Beware of Senate Resolution 287: The Opportunity to Take Over Public Schools

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Today, the Georgia Senate voted and passed (38 – 15) Governor Deal’s “chronically failing” school bill which would turn these schools into charters under the appointment of a “state” superintendent.  Senate Resolution 287 proposes an amendment to the Constitution of Georgia that will allow the General Assembly to authorize the establishment of an Opportunity School District which will intervene into failing schools.  Here is a quote from Resolution 287:

The General Assembly may provide by general law for the creation of an Opportunity School District and authorize the state to assume the supervision, management, and operation of public elementary and secondary schools which have been determined to be failing through any governance model allowed by law. Such authorization shall include the power to receive, control, and expend state, federal, and local funds appropriated, all in the manner provided by and in accordance with general law (Miller, et.al. (2015, January 1). Senate Resolution 287. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/20152016/148454.pdf). Emphasis mine.

This is an unfortunate state of affairs.

It will lead to an operation in which private charters will essentially be given the right to spend state and federal money that was earmarked  for public schools, and create a system that will be “thin on data and thick on claims,” as Kristen L. Buras stated in her critical report of the Louisiana Recovery District (Buras, K. (2012, March 1). REVIEW OF THE LOUISIANA RECOVERY SCHOOL DISTRICT: LESSONS FOR THE BUCKEYE STATE. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/TTR-NOLAOhio-Fordham_0.pdf).  We all know that the Georgia plan being pushed by the Governor will be a replica of the Louisiana plan.  According to Dr. Buras’ review of the Recovery School District’s program (RSD) by the Fordham Institute, the success of the reforms in the RSD:

is simply asserted rather than established. This is a troubling omission since adequate data and studies are available that address these points in general and for the RSD in particular. (Buras, 2012)

There are a number of troubling parts of Dr. Buras’ report that will have direct implication for Georgia’s struggling schools.  For example, in 2006, she reports that when veteran teachers in the RSD were fired en mass they were replaced largely by uncertified and inexperienced recruits from Teach for America and The New Teacher Project.  Here are some figures from Buras’ report that are shocking.  Prior to 2006, only 10% of the teachers in the RSD were in their first or second year of teaching.  In 2007 – 2008, 60% of the teachers in the RSD had one year or less of experience.  Only 1% had 25 or more years of experience.

But the most atrocious aspect of the Buras’ report is her discussion of how cut off scores on the state standardized tests seemed to drift up or down depending upon the kind of results that would benefit the RSD.  She puts it this way:

In sum, state standards of “success” and “failure” were manipulated to justify converting public schools into charter schools, and then to justify keeping them as charter schools, Buras, 2012).

Her report also shows that the financial “performance” of the RSD charter schools closes in on being corrupt, clearly not as effective as public schools.  I quote her at length here to show what she found:

In terms of financial performance, there is little evidence that the charter-intensive RSD is more efficient in its use of resources. In fact, the performance assessment issued by the Louisiana legislative auditor, which is cited in the Fordham report, found the following: “Overall, the Office of Parental Options (OPO) and RSD did not effectively monitor [its charter schools] in fiscal year 2010 and need to improve the process to annually collect, review, and/or evaluate [their] performance,” including “student, financial, and legal/contractual performance.”30 The Fordham report does not mention these problems, even as it criticizes New Orleans public schools for mismanagement, corruption, and a lack of transparency (Buras, 2012).

Beware of this Resolution.  It is not intended to improve education in communities that have struggling schools.  It is designed to reform schools based on people who know very little to nothing about education, but know a lot about taking advantage, and seeking the opportunity to privatize public education.

Watch out.

Georgia Governor’s Dangerous Plan to Takeover “Chronically Failing” Public Schools is a Bad Deal

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The Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, who was just elected to a second term, has proposed that he become the education Czar of Georgia by holding the power to put schools on a list that could be taken over by central command, in downtown Atlanta at the Twin Towers.

But here is the “deal,” this simply is a bad deal for schools that are put on a list based on “data” that sets up some schools for failure, according to the state’s definition of failure.

Square, New and Bad Deals

In the last century Theodore Roosevelt introduced the “square deal” which was an attempt to help middle class Americans by countering the power of corporations.  In the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the “new deal” which was a series of domestic programs to in response to the Great Depression.

Now, in the 21st Century, the Governor of Georgia has introduced the “bad deal” for Georgia parents whose children attend schools identified as “chronically failing.”  In the “Square and New Deals,” there was evidence to support these deals.

In the case of Nathan Deal’s “Bad Deal,” the data or evidence that will be used to take over some schools is nothing short of giving the schools to private charter firms, who will reap millions of state funds, and then will make deals with Teach for American and the New Teacher Project to bring in uncertified and inexperienced teachers to work with students that Deal claims are “chronically failing.”

In an earlier post, I investigated Georgia’s Race to the Top (RTT) program and reported that Georgia’s Race to the Top has clear, yet questionable relationships with Charter Management Companies, Teach for America and The New Teacher Project. Charter management companies are private nationally based firms that receive public funds intended for public schools. The Race to the Top insures that management firms are welcomed into the 11 states and D.C., at the detriment to local school districts.  Georgia is one of these states.  And Nathan Deal sees an opening to join to “take over” mentality.

Charters + Inexperienced Teachers = A Bad Deal

One of the goals of the RTT Georgia plan is to turnaround the lowest-achieving schools. In this scenario, the state fires the principal, and no more than half the faculty, and replace them. One of models is the “restart model” whereby a school is converted, or closed and then opened by a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an education management organization.

Georgia’s five-year RTT program has laid the ground work to unleash charter schools with false claims and lots of money. The problem here is that charters have not been more effective than regular public schools, and indeed it would be better for a parent to send their child to a public school than a charter. For example, data from Dr. Michael Marder’s research, University of Texas shows that not only is poverty correlated with low test scores, but charter schools are at the bottom of the graph showing how ineffective they have been in improving academic achievement.

Screen-Shot-2012-03-14-at-7_17_54-PM

Charter schools also have increased the segregation of children. Instead of seeking other possible solutions, such as teacher enhancement and staff development, health care for families, social services that offer opportunities and help in alleviating poverty and unemployment, investment in the infrastructure of the communities of these schools, all the state can come up with is firing 50 percent the staff, and then hiring inexperienced and non certified part-time teachers.

To staff these new “taken over” schools, the state will look to teacher preparation mills such as Teach for American and The New Teacher Project. In the mind of some education officials, one way to get great teachers is to partner up with these two organizations that “train” teachers during a boot camp style summer program lasting at most six weeks.

This is a sweet deal for these two organizations. Georgia has already paid millions to them. Teach for America received $4,837,104 through June 30, 2012. The New Teacher Project received $3,002,890 through the same period. Why would the state pay out $7,839,994 to hire inexperienced and non certified teachers, and place them in schools that have been identified as “low achieving.” Through this period, the total expenditures of the Georgia Race to the Top is $69,765,001. More than 11 percent of the budget was allocated to these organizations who prepare non certified teachers.

Thousands of Georgia teachers lost their jobs over the past three years, yet the state is willing to hire nearly 500 inexperienced and non certified recruits from Teach for America and The New Teacher Project, at a cost of about $14,000 each.

Improve Education: No Deal Here

How is this plan going to improve the quality of the teaching profession in Georgia when the state seems bent on replacing experienced and well-educated teachers with people who’ve already indicated they are only going to stay for two years and move on to something more lucrative?

The relationship between the government and these private organizations is enough to get your attention. Why spend so much money on non certified teachers when the goal is somehow improve teaching, and get what the state calls Great Teachers.

Why not use this money to develop sustainable and research based teacher education programs? The RTT funded three projects based on the U-Teach Program at the University of Texas. However, the three universities in Georgia received a total of only $789,6748, a miniscule amount compared to what TFA and TNTP received. And, oddly, RTT people didn’t have to go to the University of Texas to find such a model. It exists at Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University, and the University of Georgia.

Georgia’s Mardi Gras Turn Around Program

In an article in the Atlanta Journal, a group of legislators and state educators will visit New Orleans, the site of Governor’s go to school district to learn from the Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD).  The RSD is a statewide school district established by the Louisiana Department of Education.  Established in 2003, in the post-Katrina period, more than 100 New Orleans’ schools were assigned to the RSD, meaning they were all taken over by the state. And nearly all of these schools have become charter schools.

Oh, the Governor’s office has named the “chronically failing schools” the Opportunity School District (OSD).  Please see the policy summary here on the Empowered Georgia website.

So, it makes sense to the Governor of Georgia to send a team there to find out how successful they’ve been in improving education in New Orleans and other parts of the state.

But, hold on.

Before they head off and experience Mardi Gras, they ought to read the research, and find out what Dr. Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana teacher, blogger,  author, and Jason France, a former Louisiana Department of Education employee, and now one of the most dedicated education bloggers (Crazy Crawfish) in the USA.  France has investigated most aspects of education in Louisiana and has reported his finding on his blog.  In his study of the RSD, he writes:

The Recovery School District is arguably the most corrupt, wasteful and unnecessary state department in all of Louisiana. Over the next several weeks I will explain exactly what they have lost, how much they waste, why they are unnecessary and explain the many unethical and possibly illegal behaviors they engage in. If I could cover everything in a single article I would, but their scheming really needs several posts to cover in any depth. This post will describe how they have managed to steal property and funding and to exploit loopholes created for them by the state legislature to rip off the federal government. I will not be revealing anything that is not already available in the public domain (Crazy Crawfish’s Blog. 8 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Feb. 2015)

Before the Deal groups heads off to New Orleans they might want to call Jason France as interview him to find out just how ineffective the Recovery School District has been in turning around schools.

While they are gathering information before they make their flight on Delta, they should also make a call to Mercedes Schneider.  She has done research on education reform, documented her work on her blog, and has published her first book describing her findings.  She has doctorate in educational research, and is a teacher in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.

But, Dr. Schneider has written extensively about the New Orleans Recovery School District, and it is in this context that Georgia officials should focus their attention.  If they follow this link, they will find many articles by Schneider that uncover information that one would want to have before heading west from Atlanta.

The Governor is quick to criticize anyone who opposes his take over plan.  He makes the claim that these questioners are more interested in adults, rather than the children of Georgia.

Hogwash.  If the Governor would be honest, and look at the research on recovery schools, he would find that these schools are not in the service of children and youth, but adults who lead corporate charters and stand to make a lot of money.

I hope that you will pass these ideas on to Georgia school officials, whether you agree or disagree with my position.

 It’s a Bad Deal

Establishing a Louisiana-style recovery school district in Georgia (OSD) is a bad idea.  What do you think?

What’s Common Here: Teacher Education, Authoritarian Reform, Poverty, & Charter Schools?

In this first blog post in nearly two months, I want to introduce you to four areas of inquiry that have been explored on this blog over the past 10 years.

Over the next month, I’ll be uploading links to landing pages, each of which is a kind of inquiry or an investigation of themes that appeared on the Art of Teaching Science Blog.

Inquiries

The first four areas of inquiry are up on the blog website, and they are:

  • Assault on Teacher Education:  The assault on teacher education is being led by neoliberal and conservative ideologues who want to de-professionalize teaching, and one of the places to do this is by attacking the nation’s colleges and universities that prepare teachers.
  • Authoritarian Reform: In this inquiry, I am going to explore another movement that has historically played a role to oppose corporate, authoritarian, un-democratic, and right-wing policies and beliefs, and that is the work and wish of progressives, who have played a role in American history, starting with the American revolution.
  • Effect of Poverty on Learning:  There are bloggers and researchers who understand the nature of poverty and its effects, and why journalists, bureaucrats, politicians, corporate executives, and the billionaire boys club reformers either whitewash or simply avoid the problem. In fact, we have entered a period of “no excuses education,” which is held up as the option of “choice,” especially for families living in poor communities.
  • Charter Schools: In Whose Interest?:  Charter schools are seen as a cure-all to raise test scores of American students. It kind of like a philosopher’s stone, or a 19th century elixir, to serve as an antidote for the ills of traditional public schools. Many policymakers are motivated by the delusion that choice and competition are the answers to solving problems facing our schools.  In this inquiry, we’ll explore the underlying rationale for charter schools (the rationale has moved from one of true curriculum development by teachers, to a cash cow for charter management companies). When you look carefully at charter schools, they do not offer the kind of choice they claim in press releases and other public statements.

Future inquiries include:

  • High Stakes Testing and Teacher Evaluation
  • The National Council on Teacher Quality & the Art fox Ineptness
  • Politics and Influence Peddling
  • Progressive Pedagogy
  • Questioning Standards-Based Education
  • Stealth Appearances of Intelligent Design

Welcome back to the Art of Teaching Science blog.

Are the Deep Pockets of Gates, Walton, and Broad Contrary to the Ideals of Education in a Democracy?

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Creative Commons Deep Pockets by paul-henri is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Creative Commons Deep Pockets by paul-henri is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

According to the Foundation Center, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation are ranked 1, 13, and 38 respectively on the top 100 U.S. foundations by total giving.  The total assets of these three foundations as of April 2014 was $37 billion for the Gates Foundation, $1.9 billion for the Walton Foundation, and $1.6 billion for the Broad Foundation.

The total grant making in 2012 for these organizations was:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation        $3.18 billion

The Walton Family Foundation                   $423 million

The Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation           $153 million

If you count up the number of people who call the shots in these three foundations, here’s the math:

(Gates x 2) + (Walton x 6) + (Broad x 2) = 10 people

These three foundations are identified as the “Big Three Foundations” by Mercedes K. Schneider in her new book, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education (Public Library).  Dr. Schneider explores in-depth how Gates, Walton and Broad grant billions of dollars to organizations that meet their personal views of what education should be in America.

Diane Ravitch assigns the “big three” to the Billionaire Boys Club.  No matter how you look at it, these organizations’ money and political influence rudder American education reform toward the privatization of public education, and Common Core State Standards-High-Stakes Assessments accountability.

To be sure, there are many other Foundations that give grants to a variety of organizations whose goals merge with the Big Three, but it is the Big Three that dominate the agenda of education reform today.

Education for the People, by the People

In this blog post, I wonder if the deep pockets of just 10 people can be consistent with the ideals of public education.  Most of you know that Diane Ravitch published her recent book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Public Library).  On one of the end pages of her book she included a 1785 quote by President John Adams that I believe exposes the crux of the problem caused by the influx of money and influence from people such as the Gates, Waltons and Broads.  Adams is quoted as saying this:

The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expense of it.  There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.

Adams would be shocked by the “charitable” behavior these 10 people.

The funded organizations that are identified on the Big Three websites are pawn’s or infantry sent into schools with lots of money, political influence, and carefully laid plans  to carry out the aims of the Big Three.  Although there are differences and some overlap among those who receive their marching orders from the Big Three, it becomes obvious what the end game is when you learn who is funded.  Let’s take a look at the Big Three.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

In an earlier post (Why Bill Gates Defends the Common Core), I reported that more than 1800 “college-ready” projects have been funded by the Gates Foundation over the past five years.  Some organizations have been awarded multiple grants, and in some cases, these amounts exceeded $60 million.  In the world of Charter Schools, Gates has awarded more than $279 million.  In teacher education, Gates has given millions to Teach for America and the New Teacher Project, yet very little in funding to improve teacher education in American universities.  In the research I’ve done analyzing the Gates Awarded Grants, it can be estimated that more than $2.3 billion has been allocated to the “college-ready” category.

If you look at the names of organizations that receive Gates awards, you soon discover how education is being shaped: charter schools, temp teacher training, common standards, venture capitalism, and market-based reforms.  Figure 1 identifies some of the organizations that have received grants, as well as the amount they garnered over the past five years.

Figure 1.  Gates Funding for Corporate Reform 2010-2013.  Source of data: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database
Figure 1. Gates Funding for Corporate Reform 2010-2013. Source of data: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database

Here the grant focal points for the Gates Foundation.

Charter Schools

When I searched the Awarded Grants site at the Gates Foundation for “charter schools” it returned 134 hits.  For example in 2014, the Pacific Charter School Development, Inc. received an award totaling $3,998,633.  They joined a long list of recipients whose total amount came to $279,428,324 (see Figure 1).  Gates gives more to support charters than does Walton and Broad combined.

Common Core

Without question, the Gates Foundation leads all organizations in the U.S. to develop and implant a common set of standards in public schools.  Achieve, Inc., the organization that wrote the Common Core State Standards in Math and Language Arts, and the Next Generation Science Standards received more than $36 million from Gates. But this is only a tip of the common core iceberg. To find out the extent of the funding for the common core is not as straightforward as you might think.

Table 1. Program Categories Funded by the Gates Foundation.  Source: The Gates Foundation Website.
Table 1. Program Categories Funded by the Gates Foundation. Source: The Gates Foundation Website.

Achieve is part of a network of organizations that have spearheaded the drive to set up a common core of subjects in American schools that share the same set of performances for all students.   As you can see in Table 1, the Gates Foundation funds projects in five program areas.  You will find common core projects in the US Program, Global Policy & Advocacy and other program areas.  For example, the New Schools Venture Fund has received more than $60 million from the Gates Foundation.  As a venture capitalist organization, “their investors are betting hundreds of millions on the digital revolution in the classroom. (NewSchools Venture Fund website, extracted, May 29, 2014).”

One of the grants NewSchools received from Gates was for more than $10 million “to support the successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards and related assessments through comprehensive and targeted communications and advocacy in key states and the District of Columbia” (Gates Foundation Website, extracted May 29, 2014).

Implementing common core standards is a cornerstone of the Gates Foundation efforts to change American education.

Teacher Training

Teacher training is supported by the Gates Foundation through its grants to Teach for America (TFA) and The New Teacher Project (TNTP).  Based on my experience and research with alternative certification programs, these programs are at simply alternative ways to get people into classrooms, even while lacking profession teaching qualifications.

Is there is a similar plan to train élite college students in six weeks in medicine for the Doctor for America (DFA) program who will be hired for two years as paid doctors in local hospitals and clinics where they will practice medicine, even though they are uncertified? Medical and teaching projects, like these, set up a pipeline of inexperienced and uncertified college graduates to teach in American school, and bolster the over stretched medical profession.  Students in these programs need to commit two years, and then move up or out of the system.

TNTP is a step-child of TFA having been founded by Michelle Rhee, who was a TFA “graduate.”  TFA has net assets of $419,098,314 for fiscal year 2012.  It receives 76% of its money from grants and gifts, and 22.3% from government grants.

In a separate investigation of TFA’s and TNTP’s role in the Race to the Top (RT3), I looked at Georgia’s RT3 Program and discovered that these organizations were receiving $15.6 million and $9.1 million to supply uncertified teachers in the greater Atlanta area, where there is no shortage of certified teachers.

The language used to describe this effort is tied up in the notion of increasing the pipeline of effective educators.

From the RT3 budget is this statement:

Increase the pipeline of effective teachers through partnership with Teach for America in Atlanta Public Schools, Clayton County, DeKalb County and Gwinnett with the first class of new TFA recruits beginning in the school year 2011-2012.  Funding included in section E project 24: $15,6000,000).

A separate line in the budget points to the same kind of arrangement with The New Teacher Project, which will provide new teachers in Savannah, Augusta, and Southwest Georgia, for $7,568,395 million.

Although these two organization provide a small share of teachers to American public schools, that the Gates Foundation and the Race to Top programs support them is troubling.  There is already legislation that supports redefining a certified teacher that includes teachers that have received minimal education, and no classroom experience.  In areas where experienced teachers are clearly more successful, Gates and even the U.S. Department of Education (ED) ignores the research on teacher effectiveness.

What about the Medical program? DFA doesn’t exist, does it? But I wonder if such a program would be accepted by the medical profession and the local community?

Teacher Evaluation

The Gates Foundation in its funded Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) theorized that it was going to be easy to identify effective teaching, especially with the use of video tapes and student test scores.  As John Thompson pointed out on Anthony Cody’s Living in Dialogue website over on Education Week,

The MET is a $45 million component of the “teacher quality” movement which studies test scores, teacher observations, and student survey data to isolate the elements of effective teaching. That’s great. But the MET’s assumptions about the outcomes they anticipated have been the basis for Arne Duncan’s test-driven policies — which require test scores to be a “significant part” of teacher evaluations in order for states to receive waivers for NCLB. Then, as evidence was gathered, preliminary reports noted problems with using test score growth for evaluations. The MET has continued to affirm the need for value-added (VAM) as a necessary component of their unified system of using improved instruction to drive reform, even as it reported disappointing findings.

Even though researchers have shown (using Gates Foundation data from the MET Study) that there are very low correlations between teachers instruction with state standards and state and alternative assessments, policy makers ignore such data and believe that teachers should be evaluated using student test scores.  This study reported there is no evidence of relationships curriculum alignment and composite measures of teacher effectiveness.  And they reported that lack of relationship between Danielson’s Framework of Teaching (used to measure teacher classroom behavior), Tripod (student surveys) to VAM scores.

One of the groups that Gates funds is the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).  Since 2009, NCTQ has received more than $11 million in grants.  The name of this organization is an oxymoron, yet with millions in funding from Gates, NCTQ publishes biased reports on teacher effectiveness and teacher education.  In an earlier post I showed that NCTQ reporting is nothing short of junk science, yet here we have the billionaire funding such nonsense.

And then the Colorado Legacy Foundation has received more than $20 million to carry out the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) & pursue teacher evaluation systems using student test score growth.

The Walton Family Foundation

The Walton Family Foundation made grants totaling $423 million in 2013.  According to the Walton Family Foundation website, its purpose in funding is to “infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system by increasing the quantity and quality of school choices available to parents, especially in low-income communities.”

The Walton Family Foundation funds school projects that shape public policy, lead to the creation of “quality schools,” and improve existing schools. The California Charter Schools Association and the Alliance for School Choice were the top two recipients of grants from Walton in 2013.  Coming in third and fourth was The New Teacher Project and Teach for America.

The focus of funding of the Walton Foundation is school choice and parental choice (parent trigger) as policies supporting charter schools.

 

Figure 2. Walton Funding for Corporate Reform 2009 - 2013. Data Source: http://www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org/
Figure 2. Walton Funding for Corporate Reform 2009 – 2013. Data Source: http://www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org/

 

The Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation

The Broad funding was $153 million in 2013.  The Broad Foundation, just like Gates and Walton accuses public schools of being in distress.  They all use the same statistics to claim that American students are not able to compete for jobs in a global market, and that corporations can’t find the “workers” who possess the skills  needed to fill their positions.  The Broad Foundation highlights the value of competition by the giving of various “Broad Prizes.”  The Broad Prize, and Broad Prize for Public Charters is an annual competitions among applicants.

The Broad Foundation also supports its Broad Residency in Urban Education and the Broad Superintendents Academy.

Each of these strategies is very much like the model used by Teach for America and The New Teacher Project.  These are part-time training programs that train college graduates in five weeks to be full-time teachers.

The Broad programs trains people to be principals and superintendents, who according to many writers, tend to be confrontative with teachers and their unions, and have no problem in closing schools, and then turning around and opening schools managed by charter companies.

The Broad Foundation funds in more than fifty organizations in four larger categories as listed below.  I’ve also included two funded projects or organizations representative of each grouping.

The corporate reform funded by Gates, Walton and Broad is a cobweb of organizations that has snared public schools by means of an accountability system that uses student achievement scores as the bottom line.  The web also includes organizations whose goal is to shape policy by writing and rewriting state laws that benefit vouchers, choice, charters, and teacher evaluation.

In the next post, we enhance the web by examining the machinations of the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

If education in the United States is to be for the people, by the people, these three organizations are the antithesis of public education in a democratic society.  What do you think?

Do Some Charter and Title I Schools Use a Pedagogy of Indoctrination

 

"Creative Commons Allensworth Classroom by Joseph Vasquez  CC By 2.0
“Creative Commons Allensworth Classroom” by Joseph Vasquez is Licensed under  CC By 2.0

I might be off my rocker on this post, but I want to get it out there, and ask you if there might be some truth in my claim.  My claim is that the No Child Left Behind Act set in motion a culture of schooling which seeks conformity and an authority to which participants must subscribe, meaning teachers, students and their parents.  Followed by the Race to the Top, we have created in American schools an environment that many have shown to be harmful to the psychological well-being of not only students, but teachers as well.

There is evidence that many charter and Title I schools use an authoritarian and behavioral change system of learning to make one change in student behavior and that is higher test scores. Because of federal and state regulations implicit in NCLB and RT3, a top-down system of accountability has played a role in making authoritarianism the principle of charter schools, and many public Title I schools.

The Strict Family and the Strict Classroom

In previous discussions on this blog I’ve applied the research of George Lakoff.  Dr. Lakoff uses the conceptual metaphor of Nation as Family and applies it to politics, literature, philosophy and mathematics.  Using this idea, ones (political) beliefs tend to be structured by how we think of family, and our early experiences in our own family which contribute to our beliefs. Thinking of a nation as a family is a familiar notion, as in phrases such as Mother Russia, Fatherland, sending sons and daughters off to war, the founders, Big Brother (see Joe Brewer, Rockbridge Institute, discussion here). In Brewer’s thinking, the conceptual metaphor of nation as family organizes our brains in this way: homeland is home, citizens are siblings, the government (or head) is parent, and so forth.

Lakoff would say that a conservative family would be based on authority, and would be represented by the “Strict Father Family”. In the Thinking Points Discussion Series published by Rockbridge, the conservative family can be characterized as follows (from Brewer, Conservative Morality):

  • The Strict Father Family is the traditional family with a father and mother
  • The father is the head of the house
  • The mother is supportive and upholds the authority of the father
  • A hierarchy exists and is never to be questioned
  • Children are weak and lack self-control
  • Parents know what is best
  • Children learn right and wrong when punished by doing wrong
  • When children become self-disciplined, respect authority, and learn right from wrong they are strong enough to succeed in the world.

In my earlier blog post, I wrote about Rocketship Education, a relatively new charter management system with schools in California and Wisconsin.  It appears to me that the Rocketship education model of education is authoritarian and relies on indoctrination for its success. It’s a model of education that fits the description of Lakoff’s conservative family.

Authoritarian Education

In that earlier post, I outlined four principles that characterize a Rocketship School based on the research of Gordon Lafer.  Here are the principles and comments I’ve made about each one. As you read these points, connect these principles to the principles in Lakoff’s theory:

  1. Replacement of teachers with computers for online learning–Digital learning is a way to make the school more economical, and using the schools “Learning Lab” large numbers of students can be accommodated with less staff.
  2. Reliance on a young and inexperienced teachers largely recruited from Teach for America–according to Lafer’s report, Rocketship has a contract with Teach for America to offer a pipeline of new recruits. Rocketship teachers are paid based on how their students score on math and reading tests. The model embraces a young staff and one that has a high-turnover rate. As you will see ahead, Rocketship schools are staffed with teachers who have between 0-5 years experience, where successful comparable public schools have staffs with 10 – 30 years of experience. Teaching staffs that are more experienced are by far more successful with students and their learning. The replacement or turnover rate for the Rocketship schools averages 29% each year.
  3. A narrow curriculum of math and reading–Rocketship Education describes its approach to curriculum as blended learning. Blending digital learning with face to face. However, its curriculum only includes math and reading literacy. You will not find a full curriculum at these schools.
  4. A relentless focus on preparing students for standardized tests—Rocketship teaches to the test–students are involved as full-time test takers at school and home. Students take the test Measuring Academic Progress (MAP) three times per year. This is the same test that teachers in Seattle boycotted. But instruction is totally centered around tests that are aligned to the state standards (the Common Core Standards next year).

The nature of the pedagogy outlined in these four points is a certain example of Lakoff’s conservative “Strict Father Family,” where the entire system is organized underneath an authority figure.  This could be the owner of the charter school management system, the principal of the school, or even the top-down rules and regulations upon which the school’s accountability depends.

But this tenor of authoritarianism is not limited to charter schools.

Indoctrination

What has happened is that accountability has been reduced fundamentally to one cause, measurement or variable, and that is student test scores.  In Georgia, for instance, the state rolled out a new accountability system in which each school in the state is graded (A – F) by adding up the points earned in four categories.  However, each of the categories is dependent on one reason: student test scores.

The state, in Georgia and most other states, is the authority figure that controls the behavior of administrators, teachers and students. The state indoctrinates school staff to follow very strict guidelines to increase student test scores.  These guidelines are defined by standards (either state or Common Core State Standards), and what is known as College & Career Ready Performance, using expressed as an index or simply a number that can be used to compare schools, districts and states.

In Atlanta, all you had to do yesterday to verify this is to read the Atlanta Journal/Constitution newspaper which listed the top and bottom performing schools in school districts around the state.  Winners and losers?

So, the only purpose of teaching in schools that are served by an authoritarian regime is to teach to the test, and to spend as much time possible making students practice for the tests with worksheets, and obsessively stupid homework assignments.  The goal is to score high on the state mandated high-stakes tests, and to get as a high a grade for the school based fundamentally on student test scores.

The Rocketship Schools have taken the conservative model to the extreme.  By reducing the curriculum to essentially two subjects, math and reading, teachers are trained to teach math and reading only in so far as the kids score high on the tests.  In fact, in the Rocketship schools, teacher’s pay is dependent on student scores.  I am not saying that there is a salary scale based on specific scores, but given comments made on a PBS interview with the principal and two teachers at the school, there are targets to be met.

In this kind of school, teachers do not need to be educated, but they need to be indoctrinated and trained to follow the leader. Teach for America’s 5 week training is all that is wanted in schools that cut teaching to test preparation.  Not only does Teach for America supply Rocketship teachers, but TFA and the New Teacher Project have multi-million dollar agreements with several Race to the Top winning states (follow this link to see it work in Georgia).

Child Labor Violations

What is the role of the student in these extreme classroom situations.  The school day begins in the school courtyard or similar space in a kind of ceremony or rally to energize the students, and to instill in them “group think” and the requirement that they must conform to the authority of the school, and especially their teachers.

To some researchers and practicing educators, American obsession with statewide testing has led to an inhumane environment.  Stephanie Jones, a research professor at the University of Georgia has written that the current system of high-stakes testing might be exploiting child labor laws by creating a system in which students spend up to seven hours in school doing things that might be unethical.  As she sees it, children are the producing workers in the school system whose production of test scores will be used to reward the people above them—-their teachers and administrators, and indeed the superintendent of the school system.  Go ask Beverly Hall about this.

As Dr. Jones points out, Child Labor laws were enacted to prevent children from working under conditions of stress and long hours.  Sending them to school was one way to prevent business owners from using children during the day.  Now, schools seem to have taken over.

Psychological Abuse

Joyce Murdock Feilke is a 30 year veteran school counselor in the Austin, Texas independent school district (AISD).  On October 15, 2013 she filed a “Report of Psychological Abuse in an AISD Elementary School,” and sent it to Senator Jane Nelson of Texas, and the Committee for Health & Human Services.  The superintendent of AISD was Dr. Meria Carstarphen, who was hired to begin the superintendency of the Atlanta Public Schools in July, 2014.  According to reports that I have seen, there is evidence that Dr. Carstarpen covered up the abuse, and then after a month simply denied Joyce’s report.

Joyce Murdock Feilke wrote in her report about the psychological abuse of students at an Austin elementary school.  She begins by saying:

During the past 30 years as a school counselor, I have observed a steady decline in the elementary school environment.  This decline has resulted from complex reasons, but primarily from the obsession with statewide testing and corrosive school politics.  Children in most elementary schools of Texas are being forced to function in an environment of chronic stress.  Chronic stress is known to change brain chemistry in children and can lead to mental illness.  Many of these young children with genetic predisposition to autism and other neurological, sensory, and developmental delays are experiencing chronic traumatic stress and will suffer even greater psychological harm.  The demands for high-test performance ratings are causing these children to be exploited and experimented on as if they were caged mice in a science lab.  They are being psychologically abused on a grand scale that will impact the mental health of future generations (emphasis is mine).

The New 3 R’s System of Behavior Control

Feilke has exposed a system of teaching that uses punitive methods of behavior modification (now called Applied Behavior Analysis {ABA}) in Title I schools in Austin, Texas.  According to this veteran educator, a new system of 3 R’s (The Right Resources, The Right People, and the Right Systems) using behavioral engineering was initiated by a former structural engineer who became principal in the AISD.  The 3R’s model is applied in elementary schools with large populations of minority students.  Ms. Feilke provides insight into the 3R’s model.  She says:

The New 3 R’s System of behavioral engineering that AISD is celebrating and perpetuating uses the same methods of punitive classic conditioning that are known to enslave children for child labor and sex trafficking, and for obedience training for dogs and zoo animals.  It is the same dysfunctional system that kept the black culture of the South submissive to oppression for the hundred years after the Civil War.  It is the same dysfunctional system that led to the Nazi Regime in Germany prior to WWII.  The New 3 R’s System has the same sophisticated dysfunctional dynamics and abuse of power that can be observed in every poisonous pedagogy that has ever woven its way through history.  It can be observed in families, cults, and countries.  It is efficient, and it does result in high performance, but at the expense of great psychological damage to its victims.

The 3R’s was effective in raising Title I student test scores, so much so, that the district expanded it into other schools.

But the 3R’s systems, according to Feilke, is punitive.  It creates chronic stress in students, resulting in

desensitization, anxiety, loss of imagination, loss of spontaneity, loss of humor, regression, irritability, self injury, inability to concentrate, and dissociation.  However, the most destructive effects of this psychological abuse will not manifest until the children reach their teenage years, or early adulthood.  At that time, their conditioned emotional repression from victimization of institutional bullying and positive/negative ambivalent role modeling can lead to mental illness and criminality.

Punitive System of Teaching

Using qualitative research, Feilke documents specific examples of the effects of this punitive system on students.  As she points out, the teacher/caregiver dominate the class environment using punitive classical conditioning to “shape” behavior.  She makes the point here, when she expresses what happens to kids in this kind of classroom:

This poisonous pedagogy has been demonstrated throughout history to produce efficiency in human systems and gain desired performance, but at the same time repressing vitality, creativity, and emotions in children.

Imagine your child coming to school and you ask, what did you do today?  Well, at lunch, because I didn’t finish my work, I was told to stand up in front of everyone while the principal said I was bad for not finishing my homework.  I felt awful.  Some of the kids snickered at me, but Shane put her hand on my back, and said “don’t worry.”

Here is how Ms. Feilke describes the effect of this kind of behavior control on children:

Many of the younger children cry when forced to sit in isolation by themselves in front of everyone in the cafeteria.  Some of their peers show signs of sympathy, while others make sarcastic comments or looks, and others fear the same could happen to them.  Most of the children see the injustice, and feel helpless and sad for the victims.  This method of humiliating children causes strong emotions of shame, anger, and resentment for both the victim and the bystanders.  By using this method, teachers are modeling negative behavior of “bullying”, while presenting it to the child as “good discipline”.

There is more to this story, and I’ll follow-up later this week.

For now, I wish to thank Joyce Murdock Feilke for being such a courageous educator to take the risks to expose the dehumanizing pedagogy that was used in elementary schools in Austin.  After her superintendent, Dr. Meria Carstarphen, (who is the new Superintendent designee for the Atlanta Public Schools ) denied her report, Joyce resigned her position in the Austin USD in protest.  She said this in her letter of resignation:

I have attempted to speak up and advocate for children in AISD who are most impacted by this invalidating environment and dysfunctional administration. It is my goal to continue speaking up. I am submitting my resignation as counselor in order to pursue this advocacy without retaliation from an administration that does not recognize or respect the needs of children, or the rights of professionals who work to support and help them.

Joyce’s documentation of the injustices that prevailed in these schools was also published on Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog (Cloaking Inequities) and Diane Ravitch’s blog.  If you go to Cloaking Inequities you will find 99 comments in response to Joyce’s letter to Senator Nelson and the HHS Committee.

Do Some Charter School Models Use a Pedagogy of indoctrination?  What are your ideas?