Tag Archives: privatizing education

What are LEAs?

In our public school system, we have school districts, with elected officials who are publicly accountable. And we have state education departments, with an elected school superintendent who is publicly accountable. Money that goes to these entities is, at least in theory, transparently spent.

But there’s this other thing we don’t hear too much about. It’s kind of in between the school district and the state. It’s a “local education agency” or LEA. Here are two examples.

The Puget Sound Educational Service District includes King and Pierce Counties, plus Bainbridge Island.

Educational Service District 112 includes counties in southwest Washington.

According to ESD 112, State lawmakers created ESDs in 1969 for these purposes:

  1. To help districts pool their resources to maximize education dollars and realize cost savings;
  2. To create equal educational opportunities for all children of Washington, whether they live in districts large or small, rich or poor, urban or rural.
  3. To bring greater efficiency to school district operations through creative program development and partnerships

So it sounds like they do some pretty awesome work.

But there are some things I wonder about. I checked out ESD 112 because a Seattle Public Schools “Friday Memo” referred to them as a source of information for how to align curriculum to the Common Core, while the district was in the process of creating a “scope and sequence” document. Here’s what the memo said:

It is our goal that whatever math assessments are used in Seattle Public Schools that they provide insight for teachers into how well their students are progressing toward learning the key work of the grade. To define the key work of each grade, the central math program is using guidance from OSPI on the major focus of the grade and guidance from the Common Core State Standards on fluencies at each grade.

Here are the links to these major emphases from OSPI: http://web3.esd112.org/docs/default-source/smerc/ospi-ccss-major-focus-k-2.pdf?sfvrsn=0



Here is a link to a document containing the Common Core “Required Fluencies” per course: http://achievethecore.org/content/upload/Focus%20in%20Math_091013_FINAL.pdf

A team of centrally based math curriculum specialists and math teachers from across the district are working diligently this spring to be sure that the math Scope and Sequence is aligned to these major emphases. The central math team will then align mClass Beacon assessments to the Scope and Sequence and therefore to the key learning for each grade.

I find it really depressing that the school district decided to mandate this “Scope and Sequence” before the assessments were finished and without having the least idea what curriculum would be used, but that’s not what I got curious about.

I got curious about what this “ESD112.org” thing might be and why a school district memo would say it was OSPI (the state department of education). So that’s why I started looking at it.

What I don’t like is that it is a public/private hybrid. I am opposed to school privatization, and by that I don’t mean charter schools, I mean a collection of practices that are intended to remake our schools into an image of the “free market.” There’s a really thorough treatment of what that means and why it’s a problem in the document “Hidden Privatisation in Public Education” from the Education International 5th World Congress, 2007.

I’m not opposed to privatization in a knee-jerk fashion. I really like the thought that the League of Women Voters has put into its position paper on privatization. They suggest:

The League believes that some government provided services could be delivered more efficiently by private entities; however, privatization is not appropriate in all circumstances. . . The decision to privatize a public service should be made after an informed, transparent planning process and thorough analysis of the implications of privatizing service delivery.

They go on to list a number of specific criteria that should be followed. Check it out. Good stuff!

Going back to ESD 112, the reason I would say it’s a public/private hybrid is the amount of money that seems to be coming from private grants. That money always comes with strings. And then there’s the stated philosophy:

In addition to acting as a liaison between local districts and the State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to deliver programs mandated by the state, Washington’s ESDs are public entities, which operate in a highly entrepreneurial fashion. We blend the benevolence of the public sector with the spirit and ingenuity of the private sector.

Not necessarily bad, but worth keeping an eye on.





Mysterious timing for Chicago school closures


This spring, thousands of Chicagoans gathered to protest school closures. 54 schools were closed, against the wishes of the impacted communities. If you’ve missed this story, you can follow it back all the way to 2011 on the Huffington Post.

The official story behind the closures was that they were underutilized and that Chicago Public Schools just didn’t have the money to run them. But at the very same time, the school district is requesting applications from charter school companies.

They’re closing neighborhood public schools, against the wishes of the communities impacted, and replacing them with privatized charter schools.

In which kinds of neighborhoods? In Chicago, as in New York and Philadelphia, these school closures are happening mostly in communities of color. Here are the numbers:


But I digress. I was talking about the mysterious timing. What I’m talking about here is Teach for America, the nonprofit that was originally supposed to staff schools where teachers were hard to find. I remember learning about it many years ago from a PBS special. It showed a bright-eyed, passionate teacher going into a difficult classroom and excelling. Great, right?

Not so much, as it turns out.

In January, months before the school closures were announced, the Teach For America Board of Directors by some strange coincidence projected that the number of charter schools in Chicago would double, or in other words, increase by 52.

The same number as the public schools that closed.

Was Teach for America involved in the school closures? It sure looks that way. Blogger Ed Shyster, who broke the news about TFA’s charter school projections, argues that these projections  represent “backwards planning” in which those in power decide on the result they want (52 new charter schools) and then design the plan. He further points out that there are close ties between TFA, charter school companies, and charter school authorizers (who help decide which charter schools can open).

The Washington Post Answer Sheet reprinted his blog post in the article “How Big Can TFA Get?” Check it out.

Why would TFA do this? If the mission is to help poor communities, why would TFA override their express wishes to keep their neighborhood schools?

I think the easiest way to answer this is to look at an article from the right-wing blog Education Next. TFA leaders go on to become “educational entrepreneurs” — which is to say people who are starting charter school organizations or otherwise privatizing education.

And, as it turns out, this is a core part of TFA’s mission. Read between the lines on their “Lifelong Leaders” web page. It says:

“As an alum, you will join a network of like-minded people who support each other personally and professionally in endeavors that further our mission – such as opening and staffing schools, partnering on social entrepreneurship initiatives, and sharing additional opportunities to advocate for students.”

Just to be clear, “opening schools” means opening charter schools. And “social entrepreneurship initiatives” means privatization.

And why would TFA want to privatize education? This part is really really important. It isn’t because TFA is somehow “evil” or whatever. It’s because the people who run it, who have loads and loads of money and power, think that privatizing our schools is the best way to “help” our communities.

But look back at the original photograph here. These people didn’t want to be “helped” by having their schools closed.

Next up: Are nonprofits our frenemies?

Thoughts on the MAP boycott

For whoever hasn’t been following this bit of news – it’s been in the national media – teachers in Seattle are boycotting a standardized test called Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP. The boycott was initiated by teachers at Garfield High School. Students there are on serious testing overload! There are a bazillion tests required for graduation, which is a problem in and of itself. And on top of that, there’s the MAP. This test is not required for graduation and students are not taking it seriously. At the same time, teachers evaluations are strongly affected by the student’s test results.

All these issues – testing overload, tests being used inappropriately – are a national problem. Some consider excessive testing to be child abuse. Testing is pushing out time for learning. Many people agree that basing teacher evaluations on student test scores is highly arbitrary. Parents are frustrated when standardized tests are used for student placement in lieu of the human judgment by teachers.

Something else is going on, too. Our schools are facing many different kinds of privatization, from privatization of schools (such as charter schools and vouchers) to privatization in schools (transforming schools in the model of the private sector, including dehumanized, centralized control). This is misleadingly called “education reform.” That’s where the push toward high-stakes testing is coming from. That’s why a lot of states have passed laws mandating that student test scores make up one-half of a teacher’s evaluation. And that’s why there’s a call for “multiple measures” of student achievement – that is, multiple tests. Test overload.

There’s pushback from the community affected. Students, parents, and teachers alike. At Garfield, all three have come together – the teachers are boycotting, the PTSA supports it, and the associated student body supports it. All over the city and nationally, people are supporting the boycott. By coming together, I think we could kill the MAP. It’ll be a major win not just for Garfield and not just for Seattle: it will provide inspiration nationwide.

But then what? This brings me to the rather inconvenient fact that most of us fighting this standardized testing overload seriously need to grapple with. Some parents, some teachers, and some students like the MAP. Some oppose it, some support it.

And to be honest, they do it for some good reasons. Kids fall through the cracks. They really do. Without testing, some struggling students are not identified and end up graduating high school without being able to read. Without testing, some advanced learners are not identified. The MAP test catches some of those. And in some cases, the MAP is the only tool that’s useful for that purpose.

But then on the other hand, the Seattle Public School District is using it to bar students from the advanced learning program. Kids who demonstrate the ability to work well above grade level, but who don’t meet a score cutoff on the MAP test, are denied access.

Parents do have a recourse, but it has the word “Privilege” smeared all over it. You can appeal. For an appeal to be successful, in many cases, that means private testing. Two groups of people can get that: the group of parents who can afford the $300 per child that you would need to slap down; and the group of parents whose kids qualify for free-or-reduced lunch AND who have the wherewithal to jump through all the hoops needed to locate and arrange private testing, get their child there on time and prepared, and appropriately fill out the forms. Plenty of kids are going to fall through the cracks.

Is it worth it? Is identifying some children’s education needs worth the price of barring others from programs they need?

And is it worth jeopardizing teachers’ jobs over an arbitrary measure?

And is it worth spending so much learning time and money and so many instructional resources (library space, tutor time, you name it)?

I don’t mean the answer is “no.” I mean that these are questions we need to be asking and answering as a community of students, teachers, and parents.

Also, we need to be asking these questions separately from and independent of the private sector individuals and organizations who are interested in privatizing schools. They want to know, “How can we transform education so it looks good to us?” But we want to know, “What’s the best way to bring up and educate our kids?”

We also need to be asking questions like, “How much testing is too much?” and “What kind of testing is appropriate for our kids and at what grade?” and “What is this test measuring?” and “What are the limitations of this test?”

(That last is a biggie. To understand what the limitations are, people need to understand some basic statistics concepts. Measurement error, confidence level, standard deviation. Almost nobody does. We’re using these numbers without understanding them. We’re worshipping the numbers.)

We need to be asking these questions.

Because even if the MAP goes away, it’s going to be replaced by something else. There will be a whole slew of new tests to measure mastery of the new Common Core Standards. (By the way, one organization that will be sitting pretty is Pearson, the company that makes tests and curriculum and as such, has a vested interest in promoting high-stakes testing and testing overload.) States will continue to pass laws mandating that student test results play a role in teacher evaluations. Communities will continue to resist.

So tell me, what do you think? How are these tests helpful? How are they harmful? Is there a way to use them without getting burned? Is there a way to stop using them without leaving some students’ needs unmet? Let me know what you think.