Druid Hills Charter Cluster Should Be Rejected Again

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The Druid Hills Charter Cluster has raised its nasty head again and is trying to convince the DeKalb County School Board to give a non-elected private group 5000 students, seven school campuses, and hundreds of teachers.

I support Superintendent Michael Thurmond’s decision to oppose the Charter Cluster proposal.

Here is what I wrote a year ago about this idea. Nothing has changed, even though Matt Lewis, the cluster self appointed chai, tells us differently.

On August 13, about  eleven-hundred citizens from the Druid Hills area of DeKalb County, Georgia voted on a petition to create the Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC).  The cluster consist of seven schools, five elementary, one middle, and Druid Hills High School.  The purpose of the charter is raise student achievement by creating a cluster of charter schools.

A few miles further to the north, a group of “concerned parents” is working on a petition to form the Dunwoody High School Charter Cluster.  According to one report, the organizing parental group decided to put off a letter of intent to the DeKalb County Board of Education until next year.

Figure 1. Druid Hills Charter Cluster Dome: Image Source: CBS News

So, in DeKalb County, Georgia, there are two efforts underway to create charter clusters, or what I am calling charter schools “Under the Dome” (Special thanks to Cita Cook for suggesting the notion of a dome in this context).   These domed neighborhoods will have autonomy from the county board of education, and will have complete and comprehensive power to work out its own business plan, establish curriculum, and hire teachers that meet its own criteria.

The document describing the petition (75 pages and appendices) outlines the rationale and goals of the DHCC.  School choice, teacher policy, high-stakes testing and academic achievement dominate the DHCC.

Druid Hills Dome

I know the Druid Hills Dome very well.  I lived there for ten years, but for more than 30 years I worked with schools, teachers and administrators in all DeKalb County.  Indeed, one of the schools that I had a twenty year relationship with was Dunwoody High School.  Dunwoody was a partner school with Georgia State University’s Global Thinking Project, and under the principalship of Dr. Jenny Springer, Dunwoody participated in more than ten student and teacher exchanges with partner schools in Russia.

Druid Hills High School and Dunwoody High School are outstanding schools, and for years have been important to their respective communities.   Why would this group of parents want to segregate the schools in each cluster from the rest of the DeKalb Schools?  Yes, there is a new school board, and an interim Superintendent, and the county has had problems.  Is now the time to break up the district?

Convincing the board of education to let a group take away schools and land to form their school system is unbelievable.  Imagine.  You get a group of like-minded parents together (mostly white) and decide that creating your own cluster of schools would be in the best interests of all the parents and students under the dome.  It’s a real deal.  Not only do you set up a power-based structure, but you take over school properties owned by DeKalb County.  And it doesn’t cost you a dime.  The Druid Hills Charter Cluster, Inc., is a Georgia non-profit corporation, and as such, has already begun a campaign of raising money through its  href=”https://sites.google.com/site/druidhillscc/”>website. The current officer of the DHCC and chair of the Druid Hills High School Council is Mathew S. Lewis.  Mr. Lewis will also become a member of the charter board of directors of the DHCC.

Location of Schools in the Druid Hills Charter Cluster.  View as a larger map.
Figure 2. Location of Schools in the Druid Hills Charter Cluster. View as a larger map.

So in the Druid Hills Charter Cluster “under the dome,” some residents have banded together to try and form their own mini-school district, essentially cut off from the larger public school district. When you read the DHCC petition, it is clearly stated that this group seeks academic autonomy, including their own hired staffs, food service, transportation, and financial independence.  Now keep in mind, that the funds to support the DHCC will come from DeKalb County and the state of Georgia.  It is also possible that venture capital will find its way into the dome, and most likely out-of-state investors and “school” reform organizations such as the Gates Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, and the Broad Foundations will appear.

In time, there will be huge problems when teachers realize that their jobs are at risk. They will discover that in the long run it will be more cost effective for the DHCC to partner up with Teach for America who will supply inexpensive teachers who will leave after two years.

For example, after Hurricane Katrina, many New Orleans schools were converted to charter schools, with thousands of employees fired, and then replaced by recruits from Teach for America who have a 5-week program to learn how to teach.  Instead of innovation (I use this word because it is used in the DHCC petition), New Orleans schools were set up to be managed by data and numbers, not critical thinking, inquiry and problem solving.  The DHCC will follow the same path.  The DHCC will test the daylights out of students, and will use data in unsubstantiated ways to evaluate teachers.  This is clearly a set up.  Teachers will be replaced on the basis of faulty data and fraudulent assessment methods.  Indeed one of the tests included in the lineup of formative assessments is MAP (Measure of Academic Progress), the same test that teachers in Washington refused to administer to their students because it was unrelated to their curriculum.  And it goes on and on.  Summative assessments are no different.  There is complete line up of end of course and criterion referenced tests.

Will this be the future for the DHCC?

Is the DHCC a Parent Trigger in Disguise?

Another question I have is this.  Is the DHCC using the “parent trigger” strategy disguised as a cluster of conversion charters?

Under Georgia law, a group can petition to create a conversion or start-up charter school.  Unfortunately, most of the laws on the books were really not written with Georgia students, parents and teachers in mind.  In fact, I asked last year, Why don’t our elected representatives write their own legislation?  Well, it’s because ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) writes them, brings like minded (mostly Republicans) together, and passes out “model bills” that our elected ones take back to the legislature, put their names on them, and submit them as a bill.  The charter bill that passed in the last session was written by ALEC, and in fact you can go here to read the bill.  Notice that the bill is written so that all that our elected officials have to do is fill in the blanks (with their names, dates, etc.).  That bill was used to strike down a Georgia Supreme Court Decision in the previous year that ruled unconstitutional, a statewide charter authorizer.  The commission on charter schools was reinstated.

In the last legislative session, the Parent Trigger Bill (which would enable disgruntled parents of low-performing schools to fire teacher and administrative staff and turn the school over to for-profit management company paid with district funds) made its way through the House, but was held up in the Senate after some very courageous citizens of Georgia (Empowered Georgia) said, enough is enough.  The people behind the Parent Trigger simply imported the same ALEC bill that had been floating around in California, Florida and Oklahoma.  It comes in many names, one of which the Parent Empowerment Act.  There is no parent empowerment.  The parents are pawns in a shifty business deal in which failing schools can be replaced with charter schools. Now, if you think parents at the local level will set up the charter school, I’ll sell you a bridge.

But here is the problem with the Druid Hill Charter Cluster.  It is being submitted under the law which defines the nature of conversion charters.  It smells like its a parent trigger.  When independent reporters attended the polling site for the DHCC, most of those in attendance where white, and by all estimates, very few teachers were there.  Yet only 18% of the students in the Druid Hills Dome are white, while 61% are African-American, 10% Asian, and 7% Hispanic/Latino.

Is a Charter Cluster the Answer?

Well, that depends upon the question.  In the present age, the question is how can we make American students more competitive in the global market place and how can we improve the academic scores of students on yearly national and international tests (TIMSS and PISA)?  That is the question that most charter petitions use to claim that their approach will exceed the expectations of regular public school students.  Charter schools actually do worse than regular public schools on end-of-year or other benchmark tests used for national assessments.

Percentage of high school graduates meeting Texas SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted as a function of concentration of poverty. Every disk is a high school, with the area of the disk proportional to the number of graduates. Charter schools are highlighted; non-charters are grey. Source: Dr. Michael Marder, Used with Permission. Click on the graph for more visualizations.
Figure 3. Percentage of high school graduates meeting Texas SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted as a function of concentration of poverty. Every disk is a high school, with the area of the disk proportional to the number of graduates. Charter schools are highlighted; non-charters are grey. Source: Dr. Michael Marder, Used with Permission. Click on the graph for more visualizations.

Professor Michael Marder at the University of Texas has looked at the type of school, charter vs regular public school, he found the results to be quite dramatic.  If you look at Figure 3, there are 140 charter schools in Texas with 11th grade data.  As you can see in Figure 3, most of the charters form a flat line at the bottom of the graph indicating that except for 7 charters off the flat line, the rest of the charters are doing worse than the regular public schools. Dr. Marder has analyzed data from California, New York, and New Jersey and found that charter schools do not do better than regular public schools in any of these states.

Georgia has opened the door to the charter management world, and there is no doubt that the DHCC is capitalizing on this moment in history.

If you listen to the politicians and owners of a charter schools, public schools do not know how to meet the divergent needs of Georgia students.  You often hear, “one size does not fit all.”  Professional educators know this instinctively.  Furthermore, teachers in public schools (and independent schools, by the way) have worked with researchers who are on the cutting edge of the learning sciences.  This two-way interaction between teachers who have experiential knowledge of the classroom and students, and researchers who take themselves out of the ivory tower to work with teachers to seek answers to questions about how students learn is much more powerful way to improve schooling.

The managers of charter schools do not have the interests of parents or students in mind.  They make the false claim that charters will put schooling back into the hands of parents, when in fact the charter school movement has led to putting taxpayer money in the accounts and hands of charter management companies.  Parents and students are being used to secure this end.

Democratic Schools?

Last week I published Dr. Chip Carey’s report on the Druid Hills Charter Cluster election.  In Dr. Carey’s words:

In all the elections that I have observed around the world, in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti, Pakistan, Romania and the Philippines, I have never seen such a sham election within a polling area.

If the election was a sham, then this is evidence that a bogus attempt to manipulate the law, and set up a collection of conversion charter schools using the parent trigger strategy is being made.

What we are observing in DHCC is an un-democratic activity that purports to represent the opinions and needs of thousands of parents and children.  If there is not a broad cross-section of constituents involved in the DHCC, then what we are witnessing is simply another attempt by school choice advocates to privatize public education.

Unless the election is investigated to find out if democratic voting rights were in place for all citizens, then how can a small group of advocates claim to represent, and then later control education in this corner of DeKalb County. A new bureaucracy will be established managed by the DHCC, Inc, with the real decision makers being at the bottom of the hierarchy.

One More Thing

The notion of a charter school, when originally conceived 20 years ago, was an innovative idea.  It was a teacher led initiative which resulted in creative and new approaches to teaching and learning.  The idea was hijacked by corporations who saw the charter school provision as back door into local public schools.  Coupled with the support of conservative politicians and their corporate allies to privatize government agencies and activities, schools have become the target of this effort.  Charter schools are seen as a way to privatize education, and devastate public education as we know it.

The thing is that charter schools do not nearly do as well as regular public schools.  The research reported in this post casts a vague eye on the efficacy of charter schools in fulfilling the promise that charters, because they can run more flexibly than their public school counterparts, will create environments where students will not only do as well as public school students, but out do them on achievement tests. The massive amount of data that has been analyzed by Dr. Marder’s team at the University of Texas, and the results of charter school performance in 16 states does not paint a very pretty picture of charter schools.

In a major study done at Stanford University, the researchers concluded that the majority of students attending charter schools would have fared better if they are gone to a public school.

Yet, most of our legislators in the Georgia House and Senate refuse to look at the research that clearly shows that public schools should be supported even more than they are now because they not only do a better job in the academic department, but they work with all students.  All families.  Regardless.

I hope that the DeKalb Board of Education reads this post, and questions the legitimacy of the DHCC, Inc. to establish a schools “under the dome.”

A Vanguard of Voices for Educational Reform–Updated

Creative Commons Emerge with Intelligence and Creativity by Stefano Chiarelli is Licensed under CC BY 2.0
Creative Commons Emerge with Intelligence and Creativity by Stefano Chiarelli is Licensed under CC BY 2.0

I started this blog in 2005 to augment my book The Art of Teaching Science (Public Library), and to write about progressive & humanistic science teaching.   Over the years it morphed into a blog that not only explores science education, but its more of a discussion of the unnerving intrusion of corporate education-wannabes with lots of money who want to change education for their own ends.

In the research and reading that I do to write this blog, I’ve come to know a vanguard of voices who have created a movement to oppose a cabal of corporate pirates whose goal is to privatize public education, and mutate the teaching profession into nonprofessionals who have little experience and even shorter life expectancy as teachers.

In the title of chapter one of my 1992 book, Minds on Science (Public Library) I used the word “reconnaissance” as a way to introduce readers to the field of science teaching.

In this blog post, I am using the word “vanguard” to introduce you to people who are on the forefront of a movement to oppose and take action against groups and people who seek to privatize public education, and inflict harm into the nation’s schools by advocating standardization and high-stakes accountability.  These persons are for the most part people or small groups who have taken risks to speak out and act on the positions they hold, often in opposition to forces more powerful and financially more resourceful.

I used the word vanguard in a review I wrote of Mercedes Schneider’s new book, on Amazon, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education (Public Library).  I titled the review of her book as Uncovering the Culprits Causing Harm to Public Education.  Here is what I wrote:

Dr Mercedes Schneider’s book arrived the other day and I was thrilled to see the names and chapters devoted to many of those who I have written about on my blog. But you won’t find the kind of writing in Mercedes’s book about these people and organization anywhere else. In my view, Mercedes Schneider is at the vanguard of voices who are uncovering the harm that the people featured in her book are inflicting on public education. In amazing detail and wonderfully written you’ll be taken on journeys into the minds of corporate and education thieves, many of whom have become wealthy on the backs of American school students and teachers.

This vanguard is composed of educators who offer different accounts of what teaching and learning should be, and who should lead the effort to improve eduction. Here are a few that have influenced and inspired me.

A Vanguard of Voices

Mercedes Schneider

One of these educators is Dr. Mercedes Schneider, who writes a blog at deutsch29 on education reform.  Dr. Schneider has a Ph.D. in Applied Statistics and Research Methods from the University of Northern Colorado, and was a professor at Ball State University.  With teaching experiences in Louisiana and Georgia, she returned to Louisiana to teach high school English.  From there she launched her blog, and just last week, published her first book.

Her book identifies people and groups that are very different from the “Vanguard” of voices that I’ve included in this post.  Here is a little more of what I said about her book:

In this book we have at our fingertips answers to important questions about how such a limited number of individual’s faces crop-up in various media outlets as the experts on public schools. If you want to find how to get wealthy and have a really big office, read about Joel Klein in chapter 1. Find out how Teach for America is transforming teacher education into a temp business by reading the Wendy Kopp story in chapter 3. You’ll find important episodes about characters including Eva Moskovitz, Michelle Rhee, Erik Hanushek, Arne Duncan, David Coleman, Chester Finn, and others. You’ll also find out about organizations that fund each other in the name of reform, but in the end seek to dismantle public education. Welcome to TFA, the New Teacher Project, the National Council on Teacher Quality (not), the Aspen Institute, the Gates Foundation, and cousins Walton and Broad.  And the best is yet to come as she saves the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation’s bill mill for the last chapter.  The content of the book is thoroughly researched and authenticated. If you read her blog, you’ll certainly enjoy this book.

This is a must read book.

Anthony Cody

I met Anthony Cody several years ago online through his blog Living in Dialog which is published on Education Week Teacher.  He was gracious enough to re-blog some of my blog posts, and introduce me to NEPC’s Best of the Ed Blogs.  Anthony Cody worked for 24 years as a science teacher  at a high-needs middle school in the Oakland Public Schools.

Anthony is a National Board-certified teacher, and leads workshops on Project Based Teaching.  Recently he co-founded the Network for Public Education, which had its first annual meeting in Austin last month.  He has worked endlessly to bring dialog to the issues surrounding educational reform.  He was brave enough to engage the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation in a series of exchanges, and has written more than 100 blog posts about the billionaires intrusion into public education.

His blog articles are some of the best on the net.

He can be followed on Twitter.

Chris Thinnes

Chris Thinnes is one of those educators you wished you had for a teacher.  If you are a teacher, he is the kind of administrator that you would want to work with.  His blog consists of his reflections and thoughts about education, and his reflections are deep and powerful.  He blogs at Chris.Thinnes.me.

I’ve been a lifelong advocate for inquiry and progressive & humanistic education, and shared on this blog some of the work that Chris Thinnes was doing with his colleagues at school.   I wrote this about his work:

Working together from the ground up, rather the top down, Chris Thinnes says on his blog how he and his colleagues work together to “formulate, analyze, prioritize, and activate driving questions that democratically find the intersections of personal interest and shared priorities.” You can go to Chris Thinnes blog, and read the kinds of questions he and his colleagues asked at their first meeting which focused on how a teacher creates an environment and climate conducive to learning. It is this kind of democratically organized work that leads to teachers growing into cultural workers, inquiry teachers, and artists in their own right.

As way of introduction, here is what Chris said about the in-school meeting among all the staff to explore ways to improve teaching:

For a variety of reasons, I have been inspired for several years by the idea that our teachers’ professional learning and collaboration should be governed by the same principles and aims as our students‘ learning and collaboration. To that end, each of six domains from the framework of our Goals for Learning (Create – Understand – Reflect – Transmit – Include – Strive) will be invoked as we establish language to articulate our core commitments to effective teaching practice; design driving questions that will facilitate further inquiry among our teams; identify teaching practices that should be visible to teachers, learners, and observers; explore resources drawing on a wide range of expertise outside our community; and create our own rubrics for self-assessment, reflection, goal-setting, peer observation, instructional coaching, and administrative evaluation.

He wrote his reflections on the first Network for Public Education and titled it An Education Spring in Our Step: Reflections on the #NPEconference.  He says:

But I want to reflect on the conference from a more personal, perhaps more emotional, and potentially more self-indulgent perspective. I want to explore some patterns that I noticed, and some dynamics I found inspiring, in the community of #NPEconference participants. These had a profound impact on me that I’m likely to explore in the weeks and months to come: they helped restore, and to create anew, a faith that we can ensure – precisely by recognizing the nature and the impact of these dynamics in our community, and in our solidarity — the fulfillment of a vision framed most eloquently by my dear friend Peter Gow: “We want to see democracy, not capitalism, survive as the root, stem, leaves, and fruit of American education.”

You can follow him on Twitter.

Diane Ravitch

Like many of you, I became aware of Dr. Ravitch through her writings, not only through her most recent book, The Reign of Error (Public Library) but also when she published The Death and Life of the Great American School System (Public Library), and the blog she co-hosted with Deborah Meir called Bridging Differences.  Dr. Ravitch’s blog, perhaps one of the most visited education sites on the net, uncovers and reveals the actions of a very large population of educators who are pushing back the efforts of the “billionaire boys club. (a Ravitch term).

For the people in this article whose ideas have inspired me, they would probably name Diane Ravitch as a person they look to as a beacon of strength and wisdom about the current state of education in America.  I would, too.

Dr. Ravitch is an historian and a research professor at New York University.  She is co-founder of Network for Public Education, and was the keynote speaker at the first conference of the NPE.

Read her on Twitter.

Paul L. Thomas

Dr. Thomas, a professor at Furman University is a voice that I go to learn the truth about poverty in the United States and how it affects the education of about 30% of the nations children and youth.  His writing on “the becoming radical” (blog), is must read for education reform.  Paul taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He is a column editor for English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English) and series editor for Critical Literacy Teaching Series: Challenging Authors and Genres (Sense Publishers), where he authored the first volume—Challenging Genres: Comics and Graphic Novels (2010).

He has served on major committees with NCTE, and has been named Council Historian (2013-2015), and formerly served as co-editor for The South Carolina English Teacher for SCCTE. Recent books include Ignoring Poverty in the U.S.: The Corporate Takeover of Public Education (Information Age Publishing, 2012) and Parental Choice?: A Critical Reconsideration of Choice and the Debate about Choice (Information Age Publishing, 2010).

You can find him on twitter and NEPC’s Best of the Ed Blogs.  His writings are linked from here.

Julian Vasquez Heilig

Dr. Heilig is professor of Educational Policy and Planning, and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas.  I’ve come to know him through his blog, Cloaking Inequity, which brings a level of research, mixed with anecdotal experiences, that is very difficult to beat.  It’s one of my favorite stops on the Internet, and I recommend it highly.  Dr. Heilig writes about important issues and topics.

One of the organizations that I think has connived its way into American schools is Teach for America.  Julian Vasquez Heilig has done extensive research to refute  claims that TFA is a practical way to produce teachers for public schools.  You can find his report here at the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado: Teach for America: A Return to the Evidence.  You will find that Dr. Heilig’s blog is a real experience, and one that will bring you in touch with crucial issues on educational reform.

Follow him on Twitter.

Fellow Van-guardians

My intention in this article was to make the claim that there is a grass-roots movement of people and organizations that are unearthing new realities to prevent public schools from falling into the hands of corporate and philanthropic America.

I can’t even make a dent in the number of people who are calling out the billionaires such as Gates, and Broad, and saying “enough is enough.”  The struggle to prevent the continuation of test obsession and standardization is one that is fought on the ground every day.

To complete this article, I want to include the following people and organizations that are representative of a large number of courageous people who are willing to take risks to oppose actions of corporations and government that are not in the public interest.

Jean Sanders

Dr. Jean Sanders is an educational researcher and consultant who I met through this blog.  She says on her LinkedIn site that “my main concern now is the travesty of “takeover” of public education by mandarins, neophytes and corporate types who never spent a day teaching anything in a classroom.”  She has been gracious to read my blog, and take the time to write comments that extend my own learning.

Hanna Hurley

Hanna Hurley is a fellow Georgian, and activist who questions and writes about education.  She is a child advocate and special education consultant.  Follow her on Twitter.

Grant Lichtman

A fellow progressive educator, and geologist, Grant Lichtman is the author of The Learning Pond, a blog he writes, and The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School, and a forthcoming book on his 60 day trip around the United States visiting innovative schools. Follow him on Twitter.

Ed Johnson

Ed is a fellow Atlantan, and is an advocate for public education, and a Deming scholar.  He has written several posts on this blog, and he has shared Deming-based research on systems education, and in particular has analyzed NAEP Trial Urban District Assessments using control chart processes.  He was a candidate for the Atlanta School Board. He has inspired me by his activism, and relentless service to improve education in the Atlanta Public Schools.

Ed Johnson can be reached here.

Matt Jones and EmpowerED Georgia

Matt Jones, a public school educator, founded EmpowerED Georgia, and working with citizens in the state has created an advocacy group supporting public education.  EmpowerED Georgia has used its resources to oppose legislation that would privatize public education, or cut the funding for Georgia schools.  Matt Jones has been the leader of this group, and has inspired many of us.   Visit the EmpowerEd website for a collection of papers and positions on important education topics.

Follow EmpowerED Georgia on Twitter.

Chicago Teachers Union

The Chicago Teacher’s Union, representing more than 30,000 teachers, has set the tone for the way teachers can work together to protect public schools from corporate intrusion and government give aways (to charter management), and to pavé the way to improve education in public schools.  The union blogs at this site.

The Garfield High School Faculty

Teachers at Garfield High School boycotted the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP).  It was one of the first efforts by a school faculty to say no to administrators who insisted on using a test that the teachers felt was a waste of time and money.  MAP represents (in my view) the extreme in our obsession with testing.  Students are administered the test four times during the year to offer “measures” to tell if students reached certain benchmarks.  The use of benchmarks is a clever device, but the problem is there is no research or scientific basis for benchmarks.  They are pure opinion, and as the Garfield teachers rightly said, the tests don’t measure what they teach.  You can go to their Facebook page at Solidarity with Garfield high School testing Boycott.

John Kuhn

John Kuhn is a Texas superintendent, but to many of us he is a fearless leader whose presence at various conferences and meeting, and his new book Fear and Learning in America: Bad data, good teachers, and the attack public education (Public Library) provides the kind of evidence and support needed to further the opposition to the demise of public education.

Follow him on Twitter.

Joyce Murdock Feilke

Joyce Murdock Feilke came to my attention when we learned that Atlanta’s new superintendent was before superintendent of the Austin Unified School District.  Joyce, a school counselor with 30 years of experience, described what she called toxic environments in many schools because of our testing obsession.  She and I communicated, and I wrote several posts (Psychological Abuse: A Springtime School Ritual?) about her struggles, and later resignation when the superintendent simply denied that any of this was going on in these schools.  You can read her article in the Austin American-Statesman.

Edy Chamness

Ed Chamness, a former teacher, and parent in Austin, Texas, and professor Julie Westerlund founded the Texas chapter of the Opt Out Movement. I came in contact with Chamness and Westerlund when I reached out to Joyce Murdock Feilke to find out about what she called “psychological abuse” created by the state-wide obsession with high-stakes testing in an Austin elementary school where she was a school counselor.

Edy Chamness and Julie Westerlund were professional colleagues of Joyce’s and provided more and compelling evidence that children are being used in an experiment, rooted in punitive classic conditioning to meet the goals of the school district, which is increase student test scores and eventually graduation rates.


Yong Zhao

YONG ZHAO is currently Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon, where is a full professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy and Leadership(EMPL). His recent series, “How Does PISA Put the World at Risk” (http://ow.ly/x0g48) is only one example of his evidence-based deconstruction of prevailing myths in education policy and politics, both on his blog and in a series of must-read book-length works.

Blog: http://ZhaoLearning.com

Twitter: @YongZhaoUO

Jose Luis Vilson

JOSE LUIS VILSON is a math educator for a middle school in the Inwood / Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, NY. He’s also a committed writer, activist, web designer, and father. He co-authored the book Teaching 2030: What We Must Do For Our Students and Public Schools … Now and In The Future with Dr. Barnett Berry and 11 other accomplished teachers. He writes for Edutopia, GOOD, and TransformED / Future of Teaching, and has written for CNN.com, Education Week, Huffington Post, and El Diario / La Prensa NY. His first (and must-read) solo project, This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and the Future of Education, has just been released by Haymarket Books.

Blog: http://thejosevilson.com

Twitter: @TheJLV

Deborah Meier

DEBORAH MEIER encourages new approaches that enhance democracy and equity in public education. She is on the editorial board of Dissent magazine, The Nation and the Harvard Education Letter. She was a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1987. Her books, The Power of Their Ideas, Lessons to America from a Small School in Harlem (1995), Will Standards Save Public Education(2000), In Schools We Trust (2002), Keeping School, with Ted and Nancy Sizer (2004) and Many Children Left Behind (2004) are foundational texts for those interested in the intersections and dependencies of education and democracy: so, too, her EdWeek blog on “Bridging Differences.”

Bridging Differences Blog: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/

Twitter: @DebMeier

Thomas Hobson

THOMAS HOBSON is a preschool teacher, writer, speaker, artist, and the author of “A Parent’s Guide to Seattle.” For the past 11 years, he has been the only employee of the Woodland Park Cooperative preschools, allowing him to work very closely with families in a true community setting. His blog, by turns, demonstrates an exceptional acuity of insight about learning, teaching, children, and community — and lights a fire for us all to ask deeper questions about education in a democracy.




Who would you like to add to this Vanguard page.  Send me names and a bit of information, and we’ll add them to the list.  Thank you.

Atlanta’s New Superintendent Should Not Agree to Be Responsible for Narrowing the Achievement Gap

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"Creative Commons Learning" by Sue Richards is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Creative Commons Learning” by Sue Richards is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Atlanta Public Schools (APS) has hired Dr. Meria Carstarphen to be its superintendent for the next three years.  She was hired after a one year search led by 13-member search committee.  She is now superintendent of the Austin Independent School District (TX).  Dr. Carstarphen was the only person put forward to be superintendent by the search committee.  This raised concerns among a number of citizens and groups in Atlanta, but the APS School Board voted unanimously on April 14 to approve the search committee’s one person slate.

Dr. Carstarphen has excellent credentials and experiences and one could conclude that the search committee felt that, but by putting forth only one candidate to be voted on by the APS Board of Education, that decision raised concerns.  Personally, I think the committee put Dr. Carstarphen in a difficult situation.  Search committee members didn’t have to answer any of the tough questions that Dr. Carstarphen fielded in various meetings around the city.

That said, Atlanta has hired a young superintendent with nearly a decade of administrative experience.  She will be held to very high standards, which in the end, should not be used to measure her or the APS’s success.  As you will see just below, the same variables that have been used for the past three decades to decide the effectiveness of a school district are still being used.  Also, there is a disconnect between what Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) leaders (Gates, Duncan, Teach for America, Broad, Kipp, Walton, Fordham Foundation–just to name a few) think school should be about, and what the real world of school, and the real world see as effective, vibrant, humane, and creative school.

The GERM model has infected most western nation’s schools, and as shown in Figure 1 forms the bulk of the “matrix” of schooling and is represented by crystals of quartz (white), and feldspar (grey).  But within this background matrix, are black crystal of mica.  These represent teacher-led innovations that are building up resistance against GERM.  With a bit of background in geology, I thought the thin section of this sample of granite was perfect to tell the story of GERMS and innovations.

These are real innovators, teachers and school administrators, for the most part, who have questioned, argued, resisted, and worked constructively to do the work of teaching and learning with students.  Their ideas often involve collaboration and community-based work.  In some cases, they have risen up and simply said no to the inane nonsense of high-stakes testing which not only takes time and money, but has little to do with their work with students.  And the evidence is that high-stakes testing has no effect on student achievement, the very thing that GERM advocates see as the be-all and end-all of schooling.

These innovative educators interpret the standards in their own way for their students, and many of them figure out ways to prepare their students for the exams to come down the road.  The road to successful public education puts professional teachers, their schools, and students at the center of change.  Change is from the inside-out, not the top-down.


Figure 1. Crystals in granite as metaphors for Global Education Reform Movement (GERM).  GERM dominates as white and grey crystals; teacher-led innovations appears as black mica crystals.
Figure 1. Crystals in granite as metaphors for Global Education Reform Movement (GERM). GERM dominates as white and grey crystals; teacher-led innovations appears as black mica crystals. Modified from “Creative Commons Granite” by Eelco is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Let’s see how this analogy and discussion relates to the situation in Atlanta now that the city has a new superintendent who will begin working with the APS July, 2014 under the three-year contract.

Mandate for a New Superintendent

If you go to the Search Committee website, you will find a document entitled Leadership Profile, Superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools.  The document describes the opportunity and mandate for the new superintendent, as well what the ideal superintendent should be.  I want to look at the mandate in the document because it will be used to answer the question about the effectiveness of Dr. Carstarphen in her role as the APS Superintendent.

According to the document, there are four priorities that the Board of Education and the city of Atlanta are focused:


  • Closing the achievement gap while raising the overall bar for student performance
  • Scaling the success of individual high-performing schools across the district
  • Envisioning and implementing a systemic achievement plan that addresses the needs of a diverse district
  • Developing a realistic timeline for success.

These priorities will be measured by calculating changes in the following observables or:

Evidence of success

  • Reduced drop-out rates
  • Increased percentages of college- or career-ready graduates
  • Pervasive increases in student achievement
  • Significant increase in high performing districtwide.

 Classic GERM Conditions

The priorities listed above that will be used to measure the effectiveness of Dr. Carstarphen, are classic characteristics of the Global Education Reform Model identified by Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg.

It is important to note the GERM model has emerged over the past three decades, and is not something that happened recently.  However, in the present installment of GERM, wealthy individuals and influential organizations have pushed the GERM onto schooling in such a way, that we are now beginning to see some push back, especially among parents, and teachers and teacher-unions.

There are a few things to look for in the months ahead to find out if Atlanta will continue along the GERM route.

  1. Look for continued push for standards, and adoption of the Common Core.
  2. A second feature to be aware of is the focus on common subjects of reading, writing and mathematics.  Everything else, science, social studies, PE, art, and music will be of secondary importance.
  3. Look for the use of high-stakes tests to be used to measure the all important achievement scores especially in reading and math.
  4. Look for a corporate management model as the way improvement is driven and measured.   The borrowing of ideas from the business world will end up harming and limiting the real work of teaching.
  5. And then, to continue with the business model, the system will be accountable through one reason: high-stakes tests of student achievement.  The pressure will be to improve scores and if they are not improved, then the superintendent and all the schools in the APS will be considered failures.

But Here is the Problem: Achievement Won’t Change using GERM

Ed Johnson, an expert on systems theory, has done an analysis of reading and mathematics in American cities using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). He writes that “since 2003, the (NAEP), commonly known as “The Nation’s Report Card” and respected for being untainted by political ideologies and agenda, administers the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) to voluntarily participating urban school districts.  TUDA Reading was first administrated in 2002 in Grades 4 and 8 to six urban school districts, including Atlanta Public Schools (APS or “Atlanta”).  TUDA Math was first administered in 2003 in Grades 4 and 8 to ten urban school districts, again including Atlanta. By 2013, TUDA had twenty-one urban school districts participating.  The next TUDA administration will be in 2015.  Austin Independent School District (AISD or “Austin”) participated for the first time in 2005.”

Systemic Stories

The Johnson TUDA analysis provides a portrait or a picture of how Atlanta and Austin (the previous district led by the new Atlanta superintendent) have done in Reading and Mathematics since 2002 for Atlanta, and 2005 for Austin.  The graphs that he has produced tell a “systemic story” of various systems.  For example, Figure 2 shows how math achievement at 8th grade behaves as a system.  You can view all of his graphs here to view Reading as a system, Mathematics as a system, 4th grade and 8th grade as systems.  In no case, according to Ed Johnson does systemic mean students.

Note, that all scores for the ten years fall within predicted levels (Lower control limits-LCL and Upper control limits–UCL) for each district.  There is variation, but the variation is “caused” by the system of 8th grade math, and doesn’t seem to be affected by changes in curriculum, standards, or administration.  For example, during this period, Atlanta had two superintendents, Dr. Beverly Hall and Dr. Erroll Davis.  Even after the Atlanta cheating scandal, scores actually went up.


Figure 2.  Systemic Story of NAEP 8th Grade Math Scores on the TUDA Assessment for 21 Districts, including Atlanta and Austin.  This graph shows 8th grade math as a system.
Figure 2. Systemic Story of NAEP 8th Grade Math Scores on the TUDA Assessment for 21 Districts, including Atlanta and Austin. This graph shows 8th grade math as a system.


Achievement Gap

What about the achievement gap?  According to the superintendent mandate for the APS, the new superintendent must figure out a way to narrow the gap between the scores of white student and black students, and white and Hispanic students.

There is a great deal of research on this question.  Diane Ravitch provides an excellent chapter in her book Reign of Error entitled The Facts About the Achievement Gap.  As she points out, the claim is out there that the achievement gaps are large and getting worse.  The reality that she reports is that

We have made genuine progress in narrowing the achievement gaps, but they will remain large if we do nothing about the causes of the gaps.  Ravitch, Diane (2013-09-17). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Kindle Location 1180). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

As she points out, the GERM reformers use this disparity of scores between white students and students of color to claim that public schools are failing.  Using concepts like turnaround schools, the GERMs set up schools for failure by using corporate managers who believe that high-stakes tests measure teacher and school effectiveness.  Not only that they continually “raise the bar” (without any scientific basis) making it impossible for schools to reach.  Remember, as Ed Johnson has shown in Figure 2, the system of math for 4th and 8th grade predicts scores within fairly narrow limits.  Do you think that simply raising the bar (Upper Control Limits) will do the trick.  Hardly.

Here as some facts that Ravitch reports on the achievement gap.

  • In 1990, 83 percent of black students in fourth grade scored “below basic,” but that number fell to 34 percent in 2011.
  • In eighth grade, 78 percent of black students were below basic in 1990, but by 2011 the proportion had dropped to 49 percent.
  • Among Hispanic students, the proportion below basic in fourth grade fell from 67 percent to 28 percent; in eighth grade, that proportion declined from 66   percent to 39 percent.
  • Among white students in fourth grade, the proportion below basic dropped in that time period from 41 percent to only 9 percent; in eighth grade, it declined from 40 percent to 16   percent.
  • The proportion of fourth-grade Asian students below basic dropped from 38 percent in 1990 to 9 percent in 2011; in eighth grade, Asian students who were below basic declined from 36 percent to 14   percent.  Ravitch, Diane (2013-09-17). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Kindle Locations 1198-1200). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Let’s return to Ed Johnson’s research.  He has done an analysis of TUDs and asked Do the TUDs have, have they always had, distinctive White and Black systems of 4th Grade mathematics with respect to NAEP TUDA average scale score gaps?  If you follow this link and at look at his graphs, the answer is yes.  For example, Figure 3 shows the White-Black Gap variation characterizing 4th grade math, 2003 – 2009.  Atlanta is marked in red.

Figure 3. NAEP, Mathematics, 4th Grade, White-Black Gap Variation, 2003 - 2009. Prepared by edwjohnson@aol.com
Figure 3. NAEP, Mathematics, 4th Grade, White-Black Gap Variation, 2003 – 2009. Prepared
by edwjohnson@aol.com

The new superintendent needs to look at this kind of data, and as Ed Johnson suggests, study Atlanta and the D.C. Public Schools to “learn to avoid what these systems do.”  What is causing the distinctive White and Black gap?  What systemic improvement might narrow the gap?

Diane Ravitch reports that progress has been made on achievement gaps.  She writes:

There is nothing new about achievement gaps between different racial and ethnic groups and between children from families at different ends of the income distribution. Such gaps exist wherever there is inequality, not only in this country, but internationally. In every country, the students from the most advantaged families have higher test scores on average than students from the least advantaged families.  Ravitch, Diane (2013-09-17). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Kindle Locations 1216-1218). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

What should the New Superintendent do?

Clearly, recognize the research on achievement and the achievement gap.  Then she needs to work toward a systemic change in the way students, schools and teachers are evaluated.  She needs to shift the focus away from the obsession with high-stakes testing as a measure of student learning, and school effectiveness.  Is she willing to fight a bureaucracy that has systematically put in place a system that doesn’t work.

If she is, then she might follow these suggestions from Dr. Pasi Sahlberg.  As he points out, none of the characteristics that I listed of the GERM model of education have been adopted in Finland.  Instead, these are what might characterize a new Atlanta Public School system:

  • high confidence in teachers and principals as high professionals;
  • encouraging teachers and students to try new ideas and approaches, in other words, to put curiosity, imagination and creativity at the heart of learning; and
  • purpose of teaching and learning is to pursue happiness of learning and cultivating development of whole child.

Dr. Sahlberg has some very powerful words of wisdom for any school administrator or school board.  He writes:

The best way avoid infections of GERM is to prepare teachers and leaders well. In Finland all teachers must have masters degree in education or in the field of their subject. This ensures that they are good in what they do in classrooms and understand how teaching and learning in their schools can be improved. School principals are also experts of educational change and can protect their schools and school system from harmful germs.

Instead of focusing on achievement, use systems theory to work with the APS.  What do you think?

Andrew Young Speaks Out at the Trial of Beverly Hall: Good!


 Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license by Mmann1988
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license by Mmann 1988

Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta, U.N. Ambassador, and civil rights leader, was in attendance at the trial of Dr. Beverly Hall, former superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools.

The purpose of the session was to hear arguments from both sides whether to grant a delay in the trial of Dr. Hall because of her battle with cancer.

The court heard from a hired oncologist for the prosecution, and Dr. Hall’s oncologist. It was very clear from Dr. Hall’s doctor that she is very ill, and doubtful if she can appear in court anytime soon. The judge ruled that the trial should be delayed for four months (the defense had asked for eight months).

At that moment, Andrew Young, who was in the courtroom, spoke out and said “good.” The judge was not pleased, but interestingly he engaged Andrew Young enabling him to make comments about the trail. Here is part of the conversation. You can watch full conversation (01.20 min) below.

Andrew Young: “It would be merciful for this court, these prosecutors,this whole city, if this trail never took place.”

Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter: “And everything just sort of go away?”

Andrew Young: “No, it won’t go away, Your Honor.”

Judge Baxter: “That’s your wish, that it just vanish?”

Andrew Young: “No. The school system has repaired itself. The State has done everything it could to wreck a very good school system.”

Dr. Young’s comments about the trial, in my opinion, were right on target. Not only has the state played a role in trying to wreck the APS, but the corporate reform movement has enabled a culture of fear to permeate schools, exactly what the Governor’s crack investigation committee of three (plus a 100 or so GBI agents) concluded. The crack investigative team, and its swarm of GBI agents descended on the APS and in many cases, questioned teachers without due process. It was more of witch hunt than an investigation with integrity. Follow this link to read several articles about the Atlanta cheating scandal on this blog.

Yes, the Atlanta administration emphasized test results. So is everyone else. And in spite of this condemnation from outside the APS, the school system has worked its way back.

Atlanta has been put into a glass house, and everyone is watching. Right now, it’s very close to hiring a new superintendent. However, the Search Committee has only put forward one name, and it seems as if the School Board will vote to support the Search Committee’s choice.

This is a mistake.  Here we have a school system that has made progress and what has the School Board decided to do:  It’s going to bring in a person from the outside, someone not familiar with Atlanta, and the school system. And in fact, this person has already said that Atlanta is ready for a turn around. “Turn around” is a code word for dealing with so-called failing schools (and districts).   Georgia’s “turnaround plan” is embedded in the Race to Top grant that it received four years ago.  Follow this link to find out how the turnaround plan works.  You won’t be pleased.

The APS needs stability combined with a new way of thinking about learning and thinking.  Bringing in a superintendent from the outside the school system will result in a return to mandated top-down “reforms” that will not satisfy anyone.  It will surely not significantly change the academic performance of Atlanta schools, as Ed Johnson has shown us in his research here, and here.

Andrew Young has spoken important words for more than a half century, and two days ago, he reminded us of his wisdom and understanding about how a community works.

The Gobbledygook of Florida Teacher Evaluations


Figure 1. Words used to describe the statistical model used to evaluate a classroom teacher in Florida! Figure 1. Words used to describe the statistical model used to evaluate a classroom teacher in Florida!

Earlier this week, Florida released the VAM scores of its teachers.  Disturbing to say the least.  The Florida Times-Union released links to teacher VAM data for the past two years. There are 116,723 teachers listed in the data base.    I am not posting the link here, but it is out there.

A VAM score is a number that is derived using a covariate adjustment equation (Figure 1).  The idea is to evaluate teachers using student test scores.  In the Florida VAM big data release, VAM scores are reported for teachers who taught math and reading, and for those that didn’t teach math or reading.   They reported next to each teacher’s name, a score that indicates the learning gains students made above or below what they were expected to learn (based on earlier performance, with OTHER teachers).

Here is equation used to figure teachers’ “value added effect.”

Figure 1. The statistic value-added model (covariate adjustment model) used to evaluate Florida teachers.
Figure 2. The statistic value-added model (covariate adjustment model) used to evaluate Florida teachers.

If you are interested here is the meaning of the equation.

Figure 2. Explanation of the Value Added Model used in the evaluation of Florida teachers.
Figure 3. Explanation of the Value Added Model used in the evaluation of Florida teachers.

Gobbledygook in Florida

Gobbledygook is nonsense, gibberish, balderdash, rubbish, or if you prefer garbage.

When you step back and think about your experience as a teacher you have been insulted by the antics of the Florida officials who financially supported and then hired guns to design and carry out the Florida VAM model, which in my estimation is Gobbledygook.

The reports that we read in the media do not go into any detail about how teacher VAM scores are determined.  If the public really knew what school districts were doing to their children’s teachers, they would be furious.

Parents know that their child’s knowledge of science or history is not a number that emerges from a test given once a year.  Parents also know that their children’s teachers  should not be judged by a single numbers, especially when what goes into making the number is not only spurious, but lacks the credibility of the education research community.

It is true that you can go to an 80 page document (Florida Value-Added Model Technical Report), and read through the details of the VAM model that is used on teachers.  Upon reading the paper, I became further outraged at the ends powerful officials will go to drum up a system that does not contribute one iota to the improvement of the work of professional teachers, or to the improvement of learning among students.  What are they think?

Even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is opposed to the release of the Florida VAM scores.  But, its a bit late.  They contributed millions of dollars to finance the development of VAM.  Others have reported that the scores of 70% of the teachers were based on the scores of students they didn’t teach (See Valerie Strauss’s Blog).

The use of VAM to evaluate teacher’s is flawed, unreliable and invalid.  To post scores based on “junk” science, is preposterous.

Chris Guerrieri Speaks about VAM

Finally, I want to include what Chris Guerrieri, a teacher and blogger in Florida has to say about VAM scores being released in his state.  In his recent blog post, he quoted two Florida superintendents.  Joseph Joyner, superintendent of a high scoring district said this:

I cannot express enough, my disappointment in the decision to publish VAM data, in any form. The push to create simplicity (test scores) out of an inherently complex process (teaching) is rooted, in my opinion, in the desire of media and policy makers to create lists with the ultimate goal of allowing for judgment In the end, we continue to treat teachers like sheep, being herded into a gate to have a number pinned to their ear. I question this treatment of professionals as we owe the success of our state and nation to great teachers, and the lack of respect and loss of dignity is appalling. (Guerrieri, Chris. Chris Guerrieri’s Education Matters. The Real Reason the FLDOE Fought the Release of VAM Data., 28 Feb. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.)

Guerrieri has written extensively not only about VAM, but other issues on Florida education.  He suggests, that even though the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) fought having the scores released, the reason was to protect themselves from the bad policy that they promoted.  The release of the scores would embarrass the FLDOE.  Here is how he put it:

Finally how could any reasonable education body think it was good policy to score teachers on subjects and or students they did not teach? It is unexplainable and indefensible but Florida’s depart of education did it anyway.  I believe that, not because they were concerned about the public only getting half the picture and not because they were concerned about destroying teachers morale is why they fought to keep VAM scores from the public.
When the scores were released at first I was outraged. I believe the FLDOE who is an operative of the privatization agenda wants people only to get half the picture and them to take things out of context and for some sadly they will be that case. But after a few days of reflection I am glad they released the scores because now it will show those paying attention how incompetent the FLDOE, the commissioner and the State Board of Education are.  (Guerrieri, Chris. Chris Guerrieri’s Education Matters. The Real Reason the FLDOE Fought the Release of VAM Data., 28 Feb. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.)

 What is your opinion on the use and publishing of teacher VAM scores in Florida?