National Education News Roundup

We've been focused on SPS issues and many have posted about other national stories so let's take a look at what has happened over the last couple of weeks.
  • all the teachers, administrators and other personnel at one Rhode Island high school were fired (the focus seems to be on the teachers but news reports say the entire staff will be let go). That's a big wow all the way around. Central Falls High is one of the lowest-performing schools in R.I. and is in a low-income area. From CNN:
Of the 800 students, 65 percent are Hispanic and for most of them, English is a second language. Half the students are failing every subject, with 55 percent skilled in reading and 7 percent proficient in math, officials said. They also have one of highest transient populations in R.I.

The superintendent, under federal guidelines, had asked teachers to work a longer day than 7 hours and tutor students weekly for one hour outside of school time. There would also be 2 weeks of paid professional development during the summer break. As usual, the issue was money and specifically, paying the teachers for the extra time. Apparently, the superintendent wasn't against paying but they couldn't agree on a pay rate. One teacher:

Kathy May, a teacher at Central Falls High, said she's disheartened. "I feel like, after 20 years, I can see some progress beginning to be made. And I'm sad that we're not going to be around to follow that through, to push that forward."

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have backed this decision. Okay, but where are they going to find good teachers (if the fired ones are "bad") to turn the school around? You can say "off with their heads" and maybe the teachers should have done more. Ms. May's comment about improving after 20 years is a little startling but this could be the start of something for superintendents who want to clean house or look like they are actually doing something.
  • Then there's the headline "Board's Decision to Close 28 Kansas City Schools Follows Years of Inaction". This would be almost half the schools in KC. I can't imagine closing that many schools in one fell swoop. From the story:
"Students have been leaving the Kansas City public schools in droves. Close to 18,000 students exited to better suburban districts or charter schools in the last 10 years alone. The student enrollment is now 17,400 children, who are mostly black and impoverished."

But a closer look at the school board’s recent history reveals a chaotic, almost nonfunctioning body that put off making tough choices and even routine improvements for generations. Experts said that in the board’s years of inaction is a cautionary tale for school districts everywhere.

“We have buildings that are half empty,” said Andrea Flinders, the union president. “We recognized that schools needed to be closed, but the board wasn’t willing. This board is different.”

"If the schools had fallen into bankruptcy, as was predicted before the closings, the state would have seized control, and made changes as it saw fit."

  • Panel Proposes Single Standard for All Schools, an article in the NY Times this week about a panel of educators brought together by governors and school superintendents with a uniform set of academic standards for English and math. Upside, our nation would be able to truly know how kids are doing state to state if say, in third grade, they learn fractions. These standards would not prescribe curriculum. It would mean possible teacher retraining and textbook rewrites.

“I’d say this is one of the most important events of the last several years in American education,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., a former assistant secretary of education who has been an advocate for national standards for nearly two decades. “Now we have the possibility that for the first time, states could come together around new standards and high school graduation requirements that are ambitious and coherent. This is a big deal.”

In recent years, many states moved in the opposite direction, lowering standards to make it easier for students to pass tests and for schools to avoid penalties under the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law.

And guess who doesn't want to be part of it from the get go? Texas and Alaska. The governor of Texas says only Texans should decide what their children learn. Local control is king for education but those days may be ending. (This issue may also play into another Texas story - see below - on textbooks.)

Some states like Massachuseutts already have high standards and are uneasy about any efforts towards possibly lowering standards.

The standards are open for public comment through April 2, before final versions are published later in the spring. The adoption process varies greatly from state to state. In some, the state schools superintendent has considerable power to move forward in as little as three months. But other states, including California, have complicated procedures, involving the state board of education and other bodies that could prolong the process for a year or more, Mr. Linn said.
  • This brings us to No Child Left Behind. Another NY Times article is about the President's plans for NCLB. From the article:
The administration would replace the law’s pass-fail school grading system with one that would measure individual students’ academic growth and judge schools based not on test scores alone but also on indicators like pupil attendance, graduation rates and learning climate. And while the proposal calls for more vigorous interventions in failing schools, it would also reward top performers and lessen federal interference in tens of thousands of reasonably well-run schools in the middle.

In addition, President Obama would replace the law’s requirement that every American child reach proficiency in reading and math, which administration officials have called utopian, with a new national target that could prove equally elusive: that all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career.

“We’ve got to get accountability right this time,” Mr. Duncan told reporters Friday. “For the mass of schools, we want to get rid of prescriptive interventions. We’ll leave it up to them to figure out how to make progress.”

However, the national teachers unions do not like the blueprint at all.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said of the proposal, “From everything that we’ve seen, this blueprint places 100 percent of the responsibility on teachers and gives them zero percent of the authority.”

I also see this as problem:

The administration’s proposals would also rework the law’s teacher-quality provisions by requiring states to develop evaluation procedures to distinguish effective instructors, partly based on whether their students are learning. These would replace the law’s current emphasis on certifying that all teachers have valid credentials, which has produced little except red tape, officials said.

And this is a big difference:

Obama proposed requiring states to adopt “college- and career-ready standards” to qualify for the $14 billion Title I program. The administration proposes that new federal education dollars be provided to states as competitive grants, rather than through per-pupil formulas.

And this:

The blueprint proposes eliminating a current requirement, popular among Republicans, that schools failing to meet testing benchmarks for two years in a row provide busing to other schools for students wishing to transfer, but few parents have transferred their students under this provision.

This is a whole lotta change to come. It's seems like some of NCLB would be improved with giving schools credit for progress and not just one score but it seems like the feds become more involved than ever.

  • Then there's the Texas textbook issue. First, a little background. I first heard of this when I worked for a book design firm that did some textbook publishing. There aren't as many textbook publishers as there used to be and the publishers wanted to create books that many districts would buy. However, in some states, like Texas, the districts don't pick the books, the state Board of Education does. That means larger states like California and Texas and what they want to see in textbooks can dominate content. California, with its weakened economy, may not be as big a player today but Texas still is. The weird part? The people who pick the textbooks aren't educators, they are just folks who get on a committee and for the most part, they are very conservative. So here's what they are pushing through now from a NY Times article this week about history and economics textbooks:
There were no historians, sociologists or economists consulted at the meetings, though some members of the conservative bloc held themselves out as experts on certain topics.

They also included a plank to ensure that students learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”

Dr. McLeroy, a dentist by training, pushed through a change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the nonviolent approach of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also made sure that textbooks would mention the votes in Congress on civil rights legislation, which Republicans supported.

They also replaced the word “capitalism” throughout their texts with the “free-enterprise system.” “Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation,” said one conservative member, Terri Leo. “You know, ‘capitalist pig!’ ”

Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”)

On the upside? One, we're in a digital age and so textbook publishers are better able to tailor textbooks for different districts. Two, if we do pass national standards for English and math and Texas isn't part of the group, publishers will have a huge number of districts to write for and Texas will not be able to hold the sway it has in the past.


seattle said…
OK so this school was the lowest performing school in the district, but did any other schools serve the same population? Have the same demographics?

You have to compare apples to apples
seattle citizen said…
The entire district is like one square mile. The entire district is low income, with may English as a second language learners.
My guess is the the entire district struggles.
What to do, what to do...
How DOES a non-English speaker pass the WASL (or the RIASL, in RI?) after, say, two years of exposure to the language?
How DO students without enriching homes pass?

Firing the whole staff? Absurd.

Changing the way we look at students? That would be good.

I wonder if these standardized tests are classist AND nativist?

NCLB changs? some good, some bad...still waiting to hear how educators will be scored...

Kansas? They're closing half their schools AND "transforming" or "restructuring" six, to grab some of that FED cash and make a stash...of course, they'll need to toe the line...

Texas? Blatant religious agenda, I can't believe they get away with this pap. On a related note, the Supreme Court upheld mandatory pledges of allegiance...55 year old relgious AND nationalistic pap.
Michael said…
"(Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”)"

Typical NY Times mis-information.
Anonymous said…
The Performance Management Policy 2.0 that is to be reviewed by the board this week and voted on in April is exactly what is happening elsewhere and could happen here if it is passed.

Actually, the state superintendent now has the power to close a school, fire staff or the principal without input from a district thanks to legislation that so many folks here in Seattle wanted to pass, organizations such as LEV, the PTSA and the Alliance now have provided Randy Dorm with the power to do as he so chooses.

Getting back to Seattle, our superintendent has produced a policy that would give her the power to do the same.

I spoke against this in the last board meeting and there will be discussion regarding this in Wednesday's meeting.

All parents who believe that the policy shown below is flawed, should be modified or parts of it not adopted at all should come to the school board meeting this Wednesday or contact your school board director.

The entire policy is on the SPS website. The portion that describes firing staff, a principal or closing a school is as follows:

"Schools that have three years of low growth and sustain low absolute performance will be subject to one or more of the following actions taken by the Superintendent:

Change school leadership

Change school staff

Direct instructional strategies and professional development

Change curricular materials and or programs

Conduct regular accountability reviews throughout the year with the principal, CAO, and Instructional Directors

Close and/or reconstitute the school"
Anonymous said…
By the way, if you don't want your student to be a part of this process, they can be exempted from taking any district test such as the MAP test, by signing a "student waiver". It can be found on the SPS site. It goes as follows:

Student waivers

In order to enhance a student’s academic experience, students are encouraged to engage in all types of assessments provided by the district. Assessments can enhance an academic experience by providing the teacher, family members and the student information on the student’s progress, including areas of success and areas where improvement is necessary. However, there may be instances when a parent or guardian would prefer that a student not be assessed. When the assessment is a district directed assessment, the parent or guardian of the student must provide to the school principal a letter stating that the student is to be excused from the assessment. The school shall place the letter in the student’s permanent file. The purpose of retaining letters excusing a student from assessment is to ensure that the school’s data accurately reflect which assessments were taken by which students.

The waiver process outlined above does not apply to state or national assessments. If permitted, waivers from state or nationally required assessments will be granted only under the guidelines of the particular assessment.
Anonymous said…
And this from the School Board Action Report regarding Performance Management Policy 2.0:

"DATE: January 28, 2010
FROM: Dr. Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson, Superintendent

There has been significant community engagement around the performance management work, and the content of the policy will be included in the engagement occurring in February and March."

You know, I really try to stay up on all things SPS but this one just slipped right past me.

Has anyone reading this blog had "significant engagement" with SPS regarding this policy?
Michael, the remark about Jefferson comes from the committee, not the NY Times. Whether or not all conservatives feel this way, apparently this is the view of this committee.

Also, you could previously opt out of the WASL. I'll check about the process for the new test, HPSE.
Anonymous said…
By the way, all of these school closings and firings are part of the Race to the Top requirements to receive about $75 per student in our state.

Do you think it's worth it?

What we will gain from it?
SPS mom said…
According to the Board Agenda posted this morning, the Performance Management policy is scheduled for action this Wed. Mar. 17.

Items introduced last mtg. on the new Assessment Policy have been removed, though the agenda does not note this. Also for action is the repeal of several instructional policies, though I don't remember them being introduced at the last mtg.
Anonymous said…
Whoa! The action was to be voted on originally during the April 7th meeting.

So this Wednesday is it.

There will be several teachers speaking on the issue of this Performance Management Policy 2.0 at the Wednesday School Board meeting.

I would ask that all parents who can, come out in support of your teachers at this meeting.

I know that they are a few teachers that are not being "effective" but to fire half of the teachers in a school, lose a principal or close a school entirely because test scores, on a highly questionable test, are not up to an arbitrary standard makes no sense and would simply create more disruption, questions and chaos and we've had enough of that already.

We have great teachers out there, many of them choosing to work in schools that are "low performing". We have outstanding teachers, people who care about our students. To treat them like "human capital" and put our students under the strain of performing or losing a teacher, a principal or their school is unnecessary and not what I consider education.
Megan Mc said…
If a school is failing it is the State and district's fault first - the State should have to prove that they provided adequate funding and the district should prove that they provided adequate support for the school. Accountability has to start at the top. I think the first person to be removed should be the Education Director. He/she is the person most responsible for oversight of a school. It's his/her job to support the principal and staff. If he/she was doing the job properly ineffective principal or staff would have been removed already for not doing their job. You wouldn't need whole-sale firings of teachers or the farce of firing a perfectly good principal who has been stuck with an impossible job.
Anonymous said…
My mistake, the Assessment Program Policy, C4.0 will be voted on during the April 7th meeting.

That's the policy that requires all students to be assessed, basically with the MAP test, and have that tie into the Performance Management Policy which will be voted on this week and has to do with firing teachers and closing schools.

See the Assessment Policy here:
wseadawg said…
One size fails all.
seattle citizen said…
Yep, wseadawg, I can't get over feeling that all these assessments and evaluations are NOT about helping students, they're about controlling teachers.
IF we were really interested in helping individual students, we wouldn't be closing whole schools to "restructure" them; we would be identifying needs of the students and assisting them where they were at. IF we were interested in helping teachers either become better or "shape up" we would use multiple metrics to see what they're doing and how they are assisting (or not) individual students. But all we hear about is "Quality = standardized scores." Nothing about inquiry, innovation, care.
One size fails all, indeed.
seattle citizen said…
I hate to be a broken record, but with national standards....and "teacher quality"...What, exactly, happens to art? PE? Metal Shop? Band?

What happens to non-core teachers in all this hub-bub? Do they just not count?
SolvayGirl said…
Great question Seattle Citizen? I had been wondering that myself? If a school is in trouble, does the Art or Music teacher get fired too? And what happens to the "fired" teachers? Are they "fired" from the District? Or are they able to bump a teacher with less seniority from another school? Does the "firing" go on their record?
seattle citizen said…
Solvay, that is the problem with much of this "reform": It doesn't look at the great art teacher, or the student who is might not even look at the poor art teacher or struggling student. It looks at "averages" and "percentages," often from disparate cohorts, and enacts sweeping reform that wipes away all.
I'd imagine an excellent art teacher in Rhode Island got swept away. I'd imagine a struggling student who was finding some small degree of success with that art teacher, some expression, will AT LEAST return to a school where a lot of the staff are gone and the rest (and the new ones) are "with the program."
Here in Seattle, displaced teachers are still employees (under the existing contract.) But under proposals such as that found in that awful survey, a displaced teacher, good, bad or indifferent, would NOT be placed in another school, but would get one year to find their own damn job in the district, and if they didn't, off they go.
Makes the profession more appealing every day.
seattle citizen said…
The great thing about all these reforms and initiatives is that they are impossible to enact.
Take the idea of differentiation and Response to Intervention:

The idea is that students are different, as identified in MAP tests. (who'd a thunk it?)
So, since you now officially know that there are different levels, you need to provide for those levels in class and out (and even to the district level - student gets higher or lower level instruction, etc (differentiation) IN class (which takes time = money) If that isn't enough, student gets separate remedial class (for, say, three levels low) or advanced (say, two above?)
THOSE classes cost money.

But look here: Schools are working their budgets, as we speak, and they are all cut to the bone. Out go the remedial, out go the planning periods for differentiation, away goes staffing to collaborate on common differentiation tools, away go counselors to add their important input to the data mix....

So schools are being told to address the individual needs of each student (and teachers are accountable for this) as identified on MAP and WASL, yet the funding for these things is gone, pulled away....LAP dollars? Gone. Stimulus dollars? Not this year. State responsibility to fund? Maybe in 2015, eh?

This is the most tragi-comic situation I think I've ever seen.
Wait, it's just ain't comic, it ain't funny "ha ha" it's funny "crazy" Forget that comic, it's just one pure, big tragedy.

Kids ARE individuals. They aren't numbers. They NEED individualized attention, not a number stamped on their forehead. But they are losing all the things that used to meet their needs - warmth, skill, flexibility, understanding....gone.
Now it's just a machine.

This is where we're at. Who allowed us to get here?
wseadawg said…
Who allowed us to get here, SC? Good question. Perhaps all the privately schooled oligarchs who dictate policy, with authority that trumps communities and school boards across the land. Or the Right who for years screamed "vouchers," as the solution for everything, then suddenly realized: "Wait a minute! We can make money off education if we get the right people in the right places!" And so they've done.

Or curriculum providers who, due to lack of serious competition from consolidation, heavy lobbying, and conflicts of interests up the wazzoo have managed to foist massive amounts of sub-standard material upon the public school system, while, at the same time (gotta love this), owning and providing both testing services, test preparation services, and remedial courses to help failing kids pass their standardized tests. So the longer the kids are stuck in the cycle, the more they profit.

The public education trough is the fattest one around these days, with the internet and the housing bubbles bursting on our watch. The problem is, kids have no voice of their own, and the adults who are supposed to cherish and care for them are instead looking the other way while their buddies make a buck off of them, all the while talking about the "21st Century Jobs" we need to prepare our kids for. Like what? WalMart Greeters? Give me a break. Every corporation has a duty to its shareholders to get the most bang for the buck. If you want to save $ on software engineers, you go to India or import labor from there. Period. Whether you've got STEM-educated, home grown kids or not. Doing otherwise is breaching the corporations duty to its shareholders. So all this talk about home grown jobs is bunk. They just don't want kids understanding their role in democracy. That way, they become better "workers" at the expense of participation in democracy or daring to challenge the authority of the ruling classes.

The Feds can pull their stunts and screw over the other 49 states. But I'd prefer Seattle folk be familiar with their own history, and maybe re-read the Grapes of Wrath for a lesson in how the marketplace really works when there's an abundance of qualified, or over-qualified labor. It ain't pretty.
Josh Hayes said…
And just to pick a nit with michael way back at the top, the phrase "separation of church and state" is down to Jefferson, in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, wherein he referred to the first amendment as creating a "wall of separation" between church and state.

Sure, the Constitution doesn't explicitly say that, but one would have to be deliberately obtuse to think that the first amendment meant other than that.

BTW, our friends in Texas also, of course, want to teach creationism in the classroom. Having taught at the U of Texas for several years in the 1980's, believe me, this should come as no surprise.
Anonymous said…
I just came across this letter from a teacher to the NCTE that is quite poignant. What got to me the most was her description of those students at Central Falls and the demographics of that school population. The passage goes as follows:

"Did you imagine that what just happened in Central Falls was/is an aberration?

In Central Falls, demographics make the story more complex and real:
"According to the NECAP results (New England Common Assessment Program),of the Central Falls High School students who participated in the assessments,22% were identified with Limited English proficiency with English as their
second language compared to 3% for the state. Twenty-three percent had an IEP(individualized education plan designed for students with special needs)compared to the state average of 17% and 85% were classified as economically disadvantaged compared to the state average of 35%.

Did you imagine that we would forget the research that conclusively shows that poverty
is the central problem with our schools? Did you think we wouldn't know that the United States has the highest rate of children in poverty of all industrialized nations in the world?"

But, according to Obama, the school failed. The school didn't fail, society failed. We have failed by not demanding equal education for all with sufficient financing for our teachers to be successful.

We are going to see billions wasted on this idea that Arne Duncan brought with him by way of Chicago and the Broad Foundation. What a shame, and we needed the money so badly.

The link to the letter is:
wseadawg said…
Arne Duncan was supposedly the Commercial Club of Chicago's darling white knight who turned around Chicago's schools.

What a failure! What a Joke! Even the Commercial Club of Chicago can't hide the truth anymore. Hence, the title of their June 2009 Status Report: "STILL LEFT BEHIND" - Student Learning in Chicago's Schools. Key Finding: "There is a general perception that Chicago's public schools have been gradually improving over time. However, recent dramatic gains in the reported number of CPS elementary students who meet standards on State assessments appear to be due to CHANGES IN THE TESTS made by the Illinois State Board of Education, rather than REAL IMPROVEMENTS IN STUDENT LEARNING. (I'm not making this up. Google it.)

So ARNE's "Reform" is all show and no go, but we just kissed his arse - Washington style - by caving in to his RTTT agenda and enacting the reforms he demanded.

Gotta love that Times editorial today.
Sahila said…
Arne and MGJ - two peas in a pod...

some say that the way things are in Seattle (and the rest of the country) is because people dont see/understand what's going on...

even amongst the few people active on this blog, there appears to be an inability to see the bigger picture of what is really going on in this country...

If you read

and accept only half of the evidence there about what's really going on, surely that's enough to push you to the point of saying:
Hell no, not on my watch, in my community, to our kids!"?

So, if you research and you find that what some of us have been sayign for a long time is really, really happening - what are you going to do about it?

How are you going to help spread the word?

How are you going to wake up your neighbours and your school communities?

How/when are we going to band together to put a stop to MGJ?

Some of us are doing what we can - lawsuits, attending meetings, handing out flyers, writing on blogs, letters to the editor, commentary on the net...

Dont you owe it to your own kids, if not to all the kids caught in the public school system?


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