Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Attack Teacher Pay At Your Children's Peril

High on the Ed Deformers agenda is the slashing of teacher pay. Bill Gates recently advised the Council of Chief State School Officers to eliminate seniority and tenure and called for an end to giving teachers extra money for master's degrees. Arne Duncan has done likewise.

A recent post on the Shanker Blog, Attention to Pay, discusses how the arguments against the teacher salary system are deceptive and obscure the actual relationship between remuneration and teacher quality. First, teacher pay is NOT based on education and experience (though our raises are). There are sharp distinctions between districts in salary schedules, with poorer districts paying much less than affluent districts for teachers with the same experience. This is an important point because poorer districts tend to lose teachers to more affluent districts. As a result, they have higher rates of teachers who are teaching out of their content areas or without proper credentials. In contrast, there is ample evidence that higher salaries increase teacher retention.

Another falsehood promulgated by the ed deformers, particularly by Bill Gates, is the notion that seniority-based raises are bankrupting school districts. Teachers’ salaries do tend to take up a huge chunk of districts’ budgets, as much as 40-60% in some districts, and older teachers with more seniority tend to cost their districts more than younger, less experienced teachers who come in at the bottom of the pay scale. However, the main source of increasing school expenditures is hiring more teachers, (as a result of increased enrollments, class size reduction,  and other factors), not high numbers of senior level teachers earning top of the scale salaries. In reality, teacher salaries have remained flat for the past 15 years and have been losing ground to those of other professions. According to the article, in 2008, the average starting salary of a college graduate was $49,624, while the average for first-year public school teachers was $38,160. As the maxim goes, people do not become teachers to become rich (or even to earn what they’re worth). Those who go into the teaching profession sacrifice better pay and usually better working conditions to do so.

A final argument made by the Ed Deformers is that the best way to attract the highest quality new teachers is to base pay on performance, not seniority or education. First, there is no evidence to back this up. It is merely wishful thinking, or, perhaps more accurately put, a scam to garner public support for a system that will drastically erode teacher compensation and drive many out of the profession entirely. Student test scores are influenced most significantly by their socioeconomic background, not teacher quality. As a result, under a merit pay system, teachers who teach in low income schools will end up getting the lowest pay, which will drive them into the wealthier and higher performing schools, or into other occupations entirely, rather than retaining them in the less affluent schools that are the most in need of quality teachers.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Punishing Parents for Truancy Does NOT Work

Punishing parents for chronic truancy doesn't work, according to a recent study reported in the Huffington Post.

The fact is that kids are chronically absent for numerous reasons that are out of the parents' control and cannot be mitigated by taking the parents to court. Lack of health insurance, for example, causes low income kids to miss many days of school for treatable illnesses that go untreated. Kids cut class to avoid bullying, a problem that lies more with the school than the parents. Some avoid school because of transportation issues that may be due to family income or working conditions, or because, in order to get to school, they must pass through the "wrong" neighborhood, subjecting them to harassment by gangs.

Merit Pay Does NOT Work

See the following snippet from Diane Ravitch's blog: Merit Pay Fails Another Test

Few people realize that merit pay schemes have been tried again and again since the 1920s.

Belief in them waxes and wanes, but the results have never been robust.

Now we have the findings of the most thorough trial of teacher merit pay, conducted by first-rate economists at Vanderbilt University's National Center for Performance Incentives. Many people expected that this trial would show positive results because the bonus for getting higher scores was so large: Teachers in the treatment group could get up to $15,000 for higher scores.

After a three-year trial, the researchers concluded that the teachers in the treatment group did not get better results than those in the control group, who were not in line to get a bonus. There was a gain for 5th graders in the treatment group, but it washed out in 6th grade.

Bottom line: Merit pay made no difference. Teachers were working as hard as they knew how, whether for a bonus or not.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Murderous Middle class Marin Mommies

Marin county ranks #2 in California for pertussis (whooping cough), with 123 cases per 100,000. The illness has reached epidemic levels in California, with 5600 cases and 10 deaths. The disease is completely preventable with the dtap vaccine. However, bourgeois parents in Marin often choose to forego the vaccine out of irrational fears about the safety of vaccines (and the assumption that enough other parents will vaccinate their children to protect their unvaccinated kids through herd immunity). Many are also skipping the vaccine for measles, a disease that once killed 3000 children annually.

In San Francisco, and many other counties, the majority of those stricken with the illness are Spanish speaking immigrants. The assumption of medical professionals is that there is an outreach problem in terms of educating the immigrant population. There has also been a dramatic jump in adult infections due to the fact that the vaccine wears off over time and adults rarely get boosters. The high infection rate in Marin, however, is primarily among white middle class children.

What’s most troubling about the anti-vaccine hysteria is the utter disregard for everyone else’s safety. It is understandable that parents would want to protect their children from perceived threats. But in the case of vaccines, not only is the perceived threat irrational and exaggerated, but the consequences of foregoing vaccines are that everyone’s risk level goes up proportionately to the number of people who are not vaccinated. 

Herd immunity occurs when 80-90% of the population is vaccinated (depending on the pathogen). Once a threshold of vaccination has been reached, it is virtually impossible for the pathogen to establish a foothold in the population, thus protecting the minority that has not been vaccinated. Some studies have indicated that being unvaccinated in a highly vaccinated population is far better protection than being vaccinated in a poorly vaccinated population. Therefore, a selfish and self-entitled parent might assume that his or her child is safe, even if the child is unvaccinated. The problem is that if too many parents make this assumption, the threshold is not met and herd immunity does NOT occur and their child is at an increased risk of contracting a potentially deadly disease. Worse, everyone’s children are at an increased risk.

The anti-vaccine movement is dominated by wing nuts and extremists who use fear and misinformation to intimidate opponents and to recruit new adherents. Amy Wallace, author of Epidemic of Fear, and Paul Offit, coinventor of the rotovirus vaccine (a drug that could save thousands of children’s lives), were recently sued for $1 million dollars by Barbara Loe Arthur of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) for liable. Fortunately, the lawsuit was thrown out. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. called Offit a “biostitute,” while actor, Jim Carey, calls him a profiteer. One man even threatened to murder him under the mistaken assumption that this would somehow save innocent children’s lives.

Why so much sturm und drang over an award winning scientist who has created a life-saving medication? Autism is a terrible disease. It scares the hell out of new parents who are understandably desperate to find a causative factor they can blame. Offit has infuriated anti-vaccination activists by publishing well-researched data refuting their bogus claims, including the one linking autism to vaccines. Numerous studies have shown that there is no link between vaccines and autism. The illness is typically diagnosed in children between the ages of 12 and 24 months, the same ages in which they are receiving common childhood vaccinations. The correlation however, is purely coincidental. Thimerisal, a mercury-containing preservative, has not been used in children’s vaccines for over ten years, yet autism rates have continued to climb in that same time period. Likewise, vaccines have been incorrectly linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, after several people contracted this tragic auto-immune condition coincidentally after receiving swine flu vaccines in the 1970s. (Guillain-Barre is extremely rare, occurring in only one to two out of every 500,000 people. The cases in the 1970s did occur after flu vaccinations, but were still within the normal range).

Anti-vaccination advocates also blame Big-Pharma for sacrificing their children’s safety for profits. This fear is based on a long history of pharmaceutical companies distorting data, providing false claims of safety, and massively promoting dangerous products in order to boost profits (e.g., Vioxx, Fen-Phen, Accutane, DES, Thalidomide). While drug companies have been making fortunes from drugs like Lipitor, Nexium, Prozac, and Viagra, most have been getting out of the vaccine market, as profits are low compared to the blockbusters, and liability is high, particularly for newer vaccines, like influenza, which must be reformulated each year. If anything, the profit motive has increased our risk of contracting preventable diseases by limiting availability (See Mike Davis, Monster at the Door, for how this relates to influenza).

Many parents believe that too many vaccines overwhelm a child’s immune system. There is no science to back up this claim. However, a newborn may not have a strong enough immune system to develop immunity when vaccinated, so the hepatitis vaccine that hospitals offer the day after a child is born may not be effective. Also, parents can choose to space out the vaccinations to allow their children to recover in between vaccinations (many do cause minor side effects like muscle pain or cold symptoms). Some parents also believe that vaccines increase the risk of diabetes, but this is based on the flawed research of a single discredited scientist. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that there is no connection.

Vaccines save lives. Consider the smallpox vaccine, which has eradicated this deadly disease throughout the world, or the polio vaccine, which has eliminated this potentially deadly or disabling disease throughout most of the world. Avoiding vaccines for your child not only increases your child’s risk of contracting a deadly disease, but increases the risk for everyone else, too. There are also other costs associated with non-vaccination. Diseases like whooping cough, for example, which tend to kill mostly infants, can cause older children to miss weeks of school, potentially causing them to fail and have to repeat a year of classes. Parents may be forced to skip weeks of work to care for sick children (or themselves, if they catch the disease). Buying into pseudoscientific quackery and snake oils will not prevent or cure autism.

UK Police Attack School Children and Pregnant Woman

Students again demonstrated in London on November 24 to protest tuition hikes and cuts to low income student subsidies. There were at least 10,000 protesters in London, including many school age children who cut classes to join the protests. Demonstrations also occurred in Manchester, Sheffield, Winchester, Cambridge and Leeds. High school age protesters were worried that they won’t be able to afford college and would be consigned to low paying jobs for the rest of their lives. They were also protesting the government’s plans to end the Education Maintenance Allowance, which helps low income students stay in school after the age of 16.

The cops were extremely heavy handed, using truncheons on pregnant women and children under the age of 18. They charged protesters on horseback. They also used a tactic called Kettling, where they encircle protesters and hold them captive without food, water or the use of toilets for hours at a time, in effect imprisoning them without charge or due process. Some children were still being help by police after midnight in near-freezing conditions.






Boycott High Stakes Tests!

What if teachers refused to teach to the test? Answer: students would learn more and probably do better on the tests.

The following is a reposting from This Week in Education:

Thompson: What If They Gave a Test and Nobody Came?

12gallagher Kelly Gallagher's Education Week Commentary, "Why I Will Not Teach to the Test,"  reviewed the harm done to students when teachers capitulate, and "sprint and cover" all of the material that is on the end-of-the-year standardized tests.  What would happen if educators who believe that teach to the test is educational malpractice refused to comply?    Teachers and principals, who do not have a moral objection to this test craze, need not be pressured to change their beliefs.  Principals, who conscientiously object to the scripted instruction that results from excessive testing, should merely be asked to not punish teachers who act on their shared beliefs. Even if it was only a tenth of us who were willing to risk our careers, would they fire us all? - JT

Gates to Take Over Public Education

How do the filthy rich control policy? How do they destroy public education? Pretty easy when you have billions at your disposal for buying your own scientists and ed researchers, hiring PR firms, buying ads & politicians.

Tax Free Corporate Billions Leveraged to Take Over Social Policy Making

The new Gates Foundation financials are out, and things look much improved in 2009 following the 2008 meltdown.  When you click on this chart to enlarge it, you will see that the Gates Foundation now has nearly 30,000 millions of dollars (that's 30 billion) to use as it sees fit to bribe, to silence, to shape, to destroy, to seed, to alter, to maintain, to transform, to extort, to buy quiet, to build out of thin air any social policy that the Foundation wants, and all of it is tax-free.  Well, not quite.  In 2009, the Foundation paid $60,000 on $30 billion.  Damned excise taxes.

Thirty billion dollars, by the way, represents 7 Races to the Top.  We can see how just one of them threatens sanity in schooling all across the nation.  Can you imagine what a widespread disaster 7 of them would bring.  This, however, is the real and potential power of the numerous corporate foundations that are going all in to transform American schools for the masses into corporate data hubs designed to breed compliance, fear, non-thinking, anti-culture, consumption, selfishness, ahistoricism, and limited technical skill.  The Oligarchs are determined that the road to ecological apocalypse at least will be orderly.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Eat the Rich (Before They Eat You!)

by Trialsanderrors
As the Fat Cats sat around their banquet tables, with their cigars and 30 year old cognac, eating foie gras and caviar, while the rest of us ate turkey (if lucky), they were giving their thanks for their prudent investments in the politicians who supported the trillions of dollars that bailed out the economy, so that they could earn $1.66 trillion in profits this past quarter. Over their Kopi Luwak coffee they shed a few crocodile tears for the have-nots, and exchanged a few chuckles at the suckers who bought their promise of more jobs in exchange for tax breaks and subsidies.

So how has the Great Recession affected the rich? Annual bonuses rose by 11% for bosses at the 450 largest US corporations last year, according to the Wall Street Journal. Shareholder returns increased by 29%. Forbes magazine says that 400 richest Americans increased their net wealth by 8% in 2010, to $1.37 trillion.

How has the Great Recession affected the rest of us? Many more are now going hungry, living without healthcare and surviving on reduced income. 15% of all US households, 50 million people, didn’t have enough to eat in 2009.  One million children went hungry on a regular basis. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 49.9 million adults went without health insurance, up from 46 million in 2008. 26% of the adult population is now uninsured, up from 24.5 percent in 2008. According to the Social Security Administration, the median annual wage fell by $247 to $26,261. The Census Bureau says that in 2009, there were 44 million Americans living in poverty, an increase of 3.8 million from 2008. At the end of this month, unemployment benefits expire for 1.2 million workers due to Congressional inaction. By the new year, this figure will rise to 2 million.

Charter School is Re-Renamed for the Ex-Governator.

Photo by I Heiniger
Outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has finally earned the greatest honor of his career: having a charter school renamed after him, again. “It doesn’t matter how many Mr. Universes or Mr. Worlds you win. . . it is a very different kind of honor to have a school named after you,” said Schwarzenegger at the re-renaming ceremony.

The CHIME Institute elementary school, in Woodland Hills, California, opened in 2001, and was named for Schwarzenegger the first time in 2007. However, after merging with the CHIME Institute’s middle school this year, it had to be re-renamed for the Governator.

CHIME is touted as a charter success story. While other Los Angeles schools were firing teachers and cutting programs, CHIME managed retain faculty and programs. "I didn't have to come down with edicts," said Principal, Julie Fabrocini. "I gave them the parameters, and they came up with the solutions. . . In the end, the entire work force - teachers, administrators, staff - opted for a 7 percent pay cut and a freeze on raises, which is just now beginning to be unfrozen partially, three years later. Others, like their librarian, Heidi Mark, chose to work for free.

From JM3
Not surprisingly, CHIME’s board has several members who are well-connected to union-busting, pro-business organizations. Fabrocini, currently holds the position of Senior Program Officer, for the U.S. Program Education, at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Interim CFO, Joshua Mark moonlights as the Executive Director, Special Event Production, Creative Services for FOX Broadcasting Company. Director Deborah Cours was the founding director of the Wells Fargo Center for Small Business and Entrepreneurship and has served as a member of the North Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce since 2004.

California Charters Cheating on Calories?

Auditors were unable to determine whether California's charter schools are providing nutritious meals to students. Charter schools are exempt from the federal law mandating that schools provide nutritious meals for low income students. While some charters do indeed provide free or reduced price meals for students, advocates worry that some parents are having to choose between the educational and nutritional needs of their children.

See California charter schools (problem with student meals) on the Charter School Scandals website.

Oakland Educators Association Earns an F in Organizing

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
On November 16, the Oakland Educators Association (OEA) voted to reauthorize a strike. The problem is that only 15% of the union’s membership participated in the vote, thus seriously undermining its credibility and calling into question whether anyone will even show up for the job action. 

There is no question that Oakland teachers are getting screwed. They have one of the lowest pay scales in the entire state. Oakland Unified is still paying back an enormous debt from their bail-out and they won’t be getting any help from residents, due to the failure of Measure L, a parcel tax that would have generated $20 million per year for the next ten years for teacher salaries.

Union President, Betty Olson-Jones, blamed the low turnout on the “digital divide,” or the generation gap. “A lot of our younger teachers — they just don’t do meetings.”

Could it be that the union just doesn’t do organizing?

Numerous members complained that they didn’t hear about the vote until the day before. The vote was a reauthorization of a strike vote that had won overwhelming support in April. Many members didn’t understand why a reauthorization vote was occurring, or trusted that their peers would do the “right thing,” or assumed that the reauthorization was a “done deal.” 

For a job action to be effective, organizers should shoot for a minimum of 80% support by the membership; not 80% of the 15% who voted, but 80% of ALL members. 90% is an even better goal. The reasons are straight forward. Some teachers may chicken out at the last minute. Others may give in if the strike drags on too long. The most important reason is that the goal of a job action is to make the bosses feel the pain. With 80-90% of teachers on the picket line, it is virtually impossible to find replacements. With only 50% on the picket line, the district has a much better chance of securing enough scabs.

The only way to get 80-90% of any group to participate in a collective action, particularly a strike, where people are being asked to temporarily abandon their clients and risk their livelihoods, is through relational organizing. This type of organizing is best done through on-going one on one and small group meetings, where organizers develop special relationships with a few colleagues. Every school site should have several trained organizers so that they can meet regularly with 8-10 peers. Face to face meetings allow organizers to get a much more accurate sense of where the membership is at on an issue. People who are usually quiet at meetings are more likely to share their views with a trusted colleague in a face to face meeting. Organizers can quickly get the word out and ensure that all members get the message in one on one meetings. This is in contrast to emails, which many people ignore or delay reading, and union meetings, which many members blow off.

Here is what some OEA members had to say:

Tara Wolf said, “I did not find out about the meeting until the day before. There was little information released to teachers or our union rep about the issue we were considering. I was told I would not be able to vote until 5:30, after already working since 6:30. I have lost faith in the union’s negotiating ability.”

An anonymous teacher said, “I am disgusted that so few people showed. There were entire schools with no one there. If people don’t want to strike, they need to come and say so. Otherwise, we need to get behind our bargaining team.While mention has been made of an “age gap”, I want to say that my school has many veteran teachers, and not one of them was there.”

Another anonymous teacher said, “One very small piece of the puzzle: Oakland historically has an issue with teacher attrition, which it has worked to fill with teaching interns–who take classes at night in order to keep their credentials. Tuesday night is one of the main class nights.”

Another anonymous teacher said, “The lack of turnout could also be an indication of the large disconnect between our union leadership and its constituents, technology or otherwise. The union has done a horrible job of disseminating and updating information. As a result people feel disconnected and disempowered by the very people who are supposed to be supporting them.” 

Another anonymous teacher said, “Publicity was very low for this vote, that’s the truth, but that in itself is a sign of “apathy,” since most of this communication has to be carried by individuals and site reps.”

Another anonymous teacher said, “In my 8 years in OUSD (thankfully, not there anymore), each time there was an “important” meeting, I found out the day before. That can make it just logistically impossible to get there. Not a sign of not caring. A sign of poor planning.”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I Hate Meetings

Today we spent an hour determining which of the generic things we think we are and aren’t doing (but should be doing) to help our students achieve, things like teaching them reading and writing and critical thinking skills and good citizenship. In the end, we concluded that we’re doing a pretty darned good job of teaching reading and critical thinking, but we’re kind of lax in the writing and citizenship departments. This was demonstrated by having us place colored stickers next to these topics on a poster. (Pretty scientific, eh?)

Curiously, our reading scores are very low and we’re in Program Improvement, so either we aren’t as good as we think at teaching reading, or the kids just aren’t learning, despite our wonderful efforts. On the other hand, our disciplinary issues have been steadily improving, as measured by declining suspensions and detentions. Apparently we’re doing much better in citizenship than we think.

My point is that it’s a mistake to base policy on perceptions. For example, everyone teaches citizenship daily by enforcing discipline and respect in the classroom. This is necessary before any real learning can occur. Yet, since most teachers don’t create daily lesson plans around citizenship, or have rubrics or grades based on it, they forget that it’s something they teach. As a result, we gave ourselves low marks on this and may end up spending the rest of the year analyzing this deficit and giving ourselves a lot of new responsibilities to fix it.

One other point: having teachers put stickers onto poster paper is not a very good way to make them feel like respected professionals.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Most Profitable Recession Ever?

American businesses had their highest profits on record last quarter, earning at an annual rate of $1.66 trillion. It wasn’t just last quarter, either. Profits have grown for 7 consecutive quarters, with many of those quarters also breaking records. 

When politicians declare that times are tough and we “all” must tighten our belts, they clearly mean “all American workers” must tighten their belts (so that the bosses can get fatter.) They squandered trillions of taxpayer dollars to bail out Wall Street and Detroit, fueling these record profits, but provided nothing to bailout Americans who lost their homes. Worse, they are expecting the rest of us to pay for this bailout (now referred to as a deficit) with regressive sales taxes, gutted social security, whittled down unemployment benefits, and declining wages and benefits.

The record profits were also fueled by increased worker “productivity.” Fewer people are working, but they are producing greater profits for their bosses. The explanation for this is straight forward. With high unemployment, those who have jobs are scared shitless of losing them, and thus are easily pressured into working harder and faster for less pay and benefits. 

The employing class and the working class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

Kids Suffer? (As Fewer Smoke)

“Kids Suffer As Fewer Smoke,” was the headline from an October 28 article in the San Francisco Bay Times, a ludicrous statement, as children suffer greatly from second hand smoke. Any decline in smoking is a good thing. Since 1998, 50 cents from every package of cigarettes sold in California has gone to the First 5 program, which funds children’s medical, dental, mental health, literacy, and special needs programs. The article argued that, as fewer Californians smoke, revenues for the First 5 program have declined. Last year, cigarette sales dropped 8.1%, a $42.5 million loss to The First 5 program.

Cigarette smoking has declined mostly because of increased taxes and effective advertising against the tobacco companies. This is good for everyone, particularly children, who have no control over the amount of secondhand smoke they inhale. Cigarette smoking is related to birth defects and low birth weight, both of which can impair cognitive ability and lead to learning disabilities that hamper academic achievement. They are linked to asthma and other life threatening respiratory conditions that cause children to miss school and diminish their quality of life.

Children's health and education should be funded abundantly, securely and consistently by society and not be dependent on the addictions of grownups.

Mexican Teachers Strike for Social Security

Classes were suspended in Veracruz state due to a work stoppage by teachers. The secretary of education of Veracruz state currently owes the equivalent of U.S. $285 million to the teachers’ social security funds. Members of the SUTSEM state workers and teachers union said the actions would continue until the government makes good on its debt.

Who's Going to Bailout Our Kids?

Here's a reposting from This Week in Education, by Alexander Russo about the shocking size of Student Loans and Long-term debt for college:

Two bits from articles about college debt that caught my eye - one about the overall size of the loan debt and the other about the monthly payments some (admittedly extreme) loans require:  The monthly payments for just my private loans are currently $891 until Nov 2011 when they increase to $1600 per month for the following 20 years... (What $200,000 in Student Debt Looks Like)... At roughly $850 billion outstanding, student loan debt recently surpassed credit cards as the nation's largest segment of consumer debt. (Top Ramen For Life). 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Value-Added Adds Value for Corporate Vultures

The first problem with the Value Added model for teacher accountability is that it commodifies children. In economics, value-added is the difference between the sales price and the cost of a product. The higher the sales price relative to the cost of production, the greater the value added and the greater the profit. Used as an education metaphor, Value-Added models see students as commodities (i.e., future workers). Teachers who produce more productive students (as determined by test scores, or by college/work readiness, to put it in Obama-speak), have a higher added value. These teachers can be seen as super productive because they produce higher value future workers, as measured by test scores or college readiness.

This brings us to a second problem with the Value-Added model: it is not a very good predictor of the actual productivity of future workers. There are a host of factors that influence how we choose our careers and how successful we become. High school test scores are arguably the worst indicator of both. The strongest influence on future success (as measured by income, wealth or any of the usual indicators), as well as student achievement, is family background. Working class parents generally produce working class children. Middle class parents generally produce middle class kids. The rich produce rich kids. This is due in part to inheritance, but also to familial and cultural connections:” It’s not so much what you know, but who you know.” Add to this all the class-based differences in school readiness and extra-curricular enrichment (e.g., nutrition, pollution, pre-natal care, travel, summer camp, pre-school, access to books and learning toys).

Value-Added models are portrayed as statistically believable because they compare student test scores at the end of the year (after the teacher has added his value to the student by way of good instruction) with those at the beginning of the year (prior to the teacher’s influence). To be statistically meaningful, students would have to take the same test twice per year. Yet even this will produce highly biased results. A teacher in a middle class school, for example, will have students who are, on average, much more “school ready.” They are more likely to be reading at grade level, have decent study skills, financial security, enriching extracurricular activities, lower stress, and, therefore, likely to show higher gains than those who are less “school ready.” 

Another thing that troubles me about this way of thinking is the presumption that a valuable member of society is one who produces more wealth, for oneself, or for the boss. A student who goes on to become a CEO or even a small business owner is seen as a productive, valuable member of society, whereas those who go on to become musicians, artists, activists, or social workers are seen as less valuable (some would even call them parasites). What about all the so-called productive sectors of the economy that exist solely to create more capital, but provide no useful service or product for people, like hedge fund managers. (I would call them parasites).

Likewise, teachers who produce students who are good test takers are seen as highly productive under this model, even at the expense of all those other important things we are supposed to teach, like citizenship, self-motivation, communication, empathy, critical thinking. Teachers who teach students how to solve problems, find their own answers, and persevere with difficult tasks are arguably adding far more value to their students’ lives than those who churn out a bunch of effective test-takers.

Lastly (and most importantly), the entire discourse about teacher accountability and teacher effectiveness is a case of a misguided solution to a misdiagnosed problem. If the problem is low student achievement, then let’s address the main cause: poverty. To get the greatest bang for the buck (or value-added), we must address the growing and untenable gap between the rich and the poor. Improving teachers, schools, curricula can help, but their contributions are infinitesimal compared with socioeconomic changes that help bring more people out of poverty. Richard Rothstein has identified numerous policies that have existed in the past that can help (e.g., increasing the earned income credit, housing vouchers, increased nursing and medical support on school campuses). Decreasing taxes for lower income people (especially regressive taxes like sales tax) and increasing it for corporations and the wealthy (along with closing the tax loopholes they exploit) should also help. Strengthening unions and increasing the numbers of unionized workers can help increase wages. Maintaining the mortgage interest tax deduction will help promote increased home ownership, which is one way to increase familial wealth as well as security.

Then again, Value-Added, like charter schools and most ed deform, is not really about improving student achievement. It’s about creating a system that is more valuable to education corporate plunderers by weakening unions and teacher autonomy, decreasing teacher pay and job security, and increasing reliance on commercial tests, textbooks and curricula.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

KIPP Reform Schools--Teacher Sweat Shops

KIPP schools are often touted as an example of how a well-designed school full of dedicated true-believer educators can trump race and class and get low income students to succeed. This is, of course, an Ed Deform fantasy. 60% of the 5th graders in Oakland, California, KIPP schools didn’t even make it to the 8th grade. Parents must sign contracts and commit to KIPP’s draconian policies on discipline and homework, a policy that results in the exclusion of those low income students who would be most likely to fail in any school environment. Those who make it into KIPP, but who fail to meet KIPP’s high standards, are quietly pushed out, thus helping to pad KIPP’s “impressive” stats.

KIPP schools typically require their non-unionized teachers to work 65 hours per week, including mandatory Saturdays and summers. Teachers are expected to be on call at home in the evenings to help students with homework. Not surprisingly, teacher attrition is high. 

KIPP schools would likely have all gone under years ago if it weren’t for the copious backing by deep pocket charter cheerleaders like Fishers, Waltons, Broads and Gates.

For a more detailed look at KIPP, check out Schools Matter’s recent 3 part series on KIPP. Learning About KIPP: Lesson 1,  Learning About KIPP: Lesson 2, Kipp Crusaders and Learning About KIPP: Lesson 3, Social Justice in Blackface.

Parent Triggers: People Power or Corporate Financed Witch Hunts?

Parents are understandably frustrated with low test scores, low graduation rates and a persistent achievement gap. Many are demanding change and believe the delusion that charter schools will solve all these problems. One of the latest Ed Deform tactics is called the Parent Trigger. It works like this: if a school has been in program improvement for four or more years, and has at least 51% parental support, parents can force the school to become a charter or shut it down.

The Parent Trigger has been allowed in California for the past year. Many other states are in the process of enacting similar provisions. It has been touted as an example of parent power. In reality, it is lynch mob power serving the interests of education profiteers.

Like the Tea Party movement, which is portrayed as a grassroots movement of angry citizens who want to take back government, the Parent Revolution movement looks like angry parents who just want to take back control of their dysfunctional schools. Also like the Tea Party movement, which has heavy corporate backing, the Parent Revolution movement does, too, especially by for-profit charter schools and EMOs like Green Dot.

We tend to give a lot of lip service to democracy in our country, but reduce the concept to the simplistic idea of majority rule. If the majority wants it, they feel entitled to it, even if others’ rights are suppressed in the process. If the majority believes it, then it must be true, even when it’s not. The majority of Europeans once believed the Earth was the center of the universe and they created their own lynch mobs to persecute and kill scientists who claimed otherwise. The majority of Southern whites tolerated or even approved of Jim Crow, with very real lynch mobs to support it.

Even if a school truly needs help (remember that virtually all California schools will be in Program Improvement by 2015, even the good ones, due to the Enron accounting tactics of NCLB), throwing out the baby with the bathwater by closing schools and giving it all away to for-profit education management organizations won’t solve these problems. This line of reasoning (if you can even call it reasoning) presumes that anything is better than the status quo. Ample research shows that most charter schools perform the same as or worse than traditional public schools. They also tend to be more segregated, spend less on curriculum and supplies, and they have higher teacher turnover due to low pay and stressful working conditions. Ironically, charter schools also tend to be autocratic and squeeze out community oversight and participation, thus reducing parental power.

Another problem with the Parent Trigger is that it presumes that parents know better than the professionals. Can you imagine if patients could force a medical clinic to shut down, fire its entire staff, and sell out to a private firm because it operates in a low income community where mortality rates tend to be higher than in more affluent communities? A better way to empower parents would be to have the 51% petition for a change that includes the collaboration of existing teachers and staff, and that does not necessarily lead to privatization.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Congress Votes to Throw Unemployed to the Sharks

Yesterday, congress failed to reach the two-thirds majority it needed to extend unemployment benefits to an estimated 2 million American workers. If you’ve been out of work longer than six months, you may be off the dole by the end of this year and struggling to find a job that doesn't exist. House leaders plan another vote on the matter by the end of the month. However, Republicans have twice succeeded in blocking extensions to unemployment benefits by filibustering. The cuts to unemployment benefits come in the wake of another week of increased jobless claims.

As mentioned in a previous post, states are seeking to prop up profits and wealth for the rich by squeezing workers. Michigan's Governor elect, Rick Snyder, is calling state workers' compensation the next big national issue, on scale with health care. Of course, if legislators and governors really cared about the majority of Americans, they'd pay for their deficits by raising taxes on corporations and the rich, levying royalties on energy companies, freeing nonviolent offenders, ending the death penalty and taxing marijuana. These, of course, are all anathema to both politicians and the wealthy. So the only alternative is to create new straw men to knock down: greedy, selfish and overly-compensated, state workers, teachers and other government employees.

State deficits, were caused primarily by the collapse of housing markets and financial institutions. However, the financial institutions have been bailed out and are now making record profits, the recession has been declared officially over, yet unemployment remains high, middle class and working class wealth and living standards have declined, and foreclosures continue to rise. The Dow Jones jumped 173 points yesterday on news of GM’s first stock offerings since its bailout. Investors made millions on the deal, including the United Auto Workers, with the profits based largely on layoffs and concessions by rank and file members of the UAW.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How the Stinking Rich Are Becoming Stinkier

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
Just days after the Commission on Fiscal Responsibility proposed cuts to Social Security, Medicare and federal employee benefits, along with tax cuts for the rich and for corporations, the Bipartisan Policy Center has proposed more of the same. Headed by former Clinton budget director, Alice Rivlin and former Republican Senator, Pete Domenici, the Bipartisan Policy Center panel wants to tie Social Security benefits inversely to life expectancy, so that as the population ages, benefits decline. They also propose a regressive 6.5% national sales tax, cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, ending the cost of living adjustment to social security, and a reduction of high-end income tax rate from 35% to 23%.

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
It is clear from these two parallel proposals that the ruling elite are preparing a frontal assault against the rest of us. They portray the recession as a natural crisis that we all must help resolve, when they are not only the cause of the crisis, but the sole beneficiaries of the bailouts. While unemployment still soars, foreclosures continue, and record numbers of Americans are going hungry, bankers and investors are enjoying record incomes. Now they are trying to use the deficit to scare us into accepting more austerity. Yet the main causes of the deficit are the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (costing $70 billion per year), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (costing $4-6 trillion) and the Wall Street bailout (over $14 trillion).

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
It is curious that they are attacking Social Security, as it is prevented by law from operating at a deficit and therefore has no connection to the current budget deficit. Also, the social security wage limit is $106,800 per year, resulting in a maximum contribution of $6621 per year, regardless of whether you’re a millionaire, billionaire, or simply making $100k per year. Yet even this seems to be too much for the wealthy to tolerate. Wall Street hopes that by weakening social security, they will force more people into mutual funds and other risky investments that will line their pockets. For the rest of us it means working longer or becoming paupers. If we are really concerned about the solvency of social security, which is a totally separate issue from the budget deficit, then we should raise the cap, so that the rich pay social security on ALL of their income, and not just the first $100,000. 

Along those same lines, if we want to really lower the deficit, then we should end the wars and raise taxes on the rich. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are the first wars in history to be launched while lowering taxes. Politicians and pundits argue that raising taxes during a recession is bad because it will stifle investment. Yet, in the wake of the Great Depression, the highest tax rate went up from 24% in 1929, to 81% in 1940. Even under Regan, the rich paid more taxes than they do today. (This links to a Brookings Institute table showing the history of the marginal tax rate going back to the beginning of the 20th century).

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
Instead, what we’re getting is class war by the rich against the rest of us, with the collaboration of both parties and the mainstream unions. Edward McElroy, a former AFL-CIO vice president and American Federation of Teachers president, is on the Bipartisan Policy Center panel, as is Marc Morial, president of the Urban League. 

Meanwhile, many states are also facing staggering budget deficits. State legislators, in collaboration with unions, are devising additional austerity measures of their own. For example, in California, the SEIU is pushing an agreement that will reduce salaries and benefits for state and city workers. They are trying to spin it as a victory for workers because it includes a one-year moratorium on furlough days. Yet, the contract includes 12 furlough days and a 4.6% pay cut. The SEIU is well-connected with governor-elect Jerry Brown, having donated millions of dollars in membership dues to his campaign, even while Brown campaigned on a platform that included cutting state worker pensions. The California Teachers Association (CTA) was another big backer of Brown. Now that he has been elected, he will try to use the unions to further squeeze workers under the guise that times are tough and we all must do are part. Teachers should expect more layoffs and furloughs, increased class sizes and continuing demands to work more and work harder to raise test scores and reduce the achievement gap which, despite our efforts, will likely worsen, as increasing numbers of students become impoverished to feed the fat cats.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Let Them Eat Government Cheese!

While the ruling elite and their lackeys in the Republican and Democratic parties negotiate further tax cats for the richest 1% of Americans, a new report from the USDA indicates that 15% of U.S. households (50 million people) lacked enough money to buy adequate food last year. One-third of these went hungry on a regular basis. It should be self-evident that poverty is the primary cause of hunger, as there is no shortage of food in America. Over 50 million Americans now live below the poverty line, with 25% of all U.S. families having at least one member receiving food stamps or other food aid.

This problem will likely grow worse as congress tries to slash the deficit. Earlier this year, the unemployment benefits extension was partially paid for by cuts to the food stamps program, while the senate version of the school lunch bill slashes another $2 billion from food stamps to cover increased costs of school lunches. In their charade of trying to appear sensitive to the needs of children, they will make sure that kids are fed at school, while preventing their parents from feeding them at home. Extending the Bush tax cuts, on the other hand, will cost $70 billion per year, more than all nutrition programs combined.

Bolstering the school lunch program at the expense of food stamps may seem like a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, but the story is a little more insidious. Food stamps are often seen as a taxpayer subsidy to poor people, a free handout. Poor people are portrayed as villains, greedy, lazy, and incompetent. Anyone can succeed in America if they just work hard; therefore, giving them food stamps is like rewarding them for their indolence. Kids, on the other hand, are innocent and must be protected. If kids are poor and hungry, it must be the fault of their lazy, incompetent parents. Therefore, let’s feed them at school and not punish them further for their parents’ mistakes. Additionally, the First Lady has taken on school lunch as her own personal pet project, adding to its appeal.Yet the current plan being offered by congress only adds a few cents per student, hardly enough to go from downer cows and tater tots to salad bars and tofu.

Seldom discussed are the huge profits to be reaped from both programs. Since the food stamp program switched to electronic debit cards in the 1990s, CitiCorp has emerged as one of the largest beneficiaries of the program, managing billions of dollars each month in disbursement benefits for Food Stamps, the Veterans Administration, Medicare and other government agencies. They often charge recipients for access, in addition to their profits from disbursements, while providing mediocre to lousy service. School lunch programs also subsidize huge corporations like Aramark, Sodexo and Compass, which earn billions from the program while serving mass produced and sometimes illness-provoking garbage to our kids. 

Malnutrition and undernourishment contribute to a host of conditions that harm children and undermine their ability to succeed academically. Hunger makes it hard to concentrate and pay attention in class. Malnourished mothers are more like to give birth to underweight babies, increasing the risk of cognitive impairment. Malnourishment contributes to iron deficiency anemia which can lead to learning disabilities. Because junk food is so much cheaper than nutritious food, poor families eat more of it and have a much higher risk of obesity and obesity-related diseases. Food insecurity also contributes to stress, which causes the overproduction of the stress hormone, cortisol. Chronic overexposure to cortisol can cause memory problems, and contributes to hypertension, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. It also weakens the immune system, potentially increasing the number of days kids miss school. 

The real robbery story here is not about Peter and Paul. It is about the rich robbing the rest of us.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Blue Ribbon Panel Comes Up With Innovative New Ways to Destroy Public Education

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
The Blue Ribbon Panel on teacher Accreditation is recommending that new teachers spend less time in university classes and more time in k-12 classrooms to get more “clinical” training, like in the medical profession. What the panel neglects to acknowledge is that doctors spend years in medical school before they start their clinical training so that they have some understanding of what to look for in their patients and how to treat it. It seems self-evident that more classroom practice (i.e., observing and critiquing other teachers and student teaching) should be beneficial to teachers in training. However, if this comes at the expense of sufficient training in curriculum and content, educational philosophies, pedagogy and history, new teachers will lack a theoretical basis for their clinical practice. They will lack a basis for evaluating curricula and education policies and will simply become uncritical automatons that go through the motions of “good” teaching.

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
According to the panel, “school districts will have a more significant role in designing and implementing teacher education programs, selecting candidates for placement in their schools, and assessing candidate performance and progress.” As a result, districts and individual schools will be forced to compete with each other to create the most “exciting” or “state of the art” “clinical” programs to attract new teachers, taking resources away from existing programs and classroom instruction. Academic freedom and creativity may also suffer, as new teachers will be much more easily molded to the desires of local school districts, thus stifling innovation and dissent. It will also result in bloated district bureaucracies.

For years there has been a growing cry to hold teachers accountable for their students’ test scores, completely disregarding the well-documented socioeconomic factors that have the greatest influence on student achievement. Now they want to extend this blame to both student teachers and their education schools and professors. The panel recommends that all programs use “data-driven accountability based on measures of candidate performance and student achievement, including gains in standardized test scores.” While this does not go quite as far as Reed Lyon had hoped when he argued that we should blow up the teacher colleges, it does imply that teacher training colleges will be punished if k-12 students fail their standardized tests. One likely result will be a dearth of teacher training schools, as more and more lose accreditation. The vacuum will likely be filled by private for-profit schools such as American College of Education (started by Bush cronies Reid Lyon, Rod Paige and Randy Best). There will also be a dearth of qualified teachers as candidates who fail to bring up test scores will fail to be certificated.

The panel makes many other dubious recommendations. For example, they “urge states, institutions, and school districts to explore alternative funding models, including those used in medicine to fuse funds for patient care and the training of residents in teaching hospitals.” Schools are already running on bare bones budgets. Without extraordinarily large increases in school funding, this recommendation will result in money being reallocated from teacher compensation and classroom instruction to teacher training programs.

Eight states—California, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Tennessee—have already signed letters of intent to implement the new agenda. The two biggest teachers unions helped draft these proposals. They have accepted the sky is falling hysteria of the pundits and politicians and hope to quell the attacks on the teaching profession by collaborating with the bosses. Rather than supporting the teaching profession and their members with sane, workable improvements to teacher training and evaluation, the unions are selling out their members and their constituents, the students. In the end, the attacks on teachers will continue, as will the demands for more accountability, merit pay, charter schools and evaluations based on student test scores.