Saturday, October 29, 2011

Unions protecting bad teachers

Here’s an email I received out of the blue from someone who asked to join my email list:

I am a TFA alum and am now working an administrator in a traditional public school.

I'm writing because, well, I'm about as fed up with the teachers union as a person can be. 

We have some of the most ridiculous drama I've ever encountered here (and, mind you, I helped open a school in during a state takeover of the district the school was in...), and I have been completely and totally appalled by the fact that our union fights for incompetent educators, whom even the union members will admit are terrible, harm-causing, and truly need to leave (and yet, in the same breath, they vow to fight to the death for them -- for the sake of the union itself). 

The amount of time, energy, and resources that go into these union battles are mind boggling.   After working nearly full time on documentation of one individual since February, I've come to the conclusion that there is literally nothing we can do, and since it is such a terrible, energy-sucking, time-consuming, miserable mess that leads to zero results, why even bother trying? 

The fact that I now understand why one might say "don't even bother" in trying to remove a terrible teacher disgusts me to no end.

[My cousin, who recently retired after being a public schoolteacher in Florida for her career, is reading over my shoulder, saying “I agree EXACTLY!”]

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Steve Jobs

From Walter Isaacson's new biography of Steve Jobs (, which I'm very eager to read – it comes out tomorrow:


Jobs also criticized America's education system, saying it was "crippled by union work rules," noted Isaacson. "Until the teachers' unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform." Jobs proposed allowing principals to hire and fire teachers based on merit, that schools stay open until 6 p.m. and that they be open 11 months a year.

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Need for better teachers

I was speaking with a former TFA corps member and we got to talking about the greatest barrier to improving our schools, especially those in inner cities (where he worked): the lack of great teachers.  What he said underscores how bad the problem is in inner-city schools:


97% of the teachers at schools like the one I was in need to be replaced.  Seriously.  Of the 100+ teachers at my school, excluding the TFA teachers, there were no more than three where you or I would tolerate having one of our own children in their classroom.


Very sobering…


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Teacher Quality Bonanza

DFER is out with two new reports on the critical topic of teacher quality.  Here's the summary:

Teacher Quality Bonanza

While a small number of cynics out there still argue that classroom teachers are not really an important ingredient in a child's overall education recipe, one of the most important developments in K-12 education policy in the last few years has been the recognition that decades-old teacher evaluations (where the best a child can hope for is a 'satisfactory' teacher over an 'unsatisfactory' teacher)  aren't up for the task of recognizing which teachers are hitting the ball out of the park with their students.

At DFER, we've long believed that the widespread irrelevance of excellence itself in the K-12 world has created a culture that has actively done damage to the lives of too many children who deserved much, much better from our nation's most important public institution.

But there have been a lot of positive developments in this area of late. There's obviously a long way to go, and surely some of what has been done to-date will need to be changed/enhanced/expanded, but we are clearly closer to a day where the link between teaching and learning is more clear in workplace evaluations for educators. (And we continue to hope and believe that this will usher in a new era where successful teachers are treated more like the community heroes that we believe they are.)

Today, Democrats for Education Reform is releasing two new papers that look at this issue a little more clearly. 

1. In IMPACT in Washington: Lessons From the First years, former Wall Street Journal reporter Barbara Martinez takes a look at the IMPACT teacher evaluation system in our nation's capital. Early results show that the system is doing pretty much what it was intended to do: recognizing and rewarding the most successful teachers, providing feedback and targeted professional development to help teachers improve, and dismissing the relative few who don't belong in classrooms. Read the full report here.

2. In Built to Succeed? Ranking New Statewide Teacher Evaluation Practices, Martinez joins Jocelyn Huber, DFER's teacher advocacy director, and Ron Tupa, DFER's director of state legislatures, in providing a pre-season "likelihood of success" ranking of 19 states that changed their teacher evaluation policies in the last few years. There are a lot of caveats attached to this type of project, since states tackled the problem in so many different ways, but we will obviously continue to monitor the practices in these states going forward. Read the full report here.

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Tea Party and Teachers’ Union Make Strange Brew: Jonathan Alter

Jonathan Alter nails what's going on in Congress:

Talk about bizarre bedfellows. The National Education Association, the country's largest teachers' union, and the Tea Party are both arguing against federal accountability standards in education.

The NEA's position is no surprise. Although its liberal members support federal mandates for special education, desegregation and a hundred other things, God forbid they should be judged by federal standards on the little matter of whether their students are actually learning anything. The union prefers the status quo, where they use their muscle and sophistication to turn every state and local accountability effort into mush.

With the help of hidebound union leaders, superintendents and bureaucrats who care more about their privileges than kids, 17 states have actually lowered standards in recent years to make student test scores look better. Meanwhile, about 90 percent of local school districts that receive Title I aid (intended to help schools that have a high percentage of low- income students) have figured out how to game the system to continue getting funding from Washington while doing virtually nothing to improve their worst schools.

Anti-Mandate Mood

As the Senate considers a bill that would overhaul President George W. Bush's failed No Child Left Behind Act, an anti-mandate mood has taken over. The individual mandate requiring the uninsured to buy health-care coverage under the Affordable Care Act is now such political poison that the idea of Washington requiring anything from anybody is anathema on the right.

So now the pending education bill contains no requirement that states implement rigorous teacher and principal evaluation systems (a must for improving schools). And it would attach almost no other strings to federal aid beyond the nebulous standard of "continuous improvement." Where else but in the American education system could moving from an F to a D on a self-graded exam be seen as success?

Ideology Over Experience

Even Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who understood the importance of accountability when he was secretary of education 20 years ago, is now saying that moving away from guaranteed job security for teachers and toward performance standards should be voluntary. He must know that this approach has been shown countless times to have no effect. For Alexander and other Republicans who have been saying sensible things on education for years, ideology is now trumping their own experience as the Tea Party's influence grows.

But look on the bright side: Today's congressional dysfunction suggests that the odds are decent that the whole bill fails.  


Tea Party and Teachers' Union Make Strange Brew: Jonathan Alter

By Jonathan Alter Oct 20, 2011 7:00 PM ET Thu Oct 20 23:00:31 GMT 2011 0 Comments

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DFER and Congress

DFER is working hard in Congress with a range of other groups to make sure that the renewal of ESEA/NCLB is a step forward for kids, rather than a step back.  Here are the comments a few days ago from DFER's head of federal policy, Charles Barone (huge kudos to Michael Bennet!):


The Harkin-Enzi ESEA bill was passed last night in the Senate HELP Committee with a vote of 15 to 7 (all 12 Democrats voted for the bill plus 3 Republicans: ranking Republican Mike Enzi (WY), Lamar Alexander (TN), and Mark Kirk (IL)).


DFER joined a wide coalition of advocacy groups, business (including the Chamber of Commerce), civil rights organizations (including the National Council of La Raza and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund),and top state education officials (Chiefs for Change) that said it "could not support the bill."  As part of negotiations with Republican Senator Ron Paul who attempted to stall the mark-up, a hearing will be held on the bill on November 8th before heading to the Senate floor. Reports are that the Senate will try to take the bill to the floor "before Thanksgiving."


The two things we have been lobbying for hardest along with our Fight Club coalition were: 1) strong accountability for results with annual measurable goals and clear consequences for persistently low-performing schools 2) state teacher and district teacher evaluations systems that include student achievement as a predominant factor. Despite support for both policies from dozens of groups across the political spectrum, neither made it into the final bill. Secretary Duncan expressed particular disappointment about the latter item and issued a statement in which he said that "comprehensive evaluation system based on multiple measures, including student achievement, is essential for education reform to move forward" and "we can't retreat from reform."


Senator Michael Bennet was far and away the star of the markup, pushing for changes that would have improved the bill's accountability and teacher effectiveness provisions, but withdrawing most of them due to an apparent lack of bipartisan votes. Bennet did successfully beat back an anti-TFA amendment offered by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) by a vote of 18-3. Those who followed the two into the hallway subsequent to the vote said the liveliest part of the debate occurred off the official hearing record.

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Teacher Quality and Ed Schools

Speaking of teacher quality, here's a very interesting paper showing some ed schools in the state of Washington produce more effective teachers than other ed schools.  Here's the abstract and conclusions (the entire paper can be downloaded at:


Abstract: With teacher quality repeatedly cited as the most important schooling factor influencing student

achievement, there has been increased interest in examining the efficacy of teacher training programs.

This paper presents research examining the variation between and impact that individual teacher training

institutions in Washington state have on the effectiveness of teachers they train. Using administrative data

linking teachers' initial endorsements to student achievement on state reading and math tests, we find the

majority of teacher training programs produce teachers who are no more or less effective than teachers

who trained out-of-state. However, we do find a number of cases where there are statistically significant

differences between estimates of training program effects for teachers who were credentialed at various

in-state programs. These findings are robust to a variety of different model specifications.



Our findings suggest that where teachers are credentialed explains only a very small

portion of the overall variation in the effectiveness of in-service teachers. This is now a common

finding in the educational productivity literature; it appears that the best assessments of teachers

are those based on actual classroom performance rather than pre- or in-service credentials. That

said, the differential in the average effectiveness of the teachers credentialed by various

programs is meaningful, in fact it is at least as important as years of experience and degree level.

This means that improving teacher training has the potential to greatly enhance the productivity

of the teacher workforce.

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Charters and Minority Progress

A great editorial in the WSJ about a new study in California which shows that charter schools there serve a higher percentage of African-American students – and serve them FAR better – than regular public schools (my emphasis added):

·         REVIEW & OUTLOOK

·         OCTOBER 20, 2011, 7:25 P.M. ET


Charters and Minority Progress

New evidence on school reform and black student performance.

A tragedy of American politics is that civil rights groups like the NAACP oppose education reform, even as reform's main beneficiaries are poor and minority students in places like Harlem and New Orleans. The latest evidence comes in a study showing that black students in charter schools outperform their peers in traditional public schools.

The California Charter Schools Association looked at the state's Academic Performance Index (API), which runs on a scale from 200 to 1000, and found that the average black charter student outscored the average black traditional school student by an average of 18 points over the last four years of publicly available data.

In reform hubs like Los Angeles, the charter advantage was 22 points, in Sacramento 48 points, in Oakland 51 and in San Francisco 150. In San Diego, the other major urban center, traditional schools outscored charters by an average of eight points.

The report also found that charters are disproportionately among California's best schools in educating black students. Though charters account for only 9% of California schools, they represent 39% of those in which African-American API scores exceed 800 and English and math proficiency exceed 65%. Charters serving African-American students are also less likely than traditional public schools to have low academic status coupled with low academic progress.

Crucially, the data show that charters' success isn't attributable to attracting students who are better equipped to learn from the start. "The African American populations in charter public and traditional public schools are very similar," notes the report, with the same level of parental education, similar household income and nearly identical attrition rates.

The real difference is that charter schools are free of the traditional school system's union contracts and bureaucratic rules, which shorten the school day, stifle innovation and protect ineffective teachers. This autonomy doesn't guarantee charter success, but it allows the schools—and their students—to benefit from creativity, competition and accountability.

Minority parents increasingly understand this, which is why they work so hard to get their kids into charters. The report finds that 9% of California charter school students are African-American, compared to 6% of students in traditional schools.

Believe it or not, some people read this data not as an endorsement of better schools but as an indictment of reform and a sign of cultural imperialism. "We are concerned about the overrepresentation of charter schools in low-income and predominantly minority communities," wrote the NAACP, the National Action Network, the National Urban League, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and others in a statement last year.

So more good schools in poor neighborhoods are a problem? Such statements show that the NAACP is still fighting the last civil-rights war, refusing to break with its teachers union allies from the 1960s even as another generation of black children is doomed to less equal educational opportunity.

The education achievement gap remains enormous—even in charter schools, black kids in California are almost 150 API points behind their white peers. But the gap won't get any narrower as long as civil-rights leaders oppose the reforms that are doing the most to bridge it.

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A Growing Movement: American’s Largest Charter School Communities – Sixth Annual Edition

Speaking of charter schools, the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools is out with a report on A Growing Movement: American's Largest Charter School Communities.  Below is a link to the 8-page report.  Here's an excerpt:


A record number of school districts—six—have at least 30 percent of their public school students enrolled in public charter schools, according to an annual report released Monday by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) entitled A Growing Movement: American's Largest Charter School Communities – Sixth Annual Edition. In addition, an all-time high of 18 school districts have more than 20 percent of their public school students enrolled in charter schools.

"This report demonstrates that in areas where families have a choice, a growing number of them are choosing public charter schools over the traditional public schools available to them," said Ursula Wright, interim president and CEO of the NAPCS. "Consequently, the public education landscape is shifting in many major cities."

Exceptional findings from the report include:

·         Six school districts now have more than 30 percent of their public school students enrolled in public charter schools: New Orleans, Washington D.C., Detroit, Kansas City (Missouri), Flint, and Gary.

·         18 school districts have more than 20 percent of their public school students enrolled in charter schools.

·         An astounding 70 percent of public school students in New Orleans attended public charter schools in the 2010-2011 school year. Charter schools are the highest performing sector of public schools in the city.

·         Los Angeles again tops the list of districts with the highest number of public charter school students enrolled with 79,385 students. To provide a sense of scale, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools in Los Angeles, alone, would place the city's charter schools in the top 45 of the 100 largest school districts in the United States.

·         Nearly 100 school districts now have at least 10 percent of public school students in charter schools.

"We estimate that there are now more than 2 million students in public charter schools across the country," said Wright. "And with hundreds of thousands more students across the country hoping for an additional seat in a charter school, we expect our share of the public school landscape to continue to rise in the coming years."


Download a copy of the report A Growing Movement: America's Largest Charter School Communities – Sixth Annual Edition at The report uses 2010-2011 school-year enrollment figures. Please e-mail the NAPCS at to discuss the report's findings and to speak with a charter school expert.

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Show some outrage

I think we reformers should be taking some lessons from Occupy Wall Street.  NY Superintendent John King agrees, saying during a recent visit to Buffalo (the third-poorest big city in the nation), when asked about the high number of chronically failing schools:


"That's a death sentence for the community -- a community can't survive with failing schools. People ought to be outraged. People ought to be camping out in parks over the performance of their schools."


Here's a Buffalo News editorial about this:

Show some outrage

Community needs to come together to improve Buffalo's failing schools

Updated: October 21, 2011, 7:06 AM

Maybe it's time for Buffalo residents to borrow the tactic of the Occupy Wall Street movement and Occupy Our Schools in an effort to improve the dismal academic achievement and embarrassingly low graduation rate.

Protesters can get tents and march down to the nearest school in the third-poorest big city in the nation prepared to shout, sing and generally make a spectacle of themselves. Chants along the lines of "fighting for the rights of our kids" would be appropriate.

It's really not just the kids who are failing; the adults are failing the kids.

State Education Commissioner John B. King was in town the other day and wondered aloud why people aren't outraged. He's right.

Thirteen of Buffalo's schools, nearly one in four, have been designated as persistently lowest-achieving. In the next several weeks, more of the city's schools will receive the designation.

"That's a death sentence for the community—a community can't survive with failing schools," King told The News. He also suggested that people ought to be camping out in parks over the performance of their schools.

For one example of the problem, take a look at Lafayette High School—one of the persistently lowest-achieving schools. The school was eligible for turnaround funds this year and last year, but did not qualify either time. If the School Board doesn't submit an acceptable turnaround plan for the school by Jan. 1, the commissioner says he will revoke the school's registration and recommend that the Board of Regents close it. The students, most of whom are not native English speakers, would face the disruption of being reassigned to other schools around the city.

Why not march on those failing schools and demand that common core standards be achieved?

King used an apt analogy—the slowly cooked frog—to describe the reaction to the gradual decline in education in Buffalo. According to that story, if a frog is placed in hot water it will jump out; but if it is placed in cool water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the threat and will be gradually cooked to death.

The School Board, management and labor all bear some responsibility. It's time for parents, other residents and leaders of the business and philanthropic communities to raise their voices the way the Occupy movement is protesting economic inequality.

Such outrage is long overdue when it comes to our failing educational system, and it's not just in Buffalo. Poorer school districts everywhere are facing an uphill battle to educate our young people.

Leaving many of our youngest at the bottom of the heap, unable to properly read, write or do arithmetic, will eventually drag our country down. It certainly will be the case here in Buffalo, where the bioinformatics, medical and technology fields will all need well-educated workers to continue growing.

A well-prepared work force will attract more employers, which will create more jobs that will keep young people from moving away to find work. But it needs to start with a successful school system. Perhaps the appointment by King of a "distinguished educator" to assist Buffalo, and later the hiring of a new superintendent will signal the beginning of change.

But in the meantime, it's not too late to show some outrage.

Finally, here's a comment from Hannya Boulos, Executive Director of Buffalo ReformED, which is fighting for a Parent Trigger in Buffalo:


Our district has seriously mishandled the turnaround process, and now is facing a deadline of Jan 1st to get adequate plans into the State to secure additional funding at our most needy schools. In response to this, and other issues, we worked with parents to organize a boycott of our schools last May. The result of that boycott was a series of stakeholder meetings that did little more than give lip-service to parental involvement.


In response to the upcoming deadline of Jan 1, John King recently visited Buffalo, and voiced serious concern about the state of our schools, he also lamented the fact that our community was not "outraged" by the situation. The Buffalo News Editorial Board jumped on board, demanding that the community step up and play a part in fixing our schools, or show some outrage with a protest or march. These responses frustrate me, not because they outline the degree of urgency with which we must approach the situation in Buffalo, but because they assume that our community is not outraged.


Protests and marches will get us nowhere until parents are made full partners in reform – as a community we learned that last year.  And as a community organizer, I find it wasteful to engage parents in these tactics if their time spent doesn't translate into tangible results for their kids.  Parents are the only stakeholders who put the needs of students first, and until that reality is addressed, decisions will continually be made that negatively impact students. Instead of throwing around the terms "community" and "parental involvement" let's work to change the paradigm, and give parents a REAL seat at the table – that's why we're fighting for a parent trigger!

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Crossing the student debt point of no return

Some interesting data in this article about the rise of student loan debt.  Here's one of many interesting charts, showing that college tuition continues to soar, while wages of college grads have stagnated:


Crossing the student debt point of no return – for-profit colleges have default rates now rivaling subprime mortgage debt. $1 trillion in student loan debt on the horizon while college graduate wages fall for the decade.

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Humming to Higher Ed

Gail Collins with a NYT op ed on how we're dumbing down our schools and demanding less and less of our students at the college level as well:

There's a well-known study called "Academically Adrift" that followed 3,000 students on 29 campuses and determined that after two years, 45 percent showed no significant gain in learning — and even after four years, 36 percent showed little change.

This is particularly frightening because the young men and women entering college have already spent their entire senior year of high school doing nothing but fretting over what college they're going to get into. I would rather not think that many of the most expensively educated brains in the country are already formed by their 17th birthday.

Wait, there's more: Besides learning less, today's students are borrowing more. This year, the total amount of outstanding student loans will pass the $1 trillion threshold for the first time. The Federal Reserve has reported that Americans now owe more on student loans than on credit cards.

While this all looks pretty depressing, I think it's important to consider the bright side. When it comes to spending money they don't have, Americans today apparently prefer to invest in History 101 and Conversational French rather than clothes, vacations and new kitchen appliances.

However, Richard Arum, the co-author of "Academically Adrift," is not looking on the bright side at all. Particularly about the fact that his study found "that 36 percent of the students are studying five or fewer hours a week and get a 3.16 grade average."

Some 18-year-olds may be heartened by the idea that they can go to a good school, do almost nothing and still come home with a B. But Arum says this isn't going to cut it in the global economy. He compared the performance of the students he studied with a recent report on academic effort in European countries and discovered that when it comes to time spent on class work and homework, "only the Slovak Republic would come after us in academic time."

I don't think I can put a positive spin on beating the Slovak Republic.

Since Arum says the kids who never studied were more likely, two years out of college, to be living at home with their parents, it's clear that all mothers and fathers have a major interest in making sure their offspring are doing more reading than their competition in Bratislava.  


October 21, 2011

Humming to Higher Ed


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Spider Man

More evidence that our fight is going mainstream (from a friend):


Just thought you might be interested in / amused by this footnote in the education wars.


I'm not comic book savvy, so the death last year of the original Spiderman (Peter Parker) — after 50 years — didn't hit my radar. Nor did the re-introduction of this super-hero last month. Not until I heard that the new Ultimate Spiderman was a multi-racial kid, Miles Morales, whose family was desperate to improve his educational options in NYC. Turns out that the writer of Ultimate Spiderman Issue #1 was directly influenced by Waiting for Superman.


The education press barely noticed, and only in anticipation, perhaps because the actual comics sold out immediately.    But it was cool to see that the hard core "comix geeks" loved the story and readily acknowledged — without any political angle —the cruel choice facing kids in his situation.


Does Ultimate Spiderman suggest that this issue is resonating with a larger audience? Are there folks who will be introduced to school choice by Mile Morales?  I have no clue, Whitney, but it was fun reading a comic book again (and we've always thought our students were super-heroes.) 


I scanned the key pages from the comic book and posted them at:   

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Ravitch at Barnes and Noble on Dec 8th

Ravitch will be in NYC doing an "author event" for her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education at the Barnes & Noble on 86th and Lex at 7pm on Dec. 8.

Seeing this prompted me to go back and reread what I wrote about this book (posted at:  I wouldn't change a word.  Here's the beginning:

My one-sentence take on Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, is that I couldn't find a single sentence in the entire book that couldn't have been written by Randi Weingarten. It is just 296 pages of union talking points, utterly lacking in solutions, with no mention whatsoever of the educational malpractice taking place against millions of children in America.

The book certainly captures the failures of the existing educational system and takes delight in poking holes at reform efforts over the past decade (while playing fast and loose with the facts and/or only presenting one side of the story), yet there is a shocking, gaping void when it comes to any thoughtful ideas for alternatives. Her solutions to what everyone agrees is a horribly broken system are trite banalities that would not change the status quo that she rails against. Her primary "solutions" are to build a strong, robust curriculum and have more "well-educated teachers" but she silent on how to achieve this. In short, she longs for the utopian school system of yesteryear (that probably never existed), and has no cogent roadmap whatsoever for exactly how to get there. Instead, she is content to deride the people who are actually out there in the trenches trying to improve things. What a disgrace!

The book also lacks any acknowledgment of the educational malpractice – a crime of the highest order – that's being committed against millions of children every day (and we all know the skin color and the zip codes of these children). The fact that most schools, principals and teachers are adequate-to-good-to-great doesn't excuse the fact that a minority are completely failing – and in so doing, are ruining lives of the children who can least afford it. For example, the words "rubber room" don't appear in the book (I checked the index). Or the fact that 52% of black and 51% of Latino 4th graders are struggling readers (testing Below Basic on NAEP) – incredible in a book filled with so many facts. Or the fact that 2,000 high schools (of 14,000) account for half of the nation's dropouts. In a book filled with human stories about the evils of Alan Bersin, Joel Klein, and NCLB, where are the stories about the children who have multiple teachers every year, none willing or able to impart knowledge? In 296 pages, she couldn't have found one story about the horrors of some schools like this one!? Instead, she decries efforts to shut down even the most chronically failing schools, wrapping them in a cloak of nostalgic clichés, completely ignoring (or oblivious to) their horrific reality.

Is it possible that such an esteemed "scholar" as Ravitch has never visited a high-performing inner-city school and seen with her own eyes (as I have, at well over 100 different schools all over the country) that what she's saying is demonstrably false? To be sure, many disadvantaged kids do indeed have "very deep problems", but that simply means they need the best teachers and best schools to overcome the fact that they enter school with two strikes against them. When they get such teachers and schools – which, sadly, is extremely rare, as we have an immoral and despicable system in this country that systematically gives the neediest children the worst teachers and schools – we know with 100% certainty that these children can achieve at high levels and close – and even reverse – the achievement gap. Ravitch needs to get out of her ivory tower and hop in a cab and in 30 minutes she could be at any number of schools that would disprove her mistaken beliefs.

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Latinos for Education Reform in Denver

Latinos for Education Reform in Denver has produced an outstanding video documenting how school board member (and union lackey) Arturo Jimenez has consistently misrepresented his voting record on charter schools and reform:


Please forward this newly created video documenting Opposition Status Quo Candidate Arturo Jimenez through your networks.


If you have not already seen the previous op ed, you can read it below.  And of course all of this led to important articles and critical attention to the candidate we are trying to beat.


Of course all of this is a proof point that a well-supported and diverse education reform ecosystem ultimately increases the number of influential leaders who advocate for education reform from which every angle is needed at any given time.

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Zoe Hill

Last but not least, yesterday my youngest daughter and I went to visit Ryan and Joanne Hill (he's the founder of (and still runs) the KIPP network in Newark and she's a teacher at KIPP STAR in NYC, who just won one of the KIPP Teachers of the Year awards at the KIPP School Summit in August; see pics 4-6 here:  Less than two weeks ago, Joanne gave birth to their first baby, Zoe, who is a DOLL!  Here are two pics (shared with their permission) (note my SPARK t-shirt – that's the KIPP elementary school in Newark):


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Kira Orange Jones

Kira Orange Jones, a true ed warrior who is executive director of Teach For America in New Orleans, is running for Louisiana's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.  She is in the final stretch – the election is on Saturday – and needs our support.  Here's the email she sent me today (I donated $250):


As you have heard, I am making a run at the State Board of Education here in Louisiana and we're in the final push, with election day this Saturday, October 22nd. I know you are fully aware, but there is so much at stake with this election and this fight will impact the direction of reforms across New Orleans as well as the entire state. We've been pushing for months and receiving lots of support, including endorsements from many institutional local organizations and leaders as well as endorsements from Mayor Mitch Landrieu, US Senator Mary Landrieu and US Congressman, Steve Scalise. Many national reformers have mobilized as well. Democrats for Education Reform just featured me as their reformer of the month today:


I wanted to thank you for getting the word out about my race on your blog -- this was extremely helpful.


I have been able to raise more than 250k in funding to date. As I work to get the message out in the final hours of my campaign in the final 48 hours, I am working on raising my final 10k to finalize media buys across my district on radio and television.


I'm reaching out to you to ask if you and others on your blog will help me by making a contribution to my campaign.


Campaign contribution limits are 5k per person, 10k per couple and it is possible to make a contribution on my website at, in 2,500 increments.


Thanks for considering and for your support along the way.


And here's the DFER appeal, which asks you to contact your friends and family in Louisiana to encourage them to vote for Kira:


There's an election this Saturday and we need your help.

Kira Orange Jones, the superstar executive director of Teach For America in New Orleans, is running for Louisiana's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). This is definitely an all-hands-on-deck moment.

Description: Description:'s story is amazing. When Kira was a child, her mother pulled her out of a low-performing public school and worked two jobs to pay for parochial school. Kira had to remediate through high school and, with the help of deeply committed teachers, was eventually accepted to college.

After college, she joined Teach For America, beginning in the classroom in Baton Rouge and working her way up to VP of New Site Development.

In 2007, as she finished her masters at Harvard's ed school, Teach For America asked her to run their Greater New Orleans region. In her three years as executive director, she has grown the organization from 70 to 500 teachers and quadrupled the number of schools – the region now reaches nearly half of all New Orleans students.

Still, sitting on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education could be her highest impact role to date. Electing reformers to the board is absolutely critical to keep things pointing in the right direction.

For once, we're not asking for your money. We're asking you to look through your address book for friends in Louisiana and forward Kira's story to them. These elections are notoriously low turnout. Ask them if they've already voted and, if they haven't, guilt trip them.

Kira is running for BESE District 2, which covers most of New Orleans, the westbank of  Jefferson Parish, and  St. Charles, St. John, St. James, and Assumption Parishes. Please make sure your friends and colleagues have voted, and ask them to forward this along.

If you want more information about Kira or District 2, or you'd like to contribute to her campaign, visit her website:

Thanks, as always.


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‘No Excuses:’ Can charter principles work in traditional schools?

A very important study by Roland Fryer, which provides strong evidence that the key pillars of "No Excuses" charter schools can be applied to regular public schools and drive success.  This underscores what I've been shouting from the rooftops for years: we know the broad outlines of what works and what needs to happen – this isn't the main obstacle.  Instead, it's the resistance to change from The Blob, especially the unions, who like things just the way they are (kids be damned)…

Fryer looked at "No Excuses" charter schools, places like the Harlem Promise Academy and KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools, to get a sense of how they had made such big education gains in low-income communities. He boiled it down to five "best practices," including longer school days, better teachers and data-driven education, that emphasized education gains.

Fryer went into nine of the lowest performing, public middle and high schools in Houston during the last school year, and implemented those five principles. The changes didn't just nibble around the edges: Fryer did things like add 10 days to the school year and replace 100 educators, including all of his test school's principals and more than half the teachers.

Across the board, students' math and reading scores went up compared to other Houston schools where these changes weren't implemented. "These results provide the first proof point that charter school practices can be used systematically in previously unsuccessful traditional public schools to significantly increase student achievement," Fryer writes.  


'No Excuses:' Can charter principles work in traditional schools?

Sarah Kliff at 02:00 PM ET, 10/16/2011

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Diane Ravitch: Proving Why Parents Need a Revolution

Parent Revolution founder Ben Austin completely demolishes Ravitch's arguments against the Parent Trigger law Austin pioneered:


At the beginning of October, Dr. Diane Ravitch launched a broadside against Parent Trigger and the parent empowerment movement, calling it a "stealth assault" and a "deceptive scheme" to undermine public education. She employed a series of personal attacks, half-truths and conspiracy theories that have come to characterize the other side's desperate attempt to defend an indefensible status quo.

…She begins with the distorted premise that Parent Trigger remedies are somehow "punitive." But punitive for whom? The Parent Trigger only applies to systemically failing schools -- schools that have been failing to meet academic benchmarks for four or more years. The children at McKinley Elementary -- the first school to employ the Parent Trigger --have a 1.5 percent chance of going to college. That's not good enough for my kids, Ravitch's grandkids or anyone else's kids. Ravitch may view the Parent Trigger as "punitive" for the adults working at failing schools, but the status quo is punitive for the children trapped in them.

Ravitch doesn't ultimately believe that parents and kids trapped in these schools should have much of a voice at all in turning them around. She argues that parents should have no more a stake in the governance of their school than should a random person strolling through Central Park have a stake in the governance of that park. The absurdly obvious difference, of course, is that parents are not casual users of their school. They entrust the future of their children to that school every single day. And they cannot afford to let it fail.

…Let's also stipulate that everyone on all sides of this issue are good people who care about kids. Diane Ravitch is a talented academic who has devoted her life to this issue. She clearly cares about kids and the future of public education in America.

What we will not back down from is our fundamental belief that the status quo in public education is broken in large part because the interests of adults too often trump the interest of children, and that empowered parents are the key to systemically ending that dynamic.

This movement is growing. Ravitch's brand of rhetoric doesn't hurt us, it helps us. Every time opponents resort to personal attacks, half-truths and conspiracy theories to defend the status quo, they expose themselves as being devoid of any new ideas to save parents and children trapped in failing schools. Every time they fabricate facts because the reality on the ground does not support their position, they make our argument for us better than we ever could for why parents need power over the education of their own children. Parents know that the losers in this war of sound bites are not the reformers or the teachers unions. The losers are their own children.

The late Senator Pat Moynihan once said, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

So let's debate. But let's stick to the facts. Let's cut the name calling and conspiracy theories. Let's agree that it's time for the adults to start acting like grown-ups. And most important, let's hold ourselves accountable to making every single decision about school policy and union contracts as if that decision would directly impact our own children.


Diane Ravitch: Proving Why Parents Need a Revolution

Ben Austin | Oct 18, 2011 10:31 PM EDT


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Blame Game: Let’s Talk Honestly About Bad Teachers

Andy Rotherham with a powerful and spot-on article challenging those who cry teacher bashing whenever anyone points out that there are some terrible teachers out there:

When a prominent educational figure remarked that, "a lot of people who have been hired as teachers are basically not competent," it was a rare candid statement about teacher quality. The comment arguably overstates the problem and — in fairness — he was also quick to point out that with several million teachers there would of course be some lousy ones, just as there would be in any field. Still, it was a jarring thing to say.

Education policy debates are often like an argument between a couple in a bad relationship — about everything except the actual problems. Our leaders seem congenitally unable to lead a difficult but honest conversation about our nation's teaching force that acknowledges that several things are all true at once — we have a teacher quality problem and a management problem, teachers are not to blame for all that ails our schools, we can't fire our way to better schools, but removing some percentage of low-performers would be quite good for students. Instead we have a shallow debate dancing around the thing that matters most in schools: instructional quality.

To be clear, as a nation we are blessed with many incredibly hardworking, talented, and dedicated teachers. They're worth much more than they're paid and it's been dispiriting to watch them get blamed for issues beyond their control, for instance, bad policy choices that have led to soaring pension costs in some states.

But let's also be clear: there are more than a few teachers who shouldn't be teaching. Just ask their peers. In survey after survey, teachers themselves say that not all of their colleagues should be teaching and that some have tenure who shouldn't. The data bear this out, too. It's clear that some teachers are substantially more effective than others. They should be celebrated and learned from. But a small subset of them are startlingly bad, and they should be doing something else for a living.

Yet until recently there was little formal effort to recognize this. A landmark 2009 report by The New Teacher Project found that almost all — 99% — of teachers were given satisfactory evaluations even in the lowest performing schools.

Unfortunately, to raise these issues is to invite the charge of "teacher bashing." This summer, education activist Diane Ravitch blogged on the New York Times' website that, "Although politicians and corporate leaders claim they want to reform education, it is impossible to see how the campaign against teachers will advance that goal." American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told her members this summer that "so-called reformers" are trying to "blame teachers for everything."

Weingarten, Ravitch, and many others echoing these claims surely know that this is hyperbole and that there is not an organized effort to denigrate teachers or a campaign against them. But these charges are not leveled to help teachers. Rather, they're made to squelch debate. It's basically intellectual McCarthyism intended to dissuade people from raising the hard questions.

Blame Game: Let's Talk Honestly About Bad Teachers

Removing the lowest performing educators would pay big dividends, but saying so invites charges of "teacher bashing"

By Andrew J. Rotherham | @arotherham |  | 29

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Are Public School Teachers Overpaid? New Evidence on Salaries, Benefits and Job Security

Speaking of so-called "teacher bashing", this study is sure to provoke such cries, given that it concludes: "Although some teachers may be underpaid, the data suggest the majority are receiving higher pay than they would be likely to receive in private-sector employment."  I haven't read the study so I can't say for sure whether I agree with it, but it's a discussion worth having.  In general, I think total comp for all teachers in America is somewhat too low, but the way the comp is split up is certifiably nuts: some teachers are paid WAY too little, while others are paid WAY too much, in part due to the root of the pay system, which is driven entirely by two things: seniority and certificates.


Are Public School Teachers Overpaid? New Evidence on Salaries, Benefits and Job Security

Tuesday, November 1, 2011, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m.
AEI, Twelfth Floor
1150 Seventeenth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036
Two blocks from Farragut North Metro

• JASON RICHWINE, Heritage Foundation
• ROBERT COSTRELL, University of Arkansas

The public commonly accepts that public school teachers are "desperately underpaid," in the words of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and that raising teacher pay should be a priority of education reform. But is this true? AEI Resident Scholar Andrew Biggs and Heritage Foundation Senior Policy Analyst Jason Richwine will provide new data on teacher salaries, fringe benefits and job security that point to significantly more value in teachers' total compensation packages than was previously evident. Although some teachers may be underpaid, the data suggest the majority are receiving higher pay than they would be likely to receive in private-sector employment.

• A livestream of the event will be available starting at 3:00 p.m. ET the day of the event.
• Shortly after the event, a video will be available on the AEI website.

• For more information, please contact Rohan Poojara at
• For media inquiries, please contact Véronique Rodman at

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Education makes a political comeback in Washington

Two major education bills are on the front burner in Congress:

After years on the political back burner, education is making a comeback in Washington, driven in large part by Democrats.

President Barack Obama has made saving teachers' jobs a key part of his effort to sell his $447 billion jobs package as he travels the country. Senate Democrats have made dramatic pleas to help schools with budget woes, and in a last-ditch effort to get at least part of the president's plan passed, a vote is expected soon on a section of the plan designed to save the jobs of teachers and first responders.

Separately, a Senate committee was to meet Wednesday to debate and amend the education law known as No Child Left Behind, one of the most significant efforts in the Senate to update the law since it was passed in 2002. Signaling some rare bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., the top senators from their respective parties on education, announced agreement on the bill Monday.

But that agreement didn't satisfy the Obama administration, which voiced concern that the bill doesn't include a requirement that states and local districts develop plans for evaluating teachers and principals.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Education makes a political comeback in Washington

by Kimberly Hefling

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