Sunday, February 26, 2012

Brill on making teacher evaluations public

Steve Brill and I exchanged emails about whether releasing teacher value-added data (as NYC did this week) is a good idea.  I asked why he objected to my idea of only making public the overall evaluations, and asked whether he thought ALL performance information for ALL people who work for the government should be made public, like firemen, postal workers, police officers, doctors, and nurses?  He gave me permission to share his response:


Of course, I agree that the overall evaluations should be made public. Why not? But why not the components as well?


However, I would insist that no ratings be published until we had a least two years’ worth of ratings for a teacher, or maybe even three, in order to protect against flukes or errors in the system. Indeed, the most significant thing about these value-added ratings is that, however imperfect they are, they seem to be consistent for teachers across school years. (The worst stay bad for successive years as do the best; if not, “consumers” should be able to see that and, therefore, take the ratings with a grain of salt.)


(One year of TFA’s internal evaluations, however, might suffice, because TFA’s process seems to be much more intensive.)


Also, I would make sure each teacher is invited to comment on the rating – and that that comment is posted, too.


As for firemen and postal workers, they do not individually spend a year shaping the future of a parent’s child. Nor do we have any measure of their effectiveness or the ability as consumers of their service to do much about it if we did.  Police arrests and conviction rates or the outcomes of civilian complaints might be a different story – as should the rated effectiveness of the captain of the police precinct where you and I live.


As for nurses, I agree that I ought to be able to go online and see any lawsuits or disciplinary actions filed against doctors – as well as the outcome of those cases. So if there is a relevant information marker for nurses, I guess I’d go along with that.


Getting some sense, albeit an imperfect one, of the effectiveness of the teachers whom I am paying for is simple, obvious consumer information. I’m sure if a restaurant gets a C instead of an A rating from the Department of Health and has to post it in the window, it hurts the morale of the restaurant owner and even the staff. But that’s not the highest priority.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Major Democratic Donor to Meet with McKenna

I don't think I've ever written a word about ed reform developments in the state of Washington, as it's been (to quote from the letter below) "a reform backwater", but that's beginning to change (Democrats for Education Reform even has someone on the ground).  Here's a BRILLIANT letter by Nick Hanauer, a Democrat and an extremely wealthy entrepreneur and venture capitalist, who takes his party to task for (in his state anyway) being a wholly owned subsidiary of the teachers unions (PS—Hanauer first became well known nationally for this article: Raise Taxes on Rich to Reward True Job Creators,

I did indeed go ballistic. I am despondent over my political party's intransigence on the most important issue in the state-public education reform.

I have seen the enemy, and it is us.

It is impossible to escape the painful reality that we democrats are now on the wrong side of every important education reform issue.

We oppose charter schools. We oppose higher standards for kids. We oppose high standards for teachers. We oppose employment policies based on quality. We oppose accountability in all its forms. We oppose competition in any form. We basically have come to the view that anything that isn't about equity- like excellence or quality- is bad. We cling to the status quo while we fail the most vulnerable year after year. We resist change and innovation. We prioritize the needs of adults over the interests of children. Washington State is now known as a reform backwater, a joke. Even the Gates Foundation has all but given up hope on our state.

As far as I can tell, the only people in the whole party willing to try to do the right thing are Pettigrew, Hunter, Tom and Hobbs.

There can be no doubt in any reasonable person's mind that the leadership of our party and most of its elected members are stooges for the teachers union, the ring leader in all of this nonsense.

I want to say that I am a huge supporter of unions. Three and a half years of research for my last book on understanding economies eco-systemically has proved to me that capitalism shouldn't just tolerate unions, it requires them for survival. Unions are essential for prosperity because they balance the interests of capitalists and provide increasing wages for workers, which creates a virtuous cycle of increasing demand, increasing employment and increasing demand. This is why all prosperous capitalist societies are unionized and why economies that are not unionized tend to be poor. This is why the post war years boomed and why we are now in a death spiral of ever decreasing demand.

But in the same way that unchecked power for capitalists will destroy an economy, so too will the unchecked power of unions. This is because the work rules and constraints that unions place on the institutions they inhabit, decrease the ability of those institutions' ability to adapt to changing needs. Each new well meaning worker protection makes it less likely that the institution will survive. Today, the WEA is literally strangling our public schools to death with an almost infinite number of institutionalized rules that limit change, innovation and excellence.

Workers deserve fair wages and reasonable protections. But 90% of what is in most teacher contracts is self-destructive bullshit designed to protect the adults with the most seniority and the least ability in the system. And everyone knows this. Even other union leaders in private will admit that the teachers make all unions look bad because they are so obviously counter-productive and self interested.

I have been a life long democrat because I believe that in general, our approach to policy is more likely to make the country better for most people than the Republican law of the jungle approach. But in Washington State, after 28 years in power with almost nothing to show for it, it is time to reckon with ourselves on what we stand for. I am a democrat, but first, I am an American and a patriot. The primary business and paramount duty of the state is to educate our kids. We are failing and we have no one to blame but ourselves.


Major Democratic Donor to Meet with McKenna

Morning Fizz   February 14, 2012 at 8:43 am Morning Fizz

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Affluent, Born Abroad and Choosing New York’s Public Schools


In New York, the affluent typically send their children to private schools. But not the foreign-born affluent. In a divergence, a large majority of wealthy foreign-born New Yorkers are sending their children to public schools, according to an analysis of census data.

There are roughly 15,500 households in the city with school-age children where the total income is at least $150,000 and both parents were born abroad. Of those, about 10,500, or 68 percent, use only the public schools, the data show.

That is nearly double the rate of American-born parents in the city in the same income bracket.

The census data include both immigrants and those temporarily stationed in the city for work. The disparity is even sharper for foreign-born parents with household incomes of $200,000 or more. About 61 percent send their children only to public schools, compared with 28 percent of native-born couples in the same income bracket.

As a result, some public elementary schools in wealthier parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn are experiencing an unexpected increase in foreign-born students, especially Western Europeans.

"We have never had the numbers that we have," said Elizabeth Phillips, the principal at Public School 321 in Park Slope for 13 years. "But we've never had so many affluent foreign families in the neighborhood, either."

A similar divergence exists in other major cities, the census data show. For example, in Los Angeles and Chicago, roughly 60 percent of foreign-born couples with at least $150,000 in household income send their children only to public schools, a rate far higher than that of native-born parents.

In the United States over all, there is almost no difference between the two groups, apparently because wealthy people outside of urban areas are much more likely to show allegiance to the public schools. Nationally, 73 percent of native-born couples and 76 percent of foreign-born couples send their children only to public school, according to the data, which was provided by Andrew A. Beveridge and Susan Weber-Stoger, demographers at Queens College.

In interviews, affluent foreign-born New Yorkers said that like all conscientious parents, they weighed various criteria in choosing schools, including quality, cost and location. But many said they were also swayed by the greater ethnic and economic diversity of the public schools. Some said that as immigrants, they had learned to navigate different cultures — a skill they wanted to imbue in their children.


Affluent, Born Abroad and Choosing New York's Public Schools

Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

Lyn Bollen and her boys outside Sam's school, P.S. 89 on Warren Street in Lower Manhattan.

Published: February 14, 2012

Miriam and Christian Rengier, a German couple moving to New York, visited some private elementary schools in Manhattan last spring in search of a place for their son. They immediately noticed the absence of ethnic diversity, and the chauffeurs ferrying children to the door.

Lyn Bollen holding her 8-month-old, Leo, and pushing Max, 3, after picking up Sam, 5, left, at school in Lower Manhattan.

Gilles Bransbourg walking his two children to Public School 58, on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

And then, at one school, their guide showed them the cafeteria.

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Obama to Propose Community College Aid

I think the proposed RESPECT program (see my last email) is a much bigger deal, but community colleges are a mess in this country, so it's good to see this as well:

President Obama on Monday will propose a $8 billion Community College to Career Fund, with the goal of training two million workers for well-paying jobs in high-demand industries, officials said.

The fund, which would need Congressional approval, would be administered jointly by the Departments of Labor and of Education. The money would be used to bolster partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train workers in areas like health care, transportation and advanced manufacturing.

In his State of the Union address, Mr. Obama called for a national commitment to help create an economy built to last by training two million workers with skills that will lead directly to a job.


February 13, 2012

Obama to Propose Community College Aid


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Beyond SATs, Finding Success in Numbers

This great article about the Posse Foundation – and a nice mention of KIPP:

Today the Posse Foundation selects about 600 students a year, from eight different cities. They are grouped into posses of 10 students from the same city and go together to an elite college; about 40 colleges now participate in the program.

Most Posse Scholars would not have qualified for their colleges by the normal criteria. Posse Scholars' median combined SAT score is only 1056, while the median combined score at the colleges Posse students attend varies from 1210 to 1475. Nevertheless, they succeed. Ninety percent of Posse Scholars graduate — half of them on the dean's list and a quarter with academic honors. A survey (pdf) of 20 years of alumni found that nearly 80 percent of the respondents said they had founded or led groups or clubs. There are only 40 Posse Scholars among Bryn Mawr's 1,300 students, but a Posse student has won the school's best all-around student award three times in the past seven years. Posse is changing the way universities look at qualifications for college, and what makes for college success.

…"In a way Middlebury was exactly what I needed," she said. "It was a convenient bubble where everything was safe and O.K. and you don't have to tell everybody your business."

The posse was key. "It's so easy to get lost. I couldn't imagine going to college without a group of people I already knew. I don't think I would have made it." They were all studying different things, she said. They didn't do homework together, but they held each other accountable for doing it. "If you needed somebody to get you out of bed and get you to the library, Antoinette" — a Posse member — "would get you to the library." The Posse members, she said, held each other up to the standard they had set: "how are you doing in class, how you behaved socially and whether you were supporting people you agreed to support."

Brown graduated in 2009, cum laude. Conscious of her good fortune and eager to give back, she joined Teach for America and taught 6th grade social studies at a KIPP charter school in Newark. Now she is in graduate school at Columbia, studying theater.


February 15, 2012, 9:09 am

Beyond SATs, Finding Success in Numbers


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The Materialist Fallacy

David Brooks with some real insights about Charles Murray's book and the important issues it raises:

Over the past 25 years, though, a new body of research has emerged, which should lead to new theories. This research tends to support a few common themes. First, no matter how social disorganization got started, once it starts, it takes on a momentum of its own. People who grow up in disrupted communities are more likely to lead disrupted lives as adults, magnifying disorder from one generation to the next.

Second, it's not true that people in disorganized neighborhoods have bad values. Their goals are not different from everybody else's. It's that they lack the social capital to enact those values.

Third, while individuals are to be held responsible for their behavior, social context is more powerful than we thought. If any of us grew up in a neighborhood where a third of the men dropped out of school, we'd be much worse off, too.

The recent research details how disruption breeds disruption. This research includes the thousands of studies on attachment theory, which show that children who can't form secure attachments by 18 months face a much worse set of chances for the rest of their lives because they find it harder to build stable relationships.

It includes the diverse work on self-control by Walter Mischel, Angela Duckworth, Roy Baumeister and others, which shows, among other things, that people raised in disrupted circumstances find it harder to control their impulses throughout their lives.

It includes the work of Annette Lareau, whose classic book, "Unequal Childhoods," was just updated last year. She shows that different social classes have radically different child-rearing techniques, producing different outcomes.

Over the past two weeks, Charles Murray's book, "Coming Apart," has restarted the social disruption debate. But, judging by the firestorm, you would have no idea that the sociological and psychological research of the past 25 years even existed.

Murray neglects this research in his book. Meanwhile, his left-wing critics in the blogosphere have reverted to crude 1970s economic determinism: It's all the fault of lost jobs. People who talk about behavior are blaming the victim. Anybody who talks about social norms is really saying that the poor are lazy.


February 13, 2012

The Materialist Fallacy


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Why I quit Facebook

Interesting comments from a NY public high school student about why he quit Facebook:

I joined Facebook four years ago. and at first it was amazing. You'd friend someone, and you'd be linked to all their friends. In fact, the standard that classified a kid as your friend was quickly dropped. That girl your friend told you about was now your "friend"; that friend of your sibling was now your "friend." You now shared everything with anyone whose name or face looked vaguely familiar.

This quickly wore me down. Being constantly informed that you make up just a small portion of another person's life erodes the feeling that you are at all meaningful to them.

Adolescence, to begin with, is a time of awful social anxiety. Now a website exists that exacerbates your most irrational social fears to the point of paranoia. Instead of just a private hormonal case of nerves, this is a massive, corporate crowd-sourced paranoia that a huge economic sector is encouraging us to take part in.

On Facebook, I saw how I was taking time away from being with my real friends to feel bad about all the other people who were hardly even part of my life.

…I'm not the only one who is deactivating my Facebook account. I've had other friends tell me that they're sick and tired of going on Facebook everyday hoping to connect, but ending up feeling only more disconnected. Lost in the hype of the company's stock-market debut this year is that while Facebook is ubiquitous, it may also be a fad.


Why I quit Facebook

A New York City high-school senior, 18, explains why he quit Facebook


Last Updated: 2:23 AM, February 12, 2012

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Seeking Money, Texas Schools Turn to Advertisements

I hate this, but what are desperate schools supposed to do?

The rooftop of a suburban high school is not a location that companies usually consider prime advertising real estate. But in Humble Independent School District, it may be. The district's high school lies directly in a flight path for Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

Although the rooftop plan has yet to come to fruition, Humble I.S.D. has already sold the naming rights to nearly every piece of its football stadium, including the entryway, the press box and the turf. Its school buses carry advertisements for the Houston Astros and local hospitals, among others.

The school district is pioneering a practice that an increasing number of districts across the state are adopting: selling advertisements on pieces of school property to help make up for some of the money lost through state budget cuts.

Advertising revenue can benefit school districts that primarily have two sources of income — what they receive from local taxpayers and what they get from the state and federal governments.

But with school leaders under pressure to find creative financing sources and few state-level guidelines about what is appropriate, some researchers who study the impact of ads in schools question whether schools fully grasp the consequences of commercialism creeping into public schools.

The proliferation of companies like Steep Creek Media, which acts as a middleman between districts and would-be advertisers, has made it simpler for schools to get into advertising. Steep Creek offers an attractive proposition for schools — and business is booming, according to its owner and founder, Cynthia Calvert, who represents 35 districts and has had to turn down handfuls of clients.

In exchange for what usually amounts to a cut of 40 percent of the profits, the company lures potential advertisers with a diverse menu of placements: on buses, textbook covers, in-school television monitors, scoreboards and Web sites.

Districts have the ultimate say over what ads they accept, but Steep Creek handles all the work in between, including graphic design.

Easier access to advertisers may not always translate to a more thoughtful process for schools, however


The Texas Tribune

Seeking Money, Texas Schools Turn to Advertisements

Erich Schlegel for The Texas Tribune

Chase Roberts, a mechanic with the Eanes school district in Texas, cleaning the advertising signs on district buses.

Published: February 16, 2012 

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The Noble rules

Chicago's outstanding Noble charter school network fines parents and students for various infractions, which the unions are attempting to make hay out of – for selfish reasons of course, as this Chicago Tribune editorial correctly notes:

Nothing poses a greater threat to the status quo than charter schools. So charter schools get targeted with nonsensical claims like this, that Noble Network is "dehumanizing" students.

If these schools are dehumanizing students, why are students lining up to go to them?

What does Woestehoff dismiss as "nothing that really matters"? Crucial keys to personal success. Focus. Discipline. Respect for others.

All those little violations — gum chewing and rowdiness and tardiness — matter. They matter because good conduct creates an atmosphere of responsibility and accountability in a school.

"Kids learn punctuality, dependability, and that there are consequences for behavior," says Michael Milkie, the former teacher who founded and runs Noble. "If kids feel they're going to be safe, if they're in a protected environment, they are more likely to develop the habits that make them successful in class."

Schools that let the small things slip can find themselves with a chaotic school environment. What do kids learn in those kinds of schools? They learn to duck.

PURE and other critics claim the Noble Network gouges students to raise cash. Last year, the 10 campuses of Noble raised nearly $200,000 from disciplinary fees. But those fees cover only part of the expense of staffing those classes and detention periods, Milkie says. "If we didn't have the fees, we would divert dollars from everyone's education to staff these classes and detentions."

To see a local TV report on this, see:,0,5102701.story


The Noble rules

Why discipline matters

February 16, 2012,0,5102701.story

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Mooresville’s Shining Example (It’s Not Just About the Laptops)

A very interesting NYT article about how the schools in Mooresville, NC have effectively embraced technology and become "the de facto national model of the digital school":

As debate continues over whether schools invest wisely in technology — and whether it measurably improves student achievement — Mooresville, a modest community about 20 miles north of Charlotte best known as home to several Nascar teams and drivers, has quietly emerged as the de facto national model of the digital school.

Mr. Edwards spoke on a White House panel in September, and federal Department of Education officials often cite Mooresville as a symbolic success. Overwhelmed by requests to view the programs in action, the district now herds visitors into groups of 60 for monthly demonstrations; the waiting list stretches to April. What they are looking for is an explanation for the steady gains Mooresville has made since issuing laptops three years ago to the 4,400 4th through 12th graders in five schools (three K-3 schools are not part of the program).

The district's graduation rate was 91 percent in 2011, up from 80 percent in 2008. On state tests in reading, math and science, an average of 88 percent of students across grades and subjects met proficiency standards, compared with 73 percent three years ago. Attendance is up, dropouts are down. Mooresville ranks 100th out of 115 districts in North Carolina in terms of dollars spent per student — $7,415.89 a year — but it is now third in test scores and second in graduation rates.

"Other districts are doing things, but what we see in Mooresville is the whole package: using the budget, innovating, using data, involvement with the community and leadership," said Karen Cator, a former Apple executive who is director of educational technology for the United States Department of Education. "There are lessons to be learned."


Grading the Digital School

Mooresville's Shining Example (It's Not Just About the Laptops)

Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times

CONNECTING Tammy Rigby, a fifth-grade science teacher at East Mooresville Intermediate, helping Grace Lateef, left, and Caitlyn Yaede with a class exercise.

Published: February 12, 2012

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The Promise of Education Technology (It's Not Just About Lighter Backpacks)

Joel Klein on "The Promise of Education Technology":


As someone who led America's largest school district for 8 years, serving over 1 million children, I believe technology can radically transform the way students learn by customizing instruction, and by helping teachers focus on each student's areas of greatest need. But the key to capturing this potential lies as much inside our own hearts and minds as it does in any hardware and software we'll deploy. That's because it's only when we change the way we think about how technology can actually change teaching and learning every day in schools that we'll finally make real strides in allowing every student to reach her potential.


The Promise of Education Technology (It's Not Just About Lighter Backpacks)

Joel I. Klein | Feb 03, 2012 01:45 PM EST

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Flex Schools Personalize, Enhance and Accelerate Learning

Ton Vander Ark on flex schools:

Innosight Institute's seminal report, "The Rise of Blended Learning," outlines several emerging school models that combine the best of onsite and online learning. Besides students taking online courses when possible, there are basically two emerging school models:

1.       Rotation: Students spend 20 to 50 percent of their time online. The Bay Area's Rocketship Education is a high-performing elementary network where students spend two hours per day in a computer lab. KIPP Empower in Los Angeles has classroom centers that students rotate through. At Carpe Diem, a Yuma, Ariz., high school, students split their time between workshops and personal learning online. Matriculation at rotation schools is typically by cohort but with more flexibility to meet individual needs than a traditional school.

2.       Flex: Core instruction is conducted online with on-site academic support and guidance, integration and application opportunities, and extracurricular activities. Students in flex schools progress as they demonstrate mastery in most courses. In some courses, particularly those with teachers at a distance, they may remain part of a virtual cohort.

In short, rotation schools add some online learning to what otherwise may look like a traditional school while flex schools start with online learning and add physical supports and connections where valuable. As a result, the potential for innovation is higher in flex schools.

There are four big benefits of flex models:



Tom Vander Ark


Flex Schools Personalize, Enhance and Accelerate Learning

Posted: 02/ 9/2012 9:17 am

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Inside KIPP Empower's Model

Here's a video about the KIPP Empower Academy's blended learning model: (9:57)

Inside KIPP Empower's Model

The video below provides an in-depth, detailed view of KIPP Empower Academy's blended learning model. Included in the video are the factors that provided the impetus for the development of the model, the philosophies underpinning KEA's educational approach, a graphical representation of how the blended learning model functions in the classroom, and results from KIPP Empower's first year of operation.

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The New Haven Experiment

STOP THE PRESSES!!!  Nick Kristof wrote a VERY important and thought-provoking op ed in yesterday's NYT hailing the union contract in New Haven:


February 15, 2012

The New Haven Experiment



I lost patience with teachers' unions when union officials in New York City defended a teacher who had passed out in class, reeking of alcohol, with even the principal unable to rouse her.

Not to mention when union officials in Los Angeles helped a teacher keep his job after he allegedly mocked a student who had tried to commit suicide, suggesting that the boy slash his wrists more deeply the next time.

In many cities, teachers' unions ensured no one was removed for mere incompetence. If a teacher stole or abused a student, yes, but school boards didn't even try to remove teachers who couldn't teach.

"Before, you had to go smack the mayor in order to get fired," Reggie Mayo, the schools superintendent here in New Haven, told me.

That's what makes an experiment under way here so jaw-dropping. New Haven has arguably become ground zero for school reform in America because it is transforming the system with the full cooperation of the union.

One of America's greatest challenges in the coming years will be to turn around troubled schools, especially in inner cities. It's the civil rights issue of our age, and teachers' unions have mostly been an exasperating obstacle.

Yet reformers like myself face a conundrum. Teachers' unions are here to stay, and the only way to achieve systematic improvement is with their buy-in. Moreover, the United States critically needs to attract talented young people into teaching. And that's less likely when we're whacking teachers' unions in ways that leave many teachers feeling insulted and demoralized.

The breakthrough experiment in New Haven offers a glimpse of an education future that is less rancorous. It's a tribute to the savvy of Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers and as shrewd a union leader as any I've seen. She realized that the unions were alienating their allies, and she is trying to change the narrative.

New Haven may be home to Yale University, but this is a gritty, low-income school district in which four out of five kids qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Eighty-four percent of students are black or Hispanic, and graduation rates have been low.

A couple of years ago, the school district reached a revolutionary contract with teachers. Pay and benefits would rise, but teachers would embrace reform — including sacrificing job security. With a stronger evaluation system, tenure no longer mattered and weak teachers could be pushed out.

Roughly half of a teacher's evaluation would depend on the performance of his or her students — including on standardized tests and other measures of learning.

Teachers were protected by a transparent process, and by accountability for principals. But if outside evaluators agreed with administrators that a teacher was failing, the teacher would be out at the end of the school year.

Last year, the school district pushed out 34 teachers, about 2 percent of the total in the district. The union not only didn't object, but acknowledged that many of them didn't really belong in the classroom.

"We all use the same litmus test: Would we want our kid in that room?" says David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, the local union. "We all recognize that we need to do something. Tenured teachers who are ineffective — that is an issue. We want to do something about it. But it's not fair either to blame all teachers."

Cicarella says that teachers accept that the world has changed. Accountability and feedback are welcome if they are fair, he says, adding: "It's not O.K. any more to spray and pray."

So far this year, administrators have warned about 50 more teachers that their jobs are in jeopardy because of weak teaching. That's out of 1,800 teachers in the district.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. of New Haven says that the breakthrough isn't so much that poor teachers are being eased out, but that feedback is making everyone perform better — principals included. "Most everybody picked up their game in the district," he said.

It'll take years to verify that students themselves are benefiting, but it's striking that teachers and administrators alike seem happy with the new system. They even say nice things about each other. In many tough school districts, teachers are demoralized and wilted; that feels less true in New Haven.

The New Haven model still doesn't go as far as I would like, but it does represent enormous progress. And it's a glimpse of a world in which "school reform" is an agenda and not just a term that sets off a brawl.

If the American Federation of Teachers continues down this path, I'll revisit my criticisms of teachers' unions. Maybe even give them a hug for daring to become part of the solution.

This is a STOP THE PRESSES not because New Haven is so important or the contract is so revolutionary, but rather because what's happening here – and how we reformers react to it – it emblematic of the reform struggle across the country.


Whenever I hear a kumbaya story like this one, in which the union harmoniously agrees to a thin contract, robust evaluation system, streamlined removal of lousy teachers, etc., my BS alarms go off so I did some checking around and have learned the following:


On the plus side, the New Haven contract was a major step forward from what preceded it – and from the typical contract in most cities.  It's probably top 1% in the country (though keep in mind how low that bar is).  A decent evaluation system was put in place and removing the bottom 2% of teachers last year and putting another 3% on warning are important steps.


On the negative side:


·        This is clearly evolutionary, not revolutionary, progress.  If the ideal is New Orleans, then New Haven is far from it.  My understanding is that this is not nearly as strong as the contract Michelle Rhee got in DC.

·        Removing the bottom 2% of teachers last year is a meaningful step in the right direction – but the actual percentage of terrible teachers is quite a bit higher; it should probably be 5-6% annually for quite some time.

·        This is not even close to a district of choice – in fact, one of the trade-offs to get this contract done was pulling back on charter schools and school closings; instead, failing schools in New Haven just go through the usual BS "turnarounds", in which pretty much all of the adults keep their jobs, nothing truly changes, and kids keep suffering.

·        In summary, though they're better than they once were, New Haven schools still suck (defined as nobody on this email list would EVER allow their child to attend a randomly selected public school in New Haven)


So in light of this, should we reformers be celebrating what's going on in New Haven (and laudatory articles like Kristof's) or bashing it/them?  My personal view to be quite celebratory (though I do think it's useful if some folks remain very critical).  Let me use a football analogy to explain why:


Five years ago (and prior), we reformers were stuck on our own 5 yard line and we getting manhandled.  Every once in a while we ran a very clever trick play, fooled the other team and gained a few yards, but then on the next play we'd get sacked for a loss and be right back where we started.


But starting about five years ago, we got some great draft picks and upgraded our team (think Obama, Duncan, Klein, Rhee, DFER, etc.), joining the early warriors (think Escalante, TFA, KIPP, EdTrust, etc. – forgive me for forgetting the many other people and organizations I should name) and we started to move the ball – not easily, not quickly, more like three yards and a cloud of dust, and still with frequent setbacks/sacks.  But overall, we've moved the ball to, say, our own 30 yard line.  That's 25 yards of progress – but we still have 70 yards to go…


Sometimes we make big plays and can move the ball a lot in one play – like Hurricane Katrina obliterating one of the worst school systems in America in New Orleans, thereby creating the conditions for a fresh start with no union and a district of choice.  Another example is Obama, against all odds, beating Hillary in the primary.  Can you imagine where we'd be with President Hillary Clinton (and someone like Linda Darling-Hammond as Secretary of Education)???  I shudder at the thought (at least as it relates to ed reform; I think she would have been an excellent President in most other areas).


But this is NOT the norm.  We cannot win this game by waiting for lightning to strike or throwing Hail Mary passes.  The system is too big and too broken, and in most places the unions are too powerful, for revolutionary change to occur.  Instead, the core of our game, in most cities and states, has to be evolutionary change (i.e., three yards and a cloud of dust). 


I wish this were not so, as my heart cries for the millions (tens of millions?) of children who are going to get a sub-par education while the schools improve only slowly, but I think it is.  My 9th grade geometry teacher liked to say, "Don't let what you want change what is."  We need a strategy and tactics that are rooted in reality, not naïve hope.


A good example of this is the teacher evaluation system that the unions just agreed to in NYS (see articles and commentary below).  This is not revolutionary by any means, but it's a major evolutionary step forward.  And, critically, it builds on what happened in New Haven, DC, and elsewhere.  In other words, we have to keep the pressure up, win lots of small victories in the trenches around the country, make darn sure to consolidate these victories and not go backward, and then build on each one, moving the ball steadily down the field.


If we can do this, maybe – just maybe – within my lifetime (I'm 45) we will once again have a system of K-12 public education that is internationally competitive, properly educates ALL children, and that we can be proud of.


Here are two friends' comments on New Haven:


A) The crux, as I see it, is how many other cities will do this in a meaningful way.   Otherwise it just becomes a rhetorical trump card in the debate "we're doing this in New Haven, we know how, leave it to us..." rather than a genuine reform for kids.


B) The AFT bent a little in the face of a powerful mayor with a world-class temper threatening to go on a rampage against them in his town. Now New Haven stands as the "shining example" of how they're mending their ways, meanwhile that contract remains a one-off and the AFT fights against applying hard student performance numbers to teacher evaluation ("if we have to have evaluations, keep them squishy and subjective and endlessly debatable") and they fight tenure reform in every district and legislator's office.


None of this should surprise us. Weingarten is a capable politician and she's elected to represent normal folks who have a few clear priorities, the same priorities that we would have if we were in their shoes, starting with job security. The union's value proposition to its members includes the view that school management is often capricious, political, self-serving and stupid - frankly, I wouldn't want to have to debate them on that. The union is not going to do a 180 on this. They're going to play rope-a-dope: selectively compromise on watered-down contract provisions while preserving their real base of power - the government-run district as the dominant provider of services; broad collective bargaining rights; binding arbitration; etc.


The real fight has just begun

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Michelle Rhee's Unafraid To Stir Things Up, And Maybe That's Not So Bad

Though it's not my personal style (as you can tell from my comments above), I have tremendous admiration for Michelle Rhee and her confrontational approach and think it's a critical part of our movement.  Here's a great column in the Hartford Courant about her:

Everybody keeps talking about common ground and finding consensus during this year of education reform, but the arrival of lightning-rod education reformer Michelle Rhee is an important reminder for all of us.

Making real changes in how we run our public schools means plenty of folks won't be happy.

If you radically alter tenure, shift more money to urban districts, take over failing schools, start evaluating teachers based on test scores or add charter schools, somebody isn't going to like it. If you go further, such as making it easier to fire teachers, pay them based on test scores, end seniority rules or create a voucher program, you're asking for an epic fight.

That's fine, according to Rhee, the former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor-turned-national-organizer now working with a coalition of parent groups here. To Rhee, lukewarm compromise isn't what's needed in Connecticut.

"The problem is when you come up with a compromise that you believe is better than what you had before but it's not better than it should be,'' Rhee told me. "You haven't really solved the problem."

During her three-year run in D.C., Rhee raised test scores, closed schools, fired principals and teachers, and tied compensation to student performance. She's an outspoken Democrat, but her aggressive brand of reform also enraged the teachers union and prominent education reformers. She remains embroiled in controversy over test score gains under her leadership, even as StudentsFirst, the national group she founded two years ago, plays an increasingly prominent role around the country.

In contrast to the much-hyped teacher contract in New Haven, often held up as a model for how all sides can work together, Rhee says preserving "harmony among adults" should not be the priority.

"People criticized me all the time and said I was not collaborative enough,'' Rhee said. "If you can show me an example of a place where there was collaboration and everybody was on board … I would be more than happy to follow that model. Every time I have seen a collaborative approach taken and celebrated, the result was watered down."

..."For far too long the adults have been willing to turn a blind eye do the injustice in the classroom,'' Rhee said. "When it comes to kids' lives and their futures I don't feel that is negotiating material."

I don't like the bitter conflict between Rhee and the teacher unions because it distracts from real problems, like third graders who haven't learned to read. Union leaders — and the teachers they represent — are an essential part of any reform plan for Connecticut.

But Rhee has got something this stagnating state could use a lot more of: a burning, relentless drive to change the status quo. Her presence might actually force us to do something.


Michelle Rhee's Unafraid To Stir Things Up, And Maybe That's Not So Bad

Says 'Collaborative Approach' In Education Can Dilute True Reform

Rick Green, Hartford Courant

8:04 p.m. EST, February 15, 2012,0,4954953.column

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On teacher evaluations, the reformers win

The deal on teacher evaluations reached in NY State is a VERY big deal, which is rightly being celebrated on the front page of today's NYT (see below) and in a NYT editorial (, as well as in articles and editorials in the WSJ, NY Daily News and elsewhere (see, and  Here's DFER's Joe Williams's take in today's NY Daily News:

On teacher evaluations, the reformers win

Learning six lessons from this big deal

Comments (1)


Friday, February 17, 2012, 4:35 AM

Gov. Cuomo scored a major victory for reform.

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Democrats for Education Reform Responds to Alliance for Quality Education's Opposition to Governor Cuomo's Competitive Grants Proposal

There is overwhelming evidence that pouring more money into a broken school system without accompanying it with genuine reform will result in no improvement whatsoever for students (and may in fact do harm, as it enriches and entrenches the status quo; see, for example, the documentary, The Cartel, about what happened in NJ: and, so with that in mind, it's good to see DFER giving AQE a smackdown:

Democrats for Education Reform Responds to Alliance for Quality Education's Opposition to Governor Cuomo's Competitive Grants Proposal

New York, NY, February 15, 2012 - Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) released the following statement from New York State Director Elizabeth Ling in response to the Alliance for Quality Education's (AQE) opposition to Governor Cuomo's competitive grants proposal. The grants would reward struggling school districts that demonstrate progress toward improving student achievement:

"Every year, groups funded by special interests like AQE demand more money for the education bureaucracy when they should be demanding better results for our students. Their approach of throwing money at the bureaucracy has clearly failed. That's why New York is number one in the nation on education spending and 38th on graduation rates.

"The Governor's proposal to allocate $250 million of increased education spending to competitive performance grants is exactly the type of strategic approach we need. These grants will reward the struggling schools that demonstrate that they can truly help students improve. Indeed, student outcomes should help determine funding, not the special interests.

"Governor Cuomo is putting students first, while AQE is putting the education bureaucracy first. We can no longer accept an education system, dominated by special interests, that allows the bureaucracy to thrive while our students fail. Governor Cuomo's approach is right for our students and our schools."

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Court Declines to Hear Appeal on Teacher Data

Little noticed among other announcements is this ruling (covered by Lisa Fleisher of the WSJ who, along with Stephanie Banchero, is doing excellent ed reporting, continuing the great work Barbara Martinez did).  It looks like NY will join LA in releasing this teacher performance data, which is sure to create HUGE controversy.  This is an issue that many reformers disagree on – for example, see the debate between Wendy Kopp ( and Steve Brill ( (as for me, I'm REALLY torn, but lean 60/40 toward releasing the data):


Court Declines to Hear Appeal on Teacher Data




FEBRUARY 14, 2012, 8:38 P.M. ET


New York City has been cleared to release performance reports for thousands of teachers after a state court on Tuesday declined to hear a final appeal from the city's teachers union to keep the information private.


The reports, which rate about 12,500 teachers in fourth through eighth grade, were created in 2008 as part of a push to evaluate educators using student test scores. They use a formula to try to isolate each teacher's effect on student performance, adjusting for factors such as poverty, class size and absenteeism.


About a dozen news organizations, including The Wall Street Journal, requested copies of the reports in 2010, but the United Federation of Teachers sued to block the release on privacy grounds.


State officials hired a company to create similar reports about all teachers statewide. The city decided in August to use the state's formula in the future, to avoid what appeared to be a duplication of efforts.


UFT President Michael Mulgrew said releasing the reports is "particularly inappropriate" because the city will abandon its formula going forward. He said the city's formula relies on "bad data and an unproven methodology with a huge margin of error."


Reports like those set to be released by the city will eventually be used as part of teachers' overall job evaluations. Under a law passed in 2010, it will be easier to fire teachers with two straight bad evaluations. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed giving permanent raises to those teachers with top marks.


Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for the city's Department of Education, said that the data would be released "in the coming weeks."

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Plan Offers $5 Billion to Improve Teaching

This proposed RESPECT program is a fantastic idea and could make a huge difference if funded and implemented properly:

The Obama administration will propose Wednesday a $5 billion competition aimed at overhauling how America's teachers are trained, paid and granted tenure, the latest sign of the growing focus on the quality of teaching in public schools.

The competition—modeled after President Barack Obama's Race to the Top education initiative—would reward states that adopt overhauls favored by the administration, such as raising the bar to get into colleges of education, paying teachers based on student achievement and granting tenure only after proof of successful teaching, according to administration officials.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will unveil the plan during a town-hall meeting Wednesday, officials said, and will call on states to work with teachers unions and colleges of education to overhaul the teaching profession, which has faced withering criticism in recent years. The plan also calls on states and school districts to pay teachers more and adopt incentives to retain the best teachers, especially in hard-to-staff schools.


Plan Offers $5 Billion to Improve Teaching


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NEA on the RESPECT program

Even the NEA likes the RESPECT program – normally a bad sign, but I still like it:


National Education Association leaders believe a new Department of Education proposal is a promising proposition toward improving the teaching profession. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has launched RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching), a proposal that challenges states and districts to work with teachers and their unions to support and improve the teaching profession. In December of 2011, NEA announced its own aggressive agenda for transforming the profession called NEA's Three-Point Plan for Education Reform.


"Recruiting talented candidates and providing substantive, high-quality preparation is essential in ensuring quality schools," said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.  "This proposal represents a critical first-step in ensuring that all students have access to a range of high-quality resources, including qualified and licensed teachers who are empowered to innovate and inspired to take on ever-growing challenges. We are particularly pleased that others beyond our organization are beginning to acknowledge the comprehensive set of supports that schools need to improve and to recognize that there is no 'silver-bullet' when it comes to transforming schools."

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President's Budget Proposal Fails to Fund D.C. Voucher Program

Speaking of the Obama administration's recent actions, the newly released proposed federal budget doesn't include funding for the DC voucher program, which has many people up in arms (see below, for example).  I would be too if I thought the program would really get the ax, but it won't.  Obama knows that Boehner really wants this, so it's just a negotiating chit.  It's a kabuki dance.  Obama and Duncan don't really want to cut this program – and they won't – so relax everyone.


President's Budget Proposal Fails to Fund D.C. Voucher Program


LENGTH: 515 words


DATELINE: WASHINGTON, February 13, 2012


Despite reauthorization agreement, Obama aims to halt highly-successful Opportunity Scholarship Program

President Barack Obama's newly-released federal budget would not provide funding to the highly-successful D.C. voucher program, despite an agreement signed by the president last year that reauthorized the program.

The American Federation -the nation's voice for school choice-strongly decries the president's failure to provide funding to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which currently provides scholarships to more than 1,600 children from low-income families across the nation's capital to attend the private schools of their parents' choice.

Though the OSP is in little danger of going unfunded-Congress is charged with appropriating funds, and House Speaker John Boehner is an ardent defender of the program-the move by President Obama is effectively a reneging on the promise he made last April in a budget agreement he signed that helped avert a government shutdown.

"The president says he's for education reform, but his actions continually aim to send low-income and minority students back to schools that are failing them academically, are unsafe, or are otherwise not meeting their needs," said AFC senior advisor Kevin P. Chavous, a former D.C. Councilman. "This latest hypocrisy is just the most recent instance in which the president has stood in the way of students who are improving test scores and graduating in higher numbers."

Since barring new students from entering the program in 2009, Obama has made numerous statements expressing support for reform that have contradicted his actions regarding the OSP. In 2010, President Obama publicly stated that he would not send his daughters to D.C. public schools, despite actively working to bar low-income families from having that choice.

And while the president rightly discusses the nation's severe dropout crisis-as he did in last month's State of the Union address-he's unwilling to support the OSP, where students' 91 percent graduation rate is 21 percentage points higher than those who applied but couldn't get a scholarship. And according to the Institute of Education Sciences-the primary research arm of the U.S. Department of Education-the OSP has the second highest achievement impact of any of the programs it has studied so far.

Since the program's inception in 2004, more than 10,000 families have applied to participate in the OSP. Four years of studies from Georgetown University and the University of Arkansas have shown overwhelming parental satisfaction, and 74 percent of D.C. residents polled a year ago supported reauthorization. More than 520 applications were submitted at a signup event for the program on Saturday, hosted by the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation.

"By any reasonable measure, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has been an overwhelming success," Chavous said. "President Obama wouldn't be where he is today without a private school scholarship. He needs to stop playing politics and do what's right for kids."

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Abuse Cases Put Los Angeles Schools Under Fire

This article about a flurry of sexual abuse cases in LA made the front page of today's NYT:

The arrest of a public school teacher here early this month came with plenty of vivid details, thanks to hundreds of photographs that the police say show the teacher covering the eyes and mouths of children with tape and allowing cockroaches to crawl over faces.

Those accusations alone were enough to prompt outrage. But more came: Another teacher at the same school was arrested on charges of sexually abusing children. Then came news reports that two aides at the school had been fired after being accused of abuse, and that one had been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Within days, other allegations surfaced at schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District: A high school music teacher was removed after being accused of showering with students; a third-grade teacher was being investigated for more than a dozen accusations of sexual abuse; an elementary school janitor was arrested and accused of lewd acts against a child. And on Wednesday, a high school softball coach and special education teacher was arrested on charges of sending inappropriate messages to children over the Internet.

There is no evidence to suggest that these abuse accusations are connected. But they have put an intense spotlight on the way the district monitors its employees and responds to reports of abuse.

The accusations have raised fundamental questions for administrators: How does the sprawling district interact with local law enforcement agencies? Once school officials know about accusations of misconduct, when and how should parents be told? And how does the district track teachers who have been accused of wrongdoing but not convicted?

These allegations are shocking of course – but perhaps they shouldn't be.  Sadly, I'd be surprised if there wasn't A TON of sexual abuse in our big school systems, for three reasons: A) the law of large numbers; B) sorry to be crass, but if you're a sicko and want access to lots of kids to abuse, this is the way to do it (and it's a lot easier to get a job in the school system than become a priest; yes, I'm still upset by what I saw in Deliver Us from Evil ( and; and C) we know that this is a system that protects adults at all costs, even if it means kids get thrown under the bus. 


I think it's long overdue that this evil is being exposed, not only to protect other children from sexual predators, but also because it might bring about overall change that results in the interests of students being placed ABOVE the protection of adults (what a novel idea!).


To this point, Armand Fusco, former Superintendent of Education of both Massachusetts and Connecticut, wrote the following in response to my recent email about child sexual abuse:

Interesting, but isn't the fact that children held in the bondage of failing schools, being robbed of an education, and knowing that 50% will dropout and 80% will end up in prison child abuse when these children, while being held in bondage, are not guilty of any crimes?  Furthermore, the state allows it and we are talking about 7,200 being pushed out every day amounting to over 1,200,000 a year, but they have no advocates.  In fact, my book starts out with a story of an abused dog and how they will track find out who did it and hold that person accountable, PETA even has a strategic plan on how to handle dog abuse cases; I wish we had the same exact plan to prevent dropouts.  It's also interesting to note that in 1867 there were no advocates for child abuse, so when PETA found a child abused, they came to his rescue.  Children are not our first priority, they should be, but they are not.

Sorry to go on like this but I just get so frustrated with our educational system and the policymakers at all levels who allow this to take place and no one is ever held accountable--absolutely no one. 

PS—Keep your eye out for Fusco's new book out next month, School Pushouts: A Plague of Hopelessness Perpetrated by Zombie Schools, which chronicles the abuse of dropouts and what can be done at no cost to solve the problem.


Abuse Cases Put Los Angeles Schools Under Fire

Monica Almeida/The New York Times

A new staff has been placed at Miramonte Elementary after two teachers there were accused of sexual abuse.

Published: February 16, 2012 

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