Friday, July 31, 2009

The Cartel - watch it

Fridays need to be simplified – especially in the blogosphere. So I just wanted to provide some quick thoughts on The Cartel – the documentary that looks at education in New Jersey but could apply to any state. To me the most powerful point in the movie is the charter school lottery. The artificial caps on the number of charter schools in this country means that in many places you have to put your name into a lottery to see if you get to go to a great school.

In the movie two women get so overwhelmed by the fact that their daughters get in, they have to leave the classroom where the lottery is held and go outside to celebrate. When asked what this means to their daughters they simply say - this has saved her life, she now has a chance at success. The striking contrast is the next shot which shows a girl with tears just streaming down her face because she did not get in.

Imagine your life decided by a lottery. Imagine your safety and success are totally dependent on a random drawing. It is absolutely pathetic.

The second striking thing is the interview with the head of the NJEA teacher’s union who demonstrates a total lack of concern for students. In one case she is asked if it is OK that a teacher with massive anger management issues punched a student in the face and could not be fired. Her response is that of course it is OK as long as there is due process it is a good thing.

Finally, if you have not seen Derrell Bradford speak on how to save students, you have not seen passion in education. He was brilliant and you cannot help but get excited by the opportunity to do anything to save kids from hideous schools when he is done.

It is definitely worth seeing the film and if you are in education reform – you need to show it in your state. Thanks to Dan Lips and Heritage for the screening!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Clear and concise

Great post and first comment over at Eduwonk today on what matters more in education - class size or teacher effectiveness. Then 'Jonathon' hits the nail right on the head summing up the research that is continually ignored by education policy makers:

"Several reputable studies have showed us that: a masters degree in education has little to no benefit to students; beyond five years of experience, teaching experience does not have a strong impact on student achievement; and class size does not nearly have the impact on student achievement as teacher effectiveness"

It is amazing that research can be ignored in favor of what feels good.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

No longer "just a test"

For years we have fought the mantra that ABCTE is just a test. Those opposed would just continue to say we offered no pedagogy even thought it was patently false (see here). Now comes the Indy Star with this quote:

"» Nonteachers could become teachers without going through a school of education by taking a curriculum offered by the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence."

Finally, people are realizing that we have a curriculum. How huge is that?? And with Indiana's great new state superintendent, this could be a great new state for us.

Thank you!

Today is the day for ABCTE, we are officially on our own. It was about four years ago that I became the President and things were definitely not as rosy. We had lost our grant in Congress and we had to run around working to get our funding back in the spending bill. The press was not kind to us because of some issues with our board and it had been a while since a new state had accepted us.

It takes a dedicated team of people to overcome those issues, cut costs and build success. It took a great board of directors to help brainstorm solutions to our financial problems. It took many friends in many states to put themselves out there for ABCTE. And you have to watch every dollar.

Today is both a celebration and a thank you. Our revenue per candidate is now around $800 and our cost per candidate is down to $1,100. We have over $4.8M in the bank to cover that distance until our volume will create a break-even situation. It took very careful planning and execution to hit this point and I am very proud of where we are.

So to all our states, candidates, Congress, the US DOE, education reform friends, founding board members, staff (and the families of the staff since we travel so much), my sincere appreciation.

Because of you, there are 1,700 classrooms with incredible teachers inspiring our students! See for yourselves!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Shortage and Surplus

No surprise here. People have the hardest time wrapping their minds around the following two truths:

1. There is a surplus of teachers
2. There is a shortage of teachers

Both statements are true. There is a surplus of elementary teachers. But there are HUGE shortages of math, science and special education teachers.

Broward County, a Broad Foundation finalist, does what is right for students. They are cutting teaching positions in surplus areas and hiring teachers with math and science expertise.

Which brings us to ABCTE – this is exactly what we do. Train career changers to be math and science teachers AND/OR help elementary teachers become great math and science teachers.

Looking at all teachers versus all teaching positions masks the issue. Both statements are true and if states and districts don’t focus on number 2, it will have a significantly adverse affect on the ability of their students to compete in the global market.

Scalable and Sustainable

One of the big issues with the ARRA funds and the Race to the Top challenge is the supposed short term nature of this incredible boost in funding. This is a one time opportunity with billions of dollars to be used to give our education system a push in the right direction.

The concern from all sides is what will happen when the funds are gone.

On the right, they are deathly afraid that the spending will continue and the results will be mediocre at best. On the left, they are deathly afraid that the opportunity will be squandered with little or nothing to show for it.

So we keep hearing words like sustainable and scale. Yet the funds continue to go to organizations that have neither. Being sustainable and moving to scale are incredibly difficult in any organization but even more challenging in education.

Perhaps that is why we at ABCTE are so proud of the fact that we are achieving both and celebrating this week. We are leaving our federal grant having been great stewards of those funds and running independently from this day forward. Right now, we have a enough cash to cover the shortfall between what we are charging per candidate and our actual costs per candidate.

We can do this for the three years it will take to get to break-even – a true representation of moving to scale. However, it would be great to be able to conserve some of that cash and maybe even charge less if some of the education philanthropists would come to the table with us.

Regardless, we have created a completely scalable organization that has a business model that allows us to be self-sustaining. A rarity in non-profits and almost unheard of in education.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Politics of Blocking

It was pretty nice of iNACOL (the online learning group) to give out copies of Liberating Learning by Terry Moe and John Chubb at the ALEC Conference last week. It is a pretty easy read that I finished on the plane to Mississippi yesterday.

I wish I had read it five years ago.

Moe and Chubb give you a primer on the political strategy of the teacher’s union. They call it the politics of blocking. The key points they make are dead on:
1. Teacher’s unions are very powerful at the state and local level
2. It is much easier to block legislation than it is to pass it
3. If it looks like it might pass – they can push for a delay – request lengthy study for a few years
4. If it starts to pass, you can always load it up with a ton of junk amendments to make the implementation impossible
5. If it does pass, immediately start attacking either through the courts or new legislation the next year

While the politics of blocking is a cute name, it is also the politics of wearing you down. ABCTE really could have used this information when we started as I learned all of this the hard way.

One thing they leave out of the politics of blocking is that we need a politics of moving to counteract. If education reforms wants to ever become a “movement” instead of disparate entities pushing for single agenda, it will need to have a state level group in every state pushing just as hard.

The theory they put forth in the book on how education will ultimately change is that technology, both in innovation and in information, will rule the day. Technology is cool and parents want it. Unions are resisting online schools because of the fear of job losses. But eventually, parents will demand greater technology in the classroom and as the information about efficacy of teaching and schools continues to proliferate, the demands will increase.

They are correct and tangentially agree with Disrupting Class by Christensen et al that technology will save education. They just disagree a little on the method that will make this happen. They also put forth their view of the “education of tomorrowland” – but I will write about that at the other blog.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Online learning: US gets left in the dust again

iNACOL, the International Association for Online Learning held an excellent seminar at ALEC on the future of education. The facts are pretty stunning on the numbers for online learning here and abroad.

It is well known that we are falling behind in K12 because other countries are moving so much faster than we are. What you may not know, and I certainly didn't know, is that this is especially true in online learning where developing nations are using online to rapidly, and dramatically, increase access to education for all their students.

Consider these facts:
• In the US we have gone from 50,000 online students in 2000 to over 1,000,000 in 2008 which sounds pretty good until you read the others
• The European Union put all of the International Baccalaureate courses online to increase access across the 26 million students there
• China has digitize the entire K-12 curriculum and is working on improving internet access. They expect over 100,000,000 new online students in the next 10 years
• India would need to build over 200,000 schools to provide education for all students. Instead they have worked with Educomp to digitize their curriculum and train teachers to provide online learning - this will provide an education to tens of millions of students in the coming years
• Turkey completed building out their online K12 curriculum and have gone from no online students to 15,000,000 online students in just three years

Yet, the NEA got the Wisconsin courts to close the online school in that state. The parents had to fight back and get the legislature to reopen the school. I just started reading Liberating Learning by Moe and Chubb. They talk about how easy it is for the unions to block reforms that might hurt members even if it would help kids. Anyone who has fought to pass education reforms will appreciate this line from the book:
“The American political system is literally designed, therefore, to make blocking – and thus preserving the status quo – far easier than taking positive action.”

Online education is coming in a big way. The current university and K12 systems are not moving fast enough because of resistance from the status quo. But they must change or they will be obsolete in the coming years. More to come on this.

Monday, July 13, 2009

And nothing much happened.....

I am back from vacation, and it was a great one, and I am always eager to find out what has changed in the last week or so. Of course, nothing really changes in education in July so I was not too surprised to find very little flowing in the education news arena.

I guess the two biggest stories is the NEA admitting they are a union and the a smattering of stories that the huge stimulus money in education isn’t really doing much for innovation. Neither all that surprising but both have pretty big implications.

The NEA move is actually refreshing and a continuation of improved candor. They are, and should be, focused on improving the lives of their members. I have continued to see this at the state level and continue to work much more closely with them to resolve any problems they may have with our program. It also seems like more decision makers in education have come to this understanding as well. It makes for much more productive conversations when it motivations are clear.

As for the lost opportunity for the stimulus dollars – again no shock. It will be very easy to poke holes at some issues like this, and it is a pretty big disappointment. I remember when states were required to tell the US DOE what they were doing different on teacher recruitment to get to 100% highly qualified – every single state repackaged what they were currently doing in the “innovation” banner and said that now, their same old tired techniques were going to result in more math and science teachers.

Guess I didn’t miss much at all last week – but it is good to be back and resume the fight so that every child has a great teacher.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Charter School Innovation

The press release below is for a charter school where I serve on the Board of Directors. Our school struggled in the first few years to really get going as most schools do. The freedom that charter schools are given means we could have closed or continued limping along. But we chose the innovative path of partnering with a stronger, more successful school with a similar mission - not unlike the business world. The overall winner in this partnership is the students who now have the chance for a safe, dual immersion education with outstanding caring teachers. The education entrepreneurs who make things like this happen are just amazing to work with. More to come as we move these two schools together -


CentroNía Announces Management Agreement With Bilingual Community Academy

Washington, D.C.—As of July 1, 2009, CentroNía welcomes ABC-Academia Bilingüe de la Comunidad/Bilingual Community Academy Public Charter School under its expanding umbrella of educational programming. This will be the second Charter School CentroNía will manage. Since 2004, CentroNía has managed DC Bilingual Public Charter School. This partnership with ABC expands CentroNía’s bilingual, multicultural educational outreach into the 6th, 7th and 8th grades. As noted by the DC Public Charter School Board, ABC provides DC’s “only Dual Immersion Middle School…” where “The parents are extremely pleased with their school, its teachers and school leaders. They relish the fact that there is on-going communication between parents, teachers and the principal relative to their child’s academic progress.”

CentroNía is a nationally accredited educational organization that provides affordable quality education programs, professional development, and family support services in a bilingual, multicultural environment to more than 1,700 children, youth, and families in the greater Washington, DC metropolitan area.

For more information on ABC, please visit us online or contact us by phone (202) 822-6301 or via email Applications are still available for the 2009-2010 school year!