The Weekly Update for the news and views you might have missed

A protester at the Rhee event in Seattle.
A protester at the Rhee event in Seattle.

We definitely had a better time outside than the audience did inside on Tuesday evening at the Rhee event. In fact, some members of the audience, after Rhee’s performance, came out and told protesters that they were on our side after hearing Rhee. I guess Rhee needs to work on her message.

It could be that Rhee’s message fell flat because what she is professing doesn’t work…really.

From Democracy Now:


A federal commission has found U.S. education policies are burdening students from low-income families. In a new report, the Equity and Excellence Commission concluded: “No other developed nation has inequities nearly as deep or systemic; no other developed nation has … so thoroughly stacked the odds against so many of its children.” The panel goes on to call for greater investments in public education, better training of teachers, equality in allocating funds, and a new push for more ethnically diverse schools. The commission was created by the Department of Education, but its findings largely reject the department’s bipartisan education reform effort, saying the focus on charter schools and standardized testing has been “poorly targeted.”

And from the Huffington Post:

Equity And Excellence Commission Report Warns Of Failure To Right Unfair U.S. Schools

Advocates have shouted about inequalities in the U.S. education system for decades, with issues ranging from the availability of good teachers to the amount of money spent on schools with poor students. The gaps in standardized test scores between minorities and white students, and between rich and poor children, are longstanding and well-known facts.

Today, a diverse group of 27 education experts, economists and civil-rights leaders convened by the U.S. Education Department and with the support of the White House released a report recommending how to help remedy these problems. The report was commissioned by a congressional appropriation written by Rep. Michael Honda (D-Calif.). The Tuesday release comes one year after the report was initially expected, and follows months of torturous meetings and squabbling between union representatives and budget hawks.

The report’s authors say that despite the failure of previous attempts to correct this gaping inequity, this time will be different.

“For the first time in a few decades, the report has put the issue of school funding equity front and center on the federal agenda,” Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University education professor and commission member told The Huffington Post. “The last major report on this was in the Nixon era, and the situation has gotten much worse in recent decades.”

The U.S. is failing to keep its promise to use education as an equalizer for children of all backgrounds, the report says, calling the current state of affairs “dire.” “Our education system, legally desegregated more than a half century ago, is ever more segregated by wealth and income, and often again by race.

Ten million students in America’s poorest communities … are having their lives unjustly and irredeemably blighted by a system that consigns them to the lowest-performing teachers, the most run-down facilities, and academic expectations and opportunities considerably lower than what we expect of other students,” the authors write. “These vestiges of segregation, discrimination and inequality are unfinished business for our nation.”

Because the current system of distributing educational resources short-changes poor and minority students, the authors write, it “exacerbates the problem” of an unequal starting point on the road to being a productive member of the economy. “As a result, we take the extraordinary diversity — including linguistic backgrounds and familial relationships — that should be our strategic advantage in the international economy and squander it,” the authors write.

Efforts to fix that gap in recent years — known as the education reform movement — “have been poorly targeted,” the report concludes.

The report recommends expanding access to early childhood education, a major item in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech. “We need to ensure that we get everyone to the same starting line and close gaps before they get too big,” Honda said Tuesday. “We cannot afford to play catchup later.”

The report calls for students to have access to high-quality teachers. It also recommends an overhaul of school finance, in which the federal government incentivizes states to equitably attribute school funds in accordance with students’ needs. “Our system does not distribute opportunity equitably,” wrote co-chairs Christopher Edley and Mariano-Florentino Cuellar in their foreword to the report.

Honda added that he plans to push the recommendations outlined by the project forward in Congress — but like all new proposals, it is unclear how Congress will be able to pay for new initiatives.

Darling-Hammond said she was happy that the report was “investment-oriented,” rather than “teacher-bashing.” The prescriptions are “not entirely new,” she said. However, she added, she believes that school finance reform projects being floated in places like California are evidence that the ideas will gain traction this time around.

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

And in New Zealand, the PPTA gets it.

Press Release: Post Primary Teachers’ Association

19 February 2013

Resounding no to charter schools from New Zealand and New Orleans

There is no educational or financial justification for charter schools, only a cynically political one, PPTA president Angela Roberts says.

Roberts, who will be presenting PPTA’s submission on the Education Amendment Bill to the Education and Science Select Committee tomorrow, said the only reason for charter schools to proceed was the single vote the Epsom electorate supplied.

Karran Harper-Royal
Karran Harper-Royal

 “If the Act Party and its wealthy backers really believe they have the silver bullet for addressing educational underachievement, they should have the confidence to fund the experiment themselves and not demand full taxpayer funding while trying to evade accountability for spending it,” she said.

Also presenting to the committee tomorrow will be Karran Harper Royal, a New Orleans parent activist who has seen first-hand the damage charter schools did to her community after Hurricane Katrina.

Harper Royal is in Auckland at present – with support from opposition parties and PPTA – and will share the real story of the “cruel hoax” of charter schools in the US at a public meeting for parents at Kia Aroha College from 6pm tonight.

“The New Orleans experience is a stark example of the educational disaster that has occurred in countries that have embraced privatisation, competition and charter schools,” Roberts said.

Despite the fact there is no evidence from anywhere in the world that competition raises educational quality, the charter school experiment will be foisted on resentful New Zealand communities because of an unwarranted belief in “diversity”, she said.

Karran Harper-Royal is a founding member of Parents Across America and on the Board of Directors for the organization.

Speaking of charter schools, check out EduShyster’s recent post:

The Eduttante’s Balls


Eduttante: /ˌedjuˈtänt/

A shill or paid spokesperson advocating strict no-excuses charters for the urban communities in which he or she does not live. Related terms: educolonialist, whiteousness.

Today we meet a new character in our fast-paced edu-drama: the eduttante. This individual is among the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for the academies of excellence and innovation that are rapidly setting up shop in our urban centers. Often paid for his efforts (and rather well at that), the eduttante is a fierce devotee of military-style ‘no excuses’ charter schools—as long as they are for other people’s children. The eduttante’s own spawn seem to thrive in a somewhat, ahem, less restrictive environment.

But where can we meet this fast-talking, quick-stepping lover of rigor and outstandingness? Reader: I invite you to accompany me on a quick trip to Massachusetts, USA, where the eduttantes are out in force, engaged in the annual ‘Liftin’ O the Cap’ dance. Newly fattened with an infusion of Walmart $$$ (signified with this helpful w), the good men—and they do seem to be mostly men—of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Associationw and the Pioneer Institutew are in full flight, finding new ways to remind us every day that in Massachusetts “chahter” rhymes with “smahter.”

The ‘e’ is for excellence

No schools inspire greater reverence among the eduttante set than the Edward Brooke chartersw, a rapidly expanding mini empire with lots of excellence, plenty of expectations and absolutely no excuses. In other words, it is just the sort of school where the eduttante would send his children were he to send his children to a militarized test prep academy where eye rolling and teeth sucking (teeth sucking???) will earn you an immediate community violation. But of course he never does. Barry Finegold, the Massachusetts State Senator who co-sponsored legislation that would raise the cap on the number of urban charters, is rumored to send his own children to the pricey, private and standardized-test free Pike School in Andover.

To read this post in full, go to

Now on to high stakes testing which is fortunately in the news now. We are finally having a real “conversation” about it. I thought I had heard it all, though, about how far people will go to get those test scores up, but this is going beyond the pale.

Gym Class Isn’t Just Fun and Games Anymore

Sorting Lego blocks is part of the gym curriculum for third graders at Everglades Elementary.
Sorting Lego blocks is part of the gym curriculum for third graders at Everglades Elementary.

On a recent afternoon, the third graders in Sharon Patelsky’s class reviewed words like “acronym,” “clockwise” and “descending,” as well as math concepts like greater than, less than and place values.

Ms. Patelsky, the physical education teacher at Everglades Elementary School here, instructed the students to count by fours as they touched their elbows to their knees during a warm-up. They added up dots on pairs of dice before sprinting to round mats imprinted with mathematical symbols. And while in push-up position, they balanced on one arm and used the other (“Alternate!” Ms. Patelsky urged. “That’s one of your vocabulary words”) to stack oversize Lego blocks in columns labeled “ones,” “tens” and “hundreds.”

“I don’t work for Parks and Recreation,” said Ms. Patelsky, explaining the unorthodox approach to what has traditionally been one of the few breaks from the academic routine during the school day. “I am a teacher first.”

Spurred by an intensifying focus on student test scores in math and English as well as a desire to incorporate more health and fitness information, more school districts are pushing physical education teachers to move beyond soccer, kickball and tennis to include reading, writing and arithmetic as well. New standards for English and math that have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia recommend that teachers in a wide variety of subjects incorporate literacy instruction and bring more “informational text” into the curriculum. Many states have interpreted these standards to include physical education and have developed recommendations and curriculum for districts and teachers to incorporate literacy skills and informational text into gym classes.

But some parents say they object to the way testing is creeping into every corner of school life. And some educators worry that pushing academics into P.E. class could defeat its primary purpose.

To read this article in full, go to the New York Times.

Another component of the ed reform movement that has been used to increase the disparity between the have’s and the have not’s is Teach for America, Inc. (TFA). This is an organization that began by placing recruits with five weeks of training into teaching positions that were difficult to fill. Now the organization has morphed into a placement agency for charter schools with a mostly if not all minority population, providing a cheap and temporary labor force.

The following was written by a former TFA recruit and published in the Harvard Crimson.

Rethink TFA

Originally a 2009 Teach For America Mississippi Delta Corps Member, I am now a fourth-year teacher of low-income and minority students at a public charter high school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I would not be a teacher today without the support of TFA, and the majority of my incredible colleagues are Teach For America alumni. My principal—the most effective school leader I have ever witnessed as a teacher or a student—is a TFA alumnus.

But February 15 marks the final deadline to apply to be a 2013 TFA Corps Member, and you should not click “submit.”

Unfortunately, many TFA alumni (including myself) allow sentimentality to blind us to the harsh practicalities of TFA and its place in the education reform movement. The truth is, TFA teachers within their two-year corps commitment window do not, by and large, have tangible positive impacts on their classrooms. The natural extension is that if you join TFA, you will most likely have a neutral or negative impact on the academic gains of the students that you teach.

TFA paints a rosy picture for its prospective applicants when it glows that TFA corps members enable “students in high-need communities [to] make the academic progress that expands their opportunities.” But this statement isn’t bolstered by fact. TFA is not a traditional teacher-education program. In lieu of obtaining extensive preparation in multi-year undergraduate teacher credentialing programs, TFA corps members complete a five-week training program called “institute” in the summer immediately before they begin teaching. One study on the subject has shown that when compared a relatable cohort, teachers in the same schools who are untraditionally prepared and less likely to be certified, novice TFA teachers perform equivalently—but not superior—to those colleagues.

This seems disappointing but not terrible. You might not be the next Jaime Escalante (Stand and Deliver, anyone?), but surely you’re not going to de-learn your students as a first-year corps member, right?

Not so fast. Compare the performance of Teach For America corps members to another cohort: credentialed, non-TFA corps members. The same study indicates that novice TFA teachers actually perform significantly less well in reading and math than credentialed beginning teachers at the same schools. Keep in mind that to “perform significantly less well” as a teacher is quite literally to have a group of 10, 100, or even 200 students learn less than they would had you not been their teacher.

professed mission of Teach For America when it was founded was to “provide an excellent education for kids in low-income communities,” especially in classrooms staffed by permanent or non-permanent substitutes and “emergency hires.” (My own students’ Algebra I teacher died in the fall before I came, and the students did not see a licensed or credentialed teacher for the rest of the year. Every child was passed on to geometry, yet 91 percent of them failed a low-rigor state Algebra I assessment.) In situations like that, a TFA teacher can be an injection of energy into a “failing” school. In those schools, TFA teachers are no more inadequate than their alternative, and the chance that these corps members might stay past two years and develop into strong teachers is small but worth taking. Unfortunately, these scenarios are becoming less and less frequent.

According to the study, TFA has been placing teachers outside of those roles that cannot be filled by certified or experienced candidates, in positions that could be filled (or in some cases, were previously filled until rounds of layoffs) by effective, veteran teachers. Although an initial skim of data released by the U.S. Department of Education reveals a large number of regions suffering from teacher shortages, a closer look reveals that TFA placements are “largely outside” of those highest-need areas. Therefore, the fact that TFA teachers are equally or more effective than their unqualified colleagues becomes irrelevant as we realize that the teachers who were once the inadequate alternative are, in fact, no longer the alternative at all.

There is some limited statistical evidence that TFA can be at least marginally impactful. But so few TFA teachers stay in the classroom beyond three years (more than 50 percent leave after two years and more than 80 percent leave after three), that the potential positive impact of TFA is rarely felt by the people who matter most—the students. In short, TFA may be pumping alumni who “understand” the achievement gap firsthand into various professions and fields outside of direct instruction, but it is doing so at the academic expense of the highest-risk kids who have the greatest need for effective teachers.

If you feel inspired to teach, I beg you: teach! There are young people who need “lifers” committed to powering through the inevitable first three years of being terrible at teaching sinusoidal curves to hormonal 17 year-olds. I encourage you to pursue an alternative route to licensure and placement: one that encourages and actively supports longevity in the classroom and does not facilitate teacher turnover by encouraging its alumni to move into policy or other professions. If you feel compelled to Teach For America instead of teaching for America, please preference a region that has demonstrated a high need for novice teachers due to verifiable teacher shortages. And then stay in the classroom. For a long time. Feel at home teaching, and feel even more at home learning how to get better. Sit. Stay a while. Then stand and deliver.

And now onto the Bunkum Awards. We continually hear reference to reports and studies, all of them NOT peer-reviewed, that support claims that charter schools, merit pay, vouchers, high stakes testing and the resegregation of our schools is somehow good for us and our students.


The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), with Fellows who write and review studies and reports on education, has come up with awards given out each year for shoddy education research, the Bunkum Awards.

From NEPC:

The word Bunkum comes from Buncombe County in North Carolina. Buncombe County produced a Congressman, Representative Felix Walker, who gained infamy back in 1820 for delivering a particularly meaningless, irrelevant and seemingly endless speech. Thus, bunkum became a term for long-winded nonsense of the kind often seen in politics, and today in education.

Three of the winners for reports and studies published in 2012 are:

The ‘Trust Us, There’s a Pro-Voucher Result Hiding in Here Somewhere’ Award

To Brookings Institution and Harvard University Program on Education Policy and Governance for The Effects of School Vouchers on College Enrollment: Experimental Evidence from New York City

These authors wander aimlessly around a data wilderness, searching for positive evidence about school vouchers. Their report attempts to make the case that New York City partial vouchers of $1,400 per year to attend private elementary schools for three years had later positive impacts on college attendance, full-time college enrollment and attendance at selective colleges for African American students. It received lavish media attention, including a foot-stomping commentary by the report’s authors in the Wall Street Journal that scolds President Obama for what they regard as his outrageous failure to line up behind voucher policies.

To help understand the problems with this report, let’s all mentally travel to Sunnyside, Nevada, which hit a high temperature of only 14°F on January 17, 2012. Even while the world was experiencing record heat, Sunnyside posted a record cold for that date. If we wanted to distract attention from overall warming trends, we might lead with this and other cherry-picked data. It’s an old trick that often works, if nobody pays attention to the overall trends and if nobody questions the cherry-picking.

Yet this is essentially the approach used by the Bunkum-winning Brookings report, which finds positive college-related impacts for African American students (but not for other students) who had received vouchers back in elementary school. The researchers, of course, had no a priori reason to think that African Americans would benefit in this way from vouchers, when other students do not. They simply explored the data, found lots of results showing no voucher benefits and then found this one (akin to Sunnyside, Nevada) that helped support their advocacy of vouchers.

The “Noblesse Oblige” Award is presented to Jean Johnson, Jon Rochkind, Michael Remaley and Jeremiah Hess and the Public Agenda Foundation for What’s Trust Got to Do With It? A Communications and Engagement Guide for School Leaders Tackling the Problem of Persistently Failing Schools. 

It’s not an easy thing to convince people to do things against their common sense and best interests. But Public Agenda stepped up to the plate with this report providing strategies for just that: how to “engage” with members of communities and convince them to go along with externally imposed so-called “turnarounds” of their schools.

The report presents parents as ignorant about their community schools’ deficiencies and as obstacles to outsiders’ turnaround efforts, which often include massive teacher layoffs and school closings or privatization.

“The report completely ignores the evidence warning policymakers that so-called turnaround strategies don’t actually work to benefit communities,” says NEPC director Welner.

Interestingly, in focus groups conducted by the researchers, community members accurately identify problems of inadequate resources, as well as significant hurdles faced by their impoverished communities. Further, as the report’s authors note, “There was also a strong sense among the parents we interviewed that, in their view, the communities themselves should be seen as sources of new thinking.” Unfortunately, the report never addresses these core problems and never suggests truly valuing local ideas.

What’s Trust Got to Do With It? is, therefore, ironically titled. The biggest problem is in the authors’ complete lack of trust in the views of the parents.

The “Scary Black Straw Man” Award goes to Katherine Kersten and the Center for the American Experiment for Our Immense Achievement Gap: Embracing Proven Remedies While Avoiding a Race-Based Recipe for Disaster.

Using apocalyptic language throughout her report, the author alludes to a “train wreck” and massive “liabilities” and a “race-based recipe for disaster” if state policymakers, in their zeal to pursue race-based school reform policies, continue colluding with advocates for desegregation, busing and school funding.

Our Immense Achievement Gap addresses reports by the Minnesota Department of Education and others on concentrated poverty and segregation. These reports suggest policies such as a continuation of existing pro-diversity efforts and the encouragement of voluntary fair housing and magnet school programs. The Center for the American Experiment’s counter-report does not address these seemingly sensible proposals and instead sets up straw men in the form of “busing” and mandated “de-segregation.” Neither of these policies was recommended by any of the targeted reports.

Curiously, despite being highly critical of desegregation and integration programs, the report provides a shoddy and unbalanced literature review to discredit these efforts.

“What brought tears of appreciation to our judges’ eyes was the lengthy, heart-rending and compassionate soliloquy about the need to rectify the injustice of the achievement gap – followed by an equally passionate rejection of initiatives sensibly designed to close it,” Welner said. “By raising obtuseness to the level of performance art, the Center for the American Experiment clearly merits this Bunkum.”

Here is a video of the 2012 award ceremony:

This marks our seventh year of handing out the treasured Bunkums. That’s seven years of honoring the lows and very lows, chosen from among those reports scrutinized by our expert reviewers. It’s an ugly business, akin to being hired to write weekly columns about Congress: there’s no glossing over the dysfunction, so we might as well have fun with it.

Have a great weekend!

Dora Taylor