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Weekly Update: 40+ School boards in Texas say enough is enough on testing, Arne Duncan gets an “F” and another one for the “How Low Can You Go?” category

Never a dull moment in the world of education.

In the state of Washington we had some drama this week with Senator Rodney Tom deciding that he would hold the budget and the state hostage so that he could get his charter school legislation through by attaching a charter school clause to the originally agreed upon budget. Anything for a buck with some of our politicians. His backers are the usual suspects including the League of Education Voters (LEV), Stand for Children (SFC), Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife Nancy Ballmer who sits on the Advisory Board for SFC , Kelly Munn with LEV, Lisa MacFarland, and Nick Hanauer.

The Governor has reprimanded the State Senator from the wealthy suburb of Bellevue and told him and others to get serious, cut out the charter school shenanigans and get to work with a real bill.

It will still be well worth an e-mail or call to the Governor to make sure that she stands firm and to our representatives to ensure that the people are heard and not just the moneyed few.

Now for what’s happening around the country we’ll start with some good news. The fine folks in Texas figured out that all of the testing and re-testing that is going on around the country isn’t working out for their students. Hmmm, really?

School officials: High-stakes tests failing students

The backlash began brewing long before Texas’ top education official called the emphasis on standardized testing “a perversion of its original intent,” long before the approach of new, more rigorous end-of-course exams.

For years, murmurs of discontent have stirred among teachers tired of devoting class time to test preparation, school administrators saddled by legislative mandates, parents anxious about an increasing focus on high-stakes assessments.

Now, a mounting chorus of school administrators, educators and parents is speaking out against a system in which they say testing has eclipsed teaching.

At least 40 school boards across the state, including those in Friendswood, Clear Creek, Alvin and Dickinson, have taken a public stand by passing a resolution decrying the “over reliance on standardized, high-stakes testing” that is “strangling our public schools.” Many others, including Humble and Crosby, plan to consider the resolution at their next school board meeting.

The Texas Parents Opt Out movement is encouraging parents to keep their children home from school on testing days, and the State Board of Education has scheduled an April 18 public hearing on testing.

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott told the state board of education in January that the high-stakes testing culture has become “the heart of the vampire.” A few days later, he repeated the statement at a conference of school administrators, calling for a system that measures “every other day of a school’s life besides testing day.”

The comments earned Scott a standing ovation and seemed to give long-frustrated educators tacit permission to mobilize on the issue.

“As superintendents, we’ve reached the end of our ropes. It’s time to stand up for our kids and to stand up for our teachers,” said Vicki Mims, Dickinson ISD superintendent. “There should be minimum standards, but we can’t spend all our times focusing on tests. We see what it’s doing to our kids. It just can’t continue.”

To read the article in full go to chron.com.

Due to the focus on test scores and the demonization of the teaching profession, the number of teachers who were feeling very optimistic in 2008 about their work has plummeted.

This from the Daily Kos, Teacher job satisfaction drops as school budget cuts and layoffs rise:

Under sustained assault from politicians and pro-privatization billionaires, struggling with budget cuts and layoffs, and trying to teach increasing numbers of children who come to school hungry, American teachers are, unsurprisingly, growing demoralized.

The percentage of teachers saying they are very or fairly likely to leave the teaching profession within the next five years rose sharply between 2009 and 2011, from 17 percent to 29 percent. Unsurprisingly, teachers who report low job satisfaction are three times as likely to say they are likely to leave teaching. Among other non-surprises, teachers who feel their jobs are not secure are more likely to be dissatisfied—and the percentage of teachers who do not feel their jobs are secure has risen from 8 percent in 2006 to 34 percent today.

It’s not just job security, though. Low job satisfaction is correlated with decreases in professional development opportunities and time to collaborate with other teachers, and increases in staff reassignments. These teachers are more likely to report having faced budget cuts in their schools, including reductions in health or social services and arts and music programming. They aren’t just coping with school budget problems, either:

Teachers with low job satisfaction are more likely than those with high job satisfaction to report that there has been an increase in the number of students and families needing health and social support services (70% vs. 56%), in the number of students coming to school hungry (40% vs. 30%), and in the number of students leaving school during the year to go to another school (22% vs. 12%) in the past 12 months.

To read this article in full, go to the Daily Kos.

For the “How Low Can You Go?” category, this week Joel Klein, his hedge fund buddies and the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) take the cake. Check out The Organization That Dare Not Speak Its Name* on EDWize.

On Sunday, my wife came home from church with a leaflet and a strange story.

Someone who was a tad bit reluctant to provide her name had passed out a leaflet and attempted to recruit members of her congregation to an organization of parents fighting for better schools, PTA Now. But it didn’t really seem like the PTAs she knew, the Parent-Teacher Association organized in your child’s school.

It isn’t.

According to its web site, “Parents Taking Action (PTA) is a coalition of New York City parents who believe every child should have access to a great public school. We are standing up for our children, holding the Department of Education accountable and ensuring children are put ahead of special interests.”

A grass roots organization of public school parents? Think again: “PTA is a project of Education Reform Now, a non-profit organization that envisions an America in which every child, regardless of class or race, has the social and economic opportunities afforded by an excellent public education.”

Does Education Reform Now (ERN) sound familiar? It should: on its web site, ERN identifies Joel Klein as the chair of its board, and four Wall Street hedge fund types as the other board members. One of that number and past chair of the ERN board is John Petry. Petry is a co-founder of both the Success Academy Charter Schools, headed up by Eva Moskowitz, and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). The only mention of DFER on the ERN web site appears in a short bio of Petry, as if it was an incidental relationship. It isn’t. ERN is the 501-c-3 not-for-profit arm of DFER. (If you unaware that ERN is an arm of DFER, you have not been following Ken Libby’s excellent DFER Watch.)

Some weeks this update just writes itself.

To read this article in full, go to EDWize.

And now an excellent article on the history of segregation in our schools and charter schools, Why the Racist History of the Charter School Movement Is Never Discussed.

Touted as the cure for what ails public education, charter schools have historical roots that are rarely discussed.

As a parent I find it easy to understand the appeal of charter schools, especially for parents and students who feel that traditional public schools have failed them. As a historical sociologist who studies race and politics, however, I am disturbed both by the significant challenges that plague the contemporary charter school movement, and by the ugly history of segregationist tactics that link past educational practices to the troubling present.

The now-popular idea of offering public education dollars to private entrepreneurs has historical roots in white resistance to school desegregation after Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The desired outcome was few or, better yet, no black students in white schools. In Prince Edward County, Virginia, one of the five cases decided in Brown, segregationist whites sought to outwit integration by directing taxpayer funds to segregated private schools.

Two years before a federal court set a final desegregation deadline for fall 1959, local newspaper publisher J. Barrye Wall shared white county leaders’ strategy of resistance with Congressman Watkins Abbitt: “We are working [on] a scheme in which we will abandon public schools, sell the buildings to our corporation, reopen as privately operated schools with tuition grants from [Virginia] and P.E. county as the basic financial program,” he wrote. “Those wishing to go to integrated schools can take their tuition grants and operate their own schools. To hell with ’em.”

Though the county ultimately refused to sell the public school buildings, public education in Prince Edward County was nevertheless abandoned for five years (1959-1964), as taxpayer dollars were funneled to the segregated white academies, which were housed in privately owned facilities such as churches and the local Moose Lodge. Federal courts struck down this use of taxpayer funds after a year. Still, whites won and blacks lost. Because there were no local taxes assessed to operate public schools during those years, whites could invest in private schools for their children, while blacks in the county—unable and unwilling to finance their own private, segregated schools—were left to fend for themselves, with many black children shut out of school for multiple years.

Meanwhile, in less blatant attempts to avoid desegregation, states and localities also enacted “freedom of choice” plans that typically allowed white students to transfer out of desegregated schools, but forced black students to clear numerous administrative hurdles and, not infrequently, withstand harassment from teachers and students if they entered formerly all-white schools. When some segregationists began to acknowledge that separate black and white schools were no longer viable legally, they sought other means to eliminate “undesirables.”

Attorney David Mays, who advised high-ranking Virginia politicians on school strategy, reasoned, “Negroes could be let in [to white schools] and then chased out by setting high academic standards they could not maintain, by hazing if necessary, by economic pressures in some cases, etc. This should leave few Negroes in the white schools. The federal courts can easily force Negroes into our white schools, but they can’t possibly administer them and listen to the merits of thousands of bellyaches.” (Mays vastly underestimated the determination of individual black families and federal officials.)

These nefarious motives may seem a far cry from the desire of many charter school operators to “reinvent” public education for students whom traditional public schools have failed. In theory, these committed bands of reformers come with good intentions: they purport to bring in dedicated teachers who have not been pummeled into complacency; energize their students by creating by a caring, rigorous school environment; and build a parent body that is inspired (in some cases compelled) to become more involved in their children’s education both inside and outside the school. And in some cases, charter schools deliver what they promise. In others, however, this sparkling veneer masks less attractive realities that are too often dismissed, or ignored, as the complaints of reactionaries with a vested interest in propping up our failed system of public education.

To read this article in full, go to alter net.

And now for why all of this insanity is happening around the country, I will give you two words, Arne Duncan. Which leads me to the next article Education expert gives Education Secretary Duncan an F.

Last month, I graded Education Secretary Arne Duncan with an F for his fatuous hyping of computers and other digital technology in the classroom despite the absence of evidence that they consistently enhance the learning experience.  The benefits of his pitch, I wrote, flowed entirely in one direction: toward Apple and its partners in the computerized classroom campaign.

Now Duncan’s report card has been filled in by one of America’s most distinguished education experts, Diane Ravitch, the author of 14 books on learning and education. In an essay in the blog of the New York Review of Books, she gives him six more Fs.

As Dr. Ravitch is quoted in the article as saying:

“He should have opposed the misuse of test scores. He should have opposed the galloping privatization of public education. He should have demanded the proper funding of public education, instead of tolerating deep budget cuts as ‘the new normal.’ He should have spoken out against states that passed along the cost of higher education to students, putting it out of reach for many. But he has not. He should have upheld, in word and deed, the dignity of the teaching profession. Unfortunately he has not.”

If so inclined, there is a Dump Duncan petition online that you can sign and a Facebook page where teachers, parents and concerned citizens can share their horror stories.

On March 31st there will be an Occupy the DOE in DC event sponsored by United Opt Out.

Here is the information from the website:

United Opt Out National endorses Occupy Wall Street by creating ACTION in solidarity.

 WE OPT OUT OF CORPORATE EDUCATION REFORM.

 It is time to end Wall Street Occupation of Education.

 We asked – they said NO.  We wrote – they said NO.  We sent them research – they said NO.  We say NO.  We opt out.

 We will put a screeching halt to corporate education by saying NO to the test.

 We will occupy the Department of Education in DC from March 30th to April 2nd.  On-going planning can be found at our Facebook Occupy the DOE page.

It’s time to put the public back in public education. Occupy the DOE and show them who education REALLY BELONGS to.

If you are not able to make it to DC, you can host a live stream party. There will be two live stream channels,  http://www.ustream.tv/channel/unitedoptout – and a back-up channel http://www.livestream.com/unitedoptout?t=997514.

There are some great flyers, by the way, that can be used for any occasion on the Opt Out website regarding the privatization of our public schools and other highlights of ed reform.

Have a good weekend and be careful out there.

Dora

One comment on “Weekly Update: 40+ School boards in Texas say enough is enough on testing, Arne Duncan gets an “F” and another one for the “How Low Can You Go?” category

  1. Pingback: “Schools Report: Failing To Prepare Students Hurts National Security, Prosperity” | GoodOleWoody's Blog

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