The Undemocratic Character of Improving Struggling Schools: Hint–Look to the Opportunity School District

The Undemocratic Character of Improving Struggling Schools: Hint–Look to the Opportunity School District

Research reported by William J. Mathis and Trina M. Trujillo in their new book, Learning From the Federal Market-Based Reforms (Library Copy) does not bode well for state and Federal reforms that are based on so-called “turnaround” strategies.  Yet, in the U.S., because of the requirement that school improvement be in the domain of external threats tied to money and “measured” by standardized student test scores, a democratic notion of public education is slipping away.  Some say it has slipped away only to be replaced with market-based and incentivized charter schools managed by external for-profit companies.

The Opportunity School District, which will be put to the voters of Georgia on November 8, is based on the market-based idea that the best way to save “chronically failing schools” in Georgia is to “reconstitute” 20 schools per year by using a turnaround strategy.  No matter which turnaround strategy is used in the Opportunity School District, it will result in the school’s principal being fired, and a mass firing of teachers up to 50% of those presently employed.  The principal, and teachers will be replaced with other teachers, who will most likely be inexperienced, and not ready for prime time.

Malen and Rice have reviewed the research on the school turnaround strategy and reported in a chapter in Learning From the Federal Market-Based Reforms.  Their chapter, School Reconstitution as a Turnaround Strategy: An Analysis of the Evidence, should be a wake-up call to politicians (especially Governor Nathan Deal, and the members of the Georgia General Assembly who voted for Deal’s amendment).

According research by Malen and Rice, turnaround strategies are designed to use corrective action, often by threatening or replacing large numbers of teachers and the principal  by other administrators and teachers “who are presumably more capable, committed and collaborative,” (Malen and Rice, p. 99).  Males and Rice have reviewed the empirical evidence about the school turnaround strategy.

Here are some findings from Malen and Rice’s research that are important as Georgia considers altering it constitution to enable the Governor’s appointed OSD Czar to “turnaround” chronically failing schools.

Evidence on the Threat of Reconstitution

Right now in Georgia, a hundred or so schools have been threatened of being “reconstituted” into state-run charter schools.  Yet, the research cited in Malen and Rice’s work show that this threat actually affects schools in unintended ways.  For example, the threat of reconstitution has been shown to have a negative effect on teachers.  Malen and Rice explain that the

stigma associated with reconstitution and the strain on educators in these schools experience may be a disincentive for highly capable and committed educators to work in low-performing schools, and may prompt teachers and administrators to exit these schools (Malen and Rice, p. 105).

Most disconcerting, but not surprising is schools in states like Maryland that have used turnaround strategies for more than a decade have found that only a few schools “come off the list” of low performing schools.

Ed Johnson, an educator and colleague in Atlanta, explains this very clearly.  All schools, say in Atlanta, that are on a list of low-performing schools are insignificantly different in performance from nearly all the other schools in the system.  We keep beating up on so-called “low performing schools,” when, as Ed puts, “we are all in the same boat.

Even with the threat of reconstitution, its ability to improve performance is suspect, according to Malen and Rice.

Evidence on the Application of Reconstitution

Let’s start this way:  Malen and Rice report that the research on schools that have actually been “reconstituted” is limited and mixed.  However, if you listen to politicians in Georgia (an elsewhere) reconstituting schools is a wonderful idea that we have a moral duty to bring to low-performing schools.  I’ve written elsewhere that the idea is immoral and unjust and is a terrible idea.

Now, here is further evidence supporting those that oppose the Opportunity School District.

We have no idea how mass firings affect school performance other than the civil rights of the teachers were violated.  In New Orleans, 7,000 teachers were wrongly fired after Katrina and then if they wanted their jobs back, they had to reapply.  Many of the veteran black teachers of New Orleans were replaced by younger, and white teachers, often from Teach for America, and the schools were converted to charters.  Performance in these schools is no different from it was before Katrina, but the civil rights violations stay, as well as the scars from being treated in such an inhumane way.

Is this what will happen in schools forced into the Georgia Opportunity School District?

As Malen and Rice show, there is little to no research on the effects of mass firings.  Yet, we continue down this path as if it is based on evidence that shows that students improve, or that teachers who replace the fired teachers are any better.  In fact, some reports show that the

newly hired staffs may be less equipped and less committed than the educators they replaced (Malen and Rice)

School performance in nearly all instances is based on standardized student test scores. Malen and Rice report that reconstituting schools has a negative impact on incentives that any potential to improve students performance is suspect.

The strategy of school reconstitution advocated by many states and the Federal government, is highly questionable, and in most cases, a perversion of the democratic notion upon which public school education is rooted.

The undemocratic character that will take over low-performing schools in Georgia needs to be defeated on the November 8 ballot.  Then we need to look at research that supports another approach that is rooted in democratic action.

Vote No on Amendment 1.

 

 

 

Response to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and the Cato Institute

Response to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and the Cato Institute

After the publication of an op-ed by Alfredo Gaete and Stephanie Jones  on the AJC Get Schooled blog, the president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and the Cato Institute wrote letters refuting the essay.

Here is their response, specifically to the Cato Institute’s claim that the essay included untruths.

We acknowledge that in Chile, like in the United States, the debate over what counts as data, how data is interpreted, and the measures that are used to indicate educational achievement and improvement is ongoing and often influenced by broader political and economic ideologies and goals. That being said, we respond below to questions about specific claims made in our essay.

First of all, our statement is that there’s no “clear” evidence that students’ scores have improved. This is quite relevant, since a main idea inspiring the “Chilean experiment” was to show that a private, market based education would be “clearly” superior. It is this that the last 3 decades failed to show. Controlling for socioeconomic variables, there are no big differences between the private and public system in the SIMCE. Moreover, there are some public schools, e.g., the “Instituto Nacional”, that select students as much as private schools do and that, interestingly, do better than most of the latter in standardized testing.

According to former consultant to the Ministry of Education (and one of the leading Chilean researchers in the area) C. Bellei, not only do we not have empirical grounds to assert that private schools have been more effective than public schools; furthermore, he says, the outcomes of studies have tended to be biased in favor of private schools, in such a way that the latter may happen to be less effective. At any rate, the average difference between private and public schools is so small that they are close to be irrelevant.

Now it is true that Chile has shown a certain improvement in his relative position in PISA scores. But (1) this may say less about Chilean improvements and more about other countries’ relapse; and (2) these results are controversial among researchers anyway. Additionally, standardized testing is neither the only nor the best way or criterion to determine the quality of an educational system, it is simply the way favoured by market-oriented systems. Another criterion that could be used is equity and inclusion. In particular, there is increasing agreement among educators and researchers that diverse, heterogeneous schools are better that homogeneous, segregated ones. The following is an excerpt from the conclusions of a recent empirical analysis of the socioeconomic status school segregation in Chile:

“Summarizing, we found that the magnitude of the socioeconomic school segregation in Chile was very high and tended to slightly increase during the last decade; we also found that private schools – including voucher schools – were more segregated than public schools; and we estimated that some educational market dynamics (i.e. privatization, school choice, and fee paying) accounted for a relevant proportion of the Chilean SES school segregation. We interpret these findings as broadly consistent with our hypothesis that links SES school segregation and market oriented mechanisms in education, which is additionally supported by recent international reports based on PISA 2009 (OECD 2010a) and handbook chapters specialized on these issues (Gill and Booker 2008), which demonstrated that larger private school participation on educational market is not coupled with improvement on the average national standardized test scores but it is strongly related to more segregated and unequal educational systems” (“Socioeconomic school segregation in a market-oriented educational system. The case of Chile”. Published in the Journal of Education Policy, 2014, Vol. 29, No. 2, p. 233).

All in all, and beyond the different possible interpretations of a same set of data (which is always possible in social science), what we have to acknowledge is that the privatization of education is far from being the panacea once sold by the advocates and designers of the Chilean neoliberal educational model. The fact is that after 30 years Chilean people are not convinced by such a model and, moreover, they are massively demanding, not any change, but a radical change. The US should learn something from this.

All our best,
Stephanie and Alfredo

Advocates of the Privatization of Education and making public education a “free market”:

Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (Georgia folks – does this list look familiar?): http://www.edchoice.org/School-Choice/What-is-School-Choice
Cato Institute: http://www.cato.org/

The Scary Language of Crisis and the Seductive Language of Choice and Accountability by Alfredo Gaete and Stephanie Jones

Latest Story by Alfredo Gaete of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile and Stephanie Jones of the University of Georgia.

The Georgia General Assembly is one vote away from approving Governor Nathan Deal’s plan to take over the state’s “chronically failing” public schools by privatizing them with charter schools.  It’s a plan that demolishes the public sphere of education, which should be protected like our national parks from the grip of corporate privateers.

Professors Gaete and Jones detail the effects of privatization on education in Chile, and warn that the Chile experiment of corporatization was not successful in improving education there.  We should argue with extreme veracity against the Governor’s Opportunity School District which would essentially privatize struggling schools.

The authors have written a brilliant article.  Please share and distribute.

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IMAGINE a country that was once committed to quality public education, but began to treat that public good like a market economy with the introduction of charter schools and voucher systems.

Imagine that after a few years, most students in this country attended private schools and there was public funding for most of such schools, which must compete for that funding by improving their results. Imagine the state fostered this competition by publishing school rankings, so parents were informed of the results obtained by each institution.

Imagine, finally, that school owners were allowed to charge extra fees to parents, thereby rendering education a quite profitable business.

But let’s stop imagining, because this country already exists.

After a series of policies implemented from the 1980s onward, Chilean governments have managed to develop one of the most deregulated, market-oriented educational schemes in the world.

Inspired by the ideas of such neoliberal economists as Hayek and Friedman, the “Chilean experiment” was meant to prove that education can achieve its highest quality when its administration is handed over mainly to the private sector and, therefore, to the forces of the market.

How did they do this?

Basically by creating charter schools with a voucher system and a number of mechanisms for ensuring both the competition among them and the profitability of their business. In this scenario, the state has a subsidiary but still important role, namely, to introduce national standards and assess schools by virtue of them (in such a way that national rankings can be produced).

This accountability job, along with the provision of funding, is almost everything that was left to the Chilean state regarding education, in the hope that competition, marketing, and the like would lead the country to develop the best possible educational system.

So what happened? Here are some facts after about three decades of the “Chilean experiment” that, chillingly, has also been called the “Chilean Miracle” like the more recent U.S. “New Orleans Miracle.”

  • First, there is no clear evidence that students have significantly improved their performance on standardized tests, the preferred measurement used to assess schools within this scenario of the free market.
  • Second, there is now consensus among researchers that both the educational and the socioeconomic gaps have been increased. Chile is now a far more unequal society than it was before the privatization of education – and there is a clear correlation between family income and student achievement according to standardized testing and similar measures.
  • Third, studies have shown that schools serving the more underprivileged students have greater difficulties not only for responding competitively but also for innovating and improving school attractiveness in a way to acquire students and therefore funding.
  • Fourth, many schools are now investing more in marketing strategies than in actually improving their services.
  • Fifth, the accountability culture required by the market has yielded a teach-to-the-test schema that is progressively neglecting the variety and richness of more integral educational practices.
  • Sixth, some researchers believe that all this has negatively affected teachers’ professional autonomy, which in turn has triggered feelings of demoralization, anxiety, and in the end poor teaching practices inside schools and an unattractive profession from the outside.
  • Seventh, a general sense of frustration and dissatisfaction has arisen not only among school communities but actually in the great majority of the population. Indeed, the ‘Penguins Revolution’ – a secondary students’ revolt driven by complaints about the quality and equity of Chilean education – led to the most massive social protest movement in the country during the last 20 years.
    So even though there still are advocates of the private model of education, especially among those who have profited from it, an immense majority of the Chilean society is now urging the government for radical, deep reforms in the educational system of the country.

Very recently, in fact, an announcement was made that public university would be free for students, paid for by a 24 percent tax on corporations.

The ‘Chilean Miracle’ – like the ‘New Orleans Miracle’ – it seems, is not a miracle of student growth, achievement, equity, and high quality education for all. Rather, it is a miracle that a once protected public good was finally exploited as a competitive private market where profit-seeking corporations could receive a greater and greater share of public tax dollars.

It is also a miracle that such profit-seeking private companies and corporations, including publishing giants that produce educational materials and tests, have managed to keep the target of accountability on teachers and schools and not on their own backs.

Their treasure trove of funding – state and federal tax monies – continues to flow even as their materials, technological innovations, products, services, and tests fail to provide positive results.

So we don’t have to guess what the result will be of the current “U.S. experiment” with competition-infused education reform that includes school choice, charter schools, charter systems, voucher systems, state-funded education savings accounts for families, tax credits for “donations” to private schools, state takeover school districts, merit pay, value-added models for teacher evaluation, Common Core national standards, PARCC and Smarter Balanced national tests, edTPA national teacher education evaluations, and federal “rewards” such as Race to the Top for states that come aboard.

Indeed, Chilean education reform from the 1980s to the present provides the writing on the wall, so to speak, for the United States and we should take heed. Chile is now engaged in what will be a long struggle to dig its way out of the educational disaster created by failed experimentation and falsely produced miracles.

The United States still has time to reverse course, to turn away from the scary language of crisis and the seductive language of choice and accountability used in educational reform, and turn toward a fully funded and protected public education for our nation.

Permission to re-publish this article was granted by Stephanie Jones with many thanks.

Web of Influence Peddling

An Art of Science Teaching Inquiry

In this post I argue that politicians, lobbyists and corporate executives have worked together to peddle their influence in the name of educational reform. This triad of influence is dismantling public education one charter school, voucher, tax incentive, and law at a time.

In today’s culture, politicians and especially business leaders, have perpetuated the myth that academic achievement in a few subjects is the most important outcome of schooling, and that indeed, there is a huge gap between achievement of students in the United States and its counterparts in other industrialized nations. Furthermore, these same politicians and business leaders would have us believe that there is a serious decline in the supply of high-quality students from the beginning (the end of high school) to the end of the Science & Engineering “pipeline.” Both of these cases are myths—that U.S. students do not achieve at high levels, and that there is a serious shortage of high quality persons for science & engineering. They are perpetuated to fulfill the needs and desires of officials whose best interests are served by claiming such weaknesses in the American educational system (see Lowell & Salzman).

These myths are real, however.  They are fodder for those looking to game the system.

Influence peddling is wide-spread in American education.  Fear, money, and gaming dominate the system. I’ve organized this inquiry around four themes as shown in the tabs below.  You’ll find two or more articles related to the highlighted theme.

[restabs alignment=”osc-tabs-left” pills=”nav-pills” responsive=”true” icon=”true” text=”More” tabcolor=”#ef4928″ seltabcolor=”#1e73be” tabhovercolor=”#eeee22″]
[restab title=”Fear Factor” active=”active”]Since the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, and a U.S. government report, A Nation at Risk was published in 1983, American education has been cast as a failing system, and if “reforms” were not put in place, the sky would fall.  Although the sky hasn’t fallen, teachers and schools are envisioned as the cause of the mythical failure of American education.

The underlying and foundational reason that influence peddling is flourishing in education is the move toward the privatization of education. And the privatization of education is born out of assumptions that American education is a failed system, and that the only way to prove that the system is improving is show that it returning a profit to the taxpayers. When we begin to think of schools as a business, then test scores are a measure of profitability. Indeed, students of teachers who get high achievement scores are rewarded in the same way that employees earn bonuses. But when scores are low, it is analogous to a unprrofitable business, which might mean layoffs, store closings, and fired staff.  Here are two articles that underscore this fear.

Why Education Must Be Public and Not Privatized

Using Achievement Scores to Support Myths and Build Fear[/restab]

[restab title=”Gaming the System”]The drive to privatize education is a web of connections worked out by politicians and corporate executives with the support of some very prominent and not so prominent foundations and “not-for-profit” organizations that have cropped up spreading their spray over the public education landscape. The relationships and the overall web of connectivity has brought a lot of people together who have influenced state legislatures to the extent that they collectively are gaming not only public schools, but the citizens who pay the taxes to support local and neighborhood schools.  This web shows very clearly how these organizations and people have figured out how to game the education system.  In these articles, we show how politicians have learned to game the system to not only use laws written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, but make use of the Tax Code to set up not-for-profit organizations that ask for money from around the country to support the bills that they support in their legislative bodies.

Using Students for Politics and Influence Peddling. In this article, we show how politicians have learned to game the system to not only use laws written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, but make use of the Tax Code to set up not-for-profit organizations that request money from around the country to support the bills that they support in their legislative bodies.

Why Don’t Our Elected Representatives Write Their Own Legislation?  In this article, we show that ALEC, a national “bill-mill” is an “amazon” marketplace for state legislators looking for legislative bills.[/restab]
[restab title=”Money”]More than $700 billion is spent annually on public education in America, making education an investment and consumer market comparable to banking, energy, transportation, and retail.  But just as important is the idea that education is being shaped by organizations and a few people with a lot of money.  Here are two articles to offer some evidence for this.

Billions and Billions, and I am not Talking About Stars!  I am talking about dollars, and how billionaires are influencing (science) education policy from the K-12 level to the U.S. Department of Education, and this is being done in an environment where the billionaires are demanding accountability from the recipients of its money, but do so without having to be held to any standards or accountability themselves.

Are the Deep Pockets of Gates, Walton and Broad Contrary to the Ideals of Education in a Democracy? In this article, I wonder if the deep pockets of just 10 people can be consistent with the ideals of public education.[/restab]
[restab title=”Case Studies”]In this inquiry, we look at the Gates Foundation and Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education as core examples of organizations that use power and money to influence educational change throughout the states, often in the interests of corporate affiliates.

How the Gates Foundation Used $3.38 Billion in College-Ready Education Grants to Change Education Policy.  Did you know that since 1999, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (technically founded in 2000) have made over 4,000 grants in the US Program, one of the major categories of funding for the Gates. The 4,000 grants were distributed among 16 categories such as College-Ready Education, Community Grants, Postsecondary Success, Global Policy & Advocacy, etc.

Bush’s Education Foundation and Influence Peddling: Any Truth to it? The connections between Bush’s Foundation, private companies, and state officials has set up the perfect storm for not just a privatization of schooling, but the expansion of a corrupt and secret, behind closed doors operation that changes laws to line the pockets of corporate officials

Graphics of The Bush Foundation’s Influence on State Education Laws  The Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) agenda has seven “reform” priorities, and its work centers on influencing state governments to pass laws that are directly related to these reform priorities. Follow the link to see some data.[/restab][/restabs]


 

The drive to privatize education is a web of connections worked out by politicians and corporate executives with the support of some very prominent and not so prominent foundations and “not-for-profit” organizations that have cropped up spreading their spray over the public education landscape. The relationships and the overall web of connectivity has brought a lot of people together who have influenced state legislatures to the extent that they collectively are gaming not only public schools, but the citizens who pay the taxes to support local and neighborhood schools.

What is your take on the nature of influence peddling in education?

Common Core Protest Poster by Joyce Murdock Feilke

Joyce Murdock Feilke has created and published this poster, that came about from her experiences in Austin, Texas as a Texas School Counselor.  In several earlier posts, her experiences were featured on this blog, and you can read about them here.

The powerful message of this poster is clear in these words, but more evident in her deeds and courage in standing up to school officials in the Austin Independent School District.  In her position as school counselor started speaking out about the dangers of the “high stakes testing” environment for elementary age children after she observed the signs of traumatic stress in children in her Texas school. She considers the punitive, authoritarian environment this obsession with testing has created as institutional psychological abuse.

Joyce is a strong advocate for children, and continues to give her voice to the growing resistance of Common Core. With this message, which she wrote after giving her resignation in protest of the “bullying” environment to children, Joyce advocates against the CCSS and it’s “one modality fits all” pedagogy, as well as the Pearson designed state tests and Pearson materials that are being promoted in the public schools.

Joyce is a career educator who believes that to maintain a strong democracy, our country must provide a public school environment that models democratic behavior, and not totalitarianism. Joyce believes that our nation’s children are our most precious resource, and they are being endangered in this harmful environment of CCSS.

Figure 1. Common Core Protest Poster: We Should Have Listened to the Lorax. Used with Permission of Joyce Murdock Feilke
Figure 1. Common Core Protest Poster: We Should Have Listened to the Lorax. Used with Permission of Joyce Murdock Feilke