Tag Archives: DPE

Denver’s Schools are a Dystopian Nightmare

4 Feb

A group of Democratic politicians aligned with local monied interests decided to “save” Denver’s public schools. The man chosen to turn-around the “failing” school system was Michael Bennet, now the junior senator from Colorado. His history of success working for Philip Anschutz and his complete lack of experience in education somehow made him the choice.

For the two years prior to becoming Superintendent, Bennet served as chief of staff for Denver’s new Democratic mayor, John Hickenlooper. John is now the governor of Colorado replacing Denver’s former district attorney, Bill Ritter also a Democrat. Bill chose not to run for a second term.

This group of liberal Democrats initiated the Destroy Public Education (DPE) movement in Denver.

Bennet originally came west with Susan Daggett, also a Yale law graduate who he soon married. She had accepted a job with the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund in Montana. Michael grew up in Washington DC, his childhood witnessed a who’s who of Democratic Party luminaries because his father served as an aide to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, among others. Bennett was born in India where his father was aide to Chester Bowles, then the US ambassador to India.

The Rocky Mountain News reported on Bennet, “He worked six years for billionaire businessman Philip Anschutz, helping engineer lucrative oil and movie-theater deals, making himself wealthy in the process.”

In her wonderful book Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin? Ciedie Aech explains how these liberals sold DPE style reform.

“… ‘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 was undoubtedly required? Was the immediate “non-negotiable” reformation of our nation’s lowest-income, lowest-scoring schools.”

Bad Ideology Based on Bad Assumptions

David Osborne writing in the reliably pro-DPE publication Education Next stated,

“In 2005, DPS was floundering. Out of 98,000 seats, 31,000 were empty, and many school buildings were half full. Almost 16,000 Denver students had left DPS for private or suburban schools. A financial crisis loomed, in the form of pension contributions the district could not afford.”

The DPS superintendents position was open, graduation data looked bad and so did testing data. The Denver Public Schools (DPS) board wanted radical change. They blithely ignored two highly qualified female candidates – Dr. Patricia Harvey, Superintendent of Saint Paul Public Schools and Christine Johnson, President of the Community College of Denver – choosing Michael Bennett to be the next Superintendent.

In 1997, I took some business trips to the big Connor Corporation disk drive factory in Longmont about 35 miles north of Denver. IBM and other tech companies had built several large factories out on the grassy planes where the buffalo used to roam. These facilities were so big they had Burger Kings, Pizza Huts and other fast food outlets in the factory lunch rooms.

Several sizeable single-family housing projects were visible during the drive between Denver and Longmont. Housing and industrial policy made suburban living appealing, which meant DPS was losing students.

Concurrently with my visits, the state of Colorado started using standardized testing with its public schools.

Osborne’s Education Next article continued:

“DPS was so dysfunctional, Bennet concluded, that he could not fix it without significant outside pressure. So he asked several foundation leaders to create an organization of civic leaders, chaired by two former mayors, to push for change and support the board when it promoted reform. They called the initiative A+ Denver, and it has championed the portfolio strategy, along with the Piton, Donnell-Kay, and Gates Family foundations.”

A key DPE playbook move is to leverage out of town money with local money and political muscle to purloin control of public schools. DPS schools were not dysfunctional nor were they failing. In several Denver neighborhoods, the schools were the only functional government entity.

Ms. Aech identified the perceived problem in Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin?.

“With great fanfare, these vigorously charted and impressively color-coded scores were poignantly presented to the nation. Here, citizens, was ironclad proof. Proof that poor and minority schools – oh, undoubtedly, my, just look at those test scores; these schools were surely, wall to wall? – Filled with bad teachers.”

To retrain all those bad teachers in Denver, Bennet turned to the high priestess of the bad teacher movement, Michelle Rhee and her The New Teacher’s Project (TNTP). He also started importing Wendy Kopp’s Teach For America (TFA) candidates.

More wisdom from Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin?.

“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.”

The portfolio management theory of education councils paring away the losers the way a stock portfolio is managed. Close failing schools and replace them with a more efficiently managed charter school like a KIPP school.

The year that Bennet became superintendent, the heirs of the Walmart fortune opened the Charter School Growth Fund just 20 miles up highway-25 from downtown Denver.  Carrie Walton Penner, sits on the board of the fund and Carrie’s husband, Greg Penner, is a director. Annie Walton Proietti, niece of Carrie, works for a KIPP school in Denver. There are other Walton family members living in and frequenting the Denver area.

Joining the Walmart school privatizers is Bennet’s business mentor Philip Anschutz. He has a billion-dollar foundation located in Denver and owns Walden Publishing. “Walden Publishing company was “behind the anti-teachers’ union movies ‘Won’t Back Down’ and ‘Waiting for ‘Superman.’”

These wealth powered people along with several peers promote school privatization and portfolio district management ideology.

There is a widely held fundamental misconception that standardized testing proves something about the quality of a school. There is a belief among people who have never studied the issue that testing can be used to objectively evaluate teacher quality. It cannot! A roulette wheel would be an equally accurate instrument for measuring school and teacher quality.

Another Non-Educator with No Training

In 2007, Bennet asked Tom Boasberg, a childhood friend, to join DPS as his chief operating officer. Trained as a lawyer, Boasberg had worked closely as chief of staff to the chairman of Hong Kong’s first political party in the early 1990s, when the colony held its first elections in its 150 years of British rule. Before DPS, Boasberg worked for eight years at Level 3 Communications, where he was Group Vice President for Corporate Development.

In the spring of 2008, Bennet and Boasberg were ready to tackle the pension crisis seen as sucking money out of classrooms. One month after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Boasberg and Bennet convinced the DPS board to buy a $750,000,000 complicated instrument with variable interest rates. During the melt-down of 2008 Denver’s interest rates zoomed up making this a very bad deal for DPS. (Banking was supposed to be Bennet and Boasberg’s strength.)

A brief produced at the Harvard Graduate School of Education provides some history (and cheers the privatization of Denver’s schools).

“In 2008, DPS launched its School Performance Framework (SPF), used to rate schools’ performance based on a series of indicators, the most important of which was the year to year academic growth of students on state assessments.”

“In 2009 Bennet was elected a U.S. Senator and the board appointed Boasberg as superintendent.”

Somehow, Boasberg graduated from the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy in 2009 while serving as Chief Operating Officer of DPS. He has since become a member of Jeb Bush’s national DPE oriented group, Chiefs for Change as has the new Colorado State Commissioner of Education, Katy Anthes.

When Michael Bennet was running for his Senate seat, Colorado Pol studied his effect as Superintendent by analyzing Colorado’s CSAP data. They noticed that “the composite, 2000/2001 – 2003/2004 was the best run for DPS.” That run spans the years just before Bennet became Superintendent.

CSAP Data

Colorado Pol’s Graph of the CSAP data.

The Portfolio Model of School District Management is Ridiculous

I recently went to Idaho for my high school reunion. There were six of us there from my first-grade class of eleven. Nearly all the living members from the 47 of us who graduated together were there. A special bond develops between people who spend their formative years together.

During my fifteen years teaching at Mar Vista High School, I witnessed the same phenomena occurring with my students. Students would often tell me stories about each other from grade school and middle school. When those children graduated, they had formed the same difficult to describe deep human bonds I experienced.

Destroying human development opportunities by closing schools to “fix” education does not just seem foolish; it seems inhumane.

The need for stability in education is overwhelmingly documented. Brooke Havlik writing for Nova Education’s Science and Learning published Psychologists Find School Stability a Factor in Achievement Gap. Brooke wrote in the lead paragraph, “Two new studies published this month suggest that changing schools may have a negative impact on cognitive development and student performance, especially for students experiencing chronic, high-levels of poverty.” (emphasis added)

Yet we read in the Tom Boasberg’s biography at Scholastic.com, “… each year it [DPS] closes a half-dozen schools and creates 10 to 15 new ones, all while raising the “on-time” graduation rate from 60 to 70 percent.” This is not a heartless educator; this is a banker.

A questioning observation from Ms. Aech in Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin?.

“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?”

Running Multiple School Systems Adds Cost

The basic breakdown of K-12 schools in Denver; 104 traditional public schools, 58 innovation schools and 59 charter schools.

The 58 innovation schools belong to DPS but have contracts with the district giving them more autonomy. There is a process in place where a principal can write a plan about how his school will do things differently and will meet some specific testing targets. If the plan is accepted, the principal is free to run the school according to the plan and does not need to follow district operating procedures.

If the district operating rules are not important, why do any schools need to follow them? It looks like the district is abrogating its responsibilities to lead schools and institute wise policies through this Innovation school scheme.

The 104 traditional public schools have been led for the last thirteen years by non-educators.

The 59 charter schools have their own administrations. Some of them are independently run. Most of them are in various charter management organizations.

The fact is this kind of a system costs more to run. To hire competent teachers and maintain reasonable class sizes – taxes and spending need to be increased for a hybrid-system of both public and multiple private managements. Multiple management systems are more costly.

TFA Teachers are Untrained and Ineffective

According to Teach for America Colorado, this year there are 145 more TFA teachers in the Denver area. These kids get five weeks of training in the summer and then they are called teachers.

Putting untrained people in classrooms used to be against the law and it is still immoral.

Another observation from Ms. Aech in Why is You Always Got to Be Trippin?.

“As a journalist followed the teaching year of a suddenly deployed troop of Teach-For-A-Minute miracle workers, ultimately, he found only one greenhorn to be exceptionally able. (And so many others who were both frighteningly and disastrously unprepared.)”

TFA has effectively become storm troopers for the billionaires trying to disrupt, privatize and end public education. They are cheap, young and follow orders, but they are not even minimally trained educators.

Some New Data

This past December the New York Times ran an interactive article about a new way to compare schools. Reporters Emily Badger and Kevin Quealy describe:

“It’s true that children in prosperous districts tend to test well, while children in poorer districts on average score lower. But in this analysis, which measures how scores grow as student cohorts move through school, the Stanford researcher Sean Reardon argues that it’s possible to separate some of the advantages of socioeconomics from what’s actually happening in schools.”

I ran a simulation comparing Anne Arundel County, Maryland, Milwaukee, Chicago and Denver. I only picked Denver. The New York Times picked the comparison schools. This simulator tries to correlate years of learning. The average between third and 8th grade should be five years. After 13 years of disruption and “reform,” Denver is not quite average.

National Eighth Grade Test Scores

Interactive Simulation result from the New York Times.

It is time for common sense to prevail. Bankers and Billionaires don’t know how to run schools. College graduates with no training do not know how to teach. Running multiple school administrations costs more.

Denver’s public schools were never failing. They probably needed more resources especially in poorer neighborhoods, but the schools labeled as failures were the anchors of poor-minority neighborhoods. Destroying their schools was akin to a hate crime. Maybe it would be fairer to call it a stupidity crime.

I have become a one issue voter. I do not care if you have an R or D after your name on the ballot. I want to know if you are ready to defend public education against charter schools, vouchers and fake teachers? Do you respect professional educators or do you think politicians should run schools by top down fiat? Are you ready to stand up to the out of control billionaire class for the sake of students?

 

TNTP Making Big Bucks from the Destroy Public Education (DPE) Movement

13 Jan

When TNTP comes to town, public school is targeted for education disruption. Clayton Christiansen probably thinks that is a good thing, but rational people who never went to Harvard correctly recognize that children need stability. TNTP tills the soil of privatization by undermining teacher professionalism and preaching a gospel of test-centric pedagogy.

Originally called The New Teachers Project, but like American Telephone and Telegraph becoming AT&T, they fancy TNTP.

In 2001 the TNTP web page described their founding:

“The New Teacher Project was formed in 1997 as a spin-off of Teach For America, …. Teach For America (TFA) has successfully recruited thousands of individuals into teaching in urban and rural areas, …. Wendy Kopp, the Founder and President of Teach For America, recognized the need for school districts to be able to replicate these effective recruiting and training practices. In this way, school districts could fill their classrooms with high quality teachers and begin to reduce teacher turnover. She established The New Teacher Project to address these very needs and promptly recruited Michelle Rhee to head up the new company.” (emphasis added)

In order to believe this, one must believe that a five-week course in the summer trumps a year at a college of education with at least a semester of supervised student teaching. It is also unlikely that significant numbers of these five-week wunderkinds will do much to reduce teacher turnover.

It is curious that TNTP reports their founding in 1997 but their tax returns show the year of formation to be 1995. Whatever the case, TNTP has struck gold.

The Money is Flowing

The big education philanthropies like the work TNTP is doing and are lavishing them with cash.

TNTP Money Graphic

Cash Flow Compiled from Tax Forms and Foundation Reports – by T. Ultican

In 2013 Mercedes Schneider reported on government grants to TNTP:

“Some TNTP initiatives also benefit from the support of federal grant programs and/or private funding. In 2010, TNTP was one of 49 organizations and institutions nationwide to win a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant.”

Schneider also wrote about the TNTP 2015 leadership shakeup in a post she called, “New TNTP President Among the First to Have Her NYC School’s Charter Revoked.” She shared:

“The TNTP bio blurb on Belcher includes a quick mention of her as founder of a New York City charter school: ‘Karolyn Belcher was one of TNTP’s first employees after its founding in 1997. After leaving for several years to found the John A. Reisenbach Charter School, one of the first three charter schools in New York State, she returned to TNTP in 2007.’

“What Belcher’s TNTP bio blurb does not mention is that Reisenbach, which operated only three years, from 09.2000 to 06/2004, has its charter revoked for its low test scores, teacher turnover, and financial issues.”

However, in a country dominated by big money education philanthropy, failure is not a big deal. In fact, by 2016, Belcher and several fellow early TFA cohort members were making big money at TNTP claiming to be education experts. Eleven of them were “earning” more than $200,000 yearly.

TNTP Top 15 Salaries edited

Snip Page 30 of TNTP Latest Form 990 filed in 2016

I suspect that most billionaires financing the DPE movement are true believers in their privatization and market theory of education reform. It is likely that they only talk with one another and have their damaging ideology ever further reinforced.

For the carpetbaggers from TFA, it looks like an old story. Reality is hard to recognize when your personal income is at stake; especially when that income is so grand.

Propagating the Billionaire Sponsored Education Ideology

Lubienski and Lubienski published “Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools” in 2014. David Berliner a much published and widely respected scholar from Arizona State University, wrote of their paper:

“The Public School Advantage is a complete and thorough analysis of America’s many different kinds of schools—secular, charter, and public—and should end the arguments about which kind is better. Chris and Sarah Lubienski provide both the data and the clear explanations needed to understand the many false claims made about the superiority of schools that are not public. The result is a ringing endorsement of public school achievement.”

An excerpt from the Lubienski’s book was published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) in an anthology called “Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms.” Writing about researchers supporting market based reform and privatization they observe, “These … groups … having quite often declined or failed to pass their pro-market research findings through established, peer-reviewed academic journals, instead create alternative venues publishing and promoting their work – a strategy not unlike what is employed by corporate-funded deniers of climate change.” They also note that many authoritative claims about education are often little more the press releases with no evidence.

TNTP produced quasi-academic research papers like those described by Lubienski and Lubienski. A 2012 example is called “The Irreplaceables.” The paper defines the “irreplaceables” as the “top 20% of teachers in studied districts, as gauged by district data.” The gauge used is value added measures (VAM).

VAM has been widely discredited. By 2014, even the American Statistical Association weighed in with a paper concluding,

“The VAM scores themselves have large standard errors, even when calculated using several years of data. These large standard errors make rankings unstable, even under the best scenarios for modeling.”

 “The Irreplaceables” was not peer reviewed, but Bruce D. Baker a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers wrote a review for the NEPC. Professor Baker asked, “Among those 2005-06 Irreplaceables, how do they reshuffle between 2006-07 & 2007-08? His answer is in the graphic below.

Baker Graph

Professor Bruce Baker’s Graph

Professor Baker amusingly explains,

“Hmm… now they’re moving all over the place. A small cluster do appear to stay in the upper right. But, we are dealing with a dramatically diminishing pool of the persistently awesome here.  And I’m not even pointing out the number of cases in the data set that are simply disappearing from year to year. Another post – another day.

“From 2005-2010: Of the thousands of teachers for whom ratings exist for each year, there are 14 in math and 5 in ELA that stay in the top 20% for each year! Sure hope they don’t leave!”

Another poor paper by TNTP was called the “Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness.” This paper made a significant contribution to the attack on teachers. The authors define the “Widget Effect:”

“The Widget Effect describes the tendency of school districts to assume classroom effectiveness is the same from teacher to teacher. This decades-old fallacy fosters an environment in which teachers cease to be understood as individual professionals, but rather as interchangeable parts.”

It was a follow-on report from the earlier “Unintended Consequences: The Case for Reforming the Staffing Rules in Urban Teachers Union Contracts.” That report had generated a wide spate of teacher bashing in California as the following headlines and comments demonstrate.

September 29, 2006

Los Angeles Times

Escape Hatch for Incompetent Teachers Closed

“The New York nonprofit group New Teacher Project found in a November 2005 study of five districts including San Diego Unified that administrators had little discretion in filling roughly 40% of their vacancies because of union rules. Researchers also found that poorly performing teachers were transferring from school to school.”

September 10, 2006

San Francisco Chronicle

California Schools May Get Break from Bad Teachers

‘”There are a lot of states watching what’s happening in California, and I think it’ll have significant ramifications nationwide,’ said Michelle Rhee, chief executive officer of the New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit group that worked on the Scott bill.”

September 1, 2006

San Jose Mercury News

State Needs ‘Lemon’ Law For

“Scott’s bill could slow down the “dance of the lemons” — the annual migration of a minority of veteran teachers who either were burned out or who didn’t get along. They agreed to take voluntary transfers and gravitated to low-performing schools, where principals were desperate and parents less vigilant.”

The “Widget Effect,” faulted the fact that less than 1% of veteran teachers in America were evaluated as ineffective. The report called for multiple teacher evaluation inputs including the use of VAM. Arne Duncan, the new US Secretary of Education made the VAM component a requirement for winning Race to the Top school grants.

In 2017, two researchers looked into the effect of widely implementing the “Widget Effect” policy recommendations. In Revisiting the Widget Effect – by Matthew A. Kraft, Brown University and Allison F. Gilmour, Vanderbilt University, they state:

“In 2009, The New Teacher Project (TNTP)’s The Widget Effect documented the failure to recognize and act on differences in teacher effectiveness. We revisit these findings by compiling teacher performance ratings across 24 states that adopted major reforms to their teacher evaluation systems. In the vast majority of these states, the percentage of teachers rated Unsatisfactory remains less than 1%. However, the full distributions of ratings vary widely across states with 0.7% to 28.7% rated below Proficient and 6% to 62% rated above Proficient.”

Nothing changed with unsatisfactory ratings, but TNTP had clearly shown to be a major player in the world of education policy. They seemed to have gained greater influence on teacher evaluations than UCLA, University of Texas and Columbia University’s Teachers College combined.

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley is a former middle- and high-school mathematics teacher who received her Ph.D. in 2002 from Arizona State University in the Division of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies with an emphasis on Research Methods. She commented in a blog for NEPC about the “Widget Effect” driven policies in New Mexico. Writing:

“While Kraft and Gilmour assert that ‘systems that place greater weight on normative measures such as value-added scores rather than…[just]…observations have fewer teachers rated proficient’ …, I highly doubt this purely reflects New Mexico’s “commitment to putting students first.”

New Mexico Bell Curve Evaluation

Professor Amrein-Beardsley’s Graphic

“I also highly doubt that, as per New Mexico’s acting Secretary of Education, this was ‘not … designed with quote unquote end results in mind.’ That is, ‘the New Mexico Public Education Department did not set out to place any specific number or percentage of teachers into a given category.’ If true, it’s pretty miraculous how this simply worked out as illustrated… This is also at issue in the lawsuit in which I am involved in New Mexico, in which the American Federation of Teachers won an injunction in 2015 that still stands today ….”

During my fifteen years as a classroom teacher, I observed that the students do a pretty good job of getting rid of poor teachers. Teaching is a demanding job and the ability to deal with students is not a gift that everyone has. Fifty percent of teachers quit the profession within the first five years and that significantly reduces the number teachers who should not be there. Good administrators get rid of the rest before they achieve full contractual rights. It makes perfect sense to me that less than 1% of teachers are evaluated as unsatisfactory.

Besides Pseudo-Academic Studies TNTP Undermines Teacher Professionalism

By 2001, TNTP was humming along. On its web site the advertising stated:

“We leverage the highly successful strategies of Teach For America to recruit, select and develop new teachers for difficult-to-staff school districts.”

“We create and run high-quality alternate routes to attract and prepare exceptionally talented people from non-traditional backgrounds to teach, particularly for high need areas and hard-to-staff schools.”

“We set up and run pre-service training institutes for high-achieving individuals without prior education backgrounds.”

The theory seems to be that anyone who went to college or worked in certain fields can teach. All that is required is a little summer training and “high-achieving individuals” will be good to go.

The new secretary of education, Arne Duncan, seemed to embrace this ideology when he visited Columbia University Teachers College in 2009. He said,

“More than half of tomorrow’s teachers will be trained at colleges of education. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that schools and departments of education produce about 220,000 certified teachers a year. Now I am all in favor of expanding high-quality alternative certificate routes, like High Tech High, the New Teacher Project, Teach for America, and teacher residency programs. But these promising alternative programs produce fewer than 10,000 teachers per year.” (emphasis added)

Conclusion

Instead of relying on our amazing stable of genuine scholars doing the hard work of researching, studying, practicing and writing, we are being bamboozled into adopting the theories of neophytes that would never bite the hand of their paymasters. If TNTP has a contract with a school district, it is certain that district is a target for privatization.

TNTP is important for the DPE movement. It produces papers that undermine teacher professionalism and it works to circumvent proven teacher training led by universities. It also works to gain control of pedagogy in a way that narrows curriculum. Why? It is all about cutting costs and business transactions. It does not improve the quality of education in America; it harms it.