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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Realizing Focused Active Reading During the ACT

After booting-up the brain, it is necessary to provide the brain with a purpose for reading and to supply it with key words to look for in the passage. The idea here is to connect the questions to the passage. It also gives something for the students to do to keep them focused. If they have to read and circle, it stops them from losing focus and daydreaming. Circling keywords in the question stems starts this process.

Read and Circle Keywords in the Question Stem

  1. Read each question stem and circle key words—dates, proper nouns, important phrases, line references, etc.

  2. DO NOT READ THE ANSWER CHOICES. Since you haven’t actively read the passage yet, reading the answer choices is a time suck.

Actively Reading the Passage

  1. Use your finger to pace yourself through the passage. Glide your finger across each row of text. Read according to the pace set by your finger. Keep moving.

  2. Unlike booting-up, read each word but keep pace.

  3. As you read the passage, you must determine the thesis statement of the passage as well as the main idea of each paragraph. The thesis statement is the big idea of the entire passage often referred to as the central argument. You may not realize it until you finish the passage, when you realize it—write it down or circle it.

  4. Individual paragraphs are made up of main ideas and significant details. It is critically important that students understand the difference between main ideas and significant details.

  5. Main ideas are usually found in topic sentences. Always underline the topic sentence of each paragraph. Topic sentences are usually the first or last sentence of the paragraph.

  6. As you read the passage circle key words—dates, proper nouns, transitional phrases, as well as the words you circled in the question stems.

  7. Don’t bounce between the questions and the passage yet. Keep reading, following your finger, and circling key words until you complete the passage.

Good Models Think Aloud

Model this process for your students by doing a think aloud as you mark up a transparency of an ACT reading passage with questions. Have students practice this process so that it becomes second nature. We want to condition students to use this method on test day; instead of reverting to old behaviors that are manifested by stress.


In the meantime, take a look at my test prep posts. They are free, and they have worked with city kids. If you have any questions drop me a comment. All comments are posted to my email first. I will never post any email addresses in the comment section. So if you want to contact me, drop me your email and I’ll get back with you. It is my hope that my expertise in this field will help someone out there. Let me know.

Posts Concerning Test Prep

Quick and Dirty Guide to Raising PSAE Scores
PSAE Test Prep Strategies that Work
ACT Reading Prep and the Two-Point Conversion
Maximizing Brain Power on the ACT Reading Test
Realizing Focused Active Reading During the ACT

Maximizing Brain Power on the ACT Reading Test

On test day students need to maximize their brain power. Think of a computer. When we turn on a computer it takes time to boot-up. Once in operational mode a computer is capable of amazing things. If we don't take the time to boot-up a computer, it functions as a paperweight. Bootin-up isn't tech specific either; athletes warm up their muscles prior to a game to insure peak performance. The same holds true for the brain. In fact, jumping into the first word of a reading passage does not give the brain the opportunity to “boot-up” and diminishes comprehension. When some students read material “cold” it results in a cognitive shutdown. A cognitive shutdown on test day is disastrous because it diminishes students’ scoring potential. We want our students to be able to play the whole game; therefore they need to boot-up their brains. The boot-up process takes no more than 10 seconds per passage and yields tremendous results.

The booting-up process taps into the power of our brains to create order out of chaos. It also has the added benefit of making the passage familiar when students actively read it, and more familiar students are with a passage the better they perform on the test.

The booting-up process will appear unnatural to students at first, but in the end it will yield optimal results for all test takers. Practice this technique with students well in advance of test day. The more booting-up a student does, the more booting-up will become second nature, and the more likely students will boot-up on test day.

Booting-Up the Brain

  1. Beginning with first line and visually drink the passage.

  2. Move your eyes down the page instead of across the page. See every line, not every word. Do not attempt to read individual words. See they line of text as a whole. Your brain is picking up words and phrases and making sense of them subconsciously.

  3. You can use two fingers to assist in this process.

  4. Separate your index and middle finger an inch apart, place them on the first line and move your fingers down the first column of the passage. Let your eyes follow your fingers. Continue this process at the top of the next column.

  5. Do not back track, let your eyes drink the text. This provides your brain with a variety of subconscious inputs that will help you optimize your performance.


The booting-up process should take no more than 10 seconds.
The brain must be booted-up for each passage.
Practice, Practice, Practice


In the meantime, take a look at my test prep posts. They are free, and they have worked with city kids. If you have any questions drop me a comment. All comments are posted to my email first. I will never post any email addresses in the comment section. So if you want to contact me, drop me your email and I’ll get back with you. It is my hope that my expertise in this field will help someone out there. Let me know.

Posts Concerning Test Prep

Quick and Dirty Guide to Raising PSAE Scores
PSAE Test Prep Strategies that Work
ACT Reading Prep and the Two-Point Conversion
Maximizing Brain Power on the ACT Reading Test
Realizing Focused Active Reading During the ACT

ACT Reading Prep and the Two-Point Coversion

I call the program I developed to raise ACT reading scores the “Two-Point Conversion” because that’s the minimum amount of gain a literate high school student can expect from this regiment. Let me be upfront, the target audience for this approach is students who score between a 16 and a 22 on practice ACT tests. However, students who score higher than 22 will benefit from some of the techniques that have to do with building speed. Students who “honestly” score below 16 are not at a point where they will benefit from this regiment.

The Best Practice Materials

It should be no surprise that the best ACT test prep materials are the released tests produced by the ACT; therefore, acquire as many of those tests as possible. A good place to start is with the book Getting Into the ACT. Additional released tests are available from the ACT. The rationale for having students use released ACT test materials whenever possible is that all other ACT prep materials are an approximation of the ACT. Again, my advice is to keep it real and use actual ACT questions when preparing for the test.


ACT reading passages are approximately 750 words in length. They appear in the following order: Prose Fiction, Social Science, Humanities, Natural Science. Each passage is followed by 10 questions. Students will have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions. Getting half of those right translates into a 19 or 20. At this level there is usually a 1 to 1 correspondence when going from raw (number right) to scale (number reported on score report) score. People are usually astonished when they learn that an average score on the ACT corresponds to getting 50 percent of the questions correct. So in reality, getting a few more items right on test day can mean a significant score improvement.

Minimize Time Sucks

On the day of the test we want to minimize the amount of time students spend wasting their time. Reading the instructions on test day is a time suck. Make sure that students understand the directions long before they take the actual test. Explicitly instruct them not to read the directions on test day.

Students also spend a lot of time agonizing over what passage to start with on test day. Many start with the first passage. The first passage is prose fiction and requires a different mindset than the rest of the test. In addition, prose fiction requires a more sophisticated reading than nonfiction. My advice to students is to knock out at least two nonfiction passages before going after the fiction section.

Taking It to the Nonfiction Passages

It is very important that students take the test on their own terms. Students need to start with the nonfiction passages they are the most comfortable with. People are comfortable with what they know. If students have accurate prior knowledge of a topic and it shows up on the test, bingo—there I the zone. Obviously it becomes important to preview the passages to see what’s out there. The preview process should take no more than 10 seconds. Here it is:

  1. To get an idea of what the passages are about read the blurbs at the top.

  2. If possible, select a passage that you know something about. Never underestimate the power of accurate prior knowledge.

  3. If you have no prior knowledge, start with social science (Passage 2)

In the next entry, I’ll get into how to boot-up the brain to get the most out of “cold” reading passages.


Take a look at my test prep posts. They are free, and they have worked with city kids. If you have any questions drop me a comment. All comments are posted to my email first. I will never post any email addresses in the comment section. So if you want to contact me, drop me your email and I’ll get back with you. It is my hope that my expertise in this field will help someone out there. Let me know.

Posts Concerning Test Prep

Quick and Dirty Guide to Raising PSAE Scores
PSAE Test Prep Strategies that Work
ACT Reading Prep and the Two-Point Conversion
Maximizing Brain Power on the ACT Reading Test
Realizing Focused Active Reading During the ACT

PSAE Test Prep Strategies that Work

It is crunch time in Illinois high schools. The PSAE looms. I’m going to dedicate a few posts this week to preparing for the PSAE Reading Test. I have an excellent track record in this regard. I advocate a comprehensive program that transcends the typical test prep regiment. However, I realize that we are in crunch time so I will dedicate some entries to a proven approach to the PSAE Reading Test. I am not a test prep company. I do know what works and what does not work.

I am aware that many schools outsource their test prep efforts to companies that promise to deliver, but charge upfront. The success of any test prep program rests on student buy-in. Kids who have been raised to compete academically will buy-in automatically. Children of parents who pay for test prep courses are more apt to buy-in than kids at low achieving schools.

Test prep representatives are quick to point out that their approaches raise test scores. This allows them an easy out when scores don’t go up at a particular school. They can argue that students didn’t implement the approach correctly. If the company is operating from the train the trainer model and has actual public school teachers implement the test prep material then they can blame those classroom teachers for failing to correctly implement the program. When questioned about their products apparent failure, the company will claim that the fault falls on the teachers whom either resisted the program or failed to implement it correctly. The company will stake this claim on the fact that mountains of data demonstrate the effectiveness of their product. Of course, the mountains of data that the company stakes its reputation to are based on the achievement of students whose upper middle class parents paid big dollars to enroll them test prep classes taught by test prep instructors. In a nutshell, their data is culled from a population and a setting that has little in common with your school.

Times change, but part of the sales pitch to inner city schools is predicated on the data generated by the students in the upwardly mobile set. Ask for a client list and check school report cards to see if their clients have improved beyond the rate of the district. Note, it is particularly difficult to secure a complete client list from these companies, so good luck.


Take a look at my test prep posts. They are free, and they have worked with city kids. If you have any questions drop me a comment. All comments are posted to my email first. I will never post any email addresses in the comment section. So if you want to contact me, drop me your email and I’ll get back with you. It is my hope that my expertise in this field will help someone out there. Let me know.

Posts Concerning Test Prep

Quick and Dirty Guide to Raising PSAE Scores
PSAE Test Prep Strategies that Work
ACT Reading Prep and the Two-Point Conversion
Maximizing Brain Power on the ACT Reading Test
Realizing Focused Active Reading During the ACT

Friday, February 24, 2006

Illinois Lowers Math Cut Score to Secure AYP in 2007

The Illinois State Board of Education just lowered the cut score on the eighth grade ISAT math test to the 38th percentile. The ISAT is used to determine if schools are making AYP in Illinois. This change means that, by definition 62 percent of the students who take the test will meet standards. A student with an IQ in the 38th percentile has a below average IQ, and a student with an ACT math score in the 38th percentile wouldn'’t be able to gain admission many colleges. But evidently the 38th percentile is just fine for 8th graders in Illinois.

In retrospect, it'’s pretty obvious why Illinois didn'’t apply for flexibility in reporting AYP; instead the state lowered the standard. The reason why has to do with meeting AYP in 2007. The percentage of students M/E in math in Illinois has remained at 54.3 over the last 2 years. Next year, the AYP bar will be raised to 55 percent. It appears that rather than try to squeeze the needed 0.7 percent improvement out of schools that Illinois has opted to “adjust” the cut score to insure that 62 percent of its students meet standards. There i’s the wriggle room. Don'’t expect to see a change in 8th grade reading cut scores this year—72.7 percent of students meet/exceed standards there.

Adjusting the ISAT is not that complicated since it’s not a national test. That is why High schools are going to pose a particular problem since they rely heavily on the ACT and WorkKeys to figure AYP. The problem is that the state of Illinois tops out at about 52 percent in math and 59 percent in reading. Tinkering with cut scores on high profile national exams is sure to come under more scrutiny than tinkering with homespun tests like the ISAT.

Of course the business community is in an uproar over this; as are the Republicans—after all no one wants to be perceived as soft on education these days.

According to the SunTimes the move was supported by the educationalists who make up the Illinois Statewide School Management Alliance who contend "that the change will not affect the difficulty of the test questions themselves and therefore would not affect student performance." That's right; the state didn't change the questions on the test, only the number students need to get right to meet standards. Am I the only one that finds this ridiculous?

Zero-Sum Thinking, Demassification, and Asymmetrical Educational Systems

Imagine a contagious optimism surrounding urban education. Imagine children enthusiastically engaged in learning across the urban landscape. Imagine innovations in education spreading like a virus from one classroom to another.

A teacher has an idea, tries it in her classroom and it yields great results. She posts the strategy on a message board for innovative educational ideas. Within days other teachers across the urban landscape tryout the idea in their classrooms and offer feedback through the message board. The idea becomes an innovation and is spread by the hive. Through this process urban educators are able to test ideas, collect evidence, and innovate. Imagine optimism instead of pessimism.

Unfortunately, Rich Karlgaard is right to point out that the world’s greatest disease is zero-sum thinking. Public education in this country functions in a zero-sum framework that divides schools into winners and losers. Zero-sum thinkers have come to influence much of today’s education policy. Superintendents and principals fall into this camp because their positions are zero-sum in nature. After all, there is only one superintendent per district and one principal per school. In fact, zero-sum thinkers go all the way up the education policy food chain to the folks who passed NCLB and the president who signed it into law. Politics is predicated on winners and losers. The No Child Left Behind Act is zero-sum thinking writ large—labeling schools as winners and losers based on AYP.

Within the zero-sum paradigm failing schools are allowed to build cultures of failure while successful schools build cultures of success. But what if it were possible for all urban schools to be successful?

Don’t look to education professors for the answers to urban education because they are the product of a tenure system that inculcates them with a zero-sum worldview. Yes, even the most left leaning professor has been co-opted by the university system. The worst of this breed line their pockets with consulting fees from urban school districts. The flawed logic is that those farthest from implementation know best. These professors have a symbiotic relationship with urban school districts adding their credentials to reading initiatives, math, and science initiatives in exchange for fat checks. That’s right; they make money off the losers.

Sadly, zero-sum thinking trickles down to the level of the classroom teacher. Teachers are at the point of implementation in education, yet there motivations tend toward self-preservation instead of innovation. Many innovative teachers are under the radar because they are protective of their methods. The attitude is along the lines of “I’ve got mine; you get yours.” This is not a shock considering that trust is impossible in a zero-sum system. After all, that’s a big reason that the Coalition for Essential Schools had such disappointing results in large urban districts. Innovation and collaboration become the exception and not the rule. The status quo doesn’t support the hive, and instead thrives on self-preservation.

There is hope. John Seal Brown, Director of the Palo Alto Research Center, notes that we have seen the transformation in business from conglomeration to demassification. According to Brown, “Power in the new economy is shifting to the smallest possible unit.” Instead of urban education bureaucracies that are wildly inefficient money pits we need asymmetrical educational systems with portfolio oversight. Such a system would be comprised of numerous, autonomous small schools that would tailor their programs to meet the unique needs and tastes of their target audiences. In such a system, schools would encourage innovation by valuing the transformation of ideas into knowledge. Effective schools would prosper under entrepreneurial leaders who would steward the development of intellectual and social capital. Schools will be held accountable to accelerating the development of knowledge over time.

Since they have a stake in maintaining the status quo, zero-sum thinking educationalists and politicians will not go quietly. The demand for asymmetrical educational systems has to come from outside of this system. The innovative, entrepreneurial spirit made America great; that same spirit will soon be called on to reinvent the American educational landscape.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Flexible AYP and Salient Advice from Bruce Lee

It was interesting to note in today’s NYT that New York, Illinois, and California are not seeking flexibility from the Department of Education in figuring Annual Yearly Progress. It is also significant that these states contain the largest urban districts in the country, all of them facing the most severe sanctions under NCLB. In short, why not apply for flexibility? In Illinois, I think it’s about the upcoming gubernatorial election. It appears that in today’s world being soft on education is as bad as being soft on crime.

Nevertheless, according to the Times, ten states have applied for flexibility this year and an additional ten for next year. This flexible system for figuring AYP will amount to chaos. All it really is, is a way for states to avoid NCLB sanctions. Under the proposed flexibility states would be allowed to judge schools by “tracking the progress of individual students over time.” This type of value accountability would be used to demonstrate improvement toward mastery and not mastery. That’s right; the states want to count students toward AYP that aren’t meeting standards. There are also logistical problems with this approach including instrument reliability and student mobility. And where does the buck stop on this one? Are high schools going to be forced to take the brunt of the sanctions or can the argument be made that a 17 year old is on track to meet standards by the time he is 19 or 21? Come on, this is ridiculous.

It shouldn't surprise anyont that NCLB has been an implementation nightmare. State to state assessments and cut scores vary. Some state tests are significantly more difficult than others. We all know that students who exceed a standard in one state may not meet the corresponding standard in another state. Now, with flexible reporting being granted to some states, one cannot help but wonder about equal protection under the law.

It’s good to know that Margaret Spellings still contends that the “core principles” of NCLB remain intact including 100 percent of students meeting standards in reading in math or is it approaching 100 percent? It becomes apparent that what is really important is parsing the language so that no child appears to be left behind.

Perhaps we should all heed the advice of martial arts master Bruce Lee, “When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit--it hits all by itself.” It sure looks like that’s happening right now.

As for Illinois, our governor is tough on education, we have one of the toughest tests in the nation and we won’t be having any of this “flexibility” nonsense; even if it would be the fiscally responsible thing to do for Chicago.

Catalyst Article on King Misses the Big College Prep Story

The latest edition of Chicago Catalyst is out. The cover story “Great Expectations for King Prep Come Up Short” chronicles the debacle on 44th Street. Although, the thesis statement of the article is “King’s story illustrates the difficulty in creating elite high schools, a key strategy in Mayor Richard M. Daley’s efforts to attract and keep middle-class families in the public schools system”, one finds little actual discussion of SES in the article. Instead, one gets the sad story of a school that has lacked visionary leadership and support. The author, Debra Williams, gets it wrong because she writes the wrong story.

For those who don’t know, King was opened in compliance with a federal desegregation decree back in 1998. The decree required that all students have equal access to magnet schools. A cynic might argue that King is a magnet school in name only.

Williams outlines the problems that have plagued King since 1998: inconsistent leadership, lack of vision, high teacher turnover, low-test scores for juniors, and the lowest test scores for incoming freshman of any magnet school in Chicago, very little central office support, and low enrollment in Advanced Placement courses. Suddenly it appears that oversight and accountability are dirty words down on 125. Of course the question to ask is “Why was King allowed to fail?” Unfortunately Williams never asks this question.

However Williams does get David Pickens, the Deputy to CEO Arne Duncan on the record when it comes to college prep high schools and King College Prep “Our goal is to have very little difference from one [school] to another. We are looking at it.”

One has to wonder if CPS is looking at King in the same way one looks at a train wreck—with morbid curiosity—or if they are vacantly staring into the abyss of an ethically bankrupt system where good faith promises to children are broken. Either way what happened at King is wrong. In fact what’s happening to college prep programs across the city calls for increased, third party oversight.

Most folk in Chicago, when asked to name college prep high schools in Chicago can probably name two: Northside and Payton. If we looked at just those schools we would see very little difference between the schools. Unfortunately there are seven high schools in Chicago designated as college preps, and their differences are abundant.

Lets begin by looking at Chicago college prep high schools that failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Catalyst claims that King is the only college prep that didn’t make AYP. This is a false claim; a cursory examination of school report cards adds Hope College Prep and Lindblom College Prep to the list. In fact, Hope and Lindblom actually had worse test scores than King in 2005. I wonder if David Pickens is “looking” at that too.

I did a little research to determine the extent to which college prep’s attract the middle class. Working from school report card data I looked at the percentage of low-income students in the area surrounding the college prep and subtracted that by the percentage of low-income students within the college prep itself. I call this number the income difference. The higher the income difference, the greater the percentage of middle class students that attend the college prep versus the local area. A negative number indicates that the college prep attracts more lower income studnets than schools in the surrounding area. This provides information in terms of how well college preps attract the middle class. Here is what I found:

Payton College Prep 48.0
Northside College Prep 45.4
King College Prep 32.9
Jones College Prep 19.2
Brooks College Prep 11.8
Lindblom College Prep -2.2
Hope College Prep -5.9

As we can see from the data, Payton, Northside, and King attract a significant amount of middle class students to their schools when compared with their local area. Interestingly Lindblom and Hope have more low-income students than their local area. Can we say that Lindblom and Hope repel the middle class? Or does this fact speak to where college preps are located in a geo-economic sense in Chicago?

Anyway, if we rank these schools according to academic achievement in reading we get this:

Northside College Prep 99 percent meets/exceeds
Payton College Prep 95 percent meets/exceeds
Jones College Prep 87 percent meets/exceeds
Brooks College Prep 84 percent meets/exceeds
King College Prep 68 percent meets/exceeds
Lindblom College Prep 57 percent meets/exceeds
Hope College Prep 45 percent meets/exceeds

Perhaps Williams could have used this data to better inform her thesis concerning the creation of elite high schools and their ability to attract the middle class. Then again, if she used this data then perhaps she would have written an entirely different article. Perhaps an article that compared the creations of Payton, Northside, King and Hope would have been written. Such an article could include differences in budget allocation, hiring practices, core facilities, and administrative vision. In terms of the article we get in Catalyst, well sometimes the words we don’t write say more than the words we do.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Mathews' "Teaching to the Test" Gets it Wrong

Charlie likes shoes, big shoes. His new favorite book is The Big Blue Spot. It's good, very good.

However, when a reporter turned columnist misrepresents the current state of testing and teaching that is bad, very bad. Yet that’s exactly what occurs in Washington Post’s Jay Mathews’ “Let’s Teach to the Test”. Clearly he hasn’t read my posts, or if he has he doesn’t understand them.

In Mathews’ world of education NCLB Assessments are written by teachers, state standards are clear, and a good old-fashioned lesson review is all that’s needed to prepare students for the big day.

Mathews claims that teaching to the test does not mean an annual drill and kill fest that use released test items to prepare students for state tests. I beg to differ. In my ten years of experience under Chicago Public Schools Accountability teaching to the test was a drop everything and prep affair across curriculums affair. The same drop everything and prep is alive and well in Chicago—at schools that are insecure about their AYP prospects.

First we need to first examine the word “test” before we can get down to the nuts and bolts of “teaching to the test”. There are two types of tests out there—norm referenced (NRT) and criterion referenced (CRT). Mr. Mathews’ failure to distinguish between CRT and NRT highlights a common misunderstanding about NCLB Assessments.

Briefly, NRT tests are general—they have a few items for each instructional objective or standard, and are designed to promote variability in scores—think SAT, GRE, ACT. In contrast, CRT tests thoroughly cover a limited number objectives or standards. CRT items reflect the criterion chosen and taught by the teacher(s). Most of us experience CRT tests in the form of teacher designed unit tests. The PSAE in Illinois is a hybrid—6/7 NRT and 1/7 CRT.

That means that 6/7 of the tests reflect national norms. The Day 1 exam is the ACT—a NRT by design in which students are intended to fall along a “normal curve”. Two thirds of the day 2 exams are made up of Work Keys Reading and Math—both nationally normed tests written by the ACT for use in the workplace. Only the day 2 science exam is written by teachers. Teachers in Illinois have input on 1/7 of the total state exam. The rest of the test is designed by psychometricians to fit a normal curve. That means that students won’t really budge on the curve. This has been corroborated by a report by the Chicago Consortium that found little movement in scores on the PSAE. Few parents, teachers, administrators, and politicians know that PSAE tests are designed in a way that prevents substantial movement from quartile to quartile.

Nevertheless starting in February of each year, teachers are pressured, and many cases mandated to teach to the ACT and Work Keys portions of the test. I call this type of teaching ACTriage. Companies like Kaplan, Princeton Review, and Cambridge are more than willing to offer materials and curriculum to assist in these efforts. Unfortunately these materials are geared to students how possess the requisite skills to do well on the ACT. Teachers in Chicago who participate in ACTriage quickly realize that many students have never been exposed to material at the level it is presented in the ACT. This means that many students don’t read the questions, let alone the passages with any level of competence. The same holds true for math—the math tests on the PSAE are verbal heavy, the current math curriculum in Chicago is not. Even the most resolute teachers begin to panic when they realize how fundamentally ill equipped the students are to take the exam. Each year ACTriage is a bust to teachers and students and a boon to test prep companies.

Mathews gets partial credit for his belief that teachers teach to the state standards since they can’t legally get a copy of the state test. This assumes that the standards and tests are in complete alignment. As anyone familiar with teaching knows, only certain standards are actually assessed on the state exam. Many teachers teach to the state standards that are assessed on the state test. In Illinois, the ACT offers teachers the EPAS to assist them in this effort. The EPAS represents the subset of standards that are assessed by the ACT. Not surprisingly, schools that have used the EPAS to design curriculum score quite high on the ACT. It appears that Illinois has outsourced both the testing and standards to a testing company. Let’s be clear, a teacher who teaches to the EPAS is teaching to the test; not teaching to the vast array of standards in Illinois.

Mathews’ failure to understand the fundamentals of assessment and curriculum renders his critique toothless. One more note to the uninformed, International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement represent a set of curriculums and assessments, not just test that are “taught to”.

Oh, Mr. Mathews, your contempt for teachers is as palpable as your ignorance of NCLB, curriculum and assessment. Your paper gets an “A” for style and an “F” for substance. All hat, no cattle my friend—just what I expect from someone inside the beltway MSM. Hey, if the shoe fits...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Reports Call for Disruptive Changes to Urban School Systems

Charlie likes oranges. Seeing as how he is the only one in the house that's healthy right now, maybe he is on to something. As for me I like green tea with mint.

I just finished reading two reports that have confirmed my resolve for disruptive change in urban education. Those reports are the Progressive Policy Institute’s (PPI) report Put Learning First and the Designs for Change 15 year study The Big Picture School-Initiated Reforms, Centrally Initiated Reforms, and Elementary School Achievement in Chicago (1999-2005).

PPI was once described as "Bill Clinton's idea mill," and its research and proposals were the source for many of the "New Democrat" themes that figured prominently in national politics during the 1990s. The new report was commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and examines from a macro perspective what is needed to reform school systems throughout the United States.

The crux of the PPI report is that we need flexibility of instruction, funding, setting, and teacher hiring; along with public oversight that can be provided by a variety of organizations—not just the school board.

The reports author Paul T. Hill argues for a portfolio approach to manage schools. Such an approach would include:

  • Public oversight;

  • Public funding;

  • Concentration of resources near the student;

  • Strategic use of community resources;

  • Rewards for high performance;

  • Openness to promising ideas, people, and organizations;

  • Free movement of dollars, students, and educators; and

  • An environment of support for both new and existing schools.

Of course Hill’s proposal is hostile to teachers’ unions and central office bureaucracies. For Hill flexibility in school choice, teacher and administrator training and having per-pupil funding allocations follow students are the crucial components of portfolio management.

Hill praises the initial efforts of the Chicago Public School Renaissance 2010 but argues that they need to downscale central office, change teacher allocation (union contract), and put more money in the hands of individual schools. CPS receives a substantial amount of Gates money, so I wonder how they are going to digest a report that is both complimentary of the systems innovation and critical of its resistance to change at the same time. In my opinion, incremental change like we are seeing in CPS in the form of Ren 10 ultimately impedes the forces of disruptive change by attempting to co-opt those forces.

Since the PPI report was commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation it can be read as an assault on urban school systems by corporations in the name of reform. Nevertheless, the Put Learning First Report should be taken seriously by educators and not dismissed as neoliberalist rhetoric because the status quo is bankrupt and ripe for disruptive change.

Another report that should be read by everyone interested in education reform is the Designs for Change report The Big Picture School-Initiated Reforms, Centrally Initiated Reforms, and Elementary School Achievement in Chicago (1999-2005). Designs for Change identified 5 key components for achieving schools in Chicago and those are:
  1. School Leaderships Focused on Success for All Students

  2. Social Supports for Learning (School Culture)

  3. Family and Community Partnership Support Learning

  4. Adults Collaborate and Learn

  5. Quality Learning Activities with Focus on Literacy
I recommend this report because it offers a clear, quantitative look at what works in urban school systems and what does not. The report was suppressed by the Chicago Board of Education because it offers quantitative proof that 3 high profile central office initiatives failed. Those failing initiatives are: academic probation for schools that underachieve, grade retention, and the Chicago Reading Initiative. These initiatives cost tens of millions of dollars and had no return on investment. This is represents a huge waste of taxpayer money the school system that has the largest operating budget of all public entities in Illinois. With no real results, it begs the question, “where did all the money go?”

The Design for Change report first came to my attention when I heard one of its authors on the February 6th edition of NPR's Eight-Forty-Eight. The board contested the findings with Designs for Change, but other than that they have been silent. It is a must read for everyone involved in education from taxpayers to teachers, from community activists to administrators, from me to you. It supports the PPI report because it argues for local control, flexibility, and community support. Of course, CPS is interested first and formost in protecting its high paying jobs, so I don't expect it to go gentle into that good night.

The reports have a cynergistic effect on the reader. When read together these two reports challenge the very need for central office bureaucracies and offer viable structural alternatives to them on the macro and micro level. Never before have we been armed with proven means and the support of the cognitive elites to effect disruptive change. As the concept of Vishnuic reform makes its way from policy reports to public radio we are fast approaching a tipping point in public education.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Is Speed Dating a Hot New Learning Strategy or Just Literacy Arts and Crafts?

Speed dating is hot. That’s right, speed dating—we have seen it in movies, on television, and now it is coming to a classroom near you. That’s right, teachers have started to adapt the speed dating model as a learning strategy. So it begs the question, is speed dating a viable learning strategy or is it another example of the mindless edutainment that’s proliferating in our public schools?

Somewhere along the way it became necessary for teachers to entertain their students. We can blame MTV, video games, and the Internet, but the fallout remains the same. Many teachers appropriate pop culture in their classrooms to keep pace with the instant message mindset of today’s youth.

On the surface there is nothing inherently wrong with this practice. For example, I attended an ISTE conference back when Who Wants to be a Millionaire was number one in the Nielsen Ratings. At one of the sessions we learned how to incorporate the Who Wants to be a Millionaire website into a search engine game. The idea was to get the answers using Google. I have to admit it was kind of fun and it was used to assess students ability to perform sophisticated searches. It worked; it was fun. The reason the strategy worked so well was because it had a clear educational purpose beyond being “fun” and filling up the time. I’ve even seen a variation of this learning strategy on the television show Veronica Mars. So we come full circle—pop culture embraces a learning strategy.

For every strategy that works, I’ve seen many that are just awful. A lot of these “strategies” fall into the literacy arts and crafts category. To qualify for admission in this category a strategy must be a time-suck and have a suspect academic focus.

A short list of literacy arts and crafts that I’ve observed in the high school setting:

  • Making Posters of Greek Gods

  • Making Sock Puppets of characters in Of Mice and Men

  • Making Book Covers based on Beowulf

  • Making Autobiographical Collages

  • Sketching Characters from The Outsiders

Many teachers include a “written” activity to supplement and justify these activities. I say “supplement” in the truest sense because the focus is on the arts and crafts, not on the writing. That said, these types of activities are seductive because kids like them and tend to stay on task for longer periods of time when engaged in them. These activities also yield beautiful albeit vapid bulletin board material.

Do students in elite schools do literacy arts and crafts? Hell, no. Those students are too busy learning to read, think and communicate effectively to waste time on the educational equivalent of basket weaving.

As for the speed dating strategy—it has instructional potential because it focuses on language acquisition, which means that it can be morphed into a vocabulary lesson applicable across disciplines. I would adapt it like this:

LCD Projector
Vocabulary Back List

  • Give each student a word from the master list

  • Each student writes down a sentence using the word.

  • Share using speed dating protocols.
  • Divide class into two groups—A and B
  • Spread group A students out in “café style” seating
  • Each group B student visits a group A student for two minute intervals during which time they share and write down each others sentences as well as the one’s they’ve added during previous “speed dates”.
  • When final time is called, students will have a copy of every sentence.

  • At completion of the strategy each student evaluates all the sentences and “fixes” the ones that are incorrect.

  • Collect all work.

This strategy would work because it clearly focuses on vocabulary development and sentence construction. The structure of the activity insures that students are intellectually active throughout the lesson. Since each student is responsible for getting it “right” in the end there is an onus on individual contribution to the learning community as a whole. So it is evident that speed dating passes muster as a learning strategy. We will know that the speed dating learning strategy has arrived when we see it on Veronica Mars.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Possibility for Radical Educatonal Reform in Chicago Starts on the Northside

Props to Stephanie Banchero for getting this right in her Chicago Tribune Magazine cover story, “Traditionally, public schools have ignored—or lacked the resources to deal with—dysfunctional households that handicap children’s ability to learn. But some educators argue that they cannot teach these students how to read, write and do arithmetic if they cannot first stabilize their home lives.”

When read alongside the Sunday NYT article “Tutor Program Offered by Law is Going Unused” we can begin to understand why these non-mandatory tutoring programs are “underutilized” by those in the “deepest need”. It’s the parents and the community, stupid.

Not that CPS gets it, Beth Swanson, the director of after school programs blames the assistance shortfall on tutoring companies’ failure to reach special needs and limited English students “Typically, we see providers opt not to serve those populations and likely because they don’t have the materials, expertise or resources to do so.”

Sounds like most folk don’t want to deal with the reality of dysfunctional parents and dysfunctional communities. Blame every service provider, but don’t deal with the real problem. Smother them with basic skills and keep them in the surround. Never expose them to the best education because then they will become active in the political sphere. Right now, in Chicago, poor kids are surrounded by hunger, guns, family violence, isolation, drugs, criminals, police, abuse, gangs, dumbing-down, and bling-bling. And that is just the short list. Such an environment breeds a special kind of hostility—one where being “disrespected” or “mean mugged” leads to murder. In short the sphere that the poorest children live in manifests a slow form of suicide.

CPS claims to hold schools accountable and shuts some of them down—shuffling the students to other underperforming high schools and offering non-mandatory tutoring. They even hold hearings where the community has there “say”. Of course these “bogus” controlled hearings are held ‘downtown”. The machine keeps humming along. Now, I’ve been reading Earl Shorris’ Riches for the Poor alongside Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and it becomes evident that true education reform in Chicago is a sham.

If the folks in the Collins neighborhood wanted to take a stand, they should demand that their children go to the best schools in Chicago. In order to drive this point home they should take their protest to the posh academic magnet school known as Northside College Prep and disrupt the lives of the intellectual elites in Chicago. Remember that Northside College Prep, a magnet school, is 7 percent African American in a district that is 49 percent African American.

I’m sure that if hundreds of parents, students and community members from the Chicago’s Westside took their protest to the school for “people of means” on the Northside, that that would make front page news in all the papers. How’s that for a splinter in the eye of the establishment? This would bring the debate about education in Chicago front and center.

Let’s be clear: I believe that the best education for the elites is the best education for all. After all, if students are to learn to think critically, they need something to think critically about. Basic skills—kill children’s’ desire to think critically in an academic setting. What to do? Demand the elite curriculum for all students in Chicago not just the intellectual elites. Create bold new small schools that embrace elitist humanities curriculums—like the curriculum at Phillips Exeter. This bold step would value every student and every community in Chicago. Perhaps this is the bold vision needed to effect disruptive change in Chicago.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Hearing on School Closing Generates Silence in Mainstream Chicago Media

Looking for information on the CPS hearing concerning Collins High School? Well the Sun-Times ran one paragraph in the Metro Briefs section and the Tribune ran nothing. That’s right; the Chicago Tribune had nada on the hearing. What is going on over at the Tribune? Not only did they drop the ball completely on the hearings, but they didn’t even mention the national attention garnered by Morgan Park High School for having the greatest number of African American students receiving AP credit in two courses -- English language/composition and European history -- than at any other high school in the nation offering AP courses last year. Now there is a conspicuous silence that marginalizes a huge chunk of Chicago. Ouch, and couldn’t that be conceived as racist by omission? If it walks like a duck...

Anyway, given the lack of coverage surrounding the hearings one would think that there wasn’t much going on there. But if you read the Chicago Defender article then you would get a better picture of the hearing. The Chicago Defender, for 100 years, has been the voice of the African-American Community in Chicago and across the United States.

One major point in the Defender article was that State Senator Rickey Hendon (D-5th), assistant majority leader, threatened to use state funding for education as a leverage point to keep Collins open. Remember that CPS is suffering a major budget shortfall. Hendon said, “He's not going to get a damn penny. And his pension plan? He's not going to get that either."

Remember that Hendon, whose district includes Collins, found out about the closing when it was announced at a press conference; now that is CPS at its politically savvy best. CPS could have avoided a lot of the politics if they had just gone ahead and phased out the bottom high school in each of the cities 5 geographic “Instructional Areas”. This may not have been popular, but it would have sent a message regarding failing schools to residents across the city. No, what the board did here is politically inept and open to myriad critiques from folks across the spectrum.

Another good point raised in the Defender article had to do with gentrification. Alderman Michael Chandler (24th Ward) said at the hearing, "Many of my constituents believe that this is about gentrification, and I feel like they're right this time." Right on! That’s why everybody needs to read Pauline Lipman’s High Stakes Education. She argues that exact point and others too. So if you really want to know more about the intersection of political economy, race, and urban education policy, run out and buy her book. Clearly, if we rely on the mainstream media in Chicago we won’t learn a damn thing.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A Teacher's Guide to Resisting NCLB

Education is grounded in metaphors, and those metaphors carry a host of assumptions. As we have seen before high school teachers who refer to their students as babies betray a condescending racism toward the adolescents that populate their classrooms. Metaphors also shape how the public thinks about urban education.

Educational issues are framed by policy makers and the media, not by teachers or students. The power to frame educational issues results in the consumption of policies that are viewed as common sense. Today schools are seen as businesses producing products. A premium is then put on profit, getting the best “product” for the least cost. The metaphor here is productivity. Of course to speak of productivity implies that there is a succinct way to measure it. Currently we measure productivity in the form of standardized test results. Schools are rated, classrooms are rated, teachers are rated, and students are rated. In such a system, what counts is what is assessed on these tests. In turn, effective teaching can be quantified and compared. Comparison is at the heart of neoliberalism.

Accountability is done under the aegis of leaving no child behind. After all who wants to leave a child behind? The productive get ahead, the unproductive are left behind. After all exactly what does it mean to be left behind? The other day I saw a bumper sticker that read, “In case of Rapture, this car will be abandoned.” Until No Child Left Behind, I associated the phrase “Left Behind” with a series of Christian novels by Timothy LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins that had to do with rapture. The poor souls that are “left behind” get thrown into the pit of hell while Christians ascend to heaven. It is kind of funny to think of No Child Left Behind in this way given President Bush’s faith based bend. Given this context, we don’t want any child “left behind” when the educational rapture commences.

What if we took the time to think about the actual effects of accountability instead of its metaphoric frame? For one thing we would quickly discover that accountability has resulted in the displacement of students. In Chicago student displacement has resulted in riots at receiving high schools. Another effect is that many teachers have lost any semblance of academic freedom in the name of test preparation. Finally, some good teachers lose their jobs and are stigmatized because they taught at chronically underperforming schools.

Teacher opposition often misses the point. Typically teachers simply invert the logic of accountability and provide a romantic, subjectivistic, overly emotional pleas on behalf of the preciousness of the individual child. But what teachers fail to recognize is that their “expertise” has already been undermined. Their claims to really “know the child” go out the window because in the system such teacher knowledge, since it can’t be measured, is discarded and labeled “subjective”.

Teachers and critics need to stop debating why the department of education or the board of education behaves the way it does. We don’t need anymore teacher stories that provide teachers with feelings of empowerment, because those in power are deaf to the testimony.

Teachers must also avoid the “if onlys” because they are not grounded in reality. You hear this all the time in high schools, “If only the elementary schools did a better job.” I even heard this at the city college level, “If only high schools did a better job.” The “if onlys” get us nowhere because they aren’t built on reality.

The reality of education today: Only the aptitudes, knowledges, and actions directly related to the overall needs of society are recognized; everything else is either marginalized or silenced from the curriculum. In education today what is true is what is measurable. That’s why NCLB puts a premium on quantitative research. If it can’t be measured it is either suspect or irrelevant. What is measurable becomes what is taught. Teaching methods are dictated by measurement. Eventually the range of possibility in the classroom becomes a function of compliance to an established quantifiable “norm”.

So what can teachers do? They can start by interrogating themselves, and noting how they are implicit in the application of power at the capillary level. Here are some questions to start this process:

What happens when a student receives the lowest possible grade on a project when it is the best work has has ever done?

What happens when a teacher tells a student they are wrong, when the student knows he is right?

What happens when a child is too hungry to work?

What happens when a child is punished for talking in class, when he was asking another student for help?

How does a student feel when he can’t ask a question because a teacher has to “move on”?

What happens when students only do what is difficult for them at school?

What happens when a student expects to learn about American history and is given test prep every day for 2 months?

What happens when a teacher refers to a student as lazy or disrespectful?

What happens when a teachers refer to their students as “babies”?

What does the expectation that students will always do as they are told indicate?

What do we learn about ourselves when we examine these questions in light of our own critiques of power and neoliberalism?

What happens when we justify a lesson by saying, "it's on the test" and nothing more.

What happens when we teach content that we don't believe is important?

What happens when we answer our own questions instead of pushing students?

What are the consequences of student failure?

Only by considering these questions can teachers claim a meaningful voice in determining the future of education.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Educational Welfare and the Shape of the Spoon in Chicago

The biggest threat to academic achievement in Chicago and across the nation is educational welfare. We can go on forever talking about the merits of standards based education, formative assessment, and differentiated instruction, but if we allow educational welfare to creep into our schools then we have lost the war. When teachers practice educational welfare they undermine academic achievement at every turn. Over time the recipients of educational welfare learn to be dependant, intellectual dullards.

Educational welfare occurs when a teacher’s lecture takes the place of assigned readings and/or homework. It works like this: During the course of a class a teacher becomes aware that students have not done their reading/homework and then “gives them” the material in the form of a lecture. Educational welfare does not teach students to read, think, or interact with the world; in fact all it teaches is passive learning and dependence on the teacher. In short educational welfare trades on the future of our students and creates docile bodies. A clue that this going on is when teachers talk about “covering” material. The worst offenders put it in the first person, as in “Oh, I covered that a week ago.” The problem here is that the teacher knows the material (hopefully) and “covered” it, but what about what the students know? Well for one thing educational welfare undermines the importance of homework. It creates dependence on teachers.

Some teachers foster this dependence by referring to their students as “my babies” implying that students are as helpless as infants. Since metaphors structure the way that we think, this disturbing, condescending remark reveals a defeatist and racist mindset in those that speak this way. Yet, we allow these folk to staff our urban schools in the form of teachers, principals, and other ancillary staff.

What to do? The best means to counteract educational welfare is in making our classrooms and schools intellectually safe environments where students have the freedom and confidence to enter in to civil, robust, informed debate. The only way to get to that point in a classroom is to place a premium on justice, learning, personal growth and productivity. Teachers, administrators, parents, and students must work collaboratively to create this place. Impossible? Such an education is a reality at Phillips Exeter, a private, elite boarding school, why shouldn’t it be the reality for all children? After all E.M. Forester is right, "Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon."

Sunday, February 05, 2006

CPS Student and Teacher Attendance Lacking

I couldn’t help but laugh at the articles I read this morning. Over Sunday morning coffee I read “And for Perfect Attendance, Johnny Gets a Car” in the NYT along with an article in the Sun-Times about teacher absenteeism in the Chicago Public Schools. The NYT article mentioned a program in CPS where students with perfect attendance are eligible to win one month’s mortgage or rent. Funny, CPS appears to have been paying students to come to school while as many as 1,500 teachers get paid to stay home each day. No, make it 1,800 teachers on Fridays. Yes, you read that correctly 1,500 teachers per day on Monday-Thursday, 1,800 teachers on Friday, and they get the summers off too. This wouldn’t cut it in corporate America, but this is the public schools, remember.

As a result of this lousy attendance record, the Chicago Public Schools will start publicizing teacher attendance rates for its schools next year. The union boss Marilyn Stewart responded by saying that, “We have a professional work force, and people are not taking advantage of that situation. I don’t see why the personal information of employees has to be made public…if it’s not related to student achievement.” Let’s be clear, if a teacher isn’t present, student achievement suffers. I have seen students perform well below their pears on standardized tests when their teachers became truant. I also watched a teacher lock a position and refuse to come to school, leaving her students to sit in the auditorium for months. All of these kids failed that class, and had to make it up in the cottage industry known as summer school.

So, Marilyn, I guess teacher attendance does impact student achievement. The union has also claimed that teachers miss school because teaching is a stressful job. Last time I checked teachers got the summers off in Chicago, and nothing beats unwinding from a stressful school year like June, July, and August. Sadly, maybe we should agree to pay the mortgage or rent for one month if a teacher has perfect attendance, wait doesn’t that sort of happen already, and on the public dime in the name of a paycheck? All except for the perfect attendance part that is. How about if we made teachers bring a note to school like the kids and then they could have excused and unexcused absences?

Let’s be clear, if a teacher is sick they should stay home, but if a teacher is a chronic truant they should do us all, including their students a favor and resign. Of course that will never happen because careerists value their paychecks and tend to know their “rights” and how to abuse those “rights”. These types ruin it for the legitimately professional type teachers in Chicago, of which I have known many.

Dubious School Research and Dubious Journalists

I’ve just read Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat aloud for what feels like the thousandth time this week; however, my efforts have been rewarded and the once cranky Charlie sleeps.

It’s like this: the New York Times runs a story on Jan 28th about a research study that claims that demographic differences more than make up for achievement differences between public and private schools. This article has culminated in headlines in other papers that read along the lines of “Privatization is no answer to improving education,” Sun-Times Feb 4. Thankfully, I happened upon a great critique of this study entitled “NY Times Touts Dubious Conclusion on School Quality”. After reading all of these articles I took time to read the study and you should too.

In reading the study it becomes clear that the journalists reporting on the study haven’t taken the time to evaluate the claims in light of the actual research. Simply, they haven’t taken the time to read the actual study “Charter, Private, Public Schools and Academic Achievement: New Evidence from the NAEP Mathematics Data”. Maybe they just read the conclusion section of the research. Well, you know what they say about jumping to conclusions…

If they had they would realize that educational research is not like medical or scientific research in that nothing is definitive. In fact the authors caution the readers on page 18 that “overall, due to the complexity of the issues involved, no single study can provide a definitive determination of the effectiveness of various forms of schooling.” Clearly journalists missed this caveat.

Next, the authors warn readers on page 38 that “the present analysis treats charter schools as monolithic when they are not.” Remember that charter schools that don’t cut the mustard will cease to exist—they are not one entity, but multiple.

If we get in to research design we find that the authors of the study double counted for income using socioeconomic status and “Home Resources” as variables. Finally, the authors of the study do not include the following variables “school discipline, teacher qualities, and even parent involvement”. Of course these variables have a profound effect on student achievement.

More troubling is the claim that the authors or unbiased. This claims appears in the Sun-Times article when co-author of the study Sarah Lubienski says, “I went to a private, conservative Christian school and had no preconceived bias on the issue. I just wanted to create an accurate, comprehensive picture.” I journalist would look at the study’s bibliography they may have noticed that the authors cite themselves 9 times, and that many of these articles challenge the privatization of public schools. How is that unbiased?

The most troubling finding of the study—the persistence of the black/white achievement gap has been the least reported. The study finds that “Black eighth graders scored an average of almost 20 points (roughly 2 grade levels) lower than White students within the same school who were identical on all other demographic measures suggests that the goals of ‘leaving no child behind,’ and monitoring and reducing the achievement gaps within schools, are critically important”(39). Now, that is a bombshell and few folk want to talk about that because race makes most folk uncomfortable. Don’t we owe it to the children in America to discuss this persistent achievement gap?

I know that in my previous job I fell under fire for merely presenting the data from the school report card that indicated an achievement gap. Evidently, everyone wanted to put blinders on and when confronted with the numbers they became hostile. Folks need to set their defenses aside and work toward closing the achievement gap by any means necessary—even the full scale dismantling of the careerist public school bureaucracies.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

EMOs are the Future of the Chicago Public Schools

Charlie and Isabelle have been listening to the Langley Elementary Schools Music Project’s Innocence and Despair. The recording is from the 1976-1977 school year and features Canadian elementary students singing pop songs from the 60’s and 70’s. Isabelle and Charlie love the version of Sweet Caroline. It is a reminder of the possibilities of arts education, and hey, the kids love it.

Anyway, on the education front I’ve been reading a lot about education management organizations (EMOs). EMOs are for profit companies that come in and oversee charter school operations. Of course the traditional education establishment—schools of education types—are against these entities. They argue that EMOs are another example of the corporatization of education that runs counter to democratic ideals…huh? A brief look at the history of education in this country makes it clear that corporate interests have always been at the heart of education. Check out John Taylor Gatto’s The Makers of Modern Schooling for some background. The problem is that the in your face approach of EMOs is perceived as threat to the triad of educationalists, careerist, and unionists. Clearly, the triad has mobilized out of self-preservation. Remember one of the major reasons our urban schools are in such disarray is because of this triad. In many respects this triad has created its own kingdom and made a ton of money too.

In Chicago, many teachers have ACT scores well below the state average. They come from third tier schools of education and are looking for teaching jobs that offer job security—classic careerist. Obviously they oppose merit pay, school choice, and accountability. Remember that the bulk of CPS administrators come from these ranks. Yes, and 100’s of them pull in six figure incomes. When six figure folk lose their jobs, they scramble and are picked up elsewhere in the board; therefore, despite the tough talk there is no real accountability at the board when it comes to its highest earners. This phenomenon is similar to the rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic. This happens because there is no real competition or oversight. For that reason alone we should all embrace EMOs. The system is not only failing the students it is failing the taxpayers too. Here’s a radical idea, Mayor Daley should take his own advice when it comes to throwing good money after bad and dismantle the bureaucracy that is CPS and replace it with an EMO at a fraction of the cost. Of course this would spell an immediate end to careerism at the board. Why not do it? Just maybe, they’d do a better more efficient job than the status quo. Six-sigma quality control may not work with students because kids aren’t widgets, but it could certainly work with teachers and administrators.

What about the union? Yeah, what about the union? EMOs are for profit and sustained profits are a sign that a company or school is doing things right and pleasing its customers. A profitable board of education would be in a good position to have "rainy day" funds to make needed school repairs. Profits also reflect better management and planning; in short a more efficient system. For teachers, profitability can also mean the opportunity to personally share in the success. For example, a New York-based EMO now offers its teachers stock options, an added benefit that traditional educational institutions and arrangements cannot provide. So what about the unions?