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The Pillars of “Education Reform” are Toppling

This post by Sue Peters first ran in January of this year and it seems apropos at this time to run it again because of the pressure being put on teachers by faux roots, Broad backed and Gates funded organizations.

Dora

The Pillars of “Education Reform” are Toppling

Bad news for the “education reformers” – Two key components of the Obama/Duncan/”Race to the Top” reformite agenda – charter schools and “merit pay” – have now been seriously called into question by two separate studies, one from Stanford University, the other from Vanderbilt University.

These studies found that most charter schools are no better or perform worse than public schools, and “merit pay,” which ties bonus pay for teachers to student standardized test scores in an attempt to make teachers (and therefore kids) “perform” better, doesn’t work.

Troubled Chartered Waters

Charters – the decades-old “innovation” that President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan et al want to impose on all school districts – were analyzed by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. Ironically, the study was funded by pro-charter backers like the Walton and Dell families

The findings?

According to the June 15, 2009 report by CREDO, the majority of charter schools (46 percent) perform no better than public schools. What’s more, 37 percent of charter schools perform worse than public schools.

“NEW STANFORD REPORT FINDS SERIOUS QUALITY CHALLENGE IN NATIONAL CHARTER SCHOOL SECTOR”

Stanford, CA – A new report issued today by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that there is a wide variance in the quality of the nation’s several thousand charter schools with, in the aggregate, students in charter schools not faring as well as students in traditional public schools.

While the report recognized a robust national demand for more charter schools from parents and local communities, it found that 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference.” (…)

Maybe this explains Ed Sec. Arne Duncan’s apparent back-peddling on RTT requirements, as reported in the Wall St. Journal: “School Reform Retreat? Duncan eases the rules for states to get ‘Race to the Top’ cash” (Nov. 26, 2009).

In essence, charter schools are private enterprises that operate schools using public (taxpayer) money, generally hire non-union teachers (whom they can potentially overwork and underpay), in some cases acquire public school buildings on the cheap or even for free (see the Achievement First franchise’s sweet deal, in the next post), or get voters to pay for their buildings. Unlike public schools, charters are not held accountable to an elected school board, parents or voters. If they violate their charter, though, they can be dissolved.

The model most favored by the “venture philanthropist” billionaire reformers like Eli Broad, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg along with Arne Duncan is typically the KIPP-style franchise, which arguably is fairly punitive. It consists of long school days for the kids and teachers, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., plus Saturdays. Discipline, uniforms and standardized testing and curriculum are key parts of the recipe. The students channeled into these schools are predominantly poor kids of color. (Hmm. Why aren’t KIPP enterprises going after affluent white families with this castor oil recipe, one might ask.)

It’s also troubling to read statistics like 60 percent of students enrolled in San Francisco Bay Area’s KIPP charter schools dropped out, or articles about principals at some charters around the country that have been cited for abusing students. One charter model is effectively a training ground for the military. (See Chicago on then-Superintendent Arne Duncan’s watch.) In some cases, charters do help kids learn. But so do many public schools.

So there is no evidence that charters are the answer to public education’s weaker points. Why then are the reformers trying to force a failed “solution” on the nation’s school districts?

Good question. And one that parents and voters should be asking.

Merit-less Merit Pay?

“Merit pay” is the other concept that reformers are hot about right now. You hear it slipped into op-ed pieces and discussions all over the place. “The number one most important factor that influences a child’s education is an effective teacher” is their refrain.

Not overcoming poverty. Not safety of the school environment. Not strong and inspiring curriculum. Not engaged parents or attentive kids. Nope. Teachers.

Et tu NPR?

Even the supposedly liberal National Public Radio has run stories recently that are obsessively focused on the faults of teachers at the strange omission of all other factors. Curiouser and curiouser. Is it a coincidence that NPR receives funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Teach for America – two enterprises that support charters and “education reform”?

Yet, a recent three-year experiment with “merit pay” in Texas has proven a failure.

In its “Bonus for Supe with a B-?”

Wrote Westneat: “But schools are not widget factories. Texas just spent $300 million on merit bonuses for teachers and saw no effect on student achievement. Or on teacher retention.

I bet the reason is because teachers generally aren’t in it for the money. Maybe fatter bonuses over years would have an effect on the talent pool. But a few thousand here or there is nibbling around the edges.”

In fact, the study found that teachers actually don’t tend to compete with each other, but work collaboratively and cooperatively.

Wrote Terrence Stutz in the Dallas Morning News: “Study: Texas’ teacher merit pay program hasn’t boosted student performance.”

Or as the Schools Matter blog reports, Arne Duncan is promoting failure: “Duncan’s BTTF (Bribe to the Flop).”

“Not only is no one excited, but most believe that none of 4.3 percent of the 2.5% of the corporate bailout will improve education or close the achievement gap or accomplish any of the blah-blah about competitive global economies. What it will likely do is continue shrinking school curriculums into the box built by the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, weaken the teaching profession and teacher unions, make test scores even more high stakes and certainly more high profit, and solidify the education industry as the dominant voice for urban school matters in America. That’s pretty good bang for your buck, or some excellent leveraging, as Bill [Gates] and Eli [Broad] might chuckle.

And all of it is going full steam ahead despite what the preponderance of evidence tells us about these proposals.”

Vanderbilt’s studies found that teachers are egalitarian and merit pay does not have an effect, wrote Debra Viadero at Education Week’s blog:

“In the earlier study, which was conducted by researchers from the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University, we learned that, when given a say, teachers tend to be remarkably egalitarian. They favor relatively modest awards and spread them widely.

In the new study, released just this month by the same group of researchers, we learn whether the pay incentives for teachers translated to any improvements in their students’ test scores. The answer, in a word, is no. The third-year findings indicate that, overall, the program had a “weakly positive, negative, or negligible effect on student test-score gains.”

And the Education in Texas blog offered some details on the unequal distribution of bonuses under merit pay, back in April 2008. (See “Why I’m Not Impressed by Merit Pay Schemes”).

Shaky Pillars

So it would seem that two key pillars of “education reform” are toppling under the weight of their own failure.

Clearly this is good reason for parents and school districts in states that may be tempted to vie for Race to the Top money to say, “Wait a minute? Why should we change our laws and schools in order to adopt failed ‘solutions’?”

Indeed, why should public school communities allow their federal or state government to dictate that they “fix” their public schools with false “solutions” like private charters and “merit pay”?

-sp.

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