Tag Archives: No Child Left Behind

Saying goodbye to Arne Duncan (and shrinking the U.S. Dept. of Ed.)

by Christopher Paslay

Next week we will be getting a new president, and with him, a new Secretary of Education.    

With a new president comes a new cabinet.  And since October 17, 1979, when President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Department of Education Organization Act—which brought into existence the overbearing and bureaucratic United States Department of Education—this has included the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Arne Duncan, President Obama’s appointment, has fit the job perfectly, which is to say he intruded on public education like the big government politician he is.  Now, before education advocates start belly aching about the importance of federally funded education programs, know this: on average, the federal government only contributes about 10 percent to a public school district’s budget (90 percent of funds come from state and local government).

Interestingly, this doesn’t stop the federal government from bullying local school districts into following their laws and policies, like George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind or Barack Obama’s recent “National Reform Model” for overhauling failing schools; the U.S. Dept. of Ed. wants all the power, none of the responsibility, and in exchange covers a measly tenth of the cost.

But back to Duncan.  What has marked his tenure?  Duncan has fought to:

  • Increase the use of data and standardized tests to define student achievement and teacher effectiveness.
  • Use performance pay to compensate teachers based on student performance on standardized tests.
  • End teacher seniority to give principals the autonomy to pick their own staffs.
  • Turn “failing” schools into charters.
  • Overhaul entire staffs of teachers and principals at failing schools.
  • Reduce suspensions and expulsions to deal with unruly and disruptive students.

After four years of such policies, the racial achievement gap is as big as ever, test scores remain flat, graduation rates haven’t moved, and hundreds of millions of dollars went down the toilet via President Obama’s education stimulus package; for those in Philadelphia, think of the three year tenure of Arlene Ackerman, and the nearly $10 billion she spent (stole/wasted).  What does Philadelphia have to show for it?  A gigantic budget deficit.

Which is why a new education secretary is going to be a much-needed breath of fresh air.  The question, of course, is who?  Who will Romney’s education secretary be?

Before that question can be addressed, there is one fact that will make his appointee better off than Duncan: Romney has talked of shrinking the U.S. Dept. of Ed. by combining it with another agency, and this may limit the reach of the education secretary; some speculate that there is still a chance Romney will abolish the Dept. of Ed.—and education secretaries—altogether.

Again, the federal government only contributes about 10 percent to the budgets of public school districts (in Philadelphia it is about 15 percent), so the Dept. of Ed.’s power should be reeled in; it should have a say in only 10-15 percent of public education policy.  But that’s not how big government and big bureaucracies operate.  They want control at all costs, and maneuver their way in via handouts (Race to the Top) and by making false promises; better to give federal education funds directly to the states, and let local districts, school boards, parents and teachers make their own decisions.

It’s interesting more public educators aren’t more agitated by the U.S. Dept. of Ed., by its intruding reach into their classrooms, by its regulations and red tape, by its out-of-touch policies and visions for reform.  Perhaps the most intrusive, frustratingly bureaucratic years in the past two decades in the Philadelphia School District were the Ackerman years from 2008-2011, driven by scripted curriculum and suffocating central office visits from the clipboard wielding Ackerman Gestapo.  This period was the direct result of Obama/Duncan’s “National Reform Model,” AKA: gotcha policies and stifling regulation trickling down from the control freaks known as the U.S. Dept. of Ed.

So who will Romney pick as his education secretary?  Here’s a list of possibilities, according to Education Week: Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty, Tony Bennett (Indiana’s superintendent of Public Instruction), Tom Luna (the Idaho superintendent of public instruction), Chris Cerf (a registered Democrat who works with GOP governor Chris Christie), Robert Scott (former Texas chief), Paul Pastorek (helped schools in Louisiana recover from Hurricane Katrina), Bill Green (executive chairman at Accenture, a consulting organization), and Joel Kline (former New York City chancellor), among others.  (To read about their backgrounds on education, click here).

But the best hope, of course, is that Romney won’t pick a new secretary.  That is to say, that the newly elected president will make his first order of business to send the U.S. Dept. of Ed. the way of the blue suede shoe, and allow local school boards, parents, and teachers the true freedom to drive policies and reform.

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Florida Board of Education Holds Minorities to Lower Standards

by Christopher Paslay

By 2018 in Florida, 74 percent of black students, 81 percent of Hispanics, 88 percent of white students and 90 percent of Asians should be reading at grade level.

In their controversial book The Bell Curve, the late Harvard professor Richard J. Herrnstein and American Enterprise Institute Bradley Fellow Charles Murray wrote about the ethnic differences in cognitive ability:

In discussing IQ tests, for example, the black mean is commonly given as 85, the white mean as 100, and the standard deviation as 15.  But the differences observed in any given study seldom conform exactly to one standard deviation. . . . A total of 156 studies are represented in the plot, and the mean B/W difference is 1.08 standard deviations, or about 16 IQ points.

In a nutshell, Herrnstein and Murray used 70 years worth of cognitive tests to conclude that Asians have an average IQ of 105, that whites have an average IQ of 100, that Latinos have an average IQ of 90, and that blacks have an average IQ of 85; these findings led many to accuse Herrnstein and Murray of practicing scientific racism.

It appears, at least at first glance, that the Florida Board of Education is embracing such racism by holding minority students to lower standards in reading than Asians and whites.

According to The New York Times:

In Florida, halving the achievement gap means that by 2018, 72 percent of low-income children, 74 percent of black students, 81 percent of Hispanics, 88 percent of white students and 90 percent of Asians should be reading at grade level. The projected gains would be larger for those on the lower end of the scale.

“This is a snapshot of roughly halfway through that 10-year mark,” said the Florida education commissioner, Pam Stewart. “The 100 percent is the ultimate goal, and that is stated within the strategic plan.”

But parent advocacy groups, and some school board presidents and superintendents, said establishing lower goals for black and Hispanic students sends a disturbing message that those students are not as capable as others.

“Setting goals on skin color implies it somehow affects what is being measured,” said Melissa J. Erickson, president of Fund Education Now, a parent-driven advocacy organization in a letter sent Wednesday to the federal Department of Education. “I believe our nation long ago abandoned this type of view.”

Superintendents also say there is an element of uncertainty in the targets because the state will introduce a new national assessment in two years.

“We have no idea how students will perform or how individual subgroups will differ in their performance,” said the Miami-Dade County schools superintendent, Alberto M. Carvalho, calling it “unthinkable” that the state would set these goals at this time.

But Florida is not alone in setting interim goals by race and other categories. An analysis this week by Education Week found that of the 34 states with new accountability plans, only 8 set the same targets for all students.

So much for the motto “high expectations for all.”

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Keystone Exam to Replace PSSA in 2013

by Christopher Paslay

Although the PSSA will remain in elementary and middle schools, the Keystone Exam will replace the PSSA in high schools across the state of Pennsylvania starting in the spring of 2013.  

Updated 7/31/12:

Memo From:  THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA Office of Accountability:

The Pennsylvania Department of Education provided clarification yesterday (July 12, 2012) regarding the Keystone Exams.  The following memo outlines key details about the requirements for participation in these assessments and manner in which student performance on the Keystone Exams will impact determinations about Adequate Yearly Progress.  In addition, we will offer some curricular strategies to assist you and your team in planning support programs to assist 11th grade students in preparing for success on the Algebra I, Literature and Biology Keystone Exams.

Assessment of 11th Grade Students

  • ALL 11th graders will take the Keystone assessments in the following 3 subjects next year:  Algebra 1, Literature, and Biology.
  • The Algebra 1 and Literature scores will be used in the calculation of AYP for the high school.
  • Biology will NOT be used in the AYP calculation. However, the 11th graders are still required to take the Biology Keystone Exam to meet the participation requirement in NCLB that all students complete a science assessment during their high school years.

 Assessment of 9th and 10th Grade Students

  • All students in grades 9 and 10, enrolled in the Algebra 1, Literature (generally, English 2), or Biology courses are required to take the Keystone Exam in these subjects upon completion of the course(s).
  • If a student scores proficient or better in any subject, his/her score/s will be banked and count towards AYP calculations when he/she is in the 11th grade and he/she need not take the examination again in this/these subject(s).
  • If a student does not score proficient, he/she has multiple opportunities to re-take the examination(s). However, his/her Algebra 1 and Literature scores will not count for AYP calculations until the student is in the 11th grade.
  • If a student took the Keystones in Algebra 1 and/or Literature Exam(s) multiple times between grades 9-11, and never scored proficient or better, his/her best score will count towards the AYP calculation when he/she is in the 11th grade.

 Assessment of Students Graduating in 2017 and Beyond (8th graders in 2013)

  • Students MUST score proficient or better in all the three subjects (Algebra1, Literature, and Biology.) in order to graduate from high school.
  • They can do so in multiple attempts.
  • This is a state requirement.
  • After 2 unsuccessful attempts students will have the option of completing a project.

The parameters for this project have not been finalized yet.

Below is a previous post from May 19, 2012 (this information is no longer accurate and has been updated above):

Now that students across the state are starting to master the PSSA test (last school year, 77% of all children in grades K – 12 scored proficient or above in math and 73.5% scored proficient or above in reading), the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is doing what all political bodies do when they want to stay in control and keep one step ahead of the people: they are changing the test.

Starting in 2012 – 13, high school students will no longer be taking the PSSA.  The Keystone Exams, which will consist of tests covering Algebra I, Biology, and Literature, will be given instead.  Although no testing schedule has been finalized, it’s probable that the Philadelphia School District, as well as most districts in the state, will give the Algebra I exam in the spring of freshmen year and the Biology exam in the spring of sophomore year.  Per the state’s “recommendation,” Philadelphia will most likely give the Literature test during sophomore year as well.

This is a significant change from the way the PSSAs were administered at the high school level in the past.  Under the PSSA, math, reading, writing, and science tests were given to all students in their 11th grade year (although only math and reading counted for AYP under the federal No Child Left Behind Law).  Now, because Algebra I is routinely taken in 9th grade and Biology in 10th, the Keystone Exams will likely be given during those years. 

What doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, however, is giving the Literature test in 10th grade instead of 11th.  Although the PDE is only “recommending” that the Literature portion be given at the end of sophomore year, it appears as though Philadelphia School District officials are going to heed this advice.

Although I’ve continued to inquire as to why the state is “recommending” giving the Literature portion in 10th, I’ve been unable to find an adequate answer; none of the administrators I’ve spoken with have been able to get an answer from the state, either.  Unless the PDE is able to offer a meaningful rationale, the Philadelphia School District should seriously consider giving the exam in 11th grade.

Here are three reasons why:

1.  The Literature Exam is based on skills, not content.  In other words, the test isn’t limited to a specific period of literature covered, like World Literature (9th and 10th grade), American Lit (11th grade), or British Lit (12th grade).  Whether or not specific stories or novels (content) are covered doesn’t matter.  The assessment anchors and eligible content on the Keystone Literature Exam are skills based (analyze author’s purpose, make inferences and draw conclusions, identify figurative language, etc.), so the reasoning that applies to Algebra I and Biology doesn’t apply to Literature.  The test can be given in any of the first three years of high school, so why not give it in 11th grade when the students have had another year to learn the skills needed on the test?  

2.  The Literature Exam is vocabulary based.  Giving the exam in 11th grade will give students another year to broaden their vocabularies, and to learn and practice new words.   

3.  Giving the Literature Exam in 11th grade will stagger the exams.  Why not have students take one exam per year from 9th to 11th, rather than taking both the Biology and Literature test in 10th grade?  Staggering the tests will help teachers and schools focus more on curriculum rather than killing instruction for students by forcing 10th graders to double-up on test preparation for two subjects at once.

Perhaps the most concerning part of the Keystone Exam is the new state graduation requirement.  According to the talk coming from the PDE, starting in the year 2017, all public high school students in the state will have to pass all parts of the Keystone Exam in order to graduate.  This would include students with special needs, those who are truant and miss large blocks of instruction, impoverished students with limited home support, and those with other social and emotional ills.  What will happen to the students who fail to pass all portions of the Keystone Exam and as a result fail to graduate?  If they are retained, who is going to pay for the extra seats, materials, and resources?  The city of Philadelphia, with $472 million in delinquent property taxes?  Or the state, which has slashed Philadelphia’s education budget like some Samurai Warrior?    

As with No Child Left Behind, which promised that all children would score proficient or better on state tests in reading and math by 2014, the 2017 Keystone Exam graduation requirement is quite ambitious.  Mostly likely we will see waivers being granted to students and schools starting in 2017 (similar to what is happening now with NCLB), when a backlog of students across the state struggle to meet these . . . unrealistic? . . . standards.        

Of course, it is of the utmost importance to set high expectation for all children, which is why Philadelphia School District officials should seriously consider giving the Keystone Literature Exam in the 11th grade, or at least demand a meaningful explanation from the PDE as to why they are “recommending” it be given in sophomore year.

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If Police and Firefighters were Treated Like Teachers

by Christopher Paslay  

While politicians view police and firefighters as heroes, they tend to see schoolteachers as Ichabod Crane.     

In 2002, when No Child Left Behind became law, George W. Bush boasted that it would transform education in America.  By 2014, he insisted, 100 percent of our nation’s children would score at least “proficient” on state exams in reading and math.  Despite learning disabilities, poverty, single parent families, an increase in autism, institutional racism, poor nutrition, the drug culture, and dozens of other biological, psychological and societal ills, every single kid in the U.S. would be able to read and perform math at the highest levels in history.  Those schools not achieving this lofty goal would be shut down or overhauled, and their teachers and principals fired or reassigned.   

From NCLB’s onset, real life teachers in the real life trenches of America’s public school classrooms knew the law was misguided, oversimplified, and pie-in-the-sky.  At its heart it was about control—a politician’s battle for the billions of dollars in raw materials that go along with the institution known as American Public Education. 

To highlight the absurdity of NCLB, imagine this law being applied to police and firefighters, both of which, like teachers, are public servants. 

Let’s start with police.  Imagine a law that required all crime in the United States to be abolished by a given year, say, 2018.  Murder, rape, burglary, assault, etc. would be measured in every precinct in every city in the United States, and the results would be assessed by race and socioeconomic status.  Any precinct not reducing crime levels across all predetermined racial and economic subgroups and meeting “adequate yearly progress” would be eligible to be reconstituted and overhauled.  Officers in neighborhoods with the highest crime would be fired, their captains replaced, and their resources and budgets cut.  Policies on policing would also be rewritten.  The replacements, as well as the new policies, would be filled and enacted by non-police officers with zero law enforcement experience. 

How about firefighters?  Imagine a law that required every building and home in the United States to be up to fire code by 2018.  Any ladder company that didn’t wipe out death by fire and smoke inhalation in their neighborhoods would be up for overhaul.  Money and resources would be cut, their personnel fired and reassigned.  New expert “firefighters,” who were career politicians with no fire-rescue experience, would now run the show. 

People like New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, of course, say you can’t compare teachers with police and firefighters.  Bloomberg has said, according to a story in Capital New York, that police and firefighters are interchangeable widgets, and that teachers aren’t.  Which is why teachers can be evaluated and publically scrutinized, and police and firefighters can’t:

This is not like police and fire.  You think about it. Police and fire, we assign a cop or a firefighter to a station, to a post, to a firehouse, to a piece of equipment. And all of the firefighters and all of the cops are changed. Not only are they interchangeable, we deliberately move them around, because that helps their careers and they learn more things and they’re better able to perform their jobs. . . .

Bloomberg went on to say that education was different.

But is it really?  Under No Child Left Behind, the very reform that was enacted to increase teacher effectiveness, teachers are treated like widgets, too.  “Failing” teachers at “failing” schools are recycled and re-circulated, much like the changing of police and firefighters. 

Recently in Detroit public schools, pink slips were sent to over 4,000 teachers.  The teachers who want their jobs back must reapply for their position.  If they aren’t hired back at their current school, they will be eligible to apply to teach in another school in the district; a similar mass layoff took place in Detroit last year.   

Still, politicians will never hold teachers in the same regard as police and firefighters.  Police and firefighters—especially firefighters—are viewed as heroes.  Schoolteachers, on the other hand, are commonly seen as Ichabod Crane: gangly and self-serving.

Until true educational experts are at the helm of school reform, public schools and their teachers will continue to be at the bottom of the political pecking order.

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The Romney Education Plan: ‘Get the teacher unions out’

by Christopher Paslay

Mitt Romney’s school reform plan calls for confronting unions, ignoring class size, and discounting teacher experience.    

Mitt Romney’s new message on the education front is his pledge to take on teachers unions in an effort to—cue the Michelle Rhee drum roll—put students first!  “We have got to put the kids first and put these teachers unions behind,” Romney said recently on Fox News Sunday.  “. . . I want there to be action taken to get the teacher unions out and to get the kids once again receiving the education they need.” 

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Romney had just finished watching Waiting for Superman.  His belief that teachers unions are stopping public school children from receiving proper educations scores a “10” on the cliché meter and shows just how lazy he’s been when it comes to rolling up his sleeves and doing some real, evidence-based research into the many challenges facing America’s public schools. 

Teachers Unions: The Root of All Evil?

Since Romney deals in clichés (and fails to acknowledge all the good things teachers unions have done over the past 150 years, like improve conditions in schools, upgrade curriculum and teacher credentials, and make it so every child can learn to read and write, regardless of race, social class, and gender) let’s analyze the three most fashionable criticisms of teachers unions: that they give bad teachers a lifetime appointment in the classroom; that they receive cushy contracts from politicians in exchange for political support; and that they stand in the way of progress.               

As I’ve written about before (see “Ending the Myth That Tenure Protects Bad Teachers,” 3/20/12), public schools are self-regulating: teacher turnover is costing America over $7 billion annually; 17 percent of all of public school teachers quit every year; 56 percent of America’s new teachers quit within five years; and over one-quarter of America’s public school teachers have five years experience or less.  Where is the “lifetime appointment”?      

Here are the numbers behind the “cushy contracts” garnered by unions: the median salary of kindergarten teachers in 2011 was $31,500; for elementary school teachers it was $49,200; and for high school teachers it was $52,700.  As for benefits, most public school employees contribute to their pensions and medical insurance (teachers in Pennsylvania contribute 7.5 percent of every check to their pension).  This can hardly be considered “cushy”.               

As for standing in the way of progress, teachers unions opposed No Child Left Behind (but this didn’t stop it from being passed), a school reform bill that has been criticized by educational policy experts across the political spectrum for it’s over reliance on flawed test data and the narrowing of school curriculum; Romney himself said it needs to be significantly changed and reauthorized.  NCLB has been in place since 2002—over a decade—and the racial achievement gap hasn’t changed, nor has the achievement gap between the rich and the poor; the wealth gap has gotten bigger.

Teachers unions also oppose taking public tax dollars and putting them into privately operated charter schools (but this hasn’t stopped every state in America from doing it), a practice that has gotten mixed results at best. Charter schools perform no better academically than traditional schools, yet have the luxury of removing failing or disruptive students.  Financial mismanagement and lack of oversight are recurring problems for charters, and growing research is showing they are not equitable—English language learners, special needs students, and minorities are being weeded out.

Is this the “progress” critics of unions are talking about?   

 Teacher Pay: Old vs. New

Romney wants to pay new teachers more.  “We should pay our beginning teachers more,” Romney said at a recent campaign stop in Illinois. “The national unions are too interested in benefits for the older teachers.”

By “older teachers” does Romney mean the ones with the most skills and experience?  The ones that have dedicated their entire careers to their students and survived the poorest neighborhoods with the least amount of resources?  The ones that have for years paid out of their own pocket for classroom materials, endured the insanity of misguided school reform, forged lasting relationships with their students, and saved the lives of some of America’s most troubled youth?  Those “older teachers”?             

By “beginning teachers” does Romney mean the ones with less than five years experience?  The ones that studies show are still learning their craft and struggle with instruction and classroom management?  By “beginning teachers” does Romney mean the ones who enter the profession through Teach for America, over half of which quit in two years?  Or those who enter the field via the traditional route, over half of which quit in five years?    

 Class Size

Romney doesn’t think class size matters.  In other words, he doesn’t feel the need to increase educational funding, or worry about per pupil spending.  “I studied [class size],” Romney said in Illinois.  “There was no relationship between classroom size and how the kids did.” 

Really?  So there’s no difference between teaching a class of 33 or 23?  No difference in classroom management?  No difference in the amount of time for individualized instruction?  No difference in time for grading papers and contacting parents?  Or the money needed for resources and supplies?  Money for paper?  Books?  Laptops?  Field trips?  No difference between 23 and 33, huh?             

There is, of course, plenty of research that says class size does matter, like the U.S. Department of Education’s report analyzing the multitude of benefits achieved via Bill Clinton’s National Class Size Reduction Program.  And then there’s the State of Tennessee’s STAR report.    

From his recent remarks on the campaign trail it’s become obvious that Mitt Romney has limited knowledge of public education in America, and is simply using talking points to pander to his base.  Either way, he’s alienating millions of hard working school teachers across the country, and putting politics ahead of the educational interest of our nation’s children.

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Why Charter Schools Exist Mainly Among Urban Poor

by Christopher Paslay

Outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, charter schools in Pennsylvania are virtually nonexistent.  One reason is that socioeconomically disadvantaged children and their families are easier to manipulate.      

Here are some basic facts about charter schools in the state of Pennsylvania.  In 2011, only 54.7 percent made AYP under the No Child Left Behind Law.  Stanford University’s CREDO report, which examined the performance of Pennsylvania charter schools from 2007 to 2010, concluded:

“Overall, charter school performance in Pennsylvania lagged in growth compared to traditional public schools. . . . Performance at cyber charter schools was substantially lower than the performance at brick and mortar charters with 100% of cyber charters performing significantly worse than their traditional public school counterparts in both reading and math. . . . Charter schools of all ages in Pennsylvania on average perform worse than traditional public schools, and charter school students grow at lower rates compared to their traditional public school peers in their first 3 years in charter schools, although the gap shrinks considerably in math and disappears entirely in reading by the third year of attendance.”

There are 3,096 public schools in Pennsylvania, yet only 142 of them—one half of one percent—are charters.  Of these 142 charters, 80 of them (56 percent) are in Philadelphia, another 15 are in the Pittsburgh/Allegheny area, and the remaining 47 are sparsely scattered throughout the rest of the state.  Outside of poor urban areas, charter schools are practically nonexistent.             

If charters are the new fix for “failing” public schools, why haven’t they caught on in the suburbs?  Why haven’t they caught on in rural areas or mountain regions?  The answer is because charters are not better than traditional public schools, and there are heaps of data to prove this.  Most families outside of urban areas understand this reality, which is why charters and their enterprising operators have been unable to successfully set-up shop there.  Suburbanites don’t want charters, they don’t want business people with limited educational experience messing with their children and controlling their school resources (the head of the Philadelphia Parking Authority recently proposed opening a charter, if you can believe that).  Why, then, are charters so widely accepted in Philadelphia?        

One reason might be that 80.6 percent of families of public school children in Philadelphia are economically disadvantaged, and they are easier to take advantage of.  Yes, they are being taken advantage of, and here’s how. 

First, charters falsely advertise they are superior academically, despite all the research showing otherwise.  Many urban poor are not in a position to access research on charter school performance, so they simply believe what they hear or are told; the propagandistic film Waiting for Superman is a case in point.  In short, the urban poor are being misled.    

Second, charter schools discriminate and play by their own rules.  It is a documented fact that charter schools fail to serve the neediest population of children.  KIPP charters (Knowledge Is Power Program) are a prime example.  Because KIPP schools have extended school days and hold classes on weekends, the student turnover rate is extremely high for Black males—over 40 percent dropout between grades 6 – 8.  As a result, these students are sent back to neighborhood schools.  In addition, KIPP is criticized for not serving more English Language Learners and students with disabilities.

Although there’s yet to be any noteworthy litigation in Pennsylvania against charter operators (the key word is yet), parents of school children in Louisiana have filed a class-action lawsuit against the New Orleans school system, arguing that their charters exclude special-needs students.  The Miami Herald recently wrote a series titled “Cashing In on Kids” which highlighted the fact that South Florida charter operators are getting rich on “school choice” by admitting very few special needs children and minorities into their schools.  This discrimination is widespread and very real.  I’ve personally met numerous parents whose children are on waiting lists to get into a charter—or have been removed from a charter—because they couldn’t pass the muster.                 

Third, charters take money away from struggling neighborhood schools.  Interestingly, it’s not academics that attracts many urban parents to charter schools.  The lure of charters seems to be the fact that many are cleaner, safer, and smaller than big, decaying neighborhood schools.  This is true in some cases, but there’s a reason: charters weed out dysfunctional children and their struggling families, and siphon money away from traditional neighborhood schools that could be used for upgrade and repair.

This is a clear civil rights violation, and sets in motion a cycle of 21st century school segregation.  As time goes on, as charters continue to expand, there will be more and more separation between charters and traditional schools, until the neediest 30 – 40 percent (made up of primarily English Language Learners, the disabled, and those children with social, emotional, and behavioral disorders) are left completely behind.  In other words, despite the big promises, charters by their very nature will never help a large population of the urban poor.                           

And many socioeconomically disadvantaged parents don’t understand this.  They view clean, neat, nifty new charters as a lottery ticket, and jump at it.  Little do they know that there’s a good chance that their child won’t get into that school, that their son or daughter will be left behind in the forgotten neighborhood school, which has been further weaken by the existence of the charter. Sure, those lucky enough to get into a charter may have a cleaner, safer, more appropriate learning environment, but this is only achieved at the expense of the neediest 30 – 40 percent of children plagued with disorders who are weeded out and left behind.  This might be acceptable in a private school using private funds, but it’s unconstitutional when it’s being done with public tax dollars.   

If only urban parents could see that making a commitment to their neighborhood school—like parents do in most other parts of the state—would be a better solution in the long run.  If only they could team up with elected officials to generate the resources needed to complete building renovations and repairs, upgrade materials, and invest in technology.  If only they could convince educational policy makers to revamp curriculum to make it more individualized and authentic, and expand alternative schools and programs to remediate troubled youth.  If only they could convince local leaders to invest in families and communities in order to create a culture of learning available to all children within the bounds of a neighborhood, instead of running away.                             

Although charters in Pennsylvania don’t outperform traditional neighborhood schools academically, they do turn a large profit.  Privatization of public schools (and tax dollars) is a big business, and unlike the more advantaged populations of Pennsylvania, the urban poor are prime real estate.

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The Big, Bad Roommate: Why the Department of Education is Overreaching its Powers

by Rainiel Guzmán

On average, federal spending accounts for 10 percent of public school funding.  Yet somehow the U.S. Department of Education continues to dominate policy.                 

Imagine the following scenario: two roommates agree to rent an apartment.  One roommate is named Local and the other State. They cosign the lease agreement and make regular rent payments on time. However, unforeseen fees, inflation and other miscellaneous costs burden their monthly budget. They start to fall behind on their rent payments and are unsuccessful in obtaining modifications on their lease. Desperate they try to cut back from other expenditures yet are unable to cover their deficit. As a last resort they agree to find a third roommate, but whom?

One night Federal, a large, opinionated and manipulative guy knocks on their apartment door.  Local and State answer the door. Federal introduces himself and asks if he could come in to talk about possibly rooming with them. They agree and invite him in. They begin to converse and eventually arrive upon matters of money. Local and State propose that everyone pay a third of the rent. Federal informs them that he is unable to afford that percentage. Local and State are surprised by his statement then ask, “What percentage can you afford to pay?”

“About ten percent,” he answers. Local and State are insulted but find themselves in such dire straits that they entertain Federal’s insane proposition with the hope that he would later change his mind. However, Federal stands firm on his offer. Local and State become angry. Nonetheless they agree to Federal’s terms. This is when things get surreal. Federal proceeds to share some terms and conditions he would like everyone to meet. Federal begins by voicing his concerns about Local and State’s financial mismanagement. He proposes to oversee the payment of bills—to make sure that no bills are left behind. “We need to be more accountable in order to prevent these situations from ever happening again,” he asserts. Local and State begrudgingly agree again. Additional terms and conditions follow.

This account may seem too fantastic to resemble any plausible reality. Nonetheless, this story serves as an allegory of current K-12 public education funding formulae.  Nationwide, local and state governments account on average for 83 percent of K-12 funding. The federal government contributes roughly 10 percent. Private sources account for the remaining contributions. Given this imbalance of funding, one may ask, How can the federal government dominate K-12 public education policy?

The answer is that the federal government is overreaching its powers. The Constitution of the United States enumerates under the Tenth Amendment that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people.”

This is why in matters of public education the responsibility for K-12 school policy rests with the states as outlined in the Constitution. The reality we face today is a funding formula unaligned with proportional powers. Would you share an apartment with such a roommate? You probably would not. I certainly would not. Others are expressing their growing reluctance as well.

Discontent over the federal government’s increasing Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements under the No Child Left behind law has pitted several state superintendents—such as Montana’s Denise Juneau—against Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education.  In near open rebellion, Juneau announced her decision to forgo raising Montana’s scheduled annual AYP objectives. Undeterred by the threat of losing federal funds and counting on Congress’ prolonged inaction to rewrite NCLB, Juneau reiterated her stated intentions. The Department of Education’s response was swift—Secretary Duncan backed-off and announced he would unilaterally override provisions of NCLB and “grant” waivers to states seeking redress.

Despite the announcement of waivers Juneau nearly pulled out of NCLB altogether in August. In an earlier letter addressed to Secretary Duncan dated April 25th, 2011, Juneau wrote “In the absence of a new bill, the Department continues to hold states and schools accountable under the current law although the [Elementary and Secondary Education Act] accountability system does not conform to the Department’s new priorities, particularly around growth models for student learning. The split in priorities, established under your leadership and those established in the current ESEA has Montana reeling from additional data collection and uncertain about the path to continuous improvement.”

Ms. Juneau, a Native American and Democrat, along with other state superintendents such as Idaho’s Tom Luna, a Hispanic and Republican, and South Dakota’s Melody Schopp, a veteran classroom teacher and a nonpartisan, represent an interesting challenge to detractors of politicians who appeal to states’ rights as a constitutional imperative. These superintendents who seek to assert the Tenth Amendment defy the moniker of rabid racist secessionists often associated with reactionary rural politicians.

In fear of being evicted from the “Montana Apartment,” the Department of Education found a clause in NCLB allowing Montana to waive the increment of AYP for 2012 free of penalty.  Montana, along with a growing number of states, is asserting its authority over K-12 public education. The Department of Education is reluctantly acquiescing.

Conversely, the Department continues to manipulate the reform conversation through its swollen purse. It continues to pursue prominence in the implementation of education policies with programs such as Race to the Top.  As expected, the “granting” of waivers has been accompanied by additional terms and conditions which, surprise-surprise, accentuate the leading role of the federal government.  

Old habits die hard—if ever.

The moral of this story is this: Be weary of a cheap, bossy, Johnny-come-lately knocking on your door in the middle of the night.  He might turn out to be the worst roommate you will ever have.   

Rainiel Guzman is a 2011 Lindback Distinguished Teacher Award winner.  He is an adjunct professor at Eastern University, and teaches art at Swenson Arts and Technology High School in Northeast Philadelphia.

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Only 54.7 Percent of Philadelphia Charter Schools Are Making AYP

by Christopher Paslay

Last year’s PSSA results prove what multiple studies have already shown: Charter schools perform no better on PSSA exams than traditional public schools. 

According to data on the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s website, only 40 out of 73 charter schools in Philadelphia (54.7%) are making Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) under the federal No Child Left Behind law.  They breakdown as follows:     

 (40) Making AYP

Made AYP for two consecutive years: 2010 & 2011

AD PRIMA; ALLIANCE FOR PROGRESS; ANTONIA PANTOJA COMMUNITY; BOYS LATIN OF PHILADELPHIA; DELAWARE VALLEY; DISCOVERY CHARTER SCHOOL;  EASTERN UNIVERSITY ACAD; EUGENIO MARIA DE HOSTOS; FIRST PHILA CS FOR LITERACY; FOLK ARTS-CULTURAL TREASURES; FRANKLIN TOWNE CHARTER EL; FRANKLIN TOWNE; FREIRE; GLOBAL LEADERSHIP ACADEMY; GREEN WOODS; IMHOTEP INSTITUTE; INDEPENDENCE; KHEPERA; KIPP PHILADELPHIA; KIPP WEST PHILADELPHIA PREP; LABORATORY CHARTER; MAST COMMUNITY; MASTERY CS – LENFEST CAMPUS; MASTERY CS – SHOEMAKER CAMPUS; MATH CIVICS & SCIENCES; MULTI-CULTURAL ACADEMY; NEW FOUNDATIONS; PAN AMERICAN ACADEMY; PHILA ELEC & TECH; PHILADELPHIA PERF ARTS; PLANET ABACUS; PREPARATORY MATH SCIENCE TECH; RICHARD ALLEN PREP; RUSSELL BYERS; SOUTHWEST LEADERSHIP ACADEMY; UNIVERSAL INSTITUTE; WEST OAK LANE CHARTER; WISSAHICKON; WORLD COMMUNICATIONS; YOUNG SCHOLARS   

 (6) Making Progress

Made AYP for one year: 2011

ARCH AND DESIGN (in Corrective Action II); HARDY WILLIAMS (in Corrective Action I); MARIANA BRACETTI ACAD (in Corrective Action II); PEOPLE FOR PEOPLE (in School Improvement I); PHILADELPHIA ACAD (in Corrective Action II); WEST PHILA ACHIEVEMENT (in School Improvement II)

 (15) Warning

Did not make AYP in 2011

ASPIRA BILINGUAL CYBER CHARTER; BELMONT; CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS; IMANI EDUCATION CIRCLE; JOHN B STETSON; MARITIME ACADEMY; MASTERY CS HARRITY CAMPUS; MASTERY CS MANN CAMPUS; MASTERY CS SMEDLEY CAMPUS; MASTERY CS PICKETT CAMPUS; MASTERY CS THOMAS CAMPUS; NORTHWOOD ACADEMY; TRUEBRIGHT SCIENCE ACADEMY; UNIVERSAL BLUFORD; YOUNG SCHOLARS FREDERICK DOUGLASS

 (5) School Improvement I

Did not make AYP for two consecutive years

ARISE ACADEMY CHARTER; NEW MEDIA TECHNOLOGY; PHILADELPHIA HARAMBEE INST; SANKOFA FREEDOM ACADEMY; TACONY ACADEMY     

 (1) School Improvement II

Did not make AYP for three consecutive years

 NUEVA ESPERANZA ACAD

 (1) Corrective Action I

Did not make AYP for four consecutive years

 PHILADELPHIA MONTESSORI

(5) Corrective Action II

Did not make AYP for at least five consecutive years

COMM ACAD OF PHILA (5th year in Corrective Action II); HOPE CS (5th year in Corrective Action II); UNIVERSAL DAROFF (2nd year in Corrective Action II); WAKISHA (3rd year in Corrective Action II); WALTER PALMER LDRSHP LEARNING PRTNRS (4th year in Corrective Action II)

Click here to see the data on the PA Dept. of Ed’s website.

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Huffington Post Links Chalk & Talk Article on Education Page

by Christopher Paslay

On August 8th, The Huffington Post linked my Chalk & Talk article, “Secretary Duncan Uses NCLB Waivers to Push School Reform Agenda,” on its education page.  It was listed on the Huff Post’s “Around the Web” section, and accompanied Joy Resmovits’s article “Obama Education Waiver Plan Could Result In Individual State Accountability Systems.”  (Click here to visit the page.) 

Resmovtis opened by stating, “As students head back to school, the Obama administration is using executive power in an unprecedented move to circumvent a congressional standstill on No Child Left Behind, arguing that the federal education law thwarts states’ distinct policymaking abilities.”

I wrote something similar in the piece the Huff Post linked, although I provided a stronger criticism of Secretary Duncan, bringing to light the fact that the Obama administration is manipulating the regulations behind NCLB to push its own questionable reform agenda.   

Thanks to The Huffington Post for listening.

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Impossible standards fuel spread of cheating

“‘I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam,’ Woody Allen once said. ‘I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me.’

Cheating isn’t usually a laughing matter, though, as the Philadelphia School District is learning. A recently revealed 2009 report by the state Department of Education flagged 22 district-run schools and seven charters for suspicious results on standardized tests. Several city teachers have also reported breaches in test security at their schools, although an internal investigation by the Philadelphia School District concluded that claims of cheating were unfounded. . . .”

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Impossible standards fuel spread of cheating.”  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay

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