Dec 30, 2011

College Students Organizing To Support Reform (Even Though We Don't Really Know What That Means. We're Too Young And Inexperienced)

George Hornedo is currently a junior at Cornell University and has taken a semester off to intern at the White House. George joined StudentsFirst because he believes we need to create a more equitable public education system for all children.
Zak Newman is currently a junior at Yale University. During his last spring break he shadowed an 8th grade teacher in in Hartford’s inner city. During that time, he noticed that she had very little support or feedback about her work. Zak believes that a great education is key to ending poverty and we must support teachers to have a quality education system.

We came to StudentsFirst as interns last year because we both believed that every child deserves a quality education and we knew there were many things standing in the way of that. When we started, we realized that there was a critical group underrepresented in the reform movement: college students. Every day, we read letters from students wanting to get involved and wanting to make sure all young people get the same opportunities to go to college that they had. As recent graduates of our nation’s K-12 system, college students have especially strong and insightful views on improving public education.

With this in mind, we launched StudentsFirst on Campus in October at Cornell University to a packed crowd of more than 500 students and community members. The campus outreach arm of the organization, StudentsFirst on Campus is an opportunity for college students across the country to work with this bipartisan grassroots movement on their campuses.

The Campus Directors have accomplished so much since the launch last October. In just two short months, our four Campus Directors have organized 25 events across the country with local and national partners, brought in more than 1,000 new StudentsFirst members and have become leaders in education in their communities.

For example,
  • At The Ohio State University, Campus Director Justin Schulze, organized an “Innovative Pathways to Teaching Fair” for students to learn about teaching opportunities available to them from Teach for America and various teaching fellowships.
  • At Morehouse College, Campus Director Jonathan Wall hosted a Waiting for Superman screening with other student groups to introduce people to some of the issues behind this movement.
  • At Cornell University, Campus Director Geoffrey Block helped organize the StudentsFirst on Campus launch, during which Michelle Rhee spoke to a packed crowd at her alma mater about the need for college students to get involved in education reform.
  • At the University of San Diego, Campus Director Mariko Peshon helped organize the first stop of the StudentsFirst California Listening Tour in which Michelle Rhee heard what southern Californians had to say about the policies and practices working for and against kids in their communities.
With the spring semester coming up, we’re looking to bring on more dedicated and passionate students to the StudentsFirst on Campus team. Campus Director applications are available now and are due on Friday, January 16. We believe that the next generation of education leadership will put an end to income and race-based gaps in student achievement. We hope that you will help carry that vision forward.

Dec 28, 2011

New Study Shows Need For Academic Accountability With Charters (Also, New Study Shows Need For End To Money In Politics)

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According to a new study from the Center for Education Reform, though 15% of charter schools have historically closed since 1992, only 3% have closed for academic poor performance. Reports the Huffington Post on the study:

In nearly two decades, only 3 percent of charter schools have ever been closed for underperforming, according to a new report released Tuesday.

The Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter advocacy group, traced charter-school closures since 1992 in what it called the "first-ever national analysis" of its kind. It found that 15 percent of 6,700 charter schools have been shuttered, and 18 percent of those closures were attributed to academic underperformance. Other prevalent reasons charter schools were closed include financial deficiencies (41.7 percent), mismanagement (24 percent), district-related issues and facilities problems.

While the report identifies key levers of accountability – such as the charter quality measures StudentsFirst members and allies recently pushed for in Michigan – it also should serve as a clear call for greater academic accountability and quality measures. The information presented shows a startling low number of charters being closed for poor academic performance. While we know that many charters deliver particularly outstanding results in difficult circumstances – and that charters typically do as well as public schools – not all charters are performing at the same high levels we expect for our kids.

In Michigan, we proposed requiring charter authorizers to close bottom-performing schools, to require annual reviews and parental notification of performance, and to create pathways and incentives to allow high-performing charters that are doing a great job educating our kids to replicate and expand. StudentsFirst members will continue to push for these important reforms. This coming year, we hope that Michigan legislators – and leaders across the country – will do more to ensure academic accountability in schools serving our kids.

Dec 14, 2011

2011 Impact -- Our Member Annual Report (A report about Rhee's member?)

One year ago we launched on Oprah with a vision:  To transform America’s schools through building a national grassroots movement of parents, teachers, students and concerned citizens who demand change.

U.S. education standing in the worldWe had a core belief that every child can learn and that equal access to a quality education is a civil right.  But the stats show that we are failing our kids:  two-thirds of  fourth graders are unable to read and American students rank 25th out of 34 developing countries in math.

Outdated policies have to change in order for every child to have the opportunity to succeed and for our country to be competitive in the global economy.  However bucking the status quo isn’t easy – the only way to create lasting change is to tap into hopes of the American people who share the belief that we can ensure the right to high quality education for every child when we put students interests first – change will only occur from the ground up.   

This year we are proud to announce that within the coming weeks, we are projecting our grassroots movement will reach the one million member mark.   Our members come from every state and include teachers, parents, principals and school board members. They are Democrats, Republicans and Independents; they are union members and corporate executives.  And they range in age from middle school students to grandparents.

States and policiesThrough their organizing, our members have passed over 50 new policies in 7 states impacting the education of 8.7 million students.  These policies include implementing meaningful teacher evaluations, ending the practice of laying off the best teachers under last-in-first-out (LIFO), expanding public charter opportunities, and empowering parents to turn around failing schools.

In Nevada, for example, our members supported a multi-million dollar ad campaign starring local teachers, and also lobbied both the Democratically controlled houses of the state legislature and the Republican Governor to pass student-centered reform into law.  This bipartisan blueprint for reform surprised some observers but was replicated in some capacity elsewhere, including in Michigan and Maine.  Our members also acted to successfully pass student-focused reforms in Tennessee, Florida, Ohio and Indiana.

When state bureaucrats in California threatened to weaken parental power to fix failing schools, our members rallied quickly and gathered nearly 2000 thousand petition signatures within 15 hours, presenting them at a State Board Hearing, and helping to implement a meaningful parent-trigger law.
But we are only at the beginning and we have a lot of work ahead.  Our success has provided a rallying point for the special interest groups who oppose reform.  We need your help to grow our movement and to take action in your community.

Sign the pledge to put StudentsFirst and recruit your friends, family and colleagues to join you.
Together we will fight on behalf of students until every American child get the quality education they deserve.

Thank you for your support and I look forward to working with you in 2012.

Oct 27, 2011

Beyond Tolerance [Or, I Will Blame Other Teachers For The Lack Of Tolerance In America, Even Though I Am A Teacher]

Scott R. Conwell teaches at an urban charter school in the metro Detroit area. He has a wife and one daughter and is motivated mostly by wanting a better world for them to live in. Scott is a passionate educator and hopes to one day see an educational system that allows a powerful and equal education for all of America's students.
Diversity is the key. When my daughter was born my wife and I decided that diversity should be part of her life. We taught her at a young age that diversity was a part of everyday life. We also taught her that tolerance was not the whole story; we taught her acceptance. As a country that touts itself proudly as the "melting pot"; this should span into every household. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened.
I teach at an urban high school in the metro Detroit area. We are a "melting pot" of students. We have a high population of African-American students, we have a solid population of Hispanic-American students, and we have a small population of LGBTQ students. Our school conducts anti-bullying programs and initiatives, but they are not enough. When we teach "tolerance" of one another we are leaving out a key element of the picture. Tolerance without acceptance doesn't solve the problem. Often times, adults in our schools not only ignore the discrimination but even encourage it.
On "National Coming Out Day" several of our students chose to take the opportunity to reveal who they knew they really were. They declared over social media channels that they were LGBTQ. When they came back to school, they received the treatment that might be expected from the students; but what was worse is they also received it from the staff. These students were the main source of "copy machine" humor by the teachers, and the support that should have been there was absent. These students came to my classroom because they knew it was a safe place for them to declare who they were. They came to me seeking advice on acceptance. Unfortunately, within our school there were few places for them to go.
Every student, regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation deserves an opportunity to attend a school where they feel safe to learn. How can we as teachers, administrators or counselors expect them to maintain focus on educational concepts when they are fearful of what will happen to them on the bus when no one else is around? We must have effective anti-bullying programs in schools; not just for students but for the staff. I know teachers who also live in fear that if they come out to their peers they will receive the same discrimination they see in the students. It is time for us as educators to right these wrongs.
My six-year old daughter understands diversity on all levels; why can't we understand this concept as educators? My classroom is a safety zone for acceptance; why isn't my school? Why aren't all our schools?

Oct 26, 2011

Supporting Anti-Bullying Laws Nationwide [Or, We Need To Appear Supportive, Even Though We're Fucking Jerks]

Eric Lerum is Vice President of National Policy at StudentsFirst.
We are moving in the right direction in our effort to eradicate bullying from schools. More than 20 states have taken up anti-bullying legislation in the past year. But we need to make sure that every state has strong policies in place that ensure a safe learning environment for every child.
Every child has the right to a high-quality education. This basic civil right should not be abridged by a student's zip code, the circumstances of their birth, or their sexual orientation. That is why we support policies that would expand educational choices, improve teacher quality and end bullying. It is why we supported legislation like the DREAM Act, which would ensure kids aren't punished for the actions of adults.
While almost all states have some anti-bullying law on the books, they vary greatly in form and strength. And, following several highly-publicized student suicides and a rise in cyber-bullying, officials are taking notice of the need to strengthen their laws and do more to not only protect students, but foster a safer school environment overall.
Comprehensive anti-bullying legislation should include the following key elements:
  • A clear definition of bullying and harassment of students;
  • Clear roles and responsibilities for schools, administrators, and teachers, as well as a requirement that all schools adopt anti-bullying policies;
  • Training for teachers, administrators, and students;
  • Investigation protocols for all reported incidents;
  • School-level staff teams dedicated to and focused on monitoring bullying incidents and school climate.

This year, New Jersey established what many consider the strongest anti-bullying law in the country with training for teachers and students, "safety teams" at every school, and investigation of bullying incidents within one day. Other states are also considering enhancing their ability to produce safer school environments including Washington, DC. We applaud and support those efforts.
Those of us focused on improving schools for students should view the attention given to this issue as cause for optimism -- momentum is with the state leaders and advocates who are tackling school bullying head-on. StudentsFirst is proud to stand with them.
Whether it's combatting student bullying, guaranteeing access to a great public school for any student, or ensuring that there is an effective teacher in every classroom, the goal is the same: we have to do whatever it takes to fulfill the promise of an excellent education for every student

Oct 20, 2011

IMPACT Results In Higher Teacher Pay And Improved Practice [Or, Let Me Confuse You By Referring To DFER]


Eric Lerum is Vice President of National Policy for StudentsFirst.
In 2009, under Chancellor Michelle Rhee, D.C. Public Schools implemented a new, comprehensive teacher evaluation system called IMPACT. In a recently released report, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) found that D.C.'s IMPACT evaluation system is doing what it was designed to do: reward and support teachers. Here are some findings from the report:
Teachers are earning higher pay
  • Last year, 660 teachers (17%) who were rated "Highly Effective" were eligible to receive bonuses between $3K and $25K.
  • In addition, 290 WTU members (7%) were eligible for base salary increases of up to $27,000 for being rated "Highly Effective" two years in a row.
  • Under IMPACT, a teacher can earn up to $131,340 -- 50% more than under the previous system.
Teachers are improving their practice
  • 58% of teachers who received a rating of "Minimally Effective" the first year who stayed in the district improved to a rating of "Effective" the following year.
Ineffective teachers are being dismissed so that all students have the benefit of a good teacher
  • 206 teachers who were rated "Ineffective" or were rated "Minimally Effective" for two years in a row were dismissed.
IMPACT uses multiple measures to assess teacher effectiveness including student achievement growth, classroom observations, and contributions to the school and community. Where standardized test data are not available, teachers collaborate with principals to develop their own assessments of student growth. IMPACT is unique in that it involves 5 classroom observations each year, with evaluatios based on a consistent rubric.
These findings indicate that IMPACT has enabled DC to make significant progress in elevating its teachers and ensuring that every student has a great teacher in the classroom. That's great news for everyone.

Oct 19, 2011

Having Their Say: College Students Get In On Ed Reform [Or, Well, I Think Jonathan's Title Says It All]


Jonathan Wall is the StudentsFirst Campus Director at Morehouse College. He is a senior from Raleigh, NC, studying Sociology and Child Development. Jonathan is also on the board of directors for the Atlanta Branch of the NAACP and has held leadership positions in Morehouse's Pre-Law Society and Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Fraternity. In 2009, he and his best friend founded the Outstanding Community Leaders Scholarship, which provided a $1,000 scholarship to a student from his former high school. In 2011, he was one of four nationally selected as an Allstate Martin Luther King Jr. Give Back Hero for his community service and advocacy work.
As young adults not too far removed from the public school setting, college students are in a great position to call for overhauling outdated policies that keep our education system from living up to its potential. However, the voice of college students has until recently largely been excluded from the education reform debate. I’m excited to be part of the new movement to change that.
Too many of our education policies seem to reflect the wants of adults rather than the needs of students. The "Last In First Out" policy, in which teacher layoffs are based on seniority and not job performance, is probably the clearest example of this problem.
Students need great teachers, whether they are veterans or people newer to the profession. No student benefits from ineffective instructors whose employment is a bi-product of years within the system rather than effectiveness on the job, and no society benefits from a generation of under-educated youths. Yet, in many states and districts, there is a sustained effort to keep seniority as the determining factor when layoffs unfortunately arise. It's a terrible problem, yet it is just one of the many issues that make up our public education dilemma.
Far too often, we as students are generalized as being too young and inexperienced to present opinions on potential solutions to problems that have affected us and those we care about. That's why I'm so excited to be part of StudentsFirst On Campus. I believe it will be a great outlet for college students to gain a better understanding of education reform and how to affect change while advocating for policies that are in the best interest of America’s youth.

Giving College Students A Chance To Weigh In And Influence Reform Debates [Or, Well, I Think Justin's Title Says It All]


Justin Schulze is the StudentsFirst campus director at The Ohio State University. He is a senior studying International Development and Economics. He is the Vice-President of Students for Education Reform and has led numerous student organizations on campus. Justin has traveled, volunteered, and conducted research in Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Following graduation, Justin hopes to continue his work in education reform.
On college campuses across the country, autumn is a time for football games, homecoming ceremonies, and beautiful weather. It's also time for new and returning students to explore their interests and find their passion both in and out of the classroom.
Every day, more and more college students are discovering that their true passion lies in reforming our broken education system. As they pass from high school graduation to their first day in a college course, students are quickly pinpointing the ways in which the K-12 education system prepared them for success and the ways in which it failed to do so. And as students meet classmates with backgrounds different from their own, they are also finding that not everyone receives an equal education; indeed, just making it to college - let alone succeeding academically - is an improbable reality for thousands of students nationwide.
That's because so many of our education policies intended to produce results for kids are actually serving the interests of adults in the system at the expense of kids. Consider the way our education system fails to identify and reward our most effective teachers. Nearly every college student can pinpoint the best teachers they had throughout their time in school, yet only a handful of states and districts across the country actually pay the best teachers for their performance and ensure they are teaching the students who need the most help.
Fortunately, college students are finding ways to take action. Newly formed campus groups are gathering students to spread the word about the problems in education. High-performing schools are using college students as tutors, mentors and after-school volunteers. These opportunities allow students to start working on behalf of kids in their immediate communities.
Now, with "StudentsFirst on Campus," college students can work on behalf of kids at the district, state, and national level. StudentsFirst knows that just as students can easily identify their most effective teachers, they can also identify the policies that make the most sense for kids. Through "StudentsFirst on Campus," StudentsFirst is committed to helping students make their voice heard - both on the quad and at the statehouse.
College students no longer have to wait until graduation to start fixing education and improving kids' lives. We are passionate, we are energetic, and now, with "StudentsFirst on Campus," we have the tools to start transforming that passion and energy into real change. Now, we are not simply college students interested in education reform; we are education reformers building a movement to transform public education. Join us.

Oct 12, 2011

ESEA -- Effective Teachers And Leaders Are Key [Or, I Am A Liar]


StudentsFirst -- along with 25 other organizations -- has signed a letter calling for the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to include measures which will drive toward effective teachers and leaders in every public school.
From the letter:
Research shows overwhelmingly that the only way to close achievement gaps – both gaps between U.S. students and those in higher-achieving countries and gaps within the U.S. between poor and minority students and those more advantaged – and transform public education is to recruit, develop, and retain great teachers and principals.
The diverse group of organizations involved includes: Center for American Progress, National Council for La Raza, Educators 4 Excellence, Connecticut Parents' Union, Students for Education Reform, Teach Plus, California Business for Education Excellence and Democrats for Education Reform.
In the letter, we recommend that all states and districts create teacher evaluation systems that are based on multiple measures including both a state-determined method for measuring teacher impact on student growth and multiple, comprehensive classroom observations every year.
The results of the evaluations must be linked to professional development specifically tailored to teachers' needs and must be used to determine personnel decisions such as hiring, tenure, compensation and dismissal.
In addition, we call for states and districts to ensure an equitable distribution of highly effective teachers and leaders across all schools so that minority and low-income kids have equal access to great teachers and school leaders.
To view the full letter and list of signatory organizations, click here:

Sep 28, 2011

Paying Teachers More Matters [Or, I Will Cite A Preliminary Source--And I'm Not A Teacher]

Rebecca Sibilia currently serves as the Fiscal Strategy Manger for StudentsFirst, where she is responsible for analyzing the fiscal impact of education policies, and helping policymakers and administrators implement best practices to ensure education spending ultimately drives student outcomes. Prior to her work at StudentsFirst, she served as the Chief Financial Officer for the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education. In prior roles, she created congressionally funded education programs for public schools and vouchers and developed venture philanthropy programs to help low-income students access quality education opportunities.

The National Center for Education Statistics has issued a new report titled "Beginning Teacher Attrition and Mobility". It's the first glimpse into a major longitudinal study of why teachers stay in the profession, and why they leave.

Here's what we've found by tracking new teachers who entered the profession in the 2007-2008 school year, and whether they stayed after their first year of teaching:

What matters: 

Teachers making more than $40,000 were 3.7 times more likely to stay in the profession than those making less.  One out of every eight teachers making under $40,000 a year quits after their first year on the job.  This is why states and districts should elevate the teaching profession by paying teachers a competitive base salary, and rewarding them for results, even in the first year.

First year teachers paired with mentors were almost twice as likely to stay in the profession than those without.  This proves that providing meaningful professional support is a critical factor in keeping new teachers.

What doesn't matter:

Teachers serving low-income students were no more likely to leave the profession as those who served wealthier students.  This tells us that the composition of children in the classroom is not an impediment to job satisfaction for first year teachers.

First year teachers who entered through an alternative certification program were equally as likely to stay in the profession as their counterparts. This tells us that educators who enter the profession after studying in a different field have no less commitment to teaching than their counterparts who entered the profession through traditional routes.

What it means:

Helping teachers succeed, paying teachers competitively and rewarding them for results, no matter where they work and how they came to the profession will keep good teachers in the classroom in their first year of teaching. This is why elevating the teaching profession is a top priority for StudentsFirst.

View the full report here:

Sep 27, 2011

Back In School: Teacher Reflects On Helping Students Achieve [Or, Let Me Discount Poverty And Blame Myself For Its Existence]

Amanda Williams teaches first grade in the Arizona public school system. She has a degree in Early Childhood Education from Arizona State University.

Of course it would make my job as a teacher easier if all students had the same life experiences, same socioeconomic status, same behaviors, and learning styles. But, of course, every teacher knows this isn't reality. Since it's the start of the school year, I thought I'd write this blog to offer a realistic snapshot of what many teachers actually face. I'm speaking from my experience, and we all know experiences vary across our country. But this is how things look from my vantage point.

All the preparation has been done, supplies are stocked, the classroom is perfect, and a whole new group of children are sitting and staring at you. The beginning of each school year is exhausting, exciting, and overwhelming. I have to give students a sense of my expectations, ignite a love for learning in them, and build a safe community. But that's not all. The biggest challenge I face, is learning where my students are academically and deciding what I can do to help them achieve at least a year's growth in learning when they are with me. It’s a huge responsibility.

In the community where I teach, families come and go often – a problem we call "the revolving door." The challenge is that our classroom population is made up of students that may or may not have ever attended school or are from a different state with different (sometimes lower) standards. They have never received consistent, quality instruction, and that has led to achievement gaps. It's up to me to address and help close those gaps. The way teachers begin to tackle this is to collect data by assessing their students in many different ways. Data has to drive our instructional decisions.

When it comes to the hard work of teaching, I need to be aware of these different ability levels but also kids' varying learning styles. While one child may learn best through visual cues, another may a physical, or kinesthetic learner.

Students today need to be actively engaged. Gone are the days where students sit still and teachers pour knowledge into their brains and expect them to succeed. Many students need special interventions that are separate from the core curriculum. With good intervention, these students will learn and achieve. Will they meet grade-level expectations in one school year? Maybe not. It may take quite a few years of quality intervention to fully close achievement gaps. But that's okay as long as they're moving at a good clip in the right direction.

So that's the reality as I see it. Kids come from different backgrounds and learn in different ways. But there are things I can do as a teacher to help them make the grade. Of course, it's not just up individual classroom teachers.

Systematically, we need more great educators teaching in all geographic and subject areas and we need to pay them what they are worth. We need administrators who will hold teachers accountable, and we need districts that will hold administrators accountable. We need fair and multi-faceted teacher (and administrator) evaluation systems, and we need nationwide standards to keep standards consistent from state to state (which we are moving toward). In my opinion, if we work together for these things, we will see the children of our country succeed. That's the reality I hope for.

Sep 26, 2011

Wanted: 250 Hours Of Learning Time [Or, I Am Not An Educator, And That's Why Rhee Gave Me This Platform]

Mike Butz
Children in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system - the country's third largest - have one of the shortest school days and years in the country. Four hundred thousand students stand to be directly affected by political battles currently being waged over bringing CPS in line with other large American districts.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is firmly opposed to Mayor Emanuel's Longer School Day Pioneer Program, which offers teachers a $1,250 bonus (equivalent to 2% of the average CPS teacher salary) and $150,000 to the school for any school voting to lengthen the school day this year. That's an additional 250 more hours per student this year alone.

The change will happen for all schools next year with or without union support as a result of bipartisan statewide legislation passed earlier this year, which the union initially supported. So why is the union so opposed to allowing teachers to choose a longer day this year? Why are they denying Chicago kids a comparable education? Here, I offer my perspective as a CPS parent on two of CTU's main objections.

The Mayor is trying to destroy collective bargaining and bust the union by urging teachers to seek waivers from the union contract. There is no evidence to support this. This program was designed to be implemented in the most American of ways – by a democratic, majority-wins vote of all union members at a school, held under the conditions of all other union votes. Waivers are a long-standing part of the contract between CTU and CPS and are routinely granted by the union for all manner of changes, including altering the length of the school day at individual schools. Ironically, the CTU is now seeking to disenfranchise their members by seeking a judicial remedy to throw out the votes of the thirteen schools that have so far voted to seek a waiver, accept the incentive funds and teach kids for more time each day.

The union is intercepting teachers on their way to and from school and providing information that is, in my estimation, misleading and presented in a manner to incite fear. What does this teach our kids? That democracy is only appropriate when you vote the "right" way, or that adult needs are more important than theirs?

There is no plan for how to spend the additional time. Karen Lewis, President of the CTU, was invited to the table to discuss the particulars of a longer day when the legislation passed. She declined to participate, calling it a "publicity stunt." Now that the Pioneer Program has gained public interest and momentum among parents who want their children to be on par with other kids, the union is lamenting the lack of a "plan" and calling out the Mayor for not having one.

These thirteen schools actually came up with their own plans, and each included extra time for all subjects, not only reading and math, but also for lunch and teacher prep. Additionally, the Mayor's office has asked the non-profit National Center on Time and Learning to work individually with schools to plan the day. Ms. Lewis had her chance to contribute and she chose to play politics instead.

Why do I think what the CTU is doing is so wrong? I think using scare-tactics is wrong. I think union leadership is looking out for the adults – which, of course, is their paramount obligation as a union, but at the expense of children? Mostly I think it's wrong because it's unfair to my child – and his hundreds of thousands of peers in our fine city – to be so shortchanged.

I know my child will be okay – my wife and I are fully involved in his education and life. But what about the other, presumably, thousands of children whose home lives are not like my son's – those kids we are always concerned about? What effect would 250 extra hours in school this year have had on their lives? Would the hours have improved their grades (an effect that could snowball in future years)? Would they have prevented more time spent hanging out, doing nothing or getting in trouble? Would 250 more hours have finally allowed for mastery of something a student had been struggling with? Would a student have found an interest in science, art or a foreign language with more time for each subject every day? Some studies say extra time is beneficial – others indicate it isn't. We know it can't hurt. But, at least for this year, we will never know in Chicago. Too much tension surrounding what should be a no-brainer: kids in the Windy City should have the same quantity of time in school as other American children.

Make no mistake, I think we have excellent teachers in Chicago – I want our kids learning from them for more, rather than less time. Teachers know we need it. Parents want it. Administrators want it. The Chicago Teachers Union leadership? Apparently, not so much.

There are more facets to this debate, from both points of view, and they are worth exploring and debating. The concern over compensation is a real one that must be addressed. Neither "side" is without some blame for how this has been handled. The kids, however, are not part of the discussion; they're just affected by it. We are the adults. We need to do right by them. Period.

A Teacher Discusses Her Experience With LIFO [Or, blah blah, I'm Great, Blah, LIFO]

Callie Hammond was a teacher in the Philadelphia School District before she was laid off because of the "last in, first out" (LIFO) policy. She is now working to start a nonprofit organization, Library Build, which will renovate and staff public school libraries. Callie attended an event with Michelle Rhee in Philadelphia Thursday evening in which teachers discussed LIFO and other education reform issues.

I became a teacher after working as a social worker in a Philadelphia school. I was amazed at what the children in this school dealt with: lack of resources, a desperate need for attention and after-school activities. I wanted to work with them face-to-face, rather than from an office, so I joined the Philadelphia Teaching Fellows and began a journey which has kept me dedicated to, and motivated by, education reform.

I worked in a middle school as a social studies and science teacher to all English language learners in the sixth grade. My students were vivacious, caring, and often, frustrating. But their ability to transcend race and ethnicity to form friendships was truly inspiring. During my short time with them, I engaged my students in reading and understanding The Diary of Anne Frank. I hope that they keep the messages in the book with them as they grow and become adults in Philadelphia.

When I was laid off by the school district, I was not shocked. The word had been circulating for some time that the district's budget crisis was insurmountable. It caused many excellent, new teachers to worry about their futures. A new math teacher in my school, who I greatly admired for her ability to make math creative and for her patience with the 30 students in her room, was laid off for the second time in two years because of the "last in, first out" policy. She was dedicated to the children of the Philadelphia School District, but she admitted to me that getting laid off every year only to wonder about the possibility of being called back over the summer was becoming too much of a struggle.

Many others who I trained with through The New Teacher Project were also motivated and hard-working individuals. A co-teacher during my student teaching experience had moved herself and her young daughter to Philadelphia from Indiana in order to serve Philadelphia's students. She was laid off as well, despite serving students with severe autism.

As the Philadelphia School District continues to evolve and develop after tumultuous recent events, it is important for our legislators to understand the need for reform of the "last in, first out" policy. In speaking last night with the educators of Philadelphia, Michelle Rhee pointed out that most new teachers serve in the most underserved of schools. The "last in, first out" policy ensures that these students, the most underserved, lose many, if not most, of their teachers when lay-offs occur.

I'm glad Students First is working to change this and helping to ensure that someone speaks not just for teachers, but also for the most underserved of our public school students.

Sep 23, 2011

Michelle's Reaction To Sec. Duncan's Announcement On NCLB Waivers [Or, Let Me Be Really Nebulous. It's All I Got!!]

There's no question that NCLB needs to be reformed to create a landscape in every district and state where we know what excellent schools and teaching look like, where there are accountability measures in place to make the reforms to NCLB meaningful, and to remove bureaucratic obstacles to implement the necessary changes.

If Secretary Duncan can expedite reform efforts as he did with Race to the Top, we welcome this strategy so long as there are strong accountability measures in place to ensure children have the best teachers. The need to be vigilant on this front as we move forward is especially important given the loss of turnaround measures that promoted accountability.

But the necessity of these waivers in the absence of Congressional action in fixing what we all know is a broken system highlights that we can't wait for change to come from the top down.  Reform starts in the grassroots. Around the country hundreds of thousands of StudentsFirst members --parents, teachers and concerned citizens -- are working with local leaders to implement reform that will usher in a culture of professionalism and accountability to ensure all children have the best teachers possible. From states as disparate as Maine and Nevada, we are working in a bipartisan way to get things done.

We look forwarded to continuing to work with the Administration and local officials to make sure these waivers produce the best results for our kids.

Sep 21, 2011

Membership Speaks Out On America's Public Schools And Solutions To The Challenges They Face [The Biggest Challenge Being Idiot Rheeformers]

As students and teachers get back into the swing of the school year we had a little homework for our membership. To our delight, our members did not respond with a groan or an eye roll. More than 12,700 people completed our member survey, including 1,259 teachers.

We were thrilled that so many of our members took the time to give us their opinions and tell us how they'd like to be involved.

We are a grassroots membership organization that depends on your feedback and involvement. Your opinions are helping to set our priorities and shape our programs for the next year.

In our survey, we asked you to describe America's public education system in one word, and you can see from the responses represented in our word cloud below that our members believe there is a lot of improvement that can take place in our schools. On this point, there is strong agreement. Our work is far from done.
America's Public School in One Word
The size of the font corresponds to the popularity of the response.
But our members also so saw that there was hope. We know through research what works and what doesn't. We know that the quality of teachers in the classroom is the top factor in determining the success of a student. We know that some schools and districts are better than others at helping kids learn and closing the achievement gap. In fact, the two issues our members most wanted us to focus on to improve our schools are: 1) Increasing the number of quality public school options for families to choose from; and 2) Eliminating LIFO policies so that when layoffs are necessary, the most effective teachers stay.

Our members come together with a common goal of fixing the things that are broken within our school system so that every student has a great teacher and access to a great school. But our members come from a wide diversity of perspectives and backgrounds.

Of those members that responded to our survey, 21% were teachers, 50% were parents, and 4% were school administrators. Our members range from students in middle school to senior citizens, and they cover the political spectrum in terms of their beliefs and party affiliations.

To thank you, we randomly selected five members who completed our survey and awarded them gift cards. Our winners included: R. from Spokane, WA; Kristin, from; Yucaipa, CA; Natasha, from Mars Hill, ME; Lucy, from Canyon County, CA; and Ali, from New Orleans, LA.
Ali in New Orleans responded,
"That is fantastic news. Thank you very much. You always think no one wins these survey things … I will use this gift to purchase more books for my classroom library and maybe a book for myself as well."
Thanks again to everyone who participated.

If you have not yet taken our survey you can do so now here:

Sep 20, 2011

Empowering Parents Is An Important Step Forward [Or, We Duped Congress, Like We Dupe You!!]

The U.S. House, in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, approved legislation last week that will give families more high-quality educational choices. The Empowering Parents Through Quality Charter Schools Act sailed through the House, and the Senate should follow suit and send this critical piece of legislation to President Obama as quickly as possible.

At StudentsFirst, we believe, and research has shown, that public charter schools are an important tool in closing the achievement gap between groups of students. Charter schools offer parents and students a choice when their traditional neighborhood school is not a viable option. In addition to increasing the educational opportunities available to children, charters can harness their autonomy and entrepreneurial approach to spur innovation and create a space in which teachers can grow and develop instructional techniques that truly elevate the profession.

The House legislation increases flexibility for states to use funding to help replicate successful charter schools and assist with facilities. Under this new funding framework, public charters and traditional public schools are encouraged to work, share, and innovate together. In other words, this will help great educators learn from one another. States also will have new incentives to use charter schools to reach special student populations, such as at-risk children who haven't succeeded in traditional public schools.

Importantly, the House retained provisions requiring charter schools, like all public schools, to disaggregate their student data. This critical element enables educators and families to track success and see where improvement is needed and enables policymakers and parents to hold schools accountable for educating all students.

Notably, this bill is moving ahead of other proposals under consideration as Congress moves to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, reflecting the broad support that public charter schools enjoy. Public charter schools enroll nearly 2 million students, with another 420,000 on waiting lists. More importantly, however, the Quality Charter Schools Act shifts the federal focus to replicating high-performing charters rather than simply growing as many charters as possible. This approach will empower parents with high-quality, meaningful choices and move cities closer to creating systems, networks, and portfolios of top-notch schools.

The federal legislation is a significant step in the right direction, but there is more to be done. Now is the time for states to enact policies that will maximize the impact of the federal action, such as:
  • Strengthening accountability mechanisms and empowering strong authorizers to act aggressively in closing poor-performing charter schools;
  • Providing equal funding for all public school students, regardless of whether they attend traditional public or public charter schools, as long as the schools prove results over time;
  • Establishing alternative authorizers and 'fast-track' authorization processes for high-performing public charter schools seeking to expand;
  • Removing arbitrary caps on the number of public charter schools;
  • Establishing supports that enable charter schools to provide safe, modern learning environments, such as a per-pupil facilities allotment, priority access to public education facilities, and alternative capital financing structures.
With these reforms, states will ensure that they have the necessary components in place for success -- with increased accountability, equal access to public resources, and structures that reward consistently high performance, all schools, and the children they serve, will benefit.

Sep 17, 2011

StudentsFirst Launches Teacher Fellowship Program [Or, We're Desperate]

We're thrilled to announce that the StudentsFirst Fellowship Program got off the ground this week in Sacramento, where the fellows came together to exchange ideas about reforming the nation's schools so they work better for kids.

Our fellows and senior fellows will serve as advocates for student-focused education reform and will help build momentum around the call for change nationally. They'll continue to work in their schools, while also helping our grassroots effort to give all children the schools they need and deserve.

The fellows include four educators from across the country. They join StudentsFirst Senior Fellow, George Parker, whose role was previously announced. Parker is a former teacher and president of the Washington Teachers Union.

The four fellows work in both traditional public and public charter schools and have taught for a combined 42 years.

We are confident these standout educators who will help inform our thinking about how to improve the nation’s education system.

The StudentsFirst fellows include: Dr. Michele Jahnke, a veteran teacher and a high school dean of students in Merrill, Wisconsin; Dr. Kadhir Rajagopal, a high school math teacher and author who was named California teacher of the year; Gina Wickstead, a middle school language arts and social studies teacher in Seattle; and Kristen Briggs, who teaches special education at a public charter high school in Philadelphia.

More D.C. Teachers Taking Bonuses [Or, Many Are Not, But We'll Ignore Them]

Congratulations are in order to the more than teachers in Washington, D.C. who were deemed highly effective this past year and were eligible for significant bonuses. Nearly three-fourths of those eligible for the bonuses took them this year -- up from last year. The news was reported by WAMU Radio's Kavitha Cardoza:
The number of "highly effective" D.C. Public School teachers offered and accepting bonuses has increased this year. This year, 670 teachers were eligible for bonuses and 70 percent of them accepted the money, a 10 percent increase over last year.

Jason Kamras, who oversees the bonus program, says there were a variety of reasons for the hike. "We have a track record of paying these things and that's something DCPS has struggled with in the past," Kamras says. "And I think, second, people are recognizing that the strings that were attached were not too limiting.
Read more about it here: Teacher Bonuses.

Michelle Rhee Responds To President's Call For School Aid [Or, Let Me Lie Some More About LIFO]

StudentsFirst Founder and CEO Michelle Rhee issued the following statement subsequent to President Obama's announcement Thursday of additional resources for the nation's public schools:

With our nation's education system failing far too many students, it is good news to hear that additional resources are being dedicated to our schools. The best jobs plan is to reform our broken school system, and we are glad to see that recognized in the President's approach. We hope those funds will be allocated and spent wisely, where they are most needed.

Given what's at stake, we cannot afford to waste any dollars on policies that don't work. We at StudentsFirst believe that no matter where a student comes from, he or she deserves the opportunity to have a high-quality education.

Crumbling and inadequate school facilities are a reality for far too many of our students, and represent an unacceptable injustice.

The president has also proposed funds to help avert teacher layoffs in districts across the country. Layoffs are never desirable, and layoffs in districts based solely on seniority - with no regard for the effectiveness of a teacher in contributing to student learning - are even worse.

We welcome these efforts to provide relief as states all across the country work to reform their education systems so that they focus on what is best for students.

Sep 12, 2011

Steve Brill Discusses His New Book With StudentsFirst [Because Nobody Else Cares About Brill's Book]

Steven Brill is the author of "Class Warfare," a critical examination of the state of education reform today. Brill has written feature articles for The New Yorker, where he wrote about the practice of housing teachers in "Rubber Rooms," The New York Times Magazine, and TIME, and has been a columnist for Newsweek and Esquire. He teaches journalism at Yale and founded the Yale Journalism Initiative, which recruits and trains journalists. Brill founded and ran The American Lawyer magazine, Court TV, and Brill's Content magazine. He is the author of "After: How America Confronted The September 12 Era," and "The Teamsters." Brill is the CEO of Press+, which has created a new business model for journalism to flourish online. He is married with three children and lives in New York. The website for his new book is at:"Class Warfare".

Why did you decide to write this book, "Class Warfare?"

I stumbled into the issue of education reform when I wrote a story about the so-called "Rubber Rooms" in New York, where teachers who had been accused of gross incompetence or worse earned full salaries to sit in rooms and literally do nothing while their cases took years to be decided. As I learned more about the system, I was blown away by the story of this massive workplace - America's public schoolrooms - where, unlike pretty much any other workplace in the world, there was no accounting for performance.

Along the way, I learned that there was a battle going on about these issues and how we reform our schools. And I realized that nobody outside the education community really understood this battle, or even realized that it was happening. This issue, education, is crucial to our national security, economic vitality, and future as a country. I think people everywhere should know and care about this story, and I wanted to introduce it to them.

Have you been surprised by the reaction to this book?

I've been surprised both happily and unhappily. I've been happily surprised by the mail I've gotten from parents and teachers who have thanked me for trying to explain to civilians what this is all about.

I've been disappointed by how many book reviews I've read which start with something like "I have not read this book and I don't intend to, but here's what I have heard it says." It's disappointing that people are criticizing the book without having read it.

Some critics have said that since you’re not a teacher, you can't comment on education policy. What's your take on that?

That's absurd. That's like saying only lawyers should shape the laws. Why shouldn't parents, citizens and elected officials also have a voice in such a critical issue that impacts all of us? Every American has a stake in the performance of our education system. We shouldn't be limiting the debate just to the voices that have steered the system to where it is today.

Are you 'anti-teacher,' as some critics of the book have suggested?

Some people turn any commentary about the union into an attack on teachers. In my experience, that's not the case at all. One of the things that I've learned is that there is a big difference between certain union leaders, and most teachers. You see this in the low turnout rate in elections for union leadership.

This book is a testament to great teachers and their role in shaping our future. Unfortunately, high-performing teachers are burning out because these contracts are bad for them. They end up having to work in this terrible system, under these onerous contract rules, and it's exhausting.

What do you think is the element of your story that people who haven't read the book would find most surprising?

I think people will be surprised to learn about all of the politics that surrounds how we educate our kids, and how those political interests so often actually hinder our ability to provide a great education. There are a lot of stories about this in the book, highlighting both the successes that some reformers have had, and the challenges they face. This is a report from the front lines.

Whether it was how the issues surrounding Michael Bloomberg's mayoral campaigns limited Joel Klein's ability to negotiate with the teacher union in New York, or how the reforms implemented in Washington D.C. came back to impact Adrian Fenty's re-election campaign, the degree to which these issues are dragged into todays political battles is pretty astounding. And it has a really direct impact on, say, whether people can open new charter schools and get the charter school limit raised in New York, or extend the school day, or cut central administration spending so that we can spend more on classrooms.

Some have said that the last chapter of your book has a different message than the rest of it. Did you change your mind along the way because one of your teacher heroines resigned due to burnout?

No. I started writing my first chapter well after I'd gathered all of my evidence, and long after I knew that Jessica Reid would be resigning from Harlem Success academy. I wrote the book in the way that I did so that readers would be able to learn all of the personalities and history involved and learn as I did while doing the reporting. Good journalists take readers on a journey. The issue that I saw on my journey is that you have to overhaul the whole system to encourage and support great teachers. The ambitious and talented people whom we need as teachers also need to have a career track so they can thrive - through promotions and other forms of recognition when they are successful, and we need to be able to scale that up to provide more and more kids a great education. And that obviously involves having teachers and their unions in that discussion, which is where my book ends[.]

How should people react to this book?

This is not just about dry policy issues and acronyms. This is a book written for "civilians." I hope that people already deeply involved in this issue will get their friends and relatives to read this book so that more people will understand what's being talked about regarding education reform, because it's such an important debate that it shouldn't be left just to those in the education community. This is the national security issue, economic security issue and civil rights issue of our time.

Sep 10, 2011

Good News For Parent Empowerment From CA And OH [Or, Look How We Helped Manipulate The Ignorati!]

In a previous blog post, Olivia Demas, mother of three, wrote about the attacks that were occurring across the country against parents who were advocating for a better education for their kids.

Parents in Compton, Calif. had petitioned for their failing neighborhood school to convert to a charter school under the state's Parent Trigger Law. Both parents and their children were being intimidated in an effort to get them to remove their signatures.

An Ohio mother, fearing for her kids' safety in her dysfunctional neighborhood school, had used her father's address to enroll her students in a different nearby school district. Her penalty for using this last resort to have access to a decent school -- 9 days in jail and a felony on her record.

A leading school reform blogger writes about the turn of events for these cases.
California Parents Celebrate Two Historic Victories!
LOS ANGELES – Today, parents across California -- from Compton to Sacramento -- are celebrating two historic victories. Parents in Compton celebrated the opening of two new high quality charter schools that were the direct result of the historic first Parent Trigger campaign at McKinley Elementary, and parents across California celebrated the unanimous, final passage of the Parent Trigger implementing regulations at the State Board of Education.
"A year ago or even six months ago, we could have never imagined that we would be celebrating such a momentous day," said Ben Austin, Executive Director of Parent Revolution. "Just one year ago, parents at McKinley Elementary had no voice in their children's educational destiny and were forced to send their children to schools where children are 50 times more likely to drop out of high school than go to college. Now parents across Compton are breaking the cycle and sending their children to one of the two new Celerity campuses, including one only two blocks from McKinley Elementary." Read More
Ohio Mom Who Sparked Viral Petition Campaign Granted Clemency by Governor John Kasich
COLUMBUS, OHIO – Gov. John Kasich today reduced the charges against Kelley Williams-Bolar, a single African-American mother jailed and convicted of a felony earlier this year for enrolling her children in a school district in which she did not live. 

The news comes after more than 184,000 members emailed Kasich's office in support of Williams-Bolar since January of this year, when her conviction sparked a viral campaign on created by Massachusetts resident Caitlin Lord. Read More

Sep 5, 2011

Thank You Teachers [Or, I'm Like Your Abusive Husband, Bashing You While Proclaiming My Love]

While we are all enjoying the long weekend, the picnics and the barbecues that mean Labor Day to most, we at StudentsFirst also wanted to take a moment to thank our nation's teachers who do the work of educating our children every day.

Their job is extraordinarily hard, often carried out in difficult circumstances, but so often done with great dedication.

They are owed not only a debt of gratitude but also deserve to be treated like the professionals they are.

To all the teachers out there, working hard every day to provide all of our kids the great education they need and deserve, thank you from all of us at StudentsFirst.

Aug 29, 2011

Students Need Us To Work Together [Or, We're The Pot, AFT Is The Kettle]

We should be working together, not attacking each other.

Earlier today, the AFT issued a press release five days after the anonymous attack website Rheefirst - which has been passing itself off as a grassroots voice in opposition to reform - was exposed as being started and run by the teachers' union. In the release, they condoned the site saying it was not "a big deal."

In our view, it's disappointing the AFT would in one breath call for greater civility and in the very next breath condone a website that launches anonymous personal attacks as not 'a big deal' after its true authorship has been exposed. If it wasn't a big deal why not release the site under their name to begin with? Why did the AFT try to hide their connection to the site by laundering it trough multiple IP addresses?

But more importantly, we think our kids deserve better than the brand of poisonous discourse and negative attacks that the AFT thinks aren't a 'big deal,' but which unfortunately are typical of old Washington special interest politics. We hope that the AFT will join us in shifting the tone of the debate, as well as the substance, so that it no longer focuses on what's best for the adults in the system, but instead what's best for the students in our classrooms.

Teacher-union advocates and student advocates should be working together to improve our schools, not attacking each other.

Aug 22, 2011

School Spending And Student Learning [Or, Money Is More Important Than Children, And You Can Pay Us To Say Anything]

Ulrich Boser is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a think tank dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through ideas and action. He is the author of the CAP study "Return on Educational Investment: A district-by-district evaluation of U.S. educational productivity." In this blog, Mr. Boser answers questions from StudentsFirst about the study.

SF: Why did the Center for American Progress decide to commission this study?

Mr. Boser: We hoped to kick-start a national conversation about educational productivity. Second, we wanted to identify districts that generate higher-than-average achievement per dollar spent, demonstrate how productivity varies widely within states, and encourage efforts to study highly productive districts. Third, and most important, we wanted to encourage states and districts to embrace approaches that make it easier to create and sustain educational efficiencies.

SF: You analyzed spending and student achievement data from more than 9,000 school districts in this study. How did you use that data to determine a district's "educational productivity?"

Mr. Boser: In the business world, productivity is a measure of benefit received relative to spending. This project adopts that concept to measure public school districts' academic achievement relative to their educational spending, while controlling for cost of living, student poverty, the percentage of students in special education, and the percentage of English-language learners.

SF: According to the study, to what extent are school districts focused on improving educational productivity? What tools do districts need to improve productivity?

Mr. Boser: While some forward-thinking education leaders have taken steps to promote better educational efficiency, most states and districts have not done nearly enough to measure or produce the productivity gains our education system so desperately needs. Some fear that a focus on efficiency might inspire policymakers to reduce already limited education budgets and further increase the inequitable distribution of school dollars. We understand that, but in education, spending does not always equal success. Countless studies have shown that how a school system spends its dollars can be just as important as how much it spends. But our country's education system lacks the proper incentives, support, and accountability structures to ensure that resources deliver the most efficient results. This section explains how we arrived at this point and what we must do to reform. We also detail our methods of evaluating educational productivity.

SF: Many scholars have noted that schools serving students from disadvantaged backgrounds receive less funding than schools in wealthier districts. In your opinion, what impact would more equal funding have on student achievement?

Mr. Boser: More equal funding would do a lot to ensure that all students have access to a high-quality education. Our nation's system of financing schools is unfair. Low-income and minority students are far more likely to attend schools that don't receive their fair share of federal, state, and local dollars. But while the issue of fairness must be central to any conversation about education finance, efficiency should not be sacrificed on the altar of equity. Our nation must aspire to have a school system that’s both fair and productive.

SF: You conclude in the study that "low productivity is costing the nation's school system as much as $175 billion a year." How is that possible?

Mr. Boser: After adjusting for variables outside a district’s control, we looked at districts with below-average productivity, and it turned out that they spent over $950 more per student than did above-average districts. This estimated loss in capacity equals about 1 percent of the nation's GDP, or $175 billion. To be sure, inefficient districts are not necessarily "wasting" the lost capacity. Our approach cannot account for all the factors outside of a district’s control, and the extra money spent by some districts might be supporting outcomes beyond the scope of this study. But our estimate might also be low since it does not cover the cost of poorly prepared students entering college and the workforce. Far more research needs to be done in this area in order to better understand the scope of the productivity problem.

SF: What are some of the ways that model school districts have dramatically increased productivity?

Mr. Boser: Highly productive districts reported a laser-like focus on student performance. "The biggest driving force [here] is first and foremost the question: 'How will this enhance learning?'" said Michele Campbell, superintendent of Pennsylvania's Fort LeBoeuf School District. "Expenditures need to fit into our vision and overarching educational objectives." The districts used a variety of ways to increase student achievement. Some emphasized low-cost strategies, such as requiring principals to visit every classroom each week to give feedback on instruction. Some tried to create a more collaborative teaching culture. Waverly-Shell Rock Community Schools in Iowa has been building "learning communities" of teachers to ensure student learning is taking place and help educators develop their curricula.

SF: How can individuals reading this blog find out more about the productivity of their own school district?

Mr. Boser: Accompanying this report is an interactive website, Educational Productivity, that allows anyone to compare the relative productivity of thousands of school districts and find out more about their spending and achievement. Because we cannot control for everything outside a district's control when calculating its productivity evaluation, the site makes it easy to compare similar districts based on their demographics and enrollment. It also allows users to see how districts fare under different approaches to measuring productivity.

Aug 17, 2011

The Achievement Gap Is Not "Nonsense" [And She Didn't Say It Was]

An education blogger recently posted audio of teacher-advocate Diane Ravitch at the "Save our Schools" conference in Washington late last month in which she makes the following statement about the black-white achievement gap:
Since the first NAEP test in the early 1970s, the black-white achievement gap has been cut in half. So when they tell you our schools are declining, tell them nonsense, you don’t know what you're talking about.
Please see below for the reaction of George Parker, former President of the Washington Teachers Union and Senior Fellow at StudentsFirst:

I have always viewed Diane Ravitch as a knowledgeable advocate. However, I was extremely disappointed when Ms. Ravitch recently dismissed as "nonsense" claims that the persistent and stubborn black-white achievement gap is a sign that our nation's schools are in decline and represents a systematic failure of how we approach education.

As a math teacher for over a quarter of a century in the DC Public Schools and former President of the Washington Teachers Union, I have felt the existence of the achievement gap first-hand and seen its devastating consequences play out in our communities year after year. I strongly disagree with Ms. Ravitch’s "nonsense" assessment. It is not "nonsense" to believe the persistent and stubborn achievement gap that stigmatizes African-American children as "less academically prepared" is a glaring sign of systematic problems with our nation's education system. Nor is it "nonsense" to think that there is a fundamental problem in how we approach education that calls for sweeping change when only 9% of black, male eight-graders read at grade level.

Indeed, 20-plus point gaps in reading and math scores across age groups and proficiency gaps that have grown over the last 15 years are not just signs of deep-seated problems but should add a sense of urgency for much-needed systematic change. This ongoing achievement disparity clearly demonstrates that our schools are not successfully serving the educational needs of all our kids. The futures of poor, minority children are significantly dimmed as a result of our continued failure to address the achievement gap with the urgency it deserves.

I believe Ms. Ravitch's statement is a disservice to the parents, teachers, and many schools districts around the country that are struggling to meet the diverse needs of their students. As a life-long educator, it is insulting to have the very real student achievement gap dismissed and minimized in this way. But an even greater tragedy would be for us to continue with the status quo that got us here in the first place and fail to make the sweeping reform necessary to ensure our nation's schools work for every child.