Education Icon Diane Ravitch Calls Me a ‘MAGA-Nut’

Ravitch Comment

by Christopher Paslay

When I disagreed with Ms. Ravitch on her blog about our POTUS, she surprisingly resorted to name-calling.

For those who don’t know Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University and prestigious historian of education, allow me to give some background information. She’s the Founder and President of the Network for Public Education (NPE), author of 11 highly acclaimed books and editor of 14 others, and her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including New York Magazine and the Washington Post. According to her website:

From 1991 to 1993, she was Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. She was responsible for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement in the U.S. Department of Education. As Assistant Secretary, she led the federal effort to promote the creation of voluntary state and national academic standards.

From 1997 to 2004, she was a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal testing program. She was appointed by the Clinton administration’s Secretary of Education Richard Riley in 1997 and reappointed by him in 2001. From 1995 until 2005, she held the Brown Chair in Education Studies at the Brookings Institution and edited Brookings Papers on Education Policy. Before entering government service, she was Adjunct Professor of History and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

(For a full biographical sketch of her numerous awards and achievements, check out her biography here.)

And she called me a MAGA-nut.

Why? Because I challenged a post on her education website headlined, “Listen to Giuliani to Learn What Trump is Thinking.” The post, which has nothing to do with education (she too has gotten sucked into the muck of American politics) analyzes remarks made by Rudy Giuliani during recent television appearances. She quotes several paragraphs from the Washington Post, but basically, her thesis is that “there’s a great value to Giuliani’s appearances. They tell us what the president is thinking about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into the Russia scandal — and what he’s afraid of.”

The conclusion Ravitch draws is that because Giuliani mentions “collusion not being a crime,” the inference we can draw is that there was collusion between Trump and Russia. (To read her entire post click here.)

After reading the post my reaction was this: when it comes to “Russian election meddling,” why does everyone always focus on the who, and not the what? The what at the center of it all, of course, are Julian Assange’s Wikileaks—the nearly 50,000 leaked documents that showed that the Democratic National Committee, including Hillary Clinton and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, rigged their party’s primary in favor of Clinton and against Bernie Sanders.

The leaked emails also showed that Clinton’s campaign colluded with CNN political commentator Donna Brazile, who amazingly went on to become interim DNC Chair when Wasserman Schultz was forced to step down. This is a point I’ve made multiple times lately, including in an article I recently wrote for the American Thinker titled, “The Who and the What of Russian Election Meddling.”

So I posted my comment, which was basically an abridged version of the American Thinker piece. About 10 minutes later, Diane Ravitch responded with the following: I get comments like this one from time to time, and I usually delete them because this is not the place for pro-Trump rantings. But every once in a while, it is necessary to pay attention to a MAGA-nut.

That’s how the compassionate and tolerant Left handles a discussion when someone disagrees with them: they call names. For the record, I didn’t personally attack Ravitch or her followers. I simply asked the question: Why do we continuously harp on the who of the so-called “election meddling,” and not look at the what at the center of it all?

After the Ravitch comment came a lengthy response from a guy named Lloyd Lofthouse, who began his rebuttal with the following: I have one word for another obvious sockpuppet troll. “Idiot.”

So there you have it. Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University and prestigious historian of education, responds by calling me a “nut,” and a member of her blog community calls me an “idiot.” Do you see the irony here? This is the exact behavior I’m talking about when it comes to the treatment of supporters of President Trump. The American Left has become so emboldened by the continuous smear operation on our POTUS—in the classroom, in the entertainment industry, and in the establishment media—that they forget their own rules of civility. Granted, Trump has an abrasive style and is an easy target, but there’s still no excuse for the way he’s been maligned and purposely misrepresented, and there’s definitely no excuse for the way Americans are labeled “nuts” or “kooks” and often intimidated into silence in regards to the support of our POTUS.

Ms. Ravitch, as a well-respected historian and professor of education, you should know better.

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10 Questions for Camden’s Next Superintendent of Schools

by Christopher Paslay

“Poverty” has more to do with culture and values than it does money. 

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says not taking over Camden public schools would be “immoral.”  Christie’s plan is to hire a new superintendent and do what he can to fill teacher vacancies.  According to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Once the takeover begins, the state “will ensure that every child has the books, instructional materials, and technology necessary for a high-quality education, many of which are currently not reaching the classroom,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.

Books, instructional materials, and technology.

And we can’t forget money.  School reform advocates will also insist poor urban districts across America need more funding.  Noted education scholar Diane Ravitch recently published the post “Do Americans Believe in Equality of Opportunity?” on her blog:

Governor Jerry Brown of California gave a brilliant state of the state speech in January, where he pledged to change funding of public schools so that more money went to children with the greatest needs. . . .

But a Los Angeles Times poll finds that only half of the public support the idea of spending more for those with the highest needs.

This raises the question: Do we really believe in equality of educational opportunity? Or do we feel that it is okay that schools for children from affluent families have more resources than those for children of the poor?

Interestingly, Camden public schools spend over $20,000 per student, yet have some of the lowest SAT scores in New Jersey and a graduation rate of only 49 percent.  According to an article in the Notebook:

Camden, the poorest city of its size in America and the most violent — with nearly 70 homicides last year in a population of less than 80,000 people — has a graduation rate below 50 percent. At the same time, due to landmark New Jersey court decisions on school funding, the city spends more than $20,000 per student, close to the amount spent in some of the area’s wealthy suburbs.

According to an article in the Delaware County Daily Times, per-pupil spending and achievement are not correlated:

If spending were an important factor in education we’d expect Lower Merion’s $26,000 per-student spending to rocket their academic performance far above neighboring Radnor’s at $19,000 per student. Yet Radnor is ranked No. 4 by the Business Journal and Lower Merion is ranked No. 7.

But for a stark comparison we should look to Central Bucks where they spend $13,000 per student — less than half of that spent by Lower Merion. And their ranking? Just behind Lower Merion at No. 8!

What folks like Ravitch rarely address, however, is that “equality of opportunity” has more to do with values and culture than it does with money.  What does “poor” mean, exactly?  My father grew up in a 900 square foot row-home in Southwest Philadelphia with nine siblings, and the only source of income was my grandfather’s salary as a Philadelphia firefighter.  Was my father poor?  Financially, maybe, but not in terms of his values and character.  He learned responsibility, respect, work ethic, honesty, integrity, and the importance of family nonetheless.  He went on to become a well-respected teacher and administrator, and eventually earned his Ed.D.

In a 2009 Educational Testing Service policy report titled Parsing the Achievement Gap II, national trends between students of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds were tracked.  The report listed 16 factors that have been linked to student achievement.  Of the 16 factors, nine were directly related to a child’s home environment.

Camden is over 85 percent minority.  If its public schools are going to make any real progress, the next superintendent should have a plan in place to address the following 10 questions (these questions apply to any major urban school district in America):

1.  How are you going to get Camden parents involved with school?  According to ETS, Black students’ parents are less likely than White parents to attend a school event or to volunteer at school.  Children whose parents are involved in their schooling have higher levels of achievement.

2.  How are you going to get Camden men to father their children?  Minority students were less likely to live with two parents, and 77 percent of Black children in America are born out-of-wedlock.  Children who live with two married parents do better both behaviorally and academically.

3.  How are you going to keep Camden families from frequently moving and changing schools?  Minority students are more likely than White students to change schools frequently.  There is a high correlation between frequently changing schools and poor test scores.

4.  How are you going to increase the low birth weight of Camden newborns?  The percentage of Black infants born with low birth weight is higher than that for White and Hispanic infants.  Studies show children with low birth weight do worse in school.

5.  How are you going to keep Camden children from getting lead and mercury poisoning?  Minority and low-income children were more likely to be exposed to environmental hazards, which harms brain development.

6.  How are you going to get Camden children to eat healthy?  Minority and low-income children were more likely to be food insecure, which can lead to concentration problems and issues with development.

7.  How are you going to encourage Camden parents to get their children to school?  Black and Hispanic students have the highest rates of absenteeism.  There is a high correlation between truancy and low academic achievement.

8.  How are you going to get Camden parents to read to their children?  Minority and low-income children were less likely to be read to daily as infants, which studies show impacts a child’s vocabulary development and intelligence.

9.  How are you going to get Camden parents to turn off the television? Minority and lower-SES children watch more television.  Excessive television watching is associated with low academic achievement.

10.  How are you going to keep Camden children from regressing academically over the summer?  Minority and low-SES students grow less academically over the summer, and in many cases, lose knowledge.

Until these awkward but important issues are adequately addressed, Christie’s takeover of Camden public schools—along with a new superintendent—isn’t going to make a significant amount of difference.

District’s Contract Proposal to PFT Not Insulting Enough

by Christopher Paslay

 To demoralize Philadelphia’s hardworking teachers even further, the District should consider ten addendums to its recent contract proposal to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. 

Last week, the Philadelphia School District made a preliminary contract proposal to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.  Noted education scholar Diane Ravitch called the proposal “the most insulting, most demeaning contract ever offered in any school district” to her knowledge, and added that “the terms seem more appropriate to a prison than to a school, although it seems that both teachers and students are treated as wards of a cruel, harsh state.”

According to documents circulated by the PFT (I urge everyone reading this to click here to read them for yourselves), the District wants to: cut teacher pay by 13 percent; eliminate all raises including “step” increases and raises for educational attainment; eliminate counselors and librarians; raise class sizes and the length of the school day; and nix teachers lounges and water fountains, among other bizarre, draconian measures.

My response?  Is that all you got, guys?  You can sink lower than that!  Here are 10 addendums to the District’s already absurd and farcical proposal to make it that much more demoralizing to Philadelphia’ hard working educators:

  • Use of Air

School District-owned air, e.g. air circulated through District-owned furnaces and/or air conditioning units, shall be breathed by teachers free of charge during school hours and District sponsored conferences, such as Report Card Night; teachers, however, shall contribute $20 per hour for consuming District Provided Air (DPA) during non-school hours.

  • Dental Plan

Any veteran teacher with 35 or more years of service, and who has a gold and/or silver filling in his or her teeth, shall have it extracted by the District, without the use of Novocain, with a rusty pair of pliers.

  • Doctor Visits

Teachers shall be required to take the place of parents and take each of their students on three (3) annual doctor visits, including: a comprehensive yearly physical; a diabetes screening; and a tuberculosis test.  Each visit shall be paid for by the teacher.

  • Gas “Reimbursement”

Any teacher who uses his or her own gas to transport children to a school-sponsored event shall no longer get reimbursed for fuel.  Rather, the teacher shall be required to report to 440 N. Broad Street on Saturday and Sunday mornings and on national holidays, and instead pump (“reimburse”) the gas of District administrators.

  • Pay Raises

Teachers shall receive an annual cost of living raise, step raise, and educational attainment raise; as used herein, the term “raise’ shall mean being physically “raised” off the ground by the neck with a rope or piano wire.

  • Phones

Landline based phones, as well as cellular phones, shall no longer be provided to teachers by the District.  Campbell’s Soup cans, tied together with fishing line, shall replace traditional District phones, but will be purchased and assembled by teachers.

  • Toilets

Teachers who need to urinate and/or move their bowels during school hours will be limited to one (1) bathroom break per day, subject to RRAT (Rest Room Accrual Time); there will be one toilet per 50 staff members; the rule If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down will also be in effect and enforced via bathroom security cameras.

  • Unsatisfactory Records

Teachers with an unsatisfactory record shall be required to fasten his or her employee file around his or her neck with either 1—an iron staple; 2—garlic cloves; or 3—sheep intestine.  The file shall remain around the employee’s neck for a minimum of five (5) years.

  • Use of Reasonable Force

Teachers may use reasonable force in the event of a physical attack by a student or hostile staff member so long as they lead with their face and use either their head, chin, cheek, nose, eyes, and/or mouth to launch the counterattack.

  • Work

As used herein, the term “work” shall refer to all the physical, social, and emotional labor required to effectively run District schools; as such, teachers shall be required to do all of the “work,” and the District shall be required to do none of the “work.”

As Sinclair Lewis once said, “There are two insults no human being will endure: that he has no sense of humor, and that he has never known trouble.”

The District’s recent proposal to the PFT is both: laughable, and full of trouble.

Are Chicago 8th Graders Really Less Literate Than Slaves?

by Christopher Paslay

Writer Greg Lewis suggests Chicago 8th graders have reading levels far lower than former American slaves.

According to Greg Lewis, Chicago 8th graders read worse than American slaves.

Who is Greg LewisThe New York Times called him “the most ass-kickin’ writer to come along in a decade.”  Lewis, Ph.D., is also the author of The Politics of Anger and is a regular contributor to the conservative news website American Thinker.  (For the record, I’ve written three articles for American Thinker in the last five months.  Click here to read them).

On September 12th, Lewis published “The Results of Radicalism in Chicago’s Education System” on American Thinker.  I’m not sure if Lewis is attempting to be sensational to gain readership or if he truly believes his own hot air, but I can tell you one thing: he has little understanding of what constitutes literacy and even less of a grasp of standardized test scores.

The idea that Chicago students are less literate than slaves is both offensive and ludicrous.  Lewis suggests that Outcome Based Education, an instructional philosophy adopted by many large urban school districts including Chicago, is producing reading levels in students that are far worse than those of former American slaves.  Although OBE does promote a suffocating brand of educational socialism that is harming education as a whole, especially America’s high achievers, Lewis’s claim that it is producing sub-slavery reading levels is still a bit of a stretch.  Lewis turns to the 2011 NAEP scores of Chicago’s 8th graders to make his point.  According to CSN News:

Nationally, public school 8th graders scored an average of 264 on the NAEP reading test. Statewide in Illinois, the 8th graders did a little better, scoring an average of 266. But in the Chicago Public Schools, 8th graders scored an average of only 253 in reading. That was lower even than the nationwide average of 255 among 8th graders in “large city” public schools.

With these NAEP test results, only 19 percent of Chicago public school 8th graders rated proficient in reading while another 2 percent rated advanced—for a total of 21 percent who rated proficient or better.

The scores of the NAEP allowed Lewis to conclude the following:

One of the headlines accompanying the current Chicago teacher walkout has focused on Chicago students’ inability to read at their grade level.  Chicago’s school system has brought the level of reading proficiency among its 8th-graders down to 21 percent.  There’s only one parallel to the OBE results in Chicago: slavery. . . .

In colonial Boston, for instance, the literacy rate [for slaves] was nearly 100 percent.  Virtually everyone knew how to read, and anyone who didn’t could easily find someone to teach him.  Girls, boys, women, men…everybody could read.  So easy is it to learn to read that it was necessary to forbid teaching slaves.  You can sit down with a book and someone who knows how to read, and that person, even if he or she is not a licensed teacher — or, as is more appropriate today, especially if he or she is not a licensed teacher — can very likely teach you to read.

Ph.D. or no Ph.D., Greg Lewis is a first rate ignoramus.  Scoring proficient on the NAEP reading test does not correlate with being literate, nor does it correlate to being on grade level.  Noted education scholar Diane Ravitch debunked this myth when she reviewed Davis Guggenheim’s propagandistic documentary “Waiting For Superman” in the New York Review of Books 

NAEP doesn’t report grade levels. It reports achievement levels, and these do not correspond to grade levels. Nor does [Guggenheim] understand the NAEP achievement levels or just how demanding NAEP’s “proficiency” level really is. To score below “proficient” on NAEP does NOT mean “below grade level.”

NAEP has four achievement levels.

The top level is called “advanced,” which represents the very highest level of student performance. Students who are “advanced” probably are at an A+; if they were taking an SAT, they would likely score somewhere akin to 750-800. These are the students who are likely to qualify for admission to our most selective universities.

Then comes “proficient,” which represents solid academic performance, equivalent to an A or a very strong B. Guggenheim assumes that any student who is below “proficient” cannot read at “grade level.” He is wrong.

The third level is “basic.” These are students who have achieved partial mastery of the knowledge and skills necessary to be proficient. This would be equivalent, I believe, to a grade of C. Many (if not most) states use NAEP’s “basic” as their own definition of “proficient.” This is because they know that it is unrealistic to expect all students to be “A” students.

In other words, failure to score proficient on the NAEP does not mean you are below grade level, and it especially doesn’t mean you are illiterate.  To be “literate” on an 8th grade level means basic reading comprehension, the ability to decode text and understand meaning; the vast majority of Chicago 8th graders can read and comprehend text and are by all means literate.  NAEP tests go way beyond reading comprehension and into the complex analysis of literature, testing students’ knowledge of allegory, symbol, theme, and figurative language; I’d be hard pressed to believe that former American slaves could read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 masterpiece Uncle Tom’s Cabin and analyze the text’s vast literary devices.

Suggesting that Chicago 8th graders read worse than former American slaves is hurtful and in poor taste–and is flat out untrue.  Greg Lewis, Ph.D., should make more of an effort to take the high road and avoid such insulting comparisons, and learn to get his facts straight to boot.

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.

Let’s Flunk School Testing and Save Our Kids’ Futures

THE RUBRIC for the very first standardized test that Todd Farley scored seemed simple: one or zero. If the fourth-grade student provided just one example of bicycle safety in a drawing—wearing a helmet, both hands on the handlebars or stopping at a red light—he’d get a one. No examples—zero.

But for Farley, author of Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry, it wasn’t that simple. The student had indeed included one example: the rider in the drawing was wearing a helmet. He was also doing an Evel Knievel-like leap over a chasm spewing flames. Baffled, Farley consulted his supervisor; he was told that the rider was wearing a helmet and that that was enough to indicate that the child understood the basics of bicycle safety. Score: One.

Farley encountered many answers that did not quite fit the rigid set of rubrics in his 15-year career. One high school girl who wrote a beautifully moving and well-constructed essay about “A Special Place” could only rate a three out of four because her piece did not include the words “a special place.” Farley also cites a number of questionable practices by the testing company, including hiring scorers not fluent in English, requiring workers to mark one essay every two minutes for eight hours a day and little cross-checking of scores. . . .

This is an excerpt from Lisa Haver’s commentary in today’s Daily News, “Let’s flunk school testing and save our kids’ futures.”  It is an excellent analysis of the limitations of No Child Left Behind and standardized testing, and is an apropos rebuttal to Dom Giordano’s recent article “Let’s start grading teachers.”

Giordano asked for a debate, and he got one.  I hope you’re listening Dom!  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

Bloomberg Makes Teacher Rankings Public, Nails Names to Church Door

by Christopher Paslay

The Bloomberg administration has made public the performance rankings of its city schoolteachers, despite limitations of the data and flaws in the evaluation system.   

It’s official: The New York City Education Department has won the legal right to make public the performance rankings of its teachers.  An article in Friday’s New York Times summed-up the situation:   

“After a long legal battle and amid much anguish by teachers and other educators, the New York City Education Department released individual performance rankings of 18,000 public school teachers on Friday, while admonishing the news media not to use the scores to label or pillory teachers.

The reports, which name teachers as well as their schools, rank teachers based on their students’ gains on the state’s math and English exams over five years and up until the 2009-10 school year. The city released the reports after the United Federation of Teachers exhausted all legal remedies to block their public disclosure.”

The fact that the New York City Education Department felt the need to warn the media not to use the scores to ridicule teachers is interesting because it provides a window into what is truly on their minds: The public shaming of city schoolteachers. 

Bill Gates, who has donated tens of millions of dollars to public education, agrees.  In a New York Times opinion piece headlined “Shame Is Not the Solution,” he wrote:

“Many districts and states are trying to move toward better personnel systems for evaluation and improvement. Unfortunately, some education advocates in New York, Los Angeles and other cities are claiming that a good personnel system can be based on ranking teachers according to their “value-added rating”—a measurement of their impact on students’ test scores—and publicizing the names and rankings online and in the media. But shaming poorly performing teachers doesn’t fix the problem because it doesn’t give them specific feedback.

Value-added ratings are one important piece of a complete personnel system. But student test scores alone aren’t a sensitive enough measure to gauge effective teaching, nor are they diagnostic enough to identify areas of improvement. Teaching is multifaceted, complex work. A reliable evaluation system must incorporate other measures of effectiveness, like students’ feedback about their teachers and classroom observations by highly trained peer evaluators and principals.

Putting sophisticated personnel systems in place is going to take a serious commitment. Those who believe we can do it on the cheap—by doing things like making individual teachers’ performance reports public—are underestimating the level of resources needed to spur real improvement.”

Dennis M. Walcott, Chancellor of New York public schools, said his goal isn’t to shame teachers.  “I don’t want our teachers disparaged in any way, and I don’t want our teachers denigrated based on this information,” he said.  But if this is true, why make the information public?  Isn’t it enough that teachers, principals, and other school administrators in the city have access to the data to improve instruction?

Interestingly, on top of the controversial “shame” factor associated with the public rankings, there are other problems with this cost-cutting teacher evaluation system.  Here are several:

  • Only teachers of reading and math get rated, as do those who teach grades 4 – 8. 
  • The rating system—which is based on a score of 1 to 100—has an incredibly large margin for error, according to city education officials and statisticians.  On average, a teacher’s math rating could be off by as much as 35 percentage points, and in reading by 53 points. 
  • Some teachers are being judged on as few as 10 students.
  • One teacher received a ranking for a semester when she was on maternity leave.
  • Some teachers who taught English were ranked for teaching math.  
  • City officials said 3 percent of teachers have discovered that their reports were based on classes they never taught.
  • The rankings follow a predetermined bell-curve that dictates 50 percent of teachers must be ranked “average,” 20 percent must be ranked “above average” and “below average,” and 5 percent must be ranked “high” and “low”.       

But still, the data can be used to improve instruction, right? 

Probably not.  First, the data is nearly two years old and no longer relevant.  Students have moved on to new classes and teachers have new cohorts of students.  Second, a portion of the data has been discredited by suspected cheating.  Third, only 77 percent of the 18,000 teachers ranked are still employed by the Education Department, and a number of those people have taken new jobs outside the classroom.              

So how do others in the education community feel about the newly developed public rankings?  University of Wisconsin economist Douglas N. Harris, who works at the school where the rankings were created, said that making the data public “strikes me as at best unwise, at worst, absurd.” 

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan loves the idea.  “Silence is not an option,” he said.    

Noted education scholar Diane Ravitch, although acknowledging the need for strong teacher evaluation systems, wrote that the rankings exist primarily to pin society’s problems on teachers, the universal scapegoat.    

“Of course, teachers should be evaluated. They should be evaluated by experienced principals and peers. No incompetent teacher should be allowed to remain in the classroom. Those who can’t teach and can’t improve should be fired. But the current frenzy of blaming teachers for low scores smacks of a witch-hunt, the search for a scapegoat, someone to blame for a faltering economy, for the growing levels of poverty, for widening income inequality.”

It’s still unclear how a flawed rating system that will ultimately shame many schoolteachers and hurt morale is going to effectively improve instruction.  Although the New York City Education Department insists otherwise, it seems apparent the new high profile evaluations exist primarily to satisfy the public’s urge to place schoolteachers in the stocks and nail their so-called “sins” to the church door.

For good schools, it takes a village

I recently attended a community screening of the education documentary American Teacherat School of the Future in West Philadelphia.

The film, narrated by Matt Damon, chronicles the stories of four teachers from rural and urban areas of the country, and examines how these dedicated educators, despite loving their students and jobs, were often forced to rethink their careers because of low pay. After the screening, a panel of local education leaders, including Philadelphia School District Superintendent Leroy Nunery and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan, reflected on the film and the state of education in America. . . .

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “For good schools, it takes a village.”  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

School Choice is Twenty-First Century Segregation

by Christopher Paslay

Charter schools do not serve the neediest children—they weed them out.

Generally speaking, there are two ways to deal with a public school that is struggling to succeed.  One—you could provide that school with the proper supports, such as doing building renovations and repairs, upgrading materials, and investing in technology.  You could revamp curriculum to make it more individualized and authentic, treat teachers with respect and trust in their expertise, and expand alternative schools and programs to remediate troubled youth.  In other words, you could invest in families and communities, and create a culture of learning available to all children within the bounds of a neighborhood.

Or two—you could deem the school a failure and turn your back on it.  Throw up your hands and say, “This school isn’t worth saving.”  You could do so by pinning all the complex challenges facing students in struggling neighborhoods solely on “lousy” teachers and “good-for-naught” principals, opting to take your resources elsewhere and start over by building a brand new school.  Yes, you could funnel tax dollars away from the school you deemed “failing” and build a charter.  You could hire new teachers (although many would come from the same pool of “lousy” teachers whose schools were shut down), you could set-up your admissions process so only students with educated parents could navigate the paperwork, and you could throw out those children who don’t follow your rules and send them back to the “failing” neighborhood school to rot with the rest of the children who couldn’t get into your charter.         

You could deal with a struggling school by doing one of those two things.  Fighting the good fight, or turning and running away.  The school choice folks, those obsessed with charters, like to run.  It’s easier that way.  Finding alternative ways to educate America’s bottom third is no easy task.  America’s bottom third is quite the pain in the butt, to put it bluntly.  They are the ones with the family issues, and the health issues, and the addition problems.  They’ve been exposed to domestic violence and often can’t manage their anger or peacefully solve problems.  And charters, which have limited space and stricter rules, keep these students out.            

KIPP charters (Knowledge Is Power Program) are a prime example.  Touted as working wonders for poor and minority children, KIPP schools are indeed achieving good results on standardized tests.  However, 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.  In addition, KIPP is criticized for not serving more English Language Learners and students with disabilities.

The real kicker is that despite the added advantage of weeding out struggling students, as a whole, charters still aren’t performing any better than traditional public schools.  The CREDO study proves this reality point blank, as does the fact that in Philadelphia, only 54.7 percent of charters are making AYP under the No Child Left Behind guidelines.

This is most likely due to the fact that up to 60 percent of student achievement is based on nonschool factors.  Noted education historian Diane Ravitch wrote about this reality in a review of the film Waiting for Superman that she published in The New York Review of Books:  

“. . . teacher quality accounts for about 7.5–10 percent of student test score gains. Several other high-quality analyses echo this finding, and while estimates vary a bit, there is a relative consensus: teachers statistically account for around 10–20 percent of achievement outcomes. Teachers are the most important factor within schools.

But the same body of research shows that nonschool factors matter even more than teachers. According to University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber, about 60 percent of achievement is explained by nonschool factors, such as family income.”

So while the quality of a teacher and school are important, if the educational issues stemming from nonschool variables aren’t properly addressed—and most charters do not address them—academic progress and student achievement will be limited.               

Tragically, school choice isn’t doing much to improve achievement.  It is, however, giving parents a legal means of separating their children from the unwanted bottom third, and allowing school reformers and entrepreneurs to turn a profit at the expense of the poor and disenfranchised.

Noted Scholar Diane Ravitch Calls for ‘Reality-Based’ Education Reform

 

Parents Across America, a new nationwide organization of parents opposing education “deform,” held its inaugural event in New York City on February 7, 2011 with Diane Ravitch as the keynote speaker. Here, Diane covers the entire range of education “deforms” and makes a mockery of it all:     

 “Corporate reformers close schools and open schools, they move children around like checkers on a checker board . . . and they confuse testing with education.  To them, your child is a data point.”

 

“This testing and accountability obsession is not producing better education.  This mindless pursuit of test scores . . . has cheapened education.” 

 

“This corporate reform movement seeks to turn public funding over to private corporations, and seeks to replace professional educators with eager amateurs.”

 

“And added to these circumstances come the Obama administration’s ‘Race to the Top,’ which supplies billions of federal dollars to persuade states to adopt unproven and even failed reforms.”       

 

No other country in the world is as radically overhauling education as is America.  Please spread the word by forwarding this video to anyone interested in reality-based—not corporate based—education reform.