The Unlocking Potential Shell Game

Those of us who care about public education have become somewhat obsessive in trying to get policymakers to really look at what is happening in charter schools.

UP Academy is instructive. The in-district charter took over the Gavin Middle School in 2011.

Here is the CEO of Unlocking Potential:

One of the things we wanted to prove is that if you take the same student population that has always been in a school, and you surround them with really strong educational practices, including some of the practices charter schools are using, those same students can succeed at really high levels.”

That sounds really great, doesn’t it? And in one year, UP Academy doubled the percentage of students scoring proficient and advanced at the former Gavin Middle School.

Or did they….

Because if this model is really a success you should be able to raise the test scores of the students who were actually attending the Gavin when it was taken over.

The first thing UP Academy did was push out a program for children with multiple handicaps (lab cluster). Interestingly, they are still housed at the Dorchester location but they are not considered part of UP Academy so their scores aren’t factored into the UP Academy Results.

In fact, UP Academy demands complete autonomy in Special Education affairs as can be seen by this email that was part of an FOIA request concerning UP Academies take over of another school, the Marshall. (Full emails from FOIA request at bottom of post)

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 5.53.30 PM

Then, UP Academy actively recruited students from the surrounding area sometimes by posing as a “private school.”(From same FOIA request)

Up Creaming-2

The test scores were raised by pushing out the most vulnerable of the population in the community and actively recruiting high achieving students NOT by any pedagogical method.

I have personally pointed the reality of this to policymakers so often that I have decided that lawmakers and the school districts are aware of what is happening. They simply don’t care. Because test scores are the most important thing in the education reform movement.

 I don’t know if they have decided that children who don’t score well are simply collateral damage but no one seems to think of them at all.

Scott Given was just awarded a $2.2 million grant from the Department of Education to scale up his model.

Freedom Of Information Requests Regarding UP Academy: Full Emails between Scott Givens and Boston Public Schools

This is no way to treat children

One of the reasons why I don’t want my children to attend a “No Excuse” charter school is because of the way they treat children. If a parent were to treat a child the way some of the “No Excuses” charters treat children the state would be called and the child taken away. But in charter schools we have entered a weird legal zone where it doesn’t matter what they do to kids as long as they do well on standardized tests.

Here are some of the documented practices of “No Excuse” charter schools:

Students given frequent out of school suspensions at for non violent offenses such as dress code violations or showing disrespect

Students punished for asking to use the bathroom

Students punished for not keeping their feet on the ground at all times while sitting

Students isolated and made to stand for hours as punishment

Students are given demerits for questioning the teachers or asking why they are receiving a punishment

Students Must Keep Hands Clasped

Silent Hallways

Students’ eyes must follow the teacher at all times (eye tracking)

The eye tracking I find particularly offensive because there is a psychological element to it where the child is never allowed to collect their thoughts, let their mind wonder, think about what is happening to them. You force dogs to make eye contact when you train them. This is not the way to teach children. A child should be allowed to look away from a teacher without a demerit because of the inherent value and dignity of the child.

I’ve also been told that the eye tracking has been migrating over to public schools. I’m going to be keeping an eye on that because we should not be importing their worst practices.


Fraud at the Heart of Current Education Reform

Oh hey, I just figured out how to reblog a post!

Creative by Nature


For many Americans it is becoming increasingly clear that the people behind current education “reforms” in the United States are purposefully attempting to sabotage the nation’s schools and deceive the public. Such is the story shared in a new book Common Core Dilemma by Mercedes Schneider and a documentary Education Inc coming out this August, by filmmaker Brian Malone. It’s a tale that was told last year by Diane Ravitch (see this excellent March 2014 Bill Moyer’s interview) and in Building the Machine: The Common Core Documentary. Here’s a summary of the fraud that is being perpetrated, a Letter to the Editor which I wrote to a local New York state newspaper last March…

Fraud at the Heart of Current Education Reform

There’s a scene in the film Dead Poet’s Society, set in 1959, where Robin William’s character Mr. Keating asks his students to read from the introduction of a poetry textbook. The text describes a rating method…

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Common Core is Un-American (you heard me)

Here is another true story from a friend.

Her son was reading an instructional text assigned by his school about Timbuktu. The text mentioned

See, Timbuktu is in Mali.
See, Timbuktu is in Mali.

that Timbuktu was in North Africa. Her son received an assignment asking him where was Timbuktu located. So being an industrious student, he went to a map, looked it up and saw that Timbuktu is in Mali, a country located in North Africa.

So that is what he wrote down. And his teacher marked the answer wrong. Because it was not the answer written within the four corners of the text.

Common Core focuses on the skill of “Close Reading.” Close reading trains kids to focus on the “four corners of the text” and respond to questions about the text. They are not to extract information and create “musings” about what it might mean in relation to their own lives. And apparently, kids aren’t allowed to give more precise answers than what the text provides.

Why do I think this is a problem?

It is a boring and frankly weird way to interact with a piece of material. It is the way they trained us in law school to interpret a contract. It also allows for the curriculum to “chop up” literature, feed it to students in bites, and then call it a day if they can answer specific questions drawn from the words of the page. Meanwhile, the entire thrust of the writers work may be completely lost or ignored because books are more than the sum of their parts.

Come on now. You know this isn’t the kind of thinking that made America great.

My daughter throwing tea into the Atlantic on Boston's Tea Party Ship
My daughter throwing tea into the Atlantic on Boston’s Tea Party Ship

Did Samuel Adams look for answers within the four corners of the Tea Act before he organized the Boston Tea Party?

Did Thomas Jefferson stay within the four corners of the Magna Carta when he penned the Declaration of Independence?

Did the American Revolutionaries compliantly read the Intolerable Acts imposed upon them by the British and just regurgitate the information whenever they thought about it?

No. This is not American. This is not the way Americans think or behave. Obedience is not our birthright. To borrow a motto from my neighbors, Live Free or Die, gosh darn it.

I don’t want my kids trained to answers factual questions about a text like dull sheep. I want them educated so that they question the text, question the canon, question everything.

A new ballot measure has been filed that would end the Common Core in Massachusetts.

The predictable cost of school autonomy

It’s interesting to see the outrage about the 125 unassigned teachers in Boston Public Schools who do not have classrooms of their own. Interesting because this is the predictable outcome of a change in hiring practices made last year.

Interim Superintendent John McDonough was widely praised for finding a loophole in the union contract that allowed the schools to hire outside of the “excess pool” of qualified teachers. Many of the people now criticizing the unassigned teachers were the very people who lauded McDonough.

Supt. Chang getting an earful from parents at last night's CPC meeting.
Supt. Chang getting an earful from parents at last night’s CPC meeting.

I want to be clear. I’m for the change because it allows schools to hire much earlier in the year than before. Before the loophole was discovered, all of the excess teachers needed to find a job before a school could hire an outside candidate. This often meant that schools were hiring in June and July when the most competitive candidates had found their way to Brookline. As a member of a hiring committee, I’ve personally seen this myself.

But the people who were pushing for this, such as the Boston Foundation, knew that there was a teachers contract, and they knew, or should have known, that if schools were given the freedom to look outside of the union teachers, there would be teachers without classrooms. And there would be a cost associated with this (10.5 million to be exact).

The reason why I’m writing this is because it brings me to my biggest gripe about education policy. (Guys, I’ve been a public school parent for 5 years, and my list of gripes looks like a CVS receipt.) And that is the folks making decisions like to view their decisions in isolation. When really, a school district is a system, and there are consequences to every change that you make. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make changes. But I would like to see a little bit more honesty about what the (often quite predictable) costs are to the policies that are implemented.

I would also like to see a little bit more wisdom on the part of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Governor, the legislature and the school committee. True leadership looks at the cost of their policies and grapples with them. But leadership may require a little bit less cavalier attitude towards our education system.