Saturday, January 24, 2015

New data shows school “reformers” are full of it

Poor schools underperform largely because of economic forces, not because teachers have it too easy

In the great American debate over education, the education and technology corporations, bankrolled politicians and activist-profiteers who collectively comprise the so-called “reform” movement base their arguments on one central premise: that America should expect public schools to produce world-class academic achievement regardless of the negative forces bearing down on a school’s particular students. In recent days, though, the faults in that premise are being exposed by unavoidable reality.
Before getting to the big news, let’s review the dominant fairy tale: As embodied by New York City’s major education announcement this weekend, the “reform” fantasy pretends that a lack of teacher “accountability” is the major education problem and somehow wholly writes family economics out of the story (amazingly, this fantasy persists even in a place like the Big Apple where economic inequality is particularly crushing). That key — and deliberate — omission serves myriad political interests.
For education, technology and charter school companies and the Wall Streeters who back them, it lets them cite troubled public schools to argue that the current public educationsystem is flawed, and to then argue that education can be improved if taxpayer money is funneled away from the public school system’s priorities (hiring teachers, training teachers, reducing class size, etc.) and into the private sector (replacing teachers with computers, replacing public schools with privately run charter schools, etc.). Likewise, for conservative politicians and activist-profiteers disproportionately bankrolled by these and other monied interests, the “reform” argument gives them a way to both talk about fixing education and to bash organized labor, all without having to mention an economic status quo that monied interests benefit from and thus do not want changed.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that many “reformers’” policies have spectacularly failed, prompted massive scandals and/or offered no actual proof of success, an elite media that typically amplifies — rather than challenges — power and money loyally casts “reformers’” systematic pillaging of public education as laudable courage (the most recent example of this is Time magazine’s cover cheering on wildly unpopular Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel after he cited budget austerity to justify the largest mass school closing in American history — all while he is also proposing to spend $100 million of taxpayer dollars on a new private sports stadium).
In other words, elite media organizations (which, in many cases, have their own vested financial interest in education “reform”) go out of their way to portray the anti-public-education movement as heroic rather than what it really is: just another get-rich-quick scheme shrouded in the veneer of altruism.


An ‘anything goes’ approach to charter schools by Wendy Lecker

Editors Note:  Less than twelve hours after Governor Dannel Malloy took the podium to declare victory in November, Malloy’s political appointees on the Connecticut State Board of Education – including the appointee representing the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut Chapter – voted to request funding to open eight more charter schools in Connecticut.  The vote was unanimous, with absolutely no discussion of how to make existing charter schools accountable for their activities or the fact that Connecticut’s public schools are underfunded and additional funding will not be forthcoming anytime soon since Malloy’s fiscal strategies have left the state facing a large budget deficit this year and a massive $1.4 billion budget shortfall next year.
One aspect of the Common Core regime imposed on Connecticut schools by our political leaders is an emphasis, some say over-emphasis, on informational texts, based on the claim that reading more non-fiction will somehow make students "college and career ready." While our leaders force children to read more non-fiction, it appears that they are the ones with trouble facing facts.
Earlier this month, the Connecticut Department of Education quietly distributed a scathing investigative report on the Jumoke/FUSE charter chain, conducted by a law firm the department retained. The report reads like a manual on how to break every rule of running a non-profit organization.
The investigators found that although FUSE and Jumoke were supposed to be two separate, tax-exempt organizations, both were run byMichael Sharpe alone. FUSE, formed in 2012, never held board of directors' meetings until after the public revelations in the spring of 2014 of Michael Sharpe's felony record for embezzlement and falsification of his academic credentials. FUSE entered into contracts with the state to run two public schools without approval by its board. In fact, it is unclear that FUSE even had a board of directors then. Jumoke, too, played fast and loose with board meetings. Jumoke's board gave Sharpe "unfettered control" over every aspect of the organization. Even after he left Jumoke for FUSE, Sharpe still ran Jumoke, leaving day-to-day operations to his nephew, an intern there.
Hiring and background checks were in Sharpe's sole discretion. He placed ex-convicts in the two public schools run by Jumoke, Hartford's Milner and Bridgeport's Dunbar. Dunbar's principal, brought in by Sharpe, was recently arraigned on charges of stealing more than $10,000 from the school.
Nepotism was "rampant." Sharpe's mother founded Jumoke. Sharpe moved from paraprofessional to CEO in 2003, with no additional training. His unqualified daughter and nephew were hired, as well as his sister.

The investigation found extreme comingling of funds and of financial and accounting activities, noting that it "would be difficult to construct a less appropriate financial arrangement between two supposedly separate organizations."

How Black Middle-Class Kids Become Poor Adults by Gillian B White

When it comes to financial stability, black Americans are often in much more precarious financial situations than white Americans. Their unemployment rate is higher, and so is the level of poverty within the black community. In 2013, the poverty rate among white Americans was 9.6 percent, among black Americans it was 27.2 percent. And the gap between the wealth of white families and black families has widened to its highest levels since 1989, according to a 2014 study by Pew Research Center.
The facts of this rift aren’t new, or all that surprising. But perhaps what’s most unsettling about the current economic climate in black America is that when black families attain middle-class status, the likelihood that their children will remain there, or do better, isn’t high.
“Even black Americans who make it to the middle class are likely to see their kids fall down the ladder,” writes Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. In a recent blog post Reeves says that seven out of 10 black children who are born to families with income that falls in the middle quintile of the income spectrum will find themselves with income that's one to two quintiles below their parents' during their own adulthood.
A 2014 study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, which looked at factors like parental income, education, and family structure, shows a similar pattern: Many black Americans not only fail to move up, but show an increased likelihood of backsliding. According to the study, “In recent decades, blacks have experienced substantially less upward intergenerational mobility and substantially more downward intergenerational mobility than whites.”
The greater probability of slipping back applies toblacks across income groups. According to the Fed study, about 60 percent of black children whose parents had income that fell into the top 50 percent of the distribution saw their own income fall into the bottom half during adulthood. This type of downward slidewas common for only 36 percent of white children.
But the gap in mobility was also significant for lower-class families as well.  “For most of the bottom half of the income distribution, the racial differences in upward mobility are consistently between 20 and 30 percent," writes senior economistBhashkar Mazumder, the study’s author. “If future generations of white and black Americans experience the same rates of intergenerational mobility as these cohorts, we should expect to see that blacks on average would not make any relative progress.”
The explanations for this phenomenon are varied, but largely hinge on many of the criticisms that already exist in regard to socioeconomics and race in the U.S. Economists cite lower educational attainment, higher rates of single-parent households, and geographic segregation as potential explanations for these trends. The latter determines not only what neighborhoods people live in, but often what types of schools children attend, which could play a role in hindering their educational and professional attainment later on. According to Reeves, "In terms of opportunity, there are still two Americas, divided by race."
Still, most economists lack a clear, definitive explanation for why, after reaching the middle class, many black American families quickly lose that status as their children fall behind.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Was oldest gospel really found in a mummy mask? By Joel Baden and Candida Moss

(CNN)Media outlets have been abuzz this week with the news that the oldest fragment of a New Testament gospel -- and thus the earliest witness of Jesus' life and ministry -- had been discovered hidden inside an Egyptian mummy mask and was going to be published.
The announcement of the papyrus' discovery and impending publication was made by Craig Evans, professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Evans described the papyrus as a fragment of the Gospel of Mark.
He added that a combination of handwriting analysis (paleography) and carbon dating led him and his team of researchers to conclude that the fragment was written before 90 A.D. This would make it at least a decade older than other early fragments of the New Testament and, thus, an invaluable resource for biblical scholars and object of considerable interest for Christians the world over.
The fragment, according to Evans, was discovered when an Egyptian mummy mask -- known as cartonnage -- was dismantled in a hunt for ancient documents. Mummy masks were an important part of ancient Egyptian burial practice, but only the very wealthy could afford examples made of gold.
The majority of mummy masks were made from scraps of linen and papyrus, which were glued together into a kind of ancient papier-maché. Dismantling these masks yields a trove of ancient documents. Evans claims that in addition to Christian texts, hundreds of classical Greek texts, records of business transactions, and personal letters have been acquired. In the process, the mask itself is destroyed.
Though it may be making headlines now, the claim that the "oldest known gospel" has been discovered is not new.
News of the fragment first came to light in 2012 when its existence was (perhaps inadvertently) announced by Daniel Wallace, founder of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts at Dallas Theological Seminary.
No one saw the text then, and no one has seen it now; though it has been mentioned repeatedly by a select group of people who evidently have been given access to it, its planned date of publication has been consistently pushed back, from an original plan of 2013 to 2015 and now, just this week, all the way to 2017.
Despite the seemingly explosive quality of the news, therefore, it is important to take a step back and consider what is actually being revealed here.
Some people are saying they have this really old and important thing, and they will show it to all the rest of us in a few years. (Essentially, this papyrus is the scholarly equivalent of "my girlfriend who lives in Canada.")
It is unclear why anyone would start talking about a text like this, a year, indeed now at least two years, in advance. The most important established fact about this papyrus, at this point, is that it has not yet been published—which is to say, only a small handful of individuals have seen the text and are able to say anything at all about it.
As Roberta Mazza, an ancient historian and papyrologist from the University of Manchester in England, told us, the academic community has not "been given access to firm information and images on the basis of which could eventually say something."
In other words, this sort of notice really serves mostly to remind us of just how little we know about this purported discovery. Here, for example, are five key, unanswered questions.
1. What is the actual text on the papyrus?
We are told that it is from Mark, but, after all, no one has seen it. Which part of Mark?
2. Is the handwriting consistent with the supposed dating?

Brice Jones, a papyrologist at Concordia University, told us that dating a text by handwriting, or paleography, "is not a precise science, and I know of no papyrologist who would date a literary papryus to within a decade on the basis of paleography alone."
To read more, click on the following link:
http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/21/living/gospel-mummy-mask/index.html

Arne Duncan Wants To Drop 'No Child Left Behind' — But Keep Its Tests by Anya K.

In a speech Monday at an elementary school in Washington, D.C., Education Secretary Arne Duncan laid out the president's position on the nation's largest federal education law, even as debate unfolds over the law's re-authorization.
Duncan called No Child Left Behind "tired" and "prescriptive." Nevertheless, he declared that the law's central requirement should stand: annual, mandated statewide assessments from third grade through eighth, plus one test in high school.
Some Republicans in Congress have been discussing the idea of reducing or eliminating those testing requirements.
In his speech, Duncan invoked famous phrases used by both President Obama and former President George W. Bush, the latter of whom introduced No Child Left Behind more than 13 years ago.
"This country can't afford to replace 'the fierce urgency of now' with the soft bigotry of, 'It's optional,' " he said.
Duncan acknowledged that high-stakes accountability testing is one of the "hardest topics" in the nation's education debate. He also called, as he has previously, for action on the state and district level to cut back on additional tests which are "redundant" and "unnecessary."
He said that the federal government will request funding to improve the quality of tests, beyond the $360 million already spent on creating exams aligned with the Common Core learning standards. At the same time, he wants student test scores to be included in teacher evaluations.
The Senate education committee is scheduled to hold a hearing specifically addressing testing on Jan. 20, the same day as President Obama's State of the Union speech.
A few other notable points in Duncan's speech follow below:
§  President Obama's budget request will include $2.7 billion in increased education spending. Of that, $1 billion will be designated for high-needs Title I schools.
§  Duncan renewed the call for expanded access to preschool.
§  He also called for distributing funding more equitably among public schools in high- and low-income areas. In 19 states, high-poverty districts receive less state and local funding than low-poverty districts, according to a 2014 report.


The Media's Influence on Public Education


Teachers On Trial: 5 Times The Media Failed Educators In 2014 by Hilary Tone

Teachers faced an unprecedented level of scrutiny in 2014, thanks to a landmark legal case dismantling teacher tenure in California, which is likely to spark copycats lawsuits across the country. In part due to this increased scrutiny, educators also encountered various attacks from mainstream and conservative media over the year, five of which were particularly egregious.
In June, a California Superior Court handed down the decision in the Vergara v. California trial, a case in which "a group of student plaintiffs ... argued that state tenure laws had deprived them of a decent education by leaving bad teachers in place." Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu sided with the students, in a ruling that Teacher Wars author Dana Goldstein wrote "has the potential to overturn five state laws governing" how tenure, which helps guarantee due process to prevent "capricious firings," operates in the state. The lawsuit became something of a model for media attacks -- sparking reactions that ranged from outraged to elated -- and prompted extensive media discussion about the positives and negatives to reform of the public education system.
Unfortunately, much of this discussion featured direct attacks on educators in 2014. They came from all facetsof the media sphere, and were often rooted in conservative misinformation, though some rang louder, stronger, and more abhorrent than others.
Here are the top five times media failed educators in 2014.

5. The Coverage Of Time Magazine's "Rotten Apples" Cover.

The November 3 cover story of Time magazine, titled "The War on Teacher Tenure" and promoted on the cover as "Rotten Apples," spurred significant backlash, particularly among teachers, who were dismayed at the portrayal of their profession as "rotten." The backlash led to a petition calling for an apology from Time that garnered more than 70,000 signatures. In their coverage of the Time backlash, however, several media outlets, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, Fox News' Outnumbered, andThe Weekly Standard's blog failed to discuss what was at the heart of the controversy: due process for teachers. These media outlets instead took to doubling down on the allegations of "rotten," and making outlandish claims. 

4. Fox News' Misplaced Blame On Teachers Unions.

If Fox News can find a way to blame any education controversy on teachers or teachers unions, it will do so. Two such instances in 2014 were particularly egregious. When hundreds of Colorado high school students walked out of class to protest a "conservative-led school board proposal" to change their history curriculum, Fox hosted the country board of education president to falsely allege that "teachers [were] using students" as "pawns" not over the history proposal, but over an upcoming teachers union contract. And in March, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would block three charter schools from using public school space rent-free, Fox figures took to speculating and attacking teachers and teachers unions, arguing, among other things, that de Blasio was trying to "kiss back butt on the unions" and wage a "war on children."


To read more, click on the following link: