Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Blogger asks: How can Teach for America stop making enemies?

Blogger John Thompson has an answer for Teach for America CEO Elisa Villanueva-Beard’s complaint that many progressives and union activists aren’t happy with TFA.

"It's disheartening,” she says, “that people who should be our partners in a larger movement for social justice are fighting the wrong enemy."

Thompson says she has it backwards. TFA declared war on public education when it threw in its lot with “the test-driven school ‘reform’ movement that started this educational civil war by scapegoating teachers who have different beliefs regarding the best ways to improve schools.”

“The problem,” Thompson writes, “is the propaganda spread by too many former TFAers who quickly rose to political prominence. After spending a couple of years or so in the classroom, too many of them feel entitled to impose their cheap and easy silver bullets of ‘High Expectations!’ and ‘No Excuses!’ as if they could reverse the legacies of extreme poverty.”

From Superintendent John White at the top, and generously sprinkled through the ranks at the State Department of Education, are exactly the types of whom Thompson writes.

Why do so many now see Terach for America as the enemy? We can start, Thompson writes, with “the way that Teach For America, along with a host of other education reformers, from Bill Gates to the Walton family, have systematically denied the role of poverty, and insisted that its increase be studiously ignored in favor of an emphasis on high stakes tests. We could address the contemporary school reform movement which threatens to make career teachers an endangered species. This neither fights poverty, nor helps poor children -- in fact it does the opposite.

“When Gates and the ‘Billionaires Boys Club ignore education research and impose their opinions on schools throughout this diverse nation, that is a huge problem. The hubris (and, perhaps, profit motives) that prompts their dictates is an enemy. And, don't get me started on the anti-teacher public relations campaigns that the big boys fund.”

BESE member stays, but ethics board vice-chair goes

The dispute over whether BESE member Kira Orange-Jones should resign because of a conflict of interest (she is executive director of Teach for America in New Orleans, and BESE funds TFA) has claimed a victim, but it’s not Orange-Jones.

As reported here by the New Orleans Tribune, Scott Schneider has resigned his post as vice-chair of the Board of Ethics, perhaps because of news reports about his role in the Orange-Jones scandal.

It happens that staff attorneys for the ethics board recommended that the state’s ethics code “would prohibit Kira Orange Jones, while she serves as a member, from providing compensated services to Teach For America at a time when TFA has or is seeking a contractual, business or financial relationship with either the Louisiana Department of Education or the Recovery School District.”

According to The Tribune, Schneider convinced the ethics board to overrule its staff attorneys and declare that Orange-Jones has no conflict of interest.

In the process, though, Schneider neglected to mention that his employer, Tulane University, has a strong partnership with Teach for America.

Orange-Jones is still on BESE, but Schneider is gone from the ethics board.

Losing lawyer wins big defending Jindal agenda

The attorney general is the official lawyer for the State of Louisiana, and would defend lawsuits against the state at no additional cost to taxpayers.

In spite of that, Gov. Jindal has hired his ally and former executive counsel, Jimmy Faircloth, to represent the state against allegations that the Jindal agenda violates the constitution.

Thus far, Faircloth’s record has been spotty at best. He lost a constitutional challenge to the way Gov. Jindal wanted to fund his voucher scheme, he lost a challenge to the constitutionality of the governor’s plan to turn state retirement plans into cash-balance plots, and a court is waiting to rule again on the legality of Gov. Jindal’s Act 1 education overhaul.

What Faircloth has succeeded at is billing the state. As reporter Tom Aswell reveals here, Faircloth has been paid nearly $1 million over the past two years to defend the Jindal agenda.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Did the CREDO study fudge charter school data?

Many charter school supporters are touting a study by Stanford University’s CREDO (Center for Research on Education Outcomes), which claims to document greater academic growth in charter schools than in their public counterparts.

The Louisiana Department of Education was quick to use the study as evidence that we are “among eleven states where charter school performance outpaced traditional public school growth…”

As always with controversial subjects like charter schools, there were conflicting reports about the accuracy of the study. But in a man-bites-dog twist, one of the loudest critics of the new CREDO study is an ardent supporter of charter schools, Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform.

Allen told National Public Radio reporter Claudio Sanchez that CREDO “manipulated data and made conclusions about policy based on that data” that are “absolutely un-credible.”

As Sanchez wrote for this story, “the CREDO study did not compare real kids to real kids. Instead, researchers took selected data and created a ‘composite’ student to represent public school kids.”

As Jeanne Allen put it, "They compared those (charter school) students to students that don't even exist."
Allen told the reporter that it is possible to collect data on individual student achievement over time and create a legitimate study.

“But it takes a lot of patience and money that too many studies have been unable or unwilling to spend to get to that crucial question,” Sanchez wrote. “Are charter school students learning more than kids in traditional public schools?”

As long as the debate over charter schools is based on flawed research apparently aimed at bolstering a political agenda, it won’t be possible to answer that question.

In Louisiana, the politicians and venture capitalists have decided that charter schools and other privatization schemes are the way to improve educational achievement. They are all too happy to use bogus reports to support their cause.