Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rebutting 7 Myths About Teach for America

I toned down my rebuttal of Diane Ravitch's critique of TFA and published it on the Huffington Post yesterday:

Diane Ravitch is perhaps the best known critic of education reforms such as charter schools and the Obama Administration's Race to the Top Program, which have been championed by people like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee. In a recent article, Ravitch set her sights on Teach for America, repeating many common criticisms of this widely celebrated program, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary last weekend in Washington D.C. As one of people who helped Wendy Kopp start TFA in 1989, I feel compelled to respond to her article.

First, she writes that TFA "grossly overstates its role in American education" and holds itself out as "the answer", yet she provides no support for this assertion. In reality, even TFA's biggest champions -- and I'd include myself in that category -- don't claim it's "the answer", but we do claim that it's having an important impact on our K-12 educational system in many fundamental ways (ways in which Ravitch doesn't like, which explains much of her opposition to TFA, I suspect).

Second, she highlights that "most [TFA teachers] will be gone within three years". True, but misleading. Time columnist Andy Rotherham rebutted this in a recent article entitled, Teach for America: 5 Myths That Persist 20 Years On:


Description: Description: Description: Description: Whitney Tilson

Whitney Tilson

Board member of KIPP charter schools in NYC, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and Democrats for Education Reform

Posted: February 21, 2011 12:59 PM


Rebutting 7 Myths About Teach for America

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LA this next Monday: Urban Public Education Has Failed. Now What?

I will be in LA this coming Monday evening and will be giving a short presentation on the twin achievement gaps and then participating in a panel with leading education reformers.  Here's the invite – please join us and forward the invite widely!


Urban Public Education Has Failed. Now What?


Join a panel of Democrats convinced that putting the public back in PUBLIC education is the only way to save our youth in Los Angeles, in California, and across the nation.  This will be a serious look at what we all must do to fix our public schools before it is too late. 


Whitney Tilson will give a short presentation on the twin achievement gaps and then will join leading education reformers from California in a panel discussion, with Q&A from the audience, on how we can engage in collective, smart action to save this generation from demise in the global economy.  This will be an evening to supply you with the facts and the knowledge needed to act for change.


Monday, February 28, 2011

6:30-8:30 pm


Frederick Douglass High School
3202 W. Adams Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA  90018



Whitney Tilson is a well-known education reform writer/blogger, is featured in the documentary, A Right Denied: The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform, was one of the founding members of Teach for America, and is a Board member of KIPP charter schools in NYC, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and Democrats for Education Reform.


Gloria Romero is a former California State Senator and is currently California Director of Democrats for Education Reform (www.dfer.org/branches/california)


Corri Tate Ravere is President of the Inner City Education Foundation network of public charter schools (ICEF), Founder of Families That Can, and serves on the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) Member Council (www.icefla.org/about_us/mangement_team.jsp)


Caprice Young is the CEO of ICEF, founder of CCSA, and former LAUSD School Board President (www.icefla.org/about_us/mangement_team.jsp)

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The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes on the Nation’s Worst School District

I finished reading The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes on the Nation's Worst School District (www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0470905298/tilsoncapitalpar), and I can't recommend it highly enough.  It's both a great read – you couldn't make up these characters and there are incredibly dramatic decisions, confrontations, etc. – but it also should be required reading for all reformers because of the important lessons. 


I am in awe of the courage and tenacity Michelle Rhee showing in fighting for kids (and the political courage Adrian Fenty showed in backing her 100%).  Here's what the author, Richard Whitmire, wrote to me yesterday:

I appeared at Politics & Prose yesterday, "the" bookstore in D.C. located in upscale NW, and encountered a steady stream of Rhee detractors -- all of whom offered up bizarre conspiracy theories about Michelle, but not a single person had any thoughts on why low-income African American kids in D.C. are as much as two years behind comparable kids in other urban areas. Pretty sad, really.

It's more than sad – it's tragic!


If $14.39 (the price on Amazon) is an obstacle for you, email Leila at Leilajt2@gmail.com and I'll buy it for you.

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Gov. Walker going after the unions

Here's a friend from Wisconsin with some VERY astute observations about how Gov. Walker going after the unions is making them more willing to negotiate/compromise on reasonable things (emphasis added).  Is this really what it takes?!

I don't like Scott Walker as I think the partisan political aspects of what he is doing are apparent.

However, I have also had the pleasure of being involved with putting together a long term financial plan for our local public school district.  The current funding model is broken and we are in the process of pitching a referendum to the community to fund preexisting pension agreements and also to pay for post-retirement healthcare expenses.  Basically we are going to raise taxes to fund debt service so we can put more money in the class room.

I feel very fortunate to be living in a district with good public schools, which I believe makes for a strong community.  By in large, I have been impressed with the caliber of the teachers my kids have had over the years.

In selling the referendum to the community, it would be beneficial to be able to point to a shared sacrifice of the part of the teachers union to try and make the tax increase palatable to the families in our community.  We have been without a teachers union contract for about 18 months as the union has stonewalled any reasonable changes.  In fact, they have really refused to meet and negotiate with the school board in a good faith manner.

Lo and behold, after all the happenings with Madison last week, they are now very anxious to settle.  My observations are that the Wisconsin teachers union has really abused their power for a number of years and is, in large part disconnected from the many hard working teachers that we have in our school system.  In my opinion, the Teacher's Union got what they had coming to them based upon the way they have conducted business over the years.

The whole scenario got me thinking a little bit more about the situation in Wisconsin and other states.  When everything unfolded in Madison last week, I was reflexively anti Scott Walker.  However, the more I think about it, the Democrats have too cozy a relationship with the unions who represent their base.  Decisions are being made based on alliances instead of sound long term fiscal policy.

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Milwaukee BAEO

From David Brand of 100 Black Men and the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO):


I would like to point out that the schools the union shuts down in Milwaukee have the
lowest reading scores for Black children of ANY urban school district in America!!!
Milwaukee BAEO has been in the forefront of exposing this crisis. BAEO has organized
other African-American organizations including 100 Black Men to do the job that
the mob in Madison has failed to do.

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People and organizations involved in the Wisconsin fight

Here's an additional question one of my readers added to Rotherham's list of questions of the people and organizations involved in the Wisconsin fight:

11. Individual Teachers:  Your need for a strong union has long been tied to the fact that local districts have been the sole employer of public school teachers.  Shouldn't you be encouraging a major expansion of charter schools so as to create truly competitive bidding for your services, thereby better separating your fate from the vagaries of politics that the current situation highlights?   Isn't this especially true for the very best teachers who are penalized most by a single-employer system that pays primarily according to time served?

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Once-mighty UTLA loses political muscle

This LA Times article says that UTLA has lost clout, but this is total nonsense according to a friend on the ground there:


This is a lot of drivel.  UTLA is as powerful as ever, maybe more so.  They have tremendous power, but are so inept that all they can do is block good work.  When they pick candidates without a criminal record, those candidates win.  However, since they have no reform agenda -- and haven't had one since they took back control in 2003 -- their own membership is rightly pissed off.  Power for the sake of power is just thuggery.  There are plenty of bright lights within UTLA's ranks, but the union political intelligencia just refuses to engage that talent.  Honestly, it's really a shame.


Here's an excerpt from the article:


Critics portray the Los Angeles teachers union as politically all-powerful, able to swing elections and exert control over the Board of Education in the nation's second-largest school system. But in recent years United Teachers Los Angeles hasn't lived up to that reputation.

It's been eight years since UTLA backing put a candidate on the Board of Education in a race in which another contender also had strong financial support. And this year, the union has quietly given up on reclaiming a majority of allies on the seven-member Board of Education in the March 8 election.

This concession is noteworthy: When union-backed candidates win, especially when they prevail because of union support, UTLA gains a sympathetic ear. And there are implied political consequences for board members who stop listening.

But insiders and civic leaders, both pro- and anti-UTLA, describe the union as an organization that has lost clout at the ballot box as well as in the day-to-day proceedings of the backrooms and the board room.


Once-mighty UTLA loses political muscle 
In a series of missteps, the teachers union has lost influence in L.A. Unified elections and in negotiations with board members backed by Mayor Villaraigosa.

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times 
9:47 PM PST, February 18, 2011 


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California education reform may be facing a Brownout

Larry Sand with an op ed on the sad turn of affairs ed reform in California is taking under new Gov. Jerry Brown:

Across the country, governors have become serious about education reform. New Jersey's Chris Christie and Florida's Rick Scott are leading the charge for eliminating teacher tenure, instituting merit pay and focusing on accountability and efficiency.

Many in California were hoping that Gov. Jerry Brown would follow in their footsteps, turn his back on his longtime political crony -- the California Teachers Association -- and initiate reform that would benefit both the children and taxpayers.

But that has not happened.

Brown could have supported a voucher or scholarship program that would allow students to take some public money and go to a private school.

…He could have promoted the expansion of charter schools.

…He could have shown support for California's new Parent Trigger law by letting Ben Austin remain on the state school board.

…Brown could have championed a change in state law that would eliminate tenure and seniority rules, thus making it easier for local districts to maintain the most effective teachers and rid themselves of the poorest -- and frequently highly paid -- performers.

But Brown has done nothing in the way of reform. In fact, he went in the opposite direction. When he released his 2011 budget on Jan. 10, K-12 education went untouched, and there was no mention of reform.


California education reform may be facing a Brownout

By Larry Sand

Special to the Mercury News

Posted: 02/08/2011 08:00:00 PM PST


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Closing the Achievement Gap Without Widening a Racial One

I've read many articles about his research, but haven't read a profile of Ronald Ferguson before this one – for a simple reason: there's hasn't been one!  There should have been – this is REALLY important work:

Unlike Dr. Ogbu, an anthropology professor, and Dr. Murray, a political scientist, Dr. Ferguson has his doctorate in economics from M.I.T.; he has been trained to quantify everything. From his surveys of students in dozens of wealthy, racially mixed suburbs — including Evanston, Ill.; Maplewood, N.J.; and Shaker Heights, Ohio — he has calculated that the average grade of black students was C-plus, while white students averaged a B-plus. The gap.

At the high school here, T. C. Williams — the setting of the movie "Remember the Titans" — he found that 55 percent of white girls reported having an A or A-minus average, compared with less than 20 percent of black girls and boys.

His research indicates that half the gap can be predicted by economics: even in a typical wealthy suburb, blacks are not as well-to-do; 79 percent are in the bottom 50 percent financially, while 73 percent of whites are in the top 50 percent.

The other half of the gap, he has calculated, is that black parents on average are not as academically oriented in raising their children as whites. In a wealthy suburb he surveyed, 40 percent of blacks owned 100 or more books, compared with 80 percent of whites. In first grade, the percentage of black and white parents reading to their children daily was about the same; by fifth grade, 60 percent to 70 percent of whites still read daily to their children, compared with 30 percent to 40 percent of blacks.

He also works with teachers to identify biases, for instance: black children are less likely to complete homework because they are lazy. His research indicates that blacks and whites spend the same amount of time on homework, but blacks are less likely to finish. "It's not laziness," he says. "It's a difference in skills."

How these messages get delivered is crucial. "I don't want to be another one of those people lecturing black parents," he says. "I tell them we in the black community — we — need to build stronger intellectual lives at home."


On Education

Closing the Achievement Gap Without Widening a Racial One

Published: February 13, 2011


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Appeal from a teacher at KIPP Rise in Newark

Here's an appeal from a teacher at one of the greatest public schools in America, KIPP Rise in Newark (I'm donating $100):


My name is Mark Joseph and I teach 5th grade math at Rise Academy in Newark, New Jersey.  (I taught 7th grade math and social studies in the Bronx as part of TFA before this. I am also on your education listserve.)


Currently, Rise is trying to raise money to build a first class athletic field next to our school (see below for an email from our school leader, Drew Martin).


I was wondering if you could include the following website (http://riseacademy.causevox.com/markjoseph) in one of your education email blasts in the hopes of drawing more attention to the project.


Thank you so much for helping us reach our goal!




PS--Here is Rise's page – http://riseacademy.causevox.com


From: Drew Martin

Sent: Friday, February 04, 2011 3:37 PM

Subject: Level the Playing Field




Many of you may or may not know that I've spent a good chunk of my time over the last few months working to help build a first class athletic field next to our school. We've got partnerships with the US Soccer Foundation, the Claudio Reyna Foundation, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lined up to help make the field a reality. While the cost of the field is approaching $4 million to make it happen, these partnerships will reduce the amount that Rise needs to commit to the project to around $1.25 million. So in addition to working with our architects and building partnerships, I've spent some serious time trying to fundraise to make this field happen.  While things are looking good I'm writing to ask for your help.


The prospects for the field have taken off largely because we got so much visibility from the "Refresh Everything" campaign that we unfortunately lost. While we didn't win the contest a few wealthy people expressed interest in helping to make the project happen. So we started thinking that it might make sense for us to continue to push the field through an online grassroots fundraising campaign. That's where you come in.


Ben and I met with the founder of an online fundraising company that is doing some interesting things and we've decided to partner through them. I've set an online fundraising goal of $75,000. While that money won't be enough to pay for the entire field it will help to get us towards our goal and more importantly it will help us to get some more visibility with the hopes that one or two people wants to contribute a significant amount to our project.


What I need from you is to be a "runner" in our "race". Here's what I mean. Lots of organizations, in order to raise money will hold a 5k race. Runners sign up for the race and ask their friends and family to donate to the cause. They set a fundraising goal and then they go out and ask people to sponsor them in their run. We'd like for you to do the same thing. If everyone employee at Rise were able to raise $2,000 then we'd exceed our online fundraising goal and we'd also be 10% of the way to our overall goal.


Will you take the time to help us fundraise? If so, please go to http://riseacademy.causevox.com and create an account. Send the page to friends and family over email. Or promote it over Facebook. I've attached the summary document as well as a few pictures in case these might help us promote our cause.


We've made a lot of progress on making this field a reality. Now we need your help to continue to promote the cause.

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The Wisconsin Teachers' Crisis: Who's Really to Blame?

Andy Rotherham with some great questions for everyone involved with WI:

1. Governor Walker: Can you make a case that you're not using the state's fiscal crisis in a cynical attempt to weaken organized labor?

5. President Obama: You're now rushing to defend the unions in Wisconsin, deploy resources there and say that people shouldn't vilify public-sector workers as a cause of our fiscal woes. Yet in December, you singled out civilian federal-government employees for a two-year pay freeze to show your seriousness about deficit reduction (even though the measure would save only $28 billion over five years, while the the federal budget is more than $3.5 trillion each year). Have you played any role in creating this anti-public-sector climate?

6. National and Wisconsin union leaders: We keep hearing how there isn't any difference between collective bargaining for steelworkers or autoworkers and bargaining for public-sector workers like teachers. Not exactly. While steelworkers can't pick the boards of directors for steel companies, teachers' unions have enormous influence in elections for school board members and state legislators. And while car and steel factories can go bankrupt — providing a real check on what kinds of demands labor can make — there is not the same constraint in the public sector, because while states can go broke, they can't go out of business. Given this, are any restraints on public-sector collective bargaining appropriate?

7. National union leaders: For more than a decade, teachers'-union leaders and activists have poisoned debate by attacking anyone raising serious questions about teachers' contracts as "anti-union." Now that we're seeing what actual anti-unionism looks like (in progressive touchstone Wisconsin, of all places) is this episode causing you to change your thinking about the urgency of reforming teacher contracts?


School of Thought

The Wisconsin Teachers' Crisis: Who's Really to Blame?

By Andrew J. Rotherham Friday, Feb. 18, 2011


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Unions aren't to blame for Wisconsin's budget

Ezra Klein in the Washington Post:

Let's be clear: Whatever fiscal problems Wisconsin is -- or is not -- facing at the moment, they're not caused by labor unions. That's also true for New Jersey, for Ohio and for the other states. There was no sharp rise in collective bargaining in 2006 and 2007, no major reforms of the country's labor laws, no dramatic change in how unions organize. And yet, state budgets collapsed. Revenues plummeted. Taxes had to go up, and spending had to go down, all across the country.

Blame the banks. Blame global capital flows. Blame lax regulation of Wall Street. Blame home buyers, or home sellers. But don't blame the unions. Not for this recession.

Of course, the fact that public-employee pensions didn't cause a meltdown at Lehman Brothers doesn't mean they're not stressing state budgets, and that the pensions they've been promised don't exceed what state budgets seem able to bear.


Unions aren't to blame for Wisconsin's budget

By Ezra Klein


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Wisconsin Power Play

Here's Krugman's take:

So it's not about the budget; it's about the power.

In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we're a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we're more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it's important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

You don't have to love unions, you don't have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they're among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that's to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.

And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.

There's a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America's oligarchy.


February 20, 2011

Wisconsin Power Play



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Supporter of Gov. Walker

Here's the opposite point of view from a friend who supports Gov. Walker:


If we had the Wisconsin solution in every state, the impact would be the following:


-          More responsive and efficient government services

-          Increasing productivity from the public sector --- for example, if one can automate most commercial activities, we ought to be able to put most public services on the Internet as well (most Texas DMV activities can be done entirely on-line --- in NYC, none)

-          A more skilled public work force (we could invest tax dollars in training and skill development rather than investing in promoting laziness)

-          Far healthier fiscal situation

-          Most important, we would avoid: 1) making public workers a permanently protected special class; 2) the conflict between the bureaucrats and those who pay their bills; and 3) the perpetual "self-negotiating", as you aptly called it, between politicians and public unions.


…This battle also matters in terms of education because if the public unions win this round then the Teachers Unions, who are at the forefront of the protest effort (what about keeping schools open and educating children?!), will have won in a big way as well.  Their position will be unassailable going forward.

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More on WI

From a friend:


I wanted to give you a little more information on what's happening in WI. Not only does the bill in contention bust the unions, not only did Walker reward his cronies and appoint Fitzgerald (who had recently been rejected by voters in a local election in his own district and is decidedly not the best candidate for the job), but also the bill goes far further than is being discussed in all the coverage. Walker also is grabbing power over the state health care programs, Badger Care and Senior Care - and Medicaid - so that he will be able to have his way with them - and confer with only the Finance Committee, headed by - you guessed it - Scott Fitzgerald! Previously, the Finance Committee first discusses a bill and then passes it, or not, to the full legislature for passage. But under this provision of this bill, that will no longer be the case. The full legislature will not have the opportunity to weigh in. This bill is an over-reaching power grab by the Republicans. It's very scary. Somebody needs to publicize these points, as well.

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Teach For America alumna responds to Ravitch

Ayanna Taylor, TFA '94, with some good comments in response to Ravitch:


I typically ignore Diane Ravitch's comments, but she is really getting on my nerves.  Does she disparage Peace Corps volunteers in the same way?  My question is whether any research has been done on the impact a TFA teacher has had on students' lives.  I would bet that there are thousands of students who could say, "If it weren't for [insert name of TFA teacher], I wouldn't…"  About 50% of my Facebook friends could.  Isn't that what we are trying to do too?  There are teachers who spend 30 years in school and have no impact on students year after year.  I worked with them and had to teach their students when they promoted them!  I'd like the study that finds people like a former student who texted me yesterday to tell me she applied to TFA and made it to the phone interview round.  She told me she wrote her essay about me and Julie Jackson.  We weren't even her classroom teachers, but we clearly impacted her life.  I don't think TFA has enough of a propaganda machine!  Instead of the data in teacher effectiveness, let's collect some qualitative data from the lives of the students we transformed whether after 2 years or 20.

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DFER Indiana Update

Though all eyes are on Wisconsin today, there are incredible things happening all over the country.  This is from Larry Grau, Indiana State Director of DFER:

Hello DFER friends,

I thought you might be interested in some news from the Statehouse.  As you may have heard, the Charter School (expansion) bill HB 1002 passed out of the House recently on a 59 to 37 vote.  One of our IN DFER leaders, Mary Ann Sullivan was the lone Dem to vote for the bill in what proved to be a very ugly day.  Not coincidentally, today was "teacher rally day" as organized by the Indiana State Teachers Union (ISTA), which included a very loud and reportedly angry protest against several pieces of reform legislation including the Charter Schools Bill.  As you are aware that legislation and most of the reform measures are in line with our principles, and IN DFER subsequently supports the legislation moving forward.  Mary Ann's vote was actually more courageous than the vote total may indicate, as she was at one point booed on the House floor, along with being angrily confronted in the hallway by what had to be uninformed teachers who were clearly at the Statehouse to support the status quo and not our public school students.

The angry mob-mentality on display at the Statehouse this evening is disturbing and unfortunate.  Some who witnessed what was taking place even muttered the question; "didn't these people learn anything from what happened in Arizona?" referencing the despicable act of violence that occurred there last month.  The behavior does give us some sign of what we are working against, and strangely enough it is by and large our fellow Democrats in Indiana.  Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Republicans in the General Assembly are going to bask in all of the credit for passing major education reform -- which may I remind everyone, was almost all initiated by Democrats over the past two decades -- and many in our party are going to be left defending a system that is failing far too many students.  Furthermore, the way this is all going to be portrayed is that the Democrats are more interested in supporting the adults in the education system and unwilling to follow the lead of our President, who has not wavered in his resolve to do what is in the best interests of students.  The Dems will be left with the teacher unions and some of the other groups that have historically fought any change in the education system, while the Republicans are taking a victory lap for what they did to free the many students who have been neglected in the current system and are lingering in poor performing schools, with ineffective teachers.  That is not what I think any of us want for the future of our party and especially not what we want when it comes to doing what is right for the students and for education policy. 

So, we do indeed have our work cut out for us, but we can stand strong in knowing that we are fighting for what is right, and while we may not be winning per se at the moment, it is people like us in DFER who will ultimately be proven successful in pushing -- no, actually plowing -- ahead with a much more progressive education policy agenda, that puts students first; supports our most effective, caring and dedicated teachers; and, is working to bring people together to transform our education system as opposed to trying to bring others down.

Okay, I am coming down from the soapbox now.  Thanks for indulging me everyone, and stay strong Mary Ann: someday the fruits of your labors will pay the dividends you deserve, that children in this state deserve.  Have a good night all, and back at it tomorrow; we obviously have a lot of work to do.

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Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels State of the State

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels dedicated the second half of his State of the State address to education (full text at www.in.gov/gov/11stateofstate.htm -- also video):

We know what works. It starts with teacher quality. Teacher quality has been found to be twenty times more important than any other factor, including poverty, in determining which kids succeed. Class size, by comparison, is virtually meaningless. Put a great teacher in front of a large class, and you can expect good results. Put a poor teacher in front of a small class, do not expect the kids to learn. In those Asian countries I mentioned, classrooms of thirty-five students are common, and they're beating our socks off.

We won't have done our duty here until every single Indiana youngster has a good teacher every single year. Today, 99 percent of Indiana teachers are rated "effective." If that were true, 99 percent, not one-third, of our students would be passing those national tests.

Today's teachers make more money not because their students learned more but just by living longer and putting another certificate on the wall. Their jobs are protected not by any record of great teaching but simply by seniority. We have seen "teachers of the year" laid off, just because they weren't old enough. This must change. We have waited long enough.

Teachers should have tenure, but they should earn it by proving their ability to help kids learn. Our best teachers should be paid more, much more, and ineffective teachers should be helped to improve or asked to move. Today, the outstanding teacher, the Mr. Watson whose kids are pushed and led to do their best, is treated no better than the worst teacher in the school. That is wrong; for the sake of fairness and the sake of our children, it simply has to end. We have waited long enough.

We are beginning to hold our school leaders accountable for the only thing that really matters: Did the children grow? Did the children learn? Starting this year, schools will get their own grades, in a form we can all understand: 'A' to 'F.' There will be no more hiding behind jargon and gibberish.

But, in this new world of accountability, it is only fair to give our school leadership full flexibility to deliver the results we now expect. Already, I have ordered our Board of Education to peel away unnecessary requirements that consume time and money without really contributing to learning. We are asking this Assembly to repeal other mandates that, whatever their good intentions, ought to be left to local control. I am a supporter of organ donation, and cancer awareness, and preventing mosquito-borne disease, but if a local superintendent or school board thinks time spent on these mandated courses interferes with the teaching of math, or English, or science, it should be their right to eliminate them from a crowded school day.

And, while unions and collective bargaining are the right of those teachers who wish to engage in them, they go too far when they dictate the color of the teachers' lounge, who can monitor recess, or on what days the principal is allowed to hold a staff meeting. We must free our school leaders from all the handcuffs that reduce their ability to meet the higher expectations we now have for student achievement.

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Accountability Is Working in Florida's Schools

Jeb Bush with an op ed in the WSJ about the success of Florida's reforms:

Yet failure does not have to be our destiny. Florida's experience in reform during the last decade gives us the road map to avoid this slow-moving economic calamity.

In 1998, nearly half of Florida's fourth-graders were functionally illiterate. Today, 72% of them can read. Florida's Hispanic fourth-graders are reading as well or better than the average student in 31 other states and the District of Columbia. That is what I call a real game-changer.

If Florida can do it, every state can. With 2.7 million students, Florida has the fourth-largest student population in the country. A majority of our public school children are minorities, and about half of the students are eligible for subsidized lunches based on low family income.

Success starts with a bedrock belief that all students can learn. All Sunshine State students are held to the same standards. As we had hoped, more and more are exceeding expectations.

Accountability must have a hard edge, which means that the responsibilities of educators must be clearly defined, easily understood and uniformly enforced. All students matter. No excuses.

Here is an example. For the last decade, Florida has graded schools on a scale of A to F, based solely on standardized test scores. When we started, many complained that "labeling" a school with an F would demoralize students and do more harm than good. Instead, it energized parents and the community to demand change from the adults running the system. School leadership responded with innovation and a sense of urgency. The number of F schools has since plummeted while the number of A and B schools has quadrupled.

Another reform: Florida ended automatic, "social" promotion for third-grade students who couldn't read. Again, the opposition to this hard-edged policy was fierce. Holding back illiterate students seemed to generate a far greater outcry than did the disturbing reality that more than 25% of students couldn't read by the time they entered fourth grade. But today? According to Florida state reading tests, illiteracy in the third grade is down to 16%.


Accountability Is Working in Florida's Schools

In 1998, nearly half of its fourth-graders were functionally illiterate. Today, 72% of them can read.

By Jeb Bush

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New Florida guv’s education reform plan hits all the targets

Here's EAG with the ed reform proposals being pushed by new Gov. Rick Scott in FL:


     TALAHASSEE, Fla. - It's amazing the difference one election can make.

     About six months ago, Florida residents who care about quality education were crushed when former Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed an overdue tenure reform bill.

    The bill's sponsors in the legislature hoped to increase professionalism and accountability in K-12 teaching by taking away some of the absurd protections that keep bad teachers in the classroom.

     Crist, a Republican, might have been expected to sign the bill. But he stabbed his party and his state in the back by killing the measure. And just to add insult to injury, he accepted the endorsement of the state teachers union in his independent bid for a U.S. Senate seat.

     Luckily Floridians elected a new governor in November who obviously means business when it comes to improving schools and increasing parental choice.

     Gov. Rick Scott, who took office last week, comes armed with an in-depth and aggressive education reform plan authored by his Education Transition Team.

     The plan is thorough and bold, to say the least. While governors in many states have nipped around the edges of school reform in recent years, approving some measures and rejecting others, Scott's plan hits all of the major targets.

     Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised, since Scott announced in early December that his Education Transition team would include former D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Her fingerprints on this plan are not difficult to pick out.


New Florida guv's education reform plan hits all the targets

Scott ready to deal some heavy blows to teachers union and its allies

By Steve Gunn

EAG Communications

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Wisconsin Leads Way as Workers Fight State Cuts

Another front-page story in yesterday's NYT about the battle royale taking place between the governor and legislature vs. the unions, who correctly see this as a mortal threat, not just in Wisconsin, but nationally:


Governor Walker's plan would limit collective bargaining for most state and local government employees to wages, barring them from negotiating on issues like benefits and work conditions. It would also require workers to contribute more to their pension and health care plans, cap wage increases based on the Consumer Price Index and limit contracts to one year. And it would take on the power of unions by requiring them to take annual votes to maintain certification, and by permitting workers to stop paying union dues. Police and fire unions, which have some of the most expensive benefits but who supported Mr. Walker's campaign for governor, are exempted.


"If they succeed in Wisconsin, the birthplace of A.F.S.C.M.E., they will be emboldened to attack workers' rights in every state," Mr. McEntee said. "Instead of trying to work with public employees at the bargaining table, they've decided to throw away the table."

On paper, Wisconsin might seem an unlikely candidate for an assault on unions. Like many other states, it has grappled with large spending gaps during the economic downturn, but its projected deficits for the next two years are nowhere near the worst in the country — more like in the middle of the pack.


Its 7.5 percent unemployment rate is below the national average. Its pension fund is considered one of the healthiest in the nation, and it is not suffering from the huge shortfalls that other states are facing.


Those facts have groups on both sides thinking if it can happen there, it can anywhere.


I have mixed feelings about what's happening in WI.  On the one hand, I think that the public sector unions in many states became so politically powerful that they were, in effect, negotiating with themselves and were thus able to get pay and, more importantly, long term pension and healthcare benefits that will bankrupt many states and municipalities.  These deals will have to be renegotiated.  In addition, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, which we've seen in terrible union behavior in some areas – Exhibit A being iron-clad job protections that protect even the worst teachers.  Exhibit B are easily gameable pension formulas that allow union members to work a bunch of overtime in their last year to get massively higher pensions than they would otherwise be due.  Clearly, in many states, the pendulum swung too far in one direction and needs to come back to the center.


That said, I think what Gov. Walker is trying to do in WI is going way too far – to the point where it's mostly politically motivated union busting.  For the Republicans on this list who are delighted that the most powerful interest group backing the Democratic Party is being attacked, think about how you'd feel if a Democratic governor and legislature came to power and tried to destroy various Republican lobbying/interest groups.


If Gov. Scott's motives are so pure and high-minded – he claims that he's just trying to address a budget crisis – then why did he give a $140 million tax cut to his corporate supporters and why this: "Police and fire unions, which have some of the most expensive benefits but who supported Mr. Walker's campaign for governor, are exempted."


Wisconsin Leads Way as Workers Fight State Cuts

Published: February 18, 2011

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Sacred Cows, Angry Birds

Gail Collins makes a good point as well:

The Senate majority leader, Scott Fitzgerald — who happens to be the brother of the Assembly speaker, Jeff Fitzgerald — believes the governor is absolutely right about the need for draconian measures to cut spending in this crisis. So he's been sending state troopers out to look for the missing Democrats.

The troopers are under the direction of the new chief of the state patrol, Stephen Fitzgerald. He is the 68-year-old father of Jeff and Scott and was appointed to the $105,678 post this month by Governor Walker.

Perhaps the speaker's/majority leader's father was a super choice, and the fact that he was suddenly at liberty after having recently lost an election for county sheriff was simply a coincidence that allowed the governor to recruit the best possible person for the job. You'd still think that if things are so dire in Wisconsin, the Fitzgerald clan would want to set a better austerity example.

In summary, I have no problem with what Gov. Christie is doing in NJ, aggressively going after the unions, both in terms of costs and unreasonable contract clauses, and calling them the bullies that they are – but he's not trying to strip their right to negotiate on behalf of their members…


February 18, 2011

Sacred Cows, Angry Birds



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Role for Teachers Is Seen in Solving Schools’ Crises

Joe Williams with a great quote in this NYT article about the labor-management summit Sec. Duncan hosted last week in Denver (that the UFT's Mike Mulgrew boycotted in a snit over Bloomberg and Black pushing for an end to last-in-first-out):

"Teachers' unions have been blocking education reform, and my bill will deal with the problem," Ms. Maggart said.

But Sharon Vandagriff, president of the teachers' union in Hamilton County, Tenn., who came to Denver for the conference, said her union had worked for years with school authorities to overhaul struggling schools in Chattanooga. Across Tennessee, unions made concessions that paved the way last year for the state to win $500 million in federal Race to the Top money, she said, adding that Ms. Maggart's bill has demoralized many teachers.

"It feels like an attack," she said.

Some Democrats, too, are adopting a tougher stance toward teachers' unions.

"We think they have a right to exist and a role to play in education reform," said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, an advocacy group that pushes for charter schools. "But we wish management would be more aggressive. When management tries to appease, we end up with contracts that aren't good for public education."

Charles Taylor Kerchner, a professor of education at Claremont Graduate University who studies labor union history, said, "This is the harshest time for teachers' unions that I've seen since the advent of legislatively sanctioned collective bargaining half a century ago."


Role for Teachers Is Seen in Solving Schools' Crises



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Obama's ed budget a tough sell on Capitol Hill

DFER's Charles Barone is quoted in this AP/Washington Post article about the unprecedented cuts coming to K-12 education.  In light of this, especially big kudos to Obama and Duncan for calling for more funding for Race to the Top:

Analysts say a modest increase in education spending at the federal level would be dwarfed by state cuts.

"It doesn't match the magnitude of what's really happening on the ground out there," said Michael Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, said of the president's budget request. "That we're seeing the biggest decreases in education spending since the Great Depression."

Education Secretary Arne Duncan acknowledged it would be a difficult year.

"There's no question these are some of the toughest budget times we've seen in decades," Duncan said. "We've called this the new normal. What we're asking them to do as much as possible is see a very tough time as an opportunity."

The proposed budget includes $900 million for a Race to the Top competition for districts and rural communities. Education officials credit the first two rounds of the competition with a wave of education reforms throughout the nation, including adopting common academic standards, changing teacher evaluations so that instructors are held accountable for student achievement, and allowing for more charter schools.

Duncan said the new Race to the Top would allow these efforts to continue at the district level. Republicans have already said they would oppose another round of the competition.

Also included in the budget is $350 million for a similar competitive grant program aimed at early education.

…"What they're trying to do is spur innovation, replicate success," Charles Barone, director of federal policy for the Democrats for Education Reform. "That's where federal government is able to make the most impact."

Obama's ed budget a tough sell on Capitol Hill

The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 15, 2011; 4:55 PM


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Waiting For Superman National DVD House Party Day

Waiting for Superman is organizing a National DVD House Party Day (see below).  I had my first unofficial WFS house party last night – we had friends over and my children hadn't seen it, so that's what we watched last night.  It was my 6th time and it still has a powerful impact on me – as it did on my kids and friends. 


And here's an additional bonus I haven't mentioned: when you buy WFS for $17.99 (or I buy it for you), enclosed in the DVD case is a $25 Donors Choose gift card, so you can give a $25 gift to a classroom of your choice!


National DVD House Party Day

Waiting for "Superman" is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. We invite you to join us on February 25 for our National DVD House Party Day. Here's how you can take part:

1.     Order your DVD or Blu-ray on Amazon.com.

2.     Sign up to receive the Waiting for "Superman" DVD House Party Guide for all the tips and tools you need to host a great evening.

3.     Invite your friends and family to join you on February 25! Can't host a house party on the 25th? Don't worry, you can do it any time.

When you sign up, you will also be entered for a chance to win a personal phone call with Harlem Children's Zone Founder, Geoffrey Canada on the night of your party.

Happy viewing!

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Mrs. Bush, Abstinence and Texas

Given big budget cuts, it's critical to make smart decisions – and I wish I could be more optimistic about this.  Gail Collins skewers the foolishness in Texas:

Today, let's discuss choices, starting with Barbara Bush raising an alarm and Gov. Rick Perry's personal experience with sexual abstinence.

I did throw in the last one to keep you interested. Sue me.

This month, The Houston Chronicle published an opinion piece by the former first lady titled "We Can't Afford to Cut Education," in which Mrs. Bush pointed out that students in Texas currently rank 47th in the nation in literacy, 49th in verbal SAT scores and 46th in math scores.

"In light of these statistics, can we afford to cut the number of teachers, increase class sizes, eliminate scholarships for underprivileged students and close several community colleges?" she asked.

You'd think there'd be an obvious answer. But the Texas State Legislature is looking to cut about $4.8 billion over the next two years from the schools. Budgets are tight everywhere, but Perry, the state's governor, and his supporters made things much worse by reducing school property taxes by a third in 2006 under the theory that a higher cigarette tax and a new business franchise tax would make up the difference. Which they didn't.

…Nobody wants to see underperforming, overcrowded schools being deprived of more resources anywhere. But when it happens in Texas, it's a national crisis. The birth rate there is the highest in the country, and if it continues that way, Texas will be educating about a tenth of the future population. It ranks third in teen pregnancies — always the children most likely to be in need of extra help. And it is No. 1 in repeat teen pregnancies.

Which brings us to choice two. Besides reducing services to children, Texas is doing as little as possible to help women — especially young women — avoid unwanted pregnancy.

…Meanwhile, Perry — having chosen not to help young women avoid unwanted pregnancies and not to pay enough to educate the booming population of Texas children — wowed the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington with his states' rights rhetoric.

Which would be fine, as I said, if his state wasn't in charge of preparing a large chunk of the nation's future work force. Perry used to be famous for his flirtation with talk of secession. Maybe we should encourage him to revisit it.



February 16, 2011

Mrs. Bush, Abstinence and Texas



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Mayor Gray is misguided on school vouchers

A great Washington Post editorial calling out DC Mayor Gray for not supporting the DC voucher program (with a great shout out for DFER Chairman Kevin Chavous):

IF D.C. MAYOR Vincent C. Gray isn't careful, he could well argue the District out of $60 million in federal education dollars. Testifying before a Senate committee against the voucher program that enables low-income students to attend private schools, Mr. Gray (D) was warned that extra money for the city's traditional and public schools was likely conditioned on congressional reauthorization of vouchers. Money alone isn't reason for Mr. Gray to change his mind, but given that District children benefit from the program and that parents are desperate for the choice it affords, it's unfathomable that he is opposing this worthwhile program.

Mr. Gray was among those who appeared Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs as it considered legislation to extend the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, including an important provision to allow new students to be enrolled. Mr. Gray said that efforts should be focused on improving public schools, that Congress was inappropriately intruding into local affairs and that D.C. parents have enough education choices, given the number of flourishing charter schools and the public school reforms starting to take hold.

Those assertions were quite convincingly contradicted by other speakers. Former D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous recounted how, as chairman of the council's education committee, he worked with "hundreds, probably thousands" of parents to persuade Congress to establish the program in 2003. "To say that this program was imposed on the District of Columbia is to rewrite history and in one broad brush white-out the hard work of these parents. Quite frankly, it's offensive," he said.


Mayor Gray is misguided on school vouchers


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Can Mayor Gray make the grade on D.C. school reform?

TFA alum Conor Williams with an op ed in the Washington Post, expressing cautious hope that Mayor Gray won't be the disaster for DC schools that we all fear:

I admit it: I'm among those who have had very serious doubts about Vincent Gray as D.C. mayor.

As a former urban teacher, I understand how fragile the District's progress on education reform still is.

Listening to Gray during his campaign, I wasn't confident that he'd be able to lead - and sustain - the District's progress. So far, though, the sky hasn't fallen on District public schools. And Gray's initial appointments offer reason to be optimistic.

Keeping former deputy schools chancellor Kaya Henderson on as the interim chancellor is a good sign. There's no doubt that she has the necessary experience. Before coming to the District, Henderson was a teacher, a vice president at the New Teacher Project and an executive at Teach for America. Her classroom background helps her understand the needs and concerns of teachers, while her experience as an executive helps her balance competing claims from parents and administrators.

Hosanna Mahaley, the new state superintendent, and De Shawn Wright, the new deputy mayor for education, are also highly qualified picks.

So I'm starting to believe that Gray really meant it during his campaign when he stressed that he would continue the best of the Fenty administration's efforts and keep the District on the educational trajectory that new D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown recently called "the envy of this country."

Of course, it's too early to say for sure. Gray's been in office for less than a week. The real fights, where his promises will be most tested, are ahead. Washington Teachers' Union President Nathan Saunders, who was elected on the strength of a campaign promising to roll back the Fenty-Rhee reforms, has vowed to use confrontation whenever necessary. He's said he wants to scrap the current teacher accountability system despite the fact that it's beyond collective bargaining and losing it could cost the District $75 million in Race to the Top funding. It's difficult to collaborate with those who are determined to fight.

Is Gray ready to stand up to the teachers union if Saunders follows through on these threats? Is Gray prepared to keep a firm hand on the reins of progress if (really, when) budget constraints make education cuts and teacher layoffs necessary? Is he prepared to keep putting students first?

If the answer to these questions is "yes," then my wife and I will start house hunting.


Can Mayor Gray make the grade on D.C. school reform?

By Conor Williams
Thursday, January 6, 2011; 8:00 PM


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