I rely (partly!) on piano playing, but then I don’t run around claiming I’m “data driven” either

I hope he doesn’t get fired for this:

The newly named 2013 National Teacher of the Year, who is visiting with President Obama at the White House on Tuesday with other award-winning teachers, is not a big fan of all of Obama’s education policy initiatives and believes that some reformers are mischaracterizing America’s public schools.
Jeff Charbonneau, a high school science teacher from Zillah, Washington, was tapped as the 63rd National Teacher of the Year in a contest sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers. He and the other State Teachers of the Year visited Monday with Jill Biden, a veteran educator, at the official residence of the Vice President, and will all go to the White House on Tuesday to see Obama.
Charbonneau teaches chemistry, physics and engineering at Zillah High School.
Charbonneau also said that he disagrees with school reformers and others who say that American public education is in a crisis.
“The concept that we are a nation of failing schools I believe is false,” he said. “We are a nation of succeeding schools. I think our schools are succeeding far more and at higher levels than given credit for…. I agree that there are areas that need improvement, but at the same time, there are many things we are doing right that are not celebrated.”

It’s great that he’s meeting with Jill Biden and President Obama, but Arne Duncan needs to meet him. Here’s Duncan telling Congress how America’s inventory of 4 year olds will produce an ROI, or “return on investment”:

And I will talk about the ROI—the return on investment in education spending—with special emphasis on the President’s landmark preschool plan.

I’ve relied on a couple of preschools in my time and I have to say if I met any one of these transformational market-based reform leaders at the meet ‘n greet I would grab my kid and we’d beat it out of there. They’d have a very small truant, and there’s no return on investment there. Zero value-added, as reformers might say. We once enrolled two in a preschool based partly on the “data point” that the elderly custodian played the piano while the kids had snack time, just because she felt like it.

This is a wonderful piece from Somerby on the Failed and Failing Schools Full Of Failures mantra:

How are things going in our public schools? That is a complex question. But here’s the good news, the news Mehta chose to withhold from the Times’ misused readers:
In reading and in math, black students have shown large score gains on the NAEP over the forty-year life of the program. So have Hispanic students. White students have shown strong score gains too. In all three groups, the gains have continued to be strong in the past two decades.
Mehta should have told Times readers about those impressive score gains. If you want to discuss NAEP test scores at all, those large, continuing test score gains are an obvious part of the story. What does it mean to cherry-pick facts? Mehta presented the gloomy news, citing data which show that achievement gaps still exist on the NAEP. But he withheld the dramatically upbeat news:
He hid the fact that those gaps persist because all three major student groups are recording much higher scores. As he cherry-picked his facts, Mehta grossly misled Times readers. Today, we petition the Times:
Mehta should have told Times readers about those large score gains. At long last, so should the New York Times, in a series of front-page reports.

In the past decade, our big newspapers have constantly discussed the test scores attained by American kids on international and domestic tests. But during that period, these newspapers have persistently fed the American public a diet of cherry-picked facts.
They discuss the gaps, but they hide the gains! The public is never told the good news. We’re never told about the large score gains exhibited by all three groups.
This represents an act of fraud against the American public. Why do our major news orgs keep behaving this way?
We can’t answer that question. But when newspapers behave this way, they baldly deceive the American people. In the process, they further the interests of powerful advocates of certain types of “education reform.” Alas! For whatever reason, advocates of certain types of reform want the public to think that our public schools are an ungodly mess. This has enabled waves of attacks on American teachers and their infernal unions. This claim has served the interests of those who want to privatize public schools. Those advocates are entitled to their own views about public schools. But they shouldn’t be entitled to their own set of facts.

And here’s credit to Kevin Drum for looking at the numbers himself and applying some thought before swallowing this mantra whole.

61 replies
  1. 1
    Gin & Tonic says:

    Only one minute this time! Good for you, Kay.

  2. 2
    Kay says:

    @Gin & Tonic:

    Sorry. I look but sometimes it’s simultaneous.

  3. 3
    AHH onna Droid says:

    Kevin Drum’s work seems to cast the recent reform regime in a different light. Read to the end. Ouch. Also imo lack of employment prospects following school is a big issue.

  4. 4
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Kay: No worries, I think bigfooting DougJ is humorous, as my comment was intended to be.

  5. 5
    Morzer says:

    If I met any one of these transformational market-based reform leaders at the meet ‘n greet I would grab my kid and we’d beat it out of there.

    If I met any one of these transformational market-based reform leaders at the meet ‘n greet I would grab A CUDGEL and I’d beat it out of them.

    I think my version would produce better public policy.

  6. 6
    Kay says:

    @AHH onna Droid:

    But there’s debate on the “skills gap”. You just wouldn’t know it. There’s a whole dissent on the skills gap that simply isn’t presented.

    It’s like Scott Walker announced there was a skills gap and then it was just…so.

  7. 7
    Kay says:

    @Gin & Tonic:

    I hate doing it because I think it’s rude, but I sometimes miss completely.

  8. 8
    Michele C says:

    @AHH onna Droid: The end was depressing, actually. I wondered if some of the “flatness” wasn’t due to the lack of employment opportunities (i.e, kids lose the drive to bother after losing their youthful innocence and realizing it all doesn’t matter).

    Also, I remain concerned that this is all about turning the school system into something privatized like the prison system. So, lying about the numbers to push through “school reform” == not good.

  9. 9
    Walker says:

    @AHH onna Droid:

    The losses at high school are unfortunately real and have been for some time. The reasons for this are unknown (or at least agreed upon).

  10. 10
    Kay says:

    @Michele C:

    I get suspicious. They’ve pretty much dropped the increase in scores due to “reform” now and they smoothly and quietly moved to another measure, which is graduation. But that can be gamed too! It’s just very complicated.

  11. 11
    Yutsano says:

    @Michele C: Education reform seems to be this one blind spot area where no one is asking cui bono? The answer is the companies just looking at all those sweet sweet education tax dollars going to waste on public goods that could be buying yachts for the CEO’s daughter.

  12. 12
    Kay says:


    They are looking, just not at the national level. There’s lots of local media coverage of the money/profit end in OH and FL and PA, which are the three states I read.

    I think they could use more straight reporting, nationally. It’s great to have education reporters, but they don’t follow the money. Local media does that.

  13. 13
    Morzer says:

    By the way, anyone notice that Baucus has retired? Ron Wyden will take over the Senate Finance Committee.

  14. 14
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    The four most terrifying words in the English language are “transformational market-based reform“. You don’t even need to bother with the “…we’re here to help” part; just skip straight to the fight-or-flight reaction as soon as you hear the first part of it.

  15. 15
    Morzer says:


    “transformational market-based reform“ = “You can buy your own lube at the company store. If we bother to stock any.”

  16. 16
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:


    It’s like Scott Walker announced there was a skills gap and then it was just…so.

    Well it does seem to me that the fact that anybody listens to what Scott Walker has to say, much less votes for the SOB, is prima facie evidence that at least some skills are sorely lacking.

    Unfortunately I don’t think we’ve come up with a standardized test yet for the skill of not being gullible fools.

  17. 17
    Alex S. says:

    Return on investment…
    I wish we could free ourselves from the grip of capitalist thought in every area of our lives, but it seems it’s not possible.

  18. 18
    Herbal Infusion Bagger says:

    “Failing schools” means different things.

    For low-socioeconomic status folks, it’s code for “cannot overcome the 257 other ways the poors get screwed over in our society.”

    For upper middle class folks, it’s code for “cannot guarantee a place in an Ivy.”

  19. 19
    Kay says:



    ” Permit employers to sponsor and support public schools and provide limited enrollment preferences for children of employees of the sponsoring employers.”

    It failed, but really? A fully corporate “public” school? Anything else we can do for them? Wash their cars, pick up the dry cleaning?

  20. 20
    Morzer says:


    Just wait for the new system of third grade indentures to sponsors to kick in. Little Johnny will be free to work for less than the oppressive burden of minimum wage!

  21. 21
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Alex S.:

    Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product…if we should judge America by that – counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

    Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

    A measure of what we’ve lost as a civilization is not that many Americans today would not agree with what RFK said; many did not agree with him at the time he spoke those words. What we’ve lost as a civilization is that today those words would be greeted less with overt hostility than they would with blank incomprehension and befuddlement.

  22. 22
    Keith G says:

    Kay, your posts are always welcome no matter the timing because your work usually is heavier on policy and lighter on personality.

  23. 23
    gene108 says:

    Read Duncan’s remarks. ROI language isn’t so bad, when you realize he’s before Congress trying to make sur Republicans, who hate the DoE, worship the idea of private business and hate giving money to the poor will approve money for universal pre-K for incomes uptown 200 percent of the poverty level.

  24. 24
    Ash Can says:

    I too wish Charbonneau were meeting directly with Duncan, but meeting with Duncan’s boss (not to mention meeting with the administration’s unofficial top education expert as well) might be even better. Hopefully he can give both Obama and Biden an earful, and they can lean on Duncan in turn.

  25. 25
    Walker says:

    @Herbal Infusion Bagger:

    For upper middle class folks, it’s code for “cannot guarantee a place in an Ivy.”

    Seeing as most of the Ivies have single digit admission rates (with overlap in admissions), that would be every school.

    I know this is snark, but it is also not remotely how admissions to an Ivy works.

  26. 26

    There’s the same problem here as in a lot of social ‘reform’ situations. One side of the aisle thinks we’ve disgustingly underfunded education for years, and the other side of the aisle likes to use the word ‘reform’ to mean ‘prevent from helping poor people in any way’.

  27. 27
    Roger Moore says:


    The four most terrifying words in the English language are “transformational market-based reform“.

    I don’t know. I think “fiduciary duty to shareholders” is pretty damn terrifying; you know that something awful is going to come next.

  28. 28
    Roger Moore says:


    Seeing as most of the Ivies have single digit admission rates (with overlap in admissions), that would be every school.

    Just one more piece of proof that our schools are failing terribly.

  29. 29
    Kay says:


    Gene, he does it all the time. He was just in Cleveland. There’s a lot to talk about in Cleveland. The school reformer there just went to Chicago. Before that she was in Detroit. You know what parents call her in Chicago? “The closer” They think reformers bring her in to close neighborhood schools. That’s rational.

    It’s ALL “ROI” from Duncan. If he wants to be a CEO, why not go DO that?

  30. 30
    Feudalism Now! says:

    Common core adoption will slap those gains down short term and the metric will shift again once the test scores improve. It is another version of Lucy with the football.

  31. 31
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Roger Moore:

    “fiduciary duty to shareholders” = we are now stitching together The Monster out of used body parts, with luck there will be a thunderstorm tonight.

    “transformational market-based reform” = we’ve turned The Monster loose from the castle and have no idea how to stop it, even if we wanted to. Which we don’t.

  32. 32
    Morzer says:


    Plus, Duncan’s spent an awful lot of time approving of edu-grifters like Michelle Rhee.

  33. 33
    NCSteve says:

    On the other hand, if it ever became public knowledge that performance was improving, Republican state legislators would take it as a sign that still more can be cut from public instruction to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and corporate welfare.

  34. 34
    scav says:

    OT. To a weird extent, I’m somehow just as pleased that France pushed through SSM despite the idiots out protesting. Granted, the French protest at the drop of the proverbial beret. Sort of the logique bookend to the emotional New Zealand effort, all in all. here

  35. 35
    Kay says:


    I just can’t stand him. He went to a public school and when the reporter asked if teachers were mad at him he said something like “do they look like they’re mad?” because of course they have to make a big deal out of him.

    Really. Fuck off, you walking, talking ego.

  36. 36
    Ash Can says:

    And in other news, AP Twitter account gets hacked, tweets that there have been explosions at the WH w/Obama injured, Dow tanks, then recovers a few minutes later when AP denies report and confirms hack.

    ETA: H/t LGF

  37. 37
    peach flavored shampoo says:

    Sorta OT, but Gun Nutz now using children as their proxy for their gun nuttery. Note this part:

    On top of his arrest and trip to the police station, Marcum was suspended from school for one day. This morning, he returned to school wearing the same t-shirt, White said.

    That’s a dickhead being purposely dickheadish. This cant end well.

  38. 38
    Punchy says:

    @Ash Can: Imagine all the stop loss orders that executed on this fake news. Likewise, a whole bunch of people surely got in at artifically low prices and have already made mint as the Dow snapped back.

    Ah, this harkens back to the days of day trading shortly after 9/11, where any spook at all send the markets flying.

  39. 39
    Kay says:

    @Ash Can:

    If we ever combine the skittish WS traders with the trigger happy gun nuts we’re doomed.

  40. 40
    NonyNony says:

    @peach flavored shampoo:

    Actually the school is morally in the wrong here – the kid should be able to wear the stupid shirt. I’d say that for any shirt that wasn’t actually disruptive.

    But “Bong Hits For Jesus” shows us that the Supreme Court thinks kids have no rights whether they’re in school or not, so if a lawsuit goes forward the kid and his family will probably lose.

    Hilariously lose, I might add, because right-wing suppression of kids free speech has always been one of their favorite things in the past.

  41. 41
    cvstoner says:

    When you live in a society where 40% of the profit comes from the money men, then it should be no surprise when everything must be monetized, even pre-school ROI.

  42. 42
    Michele C says:

    @Yutsano: I know it’s probably always been true, but lately it seems obvious that the answer to cui bono is never regular people.

    @Kay: The thing that always gets me about their gaming is that they can make it look like they actually care about the disenfranchised. (1) There are people disenfranchised by the current system. (2) We have a “reform” to fix the current system, which means we care about those disenfranchised by it. (3) Quod erat demonstratum, privatization!

  43. 43
    Ash Can says:


    Traders have to be skittish, I’ll grant them that. Sitting on the sidelines and waiting things out is a recipe for getting your/your company’s ass handed to you in that environment. It makes for some pretty good theater once in a while, though, especially in retrospect when calamitous news is proven to be a false alarm.

  44. 44
    gene108 says:


    He went to a public school

    EDIT: Sorry, I thought you meant he attended public school as a child. Reread what you wrote and realize he just visited one, while Sec. of Education.

    Arne Duncan never went to public school in Chicago. He went to a private school run by the University of Chicago.

    Duncan attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools


    The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (also known as Lab or Lab School and abbreviated UCLS; the upper classes are nicknamed U-High) is a private, co-educational day school in Chicago, Illinois. It is affiliated with the University of Chicago. About half of the students have a parent who is on the faculty of the University.


    Duncan, Obama and a bunch of the people at the top never went to public schools. Bill Clinton was last big-to-do politician, who went to public K-12.

  45. 45
    Djur says:

    @Walker: Have they been able to rule out the effect of decreasing dropout rates? Dropout rates have dropped 40-50% depending on demographic group in the last 20 years, and it seems likely to be even more since 1970. I believe most dropouts tend to be low-achieving students for various reasons, so keeping more students in school would mostly add results on the lower end, wouldn’t it?

    The quintiles should help. The NAEP report shows that, for reading, younger ages have had the most gains in the bottom quintile [1] (page 11), while at 17 the top quintile has gained the most and the bottom quintile is the flattest. On the other hand, in math, it’s flat across the board.

    [1]: http://www.motherjones.com/doc.....-naep-2008

  46. 46
    Kay says:


    No, I meant he went to visit one.

    I sort of buy your theory on this, BTW. That it probably matters that none of them went to public schools. I didn’t initially, but there’s a cluelessness that they’ve shown in Chicago that is just baffling.
    They set up community meetings on the school closings and then they wouldn’t talk to parents. Literally. Would not speak to them. A panel of people, REALLY upset parents, and they won’t respond. It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s just guaranteed to piss parents off.

  47. 47
    artem1s says:

    problem with too many schools is parents think that a school like this one


    is a great place to send their kids but a school that teaches science and sex ed is ebil.

  48. 48
    Quaker in a Basement says:

    Here’s Duncan telling Congress how America’s inventory of 4 year olds will produce an ROI, or “return on investment”:

    You’re not playing fair here, Kay. Duncan wasn’t saying that at all. You’re doing some heavy-handed barbering there.

  49. 49
    YellowJournalism says:

    @peach flavored shampoo: The teacher was in the wrong, and by the words the principal spoke, the school may agree. There was nothing in the dress code that states anything about the depiction of firearms, and there was no issue until the teacher mishandled the situation and made it worse by his actions. I despise te NRA and do not approve of promoting firearms at school, but as of right then the kid wasn’t doing anything wrong except support a fetid extension of the gun lobby.

    I actually hope the ACLU steps up to this one if needed.

  50. 50
    Kay says:

    @Quaker in a Basement:

    I hate the plan. I hate that it’s “free” because it’s funded with tobacco taxes. What does tobacco have to do with preschool? It makes some sense for health care, but Jesus Christ. 4 year olds aren’t worth Head Start just on their own merits,
    as 4 year olds

  51. 51
    Quaker in a Basement says:

    @Kay: All valid points, but none are an excuse to misrepresent Duncan as promising an ROI on “our inventory of 4-year-olds.” Duncan was arguing the effectiveness of pre-K education.

  52. 52
    Kay says:

    @Quaker in a Basement:

    I also hate that he promotes this notion that worthwhile things are “free”
    If we just introduce enough abstract variables, like “competition” or “accountability” we can engineer this thing to work. He’s talking about kids. They’re dependent on others. They lead complicated lives. They’re not small college students.

  53. 53
    Kay says:

    @Quaker in a Basement:

    But he puts it in terms of their employability. That’s not the sum total of what they are. They aren’t here to contribute to the national economy. They’re four. They’re not even “low income”. They’re NO income.
    Why does he have to sell it to Congress anyway? It’s “free”. The entire funding mechansim is based on tobacco, and tobacco is a poor person habit, which is why it’s so easy to tax.

  54. 54
    Bump on a Log says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ: Enstupidation proceeds apace.

    I was rereading “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” published in the mid-20th century. The 12-year-old heroes recognize the evil carnival’s calliope music as Chopin’s Funeral March, played backward. Point being that the publisher who bought the book thought such a scene perfectly reasonable and credible.

    Mid 20th century. Thwt’s a lot of enstupidation in less than a hundred years.

  55. 55
    Bump on a Log says:

    Er, should be THAT’S a lot of…etc.

    That’s a lot of entypodation in less than a page. Sorry about that.

  56. 56
    weaselone says:

    @Bump on a Log:

    And the reason we need modern students to memorize the works of famous composers is …?

    It’s like the people who say how much modern students suck at math because they can no longer complete math problems that involve the conversion of Bushels to cubic feet without a table of conversion factors.

  57. 57
    Groucho48 says:

    A couple or three years ago our standings in the international testing system was a big topic of conversation, mostly driven by the right. We were in the middle of the pack in reading/writing and in math.

    A racist blog broke the numbers down by race. This was done to “prove” that blacks and Hispanics are dragging whites and Asians down. Anyway, thurns out we are second best in the world, behind, I think, Finland, at teaching white kids. we are second best in the world, behind Singapore, but ahead of Japan, at teaching Asian kids. We are best in the world at teaching black kids. We are, I think best, but maybe second best, in the world at teaching Hispanic kids.

    Rather than the racist point the blog was trying to push, what this tells me is that our school system is among the best in the world in teaching middle and upper class kids, but, our very large % of disadvantaged kids brings the numbers down.

    So, what would be the best way of bringing the numbers up? Move lots and lots of families up into the middle class.

  58. 58
    Bump on a Log says:

    @weaselone: Because people who have no past also have no future.

  59. 59
    Bruce S says:

    Not really sure what the hell Jeff Charbonneau could possibly add to the education reform conversation – he’s only a teacher, not a highly paid consultant.

  60. 60
    Djur says:

    @Bump on a Log: I would say that 12-year-olds who have been trained in music will recognize and be able to name famous pieces, while others won’t, regardless of era.

    I know it gives people some kind of sick pleasure to think of the generations that follow them as unlettered and indolent, but by most measures the class of 2013 is doing better than the class of 1963.

  61. 61
    Bump on a Log says:

    @Djur: The kids I know aren’t indolent, but most of them are indeed unlettered. As are their teachers. In an educated society, Sarah Palin would not have come as close as she did to the presidency. Think about it.

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