As debate rages throughout Wisconsin on Gov. Walker's proposals to expand private school vouchers, the folks at the ACLU, WI ACLU and Disability Rights Wisconsin continue to stand up for children with disabilities.
Lawyers from those organizations had an opinion piece in the May 9, 2013 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that gave specific examples of discrimination the ACLU uncovered in their investigation of discrimination in the private school voucher program of Wisconsin. They summarized the recent letter from the U.S. Department of Justice to Wisconsin's Department of Education that it must ensure that students with disabilities "do not encounter discrimination (in the voucher program) on the basis of their disabilities."
After a careful analysis the authors of today's opinion piece conclude: "It is time to suspend any effort to expand vouchers -- unless and until the state creates a system that stops discriminating against children with disabilities."
There are other reasons, as well, to stop the expansion of vouchers -- financial, pedagogical and vouchers' negative impact on public education, a cornerstone of any democratic society.
The authors of today's opinion piece clearly demonstrate why the rights of students with disabilities are a powerful reason to stop voucher expansion.
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For more information on the campaign to stop special ed vouchers click here.
For more info on the campaign to stop vouchers generally in Wisconsin click here.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Saturday, March 30, 2013
Friday’s indictment of 35 Atlanta educators for a massive testing scandal should give pause to all people who care about the future of education and our children.
The indictment by a Fulton County grand jury charged the former superintendent Beverly Hall with racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements. She could face up to 45 years in prison.
The underlying story behind this scandal is that when school “success” is reduced to data-driven standardized test scores, the consequences are devastating. Cheating is only the tip of the iceberg. An even more troublesome consequence is that the very definition of education is hijacked. Learning is narrowed, dulled, and reduced to measurable data bits. Teaching as a craft and profession is redefined as script-following and data collecting.
During Superintendent Hall’s decade of being superintendent in Atlanta test scores rose and she became the darling of Arne Duncan who hosted her at the White House. Duncan’s policies have coerced state legislatures to increase standardized testing and to tie educator evaluation to test scores.
According to Friday’s indictment, “Principals and teachers were frequently told by Beverly Hall and her subordinates that excuses for not meeting targets would not be tolerated.”
One teacher, who turned a state’s witness, told officials that teachers were under constant pressure from principals who feared they would be fired if they did not meet the testing targets.
The New York Times reported that Hall “held yearly rallies at the Georgia Dome, rewarding principals and teachers from schools with high test scores by seating them up front, close to her, while low scorers were shunted aside to the bleachers.”
The New York Times also noted “Cheating has grown at school districts around the country as standardized testing has become a primary means of evaluating teachers, principals, and schools.”
Time to Ask Questions
While some policy makers and test-obsessed school “reformers” may dismiss such cheating scandals as exceptions, these scandals should serve as a wake up call to anyone concerned about the future of our schools.
We need to ask some basic questions.
We need to ask some basic questions.
- Should our children be subjected to endless test prep and hours of narrow skill-driven curriculum? Or instead should they get a well rounded education like what President Obama’s daughters receive at the Sidwell Friends School or what Arne Duncan received as a child at the Chicago Lab School?
- Should students of color and those from economically disenfranchised families be subjected to narrow, test-driven schooling while children in the most affluent communities receive well-resourced, well-rounded education with much less testing?
- Why should transnational textbook/testing companies and corporate-backed philanthropic organizations determine the curriculum for our schools?
Time to Act
Increasingly parents, teachers, principals, and even school superintendents are speaking out on the over use and negative impact of mass standardized testing.
The courageous teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School not only started a boycott of the MAP tests, but also allied parents and community groups to their cause.
Principals in New York spoke out against the use of test scores to evaluate staff and schools.
Parent organizations across the nation have stepped up, recognizing that using tests to declare public schools as “failing” is part of a larger plan to close public schools and replace them with privately-run charter schools.
Let’s use scandals like that in Atlanta to continue to push to change the national narrative on school accountability. Let’s unite with progressive school board members to hold community reviews on impact of testing in our schools and to examine reasonable alternatives.
Let’s do what’s right for our students.
Some good resources on standardized testing:
- Debunking the Myths of Standardized Tests, by the Chicago Teachers Union's.
- Pencils Down: Rethinking High Stakes Testing and Accountability in Public Schools by Wayne Au and Melissa Tempel (Rethinking Schools).
- K-12 Testing Resources, FairTest
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
The teachers of Garfield High School in Seattle have said “enough is enough.”
They are standing up to this nation’s obsession with standardized testing.
They are boycotting the MAP tests for being inaccurate, hurtful, and inequitable.
Most fundamentally, they are standing up for their students who deserve a rigorous, engaging education – not a curriculum dumbed-down by testing, test prep, and an addiction to data bits.
As a teacher, I am not opposed to being held accountable or assessing my students to gauge their understanding and growth as learners. I also believe that the broader community has the right to know how publicly-funded schools are doing.
But what I oppose – as do many other teachers – is this obsession with standardized testing that narrows the curriculum, consumes weeks of valuable class time, distorts teaching away from meaningful projects and learning, and in essence destroys the craft of teaching.
On Monday, the Seattle NAACP announced that it supported the boycott. According to news reports the NAACP said that the test does not reflect what students have learned in the classroom and could produce inequitable results when used to select students for Advanced Placement classes. They also said that the testing negatively impacts low-income students of color who can’t afford computers and Internet access at home.
The Seattle Education Association issued a solidarity statement with the Garfield teachers saying that for several years they had raised concerns about the MAP tests including:
- The test does not align with state standards.
- The test does not align with district curriculum.
- The test takes valuable time away from student learning.
- Many students do not take the test seriously.
- The testing timeframe takes valuable time away from students in the school being able to access computer labs and libraries for other projects.
- The data obtained is of minimal use to teachers in planning lessons and meeting individual student needs.
The boycotting teachers have listed fifteen reasons why the MAP test should be shelved.
MAP (Measure of Academic Achievement) tests are used in districts throughout the nation, including the Milwaukee Public Schools. The tests are a source of deep concern to many teachers and parents. Why should four, five, and six year olds take computerized tests? Why aren’t the state standardized tests sufficient accountability measures? Why should school libraries and computer rooms be closed for weeks on end for testing three or four times a year?
On Tuesday, the Chicago Teachers Union issued a white paper, Debunkingthe Myths of Standardized Testing. Their paper can serve as a guide for parents, educators, and students throughout the country.
The Seattle teachers won’t be able to stop this testing craze alone. But their actions may act as a spark like the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins that inspired similar protests and contributed to the larger Civil Rights Movement.
It’s now time for teacher unions, parent organizations, concerned citizens and pro-child policy makers to build a movement that will reign in the obsession with standardized testing and instead insist on accountability methods that encourage rigorous, engaging teaching that educates the whole child.
Our students deserve no less.
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To see a copy of the student leaflet in support of the boycott, click here.
To sign a petition in support of the boycott, click here.
To get information about Rethinking Schools book, Pencils Down: Rethinking High Stakes Testing and Accountability in Public Schools, click here.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
A recent public statement by eleven community leaders in Milwaukee, WI is an important step in defending public education and democracy in a city that has been the target of school privatization efforts for more than two decades. (I am proud to be one of the eleven signers.)
Issued a few days before a “whistle-stop event” in Milwaukee that is to “celebrate” National School Choice Week, the statement warns of the dangers of blurring the lines between public schools, private voucher schools and privately run charter schools by “repackag[ing] school privatization as a call for a ‘unified education agenda.’”
The statement suggests several principles that should guide public policy when using public funds for private voucher schools and privately run charter schools.
It also calls for a moratorium in Milwaukee on new charter schools that are part of national franchises. “Our precious educational dollars should be kept in the community, not sent out of state,” reads the statement.
It calls for community-wide discussion and action and warns against top-down policies that are developed behind closed doors.
The statement summarizes, “For the last two decades, education reform in Milwaukee has been dominated by consumer-based, privatization initiatives. They have not worked.”
“We must improve our public schools. But we must also defend the constitutional right to a free, public education for all children. A truly public education means more than funneling tax dollars to private voucher schools and semi-private charter schools that operate outside of expected norms of public oversight and accountability — and that undermine the very survival of the Milwaukee Public Schools.”
To read the entire statement and list of signers, click here.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
In his State of the State address on Tuesday night, Governor Walker boasted that, “After a lengthy process, the first report card evaluating each school in the state was released at the start of the school year.”
“Each school” Governor Walker?
What about the 112 private voucher schools funded by the taxpayer? They aren’t included.
Either Walker conveniently “forgot” this troublesome fact, or else he doesn’t know what he is are talking about. Either way, he shouldn’t be trusted.
This year, the publicly funded yet privately run voucher schools enrolled almost 25,000 students — making the program the third largest school district in the state. And yet voucher schools weren’t included in the state’s new “report card” for individual schools, released for the first time ever this fall.
Perhaps because the private institutions who benefit from this program want public money but not public accountability? (85% of the students in the voucher program attend religious schools.)
Governor Walker, why should people support your plan to expand the voucher program throughout the state?
It’s time to support the Milwaukee Public Schools, the only institution in Milwaukee that has the capacity, commitment and legal obligation to serve all children in the city.
Sunday, January 13, 2013
Do you want the Milwaukee Public Schools to survive?
If so, two steps need to be taken.
First, demand a moratorium on new charter schools in Milwaukee.
Second, call for a citywide discussion on basic expectations for all publicly funded schools. Should children have art and music classes? Should teachers be certified in what they teach?
Back to the first question: the survival of the Milwaukee Public Schools. It is not just people within MPS who are concerned. A recent Public Policy Forum report is a wake up call to the broader community. The report underscores that the unregulated expansion of non-MPS charter and voucher schools is threatening the very survival of MPS.
Despite the problems and challenges facing MPS, it remains the only institution in this city with the capacity, commitment and legal responsibility to educate all the city’s children. If it does not survive, there is no way the charter and voucher schools can meet the needs of the district’s 80,000 students, many of them with special educational needs and limited English proficiency.
A “WILD WEST” APPROACH TO EDUCATION
City and state policymakers have adopted a Wild West “everyone for themselves” approach to education. They have promoted charter and voucher schools with little thought of preserving a functioning system of public education for all children.
More than a decade ago, the state allowed the City of Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to charter public schools, with little concern as to how this would affect MPS. Nor have these non-MPS charters led to increased academic achievement in the city. As with MPS, there are some good schools and some schools in drastic need of improvement.
Taken as a whole, the main repercussions of these city and UWM charters have been to undermine the viability of MPS and to erode public oversight of public schools.
In the last 4 years, the student enrollment in city and UWM charter schools rose by nearly 50 percent. The voucher program, under which private schools receive public tax dollars, has grown by nearly 25 percent. The voucher program, in fact, is equal in size to the third largest school district in the state, just smaller than Madison. The combined enrollment in the City of Milwaukee and UWM charter schools rivals in size the state’s 15th largest school district, Fond du Lac. (There are roughly 425 school districts in Wisconsin.)
Public oversight of voucher and non-MPS charter schools is minimal to non-existent.
The possibility that MPS may not survive has garnered national attention. Educational historian and New York University professor Diane Ravitch, in a recent opinion, cautioned that Milwaukee “needs one public education sector, not three competing sectors. The time for dual- and triple-systems should have ended in 1954, with the Brown vs. Board of Education decision.”
“Milwaukee needs a bold vision,” she concludes. “It needs a reset.”
DEMAND A MORATORIUM ON NEW CHARTERS
The first step in such a reset is to declare a moratorium on new charter schools in Milwaukee. (A moratorium on voucher expansion is also necessary, but less likely given the education agenda of Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated state legislature.)
We need to ask: Why is City Hall in the business of running schools in the first place? And, as journalist Barbara Miner has asked, “Does anybody at City Hall have a clue what’s really going on at the city’s charter schools?”
And why is the UW Board of Regents in charge of approving UWM charters? What do they know of K-12 education in Milwaukee and the needs of Milwaukee’s children?
“There are 11,938 students in the “independent” charters in Milwaukee, with the schools funded by more than $92 million in taxpayer dollars,” Miner notes. “Most of the students are at City of Milwaukee and UWM charters, where lines of responsibility and public oversight are, to say the least, murky.”
City of Milwaukee and UWM charters go by the euphemism of “independent” charters. But “privately run” is a far better description, as the public is effectively aced out of any meaningful oversight or say in how these charters function.
WHAT DO WE EXPECT FROM OUR SCHOOLS?
The second step in the Milwaukee reset is to demand community-wide discussion of what we expect from our schools. What should be a basic “standard of care” for all our children?
Should all publicly funded schools be required to have certified teachers? A comprehensive curriculum that includes art, music and physical education? Access to bilingual education and foreign language instruction, science labs and libraries? Schools with nurses, guidance counselors and social workers? Due process rights for students, parents and staff?
Universal pre-kindergarten so that children arrive in school ready to learn? Smaller classes and extra attention for children with high needs?
Instead of asking such questions, however, the City of Milwaukee is busy chartering schools to national franchises such as the California-based Rocketship schools — which target Latino students but provide English-only instruction, and replace art and music classes with computer cubicles.
In the 2012 elections, it became clear that there was a concerted effort to disenfranchise voters, especially people of color, poor people, and the elderly. Luckily, that effort was exposed and only spurred voter turnout.
But there is another way to disenfranchise the public — and that is to remove public institutions from true public oversight and accountability. Here in Milwaukee, vouchers and privately run charter schools are examples of such de-facto disenfranchisement.
It’s time to call a halt to policies that undermine democracy and threaten the survival of the Milwaukee Public Schools.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Listen to the Public Policy Forum’s conclusion.
“Efforts to effectively educate 80,000 schoolchildren [in MPS] cannot and should not take place in a fiscal environment that is plagued with such vast uncertainty and challenged by a set of overriding variables that are so beyond the school district’s control. It is incumbent upon local and state leaders to reach agreement – once and for all – on the role MPS will play in the city’s education framework, and to define and secure the resources required to fulfill that role.”
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Educators across the nation will enter school with heavy hearts on Monday. Beneath flags at half-mast and between hugs of staff and students, teachers will navigate through difficult questions and raw fears as we remember and honor the victims of the Sandy Hook School tragedy.
First, we mourn.
We mourn for the victims, for their families, for the heroic Sandy Hook staff, and for the entire community of Newtown, Connecticut.
We also mourn for this nation and for the tens of thousands of people whose lives have been affected by this country’s epidemic of mass killings and incessant gun violence.
We also grieve.
As professional educators, we will help our students process their grief and fears. Using social media, teacher unions, school districts and individual teachers have provided resources on how to guide conversations.
Six educators (all women), twelve girls and eight boys (all 1st graders) were killed in the massacre. Our grieving will never completely end.
We also honor. And the best way to do so is to organize against senseless gun violence.
There are some commentators who say, “No, you can’t take on the gun lobby, you will never win. Talk about keeping children safe, yes. But don’t talk about gun control.”
But, as Nicholas Kristof wrote in Sunday’s New York Times, “What do we make of the contrast between heroic teachers who stand up to a gunman and craven, feckless politicians who won't stand up to the N.R.A.?”
We can hope that our political leaders will, in future weeks, take “meaningful action” against gun violence. We can also hope that this country begins to address the crisis in mental health services.
But the only way to make sure our hopes come true is to organize.
It will take nothing less than a mass movement to ensure that our political leaders fulfill their responsibilities and actually do something rather than lament the power of the pro-gun lobby.
Given the events of Sandy Hook, parents and educators have a particular role to play, including the NEA and AFT leadership. Likewise, community leaders must demand a community-wide response, and religious and business leaders must call upon their colleagues. Together, we all must demand that our elected leaders address the epidemic of gun violence and the crisis in mental health care.
In the coming days, we will mourn the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy.
But we must also organize to prevent future such tragedies. We have no choice.