Do You Believe a Universal Basic Income will Save Society? Think again.

Elysium – “Would You Like To Talk To A Human?”

I can’t help but get a bad feeling whenever a universal basic income is pitched as the next big thing that will fix poverty. Having paid attention to ed-reform, I’ve heard all of this before. Wasn’t No Child Left Behind going to do that? Or Obama’s poverty fighting, opportunity creating tool The Every Student Succeeds Act? We’ve been fed a string of promises from philanthro-capitalists that have failed to deliever. Why would a universal basic income be any different?

With the news that Stockton, California is piloting a universal basic income (UBI) program, I want to take this opportunity to raise an uncomfortable question: Are the philanthro-capitalists using the idea of a universal basic income as a way to save society or themselves?

I can’t help but get a bad feeling whenever a universal basic income is pitched as the next big thing that will fix poverty. Having paid attention to ed-reform, I’ve heard all of this before. Wasn’t No Child Left Behind going to do that? Or Obama’s poverty fighting, opportunity creating tool The Every Student Succeeds Act?

We’ve been fed a string of promises from philanthro-capitalists that have failed to deliever. Why would a universal basic income be any different?

About that Stockton universal basic income pilot, from CNN via MSN news:

The concept of Universal Basic Income has gained traction and support from some Silicon Valley leaders, including Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg. It is seen as a way to possibly reduce poverty and safeguard against the job disruption that comes from automation.

“We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas,” Zuckerberg said at a Harvard commencement address in May 2017.

The Stockton project has its roots in Silicon Valley, too. Its financial backers include Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes’ organization, the Economic Security Project — a fund to support research and cultural engagement around Universal Basic Income. It contributed $1 million to the Stockton initiative.

Oh, and don’t think for a moment this “free” money doesn’t come with a cost.

The project, expected to launch in 2019, hopes to use data to address the policy questions about UBI. For example, does a guarantee of a basic income affect school attendance and health, or cause people to quit their jobs or start new businesses?

The project is also interested at looking at how the funds impact female empowerment and if it can help pull people out of poverty.

The hidden cost to a universal basic income system will be personal surveillance and data harvesting combined with “nudges” from the state to help citizens make the “right” choices.

If you still don’t get the hint and continue to miss your behavior targets, these nudges will be combined with disciplinary actions.

What exactly is a nudge? I’ll let Wrench in the Gears explain:

Behavioral economics is the study of how psychological, cognitive, emotional, social, and cultural factors influence the economic choices a person makes. It challenges the idea of homo economicus, that people maintain stable preferences and consistently make self-interested choices in relation to market forces. The field was popularized in the United States by Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kaheneman. University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler built upon this work. Thaler won a Nobel Prize in Economics for his research last year.

Thaler worked closely with Cass Sunstein, who headed Obama’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In 2008, they co-wrote Nudge, a book espousing “libertarian paternalism.” People make “choices,” but systems can be designed and implemented to encourage a preferred “choice,” generally one that prioritizes long-term cost-savings. “Choice architects” create these systems and weave them into public policy. Through strategic application of “nudges,” citizens,  otherwise “irrational actors” in the market, can be guided to conform to economists’ expectations. Through nudges, human behaviors are redirected to fit mathematical equations and forecasts. David Johnson’s 2016 New Republic article Twilight of the Nudges, provides useful background on this technique and the ethical implications of applying nudges to public policy.

Here’s some examples of how nudges could be incorporated into a universal basic income program:

  • –Miss your target monthly steps or blood glucose numbers? Expect a penalty to be deducted from your universal basic income account.
  • –Didn’t buy enough fruits and vegetables to be considered “healthy”?  Penalty.
  • –Your kid has an unacceptable number of tardies or unexcused absences from school. Penalty.

God forbid you get flagged for purchasing what is considered an “unhealthy” amount of booze or spend too much time on Weedmaps or Leafly.

In a solutionist world, getting flagged could land you on an anti-social watchlist. Being flagged as an anti-social actor in the program would carry a significant penalty. If the algorithms administering your account determine you have become a serious threat, expect an unannounced human intervention.

This clip from the movie Elysium illustrates the serious nature of a human interaction with an agent of the surveillance state.

With nudges and total surveillance, a universal basic income has all the makings of a dystopia. Not exactly a world I want my kids to inherit. How about you?

But what if it’s much worst?

Remember after 9/11 when President George W. Bush urged everyone to go shopping? I’m starting to feel like the universal basic income plan is the billionaire prepper equivalent.

What if the super-rich designed a system where the 99% keep the economy running with a universal basic income, while the 1% get to retreat to the safety of their high tech bunkers –away from the destruction they helped unleash on society and the environment.

Besides social control, what if the point of a universal basic income is to keep some sort of currency circulating so the bitcoins, dollars, or hoarded cans of tomato soup – whatever currency the 1% are counting on to keep them secure and comfortable – is still being traded by the masses and by doing so retaining its value.

From Survival of the Richest:

The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr. Robot hack that takes everything down.

This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.

That’s when it hit me: At least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology. Taking their cue from Elon Musk colonizing Mars, Peter Thiel reversing the aging process, or Sam Altman and Ray Kurzweil uploading their minds into supercomputers, they were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape.

I encourage you to read all of Survival of the Riches. Afterward, I challenge you to answer this simple question: Do you still believe the predatory philanthro-capitalists have your best interests at heart?

I don’t.

-Carolyn Leith


How exactly did the Department of Defense end up in my child’s classroom?


You cannot fully understand what is happening with Future Ready school redesign, 1:1 device programs, embedded assessments, gamification, classroom management apps, and the push for students in neighborhood schools to supplement instruction with online courses until you grasp the role the federal government and the Department of Defense more specifically have played in bringing us to where we are today.

In 1999, just as cloud-based computing was coming onto the scene, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13111 and created the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative or ADL.

Section 5 of that order set up “The Advisory Committee on Expanding Training Opportunities” to advise the president on what should be done to make technology-based education a reality for the ENTIRE country. The intent was not only to prioritize technology for “lifelong learning,” but also shift the focus to developing human capital and in doing so bind education to the needs of industry and the economy.

Representatives of Cisco Systems and Jobs for the Future co-chaired the committee. Others around the table included the e-learning industry, student loan financiers, educational testing companies, human resource managers, labor market analysts, universities, community colleges, chambers of commerce, city government, and a futurist. George Bush incorporated Clinton’s work into Executive Order 13218, the 21st Century Work Force Initiative, the following year giving the effort a bipartisan stamp of approval. The Obama administration continued this push for online learning in the National Broadband Plan, which contained an entire chapter on digital education, as well as through a variety of 21st century school redesign efforts like ConnectEd, Future Ready Schools, and Digital Promise.

ADL began as an electronic classroom for the National Guard and later expanded to serve the entire Defense Department. In 1998 the government decided to use it for ALL federal employee training. And by leveraging its influence over federal contracting the government successfully pushed for standards that enabled wide adoption of cloud-based instructional technology.

As the Department of Defense worked on e learning for the military in the mid 1990s, the Department of Education put together the nation’s first educational technology plan, which was completed in 1996. A tremendous infusion of federal funds was released into schools to support technology purchases and expand Internet access. The FCC’s E-Rate program was established that year.

At the same time IMS Global began to advance implementation of e-learning systems. This non-profit began as a higher education trade group and now has over 150 contributing members, including IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Pearson, and hundreds upon hundreds of affiliated companies and institutions that use its open source specifications. The Gates Foundation is a platinum level sponsor of four major IMS Global initiatives.

Over twenty years IMS Global members shared research and resources, and built up an industry now valued at $255 billion annually. So if you still wonder why they won’t give education back to human teachers, you simply need to take a close look at the many politically connected interests that are counting on digital education becoming the new paradigm.

IMS Global and ADL teamed up to establish common standards for meta data and content packaging of so-called learning objects. In the world of 21st century education reformers anticipate school will become largely about children interacting with these online learning objects-a playlist education if you will where based on your past performance algorithms will serve up what they think you need to know next. For folks like Reed Hastings, Jeff Bezos, or Mark Zuckerberg, such an education where students consume pre-determined content seems the ultimate in efficiency. Gamified experiences and online simulations being developed through ADL and DARPA in partnership with many universities and non-profits, will also provides a structure for to capture students’ soft skills and shape their behavior.

The first product ADL and IMS Global came up with was called SCORMor Shared Content Object Reference Model. SCORM provided pathways for the bits and pieces of e-learning content to get to a particular learning management system, like Dreambox, accessed by a particular student. It tracked elements like course completion, pages viewed, and test scores.

By 2008, there was a desire to track a student’s interaction with devices OUTSIDE of fixed learning management systems. New devices and games often did not work within the SCORM framework. Ed-tech proponents wanted students to be able to interact with online content in new ways, so they could record interactions taking place on mobile platforms, directly through browser searches, or via Internet of Things sensors.

ADL commissioned a new specification that could track activity streams as students interacted with online media. The result was xAPI or Tin Can API, which debuted in 2011. Now all sorts of data can be monitored, tracked, and put into data lockers or learning record stores. LRS’s can store information about what videos you watched, what online quizzes you took and the results, what websites you visited, what books you purchased, what games you played, what articles you read or annotated. It can also capture data gathered via sensors, RFID chips, and biometric monitors. LRSs collect data about all sorts of so-called “informal” learning experiences. The MacArthur Foundation has been funding considerable research in digital media learning (or DML) in informal settings for youth.

With the development of xAPI, the Ed Reform 2.0 vision of “anytime, any place” learning, learning where human teachers and school buildings are no longer required, could proceed more quickly. IMS Global is now supporting Mozilla’s open badge initiative. xAPI meta data could eventually be combined with badge programs and Blockchain/Bitcoin technology to create e-portfolios (online credential systems). And if automatic credential verification and micro-payment systems come to fruition, a virtual wallet voucher system could devastate already precarious public education funding.

The Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative is a major player in the development of mobile, game-based, and virtual learning environments. They also conduct extensive research and development on online “personal learning assistants” and with the aim of creating digital personal tutors for all of us. Their research is carried out at four Cooperative Laboratories or co-labs, which are located in Madison, WisconsinAlexandria, Virginia; Memphis Tennessee; and Orlando, Florida. Each lab supports partnerships with private sector interests and institutions of higher education.

The Wisconsin co-lab works specifically on academic projects, many involving the Florida Virtual School with whom they have a long-standing relationship. The co-lab’s focus is on competency-based education. They’ve partnered with the Educational Psychology department at the University of Wisconsin Madison to create educational gaming platforms and maintain over 60 other partnerships to research and refine game-based online instruction. Another focus has been on developing MASLO or “Mobile Access to Supplemental Learning Objects,” which is enabled by xAPI technology. The Tennessee co lab has been doing research on an intelligent tutoring system that even recognizes human emotion in the person using a given device and tries to counteract negative emotion.

DARPA-the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is also in the business of developing gaming simulations and intelligent tutoring systems. They work closely with the office of the Navy. Their “Engage” program was set up in 2012 and through partnerships with Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, UCLA, and the University of Denver, created numerous games for K12 students based on Alternate Reality Teaching “Our Space” in virtual environments. Instruction in Social Emotional learning was built into the games. Their Full Spectrum Learning project aims to create an online platform that can monitor students and identify their strengths and weaknesses and revise the experience adaptively based on the data generated.

The arrival of ADL, changed public education in a very fundamental way. It is no coincidence that the destructive No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law in the year after it was created. Over the next fifteen years, with bipartisan support, education incrementally gave way to training, creativity to compliance, serendipity to standards, and human connection to digital isolation. As the curriculum became narrower and narrower, emphasizing standardized test scores and demonstrations of skill, education became a hollowed out exercise, something could be digitized and outsourced to corporations.

Data-driven, standards-based tactics have been intentionally employed to regiment the very human process of teaching and learning. During ADL’s first decade, the imperative was to get technology and Internet into schools. Once that infrastructure was in place, they could concentrate on restructuring the curriculum making screen-based education central and pushing the teacher into a secondary role on the sidelines.

Common Core State Standards were a big part of that process. The National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers created the standards in 2009. Not as many people know about the Common Education Data Standards that were established at the same time. CEDS enabled the collection and sharing of vast amounts of data across sectors from Pre-K through Community College.

The Learning Registry is another important piece of the puzzle. It was created in 2011 as a partnership between the US Department of Education and once again the Department of Defense. It is an open source distribution network of learning resources that holds meta data and para data. It is important to understand that learning objects can be tagged in many ways, including adding tags for a variety of standards. For that reason even if we get rid of Common Core State Standards, it wouldn’t necessarily make a dent in slowing down the rollout of adaptive, digital curriculum.

In addition to meta data, which is data that describes individual education resources, the Learning Registry also collects para datathrough the use of emitters that can be mounted on smart boards in classrooms.

Para data describes how online learning resources are used:

  • Who’s doing the searches?
  • What students are in the room with the person doing the searches?
  • A history of searches conducted
  • What is being viewed, downloaded and shared?
  • What is favorited or embedded?
  • To which standards is the selected content aligned?
  • What tags have been added to content?
  • How is it being incorporated into the curriculum?
  • What grade is it being used in?
  • Where is it being used?
  • What is the audience is for the item?
  • What the instructional setting is.
  • What is the experience level of the class and the teacher?

The devices in our children’s classrooms are largely there because a specific set of government policies have prioritized technology over human educators for the past fifteen years. These devices are watching us as much as we are watching them. And we should be aware that many of the programs in use are direct outgrowths of work done by the Department of Defense in partnership with private sector interests and institutions of higher education. Technology can be used for good, but not if it is given an unconditional pass in our classrooms. Shine a light on educational surveillance. Ask questions. Talk to others and organize!

-Alison McDowell

Save the Date.

Alison McDowell will be speaking in Seattle on March 25th, from 10AM-1PM at the Lake City Branch of the Seattle Public Library (12501 28th Ave. N.E. Seattle, WA 98125 ).

Her talk Personalization or Profiling: Childhood in the Ed-Tech Era Ed Reform 2.0 is free and open to the public. 


The Ugly Facts About Ed-Reform, Partisan Bickering and the Resistance


I find it disturbing how quickly basic facts are flushed down the memory hole.

Yes, Betsy Devos is the extreme example of the type of privatizer destroying public education, but the Democrats – with Obama at the helm – opened the door.

Don’t believe me?

Take a look at Obama’s Digital Promise Initiative, whose purpose was to break open the education market for companies to sell personalized learning products to school districts. Why employ actual teachers, when computers and software can do the job.

How about the ESSA’s inclusion of “innovative assessments” – which edutech predators like iNACOL can’t wait to leverage into more online learning software and continuous testing in the classroom.

The ESSA also gave the charter lobby everything they wanted, and then some.

How can financially stressed public schools, always under the threat of being labeled “failures” based on test scores, compete with flush and unaccountable charter schools? Answer: They can’t.

I believe facts still matter and will fight alongside anyone who wants to protect our public schools, but I refuse to be a cog in anyone’s machine.

I won’t be participating in the partisan blame game, where public education plays the pawn. I’m over the constant maneuvering to score political points – while our schools burn to the ground, but neither of this country’s two cynical political parties seem to smell the smoke.

I’m also convinced it’s impossible to fight and win using the same structure that makes neoliberalism so destructive.

So don’t ask me to become a faceless member of your public education defending non-profit. Paying dues and then walking away isn’t enough for me now.

I’m also sick of powerful, god-like leaders sitting atop hierarchies which rob members of their voice, conscience, and agency.

How can we claim to care about democracy when we refuse to practice it?

If we are truly fighting against the commodification of public education, why would it be acceptable to treat members of our own groups as objects – either as an unintelligent mass that needs to be lead to the truth by an “enlightened” leadership or – at the most cynical – a captive audience to be manipulated for personal gain and advancement by the vanguard of a revolutionary dictatorship.

How can we claim to care about the unique gifts of every child and at the same time be afraid of our own individuality and power?

Barbara Deming – deep thinker, feminist, and champion of nonviolent social change – had this to say about the power of individuals:

If greater gains have not been won by nonviolent action it is because most of those trying it have, quite as Oglesby charges, expected too much from “the powerful”; and so, I would add, they have stopped short of really exercising their peculiar powers – those powers one discovers when one refuses any longer simply to do another’s will. They have stopped far too short not only of widespread nonviolent disruption but of that form of noncooperation which is assertive, constructive – that confronts those who are “running everything” with independent activity, particularly independent economic activity. There is leverage for change here that has scarcely begun to be applied.

If the solution was easy; we’d already have done it.

These are trying times. What used to work has failed us.

We’re scared. The question is what to do with this fear? I see two choices:

We can allow this fear to push us into a panic-stricken frenzy; forever reacting to the latest crisis, allowing those we oppose to set the agenda.

Fear also has a way of justifying tactics which compromise our integrity and over time robs us of our humanity.


We can pause, go deep, and really consider Barbara Deming’s challenge to come up with a new “form of noncooperation which is assertive, constructive – that confronts those who are ‘running everything’ with independent activity…”

In it for the long haul.

Fighting back against ed-reform is going to take a lifetime. Undoing the damage and creating schools which foster face-t0-face democracy, will take even longer.

This is good news. We have the time to get it right.

Since the United States was built on the double fault line of genocide and racism, this is an opportunity to begin to right those wrongs; build on the lesson that ignoring past oppression guarantees more oppression in the future.

Flattening hierarchy, promoting individual agency, and increasing the public good means no one or any group gets tossed aside in the name of expediency.

There’s time to do our homework, to dig down and learn what has worked in the past and the powerful insights mixing in with the failures.

This is an opening to deeply learn our history. Get to know the labor radicals, socialists, populists, anarchists, and all the other colorful rebels of the past.

It’s also an opportunity to face and understand the ugly facts buried in the past: Manifest Destiny and genocide, lynching, eugenics, and the human/environmental carnage brought about by the industrial revolution and perpetuated by modern capitalism.

The architects of ed-reform have given us one clue to their system’s weakness: They love the idea of highly processed children, who will grow up to be widget-like adults.


Because beaten-down children, all taught from the same script, have the potential to create the most compliant worker class the world has even seen; afraid of authority, accepting of the master’s world view, and willing settle for anything.

Bootlicking is the career our business pleasing politicians are really getting our children ready for.

If there’s going to be any hope for a sane and equitable future, we desperately need to encourage and develop the independent, divergent thinkers among us. These are the individuals who will be the first to shake things up.

Want to be a rebel? Start buying books and reading. If you want to be a revolutionary, organize a reading group.

Crisis of courage. 

Unfortunately, teaching, as a profession, is on a different timeline.

I believe due to the recent alignment of technology and federal law, the United States is now on an accelerated track to diminish and ultimately eliminate the role of teacher as a professional career.

Instead, the idea of the teacher will be re-purposed. First, as digital facilitators. Later, the human component will be replaced all together with digital mentors and tutors. 

Teachers, at this point, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by standing up and fighting back against the push to destroy our public schools.

The only thing missing is the courage to do so.

Final thoughts.

The small bit of success I’ve experience as an activist has occurred by refusing to play the game and forcing my opponent to engage using my parameters and rules. Other critical elements have been: fearless friends, humor, and the willingness to let others join in and put their own spin on the action.

I believe all of us already have what’s needed to make change possible: a conscience and the ability to act. All we need is the courage to use these gifts.

-Carolyn Leith





The Doublespeak of Ed Reform Regarding Charter Schools


Originally published in The Huffington Post, by co-editor Sue Peters

I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t an intentional Catch 22 that some people are trying to trap our public schools in– setting them up to fail, making it impossible for them to be creative or independent, and then saying: “See! They’re losers! They don’t ‘innovate’! Sell them off to private enterprises!” 

While watching part of NBC’s “Education Nation” (aka the week-long made-for-TV ad for Waiting for ‘Superman) last month, I tuned into the Teacher Town Hall where a teacher from a charter school was asked what made her school successful. “Teachers at our school are given the freedom to innovate!” she replied brightly.

Hmm, I thought. Sounds great. So why aren’t the teachers in my children’s public schools given that same freedom?

Instead, they are increasingly being slipped into the full nelson of a standardized curriculum measured by an ever-increasing barrage of computerized tests, all imposed by a top-down district management. (It feels stifling just to write about it.) Then the education reformers point an accusatory finger at our schools, call them “failing,” and hold up charter schools as exemplars of “innovation.”

And that’s one of the first ironies — or hypocrisies — of the current national dialogue on education reform.

The biggest players in ed reform — President Obama, Ed Secretary Arne Duncan, billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad: the “Superman” crowd, let’s call them — keep pushing privately run charter schools as the answer to all that ails our public schools (the central theme of ‘Superman’). One of the main winning traits of charters, they say, is their freedom to “innovate.” Indeed, free of public and school district oversight and mandates, privately run charter schools are granted the right to create their own curricula and empower their teachers to, allegedly, “innovate.” (They’ve also been allowed to exclude and expel students who don’t perform to their liking, a serious flaw of charters that even Secretary Duncan has acknowledged.)

Understandably, charter operations like to tout this precious autonomy they are given. Green Dot School’s site states:

3. Local Control with Extensive Professional Development and Accountability Principals and teachers own critical decisions at their schools related to budgeting, hiring and curriculum customization.

Now, why aren’t our non-charter public schools being given the creative and managerial autonomy that these reformers value in charters? Instead, when it comes to influencing or running our school districts with their corporate management trained superintendents, or their agenda-laden grants, these same reformers impose strictures on our schools and kids that quash innovation.

For example, here in Seattle, why is our district, led by a reformist Broad Academy-trained superintendent, taking autonomy steadily away from individual schools and principals and centralizing it? Why is it telling our teachers they need to follow the central office mandated curriculum exactly? Why is it sending “visitors” from the central office to escort the school principal on pop-ins into classrooms to monitor teachers? (I’ve heard these are called “Learning Walks” — apparently a trademarked term.) I can understand a principal checking on her/his staff, but why the accompanying Thought Police?)

Some researchers are even determining where exactly in the classroom a teacher should stand in order to deliver the “perfect lesson.”

I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t an intentional Catch 22 that some people are trying to trap our public schools in: setting them up to fail, making it impossible for them to be creative or independent, and then saying: “See! They’re losers! They don’t innovate! Let’s sell these schools to the private enterprises of KIPP charters, Green Dot charters, Billy Bob’s Acme Charters & Co.!”

Unfortunately this is just one of many conflicting messages coming from this latest breed of ed reformers. Those who are driving the national dialogue about the direction of our kids’ public education — from President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and lurking in the shadows with their open checkbooks, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Waltons, the Fishers and the Dells — are saying one thing out of one side of their mouths and another thing out of the other.

Here are some other examples of ed reform doublespeak:

“CLASS SIZE DOESN’T MATTER (except in charters)”

How many times have we heard the reformers declare that “class size doesn’t matter”? They claim that an “excellent” teacher can somehow transcend overstuffed classrooms and reach all kids. If this were true, then why do private schools and charters tout smaller class sizes and individualized attention as a key advantage over public schools?

Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone reportedly has a school with class sizes that average 15 kids, with two licensed teachers to every classroom! That’s a private school — and every parent’s — dream. From the Oct. 13, 2010, New York Times:

In the tiny high school of the zone’s Promise Academy I, which teaches 66 sophomores and 65 juniors (it grows by one grade per year), the average class size is under 15, generally with two licensed teachers in every room. There are three student advocates to provide guidance and advice, as well as a social worker, a guidance counselor and a college counselor, and one-on-one tutoring after school.

And from the Green Dot charter company web site:

1. Small, Safe, Personalized Schools All Green Dot schools are small (no more than 560 students when fully developed), ensuring that each student will not go unnoticed. In addition, small schools are safe and allow students to receive the personalized attention they need to learn effectively. Classes at each school will be kept as small as financially possible with a target student to teacher ratio of 27:1.

So apparently class size does matter to ed reformers when it comes to charters, but somehow not when it comes to the rest of the kids in regular schools.


How often have we heard the line: “The single most important factor in a child’s academic success is the teacher”? Here it is in the recent “manifesto” of (soon to be former) District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and NY schools chief Joel Klein et al:

As President Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher.

And here’s NBC (in an Education Nation press release) parroting this line:

Research and school-based evidence around the country now confirms that the most important variable affecting the success of the student is the effectiveness of the teacher, and the second most important variable is the effectiveness of the principal. Those two factors far outweigh the socioeconomic status, the impact of parental involvement or class size.

Problem is, these statements are false.

The most significant indicators and influences on a child’s success in school are what’s going on in these kids’ lives at home. In other words, their socioeconomic background and home life. Of course academic ability is not determined by race, gender or economic status. But success — the possibility of a child being allowed to fulfill her or his potential — is necessarily influenced by how much support they get at home, the stability of this home life and whether or not this child comes to school hungry each morning.

For the ed reformers to say that none of this matters — all you need is an “excellent” teacher — is false and another rigged scheme: rigged for failure. They may as well be dunking teachers in water to see if they are witches.

It defies common sense to say that a teacher, however brilliant, can transcend all challenges a child brings to school, can navigate a classroom of any size and any needs, and if the child does not succeed in school (in ed reformspeak that only means doing well on standardized tests), it is clearly unfair and inaccurate to lay the blame entirely on the teachers.

A great teacher does make a difference, for sure. But a teacher alone cannot determine a child’s academic success.

Despite this repeated canard, it’s clear that Geoffrey Canada, one of ed reforms’ heroes, recognizes these facts. Why else would his HCZ offer all the wraparound services that it does — Baby College, medical and dental care for students and their families? This is a clear acknowledgment of the fact that a child in poverty needs a great deal more than a stellar teacher to have a fair shot at educational success.

“AN ‘EFFECTIVE’ TEACHER IN EVERY CLASSROOM (but 5 five weeks of training will do!)”

I also find it rather hypocritical for the ed reformers to say they care about pushing academic achievement for all kids, and measure the success of their reforms by how many kids go to college — one of Canada’s benchmarks for HCZ — and then turn around and utterly dismiss the higher education of professional teachers.

Returning to the increasingly silly “manifesto”:

A 7-year-old girl won’t make it to college someday because her teacher has two decades of experience or a master’s degree — she will make it to college if her teacher is effective and engaging and compels her to reach for success.

If master’s degrees are so useless, then why don’t we just eliminate all academic degrees in all fields and just hire “effective, engaging” young credentialed dentists and doctors too? Does anyone really need an MBA? Or a law degree, for that matter?

On the one hand the reformers say they want an “effective” or “excellent” teacher in every classroom. On the other hand they promote sending Wendy Kopp’s Teach for America, Inc. trainees — who have only five weeks of training and are only required to commit to two years on the job — into the most struggling and challenging urban schools in the nation. Only 34 percent of TFA recruits stay in the field for a third year. Teachers don’t hit their stride until about the fifth. So most TFA-ers quit before they have even become “effective” teachers. (Michelle Rhee herself is a TFA graduate who only stayed for a few years in the field, and tells some pretty damning stories about her own mistakes as an inexperienced teacher.)

If the ed reformers were serious about promoting and supporting excellent teachers in every classroom, they would support well-trained professionals who are committed to the kids and the profession for the long term. Instead they disparage dedicated lifetime teachers as dead wood and promote young short-termers as the salvation. And their incessant teacher-bashing utterly undermines any claims they may have of “supporting” teachers.

“MONEY DOESN’T MATTER (except in the Harlem Children’s Zone)”

“Money doesn’t matter” the reformers like to say. I think I even heard President Obama say that recently, alas. And yet, the most comprehensive example of a charter model, Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, has an operating budget and net assets in the multi-millions.

Reports the New York Times:

In 2009, the Harlem Children’s Zone had assets of nearly $200 million, and the project’s operating budget this year is $84 million, two-thirds of it from private donations. Last month, the Goldman Sachs Foundation pledged $20 million toward constructing an additional school building. With two billionaires, Stanley Druckenmiller and Kenneth Langone, on the board, its access to capital is unusually strong.

Canada’s Zone, at least acknowledges that underprivileged kids need a great deal of support inside and out of the classroom and school in order to succeed. His program offers social support services and medical services to these kids and their families for years, which is great. But he is given millions and millions of dollars to do it. That gives the lie to all those who say that money is not part of the solution to creating better schools. It also gives the lie to the reformers’ teacher-bashing mantra that somehow an “effective” or even “excellent” teacher can transcend all society’s ills.

It does take money to hire enough teachers to reduce class sizes, to maintain safe and clean facilities, invest in solid and inspiring curricula and enrichment. That’s an indisputable fact. We as a nation have not made education a funding priority. All my life, schools have been holding bake sales, as the famous bumper sticker laments, scrambling to pay for basics. It is a national shame. And the Obama/Duncan lottery of Race to the Top is unconscionable in that it does not fund all 50 states equally or at all.

So here’s where I’m at with this: Everything good the reformers tout about private control of our public schools via charters could be given to our existing public schools without handing over the control and finances of our schools to private charter franchise operators.

Smaller class sizes, more creative autonomy for teachers, local autonomy for schools, non-standardizing curricula that allow for more innovation, better resources for the kids from greater allocations of money — all of this is possible in our existing schools, if our superintendent, school board and central administration office would allocate our school district’s resources properly. But they don’t — as the recent damning state audit of Seattle’s School District revealed. (That’s why a growing number of parents and The Seattle Times support a “No” vote on the school levy Nov. 2 — unprecedented in a town that always backs school levies).

ALL public schools should offer ALL these things to ALL kids, no private-charter franchise middlemen required, and no lottery required either.

— Sue Peters

Originally published in The Huffington Post, 10/25/10 by co-editor Sue Peters








The ESSA: A renewed attack on parents’ and students’ rights

Reposted from

John King, Secretary of Education, with President Obama


The education deform empire strikes back

by Marilena Marchetti

The battle over high-stakes testing and the future of public education is back in play after the Obama administration’s latest moves.

THE PROPOSED regulations for national implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signal that new Education Secretary John King is determined to continue the Obama administration’s relentless emphasis on high-stakes testing–by financial blackmail if necessary.

The passage of ESSA in late 2015 appeared to offer a concession to the growing concern that public schools are being taken over by high-stakes testing, which degrade curriculums and are misused to shame and blame teachers for the outcomes of an impoverished public education system and justify closing public schools in order to privatize the system with charters.

Enacted after a spring of historically high boycotts of exams around the country, ESSA gives each state the ability to determine how to meet the prescribed 95 percent participation rate in federally mandated tests that are given each year from 3rd to 8th grade and once in high school.

But in what can only be read as a tightening of the noose around the growing movement to “opt out” of state tests, King’s new regulations threaten states with financial sanctions should they fail to put a stop to test boycotting.

Here is how a Department of Education (DOE) summary puts it:

The proposed regulations do not prescribe how those rates must be factored into accountability systems, but they do require states to take robust action for schools that do not meet the 95 percent participation requirement. States may choose among options or propose their own equally rigorous strategy for addressing the low participation rate. In addition, schools missing participation rates would need to develop a plan, approved by the district, to improve participation rates in the future.

For many supporters and participants in the opt-out movement who believed that the tide was finally beginning to turn in their favor, these regulations are a sobering alert that the fight to ensure that students are treated as more than a score is far from over.

King might be the new Education Secretary, but he is making the same old mistakes: not respecting the voices of parents, teachers and students; doubling down on threats to financially punish students for boycotting tests; and digging in his heels to prevent the long overdue termination of standardized testing.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

NEW YORK, where King was the state education commissioner before his promotion this January, has been at the center of these swirling crosscurrents as officials scrambled to contain the crisis of testing legitimacy.

More than 200,000 students opted out of the New York’s standardized tests in 2015, and it’s estimated that similar numbers refused the tests this spring–one of the largest test boycotts in U.S. history.

When the record-breaking opt-out numbers were released last August, King’s successor as state education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, warned that schools with high test refusal numbers could lose funding, but then quickly backpeddled in the face of public pressure.

Then in December, momentum seemed to decisively shift away from over-testing. On the national level, there was the passage of ESSA, an updated version of George W. Bush’s awful No Child Left Behind Act that maintains the overall testing apparatus, but at least reduces the power of the federal government to use test scores as a weapon against schools.

Meanwhile, the New York Board of Regents unexpectedly voted to suspend some of the harmful practices associated with the tests, like tying teacher evaluations to student scores.

But now what looked like significant victories for the opt-out movement on both a local and national level appear to have been just temporary respites. Soon after the DOE’s punitive new regulations were announced, DNAInfo reported that 16 New York City schools had been ruled ineligible for up to $75,000 in grants because of their high test refusal numbers.

Betty Rosa, the new state Board of Regents Chancellor, who is widely seen as sympathetic to the opt-out movement, claimed that the loss of potential funding wasn’t a punishment from the state, but was instead an “unintended consequence” of the grants being tied to test scores.

Semantics aside, it appears that these schools might be the test case for New York to determine whether “robust actions” are capable of reining in the powerful opt-out movement.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

SO IT looks like the heated battle over public education is still on. It’s a battle that pits those who work for and/or send their children to public schools against those with a stake in seeing more funding diverted to testing companies and charter schools.

High-stakes standardized tests imbue toxic levels of stress into a school–as anyone who works in one knows quite well–bringing profit to education corporations at the expense of children’s well-being. John King is the mediator of this conflict between everyday people and a hugely profitable testing industry, and it’s clear what side he is on.

The opt-out movement has its work cut out for it, not least because both leading presidential candidates have dismal platforms for public education.

Donald Trump wants to gut the DOE and bust teachers’ unions, and Trump University is an infamous example of the horrors of privatized education. But Hillary Clinton has a long record of backing charter schools and high-stakes testing. She should be confronted at every turn this fall by public education supporters demanding that she oppose these DOE regulations.

Parents, teachers and students fighting for everyone to have the right to a rich and meaningful education are going to have to continue building on the grassroots strategies that have made the movement to into the impressive force that it is today in order to meet this next round of challenges.


The original post can be found here:

Excellent article re: President Obama’s record on education

The following article was originally published on AlterNet and was written by Kristin Rawls, a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, GOOD Magazine, Religion Dispatches, Killing the Buddha and Global Comment.

Are the President’s Education Policies Helping Our Kids?

When Barack Obama ran for office in 2008, he did so on an education platform that was “ambitious” to say the least. Then-candidate Obama was clear that he aimed to reform America’s entire education system, from preschool on up through higher education — and during his first term as president, his administration has indeed made significant changes to educational policy. But have those changes been for the better? Have schools, and their students, benefited from the Obama administration’s educational maneuvers over this first term? As it turns out, the answer is: not necessarily.

Herewith, a look at five critical education issues in America today, and how the president and his team have handled them so far:

1. Funding for Early Childhood Education

It is well-established that early childhood education is a crucial means of improving school readiness and performance among at-risk children. Studies show that preschool reduces high school dropout rates while increasing the likelihood that students will go on to higher education. Furthermore, early childhood education is a great investment: a 2005 MIT study found that every dollar spent on early childhood education reduces future social services expenditures by $13.

Given all that, Obama’s 2008 campaign promises to invest extensively in early childhood education seemed like a no-brainer. And on the surface, he seems to have delivered: the administration’s 2011 Race to the Top Early-Learning Challenge — a $500 million grant competition that funds preschool programs like Head Start — allocates a whopping 71 percent of 2011’s $700 million Race to the Top funds to early education.

But the devil, as always, is in the details. Of the 37 states that submitted applications for assistance, only nine won funding: California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington. The winning states were required to make a number of corporate-based reforms in order to compete for the preschool funding – including committing to a set of accountability procedures provided by a privately managed preschool assessment agency called Quality Rating and Improvement Systems. QRIS heavily emphasizes things like classroom décor, teacher assessment and parent participation – but even corporate reformer Sarah Mead of Bellwether Education Partners says, “[T]here’s not much evidence that creating QRIS will produce any significant improvements in children’s readiness to learn… The research that does exist is not encouraging: A study…by researchers at the RAND Corporation found little to no evidence of a relationship between childcare programs’….ratings and…outcomes.”

Ultimately, the states with preschool facilities most in need of money and support – those that could not afford to introduce the new QRIS standards in time – were shut out of the competition. States had just three months to prepare extensive applications, and most did not have the time or resources to introduce comprehensive QRIS accountability measures in that short amount of time. For the states that won, this is clearly a financial boon – but in 41 other states, preschoolers are still wanting.

So has the Obama administration invested in early childhood education? Yes — but in a way that, as yet, has done little to improve early education in the majority of states.

2. Primary and Secondary Education Reform

There is little doubt that President Obama is a strong supporter of the corporate “reforms” that have crept into American education policy over the past three decades – and he appears to be a particular supporter of charter schools. As Ken Saltman, professor of educational policy studies and research at DePaul University, tells AlterNet:

[Obama] has pushed charter schools and other radical market-based turnarounds, like closing schools and firing all the teachers and staff… In some states, like Michigan, the chartering is heavily for-profit. In other states, like Illinois, chartering is predominantly non-profit, but the non-profits still contract with for-profit corporations. In any case, the key issue is that the model that has won is one of market competition and choice.

Yet there is scant evidence that replacing traditional public schools with charter schools improves learning outcomes – even conservative pro-charter think tanks like the Hoover Institute and Mathematica have found little, if any, proof that charter schools fare better than traditional publics overall: A 2009 report from Hoover found that “charter schools performed worse than public schools 36 percent of the time, performed better 17 percent of the time, and performed no differently the rest of the time. The…study suggests that charter schools are twice as likely to make student achievement worse as they are to improve it.”

The report also goes on to point out that subsequent research “on charter schools in New York City, California, Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota and New Jersey, among others, are all consistent with both the Mathematica and CREDO studies: Charters do not increase student achievement compared to regular public schools.”

Beyond charters, the Obama administration has pushed corporate reform in at least two other ways: 1) through the executive initiative called Race to the Top (RTTT); and 2) through continued enforcement of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Launched in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, RTTT rewards a handful of states with large sums of money in return for implementing far-reaching corporate initiatives — like replacing public schools with privately managed charters, introducing school choice, tying high-stakes test scores to teacher evaluations and promoting corporate partnerships through computerization (i.e., online coursework). The program is, as its name implies, a contest, or “race”: States compete for a slice of the $4.35 billion in federal funding, winning or losing dollars based on how comprehensively they are able (or willing) to introduce these “reforms.”

In addition, the administration has continued to enforce NCLB mandates, even expanding the focus on high-stakes testing. (The administration has begun offering one-year NCLB waivers to states – but only in exchange for more consistent implementation of corporate reforms.) For example, in March of 2010, the administration released a blueprint for revising NCLB that encouraged states to adopt federal guidelines called the Common Core State Standards Initiative. These “high quality statewide assessments” in reading and math aim to streamline curricula across states, and RTTT funding is tied to their adoption. The Common Core will also eventually result in students from states with poor educational funding being tested using rubrics nearly identical  to those used to asses students in very wealthy states — a huge red flag for anyone who understands that quality of education closely follows school funding, which is uneven at best across this nation.

Yet, ultimately, there is little substantive research that shows that corporate reforms of these kinds improve academic achievement overall. In March 2012, professor and public school advocate Gary Rubinstein’s released an analysis showing almost no correlation between high-stakes testing and student achievement over multiple years. These findings were consistent with a 2005 University of Arizona study that found “no convincing evidence” that testing improves student performance.

Still, the focus on test scores and “accountability” continues to grow, with solid policy backing from the Obama administration.

3. Access to Higher Education and Student Debt

President Obama’s record on higher education is mixed, but has more to recommend it than the rest of his education agenda. On the positive side, the administration has made real gains when it comes to expanding college accessibility and the treatment of student loans. It has doubled the amount of money provided for Pell Grants by cutting private companies out of federal grade exchanges, bringing the number of eligible recipients up to nine million — a three million student increase during this first term in office. And administration has also promoted price controls to rein in tuition increases, though these have not yet been instituted in policy (such controls may actually be very susceptible to loopholes that allow universities to “revise their calculations of what families can afford to pay – and raise their tuitions accordingly.”)

In addition, the Obama team has made progress in making some student loans more manageable. Students who graduate in 2012 or later will not be required to make federal education loan repayments that exceed 10 percent of their income. Plus, if these graduates cannot repay the loans within 20 years, they will be forgiven.

But while this loan repayment program is clearly a step forward, it still doesn’t go nearly as far as it should. Though it will provided much needed help to the 1.6 million students who graduated or will graduate this year, there are another 34.4 million graduates with student loans who are not eligible to receive this benefit. Additionally, the program does nothing to rein in predatory private student loan companies like Sallie Mae that are hitting graduates with severe credit penalties, targeting them for harassment and leveling lawsuits against them. And students who have defaulted on student loans in the past cannot get help through this new program – even though student loans remain the only kind of debt not dischargeable through bankruptcy in the US.

Finally, the administration has made mixed progress in standing up to predatory for-profit universities like Strayer and the University of Phoenix. Encouragingly, the administration did issue an executive order banning these universities from recruiting among veterans and troops. But while veterans are now receiving protection from these institutions, there has been no move on the administration’s part to stop them from recruiting at, for example, high schools with large numbers of poor students — leaving millions of young students terribly at-risk.

[Note: Last week, the administration announced a plan to grant legal work status – not a path to citizenship – to up to a million undocumented young people who would have been eligible for the DREAM Act. The memo removes the threat of deportation for these individuals and allows legal work status in the US. It is unclear whether the memo will have any impact on access to higher education at this time.]

4. Supporting Teachers

The country’s two largest teachers unions, the National Association of Educators (NEA) and AFL-CIO affiliate the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), endorsed President Obama in July 2011 and February 2012, respectively. They did this in spite of the fact that the Obama administration makes no secret of its disdain for both organizations. On May 25, Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for Obama 2012, tweeted the following off-the-cuff rebuttal of Romney’s insistence that the unions and the Obama administration are close:

FACT CHECK: Romney off on Obama’s relationship with teachers’ unions; it’s anything but cozy:

It may have been the most honest take on Obama’s relationship with the unions yet. The administration has indeed displayed very little “coziness” with teachers unions, consistently backing policies they oppose. Most importantly, the administration has expanded punitive teacher accountability measures beyond those set by NCLB. As noted above, Obama’s RTTT offers millions of dollars to school systems that tie teacher evaluations to student test performance, undermining job security protections like tenure. The result, Professor Ken Saltman says, is to “transform teaching into a low-skilled, low-paid workforce.”

Obama’s policies have also weakened the collective bargaining rights teachers still hold in some states.Though Obama claims to oppose mass teacher layoffs, and has introduced legislative measures to stop them, his support has been inconsistent: in February, Obama supported a Rhode Island school district’s plan to lay off all of its schoolteachers, and he has religiously supported so-called merit-based teacher layoffs for teachers whose students score poorly on standardized tests.

The only issue on which Obama and unions appear to see eye to eye is on school vouchers — that is, the use of public money for funding private and religious school tuition. Like the teachers unions, the president has vocal and consistent in his opposition to vouchers — but praise from far-right governors is at least one indication of how far to the right the president’s education policies lie overall. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who has just pushed an extensive voucher program through the state legislature, publicly praised Obama’s privatization measures in March. He joined a number of other pro-voucher, anti-union Republican governors who have supported Obama’s education policies, from Bob McDonnell of Virginia to Mitch Daniels of Indiana.

5. Advancing Equity

Corporate reformers like to dismiss calls for equitable school funding by claiming that “throwing money at the problem” of inequality in education doesn’t solve the problem. Yet in 2010, a Rutgers study found that,

“Student poverty — especially concentrated student poverty — is the most critical variable affecting funding levels. Student and school poverty correlates with, and is a proxy for, a multitude of factors that impact upon the costs of providing equal education opportunity — most notably, gaps in educational achievement, school district racial composition, English language proficiency, and student mobility.”

In other words, student poverty and under-funded schools are the most important predictors of, among other things, low student achievement. As New York University professor Pedro Noguera points out,

“The achievement gap is first and foremost an educational manifestation of social inequality… In cities where the economy has collapsed and there is a shortage of good jobs — as in Detroit; Cleveland; St. Louis; Buffalo, New York; and Erie, Pennsylvania — schools lack the resources to improve and students increasingly lack the will to achieve… If educators fail to understand or fail to address the numerous ways in which other inequities — in income, health, housing, etc. — interact with learning outcomes, then much of what is done to ameliorate the problem will simply not work.”

But despite much evidence that inequality is the defining educational issue of our day, the Obama team has largely chosen to skirt this thornier set of problems, focusing instead on teacher and student accountability — and improving test scores. The president’s selection of Chicago-area corporate reformer Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education was an early indication of how little educational equity would feature in the Obama administration; true to form, Duncan quickly shaped the expansions of NCLB to mirror those already in place in Chicago public schools, where growing funding inequality and an increasing achievement gap have followed fast on the heels of Duncan’s market-based reforms.

As education scholars Pauline Lipman and Nathan Haines explain, the Chicago system masterminded by Duncan created,

“…an accountability system that institutionalized a simplistic, one-size-fits-all practice of demarcating students, teachers, and schools into those deemed ‘failing’ or ‘successful’ and then meted out penalties without regard for inequities in resources, opportunities to learn, teacher’s ideologies, cultural disconnections in curriculum and instruction, social contexts of the school, or strengths children bring to the school setting.”

Duncan’s means of treating the dozens of schools deemed “failing” in Chicago under his watch was to shutter them, and to encourage charter schools to spring up in their place. But just as there is no real proof charter schools boost academic achievement, there is also little evidence that they ameliorate inequality — in fact, they may actually promote it. As Chandra Nerissa Larsen of Sonoma State University points out, Chicago charters now “serve 6-7% fewer low-income students, half as many limited-English-proficient students, and statistically significant fewer students with special needs than regular public neighborhood schools” – prime examples of how charters exclude students most likely to bring down scores and abandon them to increasingly underfunded traditional publics as resources are shifted to charters.

Though few politicians can find it within themselves to admit it, there is no doubt that without treating the equity issue, we will forever fall short of resolving the real problems plaguing our education system. Paul Thomas, associate professor of education at Furman University, writes, “If leaders and policy makers are willing to confront the evidence of social and educational inequity, this hope may lead to the changes promised by the current president now trapped in ‘no excuses’ reform commitments that offer no hope or change.”

Educators alone simply cannot fix such entrenched social problems. But they might make better progress with equitable school funding to ensure that schools needing the most help get more money. Unfortunately, President Obama’s corporate reform measures do just the opposite.

It is widely understood that unfettered capitalist economic policies led to the financial collapse of 2008; we should not be surprised that they are also disastrous when applied to public goods like education. Without a renewed investment in the pro-equity educational tradition in America that spans from John Dewey to bell hooks, poor children and poor schools will continue to be left behind by the US education system. And our whole nation may pay the price.

Weekly Update: Week of November 6, 2011

Another week full of news stories.

Here are some of the high and low lights.

First is an example of police brutality at its’ worst. Police, and I use that term loosely, are seen shoving at full strength the ends of their batons into the stomachs of students both male and female at UC Berkeley.

U.S. police in riot gear clashed with student protesters at the University of California, Berkeley, after they refused to dismantle their camp. Tents were erected following a march against tuition fee increases for students – which was part of the broader Occupy Wall Street movement. Several activists were arrested, some were beaten by police with batons.

Note that the riot gear creates anonymity  and a very frightening facade. Also note how the students did not waiver even as they were being attacked.

Parents, let’s at least be as brave as our children.

And now for a more peaceful yet powerful Occupation, parents, students and teachers Occupy the steps of the New York Department of Education (DOE).

Occupy the DOE

Last week, as I posted previously, a group of parents, teachers and students occupied a DOE Board meeting.

And then there’s The Story of Broke and why there really is enough money to pay for schools.

To follow is the education segment of the Goldman Sachs Mock Trial that was held at Zucotti Park last week with Chris Hedges and Dr. Cornell West. Thanks to a Parents Across America Seattle member for editing this for me.

After the Mock Trail, Chris Hedges was arrested in front of the Goldman Sachs building. After his release he wrote a powerful essay about why he became active in the Occupy Movement, Finding Freedom in Hand Cuffs. To follow is the introductory paragraph.

Faces appeared to me moments before the New York City police arrested us Thursday in front of Goldman Sachs. They were not the faces of the smug Goldman Sachs employees, who peered at us through the revolving glass doors and lobby windows, a pathetic collection of middle-aged fraternity and sorority members. They were not the faces of the blue-uniformed police with their dangling cords of white and black plastic handcuffs, or the thuggish Goldman Sachs security personnel, whose buzz cuts and dead eyes reminded me of the East German secret police, the Stasi. They were not the faces of the demonstrators around me, the ones with massive student debts and no jobs, the ones whose broken dreams weigh them down like a cross, the ones whose anger and betrayal triggered the street demonstrations and occupations for justice. They were not the faces of the onlookers—the construction workers, who seemed cheered by the march on Goldman Sachs, or the suited businessmen who did not. They were faraway faces. They were the faces of children dying. They were tiny, confused, bewildered faces I had seen in the southern Sudan, Gaza and the slums of Brazzaville, Nairobi, Cairo and Delhi and the wars I covered. They were faces with large, glassy eyes, above bloated bellies. They were the small faces of children convulsed by the ravages of starvation and disease.

Regarding Occupy Wall Street, I came across this photo album of the diverse faces of Occupy Wall Street.  It’s worth taking a look at these beautiful and thoughtful photo’s.

And now for the “You Gotta’ Be Kiddin’ Me” category, the Obama administration wants to make receiving funds for Head Start programs a competition. Didn’t we have enough of that with Race to the Top? Now we will have pre-schoolers tested on their colors?

In a mayor’s community meeting that I attended on education, many women spoke out about the need for more seats in the Head Start program in Seattle. With a lack of funding, the program is very limited in the number of students that they can register and now Arne Duncan/President Obama in their infinite wisdom have decided that Head Start funding should have a competitive edge to it?! When will this absurdity end!?

And for all of the corporate reformers out there who are preaching the cradle to college path, and trust me, you’ll be hearing that phrase a lot in the coming months, instead of spending all those millions on faux roots organizations, legislators and worthless legislation, give it to Head Start. That is a worthy program that has proven successful for at least three decades.

The children receive a hot breakfast and lunch. They learn their colors, the alphabet, how to spell their names and they begin to recognize words. All of this gives them a greater sense of confidence when they begin kindergarten.

To read about this new brainchild of the Obama administration, see Lagging Head Start Centers Must Compete for Federal Funding.

Remember Ben Austin, Mr. Accountability, who led the Parent Trigger Movement in California that was found to be fraught with fraud?

Well, guess what just happened to him, he lost his license to practice law in the state of California. Oops.

See Parent Trigger Charlatan Ben Austin Booted Off the State Bar of California.

And in Florida, it doesn’t seem that TFA, Inc. is working for the African American community.

The Duval County School Board will discuss whether too many inexperienced teachers are working at the district’s worst-performing schools and what can be done to recruit and retain seasoned educators for those classrooms.

Hmm. Really!?

To read more about this revelation, see Duval School Board Eyes Link Between Struggling Schools and Inexperienced Teachers.

On another note, Thanksgiving will be here very soon. Please think about families who will not have very much during this day of thanks. If you can, donate food including turkeys, which are on special at many grocery stores now, I got one for $5 last year,  to a food bank, a church or Family Services. There are many families out there who would appreciate being able to serve their children a special meal on Thanksgiving day.

There are also churches and other organizations who will be providing dinners on that day. Please share this information with people who might benefit from this.

I’ll end on a positive note this Friday, Crosby and Nash in Zucotti Park. Enjoy.

By the way, I am so impressed that so many young people know all the words to Teach Your Children!

…and their interview with the Rolling Stone.

Have a good Friday.

Remember our vets and the ones out there now on the ground.


Arne Duncan/President Obama’s New “Flexibility” Program, the NCLB Waivers


It’s interesting how President Obama in his speech yesterday referred to  No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as a failed program with no mention of Race to the Top (RTTT) which was the same but worse. Some of us refer to RTTT  as NCLB on steroids and it seems that at this time most people have recognized that RTTT is also a failed policy. It was a policy of forcing school districts to align to a specific set of standards and if the standards were not met, the school was “turned around”, meaning either the school was closed permanently, half the staff fired or the principal removed. The other option was for the school to be turned into a charter school and staffed with uncertified and inexperienced teachers including Teach for America, Inc. recruits. It was an ill-conceived idea developed by a few wealthy venture (vulture) capitalists who knew nothing about education and everything about how to make a buck. Unfortunately school districts wanting some of that RTTT money complied with disastrous results.

Neither NCLB nor RTTT  addressed the basis of low achievement, mainly poverty. 21% of our children live in poverty and that number is increasing every day with unemployment increasing and no end in sight.

Maybe now the Washington State PTA will seriously consider removing merit pay for teachers out of their platform. It looks like it’s no longer the darling of those in power.

Is this truly going to be the beginning of the end to the Federal demand for merit pay, school turnarounds, exhaustive testing and charter schools? We’ll see.

Either way, the next thing that President Obama needs to do is fire Arne Duncan. With him as an albatross around the president’s neck, it would make it even more difficult for President Obama to be re-elected.

I have reviewed what is a rather sketchy outline of this new “flexibility” that Obama is allowing each state and find the following phrases interesting. The first one is:

A State will no longer have to set targets that require all students to be proficient by 2014.  Instead, a State will have flexibility to establish ambitious but achievable goals in reading/language arts and mathematics to support improvement efforts for all schools and all students.

The stated goal initially by the Obama administration was that all students in all states would reach a specific level of achievement by 2014. I guess they got a reality check on that after a few years.

For a State’s lowest–performing schools — Priority schools,  generally, those in the bottom 5 percent — a district will implement rigorous interventions to turn the schools around.  In an additional 10 percent of the State’s schools — Focus Schools, identified due to low graduation rates, large achievement gaps, or low student subgroup performance — the district will target strategies designed to focus on students with the greatest needs.

They are still targeting the “lowest performing” 5% of schools to intervene and “turn the schools around” but I am assuming they are not referring to the specific requirements of “school turnarounds” which was the dictum of RTTT.

In the paragraph below, it seems that they want to shift the power of decision-making to the state which could still lead to disastrous effects. Imagine our state legislators trying to dictate how each school district is to address school policy. On the other hand, if Randy Dorn with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and his staff were to make the decisions regarding education in our state, as was the purpose of the office, that would make sense. Imagine what would have happened if the ed reformers in our state had gotten what they wished for in the last legislative session and had the office of OSPI dissolved and the decision-making power placed in the hands of one person, our governor.

I believe that each district should be able to determine school policy and have the funding to support all schools successfully in the manner that they determine appropriate. Oh course, there is the question of money or lack thereof which gets us back to where all of this started, there is not enough funding to support our schools and hasn’t been for at least a few decades.

States, districts, and schools will receive relief from a system that over-identifies schools as “failing” and prescribes a “one size fits all” approach to interventions.  Instead, States will have the flexibility to design a system that targets efforts to the schools and districts that are the lowest-performing and to schools that have the largest achievement gaps, tailoring interventions to the unique needs of those schools and districts and their students.  States will also have flexibility to recognize and reward both schools that are the highest-achieving and those whose students are making the most progress.

And then this paragraph:

States, districts, and schools will gain increased flexibility to use several funding streams in ways they determine best meets their needs, and rural districts will have additional flexibility in using their funds. Funds to meet the needs of particular populations of disadvantaged students will be protected.

I love the phrase “several funding streams” when describing where the money is to come from for this idea of closing the “achievement gap”. I suppose this means that Arne Duncan no longer will be getting billions of dollars to throw around conning states to follow his ideas of ed reform with or without proper funding. So what are these “revenue streams”?

And in this paragraph, the document refers to the state having the responsibility of developing plans for dealing with inequity in schools.

To receive flexibility through these waivers of NCLB requirements, a State must develop a rigorous and comprehensive plan addressing the three critical areas that are designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps and increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction.

This is starting to sound more and more like NCLB all over again, requirements with no funding, only mandates.

And now, regarding teacher evaluations;

Each State that receives the ESEA flexibility will set basic guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems.  The State and its districts will develop these systems with input from teachers and principals and will assess their performance based on multiple valid measures, including student progress over time and multiple measures of professional practice, and will use these systems to provide clear feedback to teachers on how to improve instruction.

No more merit pay based on test scores? No more needless testing? I am skeptically optimistic.

In reading the fine print under “Definitions”:

  1. 1.       Student Growth:  “Student growth” is the change in student achievement for an individual student between two or more points in time.  For the purpose of this definition, student achievement means—
  • ·         For grades and subjects in which assessments are required under ESEA section 1111(b)(3):  (1) a student’s score on such assessments and may include (2) other measures of student learning, such as those described in the second bullet, provided they are rigorous and comparable across schools within an LEA.
  • ·         For grades and subjects in which assessments are not required under ESEA section 1111(b)(3):  alternative measures of student learning and performance such as student results on pre-tests, end-of-course tests, and objective performance-based assessments; student learning objectives; student performance on English language proficiency assessments; and other measures of student achievement that are rigorous and comparable across schools within an LEA.

Sounds like more unnecessary testing and more money required for expensive computer centered exams. Well, at least someone will profit from this edict.

We’ll see how all of this all plays out.

I will end with this video featuring one of our own, Karran Harper Royal, a founding member of Parents Across America who lives in New Orleans and fights the good fight every day.


Post Script: September 27, 2011

I just received a description of the NCLB waivers written by the National School Board Association.

It goes as follows:

Conditions for Relief
In order for states to qualify for the waivers, they must meet the following three conditions:

  • Adopt and implement college- and career-ready standards and assessments.

Administration officials said that states don’t have to use common standards or assessments, but these standards and assessments have to be college and career ready and that states must show they are taking steps to implement them in the classroom.

  • Develop an accountability system that differentiates schools based on their performance.

They must target the lowest performing 5 percent schools with rigorous interventions, such as those identified in the School Improvement Grant program; must also focus on additional 10 percent of schools that have low graduation rates, large achievement gaps, or poor subgroup performance. The Department of Education officials emphasized that the remedy for these schools will be “locally designed,” but the expectations will be “unequivocal.”

  • Set guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation systems to support teaching.

These systems will be developed with input from teachers and principals and will assess performance based on “multiple valid measures”, including student progress over time. They will be used to provide clear feedback to teachers on how to improve teaching. The Administration’s plan is silent on how much of the evaluation should be based on student growth and whether the data will be used for rewarding teachers or tenure decisions.

NCLB Waivers
In return, states can request waivers on the law, including the following three key provisions:

  • States would not have to meet the 100 percent proficiency requirement for 2013-2014.

States can instead set “ambitious but achievable” goals in reading and math.

  • States would not have to identify schools as failing under the current law.

Instead they have the flexibility to develop an accountability system that targets the lowest performing schools and school districts and tailors interventions to specific students in need.

  • States would be able to use the currently required 20 percent set-aside local Title I funds for choice and supplemental tutoring services to instead fund other activities that support learning.

This would free up $1 billion for school districts and schools to use for other school improvement strategies—where the state seeks the waiver.

States should notify the Department of Education by Oct 12, 2011 for their intent to apply for the waivers. There are two application windows:

• Submit requests by November 13, 2011 for December peer review.
• Submit requests by mid-February, 2012 for Spring review.

Action At The State Level
The extent to which waivers are granted and what local school districts will need to do to meet the conditions for relief will depend on the content of the state application. Working through their state associations, local school boards can have an avenue to influence the content of those applications.

The Failure of Education Reform: “Transformation” at Central Falls High School

Remember this?

In response to that horrific event, people responded like Esther Wojcicki, a dedicated teacher in Palo Alto, CA. She wrote an op-ed for CNN titled Work with teachers, don’t fire them. And this response from Nanette Richard on what the real cause of “low student performance” was at that time, RI teachers fired at Central Falls High School. And this from the teachers at Central Falls High School, Fired teachers defend their positions.

That was last year when there was all of the hoopla from  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and even President Obama that the firing of teachers en masse heralded a new day in education reform.

Well, well, well. And now what do the good people of Central Falls and their children have? An even bigger mess that Duncan will try to spin or mask over and then simply move on to greener pastures. He may be in your town next, Mr. Fix-It and his billionaire crew.

This just in:

Changes at R.I. School Fail to Produce Results

Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, center, looks on as Central Falls school superintendent Frances Gallo, right, and teachers union president Jane Sessums, left, answer questions during a news conference after the union approved an agreement that allows the entire staff to be rehired, Monday, May 17, 2010, in Central Falls, R.I. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

For the last year, Central Falls High School in Rhode Island has been under a microscope. Long considered one of the poorest-performing high schools in the state, administrators abandoned a proposal to fire all the teachers as long as they agreed to a so-called “transformation” plan.

Now, as the school year winds down, that plan is in shambles.

Since August, when the restructuring of Central Falls High School began, 26 teachers have resigned or been fired. Josh Karten is one of them.

“I think I’ve been let go because I’m not a true believer,” Karten says.

Karten, a history and business teacher for four years here, says he was all for the school’s transformation — which called for a much tougher teacher evaluation policy, mandatory training and more time dedicated to struggling students. The plan and the money to pay for it came from the Obama administration’s campaign to fix schools labeled “dropout factories.”

Karten’s enthusiasm took a dive after he was put in charge of the “restoration” room, a holding pen for the school’s most disruptive students.

“But then once I started questioning some of the things they were doing — putting kids in a room just to get them out of the way for the period and then putting them back out. And they basically kept telling me to shut my mouth and just log people when they come in. I never got to teach,” Karten said.

Karten says the school was in such disarray that in-school suspensions jumped from 2,300 to 8,500 by the end of May. His contract was not renewed because, he says, he had seen too much and refused to be muzzled.

Not true, says Superintendent Francis Gallo, although she declined to discuss Karten’s firing.

“Personnel matters are personnel matters, but shame on us if we didn’t have enough planning with Josh so that he understood the role and knew what had to be done,” Gallo says.

Placing Blame

The debacle at Central Falls High has gotten national attention because President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have publicly sided with administrators arguing that teachers must be held accountable for students’ dismal test scores. Last year, only 7 percent of students tested at grade level in math, 24 percent in reading. This year’s test results could be worse. Why?

“Because of our low expectations in the classroom — meaning teachers,” Gallo says.

Gallo believes some teachers have sabotaged her reforms. Teachers say those reforms are a joke. Joe Travers, a 21-year veteran, was transferred to an elementary school after saying so at a town hall meeting.

“I’m fighting this because what they did is wrong. They use that word transformation as a buzzword for everything: ‘We can do this because of transformation.’ But transformation tries to retain the teachers that are doing a good job, tries to retain teachers that can move the school forward,” Travers says.

Instead, says Travers, the absolute lack of trust in Gallo and administrators has made it impossible to move forward. Rhode Island’s Education Commissioner Deborah Gist agrees.

“If people are not working together, there’s no chance for its success,” Gist says.

With teachers and administrators at an impasse, Gist, too, has come under fire for failing to bring both sides together.

“I am ultimately responsible for getting that done,” Gist says.

Gist says the school could eventually be shut down or turned into a charter school. State legislators are calling for an investigation into how the $1 million in federal funds for the school’s transformation have been spent and whether the school district violated the due process rights of teachers.

Feeling Cheated

No one has been hurt more by the upheaval at Central Falls High than this year’s seniors. “I think most of us do feel cheated for the four years. Every year has been different and this year has by far been the worst,” senior Derrick Lopes says.

“Like they let all the bad kids do whatever they want. It’s just kind of pathetic,” his classmate, Ashley Castro, says.

And so, as the Obama administration considers how to turn failing schools around, Central Falls High has become a cautionary tale about the complexities of school reform and whether the federal government should be dictating what those reforms should be.

Need I say more?


Should I Order the Champagne?

Wayne Au with Rethinking Schools, who some of you will have the pleasure of meeting at the forum on October 5th, sent me a link to Bye, Bye Duncan? that was in the Chronicle for Higher Education.

What was interesting to me about this article is that this morning when listening to political analysis on the radio about what the Obama administration has achieved in the last two years,  I noticed that there was not any mention made about his education initiative, Race to the Top. I shrugged it off thinking that it just hadn’t been written into the script. It was an oversight.

But maybe not.

Check out this article and see what you think.

I would love to read your thoughts.

Should I put the champagne on ice?


Update, two hours later:

Another article, this time from The Atlantic.

Why Michelle Rhee’s Education ‘Brand’ Failed in D.C.

Update: Not even 1 hour later

Did the press just wake up and smell the coffee?

Education Groups Want Less Testing, More Learning

And, from the Boston Globe

Letter to President Obama From Parents Across America

Sue and I are founding members of an organization called Parents Across America. This group is made up of education activists and bloggers who share the belief that there is a far more realistic and successful approach to teaching and learning than what we have been hearing about from President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

We will begin to reach out formally to parents in our communities in the near future after general organizational matters are decided upon.

In the meantime, I have started a list serv called Parents Across Seattle that will provide information on opportunities to speak up as parents in terms of what we know works for our children. Please feel free to contact me at to access this group list serv.

Below is our first action as an organization. We have all signed on to a letter to President Obama. It is a followup to a May letter sent about Obama’s Blueprint for Reform, which you can find here.

Please pass this on to other parents. Knowledge is power and we have the power to change the direction of this ed reform conversation.


Parents Across America

August 26, 2010

Dear President Obama:

Several weeks ago, we wrote to you about our concern that your proposed “Blueprint for Reform” did not acknowledge the critical role parents must play in any meaningful school improvement process. We also expressed our serious reservations about some of the Blueprint’s strategies.

Our goal is simple – to ensure that our children receive the best possible education. As parents, we are the first to see the positive effects of good programs, and the first line of defense when our children’s well-being is threatened. Our input is unique and essential.

Recently, Secretary Duncan announced that he would require districts that receive federal school improvement grants (SIG) to involve parents and the community in planning for schools identified for intervention. We appreciate this response as a first step; however, more needs to be done.

First, leadership must come from the top. We would like to see meaningful, broad-based parent participation not just in our local districts, but at the U.S. Department of Education, where critical decisions are being made about our children’s education.

Second, we need more than rhetoric to feel confident that only educationally sound strategies will be used in our children’s schools. The current emphasis on more charter schools, high-stakes testing, and privatization is simply not supported by research. Disagreement on these matters is not a result of parents clinging to the “status quo,” as you have recently asserted. No one has more at stake in better schools than we do – but we disagree with you and Secretary Duncan about how to get them.

We need effective, proven, common-sense practices that will strengthen our existing schools, rather than undermine them. These include parent input into teacher evaluation systems, fairly-funded schools, smaller class sizes and experienced teachers who are respected as professionals, not seen as interchangeable cogs in a machine. We want our children to be treated as individuals, not data points. And we want a real, substantial role in all decisions that affect our children’s schools.

More specifically, and urgently, we insist on being active partners in the formulation of federal school improvement policies. The models proposed by the U.S. Department of Education are rigid and punitive, involving either closure, conversion to charters, or the firing of large portions of the teaching staff. All of these strategies disrupt children’s education and destabilize communities; none adequately addresses the challenges these schools face.

We also insist on being active partners in reforms at the school level, with the power to devise our own local solutions, using research-based methods, after a collaborative needs assessment at each individual school.

Our voices must count. If you listen, you will make real changes in your School Improvement Grant proposals as well as your “Blueprint” for education reform.

We look forward to your response and a brighter future for our children and our nation.

Sincerely, Parents Across America (signatories attached)

Natalie Beyer, Durham Allies for Responsive Education (DARE), NC

Caroline Grannan, San Francisco public school parent, volunteer and advocate, CA

Pamela Grundy, Mecklenburg Area Coming Together for Schools, NC

Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters, New York, NY

Sharon Higgins, public school parent, Oakland, CA

Susan Magers, Parent Advocate, FL

Mark Mishler, active public school parent, former president, Albany City PTA*, NY

Bill Ring, TransParent®, Los Angeles, CA

Lisa Schiff, San Francisco public school parent, board member of Parents for Public Schools*, member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco*, “School Beat” columnist for BeyondChron, CA

Rita M. Solnet, President, CDS, Inc.; Director, Testing is Not Teaching, FL

Dora Taylor, Parent and co-editor of Seattle Education 2010, WA

Julie Woestehoff, Parents United for Responsible Education, Chicago, IL