Archive for public schools

Decades of research show that teachers are not the problem. #Vergara got it wrong.

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I’ve covered the Vergara trial pretty extensively, thanks to and with the help of my contacts who attended. But unfortunately, there's a sad ending: The judge sided with the billionaires over the public school teachers.

For those of us who paid attention to the trial, it was pretty clear that this was never about how to improve education. If it were, they would have focused on trivial little things that actually matter to, you know, student outcomes and achievement.

Nowhere in the decision does the judge mention important matters like poverty, segregation, unequal funding or the consequences of high-stakes testing. The decision actually reads like like it was written by, you should excuse the expression, a Michelle Rhee-ish "reformer."

What’s amazing is that there was evidence presented by the best education experts that said the “reformers” are wrong. Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond and Harvard’s Susan Moore Johnson are considered the best in the field of education. The judge completely ignored what they had to say. Berkeley’s Jesse Rothstein completely refuted Chetty and Kane, noting that using student test scores to judge teachers just doesn’t work.

AFT president Randi Weingarten really got it right. Here's her this statement:

"It's surprising that the court, which used its bully pulpit when it came to criticizing teacher protections, did not spend one second discussing funding inequities, school segregation, high poverty or any other out-of-school or in-school factors that are proven to affect student achievement and our children.  We must lift up solutions that speak to these factors—solutions like wraparound services, early childhood education and project-based learning.”

BUT... there are some rays of hope. First, this was only a superior court judge. Which means it will be appealed. And this is a pretty darned thin decision without much reasoning. Why, it's almost as if the judge said “I don’t like teachers unions, so I’m going to side with the other guys.”

Even one ed reformer pointed out that there are problems with this decision. So let's keep our fingers and toes crossed that this will be overturned on appeal.

Second, CA Superintendent of Public Education Tom Torlakson came out against the decision. He’s doing a fantastic job, which is why hedge funds and ed deformers are funding his challenger, Marshall Tuck, a guy who has never taught.

"All children deserve great teachers. Attracting, training, and nurturing talented and dedicated educators are among the most important tasks facing every school district, tasks that require the right mix of tools, resources, and expertise. Today's ruling may inadvertently make this critical work even more challenging than it already is.

"While I have no direct jurisdiction over the statutes challenged in this case, I am always ready to assist the Legislature and Governor in their work to provide high-quality teachers for all of our students. Teachers are not the problem in our schools, they are the solution."

For those of us who really care about crazy things like equity and preserving a public education system that serves all kids, regardless of their zip code, the take away should be this: the privatizers will do anything to create headlines that pits teachers against students.

That is sad.  We have to continue to show that teachers and students are on the same side. When you attack a teacher, you hurt a student. I know that, having taught in public schools for years. Attacks like Vergara must stop.

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Charter schools, corporations cheat kids, spend millions on trips, strip clubs #CharterSchoolsWeek

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Charter schools are cheating our children. Brace yourselves: Over 100 million dollars meant for our kids have been misused, lost or stolen by charter operators and corporations. Why? Because there is no regulation. We all know how the GOP and corporate America hate regulations, and this is why.

Privatization gives greedy, corporate types all kinds of opportunities. For instance, the opportunity to use taxpayer funds meant for students; they're using that money, our money, to pay for house renovations, outings to strip clubs, and vacations to Atlantic City.

How in the world can we keep giving money to people (because we all know that corporations are people, my friend) who do this? How in the world can Americans keep supporting-- and voting for-- these pigs?

By the way, the report covers what "might just be the tip of the" proverbial iceberg, focusing on a mere fifteen of the forty-two states that have charter school laws.

Paul Rosenberg at Salon has the story:

While there are plenty of other troubling issues surrounding charter schools—from high rates of racial segregation, to their lackluster overall performance records, to questionable admission and expulsion practices—this report sets all those admittedly important issues aside to focus squarely on activity that appears it could be criminal, and arguably totally out of control. It does not even mention questions raised by sky-high salaries paid to some charter CEOs, such as 16 New York City charter school CEOs who earned more than the head of the city’s public school system in 2011-12. Crime, not greed, is the focus here. [...]

[The report] organized the abuse into six basic categories, each of which is treated in its own section:

• Charter operators using public funds illegally for personal gain;
• School revenue used to illegally support other charter operator businesses;
• Mismanagement that puts children in actual or potential danger;
• Charters illegally requesting public dollars for services not provided;
• Charter operators illegally inflating enrollment to boost revenues; and,
• Charter operators mismanaging public funds and schools.

Perhaps most disturbingly, under the first category, crooked charter school officials displayed a wide range of lavish, compulsive or tawdry tastes. Examples include:

• Joel Pourier, former CEO of Oh Day Aki Heart Charter School in Minnesota, who embezzled $1.38 million from 2003 to 2008. He used the money on houses, cars, and trips to strip clubs. Meanwhile, according to an article in the Star Tribune, the school “lacked funds for field trips, supplies, computers and textbooks.”

[...]

Others spent their stolen money on everything from a pair of jet skis for $18,000 to combined receipts of $228 for cigarettes and beer, to over $30,000 on personal items from Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton, Coach and Tommy Hilfiger. But the real damage came from the theft of resources for children’s future.

No wonder Republicans are trying to do away with public schools. They're no fun!

More at Salon.

charter schools privatization corruption

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LGBT educators can be fired for being gay: Vergara v CA

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Here is today's installment of Public schools vs billionaires: Vergara v California, with the emphasis on LGBT educators and discrimination in the workplace this time around. Please go here for the back story and previous posts. My sources have been keeping me updated, so please feel free to share a story that deserves more attention. Also, please note that there is a new Vergara Trial website here.

So. Should a teacher be fired for being gay? No. But does it happen? Oh yes. Yes it does.

One of the horrible realities of the Vergara trial is that if the plaintiffs are successful in eliminating due process, it takes away protections for LGBT educators.

David Atkins has a really important piece about teachers who have been fired without due process: Gay teachers who have been fired for being gay. Here are the opening and closing sentences of his post, but what he wrote in between the two is a must-read:

One of the more insidious aspects of the billionaire assault on teachers is the effort to make public teaching an "at will" occupation in which a teacher can be fired at any time. [...]

This is what will happen to public schools in California and eventually across the nation if Vergara goes the wrong way. All so a few billionaires can get even richer by turning students into commodities.

You see, without tenure, if a teacher irritates an administrator, or many parents complain in a community that happens to be homophobic, that teacher could be let go. They don't have to give a reason, just "We're not renewing your contract."

It has happened in California. And it could happen in our public schools if they are successful.

On Thursday, Shannan Brown, a former Teacher of the Year from San Juan School District, told a compelling story about the need for due process.

She said, "When I was a newer teacher in the district, before I had received tenure, I had shared with my colleagues that I am gay. And they told me not to tell the administrator and to not announce that because it could affect my - the employment decisions regarding me."

This teacher had to stay in the closet. If she had been dismissed because of a homophobic administrator, she would have never been teacher or the year and students would have missed out on having such great teacher.

It's the bigots who need to be educated.

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"Teachers' working conditions are children's learning conditions": Vergara v CA

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Here is today's installment of Public schools vs billionaires: Vergara v California, with the emphasis on teachers' working conditions this time around. Please go here for the back story and previous posts. My sources have been keeping me updated, so please feel free to share a story that deserves more attention. Also, please note that there is a new Vergara Trial website here.

Before I continue with the latest on the case, I'd like to share two things with you, both express much of what I've experienced personally. The first is an excerpt from a letter to the editor at Californian.com. Please link over to read the entire thing, it's worth it. The writer is president of the Pájaro Valley Federation of Teachers:

There is so much that moves me to tears in our profession: The student who has an “Aha!” moment; the teacher who pays hundreds of dollars out of her own pocket to feed hungry kids; the alumnus who comes back just to say “thanks.”

Improving the quality of public education should be an emotional battle. There is so much at stake. But it shouldn’t be the ideological, political battle that Kerwin, Bhakta and the other backers of the Vergara trial have made it out to be.

Francisco Rodriguez D.

Watsonville

The second is this, from an opinion piece at the Orange County Register written by Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside, who represents California’s 41st Congressional District and was a former community college trustee:

[R]ather than contemplate recruitment and retention strategies former [Florida Gov. Jeb Bush] joins a new group of conservative education partisans looking to undermine workers unions by pitting teachers against students in the public debate... [I]t is naïve to believe that stripping away teachers’ workforce protections is a panacea. The stories used by advocates for Bush’s position are largely anecdotal and are supported by neither the academic data nor those who work in the classroom. [...]

 Teachers are overworked and underpaid; the line is a bit cliché, but it is still true. For those of us who teach, it is more than a job; it’s a calling, a career and a life-long commitment. It is the classroom teacher who is on the front-line, working to address the deep and complex issues our schools and student are facing. We do it because we want to give back to our communities and see future generations succeed. [...]

A system that does not allow for development and growth, but attempts to motivate with threatening ones job is setting itself up for failure.

Now for today's trial round-up. Working conditions matter. Immensely. Testing, on the other hand, does not tell the whole story, not by a long shot:

Yesterday began with Jeff Seymour. He spent 25 years as superintendent of the El Monte School District. As a former superintendent, he said the current law allows administrators enough time to observe and evaluate teachers before they grant permanent status.

Think about that. An administrator says that it works. But the high-priced lawyers pressed on.<

The second witness of the day was Betty Olson Jones, a teacher and former president of the Oakland Education Association. And she had a lot to say.

She talked a lot about the struggles teachers have in high-poverty schools.  She pointed out that teachers want to help, but if you put them in high-poverty/high-needs schools and don't give them the tools and support they need, you can't expect the standardized test scores to go up.

"Teachers' working conditions are children's learning conditions," she said. 

This is so true. If you create a toxic environment for teachers, that affects the students. How can it not? And schools in high-poverty areas of Oakland have a higher teacher turnover rate. Again, that. Affects. Students. Continuity is so important for kids to thrive and learn. I say this as someone who worked in classrooms for nearly two decades.

The thing that is becoming abundantly clear in this trial is that the Plaintiffs' argument relies on standardized test scores.

The lawyers keep asking about "learning gains" as evident on state standardized tests. But we know that standardized tests don't accurately reflect either learning gains or a teacher's ability or effectiveness. I wrote about this in previous posts. Again, please follow my Vergara link for those posts.

When they keep asking about "learning gains," it shows that the premise of their argument is wrong. You simply cannot judge teachers based on test scores. But, sadly, that's what they want to do.

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