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Archive for 2010

DFER Inspired by Walmart?

Yet another interesting post from Ken Libby at DFER Watch. Democrats for Education Reform founder and hedge fund millionaire Whitney Tilson has released a documentary (produced by venture capitalist Robert Compton) in which he explains that Walmart heir John Walton was an inspiration for the group’s founding. Based on the transcript below, Tilson and his allies felt that while they agreed with Walton’s views, turning down Walton Foundation money was necessary to avoid being connected with Walmart’s anti-union reputation — even while DFER itself pushed to weaken the voices of teachers and their unions in public school reform. The Walton Foundation seems to have had better luck, however, in persuading DFER ally Thomas Carroll to proudly accept Walmart money to support his charter real estate business.

[DFER was started] …with a few other friends that are involved with a couple other charter schools, and they were money managers like me involved with a couple similarly high-performing charter schools, we finally decided to create a little guerrilla movement within the Democratic party. Interestingly, it came about as a result — what really catalyzed it — was a conversation with John Walton, who passed away a couple years ago in a plane accident, as you may be aware. But he, through his foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, has been one of the most generous supporters of KIPP and other charter schools and school reform in general. And he was a big backer of a group called the Alliance for School Choice. So we saw him speak at the Harvard Club, a couple of my friends and I, went to talk to him afterwards and he invited us to come join this organization and so we participated in a few calls. And what we discovered was that we were the only Democrats on the call or in the room, and it was largely backed by well-known Republicans like John Walton and Wal-Mart and so forth, and they were quite successful at persuading Republican politicians to support whatever legislation and so forth but were having a lot more trouble getting traction with Democrats.

More »

The Sun is Free

Vitamin D

Vitamin D

A November 26 post on Mike Klonsky’s SmallTalk Blog notes: “Severe Vitamin D deficiencies may cause cognitive impairment, missed school days, and affect a student’s academic ability.”

He cites the conclusions of research studies that appear to suggest that given the wide disparity according to race of affected students, this vitamin deprivation may indeed help explain the persistent so-called “achievement gap.”

Klonsky correctly observes that “corporate school reformers would like us to believe that the entire responsibility for measurable learning outcomes rests on the school and classroom teachers,” and that they (the “reformers”) “show little interest in improving the conditions for students outside of school and claim that focusing on such issues is simply an ‘excuse’ for low performance.”

He calls for medical care, especially preventive, for all students and vitamin D supplements where appropriate. More »

New York Teacher

New York Teacher, Nov. 25, 2010Highlights from the Nov. 25 issue of New York Teacher:

‘A clear abuse of power’
Mulgrew rips mayor for excluding major stakeholders in naming Klein’s successor

UFT President Michael Mulgrew called Mayor Bloomberg’s secretive selection process in choosing the next chancellor of New York City public schools “a clear abuse of power” and “a missed opportunity” to move education forward for the city’s 1.1 million children.

Change the law, delegates say
Blasting the “secret process” by which the mayor selected Cathleen Black as the next schools chancellor, UFT President Michael Mulgrew proposed a resolution at the Nov. 17 Delegate Assembly to fight to change the law to require a public hiring process for chancellor in the future. The resolution passed resoundingly by the delegates.

Transit benefits expand to include suburban commuters
UFT members who live in the suburbs and commute by public transportation to work can now benefit from the TransitChek program. TransitChek enables members to pay for allowable commuting costs with pretax dollars, which can mean a savings of up to 40 percent on monthly transit expenses.

Class sizes grow again despite funding
Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in dedicated state funding to reduce class sizes, the city’s classrooms grew larger again this year, according to the November class-size report from the Department of Education. More »

Boston Globe Calls on Charters to Teach All Students

A few weeks ago the Boston Globe published a thought-provoking editorial about the need for charters in Massachusetts to retain more students with special education and English language learning needs. As the Globe‘s editorial board puts it in a memorable conclusion, “Charter schools place great value on their independence from bureaucrats and teachers’ unions. In keeping with that value, they shouldn’t depend on district schools to absorb their failures.”

The editorial follows a report that the Massachusetts Teacher Association released earlier this year which found extraordinarily high rates of student attrition at many high-scoring Boston charter schools. That report concluded that based on the number of students who left the charters before graduation, some schools which had been praised as model learning environments for urban students could actually be considered “drop-out factories” under current federal and state guidelines.

As New York decides how to implement its own new charter law’s provision about the recruitment and retention of students in the state’s public charter schools, it would be useful for them to consider the Massachusetts and make student attrition an important factor in deciding whether or not to label charters as successful.

Fits and Starts

[Editor’s note: Mr. Foteah is a third-year teacher in an elementary school in Queens. He blogs at From the Desk of Mr. Foteah , where this post originally appeared.]

Donald (whom you’ll remember from a previous post) has had an up and down week, requiring a good faith call from the guidance counselor home to inquire about the sudden backslide in his behavior and the next day, a note from me to mom that, because I wrote it in Spanish, took me all of our writer’s workshop to complete. (I wrote plenty, but Donald refused to even open his folder, so he wrote nothing).

I am realistic and hopeful as I remember Mama Foteah’s sage words about a similar situation my first year: don’t let one slip-up erase all the progress. I treat Donald’s impulsive/regressive behaviors as separate entities, helping me (and I hope him) realize and remember that there are always fresh opportunities to impress. He’s also back on a sticker chart which, combined with ample praise, really helps to build him up.

Today, Donald was stringing together a wonderful day. More »

The Way It Was: A Reflection on a Public School Education

[Editor’s note: The author is a retired New York City public school teacher. She wrote the following letter on Oct. 10 to the New York Teacher in response to an article on picture books, and a subsequent illustration, published in the New York Times.]

Dear Editor,

I am writing to you as I certainly hope that my fellow colleagues are openly responding to the article on picture books, and the overall condition of early childhood classrooms. I can’t imagine how children will not be affected down the road by the stressful expectations placed upon them in today’s “learning” climate.

I had a wonderful childhood growing up on the Lower East Side, living in a community of caring neighborly people. My mother sent me on errands to the grocery store with a note pinned to my coat. She never worried about me, and I was proud and confident to be given responsibility at age five.

I attended kindergarten when I was four and happily spent countless hours playing games, singing, dancing, creating artistic expression, and listening to stories during story hour. I spent two wondrous years in kindergarten. I clearly remember each and every teacher with great reverence. Well-dressed, perfumed, wearing fascinating broaches and always ready to teach, to share, to listen, and to expect the very best from us. I marveled at the artifacts they brought back from their summer vacations and I know their presentations of travels with maps, photos and objects some to touch, some to observe, greatly inspired by interests in studying anthropology and art history. More »

Charter Schools and Student Attrition: Not a Myth

WBEZ Public Radio and Catalyst Chicago magazine just co-released two excellent stories about the disturbingly high rates of student attrition and pushouts in Chicago charter schools.

The research for the stories was funded through the non-profit Hechinger Institute, which sponsors investigative journalism on education issues and is directed by a former fellow at the pro-charter Hoover Institution at Stanford — which makes the stories’ critical conclusions about this issue even more striking. Parents and students explained to the reporters how charter staff openly recommended that they transfer back into public schools or required them to pay hundreds of dollars to the school for the students’ disciplinary infractions.

As the reporter for WBEZ notes, Chicago school chief Ron Huberman dismissed such stories as a “myth,” but then failed to provide an evidence for his claims: More »

Edwize Named “Best Blog” by International Labor Communications Association

ILCA awardEdwize took first place in the “Best Blog” category at the annual awards presentation of the International Labor Communications Association, held on Nov. 19 at the AFT headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The judges wrote: “Great looking; includes nice mix of videos, text, images, charts; clear bold headlines, links to comments. Great writing like this: www.edwize.org/an-apology-from-a-teacher. Clear agenda that is advanced; comprehensive use of diverse sources.”

Thank you to ILCA, and especially our writers, readers, and commenters.

Albany Charter Group Wants to Raid City Cookie Jar

They said charters would offer needed competition to community schools, but they didn’t say the competition would be about public dollars. Today’s Albany Times Union reports on the city’s Albany Leadership Charter High School for Girls “asking for $15 million in tax-free public financing to buy the brand-new charter high school for girls built by the Brighter Choice Foundation.”

Here’s the cute part. The nonprofit Brighter Choice Foundation, which runs all 11 charter schools in Albany and  erected the bulding at a cost of some $10.1 million, is directing its Charter Facilities Finance Fund to ask the city to back its selling tax-exempt bonds to investors so it can  buy the school building and — are you ready for this? — lease it back to Brighter Choice.

Forget about whether the deal sounds dodgy, because it does. More »

Charters Spread to the UK

The Schools Matter website recently posted an interesting analysis of the implications of Arne Duncan’s current visit to the UK to support their new Conservative government’s implementation of the charter school model (called “free schools” there) and teacher evaluation reforms.

A few highlights from the post and the Guardian interview with Duncan that it was based on:

On the same day of Duncan’s visit, Gove announced a £110 school initiative aimed at turning around “underperforming” schools. Sound familiar? It’s modeled, says Gove, after the Race to the Top. And, like the cutting of food stamps to pay for the $10 billion education aid while staving off cuts to two prized pots of cash, RTTT and TIF, this £110 investment was made by cutting back on extensions to the free lunch program.

Michael Gove’s education department failed to invite applications for a £500,000 grant to assist parents setting up free schools, before awarding it to his former adviser. The New Schools Network, a charity and company run by the education secretary’s former colleague, Rachel Wolf, 25, was awarded the grant by the Department for Education in June. No other organisation was asked to bid for the work, which was not publicly advertised.

The schools, which are independent of local authority control, will allow groups to create more autonomous schools with small class sizes, Gove argues, though critics say they could wreck social harmony by creating ethnic or religious enclaves. [Note: unlike charters, free schools may admit up to half of their students based on religion.]

As we in New York City go through our own debates about where the money for charters and testing will come from, how lucrative education-related contracts are being distributed, and what types of students and communities charters serve, it will be worth keeping an eye on the British experience.

A Change is Gonna Come

[Editor’s note: Mr. Foteah is a third-year teacher in an elementary school in Queens. He blogs at From the Desk of Mr. Foteah , where this post originally appeared.]

May I take a moment to introduce you to a couple of young men you’ll be reading about this year? I may? Why, thank you.

Here’s the bespectacled boy of 7, who keeps his glasses on his face with the use of a brown cord. Speech patterns are not what you’d expect from his age, nor is reading level. He has his moments when he’s a shining star, and he has those where he’s bent at the waist with his head and hands on the tiled floor, using his feet to leg press his desk into the middle of the room, or cutting up post-its and strewing them about. My friends, meet Donald.

And here’s another fine young man, 8 years of age, slightly above average height, width of a toothpick. Reads at one of the higher levels in the class, but still over two years behind his grade. Told me today “I read at home every night so I remember I’m smart.” He also alternates between bursts of inspired engagement/conscientious procedure following and extended bouts of “I have a headache,” “When are we going home?” “I want to go home” “Is it time to go home?” “Are we going home now?” and his own private trips to a special place I like to call La La Land. This, folks, is the esteemed David.

Now, prior to continuing, let me offer this disclaimer. As teaching special ed is a new venture for me, I’ve (not so humbly) been (somewhat) surprised at my (varying levels of) patience with my cherubs. That I write about Donald and David in a tongue-in-cheek way should not make you think that I am brushing their needs off and ignoring them. Instead, it’s a written exploration of one of my mental mantras with this group: “Sometimes, you’ve just gotta laugh.” More »

“Waiting for Superman” Has the Power to Bend Space and Time (and Facts)

“Waiting for Superman” has already been roundly criticized for its one-sided perspective of charters and teachers unions from observers as diverse as Diane Ravitch and Rick Hess. The latest challenge to the legitimacy of the simplistic story it tells are those who have discovered that director Davis Guggenheim manipulated the timeline of footage shown in the movie in order to serve his story.

As a recent New York Times article pointed out, the movie suggests that a mother shown on a tour of a charter in New York City was still waiting to find out if her child had been admitted to the school. In fact, Guggenheim had deliberately brought the mother to the school to film her reaction to it after the school’s lottery was over, a fact which is never mentioned in the finished film. As one expert on documentary films told the Times, “altering chronology when it fundamentally alters the interpretation of what happened, that’s when you get an ethical breach.”

Class Sizes Jump Again

The DOE put out its preliminary class size report for 2010-11 without so much as a whisper. OK, a PowerPoint, and data tables, that’s it. No press release, no discussion. Because the news is bad again.

Class sizes citywide rose a average 2 percent, or 0.6 student per class. The increases were especially large in elementary schools, up to 23.7 students per class from 22.9 last year, and middle schools, up to 27 kids per class from 26.1 last year. High schools had a small increase.

The 4.2% budget cut is to blame this year, but this marks the third consecutive year of increases. Through 2008, class sizes were decreasing — very slowly, but they were decreasing.  But since then they’ve been up in every grade every year. Since 2008, the average third grade class has swelled by 13 percent. The average first grade class is 9 percent larger. This wasn’t what the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision was supposed to bring about.

Class Size Increases, School Years 2008 to 2011

GRADE 2007-08 2010-11 Increase
K 20.6 22.0 + 7%
1 21.1 22.9 + 9%
2 21.1 23.2 +10%
3 21.0 23.8 +13%
4 23.5 25.0 + 6%
5 24.1 25.4 + 5%
6 25.5 26.3 + 3%
7 26.2 27.1 + 3%
8 26.6 27.4 + 4%
High school 26.1 26.9 + 3%

Charter Schools and High Teacher Attrition — Are Contracts the Answer?

A recent blog post by Halley Potter of the Century Foundation makes an interesting point about a recent report about teacher turnover in charter schools. Based on a study of teacher turnover in charter schools and district schools in Wisconsin, the report’s authors suggested that charters had similar rates of turnover to district schools with comparable teacher and student demographics (among other factors). As Potter points out, however, Wisconsin is almost unique in the country in requiring most of its charter schools to offer their teachers the same contractual rights as those of teachers in its district schools. Could one lesson of this study be that charters which are trying to reduce high turnover in their teaching staffs should begin by recognizing their teachers’ right to organize unions and negotiate contracts?

Teaching for Social Justice: Charter School Perspectives

Join fellow charter school educators and expert scholars for a series of workshops planned by teachers, for teachers. Gain practical professional development experience and network with other charter teachers.


Saturday, Nov. 20

Keeping Authentic Education Alive in an Age of Standardized Tests

Invited Speakers:

  • Ann Cook: Founder/Co-Director, Urban Academy Laboratory HS; Organizer, New York Performance Standards Consortium; author of many books, including Talk Talk Talk: Discussion Based Classrooms
  • Claire Sylvan: Founder/Executive Director, International Network for Public Schools; nationally recognized expert on educating English language learners

Workshop Sessions:

  • The Craft of Performance-Based Assessment
  • Breakout sessions by elementary, middle and high school levels

Saturday, Dec. 11

Action Research: Inquiry into Teaching and Learning for Charter School Educators

Invited Speakers:

  • Michelle Fine: Professor of Psychology and Urban Education, CUNY Graduate Center; author of several books, including Charting Urban School Reform
  • David Kirkland: Professor of English Education, New York University; co-author, Narratives of Social Justice Teaching: How English Teachers Negotiate Theory and Practice Between Pre-Service and In-Service Spaces; author of several other books

Workshop Sessions:

  • Getting Started with Action Research
  • Breakout session by elementary, middle and high school levels

Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011

Bridging the Achievement Gap in Charter Schools

Invited Speakers:

  • Bob Moses: Founder, the Algebra Project; author, Radical Equations: Math, Literacy and Civil Rights; Field Secretary of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and Director of SNCC’s Mississippi Freedom Summer Project
  • Pedro Noguera: Trustee, State University of New York; Board Chair, SUNY Board Committee on Charter Schools; Professor of Education and Sociology, New York University; author of several books, including Closing the Achievement Gap in Our Nation’s Schools
  • Sheila Evans-Tranumn: former Associate Commissioner, New York State Education Department; Chief Executive, UFT Charter School

Workshop Sessions:

  • Algebra Project
  • Supporting English Language Learners for Academic Achievement
  • Gender Achievement Issues: Reaching and Teaching African-American and Latino Male Youth

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Trust & Community: The Foundation of a Good School

Invited Speakers:

  • Martha Andrews: Co-Director, Bronx Community Charter School
  • A parent representative from the Coalition for Educational Justice
  • Mona Davids: President, New York Charter Parents Association
  • Deborah Meier: Founder, Central Park East Schools and Mission Hill School; recipient of MacArthur Fellowship; author of several books, including The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons for America from a Small School in Harlem; co-author of Bridging Differences blog with Diane Ravitch

Workshop Sessions:

  • Parent Involvement in Charter Schools
  • How Teacher Voice Can Build Solid Community
  • Building a Collaborative Classroom

All four sessions are held in Shanker Hall at UFT Headquarters, 52 Broadway, Second Floor, and will last from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Register here online.