Thursday, January 29, 2015

Duncan goes to war with Chicago over PARCC testing delay

Arne Duncan gives his more-testing announcement at Seaton Elementary School in Washington, D.C.
Sometimes the news is so bizarre that I can't believe what I'm reading. Case in point -- the latest on Chicago testing madness. First Arne Duncan gives his more-and-earlier testing speech to the nation. The speech is an attempt to pacify the testing industry and its backers and somehow push a new version of No Child Left Behind through a Republican controlled congress.

Then, just as Duncan is trying to work something out with Republican Lamar Alexander, the new head of the Senate Education Committee, Chicago school chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett announces a one-year moratorium on administering the PARCC test because of a "lack of computers" (hold your laughter, please). BBB says the test will only be given this year to about 10% of CPS' 600 schools. The decision to postpone the test is made of course, not by BBB, but by Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked board and comes in the face of growing parent and teacher protest against Common Core over-testing and a burgeoning opt-out movement. It also comes weeks before the mayoral election.

POLITICO's Stephanie Simon sez:
Chicago’s stance could well inspire copycat insurrections in other districts, analysts said — and that could undermine not just the Common Core, but more than a decade of public policy that relies on standardized tests to hold schools and teachers accountable for helping kids learn.
BBB might have pulled it off if she hadn't joined a growing chorus of IL district superintendents openly attacking PARCC testing. She calls the test “unproven” and complains that adding such a long exam to a year already crammed with standardized tests would be overwhelming to students, teachers and principals. The PARCC test takes nine to 11 hours, depending on a student’s grade level.
Here comes the topper. Just as Pres. Obama is recording his endorsement ads supporting Rahm's re-election campaign, Duncan goes off on Rahm/Byrd Bennett and threatens to cut off potentially $1.2 billion in state aid unless CPS backs off and gives the test. The threat comes in a previously unpublicized letter to Illinois Schools Superintendent Christopher Koch from Duncan's deputy, Deborah Delisle.

Meeks freaks
Meeks freaks over possible billion-dollar loss of federal funds.  "We are greatly concerned about it," the Rev. James MeeksGov. Rauner's new chairman of the state school board, tells Greg Hinz at Crain's.

Hinz writes:
Her [BBB's] defiance was striking in a district that has long been viewed as a national leader in test-based accountability. It was also rich in symbolism because Chicago public schools were once run by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a huge cheerleader for both the Common Core and the new exams, developed with $370 million in federal funds.
Politically, the problem is that, given national wrangling over school standards, Duncan cannot be seen as being easy on Chicago, said one source close to the center of the flap. That doesn't mean Illinois would lose all of the money, but a sizable hit is likely.
So, the question is: Is all this just a show? Or is Obama's Dept. of Education really going to war with Rahm Emanuel over testing on the eve of Chicago's mayoral election?

Monday, January 26, 2015


Supt. Trish Kocanda
This time it comes from the leader of one of the nation's wealthiest and most progressive districts. Supt. Trish Kocanda of Winnetka Public Schools has written a "warning letter" to parents,  community members, and staff about the PARCC Common Core exam scheduled for March and May.

Kocanda's letter is published in today's Washington Post:
As we learn more about the assessment, we grow wary. We are concerned about the amount of instructional time it will displace, the impact this will have on students, and the usefulness of the results.
The Post's Valerie Strauss writes:
Winnetka, just north of Chicago, is one of the most affluent communities in the country. The Winnetka Public Schools district Web site says that the system has “led the nation in progressive education and served as model for educators who value the development of the whole child.” There are about 2,000 students in the system’s schools, all of whom leave the eighth grade and attend nationally recognized New Trier Township High School.
Kocanda's letter comes on the heels of Ed Sec. Arne Duncan's call for even more and earlier high stakes standardized testing.

Back in November, the superintendent of neighboring Evanston Township launched a blistering attack on PARCC testing.
“Students taking both PARCC mathematics and reading language arts tests will spend more time taking PARCC tests than aspiring lawyers will spend sitting for the Bar Exam with no payoff,” said Pete Bavis, District 202 assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Last week Chicago Public Schools delayed most PARCC testing for a year, with Supt. Byrd-Bennett claiming that that not enough computers were in place to administer the tests to more than 10% of CPS students. She made no critique of Common Core testing but was obviously worried about possible results and fallout from the tests.

But you can bet Winnetka's blast at Duncan's testing madness won't be the last.

Florida Blues?

F. Klonsky pic

I can think of worse things than being stuck down here in Sarasota while the east coast is buried in snow. I'm flying back to Chicago and trying to get there before my class starts on Wednesday evening. I'm  wondering if the chain reaction from backed-up N.Y. flights will affect airports here. But not panicked either way. Although the sun's glare on the windshield makes driving down the coast difficult and the price of sunscreen hasn't gone down with the fall in oil prices.

In the meantime, I'm getting a close-up view of ed "reform"Florida-style where Tea Party Gov. Rick Scott wants to take $100 million from the state's public schools and hand it over to private-run charters and their operating companies. That's a $25 million increase from the current year.

According to the Bradenton Herald, "charter schools and traditional public schools have been battling over facilities funding since the economic downturn, when the state's school construction fund began drying up".

Gov. Scott & Michelle Rhee
Scott is privatization crazed and even tried to privatize FL's health-care system as well as the state's prisons.  According to the Center for Media and Democracy, prison privatization has resulted in a record number of inmate deaths.

Before becoming governor, he made millions in the privatized health care industry. In 1987, at age 34, he co-founded Columbia Hospital Corporation with two business partners; this merged with Hospital Corporation of America in 1989 to form Columbia/HCA and eventually became the largest private for-profit health care company in the U.S.

He resigned as Chief Executive of Columbia/HCA in 1997 amid a controversy over the company's business and Medicare billing practices; the company ultimately admitted to fourteen felonies and agreed to pay the federal government over $600 million, which was the largest fraud settlement in US history.

Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention Scott's right-hand education adviser -- Michelle Rhee.


Rahm Emanuel
...said Saturday that nonbinding referendums calling for an elected school board on next month's mayoral ballot are a politically inspired effort to "trick" voters at the polls because the concept is going nowhere in Springfield
"You know, the governor said he's not for it. The legislature said that they're not for it and I don't think we should actually convince (or) trick people by having a political campaign issue as a way to fixing our schools." -- Tribune 
Bob Fioretti
... said conflict of interest issues were "running amok" within the current school board and that "we all ought to be embarrassed by what we see at CPS at this point."
He said an elected school board should represent "the diversity of our city so that we have the people that matter most in making those decisions — teachers, our parents, our students." -- Tribune  
Chuy Garcia
"Putting it into the hands of voters and the people as the rest of the state does is a good practice," he told the forum. "We need to try something else." --Tribune 

Linda Darling-Hammond
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. middle school teachers work in schools where more than 30 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. This is by far the highest rate in the world… The next countries in line after the United States are Malaysia and Chile. -- Want to Close the Achievement Gap?
More LDH
Now we have international evidence about something that has a greater effect on learning than testing: teaching. 
Tom Loveless, at the Brookings Institution on NY test scores
“If New York schools are in a state of crisis, they’ve been in a state of crisis for 20 years.” -- New York Times

Friday, January 23, 2015

Col. Tyrrell jumps ship, goes over the hill…

If timing is everything, Col. Tyrrell's sucks. Today is his last day as CPS school-closings chief.

Just as the latest study of disastrous CPS school closings hits the streets, the military man Rahm brought in to engineer the assault on the city's black community,  jumps ship and goes over the hill (sorry, those are the only military metaphors I can come up with this early in the morning), leaving the mayor, a month before the election, to deal with the fallout from the report.

The colonel, who became the district's chief operating officer, was hired in 2012, with no background in education, to run the school closings operation. He had already been through the wars, but nothing like this. He cut his teeth on the prisoner exchange operation after the war in Kosovo -- talk about bad metaphors for "welcoming schools" and "safe passage". He then went on to work as Chief Operating Officer for the Intrepid Sea*Air*Space Museum in New York City, "helping instill in young people some of the virtues" of the military.

Tyrrell explained his Kosovo-style battle plan to the Sun-Times in 2013:
“I’m not saying it looks similar to now, but there was great distrust to the process on both sides but there was a lot of chaos and stress,” Tyrrell said at the time, laying out plans with Byrd-Bennett to transition children into new schools. What was similar, he continued: “It requires you to plow through the noise and get the planning done and get it done in detail, and then be flexible enough to adapt as the plan unfolds.”
Then he told WBEZ,
There are obvious differences between closing 50 schools and starting a new country or fighting terrorism. But there are also similarities. "Surge teams are available." 
Bloody but not bowed after 40,000 angry parents and community members turned out at neighborhood meetings to protest the closings, sending his boss's ratings in the black community into the dumper, Col. Tyrrell, courageously took on his next big assignments -- moving furniture from Clark Street over to CPS' new headquarters and then trying to sell-off Rahm's abandoned, shuttered school buildings. Neither project has won him any medals.

Tyrell walks
The Tribune reports that conclusions in the Consortium report, "echo the most stinging rebukes from school closing opponents — many of which are being aired frequently in the runup to next month's city election."

For example, Only 21% of displaced students attended schools that had a top rating under a now-retired CPS assessment model, the study said, slightly lower than what would have resulted if all students enrolled in their designated school in fall 2013.

But the report doesn't even scratch the surface of the damage the closings have done to suffering families living in further blighted and poverty-stricken communities. 80% of the children and parents impacted by the closings were black.

So Col. Tyrrell is toast but the CPS battle-wagons (caissons?) keep rolling along.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Injecting a 'little democracy' (but not too much) into schools

Monday's King Day rally at PUSH for an elected school board.
Our schools teach kids about the wonders of democracy. If it’s good enough for the classroom, it’s good enough for the school board. -- Sun-Times
Pathetic... A S-T editorial calls for "injecting a little democracy" into Chicago schools -- a little, but not too much lest they piss-off the Little Emperor.

Chicago remains the only district in the state without an elected school board. There's a growing resistance movement across the city, calling for an elected school board. There's also a non-binding but likely to pass referendum in 37 wards on the Feb. 24 ballot, and support from a majority of aldermanic candidates.

So the S-T board gives up a little to hide a lot.
Recent boards have tilted heavily toward the affluent and the powerful and have not included teachers and few or no current parents. It is a rare day when the board rejects or even tempers the mayor’s recommended policies.
Then they try their best to give Rahm a way to cover his left cheek by calling for the election of a few school board members while leaving the majority to be appointed by the mayor, including the schools C.E.O.

When I was back in high school, they used to call this, "sandbox politics" or pretend democracy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Chuy says, 'Enough charter mania'!

Today at the City Club, in response to a question from the UNO charter hustlers, Chuy Garcia called for a "pause" in charter expansion. NBC reporter Mary Ann Ahern Tweets:
Chuy also says he's willing to use TIF money if necessary, pending the court's decision, and "scour the earth" for new revenue to help solve the pension crisis. Finally, a politician who sees the pension problem as a revenue issue rather than a how-to-rob-the-elderly issue.

Nobody came.
WHAT IF NOBODY CAME?... Rahm promised a big showing of community groups at today's major policy address on Public Safety. Uh oh. Less than 20 people showed up. I guess people are fed up with his bragging about crime numbers that nobody in the neighborhoods believe. Plus no Q & A allowed. Can't blame him. Once voters start asking hard questions...

CUBA... IL Sen. Dick Durbin is back from Cuba. Says the trip was "very productive."
"Re-establishing travel and trade relations will mean real benefits for people in Illinois and across the country, from farmers to small businesses to working families. But this policy change is about more than just travel and trade — it's about opening Cuba to new ideas, new values, and improved human rights that our 50-year-old policy of exclusion could not achieve."
He's right of course. But I hope that works both ways -- opening to new ideas, values and improved human rights, that is. After all, Michigan has a higher incarceration rate than Cuba. More educator exchanges, like the one I organized back in 2000 would benefit schools in both countries. Diane Ravitch went in 2013 and had this to say:
The old world is passing, dissolving, and a new world is beginning, shoots of grass breaking through the concrete. The embargo seems as antique as the now ancient slogans.The sooner the embargo is lifted, the sooner there will be normal relations between our countries.

TESTING MADNESS ... The AFT together with the liberal group Center for American Progress, are calling on Congress to end the use of annual tests for high-stakes consequences. And so am I.

The difference being, the teacher unions and some liberal groups, for reasons most educators can't fathom, still support Arne Duncan's call for even more standardized testing, beginning even earlier. To argue that you just want the mandated testing without the high-stakes consequences or arguing for Common Core without Pearson testing profiteers, is to deny reality. That's not leadership.

Monday, January 19, 2015


Still whistling Dixie in AR
Dr. Martin Luther King
The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. -- The Purpose Of Education
Andrew Wilkes on "Pentecostal piety"
 The civil rights movement saw black folks (and non-black folks) consecrate the American dream by way of the prophetic Baptist theology of Reverend Dr Martin Luther King, yes. But it also involved the anointed agnosticism of Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s founding executive director and the generative force of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating committee, Ella Baker. The radical Quaker vision of a Bayard Rustin next to the ethical humanism of an Asa Phillip Randolph were also blended in. And also in the mix was the subtle, yet significant tradition of faith-filled lay activists like Fannie Lou Hamer and Marian Wright Edelman. -- The Guardian
Detroit hip-hop artist Mic Write
What does it mean for our community for there to be this vacant space where there used to be a life? Where have those people gone? What is left for them?" -- Mother Jones
Morris Dees, Founder, Southern Poverty Law Center
We've seen the results: voter suppression, corporate hegemony in Washington, a shrinking social safety net, and mass incarceration. Our schools are increasingly segregated, and the headlines this past week tell us that the majority of our public school students now live in poverty. -- Huff Post
Prof. Charles Payne, author of "I've Got The Light of Freedom"
The movement managed to ameliorate the most blatant features of white supremacy; it didn’t end it. Given that the net wealth of white households is 13 times that of black ones, given that too many black children are coming to maturity in life-limiting ghettos — and the notion that the black ghetto and the ethnic ghettos of the past can be equated is simply a lie — given unprecedented levels of incarceration, given that James Baldwin’s comment about the police in black neighborhoods being regarded as an occupying army still has too much truth, given that blacks and other non-whites are treated superficially in the curricula of most schools, if they are present at all, the last thing we need is a new movement. We need to finish the old one. 
The struggle continues. -- New York Times

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Majority of U.S. students now living in poverty even while economy improves

“When they first come in my door in the morning, the first thing I do is an inventory of immediate needs: Did you eat? Are you clean? A big part of my job is making them feel safe,” said Sonya Romero-Smith, a veteran teacher at Lew Wallace Elementary School in Albuquerque. Fourteen of her 18 kindergartners are eligible for free lunches.
The Washington Post's Lyndsey Layton reports that for the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students live in poverty, This according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has "profound implications for the nation".

Yes, the very idea that the majority of our school children are living below the poverty line in this, the world's wealthiest country, especially at a time when the overall economy is improving, should make educators and policy makers sit up and take notice.
“A lot of people at the top are doing much better", says Michael A. Rebell [remind me to steal his name] of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University. "But the people at the bottom are not doing better at all. Those are the people who have the most children and send their children to public school.”
 More from Layton:
Schools, already under intense pressure to deliver better test results and meet more rigorous standards, face the doubly difficult task of trying to raise the achievement of poor children so that they approach the same level as their more affluent peers.
Current destabilizing school reform policies which punish and close high-poverty schools, call for more unfunded school seat time, new standards attached to high-stakes testing, and school privatization, not only miss the point but are actually intensifying the trend towards concentrated poverty.

The growing income gap, combined with the lack of adequate investment in schools and communities, pose the greatest threat to national security and don't bode well either for the future of our schools or for a democratic society.