Nothing Diane Ravitch says or does will adversely affect her image in the eyes of her acolytes, but for an academic historian she seems incurious about information that doesn’t fit with her worldview.
Case in point: Yesterday Ravitch trumpeted the opposition of the Massachusetts NAACP to Question 2, a ballot measure that would allow the expansion of charter schools in the state by 12 per year. She reprinted a letter to the editor of the Boston Globe from John L. Reed, chairman of the education committee of the NAACP’s New England Conference.
Commenter Stephen B. Ronan pointed out that before becoming the chairman of the education committee of the NAACP’s New England Conference, John L. Reed was once an officer of the Barnstable Teachers Association, a member of the Massachusetts Teachers Association board of directors, a member of the National Education Association board of directors, and chairman of NEA’s Black Caucus. He also was “instrumental” in promoting a partnership between the New England NAACP and MTA.
Ravitch’s response to Ronan was: “Stephen, you discovered that the president of the New England NAACP is or was a teacher! How disturbing! That discredits him in your eyes but not in the eyes of this readers of this blog. Surely, we should listen to billionaires and hedge fund managers. They must know better than teachers what children need. Of course, I am being sarcastic. Mr. Reed heads a membership organization, and he speaks on their behalf. Why do you trust DFER, which speaks for a small number of rich white hedge funders, rather than the NAACP? If Mr. Reed is or was a teacher, he is very well informed about the dangers of privatization.”
I suspect Ravitch was not only being sarcastic, but deliberately obtuse. There are a lot of teachers and former teachers in Massachusetts, but few with Reed’s connections to the teachers’ union, which is funding and manning the opposition to Question 2. Perhaps not many people would find this “disturbing,” but everyone should find it relevant.
Yes, it’s back-to-school time, and amid all the safety suggestions and fashion tips come these five unconventional stories.
1) “Boys get back-to-school buzz cuts aboard the Battleship New Jersey” Because, why not?
2) Twentieth Century Fox created a press mailer to promote the Blu-Ray release of X-Men Apocalypse made out like an admissions folder to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
3) This bro’ doesn’t give a damn about your kids going back to school!!!
4) Speaking of which, here’s one mom’s back-to-school photo.
5) But here’s my favorite: “Back to school snacks: Turn a Twinkie into an edible school bus”
I mentioned in Wednesday’s column that employees of the California Teachers Association were planning a labor action to address the union’s failure to properly fund their pensions. Here is video of their picket line, courtesy of the Sacramento Bee:
This follows on the heels of a protest during a speech by SEIU president Mary Kay Henry earlier this month. The protesters are organizers for the union’s Fight for $15 campaign, but they themselves are being denied the right to join SEIU’s staff union, and they claim they receive less than $15 per hour. As you can see from the video, they are shouted down and one of their signs is ripped up.
The state of California released its standardized test results for English and math yesterday and it was a mixed bag. Overall scores improved but the gaps between racial and ethnic groups widened.
There will be a lot of analysis from all parties but I thought it important to highlight something California did with its results that you rarely see when test scores are reported.
There is a tendency to compare this year’s 4th grade results, for example, with last year’s 4th grade test results. Obviously each year’s 4th graders are different students and so some variations are to be expected.
The California Department of Education web site allows you to easily compare this year’s 4th grade results with last year’s 3rd grade results. While these are not exactly the same students, it does give us a better sense of whether they are improving as they move through the system.
Using that tool we can see that while only 38% of 3rd graders met the English standards last year, 44% of this year’s 4th graders met the standards. As we move through the rest of the tested grades, the one-year improvements were 8%, 3%, 5% and 4%.
The math results were not as rosy. One percent fewer 4th graders met the math standards than did last year’s 3rd graders, and the same was true of this year’s 5th graders. The upper grades improved by 5%, 3% and 2%. Even with improvement, between 61% and 67% of California’s students failed to meet the math standards.
The educators among you will certainly have many theories as to why this should be so. Perhaps English naturally improves through additional years of exposure while math gets progressively more difficult for those who fall behind. But if we want to value “problem-solving” and “critical thinking” over “drill and kill” techniques, these math scores are worrisome.
In a 4-3 ruling, the California Supreme Court decided not to review Vergara v. California, which challenged the constitutionality of the state’s teacher tenure, seniority and dismissal laws.
The California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers declared this a “victory for students” because, as we all know, parents choose schools for their children based on whether the teachers receive tenure after two years, and if they are laid off in reverse order of seniority.
I’m not surprised by this result, but I entirely understand why the case was pursued. California’s education labor policy is entirely under the thumb of the teachers’ unions, to the point where even watered-down reform bills introduced by Democrats are rubbed out. The mercurial Gov. Jerry Brown will sometimes halt a union scheme with his veto pen, but he has no stomach to confront CTA and CFT on education reform. With two branches of government closed to them, Vergara supporters had to try the third.
“Eliminating teachers’ ability to stand up for their students and robbing school districts of the tools they need to make sound employment decisions was a well-funded but wrong-headed scheme developed by people with no education expertise,” said CTA president Eric Heins.
Ah, the old expertise argument, designed to stop everyone in their tracks. No matter the evidence of our eyes, we must defer to the experience and expertise of teachers. Well, not all teachers. Not private school teachers. Not Teach for America teachers. Not charter school teachers. Not non-union public school teachers. And not agency fee-paying teachers.
Oh, wait. There is at least one non-teacher to whom we must listen: John Oliver!
Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post Your Talking Points Here had the on-the-nose headline regarding the host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight and his lengthy segment on charter schools: “John Oliver hysterically savages charter schools — and charter supporters aren’t happy.”
It was hysterical, all right.
John Oliver might be an expert on charter schools, but I doubt it. He’s certainly not an educator. Since he opines on a vast array of topics it is probable that the sum total of what he knows about charter schools is what he presented in that segment. But since he said exactly what charter school detractors want to hear, he is celebrated by them instead of ignored as a know-nothing.
By the same token, charter school supporters should avoid getting too worked up over Oliver. While he was savaging charter schools, he also ripped into Pitbull, NBC’s Mysteries of Laura, the Olsen twins, the state of Pennsylvania, John Kasich, Papa John’s, Billy Joel, and the state of Nevada. I also think Papa John’s makes nasty pizza, but I don’t lobby for state laws to prevent people from going there.
I like pointing out inconsistencies in union arguments as much as anyone, but it’s mostly irrelevant. Unions use situational tactics, and if arguing one way gets a win today, and arguing the opposite gets a win tomorrow, they are perfectly happy to do so.
But if winning is all that matters, then just remember that 25 years ago there were no charter schools. Today there are 6,700 in 42 states. Who’s winning?