Gary Rubenstein has a guest post that gives a devastating review of the many lies and inconsistencies in the recent book by Joel Klein, the recent chancellor of New York City Public Schools. It’s a bit long, but worth reading. Here is the URL:
Ravitch Critiques the Current Education Privatization Movement and Offers Suggestions for a Different Way
For a clear summary of the evidence showing that not a single one of the currently fashionable methods of ‘reforming’ public education has worked, then read the first twenty chapters of the latest book by Diane Ravitch, “Reign of Error”, published today by A.A. Knopf.
This book gratifies me because it lays out in a concise and organized manner much of what I and a number of other education bloggers have been trying to point out for the last four or five years. Ravitch’s clear prose is a masterful summary of the evidence that the bipartisan “reforms” being committed against public education are not only ineffective by the yardsticks held up by these ‘reformers’, but are also resegregating our schools and foisting an inferior education onto our poorest kids.
On the other hand, if you prefer to see a clearly-laid out set of suggestions for a more sensible way to fix our school system, then this is still the right book to read! In chapters 21 through 33, she lays out a logical and sensible way to really fix our schools.
Keep in mind, as you read the book, that the “reformers” of public education have been in charge in some of our largest cities for about 20 years now. For example, Paul Vallas ran Chicago Public Schools from 1995-2001, and Arne Duncan ran them from 2001-2009; since then they are under the control of mayor Rahm Emanuel. They did such a WONDERFUL job that Chicago just found it necessary to close down dozens of schools and fire thousands of teachers and other employees. Joel Klein ran New York City’s public schools from 2002 to his departure to head Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. Michelle Rhee and her crony Kaya Henderson have run DC Public Schools since 2007.
Those school systems remain in crisis, despite the claims of our wealthiest citizens (Bill Gates, the Koch brothers, the Walton family and a bevy of hedge fund managers) that those leaders were producing piles of ‘excellence’ while having almost no teaching experience or school leadership credentials.
If you doubt my claims, all you need to do is look at the graphs and tables in Ravitch’s appendices.
It stokes by own vanity to find a couple of my own blog columns cited on pages 150-151, wherein I had delved into the data on Michelle Rhee’s mythical successes in Baltimore from 1992-1995.
(Rhee has since admitted making the numbers up, but chuckled that they didn’t matter. She has no shame! I also discovered that a possible reason for the increases that were noted at her school and grade level may have been due to two facts: (1) Her school and her grade had one of the greatest attrition rates over those two years of any of the schools in the study; and (2) her grade at her school also had one of the largest percentages of students who scored so low on the CTBS that their scores weren’t even counted!)
Here are the headings and summaries for chapters 5 – 20 of Reign of Error:
5: The Facts About Test Scores
Claim: Test scores are falling, and the educational system is broken and obsolete.
Reality: Test scores are a their highest point ever recorded.
6: The Facts About the Achievement Gap
Claim: The achievement gaps are large and getting worse.
Reality: We have made genuine progress in narrowing the achievement gap, but they will remain large if we do nothing about the causes of the gaps.
7. The Facts About the International Test Scores
Claim: We are falling behind other nations, putting our economy and our national economy at risk.
Reality: An old lament, not true then, not true now.
8. The Facts About High School Graduation Rates
Claim: The nation has a dropout crisis, and high school graduation rates are falling.
Reality: High school dropouts are at an all-time low, and high school graduation rates are at an all-time high.
9. The Facts About College Graduation Rates
Claim: Our economy will suffer unless we have the highest college graduation rates in the world.
Reality: There is no basis for this claim.
10. How Poverty Affects Academic Achievement
Claim: Poverty is an excuse for ineffective teaching and failing schools.
Reality: Poverty is highly correlated with low academic achievement.
11. The Facts About Teachers and Test Scores
Claim: Teachers determine student test scores, and test scores may be used to identify and reward effective teachers and to fire those who are not effective.
Reality: Test scores are not the best way to identify the best teachers.
12. Why Merit Pay Fails
Claim: Merit pay will improve achievement.
Reality: Merit pay has never improved achievement.
13. Do Teachers Need Tenure and Seniority?
Claim: Schools will improve if tenure and seniority are abolished.
Reality: There is no basis for this claim.
14. The Problem with Teach for America
Claim: Teach for America recruits teachers and leaders whose high expectations will one day ensure that every child has an excellent education.
Reality: Teach for America sends bright young people into tough classrooms where they get about the same results as other bright young people in similar classrooms but leave the profession sooner.
15. The Mystery of Michelle Rhee
(no sub-headings for this chapter)
16. The Contradictions of Charters
Claim: Charter schools will revolutionize American education by thei freedom to innovate and produce dramatically better results.
Reality: Charter schools run the gamut from excellent to awful and are, on average, no more innovative or successful than public schools.
17. Trouble in E-Land
Claim: Virtual schools will the promise of personalized, customized learning to every student and usher in an age of educational excellence for all.
Reality: Virtual schools are cash cows for their owners but poor substitutes for real teachers and real schools.
18. Parent Trigger, Parent Tricker
Claim: If parents seize control of their school, they can make it better.
Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.
19. The Failure of Vouchers
Claim: Students who receive vouchers for private and religious schools will experience dramatic success.
Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.
20. Schools Don’t Improve if They Are Closed
Claim: Schools can be dramatically improved by firing the principal, firing half or all of the teaches, or closing the school and starting fresh.
Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.
Next, I’ll give the headings of the chapters laying out solutions.
It is an odd mixture, but I hope you will glance at the short post, on the occasion of Don’s 85th birthday.
Thanks for this, John.
I have very mixed reactions to EDHirsch — not all necessarily at the same time.
About a decade or so, I thought EDH was just plain wrong, but decided I should read what he had to say, so I did just that. It was a painful experience, but I had to admit he made a lot of very convincing points. I wrote an op-ed published in the Washington Post about that time, in an article that was mostly critical of what I saw a poorly-thought-out and clearly never-tried out math curriculum that was being foisted on the students of DC by administrators who had no clue. I think I concluded by endorsing his effort over what was being tried in DCPS at the time – long before charter schools started spreading like fungus or mushrooms.
In any case, my opinion is that Hirsch is worth reading, but he’s a very powerful, logical, and persuasive writer, and if you immerse yourself in his work without having time to discuss it with friends or acquaintances or colleagues or students, you may find yourself being won over by Hirsch, simply because you were unable to argue back with actual data and facts (not just rhetoric). Some of what he argues is correct, but I disagree with him that it is really possible to come up with a single, standard curriculum for everyone, and I also think that a number of educational experiments that he condemns as utter, outright failures have actually been successful at times.
(I should go back and look at my copy and see if I write any comments in the margin. )
In any case, if I had it to do today, I would probably withdraw the endorsement I made at the time, unless I had a chance to visit one of the Core Knowledge schools myself and see how they do it. CK schools may not be perfect, and probably wouldn’t suit me or my wife or my kids, but it might be a pretty good.way of teaching that doesn’t do too much harm, and produces some good results. It seems from your piece, John, that the CK model seems to be working at the schools you visited, and seems well-organized and providing a reasonable education.
Which is about the best one can hope for!
We are not all going to agree on one and only one perfect way of raising or educating children. Disagreements on what should be emphasized and what should be discouraged are part of what make us human.
However, what’s not fine is to cheat and abuse kids, and, unfortunately, that’s happening a lot. It should not be the case that the children of the rich and near-rich get an excellent education, with small classes, teachers who aren’t being micro-managed, and lots of ‘extras’ like art, music, sports, drama, and project, but the children of the poor and near-poor, particularly but not exclusively minorities, get a lousy one. Irony of ironies, those ‘extras’ are being removed from the education of those poor students — in the name of improving it! Influential “reformers” like Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg say it’s a wonderful idea to have 50 to 100 students in a room with a single, inexperienced and untrained teacher who has no plans to stick around in the teaching profession. What planet do these nuts come from? Have they ever taught a class themselves?
Oh. They never have. That explains a lot. Neither did Arne Duncan.
Unfortunately, it appears from the objective facts that a good number of organizations that claim to be all for the children seem to be mostly focused on increasing profits for a tiny handful of corporate billionaires, following some arbitrary educational philosophy that has exactly ZERO experimental support and which has FAILED to achieve any of the miraculous results they boasted they would achieve, not even raising test scores. In other words, kind of like latterday, educational snake-oil salesmen, and what they are proposing is quite demonstrably NOT WORKING. If you want examples, look at my blog as well of those by Valerie Strauss, Diane Ravitch, EduShyster, and anybody else we point to on our blogs.
And one of their biggest pitch-ladies, Michelle Rhee, who actually did teach for a while in Baltimore, has been proven to be a serial fabricator of facts. Or, in plain English, a big fat liar, as I and you, John, and many other people have repeatedly shown. Every claim Rhee made about her supposed successes in Baltimore are demonstrably false. (Whether she ate a bee or not, I don’t know and I don’t care.)
I don’t put E.D.Hirsch into that category of Rhee-ly big liars, because I have no evidence of any phoniness or fraudulence on his part. (Then again, I haven’t looked. Has anyone?)
But I have one big question, the answer to which I have no clue, again because I’ve never looked:
What kind of attrition rates for cohorts are there at the schools modeled by EDH?
(That’s an enormous indictment of even the highest-flying charter schools: they find that they have the exact same difficulty that the regular, urban public schools (RUPS) have been increasingly unable to solve: RUPS are forbidden from expelling, suspending, or otherwise sanctioning in any way the most difficult-to-handle, violent, mentally disturbed students. Teachers have in fact been disarmed of the weapons they need in the classroom: the promise that if a student is seriously disruptive, the student will be removed by another adult and will face very unpleasant consequences that the kid and his/her family actually care about, up to and including removal to another institution that’s much less free. There is absolutely no disciplinary support behind teachers in most non-magnet public schools. And, sorry, NRA, a teacher carrying a gun is the absolutely worst solution I can think of for this problem. I mean, a teacher is ALWAYS considered to be in the wrong if he/she happens to come into any physical contact whatsoever with a student – whether to straighten a collar, remove a “kick me” sign from the back of an unsuspecting patsy, congratulating a student with a pat on the back or head, god-forbid! actually hugging a student for ANY reason, or trying to stop a fight. I know of a number of cases just like this, and could give you lots of details if you cared to listen for a few hours. What the charter schools DO have, and here in DC they use it liberallty, is the right to get rid of students. They have many subtle and not-so-subtle ways of doing it; if public schools could do it, they would be a lot more orderly than they are today. It’s quite difficult to manage a class with just one or two out-of-control students when you have neither administrative nor family support. I honestly assure you that this happens in many public schools and also in some charter schools I have visited.)
So, if a charter or alternative school claims that they are achieving superior results in test scores and attendance and graduation and college acceptance rates, in comparison with the exact same population that’s in the regular public schools, they are simply lying. For one thing, you have to look at the attrition rates. I know a little bit about my few strengths and many weaknesses as a teacher over my 30 years teaching in public schools in DC. You may find it hard to believe that a lot of my students actually went on to college, even Ivy League in a number of cases I know about — and some went on to jail. Some went on to productive lives doing all sorts of things. Most, of course, I have no idea, but I do run across some of them from time to time.
Guess what, no surprises: a strong correlation between family income & education on the one hand and student achievement on the other. (Academic achievement and actual smarts for life are two different things: many of my kids were way smarter than I was at many things — some that I know of even ended up doing much more mathematics or sciences than I ever did, at much deeper levels, so that I can’t follow what they are doing at all. Others were soooo good at emotionally manipulating a situation in ways I seldom could anticipate.
Teaching in south Anacostia (DC) is quite different from teaching in Chevy Chase (DC) – and that was as true 35 years ago when I started as it is today. You don’t think I tried to overcome that? I did, I tried as hard as I possibly could, and I failed.
We’ve all failed. Nobody has won.
Any “reformer” who claims that the gap has been overcome that gap is probably referring to a charter or private school where the truly emotionally disturbed kids, the ones most affected by what it means to be poor and black or Hispanic in America, the violent and disruptive crazies, have been either made to shape up or ship out. Or never entered in the first place.
We in the public schools have lost the “ship out” solution.
Why? Is it the intention of the today’s ruling class — as publicly advocated by wingnuts like Jerry Fallwell — that the public schools must fail?
Guy Brandenburg, Washington, DC
From: John Merrow <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: John Merrow <email@example.com>
Sent: Thursday, March 21, 2013 12:26 PM
Subject: Some thoughts about E.D. Hirsch, Jr and the randomness of life–an odd mixture
It really is insane to keep building “public” charter schools when we have vacant really public schools that are part vacant. Wasn’t the idea of public charter schools was to carefully try out different experimental approaches, to see which approaches worked best, and then have all schools adopt the successful ones? After the first round of experiments, then another round of experiments could be tried, sort of like how scientists are supposed to operate? And aren’t education and sociology generally attempting to be empirical and scientific — isn’t that what these “data-driven” educational evaluation models supposed to be?
Appears to me that since the “instruments” that these data-seekers use are entirely defective, all of the “findings” of the current group of educational deformers readings are worthless and a waste of time. They lurch from one half-assed idea to the next without waiting for results. Some, like Michelle Rhee, are famous for declaring victory before her experiment was even begun, and then lying about the results.
(The instruments are, of course, badly-written standardized tests prepared by underpaid temporary workers that have no real classroom usefulness at all. It’s the equivalent of measuring your personal character by the shapes of the bumps on your head, or predicting the future by casting lots, or studying tea leaves, the lines on your palm, or even animal entrails a la Cicero and Caesar..)
Rhee has been forced to admit, to the DC City Council, that she made up all those supposedly specific figures, about those supposed miraculous results she pretended to have achieved while she taught for THREE WHOLE YEARS in Baltimore?
But Rhee has never dealt with the other cheat that shows up on the record published by UMBC, many years ago, as part of a careful study of an experiment, of which Rhee herself played a small part, because she taught for several years of a relatively-well-controlled scientific experiment on the efficacy (or lack thereof) of a for-profit model of educational delivery. (What happened is that the city of Baltimore, under some pressure, allowed an experiment where Edison/Tesseract company took over so many Baltimore City schools and ran them their way (whatever that was) and the exact same number of closely=-matched BPS schools would be watched and measured on lots of different criteria, and then the public and the politicians could study the evidence and see which approach worked best.
Bottom line? The study concluded that there was no big difference.
Nobody at the time wrote any headlines about Michelle Rhee bringing a class of 2nd graders for two years into third grade, and that “she brought a class from UNDER the 13th percentile to OVER the 90th percentile” or whatever version of the story Rhee felt like telling on that day.
Had it really happened, don’t you think that the Edison company wouldn’t have found a way to leak it to the prerss? After all, Edison lost a lot of money and cliients and opportunities to make BILLIONS of dollars by having their project shut down – about the same time that Rhee quit teaching forever.
It’s like the dog that DIDN’T bark in the night. If Rhee had made stupendous progress, a self-serving, self-promoting person like Michelle Rhee would have arranged to have it publicized to the skies. It’s not in ANY of the newspapers that Rhee claimed it was published in. (Another lie!)
And when you take a slightly closer look at the data from those 3 years at those dozen or schools, you do notice two very peculiar things about Rhee’s own school:
(1) A huge amount of attrition – about half of each cohort disappeared after 3 years — no other school had that. Where did those kids go? Why? I can only guess, but somebody does know;; those records exist somewhere, I bet.
(2) Many, many kids (we are talking 20-30%) of the kids in a number of schools, in particular Rhee’s school and grade level, scored so low that their scores weren’t even counted. What on earth? Those kids scores aren’t counted at all? Wow! Hmm … that might give an unscrupulous person, perhaps someone whose name rhymes with “Wheeee!”: if you get half of your kids, especially those from the lowest-scoring half, to drop out (you’ll miss some, but no matter), the scores of the remaining ones will look great. And if you can somehow manage to arrange to make sure that the answer sheets of a number oof other kids are SOOOO BAAD that they get tossed out completely, why you could in fact probably get your scores up a LOT. (If the scores were normally distributed, and you could cut off the entire bottom 50%, plus cut off the bottom 20% of the remaining half, that leaves only 40% of the students, all ones at the top half, and your remaining group would be by definition all above the 60th percentile. An excellent lesson in “How to Lie With Statistics”, newly revised edition by Michelle Rhee.
Why does anybody listen to this serial liar? Why do supposedly intelligent billionaires give her so much money?
It’s not like anything she tried ever worked.
It’s not like she hasn’t got caught red-handed, so to speak, lying her ass off.
In the real sciences, when a scientist makes a claim based on lies, he/she has to give up his/her awards, positions, their name on papers and institutions, and suffers public embarrassment FOREVER. Because they lied. Some even have the go so far as to commit suicide in disgrace.
But not charlatans like Michelle Rhee and Michael Millken (the cheating, early-released felon who stole BILLIONS from the rest of us; which shows that if you want to get rich by crime, it’s best not to use guns and knives — spreadsheets and law degrees are much more effective, and earn you almost no time in jail at all…)
Yeah, MM is back — the cheating liar has served a mere 2 years of his 10-year sentence, and he is trying very hard to join these other lying,, thieving politicians and crooks in cashing in on the privatization bonanza/gold rush that’s going on right now in the field of education.
(Making a mistake, admitting it later after either being shown the error or finding it out yourself, and then changing your mind and actions, as most real scientists do, are fine. Arguing and debating the results, great. But lying and covering up evidence are about the two worst things a scientist can do.
(Another aside: Unfortunately for us, those are precisely the problems with medicine and drug treatments today. Pharmaceutical companies are HUGE businesses today; their products have revuolutionized life today (kids don’t get measles, mumps, rubella, polio, whooping cough, scarlet fever, smallpox, and/or hepatitis the way my family did before about 1960), but we know for a fact that they do NOT publish the results of negative trials and tests. (They aren’t the only ones doing this. The Alternative Medicine section of NIH essentially does the same thing: lots and lots of studies on acupuncture, herbs, crystals, aromatherapy etc are started, but after 10 years and umpteen thousands of dollars later, nothing is published as to results? Not a word? How come? One could certainly be forgiven for becoming a bit cynical and concluding that the results were so abysmal (either the alternative medical route was worse than the regular medical course or the placebo, or else there were no differences at all?)
And our Dear Leader Kaya Henderson? Michelle Rhee’s acolyte all these years, backing her up all that time, never calling her out on her serial fabrications of evidence. And who was Michelle Rhee’s advocate and creator? None other than Joel Klein, who has been dismantling NYC public schools for about a decade — though he had never, ever taught a class in his life and had no experience running any individual school.
Klein now works for Rupert Murdoch, if you hadn’t heard.
But here’s the kicker: what was the result of the Edison/Tesseract experiment in privatisation in Baltimore:
Simple: No better results but the privatized schools cost quite a bit more.
What has been the results of study after study of charter schools and merit pay and paying students to do well, and so on?
Results are about the same and often worse, when dealing with average kids. The ones that appear at first to do better (eg KIPP) do serious winnowing of their low-performing students.
Does that negative result stop anything?
Boys and girls, this is the true zombie or vampire of our day: The idea that our public schools should be given over to private corporations, and re-segregated again by race and income and so on, while those who stand to profit from this move engage the best PR agents and think tanks to learn how to pretend that they are doing the exact opposite.
Just like the Confederates kept claiming they were fighting for ‘freedom’.
Your thoughts? (You have to click on the tiny “comment” button below – it’s unfortunately very hard to see.)
Looks like the start of an excellent series by Jersey Jazzman.
This is how he begins his column:
Joel Klein: As Excellent As He Says He Is? Part I
I say that it’s time to start applying this same level of examination to other prominent members of the corporate “reform” movement. When they make claims of big successes, those claims ought to be vetted very carefully: after all, why should we listen to what they have to say about holding educators accountable if they aren’t held to account themelves?
Which brings us to Joel Klein.
Maybe he is confusing me with Gary Rubenstein?