Monthly Archives: April 2014

Randi Weingarten Admits the Common Core is in Trouble

President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, has taken some criticism for her support of the Common Core State Standards.  She still believes that they have potential to be beneficial, but in an interview with yesterday, she also admitted that they might fail.  Weingarten leveled a substantial amount of her criticism at the testing and evaluation policies that have come coupled to the CCSS, especially the secrecy that testing giant Pearson has tied to its contracts for CCSS tests.  Five of the union president’s points:

These standards were done by the states — the governors and the state chiefs — in a very rapid fashion, and there was not enough conversation and discussion about what they were, and how they would be implemented. Number 1.


Number 2, as a result, there are problems in the standards, particularly as applied to [grades] K through 2 … They seem to be developmentally inappropriate for the earliest of kids …


Number 3: … The state tried to copyright the standards. [There’s] one thing about education that’s absolutely imperative, which is that you try things, and you adjust, and you have a continuous learning process. The copyright suggests they’re fixed in slate, and that’s just wrong …


Number 4: There was more work that was done about testing of the standards and the assessment process, than actually the implementation. And that’s why many people believe that this is about a testing process, not about a learning process.


And so — Number 5 — you get to what happened in New York and other places, where all of the sudden, the state commissioner last year said the scores will go down 30 points – and then magically the scores went down 30 points. So most people then distrusted what was going on here. Was this about actually helping kids get higher standards? Or was this about trying to create a sense of failure in the public system?

If, as Weingarten states several time, implementation of standards is “90-95%” of what matters, then these criticisms are welcome but also overdue.  All five of those concerns have been evident for some time as the Obama administration and CCSS boosters outside of government have been rushing this implementation and rushing the linkage to high stakes testing for teacher evaluation ahead at a truly breakneck pace.  Weingarten is absolutely correct when she asserts:

I think the teachers, the parents … have become so frustrated with standardization, and with top-down accountability and being told what to do without being given the resources to do it, and having testing before teaching, that they’ve gotten so frustrated that they just don’t trust the transition to standards anymore.

But the thing is that anyone with an understanding of American education, as she has, should have seen that frustration coming years away.  That frustration was built into the Race to the Top grants which pressured states to adopt valued added models of teacher evaluation using common assessments.  Since then, almost all work around Common Core has been to essentially monetize it either via testing, curriculum or technology materials while teachers and students across the country struggle with staff cut backs and delayed school improvement budgets.  Parents and guardians, who by wide margins approve of and appreciate what their children’s teachers do, were bound to notice.

Regardless, I do welcome Randi Weingarten sounding this alarm.  That she believes the standards have potential to do good is not an opinion she is alone in having, but what really stands out is that she is the first high level supporter of the CCSS who is publically willing to admit that they are in trouble and that they are in trouble because the implementation is running roughshod over teachers and students.  Who else is willing to admit to this?  Certainly not Arne Duncan.  Absolutely not John King.  Not Bill Gates.

But they should.


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Taking Back OUR Schools NYC Metro March & Rally

This will be VERY important for the future of NYC public education!

Movement of Rank and File Educators

30+ organizations representing parents, teachers, students and community members taking to the streets in defense of public education
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"Taking Back OUR Schools NYC MetroMarch and Rally"

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Chalkbeat Gets a Letter Cogently Pointing Out Bias in Reporting — Responds With a Shrug

Leonie Haimson and other activists at Class Size Matters sent a letter to pointing out the evident bias in their reporting of recent charter school controversies in New York.  In it, they note how much coverage has been devoted to the activities of pro-charter advocates compared to the coverage given to a citywide rally organized by the Community Education Councils.

Rather than sending one of your reporters to cover this event, you only posted a short blurb clearly taken from the press release after the fact.  Chalkbeat’s failure to assign a reporter to the event  glaringly contrasts with your close and detailed coverage of every move made by the charter operators and their backers.  Indeed, you published two different stories on the charter march across the Brooklyn Bridge, three different stories on the Albany rally for charters (though you failed to disclose that Gov. Cuomo was actually behind it) ,  and  on March 29  you ran two stories on reactions to the budget bills, BOTH from the point of view of the charter operators.


Even more importantly, you have failed to cover any of the substantive issues and reasons behind our anger, including how unprecedented these charter provisions are, how they apply only to NYC, how they will  detract from the city’s already underfunded capital plan and cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, while thousands of public school students will continue sit in trailers or in overcrowded classrooms, without art, music, science or therapy and counseling rooms, or on waiting lists for Kindergarten.

The letter further noted how Chalkbeat’s expansion from the now defunct Gothamschools site was made possible with funding from the Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, both strong advocates for charter schools.

Chalkbeat’s very brief reply stated:

The bottom line is that the protest was clearly well-attended and unique in its CEC-wide organization, and we wish we had been there.


We make decisions about coverage every day based on the fact that we can’t be at every relevant event in the city or it would be impossible for us to provide any deeper coverage of these issues. We regularly attend, and skip, events that reflect a variety of viewpoints. That’s why we work to keep readers informed about events we don’t make it to with posts like the one we wrote about this protest.

They also swore that their coverage choices merely reflect their best judgment on how to contribute to the conversation in New York City and not the political bias of their funders.

Uh-huh.  The response would have been more honest with an Alfred E. Neuman cartoon.


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inBloom Shuts Down. This is My Told You So Face

inBloom lost New York State and is shutting down.

The technology firm, funded largely by the Gates Foundation, was poised to take advantage of Obama administration changes to the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to create a mass data “cloud” by becoming a multistate repository of student data.  In the past states might contract a database firm to create an in house system for their exclusive use.  What makes inBloom different was the scale of the data collection, the multistate nature of the project, and that instead of simply housing data for the state and districts to analyze, inBloom intended to let vendors use that data to make education products.

Activists and parents protested on two grounds: first, they were concerned about just how secure data that is supposed to be protected by federal law would be and second, the nature of the deals made with inBloom that allowed students’ educations to become ongoing revenue stream and that were made with no public input whatsoever.

Technology firms should learn the right lesson from this.  Individual learning products tailored by big data analysis are coming to public schools, and they have potential. But they should not come via back room deals that adjust federal privacy law and make contracts that fundamentally change the way states store and safeguard children’s private records without public input.

If technology firms repeat inBloom’s mistake and act as if they only have to market to 50 state education departments instead of to the parents and guardians of the 74 million children in this country, this fight will only happen again.

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How Andrew Cuomo Has Lost My Vote

Andrew Cuomo has lost my vote — and if you are a teacher, a parent of a public school child or a citizen who sees schools as a vital component of our civil society, he should lose your vote too.  He has been as abusive towards our public schools and the people who work in them as have Republican governors such as Scott Walker and Chris Christie, only without the national spotlight aimed at his policies.  My conservative friends will probably suggest this has to do with media bias, and I won’t deny some possibility of that.  However, a simpler explanation is that Governor Cuomo, unlike Governors Walker and Christie, has done little to highlight his conflicts with unionized teachers — it would do him little good with his core constituencies at home or nationally to do so.

Regardless, he has been a net negative for schools and teachers although you would not have guessed it reading his inaugural address in 2011.  That speech had no mention of education or teachers and the only mention of school was a personal anecdote.  The same speech mentioned taxes or taxpayers seven times, budget three times and the deficit eight times in one short paragraph, claiming there was a deficit of trust and competence as well as a budgetary one.

It has become clear since then that even if he did not mention education in his address, he had education in his sights and it wasn’t to make sure school districts had the funds they need to guarantee educational opportunity for all.  One of the governor’s early achievements was a cap on property taxes   that may have helped many home owners but has also left many school districts scrambling for funds.  At the same time, Albany continued the “gap elimination adjustment” which became permanent in the 2011-2012 budget year.  In the GEA, Albany allocates school aid and then uses a formula to take it away…or even increases the amount of money removed from school aid if the state projects a shortfall in revenue.  Essentially, this is a formula that allows the legislature and the governor to announce a school aid budget and then to trim it when nobody is looking.  According to the New York State School Boards association, the GEA has cost New York districts an average of $3.1 million dollars per year each year since 2010.  64% of districts have cut personnel, 53% have increased class sizes and 36% have reduced or eliminated extracurricular activities.

None of this is good for the children of New York, but it certainly helps Governor Cuomo keep from ever considering higher taxes.  By the way, when you search the New York Times for “gap elimination adjustment” this is what comes up.  Too obscure for even the Times’ New York reporting, you have to go to local and regional papers to find comprehensive coverage.

While finding ways to trim the money available locally and at the state level, the Governor has also aggressively pursued state pension reform.  This is hardly unique to New York, but the demands to reform how career teachers retire comes at a time when teachers are being asked to do more than ever before…with less in the present and promises of less in the future.  Governor Cuomo is solidly behind the current reform environment which means the state is not only implementing the Common Core State Standards, but also the state is implementing test score driven evaluation of teachers.  While recent statements from the governor indicate a willingness to delay or reweight the degree to which student test scores will impact both student promotion and teacher evaluation, Commissioner John King was unambiguous that Albany believes it is on the right path for schools and will plow ahead.  Plowing ahead means teachers with larger class sizes and fewer support personnel having to quickly implement a new and complicated set of curriculum standards in all grades simultaneously and simultaneously having to face their retention and tenure decisions being based upon the result of tests that have resulted in dramatic declines across the board.

All of this in a budget environment where NYC parents are being asked to fund raise so schools can hire elementary reading specialists.  Schools lucky enough to have parents who are wealthy and connected maintain essential services.  Other schools?  Well, at least Andrew Cuomo doesn’t have to raise anyone’s taxes.

Balancing the budget on the backs of school children and public employees is unpleasant enough on its own, but Governor Cuomo’s behavior during the recent public battle between charter school magnate Eva Moskowitz and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was beyond the pale.  The narrative should be familiar to New York residents.  In the waning days of his administration, Mayor Michael Bloomberg hastily granted a number of new colocations for charter schools in the city, including either new or newly expanded sites for Moskowitz’s Success Academy chain.  Mayor de Blasio granted most of these colocations, where a charter operator is allowed to take over space in an existing public school building without paying rent to the city.  Charter school advocates claim that paying for their space would put charters at a disadvantage compared to existing public schools, which they claim to be. But  Moskowitz herself sued the state of New York to prevent the Comptroller from auditing and succeeded in having a law struck down that granted the Comptroller that authority.  Her argument?  Her schools are not a “unit of the state”. Ponder that: her schools accept public funds and demand space in public school buildings without rent, but the state’s top financial officer has no authority to examine her books.  And she sued to make it that way.

Moskowitz stormed to Albany with her students claiming that the new mayor has declared war on her, but many of her claims fail to stand up to the slightest scrutiny.  Among the most damning highlights is that by halting one of the colocations, Mayor de Blasio was trying to prevent one third of the severely disabled students in one building from being displaced and sent all over the city.  Moskowitz likes to make lofty claims for her schools’ accomplishments drawing from a population that she alleges is among the city’s neediest.  Sadly, these claims are heavily embellished as well.  While Success Academy test scores are indeed high, there is no metric that makes Success Academy 4 the “highest performing school in the state,” and even though admission to charter schools is by lottery, remaining there is not guaranteed — and Moskowitz’s schools have exceptionally high attrition rates, especially among students who do not test well.  Diane Ravitch of NYU and Avi Blaustein note:

In just four years Harlem Success Academy 4 has lost over 21 percent of its students. The pattern of students leaving is not random. Students with low test scores, English Language Learners, and special education students are most likely to disappear from the school’s roster. Large numbers of students disappear beginning in 3rd grade, but not in the earlier grades. No natural pattern of student mobility can explain the sudden disappearance of students at the grade when state testing just happens to begin.

Given these issues, it was disturbing enough to watch Governor Cuomo rush to Moskowitz’s side during her “Save Eva” rally in Albany on the same day that Mayor de Blasio was rallying for support of a universal prekindergarten proposal for New York City.  But what has come out since then is simply inexcusable.  Not only did Cuomo show up to stand by Moskowitz, he actively participated in making the rally happen, and the result of that public pressure and multimillion dollar ad blitz got us a New York state budget that expressly forbids charging charter school rent in public schools and forces the city to pay charter schools’ rents if they cannot colocate.

The fact is that Eva Mokowitz has very wealthy friends.  The NY Times article makes clear that Governor Cuomo relies on campaign donations from Wall Street patrons of charter schools who helped fund the advertising backlash against Mayor de Blasio:

A lot was riding on the debate for Mr. Cuomo. A number of his largest financial backers, some of the biggest names on Wall Street, also happened to be staunch supporters of charter schools. According to campaign finance records, Mr. Cuomo’s re-election campaign has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from charter school supporters, including William A. Ackman, Carl C. Icahn, Bruce Kovner and Daniel Nir.

Kenneth G. Langone, a founder of Home Depot who sits on a prominent charter school board, gave $50,000 to Mr. Cuomo’s campaign last year. He said that when the governor asked him to lead a group of Republicans supporting his re-election, he agreed because of Mr. Cuomo’s support for charter schools.

Campaign filings show that the governor’s re-election campaign has collected over $400,000 in donations from wealthy donors who are also supporters of the Success Academy chain, including $65,000 directly from Moskowitz’s own political action committee. Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana teacher, Ph.D. in statistics and education blogger, has extensively examined Success Academy tax documents with illuminating results, including that the IRS contact reported for Harlem Success Academy is Luxor Capital Group.

I don’t pretend to know why Wall Street big money is so invested in charter schools.  Perhaps they sincerely believe that competition from privately run charter schools that their own children will never attend is a “secret sauce” to improving universal education in this country.  Maybe they see charters as an effective tool against one of the last largely unionized work forces in America.  Perhaps expanding charters is seen as a key factor in setting up education as a massive data collection enterprise where entrepreneurs can turn data into profitable technology products.  It could be any number of factors, but one thing is certain: those factors are not being debated in public as part of the exercise of democratic control of public education.  It is almost entirely privately debated for private purposes.

And that is why Andrew Cuomo cannot have my vote.  He has made it very clear that he is not for public schools, public school teachers or public school students.  Those people have been continuously squeezed by local revenue roadblocks and state revenue take backs at a time when they have had to do more and more for higher and higher stakes.

He is, however, very much for what hedge fund campaign donors are for.  Those people have not been asked for a cent more in taxes and have their pet projects enshrined in the state budget.

If you are a student in New York, a parent of a student in New York, or a teacher in New York, Andrew Cuomo is not your governor, and he does not deserve your vote.

ADDENDUM:  There are reasons why hedge funds promote charter schools.  They are, surprise, linked to profit.


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Citywide Testing Rally – Join us on Thursday April 24th PLEASE POST AND SHARE

NYC Citywide Rally Against Current Testing

Movement of Rank and File Educators

Please join us for rally and press conference to demand Not One More Year Lost – Our Children are More than a Test Score!

    Thursday, April 24th @ 4 PM
WHERE:  NYC Department of Education, 52 Chambers Street
WHO:      All families, educators, and supporters of educational justice
HOW:      More info here and please accept and share the Facebook invite
WHY: We will be uniting to demand policies that support our children and our schools.
What do we want?
– We want real learning every day NOT test prep
– We want transparent, developmentally appropriate and valid assessments
– We want child-centered, rich curriculum
– We want standards that truly support child learning

– We want funding for schools not for private testing companies

Make your own signs!!  Some of the themes for the action are:
– We demand REAL accountability from the top, not on…

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David Brooks Continues the NY Times .000 Average for Understanding Common Core and Testing Opposition

David Brooks entered the NY Times commentariat circle writing about Common Core.

I really hate repeating myself, so:

Short message: When you don’t research the reasons for people opposing the current reform environment, you are left with stereotypes and the glib dismissals of those concerns backed up by….well, by not very much.  Mr. Brooks usually portrays himself as an intellectual.

I don’t expect better, but I really wish that I could.


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A Quick Charge to the Millennials

A quick few thoughts:  I teach education students in their first year, and about three years ago, I had a student, somewhat randomly, ask me what I thought about Occupy Wall Street.  I thought for a moment and then improvised a version of a short talk that I have made sure to tell my students ever since:

I graduated from college in 1991.  My class entered the workforce in a recession, and I periodically read little admonitions from Gen. X to “kids today” that amount to “Hey kid, everyone had it hard getting started in life.  We had to deal with a recession AND the suicide of Kurt Cobain. Get over yourself.”

Increasingly, such pronouncements make me see through a red mist of outrage.

Look, getting started in life is never easy, and yes, every generation can point to struggles that they had to endure, but compared to today’s 20 year-olds?  My generation had it easy — and today, college classmates of mine are major figures in media and politics.  It isn’t at all fair to look at the Millennials and call them whiners while my generation is in the process of becoming the leaders of society.

What is going on with these kids, today?  Well, the cost of college has gone through the roof even as the amount of support available to pay for it without taking out loans has dropped.  In order to pay for college, more and more students graduate burdened with ruinous debt, but the job prospects for college graduates have diminished and not solely because of the recession. Meanwhile, what modest gains in median household income were made since 1990 were gone by 2011. As a result, more Millennials live at home and are delaying what previous generations would have considered signs of independent adulthood.

So this is a reality for Millennials in college — they are starting further behind than any generation since their great grandparents were born, and they will have to work hard, very, very hard to make any progress at all.  This is not fair, but it is also the hand they have to play, and to their credit, most of them who I meet accept that the passage to adulthood will be a longer and harder slog, but they also know they have to do it.

But what is not fair is the criticism being hurled at them for daring to make note of these realities.  They did what they were told to do from a young age.  They worked at their schooling.  They played sports.  They joined activities.  They volunteered in their communities.  They took endless tests.  They took jobs to pay for school.  They sought out and competed for scholarships and unpaid internships.  And they did it all because the adults in their lives, the parents, the teachers, the principals, the guidance counselors advised them like it was 1985 — only on steroids.  Distinguish yourself.  Compete to get into college.  Graduate.  And the world will bestow the rewards of hard work upon you.

It’s dawning on them that a lot of the grown ups in their lives don’t get it.  They don’t get that scheduling kids from dawn to dusk with organized activities doesn’t teach them how to manage their free time.  They don’t get that mastering the art of doing three hours of homework on Monday that is due on Tuesday doesn’t teach them how to plan and complete a long term project.  They don’t get that increased numbers of people BAs and changes in international trade make available work less lucrative.  They don’t get that the college as the ultimate means to get ahead is undergoing a sea change. Grown ups need to start raising kids to succeed in the 2014, not 1984, 1974, 1964, 1954 or whatever decade our memories of youth got frozen in.

And to those Millennials?  You have another task other than recognizing and tackling the difficulties of being a young adult today: You have to become leaders and faster than my generation did.  I don’t think Generation X had any real “crisis” to galvanize our experience.  Millennials have had 9/11, 13 years of war and the Great Recession to define having grown up.  But the powers that be won’t pay attention to them unless they demand it by voting and by becoming active in work, community and politics.  It is fashionable to assume that voting and politics don’t matter, but just because people have a lot of money does not mean they always win.  If money always wins, then Linda McMahon would be a U.S. Senator.  If money always wins, then the Bill Gates funded Common Core and accompanying testing would not be running into trouble with the public. People can push back.

So I want those Millennials to get teaching jobs.  Become school principals and superintendents.  Join community organizations.  Run for public office.  And I want them to do it younger than other generations.  They have to — they won’t have money to influence politics for decades, but they have numbers.  There are 56 million people ages 12-24 in the country.  Another 42 million between the ages of 25-34. If they don’t use those numbers to gain attention to their needs, they will get ignored, and this is a generation that cannot afford that.

So – lead.  I don’t care in what capacity or towards which politics.  Lead.

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From Diane Ravitch: Leo Casey’s observations on school segregation in New York

Leo Casey: Is New York the Mississippi of Our Time?.

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Vamboozled on the ASA Statement on Value Added Models

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley of Vamboozled just added the official statement from the American Statistical Association to her list of top articles on Value Added Models (VAMs) for education assessment.  The full statement can be found here, and it is a doozy.  Well, I say “doozy” because I know quite a few people who specialize in quantitative analysis and quotes like this count as pretty harsh condemnation:

VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores, and do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.

That means VAMs are limited.

VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured inthe model.

That means that VAMs used as the main means of teacher assessment are missing things…potentially very important things.

Under some conditions, VAM scores and rankings can change substantially when a different model or test is used, and a thorough analysis should be undertaken to evaluate the sensitivity of estimates to different models.

That means some VAMs are not exactly reliable. Page four lays it out in pretty clear language to me:

The measure of student achievement is typically a score on a standardized test, and VAMs are only as good as the data fed into them. Ideally, tests should fully measure student achievement with respect to the curriculum objectives and content standards adopted by the state, in both breadth and depth. In practice, no test meets this stringent standard, and it needs to be recognized that, at best, most VAMs predict only performance on the test and not necessarily long-range learning outcomes. Other student outcomes are predicted only to the extent that they are correlated with test scores. A teacher’s efforts to encourage students’ creativity or help colleagues improve their instruction, for example, are not explicitly recognized in VAMs.

VAM scores are calculated from classroom-level heterogeneity that is not explained by the background variables in the regression model. Those classroom-level differences may be due in part to other factors that are not included in the model (for example, class size, teaching “high-need” students, or having students who receive extracurricular tutoring). The validity of the VAM scores as a measure of teacher contributions depends on how well the particular regression model adopted adjusts for other factors that might systematically affect, or bias, a teacher’s VAM score.

“In practice, no test meets this stringent standard.”  Keep in mind, EVERY state that accepted “Race to the Top” grants HAD to agree to use these tests to evaluate teachers. And from page five:

When used appropriately, VAMs may provide quantitative information that is relevant for improving education processes. For example, the models can provide information on important sources of variability, and they can allow teachers and schools to see how their students have performed on the assessment instruments relative to students with similar prior test scores.

Teachers and schools can then explore targeted new teaching techniques or professional development activities, while building on their strengths.

There is a key difference between this observation from the ASA and what is happening in schools:  VAMs are NOT being used to provide data “relevant for improving education processes.”  They are being used to label teachers as effective or not effective.  They are being used to label schools failures or successes.  So when the ASA says on page seven:

Statistical science has an important role to play in raising the quality of education, through developing and refining statistical models for use in education, providing guidance on designing experiments and interpreting statistical results, and applying quality and process improvement expertise to help guide judgments in the presence of uncertainty. The ASA promotes sound use of statistical methodology for improving education.

You know that they think this is NOT what is happening.

And just remember: if you live in a “Race to the Top” state, this is happening to your children’s teachers.

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