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USDOE Wants “Educator Stability.” It Also Wants Test Scores.

On April 09, 2021, the US Department of Education (USDOE) released its COVID-19 Handbook, Volume 2.

In perusing its table of contents, I noticed one section in particular: ” Supporting Educator and Staff Stability and Well-being: Stabilizing a Diverse and Qualified Educator Workforce.”

Educator stability now appears to be a focus of USDOE attention.

It took a pandemic.

For the past two decades, USDOE leadership, in concert with the two Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) reauthorizations produced by Congress, have done nothing to “stabilize” the educator workforce. On the contrary, the 2001 ESEA reauthorization, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), introduced the oppressive, test-and-punish course that threatened school stability by its abuse of student test scores being used to grade schools and teachers, all in the name of accountability to the never-realistic goal of 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

In 2007, when NCLB was up for reauthorization and its 100-percent-proficiency farce looming, Congress wouldn’t touch it. However, former US secretary of education Arne Duncan used his NCLB waivers to coerce states into adopting “college and career ready” standards (that would be the controversial Common Core State Standards) and related assessments, as in his federally-funded, consortium assessments. And so the testing oppression continued. No talk of educator stability. No, no. In fact, destabilization was the name of the game. Competition, Race for the (test-idolizing) Top— and a CCSS sales job reinforcing the NCLB-enabled, hand-over-fist revenue for testing companies capable of grabbing the gold.

Meanwhile, USDOE has for years doled out charter school funding without oversight, resulting in fraud and squandering. So, we have the traditional public schools, which were created to serve any student who shows up on the doorstep at any point in the school year, and the charter schools that never have to take any student who shows up at any point (and can resort to some pretty low and self-serving tactics to rid themselves of less-preferred students) and that primarily answer only in self-determined, non-elected fashion for taxpayer funds.

Charter schools drain traditional public schools, which destabilizes traditional public schools– including students, admin, teachers, and staff. This is not a new phenomenon. Traditional public schools have been having to grapple with this so-called competition for years– one in which students can always return to the traditional public school– even if taxpayer funding has all been squandered by some underregulated school in the name of “choice.”

And all of which serves to destabilize traditional public education for all involved, teachers included.

When ESEA was finally reauthorized in 2016 as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Congress remained faithful to its over-testing obsession, continuing with English and math annual testing in grades 3 – 8 and once in high school, though the Obama-Duncan CCSS and testing consortia never became the sensation for racing to some top. In ESSA, the testing stayed, states still cornered in the name of Title I funding return on investment to somehow measure schools and teachers to prove accountability for much of what is out of their control.

Not a recipe for stability. Add to that subsequent years of awful ed secs like CCSS-pusher and community alienator, John King and queen of anti-public-school hostility, Betsy DeVos, whose chief aim is to send all public money to private schools and was the first ed sec to require Secret Service protection.

Now, here we are, in the second calendar year of the COVID pandemic, and the Biden-administration USDOE under the leadership of Miguel Cardona is advising states on how to stabilize the educator workforce.

It includes no advice on dropping the tests, the tests which succubus time, money, and professional joy and are in no way superior to the immediacy of professional judgment based upon teacher-to-student and student-to-student interaction every day throughout the school year.

In 2001, misguided testing was put into place as an end-all, be-all, ever-present threat to neighborhood schools. Those seeking stability for schools quickly learned that the real task was to figure out how play the game.

It is a game, folks. Learning does not occur in sequential, discrete components that are somehow indisputably identified as Solely Due to That Teacher at That School. Nevertheless, federal (and, by coerced extension, state) education law treats testing as exactly that– indisputable– and wrongly laden with high-stakes consequences. Those on the receiving end find themselves year after year placed in this boat without paddles and told to make it move or else

Twenty years of Make It Move Or Else.

So, here we are, in 2021, mid-pandemic, and USDOE has chosen neither to cancel ESSA-mandated testing outright nor to leave it to states to make the decision. Instead, USDOE is deciding state-by-state whether testing waivers will be bestowed from the USDOE On High.

According to USDOE, standardization can go out of the window. Just give us some numbers.

Some states gain waiver permission. Others are denied.

Are the latter being penalized for better-perceived, ed-amidst-pandemic stability? That sure seems to be the case.

If the Biden-Cardona USDOE is really interested in educator stability, it could at least leave 2020-21 testing decisions to individual states. Moreover, ESSA is due for reauthorization (it is funded through fiscal year 2020, which for the federal government is September 30, 2020), which means that the time is right to pressure Congress to ease up on testing (perhaps grade-span testing) and dropping (rightly prohibiting?) the misuse of student tests to grade teachers and schools.

Want educator stability? Stop overtesting students, and stop using test scores to mismeasure teachers and schools.

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

Getting Ahead on Easter

Evangelical Christianity in the political sphere is not pretty sight.

The world has watched the hardness, harshness, and hypocrisy of self-righteousness on display in the name of some desired political end (not the least of which has been gaining and remaining in power), all of which bespeaks a lack of understanding about Jesus Himself.

I won’t pretend to address the entire off-putting issue here, but I will offer just a smidge– and a critical one, at that– of how the Jesus handled ultimate power over others– including over one of His own who He knew would within hours betray Him.

The setting is the Passover feast, which happened to be the night before Jesus would die (by His own choice; see Matthew 26: 53-54).

Here’s how John records the situation in John:13:3-5:

Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.

Knowing He had untlimited power, Jesus chose to serve. To serve. Not to make sure others knew how powerful He was, or to use His power to serve Himself or to unleash wrath upon His enemies. No self-gratulation; no putting an agenda before the welfare of a world that frankly had no idea what He was up to. His primary enemies were very religious (sound familiar?) and saw Jesus as a threat to their political and financial well being (too close for comfort?)

Jesus was not here to make Himself into the ruler of an earthly kingdom– a point that His disciples seemed to be missing as on more than one occasion they argued with one another about which of them was the greatest (see Mark 9:33-34 and Luke 22:24), with James and John even asking Jesus directly for two top positions in Jesus’ kingdom, a request that made the other ten disciples “indignant” (Mark 10:35-41).

So, these guys could certainly use a reminder that the way to advance in His kingdom was to become the lowest of servants. And so can we.

Jesus turns the rules of getting ahead upside down.

Want to succeed as a Christian? Make it your chief ambition to serve in ways that clearly reveal Jesus’ respect for human dignity, period, with no ulterior, corner-cutting, other-exploiting, self-deceiving motive to get ahead. This rule applies to all of life, political arena included.

Happy Easter.

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Parents Defending Education: Prefab “Grassroots”

On March 30, 2021, a new ed-reform kid on the top-down block, Parents Defending Education, introduced itself to the public on Twitter as follows:

“Launch today.” That sounds very new– and very odd because this org purports to do the nonsensical– “build a grassroots army of parents.”

Grassroots is not “built” from the top down. But a new ed-reform org surely could exploit the term “grassroots” by having members in different locales so that it might engage in litigation in the name of a local, “grassroots” interest.

That is just what this come-lately ed-reform group appears to have done.

Eight days prior to announcing its “launch” on Twitter– on March 22, 2021– Parents Defending Education had already stepped into a New York education lawsuit about high school integration, positioning itself as eligible to “intervene as a defendant”— and making it sound as though the org– here identified as a nonprofit– is an established grassroots org– and therefore having a right to insert itself into the litigation at hand:

Movant (petitioner), Parents Defendant Education, is Plaintiffs’ counterpart. Movant is a nationwide, nonpartisan, grassroots organization, whose members are primarily parents of school-aged children. Its mission is to prevent—through advocacy, disclosure, and, if necessary, litigation—the politicization of K-12 education. Movant has many members with children who are currently enrolled in, or will apply for, the City’s G&T programs or selective schools….

Here is what Parents Defending Education wants from this New York lawsuit:

Plaintiffs are IntegrateNYC, a nonprofit membership organization, and several parents with students who attend City schools. Plaintiffs want this Court to force the City to hire more employees of color and to adopt a race-focused curriculum. But their main goal is to eliminate “the G&T middle and high school admissions screens currently in use.” … Plaintiffs claim that these screens are illegal because more white and Asian-American students are admitted to G&T programs than Black and Latino students. It does not matter to Plaintiffs that the screens are strictly race-neutral, or that the City adopted them with no racially discriminatory intent. … The disparate impact alone is supposedly enough.

If Plaintiffs obtain their requested relief, Movant’s members will suffer immediate and substantial harms. If the criteria for G&T programs are changed, many of their children (who qualified under those criteria) will be denied these valuable programs. And if admissions, curriculum, and staffing decisions are made on grounds other than merit, Movant’s members believe the quality of their children’s current education and future opportunities will decline. Movant’s members also believe their children should be judged based on their individual merit, not defined as members of a racial group or blamed for the collective sins of others, and thus oppose Plaintiffs’ desire to inject more race-based decision-making into the City’s schools. Movant therefore seeks this Court’s leave to intervene as a defendant.

Without offering any psychometric evidence, Parents Defending Education uses the term, “race neutral,” to describe admissions tests.

If the outcome of a selective admissions test demonstrates a systematic preference for certain racial/ethnic groups above others, psychometricians need to investigate test bias. Furthermore, testing might favor certain students over others due to availability of experiences and resources that leverage better scoring outcomes for those who have them over those who don’t.

On March 31, 2021, I asked Leonie Haimson, founder of NYC-based Class Size Matters, about how she would respond to someone who says, “If all students take the same test for admission to NYC’s selective admission high schools, doesn’t that ensure that the most qualified students are admitted, and wouldn’t it be unfair to them to focus on race/ethnicity rather than qualification?”

Here is her response:

There are real problems with using high stakes tests for admissions to any public schools.  Not only are the SHSAT (Standardized High School Admissions Test) exams for admission to the NYC specialized high schools unreliable, the exams never have been evaluated for racial or gender bias. 

Moreover, NYC is the only district in the country in the country that bases admissions to any school solely on the basis of one high stakes test, and we have eight of these schools.  We need to get rid of these tests as soon as possible.

On December 20, 2016, the Gotham Gazette published an informative piece about New York’s SHSAT and the leveraging of resources and experiences of some students over others in order to produce “narrow readiness.” Some excerpts:

In New York City, the clear majority of students are assigned elementary schools that are within their zip codes. For many students of color, this means that they attend schools that face a myriad of problems, including: less funding and resources, less experienced and effective teachers and overcrowded classrooms. …

Next, because entry to middle school is based on those aforementioned metrics, low-income students and students of color are substantially less likely to attend honors or screened programs. … And, analysis shows that between 2005 and 2013, 88 middle schools, 76 of which were honors or screened, were home to 85% of total student offers to SHSAT schools.

…It would be a mistake to assume that the SHSAT itself is color- or income-blind. Analysis reveals a flawed exam. Like all standardized tests, critics argue that the SHSAT does not test for ability and potential.

Rather, the test is basically an indicator of income and narrow readiness more than anything. Parents who can afford to invest in expensive preparatory courses and high quality private tutors to give their children an advantage — often added upon prior advantages. Test-prep companies and private tutors are keenly aware of how the test works and impart significant help.

If the outcome of the above-mentioned leverage benefits students of some races/ethnicities at the expense of others, then the outcome attests to the inputs– which are anything but “race neutral.”

As for Parents Defending Education, it seems that a principal goal of this come-lately manifestation of manuactured grassroots is to be able to draw on token “parent” presence wherever it needs to across the nation in order to fabricate standing in any number of educational lawsuits, including those challenging racial inequities. No matter the school or district, cleverly-named Parents Defending Education could have a parent available to position in litigation in the name of “race-neutral” (but in practice, racially-biased) policies.

This is not how grassroots works. This is how an organization with an agenda exploits the facade of grass roots to achieve its goals.

The president of Parents Defending Education, Nicole Neily, started the Washington, DC-based nonprofit, Speech First, near the end of 2017. According to its 2018 tax filing, Speech First spent over $1.4M on education litigation related to free speech:

SPEECH FIRST DEFENDS STUDENTS’ FREE SPEECH RIGHTS ON CAMPUS THROUGH LITIGATION, ADVOCACY, AND EDUCATION. IN FY 2018, SPEECH FIRST FILED FEDERAL LAWSUITS AGAINST THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN (IN MAY) AND THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS (IN DECEMBER), ALLEGING THAT VARIOUS POLICIES VIOLATED STUDENTS’ FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS THROUGH OVERBROAD, VAGUE POLICIES DESIGNED TO CHILL STUDENT SPEECH AND EXPRESSION. PRESIDENT NICOLE NEILY APPEARED ON TV 13 TIMES, DID 75 RADIO INTERVIEWS, PLACED 4 OP-EDS, WAS QUOTED IN 150 NEWS ARTICLES, AND SPOKE AT 4 STUDENT CONFERENCES. ONA REGULAR BASIS, NEILY SPEAKS AND MEETS WITH STUDENT GROUPS AND INDIVIDUAL ACTIVISTS AND VISITS CAMPUSES AROUND THE COUNTRY.

Neily was paid $162K by her nonprofit for her not-so-grassroots activism, which included $10,000 in “bonus or incentive compensation.

Neily’s Speech First startes in late 2017, and the next year has $1.4M to spend.

Hardly grassroots. And not even Neily’s first nonprofit.

In 2016, Neily became president of the nonprofit, Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Its mission statement:

THE MISSION OF FRANKLIN CENTER IS TO PROMOTE SOCIAL WELFARE AND CIVIL BETTERMENT BY UNDERTAKING PROGRAMS THAT PROMOTE JOURNALISM AND THE EDUCATION OF THE PUBLIC ABOUT CORRUPTION, INCOMPETENCE, FRAUD, OR TAXPAYER ABUSE BY ELECTED OFFICIALS AT ALL LEVELS OF GOVERNMENT.

The organization spent $2.8M, chiefly for “online journalism.” Neily was paid $99K for her one year as president. (The nonprofit seems to have undergone a name change in 2017, to Franklin News Foundation, and the contributions and grants were dropping off notably from 2015 to 2017. As former president, Neily received $38K in compensation. That same year, she started the nonprofit, Speech First.)

On her Linkedin bio, Neily indicates that one of her interests is the Charles Koch Institute.

Like all grass roots organizations, Parents Defending Children must (must!) have a vice president for strategy and investigations– one who happens to be a former investigative journalist and mostly independent consultant, Asra Nomani. Now, I see nothing wrong with being an investigative journalist. However, to now hold a title as VP for strategy of anything bespeaks top-downism, not grass-rootism.

And what grass roots organization would be complete without a director of outreach who drew $82K in 2015 as a consultant for an ed-reform blog with millions in its coffers at its outset? That would be Erika Sanzi, and that blog would be Education Post, the billionaire-funded blog initially run by Peter Cunningham at the behest of Los Angeles billionaire Ei Broad, who pushed the project, in Cunningham’s words, “because a lot of reform leaders felt like they were being piled on and that no one would come to their defense.” In its first year (2014), Education Post received $5.5M in contributions from four billionaire families/orgs. In 2015 (the first year Sanzi appears on the Ed Post tax form), it received another $2.3M from three billionaire families/orgs– who also happened to be just your usual grass-rootsy parents, I’m sure.

In 2016, EdPost paid Sanzi $120K for “communications and outreach.” EdPost received $4.6M from five billionaire families/orgs. This time, Bill Gates led in the giving ($1.5M). In 2017, Sanzi’s “communications and outreach” compensation was $131K; Ed Post received $7.4M from eight billionaire families/orgs, but mostly by Michael Bloomberg ($3.4M).

In EdPost’s most recent tax filing as of this writing (2018), Sanzi’s pay was $121K, and EdPost’s wealthy contributors appear to be unwilling to dole out any single contributions hitting a million. The $2M in total contributions came from eight billionaire families/orgs, with Chan Zuckerberg doling out the top contribution of $750,000.

Sanzi is also now a “senior visiting fellow” with the Fordham Institute, mouthpiece for Common Core packaging and promotion. However, forget all of that and just think of her as a parent who lives somewhere and it therefore grassroots.

What is not so obvious just yet is the details on the nonprofit status of Parents Defending Education. The IRS nonprofit search site includes a notice of data update delays. As of this writing, there is no record of an IRS determination letter for nonprofit status of any organization named “Parents Defending Education.” On its website, Parents Defending Education does not explcitly identify itself as a nonprofit, but it does so in the introduction of its NYC legal filing as “movant” cited at the outset of ths post:

Plaintiffs are a nonprofit and parents with children in New York City’s public schools; Movant is a nonprofit whose members include parents with children in New York City’s public schools.

So. Did Parents Defending Education already receive its nonprofit status as of its NYC filing, or did it just say that it “is” a nonprofit without having yet received its determination letter?

To what address will that letter come? The grass-rootsy beltway of Washington, DC?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

NOLA’s James Singleton Charter School: Academically Unacceptable, Riddled with Scandal, Still Open.

New Orleans-based James Singleton Charter School has been allowed to operate for almost two decades despite its established record as academically unacceptable and being riddled with scandal.

Here we go again, compliments of WWLTV on March 26, 2021:

NEW ORLEANS — The Dryades YMCA board of directors held a tense meeting Friday and had to scramble to deal with the retirement of its longtime president and chief executive officer as state and local police looked into allegations of employees’ falsified background checks.

It was the first time the board had met since a scathing letter earlier this month from New Orleans Public Schools alleged fake employee background checks at James Singleton Charter School, a public K-8 school run by and housed in the historic Y in Central City.

The board members gave the Y’s departing president and CEO, Doug Evans, a standing ovation after he made brief comments. He spent 45 years working for one of the few formerly segregated Black YMCA’s left in the country. Evans touted his team’s work supporting and educating the Central City community, providing youth programs and teaching water safety.

But there was no avoiding the fact that his resignation comes amid scandal.

The organization’s chief financial officer, Catrina Reed, resigned Friday.

It’s unclear what led to her departure, but federal court records show she was convicted of robbery in 1996. She was also charged with embezzlement, although that charge was dropped, and had to pay more than $1,100 in restitution to Delta Bank and Trust.

Sources told WWL-TV Reed hid her financial crime from the YMCA before she was hired to handle the agency’s multi-million-dollar finances. …

Meanwhile, New Orleans Public Schools’ chief compliance officer, Kevin George, was also at Friday’s board meeting. …

George declined to comment, but the school district said his March 10 letter spoke for itself. The letter alleged that a routine compliance check at Singleton found at least 10 employees who had criminal background checks with false identification numbers or incorrect State Police signatures.

George said that in several instances, the background checks showed no rap sheet when the employee actually had one. And in at least one instance, the employee had a criminal conviction or pled no contest to a crime that prohibited that person from working at a school, George wrote.

In 2018, James Singleton Charter School chose not to expand after another scandal rocked its world. From the February 1, 2018 Lens:

Allegations of cheating and impropriety on standardized tests at James M. Singleton Charter School have already led to the firing of four educators and the CEO’s resignation from Dryades YMCA, which runs the school.

Now the YMCA has backed out of its plan to take over the facility housing Mahalia Jackson Elementary School, according to a news release issued Thursday afternoon.

As to those testing irregulrities, from the January 23, 2018 Lens:

Four educators at James M. Singleton Charter School were fired last week after the state Department of Education voided standardized tests for about 165 students because of irregularities and suspected cheating.

The state brought the allegations to Singleton’s board this fall. When the board started looking into the matter, chairman Darren Mire said, some answers from administration didn’t add up.

“As we were doing the cleanup, we realized this is a systematic problem,” he said. “We wanted to be prepared for the spring testing and that’s why we made the moves we made.”

School leader Rosemary Martin, district test coordinator and curriculum coordinator Tenisha Marcel, special education chairperson Cynthia Walker, and social worker Steven Byrd were terminated, Mire said.

As for James Singleton Charter School’s grades, well, one must wonder at the school choice excellence that is allowed to continue almost two decades (predating Katrina) in New Orleans. As education advocate and career teacher, Vicky Johnston, notes regarding James Singleton Charter School’s school grade history:

  • In 2003 their baseline SPS was 33.5, academically unacceptable, they only had 6-8 grades.
  • In 2004 their SPS was 36.2, academically unacceptable, 6-8 grades.
  • In 2005 their SPS was 49.9, academically unacceptable, 6-8 grades.
  • 2006 no data, 2007 no data
  • 2008 expanded to Pr-K to 8, baseline 55.2. Academically unacceptable.
  • 2009 SPS 62.5 , academically unacceptable, PreK-8
  • 2010, SPS 70.1, given new baseline, academic watch, PreK-8
  • 2011, Letter grade F, SPS 65.4, school in decline
  • 2012, Letter grade F, this is the year the reports from LDOE were changing and baselines were changed.
  • 2013, Letter grade D
  • 2014 Letter grade C
  • 2015 Letter grade D, SPS 47.4
  • 2016 Letter grade C , SPS 69
  • 2017 Letter grade D, 51.4 (2016-17 tests were the tests that were voided for “irregularities”)
  • 2018 Letter grade F, SPS 39.2
  • 2019 Letter grade F, SPS 35.3

Academically unacceptable for its first three years; no data for next two years, then allowed to expand in 2008 all while continuing in its academically unacceptable status.

Then the grades waffle a bit between D and C, with a testing scandal uncovered in the midst of this school-grade heyday:

Louisiana Department of Education

October 27, 2017

Mr. Darren Mire

RSD-Dryades YMCA

2220 Oretha C. Haley Blvd.

New Orleans, LA 70113

Dear Mr. Mire:

During the summer of 2017, potential testing irregularities at James Singleton Charter School were reported to the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). The accusation stated that students were receiving copies of the LEAP test prior to taking the test, teachers and staff were taking the test for students, and test administrators were coaching students during the test. The LDOE began an investigation, including interviewing all school staff involved in testing, interviewing students, as well as reviewing documentation regarding testing.

During this review the LDOE discovered the following students at James Singleton Charter School received accommodations that were not properly documented….

(34 students-subject test combinations identified and redacted)

As a result of the findings, the tests listed above will be voided and count as a zero for accountability. The LDOE inquiry will continue and LDOE reserves the right to void additional tests if further findings are discovered.

Why, oh why, is this school still allowed open?

It can only be due to the “who you know” of it all. There is no other reason.

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

My Pandemic Classroom

Due to the complications associated with living life during this pandemic, my blogging frequency has taken quite the plunge this past year. Our school district has been in session full time, in person, since September. Faculty reported to school late August. In order to adjust for a delayed school year, our district cut many of our holidays even as the school day itself became longer to keep students from congregating. Desk cleaning happens with each change of class, and conveniences such as wooden hall passes cannot be used, so that means writing a pass on paper every time a student needs the restroom. For quarantined students, there’s Google Meet happening simultaneously as class meets in person. More than once I have had my class at a standstill because a quarantined student needed extra assistance via the bumbling that can easily happen when people are trying to work out an issue without the simplicity of being together in the same physical space.

In short, I am tired. Long-term tired. However, I have also accomplished a major goal: To date, and by God’s grace, I have not missed a single day of school. My only premature exit was two hours early one Monday to bring my mother to the dentist. As of this writing, my seniors have only three weeks to go (which is both a relief and pressure to get our work done and graded).

In my classroom, I have masked; I have distanced; I have cleaned; I have made careful decisions with my personal time so that I minimized the likelihood of being quarantined. I have strategized my bathroom breaks so that I could also clean desks between classes. I have packed lunches easy to eat on the fly (our lunch period has been reduced from 27 minutes to 21 minutes to minimize the time students can congregate). I have limited my wardrobe to accommodate incessant cleaning. I stopped polishing my nails (again, all of the cleaning, and frankly, I became too tired to keep up with the task).

Along with my colleagues, I have learned the ins and outs of a new-to-us online platform, Google Classroom, over the past summer and into the new school year– and that without having school-issued Chromebooks for faculty until the second quarter.

On the fly, on the fly.

This has been a hard year, but not my hardest year. Know why?

Because I have three decades of teaching experience and five decades of life experience to draw from.

Therefore, I quickly realized that the most important task I faced this year was to teach my seniors to write a research paper.

Common Core did not have to tell me so. I consulted no student test scores to determine this truth, just teaching and life experience.

And common sense. The pandemic blindsided our nation just as these seniors were to write their junior research papers. It fell by the wayside. 

I don’t want to hear a word about “learning loss.” Career teachers will do what career teacher do, and that is find where students are and move them forward using the resources at one’s disposal.

In devising a research assignment for my students, I faced the incredible obstacle of the ease at which the internet makes it possible for students to avoid learning. Just buy a paper. Cut and paste and call it writing. It’s not cheating if I change every fourth word, right?

The internet enables incredible ignorance. Yesterday, I asked my students to write haiku, and some struggled to divide words into syllables. One student told them not to bother, that there was a website that would do it for them. Absolutely not, I said. I will not allow you to be saved from figuring out what a syllable is.

I do not want my students to be rescued from their own learning. Therefore, for their research assignment, I created a research proposal assignment. Not a paper. A proposal. 

There is no website that provides some pre-fab proposal to fit the six specifications in the assignment I created. (Forgive me for not posting it at this time.)

I issued the assignment in late January. Then, for the next nine weeks, every class period, every day, beginning with how to format the document and then proceeding one section at a time, I consulted with individual students about their writing. Sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph. And all while being cognizant of social distancing (i.e., by taking a student’s Chromebook to my stand in front of the room and discussing aloud; by being mindful of how long I was standing near a student, both of us masked).

In the end, my students learned how to write a research document formatted to fit MLA 2016 specifications, and there was no way that they could cheat. Some tried. They tred to cut an paste from other works, but the words did not fit the assignment, and out the window such efforts went rather quickly.

I watched my students write their own research-based work. Enough with “learning loss.” They learned how to improve their writing, at a reasonable, guided pace, and next week, I will let them know what my grading criteria are for the unified, final document. Proofreading will now be on them.

But there is more. Each proposal section was its own small grade, and so long as a student was willing to hang in with revising, that student was eligible for maximum points possible. I proceeded thus for three reasons. First of all, I did not know if our school year might again be cut short and if we would be able to finish the assignment. So, giving smaller grades along the way provided me with grades if school fell apart for a second year in a row. Secondly, students learned tenacity– hanging in there until the work was done. And thirdly, in awarding maximum points, I did not want to penalize students who might have finished later than others for waiting on me to get to them in any given class period.

In this case, the proposal is the final assignment. We are running out of school year, and I am out of energy. That noted, students understand that they now have a proposal ready to go and possibly of use to them in transforming proposal to full paper in a future college class.

At Teach for a Career, this is how its done.

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: If It’s Publicly Funded, We Want to Kill It.

I have been reading in Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire’s excellent book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, the chapters, “Teaching Gigs” and “Education à la Carte,” which only solidify in my mind the end game of organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the likes of ALEC associates, billionaire Koch brothers, former US ed sec Betsy DeVos, and former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal:

Privatize all public entities, including schools. To the greatest degree possible, abolish professions by replacing said professionals with minimally-trained, temp workers who move from gig to gig and have no leverage in their own right (no unions, no expectation of benefits like health insurance or retirement plans).

Send the money to the top, and provide CEOs with bloated salaries and abundant perks at the expense of workers.

Package it all as favoring consumer individualism and worker freedom–

–all while encouraging those scraping-by workers to file for public assistance and telling the “empowered” public in the fine print that beyond what turns out to be a token of public money, the brunt of funding their empowerment rests with them.

Of course, the irony of this privatization push is that in destroying professions and minimally paying workers in the name of cost cutting, ultra-billionaires like the Waltons are able to cash in handsomely on public assistance like food stamps.

So, what is really happening is that the ultra-conservative, public-entity busters do not want public services that serve the public; they want public money to subsidize their corporate exploitation of starvation-wage workers.

Regarding efforts to dismantle public school systems in favor of scores of disjointed, unregulated education products and businesses, Schneider and Berkshire point out that school systems serving families of means are not likely to be chopped up into ed-business scraps. Better-funded school systems serve constituents who want continuity, and stability, and in-person learning, and extracurricular activities, and in-the-moment, teacher-student, student-student, human-relationship educational experiences for their children– and who have the means to adequately fund such schools.

Certainly parents of lesser economic means want the same for their children. However, school systems that already suffer from inadequate funding because of a sparse tax base become sitting ducks for edu-product, gig-teacher, burn-and-churn destruction.

Inequitable funding is a tremendous problem in American public education.

Inequitable funding. Not test scores.

As for busting school systems into fragments of edu-business and declaring war on the idea of the career teacher:

If the fiscally-situated are not clamoring for this à la carte mirage for their own children, then don’t buy into the idea that this is good for anyone’s children.

_______________________________________________________

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John White and Co: What Are They Up to Now?

John White’s time as Louisiana state superintendent officially ended on March 12, 2020, after eight years of his wreaking opaque, ed-reform havoc on Louisiana public education.

Two years prior to his exit, in June 2018, White co-founded an education nonprofit, Propel America. However, according to the April 30, 2019, Advocate, he never mentioned to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) that he co-founded a nonprofit– even as his nonprofit was piloting its career path product in Louisiana.

Propel America has the following mission statement:

Propel brings together high schools, community colleges, and employers in a unified system of skill-building, job placement, and ongoing planning for young adults. The model includes a “core course” in or directly after high school, in which students determine their job pathway and begin to prepare for it. Propel then covers the cost of job training, pays a modest stipend, provides mentorship and support, and guarantees a job interview for any “Propel fellow” who successfully completes their training. This process empowers recent high school graduates with the skills, credentials, experiences, and social networks to attain a well-paying job within one year, with opportunities for advancement and higher education. 

That’s a lot of effort to drop the ball with a promise of only a single job interview, but it sure reads impressive if one glosses over this critical, weak link. But back to White and some other “fellows,” if you will. 

On December 17, 2019, Lousiana Department of Education (LDOE) assistant superintendent of policy and governmental affairs, Erin Bendily, left LDOE to go work for White’s nonprofit. The LDOE press release downplayed White’s role (“a volunteer board member for the organization”) and did not mention that White co-founded the nonprofit and was by that time listed on its 2019 tax filing as chariman of the board. 

According to that 2019 tax filing, Propel America reported $2.7M in total revenue, with only $237,000 of that total generated by the services the nonprofit offers, and the rest– just shy of $2.4M– generated from “contributions and grants.”  (By its sixth tax year, at least 33.3% of Propel America’s revenue must come from governmental entities or public support organizations and not “gifts, grants, contributions, or membership fees.”)

The Propel America site lists the following “supporters”:

  • John and Wendy Cozzi (John sits on the Propel America board)
  • Bloomberg Philanthropies
  • Baton Rouge Area Foundation
  • CambiarEducation.org
  • Carnegie Corporation of New York
  • Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation
  • Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation
  • Fournier Family Foundation
  • Lumina Foundation
  • Mai Family Foundation
  • NewProfit
  • Walton Family Foundation
  • Martin and Mistie Eltrich
  • Susan and Thomas Dunn

Even though Propel America reported its 2019 end-of-year net assets at almost $1.4M, in April 2020, the organization received $119,200 in coronavirus bailout money for “payroll.”

Propel America’s 2019 tax form indicates that as chairman of the board, White received no compensation. One of White’s Teach for America (TFA) cronies employed by him at LDOE, former assistant superintendent of academic content Rebecca Kockler, was paid $147K for “program consulting support.” Another former TFAer, Rebecca Blackall, received $113K, also for “program consulting support.” (Propel America paid other consultants as well, totaling $617K, but only those paid $100K or more need to be named.)

Kockler left LDOE for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) the same month that White’s Propel America happened to receive nonprofit status (June 2018). LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner secretly planned to divide LAUSD into 32 decentralized, “portfolio districts” like all-charter New Orleans. Beutner’s plan was discovered and publicized, and the short of it was that by November 2018, Kockler left her job as Beutner’s chief of staff.

She was apparently fiscally rescued, so to speak, by chum John White.

And there are other LDOE-TFA pals of White poised and ready to make an ed-gig living via their continued association.

Consider TFAer Kunjan Narechania, who was chief of staff under White during his brief time as superintendent of the New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) in 2011. In 2012, Narechania followed White to LDOE, where she was chief operating officer, then assistant superintendent of school improvement, and then (while still asst super) chief executive officer of an RSD that was now being phased out according to state law but still good for resume padding for Narechania, who in characteristic TFA-ladder-climbing fashion is light on actual classroom teaching experience (3 years in NC) and top-heavy on high-profile, ed leadership positions.

Even so, once RSD was over, Narechania, having no new elevated place to land, chose a seemingly popular option for ed reformers between gigs– she formed a limited liability company, Ingleside Consulting LLC (filing date 03/31/20). Narechania is listed as both registered agent and the only officer. The address of Ingleside Consulting is 3436 Magazine Street #158 in New Orleans, which is little more than a mailbox at Packrat Shipping

Like Narechania, the former assistant superintendent who hoped to replace White at LDOE, Jessica Baghian, formed her own post-LDOE LLC, Roxton Strategies (July 2020), and billed herself as “chief executive officer.” Roxton Strategies has its address in a residential area.

One week prior to his March 12, 2020, exit as Louisiana state superintendent, on March 04, 2020, White, too, formed his own LLC, Coliseum Square, which is “not in good standing for failure to file an annual report.” White advertises both Propel America and Coliseum Square on his Linkedin bio, where he also calls himself a “visiting scholar @UVCurry,” which could mean he is an adjunct or has a fellowship. (White is not listed among UV faculty.) 

However, one LLC in particular promises to funnel money into former LDOE assistant superintendent pockets:

Watershed Advisors.

On February 3, 2021, another LLC took residence at Narechania’s Packrat Shipping box #158: Watershed Advisors, which lists as its principal officer yet another former LDOE TFAer, Catherine Pozniak, who was assistant superintendent for fiscal operations under White. John White is listed as “manager, member” of Watershed Advisors. 

On her Linkedin bio, Kunjan Narechania lists herself as a “principal” at Watershed Advisors and as working “full time” for the LLC, which only seems right since she had that Packrat Shipping box first.

What is curious is that an LLC formed only one month proir to this writing can afford any full-time employee.

But there’s more.

Former LDOE TFAer assistant superintendent Hannah Dietsch is *also* a “principal” at Watershed Advisors, as is Baghian. Ahh, but former LDOE TNTP (The New Teacher Project) deputy assistant superintendent of strategic data, analytics, and accountability, Jill Zimmerman Pinsky, is only a *director* at Watershed Advisors.

Still, Pinsky is another who indicates that she is working “full time” at Watershed Advisors. She also publicized this notice on her Linkedin page mid-February:

I’m excited to share that several of my former Louisiana Department of Education colleagues and I are launching a new organization, Watershed Advisors. We match visionary ideas with investors seeking social impact and bold governmental leaders at the state and local level. We then embed teams of experts within government agencies to implement, communicate, finance, and evaluate those ideas, impacting generations of American learners and job seekers in need of access and opportunity. And, we’re hiring!
Watershed Advisors Analyst $60K/yr – $75K/yr

So, what we have here is a fresh, new LLC that is a hub for former LDOE-TFAer assistant superintendents under John White, *and* of which White is a “manager/member,” *and* that has cash enough at startup to pay an analyst at least $60K on top of presumably paying the likes of Narechania and Pinsky at least that much, *and* that wants to “embed teams of experts (presumably themselves)… [to impact] generations of American learners and job seekers in need of access and opportunity.”

What seems to be the real *opportunity* here is that White-managed Watershed Advisors could somehow draw upon the cash in the coffers of White-chaired nonprofit, Propel America.

For so many former, career-inflated, LDOE TFAers who cannot seem to snag the next taxpayer-funded, golden gig, that would be quite the *watershed* indeed–

 — so long as ed-reform-friendly millionaires and billionaires are willing to subsidize the venture.

John White

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The Brief, Distressed Life of a Virtual School

In July 2020, my school district unveiled its “virtual school” as one means of educating students during a pandemic.

At the time, I was surprised to read that the district had planning to open a virtual school anyway. The pandemic just sped up the process. From the July 11, 2020, Nola.com:

The St. Tammany Parish Public Schools system already planned to unveil its new online school this year to meet the needs of families living in an increasingly digital world. But the surge of coronavirus cases has the program on a fast track. …

STPPS Virtual School is a software platform that allows teachers to work directly with students via an online connection. The school will adhere to the same educational standards of the district’s 55 brick and mortar campuses….

Teachers will use instructional videos and modules to teach students and will monitor their progress through daily interaction. Classes will be held on an online platform such as Zoom. The counselor will ensure older students are taking the right classes to graduate and help them with necessary transcripts and other paperwork as they prepare for college. …

Students who enroll in the virtual school will be asked to remain enrolled for the entire semester.

As for remaining enrolled for the entire semester:

Not so much.

During the first quarter of the school year, I began receiving students who were transferring from the virtual school, often with low or failing course averages, and I was not alone. Students were arriving on our doorstep near the end of a grading period from what appeared to be an ill-functioning virtual situation, and it seemed that we were expected to salvage the situation in the eleventh hour, so to speak.

One student who arrived in my class admitted to never having logged on even once to complete work in the online version of my course. I formulated a plan with this student to complete a number of assignments for me in short order so that this student’s first-quarter failing grade would be closer to passing, in hopes that averaging it with a healthier, second quarter grade might yield a passing average for the semester.

Near the end of the first quarter, the district publicized that students did not have to wait until the end of the semester to return to brick-and-mortar schools and could switch at the end of the first quarter. But the changes did not start with nor did they stop at the clean break of a grading period.

On January 23, 2021, I wrote about our virtual school’s whopper enrollment loads per teacher. An excerpt:

First-semester biology, 282 students; first-semester environmental science, 461 students– both belonging to the same teacher of record (who has an additional 91 students in two other classes).

Yowsa.

First-semester US History, 306 students; first-semester World History, 129 students, AP US History, 48 students– all assigned to one teacher.

First-semester English I, 381 students; first-semester English I Honors, 55 students– both courses, one teacher.

First-semester Algebra I, 394 students assigned to one teacher, who also has another 125 students in 3 additional courses.

First-semester Government, 567 students. One teacher.

Making teachers responsible for so many students is problematic on its face.

Add to that the likes of my student who did not log into online class even once and you end up with something like this as part of an email announcement from the superintendent seven months later, in March 2021:

We are also making plans to close our STPPS Virtual School. The virtual school and online learning platform have served their purpose this school year in response to COVID, but it is in the best interest of our students to receive face-to-face instruction and support if possible. Our virtual school students will return to the physical schools in their attendance zone at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

There was no mention of keeping the virtual school in operation “to meet the needs of families living in an increasingly digital world,” as the Nola.com put it in July 2020.

Whether or not the virtual school actually “served it purpose” a matter for debate.

What is certainly true, however, is that “it is in the best interest of our students to receive face-to-face instruction and support if possible.”

STPPS Virtual School, we hardly knew ye.

______________________________________________________________

No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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My Complete, Unedited Review of Doug Harris’ Book, Charter School City

In January 2020, Commonweal Magazine asked me to review Doug Harris’ book about New Orleans charter schools, Charter School City.

I completed my review in February 2020, but with the pandemic, my review was not published until November 2020.

As so often happens in publication, the review I submitted was pared down considerably, which editors reserve the right to do though the result might make the review seem shallow or incomplete. In this case (and to my dismay), the edits in one section involved a splicing that altered the meaning of my words. (For the backstory on that error, see this email exchange.)

According to the terms of my contract with Commonweal, I needed to wait 90 days before publicizing my originally-submitted, unedited review. And so, since those 90 days have passed, I offer below my complete review of Harris’ book.

Book Review: Douglas N. Harris, Charter School City: What the End of Traditional Public Schools in New Orleans Means for American Education, University of Chicago Press, April 2020.

***

My family is from New Orleans. My father and his siblings grew up in a white neighborhood, intentionally zoned, and attended all-white schools in the 1920s and 30s, also intentionally zoned. In the 1950s, my family relocated to neighboring St. Bernard Parish, as did many former white residents of New Orleans. My mother also grew up in New Orleans and relocated to St. Bernard, where she attended an all-white high school in the early to mid-1960s. Around the time my mother was a freshman in high school (1960), just as Ruby Bridges became the first black child to attend New Orleans’ all-white William Franz Elementary school,St. Bernard opened a school on the St. Bernard-Orleans Parish line expressly to allow white residents of New Orleans to use school vouchers to escape federally-mandated integration of New Orleans public schools. Though the voucher school was forced to close a year later, the virulent anti-black sentiment in the white communities of New Orleans and St. Bernard lived on.

In the 1966-67 school year, under pressure from the federal government, St. Bernard officially racially integrated its public schools, but not before the school board separated its middle and high schools by gender, to prevent adolescent black boys and adolescent white girls from attending the same public schools. In 1985, I graduated from an all-girls public high school. That same year, the St. Bernard school system was sued for not fully and completely integrating its schools, thereby depriving girls of the same extracurricular opportunities as the boys. My sister graduated in 1988; hers was the last graduating class from our all-female public high school.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, white flight continued, either by white families outright moving to suburbs or by enrolling their children in New Orleans’ parochial schools. The governor, legislature, and Orleans Parish school board actively worked to suppress the economic advancement of New Orleans’ black citizens by limiting job advancement, educational opportunity, and housing options. As whites fled New Orleans, the tax base for public services and public maintenance shrunk, and, thanks to the ugly, ingrained, suppressive methods of whites in power, New Orleans had no solid, black middle class to serve as a sufficient tax base to support and maintain public services, including New Orleans’ public schools. And so, as one might logically expect, generations later, the public education situation in New Orleans had become dire.

I have yet to hear any authoritative, white voice from New Orleans publicly assuming responsibility for the horrid, nasty oppression that generations of white citizen resistance wreaked upon black citizen advancement in New Orleans, in, among other venues, its schools.

As I began reading Douglas Harris’ book, Charter School City, I wondered if its pages would include such an acknowledgement.

The answer is no.

The central focus of Harris’ work is to compare test score and graduation rate data for New Orleans public schools in years immediately preceding the 2005 devastation of Hurricane Katrina with test score and graduation data from post-Katrina (c.2006) to 2015. Based on these results (chapter 4 of the book), Harris considers New Orleans’ post-Katrina education reform efforts to be a success. Much of the book is devoted to examining possible reasons for improvement in the metrics. In chapter 9, Harris concludes that New Orleans test score and graduation rate improvements are a result of the state’s school takeover process.

Even as I read of New Orleans’ improvement, I could not help but think of the audit being conducted of New Orleans high school transcripts, and of initial findings of missing test scores and class credits, an audit conducted at the request of the New Orleans schools superintendent following a scandal that affected numerous would-be graduating seniors at one high school. I also thought of the numerous lawsuits for the release of New Orleans test data from the Louisiana Department of Education, which is run by a champion of New Orleans reform. Thus, I am not confident in the integrity of the data Harris analyzed.Even so, data integrity is not my principal concern.

In chapter 3, Harris details the state takeover of New Orleans schools in the chaotic aftermath of Katrina, and at the heart of it all is former state school board member and businesswoman, Leslie Jacobs. Harris credits Jacob with drafting legislation to declare most of New Orleans schools as failing, and she and a handful of other white affluent individuals form the core of what Harris refers to as the “reform community.” Harris notes the importance of this reform community coming together in order to effect its reforms, including being offered office space by Tulane University, a private, predominately white institution. Ironically, Harris promotes one community at the expense of another. The reform community intentionally shuts out the predominantly black New Orleans community in its planning, and indeed, this white, affluent reform community notably damages New Orleans’ black middle class by Orleans Parish School Board’s mass firing of its teachers in the weeks following Katrina. Harris views this mass firing as unfortunate but necessary for the success of the reform effort in New Orleans, the ultimate goal of which was to replace board-led, traditional public schools with a portfolio of independently-operated charter schools. One reason in particular that the New Orleans teachers had to go was that they were unionized, and their union contract included such stipulations as teachers being allowed to be tardy to school ten times prior to any corrective action and administrators being forbidden from observing teachers’ classes.

It’s a good thing that the reform community could rely on Teach for America for temporary, predominantly-white, inexperienced, out-of-state replacements, Harris notes.

When I read about the above conditions in the New Orleans teachers’ union contract, for a moment, I was surprised. I am a member of my local teachers’ union, and I have never heard of such conditions. But here is where researcher Harris should have gone further with his query: Why would New Orleans teachers feel the need for such job protections? Could it be tied to the generations of white, racist hostility at all levels of government and experienced by black New Orleans citizens who tried to establish a place for themselves and their families in the middle class? Harris asks no such questions, nor does he posit that including the true community in the reform community’s plans would have presented an opportunity to build a trust that might have resulted in some negotiation to modify that teaching contract, especially given that the contract was set to expire anyway in 2006, a fact that Harris acknowledges.

On the contrary, Harris celebrates Jacobs as a maverick of needed reform, seizing the moment and coming together with other white, affluent New Orleanians to create this charter school city.

In examining the reasons for test score improvement, Harris discovers that New Orleans parents want to have neighborhood schools as a choice option. He seems to nod with furrowed brow as he acknowledges that no such choice exists. Still, test scores are up. Too, in discussing the chartering process, Harris interviews black community members who sought approval for charter schools, only to learn that locals need not apply. Finally, Harris admits that residents seeking to operate charter schools cannot not choose any charter authorizer but are instead restricted to those approved by the state.

In reading Charter School Choice, I often thought, “Let me see where this goes.”So, when I reached chapter 11 and read, “…I am not even arguing that the New Orleans model is best for New Orleans,” Harris had my attention. In this chapter, Harris notes a number of limitations, including the inequity of free markets, the loss of geographic community, and “Jacobs and other reform leaders ma[king] their decisions behind closed doors.” Once I concluded chapter 11, I was satisfied to see that Harris did express concerns, but withholding those concerns until the end of the book made the book read as though it were written by two Harrises, with the first being more clinically distant and the second, realizing that his summations have practical implications and therefore offering clear cautions.

In those summations, Harris acknowledges that in the area of community engagement, the New Orleans reforms were “least successful.” However, he does not consider the intentional exclusion of the community in leading the post-Katrina reforms to be the chief issue that makes New Orleans reforms unsuccessful, period, despite the outcomes of any metrics.

Harris does not understand the impact of generational disenfranchisement on New Orleans’ black community, a point which he brings home in chapter 12 when he again refers to Jacobs and her 2018 “carefully crafted legislation” to “return” (now) charter schools to local board oversight while preventing the board from “impeding the operational autonomy under its jurisdiction” in a number of areas.

Harris just wrote about the need for community engagement, yet he quickly returns to the same white affluence that in 2005 intentionally muted the voices of the black community setting the 2018 legislative parameters affecting the New Orleans predominantly black community and its schools.

Despite his strongly-worded cautions in chapter 11, Harris ends as he begins, with a celebration of Jacobs and the reform community: “In effect, what Jacobs and the reform community have now done is to create an entirely new type of school district, one intended to entrench school-level autonomy, parental choice and performance-based accountability.”

This disappointing end baffles me.

Harris’ book includes much informative detail on education reform in New Orleans, but on the critical importance of community involvement in all aspects of education decision making, Charter School City fails. I consider it the best off-base book that I have read to date.

–Mercedes Schneider

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Biden Admin Wants “to Focus on Assessments” in 2020-21

On February 22, 2021, acting ed secretary Ian Rosenblum (formerly of testing-friendly ed reform org, Education Trust) sent this letter to state school superintendents informing them that standardized testing must happen in the 2020-21 school year “to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on learning and identify what resources and supports students need” and “to address the educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

Anyone with a smidge of critical thought and modest powers of observation could easily make a short list of the impact that COVID-19 has had on learning. Furthermore, the biggest support public schools have needed for years is adequate (equitable) funding not tied to property taxes and not tied to any federal competition.

Surveying district and state superintendents about what they need in order to provide equitable education opportunities for their students would be a much better use of US Dept of Ed time and money than spending multiple millions on standardized tests.

But, but, but, according to Rosenblum, as a last-thought, tacked-on reason for administering tests during a pandemic, “parents need information on how their children are doing.”

I have been teaching the better part of three decades, and I have yet for any parent to ask me for standardized test scores so that the parent can know how their children are doing. They ask about grades on class assignments; they discuss specific skill areas that are challenging and ask for help with addressing the specific challenges arising from completing classroom assignments; they discuss supports needed when the children or other family members are facing health issues or other crises at home; they ask for assistance addressing behavior issues, but they never ask for standardized test scores out of a need to know how their children are doing.

The ridiculousness of administering standardized tests in 2020-21 is further highlighted by the non-standardizing of the entire process. Need to offer a shortened test? Okay. How about a “remote administration”? Sure, sure. How about a testing window that stays open to the “greatest extent practicable”? No problem.

How is one to weigh the meaning of scores on a test that is designed to be administered at a certain length but is shortened this year? Is the shortened test easier because of lessened testing fatigue? Is it more difficult because having fewer items makes getting one incorrect negatively affect the score more than it would otherwise? Who knows. 

And testing remotely: Can we start with who, exactly, is completing the test? Is there any unauthorized assistance being offered for its completion? Are scores affected by spotty internet connections, or distractions in test completion by other activity happening in the home, for instance? Who knows.

What is the effect of having a very wide testing window on testing outcomes? Could those who complete the test later be at an advantage compared to those who complete it sooner, or vice-versa? Who knows.

But Rosenblum reiterates that the point of offering the nonstandardized-standardized tests “to focus on assessments to provide information to parents, educators, and the public about student performance and to help target resources and supports.”

In other words, the real point is “to focus on assessments.”

We MUST give tests. Otherwise, we might have to rely on the common sense of asking school officials at the state and local levels what, specifically, they need in order to deliver the best K12 education possible in a pandemic. And we certainly cannot do that.

In the opening of his letter, Rosemblum states, “President Biden’s first priority is to safely re-open schools and get students back in classrooms, learning face-to-face from teachers with their fellow students.”

No test needed to achieve this goal. 

A major step involves formulating and activating a federal plan for vaccinating school personnel. Set aside vaccine doses for this specific purpose, and employ the National Guard, if need be, to enact the plan.

No test needed. Just action, President Biden. Just action.

Joe Biden

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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