This is NOT ‘accidentally on purpose’ – this is absolutely on purpose.

In the last six months, many aspects of my life have gone through ‘change’. My address (a whole new state), my back office for tutoring, my weight. While those items have changed, my very real beliefs and sense of equity have not changed one bit – they just become stronger in conviction.

I know exactly why I left teaching in the classroom and now, 10 years later, when many more teachers have ‘left’ (fled and not replaced), I realize I was just a bit ahead of the curve. It is a challenge to find anyone these days who wishes to become a teacher due to the insanity of getting the credential and the further insanity of making through the first two years- never mind possibly getting through the first five years  and making it work for them, when they are seasoned and can be great.

As education went to  further extremes of the business model (charter schools, for profit secondary ed, small schools within a school, TFA and so forth, supplementary educational services) approach to education, those in charge continued to intentionally overlook and then ignore the most obvious problems arising from a ridiculous system. It is not that anyone has  forgotten or overlooked what we do in schools, it is most often the people in charge selectively choose to ignore, not address or lower the level of the problem until they  are called out.

Teachers are not by nature a dumb lot so one would have to guess administration, school boards and other community members seem to have a hand in the manipulations of kids getting an education. And this is why teachers become frustrated. We know. We know administrators and businesses (all the non-profit charter schools are BUSINESSES) intentionally on purpose have to overlook things so they meet the bottom line, present some sort of numbers to the people interested in their concept and hope to goodness no one catches them. A perfect example is how charter schools are able to skirt ADA rules for special ed students. You would be amazed at the stories, pack of lies and so forth surrounding this aspect of education.

When an article such as the one written by Jeff Guo at Storyline hits my reading, it is impossible to put down. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/09/22/these-kids-were-geniuses-they-were-just-too-poor-for-anyone-to-discover-them/?tid=sm_fb   It is the embodiment of all the things I know are going on and have never had the ‘evidence’ to prove as we don’t talk about this stuff in polite company. It is too unseemly to discuss all the ways we betray students in this country.

What Mr. Guo wrote about is the basis of work looked at by Malcolm Gladwell, Shankar Vedantam, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.  It is the not so ‘hidden’ mess right in front of our eyes if we would just pay attention.  What is shocking is the fact this information is in no way hidden at all and that is the largest disgrace.

The result was an atlas of inequality.

We blame money as the cause for ignoring the gifted and talented students within a school district. It is not money. It is will. We know these students are out there and it is our job to find them. We have to do a better job. Instead, we do the opposite of what is best practices.

We give minority students and/or students of poverty the worst teachers, the new teachers, the teachers we can not figure out how to help. We give these same students Supplementary Education Services (SES), which is polite terminology for whatever half-rate tutors we can find after some ‘business’ takes a percentage off the top for hooking us up (trust me – I know the system and have seen it as a teacher, as a tutor and having been approached to work for these organizations). We created state tests which were so low in caliber, when the common core came out, most notably the standard for the economically advantaged kids, we flipped out to see the low scores. Reality met head on with the games we played to try to fool ourselves.

We put the socioeconomically disadvantaged students in charter schools which do not (the statistics prove it out repeatedly) which do not do anything more or better than a good, well run public school.  We do everything in our power to disenfranchise this group of students including evaluating them at the same time, at the same rate for gifted and talented programs.

Is it really any wonder at all education is in a shambles?

What can YOU do?

_________________________________________________________________________________________

As a parent, you can use the SES money towards a better tutor for your  student.    http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/choice/help/ses/description.html  

Districts must make available to parents a list of State-approved supplemental educational services providers in the area and must let parents choose the provider that will best meet the educational needs of the child.

 The school districts do what is cheapest, NOT best. Find an independent tutor to work with a small group of students. They can be paid by SES funds. Trust me, the threshold to be a tutor for supplemental education services is low. You can find tutors willing to work with students for less than their ‘listed’ costs on a website such as https://www.avidbrain.com/

-Stay away from the sites which promise you tons of tutors as you will find it is a numbers game and the sites with the ‘most’ tutors are not the sites with the BEST tutors. There is a difference.  Sites with the most tutors need to prove to investors they have a business model. 20% of the tutors on the site do 98% of the work. The other tutors are window dressing……I’ve been there. I was the 20%.

-Tutors are generally independent contractors.

-If you go with an SES ‘provider’, some business is making money and the tutor is maybe getting $12-20/hr.  Since an SES tutor has a low threshold to meet to become a tutor, you are not getting your monies worth, you are getting what is cheapest for your school district.

-If you go with an independent tutor, the tutor makes the money they are worth, stick with the job and know what they are doing.

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Throw on some kevlar as you get ready to teach to the common core.

http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/06/living/teachers-want-to-tell-parents/index.html

A close personal friend gave me this article under a truly hilarious pretense – she went back to look at the author after reading as she was pretty sure I wrote the article for  CNN.  Alas, I did not. I don’t know Ron Clark, don’t know of Ron Clark or his new book and in fact, generally do not read education pieces on CNN.  I felt complimented my friend thought I wrote this piece and at the same time, I am positive I ‘did’. It is the collective consciousness of any good teacher for the last 25-30 years.  It is the same thing we all say and the reasons indeed are why we leave/left education.

In no small part, a huge thank you should go out to anyone who was involved with bringing NCLB to life and Michelle Rhee as well as most charter school companies.  These people/groups helped those of us who ‘knew better’ to put on our walking shoes and leave. Those who remained, well, I often hear their complaints about the same issues, they are just to scared to leave the profession after so much effort and cost to get a credential. Ron Clark sounds like a wonderful man and surely his intentions are great. I can only hope he has staying power as there are many students who will benefit from him.

If anyone thought the past 20 years were challenging, Fall 2013 is going to make it all look easy peasy!  Taking parents from  M/C and T/F test scores to the actual task of  having their child write something compelling AND marshal evidence AND  think/reflect……well, get the kevlar ready teachers. I don’t think I envy a one of you.  Without parents on board, administrators are going to once again do what they always do when backed into a corner – blame it on teachers, take it out on teachers (ask them to ‘revise’ their grades as it were) and essentially kiss up to every parent they see.  Administrators, even those who once were teachers, do little to support teachers.

Teachers are in fact left in their classrooms, told what to do and how to execute it and most of all told to suck it up when the crazy (pretty much all) parents come to solve something for their children.  Teachers are expected to be everyone’s whipping boy/girl to make public education work. If it were not for unions, even limited unions, public education would not exist as anything more than a thought experiment.

Currently I do tutoring and work in ed tech doing a variety of things from soup to nuts, sponge to hose, etc. If a parent contacts me for tutoring and I find our personalities and world views do not mesh, I get to say, “I don’t think I would be the BEST tutor for your child” and walk away from the situation. It does not happen often, yet it does happen. Most of what I find as a tutor is a student who could benefit from some basic things – structure, note taking skills, proper math syntax, organized thinking or graphic organizers, better resources.  Usually after a few weeks to  a couple of months, the training wheels are off and the kid is soaring. I could not be happier if I tried.  Sometimes I find a new or very ‘experienced’ teacher who is intractable and the student suffers. I do everything I can to educate the parent, give them strength to ask for what should be done (and is really reasonable) at school and advocate.  I write notes, send copies of things.  Of the times I meet the teachers, I inevitably find the people mentioned by Ron Clark. The ones who will be walking out of the profession or those who should have and are now so bitter they do not teach well.

I attend IEP meetings and help parents get more than the minimum written on the IEP – the more specific and defined you can be, the more likely the chance of IEP being followed and incremental success. I educate parents on having another set of books at home,  how to parent conference, how to check in with teachers, what should be going on in a SPED classroom vs. a mainstream classroom and what mainstreaming looks like, feels like and how it ‘goes’.  I help parents in the vernacular of ‘teacher’ for the benefit of their child. Again, if parents do not demonstrate they are on board, I can leave. There is only so much I can do in this lifetime and parents need to work on ‘change’ as opposed to thinking all teachers need to change for their child.

There are students who need help with SAT/ACT studies, AP course work, etc. Not only have I worked with these students, I have found the number of students really able to do AP course work were students who got their game on before Grade 4 and mom and dad were not excuse makers.  Students who do not do well are those who are shocked by the amount of reading and work necessary for AP.  Students and their parents,  prepping for SAT/ACT end up learning  the sad facts regarding inference and analogy, grammar and algebraic reasoning are not something you can be taught in a cram course – it comes from reading, writing, discussing, thinking since forever. All I can offer them are strategies for how to take the test and think about it.  The time when parents would have done far more to help their child by enforcing SSR (silent sustained reading) at home, encouraged studying atop assigned homework, etc. was wasted and I can not come in and splash that information on their child – nor can Princeton or Kaplan Review. SAT/ACT prep works for students who made learning their priority, not blaming their teacher(s) when they did not succeed every time.

Change is incredibly difficult for parents as they believe they ‘know’ it all. They would never question a dentist, doctor, lawyer (even court appointed), Apple Technician at Apple Store…….yet questioning and blaming a teacher for any ‘less then perfect’ grades, etc. on behalf of their child MUST be the teachers fault as parents have been taught and shown how to scapegoat teachers (Michelle Rhee actually brought this to an art form). Teachers do more ‘change’ in a day then anyone other than flight traffic controllers and ER doctors.  Unfortunately, with all the change teachers do, parents are the ones who need to redouble their efforts the most.

I think next school year will be interesting. If nothing else, people such as Ron Clark will become ever more popular and revered for what they are saying – whether or not parents come to terms with reality. Thank goodness there are Ron Clark’s and hopefully I will be thankful there are parents who will read this and do those things necessary to change for their child’s benefit. It is a long road filled with cliffs, channels, hikes, bike rides, hang gliding, zip lining and all the rest of out doors metaphors.

Conundrum 6,875,248,312 – High test scores AND students not graduating???

http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/1-900-in-SF-class-of-14-may-not-graduate-4051222.php

Poor Jill Tucker at The San Francisco Chronicle.  She has been given the worst tasks – writing anything positive regarding education when the smoke screen and mirrors brought to us in California  via NCLB, The Bush Years, SDAIE requirements, charter schools, Proposition 13 and so forth are mind bendingly awful. These ‘fixes’ appear most awful when seen through the rear view mirror while  people such as Michelle Rhee are driving forward at 100 MPH and throwing  crap out the windows of said vehicle –  at teachers.

Apparently in all the positive accolades regarding test score improvement, some one some where was neglecting to look at the sign ahead regarding a CLIFF.    Admittedly there are problems such as those of Nina Collins which are unique and definitely different.  I can not imagine this is the story for the other 1,899 projected problem students.  How could so many students be missing units?  How could so many students be misdirected? Are the teachers going to be blamed/shamed again – for this?

None of the graduation requirements are new. In fact, these requirements have been around forever. What is new is parents and community members believing with their shallow little hearts and brains it has all been up to teachers. I am amazed the spin has not yet started for the blame game.

I really wonder if we had changed our focus just a bit from the prize of test scores to the reality of successful course completion, parents being held accountable, less drama surrounding how many charter schools can be propped up and reviling teachers if we would have made the ‘difference’ necessary for this article to never have been written.  It is about focus. When we allow charter schools and the slippery slopes of test score calculations to become our focus, we let other, blindingly obvious problems slip into the background.   No one could ever convince me they did not see this phenomenon coming – unless they were so busy following Michelle Rhee they simply lost their mind.

Teachers do not control the variables which bring about these types of conundrums – administrators control these issues. I hope people look up from what ever it is their head was buried in and recognize the problem – it is not test scores, rather, it is what we chose to focus and worship as the prize.

Dear Ms. Rhee 29 August 2012

Dear Ms. Rhee,

I write to you often but I am not even sure you pay attention as you have never responded. If you responded, I would be shocked as it would mean you had to deal with facts which were presented. Since you are more inclined to manipulate facts, I am not expecting responses any time soon.

So, it would appear that Aspire Public Schools has taken a page, well maybe a chapter from the playbook of  regular public schools. This is not the first time I caught the problem; I have addressed this issue at other junctures. I just keep pointing out the facts so that you don’t lose track of them as you campaign against teachers.

https://rn11.ultipro.com/ASP1000/JobBoard/listjobs.aspx?Page=List&__SVRTRID=E95F1B34-D54F-4D0E-BD91-8AE59C55609E is the URL I used on 29 August 2012 to check that once again, Aspire was exceeding what a regular public school would be doing at this time in the school year as Aspire indicates IT IS SUPERIOR to what is down the street.

Here is what I found at 10:45 AM-

12 open teaching positions, including the sciences and language arts K-12 AND things such as music, Gr 9-12, journalism and so forth. This did not include the four open substitute position postings or the Dean of Educational Capacity (clearly a name for a position which is  in no way living up to its potential), two HR managers (assumedly it is their job to find the teachers to fill the classrooms), three residency campus recruiters (to find even more teachers to fill classrooms), five substitute positions-one of which was long-term, college readiness teacher (who knew that Aspire needed a teacher to do the task of a counselor….), Senior Manager of Talent (apparently also responsible for filling empty classrooms), two recruiters…. to find teachers which the residency campus recruiters could not find??, and two SPED teachers. I did not list every open position as I pretty much matched My true love gave to me (sung to the 12 Days of Christmas) chorus usually reserved for public schools.

And so I begin to ask myself the following questions, in no particular order:

(1) There is 8.5% unemployment in the U.S. (rhetorical of course as the RNC has been bandying this about for weeks).

(2) Why don’t teachers wish to work for a charter school (Aspire is not the only gig in town, just the most self promoted in CA and now TN)?

(3) How is Aspire’s problem different from regular public schools as charter schools are supposed to be better and these numbers of empty positions after school has started indicate equal to or worse than.

(4) Why are my tax dollars paying for this unacceptable level of administration of an education program and why is Aspire not shut down when it is NOT meeting its own goals?

(5) Does anyone else know or am I the only person  who has an actual interest in education?

(6) Did Ms. Rhee or James Wilcox ever manage to read “The First Days of School” by Harry K. Wong (the supposed handbook Aspire support(s)/supported?

The list continued, however it became general reflection as to why I still believe charter schools are not an answer to what ails the American education system.

I know you like the word anomaly and use it to explain data which you are unable to manipulate to your liking so I understand you might wish to use it in this example. My problem is that something is an anomaly when it happens once or rarely  (deviation from the common rule)- not regularly so it is not appropriate this time….the problem(s) cited above are regular and ongoing.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

While you were all looking at test scores and Michelle Rhee was blaming teachers……..

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/fitch-downgrades-aspire-public-schools-194000754.html

The above item would have flown right under the radar had some one not pointed it out to me. It would not have even occurred to me that this would be an Aspire Public Schools issue.  Of course, I gave Aspire the benefit of the doubt and looked at http://www.aspirepublicschools.org/?q=financials. and http://www.aspirepublicschools.org/?q=pressroom as I believe all parties should have an opportunity to weigh in on the subject.

From what I can gather, Fitch sees Aspire as being not transparent enough. From what I read about (written by others), Aspire refuses to be honest http://acsa.org/MainMenuCategories/Advocacy/Issues-and-Actions/Success-for-ELSF.aspx, which has nothing to do with tenure or all the other rigamarow Ms. Rhee constantly complains about.  Aspire seems to be anti-competitive, which is anti-Michelle Rhee and anti-Jeffrey Canada. This all makes for some interesting conversation.  I can find no mention of the bond issue nor the lawsuit issue.  No where can I find Michelle Rhee’s commentary………so I will leave the interpretation of all of this to the reader.

This demonstrates to me once again that charter schools have been so busy marketing and touting themselves that reality never had a chance. Aspire is a not for profit CORPORATION. By reasonable standards, people should be flinching about the lack of competitiveness Aspire Public Schools operates under.  The message may well be that test scores really do not tell the whole story, even though Aspire and Michelle Rhee would have us believe otherwise with propaganda.

This is Aspire 15 years out. I have to wonder if this is what Don Shalvey, James Wilcox, Wayne Hilty and Elise Darwish prepared for in advance and escaping to Tennessee is not the entire answer. It would seem that abandoning  part or all they sought to change in CA is definitely not a good answer for students, investors and  public education.  With Wall St. having brought down the economy,  limited and insufficient disclosure to Fitch does not seem to be in line with what the public would like to know.

LIMITED AND INSUFFICIENT DISCLOSURE

Under the bonds’ continuing disclosure agreement, the lawsuit does not       appear to qualify as a ‘significant event.’ However, given Aspire’s significant concerns regarding the lawsuit, Fitch views the lack of       communication until after the proposed statement of decision negatively.       In addition, the March 21, 2012 disclosure statement made no reference   to the serious risks, including possible default, cited by management in       its declarations to the court.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for June 8. Fitch will   continue to monitor developments in the lawsuit and their potential   ramifications for bondholders.

Of course the real concern is how did these people NOT have an appropriate long term business plan in place knowing CA politics?  What are the board of directors http://www.aspirepublicschools.org/?q=board thinking? I have to wonder if even Superman can make this better considering charter schools have touted that their composition is based on their ability to do it better for less.  Jeffrey Canada, are you paying attention?

What happens when charter schools really can not do it on the same budget as public schools…..

Please note some things: (1) The blame is on the ‘adults’ (teachers) in this example and all the extra people Aspire required to suss out money (2) Aspire originally started out by stating they would STAY in CA….I guess they will be changing what they are really looking to do as a non-profit. Based on The Lion’s Aspiration from 2004 marketing materials, the ultimate goal was TO TIP CALIFORNIA. (3) Aspire found out that public schools (all the ones who just can not up and leave CA as the students are HERE) really are struggling with budgets.  Aspire PROMISED they could do better than any other public school in CA based on same finances, which is why principals were allowed to ‘manage’ their budget.  (4) It is almost impossible to believe the ‘need’ is more substantial in Nashville then Central California but apparently poverty is different(ly) funded in Tennessee.

Rosa Parks did something special in 1955. Most people would say it was something BIG.  In 1955, in my home state of Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus. It was small action that rippled far and wide. When she got on that bus that day, I’m sure she knew it would be important, but most people (maybe even her) didn’t realize how important.  What she did was HISTORIC, and when we look back at the times we’re in now at Aspire, we will say the same thing.  What may appear merely important, is BIG. And it is for all of us—especially the 12,000 students we serve together and the team around us every day.

We are expanding beyond California, and we’ll first go to a place where the need is deeper than most people can imagine.  Memphis has one of the highest concentrations of poverty and one of the lowest performing school systems in the country. The work we will do there will make another loud statement to everyone who cares about kids, our country, and the foundation that our public schools represent for the future. It will be as loud as the statement we’ve made in CA from Sacramento to LA, from Stockton to the Bay.  Our kids aren’t the issue.  Nor is it “our schools.” We, the adults, need to serve them better, and eliminate all of the obstacles that keep us from doing exactly that.

When I think about our work today, and the 12,000 lives in our care every minute, every day, I know that this action– going to Memphis—is bpth small and BIG.  Going to another state will make another loud statement about what we know is possible. It will ripple far and wide, much like the ripples that moved across the South and our country when a 42 year old Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus.  What started with a small action, moved to a boycott, and grew to be a BIG movement that literally moved our country.  I don’t pretend that our schools in Memphis will be as historic as that simple action on cold day in Montgomery in 1955—but it will be important. It is historic for our organization, and it is BIG…even though for some time it will feel small.

This decision to expand to Memphis is part of a much bigger, longer term process to take control of our future. It sets us on a new path; a path that is as focused as ever on our kids here at home, and a path where we will be—over time—less at the mercy of a state that’s lost its way and forgotten that our public schools dictate our future. I want to share a few of the reasons why this small step, is BIG and IMPORTANT in many ways for all of us…both in the near term, and the medium term.

In the near term:

– Keep the funding we have that pays for the support our schools and our students share: today these funders pay for about $5M-$6M per year in support of our schools and our kids. From counselors to college classes, from coaches to our Residency program, from our Godzilla team to our payroll team, they pay the bill that our schools can’t afford to pay. With this decision to open schools in a place where public funding is sufficient to pay for the support they require, we can serve more students and likely keep this private funding in place.

– Keep growth opportunities for our team: many, many people in our organization are interested in new professional growth opportunities, whether it’s a chance to be a mentor teacher, a coach, a lead teacher, a principal, or a role at the Home Office.  When we continue to grow, these opportunities are created.  The chance to continue to grow, and take on new and different things, grows with our organization.

In the medium/longer term, the expansion is just as BIG, and IMPORTANT:

– New ways to get help for California, based on new and national impact:  with growth in a national hot spot for education reform like Memphis, we enter into a new realm with our supporters.  The highest performing, large CMO that leads in so many ways (us), is now part of a team in a place where policy, funding, federal, and state policy are aligned to do incredible work for kids—redefining what it means when we say “serve all kids well” and actually make strides towards doing it.  Coupled with the incredibly deep need in Memphis, and the history of a place known for an assassination that shook our country, and decades upon decades of poverty, racism, and “forgotteness,” it is a historic confluence of events. With our presence there, we have the ability to ask (and expect to be heard) for new ways and new sources of HELP for California.  One important one is what I’ve called “paying down our mortgage” or at least refinancing it.  Because we are able to help create great schools where our impact will ripple far and wide, we have our best shot to get a bold request filled…refinance “our mortgage” for our schools, and help us take dollars we pay today in interest payments, and give it to our team.

– Attract more funders, because we’re doing work “nationally” in more than one state: the fact that we are present in another state puts us on the national radar in a compelling way that may not seem appropriate given our success and scale in California—but it is real.  This national level of work helps us attract new partners and funders.

– More oars rowing, not the same boat…but a bigger boat: Just like our long time strategy in California, when we open more schools we’re able to offer more and better support for everyone. Think about Godzilla, our IT team, and others. When we were just a few schools, we didn’t have these things—ask the 7 and 10 year Aspire veterans and they’ll tell you.  Until this budget crisis, serving more students well meant better support for every school, and over time it meant the support our schools received cost even less.  Growth over time, in Memphis, will make this true again.  Over time we can shift to raising money for what we want for our kids, not just the basic needs we know they (and we) have.  This will take time, but it will again be true.

So what does all this mean for pay and compensation, James? Plain and simple, it’s unclear.  But know this—I go to bed every night thinking about our team, our sacrifices, and our determination. And it makes me ever more determined to make progress.  This remains a top priority, and our commitment to 75% of every dollar and recovery going to compensation remains strong (the last 25% goes to rebuilding our reserves). Over the next few months, we’ll get more clarity on projected funding rates for this year (yes, we still don’t know), and for the next school year. As soon as we know what they are, we’ll know what they mean for compensation.

To close, I am incredibly proud of what Memphis represents for all of us and our kids in every Aspire school.  It is a small, IMPORTANT, and BIG thing…all at the same time.  Like Rosa Parks, we are sitting down in the front of the bus…and the ripples from this decision will be both direct and indirect for all us, and for our kids.  Wait and see.   Here’s to all of us, and the work we do every day in spite of the odds and the challenges.  We’re changing futures and life opportunities for thousands…together.

And together we can, and will continue to do exactly that.

James Wilcox

Updated 25 April 2012:

http://www.edsource.org/extra/2012/out-of-state-expansion-of-california-charter-school-companies-could-affect-in-state-growth/7701

Selling Out and Profit Making in Education

Years ago education was the space for passionate people with a trenchant sense of appreciation for the community and world.  It was the place of Caldecott  Award winning books, old school Milton-Bradley, Hasbro, Fisher-Price and hands on.  It was the age of ‘doing’ and included all manner of creative thinking.  Those of us involved in it had studied subjects such as Piaget, neuro, psychology and development.  One might say it was the pre-industrial education revolution.

There was no specific time when pre-industrial education became post-industrial waste as it is still occurring. What is distinctly different is the characterization of the ‘sell out’ and the justification for ‘selling out’ by the very people who supposedly had their hearts and souls in education.  I understand how toy manufacturing companies were able to mass produce more games. I am unclear where they went from thoughtful and creative to mass-produced ‘stuff’ which needed to be marketed.  An example is the slow deterioration of Fisher-Price with amazingly thoughtful pieces related to many aspects of society (farming, cars, etc.) to the mass-produced schlock of knock off plastic kitchens with myriad assorted bits and pieces resembling a child version of Ikea madness.

The change over was gradual. It is somewhere in notes from board meetings and marketing ideas and profitability studies. What is missing from these same records is how the new-new thing fits into the Montessori  or Waldorf concept, has anything to do with observations Piaget made or how it developmentally enhances the environment for children.  The see-saw tipped and $$$ began to be far more virtuous than learning.  Learning, in and of itself, has no value until it is applied, whereas one could ascribe value to learning by attaching an object(s) which was thought to ‘improve’ the learning process.

We went from the very cool toy store and/or bookstore in town with wooden puzzles and wood trains and cloth dolls to Toys R Us.  While it was happening, seemingly few people aside from professional educators noticed the change in product. Not just the quality, but the quantity and type.  Games became things which required batteries and less thinking. The only doing was inserting the battery…..Calculators came into vogue such that if you could ‘do it’ on a calculator, who needed to learn the underlying concept.  In this sense, professional educators assisted TI in overtaking maths and making outstandingly HUGE profits.

Calculators became the standard-bearer for learning math quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, no one who studied education was truly consulted and new math came into vogue. Algorithms? What are those? Where is the button on the calculator?  Flash cards and Cusinaire Rods and all the rest were practically buried en masse in cabinets if not thrown out in the trash by parents who wanted their child to ‘learn’.  Anyone caught with the actual tools of learning were castigated and treated as if they were stone age hominids.

Calculators morphed into computers, the worlds supposed greatest educational opportunity. No one would learn without a computer. The Luddites were scorned.  The backlash created more pre-schools committed to developmental learning (Montessori, etc.) and more private schools which were ‘low tech’ learning academies – they were not quite ready to jump onto an untested, not tried and true concept.

And in the midst of this, learning, most especially at the collegiate level was viewed as penance. The big universities suddenly rebuilt dorms and student centers to entice the brightest and best to their campus. Charter schools popped up like spring bulbs long asleep under cold earth.  In order to avoid the perceived ‘penance’, ITT, University of Phoenix, Boston Reed and other pay to play colleges sprouted and milled tons of underperforming graduates who could use calculators and turn on computers AND had a diploma to prove it.  The founder/CEO of University of Phoenix has a ‘beyond’ mansion he is currently trying to sell off, but that is a whole other story.   Unfortunately, the newly minted grads have had a hell of a time with the job market and can not pay off their substantial loans which bought their diplomas.  It doesn’t matter – the people who work for these organizations made a pretty penny by commercializing on cheap education, mass produced.

In the middle of all of this craziness and change one other phenomenon was being born. The trenchant  Luddites were wondering what to do with all the accumulated stuff from years past learning, businesses sending manufacturing abroad but leaving behind all matter of potential educational junk, recyclables, left overs, mis-appropriations and so forth.  The big not for profits which come to mind are Materials for The Arts in NYC, which saved my life during grad school, East Bay Center for Creative ReUse which saves my life now,  and RAFT (Resource Area for Teachers), which started out as the thinking teachers secret ‘almost’ back room to the Exploratorium, but better!

Materials for The Arts and East Bay Creative Reuse have been able to stay true to their mission. Sadly, RAFT began a slow and painful  descent of casting out its idealism to the wind for profits, as if it were actually a for profit Silicon Valley Corporation of some type.  RAFT is now a mini-version of Michael’s or Jo-Anne Crafts with a bit of Oriental Trading catalog thrown in.

Within all the turbulence of what education was and has become, teachers have been left with less and less in the way of professional development, materials and hands on, developmentally appropriate resources which are affordable.  The teachers were never the sell outs – no one can actually afford to pay a teacher what they are worth in America. What is sad is that teachers and students are punished.

Each time a great idea attempts to go to the ‘profitable’ side of things, beyond a reasonable draw in salary for the executive who founded the organization, it becomes an epic fail  which  takes years to undo.  For profit charter schools have proven to be no better than not-for profit and both have never demonstrated themselves to be any better than regular public schools in general.   For profit colleges have become even more notorious paper mills than what the ivy league has supposedly done over the years (ex: George W. Bush) AND students are not qualified to obtain an adequate job to pay off the extremely high interest rate loan.  The last thing teachers need is another ‘retailer’ in which to buy cheap supplies.

What teachers need is a community of educators. Teachers require the time to learn with and from other professionals.  Teachers need to be able to use meaningful resources with little to no cost (usually called donations) so they can continue to teach,  SO STUDENTS LEARN.

When not for profits and for profit businesses which were once committed to education, sell out, everyone loses.  The profits don’t trickle down, the losses to community do.

And, Aspire Public Education follows http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/after-lawsuit-officials-call-new-statewide-charter-rules-8660

On Monday, February 27, the Aspire Board of Directors approved our expansion to Memphis in school year 2013-2014, contingent on charter approval. We expect to receive approval in June.

Memphis represents a unique opportunity to change the odds for underserved children. There’s deep need. Of the 105,000 students currently served by Memphis City Schools, 85% receive free and reduced lunch. Of the state’s 5% lowest-performing schools, 80% are located in Memphis. Local leaders have already proven themselves strong partners who are willing to do what it takes to ensure we succeed. Local funding – both public and private – supports long-term financial stability. State and local policies are, for the most part, charter friendly; where they aren’t, we’re working with local leaders to change them. Finally, Memphis’s position in the national education reform spotlight will strengthen our voice in the conversation about how to make College for Certain a reality for all children. Today, Memphis is a hot spot for reform. It presents an opportunity for us to partner with many others to create a national example of what is possible when adults across work together on behalf of kids. Together, these factors make Memphis a place where we can contribute to transformative school system change.

To get expansion right, we will grow to only one new city in the short term. This means that other cities that were in consideration – most recently, Nashville and New Orleans – are no longer “in the running” for 2013-2014. Both cities are eager to have Aspire serving their kids, and we’ll continue to explore these exciting partnership opportunities down the road.

As some Home Office teammates begin spending more time on expansion, we will work hard to ensure that Memphis does not distract the organization from continuing to provide high-quality support to our current schools in California.  Our California team is the foundation of our model and  we know strong California schools will be the backbone of any success we achieve at a national level.

We’ve started reaching out to folks who expressed an interest in relocating to Memphis for the 2013-2014 school year.  If you’re interested in potentially relocating, but didn’t take the survey, please reach out to your area superintendent. We know you likely have many questions about relocation, compensation, benefits, and the specific role you’d play. We’re working fast and hard to get you those answers, and we’ll keep the information flowing as it becomes available.

Finally, note that we’re preparing for a public announcement in late March or early April, when we submit our charter applications. In the meantime, we’ve prepared a few talking points (below) for questions that may came up from outside parties.

Growth to Memphis represents an exciting first step in a national expansion that will benefit students who most need high-quality schools. As always, Senior Leadership Team doors remain open. We look forward to hearing from you with any thoughts you have about this next step in our journey towards College for Certain for all low-income children.

Key Messages About Aspire Expansion

Why is Aspire expanding outside of CA? Aspire’s mission calls us to deliver College for Certain to underserved children, while partnering with  local school systems to spark transformative change. These goals have become increasingly difficult in California due to the state budget crisis. Though growth here is not currently possible, our drive to serve the millions of low-income students trapped in failing schools remains as strong as ever.  Therefore, we are looking to new states with high levels of need where the conditions are right for us to extend our impact and drive change.

Why is Aspire expanding to Memphis? Aspire selected Memphis because of its high level of need, its favorable political climate, its existing momentum for reform, its emerging role in the national education dialogue, and the long term stability of all of these elements over time. Memphis also offers strong support from local leaders who are committed to our success there.

Will Aspire expand to other places? Not in the short-term. Though other cities have expressed high levels of demand for Aspire, we will only open in one new city in school year 2013-2014. We will continue to explore partnerships with other cities down the road. We also remain committed to sharing our best practices with other school systems, no matter where they are located.

Is Aspire leaving California? No, Aspire is not leaving California. We remain committed to our 34 California schools and 12,000 California students. We will add 1,500 more students as our current schools grow to scale. We were founded in California, and our roots are deep here. We know that success in any other state depends on the ongoing strength of our current schools, the backbone of our model.

Updated 9 April 2012:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/04/05/MNQ61NURUC.DTL&type=education