Sunday, September 25, 2016

I Am So Sick of White People’s Excuses (And I’m White!)

By Steven Singer, Director BATs Blogging/Research
Originally posted on his blog
What the heck is wrong with us, white people?
Systematic racism is all around, but we refuse to see it.
Oh, and I do mean REFUSE. It’s not a matter of being unable to see it. Our eyes and minds work just as well as anyone else’s. We can perceive reality. Too many of us just choose not to.
According to the Guardian, at least 793 Americans have been killed by police so far this year. That number includes 194 black people or 4.86 per million. That’s more than double the rate for white people at 1.96 per million.
This is not an opinion. This is an undeniable fact. Every number is backed up with verifiable data. And moreover, it follows the same pattern we’ve seen for a couple of years now since news organizations have taken up the slack from the federal government and started counting.
Why does that not worry more white people? It worries me. I don’t want to live in acountry where police use lethal force so often against civilians, so much more than almost any other developed country on Earth. And I don’t want my black friends and neighbors to be targeted so much more.
I’m a middle school teacherMost of my students are blackI don’t want to have to worry that they or their parents are going to be murdered just because of an excess of melanin. Street gangs are worrisome enough without having to add into the mix many of the very law enforcement officers that are supposed to keep us safe from those gangbangers.
But when you bring this up to white folks and other facts detailing the systemic racism that pervades our society, you get every excuse in the book.
They simply refuse to engage with what you’re saying. They deflect and redirect and change the subject – and they don’t even seem to realize they’re doing it.
Blue lives matter, they say. All lives matter. Every form of life seems to matter to white people – except explicitly black lives.
We seem to think it’s impossible to care about both police and African Americans. We seem to think any expression of the value of human life has to be universal without mentioning individual groups that are at a higher risk than others.
It’s wacko, clearly a way of shutting down a conversation white folks will do anything to avoid.
The easiest dodge seems to be talking about black-on-black crime. As if somehow that makes it right.
It goes something like this: You’re worried about police killing black people, what about other black people? Most African Americans are killed by other African Americans.
Of course what they omit is that the same is true for white Americans. White folks kill each other much more than any other race does. But you never see people wringing their hands about white-on-white crime, do you?
Moreover, it’s irrelevant. If I point to a single incident of a white person killing a black person, it is not therefore justified because black people kill black people more often. Would you think an African American is justified for popping a cap in your Caucasian mom’s ass because most of us, honkies, usually off other honkies? Of course not!
But so much for logic. One of the most popular evasions is to blame it all on inferior black culture.
It goes like this: Black people don’t suffer systemic racism. If there are any ways in which they are selected against in society, it’s because they’ve earned that treatment because of the way they act.
Black people come from unmarried parents. They are on Welfare and a host of other social ills.THESE are the reasons behind so-called racism, not unjust systems.
It’s pure nonsense.
How does coming from unmarried parents mean you deserve to be killed by police at a greater rate than white people? How does parental marital status affect the justice system handing out more severe and longer sentences for blacks than for whites who commit the same crimes? How does the Facebook status of your pops and your moms somehow translate into difficulty getting a job due to your black sounding name?
In short, the two have nothing to do with each other.
Yes, black people have children out of wedlock about twice as often as white people. So what? Some people aren’t meant to be married. Often it’s better for the children if the parents don’t stay married to people who mistreat each other, a marriage where there is no love. Would racism suddenly disappear if black people just kept their chins up and married each other irregardless of whether the relationship was healthy for them and their children?
Let’s get to what white people are really saying here. Whites aren’t saying marriage is a magical shield against prejudice. They’re saying: Damn! Look at these strangers! These others! These people who aren’t like you and me!
The fact that many of them don’t get married before having children just shows how morally inferior they are to us. They deserve their treatment because they don’t share our sensibilities.
This is a pretty heartless way to think. Not only do the parents, apparently, deserve to be selected against, but so do their kids who had nothing to do with whether daddy gave mommy a ring or not. Moreover, where did the culture of marriageless childbirth come from for black people? When their ancestors were kidnapped from Africa and brought to these shores as slaves, it was the white slave masters who forbade them from marrying. In many cases, that tradition doesn’t exist because we took it away. Meanwhile, about a quarter of white couples have children out of wedlock, too. What’s our excuse?
But this won’t be enough to convince most white interlocutors.
They’ll just huff and puff and spout some nonsense about welfare.
They’ll say Black people fall into immoral and violent behavior because they’ve been taught by liberals to exist on welfare and not get jobs of their own.
Again, the problem is black people, themselves, aided by bleeding heart liberals trying to give them a helping hand. Some white folks even go so far as to say this is real racism because by giving black folks such sweet benefits for not working, liberals purposefully destroyed black people’s natural inclination to productivity.
Think about it for about two seconds, and you can see how crazy it is.
Black people deserve to be killed at twice the rate of whites because they don’t have jobs? They deserve to be gunned down because they’re too lazy to work?
Or alternatively, they deserve not to get call backs when they turn in resumes with black sounding names because they’re lazy!? These people just handed in job applications. We can imagine they did that because they wanted freaking jobs! But being lazy makes them unqualified for the very jobs they tried to apply for in the first place?
Let’s look at the facts for a moment. Black people don’t accept the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) more than whites. It’s the other way around.
But that’s raw data. When we look at it as a percentage of the population, black people are twice as likely to be on Welfare as Whites. Only 12% of the country is African American, after all.
So why bring up the raw data? Because if you’re upset about the sheer numbers of people on assistance, you’re mad at more white people than black people.
Moreover, black people actually need it more than whites. More than 27% of black people live in poverty compared to only 10% of whites. Hence the larger percentage of blacks on SNAP.
This isn’t meant to throw anyone under the bus for being on public assistance. Times are tough and well paying jobs are hard to come by. For instance, most of the people who accept SNAP benefits actually are employed, but their pay is too small to sustain them. Thanks, Walmart.
So how much does a family of four get on SNAP? It depends on how much money the household earns, but the total income must be below the federal poverty level – $23,050. For many families it comes to about $399 a month. That’s $1.10 per person, per meal.
This isn’t exactly living high off the hog. I can’t imagine anyone making bank who would throw it all away to live so luxuriously on food stamps.
However, this is exactly what a lot of white people think about blacks.
It goes against the facts, and it doesn’t explain the reality of systemic racism.
In so many ways our society is set up to give white people an advantage and black people a disadvantage. That doesn’t mean all white people have it perfectly. There are an awful lot of dirt poor white folks out there – many of their kids are in my classes, too. But while they may be disadvantaged socially, economically or many other ways, they aren’t disadvantaged racially.
That’s the whole point.
Racism still exists and talking about it doesn’t make you anti-white. It makes you pro-black and pro-justice.
Those aren’t bad things to be.
We, white people, have to stop being so fragile when racism is brought up. Though I’ve artificially concerned myself only with black people here, we need to listen to what all people of color are telling us about how they’re treated. We need to take ahard look at the facts.
Being white and admitting racism exists doesn’t make you a racist – though you probably benefit from it. It just means that if you want to stand on the right side of history, on the side of equity and justice, you may need to bring your thinking into agreement with reality.

Education Reform Threatens Birmingham City Schools

By Terri Rector, Alabama BATs

It seems Alabama’s new State Superintendent, education reformer Michael Sentance, came right out of the gate attempting to throw his weight around.
Only a couple of weeks into his job and is appears he was so concerned about the Superintendent situation in Birmingham that he sent Dr. Phillip Cleveland, former interim State Superintendent, to deliver a letter to the BOE before Thursday night’s meeting.  The message: Do NOT fire Superintendent Gacutan!
I guess he thought as long as he had State Department letter head and a mouth piece he had the right to impede on the governance of a local school board.
Whoops, sorry Mr. Sentance.  In a 6-3 vote Dr. Gacutan is no more.
I’d say he got his first lesson in Alabama etiquette: Show a little graciousness and respect before asking for a favor.
His second lesson: Know your Alabama history.
Had he studied our history he would have known that Birmingham’s BOE had already been in the ring once with the State Department of Education and it ended up badly for everyone, well, everyone but Dr. Bice, but more on that later.
Here’s the run down: In 2012 Birmingham City Schools were placed under state takeover for financial reasons by the State Department of Education. State Superintendent Dr. Bice and former State Superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson were calling the shots. Many questionable things happened under their watch: An Innovation Waiver was written, creating the pseudo charter schools in the Woodlawn Innovation Network, there was an illegal Reduction in Force, there were misappropriations of Title 1 funds, and the firing of Superintendent Dr. Witherspoon was blocked.
It should be noted that under the pressure of the misappropriation scandal, Dr. Witherspoon ended up resigning. Yes, you read that right. They blocked the board from firing him and two years later, in the fall of 2014, he was forced to resign due to possible illegal activities, while STILL UNDER state takeover.
If that wasn’t enough to make your head spin get this: At the same time the scandal was forcing the resignation of Dr. Witherspoon, the Chief Academic Officer Tisha Nguyen, and the Supervisor of Curriculum Instruction, Assessment and Federal Programs Vanessa Peterson, the system declared it had successfully built up the 16.2 million dollars in reserves that the State required.
No. Words. Just let it sink in.
I bet you are noticing one important person missing in all of this, Chief Financial Officer Arthur Watts. He announced his resignation in April of 2015, effective July 31st. His financial reporting continued to be confusing and quite often contradictory from month to month.
Then, in June of 2015, BCS was officially released by the State DOE from financial over site, even though no one was truly confident about where exactly the system stood financially.
In July of 2015 Dr. Gacutan was appointed and she brought lots of folks with her. One of them being Chief Financial Officer Sharon Roberts.
Within months of Ms. Roberts arriving we knew all was not well with BCS finances. Yet millions of dollars continued flying out the door based on the Superintendent’s recommendations despite Roberts warnings.
Many decisions were being made that, quite frankly, leaves one scratching their head.
The Superintendent brokered a deal with the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA to take over the Community After School Care program starting January of 2016. Parents only had a few weeks to make the adjustment as the board didn’t vote on it until December 2015. The program enrolled only half the kids the Community ASC program enrolled, it ended after only six months and cost the district $400,000. You would think the Superintendent would have learned something from throwing a program like this at the parents at the last minute but in July of 2016, seeing that the program failed, she again tried to make changes at the last minute. This time the parents organized and pushed back and won after school care in 16 schools.
Despite being told that they were out of money the Superintendent invited Pinnacle Schools’ CEO Karen Lee to present to the board at a Work Session. Pinnacle was wanting to sign a three year contract with BCS for 9 million dollars. The school would take up to 125 kids a year that have been given out of school suspensions for their behavior. That’s $24,000 per child, three times what BCS spends on a typical student. Thank goodness that effort was stopped as quickly as it started because the Superintendent seemed to be ready to implement the program ASAP.
Over $2 million was spent on a new reading program months ago but many of the children have yet to receive their books.
Principals at four different schools were targeted for termination at the end of last year for no apparent reason. One principal won his job back through public pressure, another one sued and reportedly won her case. Several other principals were replaced and they were made ‘floaters’ with no school assigned to them. I believe we are up to four ‘floaters’ now which could cost upwards of$400,000 per year. Is this the most efficient use of the taxpayer’s money and the best decision for the kids who need stability in the schools as bad as they need textbooks?
There was also the bizarre handling of the conversion charter school subject. When becoming a Charter School Authorizer in Sept. of 2015 Dr. Gacutan made it very plain that they were only doing that so they could control the start up charter schools that would be coming into Birmingham, there was absolutely no talk of conversions. Because of this the public was left quite perplexed when at a board meeting a few weeks ago the Superintendent told the board they needed to decide which school would be identified as a Dual Language Immersion conversion charter. Everyone was caught by surprise and left feeling like they fell into an episode of the Twilight Zone. Luckily the Board was eventually able to vote down the conversion charters.
Throughout all of this the board tried to remain supportive of the Superintendent, not wanting to be accused of micro managing. Still, the frustrations continued building over the Superintendent’s last minute decisions, the lack of answers concerning finances, and the contracts that were being put before them for a vote with insufficient details. Because of this the Board has voted to have a forensic audit performed. That is the fiscally responsible response to this situation, I believe.
At the board meeting on Sept. 13, 2016 several contracts were put before the board for approval. Once the board looked them over they realized that at least two of the contracts had already been completed.
One was for work on the new Operations Center in the Wells Fargo building. The contract was for $83,000. Someone recommended it in March. Any contract over $50,000 has to be approved by the BOE. I do not have the paperwork for this as the board did not approve it.
The other was for Learning Focused, a Professional Development program that was conducted over the summer. That contract is for $74,000. You can find the approved agenda item here.
You can also find at that same link another approved agenda item for a partnership between WIN, UAB and BCS. As of Aug. 1st, 2016 BCS is committing up to $80,000 a year towards early college enrollment for students at Woodlawn.
After searching through tons of contracts that I received through a FOIA request by the Birmingham American Federation of Teachers, I found another questionable 3 year contract for 8.5 million dollars. This contract is for services provided by School Transportation Solutions. You may read the signed contract and approved agenda item here. Even though they have done business with this organization in the past this was an entirely new contract with a new bid number. My sources tell me that it should have definitely been approved before implementing. You can see it was implemented in Aug. of 2015, 2/12 months before it was put before the BOE for a vote.
I have also learned through someone with first hand knowledge, that the Superintendent’s evaluation score has been manipulated. It seems when the numbers were first crunched in accordance with the agreement between Dr. Gacutan and the board, Dr. Gacutan actually performed poorly. One board member realized this and quickly added a new element to the evaluation that was first seen as a tool that would help make the evaluation more complete. It was not made clear to them that this person intended to recalculate the numbers with a new formula that would make her score higher.
It is suspected this same person is the one that leaked the information from the Executive Session concerning the termination of the Superintendent to the State Department of Education.
Which brings us back to the beginning…Mr. Sentance and his attempt to throw his weight around and interfere with the operation of a local school board.
While you are tossing that question around think about the answer to these other questions: Why did the Innovation Waiver appear during State takeover? Why was the State not concerned with the Title 1 funding misappropriations? Why would a State Superintendent initiate an illegal RIF? Why did the state takeover BCS for a 20 million dollar deficit but they didn’t Huntsville when they had the exact same deficit in 2010? Why was Dr. Bice behind the scene attempting to engineer the firing of the four principals last spring?
And finally: Is it just a coincidence that, after resigning as State Super, Dr. Bice went to work for the Goodrich Foundation, the very non-profit organization that was identified in the Innovation Waiver as a ‘partner’ of BCS? It’s also worth noting that they were the ones pushing for the conversion charters. There sure would have been a lot of big contracts for education management had the conversions passed!!
So we can see the apparent motivations of Bice, but what about Sentance? Bice sure didn’t need him coming to his rescue, he’d already lost his battle and, quite frankly, was probably glad to see Gacutan go. He’s now got another chance at getting conversions passed with a different super.
Sentance, on the other hand, thinks more globally, none of this mom and pop non-profit stuff. He worked as an education consultant for an international company, Tribal Group LLC, for the past several years. He’s ready to bring in the big hitters, the major charter chains that aren’t interested in conversions. For them to be successful in a city where most folks are against charters he needs the system to stay on its path to bankruptcy. The people will then be so angry and ready for change they will welcome charters, no questions asked.
We must accept the fact that BCS is 100% Title 1 and 95% children of color and that makes us ground zero for the corporate reform movement. The reformers see Birmingham as one big piggy bank, the children are no longer students, they are dollar signs.
What can we do? We can stand up for our students by supporting those board members that are pushing back against these reformers.
The next six months will be critical for the students of BCS, please get involved and make sure your voice is heard!
Terri Michal
Director of SOS Support Our Students
Member of the National Badass Teacher leadership team
The Human Cost
By:  Jillian Caci, NY BAT

I posted this on Diane Ravitch's blog in response to a post about VAM. It was a rough week. We had to meet the deadline for APPR appeals while simultaneously setting up Teacher Improvement Plans for those teachers ground up in the VAM machine. We had teachers crying in TIP meetings, even though they know the whole system is bogus and rigged. I am angry, I am tired, and I'm NOT GIVING UP. If you are a NY BAT, please vote this November to get rid of every one of the heavy hearts club legislators.
Expect more districts in New York State to go to shared attribution scores as 3012-D, voted in by the 'heavy hearts club' legislators as part of the Education Transformation Act of 2015, makes it nearly impossible to do anything other than that. 'Non-tested' classes were previously 'allowed' under 3012-C to use end of course evaluations (read that as 'assessments other than state tests', i.e. in-house assessments) in SLOs for predictive VAM purposes. That is no longer allowed under 3012-D, unless the assessment is approved in the review room (which of course it won't be) after filing a 30 page application for each assessment for the 70% of teachers who don't have a state test for their SLO. In my district this would be literally hundreds of applications. Even if districts wanted to attempt this, the cost in terms of manpower and money has the potential to be crippling. NY continues to corner districts and teachers into inappropriate, junk science assessment of teachers, with test scores now 50% of teacher evaluations.
The human cost for teachers has been and continues to be terrible. I spent this month helping teachers write appeals of ineffective and developing ratings. Many of the ratings were a result of obvious mistakes such as missing scores, and will be nullified. However, teachers still have to go through the appeals process and in many cases go through the creation of a teacher improvement plan (required for ineffective and developing ratings) before the appeals process is complete. This is terrible and demeaning for teachers no matter how much they know the evaluation to be bogus. The number of man hours required on the part of the district, administration, the teachers is huge. All for a system we know to be inappropriate and incorrect.

***I should note that administration has been very good about the human aspect, but there is little they can do either.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Teaching in Triage
By:  Emily Alberty

Originally posted on Buckeye BATs Blog -


I wrote this last March, after looking outside at the school playground and seeing the Cleveland                                         police seemingly reenacting the events surrounding the death of Tamir Rice.

I feel like every day I see posts from teachers about current or former CMSD students who                                                          have gone missing, been shot, or have been killed. Our city and our babies need help. I had to get                                           this off my chest.

“Cleveland is a war zone,
and classrooms are the triage.
Teachers are the doctors,
to students who are on loan.

“Get to school. You can make it!”
But will their life be taken?
Walk past the memorial,
and let us give you a tutorial.
Another Cleveland kid who did not make it.

Schools are hospitals.
Poverty and violence are the infections.
Breathe, bandage, repeat.
Do they have food to eat?
Cleveland students are in this.

Why are test scores low?
Because Cleveland kids are taking blows.”

[The author of this blog saw this on September 21st. BUT the author of this blog finds it worthy to point                              out that the original post was made on August 29th, 2016…. PRIOR TO the unacceptable (and unnervingly       similar) death of 13-year-old Tyre King in Columbus, Ohio.]


Friday, September 23, 2016

Making Education Great Again: Rally in the Valley

by Karen Wolfe, California BAT activist 

originally published on her YouTube channel She Wolf.

Oh, edu-friends, I wish you could have been in LA-LA-land with me yesterday. That’s what we call Los Angeles, where Hollywood’s influence makes even neighborhood parades over th
e top. 

This time, it was a charter schools rally in the Los Angeles Unified School District! It’s an important time for the charter lobby to show public officials that everybody loves charters because there’s a charter transparency bill on Governor Brown’s desk that would be an inconvenient law for charters. And the LAUSD school board has been exercising a little more oversight than the charters are comfortable with. There are more scandals than ever hitting the headlines. They’ve GOT to retake control of the narrative! What better way than a rally?

Sometimes, the absurdity of charter PR makes it hard to keep a straight face. So I didn’t even try. 

Here’s a video that pokes fun at the ridiculousness of it all.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

 Mitchell Chester Comes to Brockton MA

By Amy Dubé, Massachusetts BAT

Originally posted on her Facebook page

NOTE: Mitchell Chester is the Commissioner of Education for Massachusetts and he heads the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). He is a Board member and the former Chair of the PARCC Governing Board. Chester came to speak in Brockton MA for a "Meet and Greet" on September 20, 2016. Chester approved New Heights Charter school to open in Brockton this September even though the community voted against it. The charter has run into problems opening on time because they didn't obtain the proper building permits. The students are temporarily being bused to another site in a different town.


Okay people. As promised, this is my report of that meeting in Brockton with Mitchell Chester:

After working a full day teaching grade 6 in Lynn, I drove to Brockton for the meet and greet with the Commissioner of Education.

Not being from Brockton, I was worried I would not find the high school easily. Upon entering the city, I saw numerous Brockton Kids Count bumper stickers and lawn signs. I don't recall passing a single Great Schools sign.

I arrived at 5:30 for the 6:30 event. Approaching the road that leads to the high school, I was greeted by countless people holding Brockton Kids Count and No on 2 signs. Cars passing them were honking and waving and giving the thumbs up. As I pass them, I beep, wave, and smile. The sign holders applaud and raise their arms in joyful solidarity. This is what it must feel like to be...well, someone who isn't Mitchell Chester.

The parking lot was already filling up quickly.

I proudly wore my Lynn teachers lanyard. "Look friends! I come from afar! Greetings and solidarity from the North Shore!"

After I parked my car, I joined the fold of sign holders. I said, "Hey does a Lawrence girl driving all the way from Lynn get a lawn sign, pin, and extra bumper stickers?"

Someone from the No on 2 table proceeded to fill my car with yard signs and bumper stickers. (Direct message me. You want 'em, I got 'em.)

I made friends fast. One of them was Barbara Madeloni. I tried to suppress my total fan girl squeal when I met her.

The sign holders wanted to make sure all the paths to the high school were lined with people "greeting" Mr. Chester's car. They were brainstorming the paths he could use to get there.

Not a single Great Schools sign. I shake my head. Those people have no ground game.

I walked into the red café and was greeting by music from Brockton High school students.

There was a table with forms for questions you'd like to ask Chester. And boy did people line up to fill out those forms. Coming from Lawrence, I had my share of questions.

I made sure I had an aisle seat dead center. I was in the first row after the 3-4 front row seats that were marked off as reserved.

The room was packed with parents and teachers, as well as various local politicians. A member of the Brockton School Committee welcomed us. It was a packed house. The moderator's right hand shook noticeably as he introduced the local politicians, as well as the leader of Brockton Kids Count.

As promised, I began to live stream the event. Darn it. No cell reception for that.

The superintendent then welcomed us to the launch of the 2016-2017 Brockton Kids Count campaign. She was all smiles and read through Chester's resume as well as his educational background. She introduced him to the audience and thanked him for being always there for her to contact - even after hours.

Then I spotted Chester. (Cue Imperial March)

Chester is not as tall as I imagined him to be.

The audience applauds politely.

Chester calls out for the teachers in the audience to stand. I suspect he wants to see how much of the packed house were union people.

Then he asks for applause to support the teachers doing amazing work with our students.

Then Chester asks for parents to stand.

"This is who we work for. Please give them a round of applause." The applause is thunderous.

I'd say the room is a split of half teachers and half parents.

"Brockton kids count - what a neat initiative," says Chester.


Very interesting and rather patronizing word choice in my opinion.

Of course, I'm not a fan of Chester. He could have said the word crackers and I'd have been fuming.

Chester explained that he doesn't run into any Kids Count push in many other communities like he does in Brockton.

Not sure what he wanted to infer here. That elsewhere he has support for his half baked initiatives?

Chester pandered to his audience. He spoke of the nationally recognized success of Brockton. His words were punctuated by the applause of the crowd, many of which were standing in the back, unable to find seats.

Then in a very patronizing and pedantic manner, he explained to the audience, "I'm going to walk you through on a very basic level of what's going on in education."

(Gee. Thanks, Mitchell. It's all so confusing for my two brain cells to handle.)

Enter the PowerPoint of charts and graphs.

Chester explained that the spread of responsibility of schools is throughout the various branches of government. Translation: I'm not the only one your finger should be pointing at. Don't shoot the messenger.

"Dept. of Ed is one of several divisions of government responsible for educational legislation..." A graphic organizer lights up the projection screen. I felt like I was in Ferris Bueller's class during roll call.
"When is this meet and greet open for questions?" I thought impatiently.

"It surprises me how well kept a secret how good Massachusetts schools are," Chester reveals.
Chester proceeded to list the history of Massachusetts scoring top in the country and the world.

"No state out performs us."

He explained this was because of the dedication and commitment of educators and their spirit of collaboration. Carefully chosen words I must say.

"How did we get there?" Chester asked.

He spoke of The Grand Bargain - Investment in education in return for a testing system of accountability.

"1993, more than 20 years ago...Massachusetts Education Reform Act...a progressive funding formula...expectations for the kind of learning we want to choice...charters and vocational technical school... New Heights Charter."

Enter boos and hisses.

It was the first time I had been in a crowded room where people actually hissed like snakes at the speaker. I must admit. I love Brockton.

Chester ignored the disapproving sounds of the crowd.

"Results count...It's not about putting more money in the system."

"Brockton has quite a history. In fact, this is where the funding lawsuit began that initiated this....Jamie? Is she in audience?"

(No Jamie in the audience.)

"Jamie, she has a new last name now, was a Brockton student who was the lead plaintiff in a funding lawsuit. Her father was member of school committee. Now Jamie is now a teacher in the district of Brockton...She's an instructional resource specialist and coach..."

"Brockton has been very much at center of this journey."

Okay, so far the formula is clear. Speak of the success and strength of Brockton. Acknowledge Brockton's history. Then speak of the great work DESE is doing.

This was billed as a meet and greet. I didn't exactly meet him. He did greet the crowd. I met plenty of teachers and parents who welcomed me to the event. He was supposed to go over his future plan, but it seems to be a review really of what is already happening.

"We are upgrading our assessments which haven't been upgraded in 20 years!"

Okay I'm speechless right about now.

He mentioned the amount of money - billions invested in education.

"Mass Health is the biggest chunk of the state budget he added." (Look! Over there is a nice distraction!)

He displayed a pie chart of where money goes.

1% is used for assessment and admin and licensure.

99% goes to SpEd reimbursement and schools.

He shows a line graph. "There's been a 34% increase in the Brockton school district state budget. This doesn't include federal dollars or local taxes."

"There has been a steady increase even through a recession."

Chester gives credit to the governor for that. Oh, we do love our boss.

"The state continues to make an increased investment in education," Chester explains and goes on to speak of Chapter 70 funding.

"The basic funding formula has increased almost 40%."

He explains state revenue, local revenue, and federal dollars.

Brockton schools are financed from 77 % state funds and 23% from city support.

There's a 229.5 million dollar school budget for Brockton.

"Property values and income meet to create a progressive formula."

Some wealthier districts are funded 15% by the state and 85% by local funds.

"The state finances 95%+ of the budget in places like Lawrence and Holyoke."

Then Chester speaks of "the signatures of educators' work in Massachusetts."

Statewide progress.

"There are 7,000 fewer high school students each year dropping out than the state had a decade ago....We narrowed achievement gaps, but we have achievement gaps...Are all students benefiting in all the subgroups: race, ethnicity, income, sped, ELL?...The gaps are real but they've narrowed."
He once again works the crowd.

"Brockton high school is one of the strongest high schools in the nation for their progress...nationally recognized! Brockton lifted all students's close to state wide average for ALL students...a success story for the community...Students furthest behind made most progress...Grad rates rising steadily...10% more students graduating in 4 years...drop out rate declined...Number of students taking AP tests tripled students taking tests."

Chester's words are again punctuated by applause.

He spoke of the US World and News Report for their 6th time mentioning Brockton High School as a top school in the nation.

He mentions all the ways the superintendent of Brockton is terrific.

And now for the moment all have been waiting impatiently for.


A leader of the school committee moderated. He held a basket of pre-selected question forms.

He informed Chester that the questions were in categories: Assessment, Charter, SpEd, and Other.

He read the first question.

When will the format and basic content of new MCAS be released? Should the public be expected to have a PARCC/MCAS hybrid? Are there any samples or practice tests? Is there a timeline for implementations?

Chester explained. "There's a lot of details... The Next Generation Assessment will be administered in April or this spring for grades 3-8. The high school test will remain in place until 2019-2020. To give advance prep on that, many teachers in Brockton had a peek of what it would be like because they took the PARCC assessment."

He continues.

"We will borrow heavily from PARCC... you have already experienced it. Examples of this are on the DOE website and the PARCC website. You have a picture of what it is starting to look like."

Next question.

Why do you feel the need to put charter schools in Brockton - why take money from our system?

Boom. Yes. Why indeed.

"We have charters in many communities...
Many are in urban areas and many are not."

And here's a gem of a Chester quote:

"We don't ask, "Do they need one?"

Oh great. That's good to know.

He explains.

"If someone has an idea, they submit an application. We have a strict criteria and a high bar for not only opening a charter but staying as a charter."

He announces proudly, "I've closed 5-7 charters schools."

Where are my Girl Scout badges? Clearly Chester has leveled up somehow.

Now he explains the debacle that is New Heights Charter.

"The New Heights had two years of applications that were rejected because we felt they were not ready."

The crowd interrupts Chester with laughter.

"Please be respectful." The moderator reminds the community. His right hand which holds his microphone shakes nervously.

Chester chastises the community. "You can say this is not the way it should be, but let me answer the question you asked." Chester begs.

"We gave them feedback. They had to show demand...We judged they were ready. You can decide if it's erroneous or not. There is demand."

Chester spoke of 300 students attending the school and traveling on a bus because their desire is so great to attend. He spoke of a wait list of more than 200 students

Chester cries, "Facts belie demand."

A few voices from the crowd shout, "LIAR!"

Right about now I am craving popcorn.

More snake hisses from the crowd.

Clearly Chester is not the snake charmer he may have thought he was.

"Please be respectful." Repeats the moderator.

This is getting awkward...Onto the next question.

The moderator chooses another question from the basket.

"When will it be discussed that SpEd students get more than a certificate of attendance?" asks the moderator.

This drew a big applause from the community.

Chester explained, "This is a Heart wrenching issue for those parents of SpEd students. However, those students already have a chance to earn a regular state authorized diploma. They can take the 10th grade test without any accommodations. They can also take the state test with minimal accommodations. If neither is viable there is an alternative approach which requires teachers to document progress a SpEd student has made. It is already available. It's a shame that there is a misunderstanding that these students do not have a path to a regular diploma."

Now for a question that falls under the category of "Other".

What is policy if any for instructors of color in urban school districts?

The community applauds.

Chester answers that he is "Not sure what is meant by the question...All teachers have to get certified...Hiring decisions is by school districts...He is happy to talk to someone afterwards."

Now for an assessment question.

"How is the state preparing students to be productive adults when schools are just teaching to the state tests?"

This question draws applause from the community as well.

"I hope teachers do not teach to test." explains Chester.

"Kids with strong skills won't have trouble passing state tests...If teachers are teaching to tests they shouldn't be teachers."

A parent from the back begins speaking to Chester about the excessive testing and the copious work packets given to her 5 year old daughter. She asks him, "What research backs up this treatment of children?"

The moderator informs the woman that she is not allowed to directly speak to the commissioner during this meeting.

The mother told the moderator that Chester allowed her to speak. She said, "Ask him." And points to Chester.

The moderator then asks the commissioner if he wanted to take that parent's question.

He declines. He doesn't want any personal questions. He just wants general questions. But he's be happy to speak to her after the meeting. (We all know how that goes.)

Next question.

"How does DESE deal with charters pushing out kids in October, after they receive the funding for that student for the year. How is the district compensated when they receive a child back from a charter months into the school year?"

Chester explains that, once a child leaves a charter, the charter no longer receives funding and the funding goes to the district.

Enter snake hissing sounds.

Voices heckle Chester. "LIE! LIE!"

Next question.

"What makes a charter pick and choose kids? Why aren't they giving ALL students what they need?
(Reference to SpEd, EBD, and ELL)

Chester explains, "I hope I've addressed SpEd kids can get a diploma. You don't have accurate information. Sped kids can get a diplomas."

Now onto explain another misunderstanding.

"Charters are not supposed to be selecting students."

Key phrase: "not SUPPOSED to be."

"New Heights had over 500 applications. They had to choose by lottery from who applied."

Next question:

"How can we get smaller classes for elementary class levels?"

Chester responds.

"That is not a question I can answer - your school committee doesn't have as much money as they want to have..there's no open checkbook...tough decisions...prioritizing...your school district does the best it can.

One more question

Chester takes a gulp of his water.

This also falls into the "Other" category and is rather political, explains moderator.

"Do you think the Board of Education member, Paul Sagan's $100,000 donation toward lifting the cap is a conflict of interest?"

(Thunderous applause. The anger of the community is palpable.)

The first word out of Chester's recently hydrated mouth is, "Yeah..."

Audience starts sharing out loud what they think of Sagan.

"We agree to disagree," explains Chester.

"I have eleven members...He's one of eleven. Some come from more privileged backgrounds...strong some cases some board members belong to organizations in which they are very active and passionate..."

"News articles have mentioned his involvement in the raise the cap initiative. However, very few have questioned his impartiality."

"There is an official involved in not raising the cap and nobody raises that issue."

(Perhaps that is because it is more in line with supporting public schools - the goal of the board. Just a thought.)

"All board members vote based on the best interest of children."

"I'm proud to work for the board. It is very rare that I see them not vote on what's best for kids."


Interesting word choice.

The moderator then informs the crowd that the question forum is finished and if anyone has a question for Chester they can approach him before he enters the school committee meeting. People from the reserve seats adjacent to Chester flock around him. One is in a black Harvard jacket.

The moderator again reminds the crowd that Chester will have to leave to attend the school committee meeting scheduled from 7-9. It is a few minutes past 7.

The moderator informs the community that Chester "recognizes good work...He will work with us...He will support us in any way he can." Translation: Chester is our friend.

I notice that around Chester there is no shortage of older white men in suits with various flag lapel pins.

The mother who asked to question Chester never returned to speak with him after the meeting.

Someone is now asking Chester a question while they hold up their iPhone's video camera to him.

Smiling groupies surrounded him.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Child Predator We Invite into Our Schools

There is a good chance a predator is in the classroom with your child right now.
He is reading her homework assignments, quizzes and emails. He is timing how long it takes her to answer questions, noting her right and wrong answers. He’s even watching her body language to determine if she’s engaged in the lesson.
He has given her a full battery of psychological assessments, and she doesn’t even notice. He knows her academic strengths and weaknesses, when she’ll give up, when she’ll preserver, how she thinks.
And he’s not a teacher, counselor or even another student. In fact, your child can’t even see him – he’s on her computer or hand-held device.
It’s called data mining, and it’s one of the major revenue sources of ed-tech companies. These are for-profit business ventures that produce education software: programs to organize student information and help them learn. They make databases and classroom management tools as well as educational video games and test prep software.
As schools have relied more heavily on technology to enhance lessons, they’ve invited big business into a space that is supposed to be private.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects student privacy, but it also gives school districts the right to share students’ personal information with private companies for educational reasons.
Companies are supposed to keep test scores, disciplinary history and other official records confidential. They’re not supposed to use them for their own ends. But the law was written in 1974 before the Internet went mainstream or many of these technologies were even conceived.
For every child utilizing these programs, there’s a good chance their data has been put into a portfolio with their name on it. That portfolio could be sold to advertisers and other business interests so they can better market their products to young consumers. With this information, these companies are turning children into guinea pigs so they can improve the profitability of their products.
Let me be clear. It’s not that technology is essentially evil. There are many ways in which it can be used to enhance student learning when provided under the supervision of a trained educator. But the current laws offer little protection for children and parents from rampant abuse by the ed-tech industry.
In most cases no one explicitly gives permission for student data to be shared. No one knew it was even happening.
This is an area that is almost completely unregulated. Hardly anyone is investigating it. After all, why should they? It’s just harmless big business. It’s just corporations we invited to the party; we may even have paid them to be there.
Individual school districts could write privacy protections into their contracts with ed-tech corporations, but few do.
According to a nationwide study by the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham University, just 7 percent of the contracts between districts and ed-tech corporations barred the companies from selling student data for profit.
Few contracts require companies to delete sensitive data when they are done with it. And just a quarter of companies clearly explain why they need personal student information in the first place, according to the same study.
To make matters worse, the publicly stated privacy policies of these corporations can be extremely dense and full of provisos. You may need a lawyer specializing in this field to truly understand what they’re promising to keep private and what might fall under a loophole.
For instance, even if a company promises not to share student information for nonacademic reasons, it can farm out some of its services to third party companies that have no such compunction about student privacy. These third party vendors or even the primary ed-tech company can put cookies on your child’s computer or device that continue to gather data on her and report back on it indefinitely. Moreover, even if the ed-tech company is diligent about protecting student privacy, that policy can change without notice and without parents being notified. For instance, many of these ed-tech companies are rag tag start-ups that are just hoping to be purchased by a bigger organization. In that case the privacy policy will almost certainly alter, possibly without notice.
Data mining isn’t exclusive to education software applications. If you’ve ever passed up a product on-line and then immediately saw an advertisement for that product on a different Website – congratulations – You’ve been data mined. Many of the applications adults use every day in their virtual lives practice this to some extent – Facebook, Google, Netflix, etc. However, there’s a difference between an adult user who enters into virtual relationships with eyes wide open and a child just completing the classwork her teacher assigned in school.
But even beyond the philosophical difference is the extent to which our children are being data mined. No where is it more pervasive than in our schools.
A really efficient ed-tech firm can collect as much as 10 million unique data points on each child, every day. That’s exponentially more than Facebook, Google or Netflix collect on their users.
Moreover, the ed-tech industry hungers for even more data on our children.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded a $1.4 million research project to provide middle-school students with biometric sensors designed to detect how kids responded on a subconscious level to each minute of each lesson. Like Common Core State Standards – Gates’ attempt to force uniform academic standards on the nation’s public schools – data mining is all about turning real children into information. Intelligence and knowledge are reduced to numbers. Biological functions, heat indexes, even eye movements are tabulated as a function of a salable commodity – your child.
In the not too distant future, ed-tech companies could sell information about which prospective job applicants or college students have the proper aptitude to be successful. In some ways, this is just an extension of the ways standardized tests like the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) are used to unfairly label students worthy or not of a post-secondary education. However, those tests are taken by high school juniors and seniors. The coming data mining boom would judge children based on their performance all the way back to kindergarten or even pre-kindergarten.
As usual the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is already planning for this dystopian nightmare. The conservative lobbying organization has drafted a model bill to make this a reality.  If picked up and offered in any state legislature, the bill would set up a central database for student records and allow colleges or businesses to browse them in search of potential recruits.
In addition, these student portfolios could allow corporate vultures to prey on customers vulnerable to particular sales pitches. For instance, young adults who had struggled at math in high school would make dandy targets for high-priced payday loans.
In the meantime, hedge fund managers and other investors are pouring money into the ed-tech market. More than $650 million flowed into technology firms serving K-12 and higher education each year for the past three years. That’s nearly double the $331 million invested in these markets in 2009. The national market for education software and digital content is nearly $8 billion, according to the Software & Information Industry Association.
Yet there is little evidence these applications are truly helpful in educating children. Even the technology-loving Gates Foundation, found in a national survey that only 54 percent of teachers thought the digital tools used most frequently by their students were effective.
Let’s get something straight: the reason most of these firms exist is not education. It is spying on children. It is stealing their valuable data for corporations’ own ends.
The ed-tech market is intimately entwined with the latest fad in education policy –Competency Based Education (CBE).
This has come to mean teaching and assessment conducted online, where students’ learning is continuously monitored, measured, and analyzed.
However, the goal seems to be replacing big end of the year standardized tests with daily stealth assessments. In this way, it would be more difficult for parents to refuse testing for their children. It would hide the ways in which a standardized curriculum narrowed student learning to the very basics. It would hide how children’s every tiniest action is being used to judge and evaluate their schools and teachers. And this information of dubious validity could be used to close public schools and replace them with shoddy but more profitable charter schools.
Education historian Diane Ravitch talks about a meeting in August of 2015 with The State Commissioner of Education in New York, Mary Ellen Elia, and several board members of New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), a highly successful state opt out organization.
She says:

“At one point, Commissioner Elia said that the annual tests would eventually be phased out and replaced by embedded assessment. When asked to explain, she said that students would do their school work online, and they would be continuously assessed. The computer could tell teachers what the students were able to do, minute by minute.”
The plan has been laid bare. Our students privacy has been compromised and is being used against them. If big business has its say, our children will be forever pawns in a system that reduces them to data and profit.
That’s not what public school should be about.
It should be a place centered on learning not earning.
It should be a place that values the student and not her data.
It should be a place of creativity, imagination and wonder.
But as long as we allow ed-tech companies to run unregulated in the shadows, it will always be susceptible to these dangers.
The only one who can stop these predators in your child’s classroom is you.