Aug 23 2011

Class Warfare: Fact checking pages 201 through 300

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pages 1 to 100
pages 101 to 200
pages 201 to 300
pages 301 to 350
pages 351 to 400
pages 401 to 437
In the first 100 pages, we meet the main characters and learn about successful charter schools.  In the second 100 pages, we learn that a major cause of the problems in fixing education is the unions refusal to allow teachers to be evaluated based on their standardized test scores — however inaccurate those may be.

In this installment, the ed reformers take control with Obama, Duncan, and the true purpose behind Race To The Top.  While I already knew most of what I had read in the first 200 pages, the material in this section was very new and surprising to me.

Since this section is much more of a narrative than a barrage of facts in the earlier pages, my commentary on this will be less detailed in a line-by-line manner, and will also summarize some of the key moments.

From 201 to 205, Bill Gates entices ed reform with a competition for substantial grant money.  This sets the precedent for Race To The Top.

From 206 to 209, DFER gains power and supports Eva Moskowitz to create the charter network of which Harlem Success 1 that we met in the beginning of the book was a part.

On page 208 the resistance to the co-location of charters and traditional public schools is described as “In those situations the parents would be told, wrongly, that the charters were being run by ‘outsiders’ who were grabbing space that was needed and occupied by children going to ‘real’ public schools.”  Brill fails to mention the real issue that has caused even the NAACP to sue the New York DOE:  The co-location creates a ‘separate but unequal’ environment, which was outlawed by Plessy v. Fergusson.  The kids in the charter school often get access to the playground at the better time and the cafeteria at the convenient time while the traditional public school eats lunch at 9:30 AM.  This is partly because of the extra private funding the charters get.  So what happens is that there becomes a dual-class system.  Though the majority of the kids are black, you have the less poor black kids in the charters getting the better services and the more poor black kids getting shafted.

Page 210:  Reid is starting to teach 1st grade for the first time at Harlem Success 1, though she is used to fifth.  She’s worried because “I was terrible at talking down to kids” but “Moskowitz had assured her that part of HSA’s culture of high expectations was that no child was to be talked to the way some adults talk to children.”  But these kids are 6 years old, so it is definitely good for the kids when the teacher knows how to talk to the kids in a developmentally appropriate way.  This isn’t a major note, here, but it shows how clueless some of the reformers are.

From 211 to 215, we meet a teacher who awaited a hearing in the New York City ‘Rubber Room’  The hearings sometimes are prolonged for 3 to 5 years, he says, but this isn’t the unions fault.  If the DOE wants to speed up the process, which they eventually do after Brill writes a New Yorker article about it, then they should have worked that into the contract.

From 216 to 228, the ed reform becomes an issue in the presidential election.  Obama and McCain pretty much agree on it.  When Obama gets elected, DFER dissuades Obama from picking Linda Darling-Hammond, who has been a nemesis to TFA since it started.

From 229 to 235 we see that the winners of the Gates grants have test scores factoring into teacher evaluation.

Page 237 we meet learn about Duncan’s experience.  He ran an afterschool program for disadvantaged kids.  Then the school was shut down and he helped reopen it as a ‘turnaround’ school.  Then, three years later, he worked for the head of Chicago schools before taking over Chicago schools in 2001 where “he pushed hard to close failing schools and replae them with new, smaller turnaround schools or charters.”  There is no mention by Brill of what kind of success he had in Chicago since Duncan had no success there.  This article from Chicago the other day shows that test scores have not changed in years in Chicago, despite all the schools he shut down and reopened as charters.  A Duncan speech about this topic is actually what sparked my interest in getting involved in this ed reform discussion about 6 months ago, when I wrote this post which got the attention of Diane Ravitch and was featured in her New York Times OpEd piece which, I believe, will one day be looked back upon as the ‘turning point’ in the fight to not let people who know nothing about schools dictate the changes that need to be made.

So Duncan is named Secretary of Education and comes up with the idea for Race To The Top:  “Duncan remembers when the Bush administration had distributed a few competitive grants, he had achieved many years’ worth of reform in a few months because his team had been so eager to win.”  I’m not quite sure if ‘reform’ is measured in years, but Brill gives no specifics of what sorts of great ideas he had in those few months.

Page 241:  To get the government to give the $5 billion for RTTT, Cain, Miller, and Schnur had to justify the expense legally:  “The hunt began to find some law or other that would allow money to be spent to reward states for initiating merit pay pans for teacher or for building data system to track student performance and link to individual teachers.”  They find it, ironically enough, in NCLB since it helps states check that disadvantaged communities were getting an equitable share of “well-qualified” teachers.  This same part of NCLB should probably put an end to TFA, under its current training model where they only get to student teach for 10 to 20 hours with 5 to 15 kids.

Page 243:  Obama in a speech say we “let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us.”  Ignoring that when you take the PISA scores and just take our schools that have 25% poverty, we become a world leader.

More from Obama “If a teacher is given a chance or two chances or three chances but still does not improve, there’s no excuse for that person to continue teaching.  I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences.”  He really needs to spend some time in the failing schools and see how hard the teachers are working there.

Page 244:  I never realized how devious the Race To The Top plan was until I got to this part.  Basically, the $5 billion was to be allocated based on a competition that states had to apply for.  Only a few states would ‘win’, but most states would apply for it.  The ‘catch’ is that in order to apply, you have to first change your laws so that there is no charter cap and so that teacher performance evaluation must be linked to student performance via standardized test scores.

“if they wrote tough enough rules for getting it — rules that required the winning states, DESPERATE to plug their budget deficits, to deliver on REAL reforms — they really could seize what Duncan had called this ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”  (Capitalization added by me)  So they were bribing states with a one time payment to change their laws to advance a reform agenda that has little evidence that it will work.

Page 246:  Michael Johnston wants to get Colorado the RTTT money so he gets elected to be state senator.

Page 246:  Rhee’s old program The New Teacher Project, which is a spin-off of TFA and trains mostly career changers to become teachers publishes a paper with a pretty provocative title: “The Widget Effect:  Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Difference in Teacher Effectiveness.”  But if good teachers are that important, how does The New Teacher Project who also trains new teachers in five weeks fit into that?

Page 260:  The point scale for winning Race To The Top based on:

The states’ plan for taking over failing schools and turning them around.

Improving curriculum standards.

Innovation, including no caps on charters.

Using student test data so that “teachers (and principals) could be compensated and, when necessary, dismissed if they were found to be ineffective.”

Well, I like improving curriculum standards, but the others just won’t work.  Turning around schools, if they keep the same kids, is generally a failure.  If you can swap the kids, it sometimes works, but not always.  Expanding charters, well New Orleans is the extreme example of that — completely unregulated and massive cheating in so many different ways (I can’t prove all this yet, but it will eventually get out.  There are a lot of reporters working on this — just wait.)

Page 261:  So states are trying to change their laws just to enter the competition, even though it is a bit of a trick since “In fact, the potential winnings looked like a lot more than they really were.”

Page 265:  Johnston, now a senator, “sketched out a plan for legislation that would require teachers to be measured for effectiveness, half by test scores and half by other rigorous processes.”  This is ironic because the school he was just principal, and which he hand-picked his teaching staff from scratch had horrible standardized test scores with only 11% proficient in math.  I am going to call him out on this when I finish this entire project.  I’m sure that he and his teachers were trying their best, so should they have gotten judged (and possibly fired) under his plan?

From 270 to 280:  States like New York are applying to Race To The Top despite not really qualifying since they could not change the law that teacher performance should not be tied to test scores (at least not at that point.  Now, it can be up to 40%).  Still, they checked all the boxes and signed all the forms that said they did qualify to apply.

Page 281 to 286:  Waiting For Superman comes out which showcases a few charters that seem to be working and zero public schools.  This movie had a huge publicity blitz including a week of education coverage on NBCs Today show, but this movie was so slanted and misleading that all it really did was wake up people from the other side to fight against it.  ‘Class Warfare’ could do the same thing.  They were better off hatching their plans in secret, I think.

Page 293:  Parents in Harlem are protesting against charters and charter co-location.  Though it might be tough for an outsider to understand why some black parents are against something that seems to help black kids, a writer like Brill could surely understand, at least, their point and explain it clearly to his readers — even if it is so he can shoot it down.  Instead he writes:

“Next up was a fiery speaker who seemed to want to use the event to launch some kind of campaign for political office.  In an argument that was hard to follow, he compared the decision that was going to be made tonight to Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision outlawing school segregation, asserting — actually, screaming — that allowing Harlem Success to move in would reverse Brown because Harlem Success taks only ‘certain’ students.  (The hard-to-follow part was the idea that being chosen in a lottery is like being chosen on the basis of race, which is what Brown was all about.)”  I explained, earlier in my analysis why this fiery speaker had a point.  Though the NAACP lost the lawsuit trying to halt the process, there is another bigger lawsuit over this in the works.  This could end up in the Supreme Court, eventually in my opinion.  New Orleans is the extreme example where the top 75% of students are in charters who boot the lowest performing kids to the public schools which have to work with a disproportionate share of the toughest to educate kids.  This sets up a two-tier system where the bottom 25% are neglected so that as many of the top 75% can get their test scores up.  This type of educational ‘triage’ might raise scores a bit, but it is completely un-democratic for kids to raise test scores (though not necessarily learn much) at the expense of other kids.
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pages 1 to 100
pages 101 to 200
pages 201 to 300
pages 301 to 350
pages 351 to 400
pages 401 to 437

5 Responses

  1. bigmaconcampus

    this is fact-checking? looks more like a summary of the book complimented by occasional musings

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Original plan was to do fact checking, but it kind of evolved into how you’ve described it. I’m not going back and changing the titles of the posts, though, but sorry if this was misleading.

  2. Thank you Mr. Rubinstein. While it seems that just about anyone can eat Brill’s lunch given his dearth of knowledge on education, you do it with admirable aplomb and wit.

  3. Lisa

    To add to your list: on p. 245 Brill writes, “[Johnston] was among those pushing for a bill in the Colorado legislature that would allow children who were in the country illegally but had successfully graduated from high school to qualify for the same free admission to state colleges offered to Colorado citizens.”

    The fact is that there’s no such thing as free admission to state colleges in Colorado for state residents. Everyone pays tuition, in part because Colorado has been underfunding its higher ed system for years. The debate has actually been whether undocumented residents who graduated from a Colorado high school can qualify for the same in-state tuition rate as other Colorado residents. Currently, undocumented students are required to pay the much higher out-of-state tuition rate. There is one exception: this fall the Metropolitan State University of Denver established a separate undocumented rate, which is more expensive than the in-state rate but cheaper than the out-of-state rate. Several state representatives were upset by this and some have argued that Metro’s decision is in violation of state laws, but it’s not clear how far they will pursue it. The topic remains a hot one in the state, needless to say.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
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Subject
Math

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