Tag Archives: Corporate Education Reform

About ‘The Prize’

21 Dec

Dale Russakoff’s book details the epic fail of Mark Zuckerberg’s $100,000,000 gift which was matched by another $100,000,000 from several other philanthropic organizations and individuals. Intended to fix the poorly performing schools of Newark, New Jersey it failed by every conceivable benchmark. It’s a story of feckless politicians, arrogant reformers and amazing teachers. It tells of the unmitigated degradation of the urban center of a once great American city and the difficulties facing Newark’s educators charged with the impossible task of righting that urban decline in their classrooms.

Russakoff wrote this in her conclusion:

“For four years, the reformers never really tried to have a conversation with the people of Newark. Their target audience was always somewhere else, beyond the people whose children and grandchildren desperately needed to learn and compete for a future. Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg set out to create a national “proof point” in Newark. There was less focus on Newark as its own complex ecosystem that reformers needed to understand before trying to save it. Two hundred million dollars and almost five years later, there was at least as much rancor as reform.” (page 209)

Clearly standardized test scores are a poor measure of school quality. Stuart S. Yeh presented this paper on value added measures (VAM) of teacher and school quality based on testing and concluded “VAM is not reliable.” There are several more peer reviewed papers like this and a warning from the American Statistical Association against the use of VAM to evaluate schools and teachers. Nevertheless, the basic meterstick for top-down reform is the standardized test which inevitably leads to GIGO (garbage in; garbage out).

Not surprisingly reform based on standardized testing and reformer arrogance meant the $200 million brought regression not improvement. Dale reported, “…, throughout the district, proficiency had declined in both literacy and math in every tested grade on the state standardized test since 2011, the year before Anderson arrived.” Anderson is Cami Anderson the former Joel Klein deputy from New York City brought in to lead Newark’s reform. This evaluation is of course somewhat unfair because it is based on the misguided but favored tool of “corporate education reformers”.

Corporate Education Reform

Stan Karp writing in the Washington Post defines “corporate education reform” and  lists a set of policy agendas associated:

“Corporate education reform” refers to a specific set of policy proposals currently driving education policy at the state and federal level.  These proposals include:

*increased test-based evaluation of students, teachers, and schools of education

*elimination or weakening of tenure and seniority rights

*an end to pay for experience or advanced degrees

*closing schools deemed low performing and their replacement by publicly funded, but privately run charters

*replacing governance by local school boards with various forms of mayoral and state takeover or private management

*vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition

*increases in class size, sometimes tied to the firing of 5-10% of the teaching staff

*implementation of Common Core standards and something called “college and career readiness” as a standard for high school graduation:”

The reform that Zuckerberg, Booker and Christie were bringing to Newark included this entire list except for vouchers and tax credit subsidies for private school tuition which were on the horizon. In addition, they instituted another piece of long favored but widely discredit reform – merit pay. On this point Russakoff states:

 “… teachers consistently tell researchers that, given the choice, they would opt for a good principal and supportive working conditions over merit pay. Indeed, research had found no correlation between merit pay and student achievement, although reformers and venture philanthropists were fighting hard to make it a staple of new teacher contracts.” (page 193)

 Feckless Politicians

Newark was one of America’s premier cities prior to World War II, however, a culture of political corruption featuring patronage jobs became dominate in the city. The biggest slice of patronage became the Newark Public School system. Control of the schools became known as “the prize.” By the start of the 1960’s this corrupt political system was firmly and culturally established. Russakoff depicted the history:

“Although black residents were approaching a majority in the city, they were politically powerless to force local officials to address evidence of police brutality, substandard housing, or collapsing public education. An Italian American political machine, which became dominant in the early 1960s, displacing Irish bosses, tightly controlled city hall and the schools, along with patronage jobs, contracts, and – it was well known – lucrative kickbacks from organized crime. Former U.S. representative Hugh Addonizio, the mayor at the time, famously explained his motivation for leaving the prestige of Congress to run such an impoverished city: “There’s no money in Washington, but you can make a million bucks as mayor of Newark.” (page 17)

Finally, on July 12, 1967, Newark exploded into six days of rioting. In the following election Kenneth Gibson became the first black mayor of a northeastern city. He defeated Addonizio who was on trial for extortion and later convicted. Gibson and his successor Sharpe James became convicted felons as well. Cory Booker was the first Newark mayor in forty-four years not be indicted.

April 13, 1995, the Newark Public schools were taken over by the state of New Jersey. Curiously, according to the New York Times article, judge Stephen G. Weiss “said today that his main reason for ordering a takeover was that too many Newark schoolchildren failed statewide tests.”

A belief in democratic processes leads one to look askance at moves by states and cities to usurp the powers of local elected school boards. And baseless standardized tests should never be accepted as the excuse to close schools. However, in the face of extreme malfeasance, common sense dictates action to protect citizens. Russakoff tells of just such documented corruption leading to dangerous conditions for children:

“In 1994, state Department of Education investigators cited gross mismanagement, corruption, and instructional failure throughout the Newark district, even as school board members treated themselves to public cars, tropical junkets, and expensive meals. The investigators found rat infestation, asbestos, and high levels of lead paint in a rented building being used as an elementary school. The school board was negotiating to buy the building, worth about $120,000, for $2.7 million. It turned out to be owned, through a sham company, by two school principals prominent in Italian American politics. They were indicted on multiple charges and later acquitted.” (page 19)

Unfortunately over the next 20-years, the state had made no real progress in changing the school system from being employer of last resort to an educational system first and foremost. The central office was still bloated and contracts were still based on patronage.

In rode Cory Booker, a high school football star who went on to play tight-end for Stanford University. He was the scion of black professionals and grew-up in suburbia. Booker was a Rhodes scholar and attended Yale Law. He had a magnetic personality and his Yale classmates like Secretary of Education, John King and Connecticut Governor, Danial Malloy knew he was destined for big things.

Cory went to Newark to build his resume. He was a master of self-promotion and a gifted salesman. Best of all, he was just the kind of leader investors and philanthropists were hoping for. He was an articulate black man who was as at home in board rooms. Booker was someone with whom they could deal. Russakoff says that “Booker was a valuable asset for the almost universally white, rich, Republican voucher movement, which along with the charter movement introduced him to some of his major political donors.” (page 11)

The Prize begins with the story of the clandestine meeting between Booker and the former US attorney from the Newark area, Chris Christie. It was during their drive through Christie’s childhood neighborhood that Christie and Booker made a secret agreement to reform Newark’s schools.

They realized their plan would not be well received in Newark but their hubris was so great that they were completely convinced of their own righteousness; eschewing democratic principal for authoritarian control. Russakoff makes the decision vivid:

“Early in the summer of 2010, months after their nighttime ride, Booker presented Christie with a proposal, stamped ‘Confidential Draft,’ titled ‘Newark Public Schools – A Reform Plan.’ It called for imposing reform from the top down, warning that a more open political process could be taken captive by unions and machine politicians. ‘Real change has casualties and those who prospered under the pre-existing order will fight loudly and viciously,’ the proposal said. Seeking consensus would undercut real reform. One of the goals was to ‘make Newark the charter school capital of the nation.’ The plan called for an ‘infusion of philanthropic support’ to recruit teachers and principals through national school-reform organizations, build sophisticated data accountability systems, and weaken tenure and seniority protections. Philanthropy, unlike government funding, required no public review of priorities or spending. Christie approved the plan, and Booker began pitching it to major donors.” (page 20)

My grandfather ran sheep at a place called Warm-Springs, just up the canyon from the Hemingway compound near the Sun Valley Resort in Idaho. When I was a child, my grandfather and I ran into Earnest Hemingway in a local Ketchum, Idaho barber shop. It was here that Cory Booker’s growing national fame got him a ticket to the “invitation-only extravaganza of deal-making and schmoozing for media moguls and investors.” (page 22) It was here that Booker convinced Zuckerberg to make the $100 million-dollar donation. Russakoff describes the scene:

“Booker and Zuckerberg met at a buffet dinner one night on the deck of Herbert Allen’s Sun Valley townhouse, overlooking a golf course and stream. They shared a table with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and media executive Michael Eisner, among others. Afterward, Zuckerberg invited Booker on a walk and explained that he was looking for a city poised to upend the forces impeding urban education, where his money could make the difference and create a national model. Booker responded with a pitch that showcased what made him such a dazzling fundraiser.” (page 24)

Within a few years, the two central political figures who instigated the reform of Newark’s schools had moved on leaving behind a mess. Chris Christie was intent on running for president and Cory Booker decided on the US Senate. Their ambition far out overshadowed any commitment to Newark and its schools.

Some Lessons and Observations

Charter schools are not necessarily bad. The descriptions of efforts made at both charter schools and Cami Anderson’s Renew Schools (which were reconstituted district schools) are impressive. However, if the decision has been taken to blow up the district and start over a partially privatized system is an error. The cost of education per child increases significantly when financing two public systems. The outcome will be that the district will lose more money than their fixed costs will be reduced. At the same time, they will become the dumping ground for problem children and expensive students that the privatized system shuns. This is exactly what has led to the demise of Detroit’s schools and Newark appears to be on the same path.

Democratically constituted systems will never be successfully reformed by authoritarian means.

In Newark, the teachers were never the problem and neither was tenure or the union. It was always corrupt politicians and grinding poverty creating traumatized children. Yes, schools need to be improved, but they are not social agencies equipped to solve the profound social problems leading to poor academic performance. At close observation, it is obvious that the public-school teachers in Newark were heroes who should have been the touchstone for school improvement.

Closing public schools and privatizing education is a mistake. Fix our schools; don’t undermine them.

Consultants are like vultures. If they are being relied upon, then your financial bones are being picked. Let me end with one more quote from The Prize:

“The going rate for consultants in Newark and elsewhere on the East Coast was $1,000 a day, and their pay comprised more than $20 million of the $200 million in philanthropy spent or committed in Newark. ‘Everyone’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read,’ observed Vivian Cox Fraser, president of the Urban League of Essex County, where Newark is located.” (page 71)

Two thumbs up for The Prize.

A Teacher’s Tale – Illuminates

12 Dec

John Thompson is an historian and a legislative analyst who found his calling – educator. His A Teacher’s Tale is provocative, interesting and a story only someone who had lived with and loved the oppressed black children of Oklahoma City could tell. It is a peek into a side of public education that is ugly and it illuminates the causes of that ugliness. It changed my perspective.

I grew up in a small town in rural Idaho (Glenn’s Ferry, population 1200). Actually, I lived until age 13 on a ranch outside of King Hill, Idaho, an unincorporated village of 99 people. Glenn’s Ferry Unified School District had schools in Glenn’s Ferry, King Hill and Hammett (another unincorporated town). Even with the three communities and the regions farms and ranches combined the four-year Glenn’s Ferry High School had less than 200 students. The truth is that our teachers were not great educators but they were great people who had our respect.

The Viet Nam war and the US Navy brought me to San Diego in 1968. My experience here with schools was not really that different in that people complained about the public schools, but like my little rural schools they were competently run at least in terms of safety and general decorum. Violence and unreasonable defiance were never a big issue even at schools in struggling neighborhoods. A student could go to these public schools and succeed splendidly. Great success stories growing out of poorly thought of San Diego neighborhoods have been common place for decades.

I share my background to illustrate an issue with getting education reform right. We are all like the proverbial blind men who are describing an elephant. Some of us feel the ears, some of us feel the trunk, etcetera. Almost all of us have experience in public school however because public education is such a vast and varied enterprise our vision is limited. My experience said that public schools were safe institutions run by professionals and that they had state bureaucracies insuring competent ethical operations. A Teacher’s Tale counters this view powerfully.

Thompson entered the classroom in 1993. At the time, there was a determined movement to improve Oklahoma City schools. John’s experience working in politics and his ethic of community engagement pushed him into the center of local reform efforts. This book tells the story how his work and that of many others was significantly undermined and even reversed by forces outside of the city.

In 1999, John committed to “a bipartisan district-wide school reform effort known as MAPS for Kids.” He helped draft a student achievement plan for the school system and helped sell the plan during an election to raise taxes and to fund system-wide instructional reforms. (page 202)

He describes how NCLB undermined MAPS:

“MAPS for Kids called for a balanced approach that emphasized improved classroom instruction and a holistic community-wide effort to offer the same high-quality education to low income students that affluent parents expect for their own children. NCLB, however, promoted the theory that the answers to the legacies of generational poverty could simply be found in the classroom. For that reason, efforts to address out-of-school factors were placed on the back burner as the OKCPS complied with the federal law.

“In the early years of MAPS and NCLB, efforts to improve instruction were undermined somewhat as the district tried to negotiate between the data-informed policies promised by local reformers and the data-driven approach favored by proponents of the federal law. For several years, the district was torn between the mixed messages of MAPS, which supported the use of diagnostic assessments as interpreted by educators, and the site-based management for empowering of teachers and principals, and of NCLB high-stakes testing and top-down governance, which overrode the judgments of professionals.”

John relates some absolutely horrific stories of student violence and fear. He describes how in 2006, in the aftermath of the school choice movement, John Marshall and Centennial high schools spiraled out of control. John had experienced large classes including students with reputations for being disruptive but this was different. He says, “I had never had such ‘toxic concentrations of poverty,’ where so many children simply could not control their behavior.” (Page 30)

John relates several stories of absolutely special children who were struggling to grow up in neighborhoods infested with Crips and Bloods. He tells of helping a student overcome a lack of reading skills and become motivated to educate himself only to be murdered. It was a frightful and repeated experience for the educators at John Marshall and Centennial High.

In the book, John presents convincing evidence that taking disciplinary control policies away from local administrators and teachers directly contributed to violence, terrible attendance and safety issues. He describes packs of out of control gang affiliated students roaming hallways instead of attending classes, while site administrators were not allowed by state bureaucracies to take the kind of effective action needed to create positive and safe learning environments. The evidence presented supporting this observation is powerful.

In addition to the evidence from his Oklahoma experience, John sited evidence from Chicago:

“Marshall would soon learn the hard way why the Consortium on Chicago School Research, in Organizing Schools for Improvement, Identified the intertwined factors of discipline and attendance as prime reasons why troubled schools fail to improve. When the consortium looked deeply into stalled reforms, its “most powerful single finding” was the relationship between attendance problems and the failure to manage disciplinary issues. Moreover, the consortium “found virtually no chance of improving attendance in schools that lacked safety and order” and “where instruction alignment was weak or predominantly basic skills oriented.” In other words, discipline, attendance, and effort to provide more effective instruction were interrelated in Chicago schools as in our Marshall.” (Page 356)

My impression is that Thompson is liberal minded and likely a Democrat. However, I like his open-minded approach and willingness to work with conservatives. His work with the group that created the MAPS for Kids school reform agenda was clearly a bipartisan effort by liberals and conservatives coming to consensus for the benefit of students. John’s book demonstrates that most conservatives care for their schools and want to fix problems rather than destroy schools or privatize them. It shows that conservatives and liberals can develop unity and consensus about how to run their schools. However, big moneyed interests and outsiders tend to wreak havoc.

One of the many examples of this was the famous historian David McCullough criticizing NCLB mandates for “narrowing the scope of the curriculum and promulgating a growing suspicion of teachers.” John continued:

“Before NCLB-type testing, few educators would have disagreed with him. Pedagogies that previously would be considered essential for teaching students to flourish in the modern world would struggle to survive the contemporary school reform movement.” (Page 164)

Referring to data-driven accountability and the need for disruptive change to shake up the “status-quo”, John writes:

“The charge was to produce rapid ‘transformational change’ in outcomes at challenging schools like Marshall in Oklahoma City. This accountability-driven reform was imposed, unfortunately, by advocates of disruptive change who typically had little knowledge of high-poverty K-12 schools. Inner city schools need more disruption like we need another gang war.” (Page 83)

Seeing community schools as an essential building block of a healthy society, John criticizes the no-excuses mentality that refuses to look at community health when designing approaches to improve schools. He observes:

“Community schools, however, are the tough-minded solution. Teacher-driven reforms like Rhee’s policies have yet to demonstrate much success, and now that billions of dollars have been invested in computer systems to keep track of teacher quality, they are no longer inexpensive. If nothing else, NCLB has prompted a golden age of educational research that has shown why test-driven accountability has failed. The time has come for a new generation of holistic reforms building on social science and the power of our diverse communities.”

The last five or six election cycles and school reform have spotlighted a nation divided. This division is the great obstacle facing America. We must find a way to respect each other’s opinions and discuss them with an open mind. John demonstrates by his activities in Oklahoma City that conservatives and liberals can reach common cause and make good policy, but we must stop demonizing each other. Everyone loves their children and we all want good education for them. That is a good starting point for dialog.

In the conclusion section of this book John makes this salient point:

“Due process is no more political than any other legal issue, which means that politics is pervasive in it. Government by fiat is no less political than grassroots organizing. The effort to impose technocratic solutions in order to avoid the messy politics of instruction is just as political as any other autocratic regime.”

A Teacher’s Tale is a valuable book from which anyone interested in public education or education in general will learn something.

Hagiography – Stinking Thinking and Profits

18 Sep

It is stinking thinking to ignore professionals and allow amateurs to guide almost any endeavor and that includes schools. Milton Friedman was enamored with classical liberalism and the antiquated ideas of Friedrich Hayek the Austrian economist he met at the University of Chicago. Based on bankrupt economic theories he called for ending universal public education and replacing it with a privatized system not required to educate everyone.

Classical liberalism’s flaws led to another bad economic idea, Marxism. Although antithetical in nature Marxism and classical liberalism share a striking similarity; they are both promoted by economic theorists who see people as means. The logical outcome of these ideologies is authoritarianism. Basing school reform on the writings of economists like Milton Friedman or Eric Hanushek is like Boeing Corporation basing aircraft structural safety on the philosophy of Friedrich Engels. Neither Friedman nor Hanushek know anything about cognitive development or the principals of pedagogy. They are ivory tower professors with weird schemes who have no experience in k-12 education. Letting their amateur blather drown out sage counsel from experienced professionals indicates cognitive malady.

A fundamental tenant of education reform for most economists and businessmen is demanding efficient systems that hold educators accountable for training economic assets. It is the principle that educating children is ultimately for the benefit of the state or business or military needs.

Milton Friedman may be thought of as the father “school choice” however, he was rightfully ignored for more than two decades. His ideas on education were resuscitated by the Reagan administration’s polemic, “A Nation at Risk.” Promoting a utilitarian philosophy of education, it said:

“Knowledge, learning, information, and skilled intelligence are the new raw materials of international commerce and are today spreading throughout the world as vigorously as miracle drugs, synthetic fertilizers, and blue jeans did earlier. If only to keep and improve on the slim competitive edge we still retain in world markets, we must dedicate ourselves to the reform of our educational system for the benefit of all–old and young alike, affluent and poor, majority and minority. Learning is the indispensable investment required for success in the ‘information age’ we are entering.”

A more correct view of how people in the 21 century should be viewed is put forward by Daisaku Ikeda the founder of Soka Schools. When discussing his concept of “a century of life,” he said:

“A century of life, simply put, refers to an age, a society, a civilization based on respect for the dignity of life. Respect for the dignity of life means that people’s lives, their dignity and their personal happiness must never on any account be exploited or sacrificed as a means to some end. I am speaking of a society and civilization grounded on a firm commitment that all endeavors serve to support people’s lives, their dignity and their happiness, and that these must never be used as means to any other purpose or goal.” (Living Buddhism, September 2016, page 58)

 Another of hero of mine, Martin Luther King’s views on education are instructive:

“Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think incisively and to think for one’s self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and propaganda. At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.

 “The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.”

 One of the loudest and most persistent voices supporting what is now widely known as “corporate education reform” is a man who served as CEO for both RJR Nabisco and IBM, Louis Gerstner. In his 1994 book Reinventing Education, Gerstner wrote:

“Schools must meet the test any high-performance organization must meet: results. And results are not achieved by bureaucratic regulation. They are achieved by meeting customer requirements by rewards for success and penalties for failure. Market discipline is the key, the ultimate form of accountability.”

Mr. Gerstner has obviously been very successful at hawking cigarettes (to children?) and technology products. Plus, he attended school and even hired people who went to school. However, none of this provides him with even a shallow understanding of education and certainly not the kind of profound understanding that would qualify him to lead the reform of America’s public school system. MLK’s quote above fits Mr. Gerstner better than one of his hand tailored suits.

Hagiography

In 2014, Elizabeth Green wrote a strange book, Building A+ Better Teacher, about improving teaching and its history. Strange because it was like two different books the first half chronicled efforts to improve teaching and went in great depth about Michigan State University and Spartan Village. It presented the history of Magdalene Lampert, Deborah Ball, Lee Shulman and Judith Lanier. It was a story of dedicated professional educators studying teaching and developing better methods and better training. The second half of the book was full of praise for a group of youthful amateurs who rejected the work of professional educators and take credit for starting the no-excuses charter school movement.

Green goes into great detail about Doug Lemov and Stacy Boyd. She recounts how Doug while in graduate school at the University of Indiana became incensed when tutoring a football player who had ability but was reading at a third grade level. She called this his turning point that led him to become obsessed with teaching. She says he eventually called a like-minded friend, Stacy Boyd and the two decided to start a new school called Academy of the Pacific Rim (APR). Green described the founders of APR:

“APR’s founders also rejected almost everything associated with ed schools, including their ideas about teaching. Many of them, Doug included, hadn’t gone to ed school.”

“Doug and his friends were just as likely to have degrees in business as in education. Instead of epistemology, child psychology, and philosophy, their obsessions were data-based decision making, start-ups, and ‘disruptions.’ They were more likely to know the name of Eric Hanushek, the economist who invented the value-added teacher evaluation model, than Judy Lanier”

One year after APR’s founding, Green left for San Francisco and Lemov replaced her as principal. After two years, Doug Lemov took a job in New York. He became the Vice President for Accountability at the Charter Schools Institute, State University of New York, Albany. It was while observing teachers at New York charter schools that Green claims Lemov gained the insight to develop “an American language of teaching” and write the successful and pedagogically backward (think 19th century) book Teach Like a Champion. (Clarification: Green indicated the opposite of “pedagogically backward.”)

The blogger, ‘educationrealist’, makes a compelling argument that Green’s account of APR’s founding is hagiography. It appears that Elizabeth Green had a message to sell and facts were not that important. ‘Educationrealist’s’ documented post says:

“In the second APR origins story which, unlike Lemov and Boyd’s claim, is well-documented, Academy of the Pacific Rim was founded by Dr. Robert Guen, a Chinese dentist, and a host of community members, who went through tremendous effort to produce one of the earliest charter applications, began in 1994 but delayed to 1995 to make a stronger pitch. The community founders clearly anticipated a primarily Asian school, although they promised to seek a diverse class. The original 1995 application shows the founders had not yet hired a principal.”

This explains the strange name. Why would Boyd and Lamov call their Boston based charter school Academy of the Pacific Rim? The ‘educationrealist’ also made this observation:

“Maybe reformers call themselves “founders” if they are early employees. John B. King, NYC czar of public schools, writes in his dissertation that the founding group behind Roxbury Prep, of which he, a black and Puerto-Rican teacher, was a member, spoke “explicitly” of their goals in the charter application. But Michele Pierce, who graduated from Stanford’s Teacher Education Program was the person identified to work with founder Evan Rudall to run the school, modeled after their work at Summerbridge. …. So King wasn’t involved in the charter application and wasn’t technically a founder, either.”

 Profits, Prestige and Connections

John King eventually found his way back to New York City and where his three years teaching at a charter school qualified him as an education leader. He was recognized as a 2008 Aspen Institute-NewSchools Entrepreneurial Leaders for Public Education Fellow (meaning he was on the privatizer fast track). After failing miserably as New York State Commissioner of Education he joined Arne Duncan in the Obama administration and is now Secretary of Education of the United States. We must be living in upside down world.

Wendy Kopp’s TFA has been an integral component of the effort to privatize public education by providing teachers to the no-excuses charter school movement.

TFA is based on her 1989 Princeton University undergraduate thesis. Members of the founding team include value investor Whitney Tilson; former U.S. Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Douglas Shulman; and Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) President and CEO, Richard Barth. Richard Barth is also Wendy Kopp’s husband. Charity Navigator puts TFA’s net worth at $437,000,000.

Stacy Boyd’s went to San Francisco with her new husband, a fellow reformer as this puff piece in the pro-privatization publication Education Next reported in 2009:

“In January 1992, as Levin and Feinberg were writing up their applications for Teach For America, a tall, dark-haired former U.S. Education Department policy aide named Scott Hamilton was showing up for his first day at a new job. He had been hired by the Washington office of the Edison project, an effort to improve inner-city schools and make a profit. The only person Hamilton found there was a talkative red-haired 23-year-old researcher named Stacey Boyd, in whom he took an immediate interest.

“In the annals of the charter school movement, the meeting of Hamilton and Boyd would take on considerable significance, particularly in the history of KIPP. … By 1999, the couple was in San Francisco, …. Hamilton was working in San Francisco for two of the richest people in the country, Don and Doris Fisher, founders of the GAP clothing stores. They wanted him to find education projects where money from their new Fisher Foundation could make a difference.”

Stacey Boyd who had one-year experience teaching English in Japan went to the Edison Project and there met her soon to be husband who has no real education experience. The Edison Project was Chris Whittle’s dream of getting rich by developing a private school system that could outperform public schools. As Samuel Abrams book Education and the Commercial Mindset documents, the Edison Project was a fiasco that hurt both investors and students.

For unknown reasons, Stacy was subsequently hired by the Chinese dentist in Boston to be the first principal of his new school, APR. Stacey hires her friend who six year earlier had taught at a prep-school for one year, Doug Lemov. Stacy leaves and Lemov assumes the principal position for two years before he leaves. This is the extent of their experience in education. Yet they are lionized by writers like Elizabeth Green and financed lavishly by billionaire foundations.

Wendy Kopp who has no education training or experience starts “teach for a minute” and her husband becomes the CEO of the KIPP schools. Wendy and Richard who both have no teaching experience each receive grants of $50,000,000 from the Department of Education for their respective organizations. They also receive obscene amounts for money from Gates, Broad, the Walton Foundation, the Fisher Foundation and many more. Such large grants that the two $50 million grants from the Department of Education look like chump change.

The Education Next quotation above mentions Michael Feinberg and David Levine. These two each had two years’ experience teaching as TFA teachers in Huston when they started a charter school destined to be the second largest charter school chain in America, KIPP. Their five weeks of training and two years’ experience earned them almost immediate financing from Scott Hamilton and the Fisher Foundation for their new project.

As is consistent with all developments in the profit and privatize movement, all of the players seem to take credit for founding the Relay Graduate School of Education. Like the uncertified Broad Academy for Administrators, its purpose is de-professionalizing public education. Seton Hall’s Danial Katz described the school for Huffington Post:

“For those who are unfamiliar, Relay “Graduate School of Education” was singled out as an innovator by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last November, but it is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First, and it is housed in the Uncommon Schools affiliated North Star Academy. Relay’s “curriculum” mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the “no excuses” brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.”

 How absurd is a graduate school of education based on the writings of a guy who has almost no experience in education? These things do not pass the smell test. Ultimately it is about getting at the massive amount of money taxpayers provide for education. In a level playing field none of these people would be taken seriously and we would have never heard of them. But they suited the interests of some wealthy, arrogant and morally bankrupt individuals. Their rewards for privatizing schools are enormous and just think about the kind of rewards the puppet masters are expecting.

In 2014, Annie Em wrote an article for Daily Kos that she called, “Is public school for Sale the Cost of KIPP.” Check out these eye-poppingly corrupt and large remunerations:

“Michael Feinberg works 30 hours a week for KIPP Foundation at San Francisco for $196,117; 50 hours at KIPP, Inc. in Houston for $216,865 for a total of 80 hours and $412,982 annually.

“David Levin works 30 works hours a week at KIPP Foundation in San Francisco for $175,000; 50 hours at KIPP New York City for $243,189; 5 hours at Uncommon Knowledge and Achievement for $50,000 NYC; and an unspecified amount at Relay Graduate School of Education NYC for a total of 85 hours+ and $468,189+ annually.

“Wendy Kopp works for Teach for America (also Teach for All, Teach for China, and Broad Center for Management of School Systems) supplying uncertified corps members to serve as teachers at KIPP for which she is compensated $468,452 annually.  KIPP schools would not be sustainable without the overworked, underpaid faux teachers provided by TFA. Wendy’s a busy girl and extremely well-compensated for having zero education credentials.

“Richard Barth works 60 hours a week at KIPP Foundation in San Francisco (while living in New York) and is compensated $374,868 annually. He, too, has zero education credentials.”

 By the way, the largest charter school system in the United States is under the control of the mysterious Turkish Imam, Fethullah Gülen.

All of this is harmful. It is stinking thinking to allow children to be educated by people that do not know what they are doing or have agendas that are not necessarily aligned with the best interests of America. It is time to end the raid on education dollars by privatized schools and phony educations schemes designed to sell technology. Opt out of charter school. Opt out of testing. Opt out of computer delivered bad education.

School Choice Barbecued Cajun Style

5 Sep

Mercedes Schneider’s newest book continues her legacy of scholarship and philosophical prescience.  In School Choice; The End of Public Education? she documents and explains many facets of the issue. Three glaring problems with “school choice” as an education policy caught my eye: (1) Friedman’s choice ideology ends the concept of mandatory education for all, (2) “choice” has abandoned its original purpose and become a profiteering racket, and (3) “choice” is historically a method used to promote segregation.

School Choice Foundations

Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek who believed in classical liberalism especially the concept that it is in the common interest that all individuals must be able to secure their own economic self-interest, without government direction. In September 1944, the University of Chicago Press published Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom. It was squarely against government programs like social security and Roosevelt’s new deal.

In 1950, Hayek left the London School of Economics for the University of Chicago. It was there that Milton Friedman and a host of young scholars met their sole mate Hayek. They saw government social programs as seeds for tyranny and public education was no exception. Friedman became known as the father of school choice when he wrote, “The Role of Government in Education” advocating school vouchers for universal private education in 1955.

I knew all of this but Schneider unearthed an amazing quote from the paper I did not know. Friedman was not only opposed to schools run by democratically elected boards; he also believed mandates for compulsory education were an obstacle to freedom:

“Perhaps a somewhat greater degree of freedom to choose schools could be made available also in a governmentally administered system, but it is hard to see how it could be carried very far in view of the obligation to provide every child with a place.” (School Choice Page 32)

Schneider commented, “Here we have the idea that for the market to be at its best, it needs to be free from any obligation to educate all children.” And she continued in some depth clearly illuminating this anti-humanistic and fatally flawed theory that is the foundation of “school choice” theory.

A Legacy of Segregation

Mercedes Schneider is a product of segregated schools in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. She says the Orleans Parish schools she attended have a history that “does not inspire pride.” Not only were the schools segregated, but more tragically, the parish refused to construct new schools for the growing back student population. Not just separate schools for whites and blacks but not of equal quality by design.

After “Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka” required the end of the farcical separate but equal policies, southern politicians turned to school choice and vouchers as a way to avoid integration. Milton Friedman’s timely paper was well received in the segregated south.

To this point Schneider states:

“Thus, what is clear about tuition grants, scholarships, or grants-in-aid, and the history of American public education is that these were tools used to preserve segregation. There it is: The usage of choice for separating school children into those who are ‘desirable’ and those who are not. Though it seems that most Southern states were ready participants in resisting the federal requirement to integrate their public education systems, Senator Byrd’s sentiment of ‘massive resistance’ was even formally declared in a U.S. legislative document commonly known as the ‘Southern Manifesto.’” (School Choice Page 22)

Today, it is not much different with the possible exception of more emphasis on class separation than in the past. Recently a blogger known as “educationrealist” posted this discerning observation:

“I offer this up as opinion/assertion, without a lot of evidence to back me: most parents know intuitively that bad teachers aren’t a huge problem. What they care about, from top to bottom of the income scale, is environment. Suburban white parents don’t want poor black and Hispanic kids around. Poor black and Hispanic parents don’t want bad kids around. (Yes, this means suburban parents see poor kids as mostly bad kids.) Asian parents don’t want white kids around to corrupt their little tigers, much less black or Hispanic. (White parents don’t really want too many Asians around, either, but that’s the opposite of the “bad kids” problem.)

“Parents don’t care much about teacher quality. They care a lot about peer group quality.”

Around 2003, a friend tried to convince my wife and I to send our daughter to High Tech High. This mother did not want her daughter to be exposed to all those bad influences at Mira Mesa High School. Mira Mesa High School is a quality school that graduates amazingly gifted students every year and sets them on to a course of academic and social success. But the new charter school that Bill Gates and Irwin Jacobs had put so much money into surely would not have all those feared “bad kids.”

“Begs to be Gamed”

“By 2015, according to the Education Commission of the States website, 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico all had charter school laws. Of these, 33 states had charter authorizing bodies, yet only 15 states and Washington, D.C., had standards for charter authorizers and the requirement that charter authorizers annually produce formal reports regarding the charter schools they oversee. Furthermore, only 11 states and the District of Columbia specify performance criteria to determine whether a charter should be continued or revoked.” (School Choice Page 59)

Charter schools have become the vogue privatization vehicle of the 21st century. Schneider presents a detailed background of charter school formation starting with Ray Budde’s 1974 conference paper that proposed a new structure for school management that he called “charter schools” and AFT President Albert Shanker’s 1988 fascination with Budde’s idea. Shanker extended Budde’s ideas with his own “school with-in a school” concept in which teachers would be authorized to experiment.

Shanker quickly became disenchanted by the direction the charter school movement took. It became clear to him that the new charter school laws made corruption and profiteering inevitable. In various articles, he highlighted the cases demonstrating how dangerous and poorly regulated charter schools were. He wrote of the Noah Webster schools gaming the system in Michigan for $4 million and of Washington D.C. giving a charter to a man charged with assault with a deadly weapon whose head of school security was a convicted felon. Schneider shares this quote from Shanker:

“A pluralistic society cannot sustain a scheme in which the citizenry pays for a school but has no influence over how the school is run. … Public money is shared money, and it is to be used for the furtherance of shared values, in the interest of e pluribus unum. Charter schools and their like are definitely antithetical to this promise.” (School Choice Page 57)

I was fascinated by the quotes from Addison Wiggins Forbes magazine article about why hedge fund operators are so pro-charter school industry. One quote reads:

“About the only thing charters do well is limit the influence of teachers’ unions. And fatten their investors’ portfolios.

“In part, it’s the tax code that makes charter schools so lucrative: … firms that invest in charters and other projects located in ‘underserved’ areas can collect a generous tax credit – up to 39% – to offset their costs.” (School Choice Page 101)

One of the most lucrative aspects of the charter industry seems to be facilities. Open a charter school and start a real estate company that specializes in leasing school facilities. Then you can charge yourself twice the going rates and the taxpayer picks up the bill. Schneider asks, “Why does the federal government not see through the potential real estate exploitation…?” Probably corruptions and cowardice have a lot to do with it.

Charter schools have never honestly out performed elected board directed public schools. In some cases, charter schools have gotten relatively good testing results, but on closer inspection these good testing results are not the result of good pedagogy. There are three common practices that help charters look good on testing; (1) instead of a balanced curriculum they focus on preparation for testing, (2) through various techniques, they only accept easier to educate students and (3) they do not back fill when students leave the school.

Instead of recognizing the amazing public education system we have in the United States our Congressional leaders are promoting charter schools both monetarily and with praise. Mercedes Quotes the Sense of Congress from their version of the new federal education law that is little more than a charter industry add. Paragraph 2 stated:

 “It is the sense of the Congress that charter schools are a critical part of our education system in this Nation and the Congress believes we must support opening more quality charter schools to help students succeed in their future.” (School Choice Page 151)

 Schneider concludes the charter school portion of the book with;

“Adequate monitoring of charter schools is not happening, by and large, and those individual using taxpayer money to serve their own interests by operating charter schools only contribute to damaging American public education” (School Choice Page 155)

 I have endeavored to give a taste of this wonderful effort by Mercedes Schneider and encourage everyone to not only read it but share it with others. If we educators can educate the public about how our legacy passed down from previous generations is being robbed, the public will stop these villains immediately. Remember, they are greedy cowards who will quail before public sanction.

Ciedie Aech’s Wonderful Book

20 Aug

There are few public school systems in America that have been more harmed by what Diane Ravich aptly dubbed “corporate education reform” than those in Denver, Colorado. Ciedie Aech tells the story of a professional educator working in the horrific and unstable environment that developed with the extra-legal federal take-over of public schools. In reality, this is a heart wrenching story, but Aech’s sarcastic humor turns it into a delight. Any teacher in America’s public k-12 system who reads “Why is you always got to be trippin” will immediately recognize many scenes Ciedie delightfully paints while telling this dreadful story.

About the Title

 “One day when noise from unsupervised students caught my attention, I stepped into the hallway to find a group of boys throwing friendly punches outside a neighboring classroom.

 “‘Gentlemen!’ I stated reactively, clearing my throat. Happy to ignore extraneous interference, the boys continued their game. ‘Gentlemen!’ I said again, this time a little more loudly. Straightening, the boys stopped to look my way. ‘Okay, let’s go,’ I directed. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be in class?’ ‘Aw, Miss,’ two or three grumbled as the small group broke up and began to move away. Pulling at chronically sagging pants while smoothing intricately braided hair, a tall, thin young man hung back.

 “As a student who had attended one of my afternoon classes for more than six months, he knew me well. Watching his friends now amble unhurriedly down the hall, he turned to look at me in plaintive wonder. ‘Aw, Miss,’ he protested. ‘Why is you always got to be trippin’?’

 ‘“Why is I always got to be trippin’? …

 “If you don’t take pains to hold them together? If you don’t step in, over and over (and then over again) to pull them circuitously inward towards success – sometimes with no other help than the full power of your will? They struggle, they flounder; they deflate and fall apart. Desperately they count upon the people in their lives who make the effort to ‘trip.’”

 Background for the Story

If you are a fan of privatizing public schools and corporate education reform, Denver is your cup of tea. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute (one of those “think-tanks” that like the New York Times reports is more like a tax free lobbying firm than an honest evaluator of education policy) rated Denver Public Schools (DPS) the third best school choice system in the United States behind only New Orleans and Washington DC.

In the summer of 2005, Michael Bennet, who had spent the previous 2 years with his fellow Wesleyan alum, John Hickenlooper as chief of the mayor’s staff was appointed Superintendent of DPS. He previously earned a law degree at Yale and was editor of the Yale Law Journal. Prior to working for the mayor and future governor of Colorado, Bennet spent six years as the managing director of the Anschutz Investment Company. However, he had no training or experience as an educator or in education administration.

Two years before Bennet departed to become Colorado’s junior United States Senator, he hired another lawyer with no education background (other than tutoring English in Hong Kong) to be chief operating officer of DPS, Tom Boasberg. Before coming to Denver, Boasberg did a stint at the FCC, then went into the corporate world. When Bennet departed Boasberg who is now a member of Jeb Bush’s Chief for Change was elevated to Superintendent of DPS. Boasberg did obtain an administration credential from the unaccredited Broad Academy in 2009.

Then there is State Senator Michael Johnston another instant education expert from TFA. He is credited with writing the law that requires Colorado teachers to be evaluated by the discredited value added method based on standardized testing. He seems to be yet another elitist from Yale out to destroy public schools (Bennet, Booker, Malloy, King, etc.). The following from Mercedes Schneider paints a clear picture of the modern education privatizing tool:

“In his NCTQ bio, Johnston presents himself as, ‘the founder and former principal of MESA (Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts), a 7-12 Gates funded small high school in north Denver.’  It is increasingly common practice for former TFAers to become instant leaders and entrepreneurs, opening and leading schools without a solid educational foundation but with funding (in the case of Johnston’s school, Gates money). Johnston is a TFAer from Yale, and TFA really likes Yale. His Yale bachelors degree is in a generic major (philosophy); so, like many former TFAers ‘on the climb,’ Johnston made a quick stop to the Broad-financed Harvard Graduate School of Education for one of those educational policy masters degrees TFAers are increasingly fond of brandishing.  And make no mistake: Harvard educational policy is all about data driven assessment of supposed “teacher effectiveness.”  The Harvard Center for Educational Policy Research is funded by a cadre of now-all-too-familiar reformer foundations, including Broad, Gates, Joyce, and Rodel.”

 Just a few miles up highway 36 from Denver is Broomfield, Colorado home of the Walton family established and supervised, Charter School Growth Fund.  Carrie Walton Penner, sits on the board of the foundation and Carrie’s husband, Greg Penner, is a director of this non-profit venture capital fund that invests in charter schools. Annie Walton Proietti, niece of Carrie, works for a KIPP school in Denver. KIPP is a system to which the Walton family has donated millions of dollars.

How Ciedie Viewed the Beginning of the Harm

 “Proffered up by an unmistakably concerned and oft-professed-liberal activist, this emphatic assertion was accorded an immediate defense through an even yet more logical rationale: ‘I wouldn’t send my children there.’

“Progressive declarations like this one, coming as they did from privileged-class and generally non-minority but avowed open-minded citizens, oh, they just made so much sense – to other privileged-class and generally non-minority but compassionately troubled advocates. Holding test scores high, progressive thinkers waved what they argued to be incontrovertible truth. What had to be done? What was undoubtedly required? Was the immediate “non-negotiable” reformation of our nation’s lowest-income, lowest-scoring schools.”

 Ciedie points out:

 “When, in the name of a ‘benevolent’ intervention, you assertively malign, label, invade and destabilize those schools where, due to the wide array of issues attached to poverty and cultural disconnect, only around 40 percent of students graduate and move on to find success at a college – ultimately what you are doing in the name of your unprecedented ‘compassion?’ Is making sure that even this small but steady percent of minority students cannot progress and successfully integrate into society.”

 Soon after the reform invasion, she noticed:

 “With great determination, good educators closed their eyes. Industriously, good teachers taught themselves in an imitation of financially motivated “fixer” administrators; with great tenacity, good teachers refused a direct look at the deregulated chaos now dancing with impunity around an ever realigning array of testing and penalty practices. Hearing, and subsequently spouting, only a cautious reflection of the shallow district, state and federal dogma, good teachers offered up only a passively guarded support for the belligerent doctrine of accountability – a progressively more retaliatory doctrine which, year after year, continued to hold to the incontrovertible fact that: All of those unacceptable test scores?

“Were forevermore, always and only, the product of bad teachers.”

 About all the money for reform, Ciedie perceived:

 “So. When big money gets thrown around under the socially responsible guise of helping less powerful and politically disenfranchised citizens – benevolently offering that helpful leg up, so to speak; well, it’s a funny but historical trend that quite often this particular kind of money?

“Somehow, sort of, gets redirected.”

In one vignette Ciedie is chatting with a fellow educator. It really hit home with me, because I too teach in a “failing school” with 70% free and reduced lunch and 20% language learners. It was like my personal experience:

“One year, a few days into my Thanksgiving Break, I met up with a friend – a teaching peer who, for the past twenty years, had been employed inside a high-scoring, long-term-stably-administrated secondary school located in the suburbs of a neighboring district. When our conversation predictably turned to issues of education, it immediately became clear that, in the modern age of a low-income school accountability, what we, as public school educators, had each experienced? Diverged dramatically.

“It felt, in fact, a little like discussing educational practices as they existed here on Earth… and somewhere way out in the far reaches of the universe. On Jupiter, maybe. At one point, we paused to count up the non-teaching/nonstudent-contact days we had each had so far that fall.

“She counted two.

“I counted seventeen.”

 I loved the following observation because I have been living it for fifteen years:

“Well, now: here’s a little secret. I suppose this could be confidential. I apologize if I’m letting the cat out of the bag.

“But: More inner-city, low-income-school teachers actually, with a full intention, chose to walk into those complicated buildings; chose to work, day after day, inside those low-income, culturally-complex schools; chose to spend year upon year standing right there in front of those so many assertively labeled “difficult” children because they wanted to – than you might think.

“Oh, man. Crazy, huh?”

 Ciedie asked the obvious question:

“Why was it, the question kept rising up over the years. Well, why was it that those schools most quickly and aggressively labeled as “drop-out factories” – schools slated for closure or an endless chain of reforms, schools forced through the fatal destabilization of restructure and redesign, schools branded publicly as being underused failures, schools negatively marked with the highly publicized letter grade of an F – well, why was it that such a large percent of these schools (shoot, pretty much all of them) had traditionally served as a home to non-dominant-culture, non-privileged-class, minority students?”

 Bell the Cat

A wonderful allegory, that illustrates the folly of corporate education reform:

“Opening our scene, we move in upon a small group of administratively enterprising mice; a group of mice who have had it up to here with the never-ending litany of mouse citizen complaints about a Big Bad Cat: an omnipresent feline willing to wreak ongoing havoc upon poor, defenseless mice. Mouse-world constituents have made it more than clear: They will no longer tolerate such an unremitting harassment. Hence, the intentional meeting of mousey governmental minds.

‘“If only we knew when the cat was coming,’ sighs one contemplative legislator.

“‘A bell,’ offers another: ‘What if a bell was placed around the neck of the cat?’

‘“Yes, yes, a bell!’ A multitude of voices now loudly and animatedly agrees. Ah, the cheers; oh the excitement; and then, my, oh my, the adamantly mandated and heavily earmarked rodent legislation. A bell it shall be. An imperatively necessary warning bell to be placed preemptively around the neck of the cat. What a small, helpless rodent’s dream come true!

 “Oh – but then.

“Even with so many well-meaning and supportively exuberant legislators behind this exceptional plan; despite the brashly exacting orders which have been written into massively inflexible laws – well, gosh, as it turns out? Once these proudly enthusiastic little mice have calmed down; once each mouse has taken the time to get a direct look at reality – well, each legislator realizes that not one politician has thought of, nor painstakingly offered up, a true-life proposal for getting that excitingly legislated bell onto the neck of the cat.”

 Then Ciedie goes on to make many statements like this:

“However, in modern days; in magically modern days dedicated to the pursuit and procurement of suddenly available and minimally regulated bell-the-cat funding disbursals? Complicatedly diverse school boards comprised of multiple, non-political, equity-minded citizens – citizens who found it necessary to not only listen to, but act upon, the concerns voiced by frustrated educators, students, parents and old-school administrators:

“Well, school boards like these? Really got in the way.”

 Which leads to another observation:

“In truly compassionate days bent to the no-waiting miracles of a test-based accountability, it was not simply the mayor, now, but the mayor’s self-proclaimed Superhero Superintendent (two imperial monarchs willing to work side-by-side as an incontrovertible royalty) who both said so. Laboring hand-in-hand; uttering statements as a team – mutually these two powerful leaders could make it unambiguously clear: Both, they now claimed? Were unquestionably on board; both were ready to do whatever was necessary; both were willing, even, to spend an unparalleled amount of that governmental and/or philanthropic funding in their effort to prove just how bad the so many low-income schools placed under their royal jurisdiction: Really were.”

“In days of a statistical liability, it has become increasingly possible to find “public” school districts where the children of not only the superintendent but every member of the school board attend private schools.”

 Ciedie enlightens us to what good teacher are;

“Good teachers; well, good teachers, and oh surely this was obvious – even glaringly self-apparent in the fast pace of magical days devoted to a truer national compassion: Good teachers?

“Were young. Oh, very, very young.”

 About the TFA influx:

“Despite their designated unreliability; despite, even, their surely ungrateful lack of loyalty for stoically sticking around and “taking” the abuses created by an ever-shifting, funding-lucrative reform – huge numbers of these oft-labeled undependable Teach-For-A-Minute girls (and oh, yes, a lesser number of surely just as undependable Teach-For-A-Minute boys) were now being ever more massively produced.”

 A Very Sad Ending for Ciedie and Denver

“I was very assertively and unceremoniously sent home.

“Having no useful case against me save my age, my too often and too liberally expressed opinions, and, most annoyingly, my unhelpful ability to see directly through our district’s more than-a-decade-long loyalty to the implementation of community confusing smoke screens – taking advantage of a union-allowed option for a preemptive and, in days of a faster-and-faster-no-due-process-necessary modern-day evaluation, no concrete evidence required perp-walking/keys-confiscated/no-school-contact-allowed administrative leave – the district commandeered an abruptly unanticipated and overwhelmingly painful mid-year separation from my students, offering neither them nor any of my teaching peers an explanation as, strategically, they installed a brand-new never-taught-before replacement.”

A recent report by The Progressive Policy Institute (another of those tax-free lobbying firms masquerading as a “think-tank”) extols these reforms and brushes over the fact that their own data shows that the racial gaps in Denver’s schools have widened over the last decade.

In a rebuttal, Terrenda White of the University of Colorado, Boulder stated that the report utilized unreliable methods to establish cause and effect relationships. White also pointed out “widening gaps in achievement should have (but did not) temper the report’s call for aggressively expanding school choice as the best strategy for equalizing opportunity.”

Better Together Corporate Teacher’s Summit

2 Aug

My wonderful friend, Dr. Larry Lawrence, sent me a message last March alerting me to a free teacher’s conference that he was going to attend. He had attended the first Better Together conference in 2015 and was sure I would love to see the common core love fest in action.

On Friday, July 29, National University hosted the San Diego “Better Together California Teacher’s Summit.” I like National University and have nothing but praise for the wonderful job Dr. Judy Mantel and her excellent staff did. However, the conference underwriter was the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. That gave the proceedings a darker hue.

During the 2016 NPE conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, Diane Ravitch mentioned how much easier it would be if we got a deep pocket sponsor for our movement, but she jokingly lamented that Anthony Cody would not stand for it. When I arrived at the Town and Country Convention Center in San Diego’s hotel circle, I saw what she meant. They had breakfast prepared for all 700 of us. The ballroom was plushly appointed and there appeared to be hotel staff everywhere. Twenty event staff were already on duty when I arrived.

Unfortunately, I had not read the agenda closely enough and had already eaten. I was only hoping for free coffee.

The following graphic was periodically displayed while we were awaiting the proceedings.

Better TogetherVideo link connected us with a simultaneous event being held at California State University, Fullerton. Three massive screens projected keynote speaker, Ernie Hudson who was in Fullerton. Besides being a popular actor, Hudson is a wonderful speaker. His speech was moving and entertaining.

However, I wondered if an accomplished professional educator speaking would have been more appropriate. For example, I will never forget the address Professor Yong Zhao gave at NPE Chicago but then he didn’t blame teachers for his son’s problems and he doesn’t support standards based testing. Hard to imagine Gates’ money being spent on a speaker that does not support Gates’ ideology.

The Sponsors

The money came mainly from the Gates Foundation, however, the official sponsors were AICCU, the California State University and the New Teacher Center. The sponsors page of the Better Together California web presence lists many corporate supports including: TFA, The S.D. Bechtel Foundation, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, the California Charter Schools Association, Chevron….

The New Teachers Center seemed to be the key organization overall in charge. Their funders page lists the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation as $10,000,000 plus patrons. Thirty listed entities are credited with donating between $1,000,000 and $9,999,999 including: Carnegie Corporation of New York; The Joyce Foundation; The David and Lucile Packard Foundation; SeaChange Capital Partners; The Goldman Sachs Foundation; Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust; National Education Association; and NewSchools Venture Fund.

In addition to New Teacher’s Foundation, Edcamp was another major force present at the summit. Started by the George Lucas Foundation Edcamp has a small presence in communities across the country. There are two Edcamp groups in San Diego County according to the Edcamp representative from Baltimore.

On his Edutopia internet page Lucas is quoted, “When I was in high school, I felt like I was in a vacuum, biding time. I was curious, but bored. It was not an atmosphere conducive to learning. Once I had the means to effect change in this arena, it became my passion to do so.” Sounds like another rich guy education “expert” with no training or experience, but he has a boat load of money so his opinion is important.

On the good side, Edutopia and George Lucas do not appear to have a pecuniary interests in privatizing public education.

I realize many people may wonder why I am not pleased that all of these rich people love kids so much. There is an insidious side. For example, instead of questioning the idea of adding engineering standards to basic science education, the conversation is shaped so all we discuss is how to best implement engineering principles into science education.

Before students reach approximately their junior year in college, they are not ready to study engineering. I am for shop class, cooking and pottery projects, but these are not engineering. There is no useful purpose in confusing teachers and students by larding a bunch of inappropriate engineering standers onto seventh graders. Unfortunately, there appears to be no room for dialog that does not support the philosophy of the wealthy CEO that demanded engineering standards.

We know that the Common Core was written hastily – in secret – by a group of 21 people, 19 of whom worked in the testing industry. As Peter Greene writes, “The Core were rushed together by a bunch of educational amateurs, who were sure we couldn’t wait another second to implement them because they would improve education immediately. They didn’t, and there’s no reason to believe that there will ever be actual improvement to come from the standards– only the illusion of improvement if teachers continue to come up with newer, better techniques and give the Core credit for them.” I think that is exactly the purpose of this corporate supported conference. It is for teachers to create the illusion.

I am annoyed every time I hear the phrase “common core math”. There is no such thing and mostly what people are calling “common core math” are the cooperative learning and constructivist ideas that John Dewey proposed in the early twentieth century.

Two Presentations of Note

Shortly after I arrived, the head of the science department in my district introduced me to a fairly new teacher from the middle school that feeds my high school. The conference used the Ted talk format calling them Edtalks. I was quite surprised that the first Edtalk was by this teacher, Alicia Johal.

Alicia is obviously bright and poised. Her talk featuring the underwater robotics team she is coaching was well presented and her PowerPoint slides made things look as amazing as possible.

Unfortunately, while Alicia was speaking Ciedie Aech’s book Why Is You Always Got To Be Trippin’ possessed my mind. Ciedie is from Denver, Colorado home some of our nation’s most pernicious and destructive education reform. In her book, she reported on a conversation she overheard about the kind of teachers we need. Ciedie tends to sarcasm.

 “’Wouldn’t you,’ he stated, leering suggestively at the five other males seated around his educational table. ‘Well, wouldn’t you rather have had young teachers; teachers who were young, perky and vivacious?’

“My.

“Not just young, but perky.

“And vivacious.

“Golly.”

The main afternoon presentation was by Kelly Galiagher from Magnolia High School in the Anaheim School District. He spoke about the importance of writing. He is a gifted speaker and even though the subject area is not new – he gave it life. However, one of his five points supporting the importance of writing was discordant.  His point four was that writing prepared students for common core testing. This obviously well considered individual cannot believe that test preparation is a worthy justification for his main point.

If this had not been a Gates funded event would Kelly have actually mentioned common core and testing as reasons for writing? I don’t think so.

Charter Schools

Charter school teachers were among the conference goers. They seemed like any other teachers; some impressive and some not. All of the charter school teachers I met were from schools that were locally formed and led. There were no teachers from KIPP, Magnolia (Gulen) or Aspire. I also did not meet a charter school teacher from a school run by a charter management organization.

The story I heard repeated was “I used to teach in public schools but when NCLB came along I was no longer able to do the right thing in the classroom. I have taken a pay cut but I love my school because I can teach the way I know it should be done.” From my personal experience, I found that to be a powerful argument.

I hope that a way is found to bring some of these schools under an umbrella of democratic control. The charter industry has developed into a demonic tool used to purloin public education dollars and destroy the public education system. As this trend continues to worsen, quality charter schools like Einstein Academy will be crushed right along with public schools. It is becoming clear that the market competition that would make schools improve is not a competition to better educate; it’s a competition to better market. Mom and pop charter schools will never survive that battle.

Personalized Learning

On every table in the conference ballroom was an invitation to a CUE Tech Fair. CUE’s web presence says, “CUE inspires innovative learners by fostering community, personalizing learning, infusing technology, developing leadership, and advocating educational opportunities for all.”

CUE, originally a sincere organization, has been corrupted. The personalized learnSDCCU Tech Fair Partnersing they call for is competency based education (CBE) delivered by computers and scored by a corporations. Instead of credits, students will earn badges from testing giants like Pearson Corporation. This graphic is from their web page.

Emily Talmage’s warnings about the CBE threat to the teaching profession, America’s culture and good education is well founded. From her latest post on this subject:

“Knowledgeworks recently described the new learning system as an ‘ecosystem,’ in which the role of the traditional teacher will soon be obsolete.

“With major investments from Wall Street, leaders in the online learning, ed-tech, and student loan industries, and even celebrity billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reed Hastings of Netflix, the transformation has recently been picking up speed. Meanwhile, political groups on both the left and right are moving the system forward by lobbying for ‘personalized,’ competency-based policies and “innovative” assessment systems.

 “(The American Legislative Exchange Council and the major teacher’s unions and their associated networks are encouraging states join the innovative assessment pilot program designed by the International Association of K-12 Online Learning and the Gates-funded Knowledgeworks Foundation and now allowed by the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.)”

 This is a real and present danger to the teaching profession, quality public education and democracy in America. As enjoyable as lunch paid for by Bill Gates and conversations with fellow educators was, I feel the hidden purpose behind the Better Together California Teacher’s Summit was the end of the teaching profession and public education as we know it. That is not a good thing!

Memo on Education to My Congressman, Scott Peters

24 Jul

In 2000, you became my city councilman. Then in 2012, you became my Congressman in the 52nd District. I have always respected your work and integrity. However, when it comes to education, I see the Democratic Party as part of the problem and not the solution. Your latest response to me further reinforced my belief that politicians are being so propagandized by big money interests that they do not know what is real concerning education policy.

America’s Public Education System Trails No-One

Your last message to me contained several statements that I consider misguided. This paragraph is verbatim to one I received from you in July, 2015 and it is not defensible. Your office wrote:

“In an increasingly global economy, it is critical that we make educational investments that put our students in a position to compete with the rest of the world. For years, the United States has trailed China, India, and others not just in investment in education, but in student achievement. When making changes to education policy, Congress should be sure that it is closing that gap.”

It is well known that the United States spends far more on education than China and India combined, but more importantly the United States has never trailed China or India in education. On international testing some cities and countries around the world have achieved spectacular scores. However, these scores are averages and because our education system is much more universal we test all our students; they don’t. Plus, we have a huge number of students living in poverty.

But, on an even playing field, the team from the United States just won the world’s oldest international math and science competition for the second year in a row. In The International Mathematical Olympiad team USA came in first ahead of Korea, China, Taiwan, Russia, Singapore and the rest of the field from 109 countries.

Last year in response to my comments about HR 5 the pre-cursor to the new federal education law, ESSA, you made the same claim as above. At that time, I informed you of America’s continued unparalleled achievement in Nobel Prize winners:

 “Student achievement measures depend upon what you want. If the goal is creative students who can innovate and lead happy lives, then our system is clearly out producing India and China. One measuring stick might be Nobel Prize winners since 1949: America had 313 laureates; India 7; and China 8. Of the 8 Chinese, the Dalai Lama and Liu Xiaobo who won peace prizes both are considered criminals – Xiaobo is still in a Chinese prison; four are scientists who earned their degrees in the United States or Great Britain; and only the two literature recipients were educated in China. To recap, since 1949 two international and widely recognized citations for Chinese educated students compared to 313 such citations from our world’s best American education system.”

To wrap up the point I am making here, it is a slander of the world’s greatest education system to say that it is lagging any other country. It is just not true. When establishing policy in any field one must deal with reality not illusion.

STEAM and STEM are Frauds

Your message continued:

“That’s one of the reasons I support making key investments in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Design, and Math (STEAM) education programs. STEAM programs prepare our students to be innovators, put them in position to add to San Diego’s rich legacy of scientific discovery and entrepreneurship, and close the achievement gap between ourselves and are largest global competitors.”

STEAM is derived from the fraudulent idea that the US is falling behind in STEM education. When I was working in Silicon Valley in the 1990’s, newspaper reports were full of baloney about the STEM shortage in America undermining our economic viability in the world. Congresswoman, Zoe Lofgren was championing the need for H1-B visas so American corporations could compete. The result is that there are less opportunities for America’s STEM educated students and here in your district all of the large apartment complexes are filled with Indian people working at QUALCOMM.

There was no shortage, but the STEM field wages were driven down. Here is a quote from a 2013 article in the Columbia Journalism Review and this is not an outlier; there are a host of articles with this same message.

“According to Miller, Neill told them this is not the argument “she normally encounters on this issue.” The conventional wisdom is that tech companies and universities can’t find enough homegrown scientists to hire, so they need to import them from China and India. Neill suggested to Miller and Shah that “we would have more impact if we represented a large, organized group.

“Miller and Shah are, in fact, part of a large group. Figures from the National Institutes of Health, the National Academies, the National Science Foundation, and other sources indicate that hundreds of thousands of STEM workers in the US are unemployed or underemployed. But they are not organized, and their story is being largely ignored in the debate over immigration reform.”

The point is that we do not need ill formed education policies paired with bad immigration policy based on false premises. Instead of STEM or the more politically acceptable STEAM education policies driven from capital cities, we need K-12 schools to provide solid liberal arts programs that will be the foundation for future student growth. Diane Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education from Bush 41’s administration, put it well in today’s (7/24/2016) New York Times:

“If we really cared about improving the education of all students, we would give teachers the autonomy to tailor instruction to meet the needs of the children in front of them and to write their own tests. We would insist that students in every school had an equal opportunity to learn in well-maintained schools, in classes of reasonable size taught by expert teachers. Anyone who wants to know how students in one state compare with students in other states can get that information from the N.A.E.P., the existing federal test.”

 ESSA May Be Worse Than NCLB

One more paragraph from your message to me says:

“Earlier in 2015, the House passed a version of the education bill – a much-needed update to No Child Left Behind – that did not achieve these goals so I did not support it. Since then, I have advocated to make it better. Through negotiations between the House and Senate, Congress came to an agreement on an update, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was a significant improvement. I was joined by over 350 Representatives in supporting the updated bill and the President signed it into law in early December.”

While there is little doubt that ESSA is better than the original house version it is still bad law. Daisaku Ikeda in a book called Unforgettable Friends, writes, “Having been driven from the lectern by the government in the past, Dr. Delich [Francisco J. Delich, Former Rector of the National University of Córdoba, Argentina] is very deeply and personally aware of the evil of allowing government to control education. He wants to build a society in which political leaders respect educators. Education, he believes, is the very foundation of the nation.” ESSA ergates power over schools away from parents and teachers and to the federal government.

This allows the uninformed and the corrupt too much opportunity to harm students nationwide. For example, large sums of money are earmarked for promoting the development of charter schools. Charter schools have not improved education in the least, but they have opened the door for fraud and profiteering at the expense of students.

Democracy is an important principle and no money should be spent on schools by the federal government if that money is not controlled by an elected body. Parents and teachers should control education using democratic processes to govern schools in their local community; not federal or state bureaucrats wielding authoritarian power.

ESSA also mandates standardized testing of all students in grades 3 – 8 and 11. This is a massive waste of money and harmful. For the first time ever student testing results on the nations report card, NAEP, stayed flat of fell during the last 10 years. Massive testing with punitive consequences has harmed not improved schools.

ESSA also provides money for competency based education (CBE) also known as personalize learning. The basic idea behind CBE is to have children sit at computers earning badges for demonstrating a learning competency. It is the worst kind of fill up the student with knowledge pedagogy imaginable but it does have huge profit potential. Emily Talmage a teacher and education writer from Maine has been sounding the alarm about this terrible idea. She writes:

“Although we were assured that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was intended to restore control to states and local districts, the truth is that much of the document was carefully crafted to enable a proliferation of “personalized learning.”

“KnowledgeWorks highlights the many ways that ESSA “opens the door” for personalized learning, including its Innovative Assessment Zones, resources for ‘21st Century Community Learning Centers,’ and grant money for technology available in virtually every section of the document.”

ESSA has made students and communities more vulnerable to being fleeced by corporate carpetbaggers and it increases the role of the federal government in local education policy.

America’s public school system is the foundation that made our great democratic experiment a resounding success. Allowing our schools to be stolen by profiteers actually creates a “Nation at Risk.” The federalized destruction of the public education system has become real. Please be alert to self-serving corporate actors and fight for the survival of the public education system in America.