Save Our Schools National Convention

Get ready for the SOS National Convention!

Join education activists from around the country this August 3-5 in Washington, DC for the Save Our Schools National Convention!

Parents, students, and people of all professions and persuasions are encouraged to attend and assist with crafting a progressive set of principles regarding what we expect from public education and how it should function to serve every type of child. Once completed, we will present these principles to both political parties in time for their upcoming national conventions.

The Save Our Schools Convention is scheduled for August 3-5 and will be held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, 2660 Woodley Rd NW, Washington, DC. There is a $150 per person registration fee to help pay for the convention. Please use this link to register.

You can also join the SOS Early Childhood Webinar Friday June 1, 9 pm EDT. Deborah Meier and Nancy Carlsson-Paige will lead the discussion. Details here.


All readers of The Louisiana Educator are invited to immediately join our new data base of email contacts that I am naming The Defenders of Public Education.

We need you now! It is 100% free! It is 100% confidential! Just send an email using your preferred email address, and zip code to: Your zip code will be used to list you and I hope many others according to legislative district so that I can send you timely, relevant information about your representative or senator's position on key education issues. You will also receive updates on critical BESE actions.

From time to time I will ask our Defenders of Public Education to send an email or participate in efforts to influence legislative votes on critical education issues at the legislature. This will be done in cooperation with the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education and the established professional educator organizations of our state. The final decision will always be up to each contact member to do what he/she feels is appropriate.

This is a way for educators to more effectively express the concerns of the education profession in Louisiana with greater unity. Through the actions of this group and the unified efforts of our educator organizations, educators could quickly become one of the most influential groups in the state. All educators, (teachers, administrators, school board members) and parents who care about public education are invited to participate. Just send me your email address and zip code today. Please don't wait for, or expect someone else to represent your profession!

Tuesday, May 29th, a meeting of the Louisiana Accountability Commission was held to make decisions about the SPS rating systems (School Performance Score) for schools this coming year along other issues related to Louisiana's No Child Left Behind waiver. If you sign up for our data base of Defenders of Public Education now, you will be one of the first to see what changes will be mandated for your school in the next school year. All I really need is your email address and zip code, but if you wish, you can also include your name, education position and school or any other important data.

Mike Deshotel,


I have posted a recent resolution to President Obama from the American Federation of Teachers and an Open Letter to President Obama written in April by the President of the National School Boards Association.

In November of 2009 TEACHERS began an initiative of writing letters to Obama. This action was led by National Board Certified Teacher Anthony Cody. It is important to note that TEACHERS were the leaders in recognizing the vagaries of the current wave of public education "reform." Teachers were the first to bravely push back and speak out, and teachers continue to work hard to turn around the highly politicized movement to privatize our public education system.


By Anthony Cody on November 2, 2009

Dear President Obama,

I was one of the millions of teachers across the USA who actively supported your candidacy. I organized a fundraiser with fellow educators, and walked my neighborhood precinct during the primary. I used my blog on Teacher Magazine to share your vision. I took heart when I read on your campaign website:

Obama believes teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests. He will improve the assessments used to track student progress to measure readiness for college and the workplace and improve student learning in a timely, individualized manner. Obama will also improve NCLB's accountability system so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them.

You have spoken eloquently of a new era of mutual responsibility for our schools, and have called on parents to take a greater role in their children's education. The provision of health care for families without it will be a tremendous help to our students, so this work is deeply appreciated. This year ARRA funds have saved many thousands of teachers' jobs, but we have a huge problem looming. State budgets, and the schools that depend on them, remain in dire straits. It appears that Race to the Top funding will not be used to save jobs or plug massive holes in state budgets, but instead will be used to "drive reforms." But these reforms do not enact the vision you have put forward.

As it stands now, Secretary Duncan has initiated policies to:

•"Turn around" 5000 of the nation's "worst" schools (based on test scores) although recent reports from Chicago reveal that the 5,445 students displaced by his school closures there did not do any better than before.

•Tie teacher pay to test scores, though research and common sense suggest this will result in even more narrowing of the curriculum and teaching to the test.

•Insist, in spite of more and more research that questions their effectiveness, that charter schools should be dramatically expanded.

•Rank teacher preparation programs - once again, by how well they increase student test scores

We have had eight long years of No Child Left Behind, which systematically assaulted our schools by establishing impossible to meet test score targets and Byzantine rules about subgroups. Your election a year ago was supposed to change all that. But thus far the policies we see are actually worse than before.

We can agree that teacher quality is critical for the success of our schools, but test scores are a wholly inadequate means to measure or improve quality. Furthermore, you have a Secretary of Education who is not listening to teachers. Teachers need to be active partners in school reform at every level, from the classroom up to the cabinet meeting. Right now our views are being shut out and ignored, and we are not represented. This is driving morale down at a time when our schools need to rally together for our students.

If teachers are demoralized and sidelined, we are lost as partners in the change process. We will remain the subjects of change rather than agents, and our creative vision will be missing. This is the biggest reason NCLB has failed, and will continue to fail under Secretary Duncan so long as he maintains this direction.

It does not have to be this way. Teachers are ready for change, ready for mutual responsibility, ready for better assessments of student learning that honor our classroom practice and our students' capacity for critical thinking. We are ready, but we are still waiting to see these things.

I urge you to take a closer look at the policies that are being implemented by the Department of Education.

•Review the report recently offered by the National Academy of Sciences which points out many flaws in the Race to the Top guidelines.

•Review research that reveals that charter schools are no better on average than their public school counterparts.

•Pay attention to the continued narrowing of the curriculum that you decried as a candidate.

•Listen to the deeply held concerns of this nation's classroom teachers.

•Hold your Secretary of Education accountable for enacting the vision that you campaigned on, that gave so much hope to millions of teachers and students across this country.

Your supporter still,

Anthony Cody

What do you think? Will you join me in signing this letter? Or authoring your own? What would you tell Obama if he joined you for lunch today?

Update: I created a Facebook group to allow teachers to post their own letters to President Obama, or sign on to others that are posted. Come and speak your mind.


My previous entry posted the just-published resolution by the American Federation of Teachers Executive Council. Teachers are being called union thugs and accused of only being concerned about their pay and "expansive" benefits.

This letter was published in April by the President of the National School Boards Association. NSBA is an association made up of ELECTED OFFICIALS. They negotiate contracts with unions. Interesting that they see eye-to-eye on the issues of high stakes standardized
tests and the need for a rich, diverse curriculum which includes the arts.

Letter to Obama by NSBA’s President

April 17, 2012

Dear President Obama:

The night of your election, in Grant Park, you said, “I will listen to you especially when we disagree.” We are all committed to the best educational future for the children of America. Yet, as the nation prepares for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), school board members and top educational thinkers overwhelming urge abandoning the current “command-and-control” federal educational oversight. America’s treasure lies in unleashing the creativity of our youth. Though well-intentioned, the current federal direction is ignoring and working against much of what we know about student motivation and achievement. Instead, the federal government should support local efforts to ignite curiosity, creative potential, and a drive for excellence among students and staff.

Throughout my presidency of the National School Boards Association, I have travelled to many states and written for our national journal and asked for input to this letter. School board members and educators across the country have contributed their thinking here. We share your sense of urgency: We must give every child, no matter their circumstances, the opportunity to excel. We must ensure high quality experiences so each child develops fully. Our major disagreement comes from how we go about this task.

We want for each American child the same things that you and Michelle want for Sasha and Malia—inspiration, aspiration, creativity. I know you don’t want an overemphasis on testing. I have heard you say it. Experience in schools and communities, supported by research, tells us that relentlessly focusing on standardized tests erodes our national competitiveness and deadens curiosity and drive. Clearly, we need some testing to gauge student learning, and we have no problem with appropriate accountability. But we have swung to a far extreme that is significantly hurting children. “Students are numbing over testing for testing’s sake…. We can’t test this country into excellence.” (Sonny Savoie, LA)

Other countries that traditionally focus on testing recognize the shortcomings of their systems and come to our shores to learn how we inspire a spirit of innovation. And decades of work by motivation theorists, such as Daniel Pink, help us understand why a focus on testing and standards may not cultivate the learners we want. Others have found that such narrow focus restricts our views of what is possible, and even causes unethical behavior, such as the rash of testing scandals here and abroad.

By contrast, Finnish schools are now “exemplars of many of the success indicators we … want to see in American schools. Achievement is consistently high. Students are self-motivated and engaged in their learning. Schools have wide latitude to decide on their own programs, and there are no intrusive sanctions.” (Jill Wynns, CA)

The focus on strict quantitative accountability has never worked for any organization, and it has not worked with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Teachers are trying to meet the mandates of those programs and consequently “our children suffer and are not getting educated to their individual potential.” (Carolyne Brooks, IL) Teachers’ focus on tests is undermining their potential and initiative, making it more difficult to share a love of learning with their students.

Our students will never be first in the world on standardized tests. We never have come close. Nor is that something toward which we should aspire! We simply are not a compliant people willing to absorb facts without challenge. But we have had the most innovative workforce in the world (and now vie with Finland for that top position). Though intended to encourage equity, our current policy is, in fact, driving us toward mediocrity. Our students may be becoming better regurgitators, but what we need is excellent thinkers.

We have significant challenges in many of our communities, especially those that are underserved, yet we continue to boast some of the best schools in the world. We have models of excellence from which we should all be learning. Our vision should be to empower excellence—to draw out the best in each and every individual in our schools. We should recognize that our children’s brains are our most important resource. We should aspire to having children take responsibility for their own learning. We can have a common curriculum as a guide, but leave it to our local “civic labs,” as Thomas Jefferson envisioned them, to find optimal ways to inspire learning.

That said, we won’t achieve any vision without significant teamwork. Finland’s process may offer a model: They spent years developing national consensus about the essentials for successful education and, hence, the nation. Collaboration can promote independent thinking and action.

As a nation, rather than inspiring people toward a vision of excellence, we have been blaming some for blocking student achievement. It is time to inspire all toward a pursuit of excellence for each of our children.

The work world our children inherit will be significantly different from the one we have known. Jobs in the 20th century were mostly algorithmic or routine. According to McKinsey & Co., most such jobs have already evaporated because of automation and outsourcing. Future work will be more complex, so we had better prepare students differently than through standardized tests.

As the nature of work changes, so too must motivators. Carrots and sticks, which worked with routine jobs, actually impede efforts when the work is more complex, Daniel Pink says. Instead, the rewards of learning and challenges of the work itself must now be the primary motivators. Adults learn best, experts say, if they feel competent, autonomous, and a sense of belonging.

Much in our current school systems works against these, and our new national focus on teacher evaluation will continue that trend. As a result of ignoring innate needs, our schools too often are not innovative hubs. Yet to meet the challenges of our future, we must cultivate a spirit of innovation and inspiration. We will only succeed in preparing for our future if we empower all in our schools to think through complex problems and processes and generate solutions. Rather than laboring over bureaucratic compliance problems, let’s engage students and teachers (even board members!) in solving problems of teaching and learning.

Our schools will never become great through threat or intimidation. Schools must be safe places to take risks, where staff members and students feel valued for their ideas and talents and empowered to fail so that they can grow. Students will learn what they see, experience, and enjoy.

We have the knowledge and experience to do this at the national, state, and local levels. However, the present narrow focus on accountability and trend of demonizing those in public education, arrogantly focusing on “failing schools,” is diametrically opposed to fostering excellence.
Again, we can learn from Finland: It holds teachers in high regard (appealing to competence). Teacher training includes a strong feedback loop; professional development is embedded in the work, through coaching and ongoing support (appealing to belonging). People are willing to try new approaches and ideas (appealing to autonomy).

Innovation requires investment. Retired school superintendent Jack Reynolds noted that under the original ESEA we had a national system for identifying, supporting, and sharing excellent, vetted educational ideas. We should return to such a system of research, development, and diffusion, using technology to share teaching and learning approaches. Further, Ohio school board member Charlie Wilson suggested we encourage and fund our universities to conduct empirical research on the considerable experimentation that does occur in our schools.

Some board members suggested that we benefit from broad, guiding curriculum principles. Wyoming’s David Fall encouraged you to continue your work with the National Governors’ Association to refine core standards. However, our children would be best served if the standards were guides, but decision-making remained local.

Across the nation, I have heard growing support for an emphasis on the early years. To close achievement gaps, we need to provide rich early learning environments for children born with the least. We need to teach their parents how to encourage their learning. Please continue to support states’ early childhood efforts.

Mr. President, public education in the U.S. is on the wrong track. As we have moved decision-making farther from teachers and children, we have jeopardized our competitive edge and keys to our national success: our ingenuity, our openness to innovation, and our creativity.

I urge you to convene a national dialogue, not made up of politicians, but including the breadth of educational opinion, to reconsider our educational direction. I would love to help you do this. Let’s ensure that each child has the tools to be successful. Let’s marshal the nation’s brain power and tap into the research, proven practice, and demonstrated evidence of excellence.

Please bring your parent hat to determining our new direction for public education. Your daughters, like all of our children and all of our teachers, don’t need more tests designed to identify weaknesses. They need excited, motivated, passionate teachers who feel challenged, supported, and encouraged to try new approaches, who share with their students a learning environment that is limitless. If we work collaboratively on a shared vision of excellence, if we foster team development, encourage innovation, and care for the growth of our teachers, our children will lead us into the future with confidence. And public education will remain the cornerstone of our vibrant democracy.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Mary Broderick
National School Boards Association President




All children deserve a rich, meaningful public education that prepares them for the opportunities, responsibilities and challenges that await them as they become contributing members of a democratic society. Growing our nation’s future citizens and workers is a serious undertaking that calls for a thoughtful focus on teaching and learning. Since the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, the growing fixation on high-stakes testing has undermined that focus, putting at grave risk our students’ learning and their ability to meet the demands of the 21st century economy and fulfill their personal goals.

The current generation of low-level, high-stakes tests—and their extreme misuse as a result of ideologically and politically driven education policy—has not improved our schools. Indeed, several studies have shown the exact opposite: test-based rewards and sanctions for schools have slowed our progress in narrowing the achievement gap and have diverted attention away from many other important educational goals.

Appropriate assessments are an integral part of a high-quality public education. By contrast, the current test-and-punish accountability model has seriously damaged public education. We have lost vital parts of the curriculum because they are not subject to testing. Student learning time has been sacrificed in favor of testing and test preparation. Teachers have been led to focus their attention on the students closest to passing the tests, at the expense of developing every student’s full potential. All of this has stifled teachers’ ability to develop all students’ capacity to think deeply, critically and creatively, and has driven many talented teachers from classrooms that desperately need them. This loss has been especially pronounced in the schools and classrooms serving America’s neediest children, adding further insult to the injury of poverty and other social challenges.

In short, the inappropriate and punitive use of assessments, which too often are low quality to begin with, has eclipsed teaching in too many schools. It is time to restore a proper balance to public education, and to ensure that assessments--as important as they are-- inform and not impede teaching and learning.
We believe in assessments that support teaching and learning, and align with curriculum rather than narrow it; that are developed through collaborative efforts, not picked off a shelf; that are focused on measuring growth and continuous development instead of arbitrary targets unconnected to how students learn; that rely on diverse, authentic, and multiple indicators of student performance rather than filling in bubbles; and that provide information leading to appropriate interventions that help students, teachers and schools improve, not sanctions that undermine them.
Further, we believe that assessments designed to support teaching and learning must contribute to school and classroom environments that nurture growth, collaboration, curiosity and invention --essential elements of a 21st-century education that have too often been sacrificed in favor of test prep and testing. Specifically, wecall on the consortia currently developing assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards to do their part in solving this by including the crucial voices of teachers in the development of these assessments. We know that collaboration with educators is necessary to ensure that high-quality instruction and content are given their proper emphasis.

America’s public school accountability system must be re-examined and rebuilt. By every credible measure, the testing fixation rooted in the No Child Left Behind Act has failed our students. We commit to working with all who share our commitment to restoring balance to public education by prioritizing high-quality instruction informed by appropriate and useful assessments. Anything less would be unworthy of our children and of the world-class public schools they deserve.



WHILE CUTTING FUNDING FOR K-12 and HIGHER EDUCATION along with the plethora of other cuts statewide. . . .
Jindal signs tax break law for Hornets

Advocate staff report

May 30, 2012

Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed into law a 10-year, $37 million tax break for the New Orleans Hornets, part of the state’s deal to keep the NBA team in Louisiana, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

Jindal announced the signing Tuesday, in a list of bills that he agreed to enact into law.

The bill by Jefferson Parish Rep. Cameron Henry, a Republican, extends an existing tax break that saves the Hornets $3.7 million a year through Louisiana’s Quality Jobs Program. The rebate will be extended through the 2024 NBA season.

Supporters said the Hornets have a strong economic impact on New Orleans and the state. Critics argued it was inappropriate to give a multimillion-dollar tax break while also levying continued budget cuts on colleges and universities.


REJECT THE UNCONSTITUTIONAL RADICAL MFP (Minimum Foundation Program - public school financing formula)

Even if you take no other action this year, please send a message to your Representative saying “Reject the Minimum Foundation Program,” SCR 99 by Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie).

The $3.41 billion MFP is the formula that funnels state funds to local school districts. This year, Governor Bobby Jindal and his allies on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education are using the MFP to radically redefine public education in Louisiana.

The State Constitution says the MFP shall be used to fund “public elementary and secondary schools.”

But for the first time in history, money dedicated to public schools will be diverted to private and religious schools if this MFP is adopted.

In addition, the proposal funds an unprecedented increase in the number of on-line/virtual course providers, home schools and charter schools authorized by as-yet unidentified corporations, businesses and industry providers.

We know that the MFP will pay for more than 7,000 children to abandon public schools for private and religious schools next fall – schools that are not graded, with teachers who are not evaluated like their public counterparts.

In the near future, the MFP will pay for at least 200 new charter schools that do not require certified teachers. These schools will be responsible to unelected “charter authorizers” approved by Gov. Jindal’s BESE board.

On top of that, the education of countless students will be entrusted to virtual, online schools. That’s a $2 billion industry that one researcher says provides “insufficient evidence and accountability to ensure that the online courses are as rigorous and impart as much learning as traditional courses.”

No question about it, Gov. Jindal’s plan will deconstruct public education in order to enrich the corporations that run charter and online schools.

The MFP was written without any consideration for the fiscal impact it will have on local schools. BESE provided no simulations or reasonable projections concerning the effect of either vouchers, new charter schools, or other providers on school districts. Systems have no idea of how many teachers they will have to hire, or how many students will be in their classrooms.

The MFP should be grounded in known data; instead, every school system will have to start from dealing with the unknown.

The lack of planning is a reflection of the closed and opaque process by which BESE adopted this MFP formula. Members of the state board received the complicated, 40-page formula and its supporting documents on a Saturday night, then voted the following Monday at a specially called meeting, during which stakeholders and the general public were only allowed a few minutes to address the proposal.

Along with all its other faults, this will be the fourth year that the MFP includes no increase in the base per-pupil amount. Until 2009, it was traditional to include a minimum 2.75% increase. As a result, public education has been shortchanged by nearly $370 million at the same time that costs and unfunded mandates have increased.

If this formula is approved, it will certainly be the subject of a long, expensive judicial process. It will be much better for the state and for our children if this formula is rejected and returned to BESE. If the state board is unable to agree on a revised formula, then at least the MFP will revert to a much less controversial and constitutional computation.


Another right-on post by conservative think-tank guy Rick Hess. I hope he appreciates my occasional re-posts. I've included my comment at the end.

RTT for Districts: Taking the Hubris Meter to 11

RTT for Districts: Four Things I Don't Love

By Rick Hess on May 29, 2012 7:57 AM

Last week, I kvetched about the problems with RTT-District. I'll just say a bit more today. There are four things that particularly struck me about this $400 million exercise:

1. ED anticipates giving out 15 to 20 grants, with amounts tied to district size. Big districts, serving 10,000 kids or more, can get all of $20-$25 million. Smaller districts are eligible for less. In a small urban like Washington, DC, or Newark, we're talking about a total award equal to something like two to three percent of one year's outlays. In the nation's bigger districts, like Houston, Fairfax, Clark County, or Miami-Dade, award amounts will average about one percent or less of one year's spending. To put this in perspective, the total RTT dollars promised are less than one-tenth of one percent of annual K-12 spending. And yet, applicants are expected to make substantial new--and likely costly--commitments with regards to "personalized learning environments," teacher evaluation, school turnarounds, data systems, and standards and assessments.

2. So, what will districts need to do to receive these less-than-dazzling sums? ED is going to require that winning supplicants provide the necessary policies and systems to enable teachers to "truly differentiate instruction," and "continuously focus on improving individual student achievement." Teachers will also need to impart college- and career-readiness skills on their students in harmony with each student's "personal passions" and individual learning pace. O-kay then. Shoot, wish we'd thought of this before.

3. Despite our earnest Secretary of Education's jargon-laden, expansive rhetoric, the performance metrics reflect a pinched focus on the handful of things we know how to measure. Duncan said he's seeking "personalized learning environments" that focus on "competency-based education" in order to promote "school[s] that meets the unique needs of our children." Yet, ED specifies that performance will be demonstrated via six metrics: summative assessments, decreasing the achievement gaps, graduation rates, college enrollment rates, student attendance, and teacher attendance. These metrics are at odds with Duncan's handsome verbiage. There's no room for applicants to propose documenting performance in advanced science, world languages, the arts, history, student engagement, or much else. This limitation is a much bigger problem at the district than at the state level. State-level levers and measures are necessarily crude, since they're writing rules that must be applied across scores or even hundreds of districts to hundreds or thousands of schools. But those same strictures need not apply at the district level. It's unfortunate to see the feds telling purportedly "leading" districts to nonetheless lend an outsized, compliance-driven import to just these measures.

4. The U.S. Department of Education is now going to get into the business of telling local, elected bodies how to evaluate themselves. By 2014-15, districts will have to promise to implement evaluation systems that take student outcomes into account for school boards (along with every other breathing soul in a district). This is an especially novel innovation in democratic government--school boards are elected or appointed bodies who serve at the pleasure of their voters or an elected official. Perhaps the Department of Transportation will next start requiring city councils to be evaluated based on transit performance But the move is par for the course from a Department that has shown little disregard for pesky Constitutional constraints.

Now, if the exercise is so silly, you might think, "Surely, districts will steer clear. So there's no harm."

Not so fast. Winning this deal will be a hefty career boost for any superintendent and a great marketing device for CMOs. Superintendents will yearn to be able to note "RTT winner" on their resumes. Foundations, school board members, newspapers, mayors, and civic leaders will expect their distict to apply, and it'll be a source of embarrassment for many that don't.

So, no matter how distracting and misguided the exercise, no matter how much energy is wasted on grant-writing and meetings, and no matter how trivial the actual dollar amounts, we're going to see scores or hundreds of applicants spending hundreds of hours leaping through the requisite hoops. And nobody is likely to complain publicly, because there's no upside in ticking off ED or its allies.

9:30 AM on May 29, 2012

Yet another deja vu posting from Rick Hess!

The realities of reform are slowly but surely making their way to the surface of the cesspool of myths. Thanks to the persistence and dedication of real educators and a public that is fighting to keep the PUBLIC in our system of education. To have your voice so eloquently included is the icing on the cake!

Will the Louisiana's wholly unqualified but newly-annointed young TFA grad State Superintendent John White apply for this latest tool to wrest control of education so as to transfer it to deemed-more-capable hands of corporate privatizers?

Probably not because it would seem to fly in the face of STANDARDIZATION - another broken tool that has been used to promulgate the culture of failure that has been used to successfully to convince the public that the only way to FIX public education is to ERADICATE it.

Then again - his modus operandi seems to be to use a vocabulary whose definition defies recognition in practice/application. Then again, the measurement criteria and the holy grail of testing may prevail and our Governor may see this as another opportunity to insert his aspirations for royalty just in the winning of a grant.

Yeah - shoot wish we HAD thought of this before!


I am re-posting another article that describes the attack on public education and its undermining of our democratic way of life. This one comes from South Carolina. As more and more of these stories reach the mainstream media, the public will realize that what qualified educators have been saying for a number of years is really true.

You will find the post and the comments by readers that follow at:

Published on Monday, May 28, 2012 by Schools Matter blog

The States: More Bully Politics of Education Reform
by P. L. Thomas

From South Carolina to New Jersey to Wisconsin—and all across the U.S.—universal public education is under assault by the bully politics of education reform.

In my home state of South Carolina, Governor Haley and Superintendent Zais, neither of whom have experience or expertise in education, are seeking to attack unions (although SC is a non-union, right-to-work state), increase education testing through adopting Common Core State Standards, deprofessionalize teachers through new accountability and merit-pay schemes, and cripple public schools by endorsing expanded choice initiatives.

Tractenberg details a similar pattern in New Jersey:

"Gov. Chris Christie wastes no opportunity to trash Newark’s public schools. His assaults continued recently at a national school choice conference, where he and odd-couple partner Mayor Cory Booker were featured speakers. "Aside from Christie’s well-known penchant for confrontation, there are two big problems with his attacks. "First, he insists on citing “facts” that are either flat-out wrong or cherry-picked to emphasize the worst in Newark’s schools. An education expert recently questioned why those promoting school choice often use the best charter schools to characterize all charter schools and the worst regular public schools to characterize all those schools."

The situation is even more grim in Wisconsin, home of the relentless Governor Walker:

"Walker is the archetypical bully. He has plenty of insecurities as a possible suspect in a John Doe case and as a college dropout--which necessitates his attacks on the 'liberal' academics. Self-esteem issues explain his need to repeatedly remind us how 'courageous' he has been and how he is like Ronald Reagan. Walker, like most bullies, yearns for status—which explains his national speaking tour. Most blatantly bullying is Walker’s 'divide and conquer' management style (openly advertised to one of his billionaire campaign donors)." "No group is better skilled at handling bullies, like Walker, than public educators. Teachers have much experience managing bullies in schools. We are trained in anti-bullying tactics. We have intervened in bullying situations and we advise our students on how to counter bullying. It is now time for Wisconsin’s teachers to embrace what we teach our students."

Steve Strieker, then, calls for a response in Wisconsin that every educator should heed: "Public educators must not be bystanders to Walker’s bullying." Part of the action educators must take is to identify the hypocrisy and lack of credibility coming from the current leaders in the call to reform schools along "no excuses" and corporate ideologies.

Bully Bravado Masks Inexperience, No Expertise, and Hypocrisy

Presidents, Secretaries of Education, Governors, and State Superintendents of Education historically and currently have used their bully pulpits to speak to and directly influence public education in the U.S. and in each state. In the twenty-first century, billionaires, millionaires, athletes, and celebrities have increasingly joined those political leaders by adopting education as their hobby. Among all of these elites, several patterns expose their combined failure to understand the problems facing and solutions needed for education—despite their elitist status that allows them power and prestige in the education debate. Those patterns expose these leaders' hypocrisy and lack of credibility and include the following:

• Most of these leaders experienced educational advantages unlike the schools they hope to create by dismantling public schools. Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and Mitt Romney, for example, enjoyed the luxury of low student-teacher ratios, but claim class size doesn't matter (although class size does matter). The hypocrisy of the "no excuses" reformers reveals that these people living in privilege have a different standard for other people's children.

• Most of these leaders have never taught a day in their lives, and have no background in education other than their appointments and self-proclamations as educators. Sal Khan—like Duncan, Gates, and the governors across the nation—for example, has been anointed "educator" and "innovator" without having ever taught, without holding any degrees in education.

• Most of these leaders have either a weak or nonexistent grasp on the current knowledge and research-base for teaching and learning. Further, like Christie, when these reformers call on evidence, they either cherry-pick, distort, or misrepresent the data. Recently, Superintendent Zais (SC) discounted paying teachers for years of experience or advanced degrees since, as he claimed, those two characteristic do not correlate positively with higher student test scores. But Zais does endorse merit pay, value-added methods of teacher evaluation, charter schools, and vouchers/tuition tax credits—all of which have the same correlation with higher student test scores as his claim about experience and advanced degrees.

With these patterns in mind, educators must consider directly the situation in Wisconsin, where a recall highlights the power of action, and possibly highlights yet again the negative influence of passive educators.

Wisconsin, along with SC and New Jersey, is not just one state in the union, but a very real crucible of democracy. Educators and citizens across the U.S. must not ignore that an attack on public schools, public school teachers, and public school students is an attack on democracy.

Democracy is not just an ideal, it is an act of the individual fully committed to the community.


I had to post this story by Liza Featherstone because it is so inclusive and relevant to the destruction being done to the Louisiana public education system. Our previous Recovery School District Supt. Paul Vallas was Superintendent of Philadelphia Public Schools prior to his arrival in New Orleans. His work there was the basis for the problems that school system is having now.

US Public School System is Under Attack

In Philadelphia, the privatization of the public school system isn't working - yet the stage is set for even more.

Published on Friday, May 25, 2012
by Liza Featherstone

The US public school system, once a model for the world, is under sustained attack by the nation's elites. Philadelphia, the latest casualty, is getting ready to sell off its schools and their governance to profiteers and snake-oil salesmen. We already know how this story ends. Students protest school closings outside district headquarters in Philadelphia. (Photo:

The Philadelphia school system announced in late April that it was on the brink of insolvency and would be turned over to private operators, dissolving most remnants of democratic governance. Specifically, if the city's leaders have their way, 64 of the city's neighborhood public schools will close over the next five years, and by 2017, 40 per cent of the city's children will attend charter schools. These are privately run schools that use public funds. Perhaps most disturbingly to those who value democracy and doubt the wisdom of corporate elites, the city will have no oversight of its own school system. Schools will instead be governed by "networks", control of which will be auctioned off through a bidding process, and could be bestowed on anyone - including a CEO of a for-profit education company.

The situation in Philadelphia, which has received amazingly little attention from the national media in the US, offers a disturbing window onto what the US elite is planning for the rest of our public schools - disturbing because Philadelphia's experience has already demonstrated that turning public education over to private entities will ultimately lead to its destruction.

The fact is Philadelphia is already the most privatized system in the US. In 2001, the state of Pennsylvania took over the city's school system and turned many of its schools over to private operators, even offering up 25 schools to for-profit companies. A study [PDF] by Vaughan Byrnes of Johns Hopkins University showed that, five years into this sweeping overhaul, the schools under private management were academically underperforming the public schools.

Not surprisingly, the bad education delivered by privatized education also comes with a heavy dose of corruption: at least six Philadelphia charter schools are under criminal investigation by the office of the state's attorney general, after the Philadelphia Inquirer - and the city's comptroller - reported rampant financial mismanagement and nepotism in the city's charter system. As in other cities, public money was extensively abused in real estate profiteering schemes, as charter school operators used schools as tenants, paying money to themselves to rent their own property. In one particularly classy instance, the charter operator was running a private parking lot on school property. Exorbitant salaries were common for the charter school operators, and some implausibly held fully salaried jobs in multiple schools, billing the city for more than 365 days in a year. At least two Philadelphia charter school operators have pleaded guilty to one such series of frauds - with sentencing scheduled for July - and the Inquirer's investigations may lead to further prosecutions.

In US public schools, privatization and austerity are presented as solutions to problems largely caused by - wait for it - privatization and austerity. But these are not solutions at all - just a recipe for more of the same.

Austerity has been a crucial partner for privatizers in the United States, where New Orleans has endured an overhaul similar to Philadelphia's, and school systems in New York and Chicago are suffering a more gradual erosion. Schools are starved of resources. Then the rich and their for-profit companies are brought in as white knights to "save" - or loot, whichever they prefer - the failing systems. In Philadelphia, according to the alternative City Paper, "it has been a long time since the schools had close to adequate funding". Indeed, for years, the state of Pennsylvania fought a lawsuit, filed in 1999, by the city of Philadelphia, its school district and the National Association of Colored People (NAACP), charging the state with racial discrimination: the city's schools, attended largely by poor children of color, had been systematically under-funded, compared with suburban and rural districts, which are predominantly white.

To be sure, many of Philadelphia's public schools are no place for children, and there is plenty of room for real reform. Unlike in New York City, most middle-class people in Philadelphia don't choose to send their children to inner-city public schools, instead making great financial sacrifices to move to the suburbs. But only in the mad libertarian climate of current US politics could any sensible person believe that the destruction of the city's schools will cure their woes.

In US public schools, privatization and austerity are presented as solutions to problems largely caused by - wait for it - privatization and austerity. But these are not solutions at all - just a recipe for more of the same.

© 2012 Al-Jazeera

Liza Featherstone is a contributing editor for The Nation and a journalist based in New York City. She is the co-author of Students Against Sweatshops: The Making of a Movement (Verso, 2002) and author of Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Worker's Rights at Wal-Mart (Basic, 2004).



Treachery and contempt in the House Retirement Committee

Treacherous is just one of the words describing the actions of the House Retirement Committee on Wednesday. The committee’s utter contempt for the people of the state and the rule of law is surpassed only by its craven submission to the will of Governor Bobby Jindal.

Not that all members were compliant when a bill’s intent was completely transformed so the governor could get his way and merge the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana and the Louisiana School Employees’ Retirement System.

Democrats on the committee, led by Rep. Sam Jones (D-Franklin) boycotted the vote, leaving only Republican members to do the governor’s bidding.

Here are the sordid details.

The committee was slated to hear SB 6 by Sen. Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas), an innocuous bill calling for an annual report to the school employees’ retirement system on privatized jobs.

But as has happened too often this session, the bill was hijacked by a surprise, 47-page amendment crafted by the governor’s office. The new language resurrected the system merger, which was originally contained in HB 1198 by Rep. Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell).

HB 1198 was approved by the Retirement Committee, but has languished on the House calendar for lack of enough votes to guarantee its passage.

House rules say that substantive amendments must be submitted 48 hours in advance of the meeting. But Rep Pearson, who chairs the panel, ruled that the amendment was not new information to the committee, and allowed it to be considered.

Reaction to the maneuver was immediate and explosive. Calling the move a “farce,” Rep. Jones walked out of the meeting. Without a quorum present, Rep. Pearson recessed the meeting to round up enough allies to pass the bill. When the panel reconvened, Democratic members stayed away, leaving only Republican lawmakers present to approve the bill.

“Offensive” was one word LFT Legislative Director Mary-Patricia Wray used to describe the tactic. “I think that the good faith of this Legislature with the citizens of this state has been breached," she said.

The underhanded tactics endorsed by Rep. Pearson and Sen. Guillory meant that teachers and school employees whose retirement will be affected did not have a chance to comment before the committee voted. And because SB 6 had already been approved by the Senate in its original form, the amended version now faces scrutiny only on the House floor.

The merger would abolish LSERS and transfer all its property, rights, obligations and employees into the Teachers’ system. In the process, 30 employees would lose their jobs within a year. That greatly increases the work load on remaining staff, and could cause a reduction in services for the members of the merged systems.


May 25, 2012

If you want to send your own message to Obama about class size, you can do it via his campaign website.

Dear President Obama:

Yesterday, Mitt Romney went to visit a charter school in Philadelphia and got real push back from teachers when he said class size doesn’t matter. A video of their remarks is below. As a principal of a charter school pointed out,

“There was a study done by the University of Tennessee, a definitive study about class size and what they said was that in first through third grade, if the class size is under 18 those kids stay ahead of everybody else all the way through school, including classes where you might have 25 in the class and co-teachers. Those students lose their gains after a couple years. If you have small classes in those primary years, those most important years, that’s what makes the difference.”

This is the famed STAR experiment, probably the most rigorous experiment in the history of education reform.

Your campaign seized on Romney’s remarks immediately, through press releases and Twitter:

Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for President Barack Obama’s re-election team, responded to Romney’s class size stance with a question: “What planet does he live on?”

“At his event today in Philadelphia, we saw Mitt Romney’s vision for education and it truly tests commonsense,” Smith wrote. “When confronted by teachers who know firsthand the benefits of smaller class sizes, Mitt Romney continued to insist – against all evidence – that larger class sizes are the answer to a good education. And he has even claimed that smaller class sizes ‘hurt’ education.

And yet Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, and most of the other members of the one percent who are currently making education policy in this country live on the very same planet. They too reject the value of smaller classes; and their hypocrisy on the subject knows no bounds. Like Romney, they send their own children to private schools where classes are capped at 16 or below, but think that class sizes nearly twice that size are just fine for other people’s children.

Indeed, your Education Secretary himself, Arne Duncan, has said nearly the same thing several times.

See for example this July 2011 interview with Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC, where Duncan openly dismissed the importance of class size, or this 2010 speech he gave to the American Enterprise Institute, where he urged districts to improve efficiency by making “smartly targeted increases in class size” and spend their funds instead on “ online learning, virtual schools, and other smart uses of technology.”

He advised decision-makers to start “shifting away from class-sized based reduction that is not evidence-based” in the midst of budget cuts that had already forced class sizes upwards in many districts across the nation to thirty children per class or more.

Yet there is no education reform that has more research backing than smaller classes, and certainly not online learning, which has never been shown to work to raise student achievement. In contrast, class size reduction in the early grades is one of only four reforms cited by the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of your own Department of Education, as having been proven to be effective through rigorous evidence; and there are literally scores of other controlled studies that show benefits from smaller classes in the middle and upper grades as well.

The worst part is while your campaign jumped on Romney’s remarks like a trampoline, your proposed education budget slashes funding that districts can choose to spend on class size reduction by $620 million, and diverts it to a competitive grant program for “alternative pathways into teaching” like Teach for America. See the Parents Across America analysis here.

Your campaign is now asking parents and teachers to say what they think of Romney’s views on class size.

Do you really want to know what I think?

President Obama, you do appear to be a thoughtful man. If you disagree with what Romney said, you should rein in your own Education Secretary and ask him to take back his erroneous statements on the subject. Even more importantly, if you respect the priorities of parents and teachers as well as the best education research, you will immediately restore the $620 million in your budget that districts can use for class size reduction.

Check out the video below of Philadelphia educators speaking truth to power– one of the few moments in this campaign season where real people have been able to talk back to politicians. I hope you listen hard to what they are saying.

And perhaps you should consider taking a few minutes out of your busy schedule to speak to teachers and parents as well, about what they think about the importance of smaller classes, as opposed to the wrongheaded education policies pursued by your administration. We eagerly await this opportunity.

Yours sincerely,

Leonie Haimson, public school parent and Executive Director, Class Size Matters.


This is a re-post from Mike Deshotel's blog
Friday, May 25, 2012

Romney Adopts Jindal Reform Plan

IMPORTANT INVITATION: All readers of The Louisiana Educator are invited to immediately join our new data base of email contacts that I am naming The Defenders of Public Education.
We need you now! It is 100% free! It is 100% confidential! Just send an email using your preferred email address, and zip code to: Your zip code will be used to list you and I hope many others according to legislative district so that I can send you timely, relevant information about your representative or senator's position on key education issues. You will also receive updates on critical BESE actions.

From time to time I will ask our Defenders of Public Education to send an email or participate in efforts to influence legislative votes on critical education issues at the legislature. This will be done in cooperation with the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education and the established professional educator organizations of our state. The final decision will always be up to each contact member to do what he/she feels is appropriate. This is a way for educators to more effectively express the concerns of the education profession in Louisiana with greater unity. Through the actions of this group and the unified efforts of our educator organizations, educators could quickly become one of the most influential groups in the state. All educators, (teachers, administrators, school board members) and parents who care about public education are invited to participate. Just send me your email address and zip code today. Please don't wait for, or expect someone else to represent your profession!

This Tuesday, May 29th, a meeting of the Louisiana Accountability Commission will be held to make decisions about the SPS rating systems for schools this coming year along other issues related to Louisiana's No Child Left Behind waiver. If you sign up for our data base of defenders of public education now, you will be one of the first to see what changes will be mandated for your school in the next school year. All I really need is your email address and zip code, but if you wish, you can also include your name, education position and school or any other important data.

Fair Warning! Destruction of Public Schools is Becoming a Nationwide Effort:
Governor Jindal appeared on national television this week to announce that presidential candidate Mitt Romney is basically adopting the Louisiana plan for education reform with the intention of implementing much of the plan on a nationwide basis. In particular, Romney would like to implement a system of federal vouchers for students transferring from public to private schools and allow the federal funding to follow the student just as Louisiana is doing with the MFP. Jindal also pointed out that Romney would support the idea of revamping (destroying) the teacher tenure laws and eliminating seniority in personnel decisions. In his national TV interviews Jindal criticized the LAE for opposing tying teacher evaluations to student performance but neglected to mention that LAE has sponsored legislation (see last week's post) that would have tied teacher evaluations to multiple measures of student performance instead of just one test. This is not just a Republican issue. In my opinion President Obama and his Secretary of Education Duncan are also moving aggressively to replace public schools with charters and other forms of privatization.

All this comes on the heals of a new report by a group of conservative and business oriented self appointed experts in education reform who have come to the conclusion that the entire national security of our country is being adversely affected by the alleged failure of our public schools. The report was released just last month by a group called the Council on Foreign Relations. Their report is titled: US Education Reform and National Security. Even though the group sounds very official it is mostly a special interest group representing school privatization interests. Two real education experts, Professor Linda Darling-Hammond and Dianne Ravitch have just published separate critiques of the report that seriously question the validity of the report and its conclusions. Darling-Hammond was actually a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and released a minority report signed by six other members contradicting the findings. Dianne Ravitch's commentary makes a very strong case for rejecting the report outright. She points out that far from being experts in education, the majority of the group that produced this report is composed of non-educators who have special interest in criticizing public schools for the purpose of replacing them with privately run often for-profit schools.

(See my previous post here on geauxteacher to read Dr. Ravitch's commentary)
I strongly suggest that the Diane Ravitch critique be considered almost mandatory reading for all professional educators who seek the truth about this Tsunami of reckless education reform taking place in our state and spreading to the rest of the nation. Please click on this link and carefully read Dr Ravitch's report. We must be armed with the facts if we are to counteract this takeover of public education by non-educator big business interests. These powerful individuals and organizations are well on their way to destroying the education profession as a respected profession. If they are allowed to continue unchecked our schools will soon be converted primarily into dull test rehearsal centers staffed by minimally trained college graduates while a few politically connected entrepreneurs profit immensely from our school taxes. I believe this system will only result in a major decline in our educational outcomes for the majority of students and will truly endanger our national security.

Legitimate education researchers have recently compiled data that demonstrates that if you pick almost any public school in the US that has wealth demographics similar to Finland (considered to have one of the most effective education systems in the world) the actual academic results of such a school will match or exceed the results of a typical school in Finland! That is exactly the case with my home town high school, Zachary High School. It has a minority membership of 45% and a poverty percentage much greater than most schools in Finland, yet just this week produced over 300 graduates that are thoroughly prepared for college or careers. But Zachary High is not a typical school for Louisiana. The poverty rate here is much lower than the typical school in Louisiana. This is just one more of thousands of public school examples across our nation that demonstrate that the argument that our public schools are failing is totally bogus! Some of our communities are failing and many of our politicians are failing and poverty is the real problem, but our public schools are not failing and our teachers are not failing! These facts are similar to the important information you will find in the Diane Ravitch critique. Please read it and use it in your arguments to defend our public education system.

That's why I want to urge you and your colleagues to join our Defenders of Public Education data base. Please send me your email and zip code today. And spread the word to other educators using Facebook or by direct contact. I believe you will be happy you took this important step for your profession.

Michael Deshotels

Feeding the Culture of Failure by Linking Education Reform to National Security

Dr. Riane Ravitch reviews a recent report by Joel I. Klein, Condoleezza Rice and others. She clearly calls out the writers for perpetuating the myth of corporate reform:
The report is a mishmash of misleading statistics and incoherent arguments, intended to exaggerate the failure of public education.

Do Our Public Schools Threaten National Security?

JUNE 7, 2012
Diane Ravitch

US Education Reform and National Security
by Joel I. Klein, Condoleezza Rice, and others
Council on Foreign Relations, 103 pp., available at

In his Pulitzer Prize–winning book,Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Richard Hofstadter characterized writing on education in the United States as
a literature of acid criticism and bitter complaint…. The educational jeremiad is as much a feature of our literature as the jeremiad in the Puritan sermons.

Anyone longing for the “good old days,” he noted, would have difficulty finding a time when critics were not lamenting the quality of the public schools. From the 1820s to our own time, reformers have complained about low standards, ignorant teachers, and incompetent school boards.

Most recently, in 1983, an august presidential commission somberly warned that we were (in the title of its statement) “A Nation at Risk” because of the low standards of our public schools. The Reagan-era report said:

Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world.

Our national slippage was caused, said the commission, by “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” This mediocre educational performance was nothing less than “an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.”

Imagine the peril, the threat of national disaster: “our very future as a Nation and a people” hung in the balance unless we moved swiftly to improve our public schools. What were we to do? The commission proposed a list of changes, starting with raising graduation requirements for all students and making sure they studied a full curriculum of English, math, science, history, computer science, as well as foreign languages (for the college-bound), the arts, and vocational education.

It also proposed more student time in school, higher standards for entry into teaching, higher salaries for teachers, and an evaluation system for teachers that included peer review. Nothing was said about the current fad of evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores. The federal government distributed half a million copies of the report, and many states created task forces and commissions to determine how to implement the recommendations. Many states did raise graduation requirements, but critics were unappeased, and complaints about our educational failures continued unabated.

Somehow, despite the widely broadcast perception that educational achievement was declining, the United States continued to grow and thrive as an economic, military, and technological power. As President Barack Obama put it in his 2011 State of the Union address:

Remember—for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We are home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any other place on Earth.

How is it possible that this nation became so successful if its public schools, which enroll 90 percent of its children, have been consistently failing for the past generation or more?*

Now comes the latest jeremiad, this one from a task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and led by Joel I. Klein, former chancellor of the New York City public schools (now employed by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation to sell technology to schools and to advise Murdoch on his corporation’s hacking scandals), and Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state during the administration of President George W. Bush. This report has the cumbersome title US Education Reform and National Security and a familiar message: our nation’s public schools are so dreadful that they are a threat to our national security. Once again, statistics are marshaled to prove that our schools are failing, our economy is at risk, our national security is compromised, and everything we prize is about to disappear because of our low-performing public schools. Make no mistake, the task force warns: “Educational failure puts the United States’ future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk.”

Despite its alarmist rhetoric, the report is not a worthy successor to the long line of jeremiads that it joins. Unlike A Nation at Risk, which was widely quoted as a call to action, this report is a plodding exercise in groupthink among mostly like-minded task force members. Its leaden prose contains not a single sparkling phrase for the editorial writers. The only flashes of original thinking appear in the dissents to the report.

What marks this report as different from its predecessors, however, is its profound indifference to the role of public education in a democratic society, and its certainty that private organizations will succeed where the public schools have failed. Previous hand-wringing reports sought to improve public schooling; this one suggests that public schools themselves are the problem, and the sooner they are handed over to private operators, the sooner we will see widespread innovation and improved academic achievement.

The report is a mishmash of misleading statistics and incoherent arguments, intended to exaggerate the failure of public education. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, introduces the report with this claim: “It will come as no surprise to most readers that America’s primary and secondary schools are widely seen as failing.” Many scholars of education would disagree with this conclusion; they would probably respond that the United States has many excellent public schools and that the lowest-performing schools are overwhelmingly concentrated in districts with high levels of poverty and racial isolation. Haass then writes, “High school graduation rates, while improving, are still far too low, and there are steep gaps in achievement between middle class and poor students.” He does not seem aware that, according to the latest federal data, high school graduation rates are at their highest point in history for students of all races and income levels. Certainly they should be higher, but the actual data do not suggest a crisis.

Of course, there are achievement gaps between middle-class and poor students, but this is true in every nation where there are large income gaps. While the task force points out the problems of concentrated poverty in segregated schools, exacerbated by unequal school funding, it offers no recommendations to reduce poverty, racial segregation, income gaps, or funding inequities. It dwells on the mediocre standing of American schools on international tests, but does not acknowledge that American schools with a low level of poverty rank first in the world on international tests of literacy.

The task force has many complaints: American students don’t study foreign languages; American employers can’t find enough skilled workers. Too many young people do not qualify for military service because of criminal records, lack of physical fitness, or inadequate educational skills. Not enough scientists and engineers are trained “to staff the military, intelligence agencies, and other government-run national security offices, as well as the aerospace and defense industries.” Thus, the public schools are failing to prepare the soldiers, intelligence agents, diplomats, and engineers for the defense industry that the report assumes are needed. This failure is the primary rationale for viewing the schools as a national security risk.

To right these conditions, the task force has three recommendations.

First, the states should speedily implement the Common Core State Standards in English and mathematics and add to them national standards in science, technology, foreign languages, and possibly civics.

Second, states and districts “should stop locking disadvantaged students into failing schools without any options.” The task force proposes an expansion of competition and choice, for example with vouchers—meaning that states and districts should allow students to attend private and religious schools with public funding. The task force also favors charter schools—privately managed schools that directly receive public funding. If all these private schools get an equal share of public dollars, the task force opines, this will “fuel the innovation necessary to transform results.”

Third, the United States should have “a national security readiness audit” to determine whether students are learning the necessary skills “to safeguard America’s future security and prosperity,” and “to hold schools and policymakers accountable for results.”

None of these recommendations has any clear and decisive evidence to support it.

The Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics were developed over the past few years by groups representing the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve, and funded largely by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Obama administration encouraged adoption of these standards through its Race to the Top program. To be eligible for a share of the billions of dollars in competitive federal grants, states were expected to express willingness to adopt the standards, and forty-five states have done so.

They may be excellent standards, or they may not be. They may help improve achievement, or they may not. But no one knows, because the Common Core standards have never been implemented or tried out anywhere. If they are sufficiently rigorous, they might increase the achievement gap between high-performing students and low-performing students and might leave students who struggle with English even further behind than they are now.

Tom Loveless, an analyst at the Brookings Institution, recently predicted that the standards will have no impact on student achievement, but perhaps he is wrong. Until they are implemented somewhere, their value cannot simply be assumed. It must be demonstrated. Thus, the task force goes out on a limb by claiming that these untried standards are the very linchpin of defending our nation’s borders and securing our future prosperity.

Certainly the task force is right to insist upon the importance of foreign-language study, but it is wrong to blame the nation’s public schools for a shortage of specialists in Chinese, Dari, Korean, Russian, and Turkish. Although some American high schools teach Chinese, these languages are usually taught by universities or specialized language programs. It is peculiar to criticize public elementary and secondary schools for the lack of trained linguists in Afghanistan and other international hotspots.

Students who sign up to study a language this year have no way of knowing in which region or nation we will need linguists five or ten years from now. How are students or schools to know where the next military action or political crisis will emerge? Furthermore, the effort to expand foreign language instruction in K-12 schools requires not just standards, but a very large new supply of teachers of foreign languages to staff the nation’s 100,000 or so public schools. This won’t happen without substantial new funding for scholarships to train tens of thousands of new teachers.

Similarly, there is mixed evidence, to be generous, to support the task force’s recommendation to increase competition and choice. Although it cites a few studies that show higher test scores for some charter schools, most studies of charters show no difference in test scores between charter students and students in public schools. Vouchers have generally produced results no different from regular public schools. Milwaukee has had vouchers for twenty-one years, intended to allow disadvantaged students to escape from failing public schools, but on average the students in voucher schools achieve the same test scores as those in regular public schools. And Milwaukee, which has a very competitive environment of charters and vouchers, is, according to federal assessments, one of the nation’s lowest-performing urban school districts.

The task force’s claim that charter schools will be beacons of innovation rests on hope, not on any evidence presented in the report. The most “innovative” of the charters are the for-profit academies that teach online—a fast-growing sector that recruits students to take their courses by computer at home. These virtual academies have been the subject of negative stories in The New York Timesand The Washington Post, criticized both for their focus on profits and for their poor academic results. The Task Force’s enthusiasm for charter schools is not surprising. As chancellor of New York City’s public school system, Klein enthusiastically supported charter schools and opened one hundred of them, regardless of community opposition. Another member of the task force was Richard Barth, the chief executive officer of theKIPP charter school chain.

The task force asserts that charters will lead the way to innovative methods of education. But the charters with the highest test scores are typically known not for innovation, but for “no excuses” discipline policies, where students may be fined or suspended or expelled if they fail to follow the rules of the school with unquestioning obedience, such as not making eye contact with the teacher or slouching or bringing candy to school or being too noisy in gym or the lunchroom.

Some of the high-performing charter schools have high attrition rates, and some have achieved high scores by excluding or limiting students who are apt to get low test scores, such as students who are English-language learners. There is no evidence that charters are more likely to teach foreign languages and advanced courses in science than public schools. The schools with the most extensive range of courses in foreign languages, advanced science, and advanced mathematics are large comprehensive high schools, which have been in disfavor for the past decade, after the Gates Foundation decided that large high schools were a bad idea and invested $2 billion in breaking them up into small schools. This program was abandoned in 2008.

The task force’s proposal for “a national security readiness audit” is bizarre. It is not clear what it means, who would conduct it, or who would pay for it. Will schools be held accountable if they do not produce enough fit candidates for the military, the intelligence agencies, the defense industry, and the foreign service? Some high school graduates do join the military, but no high school prepares its students for the diplomatic corps or the defense industry or the Central Intelligence Agency. Who will be held accountable if colleges and universities don’t produce an adequate supply of teachers of Turkish, Russian, Chinese, Korean, and Dari to the high schools? Should every high school offer these languages? Should universities be held accountable if there are not enough physics teachers? What will happen to schools that fail their national security readiness audit? Will they be closed?

Three big issues are unaddressed by the Klein-Rice report. One is the damage that No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, which rely on standardized testing to measure the worth of teachers and schools, have caused to public education. The second is its misleading economic analysis. And the third is its failure to offer any recommendation to improve the teaching profession.

Instead of criticizing the ruinous effects of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind policy (NCLB), the task force praises it. This is not surprising, since Margaret Spellings, the architect of NCLB and former secretary of education, was a member of the task force. The task force chides public schools for losing sight of civics, world cultures, and other studies, but never pauses to recognize that NCLB has compelled schools everywhere to focus solely on reading and mathematics, the only subjects that count in deciding whether a school is labeled a success or a failure. NCLB has turned schooling into a joyless experience for most American children, especially in grades three through eight, who must spend weeks of each year preparing to take standardized tests.

In pursuing its policy of Race to the Top, the Obama administration has promoted the teach-to-the-test demands of NCLB. Most of America’s teachers will now be evaluated by their students’ scores on those annual multiple-choice tests. Students will, in effect, be empowered to fire their teachers by withholding effort or will bear responsibility if their lack of effort, their home circumstances, or their ill health on testing day should cause their teacher to lose her job. NCLB and Race to the Top have imposed on American education a dreary and punitive testing regime that would gladden the hearts of a Gradgrind but demoralizes the great majority of teachers, who would prefer the autonomy to challenge their students to think critically and creatively. This dull testing regime crushes the ingenuity, wit, playfulness, and imagination that our students and our society most urgently need to spur new inventions and new thinking in the future.

In its economic analysis, the task force is surely right that we need more and better education, though it does not propose—in this era of widespread cuts in budgets for education—that we must be willing to pay more to get it. Instead it offers a chart showing that the median annual earnings of high school dropouts and high school graduates have fallen since 1980. The same chart shows that the earnings of college graduates are higher than those with less education but have been stagnant since 1985. It is not clear why this is so. The task force report occasionally refers to income inequality and poverty, which surely depress academic outcomes, but never considers their causes or proposes ways to reduce them.

Surely the economy will need more highly educated workers and everyone should have the chance to go to college, but the task force does not adequately acknowledge the costs of higher education or suggest how they will be paid. Nor does it discuss projections by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics that the majority of new jobs for the next several years will require on-the-job training, not a bachelor’s degree. According to the BLS, the economy will need 175,000 computer engineers, 582,000 nurses, 461,000 home health aides, 400,000 customer service agents, 394,000 fast food workers, 375,000 retail sales clerks, 255,000 construction workers, and so on.

While the report laments the inadequacy of current efforts to recruit and prepare teachers, it offers no recommendation about how to attract better-qualified men and women into teaching and how to prepare them for the rigors of the classroom. The only program that it finds worthy of endorsement is Teach for America, whose recruits receive only five weeks of training and agree to teach for only two years. This is not surprising, because Wendy Kopp, the founder and chief executive officer of Teach for America, was a member of the task force.

Without the added comments at the end of the report, signed by seven of its thirty members, the task force report might be perceived as an essentially urgent appeal for more testing of students, more top-down control, and more privatization of the public schools, that is, more of what the federal government and many state governments have been doing for at least the past decade. But two of the dissents demolish its basic premises.

In her dissent, Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University takes apart the claim that competition and privatization will produce great improvement. She points out that the highest-performing nations in the world (Finland, Singapore, and South Korea)

have invested in strong public education systems that serve virtually all students, while nations that have aggressively pursued privatization, such as Chile, have a huge and growing divide between rich and poor that has led to dangerous levels of social unrest.

Charter schools, she notes, are more likely to underperform in comparison to district-run public schools when they enroll similar students, and they are more likely to enroll a smaller proportion of students with disabilities and English-language learners. Darling-Hammond, who advised President Obama during his 2008 campaign, takes issue with the report’s praise of New Orleans, where nearly 80 percent of students are enrolled in charter schools. Charters in New Orleans, she observes, have not only been criticized for excluding students with disabilities, but New Orleans “remains the lowest-ranked district in the low-performing state of Louisiana.”

Whatever credibility remains to the report is finally shredded by task force member Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University. Walt faintly praises the task force for its “effort to draw attention to the issue of public education,” but then delivers a withering critique of its claims and findings. He does not see any convincing evidence that the public education system is “a very grave national security threat” to the United States. Walt writes that “the United States spends more on national security than the next twenty nations combined, has an array of powerful allies around the world, and remains the world leader in science and technology.” Walt is unimpressed by the task force’s indictment of public education. Not only do American schools rank among the top 10 percent of the world’s 193 nations, he writes, but

none of the states whose children outperform US students is a potential rival. Barring major foreign policy blunders unrelated to K–12 education, no country is likely to match US military power or overall technological supremacy for decades. There are good reasons to improve K-12 education, but an imminent threat to our national security is not among them.

Walt’s critique leaves the task force report looking naked, if not ridiculous. If the international tests are indicators of our national security weakness, should we worry that we might be invaded by Finland or South Korea or Japan or Singapore or Canada or New Zealand or Australia? Obviously not. The nations with higher test scores than ours are not a threat to our national security. They are our friends and allies. If education were truly the key to our national security, perhaps we should allocate sufficient funding to equalize resources in poor neighborhoods and make higher education far more affordable to more Americans than it is today.

If there is no national security crisis, as the task force has vainly tried to establish, what can we learn from its deliberations?

Commissions that gather notable figures tend not to be venturesome or innovative, and this one is no different. When a carefully culled list of corporate leaders, former government officials, academics, and prominent figures who have a vested interest in the topic join to reach a consensus, they tend to reflect the status quo. If future historians want to see a definition of the status quo in American education in 2012, they may revisit this report by a task force of the Council on Foreign Relations. It offers no new directions, no new ideas, just a stale endorsement of the federal, state, and corporate policies of the past decade that have proven so counterproductive to the genuine improvement of American education.

*1. The United States actually ranks behind Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands in productivity.

For more background on this report see

Which came first - the Vouchers or the Scams?


May 21, 2012

Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools

When the Georgia legislature passed a private school scholarship program in 2008, lawmakers promoted it as a way to give poor children the same education choices as the wealthy.

The program would be supported by donations to nonprofit scholarship groups, and Georgians who contributed would receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits, up to $2,500 a couple. The intent was that money otherwise due to the Georgia treasury — about $50 million a year — would be used instead to help needy students escape struggling public schools.

That was the idea, at least. But parents meeting at Gwinnett Christian Academy got a completely different story last year.

“A very small percentage of that money will be set aside for a needs-based scholarship fund,” Wyatt Bozeman, an administrator at the school near Atlanta, said during an informational session. “The rest of the money will be channeled to the family that raised it.”

A handout circulated at the meeting instructed families to donate, qualify for a tax credit and then apply for a scholarship for their own children, many of whom were already attending the school.

“If a student has friends, relatives or even corporations that pay Georgia income tax, all of those people can make a donation to that child’s school,” added an official with a scholarship group working with the school.

The exchange at Gwinnett Christian Academy, a recording of which was obtained by The New York Times, is just one example of how scholarship programs have been twisted to benefit private schools at the expense of the neediest children.

Spreading at a time of deep cutbacks in public schools, the programs are operating in eight states and represent one of the fastest-growing components of the school choice movement. This school year alone, the programs redirected nearly $350 million that would have gone into public budgets to pay for private school scholarships for 129,000 students, according to the Alliance for School Choice, an advocacy organization. Legislators in at least nine other states are considering the programs.

While the scholarship programs have helped many children whose parents would have to scrimp or work several jobs to send them to private schools, the money has also been used to attract star football players, expand the payrolls of the nonprofit scholarship groups and spread the theology of creationism, interviews and documents show. Even some private school parents and administrators have questioned whether the programs are a charade.

Most of the private schools are religious. Nearly a quarter of the participating schools in Georgia require families to make a profession of religious faith, according to their Web sites. Many of those schools adhere to a fundamentalist brand of Christianity. A commonly used sixth-grade science text retells the creation story contained in Genesis, omitting any other explanation. An economics book used in some high schools holds that the Antichrist — a world ruler predicted in the New Testament — will one day control what is bought and sold.

The programs are insulated from provisions requiring church-state separation because the donations are collected and distributed by the nonprofit scholarship groups.

A cottage industry of these groups has sprung up, in some cases collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in administrative fees, according to tax filings. The groups often work in concert with private schools like Gwinnett Christian Academy to solicit donations and determine who will get the scholarships — in effect limiting school choice for the students themselves. In most states, students who withdraw from the schools cannot take the scholarship money with them.

Public school officials view the tax credits as poorly disguised state subsidies, part of an expanding agenda to shift tax dollars away from traditional public schools. “Our position is that this is a shell game,” said Chris Thomas, general counsel for the Arizona School Boards Association.

Some of the programs have also become enmeshed in politics, including in Pennsylvania, where more than 200 organizations distribute more than $40 million a year donated by corporations. Two of the state’s largest scholarship organizations are controlled by lobbyists, and they frequently ask lawmakers to help decide which schools get the money, according to interviews. The arrangement provides a potential opportunity for corporate donors seeking to influence legislators and also gives the lobbying firms access to both lawmakers and potential new clients.

The programs differ from state to state, with varying tax benefits for donors and varying rules on who may receive the scholarships. Arizona’s largest program permits donors to recommend students who already attend private schools. Pennsylvania’s program lets them get scholarships and also lets scholarship organizations retain up to 20 percent in administrative fees.

Some states have moved to tighten restrictions after receiving complaints. In Florida, where the scholarships are strictly controlled to make sure they go to poor families, only corporations are eligible for the tax credits, eliminating the chance of parents donating for their own benefit. Also, all scholarships are handled by one nonprofit organization, and its fees are limited to 3 percent of donations. Florida also permits the scholarships to move with the students if they elect to change schools.

David Figlio, a professor at Northwestern University who has studied Florida’s program, said it was an important alternative to public schools for some families. “They’re doing it because they’re feeling stuck,” Dr. Figlio said. “Their kids are doing poorly in the classroom, and they don’t know why.”

In Georgia, the scholarship program was criticized for widespread abuses in a report last year by the Southern Education Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Atlanta that works to improve education.

State Representative Earl Ehrhart, a Republican who helped write the Georgia law, called that report “sophistry” and said that any abuses in the program were anomalies. “I can’t tell you about the difference it makes in the lives of these kids,” Mr. Ehrhart said.

The report found that from 2007, the year before the program was enacted, through 2009, private school enrollment increased by only one-third of one percent in the metropolitan counties that included most of the private schools in the scholarship program.

The logical conclusion was that most of the students receiving the scholarships had not come from public schools.

“The law was passed under a certain promise,” said Steve Suitts, vice president of the foundation. “There is no evidence it’s going to those purposes. The kids who were supposed to benefit are not benefiting.”

‘Fiendishly Clever’

The scholarship programs represent the expansion of a mission that began more than 10 years ago, when the school choice movement ran into headwinds over the use of vouchers. Vouchers, which directly use public money to finance private school educations, were unpopular among many voters and legislators, and several state courts had found them unconstitutional.

Proponents decided to reposition themselves, and in 1997, Arizona’s Legislature adopted the first tax-credit scholarship program.

For school choice advocates, the genius of the program was that the money would never go into public accounts, making it less susceptible to court challenges. Representative Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican and former state lawmaker, is credited with the idea of routing the donations through nonprofit organizations. “The teachers’ union called it fiendishly clever,” Mr. Franks said during a recent interview.

“The difficulty of getting at this thing from a constitutional point of view is that there are private dollars coming from a private individual and going to a private foundation. It drives the N.E.A. completely off the wall because they can’t say this is government funding,” Mr. Franks said, referring to the National Education Association.

Kevin Welner, a professor of education at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who wrote a book on the tax-credit programs, dubbed them “neovouchers.”

As predicted, tax credits have thus far withstood legal challenges, most recently when the Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s program last year. It had been challenged on the grounds that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government endorsement of religion.

A national network of school choice advocates has been promoting the programs with financing from conservative activists and foundations. The advocacy groups do everything from financing political advertising to lobbying state legislatures. One group, the American Federation for Children in Washington, D.C., has not shied from the rough-and-tumble of state politics.

In Florida’s 2010 election, the federation supplied $255,000 to finance an organization that paid for advertising against Dan Gelber, who was running for attorney general and had opposed state financing for private schools.

The ads, mailed to Jewish neighborhoods, called Mr. Gelber “toxic to Jewish education.” His staff found out about them from his 11-year-old daughter, who called the office in tears after finding an ad in their mailbox.

One big proponent of the tax-credit programs is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a coalition of conservative lawmakers and corporations that strongly influences many state legislatures. The council became a flash point in the Trayvon Martin case because it had championed the controversial Stand Your Ground gun laws.

“ALEC is a huge player in pushing forward a conservative agenda based on the premise that the free market and private sectors address social problems better than the government,” said Julie Underwood, dean of the school of education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who has been critical of ALEC’s education agenda.

Scholarship legislation was approved in Virginia this year and is gaining traction in other states, including New Hampshire and New Jersey, according to Malcom Glenn, a spokesman for the American Federation for Children. Schools participating in the programs range from elite private academies to small, inexpensive programs operating in church education wings. The New Jersey proposal would establish a five-year pilot program in several school districts, including Lakewood, a community with a number of Yeshivas.

“It’s spreading,” said Mr. Ehrhart, the Georgia lawmaker. “It’s clearly a reaction to parents’ concern about the educational experiences of their kids.”

Enrolling for Dollars

After Georgia’s scholarship program was adopted, parents of children in private schools began flooding public school offices to officially “enroll” their children.

Their plan was to fill out the paperwork even though they had no intention of ever sending their children to public schools. According to the way the law was interpreted, the enrollments would make them eligible for scholarships. Some public schools balked.

“I recently contacted you about having some trouble enrolling/registering my child in a public school while he is going to a private school,” one parent wrote to a scholarship organization last year in an e-mail obtained by The Times. “A principal told us he cannot attend two schools at the same time, which is simply not true because public and private schools have nothing to do with each other. But we need to have my child enrolled in a public school in order to qualify for the student scholarship program.”

The idea, based on a technical interpretation of the word “enroll,” was promoted by State Representative David Casas, a Republican and co-sponsor of the scholarship legislation in Georgia. In meetings with parents, he had explained that the bill’s wording was intentional — using the word “enrolled” rather than “attending” — to enable the scholarships’ use by students already in private schools.

Parents questioned the idea. “Aren’t people going to say that’s a scam?” asked one father during a presentation by Mr. Casas that was posted on YouTube. “ ‘You’ve been going here for nine years. Now you’re enrolling in public school? You’re enrolled in two schools?’ ”

Mr. Casas, the president of a seminary, assured him it was not a scam. “Feel fine about it,” Mr. Casas said.

“Some people felt a little weird about that, felt it was dishonest that they would take their child, enroll them in a public school and not have them actually attend, but all of a sudden they actually qualified for a scholarship,” Mr. Casas said at another meeting, where he called the program “too good to be true.” A transcript of the comments was contained in the Southern Education Foundation report. Mr. Casas did not respond to inquiries seeking comment.

The Georgia Department of Education endorsed the interpretation.

Some scholarship programs rejected the idea, including one whose focus is on low-income students. “We actually checked that out and called the Department of Education,” said Derek Monjure, who runs a scholarship organization called Arete Scholars Fund. “They agreed with it, but we didn’t feel right with it and didn’t do it. It was confusing to be told by the state organization that it’s right.”

Georgia’s largest scholarship organization, the Georgia Goal Scholarship Program, said it interpreted the law to require that students must have attended public school for one semester, unless they are beginning school. The program has also established income guidelines for its recipients.

Some states collect little information on the scholarship organizations. When asked how many students switched from public to private schools, Linda Dunn, policy analyst for the Georgia Department of Education, said: “We don’t collect that data. We don’t regulate them in any fashion.”

The fact that children already attending private schools can receive scholarships from some organizations means that Georgia’s private schools have a ready source of donations — parents and families of existing students. While the law was advertised as a way to help needy students, it contained no income limits for eligible recipients. And although it prohibits donations designated for a specific student, some students are benefiting from the donations of relatives and friends.

Hanaiya Hassan, whose daughter attends Hamzah Academy in Alpharetta, Ga., said she had saved $5,000 by asking four friends to donate to a scholarship organization with money earmarked for her daughter’s school. “If you collect four people for $2,500, then one of your children is free,” she said.

The friends were awarded a tax credit. Depending on their tax bracket, some donors could actually come out ahead by filing for a federal charitable deduction as well as the state credit.

The Christian Heritage School in Dalton, Ga., circulated a flier for the 2011-12 school year titled “TUITION BREAKS FOR CURRENT FAMILIES!” It stated, “The scholarship tax credit is so vital to CHS that the school is encouraging all parents to participate in the program and enlist at least two others to do the same.” Participating families would get a 10 percent tuition rebate and a $250 bonus. The rebates would be doubled or tripled depending on overall participation.

The school has discontinued the rebate program, its controller said.

At Gwinnett Christian Academy, Mr. Bozeman, who was recorded saying that donations would be funneled to the family that raised them, did not respond to requests for comment. He has been promoted to headmaster.

Similar deals, some nicknamed “swaps,” in which parents donated for each other’s children, have cropped up in Arizona as well, according to Mr. Thomas, the school board association general counsel there.

After news reports in 2009 about scholarships in Arizona being awarded based on the recommendations of donors, the state enacted a series of changes, including a prohibition on “swaps.” Mr. Thomas, however, said he believed they were continuing.

Johnathan Arnold, headmaster of Covenant Christian Academy in Cumming, Ga., said he viewed using the program to discount tuition for existing students as unethical.

“We, as a Christian school, felt that wasn’t the right approach,” he said. “You’re giving money out of the goodness of your heart with the intent to receive nothing in return. When you give it for the purpose of getting it back or actually make money on that, to me that doesn’t qualify for the spirit of the law.”

Getting In On the Act

When the gas drilling company XTO Energy made generous donations for private school scholarships in Pennsylvania, the corporate largess was hailed in ceremonies across the state. As the cameras flashed at one event in Punxsutawney, Sam Smith, the speaker of the Pennsylvania House and a local native, stood with an oversize cardboard check for area private schools.

The media events began in 2010 and have generated a burst of good will for XTO at a time when the controversy over the hydraulic fracturing drilling method has been growing in Pennsylvania. One state official remarked that the company, which donated $650,000 over the past three years, had gone “above and beyond” its duty. In reality, as much as 90 percent of XTO’s donation was underwritten by taxpayers.

Also in attendance in Punxsutawney was Peter Gleason, chairman of the Bridge Educational Foundation, the middleman organization that arranged XTO’s donations. Mr. Gleason congratulated the voters of Punxsutawney for having the wisdom to send Mr. Smith to Harrisburg. In addition to serving as chairman of Bridge, Mr. Gleason is a lobbyist in Harrisburg. Two other lobbyists, who have represented XTO, serve on Bridge’s advisory board, as does the chief of staff to Mr. Smith. XTO was acquired in 2010 by Exxon Mobil.

While a spokesman for XTO said the company donated to provide additional educational opportunities to Pennsylvania schoolchildren, such arrangements appear to benefit all involved — donors with business before the legislature, lawmakers and lobbyists.

The Rev. Theodore Clater, a Pennsylvania advocate for school choice, said that Bridge and a similar Pennsylvania organization, Bravo Foundation, frequently asked lawmakers for advice when deciding where the money should go. Mr. Clater said he was not aware of any illegality, but nevertheless questioned that practice.

“You could get into all kinds of political games, favoritism,” he said, emphasizing that his own scholarship organization tried to distribute its money without influence.

Mr. Smith said he saw no evidence that the program was politicized. Instead, he said, companies “have a certain amount of money they’re going to put in charitable contributions anyway, and they now see ‘I can get a tax credit and give back to education.’ ”

Bridge’s director, Natalie Nutt, whose husband ran the campaign of Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, said all of the group’s board members were selected for their devotion to school choice.

Between them, Bridge and Bravo control about $3 million in scholarship funds a year, putting them in the top 10 of more than 200 scholarship organizations in the state.

Among Bridge’s founders in 2005 was John O’Connell, a lobbyist who had been a partner at Bravo.

In 2006, Mr. O’Connell pleaded guilty to federal charges of embezzling more than $200,000 from another nonprofit organization, Pennsylvania Law Watch, whose mission was to promote tort reform. Mr. O’Connell argued for a reduced sentence, citing his charitable work through Bridge and Bravo.

The federal government disagreed. “As a lobbyist, O’Connell’s involvement in the Bravo Education Foundation and later in the Bridge Foundation was very beneficial to him in a business sense in that it afforded him excellent opportunities to cultivate new corporate clients and relationships with legislative leaders,” prosecutors wrote.

Even some lawmakers have started their own scholarship organizations. Mr. Ehrhart, the legislative sponsor of the Georgia scholarship program, is also the unpaid chief executive of a scholarship organization, the Georgia Christian Schools Scholarship Fund.

In Arizona, one of the largest of more than 50 scholarship organizations, the Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization, is controlled by State Senator Steve Yarbrough, a Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. In an interview, Mr. Yarbrough pointed out that he was running the organization before he was elected to the Legislature. The organization paid Mr. Yarbrough $48,000 in 2010 and disbursed $313,000 to a company he partly owns to process scholarship applications.

Uneven Playing Fields

In Georgia, where the world revolves around high school football, the scholarships have driven a wedge between public and private schools.

Over the past few years, coaches at public high schools have complained about the defections of a number of players from large public schools who have left for small private academies. At Savannah Christian Preparatory School alone, four starting players migrated from nearby public schools and helped the team become last fall’s Class A champions.

Coaches at the public schools have suspected that scholarships were given to their players by Savannah Christian and other private schools to build athletic programs. Athletic scholarships are banned in the state’s high schools.

The coaches have not been able to prove their suspicions, but the growing dominance of private schools in Class A prompted the public schools last year to threaten to withdraw from the Georgia High School Association.

“This money just makes the playing field completely unlevel,” said Larry Campbell, a coach in Lincoln County, Ga., who is known for his winning record. “The private schools are thriving, and they’ve got the money to go out and recruit the great athlete.”

One star athlete, Keyante Green, went to Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy in McDonough, Ga., in the ninth grade after his stunning performance in an annual championship game sponsored by an Atlanta radio personality. Keyante, then 14 and an eighth grader at a public school, was named most valuable player. His youth coach at the time, Dan Curl, predicted that Keyante would one day be heading to the N.F.L.

Within months, Mr. Curl had enrolled his son in high school at Eagle’s Landing, he said, and had agreed to become a part-time middle school coach. He said he also told the school about Keyante.

“I told them I had a kid who is a good athlete, a stud athlete,” Mr. Curl recalled recently. “They had already seen the highlight video. They said, ‘Man, bring him over.’ ”

Mr. Curl said Keyante’s family could not afford the approximately $10,000-a-year tuition at Eagle’s Landing. He said he had helped fill out an application to the GOAL scholarship program for Keyante that first year and in the two subsequent years. The scholarship paid only part of his expenses, so Eagle’s Landing’s coaches sought donations to pay Keyante’s remaining expenses, said Mr. Curl, who is no longer employed at the school. As a freshman in 2009, Keyante stole the show at a state playoff game with four touchdowns and 292 yards. The head coach at another school compared him to the Georgia legend Herschel Walker.

Neither Keyante, who will graduate in 2013, nor his family responded to requests for comment. Questioned about the scholarships, the Eagle’s Landing assistant head of school, Chuck Gilliam, said in an e-mail that two of the school’s 29 scholarship recipients played football. But he said the scholarships had “not been used to enhance the football program.”

GOAL’s director, Lisa Kelly, said in an e-mail that the organization adopted a written policy in 2009 prohibiting the use of scholarships to “recruit and provide aid to students for athletic purposes.”

At Savannah Christian, Coach Donald Chumley, whose Raiders includes four recipients of GOAL scholarships, said: “I’m not going to say to you that some didn’t say ‘I want to go to college, and I want to play football.’ But we don’t select them on athletic ability. We select them on need.”

Under a compromise, the public schools did not withdraw from the high school association. Instead, for the first time, the public and private schools in Class A will hold separate playoffs next fall.

A Boon for Creationists

The scholarships have amounted to a lifeline for many religious schools. One Catholic grade school in Berwick, Pa., regained its health through $87,000 in scholarship donations, according to the Rev. Edward Quinlan, the education secretary for the Diocese of Harrisburg, where nearly 20 percent of students receive scholarships. In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., 100 of the 160 students enrolled in Mount Bethel Christian Academy receive tax-credit scholarships, according to the school’s headmaster.

In the Arizona case that went before the Supreme Court, the National School Boards Association joined local school officials and teachers in arguing that the program was skewed toward religious schools, openly selecting students for scholarships based on their religion.

Many religiously affiliated schools across the country are known for turning out well-educated students and teaching core subjects without a sectarian bias. But some schools financed by the tax-credit programs teach a fundamentalist dogma holding that the world was literally created in six days. Some of the schools use textbooks produced by Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book, a Christian publisher in Pensacola, Fla.

The books became an issue in 2005 when the University of California system said it would not honor some credits of students who attended schools that use them.

In an ensuing lawsuit filed against the university by Christian schools, Donald Kennedy, a biologist who is a former president of Stanford, said in court papers that the science texts made statements that were “flatly wrong” and “plainly contrary to the scientific facts” when hewing to creationist theory. The case was ultimately decided in favor of the university.

“It’s a Christian curriculum, and some parts of it are controversial,” said Jon East, vice president for policy at Step Up For Students, the organization that runs the Florida scholarship program. The books are also used in some schools in Georgia and Pennsylvania.

An A Beka high school science text concluded that “much variety within the human race has developed from the eight people who left the Ark.” Another text, used in sixth grade, makes repeated references to Noah and the flood, which it calls the reason for both the world’s petroleum reserves and the development of fossils.

History and economics texts are also infused with fundamentalist theology and an unabashedly conservative viewpoint. The Great Depression, one says, was exaggerated to move the country toward socialism, and it described “The Grapes of Wrath” as propaganda.

Frances Paterson, a professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia who has studied the books, said they “frequently resemble partisan, political literature more than they do the traditional textbooks used in public schools.”

Mr. Arnold, the headmaster of the Covenant Christian Academy in Cumming, Ga., confirmed that his school used those texts but said they were part of a larger curriculum.

“You have to keep in mind that the curriculum goes beyond the textbook,” Mr. Arnold said. “Not only do we teach the students that creation is the way the world was created and that God is in control and he made all things, we also teach them what the false theories of the world are, such as the Big Bang theory and Darwinism. We teach those as fallacies.”