Charter Corruption Continues…

As much as it disgusts me to write about the constant stream of charter scandals, failures, and closures- it’s more important than ever to stay informed about what’s really happening.

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Goodyear, AZ  Daniel Hughes, the owner of the now shuttered Bradley Creemos Academy Charter School wrote to parents back in January to say there wasn’t enough funding to keep the school open. This after receiving $2 million from the state in taxpayer money.  Teachers and staff have accused Hughes of using state funds for his own personal gain.“There were things that were purchased on personal credit cards that school funds were used to pay off, the janitorial staff for the school was used to clean his personal residence, and the cooks from the school were used to cater and sponsor parties at his house, including his daughter’s first birthday party” (CBS).

In a 2014 IRS tax form, the school indicated Hughes’ salary as $60,736. In 2015 Hughes’ salary had increased to $100,000. Additionally, payments in 2015  of $949,000 were made to Hughes and to Creemos Association, which is a separate organization owned by Hughes.

The filing also showed hundreds of thousands of dollars in reimbursements to Hughes for “Purchases on behalf of the school,” “Reimbursements of amount due,” and “Purchases and payments on revolving agreement” (CBS).

The closure leaves more than 100 students searching for new schools, and teachers, janitors, teaching assistants and administrators looking for new jobs (ABC15).

New York City, NY Families for Excellent Schools, a once well-funded charter school in New York City announced last week it too is shutting the doors and firing Executive Director Jeremiah Kittredge after allegations of inappropriate behavior with a non-school employee. Politico reported that a woman who attended a conference with Mr. Kittredge in November had accused him of sexual harassment. Kitteridge was fired from another pro-charter school group, Democracy Builders, in 2011, according to multiple sources. The reasons are unclear. Kittredge is best known in New York for helping to arrange enormous pro-charter rallies in Albany.

Atlanta, GA  Chris Clemons, former principal of Latin Academy was ordered by an Atlanta judge to pay $810,000 in restitution, serve 10 years in prison and 10 years on probation. Clemons spent more than $500,000 on strip clubs and made numerous unaccounted cash withdrawals from the school account. “As part of his sentencing, Clemons cannot work with children, cannot work for any nonprofit or school district or have any direct or indirect contact with Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton County Schools, school boards, students and parents of the three schools affected (Fox5).

Eureka Township, MI  James Mata, a teacher at Flat River Academy was back in the classroom despite having been placed on administrative leave. Mata was formally charged with assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder and third-degree child abuse. This stems from an incident first reported in May 2017 and involved a 13 year old boy. Mata was placed on unpaid administrative leave and, according to the school, would remain on unpaid leave until the case was resolved in court The Daily News.

However, The Daily News  learned Mata was teaching again at the school.  A phone call to Interim Principal Joel Hilgendorf was not returned, nor has he responded to questions as to why Mata was allowed back in the classroom.

New Orleans, LA  Gregory Phillips, CEO of the James M. Singleton Charter School in New Orleans is stepping down after the state voided dozens of standardized tests at the school for suspected cheating and other testing irregularities. According to The Advocate, “The testing investigation was launched after the state Department of Education received a tip last summer that students had gotten copies of LEAP tests beforehand, that test administrators were coaching students, and teachers and staff were taking the tests themselves”

State officials discovered many students had gotten help on LEAP tests, even though the assistance wasn’t authorized by their IEP’s. Officials found a suspicious number of answers had been changed to correct answers for 21 students (The Advocate).  The state voided tests for 155 students due to testing irregularities.

Moriarty, NM  Estancia Valley Classical Academy in Moriarty, New Mexico, hosts  fundraisers every year to raise money with hopes of a new school building. Since 2015 the school has been raffling off handguns and rifles.  Local residents didn’t want to comment on the fundraiser, but residents of Albuquerque don’t see the harm in doing so. One resident spoke on record, “I think it’s good for the kids to build familiarity with the firearms and know what they’re doing”(Daily Mail).

According to the Department of Education, it is up to individual districts or schools to decide how they wish to raise money and the state has no control.  The state is only able to enforce that the money be used for proper ventures (Daily Mail).

Napa, CA The El Centro Elementary School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday to deny Imagine School Imperial Valley’s petition to renew its charter, citing the charter school’s failure to meet academic requirements. A 21-page report cited a number of deficiencies with Imagine’s governance, academic progress, corporate structure and teachers’ credentialing. According to the ECESD report,  in 2017 roughly 75% of ISIV students didn’t meet English Language Arts standards and 88% didn’t meet mathematics standards.  In comparison, 40% met or exceeded ELA standards and 31% met or exceeded mathematics standards in the El Centro Elementary School District.Board members remarked how often they reportedly hear from community members and educators that Imagine students who transfer to another district are a grade level or two behind. (Diane Ravitch).

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One final note today- the proposed education budget includes an allocation of $1 billion for vouchers (Washington Post).

These are my reflections for today.

2/16/18

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Shanker and Friedman

Albert Shanker was past president of the United Federation of Teachers (1964 -1985) and past president of the American Federation of Teachers (1974-1997). During his tenure at  AFT, Mr. Shanker brought up the idea of a public school where teachers would have the opportunity to experiment with new,  innovative ways of teaching students.  In these so-called charter schools, teachers would have the opportunity to create high-performing educational laboratories to model for traditional public schools (NY Times).

The idea of charter schools was inspired by Shanker’s 1987 visit to a public school in Cologne, Germany. Teachers made critical decisions about what and how to teach their students, and stayed with the same students for six years. Students in Cologne came from a mix of abilities, family incomes and ethnic origins.

Teachers making critical decisions???  Richard M. Ingersoll, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, found that where teachers have more say in how their school is run, the school climate improves and teachers stay longer (NY Times) This is also supported by data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showing that low-income fourth graders who attend economically integrated schools are as much as two years ahead of low-income students stuck in high-poverty schools.

So what happened to Shanker’s idea?

Ten years after his visit to Germany, charter schools morphed into something very different from his original idea, as conservatives promoted charters as more of an open marketplace where families would have the opportunity to choose schools.

What conservatives were creating however, were more segregated schools. Charter schools on average are more racially and economically segregated than traditional public schools, according to a recent study from the Civil Rights Project at U.C.L.A.

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Today we see a strong push for more charters, which are problematic on so many levels; segregation is only one of them.

In 1955 Milton Friedman had an idea that was also radical for its time. Friedman, a Nobel Laureate economist, was among the first to propose the financing of education be separated from the administration of schools, the core idea behind school vouchers (Education Next).

In his famous essay written in 1955 “The Role of Government in Education, Friedman argued that there is no need for government to run schools. Instead, families could be provided with publicly financed vouchers for use at the K-12 educational institutions of their choice. The idea boiled down to taxpayer funded but privately run schools. Such a system, Friedman believed, would promote competition among schools vying to attract students, thus improving quality, driving down costs, and creating a more dynamic education system.

According to Friedman, families should have the freedom to choose which school to use their funding. A voucher is equal to the government’s per-pupil spending amount. This would allow parents to pick a school and use the voucher to cover all or part of the tuition. Friedman said school choice would help racial minorities. “There is not a single thing you could do in this world that would do more to improve the condition of the black people in the lowest income classes …than the voucher scheme” (Washington Examiner).

Many argue that Friedman’s essay, published a year after the Brown v. Board decision, addresses the question of vouchers and school segregation, but perhaps in a way that supported segregation. First, he said: “I deplore segregation and racial prejudice.” Then he asserts his opposition to “forced non-segregation” of public schools (Dissent).  Friedman stood behind a Virginia law that authorized school vouchers, arguing it would have the “unintended effect of undermining racial segregation” (Dissent).  Mixed messages.

According to Leo Casey, executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, “empirical studies of vouchers programs in the United States and internationally show  they increase segregation in schools” (The Century Foundation).

Halley Potter of the Century Foundation writes, “The best available data on the impact of school vouchers, tracking the movement of students in two different voucher programs that enrolled mostly black students, shows that voucher students by and large did not see an increase in access to integrated schools as a result of the programs. Two-thirds of school transfers in one program and 90 percent of transfers in the other program increased segregation in private schools, public schools, or both sector” (The Century Foundation).

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In an administration with a high level of distractibility (what I call the “look over here”), and an agenda to privatize public education, we must be mindful of what is being said and how it’s different from what history has taught us. What started as an innovative idea is now leading the privatization movement, but it is far from its original intention.

Privatizing public schools is being advocated by the secretary of education, billionaire philanthropists and others who are profiting from this movement, and the general public who is taking the hand fed bullshit about this being the cure for the ills of American public education.

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These are my reflections for today.

2/9/18

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…Like Rats on a Sinking Ship

Common Core Standards were created in an effort to ensure all students, regardless of where they live, are graduating high school prepared for college, career, and life. It was a lofty goal from the beginning. They were developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association and  generously funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

With more than $200 million, the Gates Foundation bankrolled the development of the standards, while building political support across the country (Washington Post).  “Bill Gates was de facto organizer, providing the money and structure for states to work together on common standards in a way that avoided the usual collision between states’ rights and national interests that had undercut every previous effort, dating from the Eisenhower administration (Washington Post).

States latched on to the standards thinking this would cure what ails them. Others latched on because it was required if a state was applying for Obama’s Race to the Top school funding initiative.

They have been tremendously costly, and did nothing to bridge the achievement gap, or prepare students for college, career, or life. Why didn’t they work? According to Diane Ravitch,

They were written in a manner that violates the nationally and international recognized process for writing standards. The process by which they were created was so fundamentally flawed that these “standards” should have no legitimacy.

Setting national academic standards is not something done in stealth by a small group of people, funded by one source, and imposed by the lure of a federal grant in a time of austerity.

There is a recognized protocol for writing standards, and the Common Core standards failed to comply with that protocol.

In 2010, 46 states and the District of Columbia agreed to adopt the National Common Core Standards, with 19 of those states also agreeing to the aligned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) standardized assessment.

In 2016, the number of states still using Common Core dropped 62% to 20, with only 7 states giving the PARCC assessment. States abandoned Common Core like rats on a sinking ship.

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In New Jersey, former Governor Christie dropped Common Core in 2016, and replaced it with NJ Student Learning Standards, which look remarkably similar, just repackaged and renamed. In one of his first orders of business as the new Governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy dropped PARCC, saying it will be replaced with a new test TBD. Murphy said, “The notion of assessing kids to make sure we understand how they’re doing, I’m all in for that. But these big, white-knuckle, once-a-year, with lots of weeks getting folks tuned up to take a particular test I’m not a fan of. Never have been” (NJ.com).

The rebranding and repackaging seems to be a way for states to claim they’re getting away from the failed Common Core, but they’re really not. Below is a sample of 4 Common Core standards (CCSS) and the same 4 New Jersey Student Learning standards (NJSLS): They’re verbatim.

CCSS.Math.Content.4.OA.A.1
Interpret a multiplication equation as a comparison, e.g., interpret 35 = 5 × 7 as a statement that 35 is 5 times as many as 7 and 7 times as many as 5. Represent verbal statements of multiplicative comparisons as multiplication equations.

Interpret a multiplication equation as a comparison, e.g., interpret 35 = 5 × 7 as a statement that 35 is 5 times as many as 7 and 7 times as many as 5. Represent verbal statements of multiplicative comparisons as multiplication equations.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.1
Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.2
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
RL.4.1. Refer to details and examples in a text and make relevant connections when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

RL.4.2. Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.

I guess it’s true, the more things change the more they stay the same.

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Education experts agreed  the PARCC assessments did not fare well because the tests’ implementation “became intertwined with new, controversial teacher evaluations and school accountability measures” (Heartland.org). In a nutshell, the assessment was to be aligned to some degree (as determined by each state) with teacher evaluation. Education experts have repeatedly said aligning student performance to teacher evaluations is highly problematic. Additionally, there was a significant amount of time teachers needed to prepare students for the exam which took away countless hours of instructional time. The tests were to be given electronically, and that was an issue, as well. Many schools were not equipped with enough computers to administer the tests.

The Bush administration, through No Child Left Behind (NCLB) began the testing and accountability movement with a bit of school choice-thrown in- meaning parents could choose to send their kids to a school with a higher performance rating than their home school (to which most parents opted to keep their children in the neighborhood). NCLB was a precursor to Common Core.

The Obama administration, through the Race to the Top initiative pushed for more testing, and teacher evaluations connected to student performance. “With a price tag of nearly four and a half billion dollars, it was billed as the ‘largest-ever federal investment in school reform.’ Later, the Department would give states a waiver from NCLB’s requirements so long as they adopted the Obama administration’s preferred policies-aligning teacher evaluation with student performance, and fully adopting Common Core Standards(Berry, 2018). Race to the Top didn’t work either.

That leaves the current administration. Last year Betsy DeVos said the Every Student Succeeds Act  (ESSA) effectively does away “with the notion of the Common Core,” (EdWeek).  The ESSA left it to states to decide on their standards. However, this decision was always up to the states. Alex Newman of the Freedom Project  wrote, “Despite blasting federal overreach in education… U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continued to mislead Americans on Common Core last week.”

The Trump administration seems unsure which side of the fence to be on with regard to Common Core. Either that, or they don’t understand the legislation. Though Trump has said repeatedly he wants to end Common Core, that would require a change in federal law. And if DeVos truly believes Common Core is dead, it’s only dead in the states that stopped using it, with no federal role in the decision.

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States truly wanting to move away from Common Core and PARCC need to create well-written, piloted, modified, and adopted curricula and get away from what didn’t work. The next step would be to create assessments which are aligned to curricula, can be used to inform instruction, don’t undermine creativity,  can be more beneficial to teachers and students, and not such a financial burden to school districts.

If you ask children growing up in low income areas what they want for their schools, I’d bet the farm not one of them would say curriculum standards that align with standardized tests.

These are my reflections for today.

2/2/18

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The secretary, the first lady and the queen

Perry Stein of the Washington Post reported recently that more than 700 students at the Excel Academy Public Charter School in Southeast Washington will soon be looking for another school. On January 11, the DC Public Charter School Board voted unanimously (6-0) to close Excel due to very little evidence of academic improvement. Not a big deal? Tell that to the more than 600 students in grades Pre-K through eight. Excel is the district’s only all-girls public charter school.

Saba Bireda, a member of the DC Public Charter School Board said, “The longer girls are at Excel, the further they fall behind their peers in the city” (Washington Post).  Excel Academy is not alone. Since 2012, 24 charter schools have closed in DC due to poor performance.

In arguing against the closure, school leaders said the framework to assess schools is biased against those with a high percentages of at-risk students, and two-thirds of Excel students are considered at-risk. However, Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, deputy director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said that 22 of the city’s 120 charter schools have greater at-risk populations than Excel, and most of those schools perform better on their annual assessments (Washington Post).

Nationwide, there is a repeating pattern of charter closures.  Todd Ziebarth, senior vice president at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said, “Each year, about 400 charter schools open in the country, while 200 to 300 close because of low enrollment, poor performance and financial woes” (Washington Post).

In April Betsy DeVos visited Excel with Melania Trump and Jordan’s Queen Rania Al-Abdullah. DeVos made a statement after the visit.

Excel Academy is a shining example of a school meeting the needs of its students, parents and community. As Washington’s first public charter school for girls, Excel Academy shows the transformation that can happen when parents are empowered to choose the education setting that best fits their child’s individual needs, and when kids are given a true chance to learn and thrive. The school’s focus on STEM education prepares its students for success in high-potential fields that need more female representation (Ed.gov).

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DeVos touted Excel as a “shining example”.  Nine months later, the school is preparing to close. Excel is not a shining example at all. It is an example of the failure of yet another charter school to turn students around academically, while siphoning money away from the public schools.

With regard to the closing of Excel Academy, what are the thoughts of the secretary, the first lady, and the queen now? I really wish someone would ask them.

#anotherdayanothercharterscandal 

These are my reflections for today.

1/26/18

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The Texas Miracle

While campaigning for the presidency, George Bush touted his educational success as Governor of Texas, claiming what he called The Texas Miracle. According to 60 Minutes reporter Rebecca Leung, “It was an approach to education that was showing amazing results, particularly in Houston, where dropout rates plunged and test scores soared.”

Governor Bush was convinced by his education advisor that low test scores and high drop out rates were stifling the public schools. He believed the solution was to make every school give the same test, and depending on the results, direct resources to schools with the most need, and eventually Black and Hispanic students would catch up to the white students. Initially scores rose, and this was considered The Texas Miracle. Bush used this as his platform to be the “education president”.

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The Texas School Superintendent at the time was  Rod Paige. He said credit for the schools’ success, came by making principals and administrators accountable for how well their students did on standardized exams. Principals who met the goals of increasing test scores, and decreasing drop out rates were awarded cash bonuses of up to $5,000 along with other perks. Those who fell short were transferred, demoted or forced out. Education researchers had concerns about making test scores the single indicator of success.

But in Houston there were even bigger problems.  Houston won national acclaim for raising the average scores on a statewide achievement test given to all 10th graders, and principals were evaluated on how well their students performed on the test. But inside many Houston schools there was something about the good news that bothered many people.

An investigation by 60 Minutes found principals were doing some math of their own-perhaps motivated by the $5,000 incentive  They raised average test scores by keeping low-performing kids from taking the test. And in some cases, kept students from entering the 10th grade. Here’s more evidence of Texas cooking the books:

  • Sharpstown High School was one of the “outstanding” schools. The Houston school district reported a citywide dropout rate of 1.5 percent. But educators and experts 60 Minutes checked with put Houston’s true dropout rate somewhere between 25 and 50 percent.
  • Texas started to lose 70,000 kids a year, most dropping out before they had to take the 10th-grade tests that would count against the school. Almost a third of kids in Texas who started high school never finished.
  • Scores on the Texas test rose, but SAT scores for prospective college students dropped. Researchers discovered that the Texas tests primarily measured test-taking ability.  Overall Texas lost ground to the rest of the country, according to Julian V. Heilig, an education researcher at the University of Texas (MSNBC).

Once he was elected president, Mr. Bush named Paige Education Secretary, and Houston became the model for the president’s “No Child Left Behind” education reform act. At the national level NCLB set out to punish schools not showing ‘adequate yearly progress’ and reward schools that did – just like in Texas. But there was no miracle in Texas.

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This January marked the 18th anniversary of NCLB – George Bush’s signature piece of legislation. Diane Ravitch called it “punitive, harsh, stupid, ignorant about pedagogy and motivation, and ultimately a dismal failure.” She concluded, “Those who still admire NCLB either helped write it, or were paid to like it, or were profiting from it.”

Though NCLB and its platform of testing and punishing ended in 2015, many of the ramifications of the legislation still exist.  Part of the law stated schools not meeting adequate yearly progress on annual testing were either closed or privatized.  This is when the privatization of public schools gained momentum.

Why do we keep replicating failed education policies, and failed models for privatizing public schools? After Rod Paige came Margaret Spellings, Arne Duncan (and John King for a bit), and now Betsy DeVos. Each of them stood behind failed policies-with DeVos still pushing failed policies.

I’m torn between quoting Einstein’s definition of insanity, or George Santayana “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

These are my reflections for today.

1/19/18

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Baby it’s cold inside

If you live anywhere on the eastern seaboard you know first-hand we’ve recently had the most frigid temperatures of the season. There were 14 consecutive days of freezing temperatures-often dipping into single digits with sub-zero wind chills. Dangerous cold and wind chills.

In Baltimore, the school district is having an even greater issue with the cold – no heat in the schools. Last week more than 60 schools complained there was no heat in the buildings (US News). The spell of frigid air put additional strain on the heating systems, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said. Many heating issues emerged as boilers broke and pipes burst in some schools, she said, adding that drafts from leaky windows and generally “old conditions of our buildings” contributed (US News).

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One teacher said his colleagues were bringing space heaters to classrooms and sharing tubes of caulk to block out the cold air. A picture posted on Facebook showed 62 degrees Fahrenheit inside a classroom.

While some fingers point to the old boiler systems in the schools, other point to the buildings being closed during the holidays, and no one monitored the temperatures in the schools or considered the possibility of freezing pipes.

But it seems the problem goes much deeper. A civil rights and Black Lives Matter activist and the governor had a few things to say about the heating issue.

“There is substantial deferred maintenance that happens each year with [Baltimore] City Schools because there’s not enough money,” DeRay McKesson, a civil rights and Black Lives Matter activist who grew up in Baltimore and formerly worked as the school system’s chief human capital officer, said on Twitter.

“Projects that aren’t dire … get delayed until later,” he said. “Then later comes [and] it’s a crisis. But it stems from there literally just not being adequate funding.” The Hogan administration has pushed back against the charge that city schools aren’t funded adequately.  “Our Administration has fully funded Baltimore City Schools for the entirety of our time in office,” Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford tweeted. “In fact, we provided more than the formulas called for. The money is not reaching the classroom – ask [school headquarters on] North Ave. why?” (CNN).

Notwithstanding is the issue low income area schools face when closing schools as a large majority of the students rely on school for breakfast, lunch, and in many cases dinner. Additionally, parents cannot afford to take days off to stay home with their children.

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers said, “Kids can’t learn and teachers can’t teach in freezing classrooms and in schools with no heat, frozen pipes and frigid winds coming in through drafty windows. These conditions are unsafe, unbearable and unacceptable for students, educators and school employees”  (US News).

Former NFL linebacker Aaron Maybin is a teacher at Baltimore’s Matthew A. Henson Elementary School. He wrote on Twitter. “I got two classes in one room, kids are freezing, Lights are off. No computers. We’re doing our best but our kids don’t deserve this. “It’s really ridiculous the kind of environment we place our children into and expect them to get an education.”

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Former NFL player Aaron Maybin talking to his students about the cold classroom. Twitter, (Baltimore Sun).

These stories drew the attention (outrage) of Samierra Jones, a graduate of the Baltimore City Schools, and current senior at Coppin State University.  Jones helped spearhead a fundraising campaign through GoFundMe to raise $20,000 to purchase space heaters for the schools. As of Monday, the fund had raised $76,000.

The outrage continues. According to the Baltimore Sun, while crews worked over the weekend to fix frozen pipes, and broken boilers, eight schools were still closed on Monday. This equates to several days students may be without a meal. City Councilman Zeke Cohen said the conditions in city schools “constitute a crisis of enduring injustice.” He planned to introduce a resolution Monday, calling on city partners to ensure students have access to free meals even when schools are closed (Baltimore Sun).

To wit, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said “To deal with 60 schools all being offline at the same time was a tremendous effort” (Baltimore Sun). She instructed the Recreation and Parks Department to open centers and provide food in neighborhoods where schools are closed.

This week,  Governor Hogan said, “Because of the immediate, horrendous, failing HVAC systems crisis in Baltimore City, immediately, today we are providing an additional $2.5 million in emergency, discretionary funding,” Hogan said he is withdrawing the $2.5 million from the state’s “catastrophic event” account to help get the heat back on in Baltimore City Public Schools. “Let me be clear, this is not to reward the people who are responsible who have failed. This funding is literally about saving kids from freezing in winter. We simply cannot allow children to be punished year after year because their adult leaders are failing” (WBAL).

Eldridge Cleaver once said, “You’re either part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem.”  Perhaps it takes a crisis like this for Baltimore and other cities to begin to uncover the dysfunction and misappropriation plaguing urban public schools. That would be a good thing.  Reading about the many people who have stepped up to help the children in Baltimore is also a good thing. There is hope in a time of despair.

These are my reflections for today.

1/12/18

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If it sounds too good to be true…

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Last June, NPR reported on Ballou High School, located in one of the poorest sections of Washington DC. In the report, the teachers were tasked with turning around this historically under-performing school. Ballou was set to be the leading example of reform.

In an effort to close the achievement gap, and raise the graduation rates, D.C. Public Schools created its “Excellence through Equity” campaign, which included an allocation of $2.6 million in funds for the District’s 115 public schools in Oct. 2017, (Washington Post). The largest amounts of money were given to schools to fund new programs to help improve scores on college and career readiness tests. Some administrators and teachers received bonuses between $20,000 and $25,000 based on students’ performances.

For months, the school received national attention because, according to school officials every student was accepted to college. Prior to June, however, Ballou had very low graduation rates and very high drop out rates. There was a high teacher turnover as well as absence and truancy issues. So how is it 100% of the students graduated and were accepted to college?

In a follow-up report in November 2017 NPR reported, An internal email obtained by WAMU and NPR from April shows two months before graduation, only 57 students were on track to graduate, with dozens of students missing graduation or community service requirements or failing classes needed to graduate. But in June, 164 students received diplomas. In the last academic year, the graduation rate was 57%. Only 3% of students met the standards in English and no student met the math standards.

In a report released in November from the Washington Post, a majority of Ballou’s 2017 graduating class missed more than six weeks of school, and 20% of the graduates missed over half the school year. All of Ballou’s seniors were accepted into college (some were community colleges that accept all students), but only 16 were enrolled in fall semester classes.

Students interviewed revealed they knew teachers would (or could) not fail them. Teachers told of harassment issues from administrators. For non-compliance to the every student succeeds goal,  two poor teacher evaluations led to either termination or reassignment. Many teachers were concerned about students graduating who were not literate, and did not have the skills necessary to succeed in college.

“They’re not prepared to succeed,” says Morgan Williams, who taught health and physical education at Ballou last year. Williams says the lack of expectations set up students for future failure: “If I knew I could skip the whole semester and still pass, why would I try?” (Washington Post).

Since the original report in June 2017, NPR did a follow-up story, revealing the complete fraud behind the statistics at Ballou. Here’s what NPR wrote in their report, What Really Happened At The School Where Every Graduate Got Into College (NPR).

Six months ago, we reported that for the first time, 100 percent of seniors who graduated from Ballou High School had applied and were accepted to college. We spoke with 11 current and recent Ballou teachers and four recent Ballou graduates, and we reviewed hundreds of attendance documents, class rosters and emails that show many students graduated despite chronic absenteeism. Records show half the graduates missed more than three months of school, or 60 days (NPR).

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and D.C. Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson  announced in December, there would be an investigation into Ballou and an inquiry into issues related to graduation and grading. The D.C. Council will also begin an oversight hearing on the matter. So, the district is investigating, and the principal has been reassigned. But what about the students?

I heard about Ballou back in June, and scoffed at the idea of a 100% graduation rate. but what was most bothersome was that the report came from NPR. I taught in DCPS after college, I remember the Michelle Rhee debacle when she was Chancellor, and I know of and write about the lying, cheating, and misrepresentation of data about schools with such a quick turnaround.

For most of us NPR is the calm in journalism in otherwise choppy waters. I was astonished NPR allowed the original report to be published without so much as a red flag to whether or not this was a credible story, which clearly it was not.

There are shining examples of schools doing great things, but doing them legitimately. I truly believe schools can change, students can learn, and anyone wanting to go to college can get there. But what happened at Ballou is disheartening – inflating numbers, graduating anyone, but most of all, not giving students the tools they need to succeed- whether they choose to go to college or not.

I know of a great success story at Ballou. “A Hope in the Unseen” by Ron Suskind is an amazing story about Cedric Jennings, a Ballou High School student. The book was based on a series of Pulitzer-prize winning articles written in the Wall Street Journal by Suskind. The story follows Jennings efforts to attend an Ivy League University in spite of his troubled upbringing. I would highly recommend this book. I read it, and loved it. The story is told not just through Cedric’s eyes, but also his parents, teachers, and mentors, offering many perspectives.

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We all know the old adage, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That NPR did a follow-up story five months later is a good thing, but this should have been the first story, not the follow-up.

These are my reflections for today.

1/4/18

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