Saturday, June 27, 2009

Brilliance Emitted from the Roots of Grass

Arne Duncan, the members of the board of directors for Democrats for Education Reform, Eli Broad, Bill Gates, the Walton billionaires, and the others pushing for punitive measures and hours and hours of excruciating testing – supposedly their main solution for "inspiring" our nation's children to learn – are desperately in need of an epiphany before they drive us off a cliff with their faulty ideas for how kids should be treated in school.

If only they would take the time to read
– and contemplate the message contained within – this chain of insights produced by a set of Oakland parents and teachers. Henry's summary should be read at least twice.

An exchange from the Oakland Public School Parents listserv:

Topic: Art is Education

Drawn animation from Ms. Rosario's 4th grade class at Peralta Elementary:

Take a look at the thank you scroll at the end. A heck of a lot of blood, sweat and tears go into funding the art education program at Peralta. This kind of classroom work should be funded as a matter of routine in California public schools. My kid will certainly remember this science lesson more than if he just read about Yosemite Valley's geological formation in a textbook.

Yo, yo, yo Yosemite.



You got that right! I'll never forget the time I had my 2nd grade students make nutcrackers for the holidays (this after having seen a performance of the Nutcracker itself). The project was a rather elaborate one; felt, sequins, piping and googly eyes etc. My students were so focused, so happy and so into whole thing. I had several variations of the story in book form and the kids just devoured them. And they always wanted me to play the music thereafter (this admittedly got a bit old). But two things that I'll truly never forget is the time one of my students spontaneously held up his halfway done nutcracker and gleefully shouted, "Mr. Lopez, now I will never ever forget you!", and the time when many years after the project, a former student of mine told me that her mother continued to take out the now ratty nutcracker and put it on their mantel during the holiday season. Art is education, indeed!


Oh, man, this cheered me right up! My almost-7th grader helped edit the math and science films in her 5th grade at Peralta. We all got copies on CD at the end of the year (not sure if it got to YouTube). I agree with M., this is what my kid remembers most from that whole year. Hands-on learning makes all the difference.


You put your finger on the crux of the debate around education reform: hands-on education. The authentic education reform movement came out of the civil rights movement and culminated in the most important initiative in all of the 20th century: Head Start. Head Start has three primary components that make it work: (1) small adult-student ratios, (2) hands-on, developmentally appropriate learning, and (3) collegial relations between teachers and parents. Children who have attended Head Start have consistently performed better even on the inappropriate standardized tests than their non Head Start peers -- up through the third grade, when the gains taper off.

Head Start has been criticized for this tapering off when in fact the real problem is that the Head Start reforms need to be implemented to scale through the K-12 system. This is the reform movement that we need to rally around over the next few decades, the authentic response to No Child Left Behind.


Henry Hitz, Executive Director
Oakland Parents Together
440 Santa Clara Ave.
Oakland, CA 94610
(510) 325-8680

This conversation is that bright light in the tunnel showing us what we need to do. It is called Truth.

Here’s hoping for a domino effect.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Duncan’s Shaky House of Sticks

Some people will believe anything. For instance,

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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan may well be one of these gullible people, or maybe he is being assisted with what to say by his friend Tom over at Vander Ark/Ratcliff.

VA/R provides the following services to assist with the destruction of the
U.S. public education system:
- Strategic Consulting
- Research
- Branding
- Marketing
- Communications
- Public affairs
- Creative Services

One of this company’s claims to fame is establishing the Broad Education Foundation communications office. No more needs to be said.

Fortunately, Parents United for Responsible Education, a group of Chicago public school parents and activists are totally on top of Duncan’s lies, and have been for some time. They've produced a wonderful fact sheet. It will take some time, but David will indeed slay the mighty corporate-steroid-fedGoliath.

PURE FACT SHEET “Dodge-ing the truth”

Arne Duncan, National Press club, May 29, 2009

“And so we have to stop lying to children. We have to tell them the truth. We have to be transparent about data."

What Secretary Duncan says:
Chicago success proves that we as a nation can expect dramatic and quick turnarounds in our lowest-performing schools.” Education Week essay, June 12, 2009
What the data show: Research shows that Chicago's new schools perform only “on par” with traditional neighborhood schools. Rand Corporation (2008), SRI International (2009)

What Secretary Duncan says:
“We had a school that we did -- we turned it around. The students left -- they came back – (Dodge) was one of the worst schools in Chicago; that in the third or fourth year of the turnaround had the highest gain of any elementary school in the state. National Press Club, May 29, 2009

What the data show: Only 12 students who were enrolled at Dodge when it was closed in 2002 were still there in 2005. Memo, CPS Research Dept., 3/20/2006

What Secretary Duncan says:
“With a new high school in North Lawndale where 95 percent of the children graduate...I am convinced we can finally get to what Dr. King talked about." National Press Club, May 29, 2009

What the data show: Graduation rate for North Lawndale College Charter High School is 46.8%. 2008 Illinois school report card

What Secretary Duncan says:
“In every elementary and middle school we turned around, attendance rates improved.” Education Week essay, June 12, 2009

What the data show: Attendance at the 2007 “turnaround model,” Sherman Elementary, dropped from 91.4% the year prior to the takeover to 90.6% in the first year of the takeover. Attendance nearly recovered its pre-takeover rate at 91.3% in 2008. Illinois Interactive Report Card aggregate data

What Secretary Duncan says:
"What we did in Chicago is we moved the adults out. We kept the children, and brought in new teams of adults. Same children, same families, same socioeconomic challenges, same neighborhoods, same buildings, different set of expectations, different set of beliefs. And what we saw was dramatic change." National Press Club, May 29, 2009
What the data show: Other post-turnaround data for “turnaround model” Sherman are even more troubling. By 2008, the data show a 20 percent drop in enrollment, a 10 percent drop in the number of low-income children, and a 17% increase in the mobility rate. True, that's dramatic change, but not in a good way! 2008 Illinois school report card

Over at Education Notes Online, Norm writes that Jerry Bracy is making an offer to buy dinner for the first person who is actually able to pin Duncan down on something specific. I'm thinking of taking that notion a bit farther by taking up a collection to pay for ads which challenge Duncan to engaging in a public duel of minds with Gerald Bracey.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Duncan, Robber Barons, and Victims

Clay Burrell over at is bothered by Arne's Duncanisms. Scary Duncan has been out and about saying all sorts of things. As Burrell excerpted:

In a recent interview, Secretary Duncan discussed how he went about assembling his team, targeting people like Ms. Melendez who came from modest backgrounds, had a passion for the work, and showed an entrepreneurial spirit—and were willing to take what was likely a big pay cut to work in a federal job. No education policy or district superstars with big egos were welcome, he said.

“If they’re scared off because they won’t make more money ... or if they wanted a certain job title, ... that’s not the kind of person we want,” Mr. Duncan said. “We want people for whom this is a real passion. This is mission-driven work. Everyone is taking pay cuts.”

To which Burrell responded

Call me crazy, but you'd think people who were "education policy superstars," who spent their lives in classrooms and later in research, would qualify as "passionate" more than the "missionaries" with an "entrepreneurial spirit." People like, you know, Linda Darling-Hammond, who's devoted her life to knowing through research how to improve education, rather than taking a left turn from entrepreneurialism out of some "money + passion = change you can believe in" zeal.

... Duncan's rhetoric smacks of a sort of anti-intellectualism and pro-entrepreneurialism, and his staff picks reflect that as well. His DoE staffers are overwhelmingly connected more to Eli Broad and Bill Gates than to universities and classrooms.

To put this all into perspective, it's time to review how Duncan got his position.

Duncan earned a B.A. in Sociology from Harvard. That is pretty much the extent of his intellectual foundation. After graduating, he immediately went to Australia to play professional basketball for four years.

When he returned to Chicago, Duncan needed a job (Wanted: employment for a not-particularly-go-getting, perpetually grinning, newly married, only-bachelor-degree-earning Ivy League graduate). Fortunately John Rogers - a fanatic basketball-playing, longtime friend and private high school co-alum - had become extremely wealthy and needed someone to run a new, small, local education-related non-profit he was starting. He slipped Duncan right in to that position. One of the enormous benefits of attending elite private schools is making these sorts of useful connections; it's probably more important than the education itself.

Duncan's only accomplishment in working in urban education at this point was that he had tutored poor kids in high school. We all know how much he likes to tell this story over and over again. By the way, his mother forced ALL of her kids to tutor at her center; she also wouldn't ever let them watch TV.

After a few years of running his friend's non-profit, this mushy, likable bureaucrat got a job in Chicago Public Schools as Deputy Chief of Staff, most likely because of his great connections. A few years later, Mayor Daley appointed the malleable
Duncan as CEO of Chicago Public Schools. This was just after the public-school-system-hating, Broad-connected, education reformer-destroyers had settled down in town. I'm sure they immediately recognized that Duncan would be perfect to work with, and be the sort of perfect blank they could mold.

Meanwhile, having never attended public schools, nor be willing to use them for his own kids, Obama really didn't know all that much about public education. However, for years he had been regularly playing basketball with Duncan, who he met through Michelle's brother (a close friend, and former
Princeton basketball teammate, of John Rogers). This is a tight foursome, folks.

And that's how our nation is now stuck with a cheerful, but bumbling, average bureaucrat who Obama has assigned authority for running the whole show. I repeat: one of the benefits of attending elite private schools is making these sorts of useful connections. Did I mention that the Obama's sent their girls to the same
Chicago private school that Duncan and Rogers attended?

Duncan's presence at the Department of Education is not because of an incredible intelligence, a wide range of experience, or an exceptional level of knowledge; it's because he provides the White House with a level of comfort and familiarity (and honors mutual friend Rogers for his years of Obama political $upport, and who knows who else). By the way, Rogers’ ex-wife is the White House social secretary.

Mr. Casual "call me Arne"
Duncan wouldn't select cabinet members with more intellectual gravitas than he has because he is fundamentally insecure about his own. He certainly realizes his status would be challenged by the presence of someone who is actually distinguished in the field of education, and who may not agree with him on every point, and who would probably win all the debates.

The fact that Duncan signed on to both the Broader Bolder Approach and the Education Equality Project (manifestos with two VERY different points of view) demonstrates to me that the mutable Duncan wasn't sure where to stand. He makes a perfect puppet for the corporate edu-schemers.

By the way, Alexander Russo recently blogged about Arne’s weighing in on a number of issues including raising the driving age in
Ohio (against), a split lunch at Patterson Elementary next year (for), and changing monthly board meeting locations for Chattanooga public schools to the Denny's on Dalton Boulevard (against). Why would he do this? Sorry, but it makes me wonder about his level of intellect.

On the recommendation of Elijah Anderson, I am now reading Blaming the Victim, a classic work by William Ryan. As someone who is paying attention to the methodology of the corporateer-led destruction of public education, all in the name of doing "good," I couldn’t help but be struck by two lines on page 20:

In order to persuade a good and moral man to do evil, then, it is not necessary first to persuade him to become evil. It is only necessary to teach him that he is doing good.

This explains the disconnect I sense between the rhetoric spewed by the corporateers and Harvard MBA-type reformers, (“Education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century!”), and the fact that they never make a peep about the extent of our nation’s poverty and how it affects impoverished families, or our growing class divisions. Fervently believing that what they are saying and doing is good, they bristle and aggressively confront anyone who challenges their position. They declare that those who disagree with them is 1. a racist and 2. a traitor to the cause of wanting to help poor, disadvantaged children. Only their perspective is "good."

Ryan’s book was originally published in 1971. A revised edition was released in 1976 with a new introduction. By then Ryan says he had enlarged his vision of who the “victims” in American society really were.

In fact, everyone who depends for the sustenance of himself and his family on salary and wages, and who does not have a separate source of income through some substantial ownership of wealth, is a potential victim in America. He is vulnerable to the disaster of catastrophic illness in a private-enterprise medical-care system; he is vulnerable to the deliberate manipulation of inflation and unemployment; he is vulnerable to the burden of grossly unfair taxes; he is vulnerable to the endemic pollution of air and food and to the unattended hazards of the factory and the highway that will likely kill him before his time; he is vulnerable to the greed of the great oil companies and food corporations.

The victims in American society are not simply the 10 percent of us who are Black, the 15 percent or so who are officially below the “poverty line." The majority of us who are non-Black and, officially at least, non-poor, are also victims. At least two-thirds, perhaps three-fourths of us are relatively poor compared to the standards of the top 10 or 5 percent, and relatively vulnerable. Others own America, we’re just workers, whether we realize it or not. Some of us may think we’re flying pretty high and are much better off than those below us, but in the end, we’re just ‘house niggers,” allowed better food than the “field niggers” and wearing fancier clothes. But none of us owns even a corner of the cotton field. Massa owns it all and Massa – the two or three per cent who essentially own America—is the real problem.

It's probably good to be clear about who is really running things; it is Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, the Wal-Mart family, and other millionaires and billionaires along that line. If you are under the impression that we live in a democracy, this will bother you, or perhaps not.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wanted: A Leader for My Daughter's School

Late last night I completed my duty as a parent member of the principal selection committee for my daughter’s high school. Fully aware there was a strong possibility that this was just a “phony committee” (a wise warning from my mother who worked as a medical school administrator for many years), I gave it my best anyway.

The candidates were discouragingly inadequate, both in number and in scope of experience. Despite months of lead time that this position would need to be filled; the district had only been able to scrounge up three people for us to interview, two had been held for a few weeks and one was slipped in at the very last minute that very same day; we barely had time to read the resume. These three are the only ones who had supposedly passed downtown's screening test and who would be willing to work at our 2000-student, comprehensive high school, a school which holds nearly 16% of OUSD’s high school student body.

Of these three candidates, only one had substantial high school administrative experience. One had a few years of administrative experience at a 260-student charter middle school in central California. The other was just slightly more experienced than that, and was the only one who had ever worked for our district.

Along the way it was admitted to us that OUSD is in crisis because it can’t get people to apply as principals for its schools. The district can’t attract people to apply for other types of administrative positions either, according to a friend who is working for the district as a teacher support person.

In regard to the lack of interested applicants willing to work at the high school level, the number is further reduced because only some are open to working at comprehensive high schools, preferring instead the small high schools. From what I've been told, the pay differential at the large schools isn’t enough to compensate for the increased responsibility and workload. I'm sure some principals would prefer comprehensive high schools, with all the interesting activities which accompany them, so perhaps part of the problem is that the district has passive headhunters. And I can’t help but think that an additional reason for the dearth is because the state-run leadership neglected the identification and proper fostering of its future leaders during its stay here. Now the rooster has come home to roost.

So when an already weak school district has been intentionally and heavily destabilized for six straight years by the manipulations and mismanagement conducted by a sequence of Broad-trained, disruptive-force minded state administrators, what would the appeal to working in that district be, especially since principals can make more money in every single neighboring district? It makes me especially sad to recall three great administrators I knew who were essentially driven away by the "new" mentality brought in by the state, and ended up taking early retirement. Believe me when I tell you they were not only skilled, but dedicated to Oakland's kids.

Before we concluded last night, we were compelled by the district rep to take a final vote to reflect our "choice." He said he was required to do this by his superiors. There was a short discussion about possibly developing a Plan B; some members accepted that as an option and others were strongly opposed. On my scrap of paper I wrote “abstain” and scrawled the message, “I don’t want any of these cars and am willing to keep taking the bus for now.”


I occasionally envy oblivious parents; what people don't know can't hurt them. When I explained what had happened at this meeting to my OUSD teacher friend, she advised, “I say just go to Paris, drink absinthe and make art for awhile to get it out of your system.” Right now that sounds about right.

At any rate, in preparation for the above process, I did a little research about NewLeaders for New Schools.

NewLeaders for New Schools

NewLeaders for New Schools is a relatively new principal training program located in a handful of U.S. cities, including the Bay Area. Founded in 2000 by a team who had attended Harvard Business School and Harvard's Graduate School of Education, it was launched in 2001 in Chicago by the Broad Foundation and the Chicago Public Education Fund, Arne Duncan’s home stomping ground.

Among the goals NLFNS is working to achieve by 2014 is to create a “world-class, scalable, sustainable, data-driven organization that has created an essential knowledge base that is actively used by education policy and decision-makers to drive educational excellence at scale. This innovative "action tank" will blend the power of a think tank with the results of and lessons learned from highly successful schools and principals at increasing scale.”

Also: “By 2014, a critical mass of schools in most of our current partner cities--and a critical mass of principal vacancies--will be filled by high-quality New Leaders principals selected and trained by New Leaders with the knowledge, skills, beliefs, and frameworks needed to ensure 90-100% student success rates in their schools.”

Billionaire Eli Broad’s 990’s reveal that he gave NLFNS a total of $7,994,000 in the years 2001 through 2007. His early contributions were identified for use as start-up and first year implementation. He donated $1,056,000 in 2001, $1,218,000 in 2002, $2,250,000 in 2003, $2,000,000 in 2004, $720,000 in 2005, $375,000 in 2006, and $375,000 in 2007.

Lynda Tredway, of UC Berkeley’s Principal Leadership Institute, reported to me that half of the program's curriculum is designed by NLFNS, and the other half is from the administrative training program at Cal State East Bay.

Potential applicants are tempted away from traditional, academic-based principal training programs, like the one at UC Berkeley, because they can't offer the advantages that NLFNS can. For instance, the NLFNS program does not charge tuition. Participants also receive a salary and an automatic administrative residency position (paid for by both OUSD and NLFNS) while they undergo their training. Undoubtedly, the benefits underwritten by the philanthropic funding which NLFNS receives work to entice people into the program, and to create an uneven playing field.

The overwhelming destinations for those who have graduated from the NLFNS Bay Area training program are both the charter and non-charter schools of OUSD. Of the 45 graduates listed in the Winter 2008 issue of the NLFNS Bay Area Community Newsletter, 32 are in the traditional and small schools of OUSD, 10 are at OUSD charter schools, and 13 are at other Bay Area and Central Valley schools, primarily charters.

One point to consider is that for the past several years, NLFNS graduates have been given special, automatic preference and access to leadership positions in OUSD schools by special arrangements made between NLFNS and the Broad-trained state administrators. So the program provides OUSD with candidates for principal positions while blocking good potential candidates from other programs at the same time.

Eli Broad (rhymes with toad) is a 76 year-old accountant by training, and a businessman by experience. He made his initial fortune in real estate and homebuilding (KB Home), then went on to become the founder and CEO of SunAmerica, a subsidiary of AIG (American International Group).*

Broad has no personal experience or training in the field of public education, or in the management of urban public schools or school districts. His massive wealth $6.7 billion (48th richest American) has permitted him to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on education reform projects which he personally launches, including alternative training programs such as NLFNS. His base of operations is the Broad Education Foundation, an organization which is working toward “transforming urban K-12 public education through better governance, management, labor relations and competition."

*This is an insurance corporation heavily involved with the recent financial collapse, and recently listed as eighth of 655 on a list of bad-faith insurers.

Reform, reform, reform.

Here’s what John Thompson has to say.

Hopefully, Arne Duncan will listen closely to John Easton, Charles Payne, and others who have studied reform efforts in Chicago (and elsewhere). Payne calls for "Standards of Implementation" or guidelines for minimum prerequisites required for reforms to be successful. Just as teachers tend to be isolated from each other, "reformers are isolated - by ideology, attitude, ... and tribalisms." Just as teachers need learning "Standards," reformers need Standards or a guide as to whether a minimum amount of professional development, follow-up support, on-going assessment, and capacity for addressing disengagement are available. To borrow Payne's analysis of a previous systemic reform, "one need not spend a decade and $130 million dollars to find out that one doesn't have a theory of action connected to the real world."

In 1971, Seymour Sarason explained the failure of reformers to understand schools as social organizations and their cultures. For another 15 years, he kept a file of letters from people who led failed reform efforts and learned "that reformers ‘had vastly underestimated the force of existing power relationships and had vastly overestimated the willingness of school personnel to confront the implication of those relationships.’"

And above all, "when people who have led a reform effort are asked what they would do differently," writes Payne, "perhaps the single most common answer is "take more time.”

That sensible advice has arrived here too late to be of any help.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Blah, blah, blah...

I just got a canned, "brush it all off" email response from Arne Duncan's appointee to a letter I wrote to A.D. about how deeply troubled I am about the charter school course this administration is taking. At least I tried something.

Kern is the one who dated it wrong.

June 8, 2009

Dear Ms. Higgins

Thank you for your letter to Secretary Arne Duncan expressing your concern about charter schools as a tool for education reform. Your letter has been referred to the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Charter Schools Program and I am pleased to respond.

The Charter Schools Program (CSP) supports the planning, development, and initial implementation of charter schools. Charter schools provide enhanced parental choice and are exempt from many statutory and regulatory requirements. In exchange for increased flexibility, charter schools are held accountable for improving student academic achievement. The objective is to replace rules-based governance with performance-based accountability, thereby stimulating the creativity and commitment of teachers, parents, and citizens.

As you know, President Barack Obama has expressed his support for high-quality charter schools and his intent to double the funding for the Federal Charter School Program to support the creation of more successful charter schools. However, the President has stipulated that the administration will provide this expanded charter school funding only to States that improve accountability for charter schools, allow for interventions in struggling charter schools and have a clear process for closing down chronically underperforming charter schools.

State and local officials have the responsibility for determining authorizing practices, levels of autonomy, acquisition of facilities, charter approval, revocation and renewal and other factors governing charter school regulations in their State. In reality, many charter schools across the nation experience increased flexibilities in exchange for accountability as a direct result of their individual state charter laws and policies.

Charter school achievement continues to be mixed but improving. Studies suggest that charter schools with more experience provide added value when compared to some traditional public schools and that charter schools serving at-risk students can be effective in improving academic achievement. Studies incorporating longitudinal student-level data and rigorous research methodology are increasing, and contributing to our understanding of the impact charter schools are making on student performance. Examples of significant results in key chartering states and cities are that:

According to a recent evaluation conducted by the RAND Corporation, charter high schools in Florida and in Chicago have shown substantial positive effects on both high school completion and college attendance. Their students have higher graduation rates and their graduates have higher rates of college attendance as compared to their peers in traditional public schools.

Similarly, a 2009 study by the Boston Foundation showed that when compared to students enrolled in traditional schools, charter school students in Boston are making significant gains.

2009 data collected through the Department’s EDFacts system reports proficiency rates on State assessments for students enrolled in charter schools in Idaho, Colorado and Tennessee that were higher than those for students in traditional schools in their respective states in reading and mathematics.

Currently, the Department is working to administer the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). We are committed to ensuring that these funds are used effectively not only to help save and create jobs, but also to improve student achievement. The stimulus package contains a “Race to the Top” fund of $4.35 billion to help States with bold plans to improve academic achievement. In addition, $650 million will be awarded directly to local school districts and non-profit organizations that have made significant gains in closing the achievement gap to serve as models for best practices. As Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Innovation and Improvement stated at a congressional hearing about building upon what works at charter schools, “We believe charter schools will play two essential roles in the development and implementation of education reforms that address the widest points of the achievement gap: transforming persistently failing schools and leading our nation’s thinking on education innovation and what works.” The Department plans to make awards under this program in fall 2009 and spring 2010. I would recommend that you monitor the Department’s website,, for the most up-to-date information on the status of this program and its application process.

In closing, you can be assured that the Department will continue to work hard on behalf of American children and their families to ensure that each child has the choice to obtain a public education that is second to none and best meets his or her needs.


Dean Kern

Director, Charter Schools Program

Office of Innovation and Improvement

US Department of Education

400 Maryland Ave., SW

Washington, DC 20202

wk: (202) 260-1882

fx: (202) 205-5630

Oh right, and today I ran into a well-spoken, educated and involved African American mother of one of my daughter's former schoolmates who I hadn't seen for a couple of years. We pleasantly chatted and I learned that her son was now going to one of the Aspire charter schools (California College Preparatory Academy). She said she was very pleased.

This is just one more example of how a charter school has drawn away yet another engaged, African American parent from the public school district. Read about the phenomenon here, brought to you by the Office of Innovation.

And as the very most difficult students (from the most unengaged families) get more and more concentrated together, the schools will get worse and worse. This self-selection effect is going to finish off Oakland's public schools.