You won’t admit it, but public education is a system of deplorables

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Brace yourself.

A Baltimore teacher grows frustrated with her poorly managed classroom and starts yelling at her students “you’re idiots! You have a chance to get an education. Do you wanna be a broke ass nigger, who’s going to get shot?”

In Minnesota, a math teacher who supports Donald Trump told students he supports “building a wall on the Mexican border” and that blacks should go “back to Africa.”

A parent in Los Angeles, Jennifer Reynaga, became alarmed after finding out a teacher in her child’s school was channeling Donald Trump’s anti-Mexican fear-based language, and scaring kids about how Trump’s presidency will affect them.

Down in Florida, parent Donnie Jones says a teacher walked up to a group of black students in the hall and said “Don’t make me call Donald Trump to get you sent back to Africa.”

In Georgia a teacher’s aide was axed after a racist Facebook post about First Lady Michelle Obama. She said “This poor Gorilla…she needs to focus on getting a total make-over (especially the hair), instead of planning vacations! She is a disgrace to America!”

Now, you’re going to say all of this is the predictable result of electing a white nationalist, Donald Trump, to the American presidency. That’s shortsighted.

Deplorables in education existed long before an election determined Trump could take his Duck Dynasty to the White House. You’ve missed it because, perhaps, many of you have been so busy painting pretty pictures of public education that you’ve glossed over it’s realities.

What part of the Trump victory is responsible for the Head Start scandal in Prince George’s County where a 3-year-old wet his pants and was forced by his teacher to mop it up in front of his peers while she texted his mother the message “LOL…He worked that mop tho!”?

Or the New York teacher who forced a student to lick his desk clean after he was caught doodling on it?

Or the Greenville, Mississippi teacher who drug a special needs students across a gymnasium floor by her hair?

Or when a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher’s aide slammed a student on a table and called the boy a nigger?

The examples are endless, but individual incident reports like these fail to uncover the deplorable reality of public education.

Start with a question so basic for any institution caring for children. Are our kids safe?

I’ll tell you again, as I’ve told you before, that when the Federal government studied the sexual abuse of children in public schools they estimated 1 in 10 students will be the victim of sexual misconduct by school staff. The problem is grosser, and more costly, than anyone admits.

You might also consider that in 22 states it’s still legal for educators to beat children.

The Obama administration recently sent a letter to state education officials saying ” the very acts of corporal punishment that are permissible when applied to children in schools under some state laws would be prohibited as criminal assault or battery when applied to adults in the community in those very same states.”

Guess at who is disproportionately beaten?

The same people who were beaten for learning to read during slavery, for wanting to govern during reconstruction, for wanting to vote during the Civil Rights era, and wanting to protest state sanctioned killings of unarmed citizens today.

In short, the blacks.

Some readers will be unmoved by discipline-related disparities because, after all, “bad” kids deserve punishment. But what about the injustices that no child can conceivably deserve?

Like the fact that Black and Latino students who can’t access high-level math and science courses because their schools don’t offer calculus, physics, chemistry, and Algebra II at rates equal to white schools.

How about the fact that Black and Latino students have less access to effective teachers?

Pouring awesomesauce over the teaching profession won’t hide the fact that public school teachers aren’t all selfless agents of mercy toiling in conditions unworthy of their altruism. Like any human population they vary greatly in their preparation, attitudes, skills, talents, and efficacy.

Many of them are ill-prepared, saddled with the wrong attitudes, and unfit for modern classrooms.

Those teachers don’t arrive before our kids by random assignment that distributes their inefficiency equally among races and classes. It’s by design. The government in all its democratic glory delivers them to us from universities, to the state, to the local school board.

Tell me how our kids deserve our silence about that problem?

The response of the Left to these problems is that our schools and teachers are great, but we need to redouble our funding of them. We are told to prioritize respect for teachers (who are arguably the most self-thanking occupation in America), pay them more, require less of them, lower the bar of their admission to the profession when they can’t pass professional entry tests, reduce their workloads to levels that are financially untenable, give them an even larger voice in education policy-making than their vast network of well-paid state-by-state lobbyists affords them, and dress them in the title of “expert” even as they show little demonstrable expertise in producing results with our kids.

They say we need to reclaim our schools. I wonder who are they including in the “our” part of that prescription? The parents fighting for options other than schools run by the government blob? Those suing for their rights to better teachers? Those fighting for schools that prioritize outcomes for students over benefits for adults?

Nah.

From the Right we’re told we just need make education great again by reasserting the supremacy of dead white sociopaths, rewriting our books to cast enslaved people as well-fed happy dancers, meting out slave-era systems of behavioral punishments, and bring law and order to schools in ways that fast track the school-to-prison superhighway.

If you accept either “side’s” argument you might have been “educated” by the existing system. It’s time to remove the Matrix plug from the back of your head because it has disabled you from thinking critically about your captivity.

Thank God there are people – the reformers – between both broken wings of this aimless educational dodo bird who at very least admit the system needs fundamental reformation.

We’ll never produce a thinking, capable citizenry so long as we fail to acknowledge public education as currently constructed is a system bursting with deplorables.

Where in the World is Karran Harper Royal? Maryland and Across Louisiana

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Editor’s Note: This is the latest in an occasional series documenting where the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association sends Karran Harper Royal.

It’s been a while since we checked in on the union-funded travels of our old friend, Karran Harper Royal. If you’ll remember, last winter, Royal was busy flying across the country – from Los Angeles, to Boston, to Chicago – to share her distorted portrayal of charter schools in New Orleans, courtesy of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

As winter turned to spring, however, things seemed to die down for the Big Easy’s preeminent anti-charter school activist. Apparently, AFT stopped calling and had turned their attention elsewhere. While Royal maintained an unusually low profile for most of the summer – and the rest of us enjoyed a vacation from her incessant lies about education reform – it was only a matter of time before she jumped back into the fray. All she needed was the right opportunity and the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) has provided it.

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ESSA, which was signed into law by President Obama in December, represents a significant shift away from the strict accountability measures of its predecessor, No Child Left Behind, by giving states much more flexibility in how they measure school performance and address failing schools. Now that states are preparing to adjust their policies to comply with the new law, the teachers unions – in particular, the National Education Association (NEA) – have launched a nationwide campaign to water down state accountability standards and promote community schools as an alternative to charters.

In Louisiana, NEA is attempting to shape public opinion through a series of community forums on ESSA that their state affiliate, Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE), is hosting in cities across the state. Moreover, the union has hired Karran Harper Royal to assist in their propaganda efforts to perhaps give them a veneer of grassroots authenticity.


Over the past two weeks, Royal has appeared at LAE’s ESSA forums in Shreveport, Lafayette, and Lake Charles, where she urged community members to reject charter schools and embrace the community schools model.  At the meeting in Lake Charles, for example, Royal told audience members that the proliferation of charters in New Orleans had been a disaster for the city’s children, whereas community schools promised to “catalyze the revitalization of not just the student, but of the whole community.”

From LAE's ESSA forum in Lafayette.

From LAE’s ESSA forum in Lafayette.

But Royal’s work on behalf of NEA isn’t limited to Louisiana. On Friday, she was in Rockville, MD to share her lies and misinformation about charter schools at a NEA training session for union leaders and educators from across the Northeast.


Where will Karran Harper Royal shill for the teachers unions next? Only time will tell, but rest assured that we’ll be following her exploits here on Citizen Ed!

An All-New Low For The Louisiana Federation of Teachers

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It has long been clear that the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) does not work in the best interests of students. After all, LFT has been on the wrong (and losing) side of several debates over past several years. They joined with Tea Party-aligned lawmakers in attempt to repeal Common Core. They have supported nearly every anti-charter school bill proposed in the legislature. And, LFT has repeatedly tried to weaken the state’s accountability system for schools and teachers.

But LFT’s current effort to scuttle funding for a charter school serving at-risk students represents an all-time low for the union.

Last week, LFT launched an online petition calling on Governor John Bel Edwards to veto House Bill 887, a proposal from Rep. Steve Carter (R-Baton Rouge), that would allow a Baton Rouge charter school, THRIVE Academy, to become an independent public school under the jurisdiction of the state legislature.

East Baton Rouge teacher Sarah Broome launched THRIVE Academy in 2011 after one of her young students was killed in a violent street fight. Broome recognized that the student’s chaotic home life put her on a path that ended in that unfortunate tragedy and wanted to create a school that could meet the needs of at-risk students both in and out of the classroom.

Therefore, Broome established THRIVE as a charter boarding school – the first of its kind in the state – where students live together during the week and are expected to participate in activities such as cooking, cleaning, laundry and budgeting. THRIVE also provides the 110 students it currently serves with individualized attention in small classes led by high-performing teachers.

By almost every measure, the school has been a success. Not only is THRIVE one of the highest-performing middle schools in East Baton Rouge, it’s the highest-performing charter school in the entire district.

Nevertheless, THRIVE has had to depend on the generosity of funders to cover the added costs that come with boarding students – an approach that has worked thus far, but leaves the school vulnerable to the whims of donors. To ensure the long-term financial stability of the school, Broome worked with Rep. Carter to craft House Bill 887 to make THRIVE a legislatively-authorized independent public school, much like the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA).

As a legislatively-authorized school, THRIVE would be able to enroll students who live outside East Baton Rouge Parish. It would also allow the Legislature to allocate additional funding to THRIVE – approximately $23,714 per child – to fully cover the costs of the program.

6th and 7th grade students at THRIVE enjoy a recent camping trip.

6th and 7th grade students at THRIVE enjoy a recent camping trip.

House Bill 887 received overwhelming support in both the House and Senate – in fact, Senators passed the bill unanimously – and is now awaiting the Governor’s signature. But the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, an organization which always claims it works in the best interests of kids, wants the Governor to veto the bill, which would deprive hundreds of our state’s most vulnerable children with a safe, nurturing environment to learn and grow.

That’s not only wrong, that’s despicable.

This post originally appeared at peterccook.com

AFT Is Lurking In The Shadows

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The New Orleans education community was taken by surprise on Monday, when the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) announced that educators at Lusher Charter School had formed a union. An AFT press release on the move stated:

“Educators at Lusher made public their commitment to stand together as the United Teachers of Lusher, an affiliate of the United Teachers of New Orleans and the American Federation of Teachers. Teachers delivered to management a petition of union support signed by a majority of teachers, teacher assistants and other certificated staff at Lusher. They are now calling on management to recognize their union and move forward with negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.”

As the Times-Picayune noted, it is unclear when Lusher’s faculty held the organizing vote or how the votes split.



Nevertheless, Lusher’s decision means that three schools – or 3.6% of all public schools in the city – have chosen to organize since Hurricane Katrina decimated the ranks of the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO), once the largest AFT local in Louisiana.*

Ironically, it also means that two of the three New Orleans schools organized by AFT are selective-admissions charters under the Orleans Parish School Board. Lusher and Ben Franklin High School, whose teachers formed a AFT-affiliated union in March 2015, have long been two of the highest performing schools in the city, thanks to their ability to screen students. Those policies also help explain why both charters serve a disproportionate number of white, affluent families.


Much of the shock over Monday’s announcement stems from the fact that Lusher is currently in the midst of a nasty legal battle over a proposed change in the way public schools are funded in the city. The plan would allocate funds based on a weighted formula that more accurately reflects the added costs of serving English Language Learners, and at-risk and overage students, and children with special needs.

Lusher and a handful of other selective-admissions charters would likely see a slight decrease in their annual funding under the new formula since they serve relatively few special needs and at-risk students. Nevertheless, officials at Lusher are steadfastly opposed to any reduction and filed a lawsuit in federal court last month to block the plan.**

Union Has Been Lurking, Waiting To Pounce

It’s unclear what role, if any, the funding fight played in the decision by Lusher staff to unionize, but what is certain is that the American Federation of Teachers has been waging a long-running campaign to discredit the substantial academic gains made by the city’s public schools in the union’s absence.


It’s also become apparent that AFT and its state and local affiliates have been quietly lurking on the sidelines looking for opportunities to organize the city’s charter schools, presumably in an effort to eat away at the reforms from the inside out.

Over the past year and a half, AFT has been hiring organizers to target charters in the Crescent City and they’ve been popping up in the most unexpected places. A few weeks ago, for example, UTNO organizers hijacked the end of a performance at ARISE Academy put on by Dancing Grounds, a local non-profit that partners with schools to provide dance instruction to students, to tell its audience of teachers and parents about the benefits of UTNO membership.

A screenshot of a post on Craigslist from July 2014.

Screenshot of a job posting on Craigslist from July 2014.

Furthermore, the union has put substantial resources behind organizing efforts in the city. According to the American Federation of Teachers’ 2015 annual report [see below] filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, AFT’s national office spent a total of nearly $2.7 million dollars in Louisiana between July 1st, 2014 and June 30th, 2015 (note: this figure does not include spending by state and local affiliates like the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and UTNO). The report further shows that nearly $355,000 of that total was earmarked for the “AFT/UTNO New Orleans Charter Organizing Project.” AFT also provided UTNO with an additional $143,000 in F.Y. 2015 to cover “release time organizing expenses.”

When taken together, AFT allocated nearly a half a million dollars for organizing efforts in New Orleans in the past year – a surprisingly large amount for a school district in a right-to-work state where the teachers union has been pretty much dead since 2005. It should serve as a warning that AFT still poses a threat to reform efforts in this city. The substantial progress we’ve seen in our public schools in New Orleans over the past decade directly contradicts the teachers unions’ pessimistic message that poverty trumps all. That’s why the unions fight so hard to malign the transformation of our public education system and that’s why we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that they wouldn’t tear it all down if we gave them the opportunity to do so.


 

Full disclosure: I was a member of the United Teachers of New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina.
** This is in spite of the fact that Lusher had budget surpluses in excess of $1.4 million in both 2014 and 2015.

This post was originally published on PE+CO on April 12, 2016.

Evaluating Hillary on Teacher Evaluations

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I‘ll admit, I had a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride on Twitter on Monday.

It all started when I saw this tweet, which made me angry:



However, when I saw this tweet, I was hopeful that maybe Hillary’s “huge break” with Obama’s education policies wasn’t all it was cracked up to be:

But my mood plummeted once again when I saw this tweet from Hillary’s long-time friend and supporter, Randi Weingarten:

That last tweet, of course, refers to Hillary Clinton’s comments during a recent roundtable discussion hosted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in New Hampshire. Clinton briefly touched on the topic of teacher evaluations when asked for her thoughts on the increased emphasis around testing under the Obama Administration:

“I have for a very long time also been against the idea that you tie teacher evaluation and even teacher pay to test outcomes. There’s no evidence. There’s no evidence. Now, there is some evidence that it can help with school performance. If everybody is on the same team and they’re all working together, that’s a different issue, but that’s not the way it’s been presented…”

Over the past few years, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has prodded states to adopt teacher evaluations that incorporate value-added measures (VAM) of student performance by tying them to both Race to the Top and waivers from No Child Left Behind. Teachers unions and their supporters have pushed back against the policy, claiming that VAM is unreliable and is strongly influenced by factors outside of the classroom, such as poverty.

So is Hillary right to be skeptical about incorporating using students’ test results in teacher evaluations? Here’s a few things to keep in mind about recent efforts to judge teacher performance:

I. Nobody evaluates teachers on the basis of test scores alone

Reform critics often make the claim that teachers are losing their jobs based on the outcome of a single test. That’s simply not the case. To my knowledge (and please correct me if I’m wrong), there isn’t a single state that evaluates its teachers on the basis of test scores alone. In most places, test results only account for a fraction of a teacher’s overall evaluation score, which otherwise rely heavily on the results of classroom observations by school administrators.

Moreover, teacher evaluation laws in most states stipulate that teachers can only be terminated after they’ve been rated “ineffective” on two or more annual evaluations. So, to be clear: No, teachers are not being fired on the basis of a single test score.

Actually, this should say, "We don't grade teachers solely on tests."

Actually, this should say, “We don’t grade teachers solely on tests.”

II. Clinton is correct that pay-for-performance schemes haven’t worked

It seems logical to imagine that school districts could be able to increase achievement by offering performance bonuses to teachers whose students beat expectations on annual standardized tests. However, Clinton is correct that numerous studies  have shown that pay-for-performance schemes don’t lead to gains in achievement.

That being said, it’s important not to conflate performance bonuses with efforts to differentiate teacher compensation based on performance or other factors. Collective bargaining agreements often involve a fixed salary scale in which teacher pay is based on credentials and years of service. Unions have resisted efforts by some districts to adopt a more flexible compensation approach which can take into account other factors like prior performance, subject matter expertise, etc.

III. Studies show high value-added teachers make a difference

In contrast to Clinton’s assertion, there is evidence that teachers with high VAM scores have a long-term impact on student success. One of the most commonly cited studies on VAM comes from the economists Raj Chetty, Jonah Rockoff, and John Friedman, who tracked one million students from an urban school district from the 4th grade to adulthood to evaluate the accuracy of those measures, as well as determine whether high value-added teachers improve students’ long-term outcomes.

In terms of VAM’s accuracy, Chetty, Rockoff, and Friedman’s research determined the following:

“We find that when a high VA teacher joins a school, test scores rise immediately in the grade taught by that teacher; when a high VA teacher leaves, test scores fall. Test scores change only in the subject taught by that teacher, and the size of the change in scores matches what we predict based on the teacher’s VA.”

The three economists also revealed that high-value added teachers had a significant, long-term impact on their students – an impact that persisted well into adulthood:

“We find that students assigned to higher VA teachers are more successful in many dimensions. They are more likely to attend college, earn higher salaries, live in better neighborhoods, and save more for retirement. They are also less likely to have children as teenagers. Teachers have large impacts in all the grades we analyze (4 to 8). Teachers’ impacts on earnings are also similar in percentage terms for students from low and high income families.”

Chetty, Rockoff, and Friedman showed high-value added teachers have a demonstrable impact on students.

Chetty, Rockoff, and Friedman showed high-value added teachers have a demonstrable impact on students.

IV. States haven’t always used VAM in productive ways

I support rigorous teacher evaluations that incorporate student performance measures, but some states have used VAM in ways that are ultimately counterproductive to the effort to ensure that every classroom has an effective teacher. Since a majority of teachers are assigned to grades or content areas that are not assessed by state standardized tests, that means they don’t receive VAM scores every year. This poses a dilemma for policymakers who want to include an objective component like VAM into every teacher’s evaluation, but how do you do that for a music teacher?

Some states (Florida and New Mexico being two such examples) have opted to include a school-wide student growth measure in the evaluations of teachers in non-tested grades and subjects. Essentially, this means those teachers are being evaluated, in part, on their students’ performance in other classes. Not only is this approach illogical and fundamentally unfair, it also gives ammunition to those opposed to evaluation reform who argue that the system is rigged against teachers.