Seattle Education

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The Weekly Update: The Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation and vouchers. A few of my favorite things.

The Weekly Update for the news you might have missed.

We’ll start with this commentary on the Gates Foundation and how it has lost its way. A non-profit can have too much money.

Reforming Gates

Rendering of the Gates Foundation Headquarters in Seattle

In my last post I wrote about the pattern at the Gates Foundation of abusing the idea of “research” and “evidence” to advance its education policy agenda.  Gates has an organizational culture that permits intellectual corruption.  There are good people at Gates doing good work, but there is something rotten about the organization that needs to be changed if they hope to succeed over the long run.

In addition to their abuse of research and evidence, the Gates Foundation suffers from a bloated staff and paralyzing bureaucracy.  As their 990 tax filings show, their assets doubled over the last decade, but their staffing levels increased ten-fold — even more rapidly than the increase in assets as Buffett adds his money to Gates to create a philanthropic Leviathan.  They have so many people that they needed to build the $500 million palace pictured above to hold all of them.

But with huge size, staffing, and wealth comes the huge danger of corruption.  If an organization becomes bloated, inefficient and corrupt in the profit-seeking sector, the possibility of a hostile takeover can help check or eliminate abuses.  But in the non-profit sector there are no corporate raiders.  No outside shareholders can come in to take over the Gates Foundation, sell off its over-priced facilitates, cut staffing, reduce corruption and focus on the core mission.

To read this opinion piece in full and the comments, which I would recommend reading, go to Jay Greene’s blog.

While on the subject of Bill Gates, it seems that the evaluation system used at Microsoft  which has been touted as the best system to use in our public schools by Bill Gates and Eli Broad along with their mouthpieces Michelle Rhee, Stand for Children and the League of Education Voters, has been an abject failure at Microsoft.

Ooops.

Ranking employees falls out of favor among companies

Many American companies that had adopted a much-vaunted employee evaluation system have lately been turning away from it.

Known as “stacked ranking” or “forced ranking,” the process made famous by General Electric Co. is really just a version of what teachers call grading on the curve: a few people at the top, a few at the bottom and the rest clumped in the middle.

The practice leaped into the spotlight — at least for people who study how companies perform — when Vanity Fair published in its August issue a profile of technology icon Microsoft Corp. The company’s malaise, the author argued, was partly pegged to its evaluation system.

Whether a company makes screws or salads, whether it’s a hole in the wall or boasts a hundred global offices, it wants to know which employees are doing well, which are doing badly. A good evaluation system encourages creativity, spurs productivity and lifts morale.

So why did many American companies use a system that experts say is often stifling, demoralizing and counterproductive? And why are they now shying away from it? Generally, rewards and penalties follow the numerical rankings. But not necessarily success.

Vanity Fair notes that Apple Inc. now has more revenue from one product — the iPhone — than mighty Microsoft has in all its businesses combined. The article, by Kurt Eichenwald, portrays the company’s culture as “cannibalistic.” Microsoft’s response to the Vanity Fair story: The company’s performance review system is designed to “provide the highest rewards to employees who have the highest impact on our business success.”

To read this interesting article in full, go to the Los Angeles Times.

In the “You gotta’ be kiddin’ me” category we have the results of an “investigation” into the purported cheating that took place during Michelle Rhee’s reign as Chancellor of DC schools.

DC Chancellor Kaya Henderson

By the way, the present Chancellor of DC schools, Kaya Henderson, was brought in by Michelle Rhee in 2007 to be the Deputy Chancellor. She was with Rhee at The New Teacher Project (TNTP), an organization that Rhee established after three years of teaching. At TNTP, Henderson became the Vice President for Strategic Partnerships.  As Deputy Chancellor she was the chief negotiator for the contract between the DC Public School system and the Washington Teachers’ Union,  and was in charge of the development of IMPACT, a teacher assessment system based on test scores.

Hmmm.

D.C. schools cheating report thin and biased

By Jay Mathews

Now we know who did it. D.C. Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby has concluded his 16-month probe of cheating on the D.C. schools’ annual tests by saying that kids, not adults, made the astonishing number of wrong-to-right erasures found on answer sheets.

Never mind that testing companies, academic experts and veteran teachers say that students almost never make more than one or two wrong-to-right erasures per test. Ignore the fact that in Atlanta, where there were similar volumes of erasures on 2009 tests, state investigators with subpoena power found 178 principals and teachers had changed the answers.

After Willoughby’s investigators visited only one school, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus, he endorsed their conclusion that since the adults at that school seemed innocent of changing answers, none of the adults at dozens of other schools with massive erasures could be guilty either. The investigation is over, in part because Willoughby, allegedly immune to influence from interested parties, let D.C. school chancellor Kaya Henderson persuade him that schools she thought were great should not be examined.

I had hoped Willoughby’s report would be thorough and independent, since that is what people in such jobs are supposed to be. This thin, biased 14-page document fails egregiously on both counts.

Henderson has not responded to my questions about her involvement in the probe. Deputy Inspector General Blanche L. Bruce said “your assumptions and conclusions are incorrect.” She said her office’s conclusions relied “on the totality of all the evidence.”

Noyes, the only school investigated, had 75 percent of its classrooms flagged by the testing company CTB/McGraw-Hill for unusual numbers of wrong-to-right erasures in 2008, followed by 81 percent in 2009 and 80 percent in 2010, on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System tests. At least five Noyes classrooms had wrong-to-right erasure rates of more than 10 per child, while the D.C. average was less than two. (Disclosure: my wife Linda Mathews conceived and supervised a USA Today investigation that revealed 103 D.C. schools had abnormally high erasure rates at least once from 2008 to 2010.)

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill testing expert Gregory Cizek, a consultant to the Atlanta investigation, told me “nothing we know of” has ever caused such large groups of students to change so many wrong answers to right. Massive erasing only occurs when “others do if for them,” he said.

To read this article in full, go to The Washington Post.

While on the subject of tests, testing and test scores, check this out:

Broad Academy Superintendent: Too much Test Security

By Tim Slekar

If you listened to @the chalk face on BlogTalk radio earlier this evening you heard us break the unbelievable story out of Pittsburgh.  According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh city schools’ test scores dropped this year.

The district’s scores are now where they were two years ago.  Of course there is a lot of blame to go around (no mention of poverty) and Broad Academy graduate and Superintendent of Pittsburgh City Schools, Linda Lane is going to do whatever it takes to find out what happened.  Along with a host of issues (no mention of the 40%+ poverty rate in the city) Superintendent Lane seems to not be too happy with the new testing security. One of the possible causes for the drop in test scores was…

Uncomfortable testing conditions for the PSSA brought about by new, “aggressive” state-required test security measures that left teachers and principals “afraid to do even the things they could do, especially with younger children.”

I’m confused.  Is Broad Academy Graduate and Pittsburgh City Schools Superintendent Linda Lane saying that guarding against cheating may have brought down test scores?

What do they teach in the Broad Superintendent Academy?

And in Louisiana so much for the separation of church and state with the new voucher system. Every “con profit” in the state can open a school and get state tax dollars.

Check out Diane Ravitch’s post below and please go to the linked article. This has got to go into the “How low can you go” category.

Voucher Carnival Gets Even Wilder in Louisiana

This one takes the cake.

John White has approved the Light City Church School of the Prophets to get vouchers, nearly $700,000 a year.

The man who runs it describes himself as an apostle or a prophet.

Whatever. People can call themselves whatever they like.

Please read the linked article to see how low the bar is for getting taxpayer dollars from the state of Louisiana.

The state will have no standards for voucher schools. There will be no accountability for voucher schools.

A few months ago, John White told a Reuters reporter: “To me, it’s a moral outrage that the government would say, ‘We know what’s best for your child,’” White said. “Who are we to tell parents we know better?”

Well, he is the state commissioner of education, and he is the one who is supposed to know better. If he doesn’t, why is he in that job?

But John White has no problem setting standards for public schools and holding their teachers accountable.

He thinks that once you leave the public system, no standards or accountability are necessary.

In Bobby Jindal’s world, that’s called reform.

What I want to know is where our Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama are on all of this. Ultimately aren’t they to hold all of these shysters accountable with this ed reform system that they unleashed on us? What about the constitutionality of this voucher system President Obama? Or, is it just the teachers and principals who are to be held accountable for all of our human failings?

Speaking of President Obama and his change we can believe in administration, check out this op-ed piece comparing Obama’ response to our financial crisis and that of President Roosevelt’s  programs:

Austerity Hastens Economic Decline

by Stephen Lendman

Obama and other Western leaders face Depression conditions. Roosevelt addressed them in the 1930s. Imagine how austerity then would have imposed greater hardships.

Instead Americans got Social Security, homeowners loan refinancing, and moratoriums on foreclosures. Small farmers were helped unlike current subsidies earmarked for agribusiness.

Farm credit provided refinancing help. Doing so let many stay solvent and survive.

Unemployment insurance was established in partnership with states. Jobless workers got help. Now they’re being told go find a job. We won’t help you. More on that below.

FDR’s alphabet soup of programs created jobs. Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers built public infrastructure and worked on other projects.

Civilian Works Administration (CWA), National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), Public Works Administration (PWA), Works Progress Administration (WPA), Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and other federal initiatives put millions back to work.

Despite hard times, people got help. So did America. Accomplishments were impressive.

They included building or renovating 700,000 miles of roads, 7,800 bridges, 45,000 schools, 2,500 hospitals, 13,000 parks and playgrounds, 1,000 airfields, and other infrastructure projects.

Much of Chicago’s lakefront was built. Unemployment dropped from 25% in May 1933 to 11% in 1937. It then  spiked when victory was declared too early. War production revived economic growth. Full employment followed. Mirror opposite conditions exist today.

Over three years after the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) declared America’s recession over in June 2009, unemployment, based on how calculated in the 1980s, approaches 23%.

Poverty is at Depression levels and rising. Stimulus and job creation programs are absent. Austerity is policy. So is directing America’s resources for militarism, wars, banker bailouts, and other corporate handouts.

Growing public needs go begging. Instead of New Deal help, anti-New Dealism is policy. Increasingly people are on their own sink or swim.

On accepting his party’s 1932 presidential nomination, Roosevelt pledged “a new deal for the American people” and delivered.

Obama promised “change you can believe in” and lied.

To read this op-ed in full, go to Daily Censored.

When I started paying attention to public education in Seattle, which occurred when my daughter became a student in the Seattle Public School system a few years ago, I started asking questions because things weren’t as they should have been with our Broad superintendent running the school district according to  the Eli Broad playbook of education reform. Since those first questions, my curiosity has led me to the top of the food chain where the individuals and corporations with the most money are running our country to the point of micromanaging how our children are to be taught. Folks like Obama and Romney are merely puppets that serve at their pleasure.

The Occupy movement has been in reaction to this realization that many of us have had over the last few years. Others saw this coming years and decades ago but for me it has been a more recent shock with accompanying rage and sadness.

Things must change. We as a nation cannot continue like this. Everyday there are more children slipping into poverty, more families without health care, more students becoming homeless.

This blog is about education not revolution but many times the two are closely related.

The following article caught my eye because it is a discussion on how to change the course that we are on today.

Diversity of tactics and the 1%

I participated in an all-Britain Peace News camp in which we discussed, among other things, the idea of diversity of tactics. I was a little surprised when my fellow panelists wanted to turn it into a conversation about pacifism and whether violence can ever be justified.

Although I’m a pacifist, I didn’t get their point. Most people who participate in nonviolent campaigns aren’t pacifists; they choose nonviolent action strategically, because it increases their chance of winning. In Oman during the Arab Awakening, for example, the campaign began nonviolently but soon detoured into violence. The movement stopped, regrouped, began again nonviolently and won their objectives. Had the majority of Omanis somehow become pacifists? Of course not; they simply applied a sensible strategy.

Thanks to the work of political scientists Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, we now know that, between 1900 and 2006, when mass movements tried to overthrow their regimes, they doubled their chances of winning by choosing nonviolent struggle. Clearly the millions of people who won nonviolently had not taken an ethical stand against ever using violence, as pacifists do; they simply invented a strategy that worked.

For me, therefore, the question before us is whether diversity of tactics makes sense at this time in struggles against the economic and political dominance of the 1 percent in the United Kingdom — or, for that matter, in the United States.

Violent tactics in Tahrir Square

The question becomes clearer when we compare our situation with the 2011 uprising in Egypt, when alongside the massive use of nonviolent action there was also the use of injurious force against people, as well as property destruction.

It’s important, however, to distinguish between moments of confrontation, when the movement chooses tactics designed to win over the large segment of the population that sympathizes but is unwilling to act, and mass political and economic noncooperation. These are stages three and four, respectively, in my five-stage framework for revolution.

The Egypt we saw on television last year was in stage four, with its massive occupations and strikes and boycotts and demonstrations around the country. Stage four is when Occupy Wall Street organizers could call a general strike on May Day and actually get a response! Stage four is also when, as in the Egyptian case, property destruction and some actual violence is less likely to slow the movement; the basic population shift has been made and the momentum is already enormous.
In other words, the movement’s violence in Tahrir Square isn’t relevant to other movements that are still in stage three. In the U.K., the U.S. and so many other places, our task is to conduct confrontations in ways that maximize the contrast between our behavior and that of the opponent. Our creativity and courage need to show dramatically to the public why they should join us, as happened in Occupy Wall Street’s early confrontations and were largely responsible, through police violence, for its remarkable growth.

In hundreds of campaigns in the Global Nonviolent Action Database, we see this dynamic at work: Nonviolent stage three confrontations lead to massive participation, and then the stage four tactics open a power vacuum and the possibility of breakthrough.

What about when our target is the 1 percent?

Never in my long life has the rule of the 1 percent been as vulnerable as now. They are experiencing a perfect storm of consequences that are directly traceable to their decisions — that is, when we do the tracing, shining the light on their decisions through creative actions. See Bill McKibben’s recent article in Rolling Stoneto learn how much worse it’s going to get for them, and for the planet.

Our challenge is to stay focused. The 1 percent want very much to change the conversation and distract us, as when they go about “protecting the Olympics” in London by installing surface-to-air missiles. Their intent is to scare the public by projecting fearsomeness on the shadowy others, including, of course, activists like us.

Now we can see all the more clearly the brilliance of the African-American students sitting in lunch counters in the sixties. Of course they could have heaved rocks through windows or beaten up store owners. That would have been a tremendous gift to the racists because it would have played into the stereotype of blacks as violent. Instead, the students were emphatically nonviolent, and everyone could see exactly who it was who was violent, and begin to make connections to the violence of racism.

To read this opinion piece in full, go to Nation of Change.

We need to start having open conversations about how we can change the course that we are on now. It won’t happen through the leadership of a charming or even worse,  charismatic, leader. It has to happen with us and within us. Whether the discussion is about a three party system, a different form of governance or change through non-violent means, we must start determining our own course.

Dora

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