60 Minutes piece on Gulen, leader of the Gulen schools group

September 7, 2013

This is a follow up on my earlier post on the Gulen schools, Cosmos Foundation, Harmony Schools.

A pro-education religious movement could be a good thing.  Is it?


A Jonathan Alter-cation: Teacher pay-for-performance? How about the same for pundits?

November 19, 2009

Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter likes charter schools, and often enough writes about them and his frustration that public schools and their teachers won’t roll over and play dead while charter schools steal money from them (my characterization, not Alter’s).

At Public School Insights, Claus von Zastrow suggested that maybe pundits like Alter ought to be subject to having their pay docked when they screw up, too.  Then he went further, and specifically criticized a recent Alter column, point for point.

A few comments down, who should show up to make his case, but Jonathan Alter.

Go watch, and learn.  Among other things, the discussion is much more civil than we usually see on blogs.  It’s a lesson for Christians and creationists especially.

It’s not much of a conflict of interest, but I have dealt with Alter before, in his previous job at The New Republic (back when it was not so much a bastion of neo-conservatism).  Alter did a major profile of Sen. Orrin Hatch.  Alter strove not to be flattering, and the biggest problem was the Vint Lawrence illustration, showing Hatch draped in the American flag as a cloak.  As I recall from those now-dusty decades, the profile wasn’t exactly correlated with the illustration on any issue.  Over the years, Alter’s been closer to correct more often than he’s been wrong, in my view — his views on charter schools being in that area where I think he errs.

Public schools have never suffered from a surplus of money.  Charter school advocates should not be allowed to steal income from public schools directly.  To shore up GM, we don’t allow GM to take a share of profit from Ford for every GM car sold.  Nor do we allow Ford to take a share of GM’s income.  Competition in education is a foolish pursuit most often, but we don’t need a competitive model that bleeds education on either end, as Alter’s advocacy favors.

In hard economic terms, free market, gloves-off, bare-fisted capitalistic competition has never been shown to work in education.  I never could figure out Milton Friedman’s advocacy for such competition since there is no case ever to be made that competition makes better schools, nor that privately-run schools work better for educating an entire nation than public schools.  I think all relevant evidence runs the other way.

Pay for performance, but links for free:

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McCain offers to sacrifice American education

September 6, 2008

John McCain’s campaign suggests the remaining weeks of the presidential campaign should concentrate on personalities rather than issues.  Why?

McCain’s issues sound like the failed policies of the George Bush administration, so it should be obvious why he doesn’t want to talk about them.

We have a higher duty, especially on the issues of education.  We need to live up to the challenge of young Dalton Sherman (who gave a more substantial speech than Sarah Palin, I think:  “‘Do you believe in me?’  5th grader Dalton Sherman inspires Dallas teachers.”)

In his acceptance speech Thursday night, McCain promised to continue the War on Education, hurling bolts — okay, aiming sparks — at much of the education establishment, but promising nothing that might actually improve education and help out great kids like Dalton Sherman.

Here I’ve taken the text of McCain’s speech as delivered (from the interactive site at The New York Times) and offer commentary.  For McCain’s sake, and because it reveals the threat to education, I’ve left in the applause indicators.

McCain said:

Education — education is the civil rights issue of this century.

(APPLAUSE)
Equal access to public education has been gained, but what is the value of access to a failing school? We need…

(APPLAUSE) We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition, empower parents with choice.
(APPLAUSE)

Competition has never been demonstrated to improve education.  In state after state where it’s been tried, we’ve found corruption tends to squander the education dollars, and the education dollars themselves are diluted and diverted from struggling public schools.  If John McCain promised to help New Orleans by diverting money from the Army Corps of Engineers to “competition in the levee building business,” people would scoff.  If he promised to divert money from the Pentagon to offer “competition” in the national security business, he’d be tarred and feathered by his fellow veterans.

We need to make schools work, period.  Taking money away from struggling schools won’t help, and taking money from successful schools would be unjust, and a sin – in addition to failing to help.  40 years of malign neglect of education in inner cities and minority areas should not be the excuse to dismantle America’s education system which remains the envy of the rest of the world despite all its problems, chiefly because it offers access to all regardless of income, birth status, color or location.

Millions of people fight to get to the U.S. because of the opportunities offered by education here.  McCain offers to snuff out that beacon of liberty.  If his position differs from George W. Bush’s, I don’t know where. If his position differs from that of the anti-U.S. government secessionists and dominionists, it’s difficult to tell how.

Let’s remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and reward good teachers, and help bad teachers find another line of work.
(APPLAUSE)

The No Child Left Behind Act prompted states to develop brand new, impenetrable bureacracies to grant teaching certificates to people who do not go through state-approved schools of education.  These bureacracies often are unaccountable to elected officials, or to appointed officials.  They were quickly thrown together to regulate a brand new industry of training programs designed to meet the technical requirements of state enabling legislation, and often deaf to the needs and requirements of local schools.

The chief barriers to qualified instructors are low pay, entrenched administration, and a slew of paperwork designed to “expose” teachers in their work rather than aid students in education, which all too often keep qualified teachers from getting teaching done, and discourage qualified people from other professions from getting into the business.  Who could afford to get into telephone soliciting if every phone call had to be documented by hand, with evaluations that take longer than the phone calls?  That’s what teachers in “failing” schools face daily, and it’s a chief factor in the exodus of highly qualified teachers from public schools over the last six years (a trend that may be accelerating).

This proposal would make sense if there were a backlog of qualified and highly-effective teachers trying to get into teaching — but quite the opposite, we have a shortage of teachers nationwide (check out the debates in Utah last year on their poorly-planned voucher program, which sounds a lot like what McCain is proposing).

Has McCain had any serious experience public schools in the last 22 years?  (I’m wondering here; I don’t know.)

When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parent — when it fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them.
(APPLAUSE)
Some may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private one. Many will choose a charter school. But they will have the choice, and their children will have that opportunity.
(APPLAUSE)

Of course, with McCain taking money from the public schools, it will be difficult to find a “better” public school, ultimately.  Here in Texas we’ve experimented for more than a decade with a statewide plan to shuffle money from “rich” school districts to poorer districts, under a plan generally and cleverly called “the Robin Hood plan.”  We still have good and excellent schools in districts across the state, but an increasing number of the designated-rich districts have smashed into tax rate ceilings, and are cutting programs from school curricula, and extra-curricular activities.

Charter schools in Texas are numerous, but in trouble.  Few of them, if any, have been able to create the extra capital investment required to build good school buildings, or especially to provide things like good laboratory classrooms for science classes, auditoriums with well-equipped stages for drama, literature, and general sessions of the entire school, or adequate facilities for physical education and recreation — let alone extracurricular athletics.

Charter schools and private schools often short science education.  A coalition of private schools sued the University of California system to require the universities to accept inferior science education, rather than provide good science education.  (A judge tossed the suit out; the coalition is appealing the decision.) Worse, this coalition includes some of the nation’s best private, religious schools.  When a group claimed as the best plead for acceptance of mediocrity, it’s time to re-examine whether resort to that group is prudent.  When the “best” private schools plead to lower the standards in science, it’s time to beef up the public schools instead.

Worse, many charter schools in Texas and elsewhere are riddled with incompetence, and a few riddled with corruption.  The Dallas Morning News this morning carries a story about a group running two charter schools, one in the Dallas area and one in the Houston area, both in trouble for failing to measure up to any standards of accountability, in testing, in other achievement, in teaching, or in financial accounting.  Economists note that free markets mean waste in some areas (ugly shoes don’t sell — the shoe maker will stop making ugly shoes, but those already made cannot be recalled).  Administration appears to be one area of enormous waste in “school choice.”

Several American urban districts have tried a variety of private corporations to operate schools on a contract basis.  If there is a successful experiment, it has yet to be revealed.  These experiments crashed in San Francisco, Dallas, Philadelphia and Baltimore, from sea to shining sea. Continued hammering at the foundations of good education, calling it “competition” or “peeing in the soup,” isn’t going to produce the results that American students, and parents, and employers, deserve.

Choice between a failing public school and a corrupt or inept charter school, is not a choice.  Why not invest the money where we know it works, in reducing class size and improving resources?  That costs money, but there is no cheap solution to excellence.

Senator Obama wants our schools to answer to unions and entrenched bureaucrats. I want schools to answer to parents and students.
(APPLAUSE)
And when I’m president, they will.
(APPLAUSE)
My fellow Americans, when I’m president, we’re going to embark on the most ambitious national project in decades.

Here we see how out of touch with America John McCain really is.  Does he think that any school system in the nation “answers to unions and entrenched bureaucrats?”  Seriously?  Does he realize the “entrenched bureaucrats” are anti-union?

Seriously.  Think about this.  Texas is the nation’s second largest state.  There is no teacher’s union here worth the name.  State law forbids using strike as a tool for bargaining or negotiation.  Teachers here generally are opposed to unions anyway (don’t ask me to explain — most of them voted for George Bush, before he showed his stripes — but there is no pro-union bias among Texas teachers).  Teachers unions are either much reduced in power in those cities where they used to be able to muster strikes, like Detroit or New York City, or they have agreed to cooperate with the anti-union proposals that offer any hope of improving education.  Read that again:  I’m saying unions have agreed to give up power to help education.

So what is the real problem?  The bureaucracy choking schools today is not the fault of teachers.  Significantly, it’s required by the No Child Left Behind Act.  But even that is not the chief problem in schools, and those problems are not from teachers.

Teachers did not move auto manufacturing out of Detroit.  GM did that.  Fighting the teachers union won’t bring back Detroit’s schools.  Charter schools aren’t going to do it, either.  Teachers didn’t drown New Orleans.  The failure of the levees after Hurricane Katrina did that.  Busting the unions in New Orleans has done nothing to improve education, as all of New Orleans struggles, and as former Big Easy residents resist going back so long as the schools are a mess.  Our schools in Texas have taken on thousands of students from New Orleans and other areas hammered by storms — public schools, not charter schools.  In many cases, parents are choosing public schools John McCain wants to push kids out of.  Go figure.

Hard economic times hammer schools.  Teachers didn’t create the housing bubble, and it’s certain that teachers were not the ones who failed to regulate the mortgage brokers adequately.  We can’t improve education if we don’t have the necessary clues about what the problems really are.

Public education is an essential pillar of American republican democracy.  Public education is the chief driver of our economy. McCain appears wholly unaware of the conditions in America’s schools, and he appears unwilling to push for excellence.  Instead, to drowning schools, McCain promises to through a bucket of water, and maybe an anchor to keep them in place.  He’s urging a road to mediocre schools.  Mediocrity to promote political conservatism, or just to get elected, is a sin.

McCain’s running mate brutalized the public library in her term as mayor of Wassilla.  If she has a better record on education since becoming governor, I’d like to hear about it.

Teachers, did you listen to McCain’s speech?  How are you going to vote?


Utah’s legislature boosts education across the board

February 27, 2007

Gifted with a surplus of funds due to a good economy, the Utah legislature hiked education spending in almost every category, providing pay increases for teachers, more teachers, more schools, more books, more computers — adding more than $450 million, raising the total state education check to $2.6 billion for elementary and secondary schools.

Much of the increases will be consumed by rising enrollments.

Through much of the 20th century Utah led the nation in educational attainment, but fell in state rankings as population growth accelerated especially through the 1980s and 1990s. The Salt Lake Tribune’s story sardonically noted:

The budget package increases per-pupil spending by more than 8 percent. But because other states may also boost school funds this year, fiscal analysts can’t yet say whether the new money will move Utah out of last place in the nation in money spent per student.

Classroom size reduction is excluded from the increases, because the legislature thinks earlier appropriations for that purpose were misused, according to the Associated Press story in the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune:

The extra $450 million will have little effect on reducing classroom size, however, because even as Utah hires more teachers, every year brings more students.

Lawmakers said they were withholding money for reducing classroom sizes until legislative auditors can investigate reports that districts misappropriated some of the $800 million dedicated for that purpose since 1992.

Every teacher and librarian should get a $2,500 pay raise and a $1,000, one-time “thank-you” bonus. Starting pay for teachers in Utah averages barely over $26,000 now.

Read the rest of this entry »


Carnival of Education #104

January 31, 2007

Gate to Boston Latin school

Median Sib hosts the 104th Carnival of Education. If you’re not reading these regularly, you’re missing a lot in education. Even more useful is checking out the blogs the selected posts come from. This week’s posts include pieces on science education in Florida, the misfiring of the intended incentive pay to Houston Independent School District teachers, standards under NCLB, and more.

And, as EduWonks suggests, one might learn more by perusing the 57th Carnival of Homeschooling at PalmTree Pundit — a couple of good geography teaching posts there.

It’s like this internet thingy is some information highway or something.

Image: Gateway to Boston Latin School, probably the oldest operating public school in America. Ben Franklin’s schooling was obtained at this school (probably in an earlier building!)


Carnival of Education 101

January 12, 2007

Postcard of Little Rock's Central High School

Little Rock’s Central High School, portrayed in a postcard (courtesy of Curt Teich Postcard Archives and the University of Arkansas Libraries)

Just a postcard to remind you that the 101st Carnival of Education is up over at I Thought a Think. There is a new Congress; many state legislatures are gearing up. It’s a good time to discuss education policy. Perhaps more to the point, if we don’t contribute to the discussion now, policy changes will go on without our contribution. Read the posts, and take action.


Detroit: No bumper sticker solutions

September 4, 2006

Teachers in Detroit may not be in class when school opens on the day after Labor Day — tomorrow. They are striking for higher wages and better use of classroom resources; the district is asking for $88 million in cuts to salary and benefits. Here is a summary of the issues from the Detroit Free Press.

Detroit’s troubles demonstrate, simply, that education reform is not easy.

There are test pressures:

“We don’t want to disrupt the education environment of our students,” said Lekan Oguntoyinbo, spokesman for the district. “We have MEAP exams coming up in a couple of months here. We’re striving to be more competitive. Every day is important.”

District officials plan to replace 9,500 teachers and other union members with 250 administrators, to manage the 129,000 students.

Parents want good teachers in the classroom:

Kizzy Davis, whose 5-year-old daughter is to start kindergarten, said putting non-teachers in classes concerns her. “I wouldn’t send my child to school” without teachers, Davis said. “I’d put her in another school district.”

Superintendent William F. Coleman III had promised to hold classes whether teachers showed up or not. And about 250 teacher-certified administrators attended orientation sessions so they’d be ready to hit the classrooms Tuesday. But Saturday, Coleman said the district might reconsider.

Delores Smith Jackson, whose grandchildren attend King Academic and Performing Arts Academy, said schools shouldn’t open if they don’t have enough administrators to fill the classes.

“It would just become a warehouse,” Jackson said.

But she said if school went on, “I’ll be right there, doing whatever I can to assist.”

Teachers and administrators go in completely opposite directions on the salary negotiations:

The sides have been negotiating for months. The district says it must cut $88 million from teachers’ salaries and benefits to help account for a $105-million deficit. The union has asked for 5% pay raises over the next three years.

District officials said they don’t have the money to meet teachers’ demands. But union officials said teachers haven’t had a raise in three years and insist the district has the money but that it’s mismanaged.

Teachers want more than money, too — they are asking for enough resources to make the classrooms places of learning:

“It’s not just the money we’re striking for,” said RaQuel Harris, an English teacher at Central High. “It’s really a matter of how they are spending the money. We don’t have supplies we need to educate the students. I only have one set of novels for my students to read, which means the students cannot check the books out and take them home.”

And the Detroit district is a model for voucher advocates -- it faces stiff competition from alternative methods touted as ways to improve foundering districts like Detroit, and foundering schools like many in Detroit. Charter schools and the ability to transfer students out only rob the district of money it needs to keep going, however, far from sharpening any competitive ability:

District officials had feared that if schools don’t open, even more parents would enroll their children in neighboring school districts or charter schools. Detroit has lost about 50,000 students over the last several years. In Michigan, public school funding is based on enrollment, and the exodus of students has fueled the district’s financial crisis.

Federally-mandated testing accompanied with no funding to fix classroom deficits or increase teacher salaries probably do more damage in this situation than help. Bumper sticker solutions — “give kids a choice;” “students don’t have a prayer;” “what kids need is a moment of science” — don’t even produce a smile in Detroit.

Solutions will take time. Every year sees another 10,000 students sent off without the education everyone says they need to have; this is not the first year of such crises.

What would it take to get you to sign up to teach in Detroit?

Update, September 7: Here’s an example of anti-teacher bias at two or three.net that clarifies my views: The teachers are probably right in demanding more money. A pay range of $36,000 for a college graduate, topping out at $70,000 for a Ph.D. with 30 years of experience, is an insult to humans, to education, and especially to any teacher with the guts to teach in Detroit. It’s a pay scale designed to scare away the best and the brightest. (Those who answer the call are saints.) I hope the school system can figure out a way to get the money to meet the teachers’ demands, and I fear that the anti-public education people are winning the fight to kill Detroit’s schools, and Detroit.

Update, September 14: The Education Wonks have a related post, “Dept. of Ed. retreats on teacher quality. Tip of the scrub brush to the 84th Carnival of Education at Current Events in Education.


Burying Brown and the Board of Education, too

August 30, 2006

WordPress now alerts bloggers to other blog posts with similar content.  Sometimes it pulls one out of the past, and sometimes the posts pulled up make one shudder.

Reports last April said Nebraska’s unicameral legislature passed a law that will effectively resegregate Omaha’s school system.  Appletree has the story here.  How did it turn out?  I haven’t found much other news on it.

The news and the figures reported are troubling, regardless the final outcome (and I suspect the motion did not proceed exactly as the version reported).  Some of us have long suspected that the anti-education drive, manifested in proposals for charter schools, and especially for vouchers, is simply a masked version of segregation, a way to deprive people of color and people in poverty of a chance for a good education. 

One almost wishes Ronald Reagan were still alive to remind these people that, while a rising tide raises all boats, punching holes in the bottom of the boats sinks them, and in a drought, the entire lake goes dry.  The best ideals of the United States have been expressed in the drive for almost-free, universally-available primary and secondary education, for nearly 200 years.  The U.S. education system remains the model the rest of the world strives to copy.  Getting Americans to commit to keeping that system, and keeping it up to date in a world gone flat (see Tom Friedman) is an important political task for the next quarter-century.

Every kid deserves a chance to achieve as much as she or he can.  We need to focus more on making that happen, for all kids.


Another report: Charter school performance lags

August 23, 2006

Gee, I wasn’t counting — is this the third report in a couple of months that notes no great improvements in performance at charter schools?

The National Center for Education Statistics released a report Tuesday showing fourth graders in public schools testing higher than fourth graders in charter schools.  According to the Los Angeles Daily News, for example:

Fourth-graders in traditional public schools did significantly better in reading and math than comparable children attending charter schools, according to a report released on Tuesday by the federal Education Department.

Other news reports:  Associated Press in the Boston Globe; Deseret News in Salt Lake City, Utah; Jay Matthews in the Washington Post.


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