Friday, December 30, 2011

As We Approach 2012 - Scrappy Reformers are Turning the Tide

In the battle between the Goliaths of the status quo and the scrappy Davids of education reform, the tide may be slowly turning.  It was Arthur Reynolds Award winner Anthony Russo, whose This Week in Education article brought new attention to the battle for the hearts and minds of the American public, but the battle lines could not be more sharply drawn.

On the one hand, you have the Evil Empire.  If there is a person in public life who more closely resembles Darth Vader than Diane Ravitch I don't know who it is.  She was once a promising educational expert in her own right with the Bush administration before she was drawn to the dark side of critical thinking and educating the whole child instead of regimented standards based testing and preparation. 

Of course Darth Vader didn't like doing his own dirty work.  That's where the army of public school teachers come in.   Through their unions they fight the very changes that will save education.  In fact, they've been fighting these changes so hard for so long, they've made it very hard to find any evidence that the best reforms like charter schools, merit pay, and ending last in first out benefit students. 

This of course brings us to the force.  With evidence mounting that the very reforms we have staked our reputations or our careers on do not work, we're left to take it on faith.  Why is it that they don't work?  I believe it's teacher sabotage, but it may be some other equally plausible reason.  However, what we have is faith.  In Star Wars, they refer to that faith as The Force.  I believe that the force of education reform is equally power.

On the opposite side, are a ragtag collections of rebels.  In the picture above I used Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, and Eli Broad as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Hans Solo, but there are a whole lot of these underdog heroes like Rahm Emanuel as C3PO, Mike Bloomberg as Obi Wan Kenobi, and Chris Christie as Chewbacca.   Despite overwhelming odds, they've fought a tough campaign against the establishment from their cobbled together resources.

Now, I said the tide was swinging towards the rebels and it is.  In Star Wars, the empire was everywhere, but there would always be a number of backwater planets inhabited by scoundrels and cut throats, where rebels who sometimes had shady pasts like Han Solo could plot the rebellion.  In this world, that place is Detroit.  In Detroit politicians with imagination have given Emergency Manager the freedom to take on teachers and collective bargaining.  The money he has saved from over inflated teacher contracts has enabled him to bring in Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson from Seattle and John Covington from Kansas City.  They both have very shady pasts and they may just be the kind of rogues we need to finally take down The Empire.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Defense of the Rubber Stamp

As Regional Director for Teacher Development with Last Stand for Children, I have attended quite a few Chicago Board of Education meetings.   I have always loved these meetings for the model of efficiency that they are.  Even though the Board knows how they will rule on things ahead of time, community members will wait in line for 2 or 3 hours so that they can have their voices heard on education matters that affect them and their families.   The Board skillfully groups speakers on common topics into one two minute presentation so that everybody will have their voice heard.  The speakers don't change anything and that's fine.  They feel that they've had their voice heard and that's what democracy is all about.

All of that orderly democracy was ruined on December 14th when parents and community activists aligned to an agenda pushed forward by the militant Chicago Teachers Union disrupted the meeting.  According to news pamphlet The Chicago Sun-Times, "Adourthus McDowell, a Chicago Public School parent and member of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, began the takeover by rising from his chair and interrupting a presentation by Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard on a new $660 million capital construction plan."

There is a happy ending here because the board courageously met in closed session and approved the plan providing many schools in disrepair with the money to get much needed renovations before next school year when they are turned over to the highly connected AUSL group. Board President David Vitale ran AUSL before Rahm Emanuel handpicked him to save Chicago's public schools.  I'm sure it must have been a dream come true for him to be able to help his old organization.

There are many reasons why these turnarounds are necessary.   For instance, Casalas school is doing so poorly on state achievement tests that nearly half of all AUSL schools are beating it.  Chicago has had great success turning around schools, so much in fact that they turned around one high school twice--that's 720 degrees of education reform.  AUSL is the premier group for turnarounds and their record includes a huge success at Collins High School

What is most distressing though is what this outburst does for the rubber stamp.  The rubber stamp is a time honored tradition that I would hate to see go.  As Board President Vitale said, many who wished to be heard were not because of this mic check.  The meeting was actually taken over by the people in the audience who decided to hold their own meeting while the Board was meeting in closed chambers.  A Board meting without the Board is just wrong.  Without a rubber stamping authority, there is nobody to rubber stamp.  Fortunately, the Board returned and order was restored, but the damage to our democracy was already done.  

Speaking of loud voices ruining Democracy, I wanted to thank Andrew Russo for his great article in This Week in Education defending small groups like ours, Stand for Children and Students First who are under constant attack by internet bullies.  Thank goodness somebody besides Bill Gates has the courage to let our voices be heard.  

Monday, December 19, 2011

In Kim Jung Il Education Reform Has Lost a Friend

In our country, we pride ourselves on our meager attempts to bring common core standards to the American education system.  In North Korea, 10,000 school girls will cry for 48 hours in tribute to their fallen leader.  North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il was a despot, but the education reform movement owes a great deal of thanks to North Korea's enigmatic little leader.

When Mayor Bloomberg in New York announces that he would like to fire half the city's teachers and double class size or when Mayor Emanuel in Chicago closes down those schools that have displeased him, I can't help, but see a little bit of beloved leader there.  Like him or not, Kim was the master of doing things his own way because it was good for the people of North Korea.  Some people may have thought he was crazy to kidnap a movie director to make a Godzilla ripoff for him, but he thought it was good for the people of Korea.  His $700,000 annual liquor tab was just the kind of cost overrun so many great reformers have dealt with. 

According to North Korean historical literature, "Kim Jong Il was born in a log cabin inside a secret base on Korea’s most sacred mountain, Mt. Paekdu. At the moment of his birth, a bright star lit up the sky, the seasons spontaneously changed from winter to spring, and rainbows appeared."

I can't be the only person who is reminded of Michelle Rhee's description of her teaching career in Baltimore when I read that paragraph.  Historical accounts may contradict both stories, but perception is everything in the reform game or when running a country.  Kim reportedly shot 11 holes in one the first time her played golf.   Surely, Michelle Rhee could get behind that kind of creative erasing as well.

As the national of North Korean mourns, the country's leadership will be placed in the hands of Kim Jong Un.  One of Un's classmates said of him, ""He left without getting any exams at all. He was much more interested in  basketball than lessons."  As stories of Un's intensity on the basketball court, I couldn't help thing that North Korea will be OK.  Afterall, just look at how Arne Duncan has parlayed a similar skill set.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Education Blogger Wins Arthur Reynolds Award

During World War II, when German bombers seemed poised to knock the fight out of England and plunge the world into totalitarian darkness, Arthur Reynolds brought news of that island's heroic struggle to America's shores.  Few alive during those hours will ever forget the words Reynolds used to begin his reports on the London Blitz, "Edward R. Murrow said."  With those powerful words, you knew that Reynolds, who worked for NBC would soon be telling you what Edward R. Murrow was saying over on CBS.

Reynolds didn't just bust onto the scene in World War II.  It was a few years earlier when his report on the Hindenburg Disaster chilled the nation:

Ladies and gentleman, Herbert Morrison of WLS Chicago says, "Crashing, oh! Four- or five-hundred feet into the sky and it... it's a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen. It's smoke, and it's in flames now; and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring mast. Oh, the humanity! And all the passengers screaming around here. He told you; it—He can't even talk to people, their friends are out there! Ah! It's... it... it's a... ah! He... He can't talk, ladies and gentlemen. Honest: it's just laying there, mass of smoking wreckage. Ah! And everybody can hardly breathe and talk and the screaming. 0000000, He... He... He's sorry. Honest: He... He can hardly breathe. He... He's going to step inside, where he cannot see it.

Reynolds career in broadcasting lasted long enough for him to report on  the JFK assassination where a new generation will never forget him describing how Walter Cronkite reported on the death of a President.

Russo is a proud successor to Reynold's journalistic tradition with such dynamic reporting on his blog  lately as:

ray explains why lewis isn't funny
Karen Lewis and Other Reasons People Hate CPS Teachers | The White Rhino: A Chicago Latino English Teacher [

CNC's jim warren watched the whole video and finds lots to admire about what lewis says and represents along with the lamentable parts -- no call for resignation

some background on lewis's previous tussles from the trib's joel hood

substance has surprisingly little to say

zorn thinks she should resign for being tin eared

It is reporting on reporting like this that has people calling Alexander's blog the best Chicago Public Schools Blog out of New York State.  See for yourself why he is so deserving of the Reynolds Award.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Common Core Will Be The Common Cure

Back in 1979 when they used to actually make family movies, I remember seeing a wonderful movie called The Great Santini.  The movie was about a Marine Lieutenant Colonel who is raising a family.  His hard and nails exterior is a sharp contrast from the type of parenting we see in television and movies so often, but rather than coddling his kids, he builds their character by demanding that they meet his high standards.   This is exactly the aim on the Common Core Curriculum that is sweeping the nation.

45 states have already adopted the Common Core Standards and will now be bringing increased rigor and decreased literature to 89% of the students in the country.  The Common Core was written by David Coleman who has no actual teaching experience, but developed The Grow Network, which was acquired by McGraw-Hill.  The Common Core has been championed by such education heavyweights as Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee so you know it packs a punch.  There are several principles of the Common Core:

1. Social Studies and science are really reading classes and should be taught that way rather than trying to promote student understanding of the concepts being studied.

2. Rather than trying to teach students at their level, they should be educated at grade level or above grade level.  This will prepare them to work in an increasingly competitive corporate environment where there will be fierce competition internationally for middle management jobs.

3. Narrative writing and fiction are a waste of time.

4. Rigor, rigor, rigor!

The future of education is indeed exciting.  The Common Core will change the way that we teach and learn.  While school may not be as much fun as it currently is with far less "story time" and "feelings", it will help to transition our students to the bold corporate world of the future.  Are you ready for the Common Core?  Take our quiz:

Question:  In the Hunger Games, describe Katniss’s relationships with Gale, with Prim, and with her mother. How do those relationships define her personality? Why does she say about Peeta, “I feel like I owe him something, and I hate owing people”? How does her early encounter with Peeta affect their relationship after they are chosen as tributes?

Answer: Nobody cares.  If you want to read something with excitement and violence try The Iliad or Patton.  This isn't pretend time.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Think Tank Study Finds Think Tank Researchers Underpaid

The release of today's study by The Ponds Institute for Statistical Research in conjunction with Last Stand for Children First is sending shock waves through the research establishment.  The study, which took a comprehensive look at researcher salaries in comparison with a wide variety of both public and private occupations.  The study concluded that think tank researchers performed one of the most important tasks in our economy, yet are not paid a corresponding wage.

"When you consider just how important the work of think tanks is, they are woefully underpaid by as much as 75%.  The real problem is that in the future promising graduate may begin pursuing careers doing stuff rather than joining think tanks," said Martin Zale head researcher for the study, "then where will we be?"

Critics of the study have pointed to the fact that the researchers arbitrarily assigned a Job Importance Value Efficient to various careers.  While teachers were given a .03 JIVE rating and doctors were given a .64 rating, think tank researchers were given a JIVE score of 22.85. 

"Not true," said Zale who explained, "it's extremely hard to put a price on the work think tank researchers do.  Are we underpaid?  Oh yes, we're underpaid."

Monday, October 10, 2011

If Education Reformers Ran the NFL

Fran Tarkenton shown above sitting on his helmet in the final moments of a 32-14 Viking loss in the 1977 Super Bowl wrote an excellent article recently for the Wall Street Journal.  Tarkenton who is most known for a very long career without a Super Bowl ring to show for it joined former professional basketball player Arne Duncan in taking teachers to task. It did make me think about how great the NFL would be if run by education reformers.

  • Due to the failures of college stars like Ryan Leaf and Brian Bosworth to become great players, the college draft would be eliminated
  • To make up for the loss of new talent coming to weak teams through the draft, the worst teams would be given gifted athletes who have never played the sport before a 5 week crash course in the Summer.  Most of these players will quit after 2 years to become coaches.
  • The BCS ranking system for colleges would now exist, but instead be based on the success of the players coached by their graduates in the NFL.
  • As Tarkenton himself points out,  "Why bother playing harder or better and risk getting hurt?" if you aren't rewarded for individual accomplishments rather than team goals.  Every player will now be on an incentive contract.  Cornerbacks will be free to try for the interception at all costs rather than knocking down a pass, defensive ends can go all out for the sack and ignore draws and trap plays, wide receivers can proudly proclaim when leading 28-24 in the last minute, "Throw me the damn ball."
  • The disabled list will be eliminated.  If you can't do the job, you will be cut.
  • Teams that fail to make the playoffs will become turnaround teams.  They will cut their team, fire their organization from the general manager down to the people who work the concession stands and a new team will replace them.
  • An expansion team has the right to take over half your home field, with each team playing from 50 yard line to goal line.
  • As the NFL has the shortest season of any professional sports league, the season will be expanded to 80 games.  This will be done by eliminating off days between games and players will receive no extra compensation because it's for the good of the fans. 
  • Players will not be paid for practicing or attending training camp. Any time other than game time is optional.
  • Coaches will not be allowed to create their playbook and instead will use much of the team's budget up buying pre-scripted playbooks.
  • Players will be very poorly paid.  Instead the best paid people in the game will be announcers and pundits who continually criticize the players.
  • Players will be given gear left over from the 1970s and be expected to pay for upgrading their own equipment.
  •  Players will have no say over how they are used.  If a player signed with a team to play quarterback and they need him at defensive tackle, that's where he'll play.  If a player holds out, he will not only be released, he will be banned from playing in the league again.
This is the kind of league I could really get behind.  A game every night of the week would be awesome and with players freed up from the concentration on winning, I could root for my favorite players instead of teams.  The time for reform has come.

Friday, October 7, 2011

1 in 4 Students Are in the Bottom Quartile in Reading

School is in session. But what kind of schools are we sending our kids to?

Every morning as we send our eager fourth graders off to school, ready to learn with their backpacks and lunch boxes, we are entrusting them to an education system that accepts the fact that nearly 25% of them are reading in the bottom quartile on standardized tests.

Let me repeat again in bold for added emphasis: One in four U.S. fourth graders are reading in the bottom quartile. This is not okay.

At Last Stand for Children First, it's our goal to make sure every child in America has a great teacher in every classroom. From improving teacher evaluations, to ending seniority-based teacher layoffs, to public shamings, there are many ways we can elevate the teaching profession so that are best and brightest will embark on a teaching career for 2 or even 3 years before moving on to something else.

Class size also has an enormous impact on the economic outlook of their students. Research shows that each year, a highly effective teacher can increase the expected lifetime earnings of his or her students by $20,000. In a classroom of twenty students, the total economic impact of a highly effective teacher amounts to $400,000.  However, with the reform success that together we achieved in Michigan, we frequently see class sizes of 50.  A highly effective teacher in a class room of fifty students has an economic impact of $1,000,000. 

Our children cannot wait. Our economy cannot wait. We cannot wait. We must improve our schools now — and to do it, we must have an effective teacher under 25 years of age in every classroom. 

We'll be in touch,

Myron Miner
CEO and Founder
Last Stand for Children First

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

For Teachers - A Better Duct Tape

We're happy to announce that Tyrell Corporation has agreed to be the new supplier for Safety Tape, which is the only duct tape we endorse for use disciplining students.  The tape has a moisturizing lotion on the adhesive side, which prevents the tape from drying out. while still being extremely secure.    Safety Tape  is available in a wide variety of fun colors from Silent Sable to Noiseless Navy.  We are also working on a new brand of Velcro restraints that we hope to have out for next year’s TFA convention.  Look for Safety Tape from Tyrell wherever better school supplies are sold.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tailoring an Education Plan to Fit the Student Population

When Chicago's Education Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans to add 90 minutes onto the Chicago Public Schools day next year, he was greeted with a lot of skepticism from the Chicago Teachers Union.   Long the impediment of serious reform, the teachers union fired back with a ridiculous proposal to have all Chicago Public Schools have a school day that resembled the school day that the mayor had chosen for his own children at the exclusive private University of Chicago Lab School.

Now, growing up I was fortunate to go to an exclusive private school myself and I can tell you that things like a class size of 15 and a well-stocked school library were very important to us and I believe those sorts of things are very important to children from upper class families.  During their school day they need to develop the critical thinking skills that they need to be future leaders.  Their school day shouldn't extend too far into the afternoon because a long school day would interfere with their myriad after school activities.

However, not all students are from well to do, mostly white families, like the ones at the school I attended.  Many students in Chicago are poor minority students suffering through low teacher expectations in old overcrowded classrooms without libraries.  These students are behind and if we are ever to close the achievement gap, they need to work hard to drill and drill so that through rote memorization they can catch up.

The same type of education does not work for all students and it is a mistake by the Chicago Teachers Union to act like it does.   Fortunately, the people of Chicago can see right through this sort of dodge.

As I read through the letter columns of the article I linked earlier I was glad to see people like Illinoisrez who said:

Reasons NOT to use the CTU model.
1) More art classes.
2) More music classes
4) More lunch and recess.
4) More physical education.
5) Second Language.

The classes suggested by the CTU are worthless to the average CPS student who is falling further and further behind the achievements of private school children.

And best of all he wasn't alone.   Toughlove said, "Please don't confuse cause and effect when talking about "good schools". The Lab School is NOT a good model for CPS "reform." The Lab School's rigorous academic curriculum, while great for high-IQ students, is not appropriate appropriate for the typical low-IQ CPS student and would only aggravate the already high drop-out rate."

Many other Chicagoans came forth to say, "The arts?  You can't handle the arts."   Now in uncharacteristic Chicago newspaper fashion The Sun-Times has followed up on the students who have been lucky enough to have their school day extended this year.  Antonio Smith, a student at Fiske who lengthened their day by the requisite 90 minutes said, "“I think it sucks.  It was more time, but was the same stuff.”

The same stuff?  I know it may be boring, but that my friend is exactly what your brain needs to develop into the type of adult brain that can perform simple tasks and not question superiors--exactly the type of brain that will make you successful.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The High Frustration of Higher Education

You know that high performance sports car that you have sitting in the garage?  No, not the Mustang; I'm talking about the Jaguar.  Sure, Jaguar is a mark of excellence and fine British engineering, but let's face it--Jaguar's are forever needing service and finding parts is a real pain.  So what do you do?  You can't exactly put Ford Focus parts into a Jaguar.

I imagine working in the admissions department at the University of Phoenix must be a lot like owning a Jaguar.   You have this elite university, but where can you get students who are capable of taking advantage of the world class education you can provide?  The public schools have failed.  That's been clear already by the less than stellar record that University of Phoenix graduates have in the job market.  The problem rests with our nation's public schools.

One thing that education reformers and advocates for the status quo both fail to see is the harm that poor public schools do cause for institutions of higher learning like University of Phoenix.  Even statistics showing what percentage of students are college ready fail to show what percentage of students are ready for elite schools like UP.

I believe that UP realized this as well and that's why they've spent a lot of money advocating for reform.  Programs like Education Nation have been sponsored very heavily by UP because they know quality education doesn't only prepare quality students, it prepares Phoenixes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Congressman Jack Kimble on Empowering Parents Through Quality Charter Schools Act

Earlier today, I came off the campaign trail to sign important providing education choice for millions of parents across the country.  Charter schools are the wave of the future in this country by providing the selectivity of private schools, but doing it at tax payer expense.  Charter schools are freed up of the bureaucratic nightmare of environmental and fiscal regulation and aren't required to grant their teachers due process as a result fully 17% of charter schools perform better than public schools and some of them have become multi-million job creators.

One of the greatest things about charter school supporters like hedge fund operator Whitney Tilson is that they don't limit their contributions to one political party.  It's not unusual to be at a pro-charter cocktail party and find liberals like Jared Polis socializing with strict conservatives like myself.   It's this spirit of putting children first across party boundaries is one of the reasons that this bill had such huge bipartisan support.  Of course, a lot of wining and dining on vintage wine and one and a half pound lobsters stuffed with one pound lobsters didn't hurt.

Charters have been under an increasing microscope lately after test scores in Chicago and Los Angeles both showed them as doing considerably worse than the neighborhood schools so hopefully this extra cash will help them to put the nasty press behind them.  Above all, this act was for the kids.  It isn't so much choosing a better alternative as much as it is providing a choice and isn't that really what we all want.  While charters will take money away from neighborhood schools, that may enable 20 or even 25% of charter schools to start outperforming neighborhood students and isn't that something we can all get behind, even if we're not getting a large check to cover our campaign expenses?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The New Target for Greedy Teachers? Baseball

The teachers of Chicago have it pretty easy.   They have those luxurious Summers off for their European vacations, they're done with work by 3:00, and they have the relatively easy job of educating and monitoring 35 children at a time.  Unfortunately, in Chicago this year, it is going down as the year of the greedy teacher.

With a new go get 'em mayor in office who isn't going to waste his time in office getting along with people, the Chicago Teachers Union has been up in arms.  Recently, the President of the Teachers Union was so rude during discussions with the mayor had no choice but to get in her face and drop a coupe of f-bombs on her.  It's no wonder that Alderman Ed Burke is so embarrassed by the Chicago Teachers Union.

The latest target of the Chicago Teachers Union is the Chicago Cubs, whose owners find themselves with a dilapidated old ballpark called Wrigley Field.  I don't know a lot about baseball, but I do know fans aren't going to pay good money to sit in an old eye sore of a ballpark and if fans won't go out to see ballgames, then bars and restaurants in the area around Wrigley will resemble a ghost town, and the Cubs will move to another city like Indianapolis or Charlotte.  If the city of Chicago doesn't step up this could happen as soon as next season.  It seems unreasonable to expect the billionaire Ricketts Family that owns the Cubs and their ballpark to be expected to pay for such a large burden themselves.

What the Cubs are asking for is $200 million to rehabilitate the stadium and to make it  a place worthy of stars like Alfonso Soriano and Kerry Wood to call home.  Unfortunately, the greedy teachers also want money.  First, they want the 4% raise that the city agreed to pay them in their current contract which would cost the city abut $70 million.    The city has said that it expects teachers to work about 300 extra hours next year and it would like them to start working 90 minutes longer this year.  In exchange for working 300 extra hours, the city would be willing to give them $1200, but the greedy teachers won't budge.  They want to be made more and they want to actually get to have a say in how the extra time is used.

What the teachers don't realize is with the money it would cost the city just to pay the teachers $20 an hour for the extra 300 hours would be enough to put a dome over Wrigley Field and probably with enough change left over to honor former Cub greats like Rick Reuschel and Steve Swisher with their own statues.  Rahm Emanuel put it best when he said that for too long, the children of this city have gotten the shaft.  Long time failure cannot be rewarded when there are important civic concerns like the Cubs in need of money. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Meet Tim Graye--Our Newest Transformation Academy Associate

It was 2008 and I was vaulting through the air in the middle of my back flip at the Nationals.   I realized at that very moment how fortunate I was to be part of a dynasty.  At Hawaii Pacific, we didn't just win cheerleading championships, we revolutionized cheerleading at the college level.

I just joined another team that I believe will revolutionize education.  That team is Last Stand for Children First and they've already been doing some great work.  I know, because I spent two years as a teaching fellow where I taught high school chemistry and was head cheerleading coach in the Chicago Public Schools. 

I look at my role with LS4C as still being a cheerleader.   No matter what we get accused of or the disagreements we might have individually with our organization, it's important that remain overwhelmingly positive.  This is a long hard struggle that we face as education change agents and the only way to excel is to keep a positive attitude.  Who better to do that, then a former college cheerleader.  At nearly 26 years old, I am the second oldest person in our entire office and even though I'm new, I'm sort of the old man around here, but it's important this this reform be led by people of all ages under 35.

In Chicago, I've had the chance to see the greedy face of the teachers union and it saddened me.   Just this year, they turned down a raise of 2% this school year to teach only 29% more hours.   This extra time is necessary.  Chicago already has scandalously short school hours and the city is adding a new core standards test that will have to be administered 4 times this year.  The schools will never have time for the increased testing, yet alone the increased test preparation time until we lengthen the school day.

Give me an E
Give me a D
Give me an R
Give me an E
Give me an F
Give me an O
Give me an R
Give me an M
What does it spell Ed Reform...and it's about time.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Extending School Day is The Answer to All Our Problems

Last Stand for Children First has been involved in the education reform movement in Chicago since last winter when we were asked by Mayor elect Rahm Emanuel and business leaders in the Civic Federation to help with their grassroots efforts to fundamentally change education in the city.  This effort came to fruition with the passage of SB7 and now with Mayor Emanuel's attempts to impose a longer school day.

The teachers are being most uncooperative really.  After having their 4% raise voted down because the schools didn't have enough money, we promised to find a way to give them half their raise if they would only work another 327 1/2 hours.  That's a tidy little $3.08 per hour for a beginning teacher.   When Jimmy Carter signed the law in 1977 to raise the federal minimum wage to $2.90 an hour in 1979 and $3.10 an hour in 1980, I don't think he realized he was insulting teachers with this paltry raise.  Throughout the early 1980s beginning fast food workers and dishwashers lived on $3.10 an hour and were happy to get it.  However, teachers with their fancy degrees somehow think a 2% pay increase for 29% more work is beneath them.

In 1982, my father was working at Burger King making barely over $3.10 an hour, but he didn't complain.  He worked hard and after he graduated from Dartmouth, he became a very successful Hedge Fund Manager.   Surely, teachers can step up their effort just a little as well.

Many babysitters get only $5 or $10 an hour to watch one child.  It doesn't seem unfair to me to ask a teacher to supervise a room full of students.  After all, when you get to 35 or 40 students, they mostly just supervise themselves or at least the bigger students are able to impose their will on the smaller ones.

Even more insulting is that Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis refused to sit on the board to discuss how the extra 90 minutes would be imposed.  Is it too much to ask that she provide a little political cover by making it appear that the teachers were consulted?   After all, in exchange she would be on the panel giving the teachers in the city just much say in how the extra time would be spent as Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina’s Church or Robin Steans of Advance Illinois.

The value of a longer school day should be obvious.  Chicago grammar schools have 946 hours instruction in a year.  Houston grammar schools have 1305 hours of instruction per year and New York has 930.  Once our students are given that extra time, they will have 4 years more instruction than students in other big cities like New York and Los Angeles by the time they graduate.  Only then will Chicago students be able to rise to the level of education juggernauts like the Houston Public Schools.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

New York Judge's Ruling Throws Fantasy Season Into Disarray

At the Last Stand for Children First offices this afternoon, things were going crazy.  Staffers were on their computers and phones trying to get the latest on a state court ruling in New York that ordered the New York city school draft to release the test data on all it's public school teachers.

This announcement immediately threw our Fantasy School Draft into disarray.  For the last few months we've all been scouting the Los Angeles school district statistics trying to put together our dream faculties for this season.  We always hold the draft on the weekend after Labor Day when classroom rosters have settled in a bit.  After all, one low achiever being transferred into your teacher's class can cost you valuable points.  Our season was very competitive last season and I believe I only lost because two different teachers were saddled with less than perfect students who were counseled out of Green Dot schools.

It’s just as exciting as other fantasy sports and gives you a rooting interest in standardized tests that you don’t normally care about.  The advantage of starting the league now, is the schools are fairly settled and you are less likely to have a student transfer or a surprise pregnancy spoiling your fantasy season.

The rules are rather simple.   You must select a faculty consisting of the following teachers:
  • Two for each of the 8 primary grades
  • Two substitute teachers taken from any grade
  • One ESL teacher
  • One Special Ed Teacher
  • We are looking forward to President’s Physical Fitness results being online soon so that we can draft gym teachers.
  • One Principal 
  • One Assistant Principal
The draft can last for 4 or 5 hours before 24 schools in our fantasy school district are filled.  I was let down by my 6th and 3rd grade faculty.   Fortunately, there is no such thing as tenure in Fantasy School and they have been let go.   There are several scoring options, but we go by student improvement.   I have been pouring through newspapers and websites looking for  the teachers who I think will be on the top of their games.   I found out one of my early favorites is pregnant and another one who is from Teach for America is hedging her bets on staying in the classroom for the entire year.  It's always dicey when you select TFAers in their second year.

Because we go by the amount of improvement, taking the best students isn’t enough.  If some teacher out in the wealthy suburbs takes on  a homeroom where 95% of the students are meeting or exceeding standards, they can only get you 5 points and in fact they’ll probably go down.   On the other hand, a teacher at an inner city school who brings up students from 30% meeting standards to 52% meeting standards is going to win you the pot at the end of the year.  I try and look for young teachers who are still worried about their job and more likely to teach to the test.

With New York city teachers included, we now have very little time to scout a whole new group of teachers.  I have a few friends in New York that I hope I can hit up for scouting reports.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

1997 Studey Reveals the Power of Mediocrity in the classroom

As the new school year starts, millions of parents across this country are hoping their child will have an excellent teacher to help guide them through their new classes. However, never research into the data from a 1997 study of Dallas schoolchildren by Last Stand for Children First shows that a mediocre teacher may be better.

The 1997 study "Teacher Effects on Longitudinal Student Achievement" was not only a real page turner, this landmark Dallas study by Jordan, Mendro, and Weerasinghe has been frequently cited in the media by education reformers as evidence that a student who has 2 superior teachers in a row will probably go on to greatness, while a student will two poor teachers in a row, will probably be going through parks with a pointy stick looking for soda cans to sell to recyclers. Michelle Rhee in particular enjoys using this quote to show just how important great teachers are.

In a recent study funded by Last Stand for Children First and conducted at the Ponds Institute of Statistical Research has concluded that in the 1997 study who had 2 excellent teachers and one mediocre teacher in consecutive years showed a median score 8% higher than a student who had 3 excellent teachers in a row. This is groundbreaking research conducted on thousands of children, but little is known as to why mediocrity has such power.

Researchers conjecture that a mediocre teacher gives students a chance to relax, nap and generally catch a breath or possibly that mediocre teachers enhance the ability of students to develop filters to figure out what their teachers are saying that is actually important enough to listen to.

For more information on this landmark study, please see the following blog post, which while written from an anti-reform perspective summarizes the methodology very well and provides a link to the raw data itself.

What the data does show is that elevating the teaching profession and attracting excellent candidates and nurturing them to  become excellent teachers may not be the best strategy in increasing student learning.  Further study is needed to examine the negative impact of further excellent pedagogy on a student who has already had too many excellent teachers.  It also seems clear in layoff decisions, mediocre teachers need to be preserved as a priority, especially in a school that already has an issue with too many excellent ones.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Monica Caldwell Reacts to SOS March Showcasing Worst in Teaching

I had said earlier that I would not be attending the dreadful Save Our Schools March in Washington this past Saturday.  I can see now that I clearly made the right decision.   According to park service officials, approximately 8,000 teachers came to the nation's capital to see among others, Hollywood's number one jerk Matt Damon talk about education.   I find this laughable.  As a Hollywood actor, what does he know about teaching?  He needs to make some movies and leave education policy to the think tanks, philanthropists, politicians, and pundits.

What is probably most shocking is that teachers find Matt Damon to be a fitting role model for today's youth.  I did a little research on Mr. Damon and what I found was shocking.  Apparently, a late night comedian named Jimmy Kimmel was having a committed long term relationship with a comedian named Sarah Silverman (or so he thought).  While this was going on, Matt Damon and Ms. Silverman were actually involved in an elicit relationship.   They actually broke it to Kimmel live on his television show.   This is the kind of influence that's appropriate for kids.  Check out this clip of Mr. Hollywood admitting to the affair and showing absolutely no remorse of his actions.  The end is particularly shocking:

Petty? He's not the one who was having an affair. I lost all credibility for Matt Damon when I heard of this sleazy behavior. You can find the disgusting video that they showed here, but even with swearing bleeped out by the network, it's very disturbing.

Now, the march itself was almost as disturbing. It seemed to be one long diatribe to preserve the status quo, which is the education system exactly as it is now or I guess exactly as it was 15 years ago before reform, which is going great and will be perfected very soon.

One final note.  I heard a lot of teachers at the march complaining about the use of test scores for accountability with the complaint that the scores were out of the teacher's control.  Some new data from Washington, DC shows that many teachers rated poorly last year were rated very highly this year and vice versa.  It just goes to show you how much teachers can improve when they buckle down or decline when they slack off.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Last Stand for Children Announces Committee on Teacher Needs

This morning, Education Week had an excellent article entitled What Do Teachers Want?   The article concerned the difficulty of assessing exactly what it is that teachers want.  The author goes so far as suggesting that we must be mind readers like Mel Gibson's character in "What Women Want."   I don't know if I'd go that far, but finding out what teachers want can be as difficult as getting through Avon Barksdale's many layers of security in subterfuge to protect his drug empire on The Wire.

Some of the most groundbreaking work in the area of assessing what teachers want was done by Bill Gates and Scholastic who spared no expense in conducting a Harris Poll of 40,000 teachers.  However, if one poll was enough to tell us anything with certainty, President McCain would running for reelection.

This area of research is very important if we are to find a way to attract and keep highly capable teachers to the classroom while at the same time increasing their workload and cutting their salary, pension, and health care costs.  That is why Last Stand for Children has spent the last two years working hard to analyze the wants and needs of classroom teachers.   Today, we take a step closer to realizing the fruits of our labor by appointing a blue ribbon committee to study and analyze the needs and wants of America's classroom teachers.  The members of the panel are as follows:

Ryan Wilson - Chief Executive Director Last Stand for Children First
Winslow Thorpe - President of Northstar Investments
Linda Voight-Kampff - President and CEO of Tyrell Corporation
Dotti Walker - Chairwoman of Prosperity for Americans
Hank Scorpio - President and CEO of Globex Corporation
Jack Kimble - United States Representative, California's 54th District
Burt Kuper - President of The Foundations Group
Alma Davis - Chairwoman Education for The Best Tomorrow
Adrian Veidt - President and CEO of Veidt Industries
Virginia Wallace - Vice-President of The Alliance for Educational Excellence
Miles Drummond - President and CEO of Anderson Testing 

Together, this group will piggy back on existing research with the goal of producing an actionable plan for reforming education to better meet the wants and needs of teachers by 2013.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Future Educator Talks About Changes She'd Like to See in Education

Katie Cunningham is a third grade student at the Our Lady of Perpetual Motion Elementary School in Glendale Valley, CA. She is an avid Irish dancer and loves to bake cookies and play Wii

I've wanted to be a teacher for sooo long. My mom says teachers are lazy, but I like Miss McCutcheon and I would like to help people just like her. During Summers I would go to Hawaii or Disney World and take care of all the animals.  It would be fun to tell students what to do and to send Nathan Wilcox to the principal's office if he was pulling people's hair.

First, I've been thinking maybe I don't want to be a teacher now.  What if I'm a really good teacher like Miss McCutcheon and the newspapers like the Wall Street Journal come do to a story on my class and even the President says I'm a great teacher, but they fire me instead of Miss Kearsey because she's so old.  Then I wouldn't have a job and I'd be homeless and die.   Why do you want me to die?  Don't you like me?  Please end Last in First Out policies.  I told my friend Matilda about this and now she wants to be a dancer instead of a teacher.  If this doesn't change you could be losing other great teachers to dancing.

Second, I also worry that when I get older teachers will do what's called collective bargaining.  That means if I'm a really good teacher, I get the same salary as Miss Kearsey.  That's not right.   I want to be paid a million dollars a year, but I can't do that this way or everybody gets a million dollars a year.  My dad said this is socialism.  He wants me to become a hedge fund manager. 

The last thing I worry about is that there won't be enough testing.  If I want to be a good teacher I need lots of data to make good choices like who does what worksheet.  We need more tests so we can have more data.

I know many of you are thinking why would I listen to a little girl who is still in school and not even a teacher yet? I don't know.  I do know I want to be a teacher someday, but my dad says before I can make a big decision like that I have to watch The Wire and he says I won't be old enough to watch that show until I'm 16.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Save Our Schools March: Why I Won't Be Marching

By: Monica Caldwell

In May, I was appointed as Last Stand for Children First's East Coast Director of Teacher Development.  This has been a wonderful experience for me and I would have to say even more rewarding than either of the other jobs I have had.  

In this capacity I have worked to lead professional development for teachers in Last Stand's 5P technique of Prepare, Predict, Practice, Proctor, and Performance.  Frequently, I hear teachers from urban schools talk about the difficulties their students face on a daily basis and immediately feel sorry for these kids being saddled with teachers who have low expectations for them.

Some of these teachers have actually tried to encourage me to go with them to Washington, DC for the Save Our Schools March from July 28th to 31st.   I'm sorry, but the last thing I need to do is hear a bunch of teachers whine about how difficult their jobs are.  Boy, I'd love to have the handkerchief concession for that cry fest.

As I look at the guiding principles of the organizers, I see a lot of talk about teachers, students, and families, but if we are going to get real reform shouldn't we start with eliminating collective bargaining?  All these other issues like child poverty, unequal funding and a well-rounded education need to take a backseat to teachers asking for raises.

I'm not totally unsympathetic to the difficulties of teaching in the inner city.  The very first thing I did when I got my Netflix account was to watch the gripping HBO drama The Wire.  I even watched the second season, which dealt with the docks, but I didn't really get it except it was cool to see Michael's girlfriend from The Office.  I cried when I saw the lives that good kids like Michael and Bug were forced to endure and how it proved too much for them in the end.   However, I also saw a movie called Stand and Deliver and I know if more teachers were like Edward James Olmos, we could defeat poverty through education.   Before you teachers complain about underfunded education, I ask you how many of your students have you tutored. while you made them dinner?

No, I won't be marching to Washington, with all the Union apologists.  However, there was a march on Washington today that gives me hope.  President Obama had an education round table at the White House today and the list of participants inspires me:

Marguerite Kondracke, president & CEO, America’s Promise
· Alma Powell, chairwoman, America’s Promise
· General Colin Powell, founding chairman, America’s Promise
· Craig Barrett, former president & CEO, Intel
· Glenn Britt, CEO, Time Warner Cable
· Steve Case, former chairman & CEO, America Online
· Brian Gallagher, president & CEO, United Way Worldwide
· William Green, president & CEO, Accenture
· Fred Humphries, senior vice president, Microsoft
· Rhonda Mimms, foundation president, ING
· Kathleen Murphy, president, Fidelity Personal Investments
· Ed Rust, CEO, State Farm
· Randall Stephenson, chairman & CEO, AT&T
· Bill Swanson, chairman & CEO, Raytheon
· Laysha Ward, foundation president, Target
· David Zaslav, president & CEO, Discovery Communications
· Former governor Bob Wise, president, Alliance for Excellent Education
· Anne Finucane, chair of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Bank of America

When you put people with those kind of expertise on any subject together, what can't they do?  Imagine the company that gave us Vista, the person who gave us America Online, and AT&T together to discuss education?  This isn't Superman, this is the whole Justice League.   Now, this is reform we can all get behind.

Save Our Schools March & National Call to Action

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Last Stand for Children and Peterson Testing Partner to Create New Assessments

It was with a great deal of excitement here in the Last Stand for Children First home office that we reacted to the announcement that the second round of the Race to the Top initiative would focus on early childhood education.  That is because for the last several months, Last Stand has partnered with Peterson Testing, a purveyor of the finest in standardized testing materials for education.

We are currently designing the next generation of tests for the next generation of students and by Fall well will be ready to roll out our line of testing materials for children between 3 and 5 years of age.   It had previously been educational practice to avoid standardized testing for children of this age believing that socialization, play, and exploration are more important skills.   Fortunately, new theories in education are allowing us to do away with this time wasting coddling.

We have recently begin to understand that children as young as 2 or 3, enjoy rigorous standardized testing as a combination between letter recognition and coloring.   This is the very same approach that we used when creating our very successful line of test preparation wallpaper.  Some changes needed to be made from your typical standardized test such as larger bubbles and more frequent rest.

Here is a sample of a passage from our test.  Notice how students are doing work with a familiar nursery rhyme at their own level.

Humpty Dumpty
Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again

 1. What happened to Humpty Dumpty?
A. He was chosen to be King
B. He fell off the wall and was broken
C. He ran away
D. He was trampled by horses

2. What forced caused Humpty Dumpty to hit the ground?
A. Gravity
B. He was pushed
C. The King
D. The King's men

3. What is Humpty Dumpty?
A. An egg
B. A person
C. A king
D. A cannon

4. Which of these was a result of Humpty falling?
A. An egg broke
B. Parliamentarians, led by Thomas Fairfax captured Colchester from  supporters of Charles I
C. Democracy was restored in England
D. Colchester fell to the royalists in 1648

5. Why is this poem important?
A. The British Civil War directly leads to the colonization of North America by the British
B. From a military tactics standpoint, Humpty Dumpty shows the value of controlling the high ground
C. Eggs are good
D. It rhymes

Answers: 1-B 2-A 3-D 4-B 5-A

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Why Does Diane Ravitch Hate Children?

America's education reform movement -- the most significant reform movement in the history of this planet -- is just concluding another amazing school year.  Politicians of all stripes and parties have come together to say, "We will not accept inferior teachers destroying the lives of our children anymore".

With grim budget cuts necessitating layoffs, we are reminded once again that seniority based layoffs make as much sense as saying that U2 should have to keep Bono as their lead singer just because he's been with the band for 30 years and has tenure.

For the past 30 years, education reformers have had to fight the forces of the status quo, but in that time we have agreed that certain changes must be made to education:
  • The business principles that have made our economy great should be applied to our schools as well.
  • We need a common curriculum 
  • We need frequent standardized testing
  • We need a longer day and school year to allow more time for increased test prep
  • We need a rich curriculum focused like a laser on only math and reading
  • We need an end to tenure and LIFO policies
  • Younger perkier teachers are superior to the old saddle horses who too often dominate public education.
  • The best teachers for poor inner city students are young, preferably Ivy League educated young people from well to do families.
  • Charter schools are superior to public schools because they can council students into leaving and public schools must teach everybody.
  • We should fire the bottom 1/3 of all teachers every year.
These points are the hallmark of true education reform. They bind together Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, Chris Cristie, Arne Duncan, and myself.  Several forces of the status quo have naturally opposed these moves, but lately one of the worst critics has been Diane Ravitch.

Diane Ravitch is the leader of this rear guard assault on education reform by teachers, parents, students, and other malcontents.   Now don't get me wrong Ms. Ravitch, who is a New York University professor  and an education historian is a powerful speaker.   Unfortunately,  for financial reasons obviously, she has chosen to be a mouth piece for the teachers unions and to attack Bill Gates, The Walton Foundation, Eli Broad, and many hedge fund managers who spend billions on education reform.

Diane has become the ultimate party pooper.  When Arne Duncan trumpets a charter school with a 100% graduation rate, rather than being ecstatic for the 25 graduates, she will whine that they started high school with a class of 200.   When we come up with a great idea like increasing standardized testing, she whines about how high achieving countries have less standardized testing.   Nobody likes to be constantly second guessed.  As reformers we know what works and eventually we will find a way of funding studies that show we are right.   We don't need little Professor Sunshine torpedoing all our great ideas.

"She doesn’t believe teachers and schools can make a difference in high-poverty areas,” says Colorado State Senator Mike Johnston, pointing to the fact that every time we find a great school that has had a 30% increase in test scores in one year, she seems to find something wrong with it.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently called her out saying,“Diane Ravitch is in denial and she is insulting all of the hardworking teachers, principals and students all across the country?"

I find Duncan's criticism right on the money.  Before becoming Secretary of Education he was was part of the miracle of remaking the Chicago Public Schools into a Renaissance and before that he averaged over 20 points of game playing basketball in Australia.  Plus his mom was an educator.

We welcome Diane's input on education matters once she stops complaining about the turds floating around the punch bowl.   You can't keep a punch bowl 100% clean.  The important thing is that it's mostly delicious punch.  When Miss Ravitch learns this lesson, we will love to hear from her.  Until then, we must ask her, "Why do you hate children so much?"

Monday, June 20, 2011

Young Voters Look at Issues and Not at Politician or Party

In my role of CEO of Last Stand for Children First, I've found myself at the center of several political firestorms recently.   People don't understand how we can support 18 separate bills in various state legislatures outlawing collective bargaining while being for protecting collective bargaining rights.  With battle lines clearly drawn, I'm reminded of the old Bob Seger song, "Which Side Are You On?"

The answer is I'm not on either side.  I'm part of a new generation of young philanthropists whose beliefs cannot be limited to the political platform of one party or one governor. On some issues, we're "conservative." On others, we're "liberal." Personally, I disagree with New York's Governor Cuomo on several important issues, but I salute him for ending the dreaded "millionaires tax" once and for all.  Likewise, I'm disturbed to see Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker target my beloved craft beers, but I applaud him on standing up to lazy teachers.

If I told you that there was a politician that would turn a backwards agrarian society into an industrial country and a superpower.  He would allow peasants to get an education and he would help defeat the greatest evil the world has ever known, you'd probably be thinking this is a great man.   What if I told you his name was Joseph Stalin?  You did not have to be a member of the Black Shirts to applaud Mussolini for getting the trains to run on time.   This reminds me of a poem:

First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak because they cut taxes.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak because they gave me free broadband.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because they gave me a flat screen TV.
Then they came for me, and I didn't mind so much because I had low taxes, free broadband, and a flat screen TV.
Let's be honest: politicians are unlikely to ever represent our opinion on every issue. But let's not let political divisions keep us from supporting politicians on the issues in which we do agree, like reforming public education in Ohio. For young Democrats today, supporting a Republican lawmaker (or vice versa) on education reform does not make him or her a sellout. There is absolutely no corporate agenda at work and no attempt to crush unions.  Standing up against these kind of policies doesn't make you a liberal, it makes you paranoid.  At times like these, corporations can be our greatest allies in the push for reform.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chinese Schools Let Down Education Reform Movement

It is with great disappointment that I read Chinese leaders wish to change the way that the country does education.   For years, the thought of Chinese students exploiting our inferior American students has been a great image for those of us in the education reform movement.   Thoughts of Chinese scholars with briefcases and laptops taking American jobs has been even more effective than images of Chinese tanks rolling down main street for education reformers.

Now China has embarked on a "ten year plan including greater experimentation. China Central Television's main evening news program recently reported on Peking University High School's curricular reforms to promote individuality and diversity." 

Individuality and diversity?  Good grief.   Where is the army of tiger mothers when we need them most.  Shanghai is actually studying the American school system in order to import Western curriculum to their country.   If this continues, what hope is there for their students? 

There was a report on NPR's marketplace last week that talked about Chinese schools.   The sterm taskmaster Jiang Xueqin was quoted as saying, "They just started the rock band. To be perfectly honest with you, I've heard them. They're not very good, but it's something they love doing and it's fun for them"   Where is the drive for excellence?  The endless hours of practicing Louie Louie over and over?  That is what a Chinese high school rock band should be like.

Chinese officials say they are developing a nation of uncreative accountants and middle managers through rote memorization and lack of creative thinking, but they need to think of the big picture.  What about those of us in America who look to China to set an example for us of endless rigor, tiger moms, and the pursuit of excellence?  China has a responsibility not only to itself, but to us to continue rote memorization and teaching to the test.  Otherwise, we in America look pretty stupid pushing those same policies.  

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Myron Miner Addresses Global Summit on Education and Technology in France

[The following is a transcript of Myron Miner's address to the Global Summit on Education and Technology in Paris on May 28, 2011]

Thank you as well for the invitation to speak today.

We are living through a time when many of our leading economies are not performing as they should.   It is easy to blame bankers, or corporations putting the bottom line before people, but in reality this economic slowdown is the fault of our teachers.

To fix this mess, we must replace the teacher, or at least the teacher as it is now designed.   The time of smarter and smarter machines is coming and we are falling behind on our ability to keep up with the demands of this new technology.  We must develop a new education program that will met our needs in the future and those of our robot overlords.

That digital future - and its connection with education - is my topic this afternoon.

Every CEO will tell you that we compete in a world that is changing faster than ever. That it is more competitive than ever and that it rewards success and punishes failure to a greater degree than ever before, with the exception of the recent banking collapse, the automotive industry collapse,  and Microsoft operating systems, the invisible hand of the free market slaps down failures.

Everywhere we turn, digital advances are making workers more productive - creating jobs that did not exist only a few years ago, and liberating us from the old tyrannies of time and distance enabling CEOS to earn record profits while gradually eroding at the middle class of our great nations.

This is true in every area except one: Education.

Think about that. In every other part of life, someone who woke up after a fifty-year nap would not recognize the world around him.   They would wonder where the unions went.  They'd want to know why manufacturing was dying in the United States.   They'd be astounded to believe we could build a service economy without a middle class and they'd want to know how CEO compensation got so high.

In medicine, doctors who once made medical decisions based on the patient's well-being have been replaced by insurance companies who make medical decisions based on cost analysis.

In finance, brokers who once made their money by making shrewd investments in the businesses that make the economy grow, now use derivative swaps in an unregulated casino of prosperity.

In broadcasting, newspapers are dying and fair and balanced can no longer be said by television stations without equal amounts of irony and sarcasm.

But not in education. Our schools remain the last holdout from the digital revolution. The person who woke up from that fifty-year nap would find that today's classroom looks almost exactly the same as it did in the Victorian age: a teacher standing in front of a roomful of kids with only a textbook, a blackboard, and a piece of chalk teaching a student population that is over 25% in poverty, but I digress.

We know the old answer - simply throwing money at the problem - doesn't work. In my own country, we've doubled our spending on primary and secondary education over the last three decades - while our test scores have remained largely flat despite the fact that so much of that increase in funding was spent on testing.  The reason this hasn't worked is that more money has fed a system that is no longer designed to educate - it's become a jobs program for teachers some of whom take home salaries over $50,000 per year.  And yet we Americans wonder why we have cities like Detroit where nearly half the population can't read and the disadvantaged are on a fast-track to failure.  Rest assured, it has nothing to do with entrepreneurs like myself taking the well-paying jobs from that city.

The Mandarins of mediocrity will tell you that the problem is that the kids they are teaching are too poor, or come from bad families, or are immigrants who do not understand the culture. This is absolute rubbish. It is arrogant, elitist and utterly unacceptable.  The Cantonese of conformity will tell you that it is difficult for students who have been beaten or are hungry or did not sleep the night before to concentrate.--Hogwash I say!!

In places such as China and India, they understand that they can't afford excuses. When I visit these countries, I am amazed by how much they accomplish with far fewer resources - and how eagerly they embrace innovation. Their spirit is reflected in the international comparisons, where many of the top performers are Asian and many of those sliding down the middle or bottom are from the industrialized West.   Sure, some will say that the poor children in our country take the tests while poor children in China and India are living on the streets and working in factories, but that's just another lame excuse.

The Asian Tigers have the unfair advantage of Tiger Mothers who see in their children the power of potential, not the liability of limits.   If we could simply get that Tiger Blood flowing through the veins of our children, you know what we'd be? Winning!

Of course, you don't have to be Asian to succeed. In my own hometown, it's just really helpful.  In my country we have charter schools which are doing a wonderful job educating children and they get results, 17% of the time these results are actually higher than public schools.  Why are they successful?  Because of men like Geoffrey Canada who wasn't afraid to fire an entire third grade class when they failed to make the grade.

Fortunately, we have the means at our disposal to transform lives.

The same digital technologies that transformed every other aspect of modern life can transform education, provide our businesses with the talent they need to keep cutting worker salaries, and allow  hundreds of millions of young people at the fringes of prosperity the opportunity to make their own mark on this global economy by serving their corporate masters.

This afternoon, I'd like to offer an example of  how bringing digital innovation to the classroom can substantially improve education for children throughout the world - including many now callously written off as hopeless.

We must begin by exciting the imaginations of our young people. The key is not a computer or a tablet or some other device. The key is our new product, which will help transform the cluttered thinking of any child into the orderly thought process needed to excel on multiple choice assessments. 

Every study will tell you that the more interactive and intimate learning is, the better the student will perform.   Wow, maybe I've been wrong to argue against smaller class sizes?  Wouldn't a smaller class allow for more interactive and intimate learning?   Nah, moving on...

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Testinator 5000.   This piece of state of the art technology will help to usher in a golden age of technology by using advanced computer instruction originally developed by NASA to prepare our students for even the most difficult of standardized testing. 

The principles behind the Testinator 5000 are really simple.  Suppose I was to try to question a student about the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  I could discuss the story in relation to Maslow's hierarchy of needs or I could examine the difference between want and need with my students or we could explore the moral ambiguities in the story in the context of the French Revolution.  Unfortunately, none of these would help with testing.  I could ask the student if Goldilocks ate A. Oatmeal B. Grits  C.  Cereal or D. Porridge, but won't the student get bored of these repetitive questions after awhile?

The trick is to make the repetitive questions interesting and that's where the Testinator 5000 comes in.  For only $250 plus $90 for each 1001 question booklet, the students answer questions, but what makes it interesting is if they get the answer correct, they are rewarded with a green light and a pleasing bell sound.   If the student picks the wrong answer they are punished with a red light, a harsh sounding buzzer, and a minor electric shock of about 100 volts.  By contrast a police taser is 50,000 volts.

Tests we have done show remarkable progress in student motivation.   When a teacher reads a story, the students have been known to plead with the teacher to reread the story before they take the test.  In the past, those very same students were reported as non-interested and frequently napping through story time. 

Right now, these are just bits and pieces. Our challenge is to learn from what works best - wherever in the world we find it - and put it all together.

My company is determined to try - in a big way.

My challenge to you this afternoon is to bring your own skills to the table. The world of tomorrow needs humans who can service our computer overlords and if we do not do a satisfactory job, I have no doubt that their wrath will be severe.

In doing this, we will supply our economies with all the talent and energy they need to grow. In doing this, we will ensure that the child in Manhattan will have the same opportunities as a poor child in Manilla. In doing this, we will elevate the status of good teachers everywhere, by helping them to exit the teaching profession.  We will ensure that no child will be left out of all the prosperity this global economy offers.

In our own backyards, we have millions of young people whose minds are the key to our future. It is time to insist that our schools buy our technology so we can to unlock their potential - and treat them as the precious resource they are.  By 2014, every classroom in our country should have a set of Testinator 5000s. 

Thank you.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Meet Monica Caldwell: Our New East Coast Director of Teacher Development

Hello, my name is Monica Caldwell and I am the new East Coast Director of Teacher Development for Last Stand for Children First.   What does that huge title mean?  Well, basically I'm in charge of helping to improve the quality of instruction by getting good teachers into the classroom and bad teachers out.  I believe that nothing is more important to a child's education than having a great teacher and I aim to see that every child on the East Coast has just that.

To tell you a little about myself, I'm 25 years old and I've spent the last year teaching in inner city San Diego as a Last Stand for Children Fellow.   Before that, I was spent 2 years managing an Extreme Fitness and Tan and before that I was a philosophy major at the University of Chicago.  I enjoy bike riding, Arcade Fire, and Jersey Shore.

This year in San Diego I learned literally a ton about teaching.   A lot of my kids were literally growing up on the streets.  I put aside the text book and immediately got them journaling.  In my class they wrote about the tough deal they got in life and by Christmas they were writing amazing poetry.  Unfortunately, several of the teachers were jealous and went to the principal who insisted that math class wasn't the place for poetry and journal writing and I had to go back to the text book.

Teacher tenure is a real bummer for me.  I was the victim of last in first out policies this year and was asked not to come back, while the teachers that were jealous of me retained their jobs because of the union contract.  When I tried to tell the principal how wrong this was, he refused to even admit that I was let go because of seniority and blamed it on my teaching methods and one small fire that was set in my classroom wastebasket.

In addition to tenure, I'm also very interested in ending collective bargaining for teachers, eliminating rules that limit class size, and promoting the growth of charter schools.  One thing, I am really looking forward to is working with Mayor Bloomberg.  The parents in New York just don't understand how much he cares about their children's education. I agree with what the Mayor said about New York City parents who oppose his education reform policies,  "There are some parents who ... never had a formal education, and they don't understand the value of education."

I think I'm going to like this place.  I've never been to New York before, but I'm ready to go there and save the children.   The Last Stand for Children First train is coming and I hope everybody can get on board.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Myron Miner on the Chicago Public Schools and Producerism

This week the Illinois Chapter of Last Stand for Children First joined students across the state in celebrating historic legislation that is now only awaiting the Governor's signature.  SB7 will finally free school children from the threat of teachers unions complaining about having too many students in classrooms or going on strike--a problem that has plagued the Chicago Public Schools since their last strike in 1987.  I am not going to write about SB7 though, enough reformers are lauding it already. Instead, I am going to look at an exciting new trend coming out of Chicago that I am referring to as the Bialystock Method or Producerism.  This shrewd move by Mayor elect Rahm Emanuel far surpasses anything I have seen elsewhere.

To understand the Bialystock Method, you must do yourself a favor and go see the original 1968 version of Mel Brooks' classic movie  The Producers.  I love the original version of the movie and the play that spun off of it, but was less impressed with he 2005 movie version of the play.

In The Producers, Gene Wilder plays a mild-mannered accountant named Leo Bloom and Zero Mostel plays a washed up old theatrical producer named Max Bialystock.   In doing Max's books, Leo discovers that you could actually make more money by making a flop than a hit.  If you sold, for example, 1500% of a show and it closed in one night, none of those share holders would expect any kind of payment.  The trick was finding a play so horrible it was sure to be a huge bomb.

In The Chicago Public Schools the mayor has total control and he appoints his own rubber stamp school board.  The result is that the board is almost entirely made up of people who donate heavily to the Mayor.   What's interesting is that much of the leadership that Rahm Emanuel has used for guidance have been the operators of Chicago's charter schools.  These people offer alternatives to the Chicago Public Schools and the worse the schools do the more they thrive.  The more they thrive, the more money they can direct to Mayor Rahm.  The Key is how to make sure the public schools bomb.

Bialystock and Bloom begin an exhaustive search that finally nets them a play called Springtime for Hitler, which is possibly the worst play ever.   The play is a Busby Berkeley style singing and dancing romp through Nazi Germany.   The showstopper is a musical number called Springtime for Hitler.  Surely, this play would flop.

Rahm Emanuel and his team begain an exhaustive search that finally nets them Rochester Superintendent Jean Claude Brizard, who is possibly the worst Superintendent ever.   In a district 1/10 the size of Chicago Brizard managed to get sued 3 times, have a 95% no confidence vote from the teachers, and newspaper poll found 60% of the district's administrator's thought they were on the wrong track.  The only accomplishment he could point to were graduation rates which was actually data from before his tenure.  Surely, these schools would flop.

In the Producers, the final touch was finding a director who could make the horrible play even more unbearable and drive theatre goers from their seats.   In the 1968 version, the actor's name escapes me, but I recognized him as television's Mr. Belvedere. 

In Chicago, the final touch was HB7 which prevents teachers from doing things like complaining if the school district cuts funding and puts 45 students in every room.   As a bonus the mayor could mandate that teachers work the equivalent of 3 additional months of school time without a penny of compensation.  This will give Chicago the longest school day in the country, at the exact time that data from Hawaii is showing no real benefit to more classroom time.

Will the Chicago Public Schools flop?  It's too early to tell.  In the movies, Bialystock and Bloom left the play early to go celebrate only to find the audience had decided it was a comedy and loved it.  They went to prison for their duplicity.  I hope that Mayor Emanuel is more clever than that, because moves like this make him a powerful force in the education reform movement.