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Who We Are »
Betsy Combier

Help Us to Continue to Help Others »
Email: betsy.combier@gmail.com

 
The E-Accountability Foundation announces the

'A for Accountability' Award

to those who are willing to whistleblow unjust, misleading, or false actions and claims of the politico-educational complex in order to bring about educational reform in favor of children of all races, intellectual ability and economic status. They ask questions that need to be asked, such as "where is the money?" and "Why does it have to be this way?" and they never give up. These people have withstood adversity and have held those who seem not to believe in honesty, integrity and compassion accountable for their actions. The winners of our "A" work to expose wrong-doing not for themselves, but for others - total strangers - for the "Greater Good"of the community and, by their actions, exemplify courage and self-less passion. They are parent advocates. We salute you.

Winners of the "A":

Johnnie Mae Allen
David Possner
Dee Alpert
Joan Klingsberg
Harris Lirtzman
Hipolito Colon
Jim Calantjis
Larry Fisher
The Giraffe Project and Giraffe Heroes' Program
Jimmy Kilpatrick and George Scott
Zach Kopplin
Matthew LaClair
Wangari Maathai
Erich Martel
Steve Orel, in memoriam, Interversity, and The World of Opportunity
Marla Ruzicka, in Memoriam
Nancy Swan
Bob Witanek
Peyton Wolcott
[ More Details » ]
 
Carol Burris, South Side High School Principal, On Arne Duncan's Education Policy That Doesn't Trust Teachers
Dear Mr. Duncan: You have never been to my high school, but if you visited, you would be impressed. It is an integrated suburban public high school that meets AYP each year for all groups of children. We are on all of the top 100 lists — U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek and The Washington Post....This June, New York’s teachers and students felt the first effects of rating teachers by student test scores. Across the state we received a clear message along with our Regents exam packets — Albany does not trust the people who educate New York’s students. We will now be ‘scored’ based on our students’ Regents exam scores, and because of these new high stakes the state education department is ‘teacher proofing’ students’ answer sheets.
          
An open letter to Ed Secretary Arne Duncan
By Valerie Strauss
LINK

This was written by Carol Corbett Burris, the principal of South Side High School in New York. She was named the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State.

Dear Mr. Duncan:

You have never been to my high school, but if you visited, you would be impressed. It is an integrated suburban public high school that meets AYP each year for all groups of children. We are on all of the top 100 lists — U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek and The Washington Post. Over 80% of our students graduate having passed the state exam in Algebra 2/Trigonometry and over 60% graduate with AP Calculus under their belt. We do a good job by the students we serve, some of whom have difficult life circumstances. I doubt that you will ever visit — we are not a KIPP or other charter school likely to attract your attention. I think you should know, though, something about the teachers who work with me.

As I walked into my high school the last week of school, I met Thom, arriving early to give one last extra-help session to his physics students. On the previous Saturday, Matt made the trip in to prepare his students for their math exam. He used Saturday because his colleague, Kaitlyn, was coaching some of the same kids for the Global Regents exam after school on Friday. Such generosity on the part of teachers has been part of the school culture for years.

As principal, I am so grateful for the commitment our teachers make to their students. I have seen faculty reach deep into their pockets to help out kids in need, take kids to community college to register, or sit for hours in a hospital emergency room until a parent arrives.

I am certain that you know that there are many educators across this nation who quietly and generously go above and beyond each day for their students. Some work in very difficult circumstances in schools that are overwhelmed by poverty and truly do not have the resources to serve their students well. Others, like me, are lucky enough to work in well-resourced districts with more limited numbers of students who have great need. I know that you would not want to deliberately harm the work that we do.

However, the punitive evaluation policies that New York State has adopted (and that many other states have adopted) due to the Race to the Top competition are doing just that. It is a dangerous gamble that might score political points but it will hinder what you and I and so many others want—better schools for our kids. We already know from research that reforms based on high stakes testing do not improve long-term learning.

This June, New York’s teachers and students felt the first effects of rating teachers by student test scores. Across the state we received a clear message along with our Regents exam packets — Albany does not trust the people who educate New York’s students. We will now be ‘scored’ based on our students’ Regents exam scores, and because of these new high stakes the state education department is ‘teacher proofing’ students’ answer sheets.

Both students and teachers feel the brunt of this distrust. Here are some examples. Students can no longer use pencils on the new scantrons that must be scanned and then sent to a remote location for scoring. Only ink is allowed. If a student’s pen bleeds through the scan sheet, additional complications arise. Because they cannot erase, students need to follow elaborate procedures of circles and Xs to correct their answers if they decide to change them. The rules for corrections nearly brought one nervous student at my school to tears.

On the back of every student scantron, a teacher must now print her name if she is a rater, and then bubble in a code for each question she grades. Imagine writing your name on 300, 400, or even 500 scantrons (depending upon the number of students taking the exam). While the days when students had to write “I must not cheat” 300 times on the blackboard are gone, their teachers now have to do the equivalent so that the New York State Education Department can monitor how they score student answers. It wasted literally hours of our teachers’ time, and they felt angry and humiliated.

During the early days of No Child Left Behind, the New York State Education Department turned the Regents into high-stakes graduation tests. On exams in math and science, we were required to double grade every student paper in the range slightly above or below a 65. When a student failed the exam, I could tell a parent that many eyes had looked at it. If any doubt remained, another teacher would review the exam. The score rarely changed, but at least I could reassure a distraught parent that we were fair and accurate.

As of this spring, I can no longer give that reassurance. Principals are now forbidden to re-score a paper once a computer assigns the score. An elaborate process involving the district superintendent and the state Education Department is triggered to change a student’s score.

Apparently principals, who will also be evaluated by scores, are assumed to be ‘cheaters’ as well. Angry parents are now insisting that I send their child’s exam to Albany for review. The state Education Department says that the review will take two to three months. Can you imagine being a hopeful graduate waiting that long for a test that you failed by one point to be reviewed?

This is the legacy of the policies that were rushed into place by states to get the federal Race to the Top money. We now have testing systems based on the mistrust of schools and the professionals who work in them. It will severely damage the relationship between students and teachers even as it is destroying the relationship between the state Education Department and educators across New York state. Perhaps all these mistrustful new rules and procedures are necessary if we accept the premise that student tests should also be high stakes for educators.

We’ve started down the slippery slope and we’ll necessarily gather up these unintended consequences along the way – unless policymakers restore some sanity to the system.

I am in my final years of a career that I have loved and in which, I believe, I have made a difference. I certainly do not fear for my job security. I do worry for my young teachers and my students. I worry for my grandchildren. I worry, also, for our nation. As John Dewey said so long ago in his Pedagogic Creed:

I believe that all reforms which rest simply upon the enactment of law, or the threatening of certain penalties, or upon changes in mechanical or outward arrangements, are transitory and futile.

I hope you are not annoyed that this is an open letter, but it seemed to be the best way to get someone to read it. I took the time last month to write a detailed, four-page letter to President Obama, but I did not get even a boilerplate email in response. Funny thing: during the campaign when I regularly sent contributions I always got a thank you. Now when I get a solicitation from his re-election campaign, I make a contribution to Save our Schools (SOS) instead.

Perhaps I will see you when I march with others in Washington D.C. on July 30. My husband and I will be there, rain or shine. Because we will likely not have an opportunity to speak with you that day, let me leave you with this final thought. After a heartbreaking loss, my friend who coaches was furious with his team. After he had vented, I offered my advice. “You can’t win the game if there is anger and mistrust between you and the kids. You have to work together to build something big.” That coach got it. Right now the ball is in your court, Mr. Duncan.

Follow The Answer Sheet every day by bookmarking http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet. And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our Higher Education page. Bookmark it!

The reform pretenders
By Valerie Strauss, The Answer Sheet, 6/27/2011
LINK

This was written by Carol Corbett Burris, the principal of South Side High School in New York. She was named the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State.

By Carol Corbett Burris

The word “reform” used to be important. To be called an educational reformer placed you in the company of John Dewey and other great teachers who understood children, the culture of schools, and most importantly, the complexity of the art and science of teaching. The late Madeline Hunter taught elementary students at the UCLA laboratory school nearly every day so that she could be sure that the teaching practices she labeled effective were not only grounded in research, but confirmed by her own practice. The late Ted Sizer, founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, worked with hundreds of high schools before he wrote Horace’s Compromise , and after he retired from Brown University, was a co-principal of a school. In the eras of Dewey, Hunter, and Sizer, the title reformer was used sparingly, reserved for those who dedicated a lifetime of work that was distinguished by a fierce belief in public schooling, innovation that increased student learning, and a profound respect for the work that educators do.

I wonder when exactly the word reformer was cheapened to a political sound bite. When did billionaires buy it and re-define it by the crass rules of the marketplace? When did it become a requirement that one must believe that our schools can only be fixed by oppressive testing, number ratings, snarky data systems designed to determine winners and losers, and an undying faith in privatization and marketplace policies? When did public schools serving public interests begin to devolve into corporate schools serving private interests, all under the guise of reform? . Perhaps Joel Klein knows. In his recent opinion piece in The Washington Post, he presented a roll call of young reformers, fashioned in his image, who bring to our schools a ‘sea change’ of reform.

He tells us that he and Michelle Rhee are not alone, and that those who mourned their departure should not weep. Indeed, he assures us that many of the new generation learned at the knee of the master reformer during his New York City years. The curious thing, though, is that the so-called reforms, which this new generation advocates and implements, have little impact on student learning – even when that learning is constrained merely to the narrow measure of standardized assessment.

Joel Klein continues to boast of increased graduation rates even as the new NYC chancellor has promised to investigate continuing reports of pressure on teachers and principals to pass and graduate students regardless of the quality of student work.

He crows about the college graduation rate of KIPP students. There are eight KIPP schools in New York City. Only one, which began in 1995 with 45 fifth graders, has been in existence long enough to produce even one college grad . I cannot understand how Mr. Klein can justify taking any credit for any increases in graduation rates associated with KIPP.

Klein’s Washington Post commentary was, as noted above, on his new generation. He proudly asserts that one of his reformers, Jean Claude Brizard, was recently appointed to lead Chicago’s schools.

After leaving New York City, Mr. Brizard led Rochester’s schools. He got the job after promising that he would raise the graduation rate to 75% by 2012. As he departs for Chicago after three plus years, the four-year graduation rate is nowhere near 75%, but rather at a dismal 46.1 %. In 2008, it was 48%. I guess the miracle reform was going to be left for the finale. Too bad for Rochester’s students that their superintendent is moving on before he got the chance to make it happen.

I do not blame Mr. Brizard for not raising the graduation rate to 75% in so short a time. Anyone who has engaged in real school reform knows that it would be virtually impossible to do what he promised that quickly. However, I do blame him for pretending that he could. Yet if one is a Klein reformer, trained by the Broad Superintendent Academy, one is taught to scoff at incremental change. The hard work of deep reform that transforms systems is for those old apologists who stay in town for a decade.

Mr. Klein also tells us that John King, the new commissioner of New York State’s schools, must be a new reformer because he “grew up in the charter school movement.”

I find that to be a curious commendation considering that the 2010 four-year graduation rate for New York State’s charter schools is only 56%. Should we pretend that the recently released college readiness rates of the charters, a frighteningly low 9.5%, is the start of the sea change we have been waiting for? It’s worth noting that the vast majority of charter schools in New York State are in New York City.

Let us not give up hope, however; there is Albany reform afoot that reaches far beyond charter schools. Mr. Klein’s former Chief Talent Officer, Amy McIntosh, now a Regents Fellow, will guide the new Teacher and Principal Evaluation System, called “APPR,” for New York State. Before Ms. McIntosh became expert in rating teachers based on student test scores for Mr. Klein, she was the CEO of ZAGAT. I guess we should pretend that rating a burger and rating a teacher are transferrable expertise.

Those with insufficient faith in the Klein/Rhee reform agenda are accused of not believing that poor kids can learn. They might be surprised to discover how much we do. We believe that poor kids can learn very well, but not by putting the dollars into testing systems and consultants. I suggest that the new reformers look to the graduation rates of economically disadvantaged students in integrated, suburban high schools like mine that are committed to equity. You will see rates for poor students that exceed overall graduation rates for NY State.

But, Mr. Klein might argue, these disadvantaged students attend well-resourced schools. Those schools, moreover, are not overwhelmed by students of great need. They are socio-economically and racially diverse. The highest achievers are not creamed off into specialized high schools which enroll few black or Latino students. Our schools have funds for the arts, adequate staffing, and strong special education programs. There are strong social support services like psychologists, counselors and social workers.

And that, of course, is the point. We know what it takes to help disadvantaged students do well, and we know what it takes to almost guarantee their failure. We know the reforms our students need—the really hard ones that are politically tough and not always popular. Let’s hope that when all the pretend reforms go away, at least a handful of good schools survive. After the sea change, when the tide goes out, perhaps a few beacons of hope will remain on the beach.

 
© 2003 The E-Accountability Foundation