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Archive for 2010

French Revolution Meets Lady Gaga

History teachers, here it is: the post-modern French Revolution.

And if you can’t get enough of it, there is a whole page of video music in the same vein.

Hat Tip: The Answer Sheet.

Rhode Island Charter Board to Seth Andrew: You’re Fired!

Seth Andrew

Seth Andrew

In an Edwize post earlier this year I suggested that Seth Andrew should not quit and leave New York to help run a new charter school in Rhode Island. As it turns out, Andrew will be coming back — last week it was announced that Democracy Prep’s contract with the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies to operate Democracy Prep Blackstone Valley had been terminated. In other words, Seth Andrew was fired. Andrew, who paid himself an annual salary of $168,000 for his job as head of the single Democracy Prep school in New York in 2008, had decided to request higher management fees (apparently taking a cue from for-profit operators such as Victory Schools) — and the board called his bluff.

Oddly enough, this came right after Michelle Rhee’s visit to Democracy Prep’s New York location, where she praised the school and its leadership. Rhee also charged that Democracy Prep’s schools in New York were underfunded, even though due to recent increases in charter funding in New York, it seems likely that Democracy Prep is now getting more base funding than the district schools in its buildings. She also failed to acknowledge that those district schools served higher proportions of students who were eligible for free lunch and who needed the highest level of special education services than Democracy Prep:

Free Lunch Eligible, 2008-09 SpEd, 2008-09 Self Contained as % of SpEd, 2008-09
ACE 71% 12% 50%
PS 197 87% 20% 59%
Democracy Prep 64% 16% 18%

Apparently this experience is something Rhee should be getting used to — since earlier this month a principal hand-picked by Rhee to take over a failing school in D.C. was also fired — by Rhee’s own former deputy chancellor. Hopefully these two education “reformers” will pay attention to the fact that even their colleagues feel they’ve made some poor decisions, and will use this as an opportunity for soul searching rather than pushing for more of the same.

I Wanna Be An Edu-Pundit!

Charter School Principal Churn — An Ominous Trend

The University of Washington’s National Charter School Research Project recently released a new report examining the impact of the high rates of principal turnover at charter schools in six states. This multi-year project found that as of 2007, 71% of charter school leaders planned to leave their schools within the next five years, and came to this troubling conclusion:

While the rate of leadership turnover is similar in both charter and traditional public schools, the impact of turnover is potentially higher for charter schools.

The researchers point out several reasons for this greater impact:

Many charter schools are still led by their original founders, and when they leave, the transition can be tricky.

Charter schools are often starting from scratch when it comes to finding a leader’s replacement.

Many charter schools are in denial when it comes to leadership turnover — half have no transition plan.

More »

Are Many New York City Charters Now Better-Funded than District Schools?

Although the New York City Charter School Center’s website still claims that charters “do more with less,” recent increases to charter funding in New York could mean that as of this fall, most charters in the city may now be getting hundreds of dollars more in per-student base funding than district schools.

According to information being distributed by the state and by the Charter School Center, NYC charter schools will receive a base rate of $13,527 in per-student support in 2010-11 (this base rate does not include items such categorical funding linked to individual student characteristics, such as special education status). This represents an increase of $1,084 per student (8.7%) from their per-student funding of $12,443 in 2009-10 and 2008-09. Based on a formula developed by the city’s Independent Budget Office (IBO), if district schools see no budget increase this year, this means charters in shared space will now be getting $492 more per student than the district school they share a building with. More »

‘The Best and Worst of 2010,’ So They Say!

“Hold on to your hats” because the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force has just released its top 5 in the Best and Worst Education Events of 2010 categories. The Hoover Institution, which calls itself a “public policy research center,” claims that eleven education experts “pored over the year’s key events, deliberating, arguing, voting, and finally rendering a verdict.” They drew up lists to “illustrate the hits and misses, the glory and the folly of contemporary American school reform.”

It’s abundantly fair to conclude that the experts were stacked on one side of the national educational agenda: the side that is hostile to teacher unions, district as opposed to charter charter schools, shared-decision making,  reasonable professional autonomy in the classroom, academic free speech, enlightened restraints on standardized testing, class size limits, seniority, tenure and pension rights, etc.

A diligent inquiry into positions that the Hoover Institution, though based at venerable Stanford University, has taken, will reveal an unmistakable, undeniable, and uninterrupted ideological pattern concerning public education. The task force chairman was Chester E. Finn Jr., a five-star general in the fight against practically (I say “practically” just to hedge my bets and appear balanced) all that we as unionists believe in.

Here is the task force’s list of the top 3 among their 5 “best education events of 2010″: More »

Waiting For Box Office Receipts

Conservative edu-blogger Rick Hess at Ed Week:

The movie [Waiting for Superman] is now finishing its theatrical run, dribbling out of the last few theaters. How big a splash did it make? As of December 13, the flick had done $6.4 million in the box office. That translates to something like 800,000 tickets, and makes it the 143rd ranked movie in the past 365 days. It finished third in domestic receipts among 2010 documentaries, trailing Babies and Oceans. All-time — in what had to be dispiriting for Guggenheim, director of the very successful An Inconvenient Truth Waiting For Superman ranks 19th in domestic box office sales among documentaries (and, unlike with Babies or Oceans, the international appeal of WFS is almost nonexistent). Its $6.4 million haul lagged the domestic performance of top-performing documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 ($119.2 million), Tupac: Resurrection (#16 at $7.7 million), and Babies (#17 at $7.3 million).

What Hess did not mention is that a great deal more money was spent on promoting Waiting For Superman (to cite just one example, millions of education dollars in the Ford Foundation were diverted for this purpose) than it received in box office receipts. Somewhat ironic, one might conclude, for a movie that promotes the infallibility of the marketplace in education, and lionizes the evangelists of laissez-faire markets.

Who are Democrats for Education Reform?

And why do they keep bashing public schools and unions?

[Editor's note: This story first appeared in the Dec. 16 issue of the New York Teacher.]

There’s a political action committee called Democrats for Education Reform. A great name, but I heard that they only support nonunion charter schools, bash unions and get subsidized by Wall Street hedge-fund managers. What’s up with that?

You heard right. They’re like other public school bashers, except they call themselves Democrats. Democrats for Education Reform claims that it “leads efforts to frame the fight that is playing out within the Democratic Party on education issues.” It tries to accomplish that by pushing aside teacher unions as education spokespeople or even as informed practitioners. The organization advocates for nonunion charter schools, vouchers, merit pay, test-based teacher evaluations, curbs on tenure and removing teacher unions from almost any role in shaping curriculum or determining working conditions.

In just three years, DFER directed more than $17 million into political and grassroots advocacy for its version of education reform and for what Joe Williams, the group’s executive director and a former Daily News education reporter, credits as “creating momentum which has the potential to dominate education policymaking for years to come.” More »

We Have A Failed School System, Not Failed Schools

Can Principals Learn to Support Teachers and Create Professional Learning Communities? Or, Will the Gorgons Devour Us?

[Editor's note: Peter Goodman blogs at Ed in the Apple where this post originally appeared.]

The basketball coach looked distraught.

“What’s the matter?”

“Report cards just came out, one of my best players is ineligible.” *

“What are you going to do?”

“Guess I’m going to have to coach better.”

If a school is moving toward closing, becoming “ineligible,” have you ever heard a chancellor, a network leader, a principal or a teacher say, “Guess I’m going to have to coach (i.e., lead, support, teach) better”?

We have a failed system, not failed schools. More »

WGAB

Isn’t it awful how we are sometimes more persuaded or at least entertained by style than we are by substance? Doesn’t it make you feel guilty and isn’t it like a chemical addiction? Ideas that repel us can grab and hold our attention just because they are conveyed with panache. We may, for instance, be loyal listeners of radio talk show hosts or television pundits who we know perfectly well are completely in the wrong over practically any issue. And we may find those who share our views to be crashing bores. That must explain why almost all major talk show hosts are reactionaries and libertarians.

Though we may be riveted by their pretensions and narcissism, and though one of their favorite targets of abuse is public school educators and our unions, we don’t change the channel, the ratings show. Many of these “personalities” seem incapable of embarrassment and will engage and shout down audience participants who are far more expert than they are, for they feel entitled to pass as experts on everything under the sun, just because they gab for a maximum of a couple of hours in front of a microphone. More »

Charter School Lobbyist Will Pay a Half-Million Dollar Fine

DFER, Teach for America, and Eva Moskowitz got some bad news from the New York Times today. Their key lobbyist in Albany’s recent debate over the charter school law, Patricia Lynch, just agreed to settle charges from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office that she’s misused her connections to former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi for the past several years. Under the terms of the settlement, Lynch will be barred from lobbying the comptroller for five years and her firm will pay a $500,000 fine for her misconduct; as Cuomo explained:

“Gifts, favors and campaign contributions are not a legitimate basis for government contracts or special treatment,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “Lobbyists whose stock in trade is pay-to-play have no business appearing before government agencies that safeguard taxpayer dollars.”

The Cure for Third-Grade Agita? Asking For Help

Pepto-Bismol[Editor's note: Little Miss Sunshine is a third-year teacher in an elementary school in Queens.]

Over the last two and half years, I’ve gradually grown to into a confident, effective teacher. After just one year of teaching I took on the role of grade leader. I ran professional development meetings and helped many co-workers learn the curriculum and teaching strategies to help them succeed at teaching kindergarten. Having this role inspired me to continue my education and get my administrative license. When I graduated in May, I thought I would continue with my job as grade leader of kindergarten until I decided to interview for assistant principal jobs. This was my plan, but it certainly wasn’t my principal’s plan. I was told in June that I would be moving up to the third grade.

This September I entered my third grade classroom for the first time and had an overwhelming feeling of agita (an old Italian word for indigestion). I was lost. It was if I traveled back in time to nearly three ago when I was a very new teacher, one who knew nothing, and felt lost all the time. I didn’t know what to do. More »

No Goat For You!

New Jersey Governor Chris ChristieSome ancient tribes developed an ingenious, convenient and fail-safe trick to avoid fantasized divine retribution for their self-supposed guilt. They diverted all responsibility and its dire consequences to a blameless proxy: goats.

Any goat was right for the job. Once picked it was thereby culpable and sent away or sacrificed. Its relegation to the wilderness or the altar served the purpose of allowing people to escape the entrapments of contrition and carry on with their lives as before. It came in very handy.

That was and remains the beauty of scapegoats. They are among the most adaptable or history’s premier fixtures and forces.

And New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is a great believer in the efficacy of scapegoats. More »

‘We Wanted a Voice’
For Most Charter School Teachers, Rights, Job Security Remain Elusive

[Editor's note: Writer Jennifer Berkshire was honored with the Max Steinbock Award at the Nov. 19, 2010 ILCA Labor Media Awards luncheon for her work on this story, originally published in the Nov. 2009 issue of the AFT Massachusetts' newspaper, The Advocate, and reprinted here with permission.]

Teachers at the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton chose to form a union so that they would have more of a say in how the school is run.

Teachers at the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton chose to form a union so that they would have more of a say in how the school is run. From left: Christina Marasco-Lopreste, Jennifer Gionfriddo and Michelle Marzi.

When Christina Marasco-Lopreste was looking for a new teaching job, it was the Conservatory Lab Charter School that sang to her. The pre-kindergarten teacher was drawn to the school’s clear focus and the innovative way that music was incorporated into every aspect of the curriculum. “The school just really stood out to me,” recalls Marasco-Lopreste, who joined the faculty of the Brighton K-5 school three years ago.

As excited as she was about Conservatory’s mission, though, Marasco-Lopreste soon found herself questioning the way the school was being run. “There was a lot of turnover among teachers and the leadership was constantly changing.” And the tumult at the top — Conservatory has gone through six principals in the ten years since its doors opened — had real consequences for teachers at the school, notes Marasco-Lopreste. New administrators meant new programs, new standards and a pervasive sense of insecurity among Conservatory staff.

“You start to wonder: ‘how am I going to be judged this time around?’ and ‘is my job secure?'” As teacher turnover rates soared, topping 50% in a typical year, students at Conservatory were affected too. “The kids didn’t know from year to year who was going to be teaching them,” says Marasco-Lopreste.

At faculty meetings, in less formal discussions, even happy hours, the small, close-knit group of teachers worked to identify problems at the school and began to talk about ways that they thought the climate there might be improved. “There were so many issues related to working conditions,” recalls Mona Rashad, who taught violin at Conservatory when it first opened in 2000 then returned to the school in 2004. “One day, one of the other teachers just sort of put it out there. She said ‘you know, if we had a teachers union, we wouldn’t be having all of these problems.’ ” More »

All Over the Place

[Editor's note: Miss Brave is a fourth-year elementary school teacher in Queens. She blogs at miss brave teaches nyc, where this post originally appeared.]

I’m not sure how to admit this. I’m not sure if you’ll even believe me when I say it. Or perhaps, if you’re a teacher yourself, you’ll nod your head knowingly and say, “I could have told you this would happen.”

Are you ready for it?

I miss my old class.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my new school. I do not miss my old school. I love that the principal knows my students’ names and that I can walk through the always-open door in his office and ask for help with a problem. I love that my super third grade colleagues and I are constantly firing off e-mails to each other about ways to strengthen our teaching. I love that my students get to participate in African dance, and chess, and playwriting, and musical theater, and tons of other opportunities that weren’t available at my old school.

And yet — that’s why I miss them. More »