Thursday, March 31, 2011

A true patriot in charge of Perrin-Whitt CISD

John Kuhn, superintendent of Perrin-Whitt Consolodated Independent School District, speaking at the Save Texas Schools rally on March 21, 2011.

@ 3:30

I will never follow the lead of those who exclude the kids who need eduction the most so that my precious scores will rise. I will never line up with those whose idea of reform is a subtle segregation of the poor and desperate. I want no part of the American caste system.

Look around you. Public school teachers, you are the saviours of our society and always have been. You are the first responders standing in this rubble while they sit in their offices and write judgmental things about you on their clipboards...

John Kuhn’s letter to Texas legislators

More on John Kuhn.

=================== Added on April 14, 2011 ===================

Note:  $500,000,000 to Pearson over next 5 years.
TexasISD General News
Stop labeling teachers, label the lawmakers
By John Kuhn
Apr 14, 2011, 08:39

Provided by John Kuhn as printed in the Minerals Wells Index

Dear Editor,

The age of accountability should be renamed the age of blame, when teachers wear the scarlet letter for the failings of a nation. We send teachers into pockets of poverty that our leaders can’t or won’t eradicate, and when those teachers fail to work miracles among devastated children, we stamp ‘unacceptable’ on their foreheads.

I ask you, where is the label for the lawmaker whose policies fail to clean up the poorest neighborhoods? Why do we not demand that our leaders make “Adequate Yearly Progress”? We have data about poverty, health care, crime, and drug abuse in every legislative district. We know that those factors directly impact our ability to teach kids. Why have we not established annual targets for our legislators to meet? Why do they not join us beneath these vinyl banners that read “exemplary” in the suburbs and “unacceptable” in the slums?

Let us label lawmakers like we label teachers, and we can eliminate 100 percent of poverty, crime, drug abuse, and preventable illness by 2014! It is easy for elected officials to tell teachers to “Race to the top” when no one has a stopwatch on them! Lace up your sneakers, Senators! Come race with us!

Teachers are surrounded by armchair quarterbacks who won’t lift a finger to help, only to point. Congressmen, come down out of those bleachers and strive with us against the pernicious ravages of poverty. We need more from you than blame. America’s education problem is actually a poverty problem.

If labels fix schools, let us use labels to fix our congresses! Let lawmakers show the courage of a teacher! Hold hands with us and let us march together into the teeth of this blame machine you have built. Let us hold this congressman up against that congressman and compare them just as we compare our schools. Congressmen, do not fear this accountability you have given us. Like us, you will learn to love it.

Or maybe lawmakers do such a wonderful job that we don’t need to hold them accountable?

Did you know that over the next five years, Texas lawmakers will send half a billion dollars to London, to line the pockets of Pearson’s stakeholders. That’s 15,000 teacher salaries, sacrificed at the altar of standardized testing. $500,000,000 for a test! I’m sure it’s a nice test, but it’s just a test. I’ve never seen a test change a kid’s life or dry a kid’s tear. Tests don’t show up at family funerals or junior high basketball games. They don’t chip in to buy a poor girl a prom dress. Only teachers do those things.

If times are desperate enough to slash local schools’ operating funds, then surely they are desperate enough to slash Pearson’s profits. Lawmakers, get your priorities straight. Put a moratorium on testing until we can afford it. Teachers are our treasure – let’s not lose the house just so we can keep our subscription to Pearson’s Test-of-the-Month Club. We have heard Texas senators often talk about the teacher-to-non-teacher ratio in our schools. Lawmakers, they are ALL non-teachers at Pearson. Don’t spend half a billion dollars that we don’t have on some test that is made in England.

Parents are so fed up with standardized testing that hundreds are now refusing to let their children test. They do not want their children run through this terrible punch press. They do not want standardized children. They want exceptional children!

Let me tell you Texas’s other dirty secret – some schools get three times the funding of other schools. Some schools get $12,000 per student, while others get $4,000. Did you know that every single child in Austin is worth $1,000 more than every single child in Fort Worth? Do you agree with that valuation? Congress does. They spend billions to fund this imbalance.

Now the architects of this inequity point at the salaries and staff sizes at the schools they have enriched to justify cuts at schools that have never been given enough. State Sen. Florence Shapiro, of Plano, says, essentially, yes, but we’re cutting the poor schools by less. Senator, you don’t take bread away from people in a soup line! Not even one crumb. And you should not take funds away from schools that you have already underfunded for years. It may be politically right to bring home the bacon, but ain’t right right.

Legislators, take the energy you spend shifting blame and apply it toward fixing the funding mechanisms. We elected you to solve the state’s problems, not merely to blame them on local government. After all, you have mandated local decision-making for years. Your FIRST rating system tells school boards that their district’s administrative cost ratio can be no higher than 0.2 percent. And over 95 percent of school districts in Texas are in compliance with the standard you have set. At my school, our administrative cost ratio is 0.06 percent – so could you please stop blaming me?

If 95 percent of schools are compliant with the administrative cost ratio indicator in the state’s financial rating system for schools, then why are state officials saying we have too much administration? We have the amount of administration they told us to have! Either they gave us bad guidance and we all followed it, or they gave us good guidance and just need someone other than themselves to blame for these cuts.

Is this the best we can do in Texas? I wish they would worry about students half as much as they worry about getting re-elected.

These same senators have a catchy new slogan: “Protect the Classroom.” I ask you, senators: who are we protecting the classroom from? You, that’s who. You are swinging the ax; don’t blame us for bleeding wrong.

They know that their cuts are so drastic that school boards will have no choice but to let teachers go, and I can prove it: while they give press conferences telling superintendents not to fire teachers, at the same time they pass laws making it easier for ... you guessed it ...administrators to fire teachers. Which is it, senators?

If we don’t truly need to cut teachers, then don’t pass the laws that reduce their employment protections. And if we truly do need to cut teachers, then go ahead and pass those laws but quit saying teacher cuts are the superintendents’ fault. Here’s the deal: I can accept cuts, but I cannot do anything but forcefully reject deceit.

Politicians, save your buck-passing for another day. We need leadership. Get to work, congressmen. Do your jobs, and find the revenue to fund my child’s education.


John Kuhn, father of three, Perrin

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Major development re the charter schools associated with the Gulen movement

The Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer article by Martha Woodall and Claudio Gatti has been spreading like wildfire.

Fethullah Gulen is a major Islamic political figure in Turkey, but he lives in self-imposed exile in a Poconos enclave and gained his green card by convincing a federal judge in Philadelphia that he was an influential educational figure in the United States.

As evidence, his lawyer pointed to the charter schools, now more than 120 in 25 states, that his followers - Turkish scientists, engineers, and businessmen - have opened, including Truebright Science Academy in North Philadelphia and another charter in State College, Pa.

The schools are funded with millions of taxpayer dollars. Truebright alone receives more than $3 million from the Philadelphia School District for its 348 pupils. Tansu Cidav, the acting chief executive officer, described it as a regular public school.*

"Charter schools are public schools," he said. "We follow the state curriculum." **

But federal agencies - including the FBI and the Departments of Labor and Education - are investigating whether some charter school employees are kicking back part of their salaries to a Muslim movement founded by Gulen known as Hizmet, or Service, according to knowledgeable sources.

Unlike in Turkey, where Gulen's followers have been accused of pushing for an authoritarian Islamic state, there is no indication the American charter network has a religious agenda in the classroom.

Religious scholars consider the Gulen strain of Islam moderate, and the investigation has no link to terrorism. Rather, it is focused on whether hundreds of Turkish teachers, administrators, and other staffers employed under the H1B visa program are misusing taxpayer money.

Federal officials declined to comment on the nationwide inquiry, which is being coordinated by prosecutors in Pennsylvania's Middle District in Scranton. A former leader of the parents' group at the State College school confirmed that federal authorities had interviewed her…

The charter school application that Truebright filed with the Philadelphia School District in 2005 mentioned that its founders helped start similar schools in Ohio, California, and Paterson, N.J. [See HERE, HERE, and HERE.]

Shana Kemp, a School District spokeswoman, said that the district had just learned Riza Ulker, Truebright's permanent CEO, was on extended sick leave and that it would look into that. She said district officials knew nothing about a federal investigation of these charter schools.

Further evidence of the ties comes from a disaffected former teacher from Turkey who told federal investigators that the Gulen Movement had divided the United States into five regions, according to knowledgeable sources. A general manager in each coordinates the activities of the schools and related foundations and cultural centers, he told authorities.

Ohio, California, and Texas have the largest numbers of Gulen-related schools. Ohio has 19, which are operated by Concept Schools Inc., and most are known as Horizon Science Academies. There are 14 in California operated by the Magnolia Foundation. Texas has 33 known as Harmony schools, run by the Cosmos Foundation…

* Cidav previously worked at Harmony Science Academy in Austin.

** The Chicago Math and Science Academy, a Gulen charter school in Chicago, is currently presenting its case before the National Labor Relations Board claiming that it is a private school and not subject to state law. Read the whole story HERE.
News broadcast about the Philadelphia Inquirer story


Some of Cosmos Foundation’s existing and proposed school buildings in Texas



Over the past several months, the connection between the Gulen movement and its network of charter schools has been increasingly affirmed by credible sources. At the same time, an increasing number of websites and YouTube videos have been created by both anonymous sources and Gulen charter school organizations which deny the affiliation.

For instance, Kerry Mazzoni denies the Gulen movement / charter school connection on behalf of Magnolia Science Academy in a MSA produced video of February 2010. Mazzoni, a former California public official, has been employed by Government Strategies, Inc., a Sacramento based lobbying and government relations firm, since 2004. 

MSA interviewer: "Recently, there has been some blog-type press coverage that mentions Magnolia in a like that associates the school with an organization from Turkey, and says that charter schools -or Magnolia charter schools specifically- are Gulen Charter Schools. Do you know anything about that? Can you respond to that and assure parents what that means or doesn't mean for Magnolia Public Schools?"

Kerry Mazzoni: I want to assure parents and the public that I have seen no evidence of Magnolia being anything but a California public charter school.

Clearly, one affirmation of the link is found in the description on the public announcement for “Transnational Religious Nationalism in the New Turkey: The Case of Fethullah Gulen,”a Baker Institute event at Rice University on December 9, 2010. This was a presentation by Dr. Joshua Hendrick with a response by Y. [Yuksel] Alp Aslandogan of the Institute of Interfaith Dialogue [one of the many Gulenist "interfaith dialogue" non-profits;  more about interfaith dialogue HERE]. The event description states:
Joshua D. Hendrick, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of international studies at the University of Oregon, addresses the conflict between Turkey’s secular and Islamic forces by explaining the organizational impact of the education and business community known as the Gülen Movement. The followers of Fethullah Gülen, one of Turkey's most famous and controversial religious personalities, attract a great deal of international attention because of the extent of their education network, which now spans over 100 countries and includes approximately 100 charter schools in the United States... [my bolding]
The one-hour long webcast video is HERE. Excerpts can be found HERE, HERE, and HERE. Hendrick addresses the movement's persistent denials of affiliation in the second of those excerpts.

The connection was also affirmed on October 7, 2010, by Dr. Helen Rose Ebaugh, a professor at the University of Houston who herself is heavily involved with Gulen movement activities. A regular speaker at events hosted by the Gulen movement, she appeared in Amsterdam at a conference sponsored by Dialoog Academie. In her presentation she stated (@ 11:56):
Do you know in Texas we now have 25 Gulen schools? They’re called charter schools, totally financed by the state, and it’s causing problems...
Further affirmation is found in the New Republic article by Suzy Hansen, “The Global Imam” (November 10, 2010):
I asked to see a Gülen-affiliated charter school and was brought to the Harmony Science Academy, a K-12 school and one of 33 charter schools operated across Texas by a group called the Cosmos Foundation. (At both Harmony and another charter school I visited in Washington, D.C., people told me they were nervous about having their schools labeled Gülen institutions. At the same time, almost all of the Turkish men I met at these schools said they sympathized with or were followers of Gülen.)…

This has now become a rapidly evolving story.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stuff about Stuff

Annie Leonard and The Story of Stuff Project: “We amplify public discourse on a series of environmental, social and economic concerns and facilitate the growing Story of Stuff community’s involvement in strategic efforts to build a more sustainable and just world.”

Season One: The Story of Stuff

Season Two: The Story of Citizens United v. FEC (2011) 

Monday, March 7, 2011

More lies from the head honcho corporate reformer

Richard Rothstein is both smart AND honest. Bill Gates is not.

The American public should storm the Gates Foundation headquarters and demand that that know-nothing, ed reform dabbler, public policy-driving, and Ed Dept billionaire puppeteer, Bill Gates, appears in a televised public debate with Richard Rothstein. From the National Journal Education Expert blog (my red bolding).

Research Associate, Economic Policy Institute

Last week, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates published an op-ed in the Washington Post, “How Teacher Development could Revolutionize our Schools,” proposing that American public schools should do a better job of evaluating the effectiveness of teachers, a goal with which none can disagree. But his specific prescriptions, and the urgency he attaches to them, are based on the misrepresentation of one fact, the misinterpretation of another and the demagogic presentation of a third. It is remarkable that someone associated with technology and progress should have such a careless disregard for accuracy when it comes to the education policy in which he is now so deeply involved.

Gates’ most important factual claim is that “over the past four decades, the per-student cost of running our K-12 schools has more than doubled, while our student achievement has remained virtually flat.” And, he adds, “spending has climbed, but our percentage of college graduates has dropped compared with other countries.” Let’s examine these factual claims:

Bill Gates says: “Our student achievement has remained virtually flat”

The only longitudinal measure of student achievement that is available to Bill Gates or anyone else is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)…

On these exams, American students have improved substantially, in some cases phenomenally. In general, the improvements have been greatest for African-American students, and among these, for the most disadvantaged. The improvements have been greatest for both black and white 4th and 8th graders in math…

Bill Gates may think that these improvements are insufficient, and perhaps he is correct. But, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan reportedly quipped, “everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts.” No rational reading of these NAEP data can support Bill Gates’ claim that “student achievement has remained virtually flat” over the last four decades. And, to repeat, no other longitudinal data are available that describe student achievement over time.

These facts also don’t support the story that the typical teacher of disadvantaged children is ineffective. Certainly, some teachers are ineffective, and schools should do a better job of removing them. But that should not, if facts are to be believed, be the main story.

Yet it seems to be. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently asserted that “many, if not most, teacher-training programs are mediocre.” This may be true, but how does he know? What is his evidence? It wouldn’t seem that mediocre teacher training programs could consistently be turning out teachers who have posted the kinds of gains we’ve seen on NAEP in the last generation and more…

…It is also important to investigate why teachers have apparently been more effective during most (though not all) of the last few decades in teaching math than reading, but it is difficult to motivate anyone to investigate this if our vision is clouded by the myth that all student achievement has been flat.

Bill Gates says: “The per-student cost of running our K-12 schools has more than doubled.”

Here, Bill Gates is nominally correct, but misleading. When properly adjusted for inflation, K-12 per pupil spending has about doubled over the last four decades, but less than half of this new money has gone to regular education (including compensatory education for disadvantaged children, programs for English-language learners, integration programs like magnet schools, and special schools for dropout recovery and prevention). The biggest single recipient of new money has been special education for children with disabilities. Four decades ago, special education consumed less than 4% of all K-12 spending. It now consumes 21%...

The increase in regular education spending has still been substantial, even if not nearly as great as Bill Gates implies. Should this spending increase have produced even greater improvement in achievement than has in fact occurred? This is a more difficult judgment to make. But in light of the actual achievement improvements documented by NAEP, it is not reasonable to jump to the facile conclusion of a productivity collapse in K-12 education. A more reasonable story is that spending has increased and achievement has increased as well. Perhaps we have gotten what we paid for.

Bill Gates says: “Spending has climbed, but our percentage of college graduates has dropped compared with other countries.”

This is the Bill Gates claim that can properly be called demagogic. It attempts to agitate readers by presenting a positive development in a negative light. A climb in spending should produce an increase in the percentage of college graduates. And it has. In the last four decades, the percentage of college graduates in the United States has nearly doubled. In 1970, 16% of young adults (ages 25 to 29) were college graduates. Today, it is 31%. The improvement has been across the board: the share of African-American young adults who are college graduates has gone from 10% to 19%; for whites it has gone from 17% to 37%. Somehow, Bill Gates saw fit to present this as an indictment…

It is commonplace to imply, as Bill Gates does in his Washington Post op-ed, that our failure to increase our college graduation rate “compared with other countries” will prevent us from “build[ing] a dynamic 21st-century economy.” Certainly, we need a sufficient number of well-trained college graduates for such an economy, but there is no reason to believe that a graduate rate in excess of 30% is too small for this purpose, or that economic dynamism can, after reaching sufficiency, increase linearly with increases in the share of young people who graduate from college. The threats to a dynamic 21st century economy are likely to come from a failure of macroeconomic policy, regulation of speculation, and investment in education, not from inefficiency in the investment we already make.

We only need to examine the list of international college graduation rates to see the absurdity of efforts to make a direct link between college graduation rates and economic success. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) publishes comparative data. One country that outranks the U.S. in college graduation rates is Ireland, whose economy has now collapsed because its regulation of the real estate bubble was even more careless and corrupt than ours. Another is Portugal, whose economic health is also worse than that of the U.S. Of course there are also nations on the list that are not on the verge of bankruptcy, but the chief lesson of the list is this: provided a nation has a sufficient number of college graduates for a dynamic economy, rankings above that point are irrelevant. Of course we should increase our college graduation rate, and there are many civic and cultural reasons to do so, even if we may already produce (as some analyses suggest) an apparent surplus, for economic purposes, of science, technology, engineering, and math graduates.

Education is complex, and the relationship between education and the economy even more so. Our ability to grapple with the challenges these present is not enhanced by factually inaccurate and hyperventilated appeals from those who should know better.