Demise of Unbiased Education Research at Johns Hopkins

9 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/9/2021

The 2015 hiring of David Steiner to lead the new Johns Hopkins’s Education Policy Institute marked a transition from scholarship to neoliberal indoctrination. Donor directed funds that hide their sources and well-known advocates of testing and “school choice” have sent boatloads of money to the new institution. Steiner and his patron, Merryl Tisch, were famous in New York for being virulently pro-standardized testing and enemies of the teaching profession.

On April 1, 1996, New York Republican Governor George Pataki appointed Merryl Tisch to the State Board of Regents. On April 1, 2009 she was elected Chancellor by her colleagues. Tisch’s biography at the University at Albany states that since joining the Board she “has been a leading advocate for expanded alternate certification policies.” The rabbi’s daughter who married into one of America’s wealthiest families soon found a like minded pro-testing neoliberal to champion. The Regents selected Hunter College Dean, David Steiner, to be the new state Commissioner of Education.

In 2008, Steiner created Teacher U at Hunter College. It was a new teacher preparation program requested by the charter industry and coincided with Tisch’s thinking.  Steiner and Tisch believed that there was an unhealthy university based monopoly controlling teacher education. As Commissioner, he moved to weaken that “monopoly” in 2010 by grantinga provisional charter to authorize clinically-rich teacher programs to address shortages …”

The following year Steiner authorized and the state board approved non-institutions of higher education to grant master’s degrees in education accredited by New York State. Almost immediately, Teacher U became Relay Graduate School of Education and received accreditation from the state of New York. Steiner is also a founding board member of Relay and is still on its board of directors.

The other great policy agreement between Tisch and Steiner was on standards and test based accountability for teachers and schools. Tisch who has a doctorate in Education from Teachers College was honored by the school in 2013. That prompted education scholar Diane Ravitch to write that they were honoring the doyenne of high-stakes testing.” In an interview with Frederick Hess, Steiner pointed with pride to three policies he drove as Commissioner of Education; “commitment to standards-based curriculum”, “commitment to improved testing” and worked to “rethink and redesign teacher and principal certification.”

Steiner completed his resume for supporting the neoliberal agenda by waiving the superintendent of schools job requirements in order for Cathie Black, head of the Hearst magazine chain, to take over New York City public schools. Despite not having the required teaching experience and professional degrees in administration, Steiner agreed that her “success” in business made her in the words of Mayor Bloomberg a “superstar manager.” She lasted on the job less than 100-days.

The Johns Hopkins Partnerships are Startling

The Education Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins proudly lists sixty-seven partners on their about page. The eleven shown above are representative of the array of public school disrupters and edtech profiteers with whom they partner.

Becoming an advocate for deep pocketed libertarians and neoliberals has led to a gusher of dollars. Between 2018 and 2020 the Overdeck Family Foundation states it has granted John Hopkins $840,000.

John and Laura Overdeck are relatively new to being education “disrupters” but they have caught on fast. John is a former hedge fund guy and vice president at Amazon. Laura has an MBA from Wharton, is a trustee of Princeton and is on the advisory boards of the Khan Academy, Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) and Stevens Institute of Technology. Their 2019 foundation tax form 990PF shows $627 million in assets.

Jeffery Epstein’s friend Bill Gates has been sending a steady stream of dollars. Although his giving is no longer transparent, his foundation tax forms show that between 2016 and 2018 he sent $2,194,000.

In 2006, two bay area foundations merged to form the multi-billion dollar Silicon Valley Community Foundation. It is a donor directed fund which allows wealthy individuals to secretly gift large sums of money without disclosure. From 2015-2018 they sent $27,381,018.

The Return on Investment

Basing themselves almost exclusively on testing data, a group of Democratic politicians including Governor Gina Raimondo decided to take over and reform Providence, Rhode Island’s “failing” public schools. The school districts demographics in 2019 was 65% Latinx, 16% Black, 9% White, 5% Asian, 4% Multi-racial and 1% Native American. In addition, 31% of students were multilingual learners, 16% received special education services and 55% came from homes where English is not the primary language. An unbiased study would have quickly found that the schools were not failing. Rather, the poor testing results were reflective of deep poverty, language learners and a large special education population.

“The situation was extreme,” says Ashley Berner, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy. “I had never met so many dispirited students and teachers.” The Johns Hopkins study was commissioned in May and presented in June and by July 19th Mayor Elorza officially petitioned the state to take over the schools.

Last year, The Institute for Education Policy at Johns Hopkins wrote a joint paper with Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. It called for more testing. They claimed,

“As leaders prepare their school communities for the challenge of re-starting face-to-face as well as hybrid models, a coherent pathway for learning recovery and acceleration needs to include greater reliance on high-quality materials and instruction, and completing the circle with curriculum-based assessments.”

“We recommend formative and summative assessments tied to specific curricula that can be implemented under various circumstances.”

Sadly, education scholarship at Johns Hopkins has been abandoned for much more than just “30 pieces of silver.”

One Response to “Demise of Unbiased Education Research at Johns Hopkins”

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  1. Tom Ultican: How Johns Hopkins Lost Its Reputation for Scholarship in Education and Became a Beacon of “Reform” Advocacy | Diane Ravitch's blog - June 12, 2021

    […] Ultican tells the sad story of the Johns Hopkins University Education Policy Institute, which was once known for unbiased […]

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