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Thompson: The Legacy of "Waiting for Superman"

WaitAlexander Russo's How Waiting for Superman (almost) Changed the World explains how Davis Guggenheim's film created a zeitgeist.

But, did it produce "measurable impact?"

Participant, the film's production company, sought to "ignite social changes." Participant was founded by eBay billionaire Jeff Skoll, and it specializes in "star-laden, carefully crafted, politically colored fims."

Whether Participant knew it or not, in its attempt to claim success, it borrowed from a common school reform meme. Test-driven reformers often claim that increases in student performances in the 1990s were the result of the NCLB Act of 2001. Similarly, Participant claims credit for closing New York City's so-called "Rubber Room," and the Washington D.C. teachers' contract. Both took place before the movie came out.

Michelle Rhee also credits Waiting for Superman for persuading top donors to contribute to StudentsFirst. But, she also claims that her organization is good, not destructive, for public schools.

An objective study, funded by the Ford Foundation, determined that the general public gave good reviews to the film, awarding four out of five stars. Education professionals gave it two stars, concluding that its "depiction of teachers and unions was simplistic."

Russo's account of the making of  Guggenheim's film and of its effects is balanced. If he has a bias, it is towards skepticism, even cynicism. Russo indicates that do-gooders must anticipate that their efforts will be "misunderstood or mischaracterized." When that happened, the filmmaker's team responded with "genuine or feigned" surprise.

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Thompson: Lessons From "Superman"


Before he started Waiting for Superman, non-educator Davis Guggenheim read and reread the definitive but tedious Organizing Schools for Improvement, and went on to study the entire body of work of the Chicago Consortium for School Research. Guggenheim became an expert in economic regression studies so that he could parse the language in papers for and against value-added models. Starting with the work of Larry Cuban, he became an expert on education history.

I kid Guggenheim, of course.

Alexander Russo’s How Waiting For Superman (almost) Changed the World, published by American Enterprise Institute, tells the real story about a pro-union, pro-teacher award-winning filmmaker making a documentary that Jay Mathews described as “one of the most anti-union I had ever seen.”

Russo’s narrative on the making of the film that so deeply offended so many is consistent with my experience. Guggenheim had a lot compassion and he made some political inquiries, but he seemed to have the same disinterest in social science that has long been shown by outsiders seeking to reform schools. It is a testament to the disrespect bestowed on teachers by non-educators that they are consistently uncurious about academic education research. Surely the sponsors of An Inconvenient Truth would not have endorsed that film if Guggenheim was similarly uninformed about global warming.

Worse, Guggenheim and other reformers show even less interest in studying more than one side of the story before pontificating about the cure for inner city educational underperformance.

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Thompson: The Gates Foundation's "Other" Big Overreach

GatesIn How Bill Gates Pulled Off the Swift Common Core Revolution, The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton explains that two men met with Bill Gates in 2008 and asked for his support of rigorous national standards.

After a brief discussion within the Gates Foundation, a full court press in favor of Common Core was launched. This was done in spite the social science research questioning whether better standards were likely to improve schools. 

The foundation funded “almost every consequential education group,” as Diane Ravitch aptly put it, in their efforts to promote the standards.  The standard step of conducting pilot studies before such a major innovation was skipped. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan used the Race to the Top grant process as leverage to advance Common Core. Within two years, Gates’s preferred policy was adopted by almost every state in the nation.

Where have we seen this story before?

Steve Brill’s Class Warfare explains that Gates met with two men in 2007. They pushed their pet theory about value-added teacher evaluations.

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Thompson: Latest OK Testing Mess Generates Widespread Complaints

TestsOklahoma adopted the entire test-driven reform agenda promoted by Jeb Bush and Arne Duncan. It failed educationally, but it is producing a seemingly miraculous political outcome, pulling together all types of stakeholders in a grassroots backlash against corporate reform.

The Tulsa World’s Andrea Eger, in Schools Across Oklahoma Say Writing Test Results Deeply Flawed, describes something even more unpredictable. School systems are fighting back.

Eger reports that district officials are discovering “abnormally high rates of students receiving the exact same scores.” They are questioning whether the error-prone CTB/McGraw-Hill properly scored the tests. How is it that the testing company responsible for two breakdowns in online testing in the last two years also determines that over 81% of the 755 students at Jenks Middle School earned the same score in all five elements of its scoring rubric?

Last year, educators in Moore schools demonstrated their personal courage in the face of a massive tornado. Now, a Moore administrator says that “more than half of his district’s fifth-graders and an even higher percentage of its eighth-graders received the same score in every subcategory.” When teachers who were trained in the scoring rubric reviewed their students’ essays, “they determined that the proper scores were ‘nothing close to the scores that were assigned by CTB’s people.’”

The immediate question is whether these “widespread [test score] reductions” for “plagiarism” were penalizing students simply for following instructions to cite directly from reading passages, or whether students were not bringing enough of their personal opinions to the essay tests.

But, that raises a larger question about the transition to Common Core which is supposedly under way. A fundamental principle of Common Core is that “people don't give a shit” about students’ personal perspectives and that test answers must be rooted in the text. In their rush to impose Common Core, “Common Core-type” tests, and other high-stakes assessments, reformers have issued numerous mixed messages. Now, they want to punish students because their contradictory policies have sown widespread confusion.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.

Thompson: NPR's Discussion of How Testing Is Driving Great Teachers Out of the Classroom

Logo2To paraphrase the Reagan administration’s A Nation at Risk (which triggered this mess) if a foreign power tried to destroy the teaching profession, we would call it a war on public education. Data-driven reformers are driving much of the joy out of the greatest job I can imagine.

NPR’s On Point guest host, Art Donovan, in Teachers Tell Us Why They’ve Left the Classroom, interviewed, “three dedicated teachers [who] walked away from jobs they loved.” The discussion featured two veteran educators, a former TFA teacher, and an incoming rookie, and it prompted numerous teachers to call in.

Not surprisingly, testing was blamed for most of the damage being done to the profession. The same phrases kept being repeated by the show's participants, with the only good news being that many teachers are “sticking it out” and remaining in the classroom “despite of the disrespect.”

Problems such as cultural insensitivity, disciplinary challenges, and a top-down curriculum that kills creativity were cited, but the same story kept repeating itself – testing is destroying our public schools.

Interestingly, not one teacher or caller defended test-driven accountability.

Private school kindergarten teacher Suzie Sluyter explained that she left the public schools due to “the focus on testing, data collection and academic push that was inappropriate for the age.” She “was being forced to teach in a way I did not believe in.” Sluyter concluded, “I was actually harming children by pressuring them to do things they weren’t ready for.”

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Thompson: Michelle Obama, Meanwitchs and Stinkburgers


I love Michelle Obama as much as I remain loyal to her husband, despite his awful test and punish education policy. When the First Lady is attacked, I am angered almost as much as when the Obama administration assaults public education.

The issues underlying both Michelle Obama's Let's Move healthy schools campaign, and President Obama's corporate school reform are equally complicated.

Time Magazine's Jay Newton-Small, in Michelle Obama Bites Back at Critics of Her Healthy School Lunch Standards, reports that a million fewer students ate school lunches in the first year of the program. The bigger problem is anecdotes and twitter photo campaigns featuring students who want their junk food back.

In light of the House Republicans' assault on anti-obesity efforts, Burkhard Bilger's 2006 New Yorker article, The Lunch Room Rebellion, should now be reread. As the First Lady explains, the "stakes couldn't be higher" in the battle to improve children's health, so the fight is worth it. But, given the difficulty Bilger described in providing nutritious meals in the affluent Berkeley, California schools, we must prepare for a long, frustrating struggle.  

Bilger told how a "haute cuisine chef," Ann Cooper, got schooled when she brought nutritious meals that were a hit in a progressive private school to a public system. Cooper's biggest problem was that children's food tastes (not unlike some of their learning habits) are established before they enter school. But, a seemingly absurd combination of political and institutional dynamics created unforeseen complications, even in a system where only 40% of students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

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Thompson: Marc Prensky, Digital Wisdom, & Zuckerberg's Newark Folly

ZuckerbergI never want to bet against our digital future, and I’m predisposed to agree with most of Marc Prensky’s hopefulness, as proclaimed in Brain Gain. But, Prensky seems too dismissive of the reports by teachers and others about the shortterm damage being caused by our rapid adoption of digital technology.

I don’t think that we have gotten to the point where all of the reports about unintended negative effects of this technology could be due to a mass hallucination, perhaps recorded in some secret space in the Cloud.

So, while I will enjoy and gain energy from the predictions of futurologists, I’ll stick to my knitting and just pontificate on the field I know – inner city schools.

I got a kick out of Prensky’s overly rational anticipation of a key issue related to Mark Zuckerberg’s donation of $100 million to Newark schools. He wrote that “potentially, it is a very good thing … if it is used in a digitally wise way.” Prensky thus seemed to anticipate that Zuckerberg would contribute in ways that he was qualified to contribute. He also hoped that Zuckerberg would “imagine and plan for at least a year (and maybe more) before any technology gets ordered.”

In other words, Prensky didn’t seem to consider the possibility that someone as smart as Zuckerberg would jump into a field he knew nothing about, and finance a transformational reform of it, without even looking into the basic evidence about what works in school improvement. Zuckerberg, the technology expert, illogically invested in a mayor, Cory Booker, who made a virtually evidence-free bet on incentives and disincentives that had a long history of failure!?!?  

What would have happened, however, if Zuckerberg had stuck to his knitting and invested his money in something he knew about?

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Thompson: OK Rejects the "Test and Punish 3rd Graders" Fiasco

Henke-Katiex175Oklahoma’s Republican Legislature overrode the veto of Republican Governor Mary Fallin, and overwhelmingly rejected another cornerstone of Jeb Bush’s corporate reform agenda. The overall vote was 124 to 21.

As emphasized by the Tulsa World’s Legislature Overrides Fallin Veto on Reading Bill; Baressi Calls Decision a *Pathetic* Step Back, by Randy Krembiel and Barbara Hoberick, besieged Chief for Change Janet Baressi (who is still angry over Common Core defeats and pushback against Bush’s and her's A-F Report Card) condemned legislators as “pathetic.”

Oklahoma’s victory over the test and punish approach to 3rd grade reading is a win-win team effort of national importance. The override was due to an unexpected, grassroots uprising started by parents, joined by superintendents and teachers, organized on social media, and assisted by anti- corporate reform educators and our opposite, Stand for Children, as well as Tea Party supporters, and social service providers who are increasingly coming to the rescue of the state’s grossly underfunded schools.

Nearly 8,000 children, including nearly 30% of Oklahoma City and 1/3rd of Tulsan 3rd graders, failed their high-stakes tests. Now, they can be provided remediation as they are promoted to the 4th grade.

And, that is just the beginning of the good news. Retired librarian/reading expert Claudia Swisher finally gained traction in her effort to fact check reformers, and raise the consciousnesses of lawmakers about the dangers of the misuse of inappropriate tests.

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Thompson: Why Cory Booker Should Have Respected Newark's Families and Teachers

BookerDale Russakoff’s New Yorker article, Schooled, recounts the failure of the “One Newark” plan to transform Newark schools. One of the key contributions of Russakoff’s excellent narrative is her portrait of the personalized nature of the edu-philanthropy process. As one wealthy donor said, “Investors bet on people, not on business plans, because they know successful people will find a way to be successful.”

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million in seed money after being blown away by then-mayor Cory Booker. Zuckerberg explained, “This is the guy I want to invest in. This is a person who can create change.”

Booker created a confidential draft plan to “make Newark the charter school capital of the nation.” Because it would be driven by philanthropic donors, no openness would be required.  “Real change requires casualties,” Booker argued, and stealth was required to defeat “the pre-existing order,” which will “fight loudly and viciously.”

Had they bothered to study social science research, cognitive science, and education history, hopefully the edu-philanthropists would have realized that Booker’s approach to “One Newark” could be great for his political ambitions but it was doomed as method of improving schools.

The corporate reformers’ lack of curiosity in an evidence-driven plan for improvement is doubly frustrating because, as David Kirp documented, a successful experiment in systemic improvement was conducted in the nearby Union City schools.

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Thompson: The "Third Way" Promotes Evidence-Free Way to Improve Teaching

Stop-NeoliberalismThe Third Way promotes moderate efforts to promote “principled compromise.” It is “built around policy teams that create high-impact written products.” Two previous posts (here and here) described solid Third Way studies based on social science. But, both of those studies remained agnostic about education reform policies. 

A third paper, Tamara Hiler’s and Lanae Erickson Hatalsky’s Teaching: The Next Generation, is two papers in one. The first half summarizes the findings of a poll of 400 high-performing college students. The data is interesting and potentially useful. The second half is an infomercial for the TNTP and other teacher-bashers. It distorts that evidence and uses the poll as a prop to promote corporate reform.

I have concerns about the language that the Third Way used in introducing the other two studies but neither began with a statement such as “Only 35% (of top-performing college students) described teachers as ‘smart,’" and “Education was seen as the top profession that ‘average’ people choose.”

In fact, the survey found that 200 students see people who are nice, caring, patient, and smart as almost as likely to choose teaching as nursing. Smart people are as likely to choose teaching as as philosophy, and more likely to choose teaching over English, art, and communication. Educators may be more “mediocre” than political scientists, but more socially conscious.

Above all, Hiler and Hatalsky assume that the key to education is the intellect - “the Head,” not “the Heart.” They prejudge the potential benefits of teachers who are ambitious, competitive, and rootless, as opposed to being caring and grounded in the community.

Yes, from 3/4ths to 9/10ths of students said that reputation and opportunities for advancement are important. But, greater percentages said that stability and the opportunity to help others are important.

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Thompson: A "Third Way" Analysis of Closing the Achievement Gap

NewgradThe Third Way describes itself a representing the “vital center.” It is a moderate effort to break think tanks out of policy “silos” and it is “built around policy teams that create high-impact written products.” 

The new think tank’s David Autor and Melanie Wasserman, in Wayward Sons, draw upon social science to make a valuable contribution to understanding the achievement gap.

 I was saddened by the way that the study was introduced in the Third Way Web site, however. It “make(s) the case that the decline in male achievement is almost exclusively reserved for males born into single-parent households; while females in single-parent households do OK, boys seem to suffer.”

I’m hoping that this way of articulating the problem does not foreshadow more of the neoliberal blame game where single mothers and/or fathers are guilty but economic elites are always innocent. That blunt introduction contrasts with the subtleties of Wayward Sons. While the Third Way emphasizes a single issue, social family structure, Autor and Wasserman describe a complex "vicous cycle." 

Autor and Wasserman cite “a growing body of evidence … [which] indicates that the absence of stable fathers from children’s lives has particularly significant adverse consequences for boys’ psychosocial development and educational achievement.”

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Thompson: "Third Way" Study Shows Real Way to College Readiness


The Third Way describes itself as representing the “vital center.” It is a moderate effort to break think tanks out of policy “silos” and it is “built around policy teams that create high-impact written products.”

While I respect an effort to articulate “principled compromise,” I hope that education isn’t treated as a pawn, to be sacrificed when appealing to corporate powers’ supposedly better angels. [I also hope that its founder Jon Cowan doesn’t share the anti-teacher positions of his former boss, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.]

I became more optimistic after reading the Third Way’s The Secret of College Completion.  Cowan and Elaine C. Kamarck introduce the study by Thomas DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann. They explain that 8th grade grades are strong predictors of college completion because they are indicators of behavioral patterns which are learned early in life. These patterns tend to persist into high school and college.

In other words, factors beyond the control of teachers make it unlikely that reforms focusing on “value-added” in the secondary school classroom will work.

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Thompson: Merit Badges for Teachers? You've Gotta Be Joking

Skinner_box_scheme_01Perhaps the key purpose of schools is teaching children to become "inner directed" persons, who can control their own behavior. Its hard to think of a single more destructive aspect of data-driven reform than its seemingly unintended consequence of turning children into "other directed" persons, trained to just respond to carrots and sticks.

Perhaps this is not a disgraceful byproduct of testing, but an embrace of a humiliating value system for both adults and children.  

The Tennessean’s Joey Garrison, in Merit Badge Idea for Nashville Teachers, Students Draws Ire, describes an incredible new way of supposedly bestowing respect on teachers – issuing merit badges.

He reports on the opportunity being granted to “earn ‘virtual badges’ — tokens, of sorts — for taking on additional professional development or demonstrating other accomplishments.” Garrison writes that the badge system might even be expanded and tied to compensation.

This is not an April Fools joke. The badges would be digital icons or logos on the district's computer system. But, they may also offer a physical badge, like those issued by the Boy Scouts.

Nashville’s chief academic officer, who pushes the idea, said that the district will solicit teacher input before developing its final proposal. They might tie the badges to pay in the 2015-16 budget.

There is talk of expanding this disrespectful idea to students, further teaching them to salivate before virtual treats. The kids could cash in virtual badges at online stores. The logic behind teaching students to devalue learning is, as usual, Orwellian, "We want kids to own their learning and own their experience, and this is a way to do it."-JY(@drjohnthompson) Image via.

Thompson: Mixed Feelings Regarding Gates' Edu-Philanthropy

ConsistencyF. Scott Fitzgerald said that we must “hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

I joined conservative Rick Hess in reaching out to the Gates Foundation, urging them to research the ways that poverty undermines their “teacher quality” approach to school reform. The Gates Foundation’s Steve Cantrell responded; we had a 90 minute telephone conversation. Hess, in Aftermath: My Note to the Gates Foundation published both of our reflections on the exchange.

I challenged the Gates position that its focus on teachers alone in the classroom can improve high-poverty schools. Of course, their approach can be beneficial. The policy issue, however, is how will they be used, constructively and destructively. How, I asked, can teachers not oppose reforms that can be beneficial before concrete checks and balances for the inevitable misuses are nailed down?

To his credit, Cantrell responded, “John mentioned the need to put safeguards in place before teaching effectiveness measures are used for consequences. I couldn't agree more.” Cantrell didn't indicate that the foundation will take action to help teachers gain such protections from laws that have already be been passed. But, I am hopeful that the dialogue will continue.

I was unnerved, however, when I then read Anthony Cody’s What Will It Take to Educate the Gates Foundation?. Cody explained why the value added evaluations pushed by Gates are a disaster. He recounted the futility and the dangers of the edu-philanthropists’ embrace of charter schools, and how “Common Core and the high stakes accountability system in which it is embedded is on its way to the graveyard of grand ideas.”

What if Anthony is right and I'm wrong in reaching out?

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Thompson: Ending Seniority Transfers Won't Fix Teacher Quality Gaps

8hoursday_banner_1856When I started teaching in a high-challenge school in the 1990s, I was stunned by the quality of the teachers - they were far better instructors than I had known in the 1960s suburbs. Many had begun their careers when our school was an elite, all-white institution, and endured the violence of desegregation in the 1970s and the crack and gangs of the 1980s.

After suburban flight reduced my district's graduation rate to 39%, magnet schools were created. They slowed the loss of families from the district. Most of the elite teachers finally broke down and transferred to schools where chronic disorder did not undermine teaching and learning.

In theory, the system could have addressed the real problem - the mayhem created when children from generational poverty act out the effects of trauma.

Just kidding! The money it would have cost to address the legacies of extreme poverty was beyond anyone's dreams. Systems had no choice but to continue to play the blame game, and seek cheap and easy fixes and claim that better instruction could provide the answer.

Stephen Sawchuk's Are Teacher Contracts to Blame for Teacher-Quality Gaps? reviews the latest iteration of seeking silver bullets to cure society's ills.  It gives little solace to reformers who believe that ending teachers' transfer rights would address complicated education equity issues.  

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Thompson: School Reform in Its Death Throes, Says Merrow

Sisyphus-300x297PBS’s John Merrow, in The Common Core Brouhaha, explains how grassroots, bipartisan outrage is toppling Common Core State Standards and the national testing that it accompanies. He says, “at least two other issues are at play: bubble test fatigue and concern over top-down ‘technocratic’ control of what most Americans think of as a local enterprise, public education.”

Merrow also notes that “lurking in the wings are profiteers hoping to grab a bigger share of the trillion dollars we spend on education, and ideologues determined to break apart the public system (and teacher unions), whatever the cost.”

Reformers once won a series of political victories, even as their educational theories were repeatedly defeated by realities in schools that are far more complex than anything they imagined. Improving schools, as opposed to defeating political enemies, has been an exhausting process of pushing a boulder uphill.

The rock of reality overwhelmed their theories and it is rolling back down. Merrow writes, “We can push a boulder down the hill but are powerless to control what happens next. That’s what seems to be going on here, and at some point we are going to find out what and who will be crushed. As often happens when adults do battle in education, some children’s futures will be ‘collateral damage.’”

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Thompson: The Next Generation of Value-Added Is Unbelievably Cool

EdtweakIn a major advance over the inherently flawed effort to use test score growth estimates to measure teaching and learning, Big Data is pioneering the next step in identifying the characteristics of effective teaching.

EdTweak’s Harvard Teacher Team Links Teacher Traits to Value-Added describes a groundbreaking research design using a data set including three years of Google searches.

It reports that “Harvard Professor Sage Petty and his colleagues were able to determine that teachers with higher value-added scores were 0.0408% more likely to prefer Mary Ann to Ginger, 0.0783% more likely to purchase their firearms at discounted prices, and 0.0281% more likely to be able to distinguish a Mallard from a Fulvous Whistling-Duck.” 

Petty documents other “really amazing the sorts of associations one can tease out with a large enough data set.” He documents correlations between value-added scores and “purchases of laundry detergent (powered-detergent teachers have higher scores) and searches combining ROTFL and IMHO (lower scores)." 

Petty is surprised by the finding, “teachers at all value-added levels had an equal likelihood of wanting to slap me and my colleagues upside the head with a trout.”-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.


Thompson: Kamenetz & Gallup Nail the Key to School Improvement

EngagedAs the Hechinger Report’s Anya Kamenetz notes in Almost 70% of Teachers Are Not Engaged. Here’s Why That Matters So Much, “there’s an intimate connection between the schoolroom engagement of students, and the workplace engagement of teachers.” She then cites the truism that has been lost on school reformers, “Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.” 

Kamenetz reviews a brilliant analysis by Gallup Education, The State of America’s Schools. My joy in reading the study, and Kamenetz’s explanation,  was tempered only by a sense of regret that its main themes were not the basis of the contemporary school reform movement.  

Data-driven reform, in part, was born of an ill-considered effort to sound macho. Testing, like attacks on teachers, allowed reformers to chant tough-sounding words like “accountability” and “outputs.” 

Gallup explains how reform produced “a rigid set of education standards.”  It created “a stranglehold on teachers and students.”  Consequently, “teachers are dead last among the occupational groups Gallup surveyed in terms of their likelihood to say their opinions seem to count at work.”

As Gallup’s Brandon Busteed reports, reformers got it backwards. The path to school improvement requires a commitment to “soft” measures, such as hope, feeling valued, emotional relationships, and being engaged in teaching and learning. Busteed says, “quote unquote ‘soft’ measures move the quote unquote ‘hard’ measures, like grades and test scores.”

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Thompson: How Seniority Reform Backfired In Minneapolis

LayoffsI have long held the counter-intuitive opinion that mending, not ending, seniority could have been the most doable and beneficial first step in school improvement. I must emphasize that the direct benefits of reforming the imperfect but pretty good seniority system would have been modest. Had we worked collaboratively to make incremental gains in that process, however, we could have built the trust necessary to tackle tougher issues. 

Instead, reformers made the uninformed snap judgment that “LIFO,” or the rule of “last in, first out,” must be ended. They didn’t even bother to ask why seniority serves as the teacher’s First Amendment. It is the best single protection that teachers will be able to express their professional judgments, thus protecting students from reckless educational experiments. 

The Star Tribune’s Steve Brandt, in Poorest Minneapolis Schools Still Have the Greenest Teachers, explains how ending the “iron grip” of seniority backfired. (Hat tip to Sarah Lahm and Edushyster.) Brandt reports that a “Star Tribune analysis of teacher experience data by school found that, if anything, the experience gap between high- and low-poverty schools has widened” since so-called LIFO was ended. Six years ago, under the seniority system, the gap between average teaching experience at the highest- and lowest-seniority schools analyzed was 14 years, but it is now 15 years. The pattern is still, "poverty up, experience down."

Brandt describes inexperienced principals of high-poverty schools being stuck with even more inexperienced teachers. For instance, a second year principal finds herself with seventeen of her 31 of her teachers being probationary.

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Thompson: NYC Can Happen Here

ConformHow did we get here from there? How can an American democracy produce such a disgusting educational culture? How did schools in New York City sink so low?

OK,  it is sick enough that Eva Moskowitz's Success Academies fire students up to “SLAM the Exam” by rewarding them with basketballs and Converse sneakers for test-prep instruction. But, some people have always conformed to anything to get ahead.

As Chalkbeat New York's Patrick Walls reports, in With State Exams Underway Schools Turn from Test Prep to Test Pep, Chancellor Carmen Farina urged principals not to go overboard on test preparation. She said:

The best preparation for the test is a rich, thoughtful, engaging curriculum that awakens curiosity in students, inspires them to ask questions, helps them explore complex problems, and encourages them to imagine possibilities. We understand that the best classrooms are lively places where students are immersed in conversation, debating ideas, and developing perspectives and viewpoints.

Walls reports that some principals have heeded Farina's call and use humor or, even, yoga to reduce anxiety. But, "other schools prefer to psych students up rather than cool them down," and "some schools have spent weeks administering practice exams and reviewing test-taking strategies."

Though ostensibly liberated from a culture test prep, why do these principals continue with the most disgraceful legacies of “teaching to the test?” Why do they continue to indoctrinate children as if they are pets into a system of rewards and punishment?

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Thompson: How Common Core Is Being Defeated In Oklahoma

The Common_Core_Standards_Pushback_0ab1cNPR report Common Core Turns Business Leaders Against Oklahoma GOP, by Claudio Sanchez, must be understood within the context of business conservatives and Christian Conservatives having turned the state into a bastion of Republicanism.

Just a few months ago, it was inconceivable that Oklahoma would repudiate Common Core, but now the Republican Governor and Republican State Superintendent, Chief for Change Janet Baressi, are getting clobbered by what Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman calls the “unfunded nightmare” that is Common Core.

Sanchez stresses the anger and political fear felt by conservative business Republicans in reaction to the grassroots assault on Common Core. He quotes Chamber of Commerce leader Mike Neal who derides the conservative Restore Oklahoma Public Education and others as “fringe groups.”

Neal rejects as fear-mongering the claims that Common Core is a federal scheme, that “private groups will mine and profit from test results,” and that it will undermine local control. But, isn’t there more truth in those statements than Neal’s claim that it won’t take local control away "at all?”

Neal’s opponent is Jenni White, a former teacher, a published epidemiologist, and a Christian with two adopted children from Zambia, as well as her biological children. In my conversations with Ms. White and other conservative opponents of Common Core at the State Capitol, I did not hide my support for President Obama (while opposing his education policy).  I would never judge Ms. White as a fringe element and I don’t believe she judged me either.

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Thompson: Bill Moyers Interviews Diane Ravitch

MoyersWhat do you get when you combine Bill Moyers and Diane Ravitch? WISDOM!

Both are among the all-time greats of their professions. During the Iraq War, I sometimes tried to duck Moyers' reports because he spoke more truth than I wanted to handle.  Similarly, as Ravitch assembles her case that test-driven accountability had morphed into "corporate reform," I'm often afraid of her message. But, Ravitch and Moyers do their homework before speaking the truths that I sometimes don't want to confront.   

Moyers began his PBS Public Schools for Sale by reviewing the $3-1/2 million dollar campaign against populist Mayor Bill de Blasio. He cited the New York Times' report that de Blasio was "even dialing up billionaires to ask for a truce." Moyers' said that what is at stake is the future of public education.

Ravitch warned that within a decade public education could be dead in cities like Detroit, New Orleans, Washington D.C., Kansas City, and Indianapolis. I've long worried about the same thing happening in my Oklahoma City. As choice in a time of cutthroat competition grows, it is easy to see how traditional public schools in those cities could become nothing more than "dumping grounds for the children that charters don't want."  Those are hard words, but can anyone on any side of our reform wars deny that the danger Ravitch describes is very real? 

Ravitch then articulated the single best principle for helping poor children of color, "Aim for equity and you get excellence."

Continue reading "Thompson: Bill Moyers Interviews Diane Ravitch" »

Thompson: 25,000 Rally for Education in Oklahoma

Rally I was one of 25,000 to 30,000 teachers, students, and parents rallying at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

No, this is not an April Fool's joke!

After education spending was cut more than any other state, while the full load of test-driven reforms were imposed, we are pushing back. Despite attacks by the Daily Oklahoman and some legislators on teachers for "abandon(ing) their posts ... for no good reason," the rally showed that public education supporters aren't going to take it anymore.

Signs protesting nonstop testing and budget cuts were everywhere. The Tulsa World's Kim Archer, in Rally for School Funding Draws 25,000 Teachers, Parents, Students, reports that two students, Erika Vinson and Asher Nees, "both spoke eloquently about how teachers have changed their lives."

Vinson compared teachers to gardeners who "have more flowers to look after with fewer resources in drought-like conditions." She explained the stress that high-stakes testing puts students, especially 3rd graders.  She proclaimed, "I am, not —absolutely not — the end-of-instruction tests."

Jeffrey Corbett, president of the Oklahoma Parent Teacher Association, echoed the opposition to the testing mania. He said, "It is time for the era of standardized testing as the dominant force in education to end."

John Tuttle, president-elect of the National School Boards Association, even used the P-word, opposing efforts to "privatize" public schools, "I believe that public education is a civil right and the cornerstone of our democracy." 

Continue reading "Thompson: 25,000 Rally for Education in Oklahoma" »

Thompson: LA School Report Misstates On Vergara Lawsuit

DemocracyLA School Report's Michael Janofsky, in Analysis: Vergara Approaching Time for Tru Judgment, fundamentally misstates the issues in Vergara v. California, which seeks to overturn the state's tenure, seniority, and due process laws.

Janofsky claims that the question is, "Are the laws, as they exist, the best and only way for the state to provide California school children access to a quality education, as the state Constitution provides?"

No! Even the best of laws are the flawed results of the imperfect sausage-making that is self-government. In our constitutional democracy, Janofsky, the corporate reformers, and the economists who testified for the plaintiffs have a right to believe whatever they want about the best ways to help poor children of color. The issue is whether they proved their case, supporting their opinion that duly enacted laws, passed with the intent of helping teachers, but not hurting students, should be stricken. 

If those laws are stricken, who will determine the best and only way to provide a quality education?  

Janofsky also claims that the plaintiffs' arguments are more "systemic," while the defendants' are more "granular."  Perhaps he means that the plaintiffs' experts are economists viewing schools from 30,000 feet, but unaware of education research or facts on the ground. He is correct, however, about their tactic of "using the experiences of nine students as a motif" for showing that California needs better legislation for firing teachers. "The fact that one child’s education could be compromised," writes Janofsky, repeating the plaintiff's public relations spin, "means all children are at risk."

Yeah, that's an interesting motif and a nice soundbite, but it is completely divorced from reality.

I'd say that the demand for a system where no terminations could be mishandled  and no students could be assigned an ineffective teacher is a pretty granular goal, and it is downright utopian to boot. Where did we get this idea that because voters haven't cured all our social ills, the elites should determine the laws of the land? Why believe that the corporate funders of Vergara would not, once again, take inequities and make them worse?-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via

Thompson: Musings on This Year's Spring Break Grand Canyon Trip

Brandy%20standing%201[1]I just returned from another Spring Break trip to the Grand Canyon, although my travel companions are now thirty-somethings. It was a reminder of the wonders of teaching in the inner city. Whether it is playing basketball with students, or being schooled by the kids and by former students on cutting edge digital innovations, there is nothing like the joy of teaching.

Being quick (some say too quick) to see something new on a trip and to turn it into an outdoor lesson, I'm reminded of how much I loved classroom instruction. Even so, it is only one part of the job. It is no more than the point of the spear in the war on underperformance. And, that prompted a first musing.

Marveling at the Grand Canyon, I could ignore the problems with teacher evaluation regulations, described by Education Week's Michelle McNeil's Arne Duncan on Who's Winning the Race to the Top.  The RttT, like his School Improvement Grants, and other innovations were drafted by noneducators who did not understand that teaching and learning are acts of love, not the results of rewards and punishment. Those expensive programs were doomed because the wisdom of veteran educators, who understand the need for trusting relationships, were shunned by the programs' architects. So, even though I did my best to not think about school reform while at the Grand Canyon, I could not resist a thought experiment.

How many students' lives could have been transformed if the $5 million SIG grant at my old school of Centennial had been invested win-win solutions to our real problems? Our educational defeats were due to the predictable result of too many poor children, with too few adult role models, being segregated in a world with too few opportunities for hopes and dreams. What would have been the result of well-funded, well-planned, high-quality field trips inside and outside of the city? A series of intergenerational adventures would have nurtured the bonds necessary to learn for mastery and prepare for life after school.

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Thompson: Two Cheers NY Daily News' Account of Charter Wars

DeblasioTwo cheers for Parents and Children Get Caught Between Charter School Feud with Teachers Union and Pro-Charter Forces by the New York Daily News’ Ben Chapman and Greg Smith.

Newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio seeks to cut back on charter schools while their backers have turned NYC into the frontlines of the national battle for increased school choice. Chapman and Smith concluded that both sides are similarly funded, and I have no reason to challenge their findings. Presumably, both sides have an equal opportunity to fund comparable public relations campaigns promoting their dueling visions of school improvement.  

However, I would challenge the concluding quote, “the people most affected by all this — moms, dads and children — sometimes feel left out of the equation.”

The people who are most affected in New York and across the nation, are unaware of this conflict. It is the children who are not welcome in charters who have most skin in the game. Elite backers of choice, such as Eva Moskowitz, are not about to retain kids who make it more difficult to post test score increases.

For instance, Diane Ravitch and Evi Blaustein, in Fact-Checking Eva's Claims on National Television, explain that Success Academies enroll as few as1/2 as many English Language Learners as neighboring schools. The students in Success Academies have "an economic need index (a measure of students in temporary housing and/or who receive public assistance) that is 35 percent lower than nearby public schools." Suspension rates at Success Academies are up to 300% as large as neighboring schools.

The Daily News should pay less attention about the charter advocates' spin about serving children and more attention to what the parents of those more difficult-to-educate students think about their choice.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via

Thompson: An Even Sadder Tale of D.C. Common Core Testing

ChairsThe Washington Post’s Emma Brown, in D.C. Mulls Common Core Test Switch, explains that four years ago the D.C. schools opted for the PARCC Common Core Test rather than the Smarter Balanced assessment. Back then, little was known about the ways that the assessments would differ. Now, a powerful case can be made that the district should switch to the Smarter Balanced test.

If Common Core tests are necessary, I'd say, in an urban district the case for Smarter Balanced is overwhelming. Arguments against the transition to the more appropriate tests are worrisome.

Brown links to the blogger Ken Archer at Greater Greater Education, who has access to the minutes of a meeting of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). The OSSE administers the district’s tests and it is open to a change away from PARCC. Archer reports that the "OSSE discussed their intentions to engage in a series of stakeholder discussions with regards to the choice of common core next generation assessments.”

But, Chancellor Kaya Henderson has a disturbing reason for opposing the seemingly better test. Henderson opposes a transition because “teachers unions would see it as an opening to attack the Common Core and testing in general.”

The best reason for switching to the Smarter Balanced test is that it is a computer-adaptive assessment. Adaptive testing is one of the promising technologies that were undermined by No Child Left Behind. Adaptive assessments adjust the questions asked based on the test-takers’ ability to handle tougher or easier questions. They could be essential in helping 8th graders with 4th grade skills so they don't give up and drop out of school when standards are abruptly raised.

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Thompson: Killer Tornado Proves that Schools Still Need Rules

Tornado-damage-115801_640The Daily Oklahoman's Nasreen Iqbal, in Structural Faults Found in Destroyed Moore Elementary School, Engineer Says, explains that when an EF5 tornado hit two elementary schools, killing seven students, that there was no guarantee that a tragedy would have been prevented had construction standards been respected.

But, engineers inspected one of the destroyed Moore, Oklahoma schools and found, "Walls lacking reinforced concrete. An anchor bolt pulled from the ground. In several places, the 30-year-old school had no connection between the masonry wall and support beam."

I need to be equally careful in addressing the obvious lesson. I don't claim that market-driven reformers (and others who distrust regulatory systems) don't care about children. I just argue they are naive about the supposed public benefits of private sector competition.

Corporate reformers should heed the lessons of history. Over the 20th century, unions and workers overcame great obstacles to help enact legal regulations protecting health, safety, and other public goods. I doubt we have entered a new epoch where the rule of law is no longer necessary for checking the power of private enterprise and management. As bad as the tornado was, pretending that education no longer needs regulations is a recipe for really reaping the whirlwind.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.

Thompson: What's TFA's Role In Mass Dismissals of Teachers?

Header4Blogger Bob Braun’s Newark: 700 Teachers May Be Laid Off, Many Replaced by TFA fed the firestorm over Superintendent Cami Anderson’s and Gov. Chris Christie’s plans for the Newark schools. Braun cited union sources who said that TFA alumni Anderson will try to fire about 700 teachers and “replace about half with new hires, including the TFA members.”

TFA’s Fatimah Burnam Watkins replied that her organization sought to place “special education, science and math [that] are hard to fill.” She condemned Braun’s report as “full of toxic inaccuracies.” 

So, how can we sort out the truth? Do we just need to wait and see whether Newark follows the pattern of mass closings of schools as in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and other districts? Do we have no way of determining in advance whether TFA is no more than a supplier of teachers who are scarce, or whether it is a prime prerequisite for the mass dismissal of teachers?

Edushuyster’s Internal Documents Reveal Charter Expansion, TFA Go Hand in Hand can help answer that question. A former union communications staffer, Jennifer Berkshire looked into the Detroit corporate reform effort and their investigation of what it takes to attract charter management organizations (CMOs) to take over schools (now staffed by union members.) She linked to Broad Foundation emails explaining what is required for recruiting CMOs. In three emails, the presence of TFA was cited as an important factor in taking over schools.

I doubt many people are shocked, shocked that market-driven reformers see TFA as a resource for their market-driven campaigns. At minimum, Watkins and her organization owe Braun an apology. Edushuyster’s reporting adds to the evidence that TFA owes an apology to veteran teachers whose hard-earned salaries and benefits have made them targets.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.    

TV Shows: LA Vouchers May Be Root Of Evil On "True Detective"

image from i.kinja-img.comI thought TWIE contributor John Thompson was joking when he told me there was an education angle in HBO's gritty serial killer / murder mystery, True Detective.  But it's true: 

"Turns out that the root of all evil may be Christian voucher schools," notes one of several blog posts about the recent turn of events -- a plot twist that mirrors the current voucher debate going on in real life.  

The Onion's AV Club notes the show is "taking aim at Louisiana's very real, and very awful school voucher system."

I'll leave the details out since they'll be spoilers for many folks.  But folks are asking about it on Quora, and of course you can find out more on Wikipedia. There's a creepily administrative scene between Reverend Tuttle and one of the detectives you can watch here.

This isn't the first time that an HBO show has taken on a school reform issue.  David Simon's Treme included a rap about TFAers taking career educators' jobs in New Orleans.  The Wire described how violent and impersonal Baltimore schools could be.

Thompson: The Way to Save Common Core (If It's Worth Saving)

CommoncoreMorgan Polikoff's guest post, To Save the Common Core, Don't Fear the Moratorium, at Rick Hess Straight Up is a must-read for supporters of standards based reforms seeking a way to rescue Common Core from its botched implementation.  

I sometimes hope that advocates for college readiness standards will recognize the mess they created and make common sense adjustments. Other times, I believe that it would be best for them to continue down their doomed path and hope that the debacle will bring down the entire data-driven movement. Then, the next generation of school improvement could heed Polikoff''s advice. 

Polikoff believes that standards based reform and "some modest accountability" can drive school improvement. He makes the strong case that before NCLB they contributed to a decade or two of incremental improvements. 

His narrative gets confusing when he gets to their antithesis - standardized test-driven NCLB-type reform.   In one post, Polikoff endorses "consequential accountability." In another piece, he writes about "the abject failure of standards implementation under No Child Left Behind." 

Polikoff argues that "the major unforced error" of the Obama administration's was pushing Common Core standards and value-added teacher evaluations contemporaneously. This has created "the increasingly real possibility that teacher evaluation will destroy the Common Core in some places."

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Thompson: Pro-Reform Pundit Embraces Education Reality

YglesiasSlate's Matthew Yglesias supports education reform and yet his Education Reform, Not "Populism" Divides Democrats speaks the wisdom that must be heeded.*

Yglesias observes that the party is not that terribly conflicted over the arcane economic issue of whether "leverage ratio" should be 10 or 8%. But, "if you want to look at a really significant ideological divide among Democrats, you should look at education." Reformers made their case and Congress didn't buy it.

So, it is time to drop the theory that test-driven teacher evaluations can advance a progressive agenda and move on.

I hope Yglesias will listen to educators' explanation of why market-driven reform failed, so that he can advance conversations about the best ways for not making the same types of mistakes in other sectors of the economy. I also would like to hear from the reformers who Yglesias mentions, especially Sen. Cory Booker and President Obama, and understand why they embraced school reform. Did they do so because corporate reformers gave them an offer they couldn't refuse, or did we teachers make mistakes that encouraged them to attack our profession so stridently? 

Politicos may find this wierd, but the teacher in me keeps coming back to the question of whether we share the blame for the teacher-bashing known as "reform." Back in the 1990s, were we too slow to address the concerns of Chicago and Newark community organizers? Or, were we just in the wrong place at the wrong time and were bulldozed by the Billionaires' Boys Club? 

After the break is the case that I would like to make to Ygleisas.

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Thompson: Shouldn't We Have Choice in Testing?

SatPerhaps a new form of educational choice will drive the next era of school improvement. One would think that advocates for school choice would be consistent and support the rights of parents and students to choose whether to be subjected to standardized tests - or not. 

We should seriously contemplate William Hiss's Defining Promise: Optional Standardized Testing Policies in American College and University Admissions. Hiss studied 123,000 students at 33 institutions over eight years and he found there was virtually no difference in college grades and graduation rates between students who submitted SATs and ACTs or not.  He also explains, "Human intelligence is so multifaceted, so complex, so varied, that no standardized testing system can be expected to capture it."

NPR's Eric Westervelt, in College Applicants Sweat the SATs: Perhaps They Shouldn't, reports that "Some are calling this study a potential game-changer that may prompt schools to evaluate whether there is value in requiring standardized tests." Of course, he is reporting on colleges, not the bubble-in tests that are used to hold schools, teachers, and students accountable, and there is a difference between the two types of assessments. The difference is that the ACT and SAT tests are more reliable and defensible, and the younger the test taker, the greater the potential damage of the test.

So, if parents and students should be allowed to opt out of college admissions tests, shouldn't that choice be extended to all students? Of course, a study of college outcomes, alone, is not definitive proof that public school testing has failed. It just adds to the evidence that the data-driven reform movement was a historical dead end. Once we offer students headed to college the choice of whether they want to endure more of the testing rat race, the next logical step is to ask parents whether they want high-stakes testing dumped on their children. It leads to a common sense approach to school improvement; Let students and adults opt in or opt out of standardized testing.  And, if they give a test and nobody comes ..., reformers should honor that choice.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.    

Thompson: Why Haven't Reformers Rejected High-Stakes Tests (Yet)?

Tests Against my better judgment, being a team player, I originally supported my union and the majority of teachers who endorsed NCLB. Watching the recent TeachPlus presentation, The Student and the Stopwatch, and listening to the Education Next discussion on the time devoted to testing, I wondered how many participants are doing the same thing.

Leading the discussion with Dave Driscoll, Andrew Rotherham, and TeachPlus’s Celine Coggins, Mike Petrilli kept probing, asking whether high-stakes testing was to blame for excessive test prep. I hope they are just being team players as they all seemed close to acknowledging that high stakes testing had failed. 

None, however, said aloud the logical conclusion that they seemed to be approaching.

Driscoll and Rotherham described the benefits of Massachusetts’ standards based reforms and the “sea change” produced by President Clinton’s reforms of 1994.  Both nailed the key reason for those successes, and both came close to articulating the reason why NCLB failed, and why a Common Core/high stakes testing train wreck is coming.    

Rotherham even coined the best Common Core metaphor that I’ve heard.  Hoping it will solve the problems created by NCLB is like a couple having a baby to save their marriage.
To fully appreciate the wisdom of Rotherham’s punch line, we have to back up and think through his and Driscoll’s diagnosis of education’s real problems.

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Thompson: Parents Should Opt Out - And Teachers Should Help

TestI plead guilty to not being militant enough in resisting NCLB-type testing.  Had teachers put up a real fight, including "sick-outs" on testing day, they could not have fired us all, and our students would not have had to endure more than a decade of bubble-in malpractice. 

The Tulsa World's Kim Archer, in Parents Opting Kids Out of State Testing Could Put Schools in a Bind, points to a way for teachers to atone for our timidity. The state of Oklahoma has joined Chicago, New York City (under Mike Bloomberg), and others in attempting to intimidate parents into dropping their protests against high-stakes testing. Archer explains the reason, "If test participation dips below 90 percent, the district receives an automatic F, according to the A-F school grade law."

School systems often make herculean efforts to test 95% of students, which is the required minimum for each test. If only one or two students per class were to boycott bubble-in testing, the entire system would collapse. They can't give every school an "F," can they?

Of course, we would have to be strategic and we would have to put student welfare first. We could not expect many parents to opt their 3rd graders out of tests required to pass to 4th grade. Neither could we ask high school students to boycott End of Instruction tests, until they passed the minimum number required to graduate.  Except in the inner city, most students pass the prerequisite four tests by their junior year. If they boycott the rest, the A-F Report Card scheme would crater.

Teachers, of course, need to be more than fans, cheering on students and parents who opt out. I would start a legal defense fund to challenge high-stakes testing abuses. Whenever a student is denied a high school diploma due to failing Common Core or "Common Core-type" graduation exams, for instance, if he has not had an appropriate amount of Common Core or Common Core-type instruction, we should litigate for that student.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.       

Thompson: What Do "Influentials" Think They Are Doing?

Department_of_Education_-_NCLB_doorI know it’s weird, but I still have a strange curiosity about what education policy-makers think they’re doing.  Eduwonk’s Whiteboard Advisors Education Insiders Survey provides some clues, albeit complicated ones. 

The latest survey of movers and shakers concludes that collaboration and team building, risk taking, and decision making are the most important leadership skills. I agree with two of them, but I’d argue that the most important leadership value should be “first, do no harm” to the children you want to help. 

The survey determined that the three most important technical skills of policy leaders are content expertise, communication skills, and research, analysis and evaluation. Several volunteered comments about the value of actual teaching experience, however. The bottom three answers, however, were project management, strategic planning, and implementation management.

The Whiteboard Advisors then asked the astute question of what three skills they should have focused on at the age of 25.  Those answers were the opposite!  The majority wished that they had focused on real-world skills involving planning, management, and implementation. All three, by the way, are skills that effective teachers and administrators practice. In doing so, many or most practitioners become more risk-adverse.

Then, the survey’s finding really got complicated. When asked the three most overrated skills, strategic planning, project management, and research and analysis were the most overrated!

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Thompson: Weingarten Gets The Right Balance In Oklahoma City

Randi_Weingarten_2008_croppedAfter watching AFT President Randi Weingarten wow an audience of religious and labor leaders in Oklahoma City, I’m convinced that the union has reached the proper balance between resistance and collaboration.

She presented The Principles that Unite Us, a plan for communities and labor to unite for educational and social justice. It is also a counter-attack against corporate reform.

Weingarten started by recognizing the insight of the pastor’s opening prayer. This week, our 91% low-income district again closed schools due to the cold. Too many children would have been waiting for school busses without coats, gloves, and hats.

Randi and the AFT embrace the old-fashioned idea that educators must model democratic practices. The effort to improve the lives of poor children of color must be “rooted in communities.”  

Weingarten took her stand at the Fairview Baptist Church, which is led by some of Oklahoma’s most dedicated civil rights leaders. That postage stamp of urban America illustrates the bitter conflicts that continue to divide us. A few blocks to the southeast was Ralph Ellison’s old neighborhood, where The Invisible Man was inspired.  The “No Trespass Zone” where Governor “Alfalfa Bill” Murray placed a machine gun to enforce “Jim Crow” segregation was a few hundred yards away.

School patrons are justifiable angry about the past and present. That is why, a few blocks to the north, the California-based Parent Revolution found an audience. Its organizer urged parents to “go to war” against the school district. If their “parent trigger” goes into effect, it is not clear that the Oklahoma City Public School System will survive.

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Thompson: Rep. Miller Had To Have Known How NCLB Would Be Implemented

NclbEdSource’s Kathryn Baron, in NCLB Co-author Says He Never Anticipated Federal Law Would Force Testing Obsession, reports that Rep. George Miller, an  architect of No Child Left Behind, says that he did not intend to create “what some have charged is a simplistic ‘drill and kill’ approach that subverts real instruction.”

Miller claims that the most important part of the law was reporting data on the outcomes of each demographic group. This “turned out to be a firestorm.”

No! The reporting of disaggregated test score data was a win-win policy welcomed by all types of stakeholders.  It was the high-stakes testing that educators oppose.

Miller undercuts his professions of innocence to dumbing down teaching and learning. He says that “there were people who believed that drill and kill could lead to learning. And there were people who were drilling and killing and saying ‘This is absolutely wrong. But that was the policy’.”

Miller still seems oblivious to the damage done by creating the utopian goal of 100% proficiency for all students by 2014. And, again, he blames school systems for responding in ways that he should have known were predictable.

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Thompson: Henry Ford's School Reform Lesson [Stability]

FordNPR’s Sarah Cwiek, in The Middle Class Took Off 100 Years Ago ... Thanks to Henry Ford?, noted the centennial of Henry Ford’s policy of paying his workers $5 a day.

The policy of paying a living wage sparked a positive feedback loop which helped create middle class prosperity. Ford was not being charitable. He wanted a stable workforce. 

Education research confirms the value of stable teaching forces. This is especially true of high-poverty schools where students face extreme instability in their neighborhoods. 

Even so, some school reformers claim to believe that “churn” or high levels of turnover is a virtue. 

Two recent studies have added to the evidence that high-dollar efforts to turnaround challenging schools have disappointed because they do not recognize the value of stability.

And a recent post from Andy Rotherham notes that class issues play a role in how reformers view stability differently than others.

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Thompson: What Is the Real Intent of Vergara v. California?

FederalistThe most striking thing about Vergara vs California, which would strike down laws protecting teachers' due process, is the lack of evidence that those laws, not the legacies of poverty, damage poor children of color. 

It claims that "separate and together" those laws violate the civil rights of children. One would think that the court would demand evidence for the existance of that alleged interplay of the laws.  

To prove that it is the laws, not management's response to the laws, that causes harm, Vergara apparently relies on nothing but assertions made by management. If their video of the greatest hits of administrators during Vergara's  depositions is any indication, the trial will showcase their sound bites, not evidence. In other words, it is argued that administrators, not lawmakers, who should say what administrative law should be.

Such judicial overreach is almost enough to make us long for the good old days when Vergara’s lead attorney, Theodore Olson, helped found the Federalist Society. It seems like only yesterday that Olson joined with Edwin Meese, Robert Bork, Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, Samuel Alioto, and Clarence Thomas to proclaim,   “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be." 

When Olson et. al opposed judicial activism, corporations did not have the rights of people. Or, should I say they did not have the rights that people once had, but that they would now deny to teachers?

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Thompson: Remembering "The Promised Land," Then & Now

LemannI've already shattered my New Year's resolution, which was to pay less attention to education topics of the day and reflect more on big picture issues, such as what does the failure of data-driven school reform mean, and what are its lessons for the inevitable next cycle of school improvement.  But every day brings fascinating new research and political stories, such as  Michelle McNeil's Success for All Again Wins Big, and Loses, in I3 Competition. And now I find myself replying to Alexander Russo's posts from last week.

Russo cites two great journalists, LynNell Hancock and Nicholas Lemann, and he calls on education writers  "to remind yourself about what it takes to examine education issues fairly and dispassionately, with nuance and complexity and prepared to have your mind changed." He then says that "there's far too little of that going on right now," implying both sides of the education wars betray the conventions of scholarly research.

I followed Russo's links and found no evidence for such equivalency. Hancock's Uncommon Ground recalls Anthony Lukas' masterpiece, Common Ground, on racial violence in Boston. Both Hancock and Lukas challenge the simplistic assumptions of a "naive time," and wrestle with the great horror that can be released by racial conflict.  Hancock describes the cavalier attitude of school reformers toward this history, "National school-reform notions from our last decade still wrap themselves in the rhetoric of civil rights. ... The preferred means to the end are now top-down management tools: rating teachers, adding layers of tests, closing failing schools, creating a scattershot collection of privately-run public charters in their stead."

Similarly, Lemann's Schoolwork  criticizes reformers who portray "the reliable villain, in the form of the teachers’ unions, and a familiar set of heroes," including Geoffrey Canada, Wendy Kopp, and Michelle Rhee. Lemann criticizes the way that reformers (who. I believe, borrow from Karl Rove, whose methods he had previously explored) take details out of context to fit their neat story lines. He challenges their "unproven assumptions" that tenure hurts students and he cites the potential of more conventional approaches, such as Success for All, that show it is not necessary to blow up the system.

Thinking about Lemann reminds me of The Promised Land, and seeing Lemann in action twenty-something years ago. 

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Thompson: Karl Rove's Descendents

Karl_Rove_140x190We have just begun the 2014 countdown to NCLB's universal proficiency target for all students.  I wonder if we'll get there by June.

Seriously, after 12 years, it is time to address some issues in addition to the law's failed, top-down approach to schooling. Was it a good idea to forsake "incrementalism" and demand rapid "transformative" change across the entire nation? It is also time to reflect upon the political strategy of blowing up the educational "status quo" to pave the way for "disruptive innovation."  

We should inventory the ways that NCLB-type reform weakened progressive coalitions, undermining state efforts to promote justice, or at least slow the increase of economic inequities.

It also has been a decade since New Yorker's Nicholas Lemann, in The Controller,  persuaded Karl Rove to reveal that NCLB was a component of his three-part plan for destroying the Democratic Party.  Now that the U.S. Supreme Court declared corporations to be people, the "Billionaires Boys Club" is the new Rove. 

Not all of the new elites seek complete domination of the party that once represented working people, but corporate reformers are rarely reluctant to bulldoze institutions that used to provide some balance of power. 

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Thompson: Why Teachers Need Ravitch & Weingarten

Flickr1Diane Ravitch's recent blog post (Why I Defend Randi)  concisely affirms principle and pragmatism. Ravitch will not attack her personal friend Randi Weingarten. She praises Randi's leadership. She reminds us of the necessity of teachers' unions, while criticizing ideological purity.
Few scholars of such national significance have shown Ravitch's capacity to think anew.  She knows what it takes to incorporate new evidence, reconsider an assumption, and engage in "reasoning to its logical conclusion." That is what Randi did when concluding that "vam is a sham." She thus demonstrates a "capacity to evolve and change her mind."
Randi's pragmatism, along with Ravitch's long view of history, could be the antidote to "the current demolition derby" known as school reform. Randi seeks to decouple Common Core from testing, says Ravitch, so that it no longer  has the "power to ruin lives and careers."
Regardless of whether Common Core is a good idea, the next step is challenging its nature as "an infallible edict encased in concrete." Regardless of the standards adopted, they "must be amended by teachers and scholars" because "No standards are so perfect that they need never be updated."
The accountability hawks may believe they are on the side of the angels, but Ravitch and Randi exemplify the spirit of scholarly dialogue in a constitutional democracy.  Teachers have been subject to such extreme abuse by the true believers in bubble-in pedagogy and governance that many educators have become as strident as our opponents.  Even so, we educators must embody the spirit of a constitutional democracy where "my opponent is my opponent, not my enemy."

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Thompson: Countdown to Universal NCLB Proficiency

NclbAs we begin another spring testing season, educators will further highlight the educational malpractice being imposed on our students by bubble-in accountability. This year, we will also showcase the countdown to the failure of NCLB to meet its accountability targets. 

Surprisingly, true believers in high-stakes testing aren't ignoring the law's anniversary and its target of 100% proficiency. The Democrats for Education Reform Statement Marks the Twelfth Anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act press release brags that "NCLB’s policies are now a permanent part of the education policy landscape."

DFER's Charlie Barone was an architect of NCLB and yet he proclaims the truth that reformers usually prefer to duck. He compares "current reform efforts on issues like standards, assessments, choice, teacher evaluation, and tenure" to NCLB.

If you liked NCLB, you will love DFER's, Arne Duncan's, and the Billionaires Boys Club's versions of NCLB-type testing on steroids. I'm curious, however, about the data that DFER cites to celebrate the output-driven mandates of the last twelve years. It links to data produced by "its inexorable march forward" to top-down micromanaging of our diverse nation's schools. It shows the $1000 per low-income student, per year increase in Title I, input-driven spending.  DFER remains silent about any supposed increases in student performance.  

The noneducators who gave us NCLB and the even worse policies of the Duncan administration remain preoccupied with their political fights.  Their lesson from NCLB is focused on "those pushing back," i.e. their adult nemeses. Once again, reformers show themselves oblivious to real-world outputs, the effects of their handiwork on poor students of color.-JT(@drjohnthompson)Image via. 

Thompson: Principals in the Classroom [10 Percent Of The Time]

PrncipalsTwo studies on principal time use, Principal Time Use and School Effectiveness (2009) by Eileen Lai Horng, Daniel Klasik, and Susanna Loeb and Effective Instruction Time Use for School Leaders by Jason Grissom, Ben Master, and Susanna Loeb, are both excellent. They show that Miami Dade principals spend just over 10% of their time on instruction-related activities.  

Such a number first seemed high to me.

I worked with more than forty high school principals and assistant principals. They all worked more than 80 hours a week and went weeks at a time without having a chance to even think about classroom instruction. Only one had teaching experience relevant to academic subjects in the inner city, but many could have become excellent instructional leaders if they weren't so overburdened with other responsibilities.

But, Loeb et. al also find that high school principals spend less time with instruction, and that may be due their lack expertise with many diverse secondary subjects. 

The headline is that Loeb et. al explain why informal classroom walkthroughs can backfire by prompting suspicion by teachers. Even brief classroom visits can be beneficial, however, if they are clearly a part of a coaching process, and not a "gotcha!"  

They are also careful to not make a claim about causation, or the theory that an unflinching focus on instruction led by school adinistrators is the path to school improvement. Loeb et. al note that, "Better schools may allow principals the time to work with teachers, while in less effective schools they are more constrained to spend more time observing classrooms."

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Thompson: The No Excuses School Debate

School,_Katni,_MP,_IndiaAs a student, I would have despised the "No Excuses" pedagogy, but I understand why some students and their families choose it.  Some people enjoy competition and structure and, in the inner city many students will choose anything over the chronic chaos of dysfunctional schools. While I see no chance that KIPP-style schools can be successfully scaled up, I always learn from Mike Goldstein's observations on what it would take to replicate his charter schools' successes.

I would go farther than Goldstein's The Softer Side of "No Excuses" in challenging the common statement, "Traditional schools can copy nearly all the KIPP playbook, if they wish to try." Such a statement is intellectually dishonest. Goldstein also questions it and says that all charter schools with a negative school culture could emulate the best No Excuses models. Then he adds that it's harder to copy the KIPP playbook than many realize.  Moreover, he wishes "there was more of an ethic among charter supporters to 'get our own house in order' before fixing traditional schools. "

Goldstein addresses a key dilemma faced by all high-poverty schools, but that is far harder for neighborhood schools to address. Ask new teachers what is expected of them if a kid hits another kid, or is 15 minutes late, or violates the school's academic rules and, as Goldstein says, KIPP teachers would more typically be able to answer those questions. And, he is equally correct in saying that reasonable people can and should disagree on what the answers to those questions are.

I agree that it is not possible for teachers in a traditional public school to agree on these policies, but that is because we are a part of systems that serve all kids, not just those who can handle the "No Excuses" regime.  We can't enforce rules without the backing of principals. Those school administrators can't agree on whether to allow teachers to enforce the school's policies, and that is partially because they aren't allowed to enforce them without permission from central office administrators.  Central office administrators, I bet, mostly realize that the resulting chaos is bad for students, but they are constrained by the larger society.  Stakeholders can't agree on whether schools should be allowed to uphold behavioral and academic standards because our stakeholders come from all parts of our diverse democracy.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via

Thompson: Tunnel Vision in Evaluating D.C.s IMPACT Evaluations

SpeedTraffic control experts know that placing a police car next to a highway will change drivers' behavior for the better or, if it causes a dangerous traffic jam, for the worse.  Nobody doubts that speeds will change at least temporarily when drivers approach a police officer. Few people would assume that the driving behaviors of persons passing a cop are representative of their behaviors before the officer was sighted.    

When Thomas Dee, Brian Jacob, and Justin McCrary, in Manipulation in the Grading of New York’s Regents Examination, studied students who were just below the passing threshold, these students were said to inhabit the “suspect region.”   The assumption was that the educators who graded their examinations were tempted to inflate their scores. They estimated that 3 to 5% of those who were within the passing threshold should have been scored below passing. Dee et. al concluded that the pattern was due to “pervasive manipulation of student test scores.”

When Dee and James Wyckoff, in Incentives, Selection, and Teacher Performance:  Evidence from IMPACT, studied teachers who were just below the threshold, they found the same pattern. When those teachers scores jumped by more than teachers outside their suspect region, it was argued that teachers “undertook steps to meaningfully improve their performance.” (emphasis mine) This was interpreted to mean that IMPACT worked.

Both studies show the same thing.  When stakes are placed on words and numbers written on a sheet of paper, those words and numbers change.  There is no more evidence in the IMPACT study by Dee et. al of meaningful improvement than there was in his study of New York Regents results. The far more likely explanation is that the game was played in both cities in precisely the same way that common sense indicates that it would be played.

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Thompson: Rick Hess & The Education Food Chain

image from upload.wikimedia.orgRick Hess, the H.L. Mencken of modern education writers, didn't expect the Common Core debate to get so passionate.  Hess's Common Core and the Food Pyramid reminds us that standards are just words on paper.  They don't matter much.

I made the same mistake for the same reason. How could anyone believe that improved standards could drive transformational improvements? But, I never thought of Hess's wonderful metaphor. 

Believing that Common Core standards could be a game-changer is like hoping the food pyramid would end obesity. According to Hess, the only way the food chart could significantly improve health would be to hold parents accountable for feeding their children in a nutritious way.

Hess indicts Common Core boosters for pretending that they're just proposing a food pyramid chart. What Common Core-ites "are really after is to reorder schooling, soup to nuts."

The battle, Hess notes, is not about "committee-generated verbiage," but about the test-based accountability that is attached to Common Core. The only way that the new standards could live up to their hype is by using Common Core test results for sanctioning schools, firing teachers, and compelling them to change what students read and do.  Despite the reformers' rhetoric, Hess correctly observes, "they have made clear that this is exactly what they have in mind."

In other words, teachers aren't resisting the food pyramid. We oppose our our placement at the bottom of the food chain.

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Events: Ed Writers & Communications Pros Going To Nashville

MaryKateMcDevitt_Nashville_864Speaking of journalism, the news is out that EWA is going to Nashville for its annual conference in May (EWA Announces Theme and Venue of 2014 National Seminar).

As usual, the event will be a fun and strange group of journalists, bloggers, academics, and advocates.  AERA is co-hosting.

Where else are you going to see things like me and Anthony Cody hanging out like we did (albeit somewhat uncomfortably) last year at Stanford?

Check out the announcement, and get yourselves psyched up to be there.  

Image via Mary Kate McDevitt

Thompson: Mixed Messages For Teachers From Fordham

Flickr hey rocker angry starPolicy theorists should understand the destructive force of mixed messages.  Often, the only contact that wonks have with schools is conferences with top administrators, who are on their best behavior and claiming to embrace standards-based instruction, not mandating bubble-in malpractice.

Perhaps these top-level bureaucrats really believe that teach-to-the-test isn't being imposed, or perhaps they have learned to stay on message when they are with polite company.  In reality, however, teachers have been coerced into primitive basic skills instruction.

Now, teachers are told to turn on a dime and teach the opposite - Common Core college readiness standards. Students are told, never mind, forget all the drill and kill that has been imposed during your school career, and instantly read, think, and take tests in brand new ways.

A successful transition to Common Core is inconceivable without a moratorium on stakes being imposed on schools, teachers, and students, based on primitive bubble-in test scores. But, Fordham's Victoria Sears, in The Accountability Moratorium Is Here, says that an explicit moratorium is unnecessary because "Punitive consequences associated with accountability are largely being put on hold during the transition to Common Core." (emphasis is Sears's) This statement is based on conversations with administrators in five states - so it must be true!

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