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America's Obsession with Ed Reforms that don't work

From the Washington Post's Answer Sheet

By Carol Corbett Burris

My three daughters loved Miss Levin. Each of them had Gail Levin in elementary school. Whenever she was their teacher, I knew I was taking the back seat from September to June. I did not mind. She made them feel very smart. That was because she challenged them to think deeply and critically about what they learned. She reminded me of the very best teachers that I have enjoyed at all levels of my own schooling — those who would not accept opinion as fact and challenged my thinking with the opposite point of view.

Teaching students to carefully consider evidence and distinguish opinion from fact is so important. It helps them become good citizens. We depend on our teachers and our leaders to clearly communicate what is fact from wishful thinking, modeling good decision making for us all. The importance of evidence should never be disregarded, even when — particularly when — it gets in the way of an agenda. This is true when we are bringing a new drug to market or bringing a medical procedure to scale, and it should be true as well of educational change.

Yet in 2009, when Education Secretary Arne Duncan was asked by an Education Week reporter about the evidence base for the policies of his department, he replied, “So I would argue the whole turnaround stuff is relatively new but I think there’s a lot of scientific evidence that the status quo doesn’t work and that’s the evidence that I’m looking at.” That is akin to saying, “I know my child is ill so I will give her any new medicine I happen to have in my cabinet.”

Yes, we can agree that there is a great deal about the status quo in schools that deserves reform, but that tells us absolutely nothing about whether any given reform is helpful, harmful or simply useless. (As an aside, my hunch is that we might not all agree with Secretary Duncan if we separately compiled our list of grievances with the status quo.)

This same minimizing of the importance of policy being guided by high-quality evidence is being played out at the state level, where misleading information is presented as fact. Allow me to present two troubling examples.

Take a look at slide number 20 contained in New York State Education Commissioner John King’s PowerPoint presentation. The graph purports to demonstrate that if we invest in technology, student achievement will accelerate at fantastic rates. In addition, we will get an outstanding return for our tax dollars if money is invested in “teacher effectiveness” programs. One is left to imagine what would happen if these two reform strategies were combined.

But where is the evidence in research to support these claims? As Bruce Baker of Rutgers University argues, there is no evidence at all. Baker did an outstanding job of debunking this bogus graph on his blog. His critique, which is a must read, can be found here.

The graph, labeled “illustrative” (which seems to be a new synonym for “fabricated”) in the PowerPoint, was also included in a presentation to the New York State School Board Association, along with an equally misleading slide, Teachers Matter Most, which followed it. See slide 18 here. This second slide makes two claims: (1) Research shows that an effective teacher is the most important contributor to student learning, and (2) Students with effective teachers three years in a row will bridge the achievement gap.

Let’s take these claims one at a time.

Research shows that of all of the IN-SCHOOL factors that affect learning, teachers contribute the most. In-school factors contribute about 20% of the variance of student scores — an equal amount is unexplained (error), which researchers often refer to as noise. Most of the variance is captured by out-of-school factors, generally linked to poverty and wealth.

Of those in-school factors, roughly half is attributable to teachers. If the slide were accurate it would say: Research shows that in-school factors contribute 20% to student learning. Of that 20%, at least half is attributable to teacher quality. Matt Di Carlo who writes for the Shankar blog provides an excellent explanation of the above breakdown between in- and out-of-school factors here. Similarly, the Educational Writers Association recently explained the limits of teacher contribution here.

The first claim would not be half as worrisome if it were not for the second claim — that three effective teachers in a row will bridge the achievement gap. As one who has worked relentlessly (and successfully) to bridge that gap in my high school, I know that this claim is more than an oversimplification — it is deceptive. It’s worth turning to Di Carlo again; he clearly explains the origins and problems with that claim. Moreover, he was disputing the claim that FIVE effective teachers in a row can close the gap, not three as presented by the New York State education commissioner and as posted on the State Education Department website.

When the state puts the entire burden of closing the gap on the backs of teachers, while ignoring such gap-producing factors as poverty and underfunded schooling, it hides the truth from the public regarding the complexity of the issues that must be addressed. Perhaps most importantly, it takes the burden off society to address issues such as poverty and inequitable school funding. It gives politicians permission to not address serious problems that affect learning such as teenage pregnancy, truancy, illegal drug use, gangs, and uneven access to health care. And it ignores the effects of racially and socio-economically isolated schooling and classrooms and pretends that separate and unequal are just fine — if only those teachers would do their jobs better.

Jonah Rockoff of Columbia University, who consults with the New York State Education Department on VAM (value-added modeling) scores and teacher evaluation, recently made a presentation at the Nassau Boards of Cooperative Educational Services. He included a slide, far more modest in its claims, regarding effective teaching and the achievement gap.

When I questioned him about it, he was quite honest and admitted that there exists no empirical proof that three effective teachers in a row would close the achievement gap. It is merely a hypothetical extension of results from a model. He also honestly admitted that there exists no study that demonstrates that evaluating teachers using student test scores results in gains in achievement.

Yet the New York State Race to the Top budget for implementing the new evaluation system is $14,500,000. As you look through the rest of the budget, (see pages 59 and 60), you will be staggered by the costs of unproven reform. Then look for a category called “offset local costs of education during a recession. You will not find it. The money that goes to districts will be quickly spent on mandated training for this unproven system and its troubling incentives and disincentives. Surely there will also be additional costs at both the state and local level.

During the past decade our school has worked hard to bring challenging learning and success to all students, and this year all of our 11th graders (with the exception of students who are developmentally delayed) are taking IB English. Anyone who knows the rigor of the IB knows that is quite an accomplishment.

It required hard work on the part of our teachers and students to get where we are today, but we have made it work for students — those from million dollar homes and those (now nearly 16% of our students) who receive free or reduced price lunch. It required time, study, professional development, curriculum development, ample community support and dedication. It happened in an integrated community willing to devote resources to level the playing field for all kids. It required the leadership of a strong superintendent who let his principals and teachers try new ideas without the fear of being fired over test scores. Yes, it was not the exciting “turnaround stuff” that sorts and selects teachers into four groups while having instruction driven by the results of state tests. Instead, it was based on evidence and hard work.

Because I am in the final years of my career, I will never personally be harmed by this new evaluation system. But I, like my fellow Long Island principals understand how this new system will slowly undermine true reforms like the one at my school. That is why we care so deeply and speak with one voice.

When my daughters and I found out that Gail Levin retired and was very ill, four grown women cried. So many years later, we still felt a warm bond with this wonderful teacher. Teachers like Miss Levin will become rare birds in the test prep schools to come. They will fly to other professions or flock to the private schools rather than parrot the drill needed for students to correctly answer the multiple choice questions on the state exam. But to honor her and all the great teachers who have graced our own learning, I hope and believe that educators, parents and others will not give up the fight to fend off unproven “turnaround stuff.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/proof-there-is-no-proof-for-education-reforms/2011/11/13/gIQAAeVWJN_blog.html?mid=52&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+GLCWorthARead+%28Worth+A+Read%29

Florida's lawmakers have failed education

From Tampa Bay.com's editorial board

When the people of Florida adopted a constitutional amendment in 1998 directing lawmakers to make "high quality" free public education a "paramount duty" of the state, the expectation was that legislators would raise educational excellence and funding to a top priority. But Florida ranks 41st among the 50 states in total per-pupil funding, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the state's high school graduation rates and SAT scores rank near the bottom of the nation. Now the Florida Supreme Court is being asked whether a lawsuit that challenges this legislative negligence should be allowed to proceed — something the state is vigorously fighting. This shouldn't be a close call. Florida's leaders should have to defend their record on education in court.

The initial lawsuit brought by Florida public school students, parents and two education-related nonprofits says that Florida leaders have not followed the dictates of the state Constitution, which require Florida to make "adequate provision" for a "high quality system of free public schools." Their suit alleges that graduation rates are too low, student achievement too iffy and the money the state provides for education, particularly in teachers' salaries, is inadequate.

These kind of lawsuits, which ask courts to evaluate whether lawmakers are upholding the state Constitution's educational adequacy guarantees, have been around for decades. Across the country, state courts have been generally willing to adopt judicial standards of educational quality, holding their Legislatures accountable for meeting adequate funding and other educational objectives. Only a minority have taken a hands-off approach, claiming that to second-guess the Legislature would violate the separation of powers.

This latter argument is the basis of a challenge by Senate President Mike Haridopolos, House Speaker Dean Cannon and others, who asked the 1st District Court of Appeal for a "writ of prohibition" to halt the education lawsuit filed against them on the grounds that educational quality is a political issue for the Legislature alone. In an 8-7 ruling on Nov. 23, the appellate court denied their request and certified the question to the Florida Supreme Court as a matter of great public importance. The high court has the discretion to accept the case or not.

This is a valuable opportunity for the high court to protect the will of the people. The situation today is very different from what it was in 1996, when the high court ruled in Coalition for Adequacy and Fairness in School Funding Inc. vs. Chiles that lawmakers should be given "enormous discretion" to interpret the state Constitution's requirement for an adequate and uniform public school system. After that case, the 1997-1998 Constitution Revision Commission proposed a constitutional amendment to provide measurable education standards. Floridians approved an amendment that made education a "fundamental value" and a "paramount duty" and required the system to be not just uniform but "efficient, safe, secure, and high quality."

The courts are empowered to uphold Florida's Constitution when it's sidestepped by the other branches. A case challenging whether lawmakers are fulfilling the Constitution's education mandate should be allowed to proceed, with each side's claims judged on the merits. That's how accountability is supposed to work in a democracy.

http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/editorials/put-lawmakers-record-on-education-to-test/1204178

Does a corporate chief deserve to make in a day what our educators make in a year?

BY John Merrow, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

I’d like to begin by thanking my teachers in the fifth, sixth and seventh grades, Mrs. Pulaski, Mr. Burke and Miss Elmer. They taught us percentages and showed us how to “round down,” which I am doing now. The U.S. population is 312,624,000, and we have 3,198,000 public school teachers, which computes to 1%.

But this is not the 1% composed of Wall Street fat cats, professional athletes, entertainers and other rich people. I guarantee there’s no overlap between the two groups. The average teacher today earns about $55,000. At least 75 CEOs earn that much in one day, every day, 365 days a year. According to the AFL-CIO’s “Executive PayWatch,” the CEO who ranked No. 75, David Cote of Honeywell, was paid $20,154,012, for a daily rate of $55,216.47.

The CEO at the top of the heap, Philippe Dauman of Viacom, was paid $84,515,308. My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Krepela, taught me how to compute averages, so I can tell you Dauman earns a daily average of about $231,549, which is more than four times what the average teacher earns in a year.

Unlike wages for teachers, CEO salaries have been soaring in recent years. Forty years ago, the average public school teacher earned $49,000, adjusted for inflation. That’s a raise of a whopping $150 a year for 40 years, or about one quarter of 1% annually.

Here’s another way that the other 1% is different: Teachers spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms. That came to $1.33 billion in school year 2009-10, or $356 per teacher, according to the National School Supply & Equipment Association.

I will wager several packs of colored pencils that Dauman, Cote and the other high earners do not drop by Staples to pick up office supplies for their secretaries.

The teaching profession is often criticized because salaries are not based on performance, meaning that the best teachers earn what their less-than-stellar colleagues take home. While that’s generally true, it’s also changing fast. Twenty-four states now base teacher evaluation in part on student performance, and Denver, Washington, D.C., and other localities have created “pay-for-performance” systems that reward individuals or entire schools when students do well. Connecting teacher effectiveness with student outcomes is the wave of the future, and it’s becoming easier to remove ineffective teachers than it was just a few years ago.

That doesn’t seem to be true on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms, where the pay of the CEO is often at odds with his company’s performance. Take Cisco’s John Chambers. The website 24/7 Wall Street ranks Chambers as America’s most overpaid CEO, based on his total compensation of $18,871,875 even as the price of Cisco common stock fell 31.4 %.

In fairness, some teachers are overpaid, because they have “retired on the job” and are just going through the motions until they can retire for real. Of course, there’s a big difference between being overpaid at $55,000 and being overpaid at $20,500,000, which is what Carl Crawford of the Boston Red Sox earned for hitting .255 with just 11 home runs last season. Like the CEO of Honeywell, Crawford earns about $55,000 a day, every day, 365 days a year. He ranks only 28th on the list of athletes, according to Sports Illustrated’s “The Fortunate 50.”

As it may have occurred to you, public school teachers are actually part of the 99%. However, they probably were not out protesting in Zuccotti Park. At least not during the day, because that’s when they are teaching our children and grandchildren.

Merrow is education correspondent for the “PBS NewsHour” and president of the nonprofit Learning Matters. His latest book is “The Influence of Teachers

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/teachers-1-lavishly-pay-ceo-educators-barely-article-1.984114#ixzz1fEjDh0hu

Do you know who likes Vouchers? The Catholic church that's who

From the Washington Post's Answer Sheet

By Valerie Strauss

Just how involved did the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh get in the effort to promote vouchers? Very.

This is clear in an Oct. 20 letter that Dr. Ronald R. Bowes, assistant superintendent for policy and development in the diocese, wrote in October to Catholic school principals.

It calls for them to be “relentless” in promoting school choice, in part by telling parents who had received financial aid that they had to call their state legislators and push for school choice legislation to receive more financial aid the next year.

Other diocese officials disavowed the letter a few weeks later, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette . Another letter was sent out Nov. 16 saying that Bowes had misstated policy about financial aid.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) set school choice as his top priority; he was the keynote speaker at the American Federation for Children’s national pro-choice conference in Washington, D.C., last May.

Fueled by more than $6 million in voucher PAC contributions, Senate Bill 1 passed the Pennsylvania Senate this year and was sent on to the House.

Because of changing demographics and the proliferation of tuition-free charter schools, Catholic schools have seen their enrollments plummet over the past decade, with many schools closing and more closures expected. As a result, Catholic school officials see vouchers as a potential lifeline.

Bowes was a staunch advocate for school vouchers when he was appointed as assistant superintendent for policy and development in the diocese in 1995. He also serves on the board of directors for the REACH Foundation, a leading advocacy group for school choice in Pennsylvania.

Though school choice has bipartisan support, many Democrats oppose vouchers. The Republican leadership of the Pennsylvania House is trying to craft legislation that can garner enough votes to pass the bill before the end of the year. Next year is an election year, and it is assumed that it will be much harder to pass controversial legislation.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/diocese-letter-pushed-principals-to-promote-vouchers/2011/11/29/gIQAoLzJDO_blog.html?wprss=answer-sheet

The No Child Left Behind Train Wreck

from the Huffington Post

by Pedro Noguera

The Obama administration's decision to allow states to request waivers from No Child Left Behind was a step in the right direction, but only a baby step. Four in five schools across the country will be deemed "failing" this coming year if nothing stops the "train wreck" that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said No Child Left Behind (NCLB) will inflict upon the nation's schools. These include schools in which the vast majority of students are proficient in math and English, as well as schools in which students, teachers, and principals are making real progress in the face of formidable challenges: concentrated poverty, large numbers of students with special-needs, and state budget cuts that have severely reduced the resources needed to address the obstacles to learning.

Duncan's characterization of NCLB is apt; a recent National Research Council study found that 10 years of test-based accountability "reform" has delivered no significant progress for students. Throughout the country, pressure to improve test scores has led to an increase in intense test preparation. In many cases, this has led to less time for actual learning and reduced the ability of schools to respond to the learning needs of the most disadvantaged students. Instead of focusing on how to deliver high quality instruction schools have become preoccupied with how to produce increases in test scores. Reports of widespread cheating on state exams appearing in city after city are increasingly viewed not as isolated instances of teacher misbehavior, but as a consequence of high-stakes testing.

To avert this "train wreck," the Education Department is offering waivers to states to avoid forcing a massive number of schools to submit to the NCLB sanctions that kick in when school districts fail to make "adequate yearly progress." These so-called waivers, however, amount to little more than a temporary reprieve and do not provide the change in direction that is needed. Under the Race to the Top (RTT) formula, the department is demanding that states evaluate teachers based in significant part on student test scores, and in their quest to "turn around" struggling schools RTT requires districts to fire teachers and principals who work in struggling schools. As education policy expert Diane Ravitch recently asserted, this should be seen as a Race to the Bottom for these schools and the low-income students they disproportionately serve. Most districts have no teachers or administrators prepared to take over failing schools, and not a single state has produced a reliable formula for evaluating teachers based on student test scores. In his well-regarded Learning Matters series, PBS education commentator John Merrow describes the rigid demands of RTT, collectively, as "An Act of War" against instilling in children a love of learning.

A growing number of leaders in education are beginning to openly speak out against these policies. Montana's superintendent of public instruction, Denise Juneau, has rejected both NCLB's requirements and Education Department waiver demands. There are signs that other states may follow her lead. California's superintendent of public instruction, Tom Torlakson, has demanded an unconditional waiver, citing excessive costs, until Congress and the president determine how to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

It is time for the federal government to go further than to simply allow waivers under the law. Federal education policy should be focused on helping schools improve, not on punishing them. It should support the "whole student" vision of education that Juneau and others have championed, based on standards that go far beyond test scores. Most importantly, during the worst recession to hit this country in the last seventy years, we must acknowledge the need for schools and local government to address the impediments to learning posed by poverty. This does not mean allowing poverty to serve as an excuse for poor academic performance, but it does mean that we must do more to support the schools that serve the most disadvantaged children so that they can focus on authentic evidence of learning and be held accountable for student outcomes.

Ultimately, the federal government must embrace a broader, bolder approach to education that includes high-quality early education to narrow large gaps in school readiness, health and nutrition supports to keep children in class and alert, and enriching afterschool and summer activities to build on school-year gains resulting from the work of those great teachers. Anything less will keep us from achieving the educational progress our society so desperately needs.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pedro-noguera/no-child-left-behind_b_1118282.html

Florida Legislators, bully and intimidate to get their way

From TBO.com

by the editorial board

A key step in the quest to make the University of South Florida's Lakeland Polytechnic campus an independent university is for it to achieve accreditation. It now is accredited only because of its tie to USF.

USF had applied for Lakeland to be given separate accreditation as a branch campus, but that effort was suspended when Polytechnic supporters sought to make the 1,300-student school the state's 12th university.

The Florida Board of Governors recently voted to support independence, but only if Polytechnic met a number of goals, including accreditation.

Winning that designation might be difficult if the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which is responsible for accrediting Southern universities, is serious about upholding its requirements.

A provision in the organization's "The Principles of Accreditation: Foundations for Quality Enhancement" mandates that the university leadership be "free from undue influence from political, religious, or other external bodies and protects the institution from such influence."

Yet were it not for the political pressure of powerful Polk County Sen. JD Alexander, head of the Senate Budget Committee, the Polytechnic scheme would never be given serious thought.

Polytechnic has no buildings and no academic achievement of note. Most of its students are business and education majors. Talk of making it a separate university focused on the applied sciences at this stage is premature by years.

But Alexander has made clear Polytechnic is his pet project, and those who raise objections do so at their peril.

He began demanding independence after USF approved only three of the Lakeland school's 13 requests for new degrees, though showering degrees on a school with scarcely 1,000 students is hardly a wise use of limited education dollars.

Alexander appeared before the Board of Governors to promote independence. That he controls the higher-education purse strings in the Senate was not lost on them.

Alexander brought along state Sen. Don Gaetz, scheduled to be the next Senate president, for added political ammunition. Gaetz pointedly reminded the governors, "As the incoming president of the Senate, I hear it said every year, from people sitting at this table and from the people you hire to come and talk to me — that the best investment in economic development and the future of Florida is higher education.

"And like Sen. Alexander, I believe that. But if that's true when you lobby me, then it's doubly true when the Polytechnic team makes its convincing and compelling case to you."

This was nonsense, since Polytechnic's case is based on nothing more than grandiose plans and Alexander's political influence.

Polytechnic, now associated with a major research university, will lose resources and prestige if it goes it alone.

Students and faculty members oppose separation.

Taxpayers will pay millions more to support an independent university. Polytechnic now shares numerous USF resources, from computer networks to the admissions system. But such responsible objections are crushed by Alexander's independence juggernaut.

At the governors' meeting, Michael Long, the student member of the panel, told how during an earlier private session with Alexander, the senator indicated higher education funding would suffer if Polytechnic was not granted independence. Long said Alexander chastised him after the governor's meeting and told the student he had marred his future career.

Given the political intimidation surrounding the decision, it is no surprise the board approved independence. Yet the governors had the good judgment to impose a number of sensible conditions, including accreditation and meeting ambitious enrollment targets.

But that did not stop Alexander's political machinations.

A few days later, Alexander attended a meeting between Polytechnic faculty members and USF president Judy Genshaft, who opposes independence at this time. It seemed an attempt at intimidation.

Even so, faculty members later voted their confidence in Genshaft, but voted no confidence in Marshall Goodman, the Polytechnic chancellor who has been Alexander's lackey in the independence campaign.

And then, though the Board of Governors had voted for USF to oversee Polytechnic's transition to independence, Alexander contacted University of Florida President Bernie Machen.

Machen said he could step in and have UF oversee Polytechnic's independence "because I do not endorse the branch-campus model of research universities."

Alexander's interference adds further confusion to Florida's embattled higher education. Let's not forget that Frank Brogan is chancellor of the university system, not Machen.

To be sure, an element of politics surrounds the founding of any academic institution. But the push for Polytechnic has been solely about power politics, not about meeting Florida' academic needs, much less spending higher-education dollars wisely.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges should see that Polytechnic is a textbook case of "undue political influence."

http://www2.tbo.com/news/opinion/2011/nov/30/meopino1-no-accreditation-by-intimidation-ar-328284/

Where is the (education) money from the Florida lottery

From TampaBay.coms Gradebook

by Jeff Solochek

"What has six balls and screws teachers? State lotteries."

We wish we could take credit for the (unfortunately not-so-funny) joke. The line comes from the Eduwonk blog today, highlighting a news story from Virginia that just as easily could have been written about Florida (as versions have been).

"Anyone who has bought a Virginia lottery ticket has seen it.

"'Helping Virginia's Public Schools' reads the tagline printed on the backs of tickets. The lottery's website goes a step further, declaring: 'More than $5 billion contributed to public education!'

"Technically, it's true. All proceeds from the lottery do go to the state's public schools. Just not in the way many people think.

"According to educators who have watched the lottery for years, much of the public believes the lottery money is extra funding, on top of what the state is required to give. They remember the lottery being pitched that way, as bonus funding, when Virginians voted on it 24 years ago.

"Instead, educators say, the state is now using all of the lottery money - about $450 million a year - to meet its own obligations to the schools. None of it reaches local coffers as extra funding."

Can you imagine if the lottery money were indeed supplemental? Maybe stories about another round of looming spending cuts wouldn't be so prevalent.

http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/content/lotteries-arent-always-what-they-promised-state-education

We can't ignore poverty in education

From the Washington Post's Answer Sheet

By Pedro Noguera

While it might seem encouraging for education and civil rights leaders to assert that poverty isn’t an obstacle to higher student achievement, the evidence does not support such claims. Over 50 years, numerous studies have documented how poverty and related social conditions — such as lack of access to health care, early childhood education and stable housing — affect child development and student achievement.

The research never suggests that poor children are incapable of learning or that poverty itself should be regarded as a learning disability. Rather, research suggests that poor children encounter obstacles that often adversely affect their development and learning outcomes.

To ignore this reality and make bold assertions that all children can achieve while doing nothing to address the outside-of-school challenges they face is neither fair nor a sound basis for developing public policy, as I wrote in a recent issue of the Phi Delta Kappan Magazine.

Despite compelling evidence that education policy must at least mitigate the harmful effects of poverty on student achievement and child development, most state and federal policies have failed to do so. However, there is growing awareness among a number of educators, mayors, and policy advocates of the need to do so based on the realization that a great deal can be done to counter the effects of poverty on children’s lives and their education. Mitigation is not the same as solving a problem, but it’s nonetheless an important strategy.

In Newark, N.J., for example, the Broader, Bolder Approach (BBA) reform plan is developing a comprehensive school reform strategy.

Operating in seven schools in Newark’s Central Ward (six kindergarten through 8th-grade schools and one large comprehensive high school), BBA has introduced school-based interventions that are responsive to the issues and challenges.

BBA is working to:

• Expand learning opportunities by providing quality early childhood education and extending the school day;

• Enrich the curriculum through enhanced literacy development in all content areas and greater emphasis on project-based learning;

• Build critical partnerships that will strengthen the capacity of schools to respond to student needs and enable community interests to come together so parents and their allies can hold schools and their leaders accountable for academic outcomes.

The BBA strategy draws on research that suggests a more comprehensive approach is needed to increase academic outcomes for poor students and to improve schools that serve them. Specifically, the BBA strategy aims at combining research-based education strategies with school-based social services, after-school programs and interventions to increase the capacity of schools to respond to issues that are endemic to the social and environmental context, such as the need for health, nutrition, jobs and safety.

The BBA strategy is based on the theory that improving the schools could spur economic development and improve the quality of life for a greater number of residents. Though this proposition has never been tested at such a large scale before, the theory behind BBA is based on the recognition that education is both a cause of many of the problems that plague the city and a potential solution.

BBA seeks to transform schools by creating a series of strategic partnerships between schools, businesses, universities, hospitals, local government and an array of neighborhood-based service organizations.

The BBA strategy also seeks to change how urban public schools typically serve low-income children of color and their families. In many low-income urban communities, complacency, low expectations, disorder and dysfunction are endemic to the public schools. In such schools, failure has been normalized, and change often seems impossible.

American policy makers and reformers must be willing to accept the obvious: School reform efforts can’t ignore the effects of poverty on children’s lives or on the performance of schools. We need a more holistic strategy, one that enables schools that serve the most disadvantaged children to meet their academic and social needs so that they can overcome a track record of failure.

As promising as it is, the BBA strategy can’t do this by itself. It must be combined with state and federal reforms that promote enriched learning environments, that make it possible to attract and retain excellent teachers, and that create clear criteria for accountability of all stakeholders in the education process — educators, parents and students.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/broader-bolder-strategy-to-ending-povertys-influence-on-education/2011/11/29/gIQAtTvaAO_blog.html?wprss=answer-sheet

Florida's epidemic of homeless children makes national news

From the Florida Independent

by Ashley Lopez

60 Minutes aired a program this weekend shedding light on one of the little-discussed and truly heartbreaking aspects of the country’s persistent economic woes: an epidemic of homeless schoolchildren. The subject of the program was Seminole County, Florida — a county with 1,100 homeless students.

Among the most staggering numbers highlighted during the program was “of all the families without shelter in America, one third are in Florida.”

The state’s foreclosure crisis, coupled with high unemployment and austere budget cuts, has resulted in countless homeless families in Florida living out of their cars — if they have them, 60 Minutes explains. Many families with small children are left hoping for a job or charity before food runs out. Caught in the crosshairs of this epidemic, the program shows, have been young schoolchildren.

According to this year’s KIDS COUNT data, Florida was “the state with the 2nd highest percent of children impacted by foreclosure since 2007.”

The deeply moving account of a handful of young children had a persistent theme: Most homeless families in the state had run out of options. Many saw their unemployment benefits dry up, and public services were too scarce and maxed out to provide any help.

Most of the families interviewed by 60 Minutes said they were relying solely on the generosity of donations from their community.

What was not mentioned, however, was the state’s missed opportunities to help.

One example was a line in the the state’s 2011/2012 budget that allocated $12 million dollars from the state’s general revenue fund to the National Veterans’ Homeless Support Group for “homeless housing assistance grants.” While this appropriation made it through the budget process, the item was one of the many vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott spoke about the funds this weekend, the Naples Daily News reports:


“I care completely about all these programs,” said Scott, whose budget cuts earlier this year slashed funding to some veteran and farm surplus programs that helped the homeless.

“All the programs are very important, but nobody wants their taxes to go up,” Scott explained, noting that businesses also can help spur the economy. “They’ve got to grow. We’ve got to make this a place people can do well.”

The state also reduced unemployment benefits, even though the state has yet to get a handle on its unemployment rate. A bill signed by Scott this year reduced the maximum number of weeks someone can receive state unemployment benefits. The limit went from 26 weeks to 23 — and if the state’s unemployment rate continues to fall, benefits could be limited to as little as 12 weeks.

There are currently no assurances that legislators in the state are looking to beef up public assistance programs either. Already, there are warnings of deeper budget cuts as the state prepares for a $2 billion shortfall.

http://floridaindependent.com/58482/florida-children-homeless-60-minutes?mid=53

Education Matters gets a Grumpy

It can be a bit lonely at times talking and writing about education. People say they care but their actions show it is often way down on thier list. That’s why when somebody who is passionate about education notices you it makes it all that more special.

Sandra Brevard who runs the excellent Grumpy Educators blog, recognized Education Matters in her piece about Florida education blogs and wrote:

The Golden Grumpy Educator Award
Huge thanks to Education Matters for the most referrals of all time that led readers to Grumpy Educators and for the comprehensive reporting on all things education, and provides focus on North Florida. Education Matters is a very important resource for all Floridians.

I am just trying to get the word out, when I started writing about education issues in the summer of 07 I thought to myself, self if people only knew they would care. It has been slow going but hopefully I have helped move education up a few notches of a some people’s lists.

Thanks Grumpy Educators, I accept the Golden Grumpy with pride.

Chris Guerrieri

To see all her awards click on the title of this blog

http://grumpythings.blogspot.com/2011/11/grumpy-educators-award-nominations.html

John Thrasher is no friend of Florida

I have long thought John Thrasher was no friend of education but it turns out he has been no friend of Florida either. His friends you ask, my guess is anybody who can add to his bank account.

Here are some of his headlines in the Times Union over the last year

11/25/11, Thrasher pushes bill to benefit Jacksonville company, client of his former lobbying firm (at the very least the appearance of inpropriety)

11/9/11, John Thrasher backs away from secret agreement with indicted former GOP state leader (secret agreements??)

6/19/11, John Thrasher's residence in district, but real home might not be (He doesn’t live in the district he represents)

6/27/11, Thrasher's charter school expansion bill becomes law (charter schools do worse than regular schools but they also give campaign donations to politicians)

5/3/11, Thrasher uses 9/11 to defend immigration amendment (using 911 to fan flames)

4/15/11, John Thrasher alters controversial union dues bill (a bill just designed to hurt unions)

3/22/11, Politifact gives John Thrasher a 'barely true' on union dues argument (isn’t barely true mostly false)

3/11/11, John Thrasher, Patrick Rooney withdraw golf course legislation (golf courses on public parks??)

2/24/11, Thrasher's action on education bill angers opponents (he cuts off debates before supporters of education had a chance to speak)

2/10/11, John Thrasher has heated exchange during prison hearing (privatizing prisons was his objective)

12/3/10, Times/Herald: Thrasher downplaying subpoena to top GOP officials (he just wants the whole thing to go away)

4/19/10, John Thrasher wields much power for freshman Florida state senator (why??)

Is Middle School Florida's Achilles Heel

From Tampabay.com's Gradebook

by Ron Mattus

Florida students entering middle schools in grades six or seven experience big drops in academic performance relative to K-8 students, and the decline continues through the middle school grades, concludes a new study by Harvard researchers. Written up in the latest Education Week, the study suggests revamping middle school grade configurations should be a higher priority for education reformers.

"The economic importance of these effects is evident from the fact that they are comparable to or exceed the magnitude of other educational interventions that have been studied in the literature," says the study, published in September as a working paper by Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance. "Taken as a whole," it also says, "these results suggest that structural school transitions lower student achievement but that middle schools in particular have adverse consequences for American students."

The researchers said they found little evidence the decline in performance was tied to funding levels, class size, school size or "educational practices." But they pointed to surveys of middle school principals which suggested the "overall climate for student learning is worse in middle schools."

"This suggests a final potential interpretation of our results that is directly related to the choice of grade configuration," they continued. "Students may benefit from being among the oldest students in a school setting that includes very young students, perhaps because they have greater opportunity to take on leadership roles. This interpretation could account both for the gains in relative achievement made by K-5 and K-6 students prior to entering middle schools and for the superior performance of K-8 students relative to their middle school peers."

Pinellas recently decided to again put more focus on middle schools. But the Harvard study warns that reform efforts might not bear fruit if they don't address structural issues.

"More research is needed to explain the negative effects of middle schools," it says. "In the meantime, however, the lack of a definitive explanation should make policymakers cautious about their ability to take steps to mitigate these effects while maintaining existing grade configurations."

http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/content/study-florida-students-flounder-transition-middle-schools

Education reforms are rarely data driven

From the Art of Teaching Science

by Jack Hassard

The No Child Left Behind Act + the Race to the Top Fund = More of the Same

In an edweek.org newsletter there was a No Child Left Behind Alert that I found interesting, and provided the starting point for this post. The forum discussion (a question is posed, and you can submit a response joining you to the discussion) for the day was: What’s the most important thing President Obama could do improve standardized testing? Many assumptions form the basis for this question, but my immediate response is that the President should suspend any further use of standardized tests until there is evidence that high-stakes testing provides a real measure of student learning and school accountability. Of course, the suspension of high-stakes testing did not happen.

I read many of the replies to the question, and there were thoughtful comments about the misuse of testing, and the call for alternatives. One responder did agree with me, and recommended that the President put an end of these high stakes testing.

You might ask, isn’t this a little far fetched. Schooling as we know would collapse. How would we know if students really did learn the fundamental concepts of science or mathematics, or any other subject in the curriculum? Most teachers know the answer to this question. But I won’t deal with that here.

What did happen was that the Department of Education earmarked nearly $4 billion dollars for a program, The Race to the Top Fund. Eleven States and the District of Columbia were funded after submitting competitive proposals in rounds 1 and 2 last year. The funds will be used to:

Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
Turning around our lowest-achieving schools. So, in this initiative a little more than a 1/5 of the United States will be involved in the Race to the Top. That said, there is an overlap of goals between the NCLB Act and the RTTP Fund, and that means “more of the same.”

Two Federal Mandates

You might ask, wasn’t there evidence from research to make policy decisions such as the wide-spread use of high stakes testing, the implementation of charter schools, the use of vouchers, and other key educational decisions. Did the NCLB Act and TRTT Fund go forward with clear evidence that their initiatives would be effective.

According to an article by Eric Schaps, (Missing in Action: The Non-Role of Research in Policy and Practice) published in Education Week Research Center, research has not been used to make important policy decisions. In each of these cases, policy makers did not use research to support their decisions.

For example, most schools use high-stakes, test-based accountability systems. According to Schaps, high stakes testing began in Texas and Kentucky and “morphed into” the No Child Left Behind Act after George Bush became President. NCLB now dominates the educational landscape of every state, yet, it was largely a politically driven (supported by both sides of the isle, however) policy decision without evidence on which to base this crucial decision which now is the law of the land. NCLB is up for reauthorization in the Congress. Most likely it will be reauthorized with some tweaks put forth by the new Congress. And this is unfortunate. What is needed a paradigm shift.

In the case of the Race to the Top, the Board on Testing and Assessment (BOTA) of the National Research Council, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in which it was stated:

The report strongly supports rigorous evaluations of programs funded by the Race to the Top initiative. The initiative should support research based on data that links student test scores with their teachers, but should not prematurely promote the use of value-added approaches, which evaluate teachers based on gains in their students’ performance, to reward or punish teachers. The report also cautions against using the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal assessment that helps measure overall U.S. progress in education, to evaluate programs funded by the Race to the Top initiative. (Emphasis mine)

The letter did not effect the RTTP program, and indeed, the criteria used to evaluate state proposals made it clear that student test scores should be used as a means to evaluate teachers and schools.

The Race to the Top Fund reinforces the NCLB Act, which also insists on high-stakes tests. It is true, that the Department of Education is issuing “waivers” to states to modify the rules of NCLB. But there is little change to the unfortunate continuation of the NCLB Act.

Paradigms For Change?

Will we see a change in educational reform? Will the momentum of the high-stakes, common core standards dominate education for the foreseeable future? Could a paradigm shift emerge from the discontent that is beginning to make itself known?

The kind of change that many argue is needed is one that is grounded in local initiatives, and educational research. This would result in the experimentation of many approaches to school improvement, especially if relationships between universities and schools are encouraged, and the means for future sustainability achieved. Oddly, in our democratic society, just the opposite is happening in the sense that there is this drive for a single set of standards in each subject area, and for national assessments of student achievement.

Could a paradigm shift happen?

It is possible, but leaders would have to emerge to lead the way with examples that work in practice.

One example in science teaching is to move from a teacher centered approach to teaching to a student-centered approach. This paradigm has been with us for many years, first put forth by John Dewey, and later supported by the Progressive Education Movement. Glen Aikenhead describes this paradigm when he calls for a science education that is evidence-based, and is a science education for everyday life. In his book, Science Education for Everyday Life, Aikenhead gives a clear overview of the humanistic science paradigm that differs from the paradigm that characterizes school science today.

The humanistic science paradigm gives priority to student-oriented point of view aimed at citizens who can employ science and technology in their everyday lives. What is powerful about Aikenhead’s proposal is that it is evidence-based. That is, the various components of this paradigm, the nature of the curriculum, the content of science, teacher pedagogy are based on research studies conducted by researchers around the world. This clear connection of research to policy change has been missing, not only at the state level, but especially at the federal level, and in particular the NCLB Act and the RTTP Fund.

What are your thoughts on trying to instill new thinking, a paradigm shift in science teaching?

http://www.artofteachingscience.org/2011/11/29/nclb-rttt-mots-more-of-the-same/

Are for profit cyber charters run from Lima Peru really what's best for education

From Education Week

by Diane Ravitch

The next big idea in "education reform" is online instruction and cyber charters. I know that teachers are doing wonderful, creative activities with technology, and there is no doubt that technology can bring history, science, and other studies to life in vivid ways. But there is a cloud on the horizon, and that is the growth of the for-profit cyber charters. I confess that it troubles me to think of children sitting at home, day after day, with no opportunity for discussion and debate, no interaction with their peers, no face-to-face encounters with a real teacher.

I recently read several shocking articles that have reinforced my concern about for-profit companies that provide virtual schooling. One must-read is Lee Fang's remarkable investigative article, titled "How Online Learning Companies Bought America's Schools." It is a chilling account of a well-developed campaign to persuade state legislatures to endorse for-profit virtual schools. Led by Patricia Levesque, an experienced lobbyist who works for former Florida governor Jeb Bush, the campaign has scored notable successes in the past year, promoting for-profit virtual charter schools.

Lee Fang seems to have sat in the back row of many a "reform" meeting, quietly taking notes. At a conference last fall in San Francisco, he reports, Levesque recommended that "reformers should 'spread' the unions thin 'by playing offense' with decoy legislation. Levesque said she planned to sponsor a series of statewide reforms, like allowing taxpayer dollars to go to religious schools by overturning the so-called Blaine Amendment, 'even if it doesn't pass ... to keep them busy on that front.' She also advised paycheck protection, a union-busting scheme, as well as a state-provided insurance program to encourage teachers to leave the union and a transparency law to force teachers unions to show additional information to the public. Needling the labor unions with all these bills, Levesque said, allows certain charter bills to fly 'under the radar.'"

So, while the unions are fighting to stave off attacks, the virtual charter industry steadily moves forward, almost unnoticed. See also Dana Goldstein's description of the for-profit charter industry. In Michigan, 80 percent of charters are run by for-profit companies.

What kind of record do these virtual charters (cyber charters) have? Not a very good one. Walt Gardner blogged about these issues last week. He sees this movement as "the stealth campaign to privatize education." Gardner says there is no evidence to support the claim that students learn more by technology than in the traditional classroom.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal ("My Teacher Is an App") said that full-time enrollment in cyber charters has grown nationally in the past two years from 175,000 to 250,000 students. It cited a study by the Colorado Department of Education showing that students in cyber charters had lower scores than those in traditional public schools, in reading, writing, and math, in every grade tested.

But, despite evidence that students do worse in cyber schools, for-profit entrepreneurs are vigorously lobbying state legislatures to permit for-profit virtual schools. A recent article in The Washington Post detailed their efforts and included a review of the poor performance of cyber charters, such as "At the Colorado Virtual Academy, which is managed by K12 and has more than 5,000 students, the on-time graduation rate was 12 percent in 2010, compared with 72 percent statewide. That same year, K12's Ohio Virtual Academy—whose enrollment tops 9,000—had a 30 percent on-time graduation rate, compared with a state average of 78 percent." But details like these don't seem to have slowed their momentum. In Idaho, online companies supported the campaign of state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, who is a strong supporter of virtual instruction.

In Tennessee, one legislator pushed back. Representative Mike Stewart wrote to his colleagues to oppose for-profit virtual schools. He noted that the chief executive officer of the largest chain was paid $2.4 million each year and other executives also made outsize salaries. The promise of the cyber charter to the state, he said, was the prospect of saving money. The virtual charters do not have physical buildings or libraries or ball fields or janitors or nurses. They have class sizes of 50 students per teacher, instead of the 15.7 per teacher in Tennessee's regular schools. But, he said, the "savings" turn into profits for the company and its shareholders, not returns to the state.

Stewart's appeal to the Tennessee legislature failed. The legislature authorized for-profit cyber schools, and in addition, it banned teacher collective bargaining, eliminated tenure for future teachers, and removed local oversight of charter schools. Public school teachers have certainly gotten their comeuppance in Tennessee, and the private sector has been unleashed.

Don't get me wrong. I have no problem with businesses making a profit when they offer value for goods and services. But there is something about this for-profit education industry that feels unseemly. I find myself uncomfortable about the very idea of making a profit by providing public education. Isn't it—or shouldn't it be—a basic public service available to all at public expense? Shouldn't all the money go directly into improving education rather than paying exorbitant salaries and making money for shareholders?

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2011/11/should_schools_be_run_for_prof.html?

Jeb Bush seeks to avoid responsibility... again

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

Make no mistake. FCAT is Jeb Bush’s baby. He, in fact, has staked his entire reputation on them. It is FCAT which is the basis for the school grade model he touts when he speaks to legislatures all over the country and is one which he believes should replace NCLB’s flawed, rigid guidelines. His foundation has naturally come out in opposition to changes in the way FCAT scores are utilized.

That is hard to swallow given the “college remediation issue,” said Mary Laura Bragg, director of state policy for former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education.

Bragg, who used to run the education department’s reading initiative, was on the panel with Vogel but did not agree with its recommendation on the three tests in question.

Emphasis mine.

Bragg, like her boss, apparently see FCAT as the only benchmark that measures success in Florida’s students. The frightening increase in the numbers of college freshmen who needs some sort of remediation in reading, writing or math occurred on their watch. Her answer defines insanity downward as she – and by association, Bush – insist upon doing the same thing in hopes of getting different results.

But battle lines have clearly been drawn. The state’s educators and school boards want changes in the role FCAT plays in school grades. Bush’s foundation and the Florida Chamber of Commerce want more of the same. The invisible elephant in the room is corporate giant Pearson, whose very existence depends on the sanctity of Bush’s FCAT. Any chinks in the FCAT armour could start a wave of justifiable discontent for standardized testing that neither Pearson nor Bush want. At some point Florida voters will begin to realize that the dollar dots are connected.

http://bobsidlethoughtsandmusings.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/jeb-bush-dodges-accountability-for-floridas-poor-remediation-rate-but-wants-more-fcat/

Why do teachers leave? Here is a hint it's not the salary

From the blog All Things Education

by Rachel Levy

As some of you know, I am starting to look for, ahem, a job, including positions that would put me back in the classroom. The position of "unpaid writer" isn't exactly putting food on the table and I'm starting to feel antsy writing so much about education without actually doing much about education. Reading over and updating my teaching resume, I am reminded of former students, colleagues, schools, and yes, curriculum. I am reminded of how much I enjoy teaching, for teaching itself but also for the content I got to ponder. I graduated at the top of my class in high school and went to an elite college. I'm "the type" many education reformers talk of attracting to teaching and, initially, attracted I was, but given what teaching has become in many cases, I am somewhat reluctant to go back.

The first reason is the working conditions. While I agree teachers are underpaid and I appreciate Secretary Duncan's strident acknowledgement of this, I would do the work at the current salaries if the working conditions made the job more manageable: if I knew classes would be reasonably and appropriately sized; if I were given adequate time for planning, development, collaboration, and frankly, bathroom breaks; and if I knew the school where I might work would be fully staffed with content teachers, a librarian, a nurse, a social worker, enough administrators, etc. If I knew I could do an adequate job in a 40-hour week (obviously, it would be more some weeks and a bit less during others and yes, the work would always be on my mind), I might never have taken the break I did in the first place. I can't work the punishing hours because I have my own children to raise. And I'm in favor to the idea of changing compensation systems to reflect the different roles and demands of different teaching jobs. If there are teachers out there who have the space in their life and desire to take on more work and responsibilities than I can, I think they should be paid more. I would be happy to take on a lesser teaching position for less money than a harder working colleague if it meant I could be in the classroom again and still be the parent I want to be. Unfortunately, it became clear to me that I had to choose.

Second of all, I was attracted to teaching because it's intellectual, interesting, stimulating, creative, and socially useful. Well, at least it should be. As Diana Senechal put it in this comment:

The McKinsey researchers examined teacher recruitment and retention in Singapore, Finland, and South Korea. They found many factors that make teaching an attractive profession in those countries: salary, job security, autonomy and trust, cultural respect, and more. Given their own findings, it’s odd that they or anyone would conclude that financial incentives should reign supreme. And there were things they should have investigated but didn’t–for instance, the intellectual and spiritual appeal of the profession.
Look at the talented people in professions where the pay is decent but not stellar–the arts, humanities, teaching, scholarship, nonprofits, journalism, and more. What brings people to these professions? Not incompetence, but interest. The work has substance.
But when the substance is driven out, when the work turns into busywork, people turn to professions that offer the combination of qualities that they seek.
Yes, the work has substance. Or it did. Or it should. Of course teaching is going to have some busy work--all jobs do. Sometimes I even look forward to the busy work as it gives me a break from the harder tasks of thinking, evaluating, planning. Of course, there are going to be some tasks I enjoy more than others. Reading up on the Bubonic Plague, planning how my students will learn about it for a world history class, and then assessing what the students have learned counts as enjoyable. Figuring out how to teach the standardized reading test to my world history students and doing a technocratic version of reading tea leaves, i.e., charting who got the "main idea" and "context clues" questions wrong on said standardized tests is not. And when the job starts to become mostly useless, fruitless busy work and mostly teaching vapid curriculum, that's when I'd rather work as a self-employed, unpaid writer and blogger or work at something less demanding that would still save time and energy for writing.

As Nancy Flanagan put it in her typically thoughtful way,

Good teaching is not about classroom rules, cute videos, raising test scores, cool field experiences or unions. It's about relationships, mastery, analysis, persistence, diagnosis and continuous reflection. It's complex, layered intellectual work. And it happens in hundreds of thousands of "regular" classrooms, every day.
Yes, it's complex, layered, challenging, and intellectual work with so many decisions to make at almost every turn. This is primarily why I want to do it. Okay, so the pay isn't great, but when you take away the substance of it, I no longer even enjoy the work and I don't want to do it. I'd rather do something mindless (wait tables, bar tend, or be someone's personal assistant) where I won't have to go against my principles.

As teacher James Boutin describes here (and again here), at some point in my teaching career, I began to feel like a bureaucrat:

During a visit I made to a private school in Denver last November, one of the teachers there confided in me that he moved out of public education because he didn't want to be a bureaucrat. The comment struck me. I'd never thought of myself as a bureaucrat before, but he's right - I am.
Yes, there's certainly more room for me to be more data-informed and consider the values of a technocratic approach. But if that's what I wanted to do, I'd go be a bureaucrat or a technocrat. If I wanted to teach test prep, I'd go work for Kaplan. That's not what I see as the primary role of a classroom teacher. As James further demonstrates in this must-read series, the data-driven dimension of teaching has gotten out of hand and has become a huge waste of time and resources for educators and students alike. Moreover, as I was engaged in it and was forced to make ill-advised curricular choices, I realized that such tasks weren't helping my students learn or improving my teaching, but were fueling political point-scoring and sustaining the education reform industry.

So thanks, Arne Duncan, for saying teachers should be paid more and thanks for your attempts at debunking flawed research that states otherwise. For a next step, consider advocating against acceptance of the "new normal" that translates to terrible working conditions for teachers and principals and terrible learning conditions for students. And then consider how you're going to attract more serious college and graduate school students to the profession if the work you're asking them to do lacks substance and insults their intelligence and, eventually, expertise. Finally, consider that if the most educated among us don't want to do to the work because it's bankrupt of creativity, intellectual exercise, meaning, and substance, then the education our students are going to be getting will hardly be rich, meaningful, and relevant. Think about how many of our best and brightest would rather get paid poverty wages working as adjunct professors and journalists than teach in the classrooms your and your predecessors' policies are molding.

Perhaps this isn't the best post to put out there as I apply for teaching jobs, but then again, I'm not going to lie or pretend. I'm going to do my best to be a team player and to be open to the advantages of a more quantitatively- or data-based approach to teaching. But I'm not going to give up my principles or knowingly engage in educational malpractice. Frankly, I'd rather scrub floors.

http://allthingsedu.blogspot.com/2011/11/its-substance-stress-not-salary-stupid.html

Duval County's Priority One? Keep black kids down

You would think the “priority one” in the Duval County school system would be to provide a first class education to all of our students. Nope, the poorly named priority one is instead designed to make sure students in magnet school neighborhoods have the first choice to attend those schools. Since most of our magnet schools are in the city's poorer neighborhoods, this option is at best a bit disingenuous on the part of our school system. At its worst, it is part of the systematic dumbing down of our minority children doomingt hem to a life filled with struggle and without opportunity.

They offered a choice they knew few would take advantage of. If kids are struggling at Raines and Jackson what chance do you think they would have at Paxon or Stanton? The correct answer is they would have two chances: slim and none. Magnet schools, and whether you think they have a role or not, have been a pox on our urban schools, they siphon many of the best students and motivated parents out, leaving the schools ripe for dismantling at the hands of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. A law that has done damage to our urban schools that the state is seeking to get out of.

Look at the state's waiver to get out of No Child Left Behind. The draconian measures have already gutted many urban schools, paving the way for charter schools of dubious quality and instead of fixing the problems at the schools; they deprive the schools of funds by sending the students away on opportunity scholarships. The students that then remain are taught by micromanaged, over burdened, and often inexperienced teachers.

What is the district's solution to at least put veteran teachers in those schools? They have two. One, throw a few dollars at the problem by trying to bribe veteran teachers to go to them, something few do and to contract with Teach for America to bring in a hundred teachers whose sole education background is a two-week access course. The district's own study said one of the problems in our urban schools is too many inexperienced teachers, which makes the district's solution to add more inexperienced teachers even more confusing, unless it is part of an overall plan. By the way, very few Teach for America teachers stick around for more than two years meaning they will constantly have to be replaced, thus continuing the cycle of novice teachers in our hardest classrooms.

The reason the state is now filing for a NCLB waiver has nothing to do with helping our urban schools. It has everything to do with stopping what happened to our struggling schools from happening to our affluent schools. The legislature knows that the ever-increasing requirements of NCLB are about to give suburbia a kick in the gut, so the state decided to put a stop to it. The powers-that-be say we can’t have our white students being shuffled off to charter schools of dubious quality, besides we all know that most charter schools are for poor black kids anyway. Though are they going to back up and put the proper resources into out struggling schools? Nope this summer they are going to take them over because our district has no idea what it is doing.

Speaking of charter schools, which cater mostly to poor minority students, look at the KIPP School. The KIPP School had the worst grade on the FCAT in Northeast Florida; in fact its children regressed. What does the district do? Ask for more oversight? A plan for improvement? No. It allows them to open up two more schools. Waiting to see if the first school is ever a success was too much to ask apparently. They said, lets double, no triple down and push away more of our poor black kids. In KIPP Schools defense, where their track record is dubious at least they aren’t a for profit operation more concerned with the bottom line than how our children do. I wonder how many of their teachers are new or stick around?

Instead of working to improve our struggling schools, to help our minority children all the state and district do is put more obstacles in their way. Do you know what the difference in curriculum is between the most motivated student at Stanton and a marginally interested student, who lives with his grandmother, who wants to drive a truck, that goes to Ribault is? The answer there is none. Well, make that the student at Stanton is getting the education he wants to get while the one at Ribault is forced to muddle through school taking classes that he isn’t interested in, in a one-size-fits-all system.

The state ignores poverty saying it is an excuse, well look where all the schools that have been taken over, or are in danger of being taken over reside. There isn’t a school in Mandarin or at the beach in danger where neighborhoods are doing a little better is there? No they are all located in the depressed North side and West sides of town. Poverty, by the way, is the number one quantifiable measurement in education; those students that live in it as a group does worse than those that don’t. But that’s not to say we should just throw our hands up and quit and dismantle the schools and ship the students out, something the state and district seem to want. The state, so its friends can make money off the privatization movement, and the district because they don’t have a clue as to what to do.

There are common sense solutions that don’t break the bank or reinvent the wheel, and don’t wreck neighborhoods in the process. We should have discipline and rigorous classes. We do students no favors when we pass them along without discipline, or a work ethic, or the basic knowledge that they need. If we provided legitimate after school and summer school opportunities we could catch the kids up to where they should be. We could make the schedules more manageable (8 classes at a time, really) and make school more enjoyable to kids by making sure each student had a least one elective on their schedule that is more meaningful to them by putting, trade, skill and arts opportunities in the schools.

Priority one should be fixing these schools not figuring out how white kids can make it to Stanton and Paxon, and it can be done, all that is stopping it is the will, leadership, and a district and state that are more interested in hamstringing these children just as their lives are beginning.

A teacher laments, I don't have time to care about my students

This was sent to me in an e-mail. -cpg

"One thing parents need to understand is we do value our students and want the best for them. However, it's often that are hands are tied by the districts non sensical policies that makes it look like we don't have our students best interests at heart.

I can't teach what I know my students need. I have to teach exactly what my other fellow teachers are teaching on the same day and the same way, which is ridiculous...not all kids are the same... and you can sometimes get your point across in better ways.

Trust me I am not in this for the paycheck... as it hasn't been growing in a few years and in fact this year shrank... but the amount of workload I have OUTSIDE of teaching has grown... I should post a photo of my CAST evaluation notebook I have to keep with tons of data and the like... it’s ridiculous...

I have to work extra hours before and after school just to keep up with it all. I RARELY have time to call parents and grade papers which to me is far more important than all the other work put on us."

Duval County School's bussiness model

The superintendent is having the district follow a business model. He wants to make sure the numbers look good no matter how empty they are. Hey the grad rate is up, which is great even if we have to ignore the fact that kids cant read and have to take remedial classes at FSCJ. We’re keeping referrals down which is awesome even if it means disipline is gone and people leave the system or place their kids in charter or private schools. Nobody fails either, why would they when we can just pass them along and out. And to complete the model the district treats it’s employees like yoked mules, well the ones it doesn’t treat like easily replaceable cogs that is.

Yep that’s the business model the district employs.

Duval County's Priority One? Keep black kids down (rough draft)

You would think priority one in the Duval County school system would be to provide a first class education to all of our students. Nope, the poorly named priority one is instead designed to make sure kids in magnet schools neighborhoods have first choice to attend those schools. Since most of our magnet schools are in the cities poorer neighborhoods this option is at best a bit disingenuous on the part of our school system. At worse it is part of the systematic dumbing down of our minority children dooming them to a life filled with struggle and without opportunity.

They offered a choice they knew few would take advantage of. If kids are struggling at Raines and Jackson what chance do you think they would have at Paxon or Stanton? The correct answer is they would have two chances of course, slim and none. Magnet schools and whether you think they have a role or not, have been a pox on our urban schools, they siphon out many of the best students and motivated parents leaving the schools ripe for dismantling at the hands of No Child Left Behind law. A law now that is has done its damage to our urban schools the state is seeking to get out of.

Look at the states waiver to get out of No Child Left Behind. The draconian measures have already gutted many urban schools, paving the way for charter schools of dubious quality and instead of fixing the problems at the schools; they deprive the schools of funds by sending the kids away on opportunity scholarships. The students that then remain are taught by micromanaged, over burdened and often rookie teachers.

What is the districts solution to at least put veteran teachers in those schools? They have two, one, throw a few dollars at the problem by trying to bribe veteran teachers to go to them something few do and to contract with Teach for America to bring in a hundred teachers whose sole education background is a two week access course. The districts own study said one of the problems in our urban schools is to many inexperienced teachers, which makes the districts solution is to add more even more confusing, unless it is part of an overall plan. By the way very few teach for America teachers stick around for more than two years meaning they will constantly have to be replaced continuing the cycle of novice teachers in our hardest classrooms.

The reason the state is now filing for a NCLB waiver has nothing to do with helping our urban schools by the way. It has everything to do with stopping what happened to our struggling schools from happening to our affluent schools. The legislature knows that they ever increasing requirements of NCLB are about to give suburbia a kick in the gut, so the state decided to put a stop to it. The powers-that-be say, we can’t have our white kids being shuffled off to Charter schools of dubious quality, besides we all know that most charter schools are for poor black kids anyways. Though are they going to back up and put the proper resources into out struggling schools? Nope this summer they are going to take them over because our district has no idea what it is doing.

Speaking of charter schools, which cater mostly to poor minority students look at the KIPP School. The KIPP School had the worse grade on the FCAT in Northeast Florida in fact its children regressed. What does the district do? Ask for more over sight, a plan for improvement? No it allows them to open up two more schools. Waiting to see if the first school is ever a success was too much to ask apparently. They said, lets double, no triple down and push away more of our poor black kids. In KIPP schools defense, where their track record is dubious at least they aren’t a for profit operation more concerned with the bottom line than how our children do. I wonder how many of their teachers are new or stick around?

Instead of working to improve our struggling schools, to help our minority children all the state and district does is put more obstacles in their way. Do you know what the difference in curriculum is between the most motivated kid at Stanton is and a marginally interested kid, who lives with his grandmother, who wants to drive a truck, that goes to Ribault is? The answer there is none. Well make that the kid at Stanton is getting the education he wants to get while the kid at Ribault is forced to muddle through school taking classes that he isn’t interested in, in a one size fits all system.

The state ignores poverty saying it is an excuse well look where all the schools that have been taken over or are in danger of being taken over reside. There isn’t a school in Mandarin or at the beach in danger where neighborhoods are doing a little better is there? No they are all located in the depressed North side and West sides of town. Poverty by the way is the number one quantifiable measurement in education; those kids that live in it as a group does worse than those kids that don’t. But that’s not to say we should just throw our hands up and quit and dismantle the schools and ship the kids out, something the state and district seem to want. The state so it’s friends can make money off the privatization movement and the district because they don’t have a clue as to what to do.

There are common sense solutions that don’t break the bank or reinvent the wheel, and don’t wreck neighborhoods in the process. We should have disciplined and rigorous classes. We do kids no favor when we pass kids along with discipline, a work ethic or the basic knowledge that they need. If we provided legitimate after school and summer school opportunities we could catch the kids up to where they should be. We could make the schedules more manageable (8 classes at a time, really) and make school more enjoyable to kids by making sure each student had a least one elective on their schedule and more meaningful to kids by putting, trade, skill and arts opportunities in the schools.

Priority one should be fixing these schools and it can be done, all that is stopping it is the will, leadership and a district and state that are more interested in hamstringing these children just as their lives are beginning.

10 reasons to stay out of the teaching profession

From Teacherbad.com

by Mr. Teacherbad

Ladies and Gentlemen–

I may have just dis­tilled the entire blog down to 10 talk­ing points. See what you think.

10) Object of wide­spread pub­lic scorn

9) Dig­nity offered up as a sac­ri­fice to unholy lovechild of Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee

Lazy, whiny, stu­pid, absent and/or unpre­pared stu­dents (Turns out this is now your fault.)

7) Need to use the bath­room? Great!! Your plan­ning period is in two hours.

6) Lazy, whiny, stu­pid, absent and/or unpre­pared par­ents (That’s right — also your fault.)

5) 28-year old vice principals

4) Ram­pant fetishism of rubrics and low-quality data

3) In ironic twist, teach­ing no longer requires higher order think­ing (banned in some states)

2) Com­pul­sory atten­dance at most ridicu­lous, unnec­es­sary meet­ings on planet

1) Work with chil­dren and be treated like one, too!

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

Hugs,

Mr. Teach­bad

http://teachbad.com/2011/11/28/top-10-reasons-you-may-not-want-to-teach/

Florida's college students rally against Rick Scott

From ABCActionnews.com

by: Kristal Roberts

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Students from seven Florida universities are joining forces to rally against what they’re calling, an "attack on higher education".

Supporters from University of South Florida, USF St. Pete campus, UF, UCF, FIU, FAU and FSU will gather at the University of Florida December 1 to urge Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature to stop the attacks, according to a media release from the group.

“Along with the Florida Legislature, Gov Scott has taken aim at students through countless bills. The tuition of all state universities is poised to rise 15 percent each year for up to a decade,” the release states.

It goes on to say that the state academic scholarship, Bright Futures, is covering less per credit each year, and the program could lose funding all together.

“This attack on public education comes within the context of an economic downturn affecting hard working middle class Floridian families.”

The meeting will be held at 1:30 in Turlington Plaza on the University of Florida campus.

Read more: http://www.abcactionnews.com/dpp/news/state/florida-college-students-rallying-against-rick-scott's-%22attack-on-higher-education%22#ixzz1f2GN9e4k

Principals against using standardized tests to evaluate teachers

From the New York Times

by Michael Winerip

Through the years there have been many bitter teacher strikes and too many student protests to count. But a principals’ revolt?

“Principals don’t revolt,” said Bernard Kaplan of Great Neck North High School on Long Island, who has been one for 20 years. “Principals want to go along with the system and do what they’re told.”

But President Obama and his signature education program, Race to the Top, along with John B. King Jr., the New York State commissioner of education, deserve credit for spurring what is believed to be the first principals’ revolt in history.

As of last night, 658 principals around the state had signed a letter — 488 of them from Long Island, where the insurrection began — protesting the use of students’ test scores to evaluate teachers’ and principals’ performance.

Their complaints are many: the evaluation system was put together in slapdash fashion, with no pilot program; there are test scores to evaluate only fourth-through-eighth-grade English and math teachers; and New York tests are so unreliable that they had to be rescaled radically last year, with proficiency rates in math and English dropping 25 percentage points overnight.

Mr. Kaplan, who runs one of the highest-achieving schools in the state, has been evaluating teachers since the education commissioner was a teenager. No matter. He is required by Nassau County officials to attend 10 training sessions, as is Carol Burris, the principal of South Side High School here, who was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State.

“It’s education by humiliation,” Mr. Kaplan said. “I’ve never seen teachers and principals so degraded.”

The trainers at these sessions, which are paid for by state and federal grants, have explained that they’re figuring out the new evaluation system as they go. To make the point, they’ve been showing a YouTube video with a fictional crew of mechanics who are having the time of their lives building an airplane in midair.

“It was supposed to be funny, but the room went silent,” Ms. Burris said. “These are people’s livelihoods we’re talking about.”

Last year New York was awarded $700 million as one of 11 states, along with the District of Columbia, to win a Race to the Top grant. The application process was chaotic, with Dr. King’s office making the deadline by just a few hours. To win a grant, states had to pledge to follow policy priorities of the Obama administration, like evaluating teachers by student test scores, even though there were no implementation plans yet.

New York committed to an evaluation process that is based 60 percent on principal observations and other subjective measures, and from 20 to 40 percent on state tests, depending on the local district.

In written responses to questions, Dr. King said while there are bugs in the system, “we are confident that as the state law on teacher evaluations phases in over the next couple of years, those educators charged with ensuring its successful implementation will do so professionally.”

Asked if he was surprised by the number of principals who had signed, he wrote, “It’s not at all surprising” that the introduction of a new evaluation system “would produce anxiety.”

Although testing is central to the education reform movement, the word “testing” is considered crude in elite education circles, and in a three-page response to questions, the commissioner never actually used the t-word. However, he did include multiple euphemisms like “data on the growth in student learning.”

“A significant body of research,” he wrote, “demonstrates that an educator’s past impact on student learning is a strong predictor of that educator’s future impact on student learning and a useful component of a fair, transparent, and rigorous multiple measures evaluation system.”

Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents, said that because of the new “scientific, objective” evaluation system, the public would see that teachers were being held to a rigorous standard and would not dislike them so much. “I’m seeing a much more positive focus about teaching, and I like that,” she said.


It is hard to overstate how angry the principals who signed are. Mario Fernandez, principal of Stillwater High School near Saratoga, called the evaluation process a product of “ludicrous, shallow thinking.”

“My gosh, it seems to be slapped together,” he said. “They’re expecting a tornado to go through a junkyard and have a brand new Mercedes pop up.”

Katie Zahedi, principal of Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook in Dutchess County. said the training session she attended was “two days of total nonsense.”

“I have a Ph.D., I’m in a school every day, and some consultant is supposed to be teaching me to do evaluations,” she said. “It takes your breath away it’s so awful.”

She said one good thing about the new evaluation system was that it had united teachers, principals and administrators in their contempt for the state education department.

Several interviewed said the most reliable way to evaluate teachers was to make 5-to-10-minute “walk through” visits to their classes several times a month. “My principal is frequently in my class, and that’s the way it should be,” said Marguerite Izzo, a fifth-grade teacher in Malverne, on Long Island, who was the 2007 state teacher of the year.

Ms. Izzo calls students up to her desk, one by one, every day to discuss their work. “It’s the same for children or teachers: immediate feedback is best, while it’s still fresh in their minds,” she said.

The principals’ letter was drafted last month by Ms. Burris and Sean Feeney of the Wheatley School. “We tried and tried to talk to the state, but they don’t listen to us,” Ms. Burris said.

In his responses, Dr. King wrote, “The principals do raise some legitimate concerns that we are carefully addressing.” But he also wrote, “The structure of the evaluation system — including the use of data on the growth in student learning — is set in state statute.” (Translation: Testing full speed ahead.)

About 300 principals out of 4,500 in the state had signed by early November, when Newsday wrote a front-page story about the letter. There has been steady growth since. Three-fourths of Long Island principals have placed their names on the list.

Outside of Long Island, Westchester County has the most principals on the letter, 31.

Only 18 out of 1,500 from New York City have signed. Ms. Burris is not sure if the principals are not aware, or if they fear retribution from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who is a big supporter of using data to calculate growth in student learning.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/28/education/principals-protest-increased-use-of-test-scores-to-evaluate-educators.html?pagewanted=1&tntemail1=y&_r=2&emc=tnt

Who does the School Board Represent? Not the people of Jacksonville that is for sure

Who does the School Board Represent? One person, Superintendent Pratt-Dannals
I have long thought the school board represented the desires of just one person and that is the superintendent. The Times Union as much reported this in an article about charter schools and who gets to go to them today.

Topher Sanders wrote, The School Board went round and round during Tuesday’s meeting with some supporting an immediate change to the neighborhood policy and then changing their minds as Pratt-Dannals expressed his concerns.

Hey, school board, the superintendet works for you not the other way around.

More on this later

How Florida hates teachers, let me count the ways.

How Florida hates teachers, let me count the ways.

1. They pass a complicated soul crushing merit pay law that makes teachers little more than drones and then they don’t fund the pay part. Rick Scott admitted Florida was going to have a hard time coming up with the money.

2. They tax them three percent more than the rest of the populace. Presumably this money promised to teachers by the way when they took the position was to go the Florida retirement system one of the best around which did not need the extra money. Instead school districts used the savings for other costs.

3. The FCAT has lost any noble purpose it may have once had. Conspiracy theorists say the FCAT was always designed to wreck Florida’s education system so connected individuals could privatize education and where I am not prepared to go that far, the FCAT has destroyed, flexibility, creativity and turned teachers into little more than trained moneys that hit play on a VCR because all we are “told” to do is teach to the test.

4. The push to privatize education will lower pay and decrease benefits. Florida’s teachers are already some of the worse paid in the nation and if teachers are forced to go to private schools and charters once public education is wrecked their pay will only get worse.

5. The citizens of Florida keep electing politicians whose only goal is to privatize public education so they and their cronies, friends and sycophants can make money. Oh like all of these do, this hurts Florida’s children as well.

The value of virtual schools is in question

From the Washington Post

by Lyndsey Layton and Emma Brown

A Virginia company leading a national movement to replace classrooms with computers — where children as young as 5 can learn at home at taxpayer expense — is facing a backlash from critics who are questioning its funding, quality and oversight.

K12 Inc. of Herndon has become the country's largest provider of full-time public virtual schools, upending the traditional American notion that learning occurs in a schoolhouse where students share the experience. In K12's virtual schools, learning is largely solitary, with lessons delivered online to a child who progresses at her own pace.

Conceived as a way to teach a small segment of home-schoolers and others who needed flexible schooling, virtual education has evolved into an alternative to traditional public schools for an increasingly wide range of students — high achievers, strugglers, dropouts, teenage parents and victims of bullying, among them.

"For many kids, the local school doesn't work," said Ronald J. Packard, chief executive and founder of K12. "And now, technology allows us to give that child a choice. It's about educational liberty."

Packard and other education entrepreneurs say they are harnessing technology to deliver quality education to any child, regardless of Zip code.

It's an appealing proposition, and one that has attracted support in state legislatures, including Virginia's. But in one of the most hard-fought quarters of public policy, a rising chorus of critics argue that full-time virtual learning doesn't effectively educate children.

"Kindergarten kids learning in front of a monitor — that's just wrong," said Maryelen Calderwood, an elected school committee member in Greenfield, Mass., who unsuccessfully tried to stop K12 from contracting with her community to create New England's first virtual public school last year. "It's absolutely astounding how people can accept this so easily."

People on both sides agree that the structure providing public education is not designed to handle virtual schools. How, for example, do you pay for a school that floats in cyberspace when education funding formulas are rooted in the geography of property taxes? How do you oversee the quality of a virtual education?

"There's a total mismatch," said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, who served on K12's board of directors until 2007. "We've got a 19th-century edifice trying to house a 21st-century system."

Despite questions, full-time virtual schools are proliferating.

In the past two years, more than a dozen states have passed laws and removed obstacles to encourage virtual schools. And providers of virtual education have been making their case in statehouses around the country.

K12 has hired lobbyists from Boise to Boston and backed political candidates who support school choice in general and virtual education in particular. From 2004 to 2010, K12 gave about $500,000 in direct contributions to state politicians around the country, with three-quarters going to Republicans, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

"We understand the politics of education pretty well," Packard told investors recently.

K12's push into New England illustrates its skill. In 2009, the company began exploring the potential for opening a Massachusetts virtual school in partnership with the rural Greenfield school district.

But Massachusetts education officials halted the plan, saying Greenfield had no legal authority to create a statewide school. So Greenfield and K12 turned to legislators, with the company spending about $200,000 on Beacon Hill lobbyists.

State Rep. Martha "Marty" Walz, a Boston Democrat, wrote legislation that allowed Greenfield to open the Massachusetts Virtual Academy in 2010. She acknowledged that the language was imperfect and didn't address issues of funding or oversight but said she couldn't wait to craft a comprehensive plan.

"You do what you need to do sometimes, to get the ball rolling," said Walz, who accepted at least $2,600 in campaign contributions from K12, its executives or its lobbyists since 2008, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

That scenario is repeating nationwide as K12 and its allies seek to expand virtual education.

About 250,000 students are enrolled in full-time public virtual schools in 30 states, according to Susan Patrick of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a trade association. Although that's just a fraction of the country's 50 million schoolchildren, the numbers are growing fast, Patrick said.

K12 teaches about two out of every five students in full-time online schools. Its next largest competitor is Baltimore-based Connections Education, which was recently acquired by Pearson, the mammoth British textbook publisher. The rest of the industry consists of smaller operators and some nonprofit virtual schools.

Seizing an opportunity

If it were a school district, K12 would rank among the 30 largest of the nation's 1,500 districts. The company, which began in two states a decade ago, now teaches about 95,000 students in virtual schools in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

And it plans to grow. "We are now that much closer to our manifest destiny of making a K12 Inc. education available to every child," Packard said in a call with Wall Street analysts earlier this month.

It's a promising business. In the past fiscal year, K12 had revenue of $522 million — a 36 percent increase from the prior year, according to securities filings. Its net income after a series of acquisitions was $12.8 million. Packard earned $2.6 million in total compensation.

Packard, 48, took a roundabout route to education. A former Goldman Sachs banker, he was working as a consultant with McKinsey and Co. when he got a call from Michael Milken, the financier who pleaded guilty to securities fraud in 1990 and later became a philanthropist partly focused on education.

Packard joined Milken's education investment holding firm and ran one of his companies, a chain of preschools. About the same time, Packard was trying to find an online math course for his 6-year-old daughter. Frustrated by the dearth of options, he saw a business opportunity.

He founded K12 in 2000 with a $10 million investment from Milken and Larry Ellison, the chief executive of Oracle Corp., maker of software and hardware systems. William J. Bennett, education secretary under President Ronald Reagan, became the company's chairman, bringing his conservative bona fides and political connections to a company that originally aimed for the home-schooling market. Bennett resigned from K12 in 2005.

In the early years, Bror Saxberg served as the chief architect of K12's curriculum. With a medical degree from Harvard and a doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science from M.I.T., he was excited by the potential to transform education by applying what cognitive scientists have learned about how brains work.

"There was a terrific opportunity to finally apply some of this learning science work at scale, to make learning environments that could really make a difference for students," said Saxberg, who left the company to join Kaplan Inc. in 2009.

Kaplan is a for-profit education provider owned by The Washington Post Co. It competed directly with K12 until May, when K12 acquired Kaplan's virtual-schools business. Kaplan continues to offer test-preparation courses, and in November the two companies announced an agreement to share distribution of some products and services.

K12 sells a variety of ways to learn online, ranging from hybrid schools — in which student meet in a classroom but take courses via computer — to a la carte courses purchased by traditional schools.

Last year, K12 formed a joint venture with Middlebury College to offer foreign language courses. This year, it bought a stake in a Chinese company that teaches English online.

But K12's core business — and the one proving most controversial — is full-time virtual public schools.

No need for the bus stop

For Tyler Hirata, going to school used to mean waking up at 6 a.m. and clambering aboard a yellow bus. Now he snoozes until midmorning and pads downstairs to the computer in his Dumfries home.

"This is fantastic!" said Tyler, 8, who left his Prince William County elementary school to enroll this fall in the Virginia Virtual Academy — a public institution run by K12 and open to any student in the commonwealth.

Tyler said the best thing about taking third grade online is that it requires less than three hours a day. His mother is more excited about the fact that, for the first time, Tyler is reading fluently on his own.

"The K12 program is phenomenal," said Michele Hirata, adding that Tyler blossomed with her daily one-on-one attention. Virtual school has been equally positive for her fifth-grade daughter Gennifer, 10, a fast learner who spends five hours a day practicing gymnastics, she said.

Virtual class sizes tend to be larger than at traditional schools — the Virginia academy averages 60 students per teacher, according to a school document. So in the primary grades, the model relies on the intensive work of a parent "learning coach," who provides most lessons away from the computer, using books and 90 pounds of other educational materials shipped to families by K12.

In the older grades, the bulk of learning is online, with software that sometimes aims to mimic real-life experiences for students, such as a high school biology lab featuring an animated frog dissection.

Teachers monitor student progress, grade work and answer questions by e-mail or phone. They work from home, aren't likely to be unionized and earn as much as 35 percent less than their counterparts in regular schools, according to interviews with former K12 teachers.

Teachers also look for ways to help students socialize. Bethany Scanlon, a former special education teacher for K12's Ohio Virtual Academy, shipped hot chocolate and popcorn to her students one winter holiday season. They all settled in with their computers to watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" streamed over the Internet.

"When you're teaching online, you have to be very creative," she said.

In Dumfries, Tyler said he misses some of the best parts of school, such as lunchtime. And recess. And friends.

"Believe me," he said, "if you are home-schooled, you will want friends."

During recent deliberations over virtual schooling in Virginia, a member of the state board of education raised the issue of socialization.

"This would appear to make it possible to go from kindergarten through eighth grade without ever stepping into a real classroom," David M. Foster said. "I'm not sure I want to encourage that. . . . Collaborative problem solving, socialization, working with other people is key not just to the global economy but to getting along in life."

Mixed performance

While virtual schools continue to expand, their effectiveness is unclear.

"We have no real evidence one way or another," said Tom Loveless, a Brookings Institution scholar who served as a paid consultant to K12 in its early years.

A 2009 analysis by the U.S. Department of Education found that there wasn't enough research to draw conclusions about how elementary and secondary students fare in full-time virtual schools compared with classrooms.

On measures widely used to judge all public schools, such as state test scores and graduation rates, virtual schools — often run as charter schools — tend to perform worse than their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

At the Colorado Virtual Academy, which is managed by K12 and has more than 5,000 students, the on-time graduation rate was 12 percent in 2010, compared with 72 percent statewide.

That same year, K12's Ohio Virtual Academy — whose enrollment tops 9,000 students — had a 30 percent on-time graduation rate, compared with a state average of 78 percent.

Last year, about one-third of K12-managed schools met achievement goals required under the federal No Child Left Behind law, according to Gary Miron, a Western Michigan University professor, who called that performance "poor."

K12 officials say the weak test results are related to the program often attracting students who struggled in regular schools.

One of K12's oldest and now biggest schools is the Agora Cyber Charter, a statewide virtual school that began in Pennsylvania in 2005. The company manages the school under a contract with its nonprofit board of trustees. Enrollment this fall topped 8,000 students.

Agora has never met federally defined achievement goals.

The school markets itself as an option for at-risk students who are failing at their neighborhood school. Last year, about two-thirds of its students were low-income.

Many lived in unstable homes, said Aimee Saunders, who taught history at K12's Pennsylvania schools for four years until 2009.

Some of those children didn't have an adult who could serve as the learning coach. Instead, they were left home alone and did little or no schoolwork, she said.

"You take students who normally would struggle because of their home environment and then you put them in their home to learn," Saunders said. "It doesn't work that well."

Rapid student turnover can compound the problem. Of the 8,700 students who enrolled in 2010-11, more than a quarter withdrew during the year, according to school records.

"New students were always coming in," Saunders said, which "made it difficult to be able to focus on the students I already had."

Company officials said internal data show that Agora students — and K12 students in general — are learning at a faster rate than the national norm, even if they can't pass a grade-level test. And the longer students stay with K12, the better they perform, the company said.

But Pennsylvania has its own measure of how fast students are learning, and it showed "significant evidence" that Agora did not meet growth standards last year.

In June 2010, the state threatened to revoke Agora's charter unless the school made changes, including aligning the curriculum with state standards and expanding remediation programs for struggling kids. It also insisted on more transparency so it would be clear how much K12 was receiving for different services.

Agora officials said they addressed those concerns by opening a face-to-face tutoring center in Philadelphia, for example, and hiring staff to conduct home visits.

Saunders, the former Agora teacher, says virtual schools provide an important new option for families and should be forgiven for missteps.

After all, many traditional public schools have failed to help the neediest children. "A lot of schools are making mistakes by not trying anything different than they've tried before," she said.

Cost to taxpayers

Even some supporters of virtual schools question whether online operators are charging taxpayers fairly.

"They have no business trying to charge as much as the brick-and-mortar schools, at least over time," said Finn of the Fordham Institute, which has commissioned a study of the cost of online schools. "Once you've got the stuff that you're going to use for fourth-grade math, for instance, you're don't really need to do much with it. And it should be cheaper."

Online education companies say they are no different from textbook publishers and other businesses that profit from sales to schools.

But payments for a year's worth of online schooling can vary wildly. For instance, K12 received $3,728 per full-time student in 2009-10 for its virtual school based in Broward County, Fla., while it got $5,000 per student in Greenfield, Mass. K12 is getting $6,200 for each student in its D.C. school, which enrolls about 100 students.

In Pennsylvania, because of a complicated funding mechanism, K12's Agora Cyber Charter receives $6,000 to $16,000 per student for an identical course load, depending on where that student lives.

"We don't have a real handle on what the real cost is for a virtual school," said Mitchell D. Chester, commissioner of elementary and secondary education in Massachusetts.

A Virginia company leading a national movement to replace classrooms with computers — where children as young as 5 can learn at home at taxpayer expense — is facing a backlash from critics who are questioning its funding, quality and oversight.

K12 Inc. of Herndon has become the country's largest provider of full-time public virtual schools, upending the traditional American notion that learning occurs in a schoolhouse where students share the experience. In K12's virtual schools, learning is largely solitary, with lessons delivered online to a child who progresses at her own pace.

Conceived as a way to teach a small segment of home-schoolers and others who needed flexible schooling, virtual education has evolved into an alternative to traditional public schools for an increasingly wide range of students — high achievers, strugglers, dropouts, teenage parents and victims of bullying, among them.

"For many kids, the local school doesn't work," said Ronald J. Packard, chief executive and founder of K12. "And now, technology allows us to give that child a choice. It's about educational liberty."

Packard and other education entrepreneurs say they are harnessing technology to deliver quality education to any child, regardless of Zip code.

It's an appealing proposition, and one that has attracted support in state legislatures, including Virginia's. But in one of the most hard-fought quarters of public policy, a rising chorus of critics argue that full-time virtual learning doesn't effectively educate children.

"Kindergarten kids learning in front of a monitor — that's just wrong," said Maryelen Calderwood, an elected school committee member in Greenfield, Mass., who unsuccessfully tried to stop K12 from contracting with her community to create New England's first virtual public school last year. "It's absolutely astounding how people can accept this so easily."

People on both sides agree that the structure providing public education is not designed to handle virtual schools. How, for example, do you pay for a school that floats in cyberspace when education funding formulas are rooted in the geography of property taxes? How do you oversee the quality of a virtual education?

"There's a total mismatch," said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, who served on K12's board of directors until 2007. "We've got a 19th-century edifice trying to house a 21st-century system."

Despite questions, full-time virtual schools are proliferating.

In the past two years, more than a dozen states have passed laws and removed obstacles to encourage virtual schools. And providers of virtual education have been making their case in statehouses around the country.

K12 has hired lobbyists from Boise to Boston and backed political candidates who support school choice in general and virtual education in particular. From 2004 to 2010, K12 gave about $500,000 in direct contributions to state politicians around the country, with three-quarters going to Republicans, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

"We understand the politics of education pretty well," Packard told investors recently.

K12's push into New England illustrates its skill. In 2009, the company began exploring the potential for opening a Massachusetts virtual school in partnership with the rural Greenfield school district.

But Massachusetts education officials halted the plan, saying Greenfield had no legal authority to create a statewide school. So Greenfield and K12 turned to legislators, with the company spending about $200,000 on Beacon Hill lobbyists.

State Rep. Martha "Marty" Walz, a Boston Democrat, wrote legislation that allowed Greenfield to open the Massachusetts Virtual Academy in 2010. She acknowledged that the language was imperfect and didn't address issues of funding or oversight but said she couldn't wait to craft a comprehensive plan.

"You do what you need to do sometimes, to get the ball rolling," said Walz, who accepted at least $2,600 in campaign contributions from K12, its executives or its lobbyists since 2008, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

That scenario is repeating nationwide as K12 and its allies seek to expand virtual education.

About 250,000 students are enrolled in full-time public virtual schools in 30 states, according to Susan Patrick of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a trade association. Although that's just a fraction of the country's 50 million schoolchildren, the numbers are growing fast, Patrick said.

K12 teaches about two out of every five students in full-time online schools. Its next largest competitor is Baltimore-based Connections Education, which was recently acquired by Pearson, the mammoth British textbook publisher. The rest of the industry consists of smaller operators and some nonprofit virtual schools.

Seizing an opportunity

If it were a school district, K12 would rank among the 30 largest of the nation's 1,500 districts. The company, which began in two states a decade ago, now teaches about 95,000 students in virtual schools in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

And it plans to grow. "We are now that much closer to our manifest destiny of making a K12 Inc. education available to every child," Packard said in a call with Wall Street analysts earlier this month.

It's a promising business. In the past fiscal year, K12 had revenue of $522 million — a 36 percent increase from the prior year, according to securities filings. Its net income after a series of acquisitions was $12.8 million. Packard earned $2.6 million in total compensation.

Packard, 48, took a roundabout route to education. A former Goldman Sachs banker, he was working as a consultant with McKinsey and Co. when he got a call from Michael Milken, the financier who pleaded guilty to securities fraud in 1990 and later became a philanthropist partly focused on education.

Packard joined Milken's education investment holding firm and ran one of his companies, a chain of preschools. About the same time, Packard was trying to find an online math course for his 6-year-old daughter. Frustrated by the dearth of options, he saw a business opportunity.

He founded K12 in 2000 with a $10 million investment from Milken and Larry Ellison, the chief executive of Oracle Corp., maker of software and hardware systems. William J. Bennett, education secretary under President Ronald Reagan, became the company's chairman, bringing his conservative bona fides and political connections to a company that originally aimed for the home-schooling market. Bennett resigned from K12 in 2005.

In the early years, Bror Saxberg served as the chief architect of K12's curriculum. With a medical degree from Harvard and a doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science from M.I.T., he was excited by the potential to transform education by applying what cognitive scientists have learned about how brains work.

"There was a terrific opportunity to finally apply some of this learning science work at scale, to make learning environments that could really make a difference for students," said Saxberg, who left the company to join Kaplan Inc. in 2009.

Kaplan is a for-profit education provider owned by The Washington Post Co. It competed directly with K12 until May, when K12 acquired Kaplan's virtual-schools business. Kaplan continues to offer test-preparation courses, and in November the two companies announced an agreement to share distribution of some products and services.

K12 sells a variety of ways to learn online, ranging from hybrid schools — in which student meet in a classroom but take courses via computer — to a la carte courses purchased by traditional schools.

Last year, K12 formed a joint venture with Middlebury College to offer foreign language courses. This year, it bought a stake in a Chinese company that teaches English online.

But K12's core business — and the one proving most controversial — is full-time virtual public schools.

No need for the bus stop

For Tyler Hirata, going to school used to mean waking up at 6 a.m. and clambering aboard a yellow bus. Now he snoozes until midmorning and pads downstairs to the computer in his Dumfries home.

"This is fantastic!" said Tyler, 8, who left his Prince William County elementary school to enroll this fall in the Virginia Virtual Academy — a public institution run by K12 and open to any student in the commonwealth.

Tyler said the best thing about taking third grade online is that it requires less than three hours a day. His mother is more excited about the fact that, for the first time, Tyler is reading fluently on his own.

"The K12 program is phenomenal," said Michele Hirata, adding that Tyler blossomed with her daily one-on-one attention. Virtual school has been equally positive for her fifth-grade daughter Gennifer, 10, a fast learner who spends five hours a day practicing gymnastics, she said.

Virtual class sizes tend to be larger than at traditional schools — the Virginia academy averages 60 students per teacher, according to a school document. So in the primary grades, the model relies on the intensive work of a parent "learning coach," who provides most lessons away from the computer, using books and 90 pounds of other educational materials shipped to families by K12.

In the older grades, the bulk of learning is online, with software that sometimes aims to mimic real-life experiences for students, such as a high school biology lab featuring an animated frog dissection.

Teachers monitor student progress, grade work and answer questions by e-mail or phone. They work from home, aren't likely to be unionized and earn as much as 35 percent less than their counterparts in regular schools, according to interviews with former K12 teachers.

Teachers also look for ways to help students socialize. Bethany Scanlon, a former special education teacher for K12's Ohio Virtual Academy, shipped hot chocolate and popcorn to her students one winter holiday season. They all settled in with their computers to watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" streamed over the Internet.

"When you're teaching online, you have to be very creative," she said.

In Dumfries, Tyler said he misses some of the best parts of school, such as lunchtime. And recess. And friends.

"Believe me," he said, "if you are home-schooled, you will want friends."

During recent deliberations over virtual schooling in Virginia, a member of the state board of education raised the issue of socialization.

"This would appear to make it possible to go from kindergarten through eighth grade without ever stepping into a real classroom," David M. Foster said. "I'm not sure I want to encourage that. . . . Collaborative problem solving, socialization, working with other people is key not just to the global economy but to getting along in life."

Mixed performance

While virtual schools continue to expand, their effectiveness is unclear.

"We have no real evidence one way or another," said Tom Loveless, a Brookings Institution scholar who served as a paid consultant to K12 in its early years.

A 2009 analysis by the U.S. Department of Education found that there wasn't enough research to draw conclusions about how elementary and secondary students fare in full-time virtual schools compared with classrooms.

On measures widely used to judge all public schools, such as state test scores and graduation rates, virtual schools — often run as charter schools — tend to perform worse than their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

At the Colorado Virtual Academy, which is managed by K12 and has more than 5,000 students, the on-time graduation rate was 12 percent in 2010, compared with 72 percent statewide.

That same year, K12's Ohio Virtual Academy — whose enrollment tops 9,000 students — had a 30 percent on-time graduation rate, compared with a state average of 78 percent.

Last year, about one-third of K12-managed schools met achievement goals required under the federal No Child Left Behind law, according to Gary Miron, a Western Michigan University professor, who called that performance "poor."

K12 officials say the weak test results are related to the program often attracting students who struggled in regular schools.

One of K12's oldest and now biggest schools is the Agora Cyber Charter, a statewide virtual school that began in Pennsylvania in 2005. The company manages the school under a contract with its nonprofit board of trustees. Enrollment this fall topped 8,000 students.

Agora has never met federally defined achievement goals.

The school markets itself as an option for at-risk students who are failing at their neighborhood school. Last year, about two-thirds of its students were low-income.

Many lived in unstable homes, said Aimee Saunders, who taught history at K12's Pennsylvania schools for four years until 2009.

Some of those children didn't have an adult who could serve as the learning coach. Instead, they were left home alone and did little or no schoolwork, she said.

"You take students who normally would struggle because of their home environment and then you put them in their home to learn," Saunders said. "It doesn't work that well."

Rapid student turnover can compound the problem. Of the 8,700 students who enrolled in 2010-11, more than a quarter withdrew during the year, according to school records.

"New students were always coming in," Saunders said, which "made it difficult to be able to focus on the students I already had."

Company officials said internal data show that Agora students — and K12 students in general — are learning at a faster rate than the national norm, even if they can't pass a grade-level test. And the longer students stay with K12, the better they perform, the company said.

But Pennsylvania has its own measure of how fast students are learning, and it showed "significant evidence" that Agora did not meet growth standards last year.

In June 2010, the state threatened to revoke Agora's charter unless the school made changes, including aligning the curriculum with state standards and expanding remediation programs for struggling kids. It also insisted on more transparency so it would be clear how much K12 was receiving for different services.

Agora officials said they addressed those concerns by opening a face-to-face tutoring center in Philadelphia, for example, and hiring staff to conduct home visits.

Saunders, the former Agora teacher, says virtual schools provide an important new option for families and should be forgiven for missteps.

After all, many traditional public schools have failed to help the neediest children. "A lot of schools are making mistakes by not trying anything different than they've tried before," she said.

Cost to taxpayers

Even some supporters of virtual schools question whether online operators are charging taxpayers fairly.

"They have no business trying to charge as much as the brick-and-mortar schools, at least over time," said Finn of the Fordham Institute, which has commissioned a study of the cost of online schools. "Once you've got the stuff that you're going to use for fourth-grade math, for instance, you're don't really need to do much with it. And it should be cheaper."

Online education companies say they are no different from textbook publishers and other businesses that profit from sales to schools.

But payments for a year's worth of online schooling can vary wildly. For instance, K12 received $3,728 per full-time student in 2009-10 for its virtual school based in Broward County, Fla., while it got $5,000 per student in Greenfield, Mass. K12 is getting $6,200 for each student in its D.C. school, which enrolls about 100 students.

In Pennsylvania, because of a complicated funding mechanism, K12's Agora Cyber Charter receives $6,000 to $16,000 per student for an identical course load, depending on where that student lives.

"We don't have a real handle on what the real cost is for a virtual school," said Mitchell D. Chester, commissioner of elementary and secondary education in Massachusetts.

The governor recognizes that the state needs a better way to fund virtual schools but does not want to make abrupt changes that would harm the new schools, his staff said.

McDonnell "came into office really wanting to provide options and innovation to Virginia schoolchildren," Education Secretary Laura Fornash said. "Virtual schools [were] a major part of that."

This year, K12 opened a second virtual school in Virginia, signing a contract with Buena Vista City, near Lynchburg, where the per-pupil state subsidy is $5,850. The two schools combined have an enrollment of 540 students.

While K12 executives see unlimited horizons for online education, traditional schools are struggling with severe budget cuts.

In Carroll County, the Virginia Virtual Academy provides a revenue stream for the public school system, which collects a $500 registration fee for each out-of-district student. On top of that, the county collects a management fee — 6.5 percent of the taxpayer dollars that flow to K12.

In what may be an unintended irony, Carroll County is using that windfall — $178,450 last year — to buy old-fashioned but much-needed textbooks for its brick-and-mortar schools.

Staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.

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