Thursday, June 27, 2013

School Improvement "Gangnam Style"

I have always enjoyed the various stunts that school principals would perform in support of some worthy cause: getting the kids to read more books, sell more candy (ahem), or reach school achievement goals. In my time, I've spent the day on the roof of the school, flown away in a hot air balloon, and kissed a pig.

Incoming EKU President Michael Benson once performed the Harlem Shake at the behest of his SUU students. He was clearly being a good sport.

But we'd both have to raise our game to match Head Teacher Jeff Hughes from Warrington, Cheshire, (between Liverpool and Manchester) United Kingdom. The promise of seeing Hughes perform “Gangnam Stye” motivated the students at Penketh High School to study harder.

In December, Jeff Hughes promised to perform “Gangnam Style” for students if they reached the school’s education goals. After they held up their end of the deal, he one-upped them by making a full remake of the video, with the help of 50 teachers and the school’s media team, reports the BBC.
Mr Hughes said he had wanted to motivate pupils to work hard, but also to have fun and be part of something.

The 58-year-old head, who is due to retire at the end of the school year, said the promise to perform Psy's hit dance came very much on the spur of the moment.

"It was just before Christmas and we were trying to put together a motivational message for the pupils, and there were a lot of people saying, 'Work hard and do this and do that'. I said if you hit your targets I would stand up and do a Gangnam Style dance in the school leavers' assembly.

"And with us being a specialist media school the media team said, 'Why don't we re-create the whole music video?' "

The video – which was posted on YouTube in late May – has gone viral, attaining over 285,000 views to date. The video was filmed before and after school for four weeks, reports the Liverpool Echo.

Hughes told the BBC that he has been extremely pleased with the public’s reaction to the video.
What began with a throwaway comment took on a life of its own with the teachers practising [not sic, the Brits insist] secretly after school so the pupils did not find out.

Gagnam Style
Hughes took to the Psy role with relish
When it came to the leavers' assembly ... Mr Hughes came on to the stage dressed as the Korean star doing the dance, to the great amusement of his pupils.

Then he stopped suddenly and said: "And that's not all." The media team quickly flicked on the full version of the music video.

Mr Hughes said schools, especially ones such as his own - which is labelled as requiring improvement by Ofsted - were under a great deal of pressure to improve.

He added: "I think sometimes it's important that we develop strong relationships with young people.
"It's not just about authority. We have to get them to see that we are human, and I think a bit of fun can help relieve the stresses and the strains."

The “Gangnam Style” video may provide Hughes with future opportunities. According to the Liverpool Echo, he was recently asked to judge a junior-Gangnam Style competition.

Hat tip to HuffPo.

KASS goal is funding levels back at '08 mark

This from the Bowling Green Daily News by way of KSBA:
Simpson County Public Schools Superintendent Jim Flynn is the new president of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, and he’s got a lot of work to do.

The Franklin resident and 1982 Bowling Green High School graduate sees public education funding – at least restoring it to the 2008 level which is a $740 million challenge – as the association’s No. 1 goal. There are plans for superintendents to more aggressively lobby state lawmakers, driving home the point that more revenue is needed and that cutbacks are starting to affect the quality of instruction.

“Don’t discount the power of education. It is our responsibility to be an advocate for the superintendents,” he told members of the KASS executive committee last week, noting a push on lawmakers in January when the regular legislative session begins might be too late.

Flynn said educators are expected to get kids college- and career-ready with less resources than in years past.

Completing his 10th year as Simpson superintendent, Flynn, 49, said it is great to continue work with KASS executive director Wilson Sears, who coached him in football at BGHS in the fall of 1979, 1980 and 1981.

Flynn’s spouse, Natalie, teaches at Briarwood Elementary School. The Flynns have three children. His parents, Jim and Lana, live in Bowling Green. 

Flynn recently obtained his doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Kentucky University. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry in 1986 from WKU. 

While receiving a Master of Science degree in secondary education in 1991 from Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi, Texas, he was an assistant archaeologist for the Corpus Christi Museum and helped build giant vats that artifacts from the ocean floor could be placed in to take off rust and corrosion. He was assistant principal at Greenwood High School from 1992 to 1994.

KASS completed its 2013 Summer Institute last week at the Sloan Convention Center. Flynn has served on the KASS board of directors since 2006 and was appointed to the Local Superintendents Advisory Committee in 2010. He serves on the board of directors for the Franklin Simpson Chamber of Commerce and the Franklin Simpson Industrial Authority.

Is There Still a Bully in Burkesville?

Educator alleges ex-Sen. David Williams cost him a job

This from the Courier-Journal:
A finalist for the job of superintendent of Cumberland County Schools claims in a lawsuit that he lost the job after a last-minute intervention by then-Senate President David Williams.
David Williams, 2011

Williams, now the circuit judge for Cumberland, Clinton and Monroe counties, disputed the allegation in an interview Monday, saying, “That’s absolutely not true. I’ve never talked to anybody about that superintendency at all. I don’t know anything about it.”

David Murray, now principal at a school in Clay County, says in his lawsuit filed in Franklin Circuit Court that he and the Cumberland school board chairman had agreed to and even signed a contract giving Murray the job on May 7, 2012, and that the chairman assured Murray he had the support of a majority of the school board.

But the suit says that “then State Senator David Williams intervened” with board members on behalf of a local finalist, Glen Murphy, whom the board voted to hire on May 9.

Williams is not a defendant in the suit, which Murray filed earlier this year against the Cumberland County Board of Education.

In it, Murray says that any meetings by board members “either together with or serially with” Williams would have violated the state Open Meetings Act and any later board action stemming from an illegal meeting would be void.

He asks that Murphy’s hiring be declared void and seeks actual monetary damages because he said he withdrew from two other superintendent searches because he’d been assured he had the Cumberland job.

The Cumberland County school board has asked that the suit be dismissed on multiple grounds. It argues that that only the board, and not its chairman, can award a contract — and that the board voted to hire Murphy in an open meeting.

The board also argues that the case must be dismissed because it should have been brought in Cumberland County. The motion to dismiss was argued Monday before Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate, who indicated he would rule soon.

Murphy’s office said he was in a meeting Monday afternoon and he did not immediately return a phone message.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Supreme Court's Non-Decision on Affirmative Action

This from the Brookings Institute:
It is hardly breaking news that the Supreme Court is deeply split between conservative and liberal blocs. This split has led to frequent 5-4 opinions, often with Justice Anthony Kennedy providing the swing vote. Occasionally, the split produces opinions that temporize, addressing a very narrow issue or avoiding the central question altogether. The Court’s much-awaited decision in the affirmative action case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, announced on Monday, June 24, is a classic example of avoiding the central question.
Oral arguments in this case made clear that the Court remains as divided as it was in 2003 when it last heard two affirmative action cases—approving affirmative action in one but rejecting it in the other. Although still divided, the vote on Monday was not the 5-4 split to which followers of the Supreme Court have become inured. Instead, seven justices voted not to decide anything other than that the Circuit Court of Appeals should scrutinize the Texas admission standards more closely than it did. The one dissenting justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, in effect, that the Circuit Court had done just what the Supreme Court had said it should do when it last ruled on affirmative action.

In three past landmark cases, the Supreme Court declared that racial diversity is a legitimate and constitutional objective of institutions of higher learning. Outright quotas, it said, were impermissible.  Rather, measures to promote diversity must be narrowly targeted to that objective. Such measures must be subject to ‘strict scrutiny,’ which in the case of universities means that the burden of proof rests on the university to show what it is doing is as narrowly crafted as possible to achieve ‘diversity.’

But there was and remains a big problem. No one has ever defined just what diversity for a state university means—whether it is defined relative to the state’s overall population, the graduating high-school population, or what; whether it applies at the level of the university, particular programs within the university, or the individual classroom. It is hard to believe, for example, that a single definition of ‘diversity’ for Hispanics and African Americans could or should apply at, say, the University of South Dakota and the University of Texas. Faced with such a protean challenge, it is hard to imagine what objective standard a national court system could evolve to test the constitutionality of the admission policies.

Enter the Texas admission program. The Texas admission program contains two elements. First, the top 10 percent of each graduating Texas high-school class is eligible for admission to the University of Texas. The top-10 percent policy results in admission of more Hispanics, African-Americans, and Native Americans and fewer whites and Asian-Americans than would be the case if admissions depended only on test scores because of widespread residential segregation and the fact that Hispanics, African-Americans, and Native Americans score lower on standardized tests than do whites and Asian-Americans. The second admission screen is a ‘personal achievement index’ based on numerous factors, one of which is race, although it is not assigned a uniform numerical value.

The plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, was not in the top 10 percent of her graduating class and was not admitted on the basis of the personal achievement index. She sued, alleging that she would have been admitted but for the use of race in the personal achievement index. The federal district court, which initially heard the case, granted summary judgment in favor of the University, finding that its admission procedures fell within the broad and rather diffuse guidelines laid down in previous Supreme Court decisions that granted universities ‘substantial deference’ in deciding what admissions policies best advanced its educational objectives. A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals concurred.

Ms. Fisher carried her appeal to the Supreme Court. Her attorneys did not ask the Court to overturn its previous decisions authorizing affirmative action. Instead, she alleged that the procedures were not narrowly targeted. The fact that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case led many to believe that it was prepared to end affirmative action in university admissions.

Questioning during oral arguments heightened this expectation. Three justices were openly hostile to the arguments advanced by the attorneys for the University of Texas. Justice Thomas, who did not break his customary silence during oral arguments, was on record in previous dissents solidly opposed to affirmative action. Justice Kennedy who opposed affirmative action in the two most recent previous cases, one rejecting and one affirming different affirmative action plans, displayed discomfort during oral arguments with the position advanced on behalf of the Texas plan and was expected to provide the swing vote.

The fact that Justice Kennedy ended up writing the opinion of the court suggests that he may have been critical to the ultimate decision. But the vote was not 5 to 4. Seven justices agreed that the Circuit Court had failed in its duty to apply ‘strict scrutiny’ to the Texas plan in order to determine whether it was ‘narrowly crafted’ to achieve diversity. Two of the seven, Justices Scalia and Thomas, wrote separate opinions that made clear that they would have preferred to overturn affirmative action—which Justice Thomas labels ‘racial discrimination’—had that issue been before them. One justice, Elena Kagan, recused herself.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a biting dissent, argued that the Circuit Court had done just what the Supreme Court had said lower courts should do—sustaining an admission policy that she found to be narrowly crafted in service of the constitutionally legitimate objective of diversity.

The right way to read this decision in my view is that two Justices were ready to overturn affirmative action today, one to sustain it. The other five were either unwilling to sign what would be an explosively controversial rejection of affirmative action or were willing to endorse a temporizing compromise that put off the issue for another day. The obvious discomfort with either sustaining or completely ending affirmative action that has marked Justice Kennedy’s position and that were evident during oral arguments in this case may have led to this compromise.

The language of Monday’s decision adjures the lower courts to view the Texas admission policies and all others with a skeptical eye. But it provided no guidance, apart from that in previous cases, on what exactly that means. It remains unclear how the Fifth Circuit Court will handle the issue. The opinion that the Supreme Court reviewed was the product of three judges. Seven of sixteen judges in the Fifth Circuit had supported a rehearing before the entire Fifth Circuit bench.

Whether the case is reviewed by the three judges who handed down the original decision or by the entire Fifth Circuit could influence its outcome. It is hard to imagine, however, that the current Justices of the Supreme Court will manage to escape revisiting the case of Abigail Fisher or that, based on today’s non-decision, they will overturn whatever decision the Fifth Circuit eventually reaches.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Supreme Court Weighs Cases Redefining Legal Equality

Abigail Fisher
With approximately two weeks remaining in its current term, the Supreme Court is set to hand down several high-stakes rulings in coming days. The high court is first expected to rule in Fisher v. University of Texas, the case challenging the college's use of race in its admissions criteria. The court heard oral arguments in the case last October, during which several justices sharply questioned affirmative action's constitutionality.

This from the New York Times:
Edith Windsor is challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. 
The extraordinary run of blockbuster rulings due in the space of a single week will also reshape the meaning of legal equality and help define for decades to come one of the Constitution’s grandest commands: “the equal protection of the laws.” 

If those words require only equal treatment from the government, the rulings are likely to be a mixed bag that will delight and disappoint liberals and conservatives in equal measure. Under that approach, same-sex couples who want to marry would be better off at the end of the term, while blacks and Hispanics could find it harder to get into college and to vote. 

But a tension runs through the cases, one based on different conceptions of equality. Some justices are committed to formal equality. Others say the Constitution requires a more dynamic kind of equality, one that takes account of the weight of history and of modern disparities. 

The four major cases yet to be decided concern same-sex marriage, affirmative action in higher education and the fate of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which places special burdens on states with a history of racial discrimination.

Formal equality would require that gay couples be treated just like straight couples when it comes to marriage, white students just like black students when it comes to admissions decisions and Southern states just like Northern ones when it comes to federal oversight of voting. The effect would be to help gay couples, and hurt blacks and Latinos. 

But such rulings — “liberal” when it comes to gay rights, “conservative” when it comes to race — are hard to reconcile with the historical meaning of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, adopted in the wake of the Civil War and meant to protect the newly freed black slaves. It would be odd, said David A. Strauss, a law professor at the University of Chicago, for that amendment to help gays but not blacks...

Consider the case of Abigail Fisher, a white woman who was denied admission to the University of Texas. She says the university, an arm of the state government, should not classify people on the basis of race because that violates a colorblind conception of the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
Defenders of the university’s affirmative action program say the purpose of the classification must figure in the equal protection analysis. “What we’re really trying to do is try to make sure there aren’t castes in our society, and we will try to lift up castes,” Professor Yoshino said. 

A formal conception of equality helps Ms. Fisher in her case, Fisher v. University of Texas, No. 11-345. A dynamic [conception of equality] helps the university. 

Whichever side loses a major Supreme Court case is likely to say the decision was an example of judicial activism. That term can be an empty insult, but political scientists try to give it meaning. They say a court is activist when it strikes down a law as unconstitutional. There is a chance the court will be activist in that sense twice this week.

Booker brings education ideas to NJ Senate race

This from the Herald-Leader:
Cory Booker had just 53 days to convince New Jersey Democrats to nominate him to be the state's next U.S. Senator, but the Newark mayor spent Friday afternoon speaking to hundreds of boys not yet old enough to vote.

Booker, who spoke at the American Legion Boys State final assembly at Rider University, seldom skips the chance to speak to high school and college-age audiences. He's devoted considerable energy and capital as mayor trying to create opportunities for urban youths by improving the quality of their education, and brought city schools a $100 million matching grant from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, which was announced on Oprah Winfrey's couch in 2010.

"How can we have a democracy in which we create, in a sense, an educational apartheid, where kids born in certain zip codes get great educations and kids born in other zip codes are trapped in schools?" Booker asked during an interview with The Associated Press after the keynote address for a group he said helped him learn the ropes of government when he was a Boys State delegate in 1986.

Booker says he will run on his record of nearly two terms as mayor, which includes an educational philosophy similar to that of Republican Gov. Chris Christie and sometimes at odds with the public teachers union. He's in the race to succeed Sen. Frank Lautenberg, the country's oldest senator and its last World War II veteran, who died June 3.

The Ivy League-educated Booker agrees with the governor on merit pay for teachers and school vouchers, which the unions oppose. In fact, nearly $50 million of the Zuckerberg gift was used to fund the first-ever performance-based contract in a New Jersey public school district. Booker and the governor also support an expansion of charter schools in communities where public schools are failing, and tenure changes, which were negotiated statewide to win the unions' endorsement.

"Every single day the urgency of fixing this problem stares me in the face," Booker said. "There is true understanding in Newark that the system has failed the genius of our children. So for me, it's 'what is going to work to get my kids the same educational opportunities that I (had) growing up in a more affluent area of the state.'" ...

Booker is the heavy favorite according to early polls, in large part because his name recognition is higher than his three opponents. The Republicans are Somerset physician Alieta Eck and former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary on Aug. 13 is likely headed to Washington in the fall; New Jersey voters have not elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate in more than 40 years.

Prichard Debates K-12 Teacher Tenure

I was teaching summer school and unable to attend the Prichard Committee Spring Meeting at General Butler State Park earlier this month. Fortunately, the Prich folks had a video camera handy and captured most of it. One topic of interest focused on tenure for K-12 teachers.

Tenure for public-school teachers is simply a set of rules and regulations outlining due process for teachers accused of misconduct or poor performance. But elaborate rules often make it nearly impossible to fire an incompetent teacher. Teachers who commit felonies, or otherwise commit acts of questionable morality, or those who are insubordinate to their administrators are far less problematic. But frankly, it can be difficult to get rid of an incompetent teacher. State law allows teachers to call for a tribunal to hear their case, and tribunals have lousy track record when it comes to dealing effectively with incompetence.
But is the solution to throw out tenure altogether as the proponents of corporate education reform suggest?

There is some level of consensus among education reformers and some teachers'-union leaders that the process could bear some reexamination. The most contentious areas of debate tend to be about how to modify what constitutes due process, rather than how to get rid of it altogether. 

It is worth noting that most teachers are not dangerous or incompetent and that, as a group, they have been unfairly maligned. But with 3.2 million teachers in the U.S., even a small percentage of bad teachers gives rise to concern. In practice, it is far easier for a principal to encourage teachers to move to another school (or better, another district) than it is to suffer the writer’s cramp that comes with trying to remove them from yours. In the worst cases, teachers who are actually dangerous to children can bounce from one school to the next.

Unfortunately, ineffective administrators are a big part of the existing situation. The central problem with current practices is really about administrative courage and resolve, prior to granting tenure, and to do the work of getting rid of the poorest teachers. A fair system for evaluating all teachers is also problematic. Tribunal members must understand that suspending the license of incompetent teachers for a year or two and not requiring any other remediation, is a recipe for disaster. Unions must find some way of differentiating between the protections offered most teachers, and the protections offered those who harm children. Perhaps there are some offenses the union could acknowledge to be below their standards of professional excellence.

Tenure rules are hard to change for good reasons. At a minimum, teachers are understandably concerned that they won't be treated fairly by administrators. While a variety of federal and state laws promise to protect workers from unfair and discriminatory practices, there are too many cases where principals and superintendents have overreached to eliminate teachers for political or other reasons apart from teaching. Teachers' concerns are not groundless. 

Multi-year dismissal processes that return poor teachers to the classroom — even when teachers' conduct is clearly inappropriate — as well as the growing awareness that today's teacher effectiveness measures are flawed and essentially unfair to a large percentage of teachers, complicates an issue that needs no complication. 

Two options are currently being debated. One is to make achieving tenure a high bar so that it signifies not just the amount of time served but a performance standard that comes with monetary and other recognition. The other option is simply doing away with tenure altogether and giving teachers contracts similar to those of most other workers.

This from the Prichard Committee:
The often-contentious topic of teacher tenure was the subject of a debate between Bill Raabe, director of the Center for Great Public Schools of the National Education Association, and Andy Smarick, a partner at Bellwether Education Partners. Prichard Committee member Gene Wilhoit, former Kentucky education commissioner and executive director of the national Council for Chief State School Officers, moderated the exchange.

Wilhoit pointed out that, for the last 15 to 20 years, tenure has been more the subject of academic conversations that are not connected to policy. Now, however, tenure is part of a larger discussion about improving education.
Parts 1 (59 mins) & 2 (19 mins)

Raabe’s key assertion focused on the importance of looking at the entire system of teacher recruitment, preparation, performance and professional development to determine what is “the most important lever” to pay attention to. Tenure was established to protect teachers from discrimination and to guard their academic freedom, he said. Some level of due process is still needed to ensure teachers’ freedom to experiment in finding the best way to teach students without fear that making a mistake would lead to their dismissal, Raabe added.

Smarick said tenure laws serve to hamstring administrators from making personnel decisions in a way that best serves students. He maintained that anti-discrimination laws and workplace rules have addressed the problems teachers encountered in the past.
“Tenure laws were a reaction to their time, which was very different from today” and they were put in place before data was available on high- and low-performing teachers. The laws, in Smarick’s view, protect lowest-performing teachers.

Both agreed that there is a need to review teacher compensation systems, which generally provide the same pay for all teachers based on education and experience and do now allow differentiation as a result of additional duties or special accomplishments by teachers.
 Bill Raabe's opening points:
  •          Tenure exists because historically there have been lots of bad acts taken against good teachers
  •          We need to protect academic freedom and academic inquiry
  •          Full levels of discrimination are going on in school systems
  •          Good teachers need to be able to feel comfortable to be creative in class
  •          Even if we’re concerned about the bottom 10% of poor teachers, what about the other 90%
  •          Principals have a 4-year probationary period to identify and remove poor teachers
  •          Existing laws against discrimination have not prevented a whole list of reasons for which teachers have been terminated
Andy Smarick's opening points:
  •          These rules [tenure] hamstring great principals and administrators from  managing their human assets
  •          Tenure is an adult-centered set of policies, not about students
  •          Discrimination is a part of our history and tenure was a logical reaction to that, however, we now have other things to take care of that. Newer laws ban discrimination based on race, gender…  Also a whole set of workplace rules, making sure work conditions were OK
  •          We now have teacher standards that didn’t exist 100 years ago
  •         Data suggest there is enormous variation in teacher quality, and tenure has the effect of protecting the poor teachers who are disproportionately placed in the classrooms of disadvantaged students
Back to Prichard: 
Asked for their advice for Kentucky on the tenure issue, each speaker made specific suggestions.
Smarick noted:
    • If a tenure law is retained, a teacher’s acquisition and maintenance of that status should be based on student performance.
    • A law should have “real teeth” in the consequences it provides.
    • As tenure rules are reformed, other elements such as teacher preparation and retention should be considered
Raabe noted:
    • Review the current law to see if goals can be accomplished under its provisions.
    • Closely monitor a teacher’s first four years on the job, before he or she becomes tenure-eligible, to gauge performance and provide needed supports.
    • Ensure that a quality teacher evaluation system is in place to assess teachers’ performance after they have completed probation.
In other business...

Keeping students in school, issues related to quality teaching

 and new reports focus of joint Prichard Committee, 

Teacher Team meeting

Topics ranging from high school graduation to a debate about teacher tenure provided the focus of a recent joint meeting of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and its Team on Teacher Effectiveness.

The meeting, held at General Butler State Resort Park, featured presentations by Kentucky educators and national experts on issues the citizens’ committee is emphasizing in its 30th year of advocacy for improved education for all Kentuckians.

Jefferson County Superintendent Donna Hargens, Fayette County teacher Amy Harris and Clark County principal Dustin Howard discussed the importance of keeping students in school and the strategies they use to accomplish that goal. Hargens said raising the dropout age to 18, an option made available to districts in 2013 legislation, has been on Jefferson County’s agenda for two years.

Having dropouts is expensive to the community, Hargens said, and the investment in keeping students in school will be well spent. It is important to think about things differently in using the right approach with those students, and the new law will be catalyst for doing things a different way, she added. (The law allows districts to raise the dropout age from 16 to 18. Once 55 percent of the state’s districts do so, the law will become mandatory statewide within four years.)

Harris and Howard, who work in alternative school settings, said they used a variety of programs and strategies to keep students interested and in school. “Every day we have these students in our classrooms is another opportunity for reaching, teaching and giving them an opportunity to be successful,” Harris said. In Howard’s school, the approach is what works best for all kids. “We try to put a positive spin on alternative education.”

Before convening in a joint session with the Teacher Effectiveness Team, the committee also heard from a group of high school students who advocated that students have greater involvement in the committee’s work. The committee subsequently voted to direct its board to explore ways to make that happen.

The team has developed and released two issue briefs on key topics related to quality teaching. Supporting New Teachers: The importance of the First Year in Ensuring Success and Retention and Evaluating Teachers: Kentucky’s Approach to Creating a Successful System. The issue briefs were developed with the support of Committee for Economic Development...

The team also heard a presentation on alternative teacher compensation from John L. Myers of Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, and Jennifer Kramer-Wine of the Fairview Agency. The speakers said their work to date shows that alternative compensation systems that are developed at the local, instead of state, level have the best chances for success.

The Prichard Committee Team on Teacher Effectiveness is continuing its review of issues related to quality teaching. Its final report, including recommendations, will be issued by the end of 2013.

Videos & Photos from 2013 Prichard Committee Spring Meeting

Special Recognition: Bev Raimondo receives gifts and remarks during a retirement recognition (17 minutes)

The Case for Student Integration at the Prichard Committee presented by the Prichard Committee’s Student Voice Team and Facilitated by Rachel Belin (45 minutes)

High School Graduation Panel Discussion featuring:
(Part 1 -59 minutes and Part 2 -12 minutes)
Donna Hargens, Superintendent, Jefferson County Public Schools
Amy Harris, Teacher, The Learning Center at Linlee, Fayette County Public Schools
Dustin Howard, Principal, Phoenix Academy, Clark County Public Schools

 A Debate about Tenure featuring:
(Part 1 -59 minutes and Part 2 -19 minutes)
Gene Wilhoit (bio), Moderator, Prichard Committee Member
Bill Raabe (bio), Director, Center for Great Public Schools, National Education Association
Andy Smarick (bio), Partner, Bellwether Education Partners
Hat tip to Andrew Rotherham in Time Mag.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Pattern of Deceit

KSN&C finds One More Dykes Conflict with Kirk 

Kiss and Tell Leads to Revelations

Updated and Corrected

In 2010, when Fayette County Special Education Director Kathy Dykes confided in administrator Mike Muncy, that she didn't know what to do - because she had slept with newly assigned Due Process Hearing Officer Clinton Dale Kirk, which she knew to be a conflict of interest - even that was apparently a lie.

She knew exactly what to do. Nothing.

She knew, because according to official documents obtained from KDE through an open records request, it was not the first time Kirk had failed to recuse himself in a Fayette County case where Dykes was directly involved. Kirk and Dykes were both principal parties to Agency case 0809-17 in May of 2009.

One wonders why she felt compelled to say anything to Muncy at all.

She sat quietly in 2009 as the former superintendent, then KDE Hearing Officer Dale Kirk kept secret his conflict of interest with Dykes. She sat quietly in 2010 as two more cases were tainted with deceit.

As a result of the conflict, parents in at least two of the cases tell KSN&C that they want all of her testimony thrown out. Motions to that effect are in the works.

The first case, Agency case 0809-17, began on May 6th, 2009. Attorney's from that case have not responded to requests from KSN&C. The next two cases occurred in June 18, 2010 as KSN&C fully reported here. Kirk and Dykes were outed by Mike Muncy in the April 12th letter from Brenda Allen to Superintendent Tom Shelton.

Yet another case, Agency case 1112-21, was filed on April 20th, 2012, and once again Dykes and Kirk were slated to serve their respective roles. But fate intervened. According to new documents received from KDE, Kirk and Dykes were listed as principals in the hearing, just as in the three prior cases. On April 24th, "Hearing Officer Kirk telephoned the office of the Director of Special Education, Fayette County arrange a conference call between parties." But "later that same day," Dykes and Kirk "were served electronically a Motion to Dismiss Without Prejudice" from counsel for the petitioning family. So before Kirk could make any rulings in the case - the case was withdrawn.* The case was later refiled as Agency case 1112-23, but was assigned to a different Hearing Officer. 

Lincoln County & KSBA

Even prior to Dykes joining FCPS, there were allegations from Lincoln County parents that Dykes deceived parents, and apparently only her hiring by Fayette County kept yet another earlier conflict from occurring. In 2004, parents filed a due process hearing request (Agency case 0304-26) to remedy on-going violations of IDEA in Lincoln County (where Dykes served as Director of Special Education) negatively impacting their son's education. But "Kathy Dykes came to us and begged us to drop the suit. She promised that the district would remedy the problems. But once the due process hearing was out of the way, she went back on her word," one parent told KSN&C.

The parents complained to KDE in Agency case 0405-C-32(54). In a May 2005, KDE Assistant General Counsel Kevin Brown issued a Report of Findings indicating that "the department has found violations by the district" on Dyke's watch. Unsatisfied by the district's response, the parent's refiled their due process action on in August 2005 in Agency case 0506-3. Kirk was named to the case, but by that time Dykes had left for Fayette County.

Once KDE became aware of Kirk's failure to divulge the conflict of interest in the Fayette County cases, they took action against Kirk. When Kirk applied for more work as a hearing officer in August, 2012 KDE determined that he had "an existing conflict with this work" and declared him "ineligible for selection." To protect the integrity of the process KDE requires that a hearing officer "not have a personal or professional interest" that conflicts with the objectivity in any hearing. Kirk did not meet this mandatory requirement, as he had violated the provision in at least four cases - but perhaps only one that KDE was aware of. Dale Kirk no longer serves as a hearing officer for KDE.

Kirk did find work with the Kentucky School Boards Association as a search consultant for districts seeking new superintendents. KSBA has been made aware of Kirk's failures at KDE, but at the time of this writing, KSBA is reviewing their hiring policies to determine if there is a problem with Kirk's employment. "No decision has been made regarding his status with KSBA," according to KSBA spokesman Brad Hughes.

Who is Dale Kirk?

Kirk had bristled as the head of the West Kentucky Educational Cooperative back in 2000 when it was revealed that another co-op in Ashland was used in an embezzlement scandal by former Deputy Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education Randi Kimbrough (Lexington Herald-Leader - August 3, 2000 ). State Auditor Ed Hatchett began investigating KDE's relationship with a few co-ops. Among other things, Hatchett said the department had used the agencies to stash unspent money that should have gone back to the treasury. While no one associated with a co-op was charged with wrongdoing, a new law required co-ops to be reviewed by the State Auditor's office each year thereafter. Kirk suggested that the auditor's actions were politically motivated. The Kentucky Post (February 23, 2001) reported that "the auditor found problems with the West Kentucky Education Cooperative, questioning the way it spent $11,000. The auditor said some personal items were charged to credit cards and migrant educational funds were spent for unallowed purposes."

A Livingston County native, Kirk received his bachelor's and master's degrees in history, English and education administration from Murray State University.

Kirk's resume includes stints as a teacher at Livingston Central High School, Boothville-Venice High School in Boothville, La., and Crittenden County High School. He was named assistant principal at Crittenden County High in 1979 and was principal there from 1980 to 1986. From there, he went to Fort Thomas Highlands High School, where he spent a year as assistant principal and a year as principal before becoming superintendent in Harrodsburg.

Kirk was one of the unsuccessful candidates for the Daviess County superintendency in 1995 when Stu Silberman was hired.

As a candidate for superintendent in Daviess County, Kirk described himself to the Owensboro press as a "journeyman educator," which seems about right, but one wonders if Kirk knew what the word means.
Dale Kirk  is the superintendent of the McCracken County school system d lives in Paducah. Before taking the McCracken post three years ago, Kirk was superintendent of Harrodsburg Independent Schools from 1988 to 1992.
Kirk expressed strong support for the Kentucky Education Reform Act, but said its assessment system needs adjusting.

"I believe my plan would be to continue the implementation of KERA, as we know it," he said. "We as educators face a legislative challenge to defend the good parts of reform and not let them be tossed out with the parts that need attention." Kirk said he thought Daviess County would be a good place to end his career, after eight to 10 years as superintendent.

Kirk has overseen an eventful three years in McCracken County.

When he arrived in 1992, several high-level openings existed in the central office, and two elementary schools required expensive structural repairs. Last year, a controversy flared up between the school board and teachers over salary negotiations. At one point, the local teachers' organization filed suit against the board and Kirk, who was named individually and as superintendent. The suit said Kirk violated the negotiation agreement by comments he made to local news media. The teachers accepted a 3.5 percent pay increase in December, and the suit was dropped.

Kirk is credited with implementing innovative curriculum and staff development programs in McCracken County, including a voluntary leadership academy for teachers to learn administrative skills. Murray State University now gives college credit for the program.

Chuck Mullin, chairman of the McCracken County School board, said Kirk is admired and generally well-liked in the district.

"He's a good guy with real innovative ideas," Mullin said. "As a whole right now, he has a lot of support." Kirk is married and has one son, a junior at Lone Oak High School. His wife, Charlotte, is director of federal and instructional programs for the Hickman County school district. Kirk is a veteran of the Vietnam War and has been a member of the U.S. Army Reserve since 1977.
* In the original story we reported that "news had filtered from Fayette County through the proper channels at KDE, and Kirk was suddenly replaced before any damage could be done in the 2012 case." This was not completely accurate. News did reach KDE, but legal counsel connected with the case informs KSN&C that before KDE moved against Kirk, and before the initial telephone conference, the case had been withdrawn for other reasons. A response to a KSN&C Open Records request arrived after publication (due to a simple typographical error in the return email address) but confirmed the source's information. KSN&C regrets the inaccuracy of the original report. We have no desire to hype the story or make it worse than it is.

The revolution is here

This from Valarie Strauss at The Answer Sheet:
boycottI’ve written a lot about growing resistance to high-stakes standardized testing and other corporate-driven school reforms. In the following piece, the argument is made that the revolution against the reform movement is here. It was written by Jeff Bryant, an Associate Fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future and the owner of a marketing and communications consultancy. It serves numerous organizations including Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders, PBS, and International Planned Parenthood Foundation. He writes extensively about public education policy at The Education Opportunity Network. Follow Jeff on Twitter: jeffbcdm
This from Jeff Bryant:
“It’s always hard to tell for sure exactly when a revolution starts,” wrote John Tierny in The Atlantic  recently. “I’m not an expert on revolutions,” he continued, “but even I can see that a new one is taking shape in American K-12 public education.”

In the piece titled, “The Coming Revolution in Public Education,” Tierney pointed to a number of signs:
*Teachers refusing to give standardized tests, parents opting their kids out of tests, and students boycotting tests.
*Legislators reconsidering testing and expressing concerns about corruption in the testing industry.
*Voucher and other “choice” proposals being strongly contested and voted down in states that had been friendly to them.
Tierney linked to a blog post by yours truly, “The Inconvenient Truth of Education Reform,” explaining how the movement known as “education reform” has committed severe harm to the populations it professes to serve while spreading corruption and enriching businesses and political figures.

Echoing Tierney, on the pages of Slate, The Nation, and elsewhere, David Kirp, education professor and author of a popular new book casting doubt on competitive driven, market-based school reform, declared that cheating scandals and parent rebellions over high stakes standardized testing were proof that much ballyhooed reform policies championed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are not “a proven – or even a promising – way to make schools better.”

Kirp declared that mounting evidence from school reform efforts in major U.S. metropolitan areas reveals “it’s a terrible time for advocates of market-driven reform in public education. For more than a decade, their strategy – which makes teachers’ careers turn on student gains in reading and math tests, and promotes competition through charter schools and vouchers – has been the dominant policy mantra. But now the cracks are showing.”

In a legislative view, the Progressive State Network, which supports left-leaning state legislators and monitors legislative policy in state houses, noticed “a backlash is brewing in many states as more and more parents and legislators alike start asking questions about corporate education reform.” The post on PSN’s website referenced Tierney’s article and highlighted a Minnesota bill that eliminates testing requirements for graduation and several states that are embroiled in battles to defeat measures known as the “parent trigger,” which enables private takeovers of public schools.

These observations are not alarmist chatter but well-reasoned, valid conclusions that anti-government collectivist actions related to public school policy are scaling up from isolated protests to a nationwide movement of unified resistance.

The movement is widespread among teachers, students, and parents. It is grassroots driven and way out in front of most journalists and political leaders. And it’s scaling up in intensity.

A Teacher-Student-Parent Movement

For quite some time now, education historian and reform opponent Diane Ravitch has written about the ever expanding discontent among teachers over the emphasis on standardized testing and test-based teacher evaluation and school rating systems.

As proof of this discontent, Ravitch has closely followed and commented on a boycott against standardized testing among teachers in Seattle, an ongoing protest among principals in New York state against new teacher evaluations, and objections to the “testing beast” among educators and parents in Texas.

In ever-greater numbers, however, students are also leading the resistance. A recent article in The Nation reported on the growing student resistance movement driven by grievances over austerity budgets and systemic racism.

From all corners of the country – North Carolina to Philadelphia to Louisiana to Chicago – students as young as eight years old are organizing and taking part in a variety of actions including zombie protests, school walkouts and sit-ins, and acts of defiance like the recent rant by a high school student in Texas that went viral over the Internet when he castigated a seemingly indifferent teacher for dispensing education in “packets” rather than engaging the class in meaningful, relevant learning.
In Chicago, youth voice is forming in grassroots groups like CSOSOS (Chicago Students Organizing To Save Our Schools) and VOYCE (Voices of Youth in Chicago Education) that have led prominent, headline-earning protests to school closures, teacher firings, and over emphasis on high-stakes testing.

In Philadelphia, a handful of students used their social media and organizing skills to whip up student resentment and send hundreds of students into the streets to protest budget cuts to their favorite education programs.

In Denver, high schoolers have formed Students4OurSchools and staged walkouts protesting the over-emphasis on standardized testing.

Students in Philadelphia, Providence, Rhode Island, Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere have formed student unions that have developed attention-getting tactics, which have spread to a national scale. These student organizations’ Facebook pages speak in unison against school closures and cutbacks, widespread teacher firings, and top-down implementations of mandated standards and high-stakes testing.

In many places, teachers and parents are supporting rebellious students and even joining in the protests. Grassroots parent groups, in fact, have been the driving force behind efforts to beat back school voucher proposals in Tennessee and parent trigger legislation in Florida.

Resistance is particularly vehement in low-income communities of color in large urban school districts where reform measures have lead to widespread teacher firings and school closings. In Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City, Cleveland, and Detroit, vocal protestors have been organizing in their own communities but also uniting in national campaigns, such as this year’s Journey for Justice effort that brought hundreds of activists in allied grassroots organizations to the White House to protest school closings.

Unlike school reform proponents who benefit from massive donations from rich foundations and politically connected funders, grassroots groups leading the resistance – like the Alliance for Educational Justice and Alliance for Quality Education – have far humbler means and few connections to the political class and deep pocketed philanthropists like Bill Gates.

Nevertheless, these groups have generated strong outpourings of popular dissent and produced important analyses of the duplicity of the reform agenda.

A Movement Getting More Recognition

Mostly, grassroots-led protests against education mandates have gotten little attention from even the few media outlets and reporters focused on education.

That changed, however, when the head of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, called for a moratorium on the consequences of high-stakes testing related to the Common Core.
All of a sudden, when there was a crack in the conventional wisdom that education policy was a centrist agreement between teachers’ unions and conservative belief tanks, many education bloggers and journalists decided the school accountability movement had reached a surprising new level of intensity.

Long-time education journalist Dana Goldstein speculated on her blog that Weingarten’s moratorium call is proof that education matters that were once considered products of a “coalition” of centrist-minded – although mostly conservative – wonks and Beltway operatives are now points of strong contention.

Her conclusion was that these differences represent a “deep divide” among the political class about whether it’s a good idea to “scare us into meaningful school reform.”

Another experienced education journalist, Sam Chaltain also reflected on his blog on calls for a testing moratorium. He recalled that after Barak Obama was elected, Obama proceeded with “a series of education policies that further entrenched America’s reliance on reading and math scores as a proxy for whole-school evaluation.”

Critics of those policies “vented,” Chaltain explained, but “policymakers nodded. And absent any real noise, the tests continued.” But with this more recent backlash to education mandates, Chaltain observed, “policymakers have been unable to ignore a groundswell of noise and resistance.”

Chaltain concluded that conflicts over school policy had “reached a tipping point.”

Similarly, veteran education reporter at Education Week Michelle McNeil observed, “Not since the battles over school desegregation has the debate about public education been so intense and polarized.”

McNeil sourced the polarity to the conventional wisdom that public education is “an institution that historically is slow to change,” and now it’s being “forced to deal with so much change at once.” And she asserts that the controversy over change is mostly “about centralization or decentralization” of specific “reform” efforts.

But what Goldstein, McNeil, and others on the sidelines fail to grasp is that the pushback against the nation’s education policy is not new. The “polarization” is not “obscuring” the issues – as McNeil contends – it’s clarifying them. And the “debate” over education has broken free from being an issue confined to “fringes” and “policy elites” to take its rightful place at the center of “a growing, broader backlash.”

Indeed, just like the fight to integrate public schools was connected to the larger struggle for civil rights, fights to preserve and strengthen public schools – whether they take the form of students walking out of class to protest education cuts, parents fighting against deceptively named “empowerment” policies, or teachers boycotting standardized tests – are connected to much larger struggles over what kind of nation America is becoming.

A Leadership Out Of Touch

The growing rebellion to education mandates has been driven mostly by grassroots groups formed first among low-income communities of color, but now the movement is extending to people of greater means and social-political capacity like parent groups that worked an inside game with state legislators to thwart implementation of the Common Core standards in Indiana, block parent trigger bills in Florida, and curb the emphasis on high stakes testing in Texas.

This unification of the grassroots with the “grass tops” in education is not well understood in the media or among policy elites.

In fact, people in charge of education governance appear to be more clueless than ever about what they are intent on accomplishing and legislating.

Witness the recent confession from one of the movement’s most influential leaders, Bridgeport, Conn., school chief Paul Vallas. As Valerie Strauss reported on this blog, The Answer Sheet, Vallas has led reform efforts in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New Orleans that have become blueprints for education policy ideas across the country. Yet he admitted that the policies he has championed are resulting in a “nightmare” of complexity.

Reportedly, he characterized his efforts to enact test-based teacher evaluations as a feature of a “testing industrial complex” and “a system where you literally have binders on individual teachers with rubrics that are so complicated … that they’ll just make you suicidal.”

Vallas’ newfound doubts over what he has created reflected other confusing comments from education policy leaders. Most notable was the commentary by Bill Gates, widely acknowledged as a leader in the movement to base teacher evaluations and school ratings on student test scores, warning against the “rush to implement new teacher development and evaluation systems” based on test scores.

Even more perplexing was Secretary Duncan’s recent inability to deliver a straight answer about parent trigger bills. As Beltway gadfly Alexander Russo recently reported, “Duncan described the trigger as ‘an important tool’ for parent involvement — but not the only or even the most important one” – whatever that means.

Compared to authentic grassroots outpourings for resources, equity, and real democracy, these equivocations from education policy leaders are puny and venal to say the least.

Intensity Is Building

“Scared” or not, recalling Goldstein’s comment, activists driving protests against the nation’s prevailing education policies are ratcheting the fight to unprecedented intensity that will likely become even more forceful in future efforts.

Later this month, for instance, teachers in Chicago are planning a citywide three-day march to protest impending school closures. Education related bills in state legislatures in California, Texas, New York, North Carolina, and elsewhere will be highly visible points of contention. And actions to protest the imminent doubling of college loan debt interest rates – certainly an issue related to public education – are generating a unified response from hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Clearly, the resistance to top-down education mandates is building. The movement is propelled by forces far greater than what education journalists and policy leaders understand – widespread grievances about inequity, unfairness, and public disempowerment.

The revolt is happening. The revolt is now.