Seattle Education

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The Weekly Update: Following the money on online “learning”, education reform myths and the Pearson money grab

The Weekly Update for the news you might have missed.

For more information on Initiative 1240 go to No on 1240.

This week all eyes have been on Chicago where representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union are negotiating with the mayor and his appointed school board members:

Selling the Soul of Public Education

As we traipse through these weeks of conventioning, I know that the my-parents-showed-me-what-hard-work-means tales are getting a bit old. Still, please indulge me for a couple of paragraphs.

My dad taught for 34 years in inner-city public high schools in Chicago. For much of my childhood, my mom taught elementary school, also in a Chicago public school. They are two of the most hard-working people I’ve ever met, and I will forever be inspired by their capacity for personal sacrifice to serve the common good.

Growing up, I thought it was normal for adults to spend nights bent over towering stacks of papers, to fill weekends with lesson plans, to jump on the phone after dinner to speak with non-English-speaking parents in Spanish about their kids’ struggles. And there was the ugly side: my dad’s class sizes crept larger, books became scarcer, administrations grew more vicious, the threat of “reconstitution” (kicking out a school’s teachers based on students’ standardized test scores) loomed gigantic. I confess that observing my parents’ challenges and trials up close over the course of 18 years convinced me not to become a teacher. It also convinced me that teaching was one of the most important jobs in the universe.

Fast-forward to right now, as the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) verges on striking. The contract being pushed by the Chicago Board of Education and Mayor Rahm Sit-Down-and-Shut-Up Emanuel would devalue teachers, spurn the neediest students and unprecedentedly de-prioritize the public good. Their shameful proposal features a teensy pay raise, concurrent with markedly increased health care and pension costs – resulting, effectively, in a pay cut.

The Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS’s) school day was recently lengthened, and though the district promised that teachers’ hours would remain the same, many of their preparation periods are being crowded out by required duties like recess supervision. (Any teacher – or distant cousin’s friend of a teacher – knows that prep time is absolutely crucial.)

Contrary to Chris Christie’s blustering jerkifesto pitting “teachers’ unions” against “teachers,” the CTU is demanding not only justice for teachers, but also justice for kids and their families. One of CTU’s vital demands is a “better school day” for students across the socioeconomic spectrum, including modestly smaller classes, electives like art and music, and should-be-essential support staff like school nurses and social workers.

Under the district’s demands, teachers’ evaluations would largely reflect their students’ standardized test scores, an absurd barometer given the tests’ long-disproven ability to judge the quality of a student’s education. The measure would punish teachers at the city’s most disadvantaged schools.

Plus, though state law prevents the Board from making policy changes while bargaining is in progress, the Board has apparently charged ahead and nixed raises and sick leave increases for long-time teachers, according to the union.

My mom told me that – fresh off the CTU rally that energized thousands on Labor Day – she couldn’t bear to watch Mayor Emanuel’s speech at the Democratic Convention Tuesday night. (I watched it with my face squinched up and a glass of wine.)

The sad fact is, Emanuel can afford to deny CPS teachers and students their basic needs. That’s because his kids don’t go to public school – they’re enrolled in the University of Chicago Lab School (a great place, and the old stomping grounds of Malia and Sasha Obama). You can bet that the Lab School offers small classes, social workers, art and music. Oh yeah, and a school nurse.

To read this OpEd in full, go to truthout.

And while teachers are asking for fair pay and a fair evaluation system while rich mayors and city governments are crying “poor”,

US companies pay more to their CEOs, than to the US Government 

Twenty-six big U.S. companies, including AT&T, Boeing and Citigroup, paid their CEOs more last year than they paid the federal government in tax, according to a study prepared by the Institute for Policy Studies.

­Major companies paid less or no taxes on profits, as they took advantage of the tax deductions and credits designed to free up money for companies to spend in ways that stimulate the economy.

On average, these 26 companies generated pre-tax net income of more than $1 billion in the US, the study revealed. Meanwhile CEOs of these 26 firms received on average $20.4 million in total remuneration last year, 23% more than in 2010.

CEO of Boeing James McNerney Jr. got $18.4 million in pay last year while his company received a tax refund of $605 million. The study also laid into Citigroup for paying CEO Vikram Pandit $14.9 million while the bank received $144 million in net tax benefits.

For this story in full, go to RT.

The alternative progressive press is starting to pick up on the reality of ed reform. Information sources such as The Young Turks,  Democracy Now and the Stranger have gotten it and now Salon has picked up on it. Just don’t expect this sort of thing to appear as a headliner in the Seattle Times, pigs haven’t started to fly yet.

Education reform’s central myths

The education debate rests on two faulty premises: that public schools are failures, and choice is the solution

… if you follow the American debate about K-12 educational reform, don’t expect to look through a frame to see either America or the world as they really are. Instead, if you look through the Overton Window all you will see is a faded, mimeographed Cato policy paper from 30 years ago on the hypothetical wonders of school choice, taped to a brick wall in a dead-end alley.

The “Overton Window” is not a new kind of low-glare, high-insulation windowpane. Nor is it the title of a paperback thriller like “The Eiger Sanction” or “The Bourne Supremacy.” Identified by Joseph P. Overton of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Overton Window refers to the boundaries of the limited range of ideas and policies that are acceptable for consideration in politics at any one time. In other words, the Overton Window is the “box” that we are constantly exhorted to think outside of, only to be ignored or punished if we succeed.

The debate about K-12 educational reform in the U.S. is an example of the Overton Window at work. For a generation, almost all of the debate about improving American schools has been limited to minor variations on two themes. First, it is endlessly asserted, American public education is a miserable failure, compared to the educational systems of our major economic rivals in Asia and Europe. Second, the solution to this alleged failure is the privatization and marketization of public education.

Such is the power of the “framing” produced by Overton’s Window that these propositions command broad assent among thoughtful and well-informed Americans, even though the facts do not support them.

To begin with, the U.S. public school system is hardly the abysmal failure portrayed in the conventional wisdom. The international comparative data is skewed, by vocational tracking in Europe (all American high school students are sometimes compared to select Gymnasium and Lycee students in Germany and France) or geography (the entire U.S. is compared to the Shanghai metro area, rather than to all of China — the French educational system would look pretty bad, if it were compared in its entirety to Westchester County, New York).

Furthermore, non-Hispanic white Americans who are mostly the products of suburban public K-12 schools, are at the very top of global comparisons, as I pointed out in a recent Salon article:

The overall PISA scores of American students are lowered by the poor results for blacks and Latinos, who make up 35 percent of America’s K-12 student population. Asian-American students have an average score of 541, similar to those of Shanghai, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. The non-Hispanic white American student average of 525 is comparable to the averages of Canada (524), New Zealand (521), and Australia (515). In contrast, the average PISA readings score of Latino students is 446 and black students is 441.

Unlike Asian immigrants, many of whom are college-educated professionals, Latino immigrants tend to be less educated than the American average. And both Latinos and blacks are disproportionately poor. … America’s public school system works quite well, for non-poor native students. It is overwhelmed by a disproportionately black poor population, which suffers the legacy of centuries of discrimination, and a disproportionately unskilled and illiterate foreign-born population.

If you look at the facts, then, they don’t suggest that the U.S. public K-12 system is a failure. Rather American public education is a world-class success except among poor natives and immigrants, whose educational challenges have more to do with poverty and rural cultural legacies than alleged failings of public K-12.

The challenge remains of how to improve the results for Americans of all races from disadvantaged backgrounds. And here all of the right, and much of the neoliberal center, thinks it knows the answer: choice! Americans should be given education vouchers to spend on schools of their choice, either within the public school system (charter schools) or outside, in a purely privatized system.

As the Smithsonian magazine observes:

In the United States, which has muddled along in the middle [of international comparisons] for the past decade, government officials have attempted to introduce marketplace competition into public schools. In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. President Obama, too, has apparently bet on competition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers….

Before we abandon our existing, mostly-successful system of public education for an untested theory cooked up by the libertarian ideologues at the University of Chicago Economics Department and the Cato Institute (who, as it happens, have been wrong about almost everything else in the last quarter century), shouldn’t we see if there is any evidence to support their claims?

To read this article in full, go to Salon.

Is this your idea of school?

In the last few months I have been deluged with e-mails from online enterprises promising the next miracle cure in education and even offers to write posts for me on the wonders of online “learning”. All because I have a blog with the word “education” in it.

These salespersons are selling the next miracle product and there are huge profits to be made. Check out this excellent report on what’s been happening in Maine:

Special Report: The profit motive behind virtual schools in Maine

Documents expose the flow of money and influence from corporations that stand to profit from state leaders’ efforts to expand and deregulate digital education.

Celestial McBride, left, 14, and her brother Sevan, 12, work on their online classes from the Florida Virtual School at their home in Mims, Fla.

Stephen Bowen was excited and relieved.

Maine’s education commissioner had just returned to his Augusta office last October after a three-day trip to San Francisco where he attended a summit of conservative education reformers convened by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, which had paid for the trip.

He’d heard presentations on the merits of full-time virtual public schools – ones without classrooms, playgrounds or in-person teachers – and watched as Bush unveiled the “first ever” report card praising the states that had given online schools the widest leeway.

But what had Bowen especially enthusiastic was his meeting with Bush’s top education aide, Patricia Levesque, who runs the foundation but is paid through her private firm, which lobbies Florida officials on behalf of online education companies.

Bowen was preparing an aggressive reform drive on initiatives intended to dramatically expand and deregulate online education in Maine, but he felt overwhelmed.

“I have no ‘political’ staff who I can work with to move this stuff through the process,” he emailed her from his office.

Levesque replied not to worry; her staff in Florida would be happy to suggest policies, write laws and gubernatorial decrees, and develop strategies to ensure they were implemented.

“When you suggested there might be a way for us to get some policy help, it was all I could do not to jump for joy,” Bowen wrote Levesque from his office.

“Let us help,” she responded.

So was a partnership formed between Maine’s top education official and a foundation entangled with the very companies that stand to make millions of dollars from the policies it advocates.

In the months that followed, according to more than 1,000 pages of emails obtained by a public records request, the commissioner would rely on the foundation to provide him with key portions of his education agenda. These included draft laws, the content of the administration’s digital education strategy and the text of Gov. Paul LePage’s Feb. 1 executive order on digital education.

A Maine Sunday Telegram investigation found large portions of Maine’s digital education agenda are being guided behind the scenes by out-of-state companies that stand to capitalize on the changes, especially the nation’s two largest online education providers.

K12 Inc. of Herndon, Va., and Connections Education, the Baltimore-based subsidiary of education publishing giant Pearson, are both seeking to expand online offerings and to open full-time virtual charter schools in Maine, with taxpayers paying the tuition for the students who use the services.

At stake is the future of thousands of Maine schoolchildren who would enroll in the full-time virtual schools and, if the companies had their way, the future of tens of thousands more who would be legally required to take online courses at their public high schools in order to receive their diplomas.

The two companies have at times acted directly, spending tens of thousands of dollars lobbying lawmakers in Augusta and nurturing the creation of the supposedly independent boards for the proposed virtual schools they would operate and largely control.

Click image to enlarge.

More often they have worked through intermediaries. K12 Inc. donated $19,000 to LePage’s election campaign through a political action committee. K12 and Connections Education provided support to Jeb Bush’s foundation and to a controversial corporate-funded organization for state legislators, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Both K12 and Connections Education built relationships with Maine lawmakers and officials who introduced laws and policies beneficial to the companies’ bottom lines.

DIVERSIFYING THE LANDSCAPE, OR MILKING PUBLIC EDUCATION?

Defenders of full-time virtual schools say the schools will diversify and enrich Maine’s educational landscape, providing additional options – and substantial new curricular resources – for parents and students who wish to use them. The big online education companies have developed a wide range of courses and products, which they can provide at a lower per-pupil cost than a conventional class.

“We took a cautious approach in Maine, and the winner here will be everybody: the company that provides a good product; the state; and most importantly the student,” says Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Livermore Falls, who sponsored the 2011 charter school law that made such schools possible.

“The number one reason parents chose this form of education is the ability to have a more personalized form of schooling that will better suit their student’s needs,” says Connections Education CEO Barbara Dreyer. “Maine has a lot of independent-minded people in it who will find an education that’s very flexible and personalized very attractive.”

Critics charge that the online education companies that wish to operate Maine’s virtual schools divert precious public education dollars into profits and dividends while providing education of dubious quality. (See sidebar).

“There’s this drumbeat at state legislatures to pass what I think is a scam to milk dollars out of public schools,” says Rep. Andy O’Brien, D-Lincolnville, sponsor of an unsuccessful amendment to last year’s charter school bill that would have closed the door to full-time virtual schools, which already exist in 27 states. “If you’re an investor these days with the economy going down, where are you going to invest? Oh, look, there’s a trillion dollars in public education funds waiting to be manipulated.”

“Speaking as an educator and someone concerned about the next generation of kids and their health and well-being, these things are disastrous,” says Gene Glass, professor emeritus at Arizona State University and a senior researcher at the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “But do they have a future? Yeah, they probably have a great future financially because they line up with the need of states to cut their costs and they are cheap.”

CRITIC SAYS COMPANIES ‘CREATE MARKETS FOR THEMSELVES’

In many states, the companies have also advanced their interests through their memberships in the American Legislative Exchange Council. While ALEC claims to be a nonpartisan professional association for state legislators, critics say it is really a corporate-funded conduit allowing businesses to write legislation for compliant lawmakers. Virtually all of its funding comes from its corporate members – which include K12 Inc. and Pearson’s Connections Education – who have collective veto power over the text of its model bills, which cover everything from “right to work” labor laws to “stand your ground” gun laws. They also in effect pay the expenses of many legislative members to attend meetings.

ALEC’s membership lists and the model bills they provided to legislators were secret until last year, when they were obtained and published by a watchdog group, the Center for Media and Democracy.

The corporate chair of ALEC’s education committee was revealed to be Mickey Revenaugh, Connections Education’s senior vice president of state relations, and members included K12, the International Association for K12 Online Learning, and Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. (Connections Education withdrew its membership in May.)

Bowen was also an ALEC member in March 2011, the month he was confirmed as commissioner, according to a second set of ALEC documents leaked to Common Cause and posted on their website earlier this summer. Bowen – then a senior adviser to LePage and the head of education initiatives for the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center – served as a private sector member of ALEC’s education committee, where he worked alongside officials from K12, Connections and other interested companies evaluating and approving model bills – including one creating centralized state clearinghouses for the sale of online courses.

The leaked documents also showed that ALEC-sponsored digital education bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country in recent years.

“This is the ideal form of crony capitalism,” says Glass from the National Education Policy Center, which receives some of its funding from a teachers union, the National Education Association. “These are free market entrepreneurial companies manipulating the law to create markets for themselves.”

Here in Maine, several ALEC model bills that would benefit online education companies were introduced by the current Legislature. They included several measures that sought to use public funds to pay private school tuition, a law that allows public schools to act like charter schools, and parts of the charter school bill sponsored by Sen. Mason, who said ALEC was among the many interested parties he consulted while creating it.

To read the article in full with links to backup information, go to The Portland Press Herald.

And speaking of the money, check out this post on Pearson, a company that is taking over the education landscape in the US by taking advantage of the profitable edicts of ed reform in terms of standardized textbooks, tests and now teacher evaluations.

Pearson ‘Education’ — Who Are These People?

The question that must addressed is whether the British publishing giant Pearson and its Pearson Education subsidy should determine who is qualified to teach and what should be taught in New York State and the United States? I don’t think so! Not only did no one elect them, but when people learn who they are, they might not want them anywhere near a school — or a government official.

According to a recent article on Reuters, an international news service based in Great Britain, “investors of all stripes are beginning to sense big profit potential in public education. The K-12 market is tantalizingly huge: The U.S. spends more than $500 billion a year to educate kids from ages five through 18. The entire education sector, including college and mid-career training, represents nearly 9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, more than the energy or technology sectors.”

Pearson, a British multi-national conglomerate, is one of the largest private businesses maneuvering for U.S. education dollars. The company had net earnings of 956 million pounds or approximately 1.5 billion dollars in 2011.

Starting in May 2014, Pearson Education will take over teacher certification in New York State as a way of fulfilling the state’s promised “reforms” in its application for federal Race to the Top money. The evaluation system known as the Teacher Performance assessment or TPA was developed at Stanford University with support from Pearson, but it will be solely administered, and prospective teachers will be entirely evaluated, by Pearson and its agents. Pearson is adverting for current or retired licensed teachers or administrators willing to evaluate applicants for teacher certification. It is prepared to pay $75 per assessment.

The Pearson footprint appears to be everywhere and taints academic research as well as government policy. For example, the Education Development Center (EDC), based in Waltham, Massachusetts, is a “global non-profit organization that designs, delivers and evaluates innovative programs to address some of the world’s most urgent challenges in education, health, and economic opportunity.” EDC works with “public-sector and private partners” to “harness the power of people and systems to improve education, health promotion and care, workforce preparation, communications technologies, and civic engagement.” In education, it is involved in curriculum and materials development, research and evaluation, publication and distribution, online learning, professional development, and public policy development. According to its website, its funders include Cisco Systems, IBM, Intel, the Gates Foundation, and of course, Pearson Education, all companies or groups that stand to benefit from its policy recommendations.

EDC sponsored a study on the effectiveness of new teacher evaluation systems, “An examination of performance-based teacher evaluation systems in five states,” that Pearson is promoting but there are two VERY BIG FLAWS in the study. First, of the five states included in the study — Delaware, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Texas — four (Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Texas) are notorious anti-union states where teachers have virtually no job security or union protection, and Delaware used the imposition of new teacher assessments to make it more difficult for teachers to acquire tenure. In Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia collective bargaining by teachers is illegal. Tennessee, Texas and North Carolina used the new assessments to make it easier to fire teachers and Georgia used the assessments to determine teacher pay. The second flaw is that the study draws no connection between the evaluation system and improved student learning.

According to the Financial Times of London, a Pearson owned property, in what I consider a conflict-of-interests, Susan Fuhrman, the President of Teachers College at Columbia University has been a “Non-Executive Independent Director of Pearson PLC” since 2004 and a major stockholder in the company with over 13,000 shares worth according to my estimate over two hundred thousand dollars. Fuhrman also is “president of the National Academy of Education, and was previously dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and on the board of trustees of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.”

In official Pearson PLC reports available online, Susan Fuhrman, President of Teachers College-Columbia University is listed as a non-executive director of Pearson. As of February 29, 2012, she held 12,927 shares of Pearson stock valued at $240,000. As a non-executive director she also receives an annual fee of 65,000 or almost $100,000. Fuhrman has been a non-executive director since 2004 and has received fees and stock I estimate worth more than a million dollars, certainly a substantial sum, but not the $20 million I initially reported.

There has been some resistance to Pearson’s influence over American education.

In May 2012, students and teachers in the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus School of Education launched a national campaign challenging the forced implementation of Teacher Performance Assessment. They argued that the field supervisors and cooperating teachers who guided their teaching practice and observed and evaluated them for six months in middle and high school classrooms were better equipped to judge their teaching skills and potential than people who had never seen nor spoken with them. They have refused to participate in a pilot program organized by Pearson and to submit the two 10-minute videos of themselves teaching and a take-home test. They are supported by United Opt Out National, a website that organized a campaign and petition drive to boycott Pearson evaluations of students, student teachers, and teachers. In June 2012, New York parents protested against Pearson designed reading tests that included stand reading passages and meaningless choices.

The question that must addressed is whether the British publishing giant Pearson and its Pearson Education subsidy should determine who is qualified to teach and what should be taught in New York State and the United States? I don’t think so! Not only did no one elect them, but when people learn who they are, they might not want them anywhere near a school — or a government official.

To read this article in full, go to the Huffington Post.

And finally, something that has nothing to do with money but with education and becoming a contributing world citizen. I will leave you with Sir Ken Robinson on “The Element”.

College does not begin in kindergarten.

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