Another MUST READ by Wendy Lecker: Charter schools — civil rights rhetoric vs. reality

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Perhaps the greatest indignity perpetrated by the corporate education reform industry is their fallacious claim that they represent the “new civil rights movement.”

No where, including here in Connecticut, do they talk about tackling the terrible growth of child poverty that is destroying our society or the challenges faced by children who require special education services or need help with their English language capabilities.

None of the corporate education reform groups are willing to acknowledge, let alone address Connecticut’s unconstitutional school funding formula or the fact that Connecticut public schools aren’t provided the resources necessary to support the children who walk through their front doors.

Instead of providing a meaningful solution to the problems the country faces, the charter school company owners and their allies, under the guise of “school choice,” demand more public funds while creaming off a sub-set of children and refusing to educate those who are English Language Learners and those who require additional special education services.

Claiming to be vehicles of opportunity for children, these fraudsters run schools that are more segregated and less equalitarian than the true public schools in their communities.

Chanting slogans of civil rights and wrapping themselves in the image of Martin Luther King Jr., the education reform industry is the antipathy of King’s message and the policies and practices that could heal this troubled and divided nation.

In her latest piece, education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker dissects the utter failure of Connecticut’s charter schools to be part of the solution when it comes to reducing racial isolation.

Charter schools — civil rights rhetoric vs. reality (By Wendy Lecker)

First published at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Charter-schools-civil-rights-6207481.php

Education “reformers” often proclaim they are carrying on the tradition of great civil rights leaders, employing the rhetoric of that movement while in reality pushing measures that exacerbate inequality and impact most harshly on children and communities of color-like school closures, privatization, and over-testing. Last week, noted civil rights expert Gary Orfield, of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, issued a report on Connecticut school integration that included an indictment of the practices of Connecticut’s most-practiced purveyors of civil rights doublespeak — charter schools. The report also called out state officials for their willful blindness to charter school practices.

The report, titled “Connecticut School Integration,” praised the state for some of the strides made in desegregating schools. However, it noted the well-documented “hyper-segregation” of charter schools, which undermines Connecticut’s progress on integration. The report further remarked that national education policies, including the expansion of charter schools, ignore race and poverty and have “consistently failed” to meet the goal of improving education for our neediest children.

Connecticut law on segregation is far-reaching. While the federal constitution only prevents intentional segregation, our Supreme Court, in the 1996 decision in Sheff v. O’Neill, prohibited “unorchestrated,” i.e. de facto segregation. Thus, state officials have an affirmative obligation not just to prevent intentional segregation, but to eliminate even unintentional segregation.

Most Connecticut charters are intensely segregated. They routinely fail to serve English Language Learners, students with disabilities and often our most impoverished students.

Yet, as the Civil Rights Project writes, Connecticut state officials have refused to do anything to stem the tide of charter school segregation. The report observes that the education commissioner could require changes in a charter if that school does not make measurable progress in reducing racial, ethnic and economic isolation. It remarks that the state board could make this goal a prerequisite to granting a charter. Yet, as the report goes on to note, these state officials, those with the express obligation to reduce segregation, have consistently chosen to do nothing to prevent charter school segregation and its effects, including exacerbating racial, ethnic and economic imbalance in the host school districts.

Indeed, one wonders if Connecticut officials had forced Hartford’s charters to abide by desegregation policies all along, would the city have reached its Sheff goals long ago, saving the state millions of dollars?

School integration is fundamental to advancing the democratic purpose of education. As the court noted in the Sheff decision: “If children of different races and economic and social groups have no opportunity to know each other and to live together in school, they cannot be expected to gain the understanding and mutual respect necessary for the cohesion of our society.”

Decades of evidence prove that school integration achieves this goal, reducing stereotypes and enabling adults to function successfully in a variety of settings. The benefits of school integration are more lasting and meaningful than the empty pursuit of higher test scores.

In 1996, our highest court clearly articulated the state’s responsibility to reduce segregation. Yet almost 20 years later, state officials allow charter school segregation to flourish. The State Board of Education continually rubber-stamps charter applications, trampling community opposition, and ignoring their duty to prevent charter school segregation and over-concentration. Even a new policy the state board announced, which applies to charter renewals only and not initial approvals, fails to require that charters serve the same students that their host district public schools serve.

This session, the legislature’s Education Committee considered a bill that would have placed a moratorium on charter school approvals. Yet, our political leaders did not even have the will to move this bill out of committee. And now the governor wants the legislature to fund new charters while refusing to provide public schools with any ECS increase.

In his report, Dr. Orfield exhorts the state to bring charter schools in line with Connecticut’s law and policies against segregation and to ensure that charter operators live up to their “civil rights responsibilities under state and federal law.” He even suggests pursuing litigation against charters that receive public funds, yet operate segregated schools in violation of Connecticut law.

Given the unwillingness of state leaders to do anything about charter school segregation, communities may have no choice but to look to the courts. In December, the Delaware ACLU filed a federal complaint against charter school segregation. One can only hope that a civil rights organization here will follow the lead of the Delaware ACLU and pursue a real civil rights agenda when it comes to school segregation in Connecticut.

A special opportunity to hear the truth about “Education Reform”

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In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act. – George Orwell

Hosted by Robert Hannafin, Dean of Fairfield University’s Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions comes a unique opportunity to hear from Wendy Lecker, Jonathan Pelto, Madison School Superintendent Thomas Scarice and nationally renowned Education expert and advocate Yohuru Williams.

In their one and only joint appearance

 

March 31, 2015

6:30 p.m. -8:00 p.m.

Oak Room

Barone Campus Center

Fairfield University

Open to the public and free [Very much the corporate education reform industry]

 

Common Core SBAC Test – Connecticut wrong, Vermont right!

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Fellow Connecticut education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker has yet another MUST READ piece about the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s attack on public education and how Connecticut’s leaders are failing to protect our state’s students, parents, teachers and public schools.

Lecker’s column is entitled, The truth about the SBACs, and it can be found in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate and on-line at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-The-truth-about-the-SBACs-6149232.php

Wendy Lecker writes;

A New England state is leading the way on sane testing policy. Unfortunately for us Nutmeggers, that state is Vermont, not Connecticut.

There is a growing national consensus that standardized testing has deleterious effects on education. The National Research Councilconcluded that test-based accountability under the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB) had “zero to little effect” on achievement. Evidence from around the nation proves the focus on standardized testing has narrowed curricula and resulted in significant losses in learning time. Anxiety is prevalent among public school students, as more and higher stakes are attached to these standardized tests.

There is also a growing realization of what experts have known for years — that the federal government demands that states overuse and misuse standardized tests. Experts know that standardized tests are of limited value, because they are unstable, unreliable and most importantly, do not measure the breadth of skills and experience that are the goals of education. Despite the well-known limitations of standardized tests, federal officials insist test scores be used to rank and rate schools, students and teachers, and impose real-life consequences, including sanctions on schools and possible school closures, firing teachers and even decisions regarding student placement and graduation.

When federal policy conflicts with a solid body of evidence, one would expect our state education officials, those charged with safeguarding the educational rights and welfare of our children, to provide guidance on sound testing policy.

Unfortunately, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy‘s top education officials have failed to provide any useful guidance whatsoever. To the contrary, Connecticut officials willingly participate in damaging testing practices. Connecticut rushed to sign on to the federal NCLB waiver in 2012, without analyzing the costs or consequences. As part of the waiver, then Education CommissionerStefan Pryor committed the state to implementing the common core tests known as the Smarter Balanced, or SBACs. These tests are longer than the CMTs, and must be taken on a computer or tablet, requiring a certain level of computer skill and literacy. Commissioner Pryor also agreed to “cut scores,” proficiency levels, guaranteeing that a vast majority of Connecticut students will fail the new tests. By agreeing to the waiver, Pryor also committed the state to evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores, even though the weight of evidence demonstrates that evaluating teachers on student these test scores is invalid and major organizations such as the American Statistical Association and the American Educational Research Association oppose this practice.

Contrast Connecticut’s complete lack of leadership with Vermont’s. Because the NCLB waiver called for mandates that were contrary to good educational practices, Vermont refused to apply for an NCLB waiver in 2012. In an August 2014 resolution, Vermont’s State Board of Education called on the federal government to “reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality, eschew the use of student test scores in evaluating educators, and allow flexibility that reflects the unique circumstances of all states.”

Last week, Vermont’s State Board of Education unanimously approved a new resolution on the SBAC tests, which gives strong and informed guidance that Connecticut’s education leaders are unwilling to provide.

Vermont’s resolution declares that while the SBAC tests “purport to measure progress towards `college and career readiness . . . the tests have not been externally validated as measuring these important attributes.”

Accordingly, the state board resolved “until empirical studies confirm a sound relationship between performance on the SBAC and critical and valued life outcomes (“college and career-ready”), test results should not be used to make normative and consequential judgments about schools and students.”

Vermont’s state board also resolved that until Vermont has more experience with evidence from the SBACs, “the results of the SBAC assessment will not support reliable and valid inferences about student performance, and thus should not be used as the basis for any consequential purpose.”

Finally, honest education officials admit the SBACs have never been proven to measure “college readiness” or progress toward “college readiness,” and in fact are unreliable to measure student learning. In other words, the foundation upon which the Common Core rests is an artifice, and our children are being subjected to unproven tests. Connecticut districts have been diverting resources and time toward a testing regime without any proof that it would improve our children’s education.

In its thoughtful articulation of its policy stance, Vermont’s educational leaders demonstrated their dedication to the educational welfare of Vermont’s children. It is shameful that Connecticut’s so-called leaders cannot muster the same concern for ours.

Again, the full article can be found at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-The-truth-about-the-SBACs-6149232.php

Without A Net – The challenge of learning in chaos

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Education advocate and commentator Wendy Lecker has yet another – MUST READ – piece in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate and on the Hearst Media website.  You can find the original at: Wendy Lecker: The challenge of learning in chaos.

The challenge of learning in chaos

The notion of equal educational opportunity was explained clearly by Kansas Judge Terry Bullock in a 2003 school funding decision: “If a child lives a great way from school, the transportation cost for that child will be greater than for another child nearer to school — just to provide him or her the same educational opportunity. Similarly, if a child cannot speak English, it may cost more to teach that child English as a second language before the child can learn math and other subjects.”

In other words, providing equal opportunity means meeting children where they are — helping them overcome their individual obstacles to learning. Judge Bullock recognized that although those obstacles often exist outside the school walls, overcoming them is part of the state’s constitutional obligation to provide a free public education.

A new UCLA report centers on those out-of-school factors that interfere with learning. The report, titled “It’s About Time,” found that community stressors such as economic distress, hunger, lack of medical care, family problems, unstable housing and violence, result in lost learning time three times as often in high poverty schools as in low poverty schools.

While the report focuses on California, I have heard identical stories from teachers, principals and district officials in Connecticut and New York. Children in impoverished districts often arrive at school hungry, without coats, socks or with broken glasses. High school students miss the first few periods of each school day because they must ensure their younger siblings get to school safely. Children bring to school the instability they experience in their lives.

These are not isolated stories. These are the barriers many poor children encounter every day when they try to learn, and teachers encounter when they try to teach. Before a child can focus on learning, she needs to be fed and clothed and have a way to deal with any trauma she may have experienced the night before. This is why social workers, behavioral specialists, psychologists, counselors and other therapists are essential educational resources. “Support staff” is a misnomer.

More than half of American public schoolchildren live in poverty. Consequently an increasing number of schools must contend with the chaos that surrounds the lives of their students. However, as the number of poor public schoolchildren rises, schools have fewer resources to help. Most states provide schools with less funding today than they did before the recession hit. And the number of federal dollars, a very small percentage of a school district’s budget to begin with, has also shrunk considerably. The poorest districts are least able to fill in those chasms with local tax dollars.

The result? Every year, our poorest school districts must slash millions of dollars from their budgets. That means cutting services.

Teachers pick up the slack. They find jackets for students, feed them, buy school supplies and give up their lunch periods to counsel them. The UCLA report found that teachers in high poverty schools spend time “addressing a variety of important academic, social, and long-term planning issues with their students more frequently than teachers in Low Poverty schools.”

The report dispels the “absurd notion,” as former Massachusetts Education Secretary Paul Reville once said, that “all the incompetency in our education systems has coincidentally aggregated around low income students.” Teachers in high poverty schools go above and beyond to meet their students’ needs. It is not about incompetence. It is about lack of resources.

One has to wonder why the Obama administration pushes policies that not only fail to correct the inequalities in educational resources, but instead exacerbate them.

The UCLA report revealed that poor schools lose three times more instructional days than low poverty schools to standardized testing and test prep — more than four weeks of instructional time.

It is now well-established that standardized tests do not improve learning, and narrow a school’s curriculum. It is also well-known that yearly testing is unnecessary, since a child who passes a test one year is overwhelmingly likely to pass the next.

Yet U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan clings to the faulty conviction that children must suffer through standardized tests every year so that children “do not fall through the cracks.” How absurd. Teachers know which children are struggling academically.

If policymakers were truly concerned with children falling through the cracks, they would make sure that every school had a safety net to catch them. Too often, our neediest children must face life’s harshest realities. It is time politicians stop ignoring how those realities impact our schools.

For more go to: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-The-challenge-of-learning-in-chaos-6093176.php

Our real national standards (By Wendy Lecker)

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Public Education Advocate and Hearst newspaper columnist Wendy Lecker has another MUST READ piece this week about the Common Core.

Wendy Lecker writes,

We now know that the fiction that the Common Core State Standards are nationally agreed-upon standards that grew from some grassroots movement in the states is manufactured hype. It is now broadly understood that these standards were developed behind closed doors under the direction of two private organizations, and were bankrolled by Bill Gates. The imposition of the Common Core coincided with the increasing awareness — by parents, teachers and experts — that after 20 years of reform by high-stakes standardized testing, the method has failed. As it becomes clear that an increased emphasis on new computerized standardized tests is the true purpose of the Common Core initiative, parents, students, teachers and elected officials, from across the country and the political spectrum, are rising in opposition.

While the national revolt against these artificial national standards gains momentum, on Aug. 29, a Texas judge reminded the nation we already have democratically derived national education standards.

In his ruling, Judge John Dietz found the Texas school finance system unconstitutional. He was guided in his decision by the fundamental purpose of education as articulated by the Texas constitution. According to the state constitution, education is “essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people. It is the foundation of our democracy.”

This view is echoed in state constitutions across the United States. From Vermont, to Wyoming, to Kentucky, to New York, courts have resoundingly held that the framers of their constitutions intended that public education prepare our young children for their roles as citizens.

Dietz found that to prepare children for citizenship, every school must have a basic set of essential resources: pre-K, small class size, enough teachers, libraries, books, technology, support staff — including counselors, social workers and paraprofessionals — and extra services for children with extraordinary needs, adequate facilities and a suitable curriculum. After a lengthy trial, the judge ruled that Texas’ school-finance system failed to ensure schools had these basic resources and that, as a result, children in these schools were being denied their constitutional right to an education.

Across this nation, courts in school funding cases have found that these same resources are essential to a constitutionally adequate education in their states. Like Dietz, they heard evidence from national educational experts and local educational experts — superintendents and teachers who work with public school children every day. These judges heard what children need and what works best to help children learn. From Kansas, to Washington, to New Jersey and beyond, these far-flung courts ruled that their states are responsible for providing schools with this nearly identical basket of educational goods.

So-called education “reformers” push a different and lesser vision of education — perhaps most honestly expressed by the Dayton, Ohio, Chamber of Commerce:

The business community is the consumer of the educational product. Students are the educational product. They are going through the educational system so they can be an attractive product for business to consume.

This diminishment of children as being in service to business is echoed by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who lamented that because of our public education system, “we are falling further behind our international competitors.”

Not only is this vision offensive, it is wrongheaded. It has been proven over and over that U.S. students’ scores on national or international tests bear no relation to America’s economy or worker productivity.

However, this dehumanizing view explains current educational policy where students, and their teachers, are judged merely by standardized test scores.

Judge Dietz’s ruling turns the focus back on what children need. It declares that before we can hold children, teachers or schools responsible for meeting standards, we must hold states responsible for providing basic educational tools.

The requirement that states provide schools with adequate funding to supply basic resources is the true national standard, developed organically from the ground up, and rooted in our democratic process and values. It fulfills a broad vision of the purpose of public education. In the words of the Connecticut Supreme Court, education is “the cohesive element that binds the fabric of society together.”

School-funding suits similar to Texas’ will soon go to trial in Connecticut and New York. Plaintiffs recently prevailed in Washington and Kansas. And more cases are brewing in other states. It seems that as long as our political leaders peddle a false vision of public education, one disconnected from the needs of students, we must look to our judicial system to safeguard children’s rights.

In addition to serving as a columnist for Hearst Connecticut Media Group, Wendy Lecker is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

You can read and comment on the original column at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Our-real-national-standards-5736778.php

Today’s “MUST READ” Columns on the Malloy/Pryor Charter School scandals

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Another Week, Another Scandal (By Sarah Darer Littman)

Another week, and another education scandal here in the Nutmeg State. The FBI served subpoenas on charter school operator FUSE last Friday morning, and shortly after their visit Hartford Courant reporters found the receptionist shredding documents. “Asked what was being shredded, she said the documents were associated with the state-subsidized Jumoke charter schools.” Obstruction of justice, anyone?

Meanwhile, after the notoriously opaque state Department of Education declined to issue reporters a copy of their own FBI-issued subpoena, the Courant received this statement Monday from Department of Education spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly: “We have been assured that the department is not a subject of this investigation.” Okay then. That’s clear.

Yet by Tuesday, it was another story. Apparently, the subpoena seeks, among other things, “All emails of Commissioner Stefan Pryor” since January 2012.

Read the complete piece at: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_another_week_another_scandal/

 

A charlatan in charge of children (By Wendy Lecker)

It is becoming painfully clear that in Connecticut, the refrain that education reform is “all about the children,” is a sad joke. To Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and his allies, children are merely collateral damage.

Recently, there was the scandal involving Hartford’s Milner school, in which the children were used as pawns in a scheme to expand the charter empire of now-disgraced Jumoke/FUSE CEO Michael Sharpe. Pryor never bothered to discover that Sharpe is a former felon and falsified his academic credentials. Instead, while Milner was floundering under Sharpe, Pryor, a longtime Sharpe supporter, handed him two additional schools. The fate of public school children was clearly the last thing on Pryor’s mind. Currently, the FBI is investigating Pryor’s, Sharpe’s and Jumoke/FUSE’s connections.

And now — New London. In 2012, Pryor decided to take over New London’s school district. His pretext was that the school board was dysfunctional and “rife with personal agendas.” Pryor never provided any causal relationship between the board’s behavior and student performance.

On the contrary, Pryor acknowledged that “many of the problems of New London and the New London School District are the direct result of economic decline and poverty.”

Instead of providing New London with adequate resources, the Malloy administration, through Pryor, appointed Steven Adamowski as New London’s powerful special master.

Adamowski was simultaneously the special master of another impoverished district, Windham. Adamowski’s reign in Windham was characterized by pushing unproven reforms while gutting services that actually helped children. He cut funding for Windham’s successful pre-K program and reduced the capacity of Windham’s bilingual program-even though over a quarter of the students are English Language Learners. He pushed the use of Teach for America, replacing experienced local teachers with temporary recent college graduates; and promoted “choice” for a select number of parents who could afford transportation to an out-of-district school.

 Read the full article at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-A-charlatan-in-charge-of-children-5647661.php

 

Search Firm Faulted For Overlooking ‘Ph.D.’ Claims In Carter’s Past; Says It Will Make Good (By Jon Lender)

You’re in front of a Google search screen. You type in “Terrence Carter” — in quotation marks — and then add Chicago, his hometown. Hit “Enter.”

On the first page of results there’s a link for some speakers’ biographies for a 2011 education conference. One of the “Presenter Biographies” is about “Terrence Carter, Ph.D.” and it says he holds doctorate from Stanford University — which he doesn’t.

That’s the process that The Courant went through two weeks ago, finding a public document listing Carter as the holder of a doctorate — several years before his scheduled receipt next month of a Ph.D. from an accredited institute, Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass.

Expanding the search terms slightly — to combinations such as “Terrence Carter, Ph.D.” and Dr. Terrence P. Carter” — yielded a dozen such references.

A member of the search team Nebraska-based McPherson & Jacobson — a Nebraska-based human resources consultant — said she didn’t come up with any Ph.D. or Dr. listing. Carter was never asked about those references during the application process that led to his selection last month by New London’s Board of Education for the job of school superintendent effective Aug. 1.

As a result, the questions that could have been asked in the relatively relaxed setting of a job interview now will be asked in an overheated pressure-cooker situation. The school board Thursday night postponed a vote to approve a contract with the superintendent’s job and ordered its law firm to investigate Carter’s background. The probe is expected to take a month.

The action came after a series of Courant stories starting July 18 raised questions about Carter’s use of the titles Ph.D. and Dr. dating back at least to 2008.

Some officials and citizens in New London said they are wondering why the search consultant that pledged in March to perform “extensive background checks” on the candidates didn’t turn any of this stuff up.

“Why did it take someone from the Hartford Courant to vet the whole situation?” New London resident Eric Parnes asked the school board at its meeting Thursday night.

Read the complete article at: http://www.courant.com/news/politics/hc-lender-carter-resume-0727-20140726,0,1585462.column

 

And one more – file this one under – What the heck was “Dr.” Terrence Carter and the corporate education reform industry geniuses thinking?

PDF: Comparison Of Terrence P. Carter’s 2011 And 2014 Biographies

Paid for by Pelto 2014, Ted Strelez, Treasurer, Christine Ladd, Deputy Treasurer, Approved by Jonathan Pelto

Supporters of Corporate Education Reform now targeting higher education

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While it is obvious that the widespread access to higher educational opportunities is more important than ever, elected officials have been consistently reducing support for our public colleges and universities.

The shocking and disturbing trend has been especially visible here in Connecticut where Governor Dannel “Dan” Malloy has pushed through the deepest cuts in Connecticut history for our public institutions of higher education.  Students and their families are forced to pay more and get less as the state pulls the rug out from under this vital service.

But Malloy is not alone.

On behalf of the corporate education reform industry, President Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is embarking on an expensive, misleading and completely unnecessary rating system that will cost colleges and taxpayers tens of millions of dollars while providing no benefit whatsoever.

On the other hand, the proposal will mean a whole lot of education reform consultants will continue to feed at the public trough.

This past weekend, fellow education advocate Wendy Lecker wrote about this proposal in her Stamford Advocate column entitled, “The consequences of silence.”

Wendy Lecker writes,

When President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan continued and expanded NCLB’s absurd ranking and punishing of public schools based on socio-economic and other inappropriate measures, teachers, parents and public school advocates spoke out. They opposed and continue to oppose shallow ratings that fail to capture the complexities of educating children and that distort the goals of public schools.

As this battle raged, one group that was silent were college officials. That silence had consequences and now these officials are feeling the bite of destructive education policies.

College presidents are up in arms over the Obama administration’s plan to rate colleges and universities, to determine eligibility for federal funds, based on factors such as how many students graduate, how much debt students carry and how much money graduates earn.

One community college leader, alluding to the well-known shortcomings of federal data, feared these ratings would be “garbage in- garbage out.”

Others worry about the one-size-fits-all measure, when colleges have different missions. Moreover, certain criteria reveal more about the ideology of those rating the schools than the quality of the schools themselves. For example, those ranking a school based on its graduates’ earnings value high salaries over professions such as teaching, social work, or other important, but not lucrative, jobs.

Williams College president Adam Falk decried the rating plan as “oversimplified to the point that it actually misleads.”

In a 2011 New Yorker article about U.S. News and World Report’s college ranking system, Malcom Gladwell explored the difficulty of measuring “how well a college manages to inform, inspire, and challenge its students.” He remarked that the proxies used for educational quality “turn out to be flimsy at best.”

As former Obama administration official, Janet Napolitano, now president of the University of California, said last year, “It’s not like — you know, you’re not buying a car or a boat.”

Napolitano overestimated the Obama administration’s regard for a college education. A U.S. Department of Education official recently claimed rating a college is “like rating a blender.”

Inaccurate data, a one-size-fits-all measure, a reductionist view of education — where have I heard all this before? Ah yes, federal and state officials, with the help of billionaires such as Bill Gates and the Walton family, have been inflicting these “reforms” on public schools for more than a decade. And for all that time, those who support a well-rounded K-12 education have been sounding the same alarms now raised by university presidents.

My question is — where have you been, university presidents? As we fight the narrowed curriculum resulting from NCLB and its corollary, the Common Core, which limits a child’s world to an endless series of scripted prompts and canned lessons, why haven’t you spoken out? When the democratic values of our society are being trampled by “reforms” that punish schools serving our neediest children, increase segregation and eliminate democratically elected school boards, where is your outrage? While political leaders define “college ready” as a number on a standardized test, why are you not explaining that college demands so much more than that?

You were likely lucky enough to attend schools that provided a rich and diverse curriculum. So certainly you have read the words of German pastor Martin Neimoller:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The concerted attacks on public education reach beyond local public schools. Our founders maintained that education was the “very essence and foundation of a civilized culture”; crucial to the preservation of our government and our society and “to the encouragement of virtue.” These broad goals have been replaced by the empty notion that our children are the simply means to American economic competitiveness and the false claims that if our schools focus on what can be tested and measured, our economy will succeed. In many respects our children have become the commodity — the raw material from which testing and charter companies profit.

It is high time for university presidents, good government groups and others to join public school advocates in demanding that the democratic purpose of our public schools be restored, lest no one remain when the profit-seekers come for them.

You can read the full commentary piece at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-The-consequences-of-silence-5517995.php

Wendy Lecker and Diane Ravitch on the 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

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Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading voice for public education explains,

As segregation grows worse than it has been for decades, the problems are worsened by current “reforms.” School privatization intensifies segregation, high-stakes testing creates cause for closing struggling schools instead of helping students.

As Wendy Lecker writes, there is a growing grassroots to prevent the corporate takeover of public education and to turn schools into profit centers. The victory of Ras Baraka in Newark is the latest example of a community fighting for dignity.

In many cities and states, this is a bad time for public education. Plutocrats want to take control of the schools and decide which children to educate.

Over time, history teaches us that bad things don’t last forever. This is a democracy, and when people organize and unite, the plutocrats lose.

The following is Wendy Lecker’s latest commentary piece.  It first appeared in this weekend’s Stamford Advocate.  You can read the complete column at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-The-grass-roots-movement-for-educational-5484585.php

The grass-roots movement for educational equality (by Wendy Lecker)

This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education that separate is never equal when it comes to the education of our children.

Judging from the lack of progress in school equity in the past 60 years, it is easy to despair that the promise of Brown will never be fulfilled. Schools are more segregated today than they have been in more than 40 years. Schools serving predominately African-American and Latino students receive far less funding than schools serving predominately white students. African-American and Latino students are much more likely to have inexperienced teachers than their white counterparts.

Compounding these inequities, current school “reforms” disproportionately harm children and communities of color. In Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Newark and elsewhere, officials, often backed by outside billionaires, have waged identical campaigns of destruction: disinvesting in community schools while funding and promoting privately run charter schools, declaring underfunded community schools “failures,” closing them and replacing them with more charters.

The results are devastating. Children are uprooted, interrupting their education and harming their achievement. They often must travel far, through dangerous neighborhoods, to unfamiliar schools. Many replacement charters have exclusive enrollment policies that shut out neighborhood children, and harsh discipline policies that push out even more. Experienced teachers from the community are replaced by outside Teach for America recruits with five weeks of training. Schools that have been community anchors for generations disappear, signaling the demise of the neighborhood.

Parents are not given a choice or a voice. When they protest these policies and instead demand the resources and support their schools and communities need, they are ignored. As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie insisted when faced with grass-roots opposition to his slash-and-burn policies in Newark: “I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark, not them.”

These policies have proven to be failures. Test-based accountability has done nothing to help learning. Charters are no better than public schools, show no innovation and increase segregation. “Turnaround” strategies hurt school performance by destabilizing the school community. Yet despite the evidence, our political leaders push the failed schemes, simply because they are backed by the wealthy and powerful.

Worse still, those who impose this devastation on communities of color against their will cynically don the cloak of Brown. They adopt civil rights rhetoric, claiming they are “saving” children of color, while disempowering their parents and imposing a type of “education” on them to which they would never subject their own children.

So it is easy to fall into despair. Yet, from those very communities reformers seem intent on silencing and destroying, rays of hope are emerging.

Parents in Newark, New Orleans and Chicago have organized joint protests and marches to call attention to the destruction of their community institutions: their public schools. This week, grass-roots parent groups filed civil rights complaints demonstrating that school closures in their cities have disproportionately harmed African-American and Latino students and their families. Beyond these complaints, this 21 city coalition, the Journey for Justice, has presented a positive plan for sustainable schools and neighborhoods; a plan built on real evidence of what works both in schools and in communities.

While school privatizer and former Newark Mayor Cory Booker once said “real change has casualties,” these parents are declaring “our children are not collateral damage.”

And they are taking their fight to the ballot box. This week, voters in Newark beat back the Wall Street-financed charter school board member candidate and elected public school principal Ras Baraka as mayor. The biggest issue in the election was the so-called education reform — disinvestment, school closures, exclusive charters — that has wreaked havoc on families in that city. One supporter noted that people across the country are watching this race, as it is “the beginning of a surge of resistance” against school privatizers.

Here in Connecticut, that surge began in November 2012, when big money tried to eliminate a democratically elected school board in Bridgeport. Despite the millions poured into that effort from outside agitators, Bridgeport voters flatly rejected the attempt to disenfranchise them. Parents are also rising up to protest the profound racial isolation wrought by Connecticut’s charters.

Voters in the cities most affected by education reform are joining together to speak truth to power. Watching this genuine grassroots movement grow gives hope that one day soon, this country will reclaim its commitment to Brown’s vision not only of educational equality, but also of a just and equitable society.

Re-posting Malloy’s Teacher evaluation system is fundamentally and fatally flawed

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Public education advocate Wendy Lecker’s latest column is reaching a national audience thanks to Diane Ravitch’s blog.

Here is a re-post of Saturday’s Wait, What? post about Lecker’s commentary piece.

In her latest MUST READ commentary piece, fellow public education advocate, Wendy Lecker, lays out the facts about Governor Malloy’s unfair, inappropriate and fatally flawed teacher evaluation system.  Like the junk bonds that helped take down Wall Street, Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system is based on junk science and false assumptions.

The question is not whether the state should have a comprehensive teacher evaluation system, but whether the corporate education reform industry will continue to stand in the way of developing one.

While recent attempts by the teacher unions to “correct” the flaws in the Malloy administration’s teacher evaluation system are laudable, the fact is that Malloy’s system cannot be fixed because it is inherently dependent on standardized test scores that fail to evaluate teachers on factors that are within their control.

As Wendy Lecker explains, the present system is not only unfair but is actually a useless waste of  a massive amount of time and money.  It needs to be repealed and replaced by a teacher evaluation program that actually enhances the quality of education in our schools.

Wendy Lecker’s piece from this weekend’s Stamford Advocate and Hearst Media Group papers is entitled, Solution to failed tests is not more tests

Fact: Connecticut’s teacher evaluation plan, because it relies on student standardized test scores, is fundamentally flawed. Student test scores cannot measure a teacher’s contribution to student learning. In fact, the president of the Educational Testing Service recently called evaluation systems based on student test scores “bad science.”

Rather than admit failure, the Malloy administration is trying futilely to “fix” the fatal flaw. Last week, PEAC, the panel charged with developing Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system, working under the direction of Commissioner Stefan Pryor, approved a change which calls for more standardized tests to be included in a teacher’s evaluation.

The commissioner’s “solution” is to add interim tests to a teacher’s rating. Determining what tests will be used, how they will be aligned to the standardized tests, and how all the test scores will be rolled into one “score” for teachers, will likely render this change completely unworkable.

However, there is an even larger issue at play. Will the addition of more tests in a teacher’s evaluation help us measure whether a teacher is effective?

According to the Connecticut Supreme Court, Connecticut’s public schools must prepare children “to participate in democratic institutions, and to prepare them to attain productive employment and otherwise to contribute to the state’s economy, or to progress on to higher education.”

Thus, we want our children to acquire the skills and knowledge that will enable them to succeed in college and in life. We want teachers who will help our children develop these skills.

Standardized tests have no bearing on college success. Moreover, although standardized tests are supposed to measure cognitive skills, research from MIT has shown that increasing test scores does not increase cognitive skills.

Even more striking is that cognitive skills, while important, are not the most important skills in determining success either in college or in life after college. Research has shown again and again that non-cognitive skills such as self-discipline, taking responsibility, and listening skills are more critical.

A recent comprehensive study by Northwestern Professor Kirabo Jackson found that children with teachers who help them develop non-cognitive skills have much better outcomes than those who have teachers who may help them raise test scores. Jackson found that every standard deviation increase in non-cognitive skills corresponds to a significant decrease in the drop-out risk and increased rates of high school graduation. By contrast, one standard deviation increase in standardized test scores has a very weak, often non-existent, relationship to these outcomes. Test scores also predict less than 2 percent of the variability in absences and suspensions, and under 10 percent of the variability in on-time grade progression, for example.

Increases in non-cognitive abilities are also strongly correlated with other adult outcomes, such as a lower likelihood of arrest, a higher rate of employment and higher earnings. Increased test scores are not.

In short, focusing on non-cognitive abilities, those not measured by test scores, are more important in predicting success in high school and beyond.

Jackson also found that a teacher’s supposed effect on test scores is not related to how well that teacher can improve non-cognitive skills.

Moreover, a new statement by the American Statistical Association reminds us that ranking teachers based on test scores does not even work for measuring their effect on cognitive skills.

ASA notes that teachers account for 1-14 percent of the variability in student standardized test scores. The majority of variability in test scores results from “system-level conditions”; meaning everything affecting a student outside the teacher’s control: the child’s socio-economic status, parental background, language barriers, medical issues, student mobility, etc. Rating systems cannot eliminate the “noise” caused by these other factors.

ASA further states that test scores at best “predict only performance on the test.” This conclusion confirms Jackson’s results, i.e that tests cannot predict how well a student will succeed in school or life.

In the context of this evidence, what does the PEAC change mean?

By adding more tests of the same skills in the same subjects, PEAC merely added more meaningless “noise.” This addition will not give us any better picture of how well a teacher teaches.

Worse still, adding more tests increases the focus on tests, increases the frequency of testing, and distracts us from considering the skills teachers should be helping children develop. And since Connecticut’s evaluation system completely ignores these non-cognitive skills, they will be de-emphasized in school.

Meaningful evaluations systems can be developed, but relying on faulty measures is simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and taxpayers deserve better.

You can read the full commentary piece here: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Solution-to-failed-tests-is-not-more-tests-5449394.php

Malloy’s Teacher evaluation system is fundamentally and fatally flawed

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In her latest MUST READ commentary piece, fellow public education advocate, Wendy Lecker, lays out the facts about Governor Malloy’s unfair, inappropriate and fatally flawed teacher evaluation system.  Like the junk bonds that helped take down Wall Street, Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system is based on junk science and false assumptions.

The question is not whether the state should have a comprehensive teacher evaluation system, but whether the corporate education reform industry will continue to stand in the way of developing one.

While recent attempts by the teacher unions to “correct” the flaws in the Malloy administration’s teacher evaluation system are laudable, the fact is that Malloy’s system cannot be fixed because it is inherently dependent on standardized test scores that fail to evaluate teachers on factors that are within their control.

As Wendy Lecker explains, the present system is not only unfair but is actually a useless waste of  a massive amount of time and money.  It needs to be repealed and replaced by a teacher evaluation program that actually enhances the quality of education in our schools.

Wendy Lecker’s piece from this weekend’s Stamford Advocate and Hearst Media Group papers is entitled, Solution to failed tests is not more tests

Fact: Connecticut’s teacher evaluation plan, because it relies on student standardized test scores, is fundamentally flawed. Student test scores cannot measure a teacher’s contribution to student learning. In fact, the president of the Educational Testing Service recently called evaluation systems based on student test scores “bad science.”

Rather than admit failure, the Malloy administration is trying futilely to “fix” the fatal flaw. Last week, PEAC, the panel charged with developing Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system, working under the direction of Commissioner Stefan Pryor, approved a change which calls for more standardized tests to be included in a teacher’s evaluation.

The commissioner’s “solution” is to add interim tests to a teacher’s rating. Determining what tests will be used, how they will be aligned to the standardized tests, and how all the test scores will be rolled into one “score” for teachers, will likely render this change completely unworkable.

However, there is an even larger issue at play. Will the addition of more tests in a teacher’s evaluation help us measure whether a teacher is effective?

According to the Connecticut Supreme Court, Connecticut’s public schools must prepare children “to participate in democratic institutions, and to prepare them to attain productive employment and otherwise to contribute to the state’s economy, or to progress on to higher education.”

Thus, we want our children to acquire the skills and knowledge that will enable them to succeed in college and in life. We want teachers who will help our children develop these skills.

Standardized tests have no bearing on college success. Moreover, although standardized tests are supposed to measure cognitive skills, research from MIT has shown that increasing test scores does not increase cognitive skills.

Even more striking is that cognitive skills, while important, are not the most important skills in determining success either in college or in life after college. Research has shown again and again that non-cognitive skills such as self-discipline, taking responsibility, and listening skills are more critical.

A recent comprehensive study by Northwestern Professor Kirabo Jackson found that children with teachers who help them develop non-cognitive skills have much better outcomes than those who have teachers who may help them raise test scores. Jackson found that every standard deviation increase in non-cognitive skills corresponds to a significant decrease in the drop-out risk and increased rates of high school graduation. By contrast, one standard deviation increase in standardized test scores has a very weak, often non-existent, relationship to these outcomes. Test scores also predict less than 2 percent of the variability in absences and suspensions, and under 10 percent of the variability in on-time grade progression, for example.

Increases in non-cognitive abilities are also strongly correlated with other adult outcomes, such as a lower likelihood of arrest, a higher rate of employment and higher earnings. Increased test scores are not.

In short, focusing on non-cognitive abilities, those not measured by test scores, are more important in predicting success in high school and beyond.

Jackson also found that a teacher’s supposed effect on test scores is not related to how well that teacher can improve non-cognitive skills.

Moreover, a new statement by the American Statistical Association reminds us that ranking teachers based on test scores does not even work for measuring their effect on cognitive skills.

ASA notes that teachers account for 1-14 percent of the variability in student standardized test scores. The majority of variability in test scores results from “system-level conditions”; meaning everything affecting a student outside the teacher’s control: the child’s socio-economic status, parental background, language barriers, medical issues, student mobility, etc. Rating systems cannot eliminate the “noise” caused by these other factors.

ASA further states that test scores at best “predict only performance on the test.” This conclusion confirms Jackson’s results, i.e that tests cannot predict how well a student will succeed in school or life.

In the context of this evidence, what does the PEAC change mean?

By adding more tests of the same skills in the same subjects, PEAC merely added more meaningless “noise.” This addition will not give us any better picture of how well a teacher teaches.

Worse still, adding more tests increases the focus on tests, increases the frequency of testing, and distracts us from considering the skills teachers should be helping children develop. And since Connecticut’s evaluation system completely ignores these non-cognitive skills, they will be de-emphasized in school.

Meaningful evaluations systems can be developed, but relying on faulty measures is simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and taxpayers deserve better.

You can read the full commentary piece here: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Solution-to-failed-tests-is-not-more-tests-5449394.php

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