Arizona Supreme Court Blocks Ballot Initiative to Fund Public Education

Paying taxes for the common good.  What a novel idea these days—and something blocked last week by the Arizona Supreme Court.  Failing to connect the taxes we pay with what the money buys, many of us find it easy to object to more taxes, but the case of Arizona makes the arithmetic clear.  After slashing taxes for years, Arizona doesn’t have enough money to pay for public schools and universities.  Not enough for the barest essentials.

New York Magazine‘s Ed Kilgore describes last week’s decision by the Arizona Supreme Court to kill Invest in Ed, a ballot initiative intended to shore up public school funding in revenue-poor Arizona: “In a stunning development that short-circuited a debate that was shaping the midterm elections in a competitive state, the Arizona Supreme Court struck down a November ballot initiative designed to increase taxes on the wealthiest citizens and devote the proceeds ($690 million annually) to public education. The initiative, killed on highly technical grounds, was the product of the teacher protests and strikes in the spring, and basically offered a specific revenue source for funding promises that were made by Republican governor Doug Ducey and state legislators to end the teachers’ strike.”

In May, after Arizona teachers walked out of school and flooded the capitol, the legislature passed a budget to give the teachers the first installment in what Governor Doug Ducey promises will be a 20 percent pay raise by 2020. Wanting to ensure there will be a second installment of that promised raise, however, and worrying about catastrophic cuts in state expenditures on other necessities at their schools, organized teachers gathered thousands more signatures than were required to put an Invest in Ed initiative on the November ballot to raise taxes on families making over $250,000 annually, with the money designated for public education.

The teachers secured the signatures before the deadline, but the Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit to block the referendum—alleging that the ballot language was not clear enough.  A trial court okayed the ballot language, and on August 16, an appeals court affirmed that the initiative could go forward. However, last week, siding with the Chamber of Commerce, the Arizona Supreme Court  yanked the referendum off the ballot.

Here are some facts to explain why the tax increase was so desperately needed in Arizona, and why the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision to block the initiative is such a serious matter.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Michael Leachman describes Arizona’s desperate revenue shortage, the product of years of tax cuts: “At least 12 states have cut ‘general’ or ‘formula’ (school) funding—the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools—by 7 percent or more per student since 2008…. Seven of these states have also cut income taxes over the decade, making it particularly hard for them to raise revenue needed for their schools.” Arizona is one of the seven.

In a recent report, A Decade of Neglect,: the American Federation of Teachers describes what the tax cuts have meant for Arizona’s schools: “In the years following the Great Recession, the Arizona Legislature cut funding for K-12 schools by $4.6 billion…. For 2015-16, Arizona ranked 49th among the states and the District of Columbia for per-pupil funding.  Spending was down 12.7 percent compared with 2007-2008, and only two other states saw a larger decline in per-pupil spending between 2008 and 2016. The state ranks 46th for teacher salaries… After a 15 percent decline in the student-teacher ratio, Arizona ranks 50th among the states… Arizona also ranks near the bottom for support for higher education. For FY 2017, spending was 55 percent below pre-recession levels, and the state ranked last for spending on higher education. No other state showed a larger decline in post-recession support for higher education. Arizona’s failure to fund education is the result of what has been described as an ‘ideological aversion to taxes.'”

In May, NY Times reporter Dana Goldstein profiled Donato Soberano, a guest worker from the Philippines, working as a seventh-grade science teacher in the greater-Phoenix area. Due to salaries that lag the national average by $10,000, Arizona has struggled with an acute shortage of certified teachers: “The latest wave of foreign workers sweeping into American jobs brought Donato Soberano from the Philippines to Arizona two years ago… But Mr. Soberano is not a hospitality worker or a home health aide. He is in another line of work that increasingly pays too little to attract enough Americans: Mr. Soberano is a public school teacher… Much like other foreign workers he went into debt to find a job in the United States.  He said he used savings and a bank loan to pay $12,500, about three years’ worth of his salary in the Philippines, to Petro-Fil Manpower Services.  That is a Filipino company of Ligaya Avenida, a California-based consultant who recruits and screens teachers for the J-1 (temporary visa). The payment covered Mr. Soberano’s airfare and rent for his first few months in Arizona, as well as a $2,400 fee for Ms. Avenida and a $3,500 fee to Alliance Abroad Group, a Texas-based company that is an official State Department sponsor for J-1 visa holders.  The J-1 lasts three years, with the option for two one-year extensions… The school districts that recruit teachers like Mr. Soberano say that they have few other options because they can’t find enough American educators willing to work for the pay on offer.”

Arizona is also experiencing a shortage of other essential school support staff.  In mid-August, the Arizona Republic reported: “Arizona’s student-to-school-counselor ratio is the highest in the nation, averaging 903 students to every one counselor in public schools in the 2015-16 school year…  Arizona held a 743-1 ratio a decade ago, but climbed as high as 941-1 in the post-recession years before slowly improving… The improved ratio—still more than three times the recommended number—has been a sticking point for Arizona’s March for Our Lives student and #RedForEd teacher movements… The American School Counselor Association recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250-1…. Michigan comes closest to Arizona with a 744-1 ratio. The national average is 464-to-1.”

Institutions like public schools and public universities can thrive only when citizens grasp the necessity of paying taxes for essential services and the well-being of the wider community. Paying taxes for government services is a civic responsibility of individuals and businesses. Historically our society has also supported the idea that taxes ought to be progressive, with the greatest obligation carried by those with ample financial means. The Invest in Ed initiative, designed and promoted by Arizona’s public school teachers, embodied these principles. Sadly, Arizona’s citizens are being denied the opportunity to vote on this matter.

Trump Administration’s Disdain for Immigrants Seeps into Plans for Education Department Restructure

If you think it is important that public schools across the United States serve all children, you would likely prefer that the U.S. Department of Education NOT eliminate its Office of English Language Acquisition.

Here is how that Office describes its mission: “The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) provides national leadership to help ensure that English Learners and immigrant students attain English proficiency and achieve academic success.  In addition to preserving heritage languages and cultures, OELA is committed to prompting opportunities for biliteracy or multiliteracy skills for all students.”

This is an enlightened mission statement in a couple of ways. First, it demonstrates that someone in our government has committed to preserving the “heritage” languages and cultures of American Indian students. Someone, in creating this office, believed it important formally to contravene the colonialist idea that we ought to strip language and culture from the many indigenous peoples—what was once a formal policy of promoting the enrollment of these children in boarding schools intended to help them forget the languages and cultures of their families.

Second, the Office of English Language Acquisition, by its very name, clearly endorses the teaching of English, but the mission statement endorses the goal of biliteracy or multiliteracy.  In other words, the Office of English Language Acquisition has endorsed the notion of language gain rather than language loss—acknowledging that in our multicultural country and our connected world, knowing and speaking more than one language is an asset.

No wonder Betsy DeVos’s and Donald Trump’s Department of Education is trying to eliminate the Office of English Language Acquisition. This is the administration that has been separating young children and toddlers from their parents at the border and institutionalizing the children.  It is also the administration that has been persistently trying to eliminate DACA—the program protecting from deportation the young adults born elsewhere, brought to the U.S. as infants and young children, and raised in our neighborhoods and educated in our public schools. Fortunately the courts continue to block the president’s order to end DACA.

Education Week‘s Corey Mitchell reports: “The U.S. Department of Education is forging ahead with plans to scrap the federal office of English-language acquisition—perhaps without seeking congressional approval or public comment on the proposal… Several groups contacted by Education Week insist that Deputy Education Secretary Mick Zais has sidestepped their questions about whether the department will get the OK from Congress before enacting the proposal—which would fold the office of English-language acquisition, or OELA, into the office for elementary and secondary education. The plan would also eliminate the director’s position for OELA, a job currently held by Jose Viana. Federal law requires that OELA have a director who reports directly to the education secretary. So it appears, at least on the surface, that DeVos would need the approval of Congress to enact the plan.”

A prominent coalition of advocates for the preservation of the Office of English Language Acquisition sent a letter of protest to Assistant Education Secretary of Education Mitchell Zais. The following organizations were signatories: American Federation of Teachers, American Association of Teachers of German, The ASPIRA Association, Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, California Association for Bilingual Education, Californians Together, Center for Applied Linguistics, The Education Neuroscience Foundation, the Global Institute for Language and Literacy Development, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, Joint National Committee for Languages, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy-Migration Policy Institute, National Association for Bilingual Education, National Council for Languages and International Studies, National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association, TESOL International Association, and UnidosUS.

More recently, Zais responded to their questions but failed to address their concerns. Mitchell reports: “In a July 26 letter where Zais responded to questions from the coalition, he wrote that the Education Department has worked closely with the other federal agencies, including the office of Management and Budget, to ensure the reorganization of OELA is done in accordance with the law and an executive order from President Donald Trump that seeks to remake the executive branch, mainly by finding programs and perhaps whole agencies that could be eliminated.  In that same letter, Zais also implied that the Education Department has already solicited public comment on the OELA proposal through a federal steering committee on agency restructuring.”

Mitchell quotes David Cutler, policy and communications director for TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) International Association: “We hope that this does not signal that the administration thinks English learners are no longer a priority.”

In an earlier report, Corey Mitchell quoted Kim Miller, director of English-learner programs for the state of Oregon on the role of the federal Office on English Language Acquisition: “OELA provides guidance on policy decisions, handles grants that help prepare educators to work with ELLs, and invests in and distributes research through the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition.  If those services are scaled down, state ELL offices can’t fill the gaps.”

Federal law requires that public schools provide English language instruction to all children whose primary languages are not English. Here is some history. In 1968, Congress added the Bilingual Education Act to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which had been passed in 1965. ESEA had embodied the philosophy of providing additional resources through Title I for school districts serving children in poverty; the Bilingual Education Act added Title VII, providing federal aid for English Language Learners, better training for their teachers, and support for parent involvement. Then in 1974, in Lau v. Nichols, a case originating in San Francisco, parent plaintiffs argued that although mastery of English was required for high school graduation, their children were not receiving special language instruction. This U.S. Supreme Court decision guaranteed the right, codified in the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, to instruction in English for students whose primary language is not English.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2014, 9.4 percent of public school students (4.6 million) in the United States were English language learners: “Spanish was the home language of 3.7 million ELL students in 2014-15, representing 77.1 percent of all ELL students and 7.6 percent of all public K-12 students. Arabic, Chinese, and Vietnamese were the next most common home languages (spoken by approximately 109,000, 104,000 and 85,300 students, respectively.”  In 2009, the National Council of La Raza estimated that 91 percent of Latino children under age 18 living within U.S. borders are U.S. citizens.

Protecting the rights of students in marginalized groups and providing leadership for meeting their needs is a primary responsibility of the U.S. Department of Education.  The elimination of the Department of Education’s Office for English Language Acquisition would be one more indicator of the Trump administration’s disdain for immigrant students and for millions of other students whose primary language is not English.

Repeating My Recommendation: Please Read Daniel Koretz’s Book, “The Testing Charade”

How has high stakes testing ruined our schools and how has this strategy, which was at the heart of No Child Left Behind, made it much more difficult to accomplish No Child Left Behind’s stated goal of reducing educational inequality and closing achievement gaps?

Here is how Daniel Koretz begins to answer that question in his 2017 book, The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better: In 2002, No Child Left Behind “mandated that all states use the proficient standard as a target and that 100 percent of students reach that level. It imposed a short timeline for this: twelve years. It required that schools report the performance of several disadvantaged groups and it mandated that 100 percent of each of these groups had to reach the proficient standard. It required that almost all students be tested the same way and evaluated against the same performance standards.  And it replaced the straight-line approach by uniform statewide targets for percent proficient, called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)…. The law mandated an escalating series of sanctions for schools that failed to make AYP for each reporting group.” Later, “Arne Duncan used his control over funding to increase even further the pressure to raise scores.  The most important of Duncan’s changes was inducing states to tie the evaluation of individual teachers, rather than just schools, to test scores… The reforms caused much more harm than good. Ironically, in some ways they inflicted the most harm on precisely the disadvantaged students the policies were intended to help.”

Koretz poses the following question and his book sets out to answer it: “But why did the reforms fail so badly?”

I recommend Daniel Koretz’s book all the time as essential reading for anyone trying to figure out how we got to the deplorable morass that is today’s federal and state educational policy.  I wish I thought more people were reading this book. Maybe people are intimidated that its author is a Harvard expert on the design and use of standardized tests.  Maybe it’s the fact that the book was published by the University of Chicago Press. But I don’t see it in very many bookstores, and when I ask people if they have read it, most people tell me they intend to read it. To reassure myself that it is really worth reading, I set myself the task this past weekend of re-reading the entire book. And I found re-reading it to be extremely worthwhile.

The book divides into three parts—an introductory section of several chapters—six or seven chapters in the middle that dissect the way high stakes testing has undermined education and damaged the education of our nation’s poorest children—and some wrap-up chapters. It is the middle part that is essential. While Koretz has some ideas near the end about where we go from here, his analysis of the damage caused is the crucial part. After all, this section at the heart of the book addresses the conversational dilemma many readers of this blog must face as often as I do. What can you say to the person who doggedly tells you that a particular school is a fine school because its scores are high and another school is a failure because its test scores are so low? This person, often well-intentioned, has lived with test-based school accountability for so long that he cannot imagine there is any other way to consider school quality. And anyway, he says, standardized testing is what we have to evaluate schools, so it’s what we need to use.

Koretz explains a 40-year-old social science rule first articulated by Don Campbell, who Koretz identifies as “one of the founders of the science of program evaluation.” Here is how Campbell stated what we now call “Campbell’s Law”: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” The rest of the central chapters in Koretz’s book explain precisely how the use of high stakes punishments tied to low test scores has triggered Campbell’s Law. What are the high stakes punishments?  First came the school turnarounds prescribed by No Child Left Behind —firing the principal and half the teachers, closing the school, charterizing the school.  Later Arne Duncan added the evaluation of teachers by students’ test scores—and schemes rewarding teachers whose students scored well and firing the teachers whose students post low scores. Koretz summarizes No Child Left Behind’s test-and punish strategy: “The reformers’ implicit assumption seemed to be that many teachers knew how to teach more effectively but were being withholding, and therefore confronting them with sanctions and rewards would be enough to get them to deliver.”

Three chapters explore how No Child Left Behind’s test-and-punish strategy has distorted schooling itself and has undermined how teachers teach and how students learn.

  • Score Inflation: When the state achievement tests mandated by No Child Left Behind—the ones that would bring negative consequences for schools and teachers—were compared by experts like Koretz himself to another “audit” test such as the National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP), which has no high stakes consequences, the researchers discovered that while the scores on the state test rose rapidly, NAEP scores remained flat.  Koretz comments: “(I)ncreases in scores are meaningful only if they signal similar increases in mastery of the domain.  If they do generalize to the domain, gains should appear on other tests that sample from the same domain.” He continues: “(A)ll that is required for scores to become inflated is that the sampling used to create a test has to be predictable… For inflation to occur, teachers or students need to capitalize on this predictability, focusing on the specifics of the test at the expense of the larger domain.”  And there are equity concerns here, because score inflation has occurred more often in schools serving poor students: “Ongoing work by my own group has shown… that it is not just the poverty of individual students that predicts the amount of inflation but also the concentration of poor students in a school… (S)chools with a higher proportion of poor students showed greater average inflation.” Teachers under pressure are finding a way to raise test scores without really teaching the students the material they are supposed to be learning.  Some schools have also inflated overall scores by focusing primarily on children right at the pass/fail level and paying less attention to students far behind.
  • Cheating: Koretz examines the big cheating scandals, notably Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.  He notes: “Cheating—by teachers and administrators, not by students—is one of the simplest ways to inflate scores, and if you aren’t caught, it’s the most dependable.” Sometimes teachers or administrators erase and change students answers; sometimes they provide teachers or students with the test items in advance; other times teachers give students the answer during the test.  And finally sometimes schools “scrub” off the enrollment rolls the students who are likely to fail.
  • Test Prep: Test prep narrows what is taught to students to the material that is tested.  Koretz identifies three kinds of bad test prep. Reallocation between subjects has been common when schools emphasize No Child Left Behind’s tested subjects—reading and math—and cut back on social studies, the arts, music and recess. Reallocation within subjects is when schools study past years’ versions of the state tests and ask teachers to focus on particular aspects of a subject.  Finally there is coaching. Schools and test-prep companies teach students to respond in a formulaic way to the format of the questions themselves. Koretz explains why all this has implications for educational equity: “Inappropriate test preparation, like score inflation, is more severe in some places than in others. Teachers of high-achieving students have less reason to indulge in bad preparation for high-stakes tests because the majority of their students will score adequately without it—in particular, above the ‘proficient’ cut score that counts for accountability purposes. So one would expect that test preparation would be a more severe problem in schools serving high concentrations of disadvantaged students…. Once again, disadvantaged kids are getting the short end of the stick.”

Two chapters in this middle section explore the ways No Child Left Behind’s test-and-punish scheme has undermined equitable access to education in the schools in areas of concentrated poverty across our cities. The law that promised to leave no child behind not only encouraged test prep and cheating in the schools whose needs were greatest, but it also set impossibly tough and largely arbitrary test score targets for those schools and an impossibly short timeline for bringing students up to those targets.  And then the federal government set out to punish the schools and the teachers unable to meet the targets.

  • Making Up Unrealistic Targets: In this chapter, Koretz explains how No Child Left Behind’s standardized cut scores and timelines were set unrealistically and arbitrarily; the consequence was to label schools in poor areas as “failing” and to subject schools in areas of concentrated poverty to a series of punishments. Here is Koretz’s short summary: “Part of the blame for this failure lies with the crude and unrealistic methods used to confront inequity.  In a nutshell, the core of the approach has been simply to set an arbitrary performance target (the ‘Proficient’ standard) and declare that all schools must make all students reach it in an equally arbitrary amount of time.  No one checked to make sure the targets were practical.  The myriad factors that cause some students to do poorly in school—both the weaknesses of many of the schools they attend and the disadvantages some students bring to school—were given remarkably little attention. Somehow teachers would just pull this off… The trust most people have in performance standards is essential, because the entire educational system now revolves around them. The percentage of kids who reach the standard is the key number determining which teachers and schools will be rewarded or punished… But in fact, despite all the care that goes into creating them, these standards are anything but solid. They are arbitrary, and the ‘percent proficient’ is a very slippery number… A primary motivation for setting a Proficient standard is to prod schools to improve, but information about how quickly teachers actually can improve student learning doesn’t play much, if any, of a role in setting performance standards… However, setting the standards themselves is just the beginning. What gives the performance standards real bite is their translation into concrete targets for educators, which depends on more than the rigor of the standard itself… We have to say how quickly performance has to increase—not only overall but for different types of kids and schools. A less obvious but equally important question is how much variation in performance is acceptable.”
  • Evaluating Teachers: In 2009, beginning with Race to the Top and later as a condition for states to qualify for waivers from the worst consequences of No Child Left Behind, Arne Duncan’s Department of Education required states to change their laws to tie a percentage of teachers’ formal evaluations to students’ test scores. Myriad problems ensued. First of all, the required tests are in reading and math. What about the other teachers? Koretz describes Florida and Tennessee, which judged teachers in non-tested grades and subjects by the scores of students who were not in their classes, and in one case not in their schools.  Other states added tests in music, art, and physical education—subjecting students to added standardized testing—just for the purpose of state teacher evaluations.  Koretz explains the problems with Value-Added Modeling to evaluate teachers; many factors affecting students’ scores cannot be traced to any teacher and any teacher’s ratings seem to be unstable over several years.

I cannot imagine exactly how our society can recover from the our terrible test-and-punish misadventure and our labeling as “failing” the institutions and teachers who serve our poorest children.  What is heartening about The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better is the clarity with which Daniel Koretz presents our current dilemma: “We now know what many educators did.  Faced with unrealistic targets, some cut corners or simply cheated.  And perhaps because the system, in its zeal to address inequities, made the targets most unrealistic for educators serving disadvantaged kids, those kids—ironically—got the worst of it: the most test prep, the most score inflation, and apparently the most cheating.  And yet inflated scores allowed policy makers to declare victory, and the public received a steady diet of encouraging but bogus news about rapid improvements in the achievement gap…. On balance… the reforms have been a failure.”

Please read The Testing Charade.  We all need to understand and be able to explain how we’ve gone so far astray.

How We Define Teaching Makes All the Difference

In the beginning of I Married a Communist, a novel about the McCarthy era of the early 1950s, Philip Roth, who died in May of this year, introduces a character who, everybody would agree, is a model high school teacher. Mr. Ringold, the teacher, and his student (Nathan, the novel’s narrator) both live in Newark, New Jersey. Mr. Ringold teaches kids from his neighborhood, students he deeply understands. He cares about them, but more to the point, he cares about what they read and insists that they learn to think about it.

Here is a short excerpt, a dialog between Mr. Ringold and Nathan, then an adolescent, who rides his bicycle past the teacher’s house on the way to return books to the library:

“Mr. Ringold had stepped over to where the books had tumbled from the basket onto the pavement at the foot of the stoop and was looking at their spines to see what I was reading. Half the books were about baseball… and the other half were about American history.” One is about the life of of Tom Paine.

“‘You know what the genius of Paine was?’ Mr. Ringold asked me. ‘It was the genius of all those men. Jefferson. Madison. Know what it was.?'”

“‘No,’ I said.”

“‘You do know what it was,’ he said.”

“To defy the English.”

“A lot of people did that. No. It was to articulate the cause in English. The revolution was totally improvised, totally disorganized.  Isn’t that the sense you get from this book, Nathan? Well, these guys had to find a language for their revolution. To find the words for a great purpose.”

“‘Paine said,’ I told Mr. Ringold, ‘I wrote a little book because I wanted men to see what they were shooting at.”

The teaching continues as Roth sets up the plot through the first chapter of the novel. Mr. Ringold, attentive to every opportunity to challenge his student, holds himself accountable—personally responsible—for challenging Nathan to develop probing intellectual habits.

Compare Mr. Ringold’s understanding of education to what Stanford University education professor emeritus Larry Cuban recently described as the wave of school accountability that has swept the country since the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983: “The current donor and business-led resurgence of a ‘modern cult of efficiency,’ or the application of scientific management to business can be seen at a host of companies and in U.S. schools…  Turn now to schooling. The… focus on student outcomes can be seen in the standards, testing, and accountability movement launched over three decades ago…. Determining which teachers are productive, i.e., ‘effective,’ using students’ test scores has occurred in many states and big city districts. Such outcome measures should not shock anyone familiar with the spreading influence of the business model (e.g. earning profits, market share, and return on investment) upon schooling.  Policymakers’ concerns over inefficiency in sorting effective from ineffective teachers… led to an embrace of an economic model of providing incentives to increase organizational productivity and efficiency… Faster and better teaching through new technologies producing improved student outcomes in less time and money….”

Technology and data are the key. Financial bonus incentives—not teachers’ personal responsibility for their students—are understood as the motivator. Forgotten is the human connection— the teacher questioning, cajoling, encouraging, enjoying learning with her students.

Cuban quotes Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Education Secretary, who was a primary driver of the cult of efficiency: “Technology can play a huge role in increasing educational productivity, but not just as an add-on for a high-tech reproduction of current practice.  Again, we need to change the underlying processes to leverage the capabilities of technology. The military calls it a force multiplier. Better use of online learning, virtual schools, and other smart uses of technology is not so much about replacing educational roles as it is about giving each person the tools they need to be more successful—reducing wasted time, energy, and money. By far, the best strategy for boosting productivity is to leverage transformational change in the educational system to improve outcomes for children. To do so, requires a fundamental rethinking of the structure and delivery of education in the United States.”

In the passage Cuban quotes, Duncan’s thinking is depersonalized. The subjects of the sentences—the forces conducting the educational action—are abstractions: technology, the military and “the best strategy.” It is as though Duncan, who never taught school prior to becoming CEO of the Chicago Public Schools or becoming U.S. Secretary of Education, lacks any feel for teaching.

Through all these years of data-driven, outcomes-based, efficiency-framed education theory, Mike Rose, the education writer and a UCLA professor of education, has continued to remind us that schooling must always be about human relationship. Rose just posted a new piece: Teaching As a Way of Seeing. He begins: “‘The thing I love about Ms. Marovich,’ says Hazel of her automotive technology instructor, ‘is that when she looks at you, she sees the finished product.’ What a remarkable kind of seeing Hazel describes: An act of perception that envisions growth and that helps make that growth possible. Over the past several years, I have been interviewing a wide range of people, from students in high school and community college to professionals in their fifties and sixties, about experiences in or out of school that had a transformative effect on their education, that changed the way they thought about school and what school could enable them to do with their lives. A number of the people I talked to used some variation of Hazel’s statement about seeing, some visual metaphor of validation.”

Rose continues: “These teachers seem to operate with an expansive sense of human ability and are particularly alert to signs of that ability, signs that might be faint or blurred by societal biases or by a student’s reticence or distracting behavior—or that the student him or herself might barely comprehend. Through the way they teach, through mentoring, or some other intervention, these teachers help develop the abilities they perceive. We don’t hear a lot about this powerfully humane element of teaching, for so much current discussion of teacher education and development is focused elsewhere: from creating measures of effectiveness to mastering district or state curriculum frameworks.”

Rose quotes a high school teacher who aspires to be the kind of teacher Philip Roth created in Mr. Ringold: “‘I was a strange kid,’ a high school English teacher says reflecting back on his time in twelfth grade, ‘but not to [his English teacher] Mrs. Howard. She saw me the way I wanted to be seen. It changed my life. Every day I work to see kids the way they want to be seen.'”

Judge Rejects Plan to Allow New York Charter Schools to Certify Their Own Teachers

On Tuesday, a judge in New York blocked a 2017 rule made by the Charter Schools Committee of the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York (SUNY) to allow charter schools and chains of charter schools sponsored by SUNY’s Board of Trustees to certify their own teachers.  Charter school certification programs were required, under the now-banned rule, to have included at least 160 hours of classroom training plus 40 hours of practice teaching.  The rule had been approved by New York’s state legislature as part of a political deal to favor Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies.

ChalkBeat‘s Monica Disare describes the significance of Tuesday’s ruling banning the practice: “The judge’s ruling upends the plans of the city’s largest charter school network, Success Academy, and wipes out a legislative victory that New York’s charter sector thought it had won…. The regulations, approved by the State University of New York in October 2017, were designed to give charter schools more discretion over how they hired teachers. They eliminated the requirement that teachers earn master’s degrees and allowed charter schools authorized by SUNY to certify their teachers with as little as a month of classroom instruction and 40 hours of practice teaching.  Some charter networks argued their existing in-house training programs are more useful to new teachers than the training required for certification under state law.”

Desire reports that the judge’s ruling this week was not merely procedural. The decision addresses a core issue: who, under New York law, has the right to set standards and requirements for certification of school teachers: “Charter networks ‘are free to require more of the teachers they hire but they must meet the minimum standards set’ by the state, the judge wrote in her order.”

In her decision, Judge Debra J. Young writes: “SUNY Charter Schools Committee, a sub-committee of the SUNY Board of Trustees (hereinafter the SUNY Subcommittee) adopted regulations which purported to establish an independent licensure process as a substitute for the teacher certification system as established by New York State Board of Regents and the State Education Department…  Education Law 3004 provides petitioner/plaintiffs Commissioner Elia and the Board of Regents the exclusive authority regarding teacher certification.  8NYCRR Part 80 sets forth the requirements for teachers’ certificates.  This, combined with Education Law 2854 (3) (a-1) which delineates the certification requirements of teachers in charter schools sets forth the certification requirements.  Additionally, Education Law 3602-44 sets forth the requirements for certification of Universal Pre-K teachers. Under Education Law 355, contrary to respondents’/defendants/ contentions, licensure or certification of teachers does not constitute the ‘governance, structure and operations’ of charter schools. Education Law 355 (2-1) merely gives that SUNY subcommittee the power to regulate in limited areas.”

Ironically, across its many campuses, the State University of New York educates a large number of New York’s professionally certified school teachers. The SUNY Charter Schools Committee is a subcommittee of the SUNY Board of Trustees. It is not an academic body responsible for designing the content of teacher preparation; neither is it connected with any of the Schools of Education located at the regional branches of the State University of New York. Under the new rule, now banned, the charter school networks were entirely free to set their own curriculum, expectations, and standards for teacher preparation.

The NY Times’ Elizabeth Harris describes the political deal the state legislature struck to grant charters school networks the power to certify their teachers: “The rules, enacted last year by the State University of New York, one of two entities that grants charters in the state, were part of a 2016 deal in the state legislature. In exchange for extending mayoral control of New York City schools, State Senate Republicans gave SUNY more authority to regulate the schools it oversees. SUNY then used that power to allow some schools to train and certify their own teachers… Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Success Academy, is close to Senate Republicans and the deal was seen as a gift to her.  Success has had difficulty recruiting enough teachers as the network expands.”

Harris publishes the response to Tuesday’s decision from the New York state officials who are responsible for overseeing the preparation of school teachers: “Betty A. Rosa, chancellor of the Board of Regents, and MaryEllen Elia, the state education commissioner, celebrated the decision and said in a statement, ‘Every child—regardless of color, economic status or ability—deserves a qualified teacher with meaningful experience to be prepared for the classroom.”

ChalkBeat‘s Disare reports that the legal challenges to the new SUNY Committee rule had been filed by state education officials as well as the state teachers union: “(T)he rule was quickly challenged by the State Education Department and the state teachers union, which filed separate lawsuits that were joined in April. They argued that SUNY overstepped its authority and charged that the rule change would lead to children being taught by inexperienced and unqualified teachers.”

It is well known that particular chains of charter schools expect the teachers they hire to practice the schools’ own formulaic teaching techniques and that many, including Success Academies, enforce compliance and obedience by imposing punitive zero-tolerance discipline. In contrast, school teachers, educated in traditional certification programs are exposed not only teaching methodology, but also thoughtful courses on child and adolescent development, educational psychology and the philosophy of education. Such programs are designed to help educators develop an understanding of the needs of students and the importance of teaching that helps form emotionally secure, thoughtful, curious, and rigorous students and good citizens. Too frequently charter schools demand instead that teachers practice a sequence of specific techniques.

Education writer and life-long teacher of teachers at UCLA, Mike Rose criticizes the kind of technique-based training young recruits are likely to be taught in the kind of month-long training Success Academy was hoping to establish under the new SUNY rules that Judge Debra Young has now banned: “If you pare down your concept of teaching far enough, you are left with sequences of behaviors and routines—with techniques. Technique becomes central to the reformers’ redefinition of teaching, and the focus on technique is at the heart of many of the alternative teacher credentialing programs that have emerged over the past decade.  Effective techniques are an important part of the complex activity that is teaching, and good mentorship includes analyzing a teacher’s work and providing corrective feedback. Teachers of teachers have been doing this for a long time. What is new is the nearly exclusive focus on techniques, the increased role of digital technology to study them, and the attempt to define ‘effective’ by seeking positive correlations between specific techniques and, you guessed it, students’ standardized test scores.”

It is expected that Judge Young’s decision will be appealed by the SUNY Committee to a higher court.

Michelle Rhee’s D.C. Education Revolution Continues to Collapse

The Associated Press‘s Ashraf Khalil explains: “As recently as a year ago, the public school system in the nation’s capital was being hailed as a shining example of successful urban education reform and a template for districts across the country. Now…. after a series of rapid-fire scandals including one about rigged graduation rates, Washington’s school system has gone from a point of pride to perhaps the largest public embarrassment of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s tenure… A decade after a restructuring that stripped the decision-making powers of the board of education and placed the system under mayoral control, city schools in 2017 were boasting rising test scores and a record graduation rate for high schools of 73 percent, compared with 53 percent in 2011… Then everything unraveled.”

Teachers jobs were threatened if they didn’t raise test scores and increase graduation rates by passing students no matter what. Money was an incentive, with bonuses rewarding successful teachers. The Washington Post revealed that last year, while the district bragged about declining suspension rates, the reports were a fake. Many high schools were suspending students  without documentation.

Then an investigation by Washington, D.C.’s NPR station WAMU, uncovered that Ballou High School had been covering up massive student absences. Many students had been chronically absent and missed so many days of classes that mandatory course failure should have followed. But teachers failed to mark students absent, and students who were failing classes were being allowed to complete inadequate credit recovery projects so that they would pass courses and be allowed to graduate.

A district-wide investigation into practices during the 2016-2017 school year revealed that the problem wasn’t just at Ballou, but had spread district-wide. Khalil reports that, “about half of those Ballou graduates had missed more than three months of school and should not have graduated due to chronic truancy. A subsequent inquiry revealed a systemwide culture that pressured teachers to favor graduation rates over all else—with salaries and job security tied to specific metrics.  The internal investigation concluded that more than one-third of the 2017 graduating class should not have received diplomas due to truancy or improper steps taken by teachers or administrators to cover the absences.  In one egregious example, investigators found that attendance records at Dunbar High School had been altered 4,000 times to mark absent students as present. The school system is now being investigated by both the FBI and the U.S. Education Department.”

The school district responded this past winter by tightening attendance monitoring and enforcing course requirements.  In April of this year, the Washington Post‘s Perry Stein reported that, “Fewer than half of the seniors in the District’s traditional public school system are on track to receive their diplomas in June…. The city released a first batch of data in February, which showed that 42 percent of seniors attending traditional public schools were on track to graduate, while 19 percent were considered ‘moderately off track.'”

Last week Stein updated the story, reporting that 60 percent of seniors earned diplomas on time this month: “The school system said this week that 415 students who were considered ‘moderately off track’ in April received their diplomas in June. Forty students who were ‘significantly off track’ graduated… Many of the off-track students enrolled in credit-recovery courses to graduate on time.”  She adds that some students are likely to graduate after completing summer school.

Stein tracks the graduation rates by student demographics and finds them to be predictable and unfortunate: “At Banneker High, a selective-application school, 99 percent of seniors graduated this month—the highest rate in the District. The lowest rates belonged to Anacostia (42 percent), Coolidge (44 percent) and Ballou (45 percent).

In a puzzling development, Stein reports: “The D.C. Council passed emergency legislation last week allowing high school seniors who missed more than six weeks of class to receive their diplomas by discounting absences from the first three quarters of the school year.” The members of the Council are reported to have reasoned that students shouldn’t be held accountable for attendance rules that were tightened only after the graduation crisis was discovered.  Mayor Muriel Bowser has said she is not supportive of the emergency law, but she has not yet made a choice to sign or not to sign it.  Stein added : “But Bowser, whose signature is necessary for the reprieve to go into effect, has said she opposes it.  She said last week she is considering her options, and her office said Wednesday there is no update on her decision.”  If the law is signed, students will receive their diplomas late, as commencement exercises have already taken place.

What has been occurring in the D.C. public schools in recent years—allowing students to miss so much school they become chronically absent and hiding the fact that they are not in school—assigning short and easy credit recovery projects when students are failing classes—has been driven by promises to make the D.C. Public Schools a model. Michelle Rhee set up a system to pressure teachers and school administrators to by threatening to fire those who failed and paying merit bonuses to those who can make themselves look successful.  In a new book, The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, Harvard University’s Daniel Koretz explains why making graduation rates the primary measure of success, will taint the process and undermine the results. Koretz writes about Campbell’s Law, a well known principle in the social sciences: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” (The Testing Charade, p. 38)

When Michelle Rhee had been the leader of the D.C. Public Schools for several years, John Merrow, now retired from the PBS NewsHour, documented a major test score cheating scandal driven by Rhee’s demand that teachers raise test scores and her techniques for getting scores to rise: making teachers’ and principals’ evaluations, hiring and firing, and merit bonuses depend on educators’ capacity to raise scores. Later under former Chancellor Kaya Henderson, rising graduation rates became a second primary metric.  Koretz explains how Campbell’s law actually works: “(W)hen you hold people accountable using a numeric measure—vehicle emissions, scores on a test, whatever—two things generally happen: they do things you don’t want them to do, and the measure itself becomes inflated, painting too optimistic a view of whatever it is that the system is designed to improve.”(The Testing Charade, p. 38)  Koretz elaborates: “(Y)ou can take Campbell’s Law to the bank. It’s going to show up in any high-pressure accountability system that is based only on a few hard numbers.” (The Testing Charade, pp. 46-47)

Koretz predicts the consequences of the kind of school reform Michelle Rhee brought to Washington, D.C.:  cheating, lowering standards—what has happened in the D.C. graduation scandal, and excluding people with bad numbers—what may have happened in the D.C. schools when suspension rates were fudged.