Thursday, March 26, 2015

Highly Acclaimed Educators Point Out Basic Flaws in Common Core

Johnathan Kozol has been recognized for years as one of the most influential educators of North America. Now the most highly honored educator in the world, the winner of the million dollar Global Teacher prize, Nancie Atwell, joins Kozol in exposing the Basic flaws in the Common Core standards.

In this Education Week article Nancie Atwell points out that the Common Core and the hyper-accountability, hyper-testing climate in public education today may be contributing to the exodus of top talent from the teaching profession. It is ironic that proponents of these so called education reforms had claimed that these efforts along with VAM based teacher evaluations and merit pay would elevate the teaching profession and attract the best talent to the teaching profession. Atwell is recommending that the most talented young people shy away from public school teaching at this time because of the repressive "straight jacket" restraints now being placed on teachers by Common Core and the related testing.

Here is the result of a poll of Education Week readers concerning recommending teaching as a profession to young people today. Many of the readers of Education Week are knowledgeable about education issues. This is definitely not an endorsement of the direction of education reform in our country.
Would you recommend teaching as a profession
to young people today?

In another article featuring Johnathan Kozol, Common Core is blasted as stealth plan to privatize and monetize public education. Kozol makes this stunning assertion:

"Our children, our families, our neighborhoods, our public schools, and our democracy itself have become pawns in a vast and inter-connected scheme to undermine public institutions for private profit. The vehicle for this travesty in the arena of education is the Common Core State (sic) (Stealth) Standards and their accompanying high-stakes standardized testing—PARCC or SBAC. This incessant testing, orchestrated to be taken on computers, intensifies the myth that 21st century teaching depends on the innovation of software programs that “personalize” education for each child. Nothing could be further from the truth. The entrenched belief that accounting/accountability, i.e. data collection, is the answer to lagging scores on standardized tests as compared to other nations is a travesty."

Kozol also points out that a fatal flaw in the Common Core was the selection of the writers of the Core from a select group of testing and academic elitists who have no understanding of early childhood education or the realities of K-12 education.

"Consider the stealthy way the drafters of the Common Core State (sic) Standards were selected. Why were primarily representatives from the college testing industry included (SAT and ACT), when k-12 classroom teachers, specialists in early childhood education, teachers of special needs students, and authorities on students learning English as a second language were excluded? These standards and accompanying curricula have been developed with blinders on. They reflect a narrow, technocratic vision of teaching and learning, which is at odds with decades of authentic research into children’s cognitive development, first and second language development, and literacy development. They ignore all aspects of education that promote healthy psychosocial development, and even physical health. They ignore or downplay the significance of the humanities—history, literature, drama, music, art, dance, philosophy—all of the attributes that contribute to a humane society."

Here in Louisiana, we have attempted through legislation to protect the privacy of our student information. Kosol however explains that as long as our K-12 curriculum is based in some way to the Common Core standards, the testing companies and the education privatization industry dominated by the likes of Pearson and the Rupert Murdock conglomerate will be monitoring every keystroke by our students who are forced to used their pre-packaged programs to prepare our students for the obsessive testing tied to the Core.

"Why has a monolithic curriculum in English Language Arts and Math been created to align with these ill-begotten standards, to then be aligned with the incessant testing that accompanies them? Why have state departments of education been essentially bribed by Race to the Top money and then waivers to the failed NCLB law to swallow these poorly constructed standards, curricula, and tests? Who will benefit from the massive amounts of personal student data being collected not only from the testing process, but from every keystroke of every student on every Chrome book stocked with every poor quality but snazzy program, adjusted by algorithm to the individual student’s responses?
These are questions that are serious in the extreme. They must be confronted by all segments of our society. Instead, school administrators and teachers are asked to sign security agreements that hearken back to the McCarthy era under the guise of test security and “fairness.” Teachers, under pain of losing their jobs and even their teaching licenses, are being intimidated into not expressing their concerns about the inappropriateness of the Common Core to the parents of the children in their classrooms. This is unacceptable and must be challenged."
I could not have said it better than Kozol and Atwell.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pastorek is a Modern Rainmaker for Charter Schemes

Former Louisiana State Superintendent Paul Pastorek has created a new career for himself as an education consultant to various governors for the purpose of creating “Recovery” or “Opportunity” school districts similar to the one created in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Various education reformers and some in the national news media have falsely touted the Louisiana Recovery District as a “miracle” remedy for so called failing schools. More recently Pastorek is serving as advisor to Georgia Governor, Nathan Deal in an effort to create an opportunity school district in Georgia charged with turning around their failing schools.

Pastorek last week wrote an Op-ed for the Ledger-Enquirer newspaper of Columbus Georgia. The opinion piece titled No school ever has to fail is filled with misinformation about the Louisiana Recovery District designed to convince Georgia citizens that Pastorek has brought to Georgia a miracle formula for transforming schools so that low performing students will quickly begin to achieve at desired levels. Just like the rainmakers of the old days, Pastoric’s miracle formula for transforming schools is a hoax and is meant to divert hard earned tax dollars from the rubes in Georgia to our modern flim-flam men who are now charter school entrepreneurs.  It is an age-old formula. You can always fool the suckers by promising them an easy, miracle solution.

Here are just a couple of corrections to the false claims in the Pastorek op-ed:
Pastorek claims that before the Louisiana Recovery District took over most of the schools in New Orleans and turned them over to charter school operators, only 53% of the students graduated on time and today the graduation rate is 73%. This is a blatantly false claim based on discredited bogus figures. The latest official graduation rate reported for the 2012-13 school year (The New Orleans RSD is near the bottom of the chart) by the Louisiana Department of Education was only 59%. It was discovered that the charter operators had inflated their school graduation rates by falsely reporting their high school dropouts as transfers to other states. But many observers in Louisiana believe that the true graduation rate is probably worse than before Katrina because the charter operators have figured out how to encourage low performing students to drop out even before they get to high school so that they will not count in the calculation of the graduation rate.

But there is one very revealing statistic about the New Orleans Recovery District performance. It basically negates all the claims of dramatic improvement in RSD schools. Louisiana student performance was most recently ranked at approximately third to last in comparison to all 50 states and the Disrtict of Columbia based on the National Assessment of Education Progress (The nation's most authoritative comparison of school performance). Then, in comparison to all school districts in Louisiana, the New Orleans RSD was ranked at the 16th percentile. (Click on the highlighted section then download the District Percentile Comparison for 2013-2014) This means that 84% of the school systems in Louisiana produce better results with their students than does the New Orleans Recovery District. That’s about the same ranking the New Orleans schools had before they were taken over.

The low ranking of Louisiana schools and the near bottom ranking of the New Orleans RSD schools track almost precisely the extreme poverty level of our students compared to all other states. So all the claims of dramatic success in Pastorek’s op-ed piece amount to the same kind of bogus claims made by the rainmakers of the old days. This is just a new group of rubes to swindle and a new confidence game. 

By the way, the Michigan Recovery District encouraged by Pastorek is a disaster, the Tennessee RSD centered in Memphis is still a low performer, and Arkansas just refused to convert the Little Rock school system into charter operations, partially because the truth is beginning to leak out about the RSD in New Orleans. Finally it is important to note that when the RSD in Louisiana expanded to Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Pointe Coupee and St Helena, all but one of the takeover schools actually declined. Their percentile ranking is dead last in the state. Two of the takeover schools were given back to their original school boards and one closed as parents removed their children. It is unfortunate that parents were never actually given a "choice" about converting their neighborhood schools into charters. Yet some of them voted with their right to simply remove their children from the fiasco.