigated for vaguely worded charges like "moral turpitude" or "conduct unbecoming" that are often difficult to define and difficult to prosecute or defend against. The plan would give teachers and school systems more protection by establishing a clear set of charges — such as improper use of force, sexual abuse or refusal to obey rules — along with a strict set of deadlines for submissions of evidence and arguments.

The unions and state legislatures also need to press forward on developing evaluation systems that take student performance into account and that allow school systems to reward excellent teaching while steering ineffective teachers out of the field.

Ms. Weingarten has shown strong leadership in this area, and is well ahead of the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union. But many members of her union are resistant to the idea of accountability systems, which they say can be far too easily manipulated.

The states are already charging ahead in this area. If the unions want to have input, they need to quickly come up with a legitimate proposal of their own.

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'Last in, first out' is an outrage

Rhee and Klein on the last-in, first-out outrage:


Cities and states across the nation are facing crippling budget deficits, and the impact for our schools is devastating: teacher layoffs, decimated programs and stalled school construction. But these budget cuts also offer us a unique chance to rethink the way we make education decisions, especially the way we decide which teachers to keep when layoffs are necessary.

From New York to California, our policies governing teacher layoffs during tough economic times are controlled by a system known as "Last In, First Out" (LIFO). This policy dictates that when there are layoffs, the most recently hired teachers in the system are the first to be fired. These decisions are based solely on seniority, without regard for teacher effectiveness.

The policy has three major negative impacts: first, it removes many high-performing tenured and non-tenured teachers from the classroom, while retaining those that are less effective but have more years in the system; second, it causes a higher number of layoffs, since junior teachers are paid the least; and finally, it disproportionately impacts the lowest performing schools, which have the largest number of new teachers.

Virtually no other business or large-scale system makes personnel decisions this way, with good reason.


'Last in, first out' is an outrage: Firing less senior teachers hurts schoolkids, say Klein and Rhee

Wednesday, January 26th 2011, 4:00 AM

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Michelle Rhee Wants to Spend $1 Billion Fixing Education

A Fast Company article about and interview with Rhee:

In the coming weeks and months, Rhee plans to push her main points. She wants to change the tenure and seniority rules that she says have favored adults and their jobs over kids' educations. She'll campaign for parents to have more control over what public schools their children attend. She will lobby for cities to choose mayoral, rather than board, control of schools, because she believes that concentrating authority -- as in New York and D.C. -- is a prerequisite for real reform. And given the soaring spending but middling performance of American public schools, she'll advocate stronger fiscal responsibility.

A key pillar of Students First's strategy is to build grassroots support, much as Barack Obama did during the 2008 presidential campaign -- with thousands of small donors and on-the-ground campaign workers. Johnson has pushed Rhee hard on this: "They didn't do as good a job as they should have on community involvement in D.C.," he says. "Unless you have the grassroots folks who want it even more than the policy makers, it's never going to happen


Michelle Rhee Wants to Spend $1 Billion Fixing Education

By: Jeff ChuJanuary 12, 2011

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DFER’s take on the Obama’s SOTU

Here's DFER's take on the Obama's state of the union address:



President Obama tonight delivered a bold vision to use education innovation and investment to drive job creation and economic growth. He made clear his desire to reach bipartisan agreement to overhaul the federal No Child Left Behind Act and emphasize policies that close the U.S. achievement gap with other industrialized countries.

The only obstacle to a comprehensive, bipartisan education bill is party politics. The reaction of Congressional Republicans to the Obama education agenda has ranged from inert to obstructive. 

We hope that Republican Congressional leaders do not make the cynical calculation to deny Obama a legislative victory and sacrifice the nation's long-term economic interests to those of the 2012 campaign. 

We are encouraged by the fact that outside the beltway, Republican and Democratic Governors and state legislators have embraced Obama education initiatives like Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation (i3). And we remain confident that the success of these reform programs and the collaborative spirit with which they are being undertaken raise the odds that, ultimately, Congress and thePresident can reach agreement on an education agenda very much like the one he laid out this evening.

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