All posts by Doug Newman

A Right Denied

Dear Public Education Advocate:
Yesterday I attended the premier showing of A Right Denied produced by Bob Compton who also produced 2 Million Minutes and few other related documentaries about education systems in the US and the world.
In between watching the Masters or the Yankees lose a few ballgames this weekend, please review this information and in particular, the attached 240 slide PPT presentation prepared by Whitney Tilson who is featured in A Right Denied. Whitney’s research and factual data took a few years to compile and is the basis for the documentary. I have been following Whitney’s work closely for a few years and if you asked me if I could have dinner with any one person in America today who would it be; my answer (after my wife of course) Whitney Tilson. Please review his material and feel free to share this with those you know.
While the achievement gap among racial groups and the sad inequities based solely one’s zip code are illustrated, so is the decline in the U.S. education system on a whole – the data is alarming.
Some select pieces from the PPT slides (5.5MB PDF):
Why hasn’t additional money resulted in improved results?

  1. Teacher quality has been falling rapidly over the past few decades
  2. Our school systems have become more bureaucratic and unaccountable
  3. As a nation, have been so rich for so long that we have become lazy and complacent. Our youth are spending more time watching TV, listening to iPods, playing video games (up 25% in the last four years), going to sporting events, etc. rather than studying hard. These two pictures capture what’s happening in China vs. the U.S. (see slide number 15).

Americans watch more than twice as much TV as any other country. (Watching the Masters or Baseball is exempt however.)
Achievement Gap #1 – We are falling behind all economic competitors.

  • 15-year-olds trail almost all other OECD countries in Math and Science.
  • Our High School graduation rate lags nearly all OECD countries.
  • US is among the leaders in college participation but ranks in the bottom half or college completion.
  • The college completion rate in the US has stagnated and our competitors have surpassed us.
  • American students score highly in self-confidence. 72% agree or strongly agree; “I get good marks in Mathematics”, yet we are near the bottom internationally in mathematics.

Achievement Gap #2 – Academic achievement of low-Income, minority students is dramatically lower than their more affluent peers. You already know this but, did you know;

  • The black-white achievement gap is already one year in kindergarten?
  • The majority of Black and Latino 4th graders struggle to read a simple children’s book.
  • The achievement gap widens the longer students are in school.
  • Black and Latino 12th graders read and do math at the same level as white 8th graders.
  • Massachusetts and NYC have made great strides in math the past six years.
  • Very few children from low-income households are graduating from any four-year college, and this has stayed consistent for the past 40 years.
  • 74% of students at elite colleges are from the top quartile of households and only 9% are from the bottom half of households.
  • Even the better high school graduates today are alarmingly unprepared for college. Close to half need remedial courses.

Two general approaches to fixing our schools

  • Improve the current system and create alternatives to the current system. Adopt both strategies.
  • Too many school systems today are dominated by the “Three Pillars of Mediocrity.”
    • Lifetime Tenure
    • Lockstep Pay
    • System Drive by seniority (not merit)
  • Teacher Quality and Effectiveness. Teacher quality has been declining for decades. College seniors who plan to go into education have very low test scores.
  • Teacher certification has little impact on student achievement.

Please review the trailer and the slide presentation attached which I know you will appreciate. I would encourage you to purchase the CD too or you can borrow mine if you like, I also have 2 Million Minutes and 2 Million Minutes: The 21st Century Solution.

How Connecticut Can Fix its Dysfunctional Education spending system to Reward success, Incentivize Choice and Boost Student Achievement

ConnCAN and education research firm Public Impact today (Nov. 23, 2009) released a groundbreaking report [1MB PDF] tracing the flow of funds through Connecticut’s public schools and offering a more rational system that will close that state’s yawning achievement gap.
Please visit ConnCAN’s website to download the report The Tab.
I was very fortunate to be provided an advance copy which I read over the weekend. It is truly groundbreaking in every sense of the word. I can not encourage you enough to please take the time to read this extremely well done, thorough report.
p.s. For your convenience, I’ve attached the PDF file of The Tab, but please also visit ConnCAN’s web site!
Alex Johnston:

ConnCAN runs on big ideas. We launched our organization almost five years ago with a mission to do nothing less than offer every Connecticut child access to a great public school.
Living in the state with the nation’s largest achievement gap is too unsettling to tolerate plodding, incremental change. When more than 90 percent of fifth graders in wealthy Ridgefield can read at or above grade level but only 31 percent of Bridgeport kids can, there’s no time to dally. We demand breakthrough success.
ConnCAN has grown into a force: an education advocacy group powered by thousands of advocates who share our impatience. We proved the power of our movement through our hugely successful 2009 ‘Mind the Gaps’ legislative campaign. The campaign made real gains in data transparency, teacher effectiveness and funding for Connecticut’s excellent public charter schools.
But the campaign also illustrated the unsustainable way we pay for our public schools. Consider this tale: In 2008, Hartford asked Achieve- ment First to bring one of its excellent charter schools to the city. The Achievement First Hartford Academy opened its doors to kindergarten, first and fifth grade students, with plans to add one grade each year as these students advanced until the school was completed. Because charter schools are funded on their own line item in the state budget, the school will need more money each year to support this natural grade growth. This jewel of a school became a growing line item in the midst of the Great Recession and an easy target.

For Debate: Who Picks School Board

[Sent to: Winnie Hu]
Terrific job with your article “For Debate: Who Picks School Board“.
A suggestion for a follow-up piece would be not only who Picks the School Board, but also to examine how do candidates get on the ballot. For example in Connecticut, School Board candidates come through the local political ranks yet we always hear, “politics don’t belong on the Board of Education”.
Then there is another issue of strategically running just enough candidates and thereby severely limiting voter choice. In my town for example there are six BOE candidates and five seats to be filled; that is an 83% chance of winning a BOE seat based on shear numbers and no other factor — is that an election? Voters are not even provided the opportunity to vote a poor performing member off the board under this archaic method. FYI, running just enough candidates is a very well thought out strategy by the local political parties to avoid cannibalizing votes with more candidates to ultimately win Board control which is the end game; but remember, politics don’t belong a the BOE.
There will be a legislative bill re-introduced for a second time in February allowing Connecticut towns to have non-partison BOE elections, if they so choose. FYI, approximately 90% of all BOE’s nationally are non-partisan and all candidates run as petition candidates.
For more information, please visit
Thank you,
Doug Newman
Guiflord, CT
Cell: (203) 516-1006

So You Want to Be a Teacher for America?

Cecilia Capuzzi Simon:

At 50, Paula Lopez Crespin doesn’t fit the Teach for America demographic of high-achieving college senior. The program rarely draws adults eligible for AARP membership. In fact, just 2 percent of recruits are over 30.
But what Ms. Crespin lacks in youth, she makes up for in optimism, idealism and what those in Teach for America call “relentless pursuit of results.” Ms. Crespin beat out tens of thousands of applicants to get where she is: fresh off her first year teaching math and science at Cole Arts and Science Academy in a gang-riddled section of Denver.
Many friends thought she was crazy to give up a career in banking for a $32,000 pay cut teaching in an urban elementary school. But the real insanity, Ms. Crespin insists, would have been remaining in a job she “just couldn’t stomach anymore,” and surrendering a dream of doing “something meaningful with my life.”
These days, crazy never looked so normal. Teaching has always been a top choice for a second career. Of the 60,000 new teachers hired last year, more than half came from another line of work, according to the National Center for Education Information. Most bypassed traditional teacher education (for career changers, a two-year master’s degree) for fast-track programs like Teach for America. But unemployment, actual or feared, is now causing professionals who dismissed teaching early on to think better of its security, flexibility (summers off, the chance to be home with children) and pension. Four of Ms. Crespin’s colleagues at Cole are career changers, ages 46 to 54, including a former information technology executive and a psychologist.

Teach for America
, the teacher-training program that has evolved into a Peace Corps alternative for a generation bred on public service, is highly competitive and becoming more so: this year, a record 35,178 applied — a 42 percent increase over 2008 — to fill 4,100 slots. Eleven percent of all new Ivy League graduates applied.

Connecticut Schools, Charters, Politics, Parents and the Achievement Gap

Sam Dillon:

Connecticut is another Northern state where achievement gaps are larger than in states across the South, the federal study shows. That is partly because white students in Connecticut score above the national average, but also because blacks there score lower, on average, than blacks elsewhere”.

This validates my personal belief, and something that I have been saying for several years now, that Connecticut does not have great public schools, rather, it has one of if not the highest percentages of households with 4-year and advanced college degrees (CT, NJ and MA are always at the top of this list). This high percentage of well educated households makes Connecticut’s public schools look good — it is the household that is the difference maker, not the public schools. To prove my point, why is it that not one DRG B school does not outperform just one DRG A school?…or just one DRG C school out perform just one DRG B school?…makes no sense if the school were in fact the difference maker. DRG = Demographic Reference Group which is how the Dept. of Ed. here in CT groups all of its school districts to rate performance and other statistical data. It is generally rated by median household income but size of the community and other socioeconomic factors are part of the equation too. A = the most wealthy communities (also the “best” schools) and it goes down form there.
…it is all about socio-economics not how great Connecticut’s public schools are, which they are not.
Connecticut’s high-performing, public charter schools are making a difference, and that is an objective statement based on proven data.
We should do everything in our powers to embrace the proven Achievement First (Amistad Academy) model and replicate it far and wide. Why it is being stiff-armed by our legislators and the teachers union is simply bewildering. But then again both have proven to put their interests (political careers and pay checks) first and Connecticut’s children second — the teachers union is particularly good at that.

Teachers union sent scripted questions to New York City Council members

Elizabeth Green:

At today’s education committee hearing, City Council members took turns questioning Department of Education officials on the rise of charters schools. Their questions were passionate, specific, and universally accusatory. They may have also been scripted.
Just before the hearing began, a representative of the city teachers union, which describes itself as in favor of charter schools, discreetly passed out a set of index cards to Council members, each printed with a pre-written question.
One batch of cards offered questions for the Department of Education, all of them challenging the proliferation of charter schools. “Doesn’t the Department have a clear legal and moral responsibility to provide every family in the city guaranteed seats for their children in a neighborhood elementary school?” one card suggested members ask school officials. “Isn’t the fundamental problem here the Department’s abdication of its most important responsibility to provide quality district public schools in all parts of the city?” another card said. (View more of the cards in the slideshow above.)
Several council members picked up on the line of thought. “Shouldn’t we aspire to have every school in the city good enough for parents to feel comfortable sending their children?” Melinda Katz, a Council member from Queens, said in questioning school officials. “I remember when Joel Klein became the chancellor,” the committee chair, Robert Jackson, said. “Back then, he used to talk about making every neighborhood school a good school where every parent would want to send their children. I don’t hear him talk about that anymore.”
Asked about the cards, union president Randi Weingarten provided a statement saying that she regretted the tactic. “We are often asked by the council for information and ideas about various issues. Additionally, when I am available, I often respond to what others testify to. In this instance, I was in Washington and couldn’t be at City Hall,” she said in the statement. “I am proud of the testimony we gave today, but I regret the manner in which our other concerns were shared.”