Tag Archives: Bloomberg

D.C. Schools: A Portrait of “Corporate Education Reform” Failure

21 Oct

This summer the National Academy of Sciences produced a lengthy report for the city of Washington D.C. documenting the effects of their 2007 Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA).[1] It describes a system that has adopted the “corporate education reform” approach to improving public education. The report is a powerful set of data and observations that damn this genre of reform.

What is “Corporate Education Reform”?

In 1995, Louis Gerstner, CEO of IBM, attended the National Governor’s Association meeting and made an impassioned speech about the crisis in education and the critical and immediate need for national standards in education. As Mercedes Schneider explained in her book Common Core Dilemma, this was not a well timed call to arms. Liz Chaney had just finished destroying Bill Clinton’s national history standards, which made the subject of national education standards radioactive.

Gerstner wasn’t deterred. He hosted the 1996 National Governor’s Association conference at the IBM conference facility in Palisades, New York. This conference with the exception of 1 Asian man was an all white, all male conference made up of 49 CEO’s and 40 governors.[2] There were no educators involved.

The main outcome of this conference was the Governors established their own non-profit and non-governmental corporation called Achieve Inc. Achieve was tasked with promoting and writing national education standards. Gerstner was named Achieve’s chairman. Achieve Inc. subsequently supervised the writing of both the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. While Bill Gates’ Council of Chief State School Officers owns the copyright for Common Core, Louis Gerstner’s Achieve Inc. owns the copyright for the Next Generation Science Standards. In Dilemma, Mercedes Schneider summed it up, “No need to meaningfully involve teachers in changes that Achieve, Inc. had already decided needed to be instituted.”[3]

Former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, is the first person I noticed calling this education reform movement led by super-wealthy business men with no education experience or training “corporate education reform.” It seems an appropriate appellation and as the D.C. schools report shows it is also misguided and damaging.

Key tenants of “corporate education” reform are: (1) Eliminate direct democracy (no elected school boards) (2) Evaluate teachers based on value added measures derived from standardized testing (3) privatize public education by promoting the charter school movement (4) make teaching a non-professional endeavor (5) use testing data to label public schools in poor and minority neighborhoods failures (6) use draconian turn-around models which require firing all the administration and at least 50% of a school’s staff (7) replace “failed” public schools with charter schools (8) destroy teachers unions and blame teachers and their unions for “failing” schools (9) promote standards based education and testing (10) apply merit pay schemes. This list could easily be extended.

Eliminate Local Control and Privatize

In 1995 and 1996, Bill Clinton in concert with Newt Gingrich and the Republican controlled house established charter schools in Washington D. C. and undermined the power of the elected school board. Of course the excuse was “failing” schools but that was not true. The schools might have needed some improved professional leadership, but it was the communities that were failing not the schools.

It is like the educator and commentator from Pennsylvania, Steven Singer, writes:

“Poverty is skyrocketing. It’s been on the rise for at least three decades, but since the economy collapsed in 2008, the ranks of the poor have swollen like an untreated wound left to fester and rot. …Claiming that education alone can resolve this problem is like saying all a starving person really needs is a fork and spoon. But that won’t help if he has nothing to eat!”

It is true poverty damaged students are not performing well on standards based tests, however, the Science Academy report shows that white students in the more affluent neighborhoods of D.C. are scoring above the national average. Schools in failing neighborhoods are being blamed for the fact that 73 percent of the students in D.C. live in unsafe impoverished neighborhoods.

Democracy time line

This chart from the report shows the attack on democratic processes in D.C. from finally getting democratic control over their schools in 1968 to complete loss of parental control with the passage of Public Education Reform Amendment Act. D.C. joined the other “corporate reform” cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York in establishing the mayor as czar of education significantly diminishing the effect parents and teachers have on education policy.

By 1995, D.C. schools were charging down the path of “corporate education reform” when Bill Clinton signed the D.C. school reform act introducing charter schools and establishing the charter school board. The growth of charter school privatization movement is startling with charter schools enrolling nearly 50% of D.C. students in 2015. From the report:

“… by 2014, the percentage was 44 percent. PCSB [Public Charter School Board] reports that there are approximately 100 individual charter schools, governed by 61 chartering organizations, which function as school districts, or local education agencies (LEAs). D.C. has one of the largest percentages of a city’s students enrolled in charters nationwide, and D.C. is viewed as a leader by proponents of charter schools.” Pg 31

With almost 50% of the D.C. students in charter schools governance in certain aspect of education is not possible. Originally, charter schools were supposed to be laboratories that were freed from the more stringent rules for public schools so they could try new ideas. However, when 50% of the students are in charter schools, parents, educators and administrators have no way of monitoring education practices or spending. D.C. functionally has 62 school districts. One for all the public schools and one for each of the 61 charter school management organizations that operate in private. As the report says:

“There are no standardized formats or definitions in charter schools’ budgets or audits, though the PCSB [Public Charter School Board] is making progress in this area. The adequacy study also commented on the difficulty of ascertaining charter facility costs. In addition, the charter management organizations’ accounts are not open to the public, and there have been cases of mismanagement.” (Page 72)

“Because each charter school is an independent local education agency, the charter sector did not (and does not) have any overarching strategy to improve teacher quality (or any other factor in education).” (Page 79)

This lack of accountability is costing the public schools money and at the same time there is no way to know how the charter schools are spending money especially when it comes to special education and second language learners. The structure of education in D.C. is failing special education students. From the report:

“In another DCPS [D.C. Public Schools] official’s view, the problem is that a charter school will receive all the required supplementary special education funds for a student while DCPS is still expected to provide supplements that a student requires, such as dedicated aides or home or hospital services. This official also noted that DCPS has no authority to address problems in charter schools: it can only report noncompliance to PCSB [Public Charter Schools Board] and to OSSE [Office of the State Superintendant of Education].” (Page 129)

“The U.S. Department of Education has recently reported that that D.C. is among the worst school systems in the nation in providing appropriate educational opportunities for students with disabilities, and it has the worst record of any state in the country for meeting federal special education goals.” (Page 131)

“Another city official we interviewed commented that “there is no monitoring arm for how LEAs [Local Education Agencies] serve the ELL [English Language Learners] population.” For example, this person noted, the city provides $4,200 in funds in addition to the $11,000 allocated under the uniform per student funding formula (an additional $6,000 is provided for each special education student), but there is no structure for monitoring what LEAs [Local Education Agency] do with these funds or determining whether they are addressing students’ basic needs. At the same time, charter schools have no consistent source of technical assistance or other resources, such as professional development, to help ensure that they are providing what English-language learners need. As a city official noted, “there is no way for people to know if they are doing it right.”’ (Page 133)

One of the largest problems created by the lack of cohesiveness between the charter schools and the public schools system is that students are being lost. These lost students become what Dr. Mark Naison has labeled “the Disposables.” Dr. Naison writes:

“They are the more than 90 million Americans of working age who are not in the labor force and do not have regular jobs.

“They are the millions of teenagers who dropped out or were pushed out of school in cities like Detroit and Memphis and New Orleans and Los Angeles and Chicago and have disappeared from view because the divisions between charter schools and public schools have made it impossible to develop a coherent strategy to make sure no child is lost.”

The report notes the D.C. schools have a “crisis in absenteeism” and a terrible graduation rate.

“D.C.’s public schools have had among the worst on-time graduation rates in the country. For the class of 2014, the overall rate was 61 percent, compared with the national average of 81 percent (Chandler, 2014d). For DCPS schools, the graduation rate was 58 percent—up 2 percentage points from the previous year; for the charter schools, it was 69 percent—down almost 7 points.” (Page 154)

“Nationally, for 2012-2013, the overall rate increased from 78 to 81 percent; for blacks it increased from 66 to 68 percent, and for Hispanic students it increased from 71 to 76 percent.” (Page 189)

The report also contained this nugget suggesting that charter school gains in test performance over time do not match public schools.

“The EDCORE analyses by sector also showed that, although both DCPS [D.C. Public Schools] and charter students showed improvement, the magnitude of the gains were higher for DCPS students in every year.” (Page 177)

Mayoral Control and VAM Evaluation

A central tenant of “corporate education reform” is to limit democratic processes by ending elected local school boards. Democracy is always more difficult to administer than authoritarian control from a centralized power like a mayor. Of course this means that parents and teachers will not have much of a voice (if any) in how their local school; is run, what it teaches or what its policies are. In 2007, the city of Washington D.C. completed its embrace of “corporate education reform” when the Mayor Renty assumed total control of all public schools. The report observes:

“The specific strategies that Fenty and the chancellor he appointed, Michelle Rhee, chose were prominent on the national reform agenda: an emphasis on improving human capital using recruitment, evaluation, and compensation of educators; data-driven decision making; more uniform standards across schools; and greater school-level accountability through the use of student testing and other indicators.” (Page 40)

Fenty chose a person with five weeks of Teach for America training and three years’ experience teaching first grade to be chancellor. It was an odd choice, but she was connected to the lawyer, Joel Klein, who Michael Bloomberg had selected to run New York’s schools. Mayoral control seems to always value political considerations over professional competence when selecting public school leaders. For example, in Chicago, Daly chose Duncan and in Los Angeles, Villaraigosa chose Deasy; neither man had significant professional credentials or experience in education.

The agenda chosen was straight out of the “corporate education reform” playbook. They blamed teachers and principals for poor testing and graduation results, they instituted teacher evaluations base in large part on growth models known as value added measures and they introduced merit pay for teachers and principals. Survival in the Rhee-Fenty schools would depend foremost on high stakes testing.

Education reporter, John Merrow, summed up Rhee’s tenure of just over three years running D.C.’s schools:

“Ms. Rhee made her school principals sign written guarantees of test score increases. It was “Produce or Else” for teachers too. In her new system, up to 50% of a teacher’s rating was based on test scores, allowing her to fire teachers who didn’t measure up, regardless of tenure. To date, nearly 600 teachers have been fired, most because of poor performance ratings. She also cut freely elsewhere–closing more than two-dozen schools and firing 15% of her central office staff and 90 principals.”

“For teachers, DCPS has become a revolving door. Half of all newly hired teachers (both rookies and experienced teachers) leave within two years; by contrast, the national average is understood to be between three and five years. Veterans haven’t stuck around either. After just two years of Rhee’s reforms, 33% of all teachers on the payroll departed; after 4 years, 52% left.”

For more than 100 years, political leaders have every few years proposed merit pay as a way to motivate good performance. This idea does not have a great track record in most industries, because it undermines unity of purpose. In education, it has been a total failure laced with fraud, but this does not stop “corporate education reformers” from insisting on merit pay. Rhee’s merit pay scheme, which pays bonuses of up to $25,000, led to a cheating scandal. Merrow’s report continued:

“Some of the bloom came off the rose in March 2011 when USA Today reported on a rash of ‘wrong-to-right’ erasures on standardized tests and the Chancellor’s reluctance to investigate. With subsequent tightened test security, Rhee’s dramatic test scores gains have all but disappeared. Consider Aiton Elementary: The year before Ms. Rhee arrived, 18% of Aiton students scored proficient in math and 31% in reading. Scores soared to nearly 60% on her watch, but by 2012 both reading and math scores had plunged more than 40 percentile points.”

After two decades of adopting the “corporate education reform” agenda, the D.C. schools are damaged. Curriculum has been narrowed by hyper-focus on high stakes testing, which only accurately identifies economic conditions in the neighborhood. With just 25% of students attending their local community school and many community schools closed these once pillars of community support have been toppled. Parents have no effective place to bring grievances and experienced professional educators have been pushed out in favor of new hires, many of whom are unqualified Teach for America replacements on temporary contracts.

All this disruption and still the outcomes from the D.C. schools are some of the worst in the nation. They still have an attendance crisis and a graduation crisis. Their scores on NAEP [National Assessment of Education Progress] testing is still at the bottom of the nation. The problem is not the schools or even the misguided “corporate education reform.” The problem is rampant and unaddressed poverty in the neighborhoods of our nation’s capital. The problem has never been our public schools; it has always been poverty.

  • “National Research Council. (2015). An Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia: Reform in a Changing Landscape. Committee for the Five-Year (2009-2013) Summative Evaluation of the District of Columbia’s Public Schools. Board on Testing and Assessment, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.”
  • Schneider, Mercedes. Common Core Dilemma “Who Owns Our Schools?” Teacher’s College Press, New York and London, ©2015 by Teacher’s College, Columbia University.
  • Ibid.

Education Caste System

12 Jul

In 1999, motivated by idealistic impulses, I quit working on the next greatest hard drive to become a teacher. Like most people, I knew public education was in bad shape with bad teachers and poor administration. I hoped to advance the American promise that anyone’s child could become a captain of industry or even the president of the United States. America is supposed to be a meritocracy with equal opportunity for all.

I heard about “Nation at Risk” and I knew “Johnny” never could read. I was confident that a person with a successful engineering career under his belt could make significant contributions to public education. So it was off to the new masters of education program at University of California San Diego and my crusade to save public education.

These past 15 years have been enlightening. I soon learned what I knew about the state of public education was absolute baloney. The experienced teachers were amazing and once I got past the initial arrogance that blinded me to that fact, I realized that I had a lot to learn about teaching. I was not going to school the existing teachers; they were highly skilled and effective. My first two years in the classroom, I literally did not encounter any bad teachers who were not motivated to do a good job. The schools in San Diego were much better than the ones I attended 30 plus years earlier and the students were far more accomplished than my peers.

Concurrent with my entering the class room the bi-partisan No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was adopted. It soon became clear that education for working and middle class students was becoming more skills oriented with lessened creativity and minimal independent thought. The new education reform was based on standards and accountability for standardized testing results. This new theory of good pedagogy ignored the advice educators like Dewey and Herbart and adopted what Alfie Kohn mockingly dubbed the “longer stronger meaner” theory of education. This kind of pedagogy diminishes thought and creativity. It implies that thinking is for the children of wealthy people in private schools who are the natural leaders of society. The other students have utilitarian purposes but thinking undermines that value. It is all driven by an ancient and evil ideology that posits it is OK to use lesser human beings for the purposes of social elites.

El Puente founder, Frances Lucerna, has a similar observation:

“In the public schools now it’s basically all about standardized testing, and mechanical literacy. This is resulting in dumbing down, watering down, the experience that young people have in school. It is equivalent to telling students that they are not to go deep within themselves and think in complex ways about things, but that they need to go back to memorizing and stuffing their heads with knowledge that has nothing to do with their experience and their world. This is not by accident: there is a reason that this is happening, why it’s happening in public schools and not in private schools and other places. This is an education for followers, not for leaders. And that’s why I think a movement for change has to arise, and the arts are fundamental in this.” (Muses Go to School, Page 58)

In 1973 David Rockefeller’s Trilateral Commission produced “The Crisis of Democracy” a report in which they indicate that too much education for common people is a threat to democracy. On page 115 on the report they conclude, “The vulnerability of democratic government in the United States thus comes not primarily from external threats, though such threats are real, nor from internal subversion from the left or the right, although both possibilities could exist, but rather from the internal dynamics of democracy itself in a highly educated, mobilized, and participant society.” In other words, don’t teach common people to think, to have philosophy, or develop their own ideas – the elites of society will take care of that. It is not in the interest of the upper class to have too much education – too much democracy.

Of course, this elitism or classism is not new. I recently studied a lecture on an event that occurred in 1279. Twenty peasant farmers living in Atsuhara (present-day Fuji City, Japan) were arrested and falsely accused of stealing rice from a local priest. When the second most powerful figure in Japan questioned them, he did not ask about the charges. He offered clemency if they would just renounce their religious beliefs and join the approved Buddhist sect. Surprisingly, all twenty farmers refused the free pass. Three of them were executed and the other seventeen were exiled to remote regions of Japan.

Known as the “Atsuhara persecution” this event is significant in the history common people. Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of the Soka Schools said, “Set in 13th-century feudal Japan, this was truly a pioneering struggle for human rights that will shine forever in history.” In the same lecture Ikeda commented,

“…the devilish nature of authority fears the awakening of the people. To those in power who forget to serve the people and instead exploit them, wielding authority for self-serving ends, the presence of individuals who discern their true insidious nature and are determined to take a stand against them is a hindrance and inconvenience. That’s why the powerful do everything they can to crush them.” (July 2014, Living Buddhism)

Another struggle for rights that shines eternally in history is the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson penned these famous lines:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

As a boy growing up in rural Idaho, I was thrilled by these words. The precept that all men are created equal and have the right to seek an equal station based on merit excited my idealistic yearnings. For me, America was “that shining city on the hill.” It was some time before I started coming to grips with the contradictions that inhered from the beginning. Jefferson was a slave owner; women were denied human dignity and if you were not a member of the land owning class, the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God did not entitle you to equal station. But the ideas were pregnant with idealism and the potential for human advancement. It still gives me hope.

In our country, over the past more than two centuries there have been many advances in human rights, but the ugly side of human nature that wants to use others for personal purposes has not been conquered. It has merely transformed to forms which use less obvious and possibly more insidious methodology. Doctor Ikeda spoke directly to this point in a speech he delivered at Harvard University in 1993:

“I propose that self-motivation is what will open the way to the era of soft power. While systems depending on hard power have succeeded by using established tools of coercion to move people toward certain goals, the success of soft power is based on volition. It is an internally generated energy of will created through consensus and understanding among people. The processes of soft power unleash the inner energies of the individual. Rooted in the spirituality and religious nature of human beings, this kind of energy has traditionally been considered in philosophical themes. But without the support of a philosophical foundation to strengthen and mobilize the spiritual resources of the individual, the use of soft power would become nothing more that ‘fascism with a smile’, In such a society information and knowledge would be abundant, but subject to manipulation by those in power. A citizenry without wisdom would fall easy prey to authority with self-serving goals. For these reasons, the burden of sustaining and accelerating the trend toward soft power lies with philosophy.” (New Humanism page 189)

In the 1930’s the philosopher historian Arnold Toynbee observed in his masterpiece, A Study of History, “The bread of universal education is no sooner cast upon the waters than a shoal of sharks arises from the depths and devours the children’s bread under the educator’s very eyes.” In his deep study of more than three-thousand years of human history, Toynbee saw this pattern repeat.

Toynbee also saw a pattern that gave him pause about the future of our civilization. He wrote:

“We must ask whether, as we look back over the ground we have traversed, we can discern any master tendency at work, and we do in fact unmistakably decry a tendency towards standardization and uniformity: a tendency which is correlative and opposite of the tendency towards differentiation and diversity which we have found to be the mark of the growth stage of civilizations.” (A study of History page 555)

As I read the words of great men of character and think about my own observations, I am convinced this is a time of opportunity and peril. We must fight against the arrogance of elitism which looks down on common people as mere pawns and considers their own good fortune a matter of birth right or superiority. We must fight against the whole concept of Teach for America (TFA) and its untrained student teachers from elite schools which reeks of this kind of stinking thinking. The fraudulent charter school movement is the shoal of sharks rising from the depths to devour the children’s bread. Standardized education; standardized testing and common core standards seem to exactly match Toynbee’s description of the trends in decaying societies.

A witch’s brew of arrogance, greed and elitism is poisoning public education in America. Eli Broad (a billionaire home builder) did not think experience in education was valuable for administrators who run educational institutions, so he created his own non-certified institution that trains non-educators to lead the schools of common people. Bill Gates does not think class size matters. He sees no problem with classes of 50 students, but he sends his children to a private school in Seattle that has class sizes of 12 to 15. Michael Bloomberg does not think teacher education and experience is important. So he worked to privatize New York City’s schools so he does not need to waste money on experience and training. These attitudes would be indefensible if they were not promoted by extremely wealth elites.

We do not need to accept a society dominate by self-appointed elites who inherited their wealth and position or were able to unscrupulously bend financial law to their advantage. As educators we must educate the public and arm them against charlatans like: Jeb Bush; Arne Duncan; Democrats for Education Reform; Joel Klein; Michelle Rhee; Bill Gates; Andrew Cuomo; Daniel Malloy; Eli Broad; Bill Gates; the Walton family; etc.. We must give them the knowledge and wisdom to see the foolishness of these people. We need to make the nature and identity of the enemies of common people clear to all so no one is deceived by them. It is time to end the caste system in America and achieve the promise of meritocracy and opportunity for all.