Turn Around Schools?

The whole point of standards, testing, school choice, school closures, and mass firings of school personnel was to turn around schools identified as failing to serve children — MOST of whom are disadvantaged by poverty. Right? These were the chosen school transformation practices of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

Common Core just happens to be the planner’s choice for the next generation standards upon which this scheme will go forward in state and federal laws. But should it?

Like the song says “Stop… Everybody look what’s going down.”

These strategies are not reforms. They didn’t improve schools. They didn’t improve opportunities across the board for children. They didn’t provide kids with an even start. They didn’t come close to giving them all a fair shot. They didn’t give children hope for a better life. If they had, we shouldn’t see rising suicide rates for black children.

The question is; what will we do? Be realistic?

Realistically, will a quality education lift all children out of poverty? No. But, it will provide that opportunity for many more. Can education make life better for all? Yes, it can. The correlation has been well documented. Education is a common good.

“Education is about more than just better jobs and bigger paychecks, important though they are in making families and individuals more financially stable. More education is also linked to better physical and mental health, longer lives, fewer crimes, less incarceration, more voting, greater tolerance, and brighter prospects for the next generation.”

So is school reform the silver bullet for all the misfortunes poverty can bestow on our American pursuit of happiness? No. But we have to do it anyway. And in the process, we can adopt policies and practices that support families and their children — but only if we make the choice to do so. Enters, The Elephant in the School Failure Debate by Joan McRobbie.

“Common sense tells us that improving child health and nutrition, making it so the family doesn’t have to move frequently to find affordable rent, and reducing family stress make it easier for children to learn.”

Don’t other people find it very disturbing that The Land of Opportunity doesn’t have a better social safety-net for children? We won’t even make equality in educational opportunity a national priority?

“The United States stands out as the country with the highest poverty rate and one of the lowest levels of social expenditure —16.2 percent of GDP, well below the vast majority of peer countries, which average 21.3 percent (unweighted).”Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 1.34.41 PMBut I don’t see Mexico included in this graph and I know their poverty rate is higher than ours, so we’re alright? No, we are not! And enters the argument that money isn’t everything. There is some truth to that.

lyndon-b-johnson-president-quote-education-is-not-a-problem-educationMoney isn’t invested wisely in education reform unless we understand the concept of community support for disadvantaged children and the schools they attend. That was the basis of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that was written through the efforts of many including President Johnson (D) and his Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, John W. Gardner (R) —the founder of Common Cause.

This is how we turn around schools.

This is how we turn around schools.

 

McRobbie gets it.

“Heroic efforts by excellent educators can only make a dent. Their efforts are swamped by concentrated poverty; by the daunting numbers of low-income students and the magnitude of the needs those kids have, through no fault of their own. And each year, more children with similar needs continue to pour in.

This isn’t a school problem. It’s a societal problem imposed on schools,…”

I’m not saying money is the total answer; it isn’t. But wise investment is. Strong communities and the social safety net they build for children is the foundation for excellent schools.

The chief architect of the 1965 ESEA, Frank (Francis) Keppel, saw federal appropriations of money for education like this; the way forward should not be seen as “aid” but as “federal support for special purposes . . . an investment in education . . . investment in people and therefore in the nation.”

Right now, the U.S. Senate version of the reauthorization of ESEA —up for a full vote of the Senate as S.1177, called “Every Child Achieves”— is set to invest heavily in standards, testing, and charter school start-ups. We know these things did not reliably, consistently, or in any statistically significant way improve the lives or education of children of poverty.

We get it. We now need to do something about it.

We get it. We now need to do something about it.

Is this the investment we want to make? Speak up. If the law isn’t about helping to turn around the schools that need our help by providing a better social safety-net for our youngest citizens, we have to stop what we are doing. We can simply say “Vote No” AND go back to the drawing board – NOW!

We need to decide.

Update: The bill came out of committee and in 10 days flat was approved and signed into law during the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday (Dec. 2015, now titled Every Student Succeeds Act). Parents, you didn’t have a chance!….We should all be mad as hell!…The alternative is never considered. Why not?

Parting Shot at Common Core in 2014

What is the surest way to keep the truth from being told about Common Core? Never allow honest debate to take place.

Having been told by others that I would never be invited to the education reform table (let alone a stage), I was shocked on September 16th when I received an e-mail invitation to be part of a panel discussion on the pros and cons of Common Core in Idaho. I immediately responded that I would do it. The secretary seemed pleased that she had found someone.

On October 28th, it was still looking promising…Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 3.29.36 PM….and this “event” was turning into a debate rather than a panel discussion. It was going to be moderated by an Idaho public television reporter. There was real potential for educating a large swath of the Idaho population. Even though I have never been in a debate and public appearances does not top my list of favorite things to do, I welcomed the opportunity to help the cause.

Then a message came on October 30th…my “opponent” had backed out. Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 3.31.14 PMThe organizer still seemed enthused. I submitted my picture and a short biography for the program as instructed. Then on November 8th…my rejection.Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 3.30.25 PMThe “committee” had reneged on the invitation….but graciously, when I happened to run into the organizer, she offered to include materials in the event package if I wanted to put something together. I began to do just that. It was like staging my own private Idaho debate. But I didn’t get it done in time.

A solitary debate.

A solitary debate.

The problem is that when I went to answer my own questions, I discovered that years before I had put a question mark next to “Alvarez & Marsal” on the list of participants for the Smart Options document. But I never had gone back until now. Now, it was much more important to answer my own questions in my own time.

The Boise group never got to hear the “cons” of Common Core. And I got caught up in tracking down the real con artists.

“They” should not be allowed to rule “our” public education system. Yes, unfortunately it has become a “them” versus “us” battle.

We know that education matters. And we are capable of understanding that honesty and fairness counts when it comes to both the educational process and the lawmaking process.

Some of us learned from the mistakes of No Child Left Behind, Common Core, and Race to the Top. Let’s teach those lessons to the public and policymakers.

Let’s make sure that education counts in a big way by actually giving the topic center stage in 2015. To do so, Common Core needs to exit the stage first. It doesn’t deserve the time, energy, and resources it has already consumed.

Our country deserves better.

UPDATE: January 9, 2015 I found it despicable that this advice was given openly while states were being sold on investing in longitudinal data systems for student test data collection and its link to labor systems. Perhaps the committee that pulled their invitation felt this pro-con Common Core debate was too big a forum.

From a Best Practices Brief http://nces.ed.gov/programs/slds/pdf/best_practices.pdf

From a Best Practices Brief
Stakeholder Communication Tips from the States http://nces.ed.gov/programs/slds/pdf/best_practices.pdf

STOP!

We have been on one crazy trajectory for 30 years and it is time to stop!

It was never supposed to be like this in education reform but very few Americans know the history behind No Child Left Behind (NCLB) so they don’t see it as the Core of the problem. There is a very, very brief outline found on the Independent Temporary Education Movement (ITEM) Actions website. But, here is the short of it:

The real problem with the “outcome-based theory” occurred on a national scale when NCLB became the first reauthorization of ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) to mandate yearly standardized tests, for all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school, in order to establish a national accountability structure requiring the labeling of schools based on standardized test scores.

National “accountability”? Really? How did that work out for US?

That is why we must STOP and change the law because it is our duty. Petition the White House for a response (sorry, the petition is gone?). NOW! We only have until April 16th to get 100,000 signatures! (Update: we failed.)1796523_626373187411401_1384101833_n

Read more of the story about the petition at EducationNews.org or TruthOut. The issue is non-partisan. All “sides” need to take action.

Congress has not done their duty; we must if we wish to make things better for children in classrooms now. Let the president know that THAT is the fierce urgency of NOW!

“Just” Standards

“These standards are just that—they are standards.” These are the words used by Luci Willits of Idaho State Department of Education, Chief of Staff to Tom Luna, as she introduced Common Core to our Senate Education Committee (1/19/11). And you will hear that sentiment parroted by others; “The standards are just that: standards.” Bill Gates (2/12/14)

But when you look further, you can find the claim that “When the grant [Race to the Top] was put forth, the State Department of Education went to the colleges to ensure that any student who passes these standards will be able to go to any college without the need of remedial training.”

Standards DON’T “ensure” student success. Somehow, these standards became magical standards. And all of Idaho’s major colleges and universities stood with arms locked in testimony to the Core.

Standards are “just” guides. But these standards —The Common Core Standards — are much, much more. They are the Trojan Horse of systemic transformation.

But Idaho’s department of education went even further in claiming “There is also tremendous cost-savings associated with these standards; Idaho will be able to get the test it has always wanted but never been able to pay for.” Who will pay? The same magician sprinkling fairy dust, or, will we all be paying the pied piper?

Lawmakers across the country are being asked to judge whether this is the change that is best for children, families, and communities. How will they make the call when the horse is so attractive?

Expose what is in the belly of the beast. The foundational principles, or the assumptions that are made by those in power, are what is important to understand.

Look inside!

Look inside!

  • The State will decide what education outcomes are important based on economic data.
  • Local control is a barrier that can be gotten around by training school board members properly (decided by the Broad Foundation?).
  • Lay-citizen participation in governance of schools should be weakened “in favor of control by politicians, especially governors, elected positions in general government.” (Marc Tucker, Governing American Education, page 44)

Real school improvement involves “lay-citizens.” But that is not how it is seen from above.

I know many people believe that private industry can do a better job than public institutions. But, please, think about what happens when private associations and organizations are using the law to their benefit – monetarily or for political power – what will be the true cost to taxpayers?

In Idaho, as it would seem to be the case across the country, the seemingly innocent policy of strategic planning and training of school boards is being put into law. It is putting the governing of schools at the local level in jeopardy.

Strategic planning is not necessarily a school improvement process; it all depends on who does the “training” and what “curriculum” they are using. What will those in control be “leveraging” our board members to do?

Close the gate (so to speak). Keep the Trojan Horse out!

Decide how schools will be governed. It matters!

The Common Core System

Connecting “Autonomy,” “Accountability,” & the Common Core National Standards

Here’s how things are going in Idaho. Quick history: In 2011, three laws similar to others in the nationbust collective bargaining, put in pay-for-performance, and roll out the lap-tops and online “learning” — were passed by lawmakers despite visible and audible protests from Idahoans. But the People in Idaho didn’t roll over. They came back to put them (the Luna Laws) on the ballot in 2012 and defeated all three proposals – SOUNDLY!!! But quietly the foxes have entered the hen house and are going in for the kill. They are doing it through a governor-selected “task force.”

Moving Beyond the Killer B’s: The Role of School Boards in School Accountability and Transformation bases its recommendations on the idea that it is important “to ensure that their [school board] policies and practices align with the pressing need to ensure that all students are provided a high-quality education, enabling them to succeed in college and post-graduation careers.” They express that “the Common Core State Standards [are] aimed at ensuring that all states strive to teach a high level curriculum and administer rigorous assessments.”(page 4) It was expressed that originally Race to the Top had included formal school board evaluations (page 5).

And so it appears that “they” thought of every aspect of The Common Core System.

 The Killer B’s document describes a scheme that in essence promotes the idea of using federal funds to accomplish a wide array of tasks including the establishment of  “technical assistance centers” called “Regional Comprehensive Centers” (RCCs) (page ii, 24).

Moving Beyond the Killer B’s (copyrighted by the Academic Development Institute (ADI)) can be found on The Center for School Turnarounds primarily sponsored by WestEd along with ADI.

WestEd (nonpartisan, nonprofit) regional centers are established in California, Mid-Atlantic, West, Southwest, Central, Northeast, South Central, Great Lakes, Midwest, Pacific, Appalachia, and Texas. And there could be more WestEd Regional Comprehensive Centers that I missed.

WestEd is the Project Management Partner for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (our Common Core Tests).

Following the lead of Idaho’s State Chief Deputy Superintendent, Rodger Quarles, who was a contributor to the Killer B’s document and a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Improving Education, the Training & Development of School Boards is now on the legislative table (Effective Teachers & Leaders Recommendation #2.5, Task Force doc., Page 37).

And here is where “autonomy” comes into question: Idaho Structural Change Subcommittee’s Strategy 2: Autonomy and Accountability
“…the State should set goals for the public education system, allocate monies, and then hold local leadership accountable for progress against those goals.” (Page 19 Task Force)

When the Common Core National Standards sets the standards, aligns the tests, aligns the curriculum, and, on the advice of the Chief Council of State school Officers (CCSSO) and National Governor’s Association (NGA), aligns the training of teachers, superintendents, and principals, plus the National Parent Teachers Association did their best to train parents to accept Common Core — the only thing left is to train and align the school board members with the help of the School Board Associations and the same non-governmental, non-accountable group that will be “partnering” in the tests —WestEd. Plus, organizations like the Broad Foundation have years of experience training leaders.

With test-driven reforms (they call “outcome-based”), He who controls the tests controls what is learned — especially if all the pieces of the machine are in alignment. Is this the systemic change we want?

Is the American education system to become just one cog in the machine?

Is the American education system to become just one cog in the machine?

“Autonomy”? The Task Force defines it as “people’s need to be empowered to take ownership for results and to have the flexibility to address challenges and local dynamics they face in pursuit of results for our students.” It is not defined here as self-governing and definitely NOT the same as “local control.”

There is nothing of educational significance left to control – goals, standards, tests, training for instruction, curriculum, and governance are all decided and out of our control. All that is left is the hard work of ensuring learning, in some form, occurs – In it, we will have no voice that will be heard by the large conglomerates that will control our schools. Proof ? Do they hear us asking them right now to STOP the CORE? Put the testing on pause. They do in some states but what of the nation?

And those that attended the No Child Left Behind workshop by Gary Ratner and myself at the Save Our Schools conference in D.C. in 2012 heard me ask this question, do we want organizations like the Broad Foundation training our school leaders or do we want it done through public institutions?

The education “reform” laws that Idahoans defeated looked to me to be “models” for the nation. So what is happening now with leadership training in the rest of the nation?

A Public Trust

When you look at the words “Education is Too Important to Be Entrusted to Government,” what do they mean to you? Do you see the statement as right or wrong, true or false, or somewhere in between?

If not government, then who?

If not government, then who?

Words are meant, among other things, to make a statement, persuade or to sell an idea. So with the re-writing of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) being debated in the Senate Education Committee, now would be a good time for the country to discuss entrusting government to run the institution of public education.

With the damage inflicted upon schools through NCLB, money wasted on Race to the Top grants, and the chaos created through NCLB waivers, the government owes its people an explanation as to what was learned and give us reason as to why we should trust them to move forward.

The reality today is that testing every child, in every school, every year has left us financially unable to address the dire needs of every child. This situation was created by government as directed by the education industry.

State government took on the responsibility to provide public education. The quest for quality used to be an American principle we could rely upon. When equal access for the poor and minorities was seen as another principle of our republic, the federal government became the engine for equality.

When the United States of America was entrusted to be a country of the people, by the people, and for the people, we could trust government because we could trust ourselves through representation of our ideals.

The trust has not really been lost; it has been sold. Let us hope there is a reclaiming process in the very near future. Our children are depending on it.

 

The Quest for Clarity

How do we have conversations and bring about clarity of ideas when we don’t speak the same language? I’m talking about the language of education reform. It is too full of codes and triggers. The general public, the people whose education system we are talking about, can’t possibly be clear about what is really happening to their system. And how can they possibly crack the “code”?

I know that I personally can’t help with deciphering everything but I can help with one item of reform that we should all try real hard to understand – The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. I will say right up front, Harold “Doc” Howe II, the commissioner of education in charge of enacting the law said, “I doubt that anyone could have dreamed up a series of education programs more difficult to administer . . . but ESEA was not designed with that in mind.”

It was designed to provide equal access to quality educational opportunities. It was going to “level the playing field,” as we like to say. And it was going to accomplish this by addressing the needs of children from low-income families. I believe this would be along the lines of the idea that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” When we improve the educational opportunity for the under-privileged, we improve opportunity for others in the process.

But the “process” can’t be explained in a blog or a three minute testimony.

So, please don’t get thrown by a person’s choice of words. “Turnaround” doesn’t ALWAYS mean the Race to the Top ways, “indicators” or even “assessments” don’t ALWAYS mean standardized tests, and even “always” rarely really means “always.” You get my drift. And also keep in mind that if you are talking to a teacher, they have been hyper-sensitized; they have been in the trenches of the education reform wars for far too long.

Right now, the right education battle is the one for clarity. We win that battle; all children could have a shot at being a winner.

When someone pulls your trigger or you find yourself wondering “what is this person talking about?” – my advice is to slow down. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Isn’t that the very thing we would expect from good students?