Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Some Edu-news to be Thankful For

With so much of my blogging lately being focused on cause for alarm, I want to focus today on some reasons to be encouraged:

1) In New York City, an advisory panel of eight members appointed by New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner voted yesterday against granting a waiver to publishing executive Cathie Black to become NYC Schools Chancellor. According to a Quinnipiac University poll, sixty-two percent of NYC public school parents didn't approve of Black's appointment. The battle is not over yet, but hooray for the panel's drawing the line and for successful activism.

2) This study done by the non-partisan Education Trust blasts the for-profit university sector. It seems like the politicians might actually listen and act on this one. Maybe they'll start to listen to and act on the alarms being sounded about the K-12 for-profit education industry.

3) Some school districts in states that won Race to the Top funding are giving the money back, either because it will cost more than it's worth to implement the changes or because they don't think the reforms are the right thing to do.

I applaud the courage and good work of the activists, researchers, and leaders who have made these positive developments happen. I am grateful to them for giving me some edu-things to be thankful for this holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's the DOE Policies that Stink, Not the DOE People

I'm still at work on some bigger pieces, particularly on TFA, charters, and teacher quality.

In the meantime, this Education Week article entitled "Friends to Teachers at the U.S. Department of Education" written by Jonathan Eckert and Jason Raymond caught my eye when it was published a couple of weeks ago. Eckert and Raymond were two of eight teachers working at the Department of Education in the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship Program. I remember thinking that since lately I'd had such negative associations with the Department of Education, to the point that I was considering jumping on board with George Wood's idea of eliminating it, it was good for me to read this, to get some sense of the folks working at the Department of Education and what their perspectives might be, so that I don't jump off the cliff into over-simplifying the education reform debate into "good" and "evil" sides.

I filed it away and forgot about it until today when I read Anthony Cody's post on his blog for Teacher Magazine. Anthony described a disappointing and thus far fruitless process he had gone through to collect feedback (in the form of letters) from teachers to present to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Cody also offers a persuasive critique of teacher outreach materials and programs offered by the Department of Education under Duncan.

Cody's post apparently had been written in response to the post of another teaching Ambassador Fellow and fellow Teacher Magazine blogger, Patrick Ledesa, who had written in support of the people at the Department of Education and in support of the original article. Ledesa acknowledges the problems with some current policies and says that
"we as teachers have the right to be angry about the simplistic portrayal of the problems in public education" 
but that that anger must be channeled productively and in a more informed way. The main point of the authors of the original article seemed to be that in the bureaucracy of 4,300, they were surprised and heartened by the
"remarkable number of smart, passionate, hard-working people who were genuinely concerned about the needs of teachers and students." 
I don't think that any of us, including Cody, who are frustrated with N.C.L.B. and Race to the Top would deny that. There are always dedicated people with sound ideas who work for the government. My father was one of them. He worked at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare before it was split up and he worked at the Department of Energy for many years after that. He was a dedicated civil servant who liked the people he worked with and who was genuinely concerned with the ramifications of his work, and so were many of his co-workers. But that doesn't mean he agreed with all of the policies coming down from the top or that he even had anything to do with some of them.

What Cody is targeting are the policies from the top that are wrong-headed and not the intelligence, intentions, civility, or dedication of the bureaucrats that administer and study certain programs that are in the fine print. The point isn't that Department of Education workers, including Secretary Duncan aren't dedicated and smart, it's that Duncan's vision and policies aren't smart and they won't work. Furthermore, I'm sure he's darn nice to career educators when he interacts with them and he says that teachers are valuable and that he respects them, but time and time again his other public statements, his policies, and his choice of advisers don't reflect that.

Friday, November 12, 2010

As New York City Public Schools Go, So Goes the World: Fight the Appointment of Cathie Black

I told myself yesterday that I would stop thinking about the whole NYCPS New Chancellor debacle, yet, here I am.

While I find the choice of Cathie Black deeply troubling (I don't live in New York, but it's the most or the second most populous school system in the country), I am buoyed by The New York Times surprisingly and sensibly critical coverage of this development, especially given my current grief over the death of quality journalism as I know it.

As The Washington Post provided near rubber stamp coverage and editorials (folks such as Bill Turque and Valerie Strauss excepted) of the Rhee/Fenty administration, so has The New York Times for Klein/Bloomberg and their mayoral and new education reform proteges.

The NYT coverage has expressed skepticism in the appointment of someone so inexperienced here. They've reported on the secret and undemocratic path that Bloomberg took in deciding to replace Klein with Black, and this piece implies cronyism in the choice. There's this article on all the challenges that would face Black. And then there's the coverage which depicts legitimate obstacles to Black's appointment. Finally, there's this "Room for Debate" forum which asks, "Who's Qualified to Run New York City Schools?" I was pleased by the thoughtfulness of many of the responses. Now, I haven't seen the New York Times editorials or columns yet. I'm dubious, though, because, for example, The Washington Post's education journalism has been far superior to the commentary.

New York University education historian Diane Ravitch wrote this illuminating blog post on the decision for The New York Review of Books. It's a scholarly look at the history of New York City Public Schools, specifically at their central administration, and while her tone is skeptical, she ends with the sentiment that New Yorkers should "give her [Black] a chance" and "wish her luck." A commenter says that her "graciousness and let's wait and see attitude should be emulated."

I agree, but only with half of this. Many Washingtonians greeted Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee with cautious optimism only to wish they hadn't. Even New Yorkers who supported Klein aren't happy with Black's impending appointment. I mean, haven't we given these business oligarchs enough of a chance to know their approach isn't appropriate for education (not to mention business--look at our economy!)? Haven't at least some of their reforms been tried previously and been shown not to work? Are the people of New York City now supposed to bend over while their public school system is being spanked into annihilation? Cathie Black has asked for "patience" while she "gets up to speed on the issues facing K-12 education." I thought that education reform was "urgent" and that we weren't supposed to waste our time "joining hands and singing 'Kumbaya'."

I say: Fight Black's appointment first. If that fails, then New York City will see if they are forced to be patient and to wish her luck.

UPDATE I: I am starting to wonder if maybe Cathie Black isn't being used as some theorize Harriet Miers was--as a sacrificial lamb so that Bush could appoint John Roberts without much protest. Bloomberg does have a history of appointing people from the business sector for public sector jobs, though, and I'm not sure who John Roberts' educational equivalent would be. Michelle Rhee? Howard Fuller?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What Happened to Joel Klein?

I've been thinking all day:

What is up with Joel Klein becoming Darth Vader? What happened to that guy? How does someone go from being a nice Jewish boy from Queens, a Supreme Court clerk, and a Department of Justice anti-trust lawyer to being the grim reaper of public education? 

Anyone? (Please comment.)

Goldman Sachs Gets Serious About (profiting from) Charter Schools

Well, well, well, if it isn't Goldman Sachs getting into the public, I mean private, I mean charter school business:

From a press release on Market Watch (I found this thanks to a post on Schools Matter):
"Providing financing for charter school facilities that benefit low- and moderate-income families is a critical component of the firm's commitment to comprehensive community development," said Alicia Glen, Managing Director and Head of the Urban Investment Group at Goldman Sachs. "To date, the Urban Investment Group has committed approximately $150 million for charter school facilities in New York and New Jersey, and we are thrilled to partner with LISC, who has been a leader in charter school finance."
Just a few weeks ago, Dana Goldstein reported on the Teach for America-Goldman Sachs Summer Internship Program. So much for encouraging those brand new teachers to learn and reflect about, say, quality teaching during the summer.

Too bad this, or now any, analogy won't show up on the SATs:

Goldman Sachs is to quality education for low and moderate income kids as BP is to a healthy eco-system in the Gulf of Mexico.

Will Fox News Soon Embrace Education Reform?

So, as I wrote yesterday,

Joel Klein resigned from his position as Chancellor of NYC public schools. Bloomberg intends to replace Mr. Klein with Cathie Black, a publishing executive with no education experience. Bloomberg's move is breathtaking in its stupidity, but given past appointments of his and his general approach, it's hardly surprising.

In this astute take on this series of events, education journalist Dana Goldstein asks, "Why on Earth" Bloomberg would appoint someone with Black's lack of qualification, and even lack of stated interest in education reform? Well, maybe because Bloomberg thinks the business model can successfully apply to running public institutions and that market-based solutions will bring success in education reform? I don't know, though, it could be that he is just an idiot. Goldstein points out the "irony" of Bloomberg appointing someone who will ostensibly help NYCPS graduates gain the skills they need to attain jobs when the industry from which Black hails is "hemorrhaging" jobs.

According to this, even parents who supported Klein are questioning this appointment. The founder of New York Charter Parents Association, Mona Davids, sounds skeptical here, as well (the expansion of charter schools was a huge part of the Klein/Bloomberg agenda): "She was surprised by Black’s appointment." As to the NYC charter school where Black sits on the board: "And, the board meetings are not public. Black sits on a board that is not accountable, that is not transparent, so for me it doesn’t bode well." 

Now, turning to Klein, he is taking a job as an executive vice-president at Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, you know, the same News Corp that owns Fox News. According to a blog at Education Week:
"He will join News Corp., the media company founded by Rupert Murdoch, as an executive vice president reporting directly to Murdoch. He also will join the company's board of directors. In a press release, the company said that Klein would advise on a number of issues, including development of business strategies for the 'emerging educational marketplace.' "
Somehow the "development of business strategies for the 'emerging educational marketplace'" at the home of Fox News doesn't sit well with me. Will the likes of Glen Beck and Sean Hannity of Fox News take a break from bashing climate change science to embrace teacher bashing and the market-based, privatizing education reforms advocated by the Obama administration, but more importantly by conservative ideologues like Broad and Walton, and libertarian-leaning (it seems to me) billionaire Gates?  But Fox News doesn't promote market-based, right-wing ideology, does it? Fox News doesn't promote reducing the government's role (though not government dollars, of course) in American institutions and life, does it? Fox News doesn't have any influence, does it? If we thought bleeding-heart hack Nicholas Kristof got education wrong, we'd better just wait and see.

I realize that I probably sound like a conspiracy theory-crazed lunatic. Believe me, in this case I'd much rather be crazy than right.

UPDATE 1: Here's Juan Gonzalez's (of the NY Daily News) take on Joel Klein's tenure and departure.

UPDATE 2: I've been thinking all day: What is up with Joel Klein becoming Darth Vader? What happened to that guy? How does someone go from being an anti-trust lawyer at the Justice Department to being the grim reaper of public education? Anyone? (If you have a theory, please comment on my next post dedicated to the topic.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Corporate Executive for Corporate-style Reforms

In case you haven't heard the news. . .

Name of the New York City Chancellor who resigned:  Joel Klein

Job he's going to take: Executive vice-president for News Corp

His replacement: Cathie Black, a publishing executive/ oligarch

Process by which she was chosen: A public search was conducted, in some public somewhere. Gotham Schools says they know nothing of this.

Black's experience with education: Zero, except her own children were educated at Connecticut boarding schools and she sits on the board of an NYC charter school.

My reaction: Sarah Palin is starting to look reeaaally qualified.

So much for Bloomberg's being subtle about what his real agenda is.


UPDATE I: For Dana Goldstein's thoughts, go here.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Race to Remedial Classes

I've been hard at work on pieces and posts about TFA, corporate influence in public education, the Obamas' choice of school for their children, charter schools, and teacher quality. I've got credit recovery on the brain, as well.

In the meantime, this article in Richmond Magazine by Richmond-based education journalist Chris Dovi about the toxic impact of the S.O.L.s (Standards of Learning) on the quality of public education in Virginia is definitely worth a read. It is of particular interest to me given my past experience teaching in public schools in Virginia and current one of parenting two Virginia public schoolers, but no matter where you live or work, it's a must read. Dovi's central point is that the S.O.L.s are preparing the students for the test, but only the tests. Many students who perform well on these tests get to college unprepared for the rigors of the college curriculum. These aren't struggling students he's describing; they're good students who are going to colleges like V.C.U. (Virginia Commonwealth University).

When I was in ed school at George Washington University in the late 1990s, pre-N.C.L.B. (No Child Left Behind), we often discussed the impending arrival of high-stakes standardized testing. I can't think of one professor I had who wasn't against them. They weren't against standardized tests per se, but against using them as they are currently being used, i.e., for accountability purposes, or in layman's terms, as the primary evaluator of  student learning and teacher effectiveness. Because G.W. is in D.C., we looked closely at the S.O.L.s. What Dovi describes happening in this article with the S.O.L.s  under N.C.L.B. is exactly what my professors predicted would happen and what I saw happening when I was a VA teacher.

Virginia's public education system and the S.O.L.s are held up as a model for other states. Furthermore, with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's push to renew E.S.E.A. (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which became N.C.L.B.) and the narrow focus in his Race to the Top bribery scheme on using standardized tests as the ultimate tool to evaluate student learning and teacher performance, and then tying test scores to teacher pay (and I no longer care if they're value-added since that's also problematic), we can only expect more of what Dovi describes.

Well, what's the alternative? you might ask. How about evaluating student and teacher performance this way? Or this way? In the meantime, at the very least, Dovi reports that there's talk at the Virginia Department of Education of making the standards and curriculum more rigorous and moving away from using tests with multiple-choice questions.

I used to call N.C.L.B. No Child Left Untested. In honor of Chris Dovi's account, I think I'll call it: No Child Left Behind Until They Get to College and Have to Drop Out Because They're So Unprepared. With Obama and Duncan urging a renewal of N.C.L.B. and the standardized-test accountability measures in Race to the Top, I 'm starting to run out of hope that things will change.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

For Education, Election Results Mean More of the Same

Yesterday, the Democrats lost the House and hung on to the Senate, barely. In the meantime, we still have Obama in the White House. So, what do the election results mean for education policy?

Valerie Strauss over at The Washington Post disagrees with fellow education columnist Jay Matthews that a Republican Congress will be slow to push ahead with a rewrite of N.C.L.B. legislation. Andrew Kelly, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, says that although they may wish to increase local control and decrease federal funding, that many Republicans agree with the Obama Administration on items such as merit pay and charter schools. Even so, if history is any indication, the Republican-controlled House won't do much on education, especially if they have to get legislation through a Democratic-controlled Senate. Other good run downs on the ed policy implications of last night's election results are at Public Policy Blogger and Education Week.

I don't generally subscribe to the notion that there's no difference between the two parties. That attitude is in part what cost us an Al Gore presidency back in 2000 and gave us eight years of Dubya. I voted Democratic yesterday and unless a Social Democrat comes along (hahaha!), I certainly will in 2012. That being said, on education, there really is no difference between the parties. I seriously doubt that the Senate or White House would obstruct legislation coming out of the House. And don't stab your finger in the air at me about this, Obama, because I'll stab mine in the air right back at you. On education, to the right of George Bush sounds kind of like, well, the Obama administration with it's anti-union, anti-democratic, pro-privatization education policies.

The Tea Party and Libertarians, both who are popular right now, might take issue with the education policies espoused by both the Democrats and the Republicans because of the strong central control that Arne Duncan is pushing for. In fact, that's why you almost never hear Republicans talk about education these days: they don't want to bring up their support of a reform policy that includes strong centralized control paired with curbs on local control.

In my very conservative district, VA-07, the well-funded and -known Eric Cantor won only 59% of the vote, with unfunded and unknowns Democrat Rick Waugh and Independent Tea Party candidate Floyd Bayne winning 34% and 6.5% of the vote, respectively. I'm not sure where Waugh stood on education issues. Cantor is owned by corporations, so I can't see him standing in the way of corporate-sponsored education reform. On the other hand, in conservative Hanover County, for example, where I live, which has a school board that is appointed by an elected Board of Supervisors, (editors note: I corrected this after posting) the schools are known as some of the best in the state. I can't see the conservatives here, or progressives for that matter, wanting to turn over local control to the feds or to outsiders.

Governors including Virginia's Governor McDonnell, as the Jay Matthews column highlights, are probably another matter. Governor McDonnell seems to be just as eager as Arne Duncan to bring in private companies to open charters and to take over struggling public schools.