Thursday, March 29, 2012

Is there an Inconvenient Truth behind Waiting for Superman?

The Roosevelt Campus Network @ NYU Presents:

Is there a Superman to save America’s public schools?

When: Monday, April 2, 2012 at 6:30 pm
Where: Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life, Room 269, 238 Thompson St., Greenwich Village. Map here.
Come watch clips from films Waiting for Superman and The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman, and participate in a discussion led by:
Dr. Jonathan Zimmerman (Professor at Steinhardt)
Leonie Haimson (parent activist and founder of Class Size Matters)
James Merriman (President of the NYC Charter Schools Center)
Refreshments served.

Email to rsvp by March 30, 2012 and please bring ID.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

City Council hearings: More cuts to schools and even larger classes next year as contracts grow fatter??

Me testifying with other advocates; credit CM Jackson who tweeted this
Yesterday the NYC Council Education committee held preliminary hearings on the mayor’s proposed education operating budget.  Here is a good report from NY1, here is the analysis of the budget by Council staff; here is my testimony [also shown below].  The proposed operating budget for next year, despite an overall increase in spending, would cut schools by another $64 million, with $182 million cut to general education instruction alone, leading to a projected loss of 2,570 teachers and even higher class sizes in the future. Meanwhile, the contract budget is projected to grow even fatter, to $4.7 billion.
Though Chancellor Walcott kept repeating that in the final proposed budget, he expects school budgets to be flat rather than cut, even a flat budget would still likely to lead to a sharp loss in general education teachers and continued class size increases, since the costs of programs go up each year, as well as the number of special education students with mandated class sizes and services that schools have to fulfill.  We have seen a sharp fall in the number of general ed teachers in recent years, with over 2,000 lost last year alone – and according to our estimates, more than 10,000 such positions eliminated since 2007.
Many Council Members focused on teacher attrition and the effects on class size.  The DOE responded that class size increases were not their fault, but the effect of the recession, the choices of empowered principals, and anyway, they weren’t sure that class size mattered.  [See my testimony for rebuttals on all these points.]  Other topics included the ballooning contract budget, the cost and damaging impact of small schools and co-located charters, the lack of college readiness of NYC students, and whether mayoral control can finally be deemed a failure or success after ten years.
Another issue of concern was how the DOE seems still o be unable to obtain federal Medicaid reimbursement for special services, having already lost out on more than a billion dollars in funds since 2005, which would have helped offset the rising cost of special education.  The latest update is that while the city projected in this year's budget reimbursement of about $117 M, so far they have only submitted claims for about $25 million for “case management services” from prior years, and have not yet submitted any new claims. Education Chair Robert Jackson was especially concerned about where funds to fill this gap might be found. Walcott pledged to avoid further cuts to schools.
Below is my admittedly imprecise transcript of the proceedings, along with the testimony of the union heads, Mulgrew of UFT, Crespo of DC 37, and Logan of the CSA. As usual, Council members critiques were on point, and often  frustrated with the lack of responsiveness from DOE officials, although after 10 years of this, the proceedings seem a bit ritualistic. My testimony is also posted below, with more details on DOE’s misplaced priorities when it comes to education spending and class size.
Testifying for DOE were Chancellor Walcott, Dept. Chancellor Shael Suransky, and CFO Michael Tragale.When I got there Walcott was coming to the end of his testimony, promoting the Mayor’s proposals to give $25K bonuses when signing new teachers who graduated at the top of their class, and $20K for those who rated “effective” 2 years in a row.
CM Lou Fidler asks Walcott about loss of 5000 teachers in last two years and the resulting sharp increase in class size; small classes are necessary for quality education.  How many more teaching positions lost should e expected next year? Walcott says despite cuts to schools, they are still improving results.  Walcott says it’s too early to project attrition levels and they cannot share models.  At next meeting, we will share if you like.
CM Robert Jackson; budgets released late last year; when will they this year?  Walcott: as early as possible; Tragale: we expect mid to late May.
CM Brad Lander: Continuing the focus on class size; he released a new report showing the rapid growth of class sizes of 30 or more.  In 2009; less than 1% of classes in grades 1-3 were that large; this year the number has tripled.  The loss of  another 2700 gened teachers is projected.  Are you looking at consequences, impacts of very large class sizes?  Teacher quality matters, but no parent wants his or her child in classes in 30 or more.
Suransky:  You should look at the context, we have had the deepest recession during our lifetime.  We lost $1.7 billion in state and federal cuts.  Philly laid off one fourth of its teachers.  We only saw a 3% increase in elementary school class size; we don’t want to see this, but class size doesn’t necessarily correlate to achievement, and the research is mixed. [NOT!]  Lander: have you looked at whether these large classes may have affected outcomes? Suransky:  We haven’t done specific analysis, to see how affecting achievement, and we don’t know about further attrition.

Lander: how can we get these kids out of classes of 30 or more?. We didn’t have this problem in 2009.  I would appreciate it if you could take a closer look at the data.  Doesn’t matter how good teacher is, it’s hard to attend to the needs of 30 or more students.  What would be cost be to ensure that 2600 positions aren’t lost?  And how much would it cost to keep class sizes under 30 in the early grades?
Jackson: how many gened teachers lost in FY 12?  Tragale: Down 1200 according to the Mayor’s management report.[No; this is all teachers; not gened; our estimates show a loss of about 3,000 gened teachers  this year.]
CM Al Vann talks about importance of after school programs, Boys and Girls HS winning athletic prizes, etc.
CM Dominic Recchia; you say you don’t anticipate reductions to school budgets; what U/As you put together to make statement?  Tragale: [answers with gobbledygook].  Recchia: what exactly UA ‘s [Units of Appropriation] do you use?   I see a  $64 M decrease in school budgets.
Tragale: These adjustments are snapshot in time; any attrition adjustment doesn’t mean budget cuts to schools.  In terms of codes, I’m looking at 410-404, 481-2.  Recchia: I use same codes & this shows $64M cut to schools.  For the chancellor to come and say you don’t anticipate cuts, but in any case, we see that the overall budgets will be flat.  [Which will necessitate cuts to programs/teachers, esp. general ed teachers, since costs rise each year due to inflation alone, and special ed costs increase esp. rapidly, as this population is also increasing rapidly.]
Recchia: We’ve seen so many teachers cut; can you break it out so later we can see how many teachers lost in each category?  Walcott says okay.  Recchia:  you added network staff to the UA of 401 [budget code for school-level general ed instruction] for the first time this year; this makes it even more difficult for me and staff to figure out how much is being allocated at school level; why?
Tragale: In terms of the CFNs [Children First Networks], they are supported thru school budgets, part of allocations pay for this; we thought it appropriate.  Recchia: Schools were never charged for this support before when there were districts. [And even with the SSO’s, the DOE kept the mid-level bureaucracy on a separate budget line; now they are trying to hide this at the spending at the school level.] Recchia: this may look good on paper, but you’re taking away from schools.  Walcott: schools do benefit from networks.  Recchia: if you get additional money from state, we request you find mechanism to hire back 642 school aides laid off this year.
CM Ydanis Rodriguez:  What is our plan for future? Do you believe we are in crisis when only 13% black and Latino students college-ready?  Walcott: I’m not going to respond to this specific word “crisis”.  I believe we have a lot of work to do, and our reforms are aimed at accomplishing this.
Rodriguez:  We need more college advisers per student;  we don’t have enough.  Suransky: school staff are going thru a “massive training” for college advising & every school will have this ability by next year.  We want to partner with you on this.  Rodriguez: College advisory should start in 6th grade, and a college prep course should be required in 9th grade.  Also schools at the George Washington HS, not doing well re safety & performance; I don’t want you to close or relocate schools these schools, but you should be addressing their challenges now.
CM Barron credit: NY1
CM Charles Barron: points out how even flat school budgets leads to staff cuts; meanwhile contract budgets huge and rising; this year at $4.6 B with an increase of nearly $1 B this year.  “Somebody is getting rich; some people are making big money off of a failing system.”  The entire city contract budget $10 B; DOE has 40% of contracting budget. [For the list of contracts in each category and the horrifying amounts, see p. 30 of the Committee report.]
CM Robert Jackson: DOE could and should have renegotiated these egregious contracts to save money. Walcott: we're trying to save money for preK special ed busing contracts [but they want to eliminate requirements that companies hire experienced drivers] Tragale: we did decide to bring in-house some technology work. [Finally; after years of waste and corruption!] We’re also looking at bringing in house some technical services; we think we should be able to save a few million there as well.
Jackson: Temp service contracts at $20M (60% city total); OTHER unspecified Personal Services contracts at $64M (44% of city’s total). Lots of DOE consultants have gone to jail b/c they are ripping us off!  Walcott:  lots of contracts helping kids.
CM Gail Brewer: We need more mental health services and support for schools.  Do you have data on this and what are you doing to help these kids, so don’t they end up in trouble?  Walcott: some schools have relationships w/ CBO’s that provide services.  Brewer: Esp. when you look at large class sizes more needed.   Also technology: charter schools have IPADs, regular pub schools don’t have them.  Suransky: We needed to upgrade wiring; this is part of capital budget.  Schools do have budgets for technology; and working w/ schools to develop that capacity.  Brewer: creates tensions and scanners make it hard to get in. We are behind rest of country.  Suransky: we are not behind but ahead. Brewer: how much is the budget for Fund for the Public School?  Walcott: We’ll get it to you.  Brewer: Special ed what is the dollar figure for sped private schools?  Tragale: Contract schls at $1.5 B, has gone up.  Brewer: PS 75, wants to take these students but has been told to wait.
CM Daniel Dromm  credit: NY1
CM Daniel Dromm: One third of your testimony is about teacher evaluation; the release of these TDRs was a total disgrace.  About 400 people came to our rally; morale of teachers very low.  Why does the administration demonize teachers?  Walcott denies.  Dromm: Teachers not the problem, but lack of resources and class sizes.  Walcott: we need better teacher eval system.  Dromm: Release of TDRS the problem.  Continual focus on this.  When are you going to talk about class size?  D 24 still hugely overcrowded.  Teachers do not see this as business.  Teachers would rather have small class size than merit pay; and where are you going to get money for merit pay proposal?
Walcott: This proposal is not reflected in this year’s budget.
Dromm: School turnaround process: teachers are going into ATR or into other schools?  These are not “ineffective’ teachers, as you said in your testimony.  Walcott: these are teachers who are not selected by committee; they may go into ATR or can be hired by other school.
CM Margaret Chin: DOE continues to create more and more small schools; IBO said one year hiatus of new schools would save $12M; and they continue to have a higher admin cost. Manhattan charter school going into a District 1 building w/ many other public schools; it will have fewer than 274 students; surely this is very expensive.  Suransky: Usually our small schools are 400-500 students; Chin says this one less than 300. Suransky: perhaps because there is not enough space.  Our small schools show high expectations, teachers have lots of support; results are better, yada yada yada.
Chin: But successful public schools are not allowed to grow because DOE wants to put charters in building.  Suransky: we are very balanced in our priorities; most co-located schools have developed successful set of relationships and collaborate well [NOT!].
Chin: How many new schools do you plan open in next fiscal year and what cost?  Suransky: approximately 40.  We’ll get the figure to you.  Tragale:  30 new public schools next year and 28 charters; for total of 58.   How much in budget?  About $12 M for new public schools; charter schools, don’t know yet.
CM Ignizio: Do we have teacher shortage in NYC?  Walcott: No.  At peak few years ago, we got 75K applications for teachers for 5K openings; high demand.  Ignizio:  So we could reduce class size with no loss of quality; no? I I was one of those kids, I would sit in back of classroom and talk and not pay attention.  Smaller classes help kids who are average but could be superior if teacher could focus more.  Full day preK?  Walcott says we  support it. [losing preK seats this year.]  Medicaid reimbursement?  We only brought in small amount of reimbursement.
Tragale:  we are doing everything we can to build more reimbursements.  Walcott: It’s a  detailed process where rules have changed in recent years.  Ignizio says he’s glad Staten Island may get busing variance, and new money from state for this.
CM Fidler: staff just handed me the education budget which has only three pages; we need more detail so the public and Council members can help finds savings; we have been talking about this for 10 yrs; we need  more detail in education budget.
CM Mark Weprin: Special ed services that city has to provide; process drags on, with attorneys, and DOE ends up paying both attorneys.  Can we streamline this process?  Suransky: we are trying to create more opportunities to keep children in neighborhood schools, 200 schools are now implementing these reforms, and broadening in future; improving services with less need to look beyond school and system.  Weprin: impact on school budgets?  Suransky: schools will receive proportional increases if they enroll more students w/ disabilities.
Weprin: teachers are being taken out of classrooms to grade exams.  What can we do to prevent that?  Suransky: NY State doesn’t pay for grading of state tests. Instead, passes costs to districts; some teachers are working overtime and some during day; we used to spend $10-15 M for overtime for grading; reducing the need to pull teachers out of classroom; but now we have less money to do this.  The state should fund it as other states do. Weprin: Can’t you use other staff?  Suransky: Has to be licensed teachers.  [Why not use ATRs? According to GothamSchools, not because most ATRs are HS teachers.  So what; can't they be trained to score 3rd-8th exams?]
CM David Greenfield: About the special ed Carter cases; DOE hired five new attorneys to litigate these cases. Tragale: correct, we now have 40 attorneys.  How much cost?  Tragale: doesn’t know. Greenfield: Isn’t it true that DOE doesn’t have space to accommodate all these students?  Suransky: not true.  Greenfield: true you are hiring former prosecutors?  Walcott: we don’t want to pay exorbitant fees, we are advocating on behalf of taxpayers.
CM Jackson:  DOE now challenging every year rather than every three years even after courts have already ruled that the special ed placement in private schools is appropriate.
CM Jumaane Williams: There’s a unique hubris of this administration when it comes to governance style.  They don’t listen and the problem is with Mayoral control.  Do you agree it has been a failure if only 13% of black and Latino kids are college ready, and  only 25% of students overall?
Walcott: Mayoral control is a success because people know where to express concerns and hold people accountable.  You see improvement over years in terms of HS grad rate etc. 
Williams:  Statistics are manipulated; books are “cooked” ; we can’t even get  alist of all contracts when services are cut.  We are hurting our poor and minority  students.  
Walcott: I won’t be lectured to when it comes to this; we are doing everything we can to improve outcomes, especially for minority students.  [UNTRUE! class size reduction is one of few reforms proven to narrow achievement gap, and yet allowing class sizes to rise to largest levels in over a decade.]  We have seen an increase no. of students taking AP courses etc.
Williams: You have not been successful in 10 yrs, we need municipal control. Mayoral control failing to achieve goals; why not listen to other people when you make your policies.  [Arguing :  back and forth. ] Williams: did the mayor ever ask you to cut your contract budget?  Walcott: contracts proving services to schools and students; mayor has increased spending overall. Spending is decided by principals [but not CONTRACTS!]
CM Fernando Cabrera: We know the system is failing; students were better prepared 20 yrs ago; CUNY says NYC students are NOT prepared;  SAT scores falling, and more students taking remedial courses, spending money for courses not getting credit.  Also, DOE did too little in addressing sexual abuse cases; students will live w/ this trauma for rest of lives; why did it take so long?  Class sizes: keep going up; yet we have a court order to bring down class sizes.  Why do you let this keep happening when we know it is one of our biggest problems?
Medicaid target this year $117 M; but now we know we won’t get it all, where are we going to cut instead?  Walcott: we don’t know.  [They argue about when the city stopped getting Medicaid reimbursements; Cabrera says it started 5 yrs ago and Walcott denies. Cabrera is right and Walcott is wrong.] 
Walcott points out more students taking SATs even if scores are down.  I disagree that we did too little too late about sex abuse cases.  We are on top of this.  I reviewed 200 cases; I acted where I had flexibility.
Cabrera: Should have done before.  Walcott: says he hadn’t power to remove teachers, give me that power.  It’s all a matter of timing and little latitude.  (Actually DOE did nothing; and as a result many school staff w/ substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct are still in schools b/c in many cases, they let the three year statute of limitations lapse.)
CM Letitia James: You should hire more arbitrators instead. Walcott: No, that’s not the issue. Sometimes arbitrators make wrong decision. I oppose hiring more.  James: Support rehiring 656 school aides?  Walcott: Leave it up to principals.    Beauty of system principals have ability to use money how they want.  James says principals forced to cut b/c of budget cuts.
James asks about Verizon: DOE has been unable to spend technology dollars and get services because of “legal challenges?”  Walcott: We are meeting w/ Verizon to resolve outstanding issues; will resolve in 2-3 weeks.  We will work to give you all contracts.  James: OMB prohibits capital spending on Kindles etc.; can you have discussion w/ OMB?  CMs want their reso dollars to be spent on Kindles and other such devices. Also, PS 115; 300 Willoughby. DOE wants to put 5th school in building; 2nd transfer school in building.  I am prepared to go to court on this; you need to reconsider that position.
CM Steve Levin: Early childhood and afterschool  programs facing big cuts;  urge you and work w/ those agencies to see how DOE cd help these programs. Also early childhood RFP will be disastrous; and will affect DOE performance in coming yrs.  Special ed preK; reimbursement from state; are we willing to go to court for $1B that we are owed?  Walcott: we have ongoing relationship w/ state and cannot speak to any lawsuit.
Levin: I do believe TDR’s being published decrease in teacher morale.  One school , IS 318, Daily News launched a crusade against; smear campaign.  I have proposed a resolution to officially honor teachers of NYC ; can you support?  Walcott: understand reality of TDRs to public conversation and within schools.  I have tried to be balanced.  Never heard me or Mayor demonize teachers.  We had court obligation to release information, but we placed the proper caveats around them.
Suransky: we have best teachers in country; they work very hard; we won't stand for anyone demonizing teachers & the fact that tabloids are taking advantage of this is shameful.
Jackson: how much would the teacher bonuses cost?  Walcott: We need two years of highly effective teachers; wouldn’t be reflected in this year’s budget.  [what about signing bonuses for new teachers?]  We also need more detailed breakdown of units of appropriation.   OMB is frustrated w/ DOE as we are in the lack of detail provided to them.   Concerned about expected failure to get expected Medicaid reimbursement in budget for this year.
Walcott: we won’t pass on Medicaid loss to schools.  $167 M for Medicaid for next year realistic goal?  We’re still shooting for this target.Looking for  supports from UFT needed title reclassification, etc.
Jackson: we don’t anticipate cuts to school budgets or layoffs; but flat, will have to reduce employees or services, b/c costs go up.  What progress have you made for ELL students in bilingual corrective action plan?  Suransky: exceptions to hiring freeze; working w/ teaching fellows to train more bilingual teachers for corrective action plan; target for new programs to hire more 40 of these teachers next year and more the year thereafter.
Jackson: How many ATR’s? Walcott: 850 teachers in ATR pool.  RJ: you said we would save $40M for substitutes.  Have projected savings?  Tragale: ATR rotation: we ended 1140 FY 11; 844 now.  We have saved $20M for salaries; $30M w/ fringe.  How many art and music teachers in ATR pool? Don’t know.
CM Brewer:  principals in pipeline; turnover?  Suransky: We have a consistent pattern 150 new principals each year. 5 yr grant grant from Wallace Foundation; starting to develop teachers earlier in careers as principals.
CM Lander: We need more ASD NEST programs, rather than neighborhood school having to accept all special needs kids. Suransky:  A lot of kids have different kinds of disabilities; but vast majority of kids not in autistic spectrum can be in regular classes.  We need more kids w/ disabilities in regular classes.  [But they won’t succeed in large classes we have in our schools!  ASD Nest program; class sizes capped at 14-18 students] Graduation rate of sped kids in special classes hovers around  5-6%.
Rodriguez: We need to strengthen early childhood education; Walcott says expanding Common Core into preK. What plan to put more resources in low college readiness?  Suransky: better curriculum and better quality teachers in those schools.
Walcott: repeats for upteenth time; budget will be flat, not cut.
Jackson: We should put a hiatus on new schools.  New admins & supervisors for these schools, very expensive.  Suransky: they are replacing other schools; costs even out over time.  [UNTRUE!  new smaller schools very much more expensive; greater admin costs than older larger schools phasing out.] Tragale: each new school $250K per year extra but cost over time flattens out.
Jackson: What about ATR costs for phase out schools, firing half of teachers?  Suransky: vary on quality of applicants in existing school and new applicants.  Walcott: Cannot estimate costs.
Jackson: why eliminate Nov. class size report and TCU reports; when parents care so much about this?  New Commission established will vote on whether to eliminate those reports. Did DOE put this forward proposal? Will eliminate transparency.
Tragale: Nov. class size report does not include audited info.  [Uses audited Oct. 31 audited register.] Feb. report; more accurate. [But parents need this info near the beginning of year, and Feb. report has smaller classes because so many kids drop out.] What about TCU trailer report? Neither Walcott nor Tragale seem to know anything about this.
The DOE contingent leaves.  Michael Mulgrew, head of UFT next witness. Here is his written testimony.
Mulgrew: We have lost 6700 teachers in recent years; fewest guidance counselors per student in entire state.  Why are charter schools getting a 7% increase when our schools are being cut?  We should be getting $800M reimbursement from Medicaid, with $240M on busing alone for most disabled kids; this is the easiest thing to get reimbursed for and DOE is not doing it. Teachers don’t need a signing bonus, instead we should hire more teachers to reduce class size.  We don’t need TFA and teaching fellows, who get paid a fee when our teaching colleges cannot place their graduates.  We are seeing about 2600 retirements a year and other teachers quitting; total of 4000 teachers leaving per year.  Teacher morale is  at an all-time low. Increase planned in state aid; where will that money go?
Levin:  True that DOE reached out to you for suggestions on how to do better on Medicaid?  Mulgrew: they sent a letter to us on 3 PM the day before the Medicaid hearings.  I sent back some proposals.
Santos Crespo, head of Local 372, DC 37: We only learned this fall that 642 school aides were laid off because of a $22M shortfall.  236 have been rehired; rest collecting unemployment.  DOE should use some of CityTime $500M payment to restore cuts to budget and staffing.  Wouldn’t trust DOE to properly count sock drawer.
Ernie Logan of CSA: [Written testimony here.]The Children First networks don’t work; they should restore the districts that are still in state law.  The networks and superintendents try to pass the buck about whose responsibility it is.  If a principal is ineffective the first year, he or she should have the right to remove their CFN support group, but DOE says no.  If 33 schools are failing, don’t the networks have any responsibility?  ARIS and SESIS [DOE multi-million dollar data systems] don’t work, and the only response from DOE is that ‘we’re working on it.”  Principals spend a lot of time not being helped by this technology. DOE is spending $4.7B on contractors, with no oversight.  Principals have never been able to plan ahead.  When DOE eliminated districts, also eliminated many speech provider supervisors with responsibility to see that we had enough speech therapists and who did the required paperwork.  With all the PCB’s leaking in our schools, they don’t care about our children.
Jackson: what about the proposal to eliminate the Nov. class size reports and the report on TCUs?  Logan: we should stick w/ the Nov. class size report, Oct. 31 is the audited register.  They can play around with the numbers afterwards.  They have done nothing to get rid of trailers; they are not environmentally safe or sound.  Students deserve to be in regular buildings; we should not be educating kids in trailers.  And then in Albany, the Chancellor claimed that principals “like” the trailers; not true! 
Veteran principals feel mistreated and micromanaged from afar.  We believe in accountability; but the DOE is closing schools that got A’s; releasing TDR’s with flawed data and error rates of up to 70%, and telling principals that  they don’t trust their judgment when it comes to giving tenure to their own teachers.  They want to remove 50% of staff in turnaround schools, why?  As a result, many talented principals are leaving for other cities. 
My testimony followed, click on the link if below is too hard to read.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The depressing idiocy of the Common Core

David Coleman
 As readers of this blog are already aware, the Common Core standards for English Language Arts were designed by a man named David Coleman, a former McKinsey consultant who was hired by the Gates Foundation and never taught a day in his life.   

Coleman has now prescribed for the nation’s schools that at least 50 percent of all assigned reading in grades K-5 must be “informational text” rather than stories, plays, poetry or other types of imaginative literature, and 75 percent "informational text" in grades 6-12. 

All but four states have now signed onto the Common Core and Coleman’s rigid instructions. Goodbye to novels or other sorts of reading that will fully engage a child’s imagination! 

In a recent EdWeek article about how school districts are preparing for these new curricular demands, Josh Thomases of the NYC DOE is quoted as follows:

 "Most teachers are not taught how to teach reading," he said. "Teachers, especially secondary teachers, need help figuring out what they're going to do to pause long enough in the teaching to have students grapple with text describing the real world. That's our task.

"It's not so much that we have the wrong materials in our schools, but [it's] actually figuring out how to structure classrooms so we speak to text and kids are using text in conversations with each other and are grappling with the meaning of text. We can do that with the texts at hand," he said.

"In the longer term, yes, we need to make sure that by the end of high school, students are reading science journals," Mr. Thomases continued. "But right now, just simply the act of reading the science textbook and absolutely making the textbook—rather than the teacher—generate the answers. ... If we did that in every classroom across America, we would see very different outcomes."

Make the textbook generate the answers?  Isn’t that rather reductionist?  Why would that help students learn or teachers teach?  

But if the new push for informational text won’t necessarily help our kids, it will clearly make a lot of money for textbook companies, already earning huge profits off the expansion of standardized testing.

According to Edweek, NYC DOE is now “talking with publishers to "push the vendor community" to create a literacy curriculum it considers reflective of the common standards.”  And:

Pearson, for one, is including more "content-rich nonfiction" material in its K-12 programs, said Mike Evans, who oversees math and reading products for the New York City-based education company. In an upcoming revision of its Reading Street program, a 4th grade unit on patterns in nature includes text selections on tornado sirens and the migration of Arctic terns. Supporting materials walk teachers through ways to help students "unlock" those texts, Mr. Evans said in an email.

Designers working on a new digital curriculum in a joint project of the Pearson Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation aim to reflect the new standards' emphasis as well.

…..Last summer, Scholastic launched Everyday Literacy, a K-6 program that incorporates brochures, catalogs, menus, and other text types, and includes suggestions for ways teachers can walk students through the elements in each type of text, Mr. Daley said.  This spring, it plans to launch XBOOKS, a print and digital middle school program with strands on such topics as forensics, which will explore DNA analysis and fingerprinting.

Florida's Broward County school district is spending $787,000 to put a new Scholastic program, Buzz About IT, into all its K-2 classrooms in response to the new standards' emphasis on informational text ….

Joanne Weiss
 In a much-cited article in the Harvard Business Review by Joanne Weiss, Arne Duncan's chief of staff and formerly head of the "Race to the Top" grant program, that held out the promise of funding to cash-strapped states if they adopted the Common Core, she wrote how the new regime would simplify and enlarge the demand for entrepreneurs to create products aligned with the new, national standards:  

The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.

According to her official bio, Weiss also has no teaching experience, but started her career as Vice President at a company where she "was responsible for the development of nearly 100 multimedia curriculum and assessment products for K-12 schools."  

The inherent denigration of fiction is seriously misguided, in my view and many other parents and teachers.   Here is a recent NY Times article showing how reading fiction stimulates children's brain in ways that other types of reading do not.

According to one study of preschool-age children, “the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind”.  As a cognitive psychologist notes, “Fiction…is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”

Even if one agreed that our children should be assigned “brochures, catalogs, and menus” rather than novels or plays, there seem to be grave problems with how the teaching of the Common Core is being force-fed to educators.

Today’s Answer Sheet features a compelling critique by Jeremiah Chaffee, a New York State teacher, of the Common Core’s pre-packaged and scripted lesson on the Gettysburg Address, which tells teachers, among other things, that their students cannot be asked to read the piece in advance (to mimic testing conditions), and “forbids teachers from asking students if they have ever been to a funeral because such questions rely on individual experience and opinion.”

It also instructs teachers to ““avoid giving any background context” because the prescribed Common Core’s close reading strategy “forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all.” 
Lincoln at Gettysburg

 As Chaffee notes, “How can anyone try to disconnect this profoundly meaningful speech from its historical context and hope to “deeply” understand it in any way, shape, or form?”  

(Here is the CC “exemplar” on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on the NY State Education Department's website, in case you’d like to check it out yourself.) 

Words cannot describe how sad it is that the education of our nation's children will be narrowed and distorted because of the massive wealth and influence of the Gates Foundation, and the US DOE’s successful effort to bribe states through Race to the Top to adopt these absurd prescriptions and methodologies.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"At KIPP, I would wake up sick, every single day"

A few months ago, Class Size Matters met with a former KIPP student who lives in the Bronx and her mother to hear about their experiences at the celebrated charter school. What follows are excerpts from this interview.  The girl’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.
Mom: Students who are accepted to KIPP and who have IEP's [individualized education plans] do not get the correct services or help to be successful.  The school would rather make it difficult, leaving the parent frustrated and forcing her to remove her child. The principal always invited me to take my child out if I did not like the way she was being treated.  My response was always, "She has a right to be here just like any other child who went through the lottery system.  She will stay until she finishes."  My reasons for her to continue were because the curriculum was good and I knew that she could benefit academically from the rigorous demands, but sometimes they went to the extreme and she suffered for it.
At the very first, I saw the way they were talking to some kids in the line as they’re going in. They’re like (shouting) “Oh you know you’re not supposed to come in here with those!” And I'm saying to myself, it doesn’t have to be like that – they were screaming at them. I said to myself, you know, I really have to find out about this school. So I decided that I was going to be very active.
Well, that’s where my problems started. Because then it became war. I wasn’t welcome there, and I noticed it. Because I used to pop up unexpectedly and I would hear these teachers really being mean! And they would say, “You can’t be here, you’re interrupting, they’re in class, they’re in session” And I said, “I have a right to be here.”
One day Celeste [her daughter] was sick. She was out for three days with a doctor's note. When she returned the teacher tells her, “Oh, take the test, it won’t be counted.” Celeste brings me the test, because parents had to sign the exams. So I said to her, wait a minute, you were out – why did you take the test? And she said, “The teacher said it wasn’t going to be counted.” And I said, “Yea, it’s counted!” So I went to the school and I said to her teacher, “I understand you told Celeste that this test wasn’t going to be counted. She’s been out for three days, you should have given her a chance to study and make up the material.” And she said, “Well, she should have had notes…she is having difficulty in science.” I said, “She was told it wasn’t going to be counted. I think you should give her a make-up.” And she said, “Well I don’t give make-ups.”
So I told the principal that I think it’s unfair.  And she goes, “Well-” – here comes the double talk – “you know, Celeste is struggling.” And I said, “I know she is struggling and I don’t think you understand. She has a right to be here just like every other kid. And you guys, as educators need to understand that there are strategies to working with these kids.” But, you see, their strategy is “We’re not working with any difficult kid. We’re here to demand, and you perform.” That’s the attitude.
You know what happens to the “difficult kids”?  The parents take them out. And nobody hears about them again. But I’ll be damned if I was gonna take her out. You know why? Because every child has a right.
I knew there was something Celeste needed help with but I didn’t know what it was. So I said to her teacher, “Do you think you could proceed with recommending her for an evaluation and stuff?” I was thinking that maybe they provide the same services as the Dept. of Education.
They said, “Well we don’t do that; we don’t have any help for her. So I submitted an application to have her evaluated with the Dept. of Ed, downtown, and they realized that she did need the help.  She started having someone to come in for a half hour every day to work with her on math, English, and whatever other problems. He was a SETTS [special ed] teacher.  He confirmed everything that I thought was going on. He said to me, “I can’t believe what goes on in there.” And I said, “Like what?” And he said, “Well there’s a lot of corporeal punishment.”
Celeste:  When my mom first told me about KIPP I was happy because they have the orchestra, and I really like music and I love playing the instruments and all of that. Towards the end of that first year [5th grade] is when I started really feeling the impact of it. They give so much homework, and I'm there for so long. I wasn't used to it. In elementary school you get a little bit of homework and you're there for, like, 8 hours. But there you were there for 13 hours. You do five hours’ worth of homework. And then I really started disliking the school

I had to sit like this. [demonstrates] It’s called S.L.A.N.T.: Sit straight. Listen. Ask a question. Nod your head. Track. Track is, if the teacher is going that way you have to… [demonstrates] follow… If you didn't do that, they'll yell at you: "You're supposed to be looking at me!" [points to demerit sheet] "No SLANTing." They'll put that on there.
If I got into an argument with a teacher, I would have to stand outside the classroom on the black line, holding my notebook out. [Stands up and demonstrates, holding arms out] I would have to stand there until they decided to come out. For 20 minutes, 30 minutes, sometimes they’ll forget you’re out there and you’ll be there the whole period –an hour and forty minutes standing. if you have necklaces you have to tuck them away so they can’t see them – or else they’ll have you write four pages of a sentence about KIPP – “I must follow the rules of the KIPP Academy” or “I must not talk” for four pages.
They would have us stand on the black line for as many minutes as they felt was right for what I did. I would never get my homework during that hour when I was outside on the line. And I'd ask for the homework, they'd be like "I'll give it to you later". And the next day I would come in without homework and it goes directly on my paycheck [the demerit system]. 

My science teacher got mad once because I sneezed. He said "Get out of class!" And I said, "No, I won't get out of class for sneezing" And he was like, "Yes, you are." He called the principal and I still didn't leave. So they were like "We're going to call your mother. So let's go." And I was like, "Fine." And I just walked out. Then the teacher wrote down everything, like 'Not paying attention.'  He would write 'Talking' 5 times so I could get -5 points. He was saying I had a negative attitude.

I noticed that a lot of kids left.  In 5th grade, there were about 50 students. 6th grade, I came back and there were 30. 7th grade: 20. About 10 of them were held back and a lot of them left.

A lot of the teachers left too. When I got to 6th grade, the 5th grade teachers had all changed. By the time I got to 8th grade, there were only about four teachers left that I knew. And now it's all new teachers. None of them are there that I went to school with.

The teachers said, "We want you to be the best you can be. No attitude.” But they're the first ones to give you attitude. They're hypocrites.  We used to have 'Character Class' on Fridays where they would tell you to be open-minded and stuff. But they weren't open-minded. They were closed. If I needed help, they would say, 'Oh, well you have to figure it out.'

Teachers would scream at us all the time. Sometimes for things we did, and sometimes for things we didn't. A kid would raise his voice. Then the teacher would raise his voice. Kid would raise his voice higher and the teacher raised his voice higher.  Until it was a screaming match between the kid and the teacher. And then the principal comes in, and it's three people all screaming at each other. It would give me such a headache!

At KIPP, I would wake up sick, every single day. Except on Sunday, 'cause that day I didn’t have to go to school.  All the students called KIPP the “Kids in Prison Program.”

And now that I'm in this [district high] school I'm relieved. I'm glad I didn't go to KIPP high school. Now, I wake up and I want to go to school. I want to see my friends. I want to see my teachers. It's more welcoming. You walk in there, it's like "Hey! How are you doing?"