Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Congress to Attack Poverty

In a rare move, Congress is giving children, teachers, and public schools across the nation a break rather than a black eye by passing a mandate to end poverty. Children will be required to do a much better job of selecting their parents and the circumstances into which they are born. Public school teachers will be held strictly accountable for seeing to it that every child has developed the critical thinking skills necessary for making sound birth decisions. A failing teacher will face salary and benefit reductions and be the subject of a scathing editorial by a wealthy, outraged pundit.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Offer Orthopedic Shoes to Failing Public School Teachers

For Immediate Release
Washington, D.C.

Newsspoof: Gates Foundation & DOE to Fund High-Performing Footwear Initiative

edu-philanthropreneur Bill Gates gets down and out about the state of public education, the severe economic downturn we are all are experiencing, and the staggering inequalities incurred on the nation by poorly performing public school teachers, he visits some exceptional schools to lift his spirits. On a visit to a KIPP school in Houston, Gates witnessed an "unbelievable thing" about its teachers, a phenomenon apparently unheard of in traditional public schools.

Now, there are a few places -- very few -- where great teachers are being made. A good example of one is a set of charter schools called KIPP. KIPP means Knowledge Is Power. It's an unbelievable thing. When you actually go and sit in one of these classrooms, at first it's very bizarre. I sat down and I thought, "What is going on?" The teacher was running around, and the energy level was high. I thought, "I'm in the sports rally or something. What's going on?" And the teacher was constantly scanning to see which kids weren't paying attention, which kids were bored, and calling kids rapidly, putting things up on the board.

And the more the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation apprised itself of top-notch research, the more apparent it became that the key to closing the achievement gap was to turn the nation's attention to teacher effectiveness as quantified by children's standardized test scores:

The more we looked at it, the more we realized that having great teachers was the very key thing. And we hooked up with some people studying how much variation there is between teachers, between, say, the top quartile -- the very best -- and the bottom quartile. How much variation is there within a school or between schools? And the answer is that these variations are absolutely unbelievable. A top quartile teacher will increase the performance of their class -- based on test scores -- by over 10 percent in a single year. What does that mean? That means that if the entire U.S., for two years, had top quartile teachers, the entire difference between us and Asia would go away. Within four years we would be blowing everyone in the world away! So, it's simple. All you need are those top quartile teachers.

"I'm a huge fan of Bill Gates," reported Ed Secretary Arne Duncan, whose department has filled key posts with officials having strong ties to Gates.

"For decades, critics old and new in the education reform industry have known and rightly warned Americans that our public schools are failing the nation. Well-meaning ed reformers have bravely and unselfishly pushed reform after reform. And it's like we've been sort of looking around for the silver bullet and it turns out the answer has been right under our noses the whole time!"

However, until such time as all the teachers in the nation's 3.7 million K-12 classrooms are top-quartile teachers, Gates opines that we are left with "what to do" with the nation's corp of tired, old, less visionary teachers.

While it's certainly no panacea, we do know that great teachers are on their feet constantly for hours every day, engaging and re-directing the most challenging students. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education, the Gates Foundation will fund a high-performing footwear initiative in the nation's traditional public schools. Teachers who choose to take advantage of the offer will receive vouchers to visit to a podiatrist of their choice to be fitted for custom orthotics. Teachers already wearing orthotics may want their doctor to see if they're wearing the right type of orthopedic shoes. No pun intended, but we really do want to give teachers fair and balanced support in their efforts to improve.

"I'm a huge fan of orthopedic shoes," raved Duncan. "When I played pro-basketball, the quality and comfort of my shoes made a huge difference."

--news spoof brought to you by staff at This Little Blog

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Tom Vander Ark's List of Race to the Top Edu-Entrepreneurial Opportunities

Tom Vander Ark was the first Executive Director for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He is now partner in Vander Ark/Ratcliff, an eduction public affairs firm, and a partner in a private equity fund focused on "innovative" learning tools.  

Drooling for Data-Driven Dollars might have been a better title for this post. And for children? Much, much more of the same, where they are viewed as commodities to be standardized and developed for corporate harvesting and consumption.  

Below find Mr. Vander Ark's list of 10 edu-entrepreneurial opportunities to be fueled by Race-to-the-Top.

With the Race to the Top language out, it’s time to refine the list of opportunities for education entrepreneurs (both .org & .com). From largest to niche size they include:

1. School improvement: between RTT, Inovation, and School Improvement, there will be a couple billion spent on attempts to improve struggling schools. America’s Choice should be well positioned as will a new services group at Pearson. Groups like AdvancePath that target under-credited students as a school-within-a-school should also do well.

2. CMO/EMO: with grant money and air cover from Obama and Duncan, the demand for high quality charters has never been stronger. If CMOs like Green Dot can figure out a reliable conversion strategy, several will finally achieve scale. A for-profit operator, National Heritage is now twice as big as Green Dot and bigger than the KIPP network. It will help if RTT helps improves access to public facilities.

4. Assessment: the big guys will continue to own state contracts, but there’s a new opening for formative and periodic assessment. Groups like Wireless Generation are well positioned to take advantage of the push for quick tests that improve instruction.

5. Adaptive content & learning games: Over the next five years, we’ll see a third of the $8B textbook business shift to digital with a third of that going to the new field of adaptive content and games.

6. Training: It has been a tough year in the professional development business, but that should change as federal funding flows. Where data is linked to evaluation, we’ll see strong demand for targeted training.

7. Consulting: lots of states, districts and schools need lots of services including data integration, policy development, program design and implementation (i.e., evaluation), grant writing, program management, and communications.

8. Advocacy: The big bucks and big demands on the system will make the next few years very dynamic. We need a ConnCAN in every state to connect communities, lawmakers, and policy experts. We need to mobilize underserved communities to steer school improvement and new school opportunities.

9. Evaluation: evaluating $5B of spending will yield $250M of evaluation contracts—it’s a good time to be MDRC.

10. Web 2.0: with dozens of new entrants in the social learning space and content management and student information systems incorporating web 2.0 functionality, we’re bound to see a couple of these gain widespread adoption in the next four school years.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ed Secretary Duncan Gets Head Stuck

For Immediate Release
Washington, D.C.

According to unnamed officials at the Department of Education, Ed Secretary Arne Duncan got his head trapped inside the two metal bars of the extendable handle on his rolling attache case. He was able to insert his head fully through the handle without it getting stuck but was subsequently unable to pull his head back out.

Leading ed reform spokesmen Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich discovered the Secretary in his office muttering expletives and feverishly trying to pull his head out. The pair had arrived on schedule to meet with Duncan to brainstorm stratagems for dealing with an absence of any credible evidence to support the administration's education reform proposals.

Once freed from the device by Sharpton and Gingrich, Duncan brushed the mishap off as a teachable moment about not sticking your head in places where it doesn't belong.

Department employees have graciously refrained from asking Duncan why he stuck his head through the bars in the first place.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Diane Ravitch Comments on Race to the Top (And A Teacher's Proposal for Obama and Duncan to Submit to Nationally Televised Debates)

Great comments from Diane Ravitch:

Dear DOE,

I wish to register a strong objection to these regulations. As a former
federal official (I was Assistant Secretary of Education in 1991-92), I
object to the coercive nature in which the federal government is dictating
education policy to the states. But of great importance, the policies you are
dictating are not based on evidence.

You want states to tie teacher evaluations to test scores, but you present
no evidence that doing so improves achievement; instead you rely on economists
who project that it might do so. To achieve this goal, you tell states that they
must roll back laws they have passed. This oversteps the bounds of federal
authority in education.

Similarly your pressure to open charter schools goes beyond any evidence
that charter schools are superior to regular public schools. The recent Stanford
study by Margaret Raymond found that only 17% of charter schools were better
than nearby public schools. Why then should schools eliminate their caps on

I think the DOE should respect the requirements of federalism and look to
states to offer their best ideas rather than mandating policies that the current
administration likes, even though there is no evidence to support them.

Humility is sometimes the best policy, especially when you are not on firm
ground with your remedies.

Diane Ravitch

Thank you, Diane.

On a related note, I believe we should be joining forces and publicly challenging Obama and Duncan to submit to nationally televised debates about the merits of their recipe for education reform. Since it is highly unlikely that they would concede to participating in debates where they could not control and frame the debate, I think we should present the challenge to them under the condition that they submit to fair and DEMOCRATIC debates in which neither side is allowed to control or frame the debate. If they refuse, that alone would say a lot.

I proposed this challenge on a listserv to which I belong (arn-the assessment reform network). Jerry Bracey responded that to "publicly" challenge Obama/Duncan would present a daunting challenge, mainly getting the media's attention and "getting it in a big way." He's right, but he offered that he's open to ideas.

So I submitted another idea. As some of you already know, the Standing Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures recently issued statements about its position on lifting charter school caps and the imposition of national standards. It seems they oppose both. Here's the link (if you visit the link you have to scroll down a bit to get to the statements about lifting state charter school caps and national standards):,22,634#Public_Charter

I suggested that perhaps we try appealing to and through the NCSL to call for national debates. I notice that Jerry then sent our discourse on the matter to Arne Duncan and other officials at, as well as to various journalists, including Sam Dillon of the NY Times and Jay Mathews of the Washington Post.

Don't know if this idea will go anywhere but would appreciate any ideas out there to add to the discussion.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Road Most Traveled by the Ed Reformers

With deep apologies to Robert Frost for the liberties taken, I'm posting this again (revised from my original post) to reflect how I feel and what I believe about the education reform business. And it has indeed become big business and a corrupt one at that. It seems to me it is disaster capitalism, the hijacking of a public good for corporate interest in a nation that remains number one among wealthy nations in childhood poverty. And the staggering inequalities are only growing.

Two roads diverged in the urban wood,

One to crush and the other to help.

The first lush with profit, long I stood

Pressing schools down as hard as I could

With truth kept hidden in the undergrowth.

I took the first road as just and fair,

And having no doubt a believable claim.

Posing for poor children wanted no wear,

They'd yield data for market repair,

And for this scheme I felt no ounce of shame.

Throughout the journey well hidden lay

The leaves that I had trodden black.

Oh, I kept that knowledge for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way

I doubted if I should ever turn back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -

I took the one most traveled by,

And for poor kids it made little difference.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fun With Arne

In a speech before the National Press Club yesterday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that he believes children should be in school seven days a week and also on weekends. 

When prompted to correct his error, Duncan explained that for students already demonstrating "dramatically on target readiness for college and the workforce", he meant seven days a week but not on weekends. 

Prior to being appointed Secretary of Education by President Obama, privately educated Duncan catapulted his way to his former position as CEO of Chicago Public Schools by doing some tutoring when he was in high school, earning a B.A. in Sociology from Harvard, and playing pro-basketball in Australia for four years. 

Of his experiences as CEO of Chicago Public Schools, the Secretary stated that he is "absolutely proud of the progress made in Chicago." 

In regard to his new role as Secretary of Education, Duncan described himself as a huge fan of reform, passionately committed, and unbelievably excited.

 - newsspoof by staff at this little blog