The New York Times on Education

We may have to add the New York Times to the list of DeFENSE’s list of community friendly media.  In the past few weeks, the NYT has published a number of interesting stories about education reform and how it is failing. This past Sunday, the paper out did itself, however.

In A New Measure for Classroom Quality, the Times addresses the ill-advised notion of measuring teachers’ performance based on test scores:

Test scores are an inadequate proxy for quality because too many factors outside of the teachers’ control can influence student performance from year to year — or even from classroom to classroom during the same year. Often, more than half of those teachers identified as the poorest performers one year will be judged average or above average the next, and the results are almost as bad for teachers with multiple classes during the same year.

The alternative? Amazingly simple — measuring the amount of time a teacher spends delivering relevant instruction. According to R. Barker Bausell, the piece’s author and biostatistician in the School of Nursing at the University of Maryland —

Thirty years ago two studies measured the amount of time teachers spent presenting instruction that matched the prescribed curriculum, at a level students could understand based on previous instruction. The studies found that some teachers were able to deliver as much as 14 more weeks a year of relevant instruction than their less efficient peers….

There was no secret to their success: the efficient teachers hewed closely to the curriculum, maintained strict discipline and minimized non-instructional activities, like conducting unessential classroom business when they should have been focused on the curriculum.

Of course, if we want more efficient and more talented teachers in the system, we have to recruit them and make sure we hold on to the one’s we’ve got.

In the second education piece in Sunday’s New York Times, Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari address The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries. The opinion piece’s opening paragraph is pithy, to say the least.

WHEN we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.

And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

If we are to attract truly talented teachers to America’s schools, we have to first change the culture of blame for the predicament we are in. Second, the authors argue, we have make becoming a teacher a lot more attractive.

At the moment, the average teacher’s pay is on par with that of a toll taker or bartender. Teachers make 14 percent less than professionals in other occupations that require similar levels of education. In real terms, teachers’ salaries have declined for 30 years. The average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary — after 25 years in the profession — is $67,000. This prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas, and makes raising a family on one salary near impossible.

With data like that, it isn’t hard to understand why (1) it is very difficult to attract top talent to the teaching profession and (2) keep the talent in place when it is in the classroom.   In fact, if money would really help solve the issue of improving public education systems being unable to attract “top talent,”  then any good business would find a way to get the talent through the door and reward that talent once it was in front of the customer, in this case, kids.

And looking at Denver Public Schools’ own situation, a real difference could be made just based on District a management’s own claims related to our school district’s fiscal standing. Yes, it could be done even with the state’s cuts in the education budget…

Let’s say we really want to increase teacher pay in DPS in a meaning manner. I like the number $10,000 rather than a percentage of a teacher’s salary.   If the average teacher’s salary in DPS is currently ~$50,000, it would go up to $60,000. Lets do the math:

  • Say DPS has 4,000 full-time teachers (I know, the number is probably high, but go with me for a minute)
  • We want to inject a noticeable salary increase for teachers who fit the quality model, the ones who are really making a difference
  • Let’s be generous and say that 60% of all teachers fit the model of excellence, and we want to reward that with an extra $10,000 per year, salary, not bonus
  • The math works like this — (4,000 * 60%) * $10,000 = $24 million, or roughly the amount saved by the 2008 retirement funding transaction (aka the PCOPs), at least that is our superintendent Tom Boasberg keeps telling us

While $24 million sounds like a lot of money to you and me, it is only 2.6% of DPS’ overall 2009/2010 revenues of $922 million.

In fact, the District spends about $680 million at the classroom level of the system based on it student based budgeting numbers reported to the school board.  That leaves $242 million running around the halls of 900 Grant Street.

If 10% of this $242 million were spent on a real teacher performance reward system, you’d see DPS skyrocket to the top of public schools systems for job seekers.  Heck, you might even be able to hire a few hard working professionals from other walks of life, especially if those professionals didn’t have to drive a Yugo, subsidize the pantry with government cheese, and serve as the scapegoat for all of our school systems’ failures for the past 40 years.

It’s something to think about, isn’t it?

More “Superman” Mendacity

Leonie Haimson, the executive director of New York’s Class Size Matters, has just eviscerated the fact-checking team over at the Waiting for Superman house. It turns out that it’s ok to just spout off pseudo-facts as if they were truth…until someone actually fact-checks your story. Kind of sounds like the stuff that gets shoveled at DPS parents, doesn’t it? Like the one about how great the district is performing?

Seriously, these people aren’t even trying anymore.

Just making it up

Leonie Haimson, the executive director of New York’s Class Size Matters, has just eviscerated the fact-checking team over at the Waiting for Superman house.  It turns out that it’s ok to just spout off pseudo-facts as if they were truth…until someone actually fact-checks your story.

From Haimson’s post over at the NYC Public School Parents blog:

As a parent, I support a higher standard for teacher tenure and more rigorous teacher evaluation systems. I have seen my own children suffer as a result of poor teaching, though this has occurred as often in schools without union protections as those that were unionized. An improved evaluation system would take into account not only test score data, but also feedback from other teachers, administrators, students and parents.

But at this point, we simply cannot trust the corporate oligarchy currently making policies for our schools to create a fair evaluation system, including those who backed Waiting for Superman, given their proclivity to misuse and distort data, as shown by the egregiously inaccurate figures cited in the film.

Rather than a documentary, perhaps the movie should be re-categorized, with an appropriate disclaimer, as an urban myth.

Indeed.  Read the rest of the blog post here.

Kind of sounds like the stuff that gets shoveled at DPS parents, doesn’t it?  Like the one about how great the district is performing?  What a great thing that Tom Boasberg wants to do everything New York City does.  But don’t worry: he won’t get any achievement gains, either.

Read, then come back and comment.

Join us for a showing of “Race to Nowhere,” Dec. 2

“Race to Nowhere” is an important film that shows the impetus behind such high-stakes testing charter schools like West Denver Prep and KIPP, as well as some of our public neighborhood schools, unfortunately. It’s a by-product of No Child Left Behind, and we have to be aware of the negative consequences so we can advocate with all the facts.

We’re excited to be co-sponsors of a showing of the documentary, Race to Nowhere, on Thursday, December 2.  We’re sponsoring this showing with Uniting4Kids, the Institute for Democratic Education in America and more.

Here’s a preview of the film:

Natalie is profiled in the film

Tickets are available here, priced at $10 (or $5 for students with ID), or $15 at the door. The program includes displays and student work starting at 5:15 p.m., and the movie (followed by a panel discussion) begins at 6:30 p.m. Don’t miss DeFENSE’s own Lisa Calderon along with the other guests, moderated by our author/activist friend, Angela Engel (her book is available for purchase on the right, toward the bottom of this page).  The Oriental Theater is at 4435 W. 44th Avenue in Denver.

This is an important film that shows the impetus behind such high-stakes testing charter schools like West Denver Prep and KIPP, as well as some of our public neighborhood schools, unfortunately.  It’s a by-product of No Child Left Behind, and we have to be aware of the negative consequences so we can advocate with all the facts.

Join us!

Diane Ravitch pops more “Superman” bubbles

Denver Post editor Dan Haley should have watched this video before he published his baseless editorial today.  Here, Dr. Diane Ravitch pulls apart some of the myths perpetuated in Waiting for Superman, the movie best known for it’s simplistic analysis about How to Fix Education.

Dr. Ravitch’s speech starts about 10 minutes in.  Enjoy.

REEP, KIPP and TFA Lecture Series from Jon Paul Estrada on Vimeo.

On motivation in the educational sphere

You gotta watch this video from Dan Pink on the science of motivation.  We watched it keeping ProComp (teacher pay for performance) in mind.

This is really groundbreaking theory, especially as we grapple with the concept of effective teaching. We know, based on recent accounts, that teachers do really well when they have the freedom to take ownership of their work product and when they have meaningful opportunities to get better at their craft. We already know that they have a sense of purpose; they wouldn’t have chosen the most maligned and ill-paid professions  in all of American society had they not had a sense of purpose.

By the way, a charter school teacher passed this video to one of our friends, who told us about it. We’re open to wisdom from all corners.  Are YOU listening, corporate reformers?

Demanding education that matters, Pedro Noguera style

We think Pedro Noguera is a rock star, but not because he does anything flashy or commercial.  No, this man is a thought leader in education, and (believe it or not) a charter authorizer from New York.  Our friends over at posted a series of videos of Dr. Noguera’s keynote speech at the recent fall forum of the Coalition of Essential Schools.

Dr. Pedro Noguera

Dr. Noguera is a professor of Teaching and Learning at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.  Noguera is an urban sociologist whose scholarship and research focuses on the ways in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions in the urban environment.  Dr. Noguera is also the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education and the co-Director of the Institute for the Study of Globalization and Education in Metropolitan Settings (IGEMS).

But the videos clearly speak to the breathtaking-but-simple logic of this man.  Listen.

Video 1 of 3:

Pedro Noguera: “Demanding Education That Matters” (1/3) from Isaac Graves on Vimeo.

Video 2 of 3:

Pedro Noguera: “Demanding Education That Matters” (2/3) from Isaac Graves on Vimeo.

Video 3 of 3:

Pedro Noguera: “Demanding Education That Matters” (3/3) from Isaac Graves on Vimeo.

If you like his video, you’ll like his books, especially The Trouble With Black Boys: And Other Reflections on Race, Equity, and the Future of Public Education, available at Tattered Cover.

Education and the Public Interest on charters, segregation and the truth

I listened to an interview on Colorado Public Radio of Ken Howe, director of the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder about charter schools assessment and their effectiveness. What was extremely interesting was his view on how charters are creating segregation.

Segregation, Denver-style?

I listened to an interview on Colorado Public Radio of Ken Howe, director of the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder about charter schools assessment and their effectiveness. What was extremely interesting was his view on how charters are creating segregation.

Captivated I wanted to know more about this local organization. Use web link to reach the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education. They sponsor research, produce policy briefs, and publish expert third party reviews of think tank reports. Denver Public Schools uses or has used a research think tank I believe in North Carolina. Anybody know how we can acquire the actual research reports DPS used to make decisions about charter schools in Montbello?

The following is from

Think Tank Review Project
The Think Tank Review Project provides the public, policy makers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected think-tank publications. Reviewers for the Think Tank Review Project apply academic peer review standards to reports from think tanks and write brief reviews for the project web site. They are asked to examine the reports for the validity of assumptions, methodology, results, and strength of links between results and policy recommendations. The reviews, written in non-academic language, are intended to help policy makers, reporters, and others assess the merits of the reviewed reports. The Think Tank Review Project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice. To learn more about the Think Tank Review Project, you are invited to read the follow two commentaries published in Education Week.

Truthiness in Education: Why the Bunkum Awards Were Created
At a time when America’s education policymakers have nominally embraced the idea of tying school reform to “scientifically based research,” many of the nation’s most influential reports are little more than junk science. A hodgepodge of private “think tanks” at both the state and national levels wield significant and very often undeserved influence in policy discussions by cranking out an array of well-funded and slickly produced – yet ideologically driven – research. … See the full article by clicking onthe above link.

The Privatization Infatuation
In 2007, the second year of our Think Tank Review Project (, we reviewed 18 think-tank reports about education policy. Time after time, our reviewers identified analyses that led inexorably to a privatization prescription. Even reports that offered a reasonable analysis of the No Child Left Behind Act or the dropout problem suddenly and groundlessly identified as the key policy implication of their findings the need for vouchers or other forms of privatization. … See the full article by clicking onthe above link.

NON SEQUITUR (c) 2007 Wiley Miller. Dist. By UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
NON SEQUITUR (c) 2007 Wiley Miller. Dist. By UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Facts from “What Superman got wrong, point by point”

What are the "Superman" facts?

Waiting for Superman could and should have been an inspiring call for improvement in education. It is stuck in a framework that says that reform and leadership means doing things, like firing a bunch of people or “turning around” schools despite the fact that there’s no research to suggest that these would have worked. Reform must be guided by community empowerment and strong evidence, not by ideological warriors or romanticized images of leaders acting like they’re doing something, anything. Waiting for Superman has ignored deep historical and systemic problems in education such as segregation, property-tax based funding formulas, centralized textbook production, de-professionalization, inadequate special education supports, and the list goes on and on. People seeing Waiting for Superman should be mobilized to improve education. They just need to be willing to think outside of the narrow box that the film-makers have constructed to define what needs to be done.

The following are some facts, excerpted from “What ‘Superman’ got wrong, point by point,” published in the Washington Post on September 27, 2010.  The article was written by Rick Ayers, a former high school teacher, founder of Communication Arts and Sciences small school at Berkeley High School, and currently adjunct professor in teacher education at the University of San Francisco.

  • Waiting for Superman says that lack of money is not the problem in education. The exclusive charter schools featured in the film receive large private subsidies. Two-thirds of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone funding comes from private sources. Public funding for urban programs is now being cut and progress is being eroded. Money matters!
  • Waiting for Superman implies that standardized testing is a reasonable way to assess student progress. Most test scores continue to reflect parental income and neighborhood/zip codes, not what schools do. As opportunity, health and family wealth increase, so do test scores. The tests are too narrow. When schools focus exclusively on boosting scores on standardized tests, they reduce teachers to test-prep clerks, ignore important subject areas and critical thinking skills, dumb down the curriculum and leave children less prepared for the future. We need much more authentic assessment to know if schools are doing well and to help them improve.
  • Waiting for Superman ignores overall problems of poverty. Schools and teachers take the blame for huge social inequities in housing, health care, and income. Income disparities between the richest and poorest in U.S.society have reached record levels between 1970 and today. Poor communities suffer extensive traumas and dislocations. Homelessness, the exploitation of immigrants, and the closing of community health and counseling clinics, are all factors that penetrate our school communities. Solutions that punish schools without addressing these conditions only increase the marginalization of poor children.
  • Waiting for Superman says teachers’ unions are the problem. Of course unions need to be improved – but before teachers unionized, the disparity in pay between men and women was disgraceful and the arbitrary power of school boards to dismiss teachers or raise class size without any resistance was endemic. Unions have historically played leading roles in improving public education, and most nations with strong public educational systems have strong teacher unions.
  • Waiting for Superman decries tenure as a drag on teacher improvement. Tenured teachers cannot be fired without due process and a good reason: they can’t be fired because the boss wants to hire his cousin, or because the teacher is gay (or black or…), or because they take an unpopular position on a public issue outside of school. When teachers are evaluated through a union-sanctioned peer process, more teachers are put into retraining programs and dismissed than through administration-only review programs.
  • Waiting for Superman says charter schools allow choice and better educational innovation. Charters were first proposed by the teachers’ unions to create schools that were free of administrative bureaucracy and open to experimentation and innovation. While teacher unions are vilified in the film, there is no mention of charter corruption or profiteering. A recent national study by CREDO, The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, concludes that only 17% of charter schools have better test scores than traditional public schools, 46% had gains that were no different than their public counterparts, and 37% were significantly worse. A recent Mathematica Policy Research study came to similar conclusions. And the Education Report, “The Evaluation of Charter School Impacts, concludes, “On average, charter middle schools that hold lotteries are neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement, behavior, and school progress.”
  • Waiting for Superman glorifies lotteries for admission to highly selective and subsidized charter schools as evidence of the need for more of them. If education is a civil right, it can’t be distributed by a lottery. We must guarantee all students access to high quality early education, highly effective teachers, college and work-preparatory curricula & equitable instructional resources. In Superman, families are cruelly paraded in front of the cameras as they wait for an admission lottery in an auditorium where the winners’ names are pulled from a hat and read aloud, while the losing families trudge out in tears with cameras looming in their faces – in what amounts to family & child abuse.
  • Waiting for Superman says competition is the best way to improve learning. Too many people involved in education policy are dazzled by the idea of “market forces” improving schools. Teachers will be motivated to gather the most promising students, to hide curriculum strategies from peers, and to cheat; principals have already been caught cheating in a desperate attempt to boost test scores.In spite of the many millions of dollars poured into expounding the theory of paying teachers for higher student test scores, a new study by Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives found that the use of merit pay for teachers in the Nashville school district produced no difference even according to their measure, test outcomes for students.
  • Waiting for Superman contributes to the teacher-bashing culture which discourages talented college graduates from considering teaching and drives people out of the profession. According to the Department of Education, the country will need 1.6 million new teachers in the next five years. Retention of talented teachers is one key. Good teaching is about making connections to students, about connecting what they learn to the world in which they live, and this only happens if teachers have history and roots in the communities where they teach. A recent report by the nonprofit National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future says that “approximately a third of America’s new teachers leave teaching sometime during their first three years of teaching; almost half leave during the first five years. Check out the reasons teachers are being driven out in Katy Farber’s book, “Why Great Teachers Quit: And How We Might Stop the Exodus,” (Corwin Press).
  • Waiting for Superman says “we’re not producing large numbers of scientists and doctors in this country anymore. . . This means we are not only less educated, but also less economically competitive.” But Business Week (10/28/09) reported that “U.S. colleges and universities are graduating as many scientists and engineers as ever,” yet “the highest performing students are choosing careers in other fields.” In particular, the study found, “many of the top students have been lured to careers in finance and consulting.” It’s the market, and the disproportionately high salaries paid to finance specialists that is misdirecting human resources, not schools.
  • Waiting for Superman promotes a nutty theory of learning which claims that teaching is a matter of pouring information into children’s heads. In one of its many little cartoon segments, the film purports to show how kids learn. The top of a child’s head is cut open and a jumble of factoids is poured in. The film-makers betray a lack of understanding of how people actually learn, the active and engaged participation of students in the learning process. They ignore the social construction of knowledge, the difference between deep learning and rote memorization.
  • Waiting for Superman promotes the idea that we are in a dire war for US dominance in the world. The poster advertising the film shows a nightmarish battlefield in stark gray, with a little white girl sitting at a desk in the midst of it. The text: “The fate of our country won’t be decided on a battlefield. It will be determined in a classroom. But really, who declared this war? When did I as a teacher sign up as an officer in this war? And when did that 4th grade girl become a soldier in it? Instead of this new educational Cold War, perhaps we should be helping kids imagine a world of global cooperation, sustainable economies, and equity.
  • Waiting for Superman says federal “Race to the Top” education funds are being focused to support students who are not being served in other ways. According to a study by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., Race to the Top funds are benefiting affluent or well-to-do, white, and “abled” students. So the outcome of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top has been more funding for schools that are doing well and more discipline and narrow test-preparation for the poorest schools.
  • Waiting for Superman suggests that teacher improvement is a matter of increased control and discipline over teachers. Dan Brown, a teacher in the SEED charter school featured in the film, points out that successful schools involve teachers in strong collegial conversations. Teachers need to be accountable to a strong educational plan, without being terrorized. Good teachers, which is the vast majority of them, are seeking this kind of support from their leaders.
  • Waiting for Superman proposes a reform “solution” that exploits the feminization of the field of teaching; it proposes that teachers just need a few good men with hedge funds to come to the rescue. Teaching has been historically devalued – teachers are less well compensated and have less control of their working conditions than other professionals – because of its associations with women. For example, 97% of preschool and kindergarten teachers are women, and this is also the least well-compensated sector of teaching; in 2009, the lowest 10% earned $30,970 to $34,280; the top 10% earned $75,190 to $80,970. By comparison the top 25 hedge fund managers took in $25 billion in 2009, enough to hire 658,000 new teachers.

We at DeFENSE want to make sure we put the real facts in your hands.

Right-wing funders for “Waiting for Superman”?

Check out this interesting blog post from Schools Matter:

“…the Anschutz Foundation, chaired and financed by Philip, is quite fond of some of the biggest players in conservative education advocacy: the Manhattan Institute, Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Hoover Institution, and the American Enterprise Institute.  The foundation also gives to the Freedom Works Foundation, Washington Legal Foundation, and various other influential think tanks/organizations.  I won’t really get into it here, but it’s fair to say this foundation uses their philanthropic arm much the way the Koch brothers do: to further their own conservative agenda while creating a climate that is more friendly for their businesses.” (read more)

Also check out this great article by Barbara Miner at NOT Waiting for Superman:

Two decades ago, challenges to public schools were spearheaded by groups such as the Christian Coalition, a grassroots, church-based phenomenon that sought to abolish the U.S. Department of Education and to elect religious conservatives who could take over local and state school boards. Today’s bipartisan corporate reformers tend to sidestep democracy altogether by abolishing school boards, promoting mayoral control, and hiring corporate-style CEO’s who answer to a city’s power elite. No longer preoccupied with abolishing the U.S. Department of Education, they instead use their wealth to effectively control it and to dictate reform.

This developing alliance is evident in Waiting for Superman. (read more)

Very interesting.

You know that mantra that the “education deformers” use, the one that “poverty doesn’t matter”?  Well, that’s obviously where that comes from.  Why bother worrying about whether kids have enough food in their bellies to pay attention when you can just give them charters?

Problem solved!  Just don’t “trickle down” on our kids, please.

The case for small class size in primary grades

The Tennessee General Assembly and State Department of Education recently released the data behind a long-term study that measured the effects of smaller class sizes in the primary grades.

The conclusion?

This research leaves no doubt that small classes have an advantage over larger classes in reading and math in early primary grades.

Read the report here.

Read the NY Times article about the research here.