A parable, about why education “reform” isn’t working

October 24, 2014

Well, yeah, it’s a parable, if by parable you mean “a story we blessed well better sit up and pay attention to!”

But it’s a true story.

Our friend, the teacher Kathy Paxton-Williams related the story:

I had an appointment this afternoon and a friend (a retired ESL teacher) was my substitute. Here was her posting this evening:

“I just had the worst subbing experience ever! I was at a local elementary school doing my ESL thing during the very worst of this afternoon’s hideous rainstorm when the fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate. The fire dept. showed up, of course. Seriously, it was rainfall of Biblical proportions. The asphalt playground was literally ankle deep and it just kept coming down. We were out there for about 8 minutes with absolutely no shelter. When they finally rang the bell, we couldn’t get back in the building because the key cards wouldn’t work. What a fiasco!!! I had no jacket and no umbrella– and neither did most of the kids. Half of them went into total meltdown. I got soaked all the way through every item of clothing on my body. My shoes were sponges. I had to wring out my bra when I got home (no, not exaggerating). This happened around 1:30, so they decided to notify parents that they could either pick up their kids or bring them dry clothes. Oh, shit, what a nightmare.

Why did this happen you ask? Because the roof leaked– which it has apparently been doing for a few years now– into the fire alarm system and set it off. This is what happens when the useless superintendent gets a 30% raise, hires herself a $15,000/mo consultant to sandbag teachers, and then employs a staff of spin doctors to cover her ass instead of fixing schools. I am not a happy camper!”

Good day for an appointment!

Among the lessons, friends (keep passing the loaves and fishes until everyone has had something to eat, please):

  1. No: more testing, no matter how rigorous nor expensive, will not fix this problem; in fact, diverting money from this problem to make zowie-grosso tests is an enormous part of the problem.
  2. Neither opposing the Common Core State Standards, nor imposing those or any other standards will fix the problem.
  3. No, firing the teachers won’t fix the problemcannot make the roof stop leaking.

This is daily life in classrooms all across America.  In Dallas Independent School District, my classroom regularly heated to 90º in August, February, and every other month.  My colleague across the the hall had a classroom that stayed at 50º, at the same time. No administrator could fix it, they claimed.  I’ve taught in schools where the library roofs leaked, and where classrooms regularly flowed with water in storms.  Worse, I’ve been to schools where those problems occurred from the plumbing and sewer hookups.  Classrooms where the doors don’t close, or open; where the windows are stuck open, or closed; where the room carefully engineered for 22 students had 36 desks and 40 students; where the electrical outlets sparked a glorious 4th of July salute whenever a student would try to sneak a phone charge.

To make schools work, teachers must be able to work.  For teachers to be able to work, we must provide them with all the support that makes any workplace safe, and which makes classrooms comfortable for students and teachers to focus on learning.

Check around your local schools.  Are they in peak physical condition?  Do all the support systems work?  Are the toilets and restrooms clean, working, and safe?

How many tests could fix any of those problems?  How many teachers must be fired to get a roof to stop leaking?

Why would we torture our children, instead of letting them learn?

The most effective school, ever.

The most effective school, ever. “Aristotle and his pupil Alexander,” engraving by Charles Laplante, a french engraver and illustrator, 1866. Wikimedia image. Note the roof does not leak in this school.

More:


Don’t fall for the star-spangled voodoo history

September 14, 2014

Star-spangled Banner and the War of 1812 - The original Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the song that would become our national anthem, is among the most treasured artifacts in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Star-spangled Banner and the War of 1812 – The original Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the song that would become our national anthem, is among the most treasured artifacts in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Every school kid learns the story of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” or should.

During the War of 1812, Georgetown lawyer Francis Scott Key, stood aboard a British ship in Baltimore Harbor to negotiate the release of his friend, Dr. William Beanes, who had been taken prisoner while the British stormed through Bladensburg, Maryland, after burning Washington, D.C.  Key witnessed the British shelling of Fort McHenry, the guardian of Baltimore’s harbor.  Inspired when he saw the U.S. flag still waving at dawn after a night of constant shelling, Key wrote a poem.

Key published the poem, suggested it might be put to the tune of “Anachreon in Heaven” (a tavern tune popular at the time) — and the popularity of the song grew until Congress designated it the national anthem in 1931.  In telling the story of the latest restoration of that garrison flag now housed at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, Smithsonian Magazine repeated the story in the July 2000 issue:  “Our Flag Was Still There.”

It’s a wonderful history with lots of splendid, interesting details (Dolley Madison fleeing the Executive Mansion clutching the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, the guy who had introduced Dolley to James Madison and then snubbed them after they were married; the British troops eating the White House dinner the Madisons left in their haste; the gigantic, 42 by 30 foot flag sewn by Mary Pickersgill, a Baltimore widow trying to support her family; the rag-tag Baltimore militia stopping cold “Wellington’s Invicibles;” the British massing of 50 boats and gunships; and much more).

It’s a grand and glorious history that stirs the patriotic embers of the most cynical Americans.

And it’s all true.

So it doesn’t deserve the voodoo history version, the bogus history created by some person preaching in a church (I gather from the “amens”) that is making the rounds of the internet, stripped of attribution so we can hunt down the fool who is at fault.

We got this in an e-mail yesterday; patriots save us, there must be a hundred repetitions that turn up on Google, not one correcting this horrible distortion of American history.

Horrible distortion of American history

(The full version is a mind-numbing 11 minutes plus.  Some people have put it on other sites. )

Why do I complain?

  1. It was the War of 1812, not the Revolutionary War — there were 15 states, not 13 colonies.
  2. There was no ultimatum to to Baltimore, nor to the U.S., as this fellow describes it.
  3. Key negotiated for the release of one man, Dr. Beanes.  There was no brig full of U.S. prisoners.
  4. It’s Fort McHenry, not “Henry.”  The fort was named after James McHenry, a physician who was one of the foreign-born signers of the Constitution, who had assisted Generals Washington and Lafayette during the American Revolution, and who had served as Secretary of War to Presidents Washington and Adams.
  5. Fort McHenry was a military institution, a fort defending Baltimore Harbor.  It was not a refuge for women and children.
  6. The nation would not have reverted to British rule had Fort McHenry fallen.
  7. There were 50 ships, not hundreds.  Most of them were rafts with guns on them.  Baltimore Harbor is an arm of Chesapeake Bay; Fort McHenry is not on the ocean.
  8. The battle started in daylight.
  9. Bogus quote:  George Washington never said “What sets the American Christian apart from all other people in this world is he will die on his feet before he will live on his knees.”  Tough words.  Spanish Civil War.  Not George Washington.  I particularly hate it when people make up stuff to put in the mouths of great men.  Washington left his diaries and considerably more — we don’t have to make up inspiring stuff, and when we do, we get it wrong.
  10. The battle was not over the flag; the British were trying to take Baltimore, one of America’s great ports.  At this point, they rather needed to since the Baltimore militia had stunned and stopped the ground troops east of the city.  There’s enough American bravery and pluck in this part of the story to merit no exaggerations.
  11. To the best of our knowledge, the British did not specifically target the flag.
  12. There were about 25 American casualties.  Bodies of the dead were not used to hold up the flag pole — a 42 by 30 foot flag has to be on a well-anchored pole, not held up by a few dead bodies stacked around it.

You can probably find even more inaccuracies (please note them in comments if you do).

The entire enterprise is voodoo history.  The name of Key is right; the flag is right; almost everything else is wrong.

Please help:  Can you find who wrote this piece of crap?  Can you learn who the narrator is, and where it was recorded?

I keep finding troubling notes with this on the internet: ‘My school kids are going to see this to get the real story.’  ‘Why are the libs suppressing the truth?’  ‘I didn’t know this true story before, and now I wonder why my teachers wouldn’t tell it.’

It’s voodoo history, folks.  It’s a hoax.  The real story is much better.

If Peter Marshall and David Barton gave a gosh darn about American history, they would muster their mighty “ministries” to correct the inaccuracies in this piece.  But they are silent.

Clearly, it’s not the glorious history of this nation they love.

More:

Please share that voodoo, as you do so well!


Russ on Reading’s catalog on Common Core State Standards — important reading

January 20, 2014

Russ Walsh gives strong voice to support from public education in a variety of ways — his old blog, Russ on Reading, carried a good deal of serious thought about the Common Core curricula recently, especially as it relates to reading.

Education professor and consultant Russ Walsh

Education professor and consultant Russ Walsh

Bookmark his site, and pay attention to what he says. This is a key issue in your state, in your schools, and in your legislature, today. If it’s not in your newspaper, you’re being steamrolled.

A Compilation of Common Core Concerns

The Common Core State Standards in English/Language Arts has come under increasing scrutiny. Here is a collection of my posts from the past year on the Common Core and some of the concerns I have about the new standards and literacy instruction.

A note only because it’s necessary to keep reminding people in Texas:  CSCOPE is/was not Common Core.  Texas chose not to join in the Common Core Coalition years ago.


Insta-Millard Pundit, education edition: The very real war on experienced teachers

December 21, 2013

Veteran teachers take heavy hits from

Veteran teachers take heavy hits from “education reformers” who cut their pay, and reduce benefits, in misguided efforts to “drive poor teachers from the system.” In Photo: Karen Scharrer-Erickson reviews a new teaching tool Thursday with Lisa Schuk, a second-grade teacher at the Academy of Accelerated Learning in Milwaukee. Scharrer-Erickson, 64, said she reluctantly filed for early retirement from Milwaukee Public Schools recently. Read more from Journal Sentinel: http://www.jsonline.com/business/headlines/119892934.html#ixzz2o955nbXI Follow us: @JournalSentinel on Twitter

You should read this article, get angry, and fight education “reformers” who go after teachers.

Indeed, the level of respect afforded to those who have devoted their adult lives to the education of children has diminished to the point that the prevailing zeitgeist suggests that comparably junior members of the profession are somehow inherently superior to their more experienced colleagues.

If it seems like I have travelled down this road before, it because I have. Eighteen months ago, I wrote about how “tenure reform” was an attack on veteran teachers and their employment rights, wrapped in the cloak of “improving education” for kids.

But this new trend is far more sinister. Now, the “reform” crowd (including an alarming number that sell themselves as progressives) don’t merely want the ability to fire veteran teachers. They want to strip them of something that has greater intangible value: their status as mentors and role models for the profession.

File under “daily floggings of teachers will continue until morale improves.”


Hold teachers accountable? I don’t think that word means what you think it means

June 18, 2013

Diane Ravitch gets all the good discussion — of course, she’s much the expert and she’s done several thousand posts in the last year.

View of a two-story wood-frame school house wi...

View of a two-story wood-frame school house with students and teachers out front, by H. N. Gale & Co. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ravitch engaged in a brief back-and-forth with Ben Austin, a guy who contributed to the invention of virtual IEDs to blow up California schools, called parent trigger laws.  Under California law, if 50% +1 of the parents of the students at a school sign a petition, the district must take apart the faculty or give up control of the school to a non-public school entity.  See my posts repeating the early parts of the exchange under “More” at the bottom of the post.

For reasons I can’t figure, parent trigger advocates claim these moves bring “accountability” to education, though the only effect is usually to fire public school teachers.  Oddly, most of the time replacements then are not accountable to the local school district nor the state for similar levels of student educational achievement.  But a public school is dead and a private entity has taken its place.

Discussion on the threads at Ravitch’s blog get long.

Phila. Teachers on Capitol Steps, Wash., D.C.,...

Philadelphia teachers on Capitol Steps, Washington, D.C., May 13, 1011. Library of Congress colleciton

I responded to a guy named Steve who rather asserted that teachers are just trying to avoid accountability, and so should probably be fired (there’s more nuance to his position, but not enough).  A few links are added here, for convenience of readers.

Steve said:

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were absolutely no standardized measures for educational success, and teachers could simply focus on educating children in whatever way they believe is best, and that all schools were funded to their greatest need and without oversight? And students learned to their capacity and everyone would sing kum-ba-yah at the end of the day?

No. The premise of no standardized measures is a bad idea. In that case, as now, we would have no real way to determine whether the system is working.

You mistake testing for reform, and you mistake test results for quality; you assume that test results are the result of what a teacher does in the previous few months, without any assistance (or interference) from parents, the front office, state agencies, and smart phones.

It would be good if we had research to guide teachers in the best ways to educate kids. We have way too little now, and what does exist rarely can break through the complex regulatory web created by NCLB proponents who ironically, and probably sardonically, require any new process to be “research tested and proven,” probably knowing that gives raters more opportunities to fire teachers.

That’s where our dispute lies.

Yes, sometimes it’s best to hold hands and sing “Kum Ba Yah.” Especially in school. Singing is good, music education is important to the development of sterling minds. Group activities to celebrate milestones produces greater achievement.

I gather you’re opposed to that. That’s a key part of the problem. “Reformers” are too often working against what we know works (though often we’re not sure why it works), against what many regard as “frills” like music and poetry (well, Aristotle argued against it, didn’t he?), and against achievement that can’t be used to fire somebody.

It’s a problem of models. A group singing a song together shows some developmental progress, and may show other progress. The Donald Trump “You’re Fired” model is much more titillating to bullies. Bullies tend to rule too many places.

We need a model that works, a model grounded in good theory (“theory” does not mean “guess”), a model that produces some sort of scoreboard teachers can use, day-in and day-out, to determine what to do next.

“Accountability” is a light on that scoreboard, but it’s not the score, and it’s not the game.

And yes, it certainly would be a better world if poverty, racism, abuse and more simply didn’t exist.

Don’t patronize with stuff you don’t believe and you know policy makers won’t work towards.

Poverty is the big one here. We’ve known for 40 years that poor parents as a group cannot produce students who will achieve well academically as well as rich parents, not because they’re not the great parents they are, but because middle class wealth brings learning opportunities for preschool kids and pre-adolescents and teens that mold minds and make them work well; kids in poverty miss that. Until you’ve tried to get your students up to speed on the Constitution with students who do not know how many states there are, what oceans border our nation, who George Washington was, what a Constitution is, how laws are made, or where food comes from, you really don’t appreciate the difficulty.

Yeah, they used to get that stuff in the newspaper. But their families can’t afford newspapers.

And when I get those kids to “commended” levels on the state test, how dare you tell me I’ve failed. Shame on you, and may you be nervous every time you hear thunder, or go under the knife with a surgeon who passed my class.

But this isn’t the world we live in. This is an organized society. When public funds are spent, there needs to be accountability.

There can be no accountability where there is no authority. If I do not have the authority to obtain the tools to educate the students in my tutelage to the standard, why not hold accountable those who are the problem? I produced four years of achievement in the bottom 20% — you’re bellyaching because the top 3% only got one year of achievement? They were already scoring at the 14 year level — sophomores in college. “Adequate Yearly Progress” can’t be had for those students, if you define adequate as “more than one year,” and if they’re already far beyond the material we are required to teach.

Accountability is a tool to get toward quality. You want to use it as a club. I think it should be a crime to misuse tools in that fashion.

You really don’t have a clue what’s going on in my classroom, do you.

I am *so* tired of the educators on this blog berating anyone who suggests that a teacher be accountable for *anything*.

Show me where anyone has said that. I weary of anti-education shouters complaining about teachers not being accountable, when we’re swimming in “accountability,” we’re beating the system most of the time, and still berated for it; our achievements are denigrated, our needs are ignored. If we win the Superbowl, we’re told we failed to win an Oscar. If we win the Superbowl AND an Oscar, we’re told someone else did better at the Pulitzers. If we win the Nobel Prize for Peace, we’re asked to beef up our STEM chops.

I was asked to boost my state passing scores by 5%. Part of the reason Dallas dismissed me was my abject refusal to sign to that (“insubordination”). That it’s mathematically impossible to boost a 100% passing rate to 105% didn’t change anyone’s mind, nor give anyone pause in passing along the paper. College acceptances didn’t count, SAT scores didn’t count, student evaluations didn’t count.

I wish idiots who can’t do math would be held accountable, but you want my gray scalp instead (and larger paycheck; but of course, that’s not really in the system, is it?). Is there no reason you can find to cling to?

There’s a difference between “accountability,” and “pointless blame.” See if you can discern it. Your children’s future depends on it. Our nation’s future depends on it. We’re not playing school here.

People are accountable for the work that they do.

That’s absolutely untrue in about 85% of the jobs in America. W. Edwards Deming died, and people forgot all about the 14 points and how to make winning teams. Are you familiar with the Red Bead experiment?

Most people calling for accountability can’t define it (Hint: in the top management schools, you don’t see this equation: “accountability=fire somebody”).

Can you do better? What is “accountability?” Will you please rate me on the advancements of my students? No? How about on their achievements? No? Can you tell me even what you want to hold teachers accountable for?

Don’t wave that sword when you don’t know how to use it, or if you can’t recognize the difference between a scalpel and a scimitar, please.

You give me white beads, I turn 80% of them red, and you complain about the few that remain white? [If you’re paying attention and you know Deming’s experiment, you know I reversed the color in my example — no one ever catches me on that.  Why?]  You’re playing the guy who, having witnessed Jesus walking on water, wrote the headline, “Jesus can’t swim!” That’s a joke — it’s not how to make a better school, or a better education system, and it’s not accountability.

NOBODY wants a teacher to be accountable for things that are beyond their control. You have had FIFTY YEARS to develop a means to show that you are accountable in your use of public funds. You have not done it to the public’s satisfaction.

As Deming noted occasionally, we’ve had 5,000 years to develop standards of quality for carpentry and metalwork, and haven’t done it.

The Excellence in Education Commission in 1983 recommended changes to stop the “rising tide of mediocrity” in education. Among the top recommendations, raise teacher pay dramatically, and get out of the way of teachers so they can do their job.

Instead, teacher pay has stagnated and declined, and we have a bureaucracy the sort of which George Orwell never had a nightmare about standing in their way.

But you want to “hold the teachers accountable.”

I suppose it’s impossible to be part of the rising tide of mediocrity and also recognize you’re part of the problem.

Your failure to understand accountability should not cost me my job. I not only want accountability, I want justice, especially for my students. 97% of my students will face invidious racial discrimination when they go out to get a job; many of them (about 50%) come from families who don’t use banks. No checking accounts, no home loans, no car loans from a bank. More than half of the males have never worn a tie. 75% of them come from homes where no novel is on any bookshelf; 30% of them claim to come from homes where there are no books at all, not even a phone book.

They passed the test with flying colors despite that.

That kid who came in not knowing how to write a paragraph went out of my classroom with a commended on his state test, and writing well enough to score 80th percentile on the SAT including the writing part. You have a lot of damnable gall to claim that my work to get him to write his brilliant ideas, well, was wasted effort.

Why won’t you hold me accountable for that? Why do you refuse to look at real accountability?

Don’t claim I’m shucking accountability, when you haven’t looked, and you don’t know what it is.

So – others are now coming in to try and develop what you failed to do. Yup, some of them are shysters. Some of them are ego-maniacs. And some of them are doing so because they have experience and success and they can apply those to helping to improve education and measurement of same.

Good luck to them. Why not let me compete with them. I mean compete fairly — either they don’t get to take money from me merely by existing, or I get to take money from them when I beat them in achievement, and when we take students away from them because they aren’t getting the job done?

You seem to think that these other alternatives for sucking taxpayer money work better. My schools beat charter schools and most private schools in our same population in achievement, in yearly progress, and in a dozen other categories. (Our art students took the top prizes at the state show, beating students from one of the nation’s “top ten high schools” four miles away; the art teachers who got them there? Rated inadequate, given growth plans, funding cut . . . I though you were campaigning for accountability?)

Don’t change the subject. I thought you were for accountability. All of a sudden, you’re against it when we’re talking brass tacks. When we miss a standard, we public school teachers get fired. When we beat the hell out of a standard, we still get fired. When we beat the private schools, the charter schools, and the home schooled kids in achievement, we get zip, or a pink slip.

Accountability? I’d love to see it. You can’t show it, though, so you’re wasting my time and taxpayer money hollering about it.

Some of you even have the temerity to say that the system isn’t broken. Well, maybe it’s not broken for *you*. But it IS broken for the rest of us. And it’s public money here – so – if you are so certain that everything is hunky-dory in what you are adding to the process, well then, prove it. That’s what using public funds requires.

Your kids are in jail? Sorry the system failed you so badly. I had a 90% graduation rate out of my students, in a state where 75% is the state norm and suspected by everyone to be inflated. If your kids are not in jail, and didn’t drop out, that’s good.

Public education isn’t a right (in most states); it’s a civic duty, the thing that keeps our republic alive and democratic. School worries about your kids, sure — but we must also worry about every other kid, too.

What about the 200 other families in your neighborhood? The levels of vandalism and other crimes in your neighborhood depends on the children of those families getting an education. I was able to turn around a dozen of them. The local cops actually did a good job with another dozen.

The local charter school wouldn’t take any of those 24 kids. The private schools took one on an athletic scholarship, but he flunked out his junior year, after football season ended. He was out of school for full six months before we got him back. Three of those girls got commended on the state test despite their having infants; two others got commended and one more passed for the first time in her life despite their delivering children within three weeks of the test. We covered the history of children’s literature one week, convincing more than a few that they should read to their babies, as they were never read to. I got the local bookstore to donate children’s books for each parent in my class, so that their children won’t grow up without at least one book in the house.

We’re teachers, and we worry about the future. Why won’t you allow accountability for that?

Accountability? The word does not mean what you think it means.

Firing teachers is not accountability. It’s an evasion of accountability. It’s destructive of schooling and education. Firing teachers damages children. Even if you could tell who the bad teachers are — and you can’t, no one can do it well — firing teachers cannot offer hope of getting better teachers to replace them.

Why not improve education instead? Who is accountable for that?

Again at Diane Ravitch’s blog, Steve responded that he wants everyone held accountable, including parents and administrators.  Good, so far as it goes.  I think that’s just lip service.  He’s still firing teachers with no way to tell the good from the bad.

More:


War on Teachers and Education, Part 3: Prof. Ravitch’s response

June 10, 2013

At her blog again, Diane Ravitch responded to Ben Austin’s open letter to her at the Huffington Post.

Earlier today, Ben Austin wrote an open letter to me on Huffington Post. He expressed dismay about my characterization of him and his group Parent Revolution. Read his letter here. Here is my reply.

My Reply to Ben Austin’s Open Letter to Me

Dear Ben Austin,

Thank you for your invitation to engage in dialogue in your letter posted on Huffington Post.

You probably know that I have been writing a daily blog for the past fourteen months and during that time, I have written over 4,000 posts. I can’t remember any time when I have lost my temper other than when I wrote about your successful effort to oust an elementary school principal in Los Angeles named Irma Cobian.

I apologize for calling you “loathsome,” though I do think your campaign against a hardworking, dedicated principal working in an inner-city school was indeed loathsome. And it was wrong of me to say that there was a special place in hell reserved for anyone “who administers and funds this revolting organization that destroys schools and fine educators like Irma Cobian.”

As I said, I lost my temper, and I have to explain why.

I don’t like bullies. When I saw this woman targeted by your powerful organization, it looked like bullying. Your organization is funded by many millions of dollars from the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. You have a politically powerful organization, and you used your power to single out this one woman and get her fired.

Your organization sent in paid staff to collect signatures from parents. The teachers in the school were not permitted to express their opinion to parents about your efforts to fire their principal. When you succeeded in getting her fired, 21 of the 22 teachers on staff requested a transfer. That suggests that Cobian has the loyalty of her staff and is a good leader.

Who is this woman that you ousted?

All I know about her is what I read in this article in the Los Angeles Times.

It said: “More than two decades ago, Cobian walked away from a high-powered law firm to teach. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she said she was inspired by a newspaper article about the low high school graduation rates of Latinos and wanted to make a difference.

“Her passion for social justice led her to Watts in 2009.”

Irma Cobain is now in her fourth year as principal of the school, and you decided that her time was up.

What did her teachers say about her?

“Third-grade teacher Kate Lewis said Irma Cobian is the best principal she’s had in nine years at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts.

“Joseph Shamel called Cobian a “godsend” who has used her mastery of special education to show him how to craft effective learning plans for his students.”

“Fourth-grade teacher Hector Hernandez said Cobian is the first principal he’s had who frequently pops into classrooms to model good teaching herself. Recently, he said, she demonstrated how to teach about different literary genres by engaging students in lively exercises using characters from the “Avengers” comic book and film.”

When Cobian arrived at the Weigand Avenue Elementary school four years ago, she found a school with low test scores, low parent involvement, and divisiveness over a dual-language program. “All the students come from low-income families, more than half are not fluent in English and a quarter turn over every year,” the Los Angeles Times story said.

Cobian decided to focus on improving literacy and raising morale. She certainly won over the faculty.

The day after Cobian learned about the vote removing her, she went to a second-grade classroom to give prizes to children who had read 25 books this year. She cheered those who met the goal and encouraged those who were trying. But she could not hide her sadness.

“I need happiness today,” Cobian told the bright-eyed students. “What do I do when I’m sad?”

“Come here!” the students sang out.

For a moment, her sadness gave way to smiles. But later, she said: “I am crushed.”

Ben, how did you feel when you read that? I felt sad. I felt this was a caring and dedicated person who had been singled out unfairly.

Ben, I hope you noticed in the article that Dr. John Deasy, the superintendent of schools in Los Angeles, praised the plan that Cobian and her staff developed for improving the school. He called it a “well-organized program for accelerated student achievement.” He thanked Cobian for her commitment and hard work.” But you decided she should be fired.

Ironically, the parent who worked with you to fire Cobian said she preferred Weigand to her own neighborhood school where she had concerns about bullying. Even stranger, the parents at Cobian’s school voted to endorse her plan. Your parent spokesperson said she did not like the plan because it focused on reading and writing, but she told the reporter from the Los Angeles Times that she actually never read the plan.

I understand from your letter, Ben, that you somehow feel you are a victim because of what I wrote about you. But, Ben, you are not a victim. Irma Cobian is the victim here. She lost her job because of your campaign to get rid of her. She is the one who was humiliated and suffered loss of income and loss of reputation. You didn’t. You still have your organization, your staff, and the millions that the big foundations have given you.

I am sorry you had a tough childhood. We all have our stories about growing up. I am one of eight children. My father was a high-school dropout. My mother immigrated from Bessarabia and was very proud of her high school diploma from the Houston public schools. She was proud that she learned to speak English “like a real American.” My parents were grateful for the free public schools of Houston, where I too graduated from high school. We had our share of problems and setbacks but I won’t go on about myself or my siblings because my story and yours are really beside the point. What troubles me is what you are doing with the millions you raise. You use it to sow dissension, to set parents against parents, parents against teachers, parents against principals. I don’t see this as productive or helpful. Schools function best when there is collaboration among teachers, parents, administrators, and students. Schools have a better chance of success for the children when they have a strong community and culture of respect.

Your “parent trigger” destroys school communities. True to its name, the “trigger” blasts them apart. It causes deep wounds. It decimates the spirit of respect and comity that is necessary to build a strong community. Frankly, after the school shootings of recent years, your use of the metaphor of a “parent trigger” is itself offensive. We need fewer triggers pointed at schools and educators. Please find a different metaphor, one that does not suggest violence and bloodshed.

It must be very frustrating to you and your funders that–three years after passage of the “parent trigger” law– you can’t point to a single success story. I am aware that you persuaded the parents at the Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, California, to turn their public school over to a privately operated charter. I recall that when parents at the school tried to remove their signatures from your petition, your organization went to court and won a ruling that they were not allowed to rescind their signatures. Ultimately only 53 parents in a school of more than 600 children chose the charter operator. Since the charter has not yet opened, it is too soon to call that battle a success for Parent Revolution. Only the year before, the Adelanto Charter Academy lost its charter because the operators were accused of financial self-dealing.

But, Ben, let me assure you that I bear you no personal ill will. I just don’t approve of what you are doing. I think it is wrong to organize parents to seize control of their public school so they can fire the staff or privatize it. If the principal is doing a bad job, it is Dr. Deasy’s job to remove her or him. I assume that veteran principals and teachers get some kind of due process, where charges are filed and there is a hearing. If Cobain was as incompetent as you say, why didn’t Dr. Deasy bring her up on charges and replace her?

I also have a problem with the idea that parents can sign a petition and hand their public school off to a private charter corporation. The school doesn’t belong to the parents whose children are enrolled this year. It belongs to the public whose taxes built it and maintains it. As the L.A. Times story pointed out, one-quarter of the children at Weigand Avenue Elementary School are gone every year. The parents who sign a petition this year may not even be parents in the school next year. Why should they have the power to privatize the school? Should the patrons of a public library have the power to sign a petition and privatize the management? Should the people using a public park have the right to take a vote and turn the park over to private management?

We both care about children. I care passionately about improving education for all children. I assume you do as well. You think that your organized raids on public schools and professionals will lead to improvement. I disagree. Schools need adequate resources to succeed. They also need experienced professionals, a climate of caring, and stability. I don’t see anything in the “trigger” concept that creates the conditions necessary for improvement. Our teachers and principals are already working under too much stress, given that schools have become targets for federal mandates and endless reforms.

I suggest that educators need respect and thanks for their daily work on behalf of children. If they do a bad job, the leadership of the school system is responsible to take action. What educators don’t need is to have a super-rich, super-powerful organization threatening to pull the trigger on their career and their good name.

Ben, thanks for the open letter and the chance to engage in dialogue. If you don’t mind, I want to apologize to Irma Cobain on your behalf. She was doing her best. She built a strong staff that believes in her. She wrote a turnaround plan that Dr. Deasy liked and the parents approved. Ms. Cobain, if you read this, I hope you can forgive Ben. Maybe next time, he will think twice, get better information, and consider the consequences before he decides to take down another principal.

Diane Ravitch

If Dr. Ravitch is correct in her claims, and her fears for future results, the biggest problem with this parent-trigger farce is that it costs a lot of money, and does only damage to schools, and to students, therefore.

Please continue to Part 4.

This series, on the dustup between Prof. Diane Ravitch and Ben Austin in California:

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War on Teachers and Education, Part 1: Prof. Ravitch’s emotion-touching call for a cease-fire on teachers

June 10, 2013

This is the first of five parts needed to document and lay the background for what unfortunately promises to be a pitched public relations battle, if not a serious battle to rescue a California school from being crushed by a corporation making a hostile takeover of a school using California’s “parent trigger” law.  Follow-ups may be needed.

Diane Ravitch in Dallas, April 28, 2010 - Copyright 2010 Ed Darrell (you may use freely, with attribution)

Diane Ravitch in Dallas, April 28, 2010 – Copyright 2010 Ed Darrell (you may use freely, with attribution)

If you’ve followed education issues, you know Dr. Diane Ravitch is a professor of education at Columbia, one of the most respected schools of education in the world.  Her work on education reform was popular with the Reagan administration in the period after the Report of the Commission on Excellence in Education in 1983, and particularly with education reformers at the time I was tapped to work at the Department of Education, in the old Office of Educational Research and Improvement.  Dr. Ravitch was appointed to head that arm of Education in the administration of George H. W. Bush, but after I had left government for the private sector.

More recently, Dr. Ravitch has looked hard to find evidence that the testing regimes imposed by the “No Child Left Behind” Act (NCLB) actually produce benefits to the education of students.

Finding no such evidence, Dr. Ravitch has called for an end to unproven methods of destruction of schools and school systems in pursuit of foggy, unattainable goals.

Recently, big-dollar guys have backed efforts to kick out teachers and trained educators from schools, and in particular with “parent-trigger” laws, which allow a group of parents to petition for the removal of professionals at a school, and for a group of parents to then take over the management of that school.

Oddly, the first places these laws have been applied is against teachers in schools where parental involvement has been historically abysmal.  A closer look shows that in these cases professional organizers, well-financed by businessmen who fancy themselves education reformers, did the load-carrying to get the petitions signed, and to get the educators ousted.

One of the schools where this process is moving is Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts, that troubled, poverty-ridden section of Los Angeles more famous for riots and gangs than educational attainment.

Dr. Ravitch wrote on her blog on May 25:

Parent Revolution Force Out Excellent Principal

The billionaire-funded Parent Revolution flexed its muscle and got enough parent signatures to force the resignation of a highly effective principal.

Please read the story.

This is the principal who was ousted by Parent Revolution:

“Third-grade teacher Kate Lewis said Irma Cobian is the best principal she’s had in nine years at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts.

“Joseph Shamel called Cobian a “godsend” who has used her mastery of special education to show him how to craft effective learning plans for his students.

“Los Angeles Unified Supt. John Deasy praised a plan developed by Cobian and her team to turn around the struggling campus — where most students test below grade level in reading and math — calling it a “well-organized program for accelerated student achievement.” He thanked Cobian for her commitment and hard work.”

21 of the school’s 22 teachers have requested transfers because of Cobian’s ouster.

Parent Revolution is a malevolent organization funded by Walton, Gates, and Broad.

There is a special place in hell reserved for everyone who administers and funds this revolting organization that destroys schools and fine educators like Irma Cobian.

Dr. Ravitch has a good sense of justice, and injustice in my opinion.  This situation got her thinking, and she had more comments later.

Wondering About Ben Austin

Earlier today, I posted an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times about Parent Revolution forcing the ouster of an excellent principal, Irma Cobian.

I keep thinking about it. I think about the way her staff admired and respected her, how 21 of 22 teachers requested a transfer when she was targeted by the phony Parent Revolution.

Ben Austin is loathsome. He ruined the life and career of a dedicated educator. She was devoted to the children, he is devoted to the equally culpable foundations that fund his Frankenstein organization–Walton, Gates, and Broad. His biggest funder is the reactionary Walton Family Foundation [line added here], which spends $160 million every year to advance privatization.

Ben Austin is Walton’s useful idiot. He prattles on about his liberal credentials, but actions speak louder than words.

Here is my lifelong wish for him.

Ben, every day when you wake up, you should think of Irma Cobian. When you look in the mirror, think Irma Cobian. Your last thought every night should be Irma Cobian.

Ben, you ruined the life of a good person for filthy lucre. Never forget her. She should be on your conscience–if you have one–forever.

W. Edwards Deming

W. Edwards Deming,Wikipedia image. Oddly, few, if any, education reform efforts work to incorporate any of Deming’s rules for running high-efficiency, highly-productive, championship-quality organizations; its as if there is a different agenda being pursued.

Ravitch makes a good point.  Organizational turnarounds rarely work when they start with mass firings.  It didn’t work in the French Revolution, it didn’t work in Russian in 1917.  Management experts like W. Edwards Deming, the most famous of the tough-reorganization management consultants in the drive for high quality organizations, bluntly warn that such efforts generally are destructive — the people fired are not the problem, nor do they have the authority to fix the problems, most often.  People on the front line know the problems better than anyone else, and can provide the leadership to turn organizations around, however — and for those reasons, you don’t get rid of them, if your goal is to effect an organizational turnaround.

Mr. Austin should have a framed photo of Mrs. Cobian on his desk so he must see her, every day.

Mr. Austin disagrees.

See part 2.

This series, on the dustup between Prof. Diane Ravitch and Ben Austin in California:

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