Overwhelming majority of families of 143,000 students ‘trapped’ in ‘failing’ schools would recommend their school to others

One of the most dramatic catch phrases that New York ‘reformers’ have been saying, recently, is that there are 143,000 kids trapped in failing schools.

Screen shot 2015-02-23 at 10.31.49 PMThe New York Post described this with the headline 143,000 abandoned kids .

And a press release from an organization called Families for Excellent Schools says

“With 143,000 students trapped in failing schools, it’s clear that another year of multi-year plans will not fix decades of failure,” said Jeremiah Kittredge, Executive Director of Families for Excellent Schools. “The only viable remedy is to immediately empower parents to choose better schools.”

This statistic comes from a seventeen page report released by Families for Excellent schools, themselves, called ‘The Forgotten Fourth.’  They have found that there are 371 schools, about a fourth of New York City schools where less than 10% of students have passed the new Common Core tests.  As the new tests were made much more difficult, compounded by a very unscientific cut score that caused only about 30% of New York City students to pass anyway, it is not clear why they chose the 10% threshold for ‘failing.’  They could have just as easily made it 20% and made the report about the forgotten three fourths.

This post, however, is not about analyzing the word ‘failing’ in the slogan — maybe another time for that — but for the equally charged word, ‘trapped.’  It evokes a picture of a burning building, the people banging on the door, unable to get out.

But with the help of a new data sleuth who is helping me out, Benjamin Lempert, I’ve learned something interesting about these ‘trapped’ students:

In New York City, every student, parent, and teacher has an opportunity to fill out an annual survey about how they feel about their school.  These ‘trapped’ families surely would use this opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with their school.

Question 3a reads “How much do you agree with the following statement:  I would recommend this school to other parents.”  Parents have the opportunity to answer ‘strongly agree,’ ‘agree,’ ‘disagree,’ or ‘strongly disagree.’  For the 371 ‘forgotten fourth’ schools, out of about 54,000 parent respondents, which is, I think, a statistically significant sample, 49,000 responded to this question either ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ and most of those were ‘strongly agree.’  This is 90.7%.

Is it accurate to call students ‘trapped’ if they are satisfied in their school?  Do I feel ‘trapped’ with my children because I can’t trade them in for ones who will do better bedtimes?  Are we all ‘trapped’ on Planet Earth?

For Moskowitz and the Families for Excellent Schools people to use this word ‘trapped’ certainly misrepresents how the families they are supposedly advocating for actually feel.  I might not like the hair style someone chooses, but it is not my right to tell the person sporting it that they are ‘trapped’ with it.  When you feel trapped, you generally don’t say to other families “come join us here in this place.  It’s terrible.”

No, ‘trapped’ is a clever invention of ‘reformers.’  Maybe ‘reformers’ think that the parents should feel trapped and that the families are not smart enough to realize they are trapped.  Of course the solution for these ‘trapped’ families is to give them the ‘choice’ to get away from their schools that they like and then to close down those schools, thus taking away their ‘choice’ to remain in their neighborhood school that they are satisfied with.

‘Trapped,’ ‘choice,’ ‘failing,’ ‘adult interests,’ ‘reform,’ and the rest of their lingo.  It’s all just slick manipulative advertising.



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6 Responses to Overwhelming majority of families of 143,000 students ‘trapped’ in ‘failing’ schools would recommend their school to others

  1. Bill T. says:

    I teach in a “failing” school. My school has outstanding and dedicated teachers who are awesome professionals. However, I would not recommend my school to others based on the fact there are a significant number of disruptive students who can and do cause chaos in certain classrooms. It is next to impossible these days to get disruptive students transfered to D75 schools or get these students the much needed help that they need.

  2. Moody Towers says:

    The media is TRAPPED by the charter movement’s photo-ops which give the false impression that most charters are wonderful. The public schools are TRAPPED by the struggling and disillusioned students/families who routinely get dumped from charters. Politicians are TRAPPED by the bullying rhetoric of the charter leaders/advocate who could care less about public education. The education dialogue in our country is TRAPPED in the notion that charters are the same public schools, just with harder workers.

    Let’s work the word TRAPPED into every possible idea we have for education and maybe we can diminish the reformers branding efforts.

  3. Pingback: Gary Rubinstein: How Many Students Are ‘Trapped in Failubg Schools”? | Diane Ravitch's blog

  4. Laura H. Chapman says:

    Excellent analysis and extensions by Moody Towers.

    There can be little doubt that “messaging” is (and has been) a key part of any campaign to win hearts and minds. The US Department of Education’s (USDE) policies for teacher evaluation are so odious that they have hired spin doctors in an effort to secure compliance. Here is an example.
    USDE’s marketing campaign for Race to the Top began in late 2010 with a $43 million grant to IFC International, a for-profit consulting and public relations firm. The grant was for two purposes: (a) to create the Reform Support Network (RSN) enabling Race to the Top grantees to learn from each other, and (b) to promote promising practices for comparable reforms nationwide. The grant included $13 million for nine subcontractors, each with specialized skills for RSN’s marketing campaign.
    I do not use the phrase “marketing campaign” lightly. RSNs publications and media productions ostensibly offer states and districts “technical assistance.” However, almost all RSN documents have this disclaimer: “This document was developed by the Reform Support Network with funding from the U.S. Department of Education under Contract No GS-23F-8182H. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Education.” Some have the additional disclaimer: “Inclusion of this information does not constitute an endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education of any products or services offered or views expressed, nor does the Department of Education control its accuracy, relevance, timeliness or completeness.”
    In other words USDE has outsourced its communications about policies to contractors who: (a) gather case material from RttT grantees, (b) add their own content, and (c) obscure the actual source of those additions. For example, RSN publications rarely identify the authors who are responsible for the content. Scholarly citations are rare. They come from a limited array of sources and few are from peer-reviewed publications. A sophisticated graphic design (much like a brand) identifies over three dozen RSN publications and media productions, but RSN has no address other than USDE’s website (Note 4). In effect, USDE hosts and propagates interpretations of its policies, but USDE does not endorse these interpretations or require marketers to engage in checking facts..
    Here is one example of RSNs work. In December 2012, anonymous contract writers for RSN published a portfolio of suggestions for marketing key policies in RttT. Engaging Educators, A Reform Support Network Guide for States and Districts: Toward a New Grammar and Framework for Educator Engagement is addressed to state and district officials. It offers guidance on how to persuade teachers and principals to comply with federal policies bearing on pay-for-performance plans. Such plans usually depend on ratings calculated from multiple measures, including so-called growth scores.
    Engaging Educators begins with the premise that RttT policies do not need to be changed. The policies are just misunderstood, especially by teachers. The solution is to deliver knowledge about RttT in formats most likely to secure compliance. Engaging Educators then packs about 30 communication strategies, all portrayed as “knowledge development,” into four paragraphs about “message delivery options.” These include “op-eds, letters to the editor, blast messages, social media, press releases,” and regular in-house techniques (p. 4). RSN writers emphasize the need to “Get the Language Right,” meaning that communications should by-pass “gotcha” talk—the idea that teachers can lose their jobs—and also avoid excessive “happy talk.” Instead, messaging should focus on improving student learning (p. 6).
    RSN writers recommend that officials improve other aspects of their “messaging” for teachers. Among the suggested techniques are teacher surveys, focus groups, websites with rapid response to frequently asked questions, graphic organizers placed into professional development, websites, podcasts, webinars, teacher-made videos of their instruction (vetted for SLO compliance), and a catalog of evocative phrases tested in surveys and focus groups. These rhetorical devices help to maintain a consistent system of messaging.
    RSN writers also suggest that districts offer released time or pay for message delivery by “teacher SWAT teams that can be deployed at key junctures of the…redesign of evaluation systems” (p. 9).
    Another recurring theme is the need to enlist union leaders and other “teacher voice groups” as advocates for the rating systems in pay-for-performance plans. A “teacher voice group” is RSNs name for a non-union advocacy collective funded by private foundations favoring pay-for-performance. Five voice groups are mentioned by name. All have received major funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: Teach Plus ($9.5 million), Center for Teacher Quality ($6.3 million), Hope Street Group ($4.7 million), Educators for Excellence ($3.9 million), and Teachers United ($942, 000). Other foundations are supporting these groups. For example, Teach Plus receives “partner” grants from eight other foundations including the Broad, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Joyce and several investment firms.
    The sophistication of the marketing campaign is suggested by one of the largest subcontracts— $6.3 million to Education First. The founding partner is Jennifer Vranek, a long-time participant in pushing Achieve’s Common Core initiative, former advocacy expert with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She and others working for Education First helped a number of states apply for the RttT competition. They have fashioned PR campaigns for the Common Core State Standards in many states.
    The firm’s website includes a sample of the communication and advocacy services it offers: “Outreach and public-engagement strategies and activities; strategic communications planning; reports, white papers and articles designed to synthesize, explain and persuade; development of communications tools, including marketing materials, web copy, press releases, and social media content.”
    Few people realize that this same marketing campaign is the source of almost all information about the use of SLOs (student learning objectives) for teacher evaluation, a process that USDE’s own research shows has no validity or reliability for that purpose, even though it is now required in at least 27 states. (Paper with references available on request).

  5. amerigus says:

    “Families for Excellent Schools” is a PR front for the Waltons and Wall Street hedge fund managers. Their spokesman was recently asked if cherry picking students is the secret to their success. He was just as unable to answer the question as Eva Moskowitz. See for yourself: https://vimeo.com/120305258

  6. LHP says:

    I just googled the phrase “trapped in failing schools”. It returned 11,900 results. The Common Core seems to avoid teaching how to recognize propaganda.

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