Saturday, September 8, 2012

What's Democratic ticket for reform?

Education may be a big theme for Democrats, but there are sharp differences of opinion in the party about how to improve it.

In his acceptance speech in Charlotte Thursday, President Obama asked people to rally around a set of goals  "in manufacturing, energy, education, national security and the deficit."  Those goals would lead to "new jobs, more opportunity and rebuild(ing) this economy on a stronger foundation,"  he said.

The president didn't get specific.  But two days earlier, Democrats for Education Reform held a panel discussion at Knight Theater to lay out a vision that includes access to high-quality prekindergarten,  parent choice,  charter-school expansion,  teacher accountability based on test scores,  mayoral takeover of urban school districts and closure of low-performing schools.

"I believe this decade will be the great period of change for the education reform movement,"  said moderator Jonathan Alter,  a longtime reporter and analyst who writes for Bloomberg View.

Legislators from Colorado, Ohio and New Jersey spoke about reform bills Alter described as  "real success,"  while he said panelists promoting DFER's reform vision in North Carolina and Indiana are  "still in the wilderness."

Colorado Sen. Michael Johnston,  who was an education adviser to Barack Obama's 2008 campaign,  talked about helping pass a law that revamped teacher and principal evaluations.  Under the new law, at least 50 percent of their ratings must be based on student growth in test scores,  he said.  He also talked about ending tenure and  LIFO,  or  "last in, first out."  Performance,  not experience,  should determine who keeps their job,  Johnston said.

Johnston is co-founder of New Leaders,  a group that's working with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the public-private Project LIFT to improve struggling schools in Charlotte.

N.C. Rep. Marcus Brandon of Guilford County said he supported the Republican-dominated legislature's decision to lift the cap on charter schools but wanted that bill to include provisions that charters must provide transportation and meals,  making the alternative public schools accessible to more low-income families.  He said that provision failed because most Democrats and the N.C. Association of Educators dug in against charter-school expansion.

"Education has been our bread-and-butter issue,"  Brandon said.  "It looks like that's going to slip away because we have been so out of the mainstream."

The presidents of the nation's two big teacher unions,  Dennis Van Roekel of the National Education Association and Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, took part in a second DFER panel about technology and innovation in teaching.  Both were in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention,  but Van Roekel said their willingness to talk with DFER doesn't mean they endorse that group's vision.

Van Roekel and Ellis in Charlotte
Van Roekel crossed the street to an NEA reception at Aquavina, where state President Rodney Ellis was already talking to me about DFER.  "We disagree fundamentally on a lot of what they call reform,"  Ellis said.

Van Roekel said his group prefers to talk about transformation and responsibility,  rather than reform and accountability.  Their vision involves school boards,  administrators,  teacher unions and families working together,  he said,  while the other view devalues teachers and their unions.  And he says value-added ratings calculated from test-score data do not create a valid picture of teacher performance.  "Use that data,"  he said.  "It just should not be for high-stakes decisions."

Grundy (left), Sawyer (right) and supporters
Meanwhile, Pamela Grundy and Carol Sawyer of MecklenburgACTS,  joined by a handful of supporters,  stood outside the DFER event and Monday's screening of the upcoming movie  "Won't Back Down" carrying oversized foam pencils and taking a stand against  "high-stakes testing, relentless charter school expansion, school closings which disrupt families and communities and parent trigger laws."  (Read a previous blog about the movie and accompanying events.)

Grundy and Sawyer were denied admission to both events,  even though the DFER session was billed as a "town hall."  They had been allowed to register but,  after getting mixed signals about whether they'd be allowed in,  were turned away.  Grundy said they were told they might create a disruption and/or were trying to discourage people from entering.

A DFER spokesperson hasn't responded to my email asking why they were denied admission.  It wasn't a matter of capacity;  I saw plenty of empty seats in the theater.  And the women had been urging people to attend,  even if it was to express an opposing view. (Correction: Found a response in my inbox. DFER says it was an invitation-only event, and even though the MeckACTS folks found a web link to RSVP they had not been invited.)

As reporters well know,  being barred can create a better story than the event itself.  Grundy blogged about her experience after being turned away from Monday's screening,  and posted on the national Parents Across America website after the second denial,  asking "What are DFER and Students First afraid of?"  That got enough coverage that MeckACTS has a DNC 2012 media page

"We were loyal Democrats who were not challenging the Democratic party as a whole,"  Grundy said in an email Saturday,  "just the education policies espoused by DFER and Students First, which the current administration has unfortunately adopted in large part."


Bill Stevens said...

The federal government involved in K-12 education is what has pulled it below many third world countries now. Get them out.

Pre-K is just pandering to an irrepsonsible constituency. K was promised to close the achievement gap (what a farce) and see what it has failed to do. This is just state supported childcare for most of these targeted by the government.

And lastly, it is real low class to go to an event and give any impression you may be there to disrupt. Ask you question, make your point and be done with it. You wonder why so many youth act so disrespectful.

Pamela Grundy said...

Bill dear,

As I think Ann (who was actually there) will attest to, we were entirely low-key and respectful. But apparently even that was too scary for the poor DFER folks.

Bill Stevens said...

Pam, I will admit DFER has no clue what true education reform is. They only know buying votes. But that is not what the question is here.

It is interesting that somehow your reputation did proceed you to this event.

Wiley Coyote said...

Democrats, the party of inclusion, progressivism, women's "rights", civil "rights", reproductive "rights", fair share and shared responsibility.

Yet they won't allow dissenting opinions. The only correct opinion is theirs and theirs alone.

The entire DNC revisited the 60's, trotting out civil rights leaders, Caroline Kennedy, tributes to other Kennedys.

For a group that talks about leaning forward, going forward, the sure did a hell of a lot of living in the past. I thought at any moment they would push James Taylor off the stage and bring out Jethro Tull.

We've been living in the past in education for over 40 years. It's way past time to completely dismatle the system and start over.

Democrats will not be the party to do it.

Anonymous said...

"StudentsFirst is a 501(c)4 organization based in Sacramento, CA." this organization is planting charter schools across the country. They believe... "Public dollars belong where they can make the biggest difference; we must fight ineffective programs and bureaucracy". What they are saying is shift that money to my charters.

"Led by Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools" and founder of Teach For America, etc.

Charlotte, we have beaten back these Broad and Gates funded attempts to use CMS to further their efforts to dismantle the public education system. We sent their puppet(Gorman) packing so now they try to slither into town with a new skin covering and a deceptive name. Same people, same story. None of their research has supported their opinions so new tactics are employed. After all the lay offs and school closings, shouldn't the so called "bad ones" have been excised from the district? What we are left with is a district that no one wants to work for except those who do not plan to be here more than 2 years (TFA) or 1 year (Teach Charlotte). Ask how many of those teachers are even sticking around for a 3rd or 4th year? Some of the first TFA alumni did. Children need environments that are stable and full of caring adults to thrive. CMS is becoming a heartless, emotionless, insulting place to work.

We must be vigilant about Heath Morrison's relationship with Broad and we need to watch ProjectLift carefully.

Anonymous said...

Make that "CMS has become a heartless, emotionless, insulting place to work".

Anonymous said...

I know the answer. Hire a consultant ! Hire a head executive in this case Mr. Heath Morrison and sub out six figure " consultants" everytime your in over your head. This fixes nothing CMS morale is at a all time low , because of glaring issue for years. We dont need a consultant to tell CMS this. That only increases the negative energy. Thats six figures that could go to teachers get a clue.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Grundy and Sawyer oppose school closings "that disrupt families and communities". But as strong supporters of busing they seemed to have no such concern for families and communities that were disrupted by that policy. Are only some communities and families important?

Also having watched Meck ACTS members and their associates in action at board meetings and other local education meetings they are usually anything but low key and respectful. Perhaps their reputation preceded them at this event.

Wiley Coyote said...

Democrats, Democrats, Democrats:

Chicago school officials: 'Very close' to averting teachers strike

By NBC News staff and wire services

CHICAGO -- Chicago Public School officials said late on Saturday they believed they were "very close" to reaching an agreement with teachers to avert what would be the biggest U.S. labor strike in a year over Mayor Rahm Emanuel's demand for sweeping school reforms.

Some 29,000 teachers and support staff have threatened to strike on Monday, setting up an awkward confrontation between Emanuel, President Barack Obama's former top White House aide, and organized labor in the president's home city.

Difficult times, new direction
At issue is teacher pay and school reforms, such as tougher teacher evaluations that are the core of a national debate on improving struggling urban schools.

Emanuel is offering a 2 percent pay increase annually over the next four years, while the union wants substantially more.

The 402,000 students of Chicago's public schools score poorly on standardized reading, math and science tests in most national studies, and the union says that class sizes are far too big.

Emanuel, who has a reputation as a tough negotiator, is demanding that teacher evaluations be tied with standardized test results, a move the union is resisting.

Only about 60 percent of high school students in Chicago graduate, compared with a national average of 75 percent and more than 90 percent in some affluent Chicago suburbs.

More than 80 percent the students in Chicago public schools qualify for free lunches because they are from low-income families.

Until Emanuel pushed through a longer school day this year, Chicago elementary school students received fewer hours of instruction per year than any of 30 major city school districts studied by reform group National Center on Time and Learning.

The city has little room to sweeten the pot in the negotiations because the school district has already drained its budget reserves and levied the highest property tax allowed by law to finance schools.

It also faces a crushing burden of pensions promised to retiring teachers that an independent watchdog said the city can no longer afford.

Major credit rating agencies have downgraded the Chicago Public Schools debt rating, meaning that it will have to pay higher interest rates if it issues bonds.

...yet these teachers will still blindly vote for Obama.

Just throw more money at the problem. That should solve it.

Anonymous said...

As a beginning teacher I taught special ed in Lake County. Illinois, just north of Chicago. We were no unionized. My third year a young teacher joined our team. She had been teaching in Chicago public schools. She was shocked to see that we all stayed at school after the children left so we could prepare for the next day. She said that in her Chicago school the union rep would reprimand anyone staying past the last bell, saying "You'll ruin it for the rest of us."

TROTS said...

7:08, I am not sure what we watch LIFT for. To me, it is just another case of extorting money from anyone with deep pockets for reparations.

Secondly, I am not sure how you get back for false propaganda like the latest Education Week article that is full of half truths.

Educrats are simply digging in their heels more deeply to prevents real education reform.

Anonymous said...

The only thing that I'm shaking my head at is the fact that these ladies thought they WOULD be allowed inside after drawing attention to themselves and to areas with which they disagree. It's about votes. VOTES! Getting others on their side, no matter what. That's all that matters at this time - not about policies that work. Ladies, how in the world could you have been so naive?

Anonymous said...

Who cares what the negative nannies Sawyer and Grundy hack about. Nobody is listening to them except Bolyn and the Observer. What we need is a consultant to do a study. Another six figures wasted that could go to teachers. NOPE it goes to a consultant to tell CMS they have a low morale issue. REALLY ? Were is Ericka London?

Pamela Grundy said...

We figured they'd let us in because that would have been the smart thing to do. As Ann noted, "being barred can create a better story than the event itself." There wouldn't even have been an opportunity to ask pointed questions, as neither event allowed audience questions (even though the DFER event was billed as a "town hall"). When they didn't let us in, the events and our perspective on corporate reform ended up in newspapers and on blogs across the country. Clearly, we miscalculated.

Anonymous said...

Bill Stevens is close to the pinnacle of ignorance, your lack of understanding about the effects of pre-K is laughable. Pre-K is not about students getting ahead of the game and being top students all through school. It's about teaching students character traits. And wouldn't you know it, there's a book just released that sums up research showing that character education is a better indicator of adult success than test scores and IQ.

I doubt the naysayers on here will even attempt to consider that, it's too easy to whine about pre-k being a waste of taxpayers money.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 10:05,

It is NOT up to pre-K to teach kids character traits.

Which means it is NOT up to taxpayers to pay for what is a parental responsibility.

pre-K is NOT mandated.

Wiley Coyote said...

Speak softly and carry a big pencil...

Anonymous said...

Bickering and business is all I see in any of this issue. We all know what the problems are, but CMS is too chicken to say it. If parents do not want to motivate their children; if kids do not come to school to learn then nothing else is going to fix it. It is culture and attitude for the most part.

But since we cannot say this then we keep spending more time and money on rabbit in the hat solutions that say what CMS wants to hear - that it is the teachers' or the principals' fault. Anything but the real truth.

I firmly believe that if a parent and/or a child wants to learn, nothing can stop them. I speak from experience. I was raised by a single working mom who had severe learning disabilities. She took me to school the first day of first grade. (At that time there was no pre-K or even K.) In the next 12 years she never went to any of my schools or met any of my teachers. She never read a report card; just signed them and sent them back. I graduated in the top 10 percentile of every school I attended because I knew it was my job to learn so I could one day get a job and be a responsible citizen.

Anonymous said...

I say hire a consulting firm pay them hundreds of thousands of dollars to tell CMS what to do. Gomer cauz that just makes cents. Heath Morrison is playing by the Broad book bringing in 2 "pals" to analyze CMS for low morale and a author who could care less. Yet next year he gonna cry poor to the county for more dollaz? This time they gonna slam the door on the issue.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to read the comments here. Everyone thinks the education system needs to be reformed. Everyone accept the teachers that is. Bring in a Gorman or a Morrison to do things differently and the house goes crazy.It doesn't matter that it is 2012, keep teaching like its 1979. Keep watching those kids go to private and charter schools. Wow, how blind.

Anonymous said...

12:25 anon- I can agree with you in that CMS has lost alot of great students and teachers. In the few years Gorman was at the helm trust vanished. Morrison has a high mountain to climb. Not sure bringing in more outsiders is the cure. (which he is doing) I am still waiting for him to make a decision on his own and that has not happened yet. We are coming up on the 90 day money back date. They continue at the top of house with bad decisions based on state standard core courses. CMS has wasted millions of tax dollars in he last few years and lost frustrated teachers all the while. Nobody seems to care either. Its a shame that the children of the community will suffer long term down the road , because of very poor business decisions at the top of the chain of command. Keith W. Hurley

Anonymous said...

How many protesters actually showed up? According to another paper, "Critics of the film attempted to organize a protest of Monday’s screening, but the effort fizzled when only a half-dozen demonstrators showed up."

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:25. So hypothetically what is wrong/right and different/same from 1979? Teachers are the same - working their hearts out for the kids; Students are different - not listening, not working for the most part. The tools of teaching are different but the goals are the same. So who is the problem is obvious.

Anonymous said...

In case you haven't noticed, 2:55, Meck ACTS and its two members, Pam and Carol (Louise Woods makes a third member but she apparently is content to mostly pull strings behind the curtain), have become masters at garnering publicity for themselves. And since they are the Observer's favorite (and usually only) go to "group" for public input on education policy they have been able to shape their story any way they want to--no questions asked by reporters or editors--only some of those pesky bloggers. Granted there are really no other amateur groups out there cranking out ed policy data and papers--who would have ever thought that was necessary to combat a tiny group trying to force their agenda on the entire community.

Pamela Grundy said...

In case folks hadn't noticed, when MecklenburgACTS organized against testing madness in the spring of 2011, we got 2,000 petition signatures. Not everyone agrees with us, but we have strong support in the community. And our DNC effort certainly did not "fizzle." Yes it's hard to get folks to an event in the middle of the working day with downtown blocked off by security. But the point of the effort was to make clear that the corporate reform agenda is far from universally applauded, and we were far more successful at that than we anticipated.

Pamela Grundy said...

And, I should add, to make clear that the folks opposing the corporate ed reform agenda have the facts on their side.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon 12:43 p.m.

Sad to hear that the union person behaved that way. In a lifetime of union affiliation (and association) in states across the nation I have never, repeat never heard anyone make a comment like that. And if I had heard someone make a comment like that I would have had them up for review with the union in a heartbeat. That is not the reputation any union wants or should put up with. Shameful!

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh, Ms. Grundy, If only anti-testing was all that was on your agenda. But you've left too many clues along the way about how you would really like to shape education policy in Mecklenburg County, and you have made it quite clear about what you think of those who don't agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Or in Wiley's case, have an extra CAPS LOCK key installed on your key board.

Pamela Grundy said...

To: 4:47

Y'all just keep your nose to the ground on that one. Keep following that trail! I can't think of a better use for your time.

Anonymous said...

As we all know "the facts" can be manipulated in many ways, depending on one's agenda.

Wiley Coyote said...

Anon 4:47,

I think you have me confused with Bolyn.

I capped the word NOT three times in one post to emphasize the point.

None of the other posts in this thread have no words capped.

Wiley Coyote said...

Look at the current strike in Chicago.

The average teacher salary is $71,000 per year.

The union asked for a 30 percent pay raise over two years, followed by a request for a 25 percent increase over two years. Just weeks ago, the union had adjusted its demand and was asking for a 19 percent pay raise in the contract's first year.

Last year, the Chicago school system had a $700 million dollar shortfall and there is a major concern the pension fund will go belly up because of cost.

The graduation rate is 60.6%.

We can look in our own backyard and ask the same question I have asked over and over again.

What was different at West Charlotte last year, where 200 African Americans graduated and 173 did not? Same low performing, high poverty school but what was different between the two groups?

Strategic staffing evidently had little to no bearing on the outcome, so the "we don't have quality teachers" argument doesn't work. Plus, many of those teachers received bonuses - just like LIFT - to teach there.

I don't believe we could throw anymore money at the school to make a difference so what is it?

Is it teachers? I doubt it.

Anyone? Anyone?

Anonymous said...

Anyone, anyone? The answers are deafening Wiley yet no one wants to hear. Neither political party can fix education when neither wants a solution. Arne has run away and Rahm can't handle the union with foul language and threats. Turning everything into charter schools will continue to lower teaching standards even more than they are now. Rahm and Mayor Fox seem to enjoy keeping their children in the private sector. Charlotte of the future without a union.

Anonymous said...

7:17, where do you believe more charter schools lower teaching standards. I have many friends' kids who are at charter schools and they are thrilled with their teachers. In most cases, the teachers are part time but bring that everyday real world experience into the classroom every day. They are not locked into the public education machine. They are not locked into sacrificing many childrens' education because one thinks they are a bad_@$$.

Anonymous said...

7:17, where do you believe more charter schools lower teaching standards. I have many friends' kids who are at charter schools and they are thrilled with their teachers. In most cases, the teachers are part time but bring that everyday real world experience into the classroom every day. They are not locked into the public education machine. They are not locked into sacrificing many childrens' education because one thinks they are a bad_@$$.

Anonymous said...

10:05, seriously, you think character education is the responsibilty of the school system?

Wiley is correct. No wonder public schools are covering so much less education material that we are the laughin stock of other industrialized nations. No wonder our public schools have sunk to the lowest common denominator.

Anonymous said...

Hair Morrison

If you think spending thousands to find out the status of morale in the district is a good idea, then a BIG mistake was made putting you at the top of this mess.

Jeff Wise said...

I agree pretty much with Anonymous 10:05 as they're probably referring to Paul Tough's recent book, "How Children Succeed".

Character is a better measuring stick for predicting adult success than anything currently being taught in schools. KIPP and many private schools have begun instituting character education deeply into their curriculum programs.

In fact, KIPP has found that the particular character trait they call grit (a combination of factors) strongly correlates with college success of their graduates.

Economist James Heckman also found a correlation between pre-k and adult success and attributes it to character education.

The naysayers may want do a little more research on the topic instead of immediately jumping to conclusions, you might be surprised.

Anonymous said...

Jeff I am not going to disagree on that conclusion about "grit". I disagree of taking public school education time when our schools are doing poorly compared to the world. Anyway, with all the push I have seen for character education over the last 10 years and its (lack of) results, I'd say it is another miserable failure though well intended. But the road to you know where is paved with good intentions.

Anonymous said...

None of any of this will help if we keep putting people like E E-S on the CMS BOE.
You are all wasting your time.