Tag Archives: Eva Moskowitz

Does Andrew Cuomo REALLY Want Parents to Understand What is Happening With Education?

Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sat down with the editorial board of the New York Daily News to discuss his reasons for upping the ante in his campaign to decrease teachers’ workplace protections and to make 85% of teacher evaluations depend upon standardized exams and observers outside of school.  During his meeting, he characterized the NYSUT, which withheld its endorsement during his reelection campaign, as an “industry” more interested in protecting its members than with the children that those members teach, and he bragged about berating a union representative who claimed to represent students.  The Governor also claimed that the only reason there is not more agitation for the kind of reforms that he is pursuing is because parents do not really know what is going on in their schools:

“If (the public) understood what was happening with education to their children, there would be an outrage in this city,” Cuomo said. “I’m telling you, they would take City Hall down brick by brick.

“It’s only because it’s complicated that people don’t get it.”

That’s quite a pronouncement from the Governor when citywide surveys show that well over 90% of public school parents in NYC are satisfied with the instructional environment in their children’s schools, agree that their schools keep them informed of their children’s progress, and would recommend their school to other parents.  That same survey showed that parents’ top concern by far was classroom sizes — “firing a hell of a lot more teachers” did not break into the top ten.

But, you know, Governor Cuomo knows “what is happening with education to their children” far better than the parents.

Of course, it is possible that the most vulnerable parents and student populations are not represented in the survey data which is a legitimate concern, and there is certainly no doubt that there are schools where great many students struggle to learn a basic curriculum.  However, for the Governor to claim that all sits at the feet of our teachers means he is ignoring vast amounts of evidence.  Dr. Aaron Pallas of Teachers College notes:

Anyone who doubts that poverty and district finances matter in the achievement equation need only look at a scatterplot of the percentage of third-graders in a school who are proficient in English Language Arts and the percentage of students in that school who are eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch. In schools where 90 percent or more of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, 15 percent of the students are proficient. Conversely, in schools where fewer than 10 percent of students are free-lunch-eligible, an average of 53 percent are proficient. This is not because all of the good teachers are in low-poverty schools.

So while the Governor’s proposals will make it far less likely that any beginning teacher will ever reach tenure in New York state, his proposed “solution” for schools with very few students reaching proficiency on state exams has literally no connection to the strongest correlation with low performance — poverty.

On a much broader set of issues, I am not at all certain that Governor Cuomo REALLY wants parents who “understood what was happening with education to their children” — because what is happening right out of the Governor’s office is pitchfork worthy.

Does Governor Cuomo really want parents to understand what is happening with funding in Albany? If they did, they would know that both litigation and legislation committed Albany to increase annual education aid to districts by 7 billion dollars in 2007, but that the state remains about 5.6 billion dollars BELOW that target.  They would know that the Governor, who scoffs at the notion that schools are underfunded, continues to use the Gap Elimination Adjustment to plug holes in the operating budget by raiding promised aid to school districts, and that the GEA has stolen 8 billion dollars from districts financially squeezed on the other end by the property tax cap the Governor put in place.  They would know that using the funding formula put in place in 2007, Albany is shorting New York City as much as $3-4000 PER PUPIL in a system with over 1 million pupils.

They would know that the Governor’s pledge to increase education aid by $1.1 billion is less than 20% of the funding needed for the state to meet its obligations to schools districts, and that the $380 million he will allow if he does not get the changes he wants represents barely 7%.

Does Governor Cuomo really want parents to understand what is happening with charter school favoritism in Albany?  If they did, they would know that last year as New York Mayor Bill De Blasio was slowing down the expansion of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy chain of charter schools because one such expansion was set to kick students with special needs out of their school, Governor Cuomo did not merely support Eva Moskowitz’s multi-million dollar ad campaign against the Mayor and her Albany rally to pressure lawmakers — he participated in making the rally happen.  They would know that after blindsiding the Mayor who was in Albany to rally support for universal Pre-K the same day as Moskowitz shut down her schools and bused her students and parents to the state capitol, the Governor orchestrated budget legislation mandating that New York City pay the rent of all charter schools, even ones that can raise $7.75 million in a single fund raiser.  They would know that Ms. Moskowitz in particular keeps her operations so opaque that she has sued repeatedly to prevent the state from auditing her finances.  They would find out that these supposedly “public schools” have appallingly high attrition rates that come from the almost impossibly strict behavioral standards that are applied even to Kindergarten students, and they would know that a key ally of no-excuses charter schools, Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, openly admitted that such attrition is a feature rather than a bug and that the charter sector has no interest in educating all of our children.

I am quite sure that Governor Cuomo does not want parents to understand how Success Academy (and other charter school) donors have showered him with campaign donations, nor would he like them to tie his largesse to the charter sector to the same backers who have been steadily using charter schools to monetize public education expenditures.

Does Governor Cuomo really want parents to understand what is really happening with the PARRC examination proficiency scores?  If they did, they would know that far from representing a dramatic drop in student achievement, the drop in students reaching “proficient” or higher was engineered by the New York State Education Department under outgoing Commissioner John King.  They would know that “proficient” is neither tied to grade level expectations nor to any reasonable definition of “passing,” and they would know that when anti-teacher activists like Campbell Brown or public dollar profiteers like Eva Moskowitz repeatedly claim that our students are “failing” because of those exams that they are being “economical with the truth.”  They would know that when the Governor asks in his “Opportunity Agenda Book“:

“Last year, less than one percent of teachers in New York State were rated ineffective; but state test results show that statewide only 35.8 percent of our students in 3rd through 8th grades were proficient in math and 31.4 percent were proficient in English Language Arts. We must ask ourselves: how can so many of our students be failing if our teachers are all succeeding?” (p. 228)

…he has joined the anti-public school forces in thoroughly misrepresenting the meaning of the current test scores, and that such misrepresentation is almost certainly deliberate.  Parents would also learn that the value added models based on student standardized test scores that the Governor wants to raise to 50% of teacher evaluations are not endorsed by the American Statistical Association, and that there is no strong research basis for using them as such an important component of teacher evaluation.  They would understand that using a test score rigged to drop most students below the proficient level as the majority of teacher evaluation is little more than a set up to fire teachers with no benefit for their children.

Does Governor Cuomo really want parents to understand what is really happening with our democracy?  While Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s indictment for corruption represents old school quid pro quo misuse of public office for private gain, Governor Cuomo represents something potentially more dangerous to democracy.  Just 341 donors accounted for over half of the Governor’s $40 million campaign fundraising.  81.6% of his donors gave at least $10,000.  Among those donors are major backers of charter school expansion, including donors who funded a $4.2 million Students First NY effort to put the state senate in Republican hands and who collectively donated more than $160,000 directly to Governor Cuomo.

If parents “understand what is really happening” then they would likely notice how Governor Cuomo governs as if he is far more beholden to his high profile donors than to the voters of New York.

Do you REALLY want parents “to understand what is happening with education,” Mr. Cuomo?

5 Comments

Filed under charter schools, Corruption, Funding, politics

The First Rule of Ed Reform Club is: You Do Not Talk About Ed Reform Club

For years now, advocates of the “no excuses” brand of charter school have denied the obvious.  While loudly proclaiming the test scores and graduation rates of the students who remain at their schools, they have denied that their application processes combined with the harsh discipline environments that emphasize extreme conformity to extreme behavioral expectations are forms of “cream skimming” designed to drive out students less likely to burnish their reputations as “miracle factories.”  As time has gone by and evidence piled up, this has become much harder for them to deny with even a hint of honesty.  For example, Dr. Diane Ravitch of New York University, presented the reports of an insider at the New York City department of education on the extreme attrition at most of the so-called “miracle schools”, and demographics of these schools differ greatly from their fully public neighborhood schools.  Part of this comes from charter schools using extreme in-school discipline tactics that emphasize how only a certain type of child is welcome in the school, and discipline is often coupled with overt and covert pressure for parents to transfer struggling students out.  The evidence is by now substantial that charter schools in the “no excuses” category seek different applicants to their schools via complicated procedures prior to admissions lotteries, and once students enter they quickly seek to push out students who will not fully and promptly comply with their expectations.

Defenders claim that this evidence is misrepresented.  They claim that their attrition rates are comparable to the district schools (but they fail to mention that district schools backfill any seats vacated by children who move or transfer while many of the charters do not).  They claim that their demographics are comparable to district schools (but they tend to compare themselves to entire communities instead of the specific neighborhoods in which they locate and the fully public schools in which the co-locate).  They claim demand for their kind of school environment leads to massive waiting lists, but when students do leave, somehow the waiting list students do not move into the charters in any great numbers.  For years, the supporters of these brands of charters (Success Academy, KIPP, Uncommon Schools, etc) have defended them by obfuscating the issues of cream skimming and selective attrition and by changing the subject on the very different demographics their favored schools serve.

And then there’s President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute Michael Petrilli, who broke the first rule of ed reform club: he talked about ed reform club.

The New York Times ran this “Room For Debate” piece on the question of whether or not charter schools are “cherry picking” the students they want despite their supposedly “open” lotteries for admission, and, surprisingly for the New York Times in the past few years, the balance of the authors represented the balance of the evidence: yes, charter schools HAVE been pushing out large numbers of students and their “successes” need to be evaluated with that in mind.  Mr. Petrilli did not try to deny this evidence.  Instead, he embraced it, and he declared that this was by design and desirable:

Because these are schools of choice, they have many advantages, including that everyone is there voluntarily. Thus they can make their discipline codes clear to incoming families (and teachers); those who find the approach too strict can go elsewhere.

This is a good compromise to a difficult problem: Not all parents (or educators) agree on how strict is too strict. Traditional public schools that serve all comers have to find a middle ground, as best they can, which often pleases no one. Schools of choice, including charters, need not make such compromises. That’s a feature, not a bug.

It’s not too strong to say that disruption is classroom cancer. It depresses achievement and makes schools unpleasant, unsafe and unconducive to learning. We need to think long and hard about taking tools away from schools — especially schools of choice — that allow their students to flourish.

Wow.

There have been excellent responses to the ease with which Mr. Petrilli assures us that it is okay to make so-called “disruptive students” somebody else’s problem.  Blogger Sarah Blaine notes that Mr. Petrilli is essentially “writing off ‘those kids'”:

Is it really okay to openly advocate for charter school discipline policies that weed out a significant portion of the student body (without, in most cases, replacing those expelled or “counseled out” students, of course)?

Is it really okay to say that our public schools are places of compromises that please no one?

Is it really okay to imply that public schools truly are the schools of last resort, that their highest and best purpose is to serve as dumping grounds for those students who are not good enough (or malleable enough, or terrified enough, or controllable enough) to succeed in charters?

Ms. Blaine also reported that on Twitter, Mr. Petrilli asserted that fully public schools should be allowed to force out disruptive students and that those students could always end up in alternative schools:

Ms. Blaine keenly notes what allowing schools to behave this way will result in:

Presumably in an all-charter system this will mean dumping the unwanted students into low-performing charters until those charters either kick them out or are closed and a new batch of substandard charters arise to take them on. In a mixed public/charter district, this will mean dumping those kids back into the traditional public schools, further damaged by the alienation, sense of failure, and disruption that go along with getting kicked or counseled out of a charter school. But according to Petrilli, there is no need to worry about that, since bringing stability to the lives of students with anger or behavior issues is apparently not a priority. And stratification of students in publicly funded schools is apparently “a feature, not a bug.”

Peter Greene of the Curmudgucation blog adds to this argument by pointing out just how much of a betrayal of fundamental American values Mr. Petrilli commits:

The fundamental promise of US public education is that we will educate every single child for as long as there are children in this country. The fundamental promise of modern charters, as deftly delineated by Petrilli, is we will educate the students we feel like educating for as long as it suits us to do it. That is probably the smallest promise that any culture has made to its children in the history of ever; even elite medieval schools promised to stick around till the job was done. Charters have tried to claim success by redefining success, and their new definition is tiny and unambitious.

This is also emblematic of another forgotten American promise. Modern charters are predicated on the idea that we will no longer try to fix things. They are predicated on the idea of “escaping” bad neighborhoods, bad conditions, bad poverty– which of course means we have no intention of addressing those issues. We are standing in front of a burning building with no intention of putting the fire out. We’re just going to rescue a few kids. The right kids.

Ms. Blaine and Mr. Greene do excellent jobs highlighting the amorality of Mr. Petrilli’s position and the reality of charter school practices. His position does not withstand scrutiny in other ways as well.  First, he claims that national polls show that up to a third of teachers “know someone” who left teaching because of “discipline problems” at his school, but this does not match what we know are the key issues cited by teachers who leave the profession, especially in the early years of their careers.  It is not a very high bar to say that, among all the teachers in your school, that someone left because of not being able to implement classroom management.  Meanwhile, solid research from Harvard’s Project on the Next Generation of Teachers found that no student demographic characteristics are significant to young teachers’ decisions to leave teaching in high poverty schools when school culture issues are taken into account.  While how the school manages disciplinary issues certainly factors into school culture, the teachers in the Harvard study focused primarily upon principal leadership and support for teaching and the quality of their collegial relationships.  Teachers wanted and valued administrative and collegial support in disciplinary matters, but they did not cite a need to be able to expel or push out students like at “no excuses” charter schools.

And we should rightly question just how many children Mr. Petrilli thinks all public schools, fully public district schools and charter schools alike, should be able to drive away.  Mr. Petrilli says that the attrition is a “feature not a bug” and he wants to support district schools in doing the same, but the schools he is supporting have genuinely alarming rates of student disappearance.  Success Academy 1 began its first class with 73 students in 2006, but only 32 of those students made it to complete 8th grade in Spring of 2014. North Star Academy in Newark is part of the Uncommon Schools Network and likes to brag how 100% of its seniors graduate, but what they advertise less is that only half of their students who enroll in 5th grade ever make it to 12th grade.  This kind of attrition is replicated across these networks and across cities nationwide.  Keep in mind:  these are schools that are losing up to or more than half of their students who come from a lottery pool of parents and guardians who sought these school out for their children.

And how is it that schools manage to drive away this many children?  All schools have some attrition, but “no excuses” charters employ not simply discipline, but discipline that ensures large numbers of families get the message that they do not belong.  In the same “Room For Debate” page, Ms. Marilyn Anderson Rhames, a charter school teacher in Chicago, explains how she discovered the extreme discipline that effects the children she works with:

Take, for instance, one alumnae who passed all her classes in the 9th grade but was retained because she “failed behavior.” She was extroverted and a bit rebellious as my middle school student, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that she had broken her charter high school’s arbitrary rules (with 37 detentions), which among other things prohibit dying hair an unnatural color (say, pink or green), wearing dangling earrings instead of studs and talking in the hallway between classes. I was shocked, however, that the punishment was to hold her back, making her take the classes she had passed again to make her attitude “college ready.”….

…The principal told me that if my former student wanted an “easier” high school, someplace that doesn’t prepare kids for college, then she was free to leave. That sounded to me like “cherry-picking,” but in reverse.

If readers express little sympathy for a “rebellious” teen, then take the case of Matthew Sprowal, a Kindergarten student in Success Academy 3 in 2008.  Young Mr. Sprowal can be easily distracted and while he was never disciplined for acting out in 3 years of preschool, in S.A. 3, he was subjected to so much behavioral “correction” that by one month in he was throwing up most mornings and asking his mother if he was going to be “fired” from school.  Mr. Sprowal is hardly an isolated case, and the Success Academy chain has discipline and suspension rates far eclipsing their fully public district peers.

Since he has stated on Twitter that he believes that district schools should be allowed to discipline in ways similar to the “no excuses” charters, and he has said that “disruption is classroom cancer,” it is worth asking Mr. Petrilli just what percentage of children in fully public schools do you think should be suspended until they drop out or transfer?  What percentage of students do you think are the equivalent of carcinogens?

I will never assert that alternative schools are never an answer for some children because, as Peter Greene notes here, some of them are genuinely innovative places that work very well with the hardest to teach children (which was supposedly the original mission of charter schools).  However, if Mr. Petrilli is to be taken at his word that the disciplinary procedures and student attrition rates of the “no excuses” charters are things to be replicated at fully public district schools, he has to accept that he is saying a vastly larger percentage of children do not “deserve” to remain within the traditional schools OR the charter schools.

Finally, Mr. Petrilli’s position demonstrates a staggering lack of imagination.  In essence, he is arguing that some students are unable to or unlikely to conform rigidly to the disciplinary expectations that he deems “necessary” for serious learning, and that it isn’t just charter schools that should be able to punish and pressure them until they leave for someplace else.  He has no answer for them; he just sees them as the “carcinogens” that create the “classroom cancer” of disruption and wants them sent away from the “good kids”.

So what is left unexamined and unadvocated for?

  • Community health and nutrition programs with greater reach than current models
  • Universal, high quality pre-K
  • Smaller class sizes
  • Co-teaching models
  • Teacher mentoring and phased entry to the classroom for novices
  • Building capacity for principal leadership
  • Embedding community services such as social workers, medical, and mental health care within the school
  • School within school programs for high achievers AND special needs/at risk students
  • Fully funding federal special education legislation

“Send the trouble makers back to district schools and then to alternative schools” explores NONE of these options, all of which are more likely to extend educational opportunities than a charter school model that is predicated on refusing to accommodate even KINDERGARTEN children who do not readily adapt to extremely narrow disciplinary expectations.

Of course, these policies will cost more money than we are currently spending, and they might require that the top 1% of income earners, who have pocketed 95% of the income gains made since the 2009 recession ended, pay more in taxes.  These same 1% denizens, just 4 of whom earned more money last year than every single Kindergarten teacher in America combined, would much rather take their money and “invest” it in growing charter school chains that give them a return on their investments via tax credits than pay any more of it in taxes that would go to help all of our nation’s school children.

Thanks, however, to Michael Petrilli, they can no longer claim that they really care about helping all of America’s students. At best, they just want to help a handful of the neediest whose successes will make them look good.  At worst, they are cynically manipulating the problems of educating in communities with inter-generational poverty to run up a new investment bubble until they lose interest, cash in, and run off to ruin something else — maybe our public water works.

So, thank you, Mr. Petrilli for your honesty.

23 Comments

Filed under charter schools, Social Justice

New York Gubernatorial Election 2014 – When The Other Guy Winning Isn’t The Worst Thing I Can Think Of

Barring some titanic shift in the likely voting population in the next 15 days, Governor Andrew Cuomo will be reelected to a second term in office.  Governor Cuomo leads his Republican challenger, Rob Astorino, by an average of 54% to 30% with Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins hovering below 10%.  This polling is not recent as races that have already been called do not get constant polling, but barring all undecideds breaking for Mr. Astorino and a significant portion of Hawkins and Cuomo voters “defecting” for the Republican, Mr. Cuomo is all but guaranteed reelection.

This is a galling situation for a governor who has campaigned in a manner that has utterly disdained political engagement with the public and with his rivals.  Despite having raised a $40 million campaign war chest, Mr. Cuomo has barely campaigned at all.  His choice to all but ignore challenger Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham Law School professor and expert on corruption, did not merely mean he refrained from any debates, but also he physically ignored her presence from less than four feet away:

Erica Orden of The Wall Street Journal asked Governor Cuomo if he had spoken with Ms. Teachout at the parade:

Governor Cuomo defeated Ms. Teachout in the primary, but she made a surprising showing of 35% with Democratic primary voters despite having less than $250,000 and practically no name recognition among voters.  One might have hoped that Governor Cuomo would take a surprisingly strong challenge as a message that voters want him to be more accountable, but the Governor’s dismissive attitude towards engaging in public discussion of his record in unscripted formats remains.  He has agreed to but one debate before the election, and he will have no debate where he and Mr. Astorino have the stage by themselves.  This means that voters will go to the polls in November never having seen the Governor debate a main challenger, either in the primary or the general election, one on one.  Voters in New York are more likely to see Andrew Cuomo promoting his new autobiography than they are likely to see him take the podium to discuss election issues with his rivals.

In addition to this being a shameful and arrogant slap to the role of voters in evaluating candidates for high office, Mr. Cuomo has quite a lot that he should have to answer before audiences of voters and the media.  In 2013, the Governor created the Moreland Commission to independently investigate corruption in Albany, supposedly making good on his promise to tackle the “deficit of trust” that existed between the government and the people of New York.  After less than a year of continuous interference from the Governor’s office whenever the commission got too close to his allies,  Governor Cuomo abruptly disbanded the commission.  Moreland’s birth announcement promised New Yorkers that “Anything they want to look at, they can look at — me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman.”  Governor Cuomo stated upon disbanding the commission that “It’s my commission. I can’t ‘interfere’ with it, because it’s mine. It is controlled by me.”  Despite the incredibly corrupt manner in which the Governor’s office interfered with a supposedly independent investigation into corruption, the New York electorate, while broadly accepting that it was wrong, has barely budged in its voting intentions based on the controversy.

This is tragic for New York, not only because it all but assures that Governor Cuomo can glide to reelection, but also because it indicates that voters are unwilling to factor such blatant corruption into our voting calculus.  Political scientists Dr. Martin Gilens of Princeton and Dr. Benjamin Page of Northwestern recently published a study indicating that the American political system does not fully reflect that of a democracy.  Instead they note that an elite cadre of economically powerful individuals and institutions wield the fruits of increasing income inequality to leverage policy regardless of the will of the general voting public. The New York Times’ current magazine issue has a lengthy  exposé on how billionaires, on both sides of the political divide, are wielding their financial power to become “their own political parties.”  The power of such influence on policy is supremely evident in Governor Cuomo’s tenure, especially in his taxation and education policies.

For example, Governor Cuomo does not merely support charter schools in New York. When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio sought to reign in their expansion after years of rubber stamp approval from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor Cuomo not only voiced his support, but also he played a direct role in orchestrating an Albany rally on the same day that Mayor de Blasio was seeking support for his efforts to make universal pre-kindergarten happen in the city.  The Governor then went on and negotiated a state budget that specifically forbids the city from charging charter schools rent.  While New York voters are not opposed to charter schools overall, it is important to note two largely hidden facts in this debate.  The first is that the charter sector which got such direct support from the governor still enrolls only a small portion of New York State and New York City students.  New York City’s approximately 83,200 charter school students represent less than 8% of all New York City public school students,  and given the sector’s penchant for winnowing out students who might be more difficult to teach or whose disabilities might lead to lower test scores, there is a built in limit even to their willingness to serve all students, no matter how much they cover themselves in grandiose promises.

Second, the Governor’s direct hand in engineering both the rally and state budget was not precisely random or driven by pure policy.  There was money, a lot of it, at issue.  As of January, 2014, supporters of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy chain alone, had donated over $400,000 to Governor Cuomo’s campaign, and Ms. Moskowitz’s own PAC had sent him $65,000.  In recent years, Wall Street money has been pouring into the charter school sector, and it has done so in no small part because money managers have figured how to use the tax code to turn charter school investments into a reliable stream of guaranteed money.  Beyond just the charter school segment, venture firms generally see America’s 750 billion a year expenditures on public education as the last public “honey pot” that they can try to monetize for private purposes.

So New Yorkers, there is your Governor: taking 100s of 1000s of dollars from the supporters of just ONE charter school chain, and jury rigging the state budget so that its investors can continue to secure more public money into entirely private hands.  And he has done this while simultaneously choking school districts across the state of critical state aid to the tune of $3-4 billion a YEAR in New York City alone.  This is the man we are poised to send back to the Governor’s Mansion for another 4 years.  No wonder students from Middletown High School in Orange County produced the following video:

Typical political wisdom at this point sighs, shrugs its shoulders, and laments that the “other guy” is even worse just before it either stays home and doesn’t vote or holds its nose to pull the lever for the incumbent.  In this case, the most viable “other guy” is Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.  New York Republicans have done a better job in selecting a candidate than they did in 2010 when they picked the entirely appalling Carl Paladino, but there are still substantive areas where Mr. Astorino is an unacceptable choice.  Mr. Astorino opposes abortion rights and gay marriage, despite his campaign assuring voters that he will not pursue substantive changes to existing state law.  Mr. Astorino has promised to withdraw New York from the Common Core State Standards and reduce the use of standardized tests for teacher and student evaluations if elected, but his education plan also calls for vouchers that can be used to send students to private or charter schools, which does nothing to slow down the transfer of public education money into private hands.

On the other hand, I cannot say that Albany with a Governor Astorino would be that much worse than one under a reelected Governor Cuomo.  Mr. Astorino is likely correct that he could do little in Albany to chip away at social issues where he is out of touch with New York voters, although that is not to say that he could do nothing at all.  It is also true that Governor Cuomo’s socially progressive accomplishments, while actually substantive, are not precisely areas where he took political risks. In 2011, New York support for same sex marriage was comfortably above 50% while opposition hovered around 35%.  Accomplishing same sex marriage in New York was a major victory for marriage equality, but the Governor did not risk his standing with voters to make it happen.  It worth noting that despite governing a state with a 27%  Democratic Party advantage in the electorate, the most progressive thing that Governor Cuomo has accomplished beyond marriage equality is hurting Sean Hannity’s feelings.

An Astorino victory could have two very positive outcomes.  First, it would signal to politicians seeking the Democratic nomination in races that they ignore liberal voters and kowtow to the entrenched money system that plagues our body politic at their peril.  As a liberal Democrat, I can tolerate elected officials more centrist than I am, but I cannot tolerate politicians who sell out the public good at the behest of billionaire donors with little regard for our state and national Commons.  Second, an Astorino victory could possibly embolden Democrats in Albany to do more than lay prostrate at the feet of the Governor’s office.  Andrew Cuomo is no doubt a brilliant political operator even if he is without his father’s rhetorical gifts.  What he has in abundance, however, is a willingness to threaten and place statewide Democrats in fear of angering him.  Is it possible that Assembly Democrats might see a Republican governor as an opportunity to advocate for their constituents instead of meekly to line up in fear of a governor who controls their party’s apparatus?  Possibly.  Is it likely?  I have no idea, but the exercise is worth considering.

With all of that said, will I pull the lever for Rob Astorino?  No, I will not.  If the Republican were within actual striking distance of Andrew Cuomo, I might consider the possibility of voting strategically, but since he is not, I intend to vote for the candidate who most represents my values, Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins.  It is possible that this makes me a part of the problem since my disdain for Governor Cuomo’s corruption will not lead me to vote for his most viable opponent in this race.  However, there are alternative fixes that need to be considered in future election cycles.

Money is buying policy.  There can be no doubt about that, but the officials who are bought when it comes to policy still have to stand for elections, and money does not always win at the polls.  Our corrupted government could be subjected to a slow and steady cleansing if politicians who consistently let themselves be bribed for the purpose of making policy were faced with robust and moderately financed challenges that more closely represent the wills of the voters.  Zephyr Teachout, with practically no campaign financing, an opponent and media that ignored her, and little name recognition, garnered 35% of the primary vote.  Imagine what a campaign with more time and even modestly raised financing from small donors (or – gasp! – fully public campaign funding) could have accomplished, but also it would take an electorate that is finally incensed about the state’s government swimming in what amount to endless bribes.

Further, labor unions, especially teacher’s unions, should take a much more principled stand in endorsements for candidates, especially on issues that directly effect teachers, schools, and students.  Playing along to have a seat at the table is no longer viable, and the New York State United Teachers union demonstrated this in the summer by refusing to endorse Andrew Cuomo for reelection.  It would have been better to have endorsed Zephyr Teachout, but this was a step in the right direction.  However, it needs to go further.  Unfortunately, the Connecticut Education Association has offered endorsement and campaign literature in support of Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy, whose education policies have been a reflection of Andrew Cuomo’s, even seeking to change the state school aid formula in a way that would cut state funding from districts like Hartford and New Haven.  Although Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has announced that she will not run against incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel as she recovers from cancer,  Mayor Emanuel only has a quarter of Chicagoans on his side on school issues, and he should face a robust challenge for the office. It is past time for unions to worry less about access to corrupted politicians and to help elect politicians who will put children and their teachers and schools ahead of the interests of billionaire profiteers.

It is at this point that some anti-union activists will scoff at the idea of cleaning up the corruption of money in politics with the assistance of unions.  After all, unions do spend money, often a lot of it, on political races, and unions collect large sums of cash from the dues of their memberships.  While true, this misses several important distinctions between union influence on politics and that of entirely private individuals.  Unions have monetary resources at their disposal, but they also have operating expenses, sometimes on behalf of memberships that number from the 1000s to the 100s of 1000s to the millions.  All of their cash cannot in practice flow into politics, while the personal wealth of a Michael Bloomberg or a David Koch stays in his bank account until it is donated.  Second, despite attempts to portray the situation otherwise, union political spending is being dwarfed by the flood of money from so-called “dark money” sources, and you have to ignore that spending to place unions at the top.  Unions regulated by the NLRB have to disclose all of their outside payments, but no such requirements exist for shell organizations set up to funnel undisclosed money into the system.  Regardless, Koch brother money alone in 2012 spent on PAC, individual candidates, and outside groups is estimated at over $400 million, which outstrips the top ten labor unions combined.  And that only reports money spent through foundations and nonprofits.  If recent patterns in spending are replicated this year, the 2014 election cycle may potentially reach as much as just under $1 BILLION in dark money.

To be sure, a reformed political system that brings the corruption of spending to bay will take a toll on union spending, but for the sake of their members and the students that they serve, the AFT and NEA must send notice that they will no longer trade a seat at the table for politicians who insist on trading their campaign contributions for sending billions of dollars of public education money into the hands of profiteers.

If voters listened, we might gain some of our democracy back — and our public education as well.

 

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Filed under charter schools, Common Core, Funding, Media, politics, Unions

Success Academy’s Incredible Hypocrisy

Eva Moskowitz wants to continue to expand her Success Academy chain of “no excuses” charter schools, but is concerned that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio will not automatically and enthusiastically endorse her plans as was customary under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Following the model of her successful Albany rally last Spring that led to a state budget forcing New York City to pay rent for all charter schools, charter enthusiasts plan a rally for Thursday, October 2nd in Foley Square at 9am which they are dubbing “Don’t Steal Possible”.  I have seen organizers on social media promise as many as 10,000 attendees, many of whom I presume will be Success Academy teachers and students who, like the weekday rally in Albany, will be given time off from a scheduled school day to provide appropriate optics for the event.

“Don’t Steal Possible” refers to network supporters claiming that they are pleading with the de Blasio administration to not “steal” opportunities from NYC’s most struggling students who want to attend a charter school, especially a Success Academy charter school, where their success is “possible.”  Supporters have taken to Twitter with #DontStealPossible (as have detractors)  and both individuals and organizations, including Ms. Moskowitz herself, have repeated similar talking points about how their mission is driven for NYC kids “trapped” in failing schools:

The 143,000 kids that they repeatedly mention refers to a “report” from charter school advocacy group “Families for Excellent Schools” that cited 371 DOE schools where student performance on the 2013 state examinations did not pass 10% being labeled as proficient.  The purpose of the rally and of Ms. Moskowitz’s expansion plans is to offer “possible” to all of those students so that they can “escape” from their failed schools.

They really have some nerve.

There are many things galling about using the students at 371 New York City schools that serve mostly impoverished minority families as optics for a plan to expand the Success Academy chain, often into neighborhoods that are not strugglingFirst, the article in the Daily News misrepresents the results of those state examinations, probably willfully.  These were the first examinations to align with the new Common Core standards, and they caused an extreme collapse of scores across the entire state.  Further, the examinations are not pegged to grade level skills in reading and mathematics. Period.  End of discussion.  “Proficient” in the new examinations is not a synonym for “grade level,” and anyone who mixes up those terms is misinformed or a liar.  Carol Burris, Principal at South Side High School, explains very clearly how the cut scores were set:

State Education Commissioner John King asked the College Board to “replicate research” to determine what PSAT and SAT scores predict first-year success in four-year colleges. The College Board was asked to correlate SAT scores with college grades to create probabilities of college success. You can read the report here.

Keep in mind that research shows that the SAT’s predictive power is only 22 percent. High school grades are a far better predictor of college success. The lack of validity of scores, without the context of grades, was not taken into consideration.

The New York study chose the following “probabilities” as the definition of college success:

* English Language Arts:  a 75 percent probability of obtaining a B- or better in a first-year college English course in a four-year college.

* Math: a 60 percent  probability of obtaining a C+ or better in a first-year math course in a four-year college….

….When the cut scores were set, the overall proficiency rate was 31 percent–close to the commissioner’s prediction.  The proportion of test takers who score 1630 on the SAT is 32 percent.  Coincidence?  Bet your sleeveless pineapple it’s not. Heck, the way I see it, the kids did not even need to show up for the test.

Argue, if you must, that the new proficiency standard is the appropriate way to set up how the exams are assessed.  But don’t call it “grade level” or “passing.”  They are neither of those things, nor were they designed to be those things.

Second, Ms. Moskowitz and her supporters are pleading, they say, on behalf of those “143,000 kids,” but there is no evidence from the work of her school network so far that Ms. Moskowitz would accommodate anywhere near all of those students even if her schools had enough seats.  First off, a lottery system, while in theory neutral, already skims from a student population by requiring parents and guardians who are informed enough about the system to actually apply in the first place.  Further, once students enroll in the Success Academy network, they are subject to attrition rates and rates of discipline that far outstrip the comparable DOE schools.  Success Academy 1 had an attrition rate greater than 50% since its opening school year in 2006-2007, and the network sends clear messages to parents that they do not want struggling kids in their schools.  The result, as demonstrated by Bruce Baker of Rutgers, is that Success Academies enroll far fewer students who are coming from high poverty homes, are English language learners, or have special education needs:

slide92

Success Academy wants you to believe that they are rallying so that nobody will “Steal Possible” from the students in New York City’s most struggling public schools, but all the data available about their past and current practices suggests that even if many of those students did win lottery seats in a Success Academy, many of them would be pushed out of the school.  Those children are being used to improve the appeal of Ms. Moskowitz’s expansion plans even though probably none of them will be present at tomorrow’s rally.  After all, they have school to attend, and no NYC principal is allowed to dismiss an entire school’s worth of children to a rally to pressure the mayor and Albany.

Third, if this was really a movement to tell the public and officials to “Don’t Steal Possible,” then one would assume that there would be causes involved that aided all of our city’s children, not just the ones that win charter lottery seats and are then allowed to stay at those charters.  Again from Professor Bruce Baker of Rutgers, Albany has manipulated its base state funding formula in ways that have shorted New York City somewhere between $3-4000 a YEAR per CHILD below previous calculations of state aid.  That amounts to $3-4 BILLION in state aid ANNUALLY that Albany has kept from reaching New York City.  Across the entire state of New York, the Gap Elimination Adjustment has deprived the average school district of $3.1 MILLION annually, and Governor Cuomo aggressively pursued and got a property tax cap so that districts cannot choose to make up the lost money locally.  Consider how much “possible” has absolutely been stolen from public schools in New York City and across the state by these policies, and then ask if Families for Excellent Schools and Success Academy’s wealthy backers in the financial industry will rally to change them.  The answer is, of course they won’t.  Those same donors and Ms. Moskowitz’s own PAC have donated generously to Andrew Cuomo’s campaign.

And this is the hypocrisy.  Ms. Moskowitz is going to excuse her teachers and students from a day of school to rally in alleged support of all of those kids she claims are “trapped” in “failing” DOE schools, and there is no doubt that an unacceptable number of our most vulnerable students are indeed in schools that struggle.  But there is NO evidence that Ms. Moskowitz wants all or even a bare majority of those students in HER schools.  There IS plenty of evidence that the most vulnerable children to reach a Success Academy find it very difficult to remain there, and there is incontrovertible evidence that Ms. Moskowitz and her financial backers support the reelection of a Governor who has choked schools of money for his entire first term in office.

“Don’t Steal Possible”?

Shameless.

UPDATE:  Courtesy of Mindy Rosier, a special education teacher in a co-located school, the Success Academy in her building has changed their normal Wednesday half-day to today, and the school is providing buses that met at 7:30am to take people to Foley Square.  The event is being billed as a “parent rally,” but with school at half day for the event, there is little doubt that many children will be accompanying them:

SA change of calendar SA bus

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Filed under charter schools, Funding, politics, Social Justice

The Moral Perversity of Today’s Education “Reform”

The narrative of school failure that fuels today’s reform policies in education stretches back to the 1983 Reagan administration report, “A Nation at Risk.”  That document asserted that our national education system was so woefully inadequate to the task of educating for the future, that if it had been imposed upon us it “might be considered an act of war.”  The dire warnings have hardly abated, and in 2014, we are frequently told that our children and economy are in danger unless we fully embrace the vision of today’s reformers.  Moreover, today’s menu of reform, common standards, mass high stakes testing, value added evaluation of teachers, elimination of or severe curtailing of teachers’ workplace protections, promotion of charter schools and school choice, are frequently promoted by politicians and policy makers as civil rights issues.  Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig notes:

Student achievement data in the U.S. show long-standing and persistent gaps in minority versus majority performance (Vasquez Heilig & Darling-Hammond, 2008). Public concern about pervasive inequalities in traditional public schools, combined with growing political, parental, and corporate support, has created the expectation that school choice is the solution for poor and minority youth (Vasquez Heilig, Williams, McNeil, & Lee, 2011). As a result, many reformers have framed school choice as a “civil rights” issue. Scott (2013a) argued that philanthropists, policy advocates, and leading pundits have followed Secretary Arne Duncan’s conjuring of Rosa Parks and the broader Civil Rights Movement as synonymous with market-based school choice.

It is notable that the school choice movement counts on prominent African American and Latina/o leaders to support vouchers, charters, parent trigger, and other forms of choice….In our recent Twitter exchange, (former California State Senator Gloria) Romero framed her bill as a civil rights remedy for low-performing schools. Clearly, African American and Latina/o leaders have formed advocacy coalitions to press for school choice as an alternative to the status quo as our nation has consistently and purposefully underserved students of color (Scott, 2011).

In the 21st century, we are exhorted to education reformers’ policy agenda by language invoking the struggles undertaken by some of our most heroic figures, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Representative John Lewis, and told that the best way to close the historic education achievement gap between suburban white children and their urban African American and Latino peers is to embrace highly disruptive change.  We are further told that all of our children are still “at risk” because even in the well-off communities of our upper middle class, students are not learning what they need in a global economy.  Without education reform, our impoverished students will remain locked in poverty, and our comfortable students will slide into stagnation.

For the sake of this discussion, let me do something I never do.  Let me assume, momentarily, that the education reformers are correct.  Assume that common standards and aligned mass assessments will create a seamless system of curricula that challenge students meaningfully, and that those standards encompass a strong vision of student accomplishment.  Assume that adoption of the standards and assessments narrow the differences between states and districts so that expectations remain high for all students.  Assume the assessments are well-crafted and valid measures that stand as good proxies for student learning.  Assume value added measures of teacher evaluation are statistically valid and supported by a robust body of research.  Assume that eliminating the job protections of tenure would mean that vast numbers of students would have greater contact with skilled teachers and that there would be no negative consequences to the rest of the teacher workforce.  Assume that the proliferation of charter schools in urban school districts would give vastly more students options to attend a high performing school and that pressures from school choice schemes would increase the quality of zoned schools.  Assume that urban charter schools fully serve all students who arrive at their doors.  Assume that the advocates of “no excuses” charter schools are correct and that they genuinely demonstrate that closing the achievement gap can be accomplished entirely within school through teachers armed with extremely high expectations.

Assume every last bit of that is true.

Then what?

This is a more critical question than many realize because even if the performance gaps in American education closed overnight, we would still need an economy that can accommodate many more and more equitably distributed high performing graduates than we currently have.  Advocates of current reforms certainly seem to be banking on this.  Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine recently wrote that Eva Moskowitz of the Success Academy charter school network should be considered a “hero of American social justice,” and he declared that her schools have “been a staggering triumph of upward mobility.”  That’s quite a claim to make for a chain of schools whose oldest students have just begun high school, and, in fact, it rests almost entirely about the network’s accomplishments in state administered standard examinations.

However, the attractiveness of the claim is fairly obvious.  If we admit that economic injustice and that institutional racism have a detrimental impact upon students in poverty and students of color, then we have to admit that many of the gains made over the decades by students from upper middle class and upper class backgrounds are at least partially attributable to unearned privileges as well as to individual merit.  Further, we would have to engage in a policy discussion that attempts to alleviate the deprivations of poverty and institutional racism rather than to extol individuals to claw their way past such obstacles largely on their own.  The “no excuses” brand of charter schools claims that they have figured out how to lift all of their students to the same level of education and opportunity as students in the suburbs, and their policy allies are hardly shy about singing their virtues, as represented in standardized test scores:

Former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein does not want to talk about the complicating factors surrounding Success Academy results, nor does he spend time considering how far such results could be replicated. Success Academy fits into a narrative that believes schools and teachers are fully responsible for providing all of the lift out of poverty.

But, as I said, assume that it is possible and that Jonathan Chait’s premature declaration of social mobility comes true.  What awaits these students?  If current trends in economics do not begin to change soon, the answer to that question is not especially hopeful.  While there is still an discernible “college wage premium” for those who earn four year degrees, since the 1980s, a significant portion of that is more attributable to cratering wages among people without degrees than to significant wage growth among those with degrees:

Wage growth and decline by level of education

Wage growth and decline by level of education

While a Millennial with a college degree earns a wage that is $730 more than a late boomer with the same degree, the wage trends for those with either a two year degree and no degree have dropped precipitously since the early 80s compared with decades of modest but steady growth before.  A college degree may be necessary for a middle class career today, but more and more, it looks as if the degree is more a means to keep from falling into chronic income insecurity rather than as a genuine means of economic advancement.

If the middle class is increasingly a tenuous position in the American economy, it is even worse for the lower middle class, an economic stratum that has traditionally helped families transition from working class to more economically secure circumstances.  According the The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, nearly half of American families live at 250 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) or below, and 30 percent live between 100 percent and 250 percent of the FPL.  Unlike families below the poverty level, such lower middle class households are equally likely to be headed by a married couple or a single parent, and nearly half have a head of household who has attended at least some college.  The report on their economic struggles notes that, despite living above the poverty line, large percentages of these families rely upon a number of tax and transfer benefits such as SNAP and the Earned Income Tax Credit to remain above the FPL.  Indeed, without many of these programs, the number of families that would slip from an unsecured lower middle class to simple poverty is significant.  As a transition point from poverty to a more secure middle class, the lower middle class is faltering badly.

And where is the evidence that the economy is desperate for more workers with bachelors degrees?  It certainly is not in the wages earned by recent college graduates.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, wage growth adjusted for inflation has been nonexistent since 2000, and the downward trend has continued even as the economy has recovered from the Great Recession:

Wages for Recent College Graduates

Wages for Recent College Graduates

If college graduates were in short supply, basic labor economics dictates that businesses competing for them would have to offer higher wages, but even in the vaunted STEM fields, wages, while higher overall than in non-STEM fields, have not grown significantly for most of the 21st century.

Reality suggests that even if all education reform assumptions were true, graduates of a “properly reformed” school system would still graduate into an economy that is not equipped to lift them from poverty and that is barely equipped to maintain those in the middle class where they currently reside.  The recently published study by Karl Alexander of The Johns Hopkins University, The Long Shadow, illustrates just how complex and potentially unsuccessful the rise from poverty can be.  Out of 800 children studied from first grade to their late twenties, only 33 moved from the low income to the high income bracket.  While a good education is certainly a PART of a pathway out of poverty, it is by no means the ONLY way out, and with more and more workers in the economy struggling to keep pace, it is perverse to suggest that we bestow upon schools the sole responsibility for lifting children from poverty.

And yet that is exactly what is implicit and even explicit in reformers’ policy objectives and rhetoric.  When Jonathan Chait calls Success Academy a “triumph of upward mobility” he is expressly saying that equalizing standardized test scores through Moskowitz’s “no excuses” methodology will effectively raise the children in her schools to economic security.  But even if everything he says about her accomplishments is true, we cannot blithely assume that this academic accomplishment translates into mobility when the economy shows no indications of providing the kind of reward for work that would translate academic standing into economic standing.  Eva Moskowitz’s scholars still face a world where this trend shows no signs of abating:

Share of Total Income

And, of course, we know that we cannot grant the reformers that their agenda will work because much of it simply will not or is built upon faulty and deceptive claims.  Common standards are being implemented in 45 states simultaneously with virtually no field examination of whether or not they improved instruction at the classroom, school or district levels.  Evaluating teachers based on Value Added Models is problematic at best, statistically invalid at worse. There is scant to no evidence that the elimination of teacher tenure is going to significantly improve the teaching in urban schools, and, in fact, the states with the weakest teacher job protections tend to be states that perform very poorly on national assessments. Success Academy, despite claiming to teach similar high need populations as NYC district schools, has a very high attrition rate, and they do not replace students who leave.  This is a trait shared with many other “no excuses” charter schools who eventually have student populations with many fewer disabled students, English language learners and students on free and reduced lunch than their district counterparts.  They combine the selective attrition of the most difficult to teach students with an extreme emphasis on discipline for even minor infractions of the rules and, at Success Academy and elsewhere, a curriculum aimed at test preparation.  While there is little evidence yet that such test performance training will result in long term economic success, there is evidence that charter school expansion can make segregation actually worse.

And this is where reform advocacy devolves from being merely wrong-headed and into territory that is dangerously close to immoral.  America has one of the highest child poverty rates in the developed world.  It is well established that poverty and its deprivations have serious, often lifelong, impact on people in health, education and economic outcomes.  While improving educational opportunity for children in poverty is a necessary component of expanding opportunity, left to its own, education reform, ANY education reform, cannot make significant dents into the roadblocks that stand before our nation’s poor.  We do not have an economy where the lower middle class can survive on the wages offered for their work.  We do not have an economy where 90% of the wage earners possess more than 49 percent of the total income in the country, and we do not have an economy where the often expressed need for college educated workers has led to growth in income earned by college graduates.

Worse, we have accepted no society wide responsibility to address child poverty in any meaningful way that would lift more children into the economic circumstances more highly correlated with school success than any other factor.  In fact, as a society, we have responded to current economic circumstances with demands to cut discretionary programs in ways that can directly harm children, deepening the already woeful health, education and economic outcomes for children in poverty.  Matt Bruenig of Demos, estimates that with an investment of 1% of GDP in a straight transfer program, child poverty could be cut by 50 percent, almost instantly.  He further points out that our 24 percent of GDP taxation level is among the lowest in the developed world, and it is hard to argue that there is no room for an extra percentage point of GDP.

But there is no political will to discuss this or other direct approaches to lifting people out of poverty in our government.  More accurately, there is no willingness for the major political donors who effectively leverage significant portions of policy in America to do anything that changes either the economy or their taxation levels.  There is, however, significant interest in bypassing those discussions and placing all of the responsibility to both transforming our economy and for lifting disadvantaged children from poverty upon teachers and school.

It fits the meritocracy narrative, and it may tug at our cultural bias towards individualism in the face of daunting odds.

But it is immoral.

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New York Times Ignored Teacher Input on Eva Moskowitz

The September 7th New York Times Magazine ran a story by Daniel Bergner called “The Battle for New York Schools: Eva Moskowitz vs. Mayor Bill de Blasio”.  Bergner’s piece reads as an astonishing piece of hagiography to appear in the paper of record, ignoring any substantive argument about Ms. Moskowitz’s schools and repeating without critique her organization’s point of view.  Mr. Bergner did make note that he had spoken to critics of Ms. Moskowitz’s approach, notably Dr. Diane Ravitch of New York University whose input he represents thusly:

When I talked with her, Ravitch indicted the hedge-fund titans and business moguls — including Kenneth Langone, a founder of Home Depot, and the Walton family of Walmart — who put their weight behind promising charter schools, leading their boards and lending political clout. “When they call themselves reformers,” she says, “it’s something I gag on.” What these philanthropists are all about, Ravitch says, is making themselves feel good while using charters as a halfway step in a covert effort to pull the country toward the privatization of education. For charter opponents, liberalism is in jeopardy. And from this perspective, Moskowitz, with her results and her readiness to trumpet them, poses the greatest risk.

Knowing something of Dr. Ravitch’s criticisms of charters schools generally and of Ms. Moskowitz specifically, this struck me as an odd and likely incomplete representation of her input.  Sure enough, several days after publication, Dr. Ravitch responded in her own blog at some length. According to Dr. Ravitch, her conversation with Mr. Bergner was not represented in the published article:

I spent a lot of time on the phone with the author, Daniel Bergner. When he asked why I was critical of Moskowitz, I said that what she does to get high test scores is not a model for public education or even for other charters. The high scores of her students is due to intensive test prep and attrition. She gets her initial group of students by holding a lottery, which in itself is a selection process because the least functional families don’t apply. She enrolls small proportions of students with disabilities and English language learners as compared to the neighborhood public school. And as time goes by, many students leave.

The only Success Academy school that has fully grown to grades 3-8 tested 116 3rd graders but only 32 8th graders. Three other Success Academy schools have grown to 6th grade. One tested 121 3rd graders but only 55 6th graders, another 106 3rd graders but only 68 6th graders, and the last 83 3rd graders but only 54 6th graders. Why the shrinking student body? When students left the school, they were not replaced by other incoming students. When the eighth grade students who scored well on the state test took the admissions test for the specialized high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, not one of them passed the test.

She goes on to note that in addition to the phenomenon of selective attrition, she also discussed high rates of teacher attrition at network schools, but that Mr. Bergner argued with her instead of interviewing her.  Dr. Ravitch also notes that Mr. Bergner used different language than she did when discussing the issues with him, and all of her points about selective attrition were either ignored or glossed over with talking points that reflect Success Academy’s standard public statements.

While Dr. Ravitch has a platform to illuminate the distressing puffery that made it to the New York Times magazine posing as a multi-sided examination of a contentious public issue, a reader would be hard pressed to know that Mr. Bergner actually spoke to public school teachers who work in fully public schools that are co-located with Success Academy schools.  The sole hint of input is presented here:

That attitude (Moskowitz’s)  infuriates many teachers at regular schools. When I spoke with a handful, they used words like “metastasize” and “venal” to describe Success Academy’s proliferation. That Moskowitz’s wealthy board members choose to highly reward her track record — her salary and bonus for the 2012-13 school year totaled $567,500 — only adds to the union’s fury.

What is astonishing about that brief mention focused entirely upon a few potential epithets and alleged jealousy of Ms. Moskowitz’s salray is that Mr. Bergner DID speak with teachers who work in co-locations with Success Academy schools.  In fact, he spoke at length and clearly decided to disregard their input almost entirely. I am fortunate to know one of those teachers through local teacher advocacy groups, and she agreed to inform me about her discussions with Mr. Bergner and to share what it is like to be a teacher at a school where Ms. Moskowitz has claimed classroom space for her students.  Her name is Ms. Mindy Rosier, and she is a teacher at P.S. 811, the Mickey Mantle School, a special needs school within P.S. 149 in District 75.  They have been co-located with Success Academy since 2006, and this Spring, she and her colleagues found themselves in the center of the storm when Mayor de Blasio decided to not allow three previously agreed upon co-locations for Success Academy expansions.  The resulting highly public battle resulted in a 6 million dollar ad campaign accusing the mayor of throwing Success Academy students out of their schools, all funded by Ms. Moskowitz’s Wall Street supporters, and it culminated in Governor Andrew Cuomo helping coordinate a pro-Moskowitz rally in Albany that resulted in the city of New York being bound by the state budget to provide co-locations or pay rent for all charter schools.

Ms. Rosier was kind enough to answer my questions about what she thinks people in NYC need to know about the consequences of charter school co-locations awarded to Success Academy.  Much of this was what she told Mr. Bergner in a 45 minute long conversation whose content never made it to the New York Times Magazine:

Can you explain the school where you work?  Who are your students and what is the mission of your school?  

My school is PS811 at PS149. We are an additional site to the Mickey Mantle School family and we are also a part of District 75. My school site serves over 100 children with autism, learning disabilities, emotional and psychiatric disorders in a low income area in Harlem. Harlem Gems also have some rooms in our building. We all get along really well, with the exception of Success Academy.

The following is our mission statement;

The core values of P811M are articulated and expressed by a family of dedicated professionals committed to educating the whole child with integrity, compassion and respect. Our collective community effectively implements instructional practices geared to the individualized achievement of students’ social, emotional and academic goals. Each child’s individual assessment data informs this instruction. It is our goal to lead students towards maximum independence. With this independence, disabilities are turned into abilities.”

How did the co-location with Success Academy happen?  Were there discussions with parents and faculty/staff?  Do you know how it was decided to co-locate at your school?

Our site opened the same time as Success Academy began. It is my understanding that at that time, space for all was agreed upon. They had a certain amount of classes on one floor in one side of the building. I was hired at that school during the same time, so I am unaware of any other previous discussions with faculty/staff and parents. I don’t think anyone had a problem with that co-location then, but then again we had no idea what was to come.

How did the co-location process work?  Did you have any input into how the building would be divided between your school and Success Academy? 

At first, everything was fine. Then, over the next several years, they have requested more and more space from us. Up until last year, I did not know what the process was. I know our teachers did not have a say in this, and I really don’t know what the involvement of my admins were. I do know that just for one year, our former Chapter Leader (who now works for the UFT division for District 75 schools) was able to prevent more expansion on her part. Overall, we lost two floors that included classrooms, our library, our music room, our art room, our science room, and as a matter of making up one classroom, we lost our technology room as well. P.S.149 was so nice and offered us some available rooms at that time. Since, Success Academy has also expanded on their side and they lost an entire floor. So by last year, we had NO free space and P.S.149 was and is crunched for space as well.

Do the schools ever share any parts of the facilities?  If yes, how does that work out most of the time?  If not, do you know why?

We are NOT allowed on their floors. However, they always go through our hallways. Because of overcrowding and for safety reasons, they were told not to walk through a certain hallway during our dismissal times. My understanding was that they were not too happy about it and I have observed this still happening a couple of times over the years. All schools share the auditorium. In order to reserve time, coordination needs to be done. When Success Academy is using the auditorium, it is usually closed off to all others. Since our building is of a decent size, many of us cut through the back of the auditorium to the other exit to get to the P.S 149 side. (We have 3 classes on their second floor as well as a speech room and a resolution room.) So many times, when SA puts on a show or an event, it is very loud! There are two sets of doors that lead to the auditorium from our hallway. We have several rooms including classrooms close by. They have no problem keeping those doors open, disturbing our classrooms and other rooms. My office happens to be near there as well. So many times I have gotten up to close those two sets of doors. Sometimes I got looks doing so, but I didn’t care. We were all being disturbed. Noise levels do not have to be that loud. Even with the two doors shut, you still can here them. We just make do, like every other time. We do share the lunch room. In the mornings, SA has their breakfast first and then we do. There is another lunchroom on the P.S.149 side and also because of scheduling, their lunch begins around 10:40. On our side it is 11:30. Whether or not lunch staff starts on time, we have to be out of there just shy of 12. Our standardized students then have recess for a half hour, and then our alternative students have the next half hour. On Wednesdays, Success Academy has early dismissal. They are supposed to come out at 12:30. They exit through our playground. For the most part, they are already lined up to leave as we are heading back in from recess. There have been some occasions where at least one of their classes had come out really early. It was about 12:15 and my assigned class were in the middle of a kickball game. I yelled out several times to that teacher to please hold off, it is still our time. I know I was loud (that’s the Brooklyn in me) so I am pretty confident she heard me but chose to ignore me. My students LOVE recess and when they saw they had to end the game early they got upset very quickly and behaviors escalated. Me and one other para(professional) were trying our best to calm them down. There was another para who had gone inside earlier with another student because of a separate issue. When I saw that para come out, I yelled to him to get help which he did. This was a 4th grade class of about 12 who are all emotionally disturbed and learning disabled.  It was such a difficult situation. Some students had to be separated because their anger looked like it was going to lead to some fights. My lunch was next period, and I immediately informed my Assistant Principal. In front of me, she called their principal. I also had to write up several incident reports.

Now back to our lunchroom….our lunchroom is also our gym. Right after breakfast, it is cleaned up and the tables are folded and pushed to the sides. We have access to this space all mornings. Now the afternoon is a different story.  SA uses the the lunchroom in the afternoons. If P.S.149’s gym is available, they have been nice enough to let us share it. Otherwise adapted phys ed is done in the classrooms. Our gym teacher is wonderful and he has been great adapting to this situation. However, these are kids, kids with special needs, and they need to run a bit.

What changes have you seen in your work and your students’ educations since co-locating with Success Academy?  What do you think accounts for that?

We have done our best over the years to make sure that our students’ education has not been compromised in  any way. However, our students as well as those in P.S.149 have picked up on the fact that we are all treated differently from them by them.  Their teachers sometimes very obviously, have always looked down at our students even us teachers. I have tried to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are new teachers and they may just not understand what our students are going through. However, that is no excuse to give us looks or ignore us for simply saying “good morning.” There have also been some times where as I was passing, some of the kids have said “hi” to me. I love all children and without even realizing it I always acknowledge their presence even if it just a smile. I remember one time in particular those kids seemed so happy that I made their eye gaze, so I quickly said “hi” to them and slowly kept on walking by. A few of them said “hi” back and proudly told me how old they were. I would have loved to engage with them but they are not our students. Their teacher snapped at them to be quiet and to stand correctly on line. I felt so bad and I did look back. I didn’t want anyone in trouble for me simply saying “hi.”

Could you explain any changes to the environment/culture/feeling of the building during that time?  What do you think accounts for that?

There is definitely and us vs. them feeling in the air. I’ve been told that they have shiny clean floors, new doors, fancy bathrooms, etc. Meanwhile, we have teachers who have bought mops and even a vacuum cleaner to clean their rooms for they feel what is done is not efficient enough. Near our entrance, we have an adult bathroom. It is for staff and our parents. Success Academy parents as well have used it. For many months that bathroom went out of order. Honestly, I am not even sure it is fixed yet, but after all this time, I really hope so. So we would have to either use the closet of a bathroom in the staff lunch area or use one of the kids’ bathroom when it is not in use. You and I know that had that been an SA bathroom, it would have been fixed by the next day. SA also throws out tons of new or practically new materials often. At first, some of their teachers would sneak us some materials thinking we could benefit from it. They stopped out of fear. With all the great stuff that they have thrown out, they got angry when they found out that teachers from P.S.149 and I believe some of our teachers too would go through the piles and take what we could use. Well, now they only throw out their garbage shortly before pick up so that no one could get at it. Nice, right?

We have all seen them get Fresh Direct deliveries. Our kids too. Our students have a general feeling that SA students are special based on how they walk around and how they are personally treated either by looks or sometimes comments. Our students may be special needs, but they understand to a point that feeling of us vs. them. We do not at all refer to things that way at all.

It truly is sad. We are a school with teachers, other staff, and students. We are all supposed to be here for a reason. It is beyond me that this has been such a battle.

This past year teachers and other faculty were very angry. Once I heard about SA’s plan to take over last September, that’s when I started to get involved. Enough was enough. In October, I attended a hearing in my school building, I went to that Panel for Education Policy (PEP) in Brooklyn a week later, and subsequent to that, I have been a part of rallies and press conferences, etc. as I have detailed in my email. All of what happened at my school has led to my educational activism. I have read so much over the years. The more and more I read, the angrier I got. The Alliance For Quality Education has done so much for our school in order to save it and for that I am very thankfully to them and I still maintain a very good relationship with them. I was introduced to MORE (Movement of Rank and File Educators) in late April, and I now sit on its Steering Committee, committed to do right by our teachers and students. Instead of just being angry as I have been for so long, I finally did something about it by being proactive. I do have to say, since my activism began, I have made tons of new like-minded friend and I am grateful of that too.

Why do you think Eva Moskowitz and Mayor Bloomberg agreed to further expansion of Success Academy in your building?  What would you say to them about that if you could?

Oh, boy! I believe they are friends and that they run in same circles. They did not care, never did. When we went to that PEP in October, about putting through those charter locations, it was like nothing I have ever seen before. It was my first one. The room was packed with teachers from so many different schools. There were parents, students, and various community leaders including Letitia James and Noah Gotbaum. People were ANGRY. So many plead their case for two minutes at the mic, some with heart wrenching stories, and all the while the panel was very busy playing on their phones, looking bored and disinterested. It was disgusting. You could hear so many people yelling, “Get off your phones!” I did not speak at this PEP ,but a dear coworker did.  I hadn’t found my voice just yet at that time. She tried to give an impassioned speech and when they did not even look at her, she called them out on it and was STILL ignored. It sure seemed to us that the fix was in. Money and power talks and all else suffers.

How could you be so heartless? How can you say you are for all children when you have thought nothing about our community’s most vulnerable children, just willing to toss them aside like trash? A population that you refuse to educate and have sent as cast-offs our way? Knowing our building did NOT have any free space, why did you purposely choose to expand here? Why were parents lied to? Why did you perpetuate lies in the media and to the general public?  These are just some of the questions I would ask her (Eva Moskowitz) based solely on what she tried to do to my school. Trust me, there are so many more that we all have been asking her for a long time.

On the Families 4 Excellent Schools’ page on Facebook, I have gone back and forth with many, and most of those were parents. They had no clue as to what the truth was. So instead of them doing their homework, it was easier to call me a liar, a racist, clueless myself, etc., etc. I didn’t go on there to bash Success Academy. I went on there to inform them of the truth that was completely hidden to them and the general public.  After a while, I just had to stop. It was like beating my head against the wall. Moskowitz seems to be this cult-like figure to parents and they adore her. I have even heard her be called a savior!

As for Bloomberg, I used to like him, but that obviously changed.  Apparently, he came to our building several times to visit SA but never us. We never said “boo.” However when Farina came to our school for a quick walk through to see our space situation during this whole debacle, it became front page news in the NY Daily News with Farina’s big picture and bold letters SNUBBED.  Something to that affect, I don’t remember exactly. SA was pissed that even though she had a specific purpose for her visit to us, she did not go to visit them. She “snubbed” them and that made the front page! Honestly, I think I would simply ask him, “Why did you put money, politics, and power over the welfare of our beautiful special needs children?”

What do you think about the presentation of your concerns in the New York Times article that ran in the September 7th magazine?  Is there anything you think the reporter ought to explain to you and your fellow teachers?

I was beyond angry. I have no problem taking time out to talk about concerns I have, and on those things that I am passionate. I spent a considerable amount giving very specific facts, and they were all ignored. Other teachers were ignored. Parents were ignored. We all gave verifiable facts, but that did not matter. I personally feel that a good reporter should report both sides of the story. Way too many reporters and various mass media outlets have failed us, our school. our students, their parents, and the general public. I want to know why he blatantly ignored all of us and deceived the general public? Important information that I feel everyone should know, instead of blindly praising a woman with obvious deceitful tendencies simply because they have higher scores. There is a reason for that and the public needs to know the actual truth. Isn’t writing about and printing the truth Reporting 101? We ALL deserve a public apology with answers to the questions I have mentioned.

We need more reporters like Juan Gonzalez who is not afraid to tell the truth. He has posted several articles on SA, even one that had a focus on our school. He is one out of how many? AND because of all the faulty and biased information out there, when he does write something, he does not get any respect and he has been bashed.  “How do you say such things about Moskowitz and her schools?”

I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!

###

Ms. Rosier has also written to the New York Times and Daniel Bergner to express her surprise that none of her conversation made it into the article, and to remind Mr. Bergner what she had said to him.  As of today, the letter has not appeared in the Times, but Ms. Rosier provides the text of it here.

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Filed under Activism, charter schools, Media, Stories, Unions

Campbell Brown’s Brings the Anti-Tenure “Argument” to Stephen Colbert

As a former broadcast personality, Campbell Brown has some advantages when appearing on the media to discuss her campaign to end teachers’ workplace protections.  She has experience in interview techniques.  She understands what works well on camera and what does not.  She knows how to pitch her voice and use facial and body language to convey deep sincerity and earnestness regardless of what she really believes.  These served her well on Mr. Colbert’s program last week.

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Mr. Colbert is similarly skilled, but he plays a satirical representation of a right wing ideologue in order to lampoon a segment of the media and to keep his guests off balance.  I would argue that he did not level the full weight of his satirical talents upon Ms. Brown, but rather he waited until the end of the interview to present her with some serious challenges that she could not respond to adequately.  More on that later.

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post provides a pretty thorough assessment of Ms. Brown’s many prevarications and reliance on talking points over evidence courtesy of Dr. Alyssa Hadley Dunn of Michigan State University.  Dr. Dunn makes it very clear that there simply isn’t a research base to support any of Ms. Brown’s assertions, and since she had made those assertions in the media prior to her appearance on The Colbert Report, I wish that Mr. Colbert had been more ready to take on some of the more stubborn and egregious talking points.  For example, Ms. Brown repeated her claim that New York State’s teachers cannot possible be as effective as job evaluations say they are because student test scores are too low:

SC: Okay, how’s the crisis in New York? What’s the problem here?

CB: So, if you look at, if you look at the, um, outcomes, student outcomes in New York, okay? So, 91 percent of teachers are around the state of New York are rated either “effective” or “highly effective,” and yet [SC: Sounds good.] 31 percent, [SC: Yep.] 31 percent of our kids are reading, writing, and doing math at grade level. How does that compute? I mean, how can you argue the status quo is okay with numbers like that??

SC: Well, I went to public school in South Carolina and 31 percent sounds like a majority to me.  (transcript is courtesy of Mercedes Schneider, teacher and author)

Mr. Colbert chose to lightly mock his own education, but there is a major, I would argue deliberate, flaw in Ms. Brown’s favored talking point.  First, the 31% figure does not measure students’ grade level performance; it measures the percentage of students who scored “proficient” or above on the new Common Core aligned testing piloted by the Pearson corporation in New York.  Second, the 31% proficiency rate was gamed by the process to determine the cut scores and openly predicted by New York State Education Commissioner John King before the tests were ever deployed.  From the Times-Union in 2013:

State Education Commissioner John King said he expected some push-back. At a Times Unioneditorial board meeting on Tuesday, he said the number of students considered proficient will likely drop by 30 points. He said, while that number is intimidating, it provides a more honest assessment of what New York’s students know. He acknowledged that makes for nervous educators, but said the state can’t afford to roll back the tougher new standards students will be expected to meet because just 35 percent of New York’s high school freshmen leave ready for college or a career four years later.

How could the commissioner so accurately predict the drop in test scores for the new examinations?  According to award-winning Principal Carol Burris, it is because his office deliberately sought to peg the cut scores between proficiency levels to markers that would leave just a third of New York students making the cut.  The condensed version of Burris’ analysis:  NY DOE sought information from the College Board on what SAT scores (widely considered only a loose predictor of college success) correlated to a successful first year in college, and set measures of that “success” that are clearly aimed at that 30% target.  Once in possession of the desired SAT scores in reading, writing and mathematics for a combined 1630 points, the state’s committee went about setting cut scores for each level of performance on the new CCSS aligned tests.  From Principal Burris again:

When the cut scores were set, the overall proficiency rate was 31 percent–close to the commissioner’s prediction.  The proportion of test takers who score 1630 on the SAT is 32 percent.  Coincidence?  Bet your sleeveless pineapple it’s not. Heck, the way I see it, the kids did not even need to show up for the test.

So is it honest for Ms. Brown to keep repeating that only 31% of NY students are at “grade level”? Absolutely not — first, because this is not a “grade level” measure and second, because the result was gamed from the beginning.

This also brings up another question.  If the goal of the “proficient” rating on the exams is “college and career ready” is a 31% proficiency rating actually wrong?  In 2013, 33.6% of the U.S. population aged 25-29 had a bachelors degree, which is up over 11 points from 22.5% in 1980 when the education “crisis” rhetoric began in earnest.  More of our young population is in possession of college degree today than ever before in our history, and the economic data does not suggest we are in a crisis of too few people with such degrees in the economy.  48% of recent college graduates are underemployed, and in 2010, over 5 million college graduates were employed in jobs requiring only a high school diploma.  Moreover, according to Pew Social Trends, today’s wage benefit for obtaining a college degree comes less from rising wages for college graduates than from cratering wages for those without college.

One could argue that more students need to be on path to be “college and career ready” by their third grade exams because college is increasingly necessary to keep from falling behind economically moreso than it is necessary to get ahead.  Something tells me that today’s reform advocates don’t want to emphasize that point.  We would do better to question if the distribution of students who qualify for and are successful at college are concentrated in specific communities and neighborhoods, but discussed honestly, that would require examining America’s rising Residential Income Segregation Index, another topic education reform advocates don’t like to discuss.

Mr. Colbert made a feint at this late in his interview with Ms. Brown:

SC: You can mention. I’ll edit it out, but you can mention it. [CB: Okay.] [Audience laughter.] All right, now, but, here’s, the thing is aren’t you opening a can of worms there, because [4:00] if you say the kids are entitled to e, equal education, if that’s your argument, doesn’t that mean eventually, you’re going to say, “Every child in the state of New York should have the same amount of money spent on their education”—rich community, poor community—pool it all in, split it all up among Bobby and Susie and Billy—everywhere. [Audience applause.] Because the argument is, everyone gets the same opportunity. [Audience applause.]

CB: But, but you, you’re suggesting that mon, that it’s all about the money, and I think it’s not about the money.

SC: Well, you’re suggesting it’s about equality, and money is one of the equations in equality, or have I just schooled you? [Audience laughter.]

Mr. Colbert did not let Ms. Brown duck the question of money and school funding entirely, but she quickly professed how she wants to “pay teachers more” AND treat them like “professionals” through evaluations.  Then she sidestepped to her “safe” territory by claiming it is almost impossible to fire a teacher with tenure.  As previously noted, Dr. Dunn of Michigan State makes it clear that these claims are completely problematic because first, new evaluations using student test scores focus on formulations of teachers’ impact that only accounts for 1-14% of variability between student performance and second, Ms. Brown’s information on the length of time needed to remove a tenured teacher is badly out of date and her assessment of that time is possibly off by more than a factor of four.  This all tied to her previous claims the “least effective” teachers are concentrated in schools with high levels of disadvantaged students, but her argument against tenure is not remotely related to that because measuring effectiveness via test scores automatically makes urban teachers less effective regardless of their experience and skill. Additionally, these school have far fewer tenured teachers because the turnover rate in many urban districts tops 50% in three years, resulting in a dearth of teachers with the skills that come from experience.

If tenure were truly the problem with teacher quality, then wealthy suburban districts with more stable and experienced teacher corps would not be the districts with high test scores and large percentages of college bound graduates.  In this sense, Ms. Brown’s fight against tenure resembles Republican led drives for voter ID laws that threaten to block 100s of 1000s of currently eligible voters in order to stop a “problem,’ voter impersonation, that occurs so rarely it does not statistically exist.

Mr. Colbert then pivoted to what appears to have been his most important question of the interview — what is the money involved in Ms. Brown’s lawsuit?

SC: Just trying to win, Campbell. Just trying to win, all right? Um, your organization, where does it’s money come from? That’s one of the things they asked me to ask you.

CB: I, I saw that on my Twitter feed today. The, the, who’s funding this effort?

SC: Yeah, who’s funding your, your effort, [CB: Kirkland Ellis.] your organization.

CB: The law firm…

SC: The law firm is funding it?

CB: Well, the law firm is doing this for free, so we haven’t gone out…

Ms. Brown’s point here appears to be that despite her fronting the organization that is facilitating the lawsuit, the efforts on behalf of that suit are, in essence, charitable.  This may be true as far as legal fees are concerned, but it is absurd on the face to even hint that there is no monetary value to the assistance Ms. Brown is giving the plaintiffs her organization recruited.  First, her connections and celebrity almost certainly played a role in obtaining the legal services.  Second, Ms. Brown is a media ready spokesperson who has been giving interviews and penning opinion articles on behalf of this cause, and such services would cost dearly if they came from a private consulting firm.  Further, Ms. Brown has managed to sign up the services of Incite Agency, led by former Obama administration alumni Robert Gibbs and Ben LaBolt to do publicity for the cause on a national level.  The plaintiffs in this case are enjoying pro bono legal services, Ms. Brown’s celebrity and public relations services from former White House personnel.  I think it is sufficient to say that those are no small levels of support.

Mr. Colbert pressed on about financial support and finally got Ms. Brown to admit to something which I find astonishing:

SC: So, the Partnership for Educational Justice [7:00] has not raised any money so far?

CB:Yeah, we are raising money.

SC: And who did you raise it from?

CB: I’m not gonna reveal who the donors are because the people (pointing toward window) are out…

SC: I’m going to respect that because I had a super PAC. [Audience applause.]

CB: I hear you. But, part of the reason is the people who are outside today, trying to protest, trying to silence our parents who want to have a voice in this debate…

SC: Exercising First Amendment rights…

CB: Absolutely, but they’re also going to go after people who are funding this, and I think this is a good cause and an important cause, and if someone wants to contribute to this cause without having to put their name on it so they can become a target of the people who were out there earlier today, then I respect that.

 

Ms. Brown is married to Dan Senor, who was the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq following the fall of the Hussein Regime.  He sits on the board of of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirstNY, and he joined hedge fund Elliot Management before becoming a top adviser to Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  Ms. Brown is on the Board of Directors of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy chain of charter schools, an organization that boasts massive financial support from Wall Street.  Her ties to people who have been pouring money into education “reform” in the interest of charter schools is not difficult to establish, as blogger Mother Crusader has demonstrated.  Suffice to say that these are incredibly wealthy and politically connected people who are the most likely donors to her organization.

And Ms. Brown wants us to believe that they need to be “protected”.  That if people want to know who is funding lawsuits to challenge laws that were passed by democratically elected governments and job protections that were subject to open and adversarial negotiations between unions and administrators, they cannot know because the donors seeking to overturn such laws could not abide potential criticism of themselves in the public sphere.

Wow.

Let’s be clear.  Who are “the people who are outside today” who Ms. Brown assumes will bully and intimidate her donors?  According to The Daily News:

 

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I am sure that Eva Moskowitz’s donors are just quaking in their boots…right after they drop another $400,000 into Governor Cuomo’s pockets.

Mr. Colbert did not sneak a camera crew down to the street to make Ms. Brown look as ridiculous as she richly deserved at that moment, but the fact that he led her to make such a ludicrous statement is telling in an of itself.  Today, it is very hard to trust that major media outlets will take the time and effort to research and interview people trying to lead public debate via deception, and on issues that require a genuine understanding of complex social phenomena, that is even less likely.  I have written before how abysmally the New York Times’ editorial staff have failed in that regard, preferring to take the statements of advocates with wealth and connections at face value.

Mr. Colbert is not a journalist, yet he and his fellow comedians Jon Stewart and John Oliver have become almost guardians of truth in recent years.  It is often more likely that Mr. Colbert or Mr. Stewart or Mr. Oliver will highlight the absurd inanities, half truths and contradictions routinely offered by politicians, pundits and advocates.  In the case of Ms. Brown, Mr. Colbert got her to openly confess to a truth that is gaining greater and greater public awareness: American governance is increasingly oligarchical in nature whereby elected officials craft policy more to serve the interests of their very wealthy donors rather than the interests of the actual voters who put them in office.  Ms. Brown’s undisclosed donor list is a perfect example of this, and her refusal to disclose under the fiction that her donors could possibly be intimidated by moms and teachers with home made posters should be mocked loudly and frequently.

I am grateful to Mr. Colbert for organizing his interview to that point, but I am saddened that we rely almost exclusively on satirists to get to the heart of public affairs these days.

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Filed under Activism, Funding, Media, politics, schools, Social Justice, Testing, Unions, VAMs

Eva Moskowitz’s “Success”

The founding class of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy chain of “no excuses” charter schools graduated from eighth grade last week.  Of the original class of 73 students who enrolled in 2006, 32 made it to last week, and, according to Juan Gonzalez of the New York Daily News, despite 27 of those students sitting for the entrance exams to New York City’s highly selective public high schools, no Success Academy graduate qualified for admission.  Moskowitz has widely touted her schools’ closing of the achievement gap between racial demographics on state issued standardized tests, and while the city’s elite high schools are rightly criticized for their low enrollment of black and Latino children, Gonzalez notes that the overall 12% acceptance rate for black and Latino students taking the test should have given as many as 3 acceptances from Moskowitz’s school.

This is not news that should produce any satisfaction even among Ms. Moskowitz’s most fierce critics, nor should any criticism be aimed at the young children involved.  Despite my serious reservations about the atmosphere and techniques employed by Ms. Moskowitz’s charter chain, I have no doubt that the young people who have been at Success Academy 1 since 2006 are admirable and hard working young people, and it is my sincerest hope that they have bright futures ahead of them.  Nor do I want my criticism of Moskowitz’s methods and self promotion to second guess the parents who have sought out and appreciated her schools’ focus on discipline and raising test scores.  However, Ms. Moskowitz has applied to the state for another 14 Success Academies and under the current state budget deal approved in Albany, New York City will have no say in granting these charters and will have to provide space for the schools or pay Moskowitz’s rent in another facility.  The sharp decline in the enrollment of her first graduating class and her curriculum’s inability to place graduates in the city’s most selective high schools (despite her claims of closing the achievement gap) requires the asking of some sharp questions.

And it is well beyond time that Ms. Moskowitz answer questions of the public that is required by law to pay for her schools.

Ms. Moskowitz is not controversial merely for her confrontational manner nor for her refusal to let the state examine how her chain uses the substantial sums it gets from taxpayers.  Success Academy is part of the “no excuses” camp of education reform that insists if you fire the right teachers, insist upon extreme personal rigor and focus upon the “basics” that you can close the historic achievement gap between white and Asian students and their black and Latino peers. The school of thought has powerful advocates among the likes of Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein and demonstrably has the ear of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the rest of the Obama administration.  It has a certain appeal if you do not think about it too hard.  These critics decry those who focus on anti-poverty and anti-racism efforts as “excusing” bad teaching and claim that if people just work hard enough, historic gaps in academic progress, and presumably economic progress, would close.  In doing so, however, they take up two exceptionally pernicious implied arguments.  The first is that the well-demonstrated deprivations of poverty do not matter so long as the school demands enough out of its students.  The second is that the existence of children who demonstrate the desired perseverance proves that others are just slacking and could overcome if only they just worked hard enough.  Both of these beliefs diminish genuinely complex issues to slogans and side step societal responsibility to address poverty.

Moskowitz’s schools take this to extremes.  The New York Times reported in 2011, when the Success chain had only 7 schools, how children who do not fit into its very narrow mode find themselves subjected to excessive punishments and ongoing suggestions that they should leave.  In less than a month of Kindergarten at Success Academy 3, Matthew Sprowal was subjected to so much pressure and punishment (he has ADD) that he was throwing up most mornings, and his mother received direct communication from Moskowitz herself strongly implying her son should be at another school.  This is not an isolated case.  In 2010-2011, Success 1 suspended a fifth of its students at least once.  Public schools in the same neighborhood suspend 3% of students in a typical year.  Further, evidence exists that the schools place special pressures on the parents of disabled students to seek different schools.  A parent at Upper West Success taped school officials saying they could not properly accommodate her Kindergarten student’s IEP and offering to find him a public school placement.

Charter schools like Success Academy take students from a lottery, and in theory, that lottery ensures that they are not selective like exclusive private schools, but practices like those reported by former Success Academy families demonstrate that the schools do not abide by a spirit of inclusiveness (and may actually violate state and federal law).  Moskowitz repeatedly tells the media that she is succeeding with the city’s neediest children, but her schools clearly enroll far fewer children on free and reduced lunch, fewer children with disabilities and fewer children who are second language learners than her neighboring district schools, and the pattern of those students who leave the schools in the early grades is not random.

It is true that Success Academy students get higher than average scores on state tests, but this is coming from a population of students who have already had those most likely to struggle on the tests weeded out — and it comes with the cost of extreme test preparation rolled in the curriculum.  A Success Academy teacher, writing on terms of anonymity, gave the following account to NYU’s Dr. Diane Ravitch:

“Custom Test Prep Materials: I think many schools use practice workbooks from publishers like Kaplan, etc. We have people whose job it is to put together custom test prep packets based on state guidance. Much more aligned to common core and closer to the test than the published books I’ve seen. Also, teachers are putting together additional worksheets and practice based on what we see in the classroom. Huge volume of practice materials for every possible need (and we use it all, too). Also many practice tests and quizzes that copy format of the test.

“Intensive organization-wide focus on test prep: For the last months and weeks before the test, everyone from Eva on down is completely focused on test prep. Just a few examples….

“We have to give kids 1/2/3/4 scores daily. Kids are broken up into small groups based on the data and get differentiated instruction. If they get a 1, they stay back from recess or after school for extra practice.

“Thousands of dollars spent on prizes to incentivize the kids to work hard. Some teachers have expressed concern about bribing them with basketballs and other toys instead of learning for the sake of learning. The response is “prizes aren’t optional.”

“We get daily inspirational emails from principals with a countdown, anecdotes about the importance of state tests, and ever-multiplying plans for “getting kids over the finish line” (these get old fast).

Excessive test preparation is a concern for all New York City schools, and the teacher evaluation incentives implemented as part of Race to the Top have not helped.  The New York legislature passed a law this Spring mandating that test preparation can take up no more than 2% of instructional time in public schools.  Charter schools were exempt, which is a relief for Ms. Moskowitz’s schools who would apparently lose months of their planned curricula.

In a follow up message, the same teacher forwarded a message to Success Academy teachers from a senior administrator giving his ideas on why they have been “attacked” in the media.  The message contrasts their work to the work of “failure factories”, claims to have found the “solution” to urban education, claims that people are jealous of their schools and frames Success Academy, which can raise over 7 million dollars in a one night fundraiser, as victims of teacher unions.

Missing in the self congratulatory rhetoric and the extreme test preparation?  The children pressured and forced out of the network’s schools for reasons no public school could ever employ.  There is no “solution” for urban education that involves losing over half a graduating class of students between first grade and eighth.  There is no “solution” for the challenges of educating students with learning disabilities, behavioral disabilities or who are learning English that includes pushing them off on to other schools.

Which brings me back to the first graduating class of eighth graders at Success Academy 1.  I genuinely wish them well, and I certainly admire the qualities they must possess to thrive in an environment like the one described above.  But the children Ms. Moskowitz failed to mention in her address to her first class of “scholars” are the ones she failed to get to that day.  Those are the children she refused to accommodate and whose education she washed her hands of.

And she should be made to account for every single one of them before New York grants her a single new classroom.

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Can We Talk About Poverty And Violence NOW?

I became aware of this via a graduate school colleague.  Research from the CDC and Harvard University identifies that as much as 30% of young people in our urban areas suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as the result of living in communities afflicted by violence, a rate higher than soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.  This citation recently went viral because of report on a San Francisco CBS affiliate that mentioned the research — while deciding to coin the phrase “hood disease” to describe the phenomenon.  Response to that polarizing and sensationalist turn of phrase was swift, and it was well earned.  Hopefully, it will not obscure a chance to focus on a conversation that is desperately missing from today’s education conversation — the impact of poverty and violence on children and what it means to provide meaningful education for those children.

I am not optimistic, unfortunately.  Discussing the impacts of poverty and community violence on children would mean taking a good hard look at American society as a whole, how segregated we remain as a society (and how it is getting worse since 1980), how poorly we do as a country at helping families in poverty and how we largely ignore problems that are clustered in communities that are predominantly of color. I find it hard to believe that we are ready for a conversation today.  It would require more willingness for painful introspection and confrontation of racism that many prefer to believe does not exist.

Optimism is further undercut by the fact that the impacts of poverty on all sorts of outcomes for young people is not precisely news, although the PTSD estimates for community violence should cause more people to take notice.  “Effects of Poverty on Children” was published in 1997 and found vast differences in physical, cognitive, school achievement, and emotional and behavioral outcomes for children living in poverty, and it described the ways in which poverty influences these outcomes.  They recommended community health, parental education, in home interventions, and renewed efforts to eliminate deep, sustained poverty.  Not one of these recommendations found their way into the Bush era No Child Left Behind education reform bill nor into its Obama administration successor, Race to the Top.  Arizona State University Regents’ Professor Emeritus David Berliner delivered the Presidential Invited Speech at the 2005 meeting of the American Educational Research Association, and he titled in “Our Impoverished View of Education Reform.”  Among his conclusions:

All I am saying in this essay is that I am tired of acting like the schools, all alone, can do what is needed to help more people achieve higher levels of academic performance in our society. As Jean Anyon (1997, p. 168) put it “Attempting to fix inner city schools without fixing the city in which they are embedded is like trying to clean the air on one side of a screen door.”

To clean the air on both sides of the screen door we need to begin thinking about building a two-way system of accountability for contemporary America. The obligation that we educators have accepted to be accountable to our communities must become reciprocal. Our communities must also be accountable to those of us who work in the schools, and they can do this by creating social conditions for our nation that allow us to do our jobs well. Accountability is a two way process, it requires a principal and an agent. For too long schools have thought of themselves only as agents who must meet the demands of the principal, often the local community, state, or federal government. It is time for principals (and other school leaders) to become principals. That is, school people need to see communities as agents as well as principals and hold communities to standards that insure all our children are accorded the opportunities necessary for growing well.

It does take a whole village to raise a child, and we actually know a little bit about how to do that. What we seem not to know how to do in modern America is to raise the village, to promote communal values that insure that all our children will prosper. We need to face the fact that our whole society needs to be held as accountable for providing healthy children ready to learn, as our schools are for delivering quality instruction. One-way accountability, where we are always blaming the schools for the faults that we find, is neither just, nor likely to solve the problems we want to address.

But since that address in 2005, “one-way accountability” has not only dominated policy, it has actually spawned an entire industrial scaled investment in testing and data, entrenching it even deeper.  Even though it has very little to do with the issues that plague impoverished communities in our country and the schools that try to serve them.

Most of what you’ve read about our “failing” national schools is based on flawed data.  Even using the preferred tool of accountability advocates, standardized tests, the crisis in our public schools is one of community poverty.  This graphic comes courtesy of Christine McCarthy, a New York City public school teacher and recipient of a Distinguished Fullbright Award in Teaching:

Image

Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at USC provides the data for this chart which should make it crystal clear that the constant doubling down on standards and testing will have no serious impact on the international testing gaps that produce such gnashing on the teeth in the media and in Washington.  A test does not alleviate the well documented impacts of poverty.  Firing a teacher whose students are performing poorly on a test does not alleviate the well documented impacts of poverty.

It is at this junction, that a Michelle Rhee or Joel Klein comes along, sometimes on a talk show, to say that there should be “no excuses” for even a school with a 75% or higher poverty rate.  Their preferred “no excuses” methods involve firing as many people as they can, closing down schools and turning more and more children over to charter school operators.  Certainly, many of those operators like to claim that they’ve found the “secret sauce” to educating within communities afflicted by high rates of poverty.  Eva Moskowitz’s “Success Academy” empire claims that it is educating the exact same students as the neighborhood schools in Harlem, but that claim is simply false, and a parent at Upper West Side Success documented on tape how administrators have tried to counsel out her son who has an IEP, something no neighborhood school could do.  Northstar Academy in Newark loves to claim at 100% graduation rate for seniors, but it fails to report its 50% attrition rate prior to senior year.

The lesson here is that there is no “special sauce” and “Superman” is a comic book hero.  We, as a society, have never figured out a way to provide large scale, genuine, educational opportunity to children growing up in communities with deep and persistent poverty.  We, as a society, are woefully uncommitted to alleviating poverty and have even come to accept the terrifying 20% rate of childhood poverty as normal and perhaps inevitable.  But absent those two commitments, no amount of firing teachers or testing students until they cry is going to “fix” American education.

And this is where I worry for the future again:  I think it is very likely that a combination of suburban parental outrage and teacher activism is going to push back hard on current reforms.  If Common Core survives, it will be substantially modified with fewer tests and less emphasis on value added models of teacher evaluation.  The fact is that pushing the punishment narrative that has been the burden of urban schools for so long to communities that generally like their schools is going to create a backlash.  But once those parents have pushed back and changed these systems, we will still be left with communities rife with damaging poverty and violence, and we will most likely go back to ignoring those facts.

And the next cycle of “reform” will ignore it too.

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Of Greenbacks and Green Cards — Why Wall Street Likes Charter Schools

Yesterday, I contemplated why hedge fund manager and principle founder of Democrats for Education Reform, Whitney Tilson, would be quoted in the New York Times saying that “hedge funds are always looking for ways to turn a small amount of capital into a large amount of capital” as an explanation for financial support of charter schools by Wall Street.  Offering the benefit of the doubt, I considered that Tilson may have simply meant that relatively small cash investments could result in returns of human capital in the form of better educated students.

I no longer consider that.

It turns out that United States tax and immigration laws have created a healthy flow of money from the very wealthy into the charter school movement, possibly in ways not exactly imagined by the authors of those laws but which nevertheless have made charters a favored project of quite a few .1% movers and shakers in world capital.  The New York Times printed an article back in 2010 that reported the interest of the financial sector in promoting charter schools, but it did not examine the connection of that interest to actual returns on investment. While I cannot dispute claims that hedge fund managers like charters because many of them focus on test scores, are not unionized and they are seen as a way of polishing local philanthropic credentials, there is another reason that money flows into charters: it gives a return on investment.

In this piece on Forbes, financial analyst and author Addison Wiggins, explains the mechanism in the tax code that allows Wall Street to show a return on investment in charter schools:

In part, it’s the tax code that makes charter schools so lucrative: Under the federal “New Markets Tax Credit” program that became law toward the end of the Clinton presidency, firms that invest in charters and other projects located in “underserved” areas can collect a generous tax credit — up to 39% — to offset their costs.

 

So attractive is the math, according to a 2010 article by Juan Gonzalez in the New York Daily News, “that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years.”

That isn’t sexy Gordon Gecko kind of money, but it is also guaranteed.  Put down money to fund the creation or expansion of a charter school, and a firm can double its money in a predictable time table and get to brag to the press about it is bringing new education options to urban areas.  The Gonzalez article in the New York Daily News also reported that JPMoragan Chase was setting up a more than 325 million dollar fund to invest in charter schools taking advantage of the tax credits.  This strategy is attractive enough that there are firms specifically devoted to connecting charter schools and financial backers.

To be fair, it is entirely possible that this is a more cost effective way of increasing the number of classrooms in some urban areas than traditional school construction projects funded by bonds; I do not currently possess the data to make such an analysis.  However, two very important considerations must also be made.  First, using the federal tax code in this way means that the cost to the public comes from potentially lost federal revenue instead of being paid in a predictable way at the local and state levels.  Second, when a city funds school construction traditionally, it is usually doing so to create schools that are obligated to educate and accommodate every student within its zone.  Many charter schools love to brag about their “awesome” results and make incredibly impressive claims about their test scores and graduation rates.  As Bruce Baker of Rutgers demonstrates here, such claims rarely can stand even moderate scrutiny.  North Star Academy in Newark, NJ, for example, claims that 100% of its seniors graduate, which is true — if you ignore that 50% of the students who enroll in 5th grade never make it to senior year.

So what we have are major charter school chains with deceptive or outright fraudulent marketing backed by the titans of finance who are making hefty returns on investment and are donating significant sums to politicians to keep the returns flowing.

In addition to onshore capital returns, investments in charter schools can be beneficial to foreign investors via the EB-5 visa program.  Under this program, foreign investors who spend at least $500,000 in the United States on a development project can earn a visa for himself and his family. According the Reuters article, this path is so attractive to foreign investors that Florida alone expected 90 million dollars for charter schools from foreign investors in 2013.  Much like the tax credits for domestic hedge funds, there is an industry developing to connect wealthy donors looking for EB-5 eligible projects to charter schools seeking capital.

To my knowledge none of these actors are channeling investments into neighborhood schools in need of infrastructure funds, estimated at over 250 billion dollars in 2008.  But the good news is that some hedge funds are getting a guaranteed return on investments and some foreign born multi-millionaires are getting green cards.

Al Shanker, the former head of the American Federation of Teachers, helped envision the idea of charter schools.  In a blog post from 2012, NYU’s Diane Ravitch wrote an open reminder to then New Jersey Commissioner of Education, Chris Cerf, about what Mr. Shanker thought charter schools should do. Charter schools, in Shanker’s vision, were meant to serve students who were most needy and had potentially failed already within other schools — instead, many of today’s charters deliberately avoid or push out those students.  Shanker also saw charters collaborating with other public schools.  As small laboratories of innovation, their goal should have been to translate what they had learned about working with students to the rest of the public school system.  Today, many charters aggressively compete with public schools and far from being a true part of the public education system, large numbers in some states are managed by for profit Educational Management Organizations who are responsible for their bottom lines.  According to Ravitch, Shanker turned against charters when he saw a pattern of corporate and for profit interests taking over the movement.

I have no doubt that with 1000s of charters operating across the country, that many of them embody the original vision to provide innovation and collaboration and truly dedicate themselves to serving the most needy of our students.  However, today, they are being greatly overshadowed by deceptively marketed brands of charter chains that rake in Wall Street and foreign investment, aggressively lobby state and federal officials for preferential treatment and build their reputations for success on the backs of students they refuse to serve and work to evict from their schools.  Eva Moskowitz of the Success Academy chain can summon 7.75 million dollars in donations in one evening while most states’ education spending remains below pre-recession levels.

But, again, the good news is that some hedge funds are getting a guaranteed return on investments and some foreign born multi-millionaires are getting green cards

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