Tuesday, May 31, 2011

THE "HIGHLY QUALIFIED" TEACHER FARCE: Obama couldn't care less

The No Child Left Behind Act (“NCLB”) became law in 2002 “to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments.” To that end the law  mandates that all teachers must hold "full state certification" and be "highly qualified."

That sounds great, but what does it mean in practice? That depends on which side of Alice's looking glass you are on. In 2008 the Bush administration followed Alice through the mirror when they decided that tens of thousands of teachers in training, interns for example, were "highly qualified teachers." Then, ruling that black is in fact white, a federal court upheld that definition.

In other words, we are talking about rank beginners, students or recent graduates who are gaining, practical experience being highly qualified. In other words. Only in the Wonderland of public education could such jabberwocky be taken seriously.

It is some consolation that, in an uncommon turn of events, the three-judge panel reversed itself and invalidated the Bush adminitration's regulation. In effect, they ruled that whatever "full certification" may mean in a particular state, a teacher is  NOT highly qualified before they have obtained it. But the Obama administration figured out a way to sidestep the court and has continued using the logically indefensible Bush definition of "highly qualified" as rank beginner.

in other words, the Obama administration is so dismissive of teacher quality as an issue in school reform that they are unwilling even to insist that public school teachers meet state certification standards that are undemanding to begin with. So Americans, particularly poor Americans, will continue to make do with teachers who often are so far removed from "highly qualified" that it is a joke.

For more such considerations please visit Highly Qualified Teachers: misgivings

Monday, May 30, 2011


Philadelphia is the site of nearly a dozen recent charter school scandals. Is the City of Brotherly Love just particularly fertile ground for such corruption? Or is this sort of thing common?

There are only 5,400 charter schools in the entire United States. But if we google “charter school fraud” it yields an astonishing 1,080,000 results. “Charter school scandal” triggers another 519,000 and “charter school corruption” 480,000.

Further investigation reveals a broad and deeply troubling nationwide pattern of charter school scandals. And we’re not talking about stealing chump change either. Well over $12 billion was spent on charter schooling in 2010; and a lot of larcenous people are wetting their beaks.

Here are a few examples of what's going on. In Houston Texas the Prepared Table Charter School had its charter revoked and four administrators  (a pastor and three relatives) indicted on 26 counts including the embezzlement of millions of dollars in federal and Texas funds. Apparently the table was a little too well prepared in this case.

The Jesse Jackson Academy (with campuses in both Houston and Fort Worth) closed in 2008 when it was charged that school officials had misappropriated $3.2 million in federal funds.

 In April the founder of the now defunct California Charter Academy, a chain of 60 charter schools serving 10,000 students around the state, faced 113 felony charges related to misappropriating $23 million in state and federal funds.  The charges include 56 counts of grand theft, 56 counts of misappropriating public funds and 1 count of failing to file a tax return. He faces a possible 64 years in prison.

Another California Charter Academy official, who also is a California city councilman, faces 15 counts of grand theft, 15 counts of misappropriating public funds,  counts of failing to file a state tax return and one count of filing a false a false tax return

An Islamic movement also has been charged with using their nationwide chain of charter schools to illegally finance the teachings of Turkish Islamic leader Tehuyllah Gulen with US taxpayers money. The FBI is investigating the GUlen schools for illegal use of education funds, criminal conspiracy, extortion and violation of immigration laws.”  It is alleged that they have been laundering money  through generous “consulting contracts” with Gulen front companies and sending it back to Turkey.  The scheme is alleged to also feature prearranged salary kickbacks to the movement by 1,851.

This is just a representative sample of a nationwide Niagara of charter school corruption that is receiving insufficient attention. Most of it is a consequence of weak federal, state and local oversight. Greg Richmond, the President & CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers — an organization made up of the agencies that approve charter schools — testified to the House Committee on Education and Labor in February 2010 that:

 “Over the past fifteen years, the federal government has allocated $2 billion to support the creation of new charter schools. … Yet during that same time, the federal government has invested almost nothing, less than $2 million, or one-tenth of one percent, to ensure that those schools are held to high standards and properly monitored by a competent authorizing agency. It is as if the federal government had spent billions for new highway construction, but nothing to put up guardrails along the sides of those highways.” 

How has this slapdash approach to supervision come to pass? It has its primary origin with ideologically exuberant politicians who uncritically embrace the self-perpetuating worldview that free market economics is the only possible salvation for allegedly lousy “government” schools and everything else. Their conservative political beliefs have evolved into a self-sealing worldview that has its own gods, heroes, and myths. The central idea is that the cleansing fire of free enterprise, unfettered by regulations, is all that is needed to keep things in order. 

Admittedly, an unknown number of these free market politicians aren’t really true believers. They just pretend to be to get the votes of those who are. But this doesn’t make any difference when it comes to casting their votes for the unregulated, prone to corruption, free market approach.

It's time to  get back to reality. Let's cool the free market hype and crack down on charter school thieves by setting and enforcing high standards. And this should begin with the Obama administration. They too have fallen uncritically in love with charters. But they had better get the regulatory equivalent of a condom in place before they get too intimate. 

Visit newfoundations.com for similar commentary.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Compared to what is required to enter any serious profession, teacher education is a joke.

A cursory comparison illuminates this reality. Let's match up the preparation of podiatrists with that of teachers. Before admission to a four-year college of podiatric medicine, potential feet fixers must complete at least three years of demanding pre-medical study at an accredited college or university and also score well on the rigorous medical college admissions test.

Should they be admitted they must satisfactorily complete two years of tough classroom instruction,in courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, biomechanics, pathology, pharmacology, and physiology. This is followed by two years of clinical training and practice. Graduates earn the degree of Doctor of Podiatric Medicine; but the majority continue their training for from one to four years in hospital residency programs.

Now let's take a  look at teacher preparation. Aspiring teachers merely must complete high school and then gain admission to any one of the hundreds of colleges and universities, many of them third or fourth tier, that prepare teachers. Here they experience underfunded, weak kneed, undergraduate teacher preparation programs that serve as school cash cows. After their often weak-kneed course work there is a semester of student teaching with a supervising teacher whose primary qualification is their willingness to put up with it. Pass a couple of state required tests and a brand new teacher is born. Does this  seem too demanding? Be of good cheer, there are alternative routes that require far less effort.

It's not that teaching is easier than podiatry. There is at least as much to be known about teaching, learning and human development as there is about bunions, hammer toes and plantar warts.  As a matter of fact, there may be a good deal more to know. But we don't value our kids as much as we do our foot comfort . End of story.

See ”Teach for America" at Teach for America