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Ms. Harder’s ‘wish list’ for better serving students

In March 2007 a great teacher approached the microphone at a school board meeting to offer a few things she needed. I was taken by her insights because they were humbly stated, while also being elegant, reasonable, and born out of real experience. Her name is Brionna Harder and her reputation is amazing.  I visited her high school social studies class to participate in political forums she devised to allow students direct access to elected officials, and her students were well-prepared and self-motivated. It was the type of class and environment I wish I had in high school. I recently reached out to her get permission to share her words below. She graciously agreed with the disclaimer that this was seven years ago and she has better different insights now. We differ quite a bit politically, but not about the missional needs of education.


Here are the things that were on Ms. Harder’s wish list:

Harder1) Team time every day, in addition to regular/personal prep:

For much of my career thus far, I have taught on a teaching team. Some times, being on team provided the members with a team prep in addition to the personal prep. Embedding the teaming experience intentionally into the school day offers students and teachers alike countless benefits, including dramatic increases in student achievement, positive student behavior, teacher efficacy and professional development. I could provide an extensive description of how teams have used this time in the past, but in the interests of brevity, here are my top three favorite uses of team time (not necessarily in this order):

  • Strengthening relationships with our students and their families – The team prep allowed us the opportunity meet with students for any number of reasons to provide positive feedback, support, remediation or behavioral interventions. Additionally, we commonly invited family members to these meetings, ensuring that the team was truly an inclusive team. We were also able to contact family members in a timely manner regarding progress, behavior and opportunities for involvement.
  • Looking at student data and rigorous assessments – One of the professional practices I miss most that has been lost due to the lack of team time is the weekly use of the Standards in Practice protocol. This regular evaluation of course assessments and review of student work for rigor has been invaluable to my professional growth.
  • Creating interdisciplinary units – The daily meeting allowed us to create effective interdisciplinary units, through which students would increase their higher order thinking skills by seeing connections between the disciplines as well as strengthening their content-specific knowledge and skills.

2) Blocked scheduling for the purposes of innovative and interdisciplinary educational experiences:

The blocked scheduling, when effectively used, provides teams with the flexibility we desire within the structure we have. For instance, our
ninth grade IB prep team, blocked 2nd, 3rd, 4th hours and lunch, has used this block schedule for our annual team retreat and for field
trips, including a walk over to Shingle Creek to do water testing for biology, river poetry for English and the geographic features of
waterways in Geography. In these instances, our students did not missed their off-team classes while engaged in enriching educational activities uninterrupted by a bell every 50 minutes.

3) Classes at 25 or less:

Class sizes must decrease to best support students, particularly those struggling in high rigor classrooms. If one of the end goals is for each classroom to be a high rigor classroom, our students deserve nothing less than smaller class sizes.

4) Behavior deans with a city-wide discipline that is uniformly enforced:

Behavior is a serious issue in our schools and our communities. We must reinstitute the dean structure in order to deal with some of the more persistent behavior issues that can have a debilitating effect on the educational experiences of both individual students as well as communities of students within our classrooms.

5) Strong instructional leaders in every building:

Instructional leaders are at the core of a successful building. We have so many talented teacher-leaders in this district. At Patrick Henry, we have the PHIL (Patrick Henry Instructional Leader) model that empowers teachers to lead the professional development, student engagement, data and accountability, mentoring and curriculum and instructional initiatives in the building. This structure has created a cohesive educational and professional philosophy within our building that continues despite changes in administration. Each week, I learn of the amazing talent in and work done by teacher-leaders around the district and we need to get better at tapping into that energy, commitment and professionalism to the benefit of our schools.

We must also, however, have strong leaders in the administrations of our building. Teachers need to have administrators who are instructional leaders in action, not only name. This requires a commitment to providing quality professional development, mentoring and support to principals as well as having mechanisms by which principals can be held accountable to their staff, students, families and community members in meaningful ways.

6) Academic counselors at a respectable and effective ratio:

The state of academic counseling in our high schools is appalling. We have two counselors in a building of nearly 1300 students and much of the academic counseling falls to the SLC coordinators and advisory teachers. Our students deserve better.

Finally, we need to be able to count on these supports. Sustainability of programs and school supports is a critical challenge we face as we move forward in transforming our high schools. It is this area, more than any other, that needs the attention of the school board.

Teaching is a perfect example of optimism in action. I teach because I believe in the future. Despite the difficulties of the last six years, I teach in Minneapolis because I believe in the future of our students and our schools. But, our commitment must be real and our good and hard work sustainable. I am optimistic that the work of the school board and district leaders can help us all get there.

Pursuing the power of self-sovereignty and personalized learning to create secure citizens and abundant communities. #TheOppositeOfSchool #AllPowerToThePupil

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Short note about Network of Public Education’s (NOPE) focus on education fraud

My friends at NOPE need to broaden their scope of fraud reveals.

My friends at the Network of Public Education (NOPE) have an ongoing series under the hashtag #AnotherDayAnotherCharterSchool that aims to keep your eyes trained on the supposed never-ending abuses and fraud case in charter schools.

I applaud their commitment to public integrity and I share their vigilance in rooting out grift in public systems. Yet, their myopic focus on a small subset of public schools, in this case charters, is suspicious.

Why not expose all fraud, especially in the bigger system?

Well, you’ll have to ask them. They’ve mostly blocked me on twitter for asking such questions.

I guess their unionist funders and the privileged parents they cater to in America’s suburban hoarding schools want a clean message. Traditional schools with union teachers that work with privileged parents to rig the system in favor of white, middle-class, pampered children, well, that’s good.

Schools built for, by, or in favor of children so unfortunate as not to have suburban, white, progressive, college-educated families capable of obtaining mortgages for houses near the best hoarding schools, well, you know the drill, they must be stopped.

Thus, the campaign to turn public opinion against the most popular competitor to sputtering state-run schools that employ more people than they educate, and drown in so much pension debt that they can ill-afford parents choosing anything other than district failure farms.

In the interest of truth I should tell you that fraud in public education is indeed every bit the problem that NOPE says it is, but it’s much broader than they admit.

I’ve offered examples before, but here’s another from today’s reading list. In this article on lax oversight of millions of dollars of expenditures in Pittsburgh Public Schools:

a KDKA investigation has found that the Pittsburgh Public Schools have issued no less than 650 of these cards to teachers and staff, who are racking up millions of dollars of purchases every year.

And while the cards are not supposed to be used for personal purchases, Controller Michael Lamb says it’s a system of loose oversight and controls that IS based mainly on trust.

“When you have that many cards, you lose control,” Lamb said. “And when the proper procedures aren’t in place, you create the opportunity for fraud. And that’s what you have in the school district right now.”
KDKA filed a right-to-know request for purchases made over the last three years and the results were eye-popping.

Last year alone, teachers and staff rang up a total of $3,254,000 in p-card purchases, with some putting upwards of $20,000 or $30,000 on their individual cards.

The summaries obtained by KDKA show purchases from Amazon, Sam’s Club, Staples and Giant Eagle.

And while employees are supposed to submit receipts and the stated reason for each purchase, controller office audits have found that it is hard to tell if all or most of those purchases are legitimate.

But at Faison School, for example, the controller’s office found no p-card reports for half of the 12 months audited and missing documentation for dozens of the purchases that were listed.

And KDKA’s review found questionable expenditures, as well.
Records show that teachers and staff at Oliver Academy used cards on a weekly and bi-weekly basis at both Wiseguys Pizza and Kuhn’s supermarket — raising the question of whether they were using the cards for their own lunches and groceries.

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Fuller to charter advocates: You’re in a fight, don’t run home to Mama!

Dr. Howard Fuller has been on the vanguard of the fight for educational options, and today he has a message for education advocates: fight for your lives!

Charter schools came to the education game as a bipartisan plan to force a “bold departure” from the failure trap that caught too many students in traditional public schools.

Creating alternatives to assigned district schools for families that wanted them was picking a fight with the educational establishment that lives or dies on the student headcount that drives per pupil revenue. Now, after years of losing market share, the empire is striking back with organized moves to establish moratoriums on charter growth, forge attacks on the the integrity of charter supporters, and calcifying public narratives about the supposed negative impacts of charters on public education.

So what do reform advocates do when the opponent finally hits back (hard) and our cherished reforms take a public whooping like they stole something?

According to lifelong freedom fighter Dr. Howard Fuller we firm our spines and fight like we mean it. That’s what he told attendees at a recent conference for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

“You can’t go running home to your mama,” he says. “There are people out there who don’t care that you all have created good schools. They don’t care that you are going to teach computer science. They don’t care.”

His message comes at a time when weary charter school supporters are feeling drained from constant attacks, and many are vacillating between wanting to stand their ground and wanting to accommodate anti-charter organizers by finding fleeting common ground.

“They want you to not exist,” Fuller said of the organized opponents of charter schools.

See his powerful speech below.

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It’s time to admit Diane Ravitch’s troubled crusade derails honest debate about public education

The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress.

I should start adding a qualifier when I say the former scholar and historian Diane Ravitch is the Ann Coulter of education commentary.

In fairness, Coulter has better manners and makes more attempts to employ logic as she “owns” the libs with verbal Jujitsu.

Ravitch, by contrast, has fallen irreparably into polemics so much that her daily blogs put her in league with Alex Jones’ made-for-YouTube Info Wars.

Along those lines, her blog-fart today ties “the charter industry” to the “infamous pedophile and “super-rich” Jeffrey Epstein.

“In 2013, his foundation issued a press release announcing that he looked forward to the dominance of charter schools in Washington, D.C. and predicted that they would succeed because they were unregulated,” she crows.

Then she offers crude analysis of why people like Epstein would want to privatize schools in D.C.:

People often ask me, “Why do the super-rich cluster to the cause of privatization?” The Answer is not simple because many different motives are at work. Some see giving to charters as a charitable endeavor, and their friends assure them that they are “giving back,” helping poor children escape poverty. Others want to impress their friends in their social strata, their colleagues in the world of high finance. Being a supporter of charter schools is like belonging to the right clubs, going to the right parties, sharing a cause with other very rich people.

If you are reading this you probably know that Ravitch was once a charter school supporter, and that makes it fair to ask which camp of nincompoops she fell into?

Did she see charters as a “charitable endeavor,” or was charter support her attempt to “impress [her] friends in [her] social strata, [and her] colleagues in the world of high finance.”

Only she can say, but as an established scholar of education history (and a player in policy) it’s doubtful her support was so in want of a factual basis.

During testimony to Congress conservative William Bennett gave decades ago he invoked Ravitch as a bipartisan voice for school choice.

Regarding the school reforms that were advancing in Chicago under Mayor Daley and Paul Vallas Bennett declared “[t]he empirical evidence, now widely available, is irrefutable: Not only are many of our public-schools not getting better, they are getting worse. American students finish in the bottom half, and often near the bottom, in comparison to students from other industrialized nations.”

Then, after promoting the benefits of charter schools, he asked lawmakers to “follow my friend Diane Ravitch’s prescript” to:

…make Title I into a “portable entitlement” that would aid all poor kids regardless of what school they attend. This is the one way to assure that every single Title I child will receive Title I services at the school they currently attend. This is also the best way to assure accountability. If a parent is not satisfied with the Title I services they are getting, they can take their Title I dollars with them to the school or provider of choice; power to the parents, and not bureaucrats, in other words.

Was Ravitch’s support for school choice back then the result of suspicious philanthropy, or glossy marketing to mindless parents, or, more logically,  the result of her considerable scholarship by that point in her life?

Again, only she can say.

In the spring of 1997 she praised then-New York Pataki’s proposed charter school policies that allowed groups other than local boards to grant charters, allowed for an un-capped number of charters to open, and allowed these schools to hire teachers who weren’t state certified.


In supporting Pataki’s push she said:

It’s impossible to know whether a law permitting charter schools will emerge from this session of the Legislature; the opposition of the teachers’ union, which is the most powerful voice in Albany on education issues, is certainly not encouraging. This is unfortunate, for a large and vital network of charter schools in New York would offer hope to educators, parents, and students in troubled school districts and would promote higher academic standards for all the state’s public schools.

Why would she support such craven policies of such anti-democratic that today she maligns as wealthy pedophiles and privatizers? Projection much?

Forget that teachers’ unions – the ones Ravitch herself once admitted were the “most powerful voices in education” – today block legislation making it a crime for teachers to sexualize students, defeat resolutions that called for them to re-dedicate their profession to student achievement, and pay retail civil rights organizations to defeat the voices of their grassroots members.

Here’s the real kick to the taco, when Lamar Alexander pitched the idea that every D.C. school should be converted to a charter (in 1997, six years before Epstein arrived at the same conclusion) he ascribed this definition of charter schools to his friend Diane Ravitch:

Think of a charter school as a public school district with only one school. It receives public funds, agrees to meet clear academic standards and accepts all students who apply. Unlike existing public schools, it has a contract that can be revoked if the school fails to make good on its commitments.

If she were at all generous she would at very least admit the decency of long-term charter backers who hold valid theories for why charters improve the educational landscape. The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress. The tensions between autonomy and regulation, local control and federal oversight, and public education as an institution or as a service to American learners could still be exercised by smart people truly seeking solutions to the inarguable problems of public schooling.

But not if we follow the zero-sum and divisive lead of Ravitch whose enemy-imaging toward those who differ on policy has escalated so far she no longer sees them as human. We’ll predictably end up in her abyss of false binaries, intellectual excursions, and forlorn paralysis.

Given Ms. Ravitch’s clever wits and stockpile of information I can’t imagine she leads us to that confused, somber place by accident. There is no better way to ensure the education establishment’s special interests – those who are among Ravitch’s most ardent disciples – are never brought to account than to ignore the brisk but level Ravitch of yesteryear and listen to the caustic and battled one before us now.


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