Tag Archives: Duncan

A Nation at Risk

29 Aug

All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. This promise means that all children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to become happy creative people who can manage their own lives freely and not be coerced into an unwarranted servitude. Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by profiteers from throughout the world lusting after our public education expenditures. This report is concerned with the unwise education policies that are being proffered by the enemies of prosperity, cultural advancement and the democratic spirit of America’s citizens. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of greed fueled by antidemocratic hubris that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur—the world’s greatest school system is being destroyed by a worm in the lion’s bowels.

If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the sundering of democratic school governance and the purloining of taxpayer dollars that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have allowed wealthy amateurs to drown out the voice of experienced educators and let them impose their disruptive uninformed ideology on America’s children. Moreover, we have dismantled essential support systems which helped make America’s education system the bedrock of democracy and enlightened citizenry throughout the world. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral self-destruction.

Our society and its governing institutions seem to have lost sight of the basic purposes of schooling, and of the high expectations and disciplined efforts needed to attain them. This report, the result of 200 years of experience, seeks to end the misguided reform of our educational system and save this fundamental foundation of America; our public education system. We seek to renew the Nation’s commitment to schools and colleges of high quality governed democratically throughout the length and breadth of our land.

That we have compromised this commitment is, upon reflection, hardly surprising, given the unprecedented amounts of money being spent by profiteers for control at the cost our children’s future. Schools are routinely called on to provide solutions to personal, social, and political problems that the home and other institutions either will not or cannot resolve. We must understand that these demands on our schools are being met in heroic ways. Unfortunately, many political elites call our best ever prepared schools and educators failures; even forcing them to write letters to parents confirming that failure.

President Reagan noted the central importance of education in American life when he said: “Certainly there are few areas of American life as important to our society, to our people, and to our families as our schools and colleges.” This report, therefore, is as much an open letter to the American people as it is a report to the Secretary of Education. We are confident that the American people, properly informed, will do what is right for their children and for the generations to come.

The Risk

 History is not kind to those who idly ignore evil. When America’s democratic ideals are under attack by titans of industry and wealth managers both at home and abroad, the time has come to stand and be counted. The world is indeed one global village. We live among determined, wealthy, and arrogant individuals and corporations with no concern other than profits. They have become the enemies of common people, their communities and democratically governed education. We must compete with them to save free, non-usurious universal education. America’s democratic processes may once have been reasonably secure with honest dialog and sincere ideals. It is no longer.

The genius of America’s diverse decentralized education with few high stakes exams has shown through in the amazing production of its creative citizens. When standardized education and high stakes testing was embraced in Asia and the Indian sub-continent, America offered free universal education to all with multiple opportunities to re-enter a path to higher education. Our goal is creative students who can innovate and lead happy lives. Towards that end our system is clearly a humanistic approach, leading the way internationally.

One measuring stick demonstrating the success of our system 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 the two literature recipients were educated in China at international schools. It brings to mind Professor Yong Zhao’s statement at the 2015 NPE conference, “If you want results like the Chinese, follow their example.” The US has never won at standardized testing but leads the world in creative thinkers.

Our concern, however, goes well beyond matters of educational theory and social justice. It also includes the intellectual, moral, and spiritual strengths of our people which knit together the very fabric of our society. The people of the United States need to know that greedy people are trying to create a new era that will effectively disenfranchise them, not simply from having their voice heard in the education of their children, but also from the chance to participate fully in our national life. A high level of shared education is essential to a free, democratic society and to the fostering of a common culture, especially in a country that prides itself on pluralism and individual freedom.

For our country to function, citizens must be able to reach some common understandings on complex issues, often on short notice and on the basis of conflicting or incomplete evidence. Education helps form these common understandings, a point Thomas Jefferson made long ago in his justly famous dictum:

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion.”

Part of what is at risk is the promise first made on this continent: All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. This promise means that all children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to attain the mature and informed judgment needed to chart their own path, and through no manipulation by the state or industrial powers manifest their own interests fruitfully which will naturally enhance society itself.

Indicators of the Risk

Three key players in the assault on California’s public schools are Walmart heiress, Carrie Walton Penner, Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings and nativist republican politician, Steve Poizner. In 2001, they started EdVoice an organization that claims California schools are broken and must be reformed. In 2003 Poizner founded the CCSA, which funds school privatization. Walton Penner and Hastings remain as board members of both EdVoice and CCSA.

Valerie Strauss reports, “Hastings’ slap at elected boards, while offensive, wasn’t unique. Gates said the same thing when he extolled “mayoral control” of urban schools. “Instead of having a committee of people, you have that one person,” Gates said, “where we’ve seen the willingness to take on some of the older practices and try new things.” The problem, as Strauss noted, is that many of these “pet projects” have yet to deliver on their hype as a pathway out of poverty for poor kids. The darker reality is that these schools are in fact doubling as product development centers for the fabulously rich and their well-connected associates.”

From noted historian and education authority, Diane Ravitch, “For the past three decades, critics of public education in the United States have assailed it and used its flaws to promote publicly funded privatization. Corporate and political interests have attacked the very concept of public education, claiming that the private sector is invariably superior to the public sector.”

From Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig, “The hundreds of millions of dollars spent to promote privately managed schools is coming from the non-democratic foundations of billionaires such as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. Smaller organizations including the Black Alliance for Education Options and the Libre initiative and the Democrats for Education Reform have accepted tens of millions of dollars over the years from billionaires and their foundations to press for market-based school choice.”

Jonathan Palto, Connecticut’s leading education writer, “The colossal and disastrous effort to privatize public education in the United States is alive and well thanks to a plethora of billionaires who, although they’d never send their own children to a public school, have decided that individually and collectively, they know what is best for the nation’s students, parents, teachers and public schools.”

Peter Greene, education writer and teacher, “At this point, from its rejection by assessment and education professionals, to its defeat in court, VAM [Value Added Measures – based on standardized testing] has shed any possible pretense of being a legitimate means of evaluating teachers and stands revealed for what it always was– a way to destabilize the profession and get rid of public school teachers. It remains one of the big threats to public education.”

Carol Burris, Director of NPE and former New York Principal of the Year, “Charters, regardless of their original intent, have become a threat to democratically governed, neighborhood public schools, and questions about their practices, opacity and lack of accountability are increasing as their numbers grow.”

Dale Russakoff reported in the New Yorker, that Corey Booker, Chris Christy and Mark Zuckerberg decided to take over the Newark Public Schools, “Early in the summer of 2010, 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; 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.”’

For Secretary of Education, Obama passed over former teacher and education expert Linda Darling-Hammond in favor of Arne Duncan, his basketball buddy, who’d aligned himself with the corporate reform movement as CEO of Chicago Public Schools. As Secretary, Duncan “continued and carried the torch for pushing educational policies that don’t have basis in research, such as value-added measurements, using high-stakes testing to evaluate teachers, or continuing to promote charters schools as a silver bullet to solve inequality,” said Wayne Au, who teaches in the education program at the University of Washington.

Emily Talmage, an educator in Maine, warns about the threat of Competency Base Education (CBE), “according to the U.S. Department of Education, students will ‘no longer [be] tethered to school buildings or schedules.’ Instead, the system will require students to earn ‘digital badges’  that they will display in individual competency-profiles accessible to potential employers and investors.”

Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio recently wrote to Secretary of Education, John King about the waste, fraud and abuse in Ohio that has grown with the charter school movement: “Ohio’s current lack of oversight wastes taxpayer’s money and undermines the ostensible goal of charters: providing more high-quality educational opportunities for children. There exists a pattern of waste, fraud, and abuse that is far too common and requires extra scrutiny.” This is a scandal occurring nationwide.

Conclusion

Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents in education, in literacy, and in economic attainment. The educational attainment of the last few decades far surpass that of their parents, however for the first time their opportunities are diminished.

What lies behind this emerging national belief that our schools are failing? It is the amateuristic or maybe cynical belief that standardized testing was a valid measure of educational quality which supported greed exacerbated by lust.

On a broader scale, we sense that this push for billionaire supported education reform has significant political implications, for it pits the interests of common community members against corporate interest and the super wealthy. These reforms have already destroyed many schools and harmed many communities by eliminating community schools and promoting segregation. These outcomes are readily apparent in places like Detroit, Los Angeles and Oakland.

As Jefferson said, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, …” The power of any society ultimately resides with the people. If we and our neighbors demand our democratic rights, then our wonderful community schools will continue their legacy of victory for the people.

Common Core Dilemma is the Bomb

23 Jun

Mercedes Schneider’s new book is “evidence based” and damning. She concludes with “CCSS [Common Core State Standards] cannot work.” And “It is destined for the education reform trash heap, just like the punitive, test-driven No Child Left Behind (NCLB) from which it emerged.”

In Common Core Dilemma, Schneider shows herself to be a masterful researcher and clear thinker. She takes on the daunting task of making this Machiavellian episode concise, engaging and understandable. She triumphs.

If you never heard of the common core or “corporate education reform”, this book will be a difficult but necessary read and there is no choice but to educate yourself. If on the other hand you have been immersed in this issue since 2009, Common Core Dilemma will confirm your worst suspicions and demonstrate that you might have been naïve but certainly not cynical.

The opening chapters document the roots of CCSS sewed within Bill Clinton’s goals 2000 and the creation of the non-profit Achieve Inc. by the National Governors’ Association (NGA). Achieve became the corporate vehicle for producing the “state led” CCSS and goals 2000 accelerated the quest for national education standards.

Louis Gerstner, IBM CEO, is identified as the “godfather” of Achieve. As the keynote speaker for the NGA conference in 1995 Gerstner stated three urgent education goals for 1996: (1) high national academic standards with accountability, (2) the standards must happen NOW, and (3) don’t be sidetracked by academicians. Louis was well positioned to shape education policy; not only had he been to school, he had hired people who had been to school. In 1996, the governors of NGA held their Education Summit at Gerstner’s IBM conference facility in Palisades, New York.

As I read this documented history, I started wondering if Bill Gates’ personal competition with IBM and Gerstner had something to do with his decision to become an education “reformer”?

Ironically, the National Governors Association created their own non-governmental non-profit or was it really Gerstner who started Achieve? In any case the organization that wrote the CCSS was the creation of 40 governors and 49 corporate executives at the 1996 IBM meeting. No practicing educators were involved. No wonder Diane Ravitch calls this “corporate education reform.”

Mercedes sums up the attitude, “No need to meaningfully involve teachers in changes that Achieve, Inc. had already decided needed to be instituted.” After all we were warned by Gerstner, “Don’t be sidetracked by academicians.”

The precursor to CCSS, American Diploma Project (ADP), is explained. In her description, Schneider details the three principal organizations involved, Ed Trust (Kati Haycock), Fordham Foundation/Institute (Checker Finn) and Achieve Inc. These three non-profits garnered huge corporate largess while developing and promoting ADP. Schneider notes that during the ADP standards development when Achieve defined American education as failing; Achieve was repudiating its own claims of success two years earlier.

The story of how Achieve’s 2008 paper “Out of Many, One” became the central document for selling CCSS illustrates clearly that CCSS certainly was not a state led effort. It was the effort of incorporated non-profits financed by other corporations and corporate executives.

An intriguing set of relationships appear in the story of David Coleman and his Student Achievement Partners (SAP). Coleman is known as the lead writer of CCSS. It was he and the President of Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), Gene Wilhoit, who went to Seattle and convinced Bill Gates to finance the development of CCSS.

The “reformer” relationships are surprisingly intertwined. David Coleman had a previous lucrative business deal with Chicago Public Schools through his startup company Grow Network. CEO Arne Duncan gave him a $2.2 million non-compete contract to analyze testing data in 2002 and renewed it in 2003 for $2.1 million. Coleman and his partner Jason Zimba sold Grow Network to McGraw-Hill and started Student Achievement Partners (SAP) in 2007.

The lead writers of CCSS were David Coleman, Jason Zimba and Susan Pimentel all from SAP. The rest of the original 24 writers were from Achieve, College Board and ACT. Today, Coleman is President of College Board and the man who helped him sell CCSS to Gates, Gene Wilhoit, has left CCSSO and taken the lead at SAP.

The only person amongst the original group of 24 people who wrote the CCSS that had any classroom teaching experience at all appears to be Zimba. He taught physics at Bennington College for a short duration. And strangely enough the president of Bennington College while he worked there was David Coleman’s mother, Elizabeth Coleman.

Bill Gates the billionaire who dropped out of Harvard only to become the richest man in the world by means that are not entirely above scrutiny, paid for both the writing of CCSS and for insuring they get good publicity. The insane amounts of money Gates doled out to organizations that supported his education ideas such as “without measurement, there is no pressure for improvement” is thoroughly documented and explained.

Gate basically became the de facto national school superintendent or secretary of education only more powerful. It is estimated that the spending on CCSS by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation may run into the billions of dollars. It is a complete distortion of the democratic process and has led to bad and wasteful policies. Policies like mandating a nationwide change to a new pedagogy that has never been tested and demanding that all schools across America abandon their current curriculum and develop a new one immediately with no transition time.

An enlightening chapter explains the amazing CCSS Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which was signed by 46 governors and theirs state school chiefs before the CCSS were ever written, thus locking them in to the “voluntary” standards. It explains how it came about, the implications and the need for the lock-in.

The final few chapters deal with the enormous amounts of money mega-corporations like Pearson are planning to make from CCSS. It appears the real reason all the states had to have a standardized education is to pave the way for mega-corporations to dominate the education testing and publishing industry. It allowed them to take their products to “scale” where smaller local companies could never compete. As Mercedes points out “the goal of CCSS is not excellence. It is standardization.”

Common Core Dilemma is definitely a book that anyone trying to defend public education from privatization and profiteering should have in their library. For the uninitiated to the corporate takeover of public schools it will be more than an eye opener. Finally, it’s an informational text so David Colman would surly approve of it for your high school students to read.

Review of A Chronicle of Echoes

23 Jun

Chronicle’s author Mercedes K. Schneider will not be confused with Margret Mitchell or Leon Uris but she just might receive mention alongside Upton Sinclair and Izzy Stone. The book is plagued by poor editing and several passages are difficult or impossible to decode. However, Chronicle is a masterpiece of research that illuminates the unbelievable world of power, money and incestuous relations that are perverting public education in America.

In the introduction Schneider tells us “In writing this book, my purpose is to dismantle the dismantlers. As such, my words are not kind. My words expose, and that exposure is harsh. The individuals and organizations profiled in this book have declared war on my profession, and I take that personally.” As if proving these words, she calls chapter one “Joel Klein: The Man from Whom Nothing Good Comes.”

The subject is vast and this book is almost 500 pages of narrative and documentation of claims. In these pages Schneider demonstrates her extraordinary skill as a researcher. Even the most informed person about the politics and power behind what passes as education reform in America, will learn many things from this trove of information. I learned that ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council) was opposed to the Common Core until Jeb Bush intervened in 2012.

I was amazed to learn that two TFA (Teach For America) alums with no academic background in education, 6-weeks of TFA institute training and three years teaching experience were able to not only start the KIPP schools but immediately received huge donations for their enterprise. We are talking millions of dollars given by foundations to untrained, inexperienced youths to start a charter school chain. I was absolutely stunned to find that Obama and Duncan gave a $50,000,000 “Investing in Innovation” grant to KIPP.

$50,000,000 appears to be the amount of money given to the top preferred “reform” organizations. The Fisher Foundation (GAP) was the first supporter of KIPP and has given them fifty million dollars. Today, Wendy Kopp (the founder of TFA who amongst her many grants got fifty million dollars from the Walton foundation) is married to KIPP CEO, Richard Barth. With Wendy’s cheap untrained teacher force and all the philanthropic gifts, KIPP is awash in money. They have nearly twice the dollars to spend per student than the local public schools with whom they are “competing.”

Most of all what I learned from this book is that the big money being used to privatize public education in America is Republican money. It is true that there are groups like Democrats for Education Reform and even our current Democrat President who are facilitating the demise of public education and the teaching profession. But these self-proclaimed Democrat groups must create sub-groups with names like “Education Reform Now” that do not have Democrat in their name in order to get the big donations.

Schneider makes a good case that the biggest enemy of public education in America is Jeb Bush. She devotes three chapters to the shenanigans Jeb and his organizations have done. Jeb Bush comes off as a cynical elite using education as his ticket to political power. And like cynical elites everywhere, he does not appear to give a damn about the students of the poor and middle-class.

This tale of eleven million dollars here and fifty million dollars there to support the untested and inexperienced is mind boggling. What is the purpose of people like Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, spending time and money on KIPP, TFA, Rocket Ship, etc. while undermining public schools in communities of poverty and degradation? It must be to destroy the current public education system in America and replace it with a privatized system.

Mercedes Schneider has created a community asset of great value with this book. It is a must read for anyone concerned about public education and the forces arrayed to steal public school funding.

DFER and Education Policies

16 Jul

            In August 2008, many teachers in America and this one in particular were thrilled about Barack Obama’s nomination. Linda Darling-Hammond was a leading spokesperson articulating the Obama campaigns’ education positions. Darling-Hammond had pushed for professional education standards for teachers and had presented data showing the importance of teacher training. Yet, by November Alexander Russo of the Huffington Post was reporting “The possibility of Darling-Hammond being named Secretary has emerged as an especially worrisome possibility among a small but vocal group of younger, reform-minded advocates who supported Obama because he seemed reform-minded on education issues like charter schools, performance pay, and accountability. These reformists seem to perceive Darling-Hammond as a touchy-feely anti-accountability figure who will destroy any chances that Obama will follow through on any of these initiatives.” In December, Obama tapped Chicago’s Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Because Duncan had no real education experience it was considered highly likely that Darling-Hammond would be the Deputy Secretary of Education. On February 19, 2009 the New Republic reported, “Darling-Hammond was a key education adviser during the election and chaired Obama’s transition education policy team. She has been berated heavily by the education reform community, which views her as favoring the status quo in Democratic education policy for her criticisms of alternative teacher certification programs like Teach for America and her ties with teachers’ unions.” They reported that she was going home to California to work on other priorities and would not be a part of the new administration.

            So, what happened and who were those “small but vocal younger, reform minded advocates that supported Obama” but hated Darling-Hammond? In August 2008 a pre-convention Democrats for Education Reform seminar, billed as “Ed Challenge for Change” previewed a coming attack from within the Democratic Party on teachers and especially their unions. David Goldstein of the American Prospect reported:

            “It was sponsored by a coalition of foundations, nonprofits, and businesses supporting the charter-school movement, including Ed in ’08, the advocacy group founded by Bill Gates and real-estate mogul Eli Broad. The evening provided a truly unusual spectacle at a convention: A megawatt group of Democrats, including Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, Mayor Adrian Fenty of Washington, D.C., and former Gov. Ray Romer of Colorado, bashed teachers’ unions for an hour. Amid the approving audience were Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, an icon of the civil-rights movement; Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, (in)famous as a high-profile African American Hillary Clinton endorser; and Mayor David Cicilline of Providence, the reformer of that once-Mob-ridden New England city. Cicilline took avid notes.”

It was from this crowd that Darling-Hammond was receiving her harshest criticism and where the non-traditional (meaning no education background) leader of the Chicago school system, Arne Duncan, was championed as the next Secretary of Education. The loudest voices were those of a new organization calling themselves Democrats for Education reform (DFER), led by young extremely wealthy hedge fund operators from New York City.

            In the May 31, 2007 issue of New York Sun there was a report about one of the first victories of DFER:

            “A money manager recently sent an e-mail to some partners, congratulating them on an investment of $1 million that yielded an estimated $400 million. The reasoning was that $1 million spent on trying to lift a cap on the number of charter schools in New York State yielded a change in the law that will bring $400 million a year in funding to new charter schools. The money managers who were among the main investors in this law — three Harvard MBAs and a Wharton graduate named Whitney Tilson, Ravenel Boykin Curry IV, Charles Ledley, and John Petry — are moving education-oriented volunteerism beyond championing a single school.

“They want to shift the political debate by getting the Democratic Party to back innovations such as merit pay for teachers, a longer school day, and charter schools. …  The group — actually two separate political action committees — has raised money for senators Obama, Clinton, and Lieberman; Governor Spitzer; Rep. George Miller; state senators Malcolm Smith and Antoine Thompson; assemblymen Sam Hoyt, Hakeem Jeffries, and Jonathan Bing, and City Council Member Vito Lopez. They count the charter cap lift, signed by Mr. Spitzer in April, as their first major victory.”

The two political action committees the Sun mentioned are Education Reform Now, a 501c3, and Education Reform Now Advocacy, a 501c4. To lead these committees the hedge fund operators chose Joel Klein, the form chancellor of the New York City schools. It seems likely that Mr. Klein was influential in these young businessmen from elite schools developing the view of education reform they have adopted. Until April of this year, Klein has been the director of Education Reform now. In April he joined his former protégé, Michele Rhee at her advocacy group Students First which is also supported by DFER, the Broad Foundation and the Gates Foundation. When I looked on the DFER web site the first image that popped up was that of a favorite basketball player of mine and the current mayor of Sacramento, California, Kevin Johnson. He also happens to be Michelle Rhee’s husband.

On the DFER’s official web presence they take at least partial credit for the selection of Arne Duncan instead of Linda Darling-Hammond.

There is a glaring lack of experience or knowledge about education amongst the leaders of DFER. Michael Hirsch writing for the United Federation of Teachers explains, “What do these folks know about education? With the exception of Williams, who’s the hired help: nothing! Understand that DFER’s endgame has little to do with learning and everything to do with marginalizing public-sector unionized workers and bringing down the cost of taxes for social programs. It’s about creating new business and investment opportunities in areas that are still publicly run and serving as a pre-emptive strike against any hope for private-sector union renewal. Where better to start than with attacking teacher unions, one of the few labor strongholds in this country?” His point is a least in part validated by a cursory look at the present Board of Directors of DFER and the Board of Advisors:

Board of Directors

Kevin P. Chavous (chair) – Former Washington, DC, City Council member and chair of the Education Committee; Board Chair of Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO).

Boykin Curry – Eagle Capital; Co-Founder of Public Prep. Public Prep launched in 2008.

Tony Davis – Co-founder and President of Anchorage Capital Group, LLC; Board Trusteer for Achievement First Brooklyn charter schools. Achievement First has grown into a network that includes 20 academies under ten charters in four cities.

Charles Ledley – Highfields Capital Management; Board Member of the Tobin Project.

Sara Mead – Bellwether Education Partners, Associate Partner; Former Director of Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation.

John Petry – Columbus Hill Capital Management; Co-founder of Harlem Success Academy Charter School in NYC. Success Academy Charter Schools operate nine public charter schools in NYC.

Whitney Tilson –  Managing Partner, T2 Partners LLC and Tilson Mutual Funds; Board member of KIPP-NYC, and National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

DFER Board of Advisors:

Steve Barr – Founder and CEO, Green Dot Public Schools.

Cory Booker – Mayor of Newark, N.J.

David Einhorn – Founder of Greenlight Capital, LLC.

Joel Greenblatt – Founder and Managing Partner of Gotham Capital.

Vincent Mai – Chairman of AEA Investors, LP.

Michael Novogratz – President of Fortress Investment Group.

Tom Vander Ark – Partner, Revolution Learning.

            In February another self-appointed expert on education policy from Seattle, Washington, loudly bashed teachers and their unions. An editorialist for the Seattle Times, Lynne K. Varner reported that “Major Democratic funder Nick Hanauer’s recent email blasting Democratic lawmakers for failing to buck the teachers union and push for education reforms will go down as the tough-love message heard around the state. ‘It is impossible to escape the painful reality that we Democrats are now on the wrong side of every important education-reform issue,’ wrote Hanauer, a Seattle venture capitalist, to other party faithful. ‘Today, the (teachers union) is literally strangling our public schools to death with an almost infinite number of institutionalized rules that limit change, innovation and excellence.’” In that same editorial Varner said, “Reformers watched in dismay as Democratic leaders blocked key reforms including exchanging an outdated seniority-based layoff policy for one based on performance and overhauling the billion-dollar health-insurance program for school employees.”

                Diane Ravitch famously anointed these modern education reformers, “the billionaire boys club” and has valiantly fought off their benighted positions. They call for the end of seniority rights, lessoning of health benefits for teachers, the destruction of the teachers union, privatization of public schools, standards based education, national standards, high stakes testing, no excuses, non-traditional school leadership, imbuing mayors with untrammeled control over schools, trigger laws, lessoning the rigor of teacher certification, and value added measures to evaluate educators. Every one of these positions undermines the American public education system which is not failing and never has been failing. There has been a forty year campaign starting with the Reagan administrations falsely premised document “A Nation at Risk” to convince people that our public schools are terrible. Of course any institution can be improved but destroying the greatest education system the world has ever known is not an improvement. Across the United States, schools are staffed with well trained, experienced and dedicated employees and lead by competent administrators. For students who live in poverty zones that are often drug riddled and crime infested, the local school is often the only functional institution in the area. On standardized tests, poor students do not perform as well as students who live in wealthier and safer communities, but these schools still produce students who excel and win their way into some of the world’s most prestigious universities. John Dewey observed in 1916, “education will vary with the quality of life which prevails in a group.” Even as President Obama was cheering the closing of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, many success stories from that school were following the path out of the poorest neighborhood in the state of Rhode Island opened by their school. These schools are not failing; the communities they are in are failing and schools are being unfairly blamed for it.

                At the DFER web presence is a section called the Brian Bennett Education Warrior Award. Not surprisingly, the awards go to political activists who opened the path for charter schools or who helped close “failing schools” or did some other deed that promoted the DFER agenda in most cases against the will of the local community. When citing previous heroes of education reform, the very first name cited is Alan Bersin. The citation says, “Appointed in 1998 as Superintendent of Public Education of the San Diego Unified School District, Bersin led the eighth largest urban school district in the country. In 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger appointed him as California’s Education Secretary. Bersin led the way as one of the nation’s first ‘non-traditional’ big city school leaders, promoting ambitious reform to raise the quality of education and bolster student achievement. Bersin currently serves as the Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection. Bersin was a founding board member of DFER.” By ‘non-traditional’ they meant he had no education experience or training. I worked one year under Bersin’s leadership. Amongst all teachers and most San Diegan’s the Bersin administration is considered a colossal failure. Today, San Diego Unified School District is bankrupt having just issued a 1000 certificated and a 1000 non-certificated layoff notices and still suffers from the loss of experienced teachers and administrators suffered during Bersin’s tenure.

                It was under Bersin that some of the first DFER style reforms were implemented. It is a fundamental tenet of DFER style reform that there are many failing schools and bad teachers especially in poor communities. DFER Executive Director Joe Williams (“the hired help who has some education experience”) reported about Bersin’s success in changing two “failing schools” into charter schools. He wrote about the valiant fight Bersin put on to defeat the anti-reform teachers union and misguided parents who stood in the road of real reform. In November 2006, Wilson stated, “The conversion of Gompers and Keiller  to charter schools in San Diego suggests that with the right combination of top-down and bottom-up pressure for reform, and with sufficient support for reform efforts from inside and outside of school districts, even the most troubled public schools are able to turn the corner toward educational success. The question is whether education policymakers will act on the lessons that schools like Gompers and Keiller teach us.”  Joe Williams claimed victory for the students and parents who lived in the service areas of Gompers and Keiller, but like most “reform” success it is a complete mirage, because the only thing wrong with the schools was they were in poverty stricken gang infested neighborhoods. The charter school replacements were not a magic bullet the repaired the neighborhood and are likely doing worse than their public school predecessors would have. For a comparison, I picked two public schools that are nearby and have similar populations, Granger middle school and Spring Valley middle school and used the vaunted but often misleading standards based testing data.

API (Academic  Performance Index-California)   AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress-Federal)

Gomper  charter              2011 API 657       2006 API 551       +102      Failed 2011 AYP

Keiler  charter                    2011 API 748       2006 API 687       + 61        Failed 2011 AYP

Spring Valley Middle       2011 API 786       2006 API 737       +49         Failed 2011 AYP

Granger Middle                2011 API 817       2006 API 693       +124      Achieved 2011 AYP

Data from California Department of Education.

                Like the supposed miraculous achievements of the Harlem Children’s Zone based on one class in one year or the dramatic improvement in the DC schools based on questionable testing practices, a closer inspection causes great doubt about actual success. The pattern is to claim victory for a reform and berate those who question the wisdom of the reform, but these claimed successes always turns out to be a mirage. The San Diego, New York and DC experiences are being repeated across the nation. Corporate entities are gaining more and more leverage over the education dollar and schools are not being improved! This week in San Diego, the San Diego Unified School district who recently announced the massive teacher layoffs because of budget shortfalls announced they were spending $15 million on i-pads.  The corporate lobbying influence is warping school leadership values to the point where how a corporation like the testing giant Pearson is affected becomes more important than the schools, students or teachers.

                During the 1990’s education reform in America turned in a positive hopeful direction. Throughout America young educators were being introduced to the thinking of Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, Gardner, and others. They read case histories of how social constructivism was being introduced in classrooms around the globe. The Soka education revolution in Japan based on the ideas of Makiguchi and the Reggio Emelia preschools of Italy led by Loris Malaguzzi presented young educators with decades of practical application of constructivist theories. In Japan, the concept of lesson study and in America the developments of action research were leading to a model of continuous improvement based on peer reviewed application. Darling-Hammond’s professional teaching standards were codified in California promising a path of growing professionalism for educators in all California public schools. The factory model of education was being replaced by a more humanistic model that engendered a love of learning and engaged children in developing understanding. Then NCLB happened and progress in education was stopped by a mandated return to Edgar Thorndike’s behaviorist model that Dewey had resisted so strongly. All positive education reform and improvement in pedagogy stopped and was replaced with privatization, disrespect of the teaching craft and hubris. Ravitch, Meyers and Darling-Hammond were deemed anti-reform and the thinking of Whitney Tilson, Eli Broad and Bill Gates became the guidance for good pedagogy. It is as if night were called day. Sadly, educators and union members can no longer count on the Democratic Party – the support of one hedge fund manager seems to be drowning out the voices of 100,000 educators.