A Crisis of Credibility

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trustLast week Vanderbilt hosted an education writers seminar. It was a pretty big deal. Such a big a deal that it brought Arne Duncan to town. Arne spent some time making appearances with his good buddy Kevin Huffman touting all the wonderful things that Mr Huffman was responsible for in Tennessee. There were quite a few quotable quotes dropped. My favorite was, “The biggest challenge of our nation isn’t the knowledge side of things but the courage. There is a courage gap.” That’s the one that got me thinking.

The more I thought about it, the more I saw its relevance. You know holding children accountable is very difficult. I’ve got a three year old and a 4 year old in my household, so this is a constant running battle. My wife and I attach a great deal of importance to instilling accountability in them. Its important to us that they understand actions have consequences. Its seldom easy though.

On one hand I want to instill that sense of consequence while on the other I want my children to love and adore me. Holding them accountable means there will be times they won’t be feeling it. I also like a certain amount of peace in my life. Holding children accountable seldom creates a peaceful environment. If its been a long day at work and I’m tired and the football games on…well next time. You see a by product of holding them accountable is a lot of whining. I’m seldom up for a lot of whining. However, the only way they are going to mature is if I screw up my courage and face it head on. The result is worth whatever discomfort the process brings.

The Tennessee Department of Education is like one of my kids. The only way they are going to continue to improve is if we hold them accountable. I know you’ve heard them utter those very words. This fiasco with the TCAP scores is just simply unacceptable behavior. It is behavior that warrants consequences. In order for this to transpire we are all are going to have to show a little courage.

To start with, I know its now summertime. Its been a long school year and every bodies worked real hard. Its time to turn off the brain, slide into the hammock and take it easy for a couple months. We can get back to this testing stuff in the fall. We’ve got all summer to discuss the Huffman follies over BBQ’s. The problem with that line of thinking is that it gives the illusion that not doing their job is really not that important. It also permits the Tennessee Department of Education time to concoct a better story then “post equating.” Just like with my children, reaction needs to be timely.

There will be people that say, “Its election season. Let’s not ruffle too many feathers. Once I get elected then…”. Again that gives the impression that the Ed Department doesn’t have anyone to fear, that they are the ones setting the rules we just have to follow. Luckily we’ve got representatives like Gloria Johnson, Bo Mitchell, and Mike Stewart, who have jointly filed a Freedom of Information Act request demanding answers.  Meanwhile Rep. Billy Spivey and Rep Janice Bowling requested that the Tennessee Comptrollers office launch a formal investigation into the delayed test scores. This is the kind of courage we need.

As far as Commissioner Huffman goes, though he’s been extremely quiet thus far, I expect that as the pressure increases the commissioner will begin doing some whining. He’s on record as saying “open discussion bothers him”.  So I don’t expect that he’ll take kindly to having to explain his actions. My three year old son doesn’t either, but we make him do it. It’s the only way his behavior improves. The flip side of that is, Mr. Huffman’s silence speaks volumes for his commitment to accountability and his recognition of a failure to complete charged obligations. It’s up to us to teach these lessons.

My friend J.C. Bowman of the Professional Educators of Tennessee is calling for an investigation so that we can find out why errors were made and make sure that they are not made again. He’s showing the courage that leads to better practices. He argues that accountability is not always about retribution and he’s correct. So an investigation is in order and it needs to be determined if this was a simple failure to execute or something more.

In the event that it turns out to be something more, than we need to have the courage to attach a substantial punishment. It has to be punishment substantive enough to discourage the action from being repeated.  Sometimes my son hits his sister just because she has something he wants and that’s when we as parents have to make sure that there is some punishment tied to that accountability. Delivering that punishment is never enjoyable and often quite painful, but it is necessity. If called upon we need to have the courage to take those steps.

Lastly, if you’ll remember, in previous posts I’ve mentioned that modeling is probably the most successful method of teaching behavior. I once spent a summer as head Counselor for a summer camp here in Davidson County. My message to my counselors was that they had to always be on their best behavior and never assume that children weren’t watching them. It was the way they acted when they thought no one was watching that their kids would pick up on and emulate. Well right now the children of Tennessee are watching us.

What kind of behavior are we as adults modeling if we fail publicly to meet our obligations and there are no visible consequences. We’ve spent the last couple of years drilling down on rigor and accountability. These tests are important. Children need to take them serious. There are no excuses for not being prepared. These tests will affect your schools, your teachers and your own future. Yet when it comes time to meet their own deadline the Tennessee Department of Education fails and offers nothing but excuses. Furthermore, in delivering these messages and then not delivering on their end, the TDOE has made parents and educators complicit.

How does a teacher respond to a student, who doesn’t have their assignment completed, when they say, “I’d rather my work be right then on time.” How does a parent get a child to study harder when the child voices the opinion that these tests “are just going be doctored.” That’s what the actions of the TNDOE have done. They have opened the door to questioning the validity of the state mandated tests and those who stressed their value.

These tests only have value if people buy into them. We have to believe that these are fair and accurately scored tests. If that buy-in is not there, then there is no validity. If one element of the message is invalidated then the whole message runs the risk of being invalidated.  Its not just TCAP tests and the department of education that are at risk of losing credibility. Its every educator and parent in the state of Tennessee. Every adult who has ever told a child that its important to be accountable for your actions is facing a crisis of credibility. That’s what’s at stake and that’s what we need to have the courage to hold the Tennessee Department of Education accountable for.

 

 

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Welcome Back From Friday News Dump

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thJPIAU80IHope you had a wonderful Memorial Day week-end. It was a good time to spend with family and remember those who have fought for our freedom. However let’s not forget those who would give it away. Let’s continue taking a look at those delayed test scores that magically got completed at 4 pm on a pre-holiday Friday. Yes, the old holiday news dump.

In PR and journalistic circles either Friday or better yet the Friday before a holiday week-end is the time to announce any unpleasant business. The hope being that it’s the end of the week. The news cycle is over for the week and anybody who might read it will forget about it until the next week. The bet is something more pressing will also come up. Over the years this has become a pretty successful practice.

Unfortunately we now live in the internet age. What a three day week end now means is a little extra time to do what we kids used to call, surf. I did a little looking around and a little Googling. Funny thing, Tennessee wasn’t’ the only state having trouble getting those test scores out on time. Louisiana was having issues as well. (http://www.shreveporttimes.com/article/20140521/NEWS0401/305210041/Late-state-test-scores-schools-scrambling) It also seems like someone else utilizes the Friday news dump as well. (http://louisianavoice.com/2014/05/17/learning-is-more-than-a-test-score-but-john-white-still-tries-to-cook-the-test-score-books-at-rsd-but-doe-staffers-refuse/)

Very interesting, but with in itself that might not be a big deal, but lets take a minute and see why it may be a big deal. First we’ll start with the two heads of the respective education departments. Louisiana’s head is John White a former Teach for America Corp member and a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy. The Superintendent for Tennessee is Kevin Huffman a former Teach for America Corp member. They both are members of Chiefs for Change.

Who are the Chief’s for Change you may ask. The Chief’s for Change are an organization made up of seven state chief superintendents of education who have tasked themselves with the mission of putting children first through bold, visionary education reform that will increase student achievement and prepare students for success in college and careers. Now there used to be eight but Tony Bennett got caught rigging grades.(http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/do_the_math/2013/08/tony_bennett_education_an_astonishing_act_of_statistical_chutzpah_in_the.html)That didn’t get Bennett kicked out of Chiefs for Change though. They just gave him emeritus status.

Who else has emeritus status you ask? Well there is Chris Cerf. Cerf was the superintendent in New Jersey who passed all kinds of mandate’s on standardized testing and then left to take a job with Amplify this February. I guess there is money in testing. There is also former Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen who led the passing of Maine’s first ever law allowing the establishment of Charter Schools. Though I will say that Mr Bowen’s resignation would offer a wonderful template for Mr. Huffman. You get the picture of what memberships in Chiefs for Change represents.

Tennessee and Louisiana are also two of the three states that have special “achievement” districts. These are state run school districts charged with the task of taking the bottom five percent of schools and moving them to the top 25% in five years. In Louisiana they call it the “Recovery School District” and Tennessee is a big fan. So much so that they consider themselves partners. Chris Barbic has often admitted that the ASD is very proud of their partnership with the RSD. This comes despite the myriad of problems the RFD has  created and the fact that it hasn’t been very successful.(http://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/new-orleans-recovery-school-district-the-lie-unveiled/)

What reformers have discovered though, is that achievement districts are a great way to get more Charter Schools. Converting to Charter operators has proven to be Barbic’s preferred method of moving these “failing” schools into “high quality” schools. States like Texas, New Jersey and Kansas have all shown an interest in getting in the achievement school district business. That’s a lot of potential markets opening up. I’m not saying that’s a goal but it sure would be helpful if tests told the right narrative. There is a lot of money, I mean “student success” riding on it.

Let’s recap now. Two ex-Teach for America corps members as education commissioners. Two commissioners with membership in an exclusive group that includes members previously accused of fixing test scores. Two states with special school districts that really need to show improved scores to justify other states adopting their reform methodology. Two states with test results delayed and individual school districts not notified until the last minute. Lastly but certain not least, two states that release those results on the Friday before a three holiday weekend. Remember what I previously said about perception being nine tenths of reality?

Again all this may be coincidence. As Williamson County Schools superintendent Mike Looney told the Tennessean, “”We’ve been tremendously concerned about the proficiency at which the department communicates to [local school districts] but that doesn’t necessarily mean that something nefarious happens with the process,”. True, but that doesn’t mean something nefarious is not happening either. That’s why transparency is so important. Had the Tennessee Department of Education had a history of being transparent this might not be such an issue. However that hasn’t been the case.

It’s been my experience that you can get away with being non-transparent if everything is running successfully. If people’s anecdotal experience is bearing a close proximity to what your telling them, they usually won’t force the issue. However when that isn’t the case people will start taking steps to force transparency. In my opinion that time is now. The Tennessee Department of Education has had the privilege of operating on a need to know basis for too long. Its now to a point where we all have a need to know.

We need to know what the actual results to these tests are. We need to see our children’s actual tests. We need to see how the cut scores are computed and we need a hearing to insure that nothing nefarious is transpiring. Mr Huffman has demonstrated an unwillingness to talk to parents about his reforms. Therefore its time for legislators to step in. Will someone please make Mr Huffman stand before the general assembly and explain just how this all came to be. We are not accusing, just asking for the suspicion to be lifted.

More on the Tennessee TCAP Fiasco

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frustration-scaled1000“We must make this the decade of education reform,” he wrote in January 2010, later citing initiatives he favors: decisions driven by “transparent data on student achievement,” differentiated pay for high-performing teachers and, perhaps most telling, “taking seriously who needs to leave the system” to upgrade the teaching profession. (http://archive.tennessean.com/article/20131125/NEWS04/311250021/Chorus-criticism-doesn-t-stop-reform-minded-TN-education-chief-Huffman)

The above is the most telling paragraph in an article written by Joey Garrison on Kevin Huffman in November of 2013. Everything in that statement frames the situation Mr Huffman and the Tennessee Department of Education now find themselves embroiled in. He says that student achievement data needs to be transparent. Currently it most certainly is not. We have no idea about what’s on the test or how scores are calculated and apparently those rules are being written on the fly. Meanwhile it is the time to apply his assertion about “taking seriously who needs to leave the system.”

This has been the year of heavy scrutiny upon standardized tests. Parents are paying more attention then ever to what kind of testing their children are being subjected to and have started to raise questions. Its fair to say that a level of distrust has begun to ferment. Criticism’s have been leveled that testing reduces a child to just the measured and that “cut scores” are merely political machinations. If there ever was ever a time for a process to run smoothly and error free, now was the time.

Unfortunately, the Tennessee Department of Education failed to rise to the challenge. What they’ve created is akin to telling a heart patient they have six months to live but you can get them their medicine in 7 months. Think that’s hyperbole? Talk to some Tennessee families about the stress they’ve endured this spring over testing. Talk to some teachers and administrators about the pressure they’ve felt over the upcoming tests and their effect on their livelihood. I think the illustration is spot on and in this case the patient has “done died”.

Think about it. How valid can we really consider these scores to be? You may call it “post-equating” but to me it sounds like manipulation. We’ve all taken tests given by teachers. They write the test, hand it out, grade it in a timely fashion and return it. There is no need for “post-equating”. You either knew the material or you didn’t. Occasionally results were applied to a bell curve buts it was done by the teacher and all students were made aware of how and why that curve worked. It was all pretty simple.  Apparently its not so simple when the state is involved.

I’ve always believed these test scores were finessed to tell the political story that was desired at the time. “We’re doing great. we need to continue with the same policies.” or “We are doing terrible. Its time for change”. It was an unspoken truth that “cut scores” changed annually. Problem was, test were so lacking of transparency that you could never cite evidence to 100% prove that they were manipulated and the message was so controlled that it was hard to dispute.

This latest debacle blows a hole in the argument that scores aren’t massaged. I’m sorry “post-equated”. Added to the “post equating” is some mumbo jumbo about making sure questions “align with common core”. To me that sounds like arbitrarily looking at questions and throwing a few out. Anybody who’s ever looked at these tests in-depth is aware of much just changing one or two variables can change the whole narrative. Back home, we call it cooking the books.

I can hear the chorus coming from TN department of Education now, “You’re spreading half truths! We’re emphasizing accuracy over speed!” Well here is another truism that I’ve lived with my whole life in the customer service realm, perception is  nine tenths of reality. That’s why these results have now been corrupted beyond redemption. There will always be a question of their authenticity. This is inexcusable and someone needs to be held accountable.

The integrity of the test and its results have been placed on such a pedestal that it has now become the focus to a large portion of the population for several months a year. The ramifications of test scores have grown exponentially.  Commissioner Huffman was willing to stake teachers careers on test results. Parents hire tutors and make decisions on extra curricular activities based on the test. Remember Little Leagues don’t play games during test week. Teachers and administers lay awake at night fretting about how to wring more points out of their children. After all if they lose their jobs due to test scores, the mortgage gets hard to pay. They try to use that to justify attention diverted from their own families. Yes Mr Huffman, teachers have families, but that’s another story for another day. Today’s story is how you took all this focus and made it for naught.

The crowning point of this CF is the solution. So we’ve already established that this years data is useless, but its still supposed to be included in students final grades per a Tennessee statute. The Tennessee Department of Education’s response is to further re-enforce the worthlessness of the results by granting waivers. That’s right, all school districts who request a waiver for these scores being used in final grades will receive a waiver to include scores in final grades. Now I’ll admit I’m a little lazy and I haven’t looked it up, but I’m pretty certain the Tennessee statute doesn’t read, “TCAP tests shall make up 15 to 25% of a students final grade unless the Tennessee Department of Education fails to do its job.”

Its interesting because the commissioner has always liked to play a little loose with the waivers. Last year he granted one to a charter outside of Memphis but when I asked if MNPS would be eligible for one, I was told he doesn’t have that kind of power. Somebody must have given it to him since then because he’s certainly handing them out now, further reinforcing the perception that the test results are worthless. Hopefully some elected state officials will take a look at where he got that power.

thGZ5Z8RLHHopefully by now you’re starting to realize the scope of this fiasco. Its not some harmless clerical error. Those of you who have ever proctored one of these test know how fiercely the propriety of these tests are guarded. Walls are covered up, teachers swear blood oaths and parents are never allowed to see the questions. That’s got to change. Mr. Huffman needs to resign and tests need to be released to those who truly have the best interests of the students at heart, the parents and the teachers. If he truly believes in making this the decade of education reform, Mr. Huffman needs to honor the statement he made back in November of last year, otherwise it all becomes eternally corrupted and useless.

 

 

 

Who’s accountable?

accountability2This morning I read this story online. (http://www.ewa.org/blog-educated-reporter/tennessees-haslam-aims-mantle-education-governor) It’s all about Governor Haslam wanting to be the “Education Governor”. Then I read this interview with his “change agent” Kevin Huffman.(http://nashvillepublicradio.org/blog/2014/05/19/ed-talk-kevin-huffman-says-adults-means-teachers-work-harder/) In this interview he makes a strong case for “a system that evaluates performance” . Then I read this article (http://tnedreport.com/?p=818) Apparently the Tennessee Department of Education is unable to provide TCAP “quick scores” in a timely manner, yet state law requires that TCAP scores be factored in to final grades. Sounds like some performance needs evaluating.

My mornings was not done yet though. I turn on my TV and I see this, http://www.wsmv.com/story/25582241/drexel-teacher-talks-about-financial-issues-at-troubled-charter-school . Apparently the MNPS school board turned down this Charters application four times before the state board interceded and awarded them a charter. Now 200 students and several faculty members are looking for a new home. Again, seems like a little performance evaluation is in order here.

I’ll admit I’m not 100% clear what the issue with the quick scores is, so I pick up the phone to call  the Tennessee Department of Education to get some clear facts. I don’t want to be spreading half truths after all and I am a citizen of Tennessee. They should be happy to talk with me. They might be if I could reach any one. I started with Data  Commisioner Erin O’Hara and got her voice mail. Tried Communications and left a message on Kelli Gauthiers voice mail. Then I went to general information where I talked to a very nice operator who transferred me to testing.

At testing I was met with a demand to know “who I was”? I gave my name and that wasn’t enough. I shared that I was a resident of Davidson County and asked “shouldn’t that suffice?”. Apparently that was the trigger to get me transferred to the Deputy Commissioner’s answering machine where once again… I left a message. Apparently we are just going to have to depend on my supposition since my quest for the truth was unsuccessful..

I do figure though I owe it to Mr Huffman’s minions to actually print out the official statement. So I went off to the web site. Hmmmm…it should be here somewhere. Ah, newsroom seems like a logical choice. Nope, all that’s here is articles on students honoring teachers, Haslam tapping Mike Krause, and Haslam signing “Tennessee Promise” into law. There is not a single mention of delay in quick scores and what it means to parents. In fact, after perusing the whole site I found nothing.

Next stop MNPS’s web site. Nothing here either. Guess my next stop is the TEA page. There I find their response to the issue but not the original TNDE statement.  This is turning out to be a lot of work and perhaps that needs to be evaluated as well. Luckily I was able to secure the statement through Twitter. http://gallery.mailchimp.com/1e0c464fe9590a0fbf1227edf/images/808bef22-b2f9-44cc-80e8-aee5d8c775ce.jpg

Based on my reading the delay is due to “post equating”. Per the release, “Post-equating allows the department, our psychometric staff, and our TAC, to review the data more thoroughly before finalizing the quick scores and given the number of changes made this year, we want to do this before releasing scores.” Well that raises a couple questions. Were we not aware of these changes prior to the tests being given? Why was the process not amended to take this into account? Are teachers utilizing the psychometric staff before returning grades on tests they are individually giving? Shouldn’t every district have a psychometric staff? If not, why are teachers allowed to simply hand out test grades  wily nily without post-equating. This seems a terrible disservice to our students.

I mean it would be extremely helpful if teachers could hand out a test. Students take the test. After grading the teachers could check with the psychometric staff to insure that enough students got answers right to align with data, aka passed, and if not adjust the  test. I think everybody would be very appreciative of this service. Now it would make it harder to hold those darn teachers accountable but hey if its good for the goose….cartoon

The other issue here is that I don’t practice close reading. I take this statement and apply it to other readings I’ve done and come to a conclusion. It’s generally known that cut scores are an arbitrary number based on the political story you want to tell. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/04/29/the-scary-way-common-core-test-cut-scores-are-selected/)Therefore based on past readings,  “Post-equating” to me sounds like further manipulation of the data. Problem is, when nobody holds you accountable, you get sloppy. As TEA points out in their response statement, there has long been a lack of credibility associated with test results. Lack of accountability leads to manipulation that becomes apparent.

A delay of this magnitude will have some serious consequences. At the very least there will be a delay in report cards or accurate report cards. Kids that need accurate grades to participate in extracurricular activities will just have to wait. The biggest thing though is the credibility of the tests. As parents we are told ad nauseam how important these test are. It is constantly driven home that these test are essential to holding people accountable. That without accountability there is no growth. You know, you can’t lose weight without a scale. So the question is who is going to hold Mr Huffman and the Tennessee Department of Education accountable? Who is going to put Mr Huffman on the scale?

This past legislative session saw a rejection of every piece of legislation that had his name attached to it. These weren’t far left pieces of legislation either. Many contained free market ingredients that a republican majority could embrace. Yet that wasn’t the story. The only thing that passed was the state charter authorizer and now evidence is mounting that that the department of education isn’t qualified for that job either.

Drexel Prep’s closing is the second charter to close in Nashville this year. These were charters that the MNPS school board had strong misgivings about but were strong armed into approving by the state. When a school closes, it causes a tremendous upheaval in real peoples lives, not to mention the lost years of instruction. This is why the local school board puts such stringent requirements on schools they approve. Their track record speaks for itself. The State’s not so much.

Despite all this evidence of mismanagement these “change agents” just continue on slapping each other on the back and offering unsubstantiated praise to each other. They are not elected officials and apparently have no fear of them. That’s got to stop. Their blatant disregard of democratic institutions needs to stop. They may not be elected officials, but elected officials need to hold them accountable or Tennessee voters will. It’s way past time. If you have a desire to be known a the “education Governor” and “accountability” is a big part of education, then its time to practice some.dilbert_vendor_mgmt

The truth about inovation and our public schools.

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thRCZYNW73As the husband of a public school teacher and a father of 2 children who are beginning their public school careers, articles like this recent one in the NY Times drive me nuts. http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/05/12/nyregion/charters-public-schools-and-a-chasm-between.html?_r=0&referrer=  It paints a picture that all innovation taking place in the classroom transpires at Charters and if those darn stuck-in-the-mud traditional schools would just “collaborate” great strides could be made. Well collaboration is a two way street.

When was the last time you heard a charter school say, “We looked at the discipline policy of the local HS and decided it really was best practice so we adopted it”? It doesn’t happen because it would destroy the straw man of the “do-nothing traditional” schools. What the Charter supporters have realized is that people make 80 percent of their decisions based on emotional input. That’s why the narrative is so important. Since facts aren’t on their side it becomes important to create an emotion inducing story. The facts can take a backseat as long as you can prop up the story.

In their story. The tire less charter operator is constantly chasing and embracing new innovation in their rigid pursuit of new ways to reach students while the traditional schools are staffed with union controlled minions happy to do nothing but stand in front of a chalk board.  Funny thing is, every night I see my wife rack her brain for new ways to reach children. She attends countless workshops to gain a greater understanding of new tools available to teachers, while money siphons out of our bank account so that her students can be in a better position to benefit from those new tools. When we have BBQ’s and kids birthdays at our house I over hear her fellow professionals discuss new strategies and technology that they are using to make strides, never do I hear a defense of the status quo.

That’s right I said new technology. As much as charter advocates try to paint a picture of teachers standing in front of rows of desks and writing on chalkboards, that’s not what’s happening. Public schools are doing every bit as much innovation as Charter Schools. Experimenting with ideas like project based learning and innovations like academies and community schools. There is no just standing pat and teaching the same way as ten years or go or even last year. Lesson plans may be revisited but they are constantly tweaked to find a new angle.

An example of the innovation would be the adoption of Project Based Learning (PBL). As described by Markam (2011),  ” PBL integrates knowing and doing. Students learn knowledge and elements of the core curriculum, but also apply what they know to solve authentic problems and produce results that matter. PBL students take advantage of digital tools to produce high quality, collaborative products. PBL refocuses education on the student, not the curriculum–a shift mandated by the global world, which rewards intangible assets such as drive, passion, creativity, empathy, and resiliency. These cannot be taught out of a textbook, but must be activated through experience.” In other words PBL assigns a kids a project that design and complete using real world skills. It truly focuses on critical thinking because kids are forced to confront challenges and create solutions based on skills they’ve acquired.

This provides kids an opportunity to develop confidence in their skills and practice collaboration before they ever need to apply them in a career situation. There is plenty of research that demonstrates the value of play for kids to learn. PBL takes those ingredients and pushes them forward in a more structured environment. If children wish to participate fully in the project they will pick up the skills necessary to contribute. If its a project they are excited about you can bet they will develop those skills. This is innovation that’s not taking place in some far flung charter school but right here in an urban school district. Do you think though that a charter will ever visit that urban school and ask for coaching on implementing that curriculum?

What about Career Academies? (http://aypf.org/documents/092409CareerAcademiesPolicyPaper.pdf ) Career Academies are typically smaller learning groups in larger schools and provide college prep curriculum based on a career theme. By attending an academy students can see the real world relationships between the classes they are taking and the work place application. They have proven to be quite successful especially with young men. They give a clear vision of a life path for the student.  Again this is innovation taking place in our urban schools not charter schools.

In Knoxville, they are experimenting with community schools. These are schools that are supported monetarily and with volunteers by local business. The community school’s will incorporate health care and dental services for the family, evening classes for adults and maybe even evening meals. The sponsoring businesses would provide volunteers to act as tutors or aid with capital projects. These schools give the entire community a stake in each child’s success and they still answer to the democratically elected local school board. That  sounds pretty innovative to me.

Its not just sweeping change like the for mentioned either. Our public schools are also embracing technology. Recently Nashville’s school district has begun developing programs utilizing Aimsweb. This program allows teachers to assess a child’s reading level and then through the program itself recommend, based on students interest and reading level, appropriate reading materials. Through a virtual library program all those books will be available. It also allows the formation of small groups based on reading level and interest to form and discuss readings. The options are pretty exciting and recently a group of public school teachers got together to brainstorm on how to use this technology to create even more robust programs. It doesn’t sound like they are exactly resisting change.

The truth is innovation is taking place constantly in our public schools. Teachers are working tirelessly to find new ways to overcome the challenges of poverty and a high percentage of English learners. Charter School advocates don’t want you to know that though. They don’t want you to know that there is no evidence of Charters being better at educating kids then traditional schools. They don’t want you to know that the key to charter success is that they educate kids with greater incoming advantages then public schools. The problem for them is that the public is starting to wake up.

Articles describing the waste of money by Charter operators (http://integrityineducation.org/charter-fraud/) and their actual impact on communities (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/05/19/140519fa_fact_russakoff?currentPage=all) are becoming more and more frequent. The picture they paint is not a pretty one. Its one of high salaries for administrators while special needs children and EL learners are shuffled back to traditional schools. These articles illuminate the problems that are threatening the very places innovation is taking place, our neighborhood schools.

Right now the education landscape is like Iraq after the war. It’s filled with profiteers looking to cash in on government money to build and the government is all to happy provide the cash. If you think I’m just generating hyperbole, look what’s in front of congress now. (http://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2014/05/09/house-passes-bill-in-support-of-charter-schools) A bill that provide 300 million annually to expand charter schools. So while traditional schools are cutting art, music and scaling back on Liberal Arts curriculum, the government wants to give the privateers more money. Times like this make me pray that Common Core actually does improve critical thinking, because lord know we need it. Remember, Iraq didn’t start getting better until the consultants and the suitcases of money started to leave.

What we need to do is put the money towards programs that will actually have some impact on students education. How many school nurses and nutritionists could you employ with 300 million? How many psychologists could you place in middle and high schools? If we start to realize that things that hinder children’s learning happen outside the classroom as well as inside, we might get somewhere. If we stop trying to run a restaurant with out talking to the waiters, we may find that teachers are a pretty good resource on what works and what doesn’t. In order for that to happen though, we’d have to apply the immortal words of my son’s pre-k teacher and “put on our listening ears”. I’ve got an extra pair if you need them.Listening_ears11

 

 

 

Why does the head of the Tennessee Achievement School District say the things he does?

1

3““Public” means government, which stands for benevolence and justice. “Competition” means markets, and those embody callous selfishness. Keep those icky markets away from the children!”

The above quote comes from an article tweeted out by the head of the Achievement School district the other night (http://thefederalist.com/2014/04/29/the-lefts-line-on-school-choice-is-a-joke-from-the-1800s/) I encourage you to read the whole article. It’s quite the eye opener. While reading it, keep in mind that this is an article shared by a man who is a government worker. That’s right. He’s employed by the state.

I know its easy to forget sometimes, what with their focus on charter schools and other private entities, but the Achievement School district was created by and funded by the state of Tennessee. In fact remember all that money Tennessee got through Race to the Top? Well 22 million was earmarked for the ASD. The New Teacher Project got 5,175,000 for “identifying and staffing Achievement School District with teachers”. Ten million went to the Charter School Growth Fund Tennessee LLC. to help create charter schools to take over schools in the ASD.

Now I don’t know about you, but to me that’s a lot of tax dollars to give someone who embraces the market and ridicules government. Lets just assume for a minute though that this is just an article that Mr Barbic called attention to for academic discussion. He doesn’t really embrace these beliefs right? Well that might hold some weight unless you actually listen to the things he says.

“I do think that the system of public education is a system that was created 100 years ago. I think the question we have to ask ourselves now is are we trying to make the Model T work better or do we want to make the car for the 21st Century…I do think this idea of let’s tinker around the edges with the Model T and make it work better is a fool’s errand.”

That quote comes from an article by Nashville Public Radio and sounds to me like a lack of confidence in a system he was hired to improve. (http://nashvillepublicradio.org/blog/2014/05/05/talking-tennessee-education-reform-chris-barbic/) To improve, not blow up and create one that he thinks is better, but to guide and improve. I have no issue with his right to believe what he wants and to work as hard as he likes as a private citizen to “blow up” our education system. I do however take issue when my tax dollars are paying him a generous six figure salary while he pursues his ideological beliefs.

What would the reaction be if the local police chief came out and said, “I believe that our system of law enforcement was created based on codes of a 100 years ago. I’m going to start hiring private police forces to take over in areas of high crime. They’ll do a better job.” I believe the general population would have a thing or two to say about that, but that’s what’s going on through the ASD.

Barbic is essentially saying that the very government that is paying his salary is incapable of improving schools and that the only way to make improvements is to privatize the system. Excuse me a minute because just writing that sentence gave me a headache. Would you celebrate someone who sold your house when you just hired them to do some renovations? That’s exactly what’s going on here.

Look at the very language used in reports on the ASD. These quotes are from an report on the ASD by the Fordham Group.(http://edexcellence.net/sites/default/files/publication/pdfs/20130423-Redefining-the-School-District-in-Tennessee-FINAL_7.pdf)

 “If the ASD concentrates its efforts in Memphis, and if it is successful at improving achievement radically, and if every three years a new set of schools qualifies for bottom- 5-percent status, then as successful turnarounds exit, more will be ready to enter. The bottom-5-percent floor will keep rising until all schools are operating at an acceptable level, and the ASD will be the hydraulic lift.”

 

Sounds great except earlier in the report this acknowledgement is made,

 “What was not clear—and still isn’t—is what happens when schools return to the district. The legislation and rules are mute, so far, on whether districts would be required to retain ASD teaching staff, or whether the district might get any share of supplemental resources when a school is strong enough to return.”

Now do you believe for one minute that those schools will be returning to the district? The majority of the schools that the ASD oversees have been turned over to charter operators. The talk with the upcoming school takeovers is all about new charter operators. So here’s the way it appears to me, school gets absorbed, school get turned over to charter operator, whatever the results turn out to be, school is removed from district forever. One less school that is accountable to a locally elected school board.

Scan the internet sometime and read the articles written about Louisiana’s Recovery School District. Despite the lack of evidence of any real success, privateers salivate like the wolf in old Bugs Bunny cartoons at the prospect of scaling up this experiment. Meanwhile, less and less parents have a direct voice in their children’s education because elected school boards become more and more marginalized. In New Orleans over 90% of children attend a charter school. Each school governed by a separate school board. None elected by local citizens. Kind of takes the public out of public education.

Looking back at Mr. Barbic’s quote, by using a reference to a Model T, he tries to paint our established public school system as archaic and not engaging in any reformation. Truth is, that is not an accurate illustration in the least. Many urban school districts have successfully adopted an Academy model for their High Schools. President Obama was here in Nashville recently to celebrate the success of one such Academy. This reform came from traditional public schools not charters.

Traditional public school across the country have adopted project based learning strategies. PBL teaches kids by having them learn by engaging in actual real world projects. There has been quite a bit of success with this curriculum and more and more schools are implementing it. Once again this curriculum was developed in traditional public schools not charters schools.

Knoxville is experimenting with community schools. Community schools are schools that engage the entire community in finding ways to combat children’s challenges to learning. Evening meals may be provided in some, classes for adults in other. They usually work as a partnership between local business and schools. Community schools are creating transformation in our public schools not Charter schools.

It appears that there are a multitude of options available in turning around so-called “failing schools”. Still Mr Barbic makes reference to our education system as being a “Model T” despite evidence to the contrary. Therefore, based on the evidence, the only assumption I can make is he’s either ignorant or disingenuous. I’ll leave that decision to you. I will ask though, is either a person who will use our taxes dollars to protect a public institution? In a state where the government draws a majority of its income from sales taxes, don’t we owe it to our children to designate that money to someone who will look out for our democratic interests and not try to subvert them?thRL2A8WPN