Georgia’s Race to the Top: Follow the Money

In 2010 the Georgia Department of Education received ~$400 million from the Race to the Top (RT3) fund to Like all states that were winners in the Race to the Top (RT3) competition, Georgia’s scope of work entails four “project” areas:

  1. Standards and Rigorous Assessment–The grant proposal indicates that the state’s Common Core Georgia Performance Standards (CCGPS) in English/language arts (ELA) and mathematics for grades K-12 are aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The state will develop “high quality” assessments aligned with the CCGPS and presumably the CCSS.
  2. Data Systems–Develop a  warehouse of data integrating P-20 Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS)
  3. Great Teachers and Leaders–make sure all students have effective teachers
  4. Turn Around the Lowest Achieving Schools–use data from high-stakes tests to name failing schools and either close them, or replace them with new administrators and teachers

How is the money that the state received distributed among the four project areas, and what does this tell us about reform in Georgia that is being propelled by the RT3.

Overall Distribution of Funds for Georgia RT3

As you look at the RT3 budget shown in Figure 1, half the of $400 million is distributed to the 26 school districts (LEA’s) to carry out the RT3 goals at the local level.  LEA budget distribution is based their relative share of funding based on Title I, Part A of the ESEA.  The other half of the funding is controlled by the Georgia Department of Education.  Figure 1 shows that two goals lead in the distribution of funds, namely, Great Teachers and Leaders ($59 million), and Data Systems ($39 million).  Turning Around failing schools ($30 million) and implementing standards and developing assessments ($30 million), and the management of the RT3 ($14.5 million) round out the budget.

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Great Teachers and Leaders

A significant part of the RT3 grant in Georgia focuses on Great Teachers and Leaders.  But what is really going on here?  Is the goal to really create an environment in Georgia leading to great teachers and leaders.  Are there going to specialized professional development projects in which all teachers are invited to take part?  Will teachers be encouraged to be creative and to make key decisions about curriculum and instruction?  Or is there something else going on here?

Figure 2 tells a different story.  Instead of developing great teachers and leaders, the major part of the funds in this category are being used to develop tools that will be used to evaluate teachers on the basis of student test scores.  Note that more than $15 million is directed to develop a Value Added Model to score teachers based on the improvement of student test scores.  Using VAM is an unscientific and unreliable method of evaluating teachers.  Note also that there are three items in the budget related to pay for performance, which has been shown not to improve teacher effectiveness or student achievement.  Yet, in Georgia, teachers will be targeted by these methods that do not have a supportive research base.

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Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools

The Race to Top Fund promotes the idea that the lowest achieving schools should be either closed, or “reformed” using one of various reform models.  In these reform models, the principal is fired, and at least half the teachers are replaced.  In all cases, the measurement to decide performance is high-stakes testing.  More than 90% of  “lowest-achieving schools” were reformed by initiating the Transformation Model where the principal was replaced.  The Transformation Model also calls for increasing teacher and leader effectiveness, instituting comprehensive instructional reforms, increasing learning time, and providing flexibility.

Yet, when the RT3 budget for turning around the lowest achieving schools is examined, its Teach for America (TFA) and The New Teacher Project (TNTP) that receives the lion’s share of the money.  TFA and TNTP offer a pipeline of inexperienced and non-licensed teachers, who are hired by school districts and then placed in the lowest performing schools.  According to the RT3 work plan, the lowest achieving schools need more flexibility to presumably enrich the curriculum and use a diverse set of teaching strategies to help struggling students.  Yet, based on the budget, most of the funds will be paid to two organizations that train people in five weeks to teach.  How could beginning teachers be expected to carry out new curricula or use a range of teaching strategies?  It doesn’t make sense, nor is it a sustainable solution for helping improve education.

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If you follow the money in the Georgia Race to the Top Project, its clear that the corporate, test-based model of education is the basis for many of activities.   Teachers in Georgia will be evaluated using VAM scores, TFA and TNTP will send cadets to teach, while experienced teachers will find themselves moved to the side, especially those who lost their jobs during the Great Recession.

 

Trojan Horse On Midnight Ride to Manage How Georgia Teachers Will Be Paid

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When the state of Georgia received a half billion dollars of Race to the Top funds from the U.S. Department of Education, it agreed to carry out several mandates, but two that stand out are:

  • Adopt the Common Core State Standards
  • Use Student Tests Scores as a Metric for Evaluating Teacher Performance

In a recent article in the Marietta Daily Journal, it was reported the the School Board of Marietta is considering a new compensation plan that will essentially replace the current system in which teachers are rewarded for their experience and their ability.

The plan will use student test scores on achievement tests to measure the effectiveness of teachers and principals.  The student test scores will be used in conjunction with a teacher observation instrument developed by the Georgia Department of Education with Race to the Top funds.  Neither of these methods has been validated nor have they been shown to be reliable measures of teacher effectiveness.

Achievement tests are designed to measure student learning in a specific course.  The questions on the test are a sample of what could be tested.  Indeed, the score that students make on such a test is a prediction, and does not really represent what the student knows.  These tests were never designed to measure teacher or instructor knowledge, or effectiveness.  But that doesn’t matter to policy makers.

Even though we know that these methods are unscientific, the Georgia Legislature passed HB 244 (Annual Performance Evaluations) in which teachers will be graded as exemplary, proficient, needs development, or ineffective based student scores and the state observation system.

To get the ball rolling, the Georgia Department of Education hiredEducation Resource Strategies (ERS), a not-for-profit corporation in Boston. (Disclaimer: I was born in Boston, and began my teaching career there).

The Devil is in the Details

Why was this company chosen?

ERS is a company that specializes in “bold and systemic reform” of school districts around the country.  They also say that “they are dedicated to helping urban school systems organize talent, time and money to create good schools at scale.”

There are 40 people listed as staff on the ERS website.  Very few of these people have earlier experience as teachers or education leaders.  I could only find three people who had earlier teaching experience, and one of these was a Teach for America recruit who taught in Texas, but apparentley moved on. Many of the staff had experiences in corporate America, including Fidelity Investments, Bain Capital, TFA, and the Gates Foundation.

One of its funders is The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This is not surprising.  As Mercedes Schneider has documented, Gates only funds projects within their own priorities, and directly contacts organizations they wish to fund. I wonder what are their shared priorities?

Georgia, ERS, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, share this idea: that a teacher’s compensation should be based on VAM scores that are derived from student achievement test scores. The do this by trying to convince everyone that ignorance is bliss. They cleverly ignore valid research on student learning.

To promote the idea that teacher compensation must change, the ERS received funding from the Gates Foundation, to develop a workshop entitled “Teacher Compensation Workshop.” The workshop can be purchased from ERS and the materials include: one facilitator’s guide, one workbook for every participant, and one deck of Hold’em cards for every team (of 4 – 8).  Follow this link to see the Promo on the teacher compensation workshop.

According to the Teacher Compensation Promo, the most important factor affecting student achievement (according to ERS, Gates, and the Georgia Department of Education) is the effectiveness of the teacher.  Karen Hawley Miles, President & Executive Director of ERS claims that there is no other factor that affects achievement as much as the teacher factor.  Sorry but she is wrong, and for her to make the claim the teacher factor trumps other factors out there is not only unscientific, but is unethical and immoral.

Figure 1. Correlations between Growth Scores and Poverty, DC Schools, 2011. Source: Matthew DeCarlo's blog
Figure 1. Correlations between Growth Scores and Poverty, DC Schools, 2011. Source: Matthew DeCarlo’s blog

One of the most trusted educators who analyses educational research data is Matthew DeCarlo.  Figure 1 is a graphic showing his analysis of math and reading growth percentiles and poverty as measured by the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch in D.C.

As you can readily see, the correlations in all cases are negative, and significant at the .01 level. This tells us that there is a relationship between poverty and achievement in math and reading. Ignoring this is unacceptable, but not to policy makers who have a fetish for the unscientific.  So, for the head of the ERS company to claim that teacher effectiveness is the most important factor influencing student achievement is refuted here, and in many other analyses.

If you want more, here is a robust research study that was peer viewed and was not done by a left or right leaning think tank.

And in research reported on this blog, I cited the research of Dr. Michael Marder, Professor of Physics at the University of Texas (see Figure 2) who has analyzed data on the relationship between poverty and achievement in Texas, and other states.  His findings are convincing.  Just look at this graph.  The higher the poverty (in either charter or public schools), the lower the achievement.  ERS is not build on a solid framework of educational research.

Figure 2. This graph might be disappointing the ERS, Gates, and the Georgia Department of Education. The graph shows the percentage of high school graduates meeting SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted against the concentration of poverty. Each disc is a high school; the red dots are charter schools, the grey are public schools. In general, charter schools simply to do not compare favorably to public schools, regardless of poverty concentration.
Figure 2. This graph might be disappointing the ERS, Gates, and the Georgia Department of Education. The graph shows the percentage of high school graduates meeting SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted against the concentration of poverty. Each disc is a high school; the red dots are charter schools, the grey are public schools. In general, charter schools simply to do not compare favorably to public schools, regardless of poverty concentration.

But that doesn’t matter.  Facts are not important if you have a policy that is part of a larger plan to privatize public education, to demoralize teachers and their unions, and staff schools with essentially non-certified, un-licienced, and inexperienced teachers who will only stay for two or three years, and then move on to something more lucrative.

The Promo from ERS tries to convince that teacher factor is the most significant factor affecting learning. Thus, Ms. Miles states in the Promo that:

It is our moral obligation to get an effective teacher in every classroom, especially those classrooms that serve our most needy children.

I don’t know about you, but it is sickening to keep hearing very well-off folks repeating this line about needy children, when they turn around and ignore the very factor that holds back so many students, and that is poverty.  Why doesn’t ERS, the Gates Foundation, and the Department of Education address this issue head on?

Midnight Train to Georgia

So, the ERS is coming to town.  And not one town in Georgia.

ERS has established a state-level partnership with the Georgia Department of Education and five school districts.  I wrote a piece here that the Marietta City Schools received $90,000 of the Race to the Top money in August to hire ERS to establish a new compensation structure for the school district employees.

The ERS partnership with the Georgia Department of Education involves financial analysis and school resource analysis in Marietta City, Futon County, Hall County, Vidalia City, Treutlen County.   Assuming each district received $90,000 (as did Marietta), the expenses could be as high as $450,000 plus whatever ERS charges the Department of Education.

Here is a link to a list of articles on the ERS website detailing the work with the state of Georgia. Taking the Midnight Train to Reform in Georgia by Ashley Woo of ERS describes some of the ways ERS is steering the state toward screwing teachers in the name of freedom and flexibility and greater local school autonomy.  In the details, you will find that teacher compensation is a code word for using student test scores as a way to pay teachers.

In my own view, the ERS is a Trojan Horse that has arrived in Georgia, I guess by Midnight Train, and it will release into the state a set of propositions that will de-professionalize the teaching profession, and use methods of evaluation that are unscientific, unreliable and invalid.  The Trojan Horse arrived in Georgia thanks to the Race to the Top fund, which I will report later this week has been a failure.

If you are a Georgia teacher do you want to be leveraged by a a group of corporate managers?

 

 

 

 

Moneyball, Baseball, Teaching & Learning: Is there a Relationship?

 

Moneyball: A book and a movie based on real events in which a baseball team is assembled using analytical, evidence-based, and sabermetric methods.  Sabermetrics is derived from the acronym  SABR meaning Society for American Baseball Research.

GA AWARDS: An acronym which stands for Georgia’s Academic and Workforce Analysis and Research Data System.  GA AWARDS is data collected through Georgia’s Race to the Top (RT3) Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS).

Baseball

According to David Grabiner, Bill James developed sabermetrics which is “the search for objective knowledge about baseball.”  Here is an interesting quote from Grabiner’s book (Grabiner, n.d.):

Sabermetrics attempts to answer objective questions about baseball, such as “which player on the Red Sox contributed the most to the team’s offense?” or “How many home runs will Ken Griffey hit next year?” It cannot deal with the subjective judgments which are also important to the game, such as “Who is your favorite player?” or “That was a great game.”

Using sabermetrics, a baseball team’s management can predict how well a player should do during the next season.  What happens to the player if they don’t produce according to “objective data” collected on him over the past years. Predicting how well a player will do in the future is analogous to using a teacher’s VAM score to predict their performance in the future, don’t you think?

Jackie Robinson's Hitting Statistics, 1947 - 1956.
Figure 1. Jackie Robinson’s Hitting Statistics, 1947 – 1956.

Instead of paying attention just to runs scored, hits, runs batted in, and batting average as shown for Jackie Robinson in Figure 1, sabermetrics expands the categories of data collection by adding variables such as these: base runs, batting average on balls in play, defensive runs saved, equivalent average, late inning pressure situations, Pythagorean expectation, runs created, ultimate zone rating, value over replacement player and so on.  Thus saber metrics applies mathematical tools to analyze baseball, which are used by officials to make decisions about their teams (Wikipedia, 2013).

For teachers, however, the situation is a bit different.  Most states in the U.S. are moving toward pinning teachers’ worth and value on just one variable: student achievement scores on high-stakes tests.  It seems to me, that baseball players might have the edge here.

Statistics have always been a part of baseball.  Baseball cards showed a picture of our favorite players on one side, but on the flip side was the player’s complete batting or pitching record .  But it was nothing like the spreadsheets that are now used in the age of sabermetrics.  Just look at the Figures 2 and 3 which are spread sheets of data used by sabermaticians.

As one author stated, “sabermetrics dig deep into raw data to answer questions such as: Do pitching coaches actually make a difference? Or, what’s the best way to measure a hitter’s value the team?” (J. Silverman, How Stuff Works).  Figures 2 & 3 show some of the data used by baseball officials to make decisions about its players.

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Figure 2. Micro-View of MLB 2011 Season Data

 

Figure 3. Enlarged view of the data shown in Figure 2.
Figure 3. Enlarged view of the data shown in Figure 2.

 

Many baseball front offices have adopted sabermetrics, based on the work of Bill James, who had been publishing books on baseball including its history and statistics before he was discovered by Major League Baseball.   The Oakland A’s were the first team to apply and adopt the principles of sabermetrics.  The movie Moneyball was based on the book with the same title  chronicling the the A’s general manager, Billy Beane, who applied the method to his team.

Much of the MLB data is online, and you can follow this link to Bill James Online.

Do you see any parallels with what is happening in education?  Is there any connection between sabermetrics and the current data collection and analysis strategies that have been adopted by all state education departments, and the U.S. Department of Education?  As you will see, education has a long history of collecting data, but nothing compared to what is happening in 2013.

Education

Like the statistics on the back of a baseball card, statistics on education have been collected since 1867 when Congress established a department of education for the purpose of collecting data on the condition and progress of education in the states and its territories (Grant, W. V., 1993).  As Grant recalls, the department was very small, and as an entity was moved around from one Federal agency to another, until it was separated from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1980 to become the U.S. Department of Education (ED).  The collection of data at the Federal level really began when in 1870, Congress authorized the department of education to hire its first statistician.

With time, the statistics part of the department, which is now the National Center for Education Statistics, expanded, so that by the the 1960s the center was collecting and publishing high quantities of data.

In 1969, the center began the National Assessment of Education Progress which has since then surveyed nationwide samples of students at age 9, 13 and 17 in  mathematics, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, U.S. history, and beginning in 2014, in Technology and Engineering Literacy (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2013).

In 2001, the U.S. Congress established the No Child Left Behind Act which required all states to develop assessments in basic skills, and to give these assessments to all students in order to receive federal school funding.

 

Figure 4. Race to the Top Winners.  Blue: Winners; Green: Losers: Yellow: Did not Submit
Figure 4. Race to the Top Winners. Blue: Winners; Green: Losers: Yellow: Did not Submit

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education used $4.35 billion to fund The Race to the Top, a contest in which states competed for this money in two rounds of proposal writing.  Those states that received funding had to agree to use statistics as a method to evaluate teachers, and to use a major portion of the funding to establish statewide longitudinal data systems to improve instruction, to evaluate schools and teachers.

Whether they received funding or not, many states changed their policies so as to position themselves to become more competititive for Race to the Top funding.  Some states, at the last minute, agreed to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores, and to adopt the Common Core State Standards.

GA AWARDS

Georgia was one of the states that was a winner in the Race to the Top competition, and based on its proposal was required to develop a longitudinal data system.  Georgia’s system is GA AWARDS or Georgia’s Academic and Workforce Analysis and Research Data System.

According to the GA AWARDS website, the data system:

has been made available to researchers with the high-level analytical skills and research training needed to mine the data and answer critical educational policy and evaluation questions. (emphasis mine)

Researchers will be asked to focus on key topics and advocacy areas including:

  • effectiveness of educator preparation programs
  • effectiveness of strategies and interventions implemented within the State’s RT3 proposal
  • education background of students who experience the least difficulty in transitioning to college

There’s a lot of data available to the researchers.  According to the Georgia Department of Education, the Race to the Top data will be combined from data sets in these state agencies:

  • Bright from the Start: Department of Early Care & Learning – DECAL
  • Department of Education – DoE
  • Georgia Student Finance Achievement – GSFC
  • Governor’s Office of Student Achievement – GOSA
  • Georgia Professional Standards Commission – PSC
  • Technical College System of Georgia – TCSG
  • University System of Georgia – USG

This past week, the Georgia Department of Education released a data driven 110-point grading or report card system that published scores for individual schools, districts, and the state as a whole.  Although the grading system doesn’t use as many categories as used in Sabermetrics, the principles are in place to use the data to make crucial decisions about students, teachers, and administrators.  The educational front offices of the state and each school system will be able to make decisions that may or may not be advisable.

The selection of variables that the department of education thinks are the most important in measuring student learning are highly questionable.  For example, for more than a decade, critics have questioned the use of academic learning based on end-of-the-year high-stakes tests as the major variable to assess student learning.  Yet, in Georgia, the state’s teacher evaluation system which uses a teachers “value added” score will be based largely on student test scores. Much of the drive to put into place this far reaching data driven system of education can be traced to the Race to the Top. In a letter to the Georgia Department of Education, scholars in some of Georgia’s universities have recommended that the state not use this method to evaluate teachers because there is no evidence to show its been proven.

However, the Department of Education forges ahead.

CCRPI

Georgia just unveiled a new data system.  CCRPI, or College and Career Ready Performance Index is equivalent to Bill James sabermetrics used in baseball.   The index is actually a score on a scale from 0 – 110, called the CCRPI Score.   The score is a sum of achievement, progress, achievement gap, and challenge points.  Kind of like runs batted in,  Pythagorean expectation, runs created, and ultimate zone rating used in baseball.  From this kind of data, the state classifies schools as Reward Schools, Priority Schools, Focus Schools, and Alert Schools.  Guess which variable is associated with these categories of schools?

When I dug deeper into the CCRPI index, I realized that the mathematics be used to sort out differences among schools was along the lines of sabermetrics.

At the high school level, a CCRPI is the amalgam  of 19 items including (a) content mastery—% of students meeting or exceeding content test criteria (b) post high school readiness—% of graduates, % of AP courses, % passing certain national industry credential tests, and so forth, and (c) graduate rate in %.

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Figure 5. College and Career Ready Performance Index for the State of Georgia.

Figure 5 is an image of the CCRPI Index home page.  This page shows an average score for all of Georgia’s schools.  As you can the CCRPI score for the state is 83.4 out of 110 points.  The total score is a sum of achievement (57.5), progress points (9.8), achievement gap points (10.5) and challenge points—exceeding the bar (5.6).

Using the website, we can find the CCRPI scores for every school in the state, including public and charter schools.  For example here are CCRPI scores for a few school districts that I have worked with in the past.  In addition to the CCRPI score for these districts, I have included the percentage of students eligible to receive free or reduced price meals.  As you can see, there is an inverse relationship between CCRPI score and percentage of free/reduced lunches.  The lower the CCRPI score, the higher the percentage of students eligible for free/reduced lunch.  As Jean Sanders correctly points out (see comments below), higher ranking districts are rating “high” because scores are highly correlated with student body SES and income factors.

Relationship between CCRPI Score and % of Students Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch in Selected Georgia  School Districts
Figure 6. Relationship between CCRPI Score and % of Students Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch in Selected Georgia School Districts

The CCRPI scoring system (follow this link to a slide show on the system) was part of Georgia’s Flexibility Report request to obtain waivers on some aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act.  I’ve discussed this request in some detail here.   The new scoring system is also readiness for the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English/language arts, and assessments will be in place by 2014 based on the Common Core.

The CCRPI score system reduces the nature of teaching and learning to a single number that people really believe.  Unfortunately the system does not tell us anything about the arts program of a school.  It says nothing about the participation level of students in school activities.  It doesn’t tell us anything about the kind of work that students do, nor does it tell us anything about the values and aspirations that are in place in the school.

Is there any kind of relationship between the method used to evaluate baseball players and the method used to evaluate schools, teachers and students?  There seems to be, but baseball and education are based on very different value and compensation systems. To use the sabermetrics type of evaluation to judge schools and teachers is problematic. It sets up league standings of schools based on CCRPI scores. The rankings and scores are used to make comparisons, establish rewards and impose punishments.

When you sit in front of a computer screen and see the data that is at your finger tips, it makes you wonder just what is going on here.  Will education use statistics in the same way that some front office managers are using in baseball?

What do you think?

References

Grabiner, D. J.. (n.d.). The Sabermetrics Manefesto. In SeanLayman.com. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://www.seanlahman.com/baseball-archive/sabermetrics/sabermetric-manifesto/.

Grant, W. V. (1993). 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait. In National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved May 12, 2013, from http://0-nces.ed.gov.opac.acc.msmc.edu/pubs93/93442.pdf

Silverman, J. How Sabermetrics Works. In How Stuff Works, Retrieved May 14, 2013, from http://www.howstuffworks.com/sabermetrics.htm

Wikipedia. (May 7, 2013). Sabermetrics. In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabermetrics.

From Educators to Racketeers: How Education Reform Led to a National Testing Scandal

Thirty-five Atlanta Public School educators were accused by a grand jury of racketeering, false statements and writings, false swearing, theft by taking and influencing witnesses.

How could this happen in the Atlanta Public Schools (APS)?  The district is in a city that is home to The King Center, The Carter Center, Clark Atlanta University, Emory University, Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and many other institutions that embody academic, research and cultural and social change.   Each of these institutions collaborated with the Atlanta Public Schools, some more than others, in research projects, staff development programs, curriculum development, and other educational activities for decades.  Grants were received from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and many other funding agencies. The Georgia Department of Education has contributed to the APS by providing consultants to help teachers who work with struggling students in the lowest performing schools in Atlanta.  Some schools received funding from private foundations and corporations, as well as mentoring and training relationships with local universities, especially in science and technology.  (Disclaimer: I was professor of science education at Georgia State University from 1969 – 2002, and worked with teachers and administrators in the Atlanta Public Schools).

How could these educators end up being accused of racketeering?  It doesn’t make any sense.  Or does it?

The Parks Middle School Case

It might surprise you, but the Atlanta Public Schools did more than simply change answer sheets to improve student learning.  Did the students learn, in spite of some teachers’ and administrators’ behavior. They did because the teaching practices that were initiated, especially in reading and English/language arts, seem to hold as shown in CRCT test results the year AFTER the scandal.  I want to give some information that should be considered when we explore the nature of the charges brought against the APS.

In the Atlanta bubble test erasure investigation, Parks Middle School was center-stage in the investigation. According to the report, “cheating” occurred from 2005 – 2009. According to the report, the principal conspired with other administrators and some teachers to systematically changed answers on student bubble tests during these, and made an effort to keep this from the test coördinator.

But, during this period Parks was held up as a model of how to turn around an urban school. In fact a lengthy report in the form of a published paper (here) of Parks’ efforts and successes was included in the Governor’s Investigative report. Parks was involved in many creative curriculum efforts designed to help students make success.

I examined the data at CRCT website (Georgia Department of Education) for a three-year period, 2008 -2010. I wanted to find out how the scores changed (if at all) in 2010 in each subject area. As you can see in the areas of Reading and English/Language Arts Parks more than 90% of Park’s 8th graders met or exceeded the state target, even after the year when “cheating” was discovered. In the areas of math, science and social studies, we do see an appreciable decline in CRCT results in 2010.

At Parks Middle School, the increase in reading scores rose dramatically from 2004 from 35% to 74%, and then to 98.5 in 2009. According to the Governor’s investigative team, the scores in 2010 (the year in which we can be certain there was no cheating), students in the 8th grade at Parks still scored above 90%. The same is true for English/Language Arts.

Why Parks’ Students Scores Increased Dramatically. In a paper describing the Parks’ story of success, the dramatic gains in student test scores was attributed to effective leadership, data-driven planning and instruction, high expectations, strategic partners (corporate sponsors including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation), increased student discipline, and more professional development. The Annie Casey Foundation, which invests in charter schools, vouchers and organizations such as Teach for America, was a major contributor to Parks Middle.  The Foundation produced a video podcast of Parks success in turning around the chronic failure for many years. There is evidence that these did indeed occur, although some might argue with the “effective leadership” attribute.  But this is just the surface of the partnerships that Parks’ principal, Christopher Waller spearheaded since his appointment as head of the school.  The efforts that were made from 2005 on at Parks Middle School were impressive, and no doubt contributed to the success that was revealed in the years ahead.  Yet, with this success the school suffered financially by losing significant funding totaling more than $800,000 per year.

These dramatic increases in student performance were lauded, locally and nationally, and Parks received many awards, and enormous financial support during this period. Superintendent Hall praised the work of the principal, Christopher Waller, and both were recognized for creating conditions that made learning successful for poor children. Specialists in reading, special education and other areas were hired to give staff development and instruction for students. Waller launched Project GRAD at Parks Middle School, a reform model that included professional development for teachers, on going support, coaching and re-training. Twenty-five Atlanta elementary, middle and high schools now take part in Project GRAD. Project GRAD is a national program, and is in place in more than ten cities around the country.

Georgia State Department InvolvementThe Georgia Department of Education was involved with Parks Middle through the NCLB “Needs Improvement” schools support. The state assigned Dr. Cheryl Hunley to serve with Parks and six other area schools. Working closely with the principal, she provided professional development, and worked very closely with the entire staff at Parks.

In addition to these two major sources of professional development, Parks was also part of the SRT 2 (School Reform Team 2), an initiative begun by Dr. Hall which was led by an executive director who oversaw several schools. Training, support, and help was localized with in the district through four SRTeams.  In 2012, the new superintendent initiated a cluster model organizing the schools in Atlanta into 10 clusters composed of dedicated elementary schools feeding into dedicated middle and ultimately dedicated high schools.

There is no doubt Parks was involved in innovative school improvement. And given, the data that is shown in the Figure 1, we can conclude that these efforts must have contributed to some of the gains shown in student CRCT test results, especially in Reading and English/Language Arts.

Test Results. The results in Math, which did decrease in 2010, are disappointing. The scores in science and social studies show the greatest losses. But I remember several years ago that Dr. Hall was quoted as saying that there is no way that students will do well on the NAEP Science Test with out Reading and Math. She indirectly was saying that schools should emphasize reading and math to the exclusion of science, and perhaps social studies.

The data reported by the Investigative Team of the Governor’s Office, and the CRCT data for these three years does not answer all the questions. Teachers may have cheated in changing student scores, but students did learn and improve, and they need to be informed that all of their gain was not due to teacher’s changing their papers.

Parks Middle School Reading English Language Arts Math Science Social Studies
2008 93.5 94.4 81.5 49.2 79
2009 98.5 96.9 85.4 58.5 66.9
2010 94 89.4 70.2 35 28
Average 95.3 93.5 79.0 47.5 57.9
Figure 1. Percent of Students Who Met or Exceeded the CRCT State Mandated Standard by Subject, 2008 – 2010 at Parks Middle School. Note: 2009 was the year the Governor’s Office investigated excessive erasures in the APS. In 2010, there were few, if any, erasures on bubble tests.
 

How could these organizations be involved with Parks Middle School and not question or wonder about the success that their efforts were having at the school?  Did they believe that their efforts did make the difference?  Did they ever consider that other factors such as cheating?  Yet, as I’ve shown, there was more going on at Parks Middle School than cheating on student achievement tests.  If you read the article on Parks Middle School written by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that is included in the Governor’s Investigative Report on the Atlanta Public Schools, you will find details of the educational innovations that were put into place including after school programs for students, staff development for teachers, and partnerships with tens of organizations.  These probably played as much a part in increasing student’s ability to offer correct answers on the state achievement tests as did the erasures of student test sheets.

Preserving the Status Quo

I am going to argue that the cheating scandal, and the charges against 35 educators is because the country is mired in educational reform that has turned schools into testing factories. We can explain this mire if we look at two different political and social world-views, the conservative world-view (preserving things as they are), and the progressive world-view (forward-looking). Each world-view has played significant roles in American history, including public education.  Progressive and conservative approaches to education have competed with each other in America for more than a century. The conservative view has dominated American education, but we’ll also find that the progressive view has affected American education in powerful ways at different times during this period.

In this post I will try to show how the conservative world-view has negatively affected the way public schools determine curriculum, hold schools accountable for student learning, and the effectiveness of schools and teachers.  The theoretical basis for the conservative agenda for education will come to light here, and we will see that the authoritarian nature of the conservative view effectively perceives teachers as workers who prepare students to take achievement tests.  Because of the top-down nature of an authoritarian system, teachers have little opportunity to influence educational policy, and have not been instrumental in determining the goals and standards which they are responsible for carrying out in public schools.

We would agree that the teachers and administrators who were indicted by a Fulton County grand jury are not only innocent until they are found guilty in an American courtroom, but we will see that they were an unfortunate part of an authoritarian regime that has claimed schooling in America.

The erasure and cheating debacle that happened in Atlanta was not directly caused by high-stakes testing.  And, it was not limited to the Atlanta Public Schools.  Other school districts in Georgia, and in school districts around the country including Washington, D.C., and New York City have shown very high erasure rates on student achievement tests.    In the Atlanta case, the Atlanta Journal Constitution launched an investigation into testing irregularities that they “uncovered” in some Georgia schools.  These irregularities lead to a full-scale analysis of millions of pieces of data that was available because of the open records law.  The AJC reports lead Sonny Perdue, then Governor of Georgia to appoint a special investigative team to probe the allegations of test tampering in the APS.  The report of this investigation was hand delivered to Governor Nathan Deal by the three investigators, Michael J. Bowers, former Attorney General of Georgia, Robert E. Wilson (Attorney and former District Attorney, & Chief Public Defender), and Richard L. Hyde (Former Atlanta Police Officer, and Lead Investigator for the Attorney General’s Office).

The cheating scandal in Atlanta and other school districts around the country is a symptom related to something bigger than achievement tests.  The cheating calls into question the nature of contemporary schooling.  We have a systemic problem that relates to why we have put so much emphasis on achievement test results, when we know that in the larger scheme of things, test scores do not tell us very much about student learning and the effectiveness of schools.  The end-of-the-year achievement tests are summative (a point in time assessment of what students know), and do not necessarily relate to the student’s curriculum.  A better way to assess student learning is to rely on the evaluation tools that local schools and teachers use to help students learn.  Numerous research studies have shown that formative tests (tests that a part of instruction), student journals, portfolios, student work, student conferences, teacher questioning and probing give a clearer picture of student learning.  Teachers across the nation have put into practice this form of evaluation and assessment.  Unfortunately none of this data is used to “measure” student learning in public schools in America.  It is reduced to a single end-of-the-year test.  We are on the wrong path.

World-Views

In order to understand how world-views can be used to look at education and the scandal that happened in Atlanta, and that is occurring in other school districts, I am going to reference the cognitive modeling and cognitive theory of metaphor by George Lakoff. Lakoff in his book Thinking Points:

formulated the nation-as-family metaphor as a precise mapping between the nation and the family: the homeland as home, the citizens as siblings, the government (or the head of government) as parent. The government’s duty is to citizens as a parent is to children: provide security (protect us); make laws (tell us what we can and cannot do); run the economy (make sure we have enough money and supplies); provide public schools (educate us).

World view refers to the culturally dependent, generally subconscious, fundamental organization of the mind,” according to William W. Cobern, who has done extensive research on world-view and how it impinges teaching. One’s world view predisposes one to feel, think and act in predictable way, according to Cobern. World-view inclines one to a particular way of thinking.

Conceptual Metaphor of Nation as Family

According to research by George Lakoff and the Rockbridge Institute, the moral world-view of either conservatives or progressives can be understood by using the conceptual metaphor of Nation as Family. 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 founding fathers, 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. The diagram below shows the organization of schooling according to a conservative world-view.  In the illustration that I have created, the authority or head of the family resides with the State Department of Education.  From the DOE, each school district is headed by a superintendent and team of school principles.  The teachers in each school serve the principal, who serves at the will of the superintendent.  It’s a top down organization, and that is a problem.

Conservative World-View

The world-view of conservatives can be explained using the conceptual metaphor for Nation as Family. 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-discipline, respect authority, and learn right from wrong they are strong enough to succeed in the world.

This list of characteristics helps us understand a conservative family’s world-view. As we look around us, and especially when we look at schooling today, we see the influence of the conservative world-view. Indeed, the fundamental values of the conservative world-view shape most aspects of public schools today.  The top-down conceptualization of schooling means that teachers are at the bottom of the organizational flow chart, and have little power in shaping policy, standards, and assessments.  Yet, they are ones whose jobs are dependent on policies that are not democratic.

In their book, entitled, Thinking Points by George Lakoff, and the Rockbridge Institute, the core conservative values are:

  • Authority: assumed to be morally good and used to exert legitimate control ( it is imperative that authority is never questioned)
  • Discipline: self-control learned through punishment when one does wrong (it is understood that failure of authority to punish for wrong doing is a moral failure)

The public schools in the U.S. reflect the core values of authority and discipline, and many of the laws and acts (especially the NCLB Act of 2001) was written by the authority of the government, and set in motion an image that suggests that students, teachers and administrators are siblings in the Family of Education, and are beholden to the Authority of Federal and State departments of education. It’s a top-down system, and conceptual metaphor of the “Strict Father Family” mirrors the way public schools are conceptualized.

At the top of the organizational chart for the Atlanta Public Schools was Dr. Beverly Hall, who retired in 2009, and was replaced by Dr. Erroll Davis, former chancellor of the University System of Georgia.  But the system of education in Atlanta is linked to and includes the Georgia Department of Education, which has the legal authority to decide the teaching and learning standards for all Georgia schools, and is responsible for measuring the year-to-year achievement of students on statewide assessments.  These assessments are used to decide the AYP or Adequate Yearly Progress of schools in the state.

Education through Conservative Lenses

Atlanta Test Erasure Scandal.  In the Atlanta test erasure scandal, nearly 200 teachers and administrators in the Atlanta Public Schools were investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and many of these teachers lost their jobs, were fired, or forced to resign.  Thirty-five, including the former superintendent were indicted by a Fulton County grand jury.  They face racketeering charges, false statements and writings, false swearing, theft by taking and influencing witnesses.

What happened in Atlanta? Why did so many teachers and administrators cheat when they knew that they were being monitored by the Georgia Department of Education? Does the conservative world-view shed light on the cheating scandal?

According to the Georgia Governor’s three-volume report, the Atlanta cheating scandal was caused by “a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation that spread throughout the (Atlanta) district.”  That culture of fear was directly related to the pressure put on administrators, teachers, and students to make sure students scored high on the end-of-year tests at any costs.

In the years leading up to the time that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution crack investigative team released its report on the suspicious test erasures, the Georgia Department of Education assigned specialists to work closely with Atlanta administrators and teachers by providing staff development training, especially in schools that were identified by testing as “Needs Improvement.” Many of these schools saw their student’s test scores go up over several years. Did these scores go up because of cheating, or because of the professional support the schools received from the Georgia Department of Education?

According to the investigative report of the Governor of Georgia, bubble sheets were changed, perhaps as the Governor suggested, the culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation led to this scandal.

If we could find out who or what perpetuated the culture of fear, it might help us understand why wide-spread cheating took place. (Note: I do not use this case to single out the Atlanta School System; the evidence from various reports is that cheating has taken place in many other cities around the country; nor do I condone the cheating).

Accountability  In the conservative approach to teaching and learning, hierarchical rules were established to make the nation’s schools and districts conform to an imposed set of standards and authoritarian assessments. In the first installment of the NCLB Act of 2001, terms such as accountability for schools, adequate yearly progress and getting results were used to discuss the way schools would be evaluated.

Teachers would agree that they should be accountable for their work by creating learning environments where students are successful. However, accountability in its present form means that student test scores will be used as the measure of accountability. Using an arbitrary level of performance, yearly progress will be based on student scores, and these in turn will be used to reward or punish schools, as well as teachers and administrators. The “strict father family” model shines a light how standards and assessments are used to judge student learning, and teacher performance. Learning and performance will be adequate (good) or inadequate (bad or see as failure), and students, if they are inadequate, will be retained, or forced to take summer classes, and then tested again, and teachers will be evaluated using their student’s scores, and then appropriate rewards and punishments handed out.

Accountability in the conservative world-view derives from an authority, and what the authority determines is success. In general the authority of the state is able to “raise the bar” on students over time. It’s as if the authority is mad at students (because of scores on international tests?), and punishes them by making it more difficult to pass the tests. Is this the kind of accountability that professional educators would choose?

Culture of Fear?

Was it the former superintendent of Atlanta that created the culture of fear? Or did the culture of fear spread to the Atlanta School System from the Georgia Department of Education? Could the annual testing cycle and the stakes that are placed on student test scores create a culture of fear in a district?  Was the culture of fear created by a system of schooling based on the “Strict Father Family” conceptual metaphor in which a hierarchy exists that is never to be questioned?  Have we created a system of schooling that is so hierarchical that teachers, who work directly with students, are not viewed as decision makers, but simply as workers to carry out the instructions of those above them?  Are students capable of only learning information that they will be asked on multiple choice exams, or can they do problem solving and inquiry?  In the model of schooling that we have today, it is implied that when children become self-disciplined, respect authority, and learn right from wrong, they are strong enough to succeed in the world.

This is a very controlling and narrow view of students and teachers.

If we assume that the Department of Education is the authority in determining what students should learn in schools across the state, and the authority in determining how the student’s performance will be judged, then one way of looking at education in Georgia is from a conservative lens. In the conservative view, the state, acting as the authority figure, holds school districts, and schools accountable based on high-stakes achievement test scores of its students.

Rewards and punishments are handed out each year. Those schools that meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYI)–using attendance and test scores, are considered successful; those schools that do not meet AYI, are considered unsuccessful. If a school fails AYI for several years in a row they enter “corrective action,” which could lead to the take over of the school, or the firing of all the teachers.

What does this scandal tell us about the conservative world view?  Or what does the conservative world view tell us about what motivates professional educators to put themselves into a place that they have been charged with racketeering?

In the next post, I’ll look at schooling in America from the progressive world-view, and show that American values are progressive, and that education should be based on equality, human rights, social responsibility and inquiry.

What do you think about what happened in Atlanta?  Do you think that our system of schooling could have anything do with the wide-scale cheating that is occurring in American schools today?

Parent Revolution in Georgia’s HB 123?: I Don’t Think So

Today I received a letter from Ryan Donohue, Deputy Director Advocacy Director of  Parent Revolution informing that the Georgia House of Representatives passed HB 123, the “Parent & Teacher Empowerment Act.”  It is actually the Parent Trigger bill that you have all heard about, especially if you saw or read about the movie Won’t Back Down.  The letter I received said that this was a great first step for Georgia parents because they got a seat at the decision-making table for their children’s education.  I called the local board of education, and asked if they would reserve my seat at the decision-making table!

The letter then goes on to say that the bill needs to pass the Georgia Senate, and would I come to an empowerment rally at the Capitol next Wednesday at 9:00 a.m.   I can’t wait.

Parent Revolution is another one of the Billionaire Boys Club’s organizations that is funded by the Gates Foundation, Broad Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and others.

 

Update 3.22.2013

EmpowerEd Georgia reported that the Parent Trigger legislation in Georgia was tabled for this legislative session. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution story, the bill was pulled because it didn’t have the votes needed in the senate for passage.

 Revolution, Empowerment & Triggers

Parents in Georgia did not urge their representatives to write this bill. Instead, the bill is a copy of the “Parent trigger bill” written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which you can read on the ALEC site, and the Parent Revolution site, and the same bill that is floating around other state legislatures such as the Florida “Parent Empowerment in Education bill or the Oklahoma “Parent Empowerment Act.”  Odd, wouldn’t you say that the word empowerment appears in the Georgia, Florida & Oklahoma bills.  The Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma bills use parents as 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.

The parent trigger is an idea pushed by national organizations who are in bed with national charter school organizations. The Georgia bill has nothing to do with parents’ decision making. Parents already can make decisions about their children’s education.  The Parent Trigger, according to some observers, is a political device created by venture capitalists and return-on-investment philanthropists who want to expand for-profit charter school chains.  If you think I am making this up, here is a quote from the Georgia bill linking failing schools, parent trigger and charter schools.  A summary of House Bill 123 states:

A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Chapter 2 of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to elementary and secondary education, so as to enact the “Parent and Teacher Empowerment Act”; to provide for petitions to convert existing schools to charter schools or to impose turnaround models; to provide for definitions; to allow for petitions by parents or teachers; to provide for turnaround models; to provide for notice to the State Board of Education; to provide for local board approval; to provide for applicability; to provide for rules and regulations; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

Pulling the Trigger On Schools with Poor Report Cards

Georgia’s accountability system includes a profile for every school and system in the state that includes an absolute performance determination based on Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), a performance index based on annual growth in academic achievement based on the state’s CRCT, and performance highlight recognizing and rewarding some schools.

Using the Olympic medals system of gold, silver and bronze (Georgia has inserted at the top, a platinum award for the very best), and using primarily achievement test scores, schools can be graded as follows:

  • Platinum School—AYP for three years and running; 35% exceeding standards
  • Gold School—AYP for two years and 30% exceeding standards
  • Silver School—AYP for two years and 25% exceeding standards
  • Bronze School–must not be in the Needs Improvement (N.I) status and 20% exceeding standards

In the 2011 AYP report for the state of Georgia, of the 2,246 schools in the state, 1,633 (72.7%) met AYP, while 613 (27.3%) did not meet AYP.  Three-hundred and Seventy (16%) of Georgia’s public schools were awarded platinum, gold, silver or bronze designations.  One thousand eight hundred and seventy-six (83.5%) were not awarded at all.  State officials focused only on Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) score’s improvement or gains from one year to the next, or simply to highest performance (follow this link to see these schools).  From the Georgia accountability site,other factors of student life at school were not considered in the awards competition.

The data that is available on the Georgia Department of Education website is a goldmine for those who wish to pull the trigger on schools around the state of Georgia.  There are 613 schools that did not meet AYP in 2011.  These schools are prime contenders for charter school management companies.  A little lobbying to convince parents that their school is a failure and should be taken over by a charter organization is quite possible.

The Gold Mine: Map of Georgia School Districts with a links to each School and District's Report Card
The Gold Mine: Map of Georgia School Districts with a links to each School and District’s Report Card

Parents have had nothing to do with determining how and what the grade should be for their child’s school.  But, parents will be convinced that many of the schools in their district are in shambles, failing to educate their students, and that the teachers are helpless to change things around.

But the accountability systems used by the Department of Education is a set up.  By establishing standards and assessments that are out of touch with the real needs of children and youth, the state bureaucracy’s rules for rewarding or punishing schools makes it nearly impossible for some schools to avoid punishment.

Georgia HB 123 is based a system that does nothing to improve student learning.

Mind you, nothing has been done to give staff development support, especially for schools with high percentages of struggling learners, and schools with high percentages of free and reduced lunches.

The Georgia accountability system calls for financial be givrn to schools that have demonstrated the greatest improvement in achievement gap closure. Financial awards can also be awarded to schools for performance in student achievement or student progress. Awards will range from $500 – $2000.

Now keep in mind that research studies that investigated the relationship between student progress and personnel awards does not support the state putting into place such an award for performance system.

It is punitive to use high-stakes tests such as the CRCT to make significant decisions about student performance, let alone grading a school or a district.

Parent Revolution in Georgia: No

So, when you think about the Report Card system that Georgia uses, it is a set up to punish schools who probably have gone out of their way to help struggling learners.  So to stigmatize these schools even further, the best the state can offer is to close it down, fire the teachers and administrators in turn the school over to an out-of-state charter company. Instead of relying on research on schools with struggling learners, the Billionaire Boys Club will continue to pour money into charter management companies in hope of a return on their investment.  As Anthony Cody wrote in one of his blog posts, Yes, Virginia, there really is a billionaire boys club.

In a large study of resource allocation practices and student achievement, Boyer, Clark and Patrick investigated 21 Texas school districts. The findings are interesting in the light of the Georgia legislature’s desire to manipulate school funding and student achievement. Three overall policy implications from their research are as follows:

–1st – Hire/retain teachers with experience.
–2nd – Hire/retain good district level administrators and strong, committed finance directors (foster a team approach).
–3rd – Create/preserve low teacher to student ratios (for various reasons).

These recommendations are not favored by the Department of Education, nor most of the Georgia legislators.  When a school does not meet AYP for more than a year, the state swoops in with an advisor who spends time in the school to point out how the teachers can improve to lift scores on next year’s CRCT.  There is little effort or resources put into teacher education and advanced training for the educators in the school, nor is there an effort to cut the class size.

Accountability needs to be school based and needs to consider the context and community of the school.  Simply giving standardized tests to every child in Georgia does nothing to help teachers locally with their students.  Instead of continuing with the authoritarian accountability mandates that is in place in Georgia, it needs to be replaced with a community-based system of accountability, like the system described on Living in Dialog called Community Based Accountability.  In this approach, its the local stakeholders, superintendents, school boards, teachers, parents, students that plan and carry out short and long-term goals in a democratic environment.  A bottom-up, progressive  approach to accountability is what should be in place in every school district in the country.  Julian Vasques Heilig descirbes this approach in some detail here.

Unfortunately, the parent revolution that some claim is represented by Parent Empowerment Bill, is nothing short of a fraud.  It’s top down.  It’s authoritarian, and relies on authoritarian standards and assessments.

Parent Revolution: There Should Be One

Parents in Georgia should be outraged by the way their integrity is being dismissed by corporate sponsored organizations.  They should be outraged because a few people with power and finances are making lots money off their children. Our schools are commons, and should be protected by law from commercial exploitation.

On a recent post over on Anthony Cody’s Living in Dialog blog, Anthony interviewed David Bollier, an activist, researcher, and author exploring the “commons.” According to Bollier, the commons is shared local culture. Although Bollier has not written about the schools as commons, his remarks on Anthony’s site are fruitful here.

The commons consists of those many resources that we share – the atmosphere, water, public spaces, the Internet, scientific knowledge, cultural works, and much more – as well as the social systems and rule-sets that we use to manage them in fair, sustainable ways. It bears emphasizing that the commons is not just the resource itself, but the resource plus the community and its self-organized rule-sets, norms and enforcement of rules. In a broader sense, education and child-rearing are types of commons.

As Bollier points out, there has been a world-wide revival of commons— farming, fisheries, forests, water, urban spaces, software, digital culture, community life, and other areas. The activism here is in defending these commons from the pirates who not only rob, but then turn around and sell the commons to the rest of us.

I believe that our public schools are commons–a resource that can be managed and has its own value. In this context, and using the research of Dr. Bollier, schools are “systems of self-governance that can manage resources in ways that are effective, participatory and fair — and thus experienced as socially and politically legitimate.”

Over on the Public Citizen website, there is a link to a blog, Commercial Alert, which is dedicated to keeping commercial culture in its proper sphere.  In particular, it alerts us to any form of exploitation of children and schools, and undoing of the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.  The authors of Public Citizen write that:

Our nation is in the grips of a commercial hysteria. Sometimes it seems like everything is for sale. At Commercial Alert, we stand up for the idea that some things are too important to be for sale. Not our children. Not our health. Not our minds. Not our schools. Not our values. Not the integrity of our governments. Not for sale. Period.

The school, in my way of thinking, is like a national park or forest. It’s a shared resource that is protected from commercial or market enclosures. As Bollier explains, commons could be converted into tradeable shares called a market enclosure. A price is attached to the enclosures, “subverting qualitative, intangible values that may be ecological, social or long-term.” Every time I visit or drive by a school in my neighborhood, I think of it as a “shared local culture” available to all families in the community.

HB123: A Parent Revolution–I don’t think so–do you?

The schools belong to all of us. HB 123 does not empower parents or teachers. It is a blight on democracy, and on the fact that public schools were established as a common, open and free to us.

Do think parent triggers bills empower families and teachers?