TeacherKen nails Race to the Top P-E-R-F-E-C-T-L-Y #RTTT #edreform @GovernorMarkell @RodelDe #lies

Kenneth Bernstein: The Department of Faith-Based Education Initiatives


Does that title surprise you? It shouldn’t. When a department and its leadership are advocating for courses of actions either lacking research supporting effectiveness or — even worse — where the research clearly demonstrates that the course of action does not work or provides inaccurate and unreliable information, to insist on pursuing such a course can only be because one has a blind faith, is operating on the basis of theological or ideological purity.

That is not scientific. It certainly should not be how the United States Department of Education operates.

Sadly, that is the clear pattern of this administration under the leadership of Arne Duncan.

Consider Race to the Top (RttT). States that wish to receive that infusion of funds were faced with three critical issues. They had to significantly tie teacher evaluation to student test scores. They had to lift the caps on the number of charter schools. Finally, states had to turn to one of four methods of addressing “failing” schools.

Let’s take the “failing” schools first. Those determinations are being made on the basis of student scores on tests that by the administration’s own admission are seriously lacking — after all, why else commit more than $300 million to two consortia of states to devise new and better assessments? Yet in the meantime both under RttT and the Blue Print states are supposed to decide what the worst five percent of schools are using the current tests. The methods of restructuring from which states can choose are described in this speech by Secretary Duncan. There are several problems. First, the claims he makes for success in Chicago are not accurate — as a number of sources have noted, the higher scores for the schools he cites were not with the same students tested for the lower scores. Second, as Diane Ravitch and others have noted, there is no evidence that following any of these methods has ever improved the performance of schools.

For some reason this administration is willing to insist on expansion of charter schools without sufficient controls. Yes, there are some charter schools that do very well. The most thorough examination of charter schools nationally is the CREDO study out of Stanford University. In that study we learn that 17 percent of charters perform better than the public schools from which they draw, 37 percent perform worse, and the remaining 46 percent perform no differently. The requirement to lift the caps on charters has no requirement for control for quality. Based on the record, there is better than a 2-1 chance that the additional charters will perform worse than there is that they will perform better than the local public schools.

Finally there is the insistence upon tying teacher evaluation to student scores on tests, despite the wealth of evidence that we lack a reliable way of ascertaining the teacher effects, even with value-added methodologies. The Department of Education should know this, having commissioned a study from Mathematica which found that attempting to determine a superior or inferior teacher using value-added methodologies resulted in a 37 percent mis-classification when using two years of data, 26 percent when using three years, and even with 10 years still had a 12 percent mis-classification. As the authors of the report noted;

These results strongly support the notion that policymakers must carefully consider system error rates in designing and implementing teacher performance measurement systems based on value-added models, especially when using these estimates to make high-stakes decisions regarding teachers (such as tenure and firing decisions).

A subsequent study just released offered clear reasons — teacher value-added scores, regardless of method used, were unstable, and largely an artifact of the students for whom the teacher was responsible: in one case a teacher was classified in the lowest decile (10th) the first year and the highest the second. Why? The first year the teacher had a very high rate of English Language Learners, and the second year did not. As the notable authors of this study wrote,

we conclude that caution should be exercised in using student achievement gains and value-added methods to assess teachers’ effectiveness, especially when the stakes are high.

Expand charters without controls for quality even though overall they do not perform better than regular public schools. Reconstitute/reorganize schools using methods that are not shown to improve education or teaching. Evaluate teacher performance using measures that the experts demonstrate are neither stable or reliable. And argue to the American people that the Department of Education is thereby improving American schools and the learning of our students? Where’s the evidence?

And absent the evidence, on what basis other than ideology can one justify demanding such changes?

So perhaps my title is appropriate: Arne Duncan should have his job retitled as the “Secretary of Faith-Based Education Initiatives.”



The Rent is Too Damn High! Jimmy McMillan stands out in N.Y. governor debate #NY #truth

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Randi Weingarten: Superintendents: Don’t Scapegoat Your Teachers #HuffPo

Randi Weingarten: Superintendents: Don’t Scapegoat Your Teachers


Last week in the Washington Post, a group of school superintendents — two of whom, Chicago Public Schools chief executive Ron Huberman and D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, have just announced their resignations — laid out a “manifesto” for fixing America’s schools. Although lofty in its stated aim to set a course for improving public education, the manifesto offered few concrete solutions, with one notable exception: shifting the sole responsibility to teachers. Sadly, such a view ignores both the full extent of the superintendents’ own responsibilities and the reality that many factors affect children’s success.

We at the American Federation of Teachers would suggest a different approach. Let’s come together — teachers, superintendents, principals, parents and community members — and develop a joint manifesto about how to best educate all of our kids. After all, superintendents have a responsibility not only to demand excellence and accountability from others, but also to ensure that teachers have the resources to help their students succeed.

Educating children is complex work. No one approach will provide all children with the first-rate education they deserve. So we must simultaneously build on what works and fix what’s broken, much as high-performing school districts and nations with high student-achievement rankings already do.

In that spirit, here is our vision for how to create great schools for all children.

Collaboration matters

Earlier this month, the AFT brought superintendents, elected officials and teachers union leaders from 35 districts across the country to Washington to compare notes on successful reform efforts. Although such teamwork and shared responsibility rarely make headlines, they are the essential ingredients for lasting change.

In Lowell, Mass., for example, collaboration between teachers and management has significantly raised student achievement. In Hillsborough County, Fla., district and union leaders worked together to overhaul teacher development, mentoring and evaluation practices, also leading to significant achievement gains. While the tactics vary from district to district, these success stories share a common approach rooted in collaboration, or what one union president and her district superintendent call “solving problems, not winning arguments.”

Great teachers can be developed

Not everyone is cut out for the classroom, as the superintendents’ manifesto rightly noted. But the manifesto missed key points: It can take new teachers time to reach their full potential, and it can take other teachers time to adjust to changing demands. The AFT has worked with experts and educators to create a framework for teacher development and evaluation that is being implemented in more than 50 school districts. Its purpose is to enable new and struggling teachers to improve, to help good teachers become great ones and to identify those who should not be in the profession. Effective evaluation systems can provide the feedback necessary to spur improvement, as well as an objective standard for high-stakes decisions about which teachers just shouldn’t teach, rendering moot the issue of whether tenure protects bad teachers (as some people claim).

In focusing so intently on what we ourselves have decried as the “glacial” process for teacher disciplinary proceedings, the superintendents ignored another serious problem that has a dramatic effect on educational quality: turnover. Nearly half of new teachers leave in their first 5 years, a churning that costs American school systems $7 billion annually. Turnover has a steep educational price tag, as well. Research shows that teachers are most effective after they have 3 to 5 years’ experience. While more must be done to prepare teachers before they step into a classroom, supporting and retaining good teachers is both an educational and an economic imperative.

Teachers need tools and support

Educators can’t do their jobs well without opportunities for meaningful professional development, an effective curriculum and adequate working conditions. The AFT and other unions try to do our part, but we are ultimately negotiating with others to secure what teachers need. That’s where superintendents and principals come in. They have a responsibility to ensure that teachers have the tools to help students achieve excellence.

High standards are important, but they’re just a start

The AFT supports the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an effort coordinated by the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Thirty-six states plan to adopt this initiative. If implemented properly (no sure thing, in this time of austerity), these standards can help correct the serious problems that are a legacy of No Child Left Behind, including a narrowing of the curriculum and an overemphasis on preparation for standardized tests.

But such standards are meaningless without training and assessments aligned to them and, crucially, without time for teachers to prepare for them and for students to achieve them.

We must innovate — and imitate

It is essential that we explore promising new approaches. At the same time, we must replicate and expand established, proven programs. Because there are endless ideas about how to improve teaching and learning, it is crucial that we look to the evidence. Where we see success, whether in public, private or charter schools, we should learn from it. And we must follow the lead of top-performing countries, such as Finland, replicating their best approaches.

We accept and expect accountability, but we also demand shared responsibility

Accountability is a tool, not an endpoint. Our aim should be to help all children succeed. But when accountability, rather than shared responsibility, becomes the goal, the focus shifts to how to do better on tests. In its recurring emphasis on “performance,” the superintendents’ manifesto missed this crucial point. Everyone with responsibility for our children’s education and well-being, including teachers, administrators, elected officials, parents and students, should be held accountable.

Teachers can’t do this alone

Public schools have an obligation to help all children learn, regardless of parental engagement, native language or family income. But to succeed, educators need help. Consider the District, where 3 out of 10 children were living in poverty last year.

That’s why “wraparound services,” such as safe and enriching after-school programs, health services and tutoring, are so essential.

As Jonathan P. Raymond, the superintendent of the Sacramento public schools, wrote recently: “We have to stop blaming teachers for problems that have multiple causes, ranging from poor administrative oversight and accountability to a lack of parent engagement. I know how hard teachers work to educate every child and challenge students at their ability level. We need to work equally hard to give our teachers the tools and supports they need to be successful. Let’s stop scapegoating and come together to find solutions that work.”

We must keep the public in public schools

Strong schools help create vibrant communities, and engaged communities in turn help our schools thrive. Our children’s educations should not be the sole provenance of any one group, whether administrators or teachers. Parents, faith communities, business leaders and others are critical to a successful public school system. All must be partners in ensuring that every child gets a great education.

No one, least of all those of us whose life’s work is public education, will be satisfied until we have helped all students prepare for the demands of our ever-changing knowledge economy. Getting to that point, particularly during one of the toughest downturns of our lifetimes, will require that we all do more — and do it together.

Update: On Oct. 16, Philadelphia superintendent Arlene Ackerman issued a statement on why she disagrees with the manifesto, check out the Valerie Strauss column in the Washington Post.


Delaware’s Not Waiting… “Waiting for Superman” review by Paul Herdman of Rodel

Rodel Action Center | Delaware’s Not Waiting…

Waiting for “Superman” is a powerful story about the inability of America’s public education system to fulfill a basic promise to our children: that every child has the right to a decent shot at the American Dream. Tied to that, it’s a story about how the nation’s education system isn’t keeping up with those of other higher-performing nations.  The statistics are sobering, and the call to action clear.

The story is told through the eyes of five children across the country whose life choices are limited by their zip codes.  The film also unpacks why our schools were the envy of the world fifty years ago and why many don’t work for the nation’s needs of today.

Even after seven years of teaching and another 15 years in education policy and philanthropy, it is hard to understand how this country got so far off track.

The film made me cry and it made me angry.  My wife and I watched the film together and whispered to each other about how each of our three children reminded us of the children in the film.  It was heartbreaking to see how hard the parents of these children had to work to find a school that they believed in, and it made me feel guilty for the options we had that they did not.  For us, the litmus test for “good enough” is whether we would send our child there.  At this point, I’d argue that we have a way to go in terms of providing enough of the great options that parents need.

One form of choice comes in the form of our charter schools, and in Delaware our charter school community enrolls about 8% of the student population.  However, we also know that just one-third of these 18 schools made the type of academic progress that they should have made last year. Yet, because of their ability to make decisions quickly and use resources flexibly, several charters are some of the top performers in the state, and often have been first out of the gate in learning from the world’s best, e.g., by extending the school day and adopting curricular strategies that work, like Singapore Math.  Our charters offer some great options and there are some great options in our districts, just simply not enough of either.

Some will argue that this is a movie about charters versus district schools or about unionized versus non-union schools.  I can understand that take, but I think the director, Davis Guggenheim, simply used that frame to tell a much more important story:  That there simply aren’t enough great schools— charter or district —in this country.  And driving this paucity of options is the limited supply of great teachers.  The film drove home how devastating even one ineffective teacher can be and how tough it will be to build a policy framework that ensures that we have a great one in every Delaware classroom.

Related, the film also digs into the role of unions, and I would argue that we need to accept that collective bargaining agreements—which traditionally have treated all teachers interchangeably, regardless of performance—are one part of the problem that needs to change with the times.  Yet we also have to acknowledge that there is movement on this front.  Our colleagues at the Delaware State Education Association should be lauded for being proactive in building Delaware’s efforts to reform our teacher evaluation system in a way that, for the first time, will incorporate student performance in a meaningful way.

Paul, the film has been praised, parsed and attacked by many differing factions so far. Your take is fine, so are others that see it as a union busting, corporatist, pro charter movie that is bent on driving privatization of our public schools….but to me only one real question remains:

Isn’t Rodel supposed to be our Superman? What about Vision 2015? The cut score change and the backtracking in the wake of the Race to the Top “victory” has been astounding thus far….. Next summer when DCAS round one comes out, Delaware school reform and it’s distinct bent towards supporting charters and outside lead partners will be revealed for the failure it has been….. If I had a production budget my movie pick for next June would be “Waiting for DCAS”…. a statistical thriller with a predictable end. All courtesy of ed reformers who will not support basic ideas like smaller classes and world class teachers in the same sentence or with $119 million in RTTT dollars……a cryin’ shame if you ask me….