The Network for Public Education launches

Diane Ravitch and a host of other pro-public education supporters have launched a new and exciting endevour to counter corporate education reformers - The Network for Public Education

Here's their announcement

Our public schools are at risk. As public awareness grows about the unfair attacks on public education, parents, teachers, and concerned citizens are organizing to protect our public schools.

Public education is an essential institution in a democratic society. We believe that we must stand together to resist any efforts to privatize it.

We must also stand together to oppose unsound policies that undermine the quality of education, like high-stakes testing and school closings.

High-stakes testing takes the joy out of learning. It crushes creativity and critical thinking, the very qualities our society needs most for success in the 21st century. High-stakes testing does not tell us whether and how well students are learning or teachers are teaching; it does waste precious time and resources.

No school was ever improved by closing it. Every community should have good public schools, and we believe that public officials have a solemn responsibility to improve public schools, not close or privatize them.

The movement to support public education is growing every day:

From teachers in Seattle who are boycotting the MAP test, to students testifying in Washington about the devastating effect of school closures, to children, parents and teachers standing together in Chicago, to voters in Indiana, to students organizing against excessive testing in Providence, Rhode Island, and Portland, Oregon; from school boards in Texas opposing high-stakes testing; parents, educators, students, and other citizens are taking bold action to speak out for our schools.

We reject phony reforms that undermine our schools and set them up for failure and privatization. We oppose the constant increase in testing, with ever higher stakes attached to them. We have had enough of school closures, and the rapid expansion of selective charter schools.

Our public schools need our support. Our schools are part of our democratic heritage. They should be anchors of stability and hope in our communities.

We believe in keeping public education public. We oppose efforts to transfer public funds to private corporations. We oppose the transfer of public funds and students to for-profit corporations. We say to big business: hands off our public schools!

Today we are launching a new organization, the Network for Public Education. This group will serve to connect all those who are passionate about our schools – students, parents, teachers and OTHER citizens. We will share information an research on vital issues that concern the future of public education. We hope to inspire one another as we work together and learn together about how to resist the attacks on public education.

We are many. There is power in our numbers. Together, we will save our schools.

We hope to help support the growing social movement to support public schools. When you join this network, you will become a part of this movement. We will send out regular bulletins, and use our website to share the latest information about what is happening around the country. We will link activists, grassroots organizations, and bloggers from coast to coast, and whenever possible, support one another.

Our neighborhood schools are not just a local concern any more. It took the work of many before us to build our schools, and it will take the work of many more of us to make sure they are standing for the next generation. Let’s get started.

Deep Red Opposition to Kasich Funding Plan

As the 130th General assembly gets underway and begins its hearings on the Budget, questions from law makers and superintendents are already starting to heat up - and not from your typical quarters.

the most eye opening example is Superintendent of Franklin City Schools, in deep red Warren county who sent out a letter to residents calling John Kasich a liar, and asking for citizens to join him in removing him from office.

Governor John Kasich was untruthful last week, and in doing so, finally clarified that kids in poor school districts don't count.
As parents and friends of our district, I hope you will do two things: First, please join me in an active campaign to ensure that Gov. Kasich and any legislator who supports him are not re-elected. Second, I hope you will contact our state officials and urge them to ask Gov. Kasich to return to the drawing board on his school funding proposal.

Here's the full letter

Letter to Residents-Mr. Elam

Further difficult questions were posed to the Governor's education advisors during a House education committee hearing. Plunderbund captures on such exchange by Rep Smith (a Republican who won his district with over 65% of the vote in 2012)

During the hearings [video available here at 137:53] Smith asked a very moving question of Richard A. Ross, head the Governor’s Office of 21st Century Education. He simply wanted to know what, if anything, this budget would do to help the severely underfunded schools in his district, schools that are laying off teachers and other vital staff and can’t afford to provide simple classes in art of music. Ross compared his schools to the fast growing Olentangy school district in Central Ohio.

“Olentangy schools have German 1,2 and 3, Jewelry 1, Ceramics 1, Sculpture 1, Stage Craft 1, Concert Orchestra,” said Smith. ”These are things that children of Appalachia don’t get exposed to.”

“I’m not asking for synchronized swimming or a swimming pool or anything extra. I’m not asking for violin lessons or cello lessons. What I want for is my kids is music. And art… just give them a basic education,” pleaded Smith.

State Rep Smith also tells the story of Symmes Valley School District where the Superintendent had to layoff his board secretary, transportation director and curriculum director and is now doing all of those jobs himself. Another school district in Smith’s area has lost 40 teachers and the rest have had no raises in four years.

Smith ends by asking Ross asking if there is any “special sauce” in this budget that will help superintendents just provided a basic education to the kids in his district?

the Governor's advisors told Rep Smith that perhaps students in his poor district could learn music online. Then they laughed. They may not be laughing much longer, as opposition to the second worst school funding plan (The worst being their previous plan that cut almost $2 billion from school budgets) is increasing and hardening even in red corners of the state.

Stephen Dyer notes that Governor Kasich ought to be worried. We agree.

Desperate Times in Cleveland

In our ongoing effort to report on the Cleveland Schools "reform" plan, here is a recent article written by education historian Diane Ravitch

I recently went to Cleveland to speak to the City Club, where civic leaders gather every Friday to hear from people in different fields. I wanted to talk with educators as well, so I spoke to the Cleveland Teachers Union on the evening of Feb. 2, and to district administrators on Feb. 3, before addressing the City Club.

On my drive from the airport with Jan Resseger, the minister for public education for the United Church of Christ, we passed through several neighborhoods. First, Shaker Heights, an elegant suburban enclave with outstanding schools. Then East Cleveland, a very different suburb, marked by blocks of boarded-up apartment houses and sealed homes, as well as empty lots where vacant houses had been demolished. These were once-functional neighborhoods that had died. So devastated was the landscape, I thought I might be in a Third World country. In central Cleveland, many houses had windows covered with plywood, and many retail stores were empty. To put it mildly, this city is economically depressed.

After I spoke to the teachers, one came up and introduced herself as a 4th grade teacher. She said: "Thank you for giving me hope. I wish I could give some to my students. They have no hope for the future." That was the saddest thing I heard on my visit.

Cleveland has a level of urban decay that is alarming. Yet its municipal leaders have decided that their chief problem is bad teachers. Surely, I thought, the teachers didn't cause the flight of employers from the city, the collapse of its manufacturing base, and the massive loss of home mortgages.

But sure enough, Cleveland—and the state of Ohio—plans to attack its economic woes by creating more charter schools and supplying merit pay to teachers able to raise test scores. The leaders want to make it easier to fire teachers and to remove seniority. That's the mayor's plan to reform education in Cleveland. Mayor Frank Jackson, like Governor John Kasich, thinks that school choice is the remedy for the education woes of Cleveland and Ohio. So, of course, they both want more charters.

Cleveland has had mayoral control since 1995, so if mayoral control was the answer to urban woes, it should have happened here. It hasn't. Cleveland is one of the poorest, most racially segregated, and lowest-performing districts in the nation. According to data in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Cleveland's school population is 85 percent black and Hispanic, and 100 percent of its students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Ohio has made a big bet on charter schools. It has an aggressive and entrepreneurial charter sector. About 100,000 of the state's 1.8 million students are enrolled in charter schools, but charter enrollment is far higher in the state's "Big 8" urban districts. About 25 percent (give or take a point or two) of students attend charters in Dayton, Youngstown, Cleveland, and Toledo.

The average public school teacher in Cleveland is paid about $66,000, while the average charter school teacher in that city receives about $33,000 a year. That's a big cost saving for the city and state. Most charters are non-union, and teachers have no job protections or employment rights. It appears that charters have a business plan in which they keep costs low by teacher turnover, low levels of experience, and low salaries.

As in other states, charters in Ohio get no better academic results on average than regular public schools. There are more charters at the bottom in the state's academic rating ("academic emergency" or "academic watch"), but not much difference in the middle or at the top. A study in 2009 by CREDO of Stanford found that "new charter school students have an initial loss of learning in both reading and math compared to their counterparts in traditional public schools. In subsequent years, charter school students receive no significant benefit in reading from charter school attendance compared to their counterparts in traditional public schools. However, charter school students continue significant losses of learning in math after the first year of attendance."

The biggest charter chain in Ohio is White Hat Management, a for-profit corporation run by Akron businessman David Brennan. Brennan and his family have contributed millions of dollars to Republican candidates over the past decade. White Hat manages 46 charter schools, both online and free-standing, most in Ohio. State law gives the corporation power to hire and fire board members as well as staff members. Board members in 10 White Hat schools sued the management company to find out where the money was going; management has received hundreds of millions of dollars in public funding, and the boards said they didn't know where the money was spent. State law gives the corporation ownership of everything purchased with taxpayer dollars.

Just last week, an Ohio court ruled that White Hat must open its books to individual charter boards, if they request to see them. But at the same time, the company is under no obligation to reveal its spending of public funds to public officials. This really illustrates the essence of privatization. A public entity must open its books to public scrutiny. The legislature could fix this, but it is hard to imagine that it would get tough with one of the state's major Republican contributors.

There's nothing special about the performance of this particular charter chain. According to information compiled by NPR in Ohio, "No Ohio White Hat school earned higher than the equivalent of a "C" on the state report cards. Most are in academic watch or emergency." In the company's view, the state grades are unimportant; all that matters is that parents are making a choice.

Ohio has also been fertile territory for virtual schools, some of which are owned by White Hat. The state has pumped more than $1 billion into them over the past decade, but they have gotten disappointing results. Of 23 e-schools in Ohio, only three were rated "effective" by the state. InnovationOhio, a watchdog group in the state, concluded that the e-schools are "vastly underperforming" and that "children are nearly 10 times more likely to receive an 'effective' education in traditional public school than they are in E- schools." But, quite frankly, sponsors of these schools make huge amounts of money, and where there is money, there are lobbyists and campaign contributions.

Governor Kasich also wants more vouchers for Ohio. Cleveland has had vouchers since 1995. Students who use vouchers to attend private schools in Cleveland perform no better on state tests than students in regular Cleveland public schools. When you consider that Cleveland is one of the lowest-performing school districts in the nation on NAEP, this doesn't say much for the power of vouchers as a tool to "rescue" students or to improve achievement or even test scores.

Yet there you have it. The leaders of one of the most economically depressed and racially segregated cities in the nation have decided that the answer to its problems is to fire teachers, close public schools, expand the number of charters, and possibly to expand the voucher program as well.

In the eyes of Ohio's elected officials, evidence about the past performance of charters and vouchers means nothing.

And about those children in the 4th grade in Cleveland who have no hope for the future, who probably live in one of those desolate neighborhoods surrounded by boarded-up homes and empty lots. There is nothing in the mayor or governor's plans to offer them hope. The illusion of hope, perhaps.

But they aren't thinking about those children. They are thinking about how to cut costs. They will keep hiring private firms to run schools. The private firms will fire those expensive teachers who earn a living wage and hire newcomers willing to work long hours for $30,000 a year. Some of the private firms will replace teachers with virtual academies, so those expensive buildings can be shuttered while children sit at a computer, with one teacher monitoring 50-100 or more screens. The "teachers" may not be certified, may be hourly workers with no benefits, may turn over with frequency. All that cuts costs, too.

There's lots in these plans to give hope to political allies of the electeds. But not much to give hope to the children.


Citizens can lobby too!

We know that David Brennan and Michele Rhee hired lobbyists to get their agenda in front of the Republican controlled legislture, and inserted in SB5 and the budget bill. We also know that lawmakers hearing from teachers, and other concerned citizens, got many of the most eggregious provisions removed. But now there's pressure to perform a double-back-flip-U-turn and put these terrible measure back in the budget.

There's still time and opportunity for citizens to lobby their represenatives. If you are a member of OEA, tomorrow is a scheduled lobby day. (Link - bottom, left). If you want to attend, meet at Renaissance Columbus Downtown Hotel at 50 N. 3rd St., Columbus, Ohio – The briefing will start at 9:00 a.m.** (map).

JTF will be coming along, we hope to see you there. Together we'll change some minds!

**If you have a distance to travel, check with your local or regional association. Busing is being provided, along with parking and lunch if needed. Also, vallet parking at the hotel is available and a voucher for it will be given to you when you sign in.